21 Parenting Tips and Skills is a list of ideas, activities and quotes to help your child's development. It's been written for separated parents but is relevant for everyone.
The tips and skills are ideal if you want your child to be strong, resilient, capable and happy. They'll help you to:
- be actively involved with your child
- foster close a parent-child relationship
- give your child the opportunity to grow and reach their potential.
The tips, suggestions, skills and quotes and are organised into 10 categories. They're listed in order of priority for a separated parent who does not see their child every day.
- When time is limited by a plan or order, every moment is precious.
- A benefit from being a separated parent is that you have greater energy during visits.
- The best activities are done together. You can make a fantastic, positive difference to your child's life through shared experiences.
Tips for Connecting with Your Child
The top priority for a separated parent is to connect to your child. A strong, trusting and loving relationship is the foundation for special activities such as mentoring, teaching and laughing together.
You can achieve a close connection with limited time, though it's more difficult. If you have a choice, try for a visitation schedule where you see your children almost every day. Frequent contact, even just for short periods, helps to maintain closeness.
1. Be happy to see your child
Tip 1 is to be happy when you see your child after a break. When it is obvious to your child that you are happy to see them, they feel special and will be happy to see you as well. You shouldn't have to fake it. Just be sure to show it.
- Smiling when you greet your child makes them feel good and relaxed about changeovers.
- Your child knows for sure that they will be arriving at a welcoming place where they are valued and loved.
2. Catch up
A good practice is to talk to your child for around 10 minutes or so when you first see them (no distractions). If they're old enough, ask what's been happening, how they're going with different things, if they have any interesting stories. If you do this consistently, they'll get used to it, do it without you having to ask, and will have things ready to say. It's a fantastic habit for staying connected while developing their social skills.
3. Give hugs
Hugs and cuddles are important for bonding and helping children to feel secure. They need it less (and probably want it less) as they get older but it's a good habit to keep up. For example, with an older child, you could at least give them a hug each time you are saying goodbye and won't be seeing them for a while.
No amount of 'parenting skills' can make up for the lack of a close parent-child relationship. Kids accept our guidance because of who we are to them. Without that relationship, it’s very hard to parent. A close bond not only makes our kids want to please us, it gives us access to our natural parenting know-how... A strong relationship with you helps him to love himself, which is the foundation of mental health and happiness; and to love others, which is the foundation of future fulfilling relationships. Kids whose emotional needs are met express the traits and values we all want in our kids: consideration and respect for others, self-confidence, integrity, self-discipline. And study after study shows that a close relationship with parents protects children from the excesses of the culture and the peer group.
Tips for Shared Activities
Doing fun activities with your children breaks you out of the parent mould and allows you to get to know them on a more equal level. They can learn how you go about things and pick up useful skills.
4. Play cricket (or another sport)
Cricket is a fantastic game for parents and children of all ages (except babies of course). Kids usually love it after they've learned the basic rules and know how to hold a bat or throw a ball. Backyard cricket gets children outside and into every corner of the garden. They learn about rules, taking turns, winning and losing, and being fair. They also gain physical skills and confidence. If cricket is not the go, some alternatives are soccer, tennis and basketball.
5. Play indoor games together
There are plenty of indoor games that adults and children can play together. Kids can learn a lot from you if you're prepared to sit down with them and play structured games such as scrabble, card games, computer games, connect 4 or monopoly. For younger children, you may need to find your inner child and immerse yourself in imaginative games involving blocks, dinosaurs and alike.
Many of those who are brave enough to admit that they hate to play with their children (or at least that they sometimes don’t like it) have learned from the experts that they aren’t supposed to dominate the play and should allow the child to take the lead. But they go too far with this idea... If you want to play with your child, be sure to find ways to do so that are fun for you as well as your child. It should be a joy, not a duty.
One of the most important skill areas for your children is communication and literacy. Telling stories and reading with your children are fantastic activities for cognitive development.
6. Tell stories
A great way to build rapport with your children and stimulate their minds is to tell stories. You can recount interesting tales from your past. You can tell them about what is happening in the world or in your work or personal life. For little ones, you can even make up stories instead of reading to them when you put them to bed at night. Kids are naturally fascinated by storytelling and will absorb what you say if you make it interesting for a young mind.
7. Read stories
From an early age until they become proficient readers, an important parenting activity is reading to your children. It is good for bonding, stimulating their minds, imparting knowledge, building verbal skills and developing literacy skills. You should be able to find some quiet time most evenings to read with your children and have them read to you.
Melbourne researchers have proven what parents have intuitively known all along – the more often you read to your children from an early age, the greater the positive effect on their reading and thinking skills.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has not only proven a causal effect between the frequency of reading to a child and his or her development, but have also for the first time measured the benefits.
Children 4 to 5 years old who are read to 3-5 times a week have the same reading ability as children 6 months older (who are read to only twice or less a week). Reading to children 6-7 days a week puts them almost a year ahead.
Disciplining your children is one of the trickier areas of parenting and requires multiple skills. It's even harder for a separated parent. You need to be reasonably consistent with the other parent's approach even though you don't live with them and see what they are doing. You also have to balance the need to be firm with your children against the costs. Becoming the "bad parent" is a risk, especially if you have limited contact time.
8. Set boundaries
A good general strategy for disciplining your children is to set firm boundaries for their behaviour. Make it clear that certain things are unacceptable and will be addressed any time they ever happen. These might be things such as hurting a sibling, doing dangerous things, ignoring requests from you or lying.
Your response when your child breaks the rules depends on their personality, age and relationship with you. Physical punishment or yelling can be effective in certain situations (there's a reason why such responses are innate to human beings) but there is something wrong if you are hitting or screaming at your children repeatedly. Talking about their behaviour or taking away something (such as pocket money or TV time) works provided your child is calm and listening.
A very important way to show your children love is to have clear, defined limitations for them. Your kids want guidelines for their lives that are reliably enforced. You are the one who creates a safe environment for them. Setting boundaries is an important piece of parenting. It doesn’t mean they won’t push your boundaries, they will. It is a part of their learning process and they may even be upset when you uphold certain boundaries, but they will also feel safe and secure at the same time.
Letting children be themselves is good for them and helps them feel like your place is very much their home too.
9. Let them play
Lots of things can go wrong when children are allowed to play with limited supervision and few rules. But that's part of the point of play; to learn what can go wrong. Give your children freedom to make decisions and mistakes. You should find that children are actually quite good at assessing risks when they feel responsible for the consequences of their actions.
10. Let them be messy
A messy office desk has been found to be good for creativity and even productivity (depending on how messy). The same principles apply with children's play. Cleaning up all the time and not allowing mess inhibits their imagination and the games they make up. Leaving toys out is especially valuable when your children don't live with you permanently. They feel more at home by being able to continue the games they were playing last time they visited.
11. Offer choices
Gradually giving children more and more autonomy helps them grow and become independent. Choice is important when children are moving between households. As a separated parent, you don't know exactly how the children are feeling or what they've been doing. Give them opportunities to make decisions about meals, activities and TV shows. It helps smooth out bumps from living in a shared parenting arrangement.
Spending Time Together
For separated parents especially, you want to make full use of the time you have with your kids. But what about when you and/or the kids are tired and want to chill out? Watching TV or a movie together is an easy option. It is recommended that you have one TV and find things to watch together.
12. Watch documentaries
Children are often interested in watching documentaries (such as nature shows) and reality TV. Such shows also can be very good for them because they are learning about the real world. Fortunately, there's plenty of overlap between documentaries that interest children and those which are watchable for adults.
13. Watch comedies
Perhaps the best shows to watch with your children are those ones that you all find funny and entertaining on some level. Laughing together and developing a shared sense of humour are fantastic for bonding and mutual understanding.
Educating your children in an academic sense is important these days. The primary school curriculum is crowded and some basic literacy and numeracy skills are quite neglected. Teaching / tutoring your children helps them to go better at school. It also reinforces to them that you consider education is a priority. It is normally possible to find some time each afternoon or evening when your child is alert and can do 10-20 minutes of extra academic learning.
14. Teach English skills
Succeeding at school critically depends on a child's ability to read fluently, construct sentences and write legibly. The process for developing these skills starts long before your child attends school and never really stops. As well as reading with your children, you can do things such as: use flashcards to teach letters and sounds, give writing or drawing exercises, and use language training software.
15. Teach maths skills
A good grasp of mathematics will make school-life for your children easier and lead to greater career opportunities. Number training can be game based, including board games and maths software. It's also easy to find and print out maths exercises.
It wasn’t until I removed myself from the vortex of a system that measures success by grade point averages that I began to truly understand the goals of instruction. I’m not here to tell you to pull your kids out of the educational system and home-school them. That is my personal choice. But I do want to encourage you to be very hands-on with your kids’ education. I believe parents make the best teachers because we love and know our kids best.
Experiencing the world outside of your home is valuable for every child. Kids with separated parents probably don't need it quite as much because they have the benefit of 2 homes to start with. But variety is still beneficial in many ways.
16. Experience nature
It does everyone good to get out into nature at least once in a while.
- Young children are keen explorers and love being outside, even just in the backyard, at a local park or in a nature reserve.
- Camping, fishing and bike-riding are some activities to get you and your children into the great outdoors.
17. Visit friends
Visiting friends, especially if they have children as well, is good for making connections and learning about other families. Children develop social skills from meeting people of varying ages. They also benefit from observing how you relate to others.
Children usually respond well to being given responsibilities. It makes them feel valued, provides learning opportunities and helps them to appreciate the responsibilities others carry. You are doing your children a favour when you ask them to contribute.
18. Ask them to do jobs
Asking children to do jobs can take more effort than it saves when children are young. But is helps them develop. As they get older, it can help you save time. Training your children to clean up after themselves benefits everyone.
To help your children be motivated, ask at the right time (when they're not in the middle of something much more fun), give them something which is challenging but manageable, and be polite (please and thank-you). You shouldn't have to bribe children to do chores. Success at school and in life depends on being willing to do things without receiving an immediate payoff.
If you have a pet, involving your children in its care offers a valuable learning experience. Children who look after pets better appreciate how we all depend on each other.
Research indicates that those children who do have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school.
Furthermore, research by Marty Rossman shows that involving children in household tasks at an early age can have a positive impact later in life. In fact, says Rossman, 'the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20’s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four.'
Mentoring your child means bringing out the best in them by nurturing and gently guiding their thinking and decision making. Effective mentoring depends on your child respecting and trusting you. It depends on you knowing them well; their likes and dislikes, talents and weaknesses. Above all, you must have faith that they will find a path to success and fulfillment.
Parents have the potential to be the best mentors for their children. You know the path that you took. You are aware of the successes and failures in your family. Combined with intimate knowledge of your child and a strong relationship, you are best placed to help them unlock their true potential.
19. Find praise opportunities
Praising your child helps them build self-esteem. But it's more important than that. When you praise your child, you are passing on judgement values about what is important. Is it the certificate and trophy, or the hours of work that led up to the achievement? Is success measured by grades or by helping others?
It's not always easy to find things to praise your child about. But you can get better with practice. Keep looking for opportunities. Praise your child whenever he or she does something genuinely good.
20. Talk about success
Talking about success is important because it is desirable for everyone. And it is possible for everyone to achieve. Being successful is about setting goals and doing what it takes to achieve them. You should talk to your children about goals (which can be about relationships, grades, career, anything). You should also talk about the hard work that goes into most significant achievements in life. When a successful person comes on TV or is mentioned, talk about why they are successful. Help cultivate an aspirational, can-do attitude.
21. Be a role model
In everything you do, you are being a role model for your child. From the car you drive, to what you eat, to the way you do your hair. Your children are watching and learning. Children may try to emulate you, or they could decide to not do some of the things you do. But every parent should try to be a positive role model for their children.
As our kids age, we shift from parenting to coaching – from telling to asking. Our relationships have a greater chance of success as we involve our early teens into conversation by asking questions. This way of connecting with our kids lasts most of their lives. Over time, I find that we do shift from coach to mentor – from asking to sharing. This is where our kids start to ask for our help, guidance and information. They invite us to share what we know about things – they are now ready for the information. They now ask the questions and look to our experience to accelerate their learning and progress.
Parenting, coaching and mentoring – are all tools to successfully help our kids discover and live what is great in them. We need to assess which of these works the best for each of our kids, and when, with the intention of helping them grow up to be the leader of their own lives – confident, competent, clear about their abilities and showing up big to their lives.