It is common practice in my parenting classes to look at the whole child and the many different areas of child development that are important to consider as we are raising young children. I use the metaphor of buckets to represent the multiple developmental domains of childhood – academic, language and communication, gross and fine motor skills, social-emotional (including self-regulation), self-help and resilience. I explain to parents how children’s growth is like filling buckets in the different areas of child development, and to support healthy growth and development for children, our parenting counts! While it is helpful to compartmentalize the developmental areas for the sake of conversation and discussion in class, we cannot separate development from the family environment and parenting practices on which healthy child development relies. Of all the environmental influences on development, the family arguably has the most profound impact on child development.
Family stability is the foundation necessary to support child development. Children who experience family stability have caregivers who remain constant, consistent, and connected to them over time. They have parents who are mentally healthy, engage in appropriate parenting practices, and have a nurturing and stimulating home environment. When we provide a positive climate where parents and children are respectful of one another, a space where parents and children develop warm, supportive relationships and enjoy being together and spending time together, children will learn and children will thrive. Family interactions based in a positive environment provide children with a secure base for learning and exploration and children begin building skills in the important developmental domains. Children are more able and motivated to focus, remember, learn, and engage in self-control when they feel happy, relaxed and connected to others
There are many ways to create a stable and positive family climate. First and foremost is the couple relationship. Make it a priority to stay lovingly connected to your spouse. Maintaining a close, safe, and respectful relationship allows partners to work closely together to create a stable, loving, and positive family environment.
Build family relationships.
Spend time with children and share activities together. Enjoy fun, relaxing moments every day. Focus more on the quality of the experience than worrying about the amount of time you spend together. Make sure to show your enthusiasm and let your child know you enjoy spending time with them. Ten to fifteen minutes of meaningful and connected time each day will go a long way in building relationships and a positive family climate. Making the time to do things together as a family promotes family cohesion, which enhances emotional development in children, and reduces children’s risk of experiencing emotional distress.
Be respectful, approachable, and positive in your interactions.
Smile, laugh and be respectful. Model the use of polite language such as “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome”. When talking with children take the time to make eye contact and use a warm, calm voice. Have positive expectations and look for opportunities to comment positively on children’s efforts, participation, and behavior. Families that treat each other with respect and love promote a positive example of social interaction for young children
Clearly communicate love and warm feelings toward your children.
Show your love for your child through both physical and verbal affection. Children never tire of hearing, “I love you.” Physical touch, hugging and kissing are the universal language of family connection.
Facilitate positive family interactions.
Because family members are role models, children learn from, imitate and adopt the behaviors and patterns of parents and siblings. Encourage children to engage in positive interactions with you and with siblings. Teach and model the importance of sharing, helping others, and being kind and respectful to each member of the family. Families that treat each other with respect and love promote a positive example of social interaction for young children
Engage in social conversation.
Talk to children about their interests, motivations, and point of view. Look for opportunities to encourage conversation and seek out their thoughts and ideas. Allow children to make decisions for themselves when appropriate. Share stories about your childhood. While you are learning about who your child is, children relish conversations where they can learn about who their parents are too.
Make learning fun.
Look for opportunities to make every day learning activities fun. Think about the things that make your child laugh and smile and find creative ways to integrate these things into your everyday family routines and activities. Allow children to experience appropriate levels of autonomy and independence to foster confidence in their abilities and learning.
Family members are the first people young children have regular contact with. Family dynamics shape the way kids think, reason and problem-solve. As patterns, interactions and relationships develop within the family unit, so does a child’s understanding of himself, other people and the world around him. Loving, nurturing homes that provide opportunities for growth and bonding set children on an optimal developmental path that has the potential to produce life -long positive outcomes.
Children have one childhood. Your parenting counts!