Bringing home a new baby carries a sense of joy and responsibility. We know that what happens in the first 3 to 5 years sets the scene for how a child feels about themselves, how they relate to others and how they succeed in life. Your relationship with your child shapes the way your child grows and learns.
The top priority for parents is to help a baby to feel safe, secure and deeply loved. You do this by responding sensitively when the baby tells you, in their own way, that they are tired, hungry or needing comfort. Comforting a crying baby isn’t spoiling them – a reassuring cuddle tells them that reliable people will protect and care for them.
As a baby grows into a toddler, your relationship with them changes. You notice and encourage their moves towards independence — putting on their own clothes, playing happily for a while on their own or feeding themselves. Gradually, with your support, young children learn to manage their own feelings. Some children find understanding feelings and getting along with others relatively easy, while others may react angrily if they can’t get their own way and need your help to calm down.
We all have different temperaments and sometimes there’s a clash between you and your child. If your child ‘pushes your buttons’, try to stay calm, take deep breaths and don’t join in the temper tantrum. Instead, develop a strategy for coping with disappointment — ‘Let’s try again, and this time I’ll work with you’.
Use words to show you understand, such as ‘I know you’re feeling sad' or 'I can see that you are upset'. Show your child how caring people respond to someone’s distress. And don’t expect a 3-year-old to share all their precious things — waiting a turn, not being the centre of attention and learning to share are all life lessons that take time and maturity.
When your child starts day care or school, your world changes again. You may feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness, and wonder how your child will adjust to their new situation and how you will juggle family and work.
Here are a few tips:
- Be as organised as possible; make lists, mark events on the calendar and pre-pack lunches.
- Don’t worry if everything isn’t neat and tidy.
- Keep to routines wherever possible.
- After a late family night, arrange a sleep-in and a quiet day.
- Plan for quality time with your children, not only big events. Play gently together at bath times or share a bedtime story.
If things go wrong, be prepared to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had a hard day’ and kiss and make up. Remember to take the time to look after yourself — this will help you to muster the patience, energy and understanding you need to be an engaged and active parent.
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Last reviewed: February 2019