Top 5 Tips for Today’s Parents

Recently during an interview on Channel 9 in Perth I was asked what my five top tips might be for today’s parents and I thought it might be helpful to elaborate on these for those of you who are parenting in our confusing and uncertain world at this moment.

Tip 1. Know that you are going to make mistakes and be realistic.

No matter how good your intentions, parenting is a never-ending journey of making choices and sometimes you will make ones that you will regret. Rather than aiming to be a perfect parent, aim to be a ‘good enough’ parent. Many of you know I talk of 80:20 parenting where we strive to allow the 20% poor decision-making, often after days of sleepless nights, to be an acceptable reality. Human behaviour, especially with children and teenagers is impossible to contain, predict or control if we are to raise capable, independent young people.

Making mistakes and showing how we can learn from our mistakes is a really helpful journey for our children to be a part of. Even better, it is incredibly helpful to create your own small village of like-minded adults who can laugh with you, cry with you and learn with you as you dance to the tune of the beat of everyone in your home – with compassion and definitely without judgement. So consider lowering the bar if you are striving to be a 100% perfect parent.

Tip 2. Avoid over-policing and over-controlling your children.

Much of children’s inappropriate behaviour is actually developmentally appropriate because children do not have a mature prefrontal cortex and they struggle to make choices that adults can make. Children are exploring the world and trying to make sense of all the invisible systems and patterns that occur randomly, in a state of continuous flux and change. So often when they struggle to contain their squeals, their food, their toys and the need to be spontaneous, we must remember they are not bad, they are simply being children.

Our main task is to guide and teach our children without using fear and power. It helps if we can have some realistic expectations around age-appropriate behaviours and become better at not sweating the small stuff. I’’m sure some of you have heard your own parents say things like “learn to choose your battles”. So save your energy for the big moments of teaching – when children hurt others physically or with their words, when they hurt or endanger themselves or when they damage property.

A simple shift that can help you avoid being the police officer in your house is to get into the habit of requesting and asking, rather than demanding and commanding your children when you want them to do things. No one likes being told what to do. Also remember our children are constantly learning by copying and modelling the behaviour of their key caregivers. If you are able to be fair, respectful and kind towards them most of the time, then the chances of them treating others the same increases enormously.

Tip 3. Love your kids unconditionally.

This is one of the toughest things about being a parent. There are times when we love our children so much we can hardly breathe and yet there are times when we struggle to love them, even like them! Moments when they can be so stubborn, so wilful, so noisy and so unhelpful – these moments are when we can lose our patience and be less loving and less caring than we would hope.

One thing that can help you be capable of loving unconditionally is to get a good dog and watch and learn from them! They don’t let things or events stop their heart from being open –– they wag their tails, showing their love even when we are late to feed them or can’t be bothered to take them for a walk. Our faces often show our displeasure, our disappointment and our angst.

Maybe also try to reframe how you see your kids – think how you would feel if they only had a week to live? See your child as a miracle, as they are, not everyone is blessed enough to have children so feel grateful and so lucky. My times working as a funeral celebrant and a palliative care volunteer sure helped me reframe how I saw the gift of life in each of my son’s lives. Simply begin and end each day by being grateful for your child’s life.

Tip 4. Relax and give them freedom.

Having moments of autonomy and freedom is incredibly important in developing a healthy sense of self that is not defined by the expectations of others. This freedom allows children and teens to develop a sense of having authentic power to make choices and be heard. The freedom to play in unstructured ways and the freedom to explore without a parent hovering are enormously valuable in a person’’s ability later in life to manage their own life choices. Allowing kids the freedom to choose what they want to wear can be an interesting experience however it is another example of allowing autonomy, especially before they need to wear school uniforms and lose that freedom to express themselves. Consider where does your child have choices and a voice that is heard? Often adolescent rebellion is driven by an absence of personal autonomy in childhood – and allowing and enabling our children to make choices and, yes, mistakes can help them develop resilience and confidence as adults.

Tip 5. Lighten up.

A sense of humour is considered a protective factor in terms of resilience and it is a great way to reduce stress and nervous tension. Making light of moments of challenge can really help a whole family diffuse big ugly feelings. Using lightness and laughter as a connector is especially important with boys who often default to anger when they struggle with emotions. Parenting is a challenging journey and allowing our mistakes as parents be a source of lightness and a good laugh can help us all recover and bounce back to live another day. Remember laugh more and cry less!

I hope you enjoy these five tips and that they give you a little food for thought – and some relief – being a good enough parent is OK.