By Raising Children Network
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Not so long ago, many people believed that if young children were fed, clothed, given shelter and kept warm – in other words, if their physical needs were met – they needed nothing more. We now know that our interactions with children, even with very young babies, influence their learning and emotional development.
Being warm and caring towards your children sends them good messages, builds your relationship and helps your children develop. But life sometimes throws up obstacles to warm moments with your child.

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

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.

Our article on making the daily switch from work to home has ideas on how to get work out of your head so you can be positive with your children when you get home. Dads might also like to check out our article on finding a balance between work and home.

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.
For ideas on coping with life stresses, you might like to check out our articles on feeling stressed, reducing stress with muscle relaxation, and breathing for relaxation.

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.

Video Children’s impact on your relationship

This video highlights the ups and downs in parents’ relationships that come with raising children. Australian parents talk about common problems and tensions. They also share ways to strengthen and build a relationship after children. In particular, they say that patience and open communication can help you reduce conflict and support each other.
Looking after your relationships is a big part of looking after you. For ideas, you might like to read our articles on you and your partner, parent teamwork and adult friendships. Other parents can be a great source of support and information, too – you can use our Raising Children forums to connect and share with other parents like you.

Your relationship with your child

It’s highly likely there will be times when you feel challenged by your child’s behaviour. You might feel disappointed, frustrated and even angry. Needless to say, during these times you’re not likely to give your child warm, positive caring messages.

You might also feel there’s a basic mismatch in temperament between you and your child. This does happen sometimes, and it’s nobody’s fault. For example, a very quiet mum can get a full-on, 24-hours-a-day baby, or a dad who likes to be out and about has a child who gets upset if her routine is altered. These mismatches can cause stress and conflict.

It’s OK to sometimes tune out and not focus on your child. At these times you might just think, ‘It's time for me right now’. Finding time to relax and pursue personal interests is just as important to a parent as it is to any grown-up.

Video Parenting ups and downs

Some days it might feel like there are more downs than ups when it comes to being a parent. On the down days, it can help to think back on all the positive experiences you’ve shared with your child – as one dad in this video says, ‘To see the wonderment in their eyes when you show them new things and they have new experiences ... it’s one of the best things about being a parent’.

All the parents here reflect on the challenges, achievements, positives and negatives of parenting today. They describe the importance of focusing on the positives so you can get over the challenges and enjoy the good times.

  • Last updated or reviewed 25-07-2012