Parenting is one of the most challenging (yet rewarding) jobs you’ll ever have. High-quality adult-child interactions in early childhood can have a lifelong impact on health, mental wellness, academics and social skills. In the spirit of Father’s Day, here are five tips to help raise a happy, healthy and well-adjusted child.
Tune In to Your Child: How attuned are you to your child’s needs? Secure attachment begins in infancy when your child has adults in their life who spend a lot of time paying attention to their cues and responding confidently and consistently to their needs. During the toddler years, the focus shifts to helping them become independent, but they still need plenty of guidance and boundaries. In preschool and beyond, your child is even more independent, and you may now offer a couple options for them to choose from throughout the day (e.g., “Would you like these crackers for snack or these graham crackers?”).
Model Positive Social Skills: Social skills are extremely important for children to learn at this age, and it all begins with you. Social skills are taught by modeling and practicing, so consider what types of interactions your child has with you and the rest of the adults in their life (like grandparents, teachers, etc.). Other ways to foster positive behavior include modeling how to lose a game with grace, handling frustrating events while staying calm and conquering a fun challenge together.
Play with Your Child: Most research on parent-child interactions focused on mothers; however, recent research on father-child interactions suggests that fathers tend to offer unique types of play interactions (high energy, unpredictable rough and tumble play), and this may help children develop executive function skills as they negotiate the different “rules” in the play between mothers and fathers. Studies have indicated that play offers opportunities for children to practice many valuable life skills, such as taking turns, social language, physical development skills, problem solving and autonomy.
Conversation is Key: Recent research suggests mothers speak to their children significantly more than fathers. Language development is a key foundational skill for later reading, comprehension and writing skills, so talk with your child about everything. Ask them lots of questions, read books, poems and grocery store labels, read menus together at the restaurant, and simply enjoy having conversations with your child. When they’re teenagers, you will be wishing for these conversational times again!
Embrace the Messiness: Remember, there is no magic parenting manual. As parents, we all mess up. What’s important is how we recover after we make a mistake. Apologize if you lose your cool, admit your mistakes and talk about what you should have done differently. Think about how you want your child to see you in the future and ensure your actions match your vision. For example, if you want your child to feel safe coming to you when they have problems, then try not to judge or instantly “fix” their issues. Instead, acknowledge that you understand how they feel and ask how you can help. Sometimes children just want you to listen. If you want your child to look back and remember all the adventures you had together, then take lots of trips to the park, create spaceships out of cardboard in the backyard and have “sleepovers” in the living room inside your homemade forts. Life’s too short to miss these moments, and they only happen once, so embrace the messiness, enjoy the laughter and hang on for the ride of your life!
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