Guest Author: Alyssa Berlin, PsyD
I want to share some principles for happy parents and effective parenting. But before I do, I want you to know that I am a firm believer that your ability to care for others, be it a partner or a child, stems from nurturing yourself. If you are completely depleted than you have nothing to give to others.
I find that moms in particular often view caring for themselves as a shameful experience; as if they should be above needing time for themselves. Just yesterday, I had a friend ask me what I was doing this morning and when I mentioned that my husband took the kids out so I could have some quiet time, her reply was, “What…really? You need that too?” The answer is yes, without exception we all need to charge our batteries from time to time, and right here and now I am giving you permission to take care of yourself. Your partner and kids will thank you.
Now that we got that covered, here are Dr. Alyssa Berlin’s 5 Key Principles for Happy Parents and Effective Parenting:
- There is no such thing as too much love and affection (emotional and/or physical), so bring it on! Affection is the basis for developing an emotional connection with your children. The numbers to live by are 4:1. You want to aim to have a minimum of 4 positive moments of emotional connectedness for every 1 negative interaction you have with your child. Because physical affection is so important to your children’s development, you want to strive for 2 moments of daily physical connection. Keep in mind that there are more natural opportunities for physical closeness when they are young, as they will likely come to you and seek out that hug or snuggle. But as your kids get older, you may have to find more creative ways to connect. We always want to be sensitive to how/when our kids want to be affectionate, so those days of kissing your child goodbye in the carpool line may disappear, to be replaced with a “high five” or my personal favorite, “mommy, bump it.”
- Firm and consistent win the race. There are tons of wonderful approaches to parenting out there, all taking a slightly different slant on the topic. No matter the approach that you pick, it’s the firmness and consistency with which you implement that method that will likely determine your success. I caution you to not project your feelings on to your kids. Unlike adults who may feel put upon by structure, structure helps kids to thrive by developing an environment of safety and stability. When you give in to your child’s demands, you are sending a message that your own rules aren’t really important. That being said, make sure the rules you establish are there for a reason, and be open to tweaking and amending them when necessary. With a consistent and predictable environment, you will notice increased rule compliance (but yes, kids will still test limits). Your words will take on greater meaning, and you will be taking an important step toward minimizing tantrums.
- Equal does not mean fair. This is a very challenging concept for kids to digest, I think it is sometimes challenging for parents to wrap their heads around this concept too. Many parents believe that if “I buy X for one kid, isn’t it only fair to buy X for all my kids?” Let’s think about this concept slightly differently. If a child needed eye drops because of an eye infection, are you going to line up the rest of your kids and give them eye drops as well? Of course not. So equal and fair are not synonymous. Rather, a common saying in our household is “everyone gets what they need.”
- Sound byte your way to effective parenting. No one likes a lecture. Especially kids and especially if whatever lesson or nugget of wisdom you might want to impart is likely pointed or focused on something your child did wrong. Instead, try to model the public service announcement approach, and at quiet, uneventful times offer a sound byte of something you want to instill in them. For example, “It’s important to brush your teeth twice a day” or “Equal does not mean fair.” Let’s be honest: we all listen better when we feel like the lesson is not aimed at showcasing our flaws. So, think of a rule or principle that is important to you and find ways to nonchalantly pepper that concept into your daily interactions with your kids. (This may work for partners also!)
- Don’t parent to public opinion. Interactions with our kids typically feel more stressful and anxiety provoking when there is an audience around to witness the moment. However, it is imperative that we give our children consistent messages regarding what is or is not acceptable and not alter parenting practices because of that watchful eye. Chances are that any seemingly disapproving onlooker is probably just identifying with us because they have been in our shoes. If we imagine them trying to subliminally offer support instead of judgment, it will remove the intensity from the moment, freeing us up to address the problematic behavior at hand.
Dr. Alyssa Berlin is a prenatal and postpartum clinical psychologist. Dr. Berlin works specifically with women and their partners on issues such as anxiety and emotional fluctuations during pregnancy, postpartum blues and depression, and the complex issues that can arise between and around new and expectant parents. She is also a contributor to Dr. Elliot Berlin’s Informed Pregnancy® Project.