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Answers to the Most Common Parenting Questions

The modern world throws up many challenges for parents – from their children’s use of technology to body image – while perennial problems, like supporting a child with low self-esteem, have not gone away.

In this article, child and adolescent counsellors Child in Time offer their advice on how to address some of the most common parenting questions.

How to manage screentime and the impact on family life

It’s important to set boundaries for screen time and uphold these in the same way that you uphold other boundaries in the household.  They should be specific and realistic.  You could base boundaries on the areas that screen time is having an impact on – e.g. if the concern is around connection and relationships then ban screens during mealtimes, or if the concern is around sleep then ban screens in bedrooms. But prioritise the areas that you most wish to promote so it’s targeted and achievable.

Consider the different ways that screens are used in the household. These may include homework, socialising, gaming, social media and, again, target those that cause the biggest problems and encourage those that are more helpful and productive.

It’s a good idea to start by recording screen usage for a week so you can really take stock and then sit down to discuss the plan for your family.  You can enlist the use of technology to impose limits through setting time limits on apps and policing what is viewed.  Finally, there’s no getting away from the fact that we are the models for our children.  If parents have healthy screen usage and screen free days, children are more likely to follow their cues.

My partner and I have different approaches to discipline

It is very common to have different approaches to discipline in the same family, which can be frustrating or confusing for everyone involved. It’s a subject that you might feel intensely about so it’s best to plan ahead of time how you are going to discipline for common behaviour issues in your family. We recommend brainstorming when you’re both in a good mood (as it can be a hot topic), taking time to reflect on your own upbringings which inevitably shaped your feelings about discipline.

One thing to remember is that it is possible to be both compassionate and well boundaried at the same time.  You can maintain firm boundaries without being harsh or angry. Try not to polarise each other by falling into one ‘camp’ or the other. If you do, it’s easy to criticise each other for being ‘too harsh’ or ‘too soft’ when in fact you can both aspire to maintaining clear boundaries in a consistent and kind way. If you can discuss differences with your partner out of your children’s earshot then you can be united for the stressful parenting moments.

Remember that your differences as a couple provide varied perspectives and role models that will enrich your children’s lives. Note that differences enrich children’s minds whereas conflict shuts them down, so it’s worth coming together when it counts.

How to manage sibling rivalry

How to approach sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry is almost inevitable, particularly if they are close in age. Try to find regular one-to-one time with both children to help reinforce your connection with each of them individually. This is best done by engaging in child-led play. Trying to stick to ten minutes a day playing with each child, a special time where you do exactly what your child wants with them. This really is a habit that reaps rewards.

When conflict arises between siblings, try to stay calm and neutral and act as commentator rather than referee, encouraging both to problem-solve where possible. Address and validate any jealous feelings, letting them know that jealous feelings are normal but that aggression is not an acceptable way of expressing them.

Instead help them to find other ways of letting out their frustration, such as going to a calm space, deep breathing or asking an adult for help. Another playful approach is to create opportunities for the children to become a team together, perhaps in chasing or beating you, to build camaraderie and experience joy in each other’s company.

How to develop my child’s self-esteem

Try to validate the feelings beneath their negative self-talk rather than correcting what they are saying. If a child believes that they are bad at something then no amount of telling them otherwise will convince them – but becoming more accepting of their feelings may help them to integrate these difficult feelings and become more resilient to setbacks.

Modelling positive self-talk and stepping outside your own comfort zone from time to time is really powerful, as children pick up on parental criticism and low self-esteem patterns. It’s a good idea to pay attention to praise in general, ensuring that it is specific and reserved for instances where you notice your child trying something new or making effort, rather than in positive outcomes or their appearance, as this can set children up for a fall when things don’t go so well or look so good. You want to avoid giving them a sense that their worth is conditional.

Finally, work on your attachment with your child, develop the bond that you have with them, expressing the unconditional positive regard you feel for them, no matter how well or badly they are doing or behaving. Feeling important and internalising a sense of unconditional positive regard from one’s parents is the basis of self-esteem and can be generated through making time for them, entering into their world of play, taking interest in their passions and delighting in their company and achievements.

How to motivate teenagers to do homework or chores

How to engage with unmotivated teenagers (homework/household chores)

If you feel that you are regularly working harder than your child in your efforts to get them to do homework and family chores, you may not only be having an exhausting time parenting but you may also be denying your children the opportunity to develop self-motivation.

Sometimes it can be helpful for young people to face ‘natural consequences.’ If they have been asked to help with laundry, discovering that their favourite trousers aren’t clean when they want them is a ‘natural consequence’. Let it happen instead of stepping in. Should they receive a detention for homework not being done, they are experiencing the natural consequence of their choice.

If you always step in to rescue them, you are signalling to your teenager that you don’t believe they are capable of taking responsibility rather than giving them the opportunity to motivate their own success and learn from their choices. Experiment with stepping away and handing over responsibility. It will allow you to be less critical or ‘nagging’ in your interactions well which will boost their self-esteem in the long run. If it goes wrong for them, then resist saying ‘I told you…’. Instead be there to support them as they cope with the fall out of their choices.

If there have been recent changes and you are worried about your teenager’s mental health we recommend useful resources on the Young Minds website.

How to promote a healthy body image at home

Promoting a healthy body image begins from infancy, especially in the way that you talk about your own body and those of others, either on TV or in life. This means talking positively about your own body and avoiding talking about diets in front of them. Instead focus on how your body feels and what it can do, taking the focus away from how it looks. This might mean thinking about the skills the body needs to perform tasks such as football or cycling and the clever functions and adaptions it has to keep you alive and well.

Parents should be aware of either praising or criticising anyone, but especially their child, based on their looks as this sends the message that your value is placed on this and can make children self-conscious. It can be helpful to promote a range of body role models to your children, by ensuring that books and films that you access show people that are a range of sizes, shapes, colours and abilities. If your child does open up to you about difficult feelings that they have about their bodies, try not to correct them or dismiss them, even if you think that they look perfect. Instead listen to them and show that you can bear their difficult feelings. If you feel similarly sometimes you might share your own struggles (in an age-appropriate way) and describe what you do to overcome them.

How to parent children with big feelings

How to handle big feelings in a supportive and productive way

If a child is completely overwhelmed by their feelings it is likely that they are in a primal state of fight, flight, freeze, where they are unable to reason or reflect. In this instance it is best to limit verbal input and be a calming presence, and/or you might want to bring them back into conscious awareness through breathing or grounding techniques.

If a child is experiencing big feelings but is not overwhelmed by them, then refrain from shaming (e.g. ‘what are you doing?’) or dysregulated responses (e.g shouting at them). Instead focus on accepting and empathising. ‘Acceptance’ in this context means allowing all feelings, even those that are hard to bear, to exist in your family. Remember that behaviour is communication of feelings and there will be a range of triggers and meanings behind them.

We can communicate our acceptance through attempting to connect with what a child might be feeling rather than just reacting to the behaviour. Showing curiosity reveals a desire to understand your child and their behaviour. This might be as simple as rephrasing “why did you do that?” in an angry/disappointed tone which rarely gets an answer to “I wonder what could have made you do that?” in an open and questioning tone.

Ensure that you are calm and your body language is non-threatening (e.g. sitting at their level). This not only diffuses big feelings but helps the child to reflect on how they became dysregulated. True empathy involves the parent coming alongside the child and attempting to make sense of their behaviour. It involves active listening and staying with difficult feelings rather than correcting or fixing them. This accepting and empathic approach will allow your child to feel safe enough to come to you with all their difficult feelings as they grow up.

Learn more about Emotional Regulation.

If you would like to talk to a member of the Child in Time team about the issues raised or any other parenting concerns, please visit their website to learn about their Confident Parenting online parent consultations.