Let’s face it, we all want our kids to be happy, confident and considerate. But how do we know if what we’re doing is right for them?
Parenting, we can all agree, is a big responsibility. Infants are sponges when it comes to learning (Lloyd, 2007). So parenting can affect a child’s development in almost every way (Utting, 2007). From eating to education, and from what we say to how we behave – these things can have a direct impact on our children (Gorman, 1998; Savage et al, 2007).
We all have access to a huge amount of information too in the form of books, blogs and commentary on how to be a good parent. Yet as far as we know, there’s no definitive parenting manual out there. But try not to worry, the chances are you’re looking for the right information to fill them with (Pearson, 2016).
Here we explore some different (and potentially controversial) ideas that could lead to a happy, confident and considerate child. This is not a comprehensive list and – because we’re all unique individuals – don’t feel like you need to agree with everything.
Some might surprise, and others inspire.
Give them a sense of security
It doesn’t matter if you’re a baby, an Arctic explorer or an astronaut. Having a safe base from which to explore your environment can make a huge difference to your confidence and ability. A baby’s early interactions with others, particularly the primary caregiver, are crucial for developing a sense of self. It helps give them a mastery of the world around them (Raff, 2017).
Sing to them
There's a reason we've been singing to our babies for thousands of years. It's good for them. As well as it being good for the singer, research shows singing to babies keeps them calmer for longer (Corbeil et al, 2015).
Even if the songs are in a language they don't understand, it's better at relaxing your little one than just talking to them. The timing, regular beat and rhythm help keep a child soothed (Corbeil et al, 2015). We're not sure if this also goes for your Best of Metallica album or talkSPORT radio...
Try less toys
There’s nothing wrong with supporting your child’s development through the use of educational aids. (Which is code for we love buying them toys.) And you might think that more is more. Yet researchers have found that less, rather than more toys, spurred creativity in children (Mehta and Zhu, 2015). Hurrah, now you have an excuse to go for that minimalist living room.
Get them to bed early
Sleep can be one of the hardest parts of being a new parent. Both for yourself and your little one. They might not stay asleep but several studies have found a good bedtime routine, focusing on an early bedtime is good for infants.
A decade-long study of over 40,000 toddlers found that having good, regular sleep habits seems to be important to helping them develop healthily (Kobayashi et al, 2015). Sleep routines are a great way that you can help your baby to develop and putting them into practice won’t cost you a penny (Mindell and Williamson, 2009).
Ditch the tech
Heard of technoference? It’s when technology gets in the way of the interactions between you and your child (McDaniel and Radesky, 2017). Research shows that too much tech can be bad for parent–child relationships as well as child development (McDaniel and Radesky, 2017).
We know smartphones can make life easier and more fun. Online services can save you time and effort – no more finding a pen to write down ‘cheese’ on the shopping list when you have your hands full. Online you can also find loads of educational apps out there to play with your little one. But, as with most things in life, moderation can be key.
Try not to be coercive
In our experience, even the most devoted parent would admit that their kids can be a tiny bit challenging sometimes. It can be hard to stay positive when breakfast enters its third hour and the porridge remains untouched. But forcing your child to do something against their will can lead to negative affect on their behaviour.
One study saw that when parents forced their 18 month olds to comply, this linked to less positive parenting by 24 months. This led to conduct and behavioural problems for the child as well as peer rejection by school age (Akcinar and Shaw, 2018).
Dreading going back to work?
This might be welcome news then. One study said mums found that being in work or preparing to go back was in fact good for their mental health. Less depression and better self-esteem helped with positive parenting. And the knock-on effect of feeling good and positive parenting is better infant development (Kim and Wickrama, 2014; Kühhirt and Klein, 2017).
Children whose mums went back to work actually show higher academic attainment and better behaviour (Lucas-Thompson et al, 2010). Another interesting part of this culture change is that it’s now more common for both parents to swap other activities for time with their kids (Lucas-Thompson et al, 2010).
Get partners involved
One study showed that children scored higher the Mental Developmental Index (MDI) test when fathers were more engaged, sensitive and less controlling (Sethna et al, 2017). Of course, this could be a same-sex partner, or grandparent if the birth father isn’t around.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be the next Frida Kahlo, Nina Simone or Beyonce. Letting your creative side out with your child can do them (and probably you) the power of good.
Play that is more creative can lower the risk of behaviour problems (Kroll et al, 2016). And all importantly, it’s fun too. So go get the poster paints, xylophone and glove puppets (maybe not at the same time) and go wild.
Each parent, child and relationship is different. So there’s no single trick to raising happy, healthy, considerate kids. What might work for one family may not for another. Then there’s also the nature versus nurture debate.
Whatever your style, enjoying time with you baby and toddler is good for everyone. Before you know it, they’ll be slamming their bedroom door and asking for more pocket money.
This page was last reviewed in March 2019.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
For more advice and ideas when it comes to all aspects of parenting, see our other articles on parenting styles, such as our one on the most popular styles and how to identify yours, through to how to understanding your child’s needs.
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Corbeil M, Trehub SE, Peretz I. (2015) Singing delays the onset of infant distress. Infancy. (21):373-391. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/infa.12114 [Accessed 12th April 2018]
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