I have two children; a daughter who is nearly twelve and a son who is eighteen. My son has autism. I don’t for a minute think I’m an expert in parenting, but I’ve learnt a lot on this journey and so this article reflects my experience.
PARENTING IS A JOURNEY
The most important piece of advice I can give anyone is that parenting is a long, hard journey. You learn about it on the way. You certainly don’t become a good parent immediately. It takes a lot of time and experience. As parents, we don’t always know all the answers. Sometimes you will feel that you really don’t know what the best way is and a lot of the time, you just react to your instincts. You’ll develop your own views along that journey. I’ve certainly not always felt confident in how I react to something, but I believe that if you start from a point of just being kind then you can’t go far wrong.
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT OF BEHAVIOUR
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been a teacher for much longer than I have been a parent. I didn’t always get it right when I first started teaching, but over the years, I’ve learnt that children respond much better to kindness than anything else. Positive reinforcement of behaviour is more successful than creating fear. When your children are first born, you feel the most incredible rush of love and emotion. You have an inbuilt need to protect them and although you think your child is amazing and much better than any other child, then you are still able to see their faults.
BUILD THEIR SELF-ESTEEM
I know some people will disagree with this, but I have always told my children that they are beautiful. I have always picked out their strengths and praised these continually. My reasoning behind this, is that it’s a tough World out there. There will be so many people who will be desperate to put them down, that giving them confidence to face the World, is one of the greatest skills you can pass on. It might make them confident and enable them to develop self-belief, but it certainly doesn’t make them arrogant.
LEARN WHEN TO FIGHT BATTLES
I always say that it is essential as a parent to know when a battle is worth fighting. If you continually moan at your kids then they are just going to switch off. I’m dreadful in the morning, as are my kids. It takes me a good two hours and several coffees to wake up. If they are a bit grumpy and snappy in the morning, I put this down to tiredness. If they are a bit tired and grumpy at night and say something, then I let it pass. But if they keep doing something that is wrong, then I will pull them up on it. These incidents are rare though and if they have done something wrong then I do like to explain to them exactly why it is wrong.
CHILDREN LEARN FROM THE BEHAVIOUR THAT IS MODELLED TO THEM
Children learn everything from the behaviour that is modelled to them. Think about how children learn to speak and then you realise how much of an influence you have on your children. If they see you doing something regularly, then it becomes something that they do. If you want your children to read more, then read more yourself. If you want your children to be kind to others, then you need to be kind to them. It’s very simple but it is so effective. Respect is not automatic. Just because you are your child’s parent, does not mean that they will respect you. Respect takes time and is only gained when both sides trust and like each other, and when you have shown your child how they should behave by your own behaviour.
DON’T LIVE BY RULES
I’ve never made rules in the house. I don’t ban anything, as I believe that the moment you ban something, then its attraction to a child doubles. As humans we all prefer simplicity. A whole list of rules doesn’t make children behave. It makes them react to the rules. If my children have ever asked to do something that I don’t really want them to, then I think it’s vital to explain to them why. So, if my child wants to eat a load of chocolate before dinner, then I take time to explain why I would prefer them to wait. I don’t just say no.
THE GREATEST PUNISHMENT
Life is challenging with children and it’s vital to understand that you don’t always know the answers. Occasionally if my children have done something bad, then I do believe that they need to learn a lesson from it. Sometimes as a punishment I will remove a privilege. But the most effective punishment you can ever give a child is to say that you are disappointed by their behaviour and you expected more from them. You are trying to show your children how to behave in the World when they become adults. Is it appropriate as adults that when we do something wrong we are hit or sent to bed? No. It’s important to learn our lesson from our mistakes. Don’t ever punish your child in the heat of emotion. Wait until you have calmed down and speak to them rationally, explaining everything.
Communication is vital in any relationship but even more so as a parent. Take time to listen to your children. Be their biggest cheerleader but do not be afraid of being their harshest critic. Along the way give them plenty of cuddles and let them know that they are loved. Always make them realise that as much as childhood is a journey for them, then being a parent is also a journey. You won’t always get things right and it’s vital to admit this. If they see that even their parent has flaws, they will understand that as humans noone is perfect. We all have our good and bad days.
Of course, every child is different and we learn as parents that what may work with one child, may not always work with the other. But in my experience, I have never met a child yet, who didn’t fail to respond to kindness. Above all else, be consistent in your approach. Children need to know how someone is going to react. It gives them security and reassurance.
What lessons have you learnt as a parent? I’d love to hear your views.