Parents have to learn to develop a massive range of skills in a very short period of time and master them before their child has moved on to the next developmental level. Of course, the first child allows for the steepest learning curve. By the third child parents are more relaxed (about their parenting skills), perhaps allowing the children to eat a bit more dirt than the first was allowed. Parents of more than one child will always have to juggle differing developmental and activity levels as well. This plus the myriad other responsibilities of bringing up family does not always allow us the time to relax and be ideal communicators in moments of higher stress. While we are not all perfect parents, and there is no real guidebook, there are some simple ideas that we can keep in mind when we need to help our children learn appropriate behaviour.
From birth, our senses of hearing and vision should be switched on and ready to meet the world. These systems develop first and rapidly for very good reasons; until our bodies are fit enough to porter us around in the world we will rely on these for interpreting what is going on in the world around us. As such, communications with our children starts with eye contact. Make this with them early on and often. You will teach them this important life skill, you will have begun unspoken communication that is so important to master early on in life for social/emotional development and you will help them to develop trust in you as their caregiver, again, so crucial for optimal social/emotional development later on.
Children’s receptive language skills (listening) develops at a much earlier age than their expressive language abilities (speaking). Start talking to them about what is going to happen, what is happening and what your needs are from the beginning. If you are talking they will listen and take it on board. You may need to repeat the message and keep it simple for the younger ones but communication is the best habit for families and the most effective form of behaviour management and positive guidance you can provide and instill in your children.
Bonding early on with a parent will help the child feel loved and valued and you cannot do a catch-up at a later stage on this one as effectively as you can just start doing it from day one. Give your little ones cuddles and unconditional affection every chance you can. This will help them to attach (Bowlby & Ainsworth sort of attachment) to you and be able to separate more easily when the appropriate time comes as they will be more confident that they have a safe place to go to when the bigger world and each new day’s learning becomes overwhelming for them. Besides, they’ll get big before you know it and won’t want to cuddle anymore – enjoy it while you can!
Children will always have a reason for their behaviour and the sooner you create an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard for your child and open communication, the easier it will be for you to get to the root of issues as they age before things get out of hand.
Part II coming soon…