The last few weeks I’ve been working and playing a lot with families who have young children. Often the parent’s ask me questions along the lines of, “how can I make my child listen?” Or, “what can I do to stop the tantrums?” They often make comments about their children such as “they’re just so naughty” or “I’m worried that they’ll grow up bad”.

I never maintain to have all the answers, in fact I spend a lot of my time helping parents realise they already have the solutions, deep down inside them. I am merely the avenue for helping parents find those solutions.

The greatest amount of brain development occurs within the first three years of life. During this time a child moves from being seemingly helpless and only able to breathe, cry, eat, poop and sleep to a fully functioning moving, thinking, talking and doing being. What we do as parents, and as families impacts this progress the most out of any external influences.

Growing great families now…

To grow great, healthy families, we as parents need to think about what our roles are as parents and consider how our actions will affect our children’s futures, no matter what age they are.

When working with parents I often get them to think about their own childhoods. We discuss the happy memories and the positive things they recall their parents/caregivers doing and consider the possibilities of trying to incorporate similar things into their own parenting.

Such memories often include sitting down at dinner time, traditions such as family holidays and how their Mum or Dad used to sit and talk with them at the end of the day and really engage with them. We then discuss aspects from their childhood they wish to leave behind; these often include shouting, arguing, smacking or lack of boundaries. Some call this conscious parenting. Through reflection, and introspective thinking, we can help to create the initial building blocks to growing a strong and healthy family.

This sort of thinking can be taken into all aspects of family life.

Consider for a moment the 2 year old child having a tantrum (or the 14 year old shouting and slamming doors and saying they hate you!). What is your immediate reaction to this behaviour? Do you get angry and shout “No!” and not listen to the child? Do you put the child straight into a “time out” situation?

This immediate reaction likely stems from how you were parented, it’s your automatic response…and it’s totally normal. However, if it’s an automatic response that’s unhelpful to the situation, then the situation is likely to escalate and leave you and your child feeling horrible. By considering how you were parented as a child, you’ll be able to recognise what your “automatic” is…and with practice be able to control it (most of the time).

This gives you and your child a better chance at being heard. So when faced with the tantrum/slamming scenario you’ll be able to stop and think: “what is it this child is trying to tell me?” Is it really that they’re “naughty” or they really hate me?” Or is it that we’ve been so busy today rushing around doing all the errands etc. that neither of us have been able to stop and hang out, and share some peaceful times together to really listen to one another?

… and into the future.

Another aspect that I’ve been discussing with parents of late is what they want for their children and families in the future. How do they see their current 4 year old behaving as a 20 year old, or their current 16 year old behaving as a 30 year old?

What sort of person do they want their children to be? What sort of household do they want to live in? How do they want their children to feel about themselves and about their parents, and perhaps their own children?

Thinking about the future results is a wonderful way to pave a smoother road for our children, and might provide you some guidance on what you need to do today to get there.

Again, reflecting on our childhood and also on our actions will help you on this journey. When you’re asking your child to sit at the table to eat and to use their knife and fork correctly, ask yourself why this important to your family. The answer might be because table manners are widely regarded as important in society. You don’t want your son taking his future partner out to dinner at a fancy restaurant and then using his fingers to eat his pasta do you? So if it’s important to you, then it’s important to your family and worth persisting. Keep at it, be consistent, and you will get there! He’ll thank you for it one day (and so will his future partner!).

When your child asks you to sit with them and read to them (for the hundredth time), think ahead to school/university/job time when they can figure out the difficult concepts because their brain was working so hard reading with you in the early years.

And when you think “oh my 7 year old just won’t listen to me”, try sitting on the end of their bed each night to listen to them… you’ll be thankful when they’re 17 and know you’ll listen to them, when they’ve got something really important to tell you. And maybe… just maybe… they’ll listen to you too!

Parenting is a continuum. It starts at pregnancy and doesn’t stop. Growing great families is not just about physical health. It’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual too. Reflecting on how we were parented, and on our own parenting, will create a strong foundation to build upon, hopefully setting up for some positive experiences throughout the family years.

Now that we have you thinking about growing great families, you might like to check out The Big Picture: Guiding your child’s potential, or find more expert advice in our Grown ups section.

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Kate Anderson is a trained Well-Child Nurse with two little people of her own. She also runs Stroll Smart NZ and loves getting out and about with her buggy.

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