As parents, we sometimes forget how much our own decisions affect our children. From the media we watch, what we put into our bodies and how we treat others, kids watch us like hawks even when we don’t think they are paying attention. Research suggests that the primary influence over children comes from parents up until junior high and high school. Once kids get older, peers become a bigger influence and parents take on more of a back seat role for many teens. For this reason, parenting in the first few years of a child’s life is crucial and the better the choices we make for ourselves, the better off our children will be.
Listed here are a few practical tips for how to build better relationships with your children and to ensure your influences help to shape their choices in a positive way:
The Power of Parental Influence
1) Spend quality time with your children.
I know this seems obvious, but if you actually wrote down the time you spent with each child, what would that look like? Dragging them to the store, trips to and from school, and activities don’t really count unless you are using that time to really engage and connect with your child. Do you listen to them? I mean really listen with your whole body. I have spent hours in counseling sessions with families just teaching skills on how to listen effectively. It’s not always easy and can take some practice, but kids know when you are just half listening versus really engaging.
For families with multiple children, take one child out on their own once in a while so they aren’t always competing with their siblings for your attention. Take turns doing a date night with each child. It doesn’t have to be an expensive outing. Go out for ice cream, play a game of tennis or basketball with them, or you can even stay home and tell your child they have one hour to play a game or read a book with you uninterrupted. This means no checking your phone when they aren’t looking!
2) Model appropriate strategies for dealing with stress and anger.
If you think your children can’t tell how your work day went right when you walk through the door, think again. Body language and tone says everything. Do you throw your keys in the drawer and give a big sigh? Do you ask your kids about a favorite part of their day (and don’t forget to use eye contact)? Getting down at their level or sitting with them in a chair tells them they are valued and that what they have to say is important. Building positive self-esteem for your children is one of your most important jobs as a parent and it doesn’t happen over night.
When using consequences, say “Please go to a time out. You chose to break the rules when you hit your sister.” Post the rules and consequences up in your house. It will help everyone to be on the same page. Not only do I have the rules and consequences posted in my home, I also have specific rules for dealing with anger appropriately. These anger rules apply to everyone in our house including myself and my husband.
It’s also important to remind children that it’s okay to make mistakes. This is how we learn, improve and grow emotionally. Model apologies and forgiveness for your kids by saying these things out loud in front of them to your spouse or to them directly.
4) Get help if you need it!
There are plenty of resources out there to guide you along with the daunting process of parenting. Not having all of the answers doesn’t make you a bad parent and there is no shame in asking for help. Children are all so different and what works well for one child may not work for another. Find the resources you need (books at the library, parenting classes, blogs, seek a therapist, or have your child evaluated if needed). Don’t be afraid of feedback from teachers, coaches and other important people in your children’s lives about their behavior. Your children’s choices do not define you as a parent or as a person. The best part about being a parent is that you get another day to do it better.
*A couple of my favorite parenting books I often recommend:
Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Have questions? Want to hear more about a specific topic? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org