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How can I be a positive parent?

This excerpt from Parenting Positively: Parenting Skills for children aged 6 to 12 booklet, available to download free from Barnardos explains how to be a positive parent and to help your child have self-belief.

How can I be a positive parent?

Children need to know that they matter to you, just for who they are. Although you want your child to do well, he or she needs to know that your love is unconditional – that nothing would ever end this love and that you always want to keep the connection between you.

Help your child to do things for him or herself and to gain confidence. Listen to your child and protect him or her – both physically and emotionally.

Part of protecting children is making sure that when you leave them in the care of someone else they are safe. Whenever you are arranging any form of child minding, make sure that this person (or childcare centre) will take care of your child’s needs – not only physically but emotionally too.

In many ways, children live in a different world to the one we grew up in, with mobile phones, the internet, playstations and many other gadgets that can make life more exciting, but also more dangerous. Children do not have the life experience to understand the dangers that may face them. You, as a parent, need to know how to keep your child safe.

Think about what your child needs

  • Does your child know you love him or her, no matter what?
  • Do you discuss fair rules and keep these consistent, so that your child feels safe?

For example you might say, ‘You can choose to watch this television programme tonight or you can choose to keep your television hours for later this week.’ If your child chooses to watch the programme now, he or she can not also have the extra hours later in the week. Your child needs to experience the consequences of the decision he or she makes.

  • Do you acknowledge your child’s feelings, viewpoints and experiences (as well as your own)?
  • Do you allow your child to experience reasonable consequences for his or her actions (providing his or her physical and emotional safety is never put in danger)?

How do I help my child have self belief?

Believing in yourself is often termed ‘self esteem’. Self esteem is based on three main components:

  1. Self confidence
  2. A sense of belonging (connectedness)
  3. A sense of self worth (value)

How do I help my child to develop self confidence?

Self confidence comes from being competent, from knowing ‘I can do it’. Children over the age of six have generally grasped the basic life skills, such as feeding, dressing and talking. Now they are refining their social skills, learning sports, crafts or other activities, and improving their knowledge.

Children need to feel able to cope with the challenges of everyday life so give your child help, guidance and support when it is needed, without taking over. When helping your child to learn new skills, break the task into ‘doable’ pieces and give plenty of encouragement

For example, if your child needs to phone a company as part of a school project, give the necessary help. You might need to help your child to find the number by showing how the names are listed alphabetically. You might also discuss with your child how he or she will start the conversation, what questions will be asked and how he or she will end the call. Perhaps you could encourage your child to write out the questions and have pen and paper ready to write down any answers. If your child is nervous, you might even role play the call beforehand. However, at the end of the call, you want your child to have the inner satisfaction of saying ‘I did it!’

The more competent children are in carrying out tasks independently and mastering new skills, the greater their level of self confidence will be.

How do I help my child to feel that he or she ‘belongs’?

Children need a strong sense of being of value for who they are as unique, lovable individuals and not just for what they do. They need to know with who and where they belong.

  • First and foremost, make sure that your child has a sense of belonging to the family. Even if this family is living under more than one roof, your child needs to know ‘these are the people who matter to me and who care about me.’ If you and the other parent live in separate homes it is important never to criticise one another to your child and not to question him or her about family life in the other home, unless there is genuine concern for the child’s safety. If you have a new partner, wait until that relationship is well established before introducing this person to your child. Make sure that you still have special time for your child – just the two of you.
  • Traditional celebration times such as birthdays are part of feeling ‘I belong’. Most importantly, spend time together and share experiences. Family time together is important but children also need one-on-one time with their parents (ideally both with dad and with mum or another significant person). Grandparents are often important people in children’s lives because they take time to listen to children’s stories and to tell children the stories of their own lives. This is all an important part of feeling connected to family.
  • There is an African saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Many of us do not have the privilege of living in closely-knit communities any more, but we can create communities. Consider doing things with other families who have similar values and interests to you. Children will enjoy activities with their peers such as Scouts, Girl Guides, sports and activities.
  • We also have a sense of connection with the world at large – not only by being aware of it but by responding to it. Perhaps as a family you could create opportunities to connect to the needs in the world beyond. A TV programme about some concern could lead to helping in some practical way or collecting for a cause.

How do I help my child have a sense of self worth?

We have a sense of self worth not only by being told that we are valued, but also by having something to contribute. Children need to be encouraged to practically help in the home, being shown and guided through tasks until they are competent, and given acknowledgement for their contribution.

For example, it is more affirming for children when you positively comment on what you notice, rather than using general expressions like ‘You’re brilliant!’ Your child will feel happy that his or her efforts have been noticed when you say something like, ‘I see you have washed the dishes and put them back in the cupboard. That’s really helpful of you.'

Related: How can I best support my child's development

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