Positive interactions and relationships in your child’s early years are at the heart of healthy development. But there are days when being positive with your child can be really tough – smiling, paying attention, or just making eye contact can seem like hard work.
Very few people can always respond to their child in a textbook way, and you don’t have to maximise every opportunity anyway. Your child won’t be any less clever, healthy or resilient if you miss a moment here and there. It’s what happens over time, not each particular incident, that makes the difference.
It might help to take some time out and check whether you’re coping with any major obstacles to being positive, like those listed below. Spotting these obstacles can sometimes be the first step to overcoming them.
If you feel like you don’t know where to start, seek support. You could start by looking at our Services & Support Section
, or talking to a health professional, such as your GP.
Work-related stress can make you tense and anxious, affecting your ability to pay attention to your child when you get home.
This kind of stress affects mums and dads in different ways. Both are more likely to be distant with their children, but dads might be more negative – especially fathers who have distressing social interactions at work.
Life stresses and responsibilities
Financial worries, personal responsibilities and major life changes such as moving house, planning a major family occasion, beginning a new job or preparing for holidays can seem all-consuming. They can distract your attention and energy from your child. You might even find yourself occasionally taking out some of your frustrations on your child.
This happens to most of us, but your child won’t understand that your bad mood has nothing to do with her – she’s more likely to think it’s her fault.
It can be especially tough for parents in special circumstances, such as single parents or parents of children with a disability, particularly for those with little support. If this sounds like you, you might like to explore our Parenting After Separation section and our Children with a Disability section.
Here are few suggestions that might also help:
- When you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions like anger or impatience, stop and take a deep breath. Walk away – emotionally or literally – and give yourself some space to think about what really matters.
- Putting yourself in your child’s shoes can help with these situations. How does this situation feel to him? What kind of messages is he getting about how much you love him? What can you do to send more positive messages?
- If your child is old enough to understand, you can also be honest about what’s bothering you. Being a positive parent doesn’t mean never showing your child that you feel sad, angry or upset. In fact, if you can find constructive ways of expressing and dealing with your emotions, you can set a good example for your child. Just be careful about striking a balance between being honest and loading up your child with grown-up worries.
Your general health and wellbeing
Your level of general health and energy will affect your ability to give your child positive attention.
Dealing with either physical or mental illness is likely to affect your relationship with your partner and children and influence the family environment. You might find it harder to be attentive, to respond to your child, to express positive emotions or to be affectionate.
You might just be plain and simply tired. Parents need to be on call 24 hours a day. Work responsibilities and home duties can sometimes deplete your energy levels. This can mean you don’t have much left in the tank for your child.
Looking after yourself
plays a big part in overcoming obstacles like these. Even when you want to put everyone else first, taking care of your own health and wellbeing will help you be a better and more positive parent.
Your grown-up relationships
A positive relationship with a partner or spouse can be a ‘platform’ for a positive relationship with your child. Conflict or tension in your relationship, even if it’s short-term or relatively minor, can take over your thoughts and feelings so you feel there’s little left to give to your child.
Your relationships with other adults will also be a major part of your life – you might be a son or daughter, a sister or brother, and a friend. Any of these roles carries a certain level of responsibility and can cause stress and worry.