As parents, you worry about the risks your children face and the choices they will have to make. But if you have a strong relationship with your children that is built on a foundation of trust and open communication, they are more likely to tell you about their problems and gain from your values.

If your children have confidence in themselves, they are more likely to handle situations assertively. If your children have self-management, relationship-building, and problem-solving skills, they are more likely to make safe and healthy choices. As a parent, you can help strengthen these areas of your children's lives.

Love Them for Who They Are

Unconditional acceptance of your children not only builds a strong relationship with them, but encourages them to have confidence and trust in themselves. Separate who your children are (their being) from what they do (their behavior). Remember, behavior can always change.

Help your children discover their interests and passions and encourage them to pursue their interests by providing opportunities and support.

Spend time with your children. This helps build strong relationships and provides opportunities for you to teach and model essential skills. Use words, gestures, and touch frequently to let your children know that you love them.

Take time to have extended conversations with your children. Bedtimes, meals, and car rides are often good times. As often as possible, have family dinners where you can share news, discuss problems, and make plans. Research shows that children who have dinner with their families several times a week are less likely to smoke or use illegal drugs, have sex at young ages, and get into serious fights.

Have frequent, brief playtimes with young children (5–10 minutes can make a difference). Allow your children to direct the play.

Read together and talk about the characters' feelings, challenges, and solutions.
Talk about your family's culture(s). This will help your children feel more strongly connected to their ethnic background and their culture's values and beliefs. Research shows that positive cultural identification can improve a child's self-esteem and protect against emotional problems.

Discipline and Guide

Positive guidance and discipline promote children's self-control, teach them responsibility, and help them learn to make thoughtful choices. Specialists suggest that inconsistent, harsh discipline that includes physical force, threats, and negative comments may interfere with healthy development. Here are some key components of positive discipline:

  • Pay attention to what children do right. Children thrive on positive attention and are more likely to repeat a behavior if you notice it and comment on it.
  • Use consistent, caring consequences for unacceptable behavior. The consequences should be reasonable, directly related to the misbehavior, and respectful of the child.
  • Give the message that mistakes are a chance for learning.
  • Offer choices whenever possible to provide practice in making decisions.

Get Involved in Schoolwork

When you are involved in your children's schooling, it gives the message that school is important and that you value this significant part of their lives. It also helps children achieve higher grades, finish more homework, and have better attendance, behavior, and attitudes. Here are some ways to be involved:

  • Ask your children about their day. Use open-ended questions: "What was the most fun thing about school today?"
  • Communicate frequently with your children's teachers about your children's progress and how to help them out at home.
  • Be aware of your children’s homework. Set a time and place for them to do it. Be around to answer questions, but do not do the homework for them.
  • Attend school activities as often as possible.

Teach Social Skills

Model and teach your children social and emotional skills. These are skills people use to deal with their feelings and dilemmas and to interact with others. Social and emotional skills include the following:

  • Empathy, which is knowing one's own feelings and being able to recognize and respond sensitively to others' feelings.
  • Emotion management, which is managing strong feelings such as anxiety, frustration, and anger before they become overwhelming.
  • Problem solving and decision making, including conflict resolution.

Many of the parenting skills outlined in this article can help you model and teach social and emotional skills:

  • By listening to your children and respecting their feelings, you model and teach empathy.
  • By responding to misbehavior with caring, thoughtful, and consistent consequences, you model emotion management and problem solving.
  • By giving children choices, you give them opportunities to practice decision making.
  • As you talk through plans and problems at dinner, you model and teach problem solving, decision making, and conflict resolution.
  • By reading with your child and talking about the stories, you provide opportunities to learn about empathy, emotion management, and problem solving.

As a parent you have power: power to influence, model, listen, and power to connect with and love each of your children. By using your power in positive and thoughtful ways, you can provide a measure of protection for your children.

By Bridgid Normand, M.Ed.
Program Developer
Committee for Children