Parents get a lot of conflicting advice on all aspects of raising a child, from how much food to give and what kind of toys to buy. But what does it really take to raise a happy, confident child? We cut through all the theories and tips and get to the heart of successful parenting. What we found is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money, read a dozen parenting books, or even be a stay-at-home mom to give your child what he really needs. All you need is these seven tips–and you’ve already laid the foundation for a loving home and an unshakeable sense of trust.
1. Get to know your child’s personality.
Child development experts have discovered that everyone is born with unique temperaments, or a natural way of interacting with people or responding to situations. Temperaments as early as a few months after birth.
The trick is to tailor your discipline style and expectations to what works for your child. Does he settle down easily, or does he get fussy when it’s noisy or if he’s cooped up for long periods of time? Does he adjust easily to new environments, or does he withdraw whenever he meets new people?
Being sensitive to your child’s temperament helps you ward off tantrums and also clues you in on how to best discipline and motivate him.
2. Create happy family rituals.
Family rituals help busy families reconnect to each other and create a sense of stability and comfort that’s crucial for your child’s self-esteem. These rituals can be quite simple, like saying a bedtime prayer together every night, or having a family pizza and movie night every Friday.
The best thing about these rituals is that even as your child grows up—and forms relationships outside of the family circle—he knows that you love him and will always make time for him.
3. Set a good example.
Do you say one thing, and do the other? It’s pointless to tell your child to show respect to other people, when you and your partner scream at each other whenever you fight.
Values—compassion, patience, honesty—are learned at home. Don’t blame media for being a bad example, ask if you are setting a good one. Every day, when you come home, tell yourself: ‘If my kid saw me at work/at home today, what would my behavior have taught him?’ If you want him to have a good work ethic, don’t grumble about your stupid boss at dinner time; focus on how proud you were about solving a problem at the office. If you want him to be compassionate, don’t gossip about the crazy neighbors; give others the benefit of the doubt, and go out of your way to be nice to people who are having trouble making friends.
4. Establish clear, consistent limits.
You hear a lot about what rules to set—on television, homework, dating, etc.—but ultimately, you and your partner have to decide what’s best for your family. Once you’ve made that choice, however, make sure those rules are clear and consistent. Don’t bend a rule because you’re too tired to argue, or play ‘good cop/bad cop’ and threaten your child, ‘Your Dad is going to be so mad!’ These confuse the child and turn rules into an emotional and often exhausting power play. The point is, rules are rules. No drama. No negotiating. Just rules.
5. Encourage curiosity.
Children are born with a desire to explore. This isn’t always convenient—it’s much easier to lock up a baby in a play pen than run after them while they go around the park—but it’s essential for their self-confidence, and physical and intellectual development. Too many ‘no’s’ makes them timid and fearful of the unknown. Too little activity and stimulation wastes their enormous potential (neural connections form fastest in the first seven years!).
You don’t need to buy a lot of expensive baby toys to help your child explore. A trip to the supermarket can be just as stimulating as a weekend in Disneyland! Just point out colors and shapes, name different fruits and vegetables, count the cans you put in the cart. Other ‘fieldtrips’ to the zoo, park or even Grandma’s house help expose him to new environments.
Your house can also be a wonderful learning environment. Let your toddler play with pots and pans, or books made of different materials. Sing songs together. Take a bath in the rain! Encourage your child’s curiosity today, and you build a lifelong love for learning—plus many happy memories.
6. Be your child’s biggest fan.
Let your child know that you think he’s a great kid, and that you love spending time with him. Say, ‘I love you!’ a lot, and back it up with hugs and kisses, and a big smile on your face whenever you have quality time together.
If you have to correct your child, avoid personal attacks (‘You’re so careless!’) and focus on the action (‘Take care of your toys.’) And do encourage him when he does something right. ‘I noticed you worked really hard on your handwriting today!’ or ‘Thank you for remembering to put away your toys without being told.’
7. If Mom’s happy, everyone’s happy.
Here’s the parenting secret most people forget: you can’t take care of other people without taking care of yourself, too. If you’re tired, moody, and resentful your kid will know—he’s very good at reading body language, especially yours. He may even think that it’s his fault!
So schedule some ‘me time’ and take a much-needed break (even just 20 minutes a day) from the demands of being a parent. Take a soothing hot bath, or indulge in a hobby that gives you joy and even helps you make friends outside of the PTA. You’ll come back refreshed, happy, and energized.