Tag Archives: parent guidance

Life is a patchwork of friends

Take a moment to recall some of your childhood memories. I’m sure that many of them contain at least one other person – a friend, an enemy, a family member, a stranger. Life is made up of moments where we engage with others.

From birth, children are in need of human relationship. At first, there is a complete dependency on our parents and caregivers. As we age we become more independent, but our need for relationship continues. A key aspect is developing a healthy balance of interdependence. Our experiences (good or bad) in childhood lay a foundation for our adult choices, including relationships. So learning how to form healthy relationships early on will guide children towards forming healthy relationships later in life.

Social skills, as with any skill, need to be learnt. For some it may seem to come naturally, while others need to diligently practice. Social skills also change as societal norms change. As parents we need to help our children understand and manage the social rules that guide interactions. 

Social skills cannot be developed in a vacuum, and therefore interactions with others are necessary. These interactions take place in any social setting, at home, with extended family or friends, in shopping centers, parks, walking down the street, driving in the car, etc. Anywhere where a child might come into contact with another person, social skills can be developed. Children learn from watching our interactions with others, and they learn from their own experience, with ongoing adaptions.

Peer relationships play different roles at different stages of childhood. This is because of children’s emotional, cognitive and behavioural development and how they are able to understand their own and other’s feelings, behaviours and perspectives.

  • In early years, friends are momentary – you’re a friend as long as we are together having fun.
  • In early primary school, friends are those people who do nice things for you.
  • Later in primary school, friends are based on social rules such as mutual benefit, but are often termed “fair-weather friends”. Falling out is common, and emotions are high, in-crowd vs out-crowd thinking comes to the fore.
  • Through primary school and into early high school, children can develop friendships with genuine care for the other person. More often it is in high school that children can develop friendships that last through thick and thin and that encourage character development.

So as a parent, reflect on how you interact with others. Are you portraying the social skills and values you would like your children to learn? Commit to making some changes if you need to.

Observe your children as they interact with others. Engage with them and help them to see what they are doing that is helpful or harmful in building healthy relationships. Let them practice by engaging with others and trying new things – greeting other adults (respect), saying “no” when they feel uncomfortable (boundaries), explaining their position on something when they disagree with a friend or sibling (assertiveness), having to share or take turns when others are playing with them (cooperation), etc. 

Help your child understand what kind of friendship they are involved in – this also helps them manage expectations. Is it momentary? Is it one-way? How do they feel? How do others feel? What consequences can they expect from their behaviour? How can they respond to other’s behaviour? How do they feel being on the outside? How can they help others feel like they belong? How do their friends help them grow in character? How can they help their friends grow?

As we help our children navigate friendships when they are young, we help them develop the tools they need for healthy interactions for life.

Living on the other side

Expectancy – anticipatory belief or desire; thinking or hoping that something, especially something good, will happen.Is it any wonder we refer to the time just before having a child as “expecting”. 

 Some people have endured many months of frustration and worry, trying to fall pregnant. Others have simply been surprised to find two little pink stripes – followed by the words “I don’t know how it happened!” Many await a phone call, “The adoption has gone through”. For others though, there is no waiting. It’s a sudden shift in life, often in the wake of tragedy and loss. Regardless of how of the journey of parenthood begins, prepared or unprepared, most have no clue what lies ahead in the parenting realm.

Becoming a parent is much like immigration. Whether by free choice or necessity, you are moving to a new country – new cultures, people and experiences await you. You’re perhaps excited and nervous or scared and confused. Perhaps you’ve read up about the country or heard things from those who have been there before. You talk about all the things you’re going to do, what your house will look like, what the people are like… on the other side. But in truth, you have no idea until you get there. As you step off the plane, ship or vehicle in this new land, you realise this is no holiday destination. It’s not a momentary experience. It’s a permanent arrangement. You can’t continue as you have before – you are a citizen of a new country and you now have to learn how to live there. 

Strangely enough some people think that changing into a parent comes naturally – about as naturally as changing nationality. It takes time, effort and an openness to learn. As you enter this new arena of life, here are some things to consider…

  • Acknowledge your feelings. 

When changing from one country to another, there is a lot of emotion: excitement, grief, fear, curiosity, confusion. Allow yourself to feel. If you find yourself overwhelmed or insecure, you’re in good company. Most new parents do (most seasoned parents do). Baby blues are quite normal post-birth as hormone rage. Anxiety and low mood can be expected immediately after a major life event. Missing your partner, your pre-parent life, your sleep… yes, you’re allowed to grieve what is gone, or feels gone. Get all those feelings out in the open! Burying your emotions only allows them to morph into bigger, more complex ones. Recognising what we are feeling and why we are feeling a certain way helps us to find ways to work through them and find resolution. Some are highly gifted in being able to do this for themselves, but most of us need help. Talk to your spouse or partner, a friend or a health professional to help you understand where you are at emotionally and walk a journey with you to finding healthy ways to deal with those emotions. 

  • Explore your surroundings.

When you move to a new place, at first your world is small. You know the route from home to the closest shop, work and maybe one or two other places. But if you want to become part of the community, you need to step out and explore. You take a different route, discover some interesting restaurants, entertainment areas and community hang outs. You start to gain confidence and become settled in your environment. Some of your pre-planning may be in place and can be an anchor that gives you stability in this season of radical change. But sometimes it can also be a weight that holds you down and keeps you stuck in an ideal that is unrealistic. Some things you need to recognise are outside of your control and you need to explore your reality and figure out new ways to manage it well. A sleep routine is important to create stability for you and your new baby, but if your child is screaming for hours and hours in the cot, maybe considering co-sleeping is the better option for you all. What works for your friend or neighbour may not work for you. Consider your personality, pre-existing routines and habits, current needs and long-term goals. See what is working and enjoy the wins. What changes do you need to consider that will be beneficial and practical to ensure your own and your child’s wellbeing? In what area can you compromise? What issues are actually irrelevant? And what are you doing that may actually be harmful? What other ideas are out there that can be helpful? Parenting is a journey of discovery, so don’t be afraid to try and learn.

  • Talk to the locals.

The best way to understand a new place and its culture, is to get to know the people. Yes, some seasoned parents are opinionated, judgemental know-it-all’s. But some are open, generous and happy to walk the journey with you, because they’ve been in your shoes, and they remember how hard it was. Reach out to friends who have children, in the same age group or older, and ask them what worked and what didn’t. Speak to the older generation, listen to their wisdom – hindsight is 20/20. Get in touch with parent groups online or in your local community. It is such a relief to know you are not alone, and that your experiences are common experiences. 

  • Take it all in.

When you first move to a new area, you feel like a tourist. You make the most of the sights and opportunities, because it is all new. But after a while you take it for granted, and miss what’s right in front of you. Every day will hold new tasks, challenges, places to go and things to do. While being a parent is permanent, the stages of childhood fly by faster than you think. Take time to enjoy your child. In the busyness of the day to day, take moments to be present. Watch your baby. Stare into their eyes. Soak up their gummy smile. Hold their tiny hands and kiss their miniature toes. Cuddle your kids. Smell their hair. Listen to them breathe as they sleep. But don’t let this practice dwindle, especially in the challenging times. Mindfulness (being present in the moment) is well known in psychology as a key part in being happier, calmer and less stressed. Throughout the day, make time to just BE with your child. 

  • Ask for help

Relocating is considered one of the biggest stressors a person can experience. Often because one’s support system is left behind. In order to thrive you need to rebuild a support system around you, and this takes time and effort. As a parent, you need a support system. It takes a village to raise a child. Don’t try and parent on your own. Reach out to your support network of family and friends. Take their offers for date nights, meals and baby-sitting. Ask questions when you visit the baby clinic, social worker or your paediatrician for check-ups. The more questions you ask, the more you are able to learn. Read parenting books and blogs (be careful not to overwhelm yourself with too much information though). Seek parent guidance or therapy from a health professional if needed. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of emotional intelligence – a healthy awareness of one’s strength and weaknesses, and engaging in helpful relationships leads to wellbeing. 

So, as you start (or maybe you are already well into) this journey of parenthood, may you engage in your parenting experiences with confidence. As you discover this new way of life with another (little) human being, may you create precious moments and fond memories. And as you settle into your new status, may you be brave enough to join with others, create community and together raise your child to be a valuable part of this world.