Parents should trust their instincts

Parents should trust their instincts

Readers of this column will be familiar with a perspective that encourages strong self-awareness to promote positive parenting and good problem solving skill development in children. It is hard work being a parent and no parent I know gets it right all the time. The acid test of an excellent parent is getting it right 75% of the time. Parents who have good friends or who choose good godparents help their kids to see lots of good modelling about how to be the best human being you can be.

I regard myself as very fortunate to have had some good role models in my younger life. My godfather, Michael Barry, who lived beside us,  was a very good man and one of my heroes. I have often told my mother that he was chosen well for me.  He was my parents’ very good friend. He had very little school education but took every chance he had to learn and make more of what he knew.

I remember him doing exams when I thought that school was just a dreadful experience. He never once said that we should study but talked, instead, about the joy of learning and showed us that he meant it. He never tired of seeing the possible in everyone. I think of him often.


Even in his dying and through a long illness he just modelled how to live well. He told me once that no problem was unsolvable and to trust that every mess could be cleaned up. Where does wisdom like that come from, I often wondered.

In recent years I have concluded that feeling free to be yourself makes the art of living well possible. I think I learned more from him than most others in my life. Parents do well to consider the benefits of letting their kids get to know good people who are simply good at living to the full. Sometimes I think our modern busyness prevents us from calling on friends and showing our kids how to spend time doing nothing except being together. I know I learned a lot about hospitality and listening by watching that happen in my childhood home. All experiences matter and each of them influences us for good and sometimes for ill.

At the various stages of development from infancy through to adulthood, children must develop through different stages. Successful transition through each of life’s challenges is essential for maturity and an effective ability to be yourself.

In the next few articles I want to talk about some of the tasks of growing up so that I can give some ideas from what we know about child development that might inspire you to continue the good job of effective parenting.

Today I want to talk about resilience. Children are not born into the world as completely blank canvasses. We inherit genes and traits that are indelible. Character is written into our DNA. So there is a great deal that nature gives us which is unalterable but none of us are slaves to our nature either. Good parenting helps moderate our instincts and drives, so that we are more pro-social and self-aware considerate people.

A problem that I often see in my clinic is that of the child who cannot self-soothe or self-regulate. Often when you explore this with parents you discover that the child has had very little experience of managing all by himself.

Think of the number of times that parents run in when a child falls. I often see parents quickly intervene if a child spills something or makes a mess and sorts it out for them. Even if a child makes a worse mess tidying up, they need to learn to do it and to also know that they can sort out some things for themselves.

This begins in the cot at night when a child cries. I am so impressed at how parents can tell the difference between a whine and a pain or real distress. Parents need to trust that instinct and ask themselves if the child who cries from the cot needs help right now or can manage to settle himself for a while first.

Similarly, when a young child tantrums and demands attention, it is no harm to let them hear you say that you will be there in a moment when you are finished what you are doing. Then you can say to the child, “good waiting” or add a few more words if the child is using sentences well.

Basically, trust yourself to know when your kids need help and they will learn that you are there when you are needed and that you always check they are doing alright on their own.

When a child hears a parent reinforce how he waited, or how she picked herself off the ground when she fell, that child hears himself being told that he or she is competent and it was noticed.

This is not the same as leaving a child to fend for themselves. In noticing what your child does, you also let them know that you have their back and are there for them in case it becomes too hard.

With these simple tasks, you are helping your child to become resilient and building skills that make it easier for a child to separate from a parent for childminding or going to school. It makes staying in bed easier also.

So, enhancing resilience is what we all want to do to strengthen character but it must begin in early days.

Dr Colm Humphries is a clinical psychologist based at Philemon in Maynooth, Co. Kildare.