When it comes to embarking on a new project or career move, we often count on vital skills derived from specialised education and experience; yet it is funny how when it comes to one of life’s most daunting challenges – parenting – we often feel like we have neither the experience or the knowledge we need.

Parenting is a roller coaster ride, capable of transforming even the most confident go-getters into insecure, anxious beings who just don’t know where to turn. In this post, we discuss a few fundamental steps to positive parenting.

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Get to the heart of the matter: Before you can turn negative family patterns into positive ones, you need to determine why your child is acting up. Are they seeking your attention because a new sibling has recently arrived to your home? Are there problems at home you need to address? Are they having trouble adjusting to a new school or routine?

Be committed to change: Changing destructive patterns takes commitment, since it is far easier to succumb to inertia. Positive parenting means setting limits and when children are unaccustomed to this, it can be a real teething process.

Reward good behaviour, ignore bad behaviour: Children act up because they are trying to get our attention. Unfortunately, it is human nature to ignore a child who is behaving well and pay an incredible amount of attention (even when that attention is negative) to a child who is acting up. We need to do exactly the opposite.

Establish rules and show your child there are consequences for bad behaviour: Being consistent is a key component of positive parenting; if you threaten a consequence for bad behaviour, stick to it no matter what; otherwise, your child will not take you seriously.

Use Time–Outs When Necessary: When your child has lost control and you cannot reason with him, child behaviour guru, Tanya Byron, recommends giving him a brief ‘time-out’; this involves telling him he is having a time out, putting him in a room by himself and closing the door for one minute of each year of his life. Hold the door shut if you need to. Post time-out, do not hold grudges; he’s ‘done his time’; there is no need to prolong the tension.

Enjoy your child’s individuality: One of the most destructive things we can do as parents is compare our child to others.

Ask yourself if unresolved grief is negatively affecting your parenting style: When traumatic events happen, like losing a child or experiencing post-natal depression, we need to properly grieve. Trauma can make us grow distant, or too protective of our children; it can also make us over-anxious and fearful, eroding our sense of courage and joy.

Keep it cool: Sometimes, a child who is being wilful and stubborn can provoke anxiety and anger, yet it is precisely during these moments that we need to stay calm.

Be assertive: Show your child that when you ask them to do something, you mean business. This involves speaking assertively and using body language and facial expressions to show your conviction. Assertiveness is inexorably linked to self-esteem; if the latter is an issue in your parenting style, counselling or coaching might be an important step to take.

Use a sticker chart: Make a chart listing specific actions your child needs to complete in order to receive a sticker; a certain number of stickers obtained means your child gets a reward (for instance, playtime at the park). Don’t wait too long to give rewards; children have a short patience metre!

Establish a sleep routine and stick to it: One of the reasons so many children act up is that they lack sleep. A typical nightly routine might include giving your child a bath, reading a story, kissing him good night, closing the light and leaving him to sleep.

Don’t let your child get used to falling asleep in your arms or having you in the room until they fall asleep. Otherwise, if they wake up in the middle of the night and you’re not there, they will expect you to hold them again or accompany them; this process can repeat itself various times in one night.

If your child is having a very difficult time adjusting to a new bedtime routine, there are a couple of popular techniques you might like to use. One involves what Tanya Byron calls ‘gradual withdrawal’: staying in your child’s presence after you tuck them in bed but not interacting with them. The idea is to sit there but act a little ‘absent’ so your child does not associate your presence with fun. Little by little, begin to sit further away from the bed until you have moved out of the room altogether! The other popular parenting technique is called ‘rapid return’; once the light is out, quietly leave the room. Every time your child gets out of bed immediately return him to the room without speaking. Repeat this process as often as you need to. Some parent report having to make over 20 trips on the first night, but this number reduces dramatically after a few days.

Take control of your child’s nutrition: Serve your child small portions and keep mealtime fun with colourful dishes and games.  Offer new foods alongside their favourite foods. Praise them for eating well but don’t watch over them too eagerly. Finally, let them be part of the cooking process; children will nearly always eat dishes they have prepared themselves and they love using cool gadgets like juicers and ice-cream machines!

Enjoy your time with your children: Life can be a struggle, yet there is little point to parenting if we don’t actually make the time to enjoy our kids. Let your child lead you in playtime activities; read together, indulge in some messy finger painting or play a computer game together. You may be surprised to find that the biggest stress buster in the world, is your child.

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Emma