By: Dr Justin Coulson
Think of the times that your parenting has been its best. Those times where you were unconditionally there for your child and it felt “right”.
When I ask parents to tell me about those times, these are the answers I hear:
- Dinner time conversations
- Holidays with no agendas
- Weekends at the park or the beach
- Playing games in the lounge room
- Walking and talking
The last ten minutes each night when I tuck them in and we just chat
It seems that time together, really focusing on one another, is the most powerful way for us to build strong relationships and feel like great parents.
No parent has ever told me they felt like they were being the best parent they could be while they worked overtime at the office or snuck away for a weekend. These things are sometimes necessary and valuable, but while paying the bills or getting some ‘me-time’ can help us to be good parents, ‘we-time’, or time together, brings out the best in us, and our kids.
The following six ideas are research-backed ways to help you be the best parent you can be, and also bring out the best in your children:
Mindfulness is having a moment-to-moment awareness of experiences. It means being where your feet are.
Mindfulness leads to tremendous benefits, including better focus, decreased stress, increased memory and, improved relationship satisfaction. When we’re mindful we respond well to, and communicate well with, our loved ones.
The first and most important step to being mindful, is to turn off your smartphones. Technology disrupts our relationships with our children by limiting our ability to tune in to them. It stops us from truly paying attention to them. Turn off the tech, slow down and savour the moment with your kids. Take time to talk about the clouds in the sky, or to sit on the couch for an extra long cuddle. Being present helps our stress levels drop and our happiness increase. Life is simply better.
Give Lots of Physical Affection
Hugs, snuggles, shoulder rubs, even smiling eye contact – these are some of the ways that we give affection. And they feel great! But studies show that physical affection also provides stress-buffering support to our kids. Hugging releases the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin fights depression and stress, and underlies trust. So hug your kids in the morning, at night and as many moments as you can in between. The more you hug your kids, the less effect stress has on them.
Build on Strengths
Strengths-based parenting is when we identify our children’s strengths and encourage them to grow and use those strengths. These become the inner resources of your child that they can access to cope with conflict and manage the rigors of school. Identifying and developing our children’s strengths also boosts resilience and reduces stress. It leads to stronger emotional, academic and social skills and that in turn promotes greater life satisfaction.
Grateful people are consistently happier, healthier and more optimistic. They have better relationships – at school, at work and at home. Taking time out to be grateful toward our children builds a sense of trust and solidarity between our kids and us and helps us be better parents. So slip a note of thanks into your child’s lunchbox, or onto his pillow. Teaching or encouraging our children to be grateful is one of the best ways to boost their wellbeing.
Look Forward with Hope
We are happier, better, more pleasant people when we expect good things. It makes sense then that one of the best characteristics we can teach our children is to have hope. Hope is an antidote to both depression and anxiety, and hopeful children are more resilient and goal-oriented, and have greater success in life.
We can help them be hopeful by talking about the good things we expect, working with them to set goals and brainstorming ways to make those goals happen. Teaching our kids to have hope is one of the best things we can do as a parent.
Listen and Empathise
Our children have big emotions. Sometimes it is inconvenient, but our children need to express those emotions. To be the best parents, we need to listen and show that we understand.
To really listen, we need to stop, look and listen. Stop what you are doing, look your child in the eye and really listen. Listening and acknowledging thoughts and feelings shows our kids that we understand and we care. Really listening is how we draw our children closer. It is how we become the best parents we can.
Ultimately, it pays to remember that we all fail. We all struggle. We all find this parenting gig pretty tough. But by working on these six things, especially when we may not want to, we will become better parents and bring out the best in our kids.
And when we fail, we should remember that we don’t have to be the best parent in the world. We just have to be the best parent in their world.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.
About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.