Dealing with the terrible twos

Parenting

There isn’t unfortunately a module in university or textbook in school to teach parents good parenting skills. Parenting skills are also not directly taught to teachers, although such skills are to be valued in the classroom.

Research on child development is consistent in advocating positive and consistent parenting, together with warmth, as must-haves. They’re useful for dealing with toddler tantrums. They’re applicable for handling teenagers and the pre-teens. They’re relevant even with undergrads.

We are quick to provide tuition and enrichment classes to encourage cognitive learning. But children’s social and emotional development is just as important.

Here’s a look at what the literature actually says:

1. Praise behaviours
Children who receive positive reinforcement for their effort (and not their intelligence) were more willing to try a more challenging task than their peers who were praised for being clever. This seminal 1998 finding shows that it’s crucial to reward children for their good behaviours.

2. Be consistent
Recent reports argue that the naughty step may be inappropriate for very young children (because it assumes very young children can calm themselves down and gives them a moment to reflect on their actions when they may well not be cognitively able to yet: read this article for why). Instead, experts recommend positive parenting (see #1 above). Moreover, being consistent is paramount: here’s a useful guide.

3. Nuture emotional intelligence
Social emotional intelligence is the new black in school these days. But children don’t acquire emotional intelligence by themselves. Guiding children to articulate and gain awareness of their emotions, anger, and frustrations can however be an important first step towards handling difficult behaviours at home and in school.

4. Encourage collaboration
Soft skills are the thing at the workplace. But it’s easier said than done. The local schooling system encourages competition rather than collaboration (a lesson from learning the Finnish way). It’s also hard to let children learn things the hard way (there are advocates for this approach: “go ahead, let your children fail“), but it is an important lesson. And better learnt earlier, rather than later.

5. Sleep is key
We don’t get enough sleep. So it’s normal for our children not to either. But sleep is crucial to learning and remembering thingsStudies show that mobile phones and games prevent children from getting quality rest, which is essential for cognitive learning and academic performance. Cranky children also make for anger tantrums and uncooperative learners. It’s never too late to encourage good bedtime habits!

6. Breakfast is essential
Adults need breakfast to stay congenial as employees and to be engaged at work. More so for children: Their brains need constant fuel (here’s why)! Mum was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day (especially if it’s oats and fruits)!

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