Learn better parenting skills and enjoy your child again

Woman holding child by the hand, walking away from the camera along a treelined path

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Even normally unflappable people can be reduced to putty by the stresses of parenting. Seeking help to learn better parenting skills is vital to prevent burnout. Otherwise, your relationship with your child can slip into negativity and resentment. If you need a boost to manage your child’s behaviour, take steps now. Learn how to build harmony and cooperation within your family, and start to enjoy parenting again.

In the previous article, we discussed how parents who desperately need support can access help. However, all parents would benefit from taking the steps described.

Many people learn about parenting from online blogs or parenting manuals. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of information available is overwhelming. Try to pick a couple of sources written by qualified health professionals such as the Raising Children Network.

But if you’re struggling with other stresses as well, it can be daunting to sort through it all.

Learning better parenting skills

In addition, if you’re feeling bad about yourself, you may doubt you’ll be able to learn new ways of coping.

Don’t listen to these fears. Let them fall away, without giving them any importance. Your brain is trying to trick you to think that you can’t do it. But you don’t have to believe these messages.

After all, you learn something every day of your life.

For example, you’ve learned to use your latest phone, and taken in news and other information on the internet. You’ve learned new procedures at work, and may even speak a second language. And think of how you’ve adapted to COVID over the past couple of years.

If you can do these things, you can learn to make life easier for you and your kids.

Best of all, you’ll be living up to the values of nurturing and caring for your kids. Your behaviours will match your values, and you’ll feel better about yourself and what you’re doing.  

Take it slowly

The trick is not to change everything at once.

Take one small behaviour, and work on that. Practise over several weeks. Once you’ve mastered that skill, work on another. That way, you’ll be more likely to be living with intention, by making deliberate choices to act in line with your values. 

Let’s use an example to show the general strategy to learn better parenting skills.

For example, you want to get your child’s attention when you talk to them. That way, they’re more likely to hear what say.

Steps to get you started

Before you make any changes, you need to know what’s happening at present. This will give you a baseline to work from, and will make you more aware of what you’re doing.

So notice how often each day you talk to your child without getting their attention first.

Next, read about different ways of getting your child’s attention.

List some strategies you could try.

Explain to your child what you’ll be doing and why. Use words suitable for their age group.

Put up a small reminder for yourself, such as a picture of a child and parent talking together.

From now on, aim to get your child’s attention before speaking to them.

Try different strategies

Try different strategies over at least several weeks, to see which work best.

For example, you may:

1 Wait for a quiet time before you speak to your child.

2 Move closer to them, rather than talking across the room.

3 Place yourself at their level to make eye contact easier.

4 Say their name and wait a second or two.

5 Gently touch their arm or shoulder for a few seconds.

6 If they don’t make eye contact, say something like, “Please look at me.”

7 Calmly repeat their name and/or your request if they ignore you the first time.

8 Wait until you think they’re listening before you say what you want to say.

Tips to learn better parenting skills

1 Know your child

Be aware that a shy or fearful child, or one with some autistic traits, may find it hard to make eye contact. Some children don’t like to be touched unexpectedly. Others may need time or encouragement to respond.

In addition, don’t expect your child to make constant eye contact. Even adults repeatedly look away and back again when they’re talking with someone.

Observing your child’s temperament and habits will help you adapt ideas to suit your child.

Think of creative and fun ways to grab their attention. You could even enlist a treasured toy that could “take part” in conversations as well.

2 Pick your times

Work out which times are harder than others to put these ideas into practice.

For example, do you forget to get your child’s attention when you’re hungry, tired or stressed? Does your child refuse to cooperate if they’re also hungry, tired or stressed?

If so, deal with these issues first. Provide some food, and allow time to wind down after work or school.

Later, you’ll both be in a better frame of mind to communicate.

3 Start with low expectations

Your child may not be used to paying attention to you. So they’ll need time to learn these skills.

At first, they may ignore you and go on with what they’re doing. Gently remind them why it’s important to pay attention to someone who’s talking.

Resist the temptation to snap, and keep your voice calm. See if you can put yourself in their shoes to imagine how they’re feeling.

4 Be a good role model

Perhaps the most important tip is to be a good role model. Children learn by copying what you do.

So teaching them any new behaviour has two parts.

One is changing your child’s behaviour. The other is changing your own behaviour.

In this example, you’re teaching your child to pay attention to you. And you’re also teaching yourself to pay attention to your child. If you value what they say, they’re more likely to value what you say.

So take notice whenever your child wants to show or tell you something. Put your phone down or stop what you’re doing if possible, and look at your child. If you’re driving, let them know you’re listening.

5 Expect setbacks

Making changes is hard. It takes time and patience to learn better parenting skills.

Sometimes you’ll forget to use these new strategies. At those times, your plan seems to fall to pieces.

Accept that bad moments will happen. And that they’ll also pass. Over time, they’ll happen less often.

Have faith that you are learning new strategies, and so is your child. Now it just needs practice.

So do the best you can on the bad days.

Later on, pinpoint the triggers that led to it all crumbling down. How could you handle these triggers differently in future?

6 Notice the results

Praise yourself each time you try to get your child’s attention before speaking.

Gradually increase the number of times you do this each day. Compare how you’re going now with what you were doing before you started.

Notice how it’s becoming slightly more automatic with practice.

And notice other changes in your relationship with your child. Is it more or less stressful, or about the same? Are these changes related to something else, or to the new strategies you’re using?

7 Record what works

Make a note in a special book of the tips that work for you and your child.

This can be a resource book for days that don’t go so well. (And every parent has plenty of those.)

Make sure you also describe the fun times that you and your child have.

These notes will remind you how far you’ve come. And that can give you a boost when you’re tired or discouraged.

8 Work on another tiny change

When you feel you’re doing fairly well in getting your child to pay attention, think of the next specific behaviour to work on.

Keep your new strategies going while you work on this second change. Follow the same process as above.

Make sure that you’re not being too ambitious. Pick something fairly simple to work on. Regular, tiny changes over time will help you build a new set of skills.

This will set you on a more satisfying path to parenting.

Learn to enjoy parenting again

As a parent, you want to nurture and care for your children. You want them to feel loved and safe. When you learn new parenting skills, you’ll change your whole family dynamic.

Seeking help with parenting may be one of the most valuable things you’ll ever do. It will help both you and your family to get back to stability.

And best of all, you and your children can enjoy each other’s company again.

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