Nickiesha Passard | Parenting: Helping our children SOAR
Parents play both a significant and influential role in a child’s life, as they provide support, nurturance and guidance. Extensive research has supported the impact parents have as it revealed that parenting strategies, whether negative or positive, have the potential to cause lasting effects. Therefore, parents are tasked with the important responsibility of positively shaping the lives of their children in order to equip them to be productive members of society. Unfortunately, parents sometimes fall short, whether due to hectic work schedules, poor mental health, misconceptions about their roles as parents or misguided understanding of how to show love. Additionally, parents exposed to ineffective parenting strategies are likely to repeat those patterns and with no improvements, cause a perpetuation of unhealthy parenting practices we see today.
Resilience is defined as a child’s ability to recover or bounce back quickly from adversity. It also relates to psychological hardiness, which predicts success, adaptive coping and better mental health in children. Have you ever noticed how some children seem to strive despite the challenges they face, while others seem to become easily overwhelmed? A possible explanation for this is their sense of resiliency. A myriad of scientific studies reveal that these children are more likely to be confident, optimistic and socially adept in childhood, which transcends into adulthood. Resiliency, therefore, provides a foundation for children to develop coping skills that enables them to adequately deal with adversities currently, or later during adulthood. On the other hand, the lack of resiliency in children is a contributing factor to childhood depression, attempted suicide, antisocial disorders and other mental health concerns.
As such, parents need to create an environment that facilitates childhood resiliency, which will assist their children to grow into healthy, self-motivated, compassionate, happy, mature and well-adjusted adults. Although every parent desires the best outcome for their child, the current COVID-19 pandemic, along with other life stressors, may hinder parents from creating an environment that fosters resilience in their children. One of the ways that parents can directly help their children SOAR (strive to overcome adversity with resilience) is by practising the authoritative parenting style, which encompasses tenets that are necessary for the healthy development of a child. These include: (1) showing your child support, responsiveness and warmth, (2) encouraging autonomy and independence, and (3) implementing boundaries and positive discipline. Below are how parents can apply and practise each.
SHOW SUPPORT, RESPONSIVENESS AND WARMTH
The authoritative parenting style involves showing support, responsiveness and warmth to children, which facilitates positive parent-child relationships and better emotional regulation. Parents can facilitate emotional regulation through empathetic responses when their children are experiencing challenges. This entails actively listening to your child, while acknowledging their feelings through words and empathetic body language. This is likely to produce a greater sense of validation and value because you heard their voice and they felt understood and supported by their parents. These children will, in turn, have higher self-esteem and better emotional control, which are key protective factors when children face adversities.
ENCOURAGE AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE
The authoritative parenting style includes providing opportunities for children to problem-solve on their own, while parents still exercise parental control. When children are autonomous, they are more likely to feel confident and capable of responding to life’s challenges. Parents can help their child to feel autonomous by providing age-appropriate opportunities for their child to make independent choices; for example, choosing the flavour of the ice cream. Furthermore, allowing children to think of solutions to a problem may help to advance their feelings of competency. Instead of coming up with solutions for your child, brainstorm together and list possible solutions, offering guidance when needed, but also encourage them to problem-solve independently.
Autonomy and independence may further be encouraged when parents allow their children to make mistakes and fail. Failure and making mistakes are necessary, as this provides an opportunity for growth and improvement, and helps them to learn coping and problem-solving skills to address adversities as they arise. Parents can also allow children guided freedom to explore, as well as nurture a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset empowers children to view obstacles as opportunities to reach new achievements. Parents can encourage a growth mindset by acknowledging their child’s strength, avoiding emphasis on perfection but, instead, reinforcing their hard work. Moreover, parents can also help children replace self-defeating thoughts by using positive affirmations with their children. For example, ‘I can do great things. Failure is an opportunity to work harder. I am strong. I can overcome.’
IMPLEMENT BOUNDARIES AND POSITIVE DISCIPLINE
Practising the authoritative parenting style does not necessarily mean parents will support their child by condoning negative behaviour. On the contrary, authoritative parents set clear limits of behaviour; they consistently enforce boundaries and use positive discipline instead of punitive forceful measures. Instead of resorting to the ‘belt’ or using verbally abusive words, parents are encouraged to consider the child’s feelings, while discussing and working collaboratively to resolve the issue through respectful communication and positive reinforcements. So, for example, parents should explain the reason a particular behaviour is inappropriate, then both parent and child can work together to determine the appropriate consequence (which should be meaningful). Research shows that these children are likely to be well-adjusted individuals who understand the value of discipline and who have greater emotional security. They are also likely to have a greater sense of responsibility, self-control and good moral judgement.
Overall, embodying the authoritative parenting style can be beneficial in improving a child’s confidence, problem-solving skills, emotional regulation and self control, which are necessary components for fostering resilience in children. If we want our children to SOAR, we must break the cycle of unhealthy parenting habits and practise a more effective parenting style. Parents can start by teaching their children to have a growth mindset, scheduling quality time with their child to hear their concerns, practising self- care and also seeking professional help when necessary. Parents are the catalyst that can ignite the fire of change that we would like to see in the world.
Nickiesha Passard is a licensed associate clinical psychologist and lecturer of the Child and Adolescent Development Programme at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send feedback to Nickiesha.Passard@utech.edu.jm.