There is a lot of pressure on parents to ‘get it right’ raising their children.

Some children care only about themselves, and how to get their own way. When they grow up, they are more likely to have difficulties in relationships, struggle at work, have self-esteem and/or mental health issues, and fail to achieve genuine happiness in life.

However, children deserve to have the best start in life, feel loved unconditionally and be the best versions of themselves. So, they can become adults who can make a real difference in the world. So, as a parent, how can you achieve that?

Step 1: Unconditional love

Tell your child everything you love about them, and what makes them special: their appearance, personality, behaviour, characteristics, inventiveness, creativity, inquisitiveness, sense of humour– anything that shows you’ve noticed THEM and what they’re like.

Put a positive spin on their traits – If they’re stubborn you can tell them: ‘You are going to be a real achiever in life- you just don’t give up.’ Or: ‘I think when you’re older you could be a great scientist; you love finding out about things and really trying to understand how they work.’

You know you love your child even if they aren’t perfect, but they don’t always know that. So, tell your child it doesn’t matter what they achieve in a test, what they decide to do in life – their career, or whether they turn out to be straight or gay.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve had an argument, or if they’ve done something wrong. They need to know you always love them. They should also know that you love them just as they are. That they don’t have to BE anything or DO anything to be lovable. They’re just loved.

Step 2. Notice good behaviour

As parents, we often ignore the good things our child does, and comment on the things they do wrong. So, make the conscious decision to only notice the good things. Try to comment every time you notice your child trying hard, persevering, working hard at something, making an effort or approaching a situation positively. This will encourage a ‘growth mindset’ and build your child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Don’t praise your child using phrases such as: amazing, fantastic, brilliant, wonderful good girl, good boy, well done, etc. As they don’t give your child an insight into what you appreciated. Instead just try to describe at least 10 positive things your child does each day.  A simple way to start the sentence is by saying: ‘You…’ Or ‘I noticed you…’

For instance, your child will know you’re pleased, and understand why, when you say with a smile:
‘You cleared up your plate and cup.’
‘You made your bed.’ Or
‘I noticed you hung up your towel this morning.’

Step 3: Set consistent boundaries

It’s important to talk together as a family and decide on the rules you want to work on. The rule should describe the behaviour you WANT. For instance: ‘In our home we talk politely and respectfully.’ The rules should apply to adults as well as children.

Also, set up good routines. Help your child work out what they need to do, to get ready in the morning, do their homework well and go to bed at night at the right time. Get your child to make a list or chart and encourage them to refer to it, until the routine becomes established, and they follow it consistently. Being able to stick consistently to routines will help your child feel more successful and able.

Positive discipline is the help adults give to children to help them develop self-control. It’s normal for children to have strong feelings and behave badly sometimes.  Punishment, threats and time-outs cause resentment, and damage your relationship. However a good relationship is the most important thing to motivate your children to behave well.

If your child behaves badly, initially they just need empathy, so they feel you understand why they did what they did. For instance, if your child loses their temper, you might say:
‘You seem annoyed. You really wanted to go to your friend’s house tonight. I get that, it is disappointing.’ Be careful not to add a ‘but.’

Then later, talk with your child about what happened, and help them explore what else they could have done that would have been better. That way you help your child behave well, not out of fear, but out of understanding – and that helps develop their internal moral compass.

Step 4: Teach your child social and conflict-resolving skills

Help your child develop social skills by spending quality time with them every day and playing with them. Help them develop the ability to win well, lose well, play fair, take turns, share and play by the rules. If your child struggles with friendship issues, really listen to them, help them think of solutions then practice at home, using role play, so they learn how to resolve tricky situations.

Help your children understand the three steps to resolving conflicts:

  1. Listen and empathise with the other person.
  2. Explain your point of view clearly and respectfully.
  3. Collaborate to find solutions.

Step 5: Encourage self-reliance

Many parents, out of a sense of love, do too much for their children, so deny them the opportunity to feel capable and successful of doing things for themselves.

From the earliest possible opportunity, children should do things they are capable of doing for themselves. Such as clearing up their own mess, making their lunch, remembering to clean their teeth without being reminded, keeping their things organised, etc.

It’s also good for children to help at home, as part of the family team. Doing housework, gardening, cooking, cleaning, clearing up, shopping, etc. for about 2 hours a week. This helps children move away from their own selfish needs, and expectations to be looked after, and towards a mindset that everybody contributes to the well-being of others.

Step 6: Encourage contribution

Children who volunteer to help others will be happier and feel better about themselves. There are many ways to achieve this. It could be getting your child to research the charity they most want to support and donate 10% of their pocket money to that charity; befriend a child who is lonely at school; eat only ethically-sourced chocolate; help walk an elderly neighbour’s dog; clear up litter; work on a community garden; or donate presents to children who don’t have as much as they do. Anything that helps a child develop an attitude of kindness, generosity and open-heartedness.

Step 7. Empower your child

To help your child make a difference in the world and maintain strong mental health, it’s important to encourage them to set goals, learn skills and develop a ‘can do’ mindset. Although your natural inclination may be to protect and lavish care on your child, they will benefit most if you can help them reach their goals, keep going and persevere at things they attempt, even when they want to give up.
‘From now on, I’m going to encourage you to try hard, work at things, and use your inner strength to overcome challenges. So, you can learn how strong and capable you really are.
It may not be easy at times, and if things get tough you may just want me to let you off or do things for you.
But to help you, I’m going to encourage you to overcome challenges and keep going.’ 

Ask your child: ‘What do you want to achieve? How will you cope with set-backs? How can you get better at it?’

Then encourage them to continue:

  • ‘I know you. I bet you find a way to do that!’
  • ‘It’s really tempting to give up, and you’re not a quitter!’
  • ‘It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.’
  • ‘How can you be the best version of yourself here?’
  • ‘How will you handle this, even if it’s tough?’
  • ‘If you do your best, then you can hold your head up high, knowing you gave it everything. If you do your best, you can be proud of yourself.’
  • ‘You haven’t achieved that …. Yet!’

It’s important to show you trust that your child is capable of great things, even when they don’t believe that themselves.

Follow these 7 steps will help your child learn to feel loved, yet still develop the self-discipline, grit and determination to eventually succeed at whatever they choose to do in life.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here