By Dr. Josh Eudowe
You may at times find yourself wondering what are good parenting skills? And why are they so important? Good parenting skills fall into several categories which are; love and affection, behavior management, autonomy and independence, stress management, life and relationship skills and health and safety. When it comes to parenting, two of the attributes that I stress most are consistency and predictability. When children can’t rely on a parent to be consistent (over a long term) or they can’t predict this consistency, it raises levels of anxiety and ultimately leads to changes in behaviour. Remember, children can’t always articulate what they’re feeling, so it’s expressed through behaviour. If you see your child’s behaviour changing, take a minute to think about your own consistency and predictability.
Below are some important aspects of good parenting skills and discussions about how to implement them in the best possible ways.
Stress and anger management
Learning how to control stress and anger are a vital part of a child’s development. As an example, when a parent has anger issues that cause them to lose their temper sporadically, this can leave the child confused and anxious about what they have done wrong. It’s perfectly normal to have mood swings, it happens to the best of us. But what is important is to not allow your mood swings to affect your child’s development and closeness with you by persistently allowing your anger to get the better of you (remember consistency and predictability!). Chronic anger problems can cause a child to go one of two ways. The child will either retreat into their shell and become afraid of stressful situations or they will imitate their parent and use anger as a way of expressing stressful emotions – both in and outside of the home.
Boundaries and behavior management
One of the most important things a parent can teach their child from a young age is boundaries. Any child who is given free reign without rules does not know when they are doing right from wrong and this can ultimately lead to anxiety. It is the parent or caregiver’s job to make sure that firm boundaries are established and adhered to consistently. A good way to look at this is to imagine that you are driving a car down an unmarked street in particularly heavy fog. What’s more, imagine no speed limit signs. Keeping to the correct side of the road and knowing how fast to drive becomes difficult when you can’t see the division line, oncoming vehicles, or know the rules of the road. The result? Your anxiety level goes up. The same rings true for children who lack boundaries. By establishing clear boundaries you are helping your child to easily understand by separating positives from negatives and giving them a clear path in which to walk. This, in turn, helps with behavior management as children thrive when they know what they can and cannot do.
Facts and feelings
As I never can stress enough to families I work with, facts are facts and feelings are feelings. However, separating facts from feelings can sometimes be hard to do. Perspectives can vary greatly from person to person; therefore, people will tend to argue in favor of facts. As an example, a child is depressed, anxious, reclusive or oppositional; parents will try to understand or make sense of these symptoms and behaviours by trying to explore the facts. However, the problem with this is that facts don’t always explain the symptoms. Parents may believe they have set up an ideal environment for their children, but the children are still symptomatic. Why does this happen? Ultimately, parents need to accept that something is causing these symptoms and not dismiss the feelings due to not being able to match the symptoms to the facts. Sometimes the cause is obvious and other times it is elusive. Perseverance is important and also to accept that sometimes the facts just don’t add up. Furthermore, the more emphasis parents place on understanding the facts, the more invalidating they become to their child and his/her feelings.
Validation is important to a child and parents should validate their child’s thoughts and feelings consistently. A child does not have a fully developed understanding of why they feel a certain way (in fact, even most adults struggle with this at times.) When a child is sad because a parent is going away and the parents tell the child ‘there’s no reason to be sad, I’ll see you later’ this disregards the child’s feeling of sadness by telling them they shouldn’t be feeling that way. This only confuses the child and can cause further anxiety and self-doubt by invalidating the way that they feel. The way to handle the situation would be to say ‘I see that you feel sad, I do too … I will be back soon and I am looking forward to seeing you then’.
Another example is when a child is excited or happy to show their parents a new toy in the store. ‘Mommy/Daddy, I loooove this toy, can I have it?’ and the parent responds with ‘No! It’s a piece of junk/ a waste of money’. Instantly, the child feels invalidated, or worse that they are not worthy of the toy and that what they think and feel is wrong. The better way to deal with the situation would be a response like ‘wow! That looks like a great toy; I can see why you’d love it! We can’t buy it today but I will write it down and remember which one you love’ – this way you re-enforce and validate what’s important to them. However, remember that if a parent is not consistent with this type of validation, it will have little lasting effect.
As mentioned earlier it can be difficult to know what to say or do to best help your child become a responsible, caring and loving individual. At times most parents and caregivers feel that they are failing their children by not doing things in the correct way. The truth of the matter is that as long as you have patience, understanding, and persistence and take the time to think before you act, then you are on the right track to raising a well-rounded little person. But remember the importance of consistency and predictability. This needs to be a genuine change that parents are committed to – otherwise, they’re neither consistent or predictable!