1. Nobody is a good parent all of the time
We all imagine the kind of Mum or Dad we want to be. Fun, fair, patient. It can be painful when we have those moments when our ‘stress bucket’ is full up and we react in ways we never expected to. Forgive yourself. Repair things with your child. Begin again.
2. Your deep-held ideas about authority and respect will come out
Your child will not always listen to you and co-operate with you. How you make sense of them pushing boundaries affects how you feel as a parent. For example, if you think ‘I would have never dreamed of acting this way with my parents, I should be the one in charge here’ then your response to this testing behaviour will be very different from a parent who thinks ‘this is normal for their age, it’s not about me, they just need a limit to come up against to feel safe’.
3. Prioritise connection
All children behave in unwanted ways from time to time. It’s helpful to remember these behaviours come from understandable feelings of frustration, rivalry, loss etc. Parents who manage to remain emotionally close to their distressed child usually find this pays off in dampening down those big feelings. You can still be firm about safety but empathise with the emotion underneath the unwanted actions.
4. Your job is to not to make your child happy all the time
Your job is to help your child learn to understand and manage all the feelings they experience. Everyone feels angry sometimes, everyone gets worried. If you can help your child learn to tolerate frustration, you are setting them up to manage the challenges and disappointments life sometimes brings. It’s a skill that needs to be learnt, and at a time when your child is developmentally ready to learn it.
5. Limits and routines are helpful
Having a familiar and predictable structure to the day reduces anxiety. This is true for adults as well as children. Clear, firm rules also help a child to feel safe and calm. Unless they are often reinforced in a scary or harsh way.
Many parents worry that they aren’t very good at play. You don’t have to have an award-winning imagination to enjoy playing with your child. All you need to do is show interest in their play, show interest in what they are learning or trying out. Notice them. Self-esteem comes from feeling acceptable in your eyes.
7. Try to adapt to their difference
Your child may be like you, or like their sibling. But they may not be. Perhaps they are very sensitive and you are someone who likes to ‘get on with things’. Perhaps they are more solitary when their older sibling was always talking. Learn about what they need from you. You might find it harder work or less natural with a child who is temperamentally different to you. You won’t always get it right but your child will experience you trying your best.
8. The way you were parented will influence the kind of parent you are
Sometimes we want to give our children the best of what we got from our parents, sometimes we want to offer them something very different. Even when deciding to ‘go opposite’ we can end up creating a different problem e.g. if we had a strict parent we found harsh and critical, we can end up being too easy-going and not providing any limits at all which makes the child unsure and anxious. It can be upsetting if we hear ourselves sounding like our own mother or father when losing our temper. This happens to the best of us. Notice it and talk about it with your support network.
9. Dads need help too
Services still focus on the wellbeing of Mum throughout pregnancy and the early years. Maternity leave and support groups enable Mums to access advice from one another and learn what is normal and when to be worried. Many Dads don’t have this kind of support network to normalise their feelings about being a father. Men often feel they can’t talk about their feelings, that it isn’t what men do. Look for someone that feels safe with, that might be online and anonymous, or that friend from school who also complains sometimes about being a Dad or getting it wrong.
10. If you are struggling with feelings your child brings up in you, get help.
Shame is a powerful and excruciating feeling. It silences us because we fear being seen at our worst. It can be hard to open up to a professional about difficult feelings you aren’t proud of. But that brave step into vulnerability could be the best thing you do for your child.
Dr Jenny Griffiths is a Clinical Psychologist based in Bristol. For more information about her private practice, visit her profile page or http://www.thebristolpsychologist.co.uk/