Think of the times that your parenting has been its best. Those times where you were unconditionally there for your child and it felt right. When I ask parents to tell me about those times, these are the answers I hear:
- Dinner time conversations
- Holidays with no agendas
- Weekends at the park or the beach
- Playing games in the playroom
- Walking and talking
- The last 10 minutes each night when I tuck them in and we just chat
It seems that time together, really focusing on one another, is the most profound and powerful way for us to build strong relationships and feel like great parents. No parent has ever told me they felt like they were being the best parent they could be while they did overtime at the office, snuck away for an anniversary weekend, or watched a late-night movie. While getting some ‘me-time’ or providing for the family can help us to be good parents, it seems that ‘we-time’, or time together has the potential to bring out the best in us and our kids.
The following five ideas are research-backed ways to help you be the best parent you can be, and also bring out the best in your children.
Build on Strengths
Strengths-based parenting is when we identify our children’s strengths and encourage them to use their strengths to help our children grow. To do this, we have to spend time with our children to identify their strengths and offer them opportunities to cultivate those strengths. Professor Lea Waters from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education has shown that identifying our children’s strengths and helping them develop those strengths boosts resilience and reduces stress.
We can also be better parents when we use our own strengths in parenting. Some parents are great at nurture but not so good with setting boundaries. Some parents are terrific at play but less strong when it comes to sticking with a routine. By using our strengths in parenting, we feel better about what we are doing, enjoy it more, and pass that zest along to our family.
Life feels good when we use our strengths.
Grateful people have been consistently shown to be happier, healthier, more optimistic people with better relationships—at school, at work, and at home. Taking time out to be grateful for our children can strengthen our relationships, make us happier, and help us be better parents. Slipping a note of thanks into a child’s lunch box, or onto his pillow, can build a sense of trust and solidarity between parents and children. And teaching or encouraging our children to be grateful can boost their wellbeing and even their school engagement, too.
Look Forward with Hope
Who would you rather hang out with? A pessimist who believes nothing good will ever happen and who wants to whine about all the dramas the children are going to drop on her that afternoon after the school pick-up? Or the optimist who thinks that even if things aren’t great, they’ll be fine?
One of the best antidotes to both depression and anxiety is hope. We are happier, better, more pleasant people when we expect good things. And our children can feed off our hope. We can help them be hopeful by talking about the good things we expect. (And wouldn’t you rather that your children were hopeful rather than hopeless?).
We become better parents when we are focused in the here and now rather than being distracted with all that stuff that happened earlier, or all that stuff that has to happen soon. Researchers have shown that our stress levels drop, our happiness increases, and life is simply better when we are focused and mindful right here right now. Be where your feet are. It’ll make you a better parent.
Perhaps nothing can help us to be the best parent we can like being kind. When our children make mistakes, challenge us, disobey us, and even disappoint us, we have three central choices. Do I get mad? Do I ignore it? Or do I use this as a chance to build my relationship with my child and teach them so they do better next time? It is through kindness that we model characteristics we want our children to internalize. It is through kindness that we draw our children closer. It is through kindness that we become the best parents we can.
Underpinning each of these five ideas are the two principles of giving our time and being understanding. These are universal relationship building strategies that make children resilient and families happy.
Ultimately, it pays to remember that we all fail. We all struggle. We all find this parenting gig pretty tough. By using our own strengths and helping our children develop theirs; by expressing gratitude and encouraging our children to say thanks; by looking forward to good things in the future together; by being in the moment; and by being kind—especially when we may not want to be—we become better parents.
And when we fail, we should remember that we don’t have to be the best parent in the world. We just have to be the best parent in our children’s world.
Dr. Justin Coulson is a parenting researcher, author, and speaker. He is the author of the new book, 21 Days to a Happier Family. Follow him on Twitter @justincoulson. This article originally appeared at www.happyfamilies.com.au.