Learning Package 2
The Empowerment Skills learning package is for learning parents who aim to broaden their knowledge on positive and attachment-based parenting practices. This can enhance their ability to do well as a parent and make parenting easier and more effective.
Oftentimes, parents come across many unexpected situations with their children and may feel concerned that their ability to do well as a parent is not enough. The good news is that there are valuable practices to learn and use such as bonding behaviours, providing guidance and setting boundaries, active listening, different ways of asking questions, withholding judgment, using encouraging words, and more that may help parents to develop nurturing connections with their children and provide a family environment for healthy child development. All these skills are developed in this guide.
The aim of the Empowerment Skills learning package is to support the parents in improving their competence and confidence by assisting them to acquire knowledge and skills which will support their child’s as well as their own personal development. Consequently, this will help to create deeper, stronger, more stable, and more collaborative parent-child relationships, and concomitantly more safe and secure family environments based on mutual respect and trust of its members.
The knowledge of this learning package can be applied to a broad range of issues and situations as it provides practical suggestions, tips, and guidance on how parents and caregivers can interact more positively and effectively with their children in many different situations.
After going through the learning package, parents will learn about and understand:
- Positive parenting practices and effective ways of engaging with their child;
- The needs of their child;
- The behaviour of their child, especially challenging behaviour;
- How to build psychological resilience in their child through the use of empowerment skills.
After the learning package, the parent should be able to:
- Better recognise and respond to their child’s needs;
- Effectively cope with a much broader scope of issues and situations as a parent;
- Address a conflict in a more conscious way
- Demonstrate a non-judgmental attitude and respect the child’s authentic views and opinions;
- Build psychological resilience in their child in daily life;
- Foster a quality, nurturing, warm and understanding relationship with the child;
- Increase the participation of the child in the matters that are of importance to them.
As highlighted in the guide introduction, a growing body of research is showing that parents and caregivers influence child development in a multitude of ways. Amongst many legal and expert documents, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as the key child rights agreement recognises that parents and the family have a decisive role in the child’s upbringing, education and well-being.Consequently, modern prevention science emphasises the importance of adopting various positive parenting skills as a factor which enhances child’s chances to grow into a happy, psychologically healthy and functioning member of society.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela
So, taking this into consideration, how do we, as parents and caregivers, approach and treat our children in our everyday interactions? You may want to take just a few mindful moments and reflect on some of the following:
 United Nations (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Geneva: United Nations.
- Does my child feel safe showing their emotions with me?
- Do I empathise with my child and put myself in their shoes?
- Is my child comfortable with speaking to me openly?
- When my child talks to me, do I listen with complete attention?
- Do I communicate my needs when I am in good spirits, or do I do it more often when I am tired and “have had enough of everything”?
- Do I take my child’s needs and desires into consideration when making important or everyday decisions?
- Am I showing appreciation for my child’s opinions? Am I encouraging my child to confide in me?
- Am I able to effectively discipline my child? How do I cope with that?
- Do I ever raise my voice at my child, threat or punish them?
All children need caring relationships with their parents and caregivers that promote their positive health and overall well-being. They need positive and respectful family day-to-day interactions and environment in which they are committedly listened to and are taken seriously, in which they can freely communicate and express their opinions and views, and in which they and their needs are accurately understood and responded to in a respectful manner.
Although there are individuals who are more naturally inclined to be good at communication, who empathise more easily or choose punitive methods of discipline less often, the vast majority of caregivers will benefit from learning more about these topics. Communication is a skill that is important through life, check the COMMUNICATION SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE to learn more.
This is amplified by the requirements of modern society and additionally emphasised by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Parents have to deal with many stressful situations on a daily basis in order to provide for their families. A plethora of research and empirical evidence indicates that parents’ stress negatively affects the child, their development and is a risk factor for developing mental health difficulties of the child later on in life. This emphasises the need for parents to not only acquire additional skills to support their children better, but also to support themselves better.
With the Empowerment skills learning package we hope we will provide you both with the tools and an impetus for a broadening of your parenting practices that will help you to be a more confident parent who is able to respect and embrace the wider scope of your child’s knowledge, views and perspectives. This way, your child will feel more heard, acknowledged, understood and respected, appreciated and valued for who they really are, and most importantly they will feel loved and cared for even in times when you are trying really hard to keep up with all of the demands and are not at your best.
By incorporating the following empowerment skills into your parenting, you will be able to more easily create and foster a nurturing family environment in which you and your children will feel more empowered and will thrive.
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The most important question we can ask ourselves as parents is what do we want to achieve through raising our children? Probably every parent can agree they want their child to become a responsible, independent, self-confident person who creates meaningful relationships and can rely on themselves. The upbringing that would lead to such an outcome is, without a doubt, the consequence of thoughtful and patient parenting with long-term goals in sight, all while building a quality relationship with the child as a foundation! And this takes work.
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Most parents have at some point used behaviours that are not always the best solution in certain situations with their children. This does not mean they are bad people, nor that they are bad parents, but very simply – that they are human. Demanding perfection of parents is unrealistic and can create additional stress, as highlighted in the “Good Enough Parenting” theory that you can check out in the PROBLEM SOLVING LEARNING PACKAGE. But becoming aware of our own patterns of behaviour in different situations can empower us to improve and, in the long run, to choose to act in the way that is best for our child (and for ourselves).
Choosing positive, bonding behaviours (praise, encouragement), rather than fear of consequences (punishment) work best as an incentive for children’s desirable behaviours.
Here are some examples of bonding behaviour that strengthens parent-child relationships:
- Avoid making decisions according to the current mood: needs and desires are expressed when we are in a good mood, rules are set in advance, and decisions are made in accordance with all the above. Be careful to adhere to the agreed rules yourself.
- Do not get into power struggles with your child: it is not hard to win them when the child is literally life-dependent on us, but they often result in a disrupted relationship. Ask yourself – what triggers this need to win in me, what would help you and what, as a mature adult, can you do to help yourself. Your responses are never your child’s fault or responsibility.
- Communicate with the child with respect: Actively listen to them, show trust, understanding and acceptance of their thoughts and feelings. Do not ridicule, disparage or use what they said against them. Nurture a lasting good relationship and a feeling in the child that they can really talk openly about everything with you.
- Guide yourself by techniques of positive discipline and the natural consequences of behaviour: This teaches your child personal responsibility, builds and maintains self – confidence and promotes positive behaviour in a respectful way.
- Avoid any form of aggression: do not yell, push or hit my child.
- Try to be patient and give the child responsibility according to age: although this sometimes takes longer and turns out messier.
- Support and encourage your child and their efforts: Provide your child with a safe space to try, make a mistakes and learn from them. Make sure your child knows you love them, even when you disapprove of their behaviour.
We single out the following skills that can enhance bonding behaviour as well as empower parents to act in the best interest of a child.
This point consists of two elements – emotional warmth and supporting emotion.
It is crucial for the child’s mental health to feel a warm, close and constant connection with the caregiver from an early age. In this way, the proper emotional development of the child will be favoured.
On the other hand, as children grow older, they need to acquire a number of skills. They learn to walk, to communicate, to independently explore the world around them. They also learn how to recognise emotions, express and manage them. Over time, they begin to understand the emotions of others and develop empathy.
Accepting and expressing emotions is extremely important for our mental health – and this is being modelled to a child by a parent from an early age.
This can be challenging because it is not always easy to deal with a child’s difficult emotions. However, children whose parents respond to feelings such as anxiety, fear, and distress with empathy tend to express their feelings openly, without shame, and are more compassionate towards others. Parental support in moments of emotional distress empowers the child and makes it easier for them to adopt their own strategies for successfully dealing with emotions.
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Imagine your 6-year-old son at a party. Everyone is having a really good time – there is cake, balloons, a clown and party favours. It is time to go home, he is tired but excited to get his small gift and a chocolate. While walking home you meet his friend Karl, and your child realises Karl got two chocolates. He was the last one to leave, and the birthday girl’s mum gave him one for his little sister at home. Your son gets very upset – Karl’s sister is small, she does not eat chocolate which means Karl just got two chocolates for himself, and your son wants the same.
Here are some tips that can support you in helping your child cope with emotions. These are examples of behaviours to adopt and what you can say or how you can express support in the situation stated above. You do not have to follow these tips in any particular order.
- Acknowledge the child’s right to anger, sadness or fear and help them connect it to a situation that caused it:
“I understand you are angry because Karl got 2 chocolates, and you got only one.”
- Let the child know that all emotions are normal, that everyone has them and that they are not dangerous, only sometimes unpleasant:
“I sometimes get angry as well. It can be very difficult to handle these feelings, but they are completely normal.”
- Help them express emotions in an acceptable way:
“Even though you have the right to be upset, taking Karl’s chocolates was not OK. There are other ways to work this out.”
- The child should be made aware that his feelings will not jeopardize the relationship with you – through words, but also through actions:
“You can let your big emotions out with me”
- Understand the child’s emotions even when they are directed at us:
“I understand you are also mad at me for not getting you more chocolate. That is also OK.”
- Communicate politely and respectfully, in accordance with age, without ridicule and coercion:
“The thing is, it is important to eat sweets in moderation to keep our teeth healthy. What can we do to make this better?”
Guidance and setting boundaries are necessary in the process of growing up. Positive, non-violent methods of disciplining and directing with a lot of love and understanding, help develop self-control and compassion for others in children. To learn more about setting boundaries, please read the MEDIATION SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE.
In order to better understand discipline, we will start off by explaining what is a punishment, and why it does not work. Punishment is a form of reactive behaviour which intends to control the unwanted behaviour in a child. There are four types of punishment: physical (hitting, smacking and similar), verbal (shaming, making fun of or using cruel words), denial of rewards (like phone or TV privileges for bad grades) and punishing (using “time out”).
If we go back to what is the main goal of upbringing, we must ask ourselves are these the messages and lessons we want to pass on? Or do we want to encourage the development of self-discipline and (self)compassion in our children while maintaining positive parent-child relationships. That we can do through discipline.
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Discipline is teaching and leading a child toward positive behaviour. Positive guidance encourages the child to think before acting and choose the right behaviour themselves. It builds self-control and strengthens the child’s skills to coexist with other people.
Discipline requires thinking, planning and patience both in children and parents, and is a process of thinking and trying (again).
– Set clear family rules and boundaries. Create them in a participatory way and make sure the children understand them and you all agree.
– Maintain positive discipline. Tell the child what they are allowed to do, instead of what they are not allowed to do. Teach your child by example, and be a good one.
– Introduce the child to the natural consequences of behaviour. For example, if a child leaves toys outside the house and they are destroyed or stolen – do not buy replacement toys. When appropriate and safe, teach them that every behaviour has consequences.
– Always focus on the situation, never judge the child. This is very important because it maintains the child’s self – confidence and gives them a clear idea what they can do better next time.
– Plan ahead. You can try to avoid some unacceptable behaviour by rethinking situations that usually provoke them. Eg. Try going to the supermarket when children are fed and well rested.
– Keep your composure. Calmly listen to the child’s explanation of the problem – do not yell or threaten. Discuss ways to solve the problem. Together, come up with a solution that is acceptable to both the child and you – this approach helps the child learn to take responsibility for their actions.
In the end, we want to leave you on a positive note – do not beat yourself up if you sometimes „slide into” reactive behaviour. Like we said, we are all human and sometimes we have just had a long and hard day. The point is to recognise when we make mistakes, to apologise, and to try every day to choose better behaviours – because even that teaches our child something worthwhile.
Reactive behaviour: when your feelings depend on an external event which is out of your control. For example, you had a bad day at work and you are in a bad mood. When you come home your responses, reactions towards your children or partner are a result of what you feel that day about work and you do not have a feeling that you can control your responses.
Proactive behaviour: opposite to reactive behaviour, when you take responsibility for yourself, you are in charge of your reactions and you choose how you think about certain situations.
In this part, we will show you how to apply the skills we have described in this package in real life examples, using everyday family situations with which you can relate to. Through the stories we will develop concrete tips and pointers to help you picture how applying these skills can bring a positive parenting experience for the entire family. Although, it can be a good idea to consult an expert if you are not sure how to approach a specific issue.
Piotr (7 years old) has had bad results in his last volleyball training. After the training, Peter came home and angrily told his parents that he would not go to training anymore, he was no longer interested in it, the boys from volleyball are stupid and he did not like the coach anymore. His parents were surprised because he showed no signs of wanting to quit until now. Piotr sometimes struggles with high expectations of himself in school, practices or other areas.
For a parent, it is difficult to see their child struggle in school, sport or any other area, especially if the child cares for the outcome and the result very much and wants to be good in that area.
Where to go from here?
Understanding the circumstances. In this kind of situation, it is good to start with framing the situation. Do this through asking questions and active listening techniques – see the COMMUNICATION SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE for more tips on active listening. Do not hesitate to rephrase what you have understood, and ask your child if it is correct. In that way parents are showing genuine interest and understanding.
“So, if I understand correctly, the practice didn’t go as well as you had hoped for? That made you very angry, am I right? “
Normalise feelings, show empathy. Parents are here to show that making mistakes is normal, just like having uncomfortable feelings around it is also normal. With empathy and supportive conversation, a parent can empower Piotr to feel good about himself regardless of his achievements.
“I also feel bad when I’m not satisfied with how well the outcome of my work ended. Especially when I worked several months on the results.”
Offer a different perspective, encourage confidence. It is the parent’s job to show Piotr that even though he does not always perform well, he can still enjoy doing this activity or have fun in practice. A parent can explain that sometimes we want to give up when something is hard for us, and that can be okay. On the other hand, a parent can teach Piotr not to measure his self–worth based on his accomplishments which helps build inherent feelings of self–worth. This can also help build psychological resilience by teaching a child not to give up on a first sign of discomfort, but to try again.
“If you really want to quit volleyball, I am okay with that. But I want us to discuss it first, and I want you to really think it through. Because sometimes when these difficult feelings emerge, we just want to run away and hide. But when you think about it, if you usually enjoy your practices and get along with your team well, it might be worthwhile to try going again and see if you feel better next time – because that is enough. You don’t have to win to enjoy an activity.”
Making a fun “deal”. A parent can make a “deal” with Piotr to:
- Choose a new activity he knows nothing about.
- Try engaging in something he tried before and enjoyed, but thought he was not good at.
- Observe what is fun and joyful about that activity.
What you can say:
“Maybe we can try go–karting next weekend, but with a little task. You’ve never been go-–karting before, so you can’t expect to drive like a pro, right? I want you to observe how you can still have fun even when learning. How does that sound?”
- Video for younger children on naming the emotions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyKg6oMLSvc
- Video on self-esteem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdjaxS4ME2A
- Unhealthy thinking styles, Becks cognitive model: https://www.psychologytools.com/articles/unhelpful-thinking-styles-cognitive-distortions-in-cbt/
Claire (13 years old) comes to school and discovers that all classes are planning Father’s Day activities by organising fun workshops and games for entire families. Claire felt a strong wave of discomfort inside her, her eyes filling with tears and her heart beating fast. When the class was over, her best friend approached her and asked how she was feeling. This made Claire even more upset, she felt a hot flash and drumming in her head as she said “Leave me alone!” and pushed her friend aside before running out of class. She was angry all day at school and did not want to talk to anyone. At the end of the day when she got home, she ran to her room. Her mother asked her what had happened, but Claire was not in the mood to talk. Her mother guessed that she might have gotten a bad grade, so she said standing from the door, “Did you get a bad grade in that math test?” Claire asked her to leave her room, angry and crying. Her mother realised at that point that something was going on and that this was not normal behaviour after a bad grade. She approached her and said that whatever it was, she could talk to her about it when she wanted and that if it was going to be easier for her, she could just sit next to her and be quiet. That reaction made Claire cry even harder, after which she admitted that she got very upset in class today, hearing how Father’s Day activities are being planned. Claire’s father moved away couple of months ago and was not keeping in touch. Claire was afraid he left because of something she did, but was too afraid to ask her mother. Then, when she started crying in class, she didn’t like how everybody saw her, and how everybody would now know something was wrong.
Be patient and respect boundaries. We want to point out one thing which Claire’s mother already did well and which changed the entire course of events. In this example she showed that it is not always desirable to ask a lot of questions because a child might not be ready to talk. Sometimes we can make a situation worse by asking too many questions. An accusatory question about bad grades only caused Claire to shut down and be more upset. Even though it is difficult to be patient and wait for a child to open up when something is bothering them, in this situation, the mother’s openness both to talking it out and silently giving support, made Claire open up in her own time and pace. In this way she showed respect for Claire’s boundaries and gave space to her feelings.
Paraphrase and name feelings. By repeating in our own words, and making sure we understood what the child meant, a parent can better understand what exactly the problem is.
“If I understand correctly, you felt sad when you realised you couldn’t bring your entire family to these events? And then it made you even more upset when Carole approached you? It seems to me this made you feel ashamed – for your situation and crying, so you pushed her away?”
Normalise and explain feelings, show empathy. The mother can acknowledge the emotions she sees by saying:
“It is normal to have all kinds of feelings in this situation. Sometimes you can feel sad, and other times ashamed or angry. These feelings can be very big and very difficult, but are very common. Everybody feels them sometimes, I do too.”
The mother can also use this time to explain to Claire that them getting a divorce has nothing to do with her – and nothing she did caused it. Their relationship was their own, and they are the only ones responsible for how it went and ended. This explanation will vary depending on a situation and it can be useful to talk to an expert on what information a child can benefit from.
Set boundaries, encourage problem solving. After Claire has calmed down, a parent could explain that not all reactions to unpleasant emotions are acceptable.
“Sadness, shame and anger can be very difficult and that can sometimes cloud our judgement – so it is important to take your time and think before acting. Pushing Carole away was not okay – if you wanted to be alone there are other ways you could have told her that. Have you talked to her since? What would you advise a friend if she was in this situation?”
The question “What would you advise a friend if she was in this situation?” encourages self-compassion in Claire because it assumes that we will always find nice and comforting things to say to our friends. This question is also a good starting point for Claire to come up with a way she can reach out to Carole, but also a way to cope with strong feelings when they arise again. To learn more about problem solving techniques you can consult the PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE.
- Guide to support parents https://www.youngminds.org.uk/parent/a-z-guide/anger/
- Active listening tips https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWe_ogA5YCU
- Resilience in children https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/cover-resilience
Final key tips for parents
- Have family meetings. Nurture this joint time to talk from a young age. Listen to everyone and take everyone’s opinion into consideration. You as parents make the final call, but this teaches children they are heard and valued.
- Think about the messages you want to send your child in the long run. Do this especially when your child has done something they were not supposed to or you feel you are running low on energy.
- Acknowledge their experience and emotion. Show empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and always remember how much less life experience they have.
- Practice active listening skills and teaching your child about emotion. It can seem a bit out of character at the beginning – but it will get more natural.
- Do not be afraid to set boundaries with the ones around you, especially the ones you love. The more you care for yourself, the more energy you have in the long run and more capacity to listen, empathise and spend time in quality ways.
- Try positive discipline. It does take more time and effort, but the benefits are long term. This way a child integrates a healthy way of self–regulation.
- Talk about yourself. Create an atmosphere of openness and sharing without judgement. It will teach your children to share as well. Keep it age-appropriate.
- Engage in joint activities. Shared pleasant experiences will strengthen your bond, but also serve as an incentive for a child to open up.
- Reach out to an expert. Do not feel you have to know and do everything alone. There are people who can help you come up with a best solution for your family, especially when dealing with difficult subjects and situations.