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Friday, November 14, 2014

From Baby to Teen: How to Foster Healthy Relationships with Your Kids

As parents, we are the first influencers in our child's lives. We teach them about love and security in our actions, body language, and the pitch of our voice. We help them feel safe and secure by showing affection and protecting them as they interact with the world around them. As they grow, our influence broadens as it shapes their behaviours and self esteem. How they act and react in different situations reflects both their individual personality and our influences as parents. 

The importance of recognizing our influences from an early age and throughout developmental stages can help us better understand the world from our children's perspective, help us have patience, and be able to communicate with them more effectively. When a healthy relationship is fostered between parent and child, children become more confident and develop a good self esteem. 

I recently had the chance to ask Parenting Coach Paula Milbradt how we as parents can 
foster healthy relationships with our children and encourage positive behaviour as they grow. While our role as parents is always an important one, it evolves and changes as our children grow from infants to toddlers, from kids to pre- teens, and eventually into independence- seeking teenagers.  Read on to learn how to develop and foster a healthy relationship with your children at any age.

Security is the most important thing in a child's life, along with love and support. What does a healthy attachment offer to young children?  It offers them self assurance, confidence, competence, and the ability to problem solve and work with others.  Children need limits and boundaries that match their behaviour and  based on their age and development.  It is important for parents to be consistent with each other in order for the child to feel secure. Here's how to develop a healthy attachment and relationship with your child at different stages:

During Infancy
Responding consistently to your child's needs will foster a healthy attachment.  From birth onward, your role is to offer a healthy and secure environment.  When you respond to your infants' cries, you are committing to their needs and wants, thus creating a trusting relationship.  From infancy onward they are communicating and conditioning you.  You begin to understand their cues and messages and now is a good time to introduce basic sign language to empower your baby.  

Your reactions during this time are very important.  Parents' will want to approach their infant with the empathy and understanding that they are in need of something or have discomfort.  During feeding, diapering, sleeptime and play time are wonderful ways to interact and attach to your child.  You have established trust. Love rituals are a nice way to foster a healthy relationship.  That can be by a song, a certain phrase or poem.

I love it when parents sing and play movement games that are interactive:  'All Around the Garden', and 'This Little Piggy' are popular favourites; physical touch and affection stimulate the brain and heighten a healthy attachment.  Also touching the finger tips, toes, and tips of ears heightens attachment.  

The Toddler Years
Understanding that all human beings want to be acknowledged and validated and that behaviour is learned is important.  Infants come into this world alone but are born with empathy towards others.  When the infant turns into a toddler (18 months) they are at an age where they need to explore and figure out the world around them.  Parents at this stage need to respond and acknowledge this new found curiosity and offer patience as their child develops a need for autonomy.  

I recommend at this age that the parent adopt an attitude that is empowering and communicates to your child 'I believe in you-  but you still need to be safe'.  Parents can sometimes have expectations of their toddler to share or to be friendly with everyone.  Labels start to be tossed around such as shy, good, and bad;  it is very important during any age that the behaviour be recognized.  For example, when a child goes behind their mom or dad they are saying, 'I am feeling nervous' or 'I am unsure of who this person is'.  

By acknowledging your child you are allowing them to be their own person and to have their own feelings.  I highly recommend using 'I' statements  and getting down to their level.  Giving children choices at this age also helps empower them.  The choices will have an outcome that you want, but the child will feel important and that they have a voice in situations.

For example, I like to suggest that parents allow their toddler to choose their own diaper, start stand up changes (urine only), and encourage them to pull their own pants or tights down, remove their own diaper and throw it in the garbage.  Encourage the toilet or potty. If the child is ready then they will sit, if not that is okay.  Never force your child to sit during that exchange, but recognize their contributions to the diaper change by thanking them.  Saying thank you to your child is an amazing way to validate their behaviour and teach them the value of being kind and understanding of manners.  

Young Children
One of the most important ways to foster a healthy attachment is to share with children why decisions are made for them.  It holds the parent accountable and offers learning for the child.  'Because I said so' is often heard;  since we as humans are born with the social emotional part of our brain first, it is important to recognize that we all respond emotionally first.  When parents take the time and explain to their children the honest truth they are saying I respect you, therefore helping children to respect themselves, their parents, and others around them.  

By showing unconditional love and forgiveness to your child, you help them understand   that mistakes are natural (they have only been on the planet for 0-3 years :) ), and that they are still learning.  Children are curious and want their parents to be proud of them.  However, I really encourage parents to say  'you should be proud of yourself',  'you worked really hard at getting that to work', alongside of 'I am proud of you'; expand on the achievement rather than simply saying 'good job' or 'good boy/ girl'.  All children are born 'good' and when they get conditioned to think that they have to be told that they are good, they can begin to feel that they are 'bad' when they don't hear it; this may lead to a lower self esteem.  

During the ages of 6 - 12years, your children need consistency and boundaries.  They also need for you to engage and ask questions like 'who is your best friend?',  'what is your favourite subject and teacher?' 'what do you like about those things and people?'.  These are just a few questions that will show them that you are interested in them.  They also want to spend time being active and engaged, eating healthy food and sleeping.  Their relationships with their peers are very important as well with the relationship they have with you.   

Although parents may believe that their child wants to be playing video games and always seem to have a screen in front of them, they actually crave social and live interactions with others.  Family meals and game nights are very important for this age group.  Having them cooking, baking, cleaning is also important....not only for allowance, but you are giving them the opportunity to know what responsibility looks like and it says I value you in this home.  

Have family meetings and ask them what they think is working in the routines and what could be done differently.  By empowering them they feel honoured and validated.  Again, self esteem and a sense of belonging is what all humans crave.  Supporting them to come up with consequences for their behaviour is also a great way to ensure that there is learning.  Have them write a contract out with you or have them involved in the solutions of what could happen next time.  

Time out is often really embarrassing for this age group, so I would have them take some time to practice meditation, or deep breathing.  I also believe that children of this age and younger should be practicing a gratitude journal.  Finding ways to celebrate what is going on around them is very meaningful.  As a family find a way to give back to community.  This also is a great way to demonstrate kindness and compassion in all of your lives.  

The Teen Years 
Teens are very influenced by their peers and will sometimes explore areas of danger or things that are adult like, such as alcohol, drugs, and sex.  Having meaningful conversations about how they are coping with their bodies, their friendships, challenges, and goals are great ways to foster that relationship.  We cannot control who they are hanging out with them but we do need to establish rules and guidelines for truth and positive outcomes.

Discuss what a reasonable curfew would be.  Establish trust and talk to them about their time away at a concert or other event.  When and if they say they don't want to talk about it, remind them that you are their parent and that your intention is to build a better understanding of their interests and are there to support them with challenges that they may and will face.  Leave an open door policy for them.  Allow them the ability to create boundaries that feel good to them and you.  If you are faced with challenging behaviour, use 'I' statements and tell them what it is your are thinking and most afraid of.  Effective communication is by far the best way to guide and support your teen.  

Paula Milbradt is a Parenting Coach and Early Childhood Expert specializing in supporting families develop positive relationships and guide behaviour that is respectful and developmentally appropriate. With the company she founded, Empowermil, she has worked with children and families for the past 20 years providing the tools and techniques to help empower both parents and children to foster healthy relationships.  She has worked with educators, coaches, and teachers in addition to families, working with ages 0- 18. Paula is passionate about teaching the importance of communication and social emotional support to create a healthy environment for individuals to thrive.

If you would like to learn more about Paula or would like her help, visit her website or contact her via email at paulamilb@gmail.com.

You can also find Empowermil oFacebook & Twitter: @childnurturer

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November posts sponsored by Cutie Pie Boutique