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How to be a good parent

Jitendra Nagpal tells you how to be architects of a child’s physical and psychological environment

education Updated: Aug 06, 2009 09:27 IST
Dr Nagpal

Of all the jobs in the world, being a parent might be the trickiest. In a rapidly-changing world, children are often hard to understand. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it seems that everything we do is wrong. No one can make parenting easy. But by learning more about children and their needs and by talking to other parents, we can learn how to be more effective.

Parents play the most important role in children’s development. Caregivers, teachers, friends and the media are important, but it is the parents who have the biggest influence. Being a parent requires skills, flexibility and openness to learning. Whether single or with a partner, parents need support from family, friends and the community.

Social role-models
Children use their parents as models for social adjustments. Parents are supposed to play a key role here in making children congenial, happy, lucid and warm individuals. The relationship with parents is a central factor in the social progress of children.

The two basic ingredients are love and structure. A loving and caring upbringing enhances the confidence and self-esteem of young ones. Parents need to express it in different ways according to personal style, cultural background and the child’s age. For instance, while small children enjoy hugs from parents as a reward for good behaviour, teenagers are sometimes embarrassed by such displays, and prefer a pat on the back.

Being available to spend time with them is a very big factor. Even a few minutes of quality time each day devoted entirely to the child (without distraction from phones, TV or computer) is the foundation of good communication. It also encourages children to look up to their parents when they are upset or confused. Children who do not experience a continual warm relationship with parents are at risk of low self-esteem. They may try to find other, more negative ways to draw attention, such as acting difficult, hanging out with rowdy friends or abusing drugs and alcohol.

Setting an order
Children also need structure and monitoring. From an early age, children benefit from ground rules that help them to know what to expect. Parents need to show children the limits of acceptable behaviour by setting clear rules. They can help children to learn that their actions have consequences. By noticing and commenting on good behaviour, they strengthen good habits and reinforce responsibility. Physical punishment, yelling and humiliation can hurt children. The appropriate use of a brief withdrawal of privileges is an effective alternative to such punishment. Children learn from watching their parents’ appropriate (e.g., problem-solving, tolerance) and inappropriate (e.g., physical aggression) behaviour.

Impact of stress
Adults can be especially challenged as parents when they are stressed at work, dealing with separation or divorce, or when a child or adult in the family suffers from a mental or physical illness. Parents of children with mood, anxiety or learning disorders are likely to benefit from evidence-based psychological services.

As parents, we want our children to be builders of their character, while we accept the responsibility to be architects of their environment — physical and psychological. We need to facilitate habits of honesty, assertiveness and a sense of justice. And as we develop confidence in our parenting skills and see our children grow into fine people, we know that it was worth all the effort.

The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity & Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’

Yes, you can

There is no one right way to raise children. And there is no such thing as a perfect parent, or a perfect child. Here are some guidelines to help your children be healthy and happy.

n Love your children for what they are, not for what you want them to be. Give them a power of freedom. Every day, tell your children, “I love you. You’re special to me”
n Listen when your children talk
n A little praise can go a long way in boosting confidence
n Your rules do not have to be the same ones other parents have, but they do need to be clear and consistent. If two parents are raising a child, both need to use the same rules. Also, make sure baby-sitters and relatives know and follow your family rules
n Spend time with your children. Do things together, like reading, walking, playing and cleaning the house. What children want most is your attention
n Do not underestimate your children’s capabilities. Do not narrow the children’s scope; they might be good in some field other than what you have in mind.Consider their interests and personality while weighing careers