TOP TIPS: Most important things parents can do to help kids
TOP TIPS: Most important things parents can do to help kids

TOP TIPS: Most important things parents can do to help kids

Leading parenting experts from across Queensland were asked for the one piece of advice they would give to prospective mums and dads, to help set their children on the right path. In a new book, these experts share their practical tips for tackling parenthood's greatest dilemmas - and some of them - like show your children your love, put down your phone and set up a daily or weekly family tradition - are surprisingly simple.



Rachel Downie


How do we teach our kids to want to be the kind of person whose actions are courageous, kind, fair and just? Studies show 87 per cent of the time bystanders are present in cases of bullying and harm, which means bystander intervention is crucial in disrupting the cycle.

Essentially, bullying is a problem we all need to work to solve as a community and we need to teach our kids to have the courage to care for others in day-to-day life. So, don't just teach your kids what to do if they are bullied themselves. It is imperative as a loving community that we teach our kids to stand up for others too, in a safe, courageous and assertive way. Support them to help change Australia's cultural acceptance of bullying and give them the power to say something!

Rachel Downie in 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Rachel Downie in 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

These resilience and empathy traits are not personality traits, but rather capacities that develop over time through positive relationships with family and peers. Empathy and resilience need to be explicitly taught and modelled at home. We set the tone for empathy through how we treat our kids, because we are our child's inner voice. Making that voice warm, resilient and empathetic, rather than an inner critic, is something that happens by design, not by accident. We need to model compassion, gentleness and understanding for our children. If they see it, they will know how to do it. If they feel it from you, it is all the more powerful.

Rachel Downie, 2020 Queensland Australian of the Year, is an educator and public speaker who is Director of Stymie, an anonymous online-reporting tool used in schools.


Pinky McKay


Just as your little person has physical needs for food, sleep and a gentle rhythm to his day, he has emotional needs for connection with you. He needs touch, eye contact and moments of focused attention to help him balance his calming chemistry at a physiological level and to meet his emotional needs for connection too. When you fill his little 'love tank' by tuning in to your terrific toddler, he will find it easier to express himself calmly and you will find it easier to communicate with less frustration for both of you.

Give little hugs, a backrub, a kiss on the back of his silky neck. Try massaging a pizza on his back, letting him choose the imaginary ingredients as you use strokes that match, such as spreading, chopping, stroking, sprinkling, then rubbing as you cook the pizza then 'slice' it and gobble it all up!

Fill up their love tanks.
Fill up their love tanks.

Stop, drop to your child's level and make eye contact as you listen and respond to his chatter, extending his language as you reflect back to him what he is trying to tell you.

Notice the positive things your little one is doing, rather than ignoring him until something goes wrong. Rather than setting up a pattern of praising that can backfire in the longer term as he seeks constant praise for the smallest thing, try using a technique called 'mirroring': reflect back what your little one is doing. 'Thank you for shutting the car door.' Then add a quality: 'That's really helpful.'

Pinky McKay is one of Australia's most recognised and respected breastfeeding and gentle-parenting experts and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).


Meg Nagle


You might find that as your child grows beyond babyhood, they continue to seek your comfort during the night. Often in our Western cultures we are given only one option: sleep training. However, thankfully there are many other things you can do that don't involve leaving your young child to cry.

Humans have the longest stage of infancy of any mammal on the planet. Simply put, this means that our tiny humans will need frequent touch, frequent comfort and frequent reassurance from us, both day and night, for many years. The human brains goes through massive growth and changes within the first five years of life and as humans, our growth and development in these early years depends on the response and reassurance we are given. Often times, children seek out this reassurance during the night when they are a bit scared or unsure.

Babies will sleep, eventually.
Babies will sleep, eventually.

Sleep and what we think our babies and young children 'should' be doing is a cultural construct. It is these cultural influences which shape our idea of what should be happening with our child's sleep. In many cultures around the world, this topic isn't even discussed, as its commonplace and just expected that the child will sleep with the parents until they are happy to sleep in their own room. That could take many years to happen and is considered quite normal in many societies. The idea that our baby, toddler or young child should happily sleep alone in their own room is a strange cultural construct that is actually not the biological norm.

Meg Nagle has been working with breastfeeding families for over 15 years, as a volunteer counsellor and then as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice.


Claire Orange


It was Theodore Roosevelt who said that comparison is the thief of joy. Wise words. In parenting, I think we often become our own worst enemies when it comes to looking after ourselves and doing it in a way that has meaning only for ourselves. I mean by that, experiencing self-care and self-love in a way that is truly about you and your needs, that acknowledges your individuality and your way of being in wonder and awe at the world around you, that deeply nurtures and nourishes you.

At great risk of sounding very nanna-ish, when I set about parenting our first child twenty-two years ago, it was most definitely easier being a parent in your own little mostly-isolated joy-bubble.

The rest of the parenting world was really only accessible when you stepped out the door and immersed yourself in it.

The advent of social media has definitely changed the 'visibility' of parenting as well as all the bajillions of activities that hang under that umbrella. On every social media feed, you're bound to find an abundance of pictures of yummy-mummies, delightful-daddies, picture-perfect lunch boxes, shiny-faced children with perfectly brushed hair holding up a merit certificate … If you're the parent cycling between cheese and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, a whole piece of fruit not cut into perfect segments and a mostly clean and right-sized school uniform - and just getting through it all - it can feel like somehow, somewhere you're missing out and that you're not doing 'it' right.

Claire is a child and family therapist who has been working in clinical practice for 27 years.


Brisbane psychologist Justin Coulson with wife Kylie and daughters. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Brisbane psychologist Justin Coulson with wife Kylie and daughters. Picture: Mark Cranitch

Justin Coulson


Traditions and rituals help life make sense to our children. They increase predictability so our children feel secure, because knowing what to expect increases feelings of comfort and safety.

In a 2015 study involving approximately 250 teens (aged 15-20), researchers discovered that the practice of family rituals and traditions had a significant and important protective role in increasing social connectedness for teens, and for reducing their experiences of anxiety. Those who participated in family rituals also experienced less depression. It seems that family tradition and ritual provide a sense of connectedness, which helps our children's self-esteem and wellbeing to develop and grow, and protects them from the stresses so many teens experience.

I actually suggest that - at its core - the power of tradition is really about connection. Traditions bind and seal us together through the rhythmic pattern of consistent shared experience. They force us to pay attention to one another. Just like dollars are the currency of our economy, attention and connection are the currency of our relationships. Tradition is like money in the bank of our relationship. It keeps us connected, centred, and focused on what matters most: one another.

Justin Coulson has a PhD in Psychology and the focus of his life is his family - and helping other families to flourish.


Try to remain calm and not yell when your kids push your buttons.
Try to remain calm and not yell when your kids push your buttons.

Dr Kaylene Henderson


As a parent of three kids myself, I've learned that there is a constant juggle between balancing respect for our children's autonomy and growing independence, and their need for safe boundaries. Within your family, you absolutely need to be in charge. But better than that, the research tells us that children benefit the most when we exercise this authority with kindness and respect.

Parents who are too strict or harsh tend to raise children who fear getting caught. On the flip side, parents who are too permissive risk being ignored. Our goal should be to raise kids who want to do the right thing, even when we're not watching.

The research tells us that to do that, we need to find the ideal middle ground and parent in a way that is neither weak and permissive, nor too harsh or strict. I've heard this middle ground referred to as 'no-nonsense kindness' - a phrase that I love.

When we find that ideal middle ground, we can set clear expectations and boundaries so that our children learn to respect us and our rules, rather than fear or dismiss us.

Dr Kaylene Henderson is a medically trained Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and one of Australia's leading parenting experts.

Kids learn phone habits from their parents.
Kids learn phone habits from their parents.

Dr Kristy Goodwin


We're sending powerful messages to our kids about the importance of our devices in our lives when we're constantly tethered to them. Many adults are now no longer more than one metre away from their phones in a twenty-four-hour period. Phones have become our digital companions - so much so that some of us even 'toilet tweet' (the colloquial term used to describe using our phones in the bathroom).

The brain has mirror neurons, meaning that we're hardwired as humans to copy. Mirror neurons are a network of nerve cells that run along our motor nerves and their prime function is to mirror everything we see. The observed actions are stored in our brains to access later, when we need to perform that task or action. These neurons activate when we observe someone doing something, meaning that we're biologically wired to imitate behaviour. If young people are constantly seeing their parents tethered to technology, then they're more likely to emulate this behaviour themselves.

Dr Kristy Goodwin is a digital wellbeing researcher, speaker and author.


Karen Young


Nurturing a brave mindset involves helping children understand that courage isn't about something magical that happens inside them to make them 'not scared'. It's about something magical that happens inside them to move them through anxiety or self-doubt toward the things that are important or meaningful. It's about being brave even when they feel anxious.

We can never know exactly what our children are going to find themselves up against, but by nurturing their courage, we can make sure they are at their strongest when they face it. Here are some ways to do that.

Children will step up to expectations or down to them. We know who they are and what they are capable of, and our task is to help them see it too. There is no hurry for this to happen. Beautiful, powerful things are built on strong, solid foundations, and those foundations will take time.

Giving our children 'permission' to fail doesn't mean encouraging them to fail. It means softening anxiety around failure and opening the way for them to take risks, to tap into their courage, and to take a bold step forward.

Karen began her career as a psychologist and is now a sought-after speaker and consultant, working with schools, government bodies, parent groups, and child and adolescent focused organisations.


Parents, this is the one thing you need to know book cover.
Parents, this is the one thing you need to know book cover.


Parents, This is the One Thing You Need to Know, edited by Sam Jockel and Kerri Ryan, Affirm Press, $30.


Originally published as TOP TIPS: Most important things parents can do to help kids

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