Ideas for being a better parent

If your New Year's resolution for 2013 is to be a better parent, here are some suggestions taht might help.

By Donna Fleming
Ideas for being a better parent

Be involved in your kids' lives
This can mean putting other priorities aside, but it's crucial to be more involved in your children's lives than just being the person who drives them to school, puts their dinner on the table and nags them to help around the house. Spend time with them doing thing they enjoy, get to know their friends and teachers, and watch their soccer games or dance classes. It'll help make them feel loved and important.

Set rules
Children need guidelines to follow. By giving them rules you’re helping to not only teach them what’s right and wrong but how to manage themselves in different situations.

Be consistent
If you keep changing the rules or if you let your children get away with something on one occasion but punish them on the next, they’ll end up confused and unsure how to behave. While some things may be negotiable, stick to your guns on important matters.

Encourage them to be independent
It’s your job to prepare your kids to cope with everything life is likely to throw at them. Supporting them to be independent will help them learn to stand on their own two feet and develop a sense of self-direction.

Have realistic expectations
Set your expectations at a level that’s suitable for their age and stage of development. For example, don’t get cross if your three-year-old can’t sit patiently for half an hour in a restaurant waiting for their food to arrive. If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re bound to be disappointed and your child will feel as if they’ve let you down.

Praise them
We’re quick to speak up when our children do something wrong, but don’t always let them know when they’ve done well. This doesn’t mean lavishing praise on them for every little thing, but it is important to take the time to notice and mention good behaviour.

Be wary of comparisons and labels
Don’t compare your child to their siblings or other people’s kids. Everyone is different and pointing out that your child isn’t achieving the same results as someone else isn’t going to do them any favours – they’ll just feel second rate. Similarly, don’t saddle them with unnecessary labels such as “the shy one” or “the naughty one”. This can make them feel pigeon-holed and misunderstood. It may even encourage them to overindulge in that very behaviour because they feel they’re expected to live up to their reputation.

Be a good role model
Your children learn from watching you. They’re much more observant than you think and will be picking up on everything you do. You can’t get away with telling them one thing, then behaving completely differently yourself, so think carefully about the message your actions are sending them.

Put yourself in your child's shoes
Think about why they might have behaved the way they did and try to imagine how they’re feeling. Are they really being naughty or trying to make you angry, or are they simply frustrated or upset because things aren’t working out the way they want them to and they don’t know how to deal with their emotions? Consider how they might view your response to their behaviour. How would you react if someone yelled at or belittled you simply because you were feeling frustrated?

Let them make mistakes
It’s hard to stand by and watch your child do something wrong, but as long as they’re not doing anything that could harm them or others, sometimes you just have to let them screw things up. Mistakes help them to learn about cause and effect, and hopefully they won’t make the same mistake twice.

Examine your attitude towards food
Food shouldn’t be used as a way of comforting or rewarding your kids – giving them treats when they’re upset or have done well alters their perception of treat food and gives it more value than it deserves. Give them love and attention instead.

Don't criticise the child, criticise the behaviour
Don’t tell your kids that they’re bad – explain that what they’ve done is mean, harmful or thoughtless. Let them know their behaviour is unacceptable and you don’t like it, but you still love them. Be stern and assertive, but not nasty, and explain what they could have done instead.

Treat your child with respect
The best way to get respect from your child is to treat them respectfully. Speak to them politely, pay attention to what they say and be kind to them. Appreciate that they have their own opinions on certain matters and don’t try to bully them into thinking the same way you do. Your child will treat others the way they’ve been treated by you.

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