I am sometimes contacted by parents concerned about their child’s development. They ask about parenting practices that contribute to healthy wellbeing, educational confidence and social competence. There is so much information about child development, and I will touch briefly on one theory further illustrated with the sailing waters metaphor to simplify a complex area.

Today’s researchers agree that child development occurs within ecological contexts (ecological systems theory by psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner). This is the child’s ecology and is similar to how we think about an ecosystem in nature.  Each of the parts at different levels of the ecological system interact with each other, influence each other and support each other.

The immediate ecological contexts for children include their families, schools, care settings and community. Family relationships (including extended family and carers) are very influential factors in a child’s development. Children’s relationships with the people who are most consistently in their life influence the way their brain grows and functions.

We can also understand parenting in context as being on a journey, and I’d like share with you the sailing waters metaphor (Frameworks Institute). Raising children is like sailing, requiring parents to navigate various types of challenges and celebrations. To develop healthy wellbeing, educational confidence and social competence, children need an even keel. But things like health problems, stress in the workplace or additional needs can make it harder for parents to navigate family life and provide this even keel.

Just like we can build lighthouses and safe harbours to guide and protect boats during heavy storms and difficult times, parents can rely on a system of supports to strengthen their parenting practices. These supports can include counselling services, education services and support networks, which will help us reach our destination. While there is not a one-size-fits-all way to parent, there are common things that all parents can do and learn to make their journey smoother.

Be positively responsive

Respond to your child’s behaviour that is related to the child’s focus of attention. For example, smiling back at your child, validating their effort, being affectionate or reacting with humour.

Show warmth and sensitivity

Demonstrate love and support for your child. Children value close relationships and dislike conflict within the family. Close supportive links with other family members (e.g. grandparents) and trustworthy friends are also protective.

Implement routines to reduce household chaos

A few family routines in the morning and evening can create certainty and ease while pleasantfamily rituals repeated daily or weekly enhance connection and shared time as a family.

Share book reading and conversations with your child

Reading and talking together promotes bonding, builds a positive relationship and facilitates educational confidence.

Use appropriate discipline

Studies have shown that harsh verbal discipline makes behaviour worse even if parents had a strong bond with their children. Avoid yelling and harsh verbal discipline.

Promote healthy wellbeing

The seeds for healthy wellbeing include social connection, exercise, education, diet and sleep. Regular bed times and regular exercise both contribute to improved brain performance.

Manage your own stress

Studies have shown that parents who are stressed are less likely to be able to provide an optimal home environment and more likely to use coercive and harsh methods of discipline. Parents who develop open communication, problem centred coping, confidence and flexibility tend to manage stress well and help their families to do the same.

Want to learn more? Book in for an appointment at our clinic in Bulimba.