Over decades of working with hundreds of families, as well as reading the child development research and conducting some of my own, I discovered the rather surprising and very exciting fact that everything develops—intelligence, physical abilities, emotional strengths, and habits that lead to well-being. Somewhat contrary to widespread beliefs, I came to see that there are no skills or attributes that can’t be developed, as long as there’s a big enough investment of time, patience, motivation, social support, and learning opportunities. And that includes parenting skills: You can learn to be the best possible parent for your child.
It’s All About Your Connection With Your Child
The foundational skill of good parenting is building a strong relationship with your child. That isn’t always easy. Your child might be constantly in trouble because of their anger, impatience, aggression, impulsivity, laziness, or problems with schoolwork. You might be worried about their social skills, learning problems, behavior, or mood swings. No matter the concern, what your child needs most from you is not your help toward perfect behavior or higher achievement, but rather your simple devotion, your unconditional love.
It’s when your child pushes your buttons hardest that they most need you to give them love and understanding. Even though you’re doing your best to help them do better, when you criticize, banish, or punish your child, they feel less lovable, less understood, and less connected to you.
Respond to What’s Good (Don’t React to What’s Wrong)
Most of the parents I work with think it’s their job to criticize their children when they’re doing things wrong or misbehaving. They think they’re being loving when they give their child a time-out or consequence for bad behavior. They’re focusing on what the child is doing wrong and reacting in the moment, hoping to help the child do better. It doesn’t usually work very well, especially with children with learning, emotional, or behavioral issues.
With time, attention, and a few basic strategies, however, you can learn to focus on what your child is doing right. Try to catch them being good. When your child realizes that you think they’re pretty amazing just the way they are—even though they know they’re flawed and imperfect—they can relax into the security of their connection with you. Only then can you begin to take care of any problems together.
How Can You Strengthen Your Positive Connection?
- Take good care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting what you need to keep yourself on an even keel. Pay attention to sleep, nutrition, exercise, social support, creative self-expression, and fresh air for yourself, just the way you do for your kids. When you feel healthy and strong, you respond more positively to everyone in your life, including your child.
- Be present, both physically and emotionally. Turn off your devices when you’re with your child. Listen—truly listen—to what they’re saying. Look for the hidden messages in what they’re doing, especially when they’re pushing your buttons. Don’t turn away from them or send them away from you at those times.
- Love your child just the way they are. Try to think of your child as perfect just the way they are. Don’t try to change them. Learn to reframe their annoying habits as indications of what it is they truly need.