Parenting coach Lena Engel shares her top tips and advice on how to plan for - and provide - consistent parenting during those early days.
Being a parent can be the most wonderful experience but it can also be the most difficult as every child is different, so, whatever happens, there is no one way of managing them and their upbringing. There is so much to search and read about parenting on the internet and in books, it can be overwhelming and confusing. Many of us are also minded to think that whatever worked for us as children should work for our own offspring. Whatever your motivations and your rationalisations about managing your children, consider incorporating some key common sense principals to make the job less daunting.
- If you have the luxury to be able to, take time to think about this before your first child is born discuss how you want to parent. This conversation will give you the opportunity to talk about your own experiences of childhood, what they felt like and what issues about your own parents caused anxiety as well as joy. Also share and review how you were treated and the effect this had on your growth and development. Reflect how you want your children to be brought up, and choose basic principles about how you can share the tasks of bringing up a child, in all its variety. Talking about early personal experiences is crucial to developing agreed and shared ways forward. Note your commitments down so that they can shape and influence future behaviour to hold each other to account.
- In the first few weeks after birth, parents can feel in emotional turmoil because suddenly dealing with the reality of new dependent human being to care for 24 hours a day can be very challenging. The fear of doing something wrong, together with the wish to just be there for the baby, can create concerns about creating early expectations and routines. However, predictable routines actually help your baby to regulate itself and begin to develop the sense of independence it really needs.
- Despite the turmoil, during the first month try to begin creating expectations and routines for your baby – such as feeding, winding then being put down to sleep. Creating consistent routines – especially around feeding and sleep - enables your baby to feel secure and develop healthy sleep patterns.
- Right from the start, achieving each aspect of independence relies on both parents working actively to respond consistently to your baby. Try not to play ‘good cop, bad cop’ games with children because they are sensitive from the start to your moods and the way you respond to them.
- Babies and children are very clever and will unconsciously manipulate their parents to receive the attention which they crave. If you only give your child attention when they cry, they will learn to cry to motivate your attention. So always offer positive attention and praise to your child when they are content and need your approbation.
- As your baby settles, set up regular routines which suit your way of life, and allow you to continue your individual and shared interests. Support each other to maintain your priorities to safeguard your own health and well-being.
- Create expectations which your child is able to achieve so they get a sense of pride in achieving one step at a time. For instance when your baby starts communicating their needs by pointing, reinforce their knowledge of words by acknowledging verbally what they seem to be requesting. Also talk from the earliest time in full short sentences and sing songs so that your baby takes in the rhythm of language long before making sense of individual words.
- As your child grows be prepared to review your own behaviour and to adjust your agreed expectations to meet new challenges.For instance, as your child begins to take solids, encourage them to feed themselves because this empowerment enables the development of fine and gross motor skills as well as promoting independence. For parents it means they need to take a calmer attitude to longer eating times - and more mess!
My Seven Top Tips
- Agree how mutually supportive you will be of each other and maintain the process of discussing how to behave when times are challenging
- Acknowledge that children respond to how you are with them, and they need to feel that the adults who care for them behave rationally and consistently
- Create expectations that are workable and teach children to break down tasks into elements which are achievable and for which they receive positive feedback
- If you have rules, create them together with the children, and make them positive not negative, so that they represent aspirations for the whole family
- Minimise all aspects of negative interactions so that situations do not escalate. For example if you shout at your children, you are behaving as the child rather than the adult. This is confusing for children and it escalates noise and anger throughout the home
- Act as good adult role models by compromising and reducing conflict in the home
- Always ensure that children can feel empowered by making simple choices from just two options. Empowerment in children enables them to mature and develop resilience. It thereby reduces conflict and inconsistencies in families.
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