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How Parents Positively Affect the Development of Children

Reality shows and other media often focus on parenting mistakes and problems, but parents also have significant positive effects on their children's development. The best news? Parenting comes in all styles that have their positive impacts on your children's social, emotional, cognitive and psychological development.

Being Emotionally Responsive

Carmen Bolanos has worked with children, adolescents and adults in psychotherapy and coaching for the last 25 years. She observes, "Child development fads come and go about every five years but just like diet fads it’s the simple basics that remain true." She describes these basics as attending to children's nutritional needs and making sure they get adequate rest, but also addressing their emotional needs. She commends parents who are "there to listen to (their) children and to interact with them on an emotional level." Doing so gives children the guidance they need to push on to the next cognitive challenge, be it in school or on the playground, while feeling supported by their parents. Children blossom with the confidence of having deep emotional connections with family.

Striking a Balance

Positive parenting is a bit of a balancing act. Judith Tanzer, a therapist in private practice who has worked with parents and families, commends parents who "balance engagement with child and separation from child." Effective parents manage to be emotionally available but also know when to let go.

Bolanos echoes this point and adds, "None of us are perfect parents. The good news is research shows that 'good enough' parenting may be best!" She observes several ways parents positively affect their children's social and emotional development, namely by playing with them, conversing with them and listening to their concerns, all of which build children's self-esteem. Then, parents let their birds fly, allowing their children to try activities on their own and develop relationships beyond the family unit. When mistakes are made and accidents happen, these parents are there, "waiting for them with band-aid and tissue in hand!"

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Resolving Conflicts in a Healthy Way

Tanzer underscores the fact that conflict is natural in any family and that positive parenting is in how you react to that conflict. She says that parents help their children develop a healthy self image by using positive reinforcement for positive behaviors. When children's behaviors become more challenging, parents affect their children's emotional and psychological development by responding moderately rather than emotionally. Children learn that getting angry and having differences of opinions do not make people stop loving them.

Being Consistent

Consistency reigns for parents who positively impact their children's development. Bolanos calls modeling and consistency the "two golden rules" of parenting. Children benefit from observing their parents' constructive behaviors. Bolanos adds, "if you’re not modeling that behavior yourself you may as well be talking to the family goldfish."

She describes consistency as crucial in effective parenting. Parents that establish fair rules and stick to them teach their children "that you are firm and fair and that you will be consistent over time. Although you may not be popular at a the given moment, in the long run your children gain a sense of security from knowing where you stand as a parent." Watching you create boundaries boosts children's ability to establish their own boundaries in the outside world.

Staying Positive

Parents are a boon to children's development when they emphasize what their children do well. Bolanos highlights the power of focusing "on their efforts and behaviors rather than their successes. For instance, if your child is a soccer goalie who just played and amazing game, saying 'You were so great! You must be the best goalie they ever had!' is not as effective as saying 'I loved how you caught that third shot the way your coach had shown you. I can tell you’re really working hard to perfect that and it paid off!' The reason for this is that the first comment gives the child the message that they are as great as they can be and demotivates them to improve in the future, while the second statement acknowledges their hard work and demonstrates that their actions result in improvements. This motivates them to continue improving. It also demonstrates that you have really paid attention to what they do."

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