There is so much parenting information out there and it can get incredibly overwhelming, especially for vulnerable and tired new mums. From the minute you take that baby out into the world, you will get a lot of conflicting advice, even from the experts.
In a recent episode of the Mamamia podcast How To Build A Human, Leigh Campbell spoke to parenting expert and fellow mum Genevieve Muir, who has four boys, about setting healthy boundaries, the notion of 'perfectionism' in parenting and building deep connections.
Listen to episode one of How to Build a Human, all about 'perfect' parenting. Post continues below.
As a mum of two boys myself, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the details that just aren't that important in the grand scheme of things. Especially when they are little and the small things seem so very big.
Did I compare myself to other mums who made healthy home-cooked snacks for their kids' lunch boxes? Maybe.
Did I worry too much about whether my kindergarten-aged son had a well-rounded extracurricular schedule compared with his classmates? Maybe.
But Gen Muir says that rather than spending too much of our time-poor lives stressing about everything, there are really just three key things that kids REALLY need to flourish.
"The needs of children haven't changed; they simply need us to meet three fundamental questions that they have," Gen tells Leigh on the first episode of How to Build a Human.
"The first question they have is, 'Am I loved?' And we do that through connection and physical closeness, because as soon as they come out of the womb they're seeking connection, from the minute they lay their eyes on us.
"The second question they ask is, 'Am I safe?' And we answer that through boundaries and limits, and by giving them structure."
And the third question? "'Am I seen and heard and do I matter?' And we answer that when we sit in their feelings, whether those are really positive, delightful feelings, or whether those are the really big messy feelings. It really is that simple. And I love that, because then we can filter out all of that pressure to do a million other things and know that really we're just meeting them with warmth and structure."
Something parents can do to foster greater connection with kids of any age, says Gen, is to increase the physical connection, which shows how much you care.
"Children seek out connection 24/7 because their survival depends on it. Once we know that, one of the biggest hacks you can do that will improve any issue you're having in your house is just to increase the number of high fives, fist pumps, cuddles and head ruffles. Occasionally be a little needy with your child's attention!
"One of the things I love to do is, when my child's playing happily, I sneak up behind them and say, 'I just needed an extra cuddle, I love you so much!' And then watch their faces and their body respond to those little moments of connection that only take two seconds."
Many parents confuse joyful connection and interaction with overpraising and research shows that inflated praise can, in fact, negatively impact self-esteem and resilience.
Instead, Gen says parents should focus on simply being present and showing joy when spending quality time with them.
"We actually want to limit the praise, because just enjoying our child for no reason is not contingent on behaviour. So when you say, 'Good job, you put your spoon in the sink', 'Good job you drank some water', we're overpraising, and we're doing that because we are trying to encourage our kids to do well.
"The truth is, kids want to do well. They are innately good," she said.
"I don't want people thinking, 'Oh my goodness, I can't say 'good job', I say it all the time,' but when I do offer praise I will then add a question like 'Good job, how did that make you feel?'
"In the case where they might help you fold washing, rather than saying 'good job', I would just say 'thank you'. It actually means something more powerful because when you say thank you, you're saying that they are making a difference and you're modelling gratitude."
Ultimately, Gen says that when it comes to building deep connections with our kids, you really only need a few minutes of quality interaction.
"Just spend some time sitting with your child and focussing on them with no distractions and no phone. Let them lead, but find something you enjoy doing, too. Tell them you love playing with them.
"It only needs to be 10 minutes to really fill your child's emotional cup and make them feel amazing. And the key message we're sending them is 'I love you.'"
And, Gen added, "it doesn't have to be every day".
It's also important to remember that it's okay not to get all these parenting ideals right all the time. Gen suggests aiming for a 30 per cent rule – especially when our kids are expressing their big feelings and having tantrums. Sometimes we might not want to sit in it and be there for them; we might instead just want to step over them and head outside for a breather.
"I think the biggest thing I would want parents to know is to reflect on the 30 per cent rule: You do not need to get this right all the time."
And that sounds very reasonable to me.
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