Every person longs to know the secrets of good parenting and fortunately the neuroscience research and John Bowlby’s attachment theory has delivered. It provides us with theoretical evidence we can turn into practical suggestions of how we can help our children grow into resilient and resourceful adults. The challenge for parents is that we live in a very fast paced “doing” orientated society. Often both parents have to work and juggle multiple responsibilities, and this hectic lifestyle can challenge our ability to get enough balance in our lives and get our children on the right track both emotionally and intellectually. Health and well-being have become much sort after commodities that are not so easily obtained.
So the first important tip is that parents need to find positive ways of creating rest and relaxation in their lives, in order to provide a calm environment for their children. This is challenging in itself, however it is crucial because the studies now show stressed out parents are the last thing children need. Mums who can’t manage stress well, often have had no-one help them with their distress in childhood and so they never set up effective stress – regulating systems in their brains. In fact it is sobering to learn that parents can have a direct effect on the wiring and long term chemical balance of their children’s brains. As neuroscience has uncovered, both excessive distress and tender loving care leave lasting impacts on the emotional circuits and thinking processes of developing brains.
So the second important tip is to remember that children whose emotional feelings are cherished and respected, even those hard to handle angry outbursts, live more happily than those whose early passions are denied. This involves parenting by slowing down, listening and being responsive, all skills that require you are not rushing around stressed and overwhelmed yourself.
If we can be encouraged to take the time with our children, really be in “the moment” with them, then we can help our children develop an ability to manage their feelings. It is reassuring to know that if we do these tiny acts of service over and over again, we are using the millions of parent / child-sculpting moments in childhood to help them set up systems and chemistries in their developing brains.
Luckily since all this new parenting information has unfolded, there has also been a greater appreciation of the demands of parenthood. Raising a child is one of the most challenging jobs you will take on. So because of the complexity of getting it right what is most important is to remember tip three. You only have to be a “good enough parent”. This means that the plasticity and flexibility of our children’s brains requires that we don’t have to get it right for them all of the time ……just some of the time. So by making mistakes at times, we don’t necessarily harm our children, we just provide opportunities for them to build resilience and to learn that relationships are about getting it wrong, asking forgiveness and trying to make amends.
I will explain more about the child development research that has given rise to contemporary theories about how we manage our feelings, in my next blog. However if you are interested in becoming more aware of what it takes to be a “good enough parent” there are plenty of encouraging suggestions in “The Science of Parenting.” Margot Sunderland. First published 2006.