(By Rachel Goodchild)
It can be easy to focus on the physical and education needs of our children and forget that there are other things just as important for their development.
These things can easily be put aside in the busy times and be forgotten, leaving our children feeling vulnerable and lacking.
There are three words that sum up the areas of mental health we, as parents, should focus on with our children. These are attention, affection and affirmation.
These three gifts help our children to become self-assured and confident, ready to learn and grow.
A for Attention
I often ask parents of children who are misbehaving how much quality one-on-one time they are giving their children.
I know my children will misbehave to get my attention. To counteract that, I try and give them attention before that happens.
In that way, they get praise and positive attention rather than negative attention.
Children are designed to want to be noticed and listened to. If they feel that you are not listening to them, they will find another way to get your attention – which is where bad behaviour comes in.
Giving your children positive attention, spending time with them without doing something else at the same time will fill them up with the sense of worth they are searching for.
A for Affection
My second child is hard-wired to need a lot of affection – but all my children need it.
I am careful to make sure hugs, cuddles and kisses are free commodities in our house.
We have a system at night where the two girls take it in turns to brush my hair while we read books. It is a lovely way to quietly bond with my girls, and share affection.
Hand stroking, kissing, hugs and cuddles are all important. Children also enjoy massages.
Sometimes the week can get busy – so I make sure we have lots of excuses for physical affection in the weekends – with cuddles in bed, rough-and-tumble chasing games, and cuddles while reading books on the couch.
A for Affirmation
An affirmation helps someone know what he or she is good at and who he or she is.
Phrases such as “You are a kind and thoughtful person” or “Well done for remembering to take your plate into the kitchen”, all build up our children and help them feel valued and supported.
Affirmations also make us feel good.
We play a game some nights called The Way I Love You, which is really just me listing a whole raft of things I love about my children.
They would have me do it every night – but I confess sometimes I am too tired!
However, I try to at least promise it for another night, and make sure I save some energy if that is the option.
I will include ideas like “I like the way you are working hard at predicting new words” or “I like the hugs and kisses you give your sister when she is sad.”
Each of these three As is important. Add them into your parenting patterns and you will quickly see a positive result for your children’s behaviour.