"Where's the manual?" or "How come, since parenting is the toughest job in the world, you don't need a licence?" These are two questions frequently asked by those who are trying to navigate their way through the minefield of being a parent. And there are no easy answers, although it may be true to say that generally we get out of parenting what we put into it. It's a demanding, lifelong commitment, with no "opt out" button, but it can also be the most rewarding thing we will ever do.
It helps to understand that being a parent is a role which constantly changes. There are specific skills and roles which are needed at various stages of our child's development.
- This is the time of greatest brain growth, so be aware that your baby learns from everything around them. Your moods, behaviour and choices will all have an impact. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your baby is too young to be affected by their environment.
- They have a significant need for routine: this helps them to develop a sense of security. This may well mean that lots of activities that you enjoy will be temporarily put on hold to accommodate your baby's need for regular meal / sleep / bath / play times, but remind yourself that this is just a season.
- Babies are messy. We don't have to like it, but if we accept that it is simply a phase, it is easier to cope with.
- Babies are self-centred. It's not personal. They're not trying to destroy your life or crush your spirit, they simply don't know any better - yet.
- Anxiety is never far away from a baby, because they have not yet developed enough to make sense of their world, or to predict that things will be ok. They need large doses of your physical presence and emotional reassurance. If we get impatient and try to ignore their needs, then their "clinginess" will last much longer. It also helps to accept that not every baby will be happy being handled by more than a few people. If we insist on letting everyone who wants to nurse them do so, then we may open the door to insecurity. It's ok to say "No" to passing your baby around.
- Physical punishment cannot be understood by a baby. Shaking, smacking and so forth, make no sense in their world and should never be an option. If you feel overwhelmed, enlist support from family and friends or, if this is not available, go into another room if you are upset with your baby and give yourself time to cool down.
- At this age our children generally grow like weeds, so be prepared for a big increase in physical activity - theirs and yours.
- They will move frequently between dependence and independence. This is normal and healthy. It doesn't mean that they are going backwards or that they are rejecting you.
- Toddlers follow their feelings (and the emotions of those around them) and have not yet developed the ability to control their impulses - when they want something, they want it now! If they are mad or glad, you will soon know it.
- We may be tempted to try reasoning with our toddlers, especially if we are keen to avoid physical discipline, but the reality is that this is a really undeveloped ability at this stage. Toddlers are much more likely to understand rules (few and simple) and consistent, frequently-reinforced boundaries.
- Toddlers have several major needs: to be free to make some (appropriate) choices, even if it's not the one you would have made for them; to be regularly encouraged; to be given some limited freedom to express independence; to be listened to and talked to frequently.
- Our parenting role changes from doing many things for our child, to offering greater independence and personal responsibility. Certainly we should continue to offer guidance, acceptance and support, but always with a view to increasingly letting go of control.
- There are many emotional and physical changes and challenges which come with puberty. Our teenagers need us to be understanding and to ensure that they have all the resources and support which they need. However they also want their privacy and are likely to push back hard if they feel we are invading their world.
- Teenagers take risks. This is probably the scariest aspect of parenting at this stage. We cannot stop them from making poor choices, such as risky sexual behaviour, or flirting with substance abuse which can lead to addictions, but we can do everything in our power to equip them to make healthy choices, for example through giving them information, being consistent with expectations and boundaries (just don't expect them to thank you!), and being vigilant as to their friends, activities, access to money and their whereabouts.
- Teenagers, when they reach young adulthood, often report that the greatest thing their parents did (or what they most wish their parents had done) was work hard to keep the doors of communication open. Even though it will often look as though they are resisting your every effort, don't give up. They won't be teenagers forever. Just remember to listen to both their words and their body language, much more than you talk.
Even with our best efforts, there are times when we can feel as though we are living with an alien, and it looks as though it would be easiest just to walk away. This is when counselling can help. At Point of Change Counselling, we have made the parenting journey and can listen to your story with empathy. You can find support to understand both your child's behaviour and your responses to them, no matter how big the issue.
If you need help in relating to your child, contact Alli at Point Of Change Counselling and make an appointment.