When Megan and Steve welcomed their first baby, they were both excited and scared. Neither had much experience with children and they were overcome with questions and concerns that they might not do parenting “right.”
When new parents seek out the best resources to help them wade through the confusion of early parenting, they find a wide array of books, websites, and community educational sessions, each offering advice on how to raise a child. Another constant source of help—and confusion-- is the well-meaning advice of friends and relatives!
So, how can a new parent wade through all this noise to find the “right” parenting advice? Here are a few pointers:
- The resource should BUILD your confidence as a parent, not make you feel inadequate. There are very few ironclad rules about how to be good parent, but both children and parents benefit if the parents feel confident and empowered. You know your child better than anyone does. Trusting your intuition is usually the right thing to do. If a book, a professional, or your mother-in-law adopts a critical tone, it’s time to find a new resource.
- Use at least one resource that helps you understand normal developmental milestones. Don’t get hung up on what defines “normal” -- it varies widely depending on the child. There’s no need to worry if your sister’s child talks before yours or your youngest learns to walk later than your oldest did. However, many childhood developmental problems can be minimized with early intervention, so if your child misses several physical or emotional steps, it’s time to call in the professionals.
- Assess whether the resource is based on broad, scientifically-established child development principles. There’s nothing wrong with choosing a certain approach to parenting that works best for you. However, be aware of the author’s biases so you can more easily select the advice that suits your needs. Again, beware of advice that makes you feel frustrated or incompetent—it benefits no one.
- Choose resources that help you enjoy your child. The best parenting advice of all is to have fun with your kids. Many resources will focus on ways to manage or control your young ones, including rigid schedules for eating, sleeping, and potty-training. It’s more important to children’s welfare that they develop a trusting relationship with their primary caretaker. Choose books, websites, and activities that encourage play and mutual enjoyment.
Who’s your baby’s most important resource? You! Children emulate what they see in their parents. The best parenting comes from caretakers who are confident, flexible, loving, and who take care of their own needs so they can be emotionally available to their children.
About the Author
Nancy Heath, Ph.D., LMFT is Director, Human Development and Family Studies Programs at American Public University. Dr. Heath earned her PhD from Purdue University in Child Development and Family Studies. Her professional experience includes work in the mental health and healthcare arenas, as well as 10 years of online teaching experience.
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