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9 Steps to More Effective Parenting

Raising children is one of the toughest and most fulfilling jobs in the world and the one for which you may be the least prepared. Learning “on the job” how to be a parent can be fraught with pitfalls. As advocates for children , we at the Dupont Hospital for Children want to help you raise healthy and happy children. Here are some ways to tackle your child-rearing responsibilities that will help you feel more fulfilled as a parent, and enjoy your children more, too.

1.     Nurture your child’s self esteem

Children start developing their sense of self as babies when they see themselves through your eyes. Your tone of voice, your body language, and your every expression is absorbed by your child. Your words and actions as parents affect your child’s developing self-image more than anything else in his world. Consequently, praising your child for his accomplishment, however small, will make him feel proud; letting him to do things for himself will make him feel capable and independent. By contrast, belittling your child or comparing him unfavorably to another will make him feel worthless.

Avoid making loaded statement or using words as a weapons: “What a stupid thing to do!” or “You act more like a baby than your little brother!” Comments like these bruise the inside of a child as much as blows the outside. Choose your words carefully and be compassionate. Let your child know that everyone makes and that while you may not like his behavior. You still love him.

2.     Catch your child being good

Have you ever stopped to think about how many times you react negatively to your child in a given day? You may find that you are criticizing far more than you are complimenting. How would you feel about a boss who treated you with that much negative guidance?

The more effective approach is to catch your child doing something right, and praise her to the skies. “You made your bed without being asked-that’s terrific!” or  “I was watching you play with your sister and you were very patient!” These statements will do more to encourage good behavior over the long run than repeated scolding. Make a point of finding something to praise every day.  Be generous with rewards-your love, hugs and compliments can work wonders and are often rewards enough. Soon you will find you are “growing” more of the behavior you  would like to see.

3.     Set limits and be consistent with your discipline

Discipline is necessary in every household. The goal of discipline is to help children choose acceptable behaviors. Children may test the limits you establish for them but they need limits to grow into responsible adults. Establishing house rules might include: homework is to be done before any television privileges are granted, or hitting, name-calling and hurtful teasing are unacceptable.

You may want to have a system in place: one warning, followed by consequences such as “time out” or loss of privileges. A common mistake parents makes is failure to follow through with consequence when rules are broken. A rule without consequences is not a rule at all-it’s a threat. You can’t discipline a child for talking back one day, and ignore it the next. Being consistent sets an example of what expect from our children.

4.     Make time for your children

With so many demands on your time, it’s often difficult for parents and children to get together for a family meal, let alone spend some quality time together. However, there is probably nothing your child would like more. Get up 10 minutes earlier in the morning so you can eat breakfast with your child or leave the dishes in the sink and take a walk after dinner. Children who are not getting the attention they want from their parents often act out or misbehave because they are assured of being noticed. Many parents find it mutually rewarding to have prescheduled time with their child on a regular basis. For instance, tell your child Tuesday is her special night with Mommy and let her help decide how you will spend your time together. Look for ways to connect with your child without actually being there-put  a note or something special in her lunchbox.

Adolescents seem to need the undivided attention of their parents less than younger children. Since there are fewer windows of opportunity for parents and teen to get together, parents should do their best to be available when their teen does express a desire to talk or participate in family activities.

Don’t feel too guilty if you’re a working parent. Quantity is not nearly as important as what you do with the bits and pieces of time you have with your child. It is the many little things you do together-making popcorn playing cards and window-shopping that your child will remember.

5.     Be a good role model

Young children learn a great deal about how to act by watching you. The younger they are, the more cues they take from you. Before you lash out or blow your top in front of your child, think about this: Is that how you want him to behave when he’s angry? Be constantly aware that you are being observed by your children. Studies have shown that children who hit usually have a role model for aggression at home.

Instead, model the traits you whish to cultivate in your child; respect, friendliness, honesty, kindness. Exhibit unselfish behavior. Do things for other people without expecting a reward, such as taking dinner to sick neighbor. Express thanks; offer compliments. Above all, treat your children the way you expect other people to treat you.

6.     Make communication a priority

You can’t expect children to do everything simply because you, as parents, “say so.” Children want and deserve explanations as much as adults do. If we don’t take time to explain, children will begin to wonder about our values and motives and whether they have any basis. Parents who reason with their children allow them to understand and learn in a non-judgmental way.

Make your expectations clear. If there is a problem, describe it to your child, express your feelings about it and invite your child to work on a solution with you. Be sure to include consequences. Make suggestions and offer choice. Be open to your child’s suggestions as well. Negotiate with her. Children who participate in decisions are more motivated to carry them out.

7.     Be flexible and willing to adjust your parenting style

If you frequently feel “let down” by your child’s behavior, it may be because you have unrealistic expectations for her. Parents who think in “should”, e.g., “She should be potty-trained by now”, may find it helpful to do more reading on the matter or talk to other parents or child development specialists. This may enable you to adjust your expectations to a more realistic level.

The environment in which your child moves also has an impact on her behavior. For example, you may be able to modify your 2-year-old’s behavior by changing her environment. If you find yourself constantly saying “NO” to her, there are surely ways to restructure her surroundings so that fewer things are off-limits. This will cause les frustration for both of you.

As your child changes, you will probably have to change your parenting style, too. Many parents find it helpful at some point to draw up a “kiddie contract” to encourage good behavior and motivate their child. This can be as simple as a weekly list of chores and responsibilities posted on the refrigerator. Chances are, what works with your child now won’t work forever.

Teenagers tend to look less to their parents and more to their peers for examples of how to be. Continue to provide guidance and appropriate discipline while allowing your child to earn more independence. And seize every available moment to make a connection!

8.     Show your love is unconditional

As a parent, you are responsible for correcting and guiding your child. But how you express your corrective guidance makes all the difference in how your child receives it. When you have to confront your child, avoid blaming, criticizing or faultfinding, which undermine his self-esteem and can lead to resentment. Instead, strive to nurture and encourage even when you are disciplining your child. Make sure he knows that while you want and expect him to do better next time, you love him-no matter what.

9.     Be aware of your own needs and limitations as a parent

Face it you are an imperfect parent. You have strengths and weaknesses as a family leader. Recognize your abilities, “I’m loving and dedicated”. Vow to work on your weaknesses. “I need to be more consistent with discipline”. Try to have realistic expectations of yourself, your spouse and your children. You don’t have to have all the answers be forgiving of yourself. And try to make parenting a manageable job. Focus on the areas that need the most attention rather than trying to address everything all at once. Admit it when you’re burned out. Take time out from parenting to do thing that will make you happy as a person and as a couple. Focusing on your needs does not make you selfish. It simply means you care about your own well-being. Which is another important value to model for your children.

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