Bringing up a pre-school child is both a rewarding and a daunting task and one that requires great patience and commitment. In Parenting Preschoolers and Young Children you will find practical advice on how to deal with the very real difficulties of caring for young children.
As well as offering helpful tips on how to stimulate a child intellectually in terms of improved concentration and language development, it also offers sound advice on handling behavioural problems like temper tantrums and co-operation issues.
Emphasising an approach to parenthood that praises rather than chides Parenting Preschoolers and Young Children is an accessible and indispensable guide for those dealing with young children.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and the author of six self-help books for parents and families, including Parenting Preschoolers and Young Children, Bringing Up Responsible Teenagers and When Parents Separate: Helping Your Children Cope (Veritas 2005, 2001, 2001). John is also is co-developer of the award winning Parents Plus Programmes dvd-based parenting courses, which are used extensively in mental health services throughout Ireland and the UK.
- Step 1
Becoming a Responsive parent
Three-year-old James was very active and energetic. His mother used to spend the whole day running after him and she could be really worn out by the end of day. It became really hard for her to manage. She wondered how she could get him to slow down.
Four-year-old Tara can be really difficult in the mornings. She refuses to get up and resists getting dressed. Her parents, who are in a rush to get her to preschool so they can go to work, find this really frustrating and the mornings can set a bad atmosphere for the whole day.
BECOMING A RESPONSIVE PARENT
Being a parent involves strong feelings that cause us to react in certain ways. This is especially the case when we face the daily challenges and problems of parenting. Sometimes our immediate reactions are helpful, for example, when we naturally respond to soothe a child who is crying. But other times they can be unhelpful, for example, if we react by flying off the handle or if we react passively and take no action at all. Reactions are simply habits (good or bad) that we have developed over the years, perhaps a repetition of how we were treated by our own parents in the past. The trouble with reactions is that we dont choose them, and in fact they choose us. Whether it is flying off the handle or giving the silent treatment, reactions can control us and we can become stuck repeating them over and over again and reacting the same way to the same problem.
In this book we invite you to become a responsive parent, which is the opposite of a reactive parent. Responsive parents take time to consider how best to respond to their child or to a specific situation. Responsive parents are both aware of their own feelings and needs and tuned into the needs and feelings of their children. Responsive parents adapt how they respond to their children, depending on their childs needs and the situation in question. Being responsive instead of reactive, allows us to choose our response and gives us the basis from which we can solve problems. Being a responsive parent involves the following stages:
2 Tuning into your child.
3 Tuning into yourself.
4 Choosing your response.
A central feature of a being a responsive parent is being able to pause. Rather than reacting, you are able to step back and think: What way do I want to respond now as a parent? or What is the best way to deal with this problem? or What is the right way to respond to my child now? Such a pause gives you the chance to think how you want to respond to whatever situation you are dealing with. If you are concerned about your childs lack of concentration, for instance, you can ask yourself, How can I play with my child in a way that will improve his concentration? or if you are worried about your childs misbehaviour, you can ask, How can I teach my child in a positive way to behave well?
TUNING INTO YOUR CHILD
As a responsive parent you are able to appreciate your childs point of view. You are able to step into your childs shoes and see the world as she sees it. Whether this is appreciating how your two-year-old daughter loves playdough or how shes becoming frustrated late at night, or appreciating how your four-year-old son likes physical games and hates any changes in routine, the principle is the same , you empathise with and understand how your child feels and thinks. It is a bit like tuning into a radio station; if you adjust how you listen and make an effort to get on your childs wavelength you begin to get the signal loud and clear!
Being able to tune into your child forms the basis of a good parent-child relationship. It helps your children feel attached and close to you, because they sense that you understand them, and it makes parenting enjoyable and fun as you feel close and connected to them.
Tuning into your children is also the best way to manage childhood difficulties and to help your children if they have special needs. In their first years of life, young children are developing in many ways, learning lots of new and complex skills. Their best and most important teachers are their parents. Being on your childs wavelength makes it easier to help them develop and learn. You cant help a child learn unless you tune in first and know exactly where he is coming from. For example, when helping children learn new language, speech and language therapists first spend a lot of time joining with children in play and in following their lead, before introducing new words and ideas which are connected to what the child is doing. Equally, being a responsive parent and tuning into children forms the basis for solving specific behavioural problems (as we shall see in more detail in Part 2 of the book).
THE BEST WAY TO TUNE IN
It is important to tune into your child throughout the day. When dressing your child in the morning, take a moment to see how he is feeling and thinking. This way you can make the experience of getting dressed run more smoothly and even make it enjoyable. When doing chores try and involve your child a little, for example, when sweeping the floor let your child hold the dustpan and then you can work together in each others company. It is also a good idea to set aside a regular playtime with your child when you can tune into and connect with one another and most importantly enjoy each others company. In the next section, we describe in more detail the skills of child-centred play and communication, but for the moment here are some ideas to get you started.
Watch and Listen
Rather than assuming you know, take a little time to watch and observe your child closely to see what he is interested in at any given time. How he is feeling... Happy? Bored? Interested? Frustrated?
Rather than jumping in with your own plans, be prepared to wait and let your child come up with his own ideas, so you can respond to him rather than direct him. Waiting and watching is especially important for children who have difficulty concentrating and who need more time to articulate their own ideas.
Get down to your childs level
Make sure you get down to your childs eye level so that you can see his face and he can see yours. This is the best position for you to see what is going on from his perspective and to appreciate what the world looks like from his angle.
Go at your childs pace
Young children always play at a slower rate than adults. They like to repeat the same actions and to play with things over and over again. It is easy as an adult to get bored and to want to move on to other games. However, in order to tune into a small childs mentality, we have to make sure we slow down to his pace. This is especially the case with a child who has concentration problems, or delayed development. Taking time to tune into your child and to follow his or her ideas like this does not come naturally to many parents, but it will pay dividends in building confidence and communication, and the play will be more relaxed and enjoyable.
TUNING INTO YOURSELF AS A PARENT
As well as tuning into your children, it is important to tune in to yourself as a parent. Responsive parents are sensitive to and aware of their own thoughts and feelings as well as those of their children. You might notice that you are feeling frustrated, for instance, and become aware that if you tackle your child now on his bad behaviour you are likely to become angry. As a result, you may decide to take a break for a moment and deal with the problem later when you feel calmer. Or in another situation, you might notice that you are feeling positive and upbeat, and realise that this is a good time to organise a spontaneous trip for you and your children which you can all enjoy. Learning to tune into yourself and understand your moods and needs is also important in solving problems. Consider the example of the father below:
Joe worked in a high-powered job that made great demands on him. When he came home to his wife and children, he would frequently be preoccupied and stressed. Often he would be grumpy and snap angrily at his children over minor things. He used to collapse in front of the TV and not even have time to play with them. When he had time away, Joe began to reflect on how out-of-balance his life had become. He realised that his family and children were more important than his work and wanted to be more present for them. As a result he began to change his working hours in order to get home earlier. A useful routine he found was to take a fifteen-minute walk through the park before he went home. During this time to himself, he would unwind and let go the stress of the day. He would prepare himself to arrive home, present and attentive to his children who would want his attention.
As the example above suggests, being a responsive caring parent means taking care of your own needs as well as your childrens. In the long-term this self-care is best for our children as they need their parents to be positive, attentive and upbeat (rather than tired or irritable). Children need cared-for parents as much as they need parents to care for them.
CHOOSING YOUR RESPONSE
By pausing and tuning into children and yourself, you will allow for space so that you can choose how you want to respond. It gives you the awareness of what is best for you and your children. Consider the following examples:
Not being able to concentrate
My three-year-old son is very hyperactive and I am always on the go trying to keep up with him. One of the things I always worried about was his concentration. He would flit from toy to toy and never really learn. I would try hard to keep him on task and he would resist this. When I got some support I was able to realise how best to help him. Part of the reason he was so inattentive was that there was always too much going on around him so I changed this. I made sure the TV was off and that there was only one toy or activity available at a time. I also slowed down myself and took time to notice what he wanted to do. This made a big difference in helping him concentrate. The situation is not perfect but at least I can make progress.
The morning rush
My four-year-old girl used to be really difficult in the mornings. She would be really slow and resist every step to get dressed and ready. It used to really drive me mad because I was rushing to take her to preschool and to get to work. When I took time to think about the problem, I realised that it was probably simply due to the fact that she was really tired and needed more time in the morning. Much of the rush we were under could be avoided. So I changed our routine, and we went to bed earlier giving more time in the morning. I found the time to enjoy having breakfast with her and to take more time with the dressing. I also changed my work routine and stopped scheduling early morning appointments, so that if necessary I could take a little more time over breakfast.
My six-year-old boy used to play up when we were visiting relatives. Invariably he would be really cranky or rude with the adults and sometimes he would get into a fight with his cousins. It would sour the whole visit for us as a family. However, when I took time to notice what was going on for him during the visits I realized that he wasnt just being naughty but rather he was very anxious and awkward when visiting. He found it hard to socialise with the other kids (who were older than him) and this caused the problems. I realised that he needed lots of preparation and support to get through it. Thinking about him as an anxious rather than a difficult child made me more sensitive and more able to help him.
TIPS FOR GOING FORWARD
1 Take some time to tune into your children over the next few days. Spend time watching what they are interested in, listening to how they are feeling and being in their company.
2 Think of a problem or ongoing situation that you would like to improve in your family.
3 Take a moment to tune into the situation , what is going on for your children and yourself that gives rise to the problem?
4 Choose a new way of responding to the situation that might work better.