It is hard to believe that it has been 25 years since I became a parent for the first time. After having six children my youngest being only just turned 6, being a childminder and working with children for over 15 years I have had quite a unique insight into children’s lives from the point of view of a parent and a caregiver. I do not profess to have a degree in child psychology but I have learned a lot over the years and have learned to trust my own instincts.
In the last twenty-five years, there have been massive changes in the way we think about parenting our children. Ideas and attitudes have shifted dramatically, and continue to change all the time just as if you were to ask my parents or grandparents how they raised me, they would give you completely different answers than I would. The goals of parenting have not changed, but the methods we use to achieve them are always evolving.
One change I have noticed in parenting over my lifetime is the move away from traditional gender roles. When my parents were children, it was common that a mother would stay at home with the children while the father went to work, when I was a child it was more common for the mother to work part-time around school times.
Nowadays, it is much more common for both parents to work outside the home, and for there to be a more equal division of labour when it comes to child-rearing. While this change has been hugely beneficial for families in many ways and it has helped to create a more level playing field for women in the workforce, it has also put an enormous amount of pressure on families to juggle work and child-rearing commitments, not to mention the added financial burden of childcare and children may be spending less time with their parents as a result.
The cost of living has increased enormously and it is now no longer a choice but a necessity for most families that both parents work.
Is this way of life best for our children? Only time will tell, but I believe that as long as we are honest with ourselves about the challenges and make an effort to create strong bonds with our children, they will be just fine.
One of the biggest changes I have noticed over the years is our attitudes toward disciplining our children. When I had my daughter in 1997 it was not unusual for a parent to smack a child if they were deemed to be naughty. This was considered an acceptable form of discipline and was seen as a way to help a child learn right from wrong.
These days, however, smacking is increasingly seen as an outdated and ineffective form of discipline that can actually do more harm than good. While smacking is still legal in England I feel and hope that it is very much on the decline. I truly believe that no one can truly learn from fear and that smacking is a very damaging way of teaching our children how to behave well.
If someone told you that they smacked their partner when they did something they didn’t like what would you think? So how can it be acceptable to do this to a child? There is now a much greater emphasis on positive reinforcement and praise as a way to encourage good behaviour.
In the early 2000s, we were all following the example of Supernanny and putting our children on the naughty step so that they could think about what they had done and then would ask for an apology before they could get up and go and play.
While Supernanny is great, she has taught us a lot about child development and this was definitely a step up from corporal punishment I still feel that this particular parenting style is focused on how to control our children’s behaviour and involves an element of shame and embarrassment for the child that I do not feel comfortable with, surely there had to be a better way than the old authoritative parenting styles?
This particular method never worked for daughter number three who would have quite happily stayed on the naughty step all day long rather than apologise for something she didn’t believe was wrong so we very quickly scrapped this idea after all a forced apology is no good for anyone.
As a large family with multiple personalities, we realised that our children do not fit into boxes (unless they want to!) and there is no failsafe way of parenting so for our own sanity and for the sake of our relationships with our children we needed to move away from the punishment focused parenting practices and adopt a more natural parenting style.
One thing I have learned from parenting our six children is that they are all very much individual people with their own thoughts, feelings, interests and personalities. I have come to the conclusion that no one can tell you how to parent your own child and these methods of control do not work, listen to your instincts as a parent, you know your child best.
Over the years I have grown into the opinion that being a parent should not be about getting our children to conform to your will it should be about allowing our children the freedom of thought to be able to fulfil their own hopes and dreams and be positive and confident adults.
Children are not inherently bad, if we lead them by giving them a positive example they will follow. With clear and simple boundaries that everyone in the household should live by, they should feel secure and confident within the family and beyond.
Of course, we will all fail at things and we all make mistakes but if our children see us learning from ours then they will not be afraid of their own failures, to fail means you have tried. Remind them that failure is an event, not a person.
One trap that it can be very easy to fall into as a parent as our children get older is to be over–involved in their lives.
In early childhood when our children are very little they need us most of the time and as parents, it can be very difficult for us to let go and allow our children to grow into young adults being over-involved in an older child’s life can put stress on the ever-changing parent-child relationship.
For instance, if your child is enrolled in a lot of out of school activities it can put a lot of time pressure on us as a parent and could be unintentionally putting extra stress on the child, we need to be careful that our children don’t feel like they are being micromanaged. Being a helicopter parent can be extremely stifling for our children and doesn’t encourage them to become independent.
I believe that this is a really big step forward in attitudes towards parenting our children and greatly impacts their mental health as adults. The idea that children should be seen and not heard and should follow without question is no longer an acceptable method of parenting.
We are now much more open to listening to what our children have to say and taking their opinions and feelings into account. If you were unable to express your needs as a child and felt powerless to control what happened to your body, it is likely that you will struggle with trusting people as an adult.
It is so important to respect our children’s bodily autonomy from a young age and give them the power to make decisions about their own bodies. This includes things like letting them choose what clothes they want to wear, how they will have their hair cut and whether or not they want to give Aunty Janice a kiss goodbye.
By allowing your child a say in what happens to their body from a young age, you are teaching them that their feelings and opinions matter and that they have a say in their own lives. This will help them develop healthy relationships as an adult and will help to build their self-confidence and self-esteem.
I have lost count over the years of how many times have I heard people say you are making a rod for your own back or that is attention-seeking behaviour.
My answer to this is if we only ever give our children attention when they are doing something we approve of then what message are we sending them? Why should we not pick up our babies when they cry? What is wrong with allowing them to cuddle us when they need comfort? We all need to feel that our feelings are being met by the people we love.
I believe that the answer to most behaviour problems is actually quite simple, give your child what they need, not what you think they need or what you want them to need. If we meet their needs then they will not have a reason to exhibit problem behaviour.
So often I see parents who are trying to get their children to conform to their idea of what is best for them, rather than listening to what their children are telling them they need. How would you feel if you were always told no, or that your feelings were not valid?
We would not like this as adults so why do we do this to our children? If we validate their feelings and listen to what they are saying then they will be more likely to listen to us and come to us with their problems as they get older.
I believe the key to good parenting is building a trusting and respectful relationship with our children based on communication and love.
How do we achieve this?
I think the answer lies in being more present and mindful as parents. In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, it can be very difficult to slow down and really be present with our children but if we can make the time it will make a huge difference. Take time to listen, I guarantee you your child will amaze you! We all have busy lives and routines of work often get in the way but if we can just make a conscious effort to carve out some quality time as a family each day, be it around the table at dinner time, bathtime or bedtime it will have a positive impact on everyone.
How to deal with challenging behaviour.
There will always be times that our children drive us mad, usually, when we are busy trying to do something important but instead of getting angry and frustrated, try to see it from their point of view. They are probably bored, or they need your attention and feel that this is the only way to get it.
If we can step back and see the situation from their perspective it can help us to find a more creative solution that works for both of us. This can become even more important if your child has special needs, they might be unable to tell you why they are feeling upset but by identifying the things that they struggle with you can try to minimise those situations or come up with coping strategies with them to make both of your lives easier.
All children need routine, it makes them feel safe and secure, sticking to regular mealtimes, bedtimes and so on as much as possible may have a positive effect on their behaviour.
This is doubly true for children with special needs as they may struggle with change and transitions. One of the most important things we can do for our children is to let them know that we love them unconditionally and that no matter what they do we will always be there for them.
This does not mean that we always have to like what they do but that we respect that children can make their own mistakes.
The term ‘positive parenting’ is one that is becoming more and more popular but what does it actually mean? Positive parenting is about raising our children in a way that encourages their positive behaviour and discourages their negative behaviour. It is about building a strong, trusting relationship with our children based on respect, communication and unconditional love and witnessing the positive outcomes.
It is important to remember that children are not miniature adults, they think differently, they process information differently and they have different needs. For the sake of their mental health, we need to parent our children in a way that meets their needs, not ours. They need our patience, love, attention, guidance, and support to grow into happy, confident and successful adults.
It is my belief that if we as parents can remember that our children are human beings in their own right and not just extensions of ourselves then we will be well on the way to raising happy, confident and successful young adults. So, let us all try to remember this the next time our child does something that drives us crazy!
If we could just step back and treat each child as an individual, listen to them and give them the same respect as we would any adult our children will flourish into emotionally intelligent adults. We would not dream of controlling our partner or a friend so why do we think it is acceptable to control our children. If we want our children to grow into confident, well-rounded adults we need to give them the freedom to make their own decisions and mistakes and learn from them. So, my advice to any parent reading this is, please try to let go.
It is not an easy task, I know, but it will be worth it in the long run I promise.
It seems like every day there is a new article or study telling us how we should be parenting our children. It can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when the advice seems to contradict itself. Just when you think you have got it right, they go and change the goalposts! It can be hard to keep up with all the changes and new ideas, but I think overall attitudes towards parenting have changed for the better.
What do you think? Have attitudes towards parenting changed for the better or worse in recent years? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.