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The Essentials – 10 top parenting tips

Young boy with a big smile

There are literally thousands of books, social media posts, blogs and websites with "must-read" information about what you could, should, should not and absolutely must not do to bring up your children well.

It's as confusing as it is overwhelming, as frustrating as it is burdensome, as repetitive as it is contradictory.

But below are some of our favourite tips from experts across the early learning, medical, allied health and neuro-development sectors, that make a pretty good list to help point you in the right direction.

Of course, it's just a guide. Always check with your trusted professionals and, most importantly, do what's right for you.

  1. Children are unique. Spend the time to understand what makes yours tick.

    Children are not "blank slates". They have their own personality traits and behavioural patterns.

    Dr Rachael Sharman, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, says one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to behaviour guidance.

    “Broadly speaking we are all wired to respond to rewards (a response that increases the likelihood of a behaviour), or punishments (a response that decreases the likelihood of a behaviour),” Dr Sharman says.

    She suggests understanding your child's personality so that you identify motivators that will best shape behaviour.

    Of course the best way to understand your child is be fully engaged with them. Put away your distractions and be with your child, at home, during meals and in the park.

  2. Create a safe, secure and consistent environment.

    It's when babies and children feel safe and secure that they will best be able to learn.

    Consistency and close contact with key people in a child's life facilitates this. Children need to know they are loved and cared for. As their brain develops at the earliest stages it is all about survival. So, if children don't feel safe, they won't have the capacity to learn.

    Performance Coach Rowena Hardy, of Minds Aligned, says eye contact and "face" time, close personal contact, consistency in care from one central person, a safe and healthy environment and general security are all important in establishing the feeling of safety in a child.

  3. Avoid the Nasties.

    Professor Frank Oberklaid, director of the Melbourne Children's Research Institute's Community and Child Health unit, says the research is clear: Children need an environment that is safe and healthy.

    So, that means no smoke, no alcohol, no drugs, and no stress.

    Good nutrition is also very important. Breast, as they say, is best, but if that's not an option for you there are alternatives you should talk through with your medical professionals.

  4. Talk and Listen.

    Baby talk has a place: when your children are babies. But that's it. Engaging children in real conversation (which, of course, is age appropriate) and using full sentences will help children develop their vocabulary and communication skills now, but it will also equip them to be more employable and better able to communicate in a variety of contexts and situations in the future.

    Listening is vital, and of course true conversation involved listening and talking.

  5. Read.

    Long-time librarian, classroom volunteer and mother Claire Grandcourt has seen firsthand the difficulties children can have when they haven't been read to in their youngest years.

    Reading, she says, helps develop vocabulary and language skills but there were also less obvious benefits.

    "Reading to your children helps create an emotion connection and there is also a very strong link between children who read and their levels of empathy and compassion," Grandcourt says.

    Reading is also an escape, it can help children make sense of their circumstances and it can give new insights into language and context.

  6. Play.

    Play is a child's most natural and earliest forms of learning. So, if as a parent, you don't play with your child, they will lose interest and be less likely to engage in play themselves. 

    Playing with the kids is about having conversations, connecting with them emotionally and learning about their likes, dislikes and strengths. It's also heaps of fun and builds strong connections.

  7. Stay in Touch.

    It is vital that parents maintain strong lines of communication with their children's carers and the other professionals involved in the child's early learning and development journey.

    Be it your GP or child nurse, paediatrician, early learning educator, nutritionist or specialist, it is important, as a parent, you know what's going on with your child and be able to provide, as well as attain, as much information about where they're at as possible.

    Look at things like communications books, attend appointments, make a habit of touching base with teachers before and after each day. Small steps can make a big difference.

  8. Eat Well.

    It all starts with a good breakfast and the day just keeps going from there.

    Nutritionist and published author, Honor Tremain, says it is all about whole foods, real foods and avoiding processed foods as much as possible.

    Tremain also warns against the misleading comfort which can come from things like star ratings on cereal boxes and encourages a diet of fresh fruit and vegies, good protein and real food free of processing.

  9. Move.

    While we know the brain is the most effective machine designed for soaking up information, this is only going to work to peak capacity if movement is part of your child's early years.

    Dr Hayley Christian from The University of Western Australia says the most critical thing with young children is simple – just let them move and play and avoid more than an hour a day of sedentary screen time (2-5 year olds). The Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend no sedentary screen time for children under two.

    Kids that are active reap a whole range of benefits from improved mood, self-esteem, body image, academic performance and social confidence to the physical benefits of better fitness, bone density, reduced body fat and lower risk of disease.

  10. Encourage.

    This might seem to go without saying, and it is true what they say about a parent being a child's best advocate. But encouragement needs to come in many varied forms.

    Competition can be a healthy part of a child's development, but it needs to focus on the ability to work with a team to reach a common goal and the satisfaction that comes with improving your own performance or ability without necessarily having to beat or outdo someone else.

    Competition and encouragement, in the right setting and context can be beneficial to building resilience and, importantly, intrinsic motivation and self esteem.