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As a parent, or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your child’s success. You are the most important influence in your child’s life. Intentional parenting is an approach where you use strategies to build a healthy parent-child relationship. A healthy parent-child relationship provides opportunities for you and your child to learn and practice social and emotional skills. Social and emotional skills are important because they are linked to significant positive outcomes throughout life, such as
- academic achievement,
- improved relationships,
- higher pay at work, and
- greater emotional wellbeing.1,2,3
Social and emotional skills also serve to protect against negative outcomes such as
Your parenting approach changes as your child ages. It requires different strategies, different limits, and different styles of guidance and discipline. However, regardless of the age of your child or how you have parented in the past, intentional parenting has something to offer you. This document is divided into three parts detailing intentional parenting.
First, intentional parenting is defined in detail.
Next, reasons why using intentional parenting is important are provided.
And finally, examples of how to use intentional parenting are described.
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you are the most important influence in your child’s life.
Regardless of the age of your child or how you have parented in the past, intentional parenting has something to offer you.
What Is Intentional Parenting?
Intentional parenting is an approach to developing safe, stable, and nurturing parent-child relationships. Through intentional parenting, parents and those in a parenting role grow strong social and emotional skills in their children. The intentional parenting approach relies on brain science to provide you ways to stay present and involved with your child. Using the approach provides consistent structure and guidelines within which your child can find their own way. Intentional parenting uses intentional communication to tackle hard problems in a way that strengthens the parent-child relationship.
Why Is Intentional Parenting Important?
Research on parenting suggests that when you as a parent or someone in a parenting role engage in certain behaviors, it produces positive results and supports healthy development in your child.4Intentional parenting is centered around engaging in these types of parenting behaviors which include
- being responsive and involved,
- demonstrating authority while supporting autonomy,
- having consistent and predictable rules, and
- communicating in a way that creates the warmth and safety needed to have tough conversations.
When these parenting behaviors are not present or when parenting is harsh and controlling, research indicates that children have negative outcomes such as
- lowered emotional wellbeing and
- lack of academic achievement.5
Studies show that when children experience things such as harsh or abusive parenting or being in an unsafe environment, it has a negative impact on their brain development. This can result in mental, physical, and behavioral issues in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.6
Intentional parenting can help you and your child develop social and emotional skills. Put simply, social and emotional skills include
- understanding, managing, and knowing oneself;
- relating to others; and
- making responsible choices based on self and others.
How Do I Do Intentional Parenting?
Intentional parenting means doing things with your child that will support them. This includes
- being involved,
- being consistent and predictable,
- providing guidelines within which your child can find their own way, and
- practicing intentional communication.
By engaging in these behaviors, you can build relationships with your child that form the foundation for their development. Strong, supportive, safe relationships help grow your child’s brain, support resilience, and create the conditions for future success.
The research on parental involvement suggests that when you as a parent or someone in a parenting role are involved with your child, your child is better able to
- manage stress,
- improve academic achievement,
- improve self-regulation, and
- enhance mental health.9
Through parental involvement, you can create a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship with your child. Every moment you spend with your child offers a chance to build your relationship with them. Being involved models how to engage in a relationship and provides your child a clear message that they matter. Some ways to be involved include doing things together, being around your child in your child’s environment as well as bringing your child into your environment, and being present and available when needed.
Do Things Together
Sometimes your child may share more honestly about their thoughts and feelings while they are occupied doing other things. When you are engaged doing age-appropriate things together, there is space to have conversations.
Examples of age-appropriate activities:
- Cuddle and sing songs
- Read a book
- Go for a walk
- Blow bubbles
- Play pretend games
- Play games
- Build with Legos or blocks
- Work on a puzzle
- Fly a kite
- Draw pictures outside with sidewalk chalk
- Toss/kick a ball
- Play board games or card games
- Ride bikes
- Do a craft
- Bake a dessert together
- Go on a hike
- Learn something new together
- Try a new hobby
- Make dinner together
- Participate in a community event together
- Volunteer for a cause (i.e., walk dogs at an animal shelter, local food drive, park clean up, etc.)
Be Around Your Child in Your Child’s Environment and Bring Your Child Into Your Environment
Find opportunities to be around your child in your child’s environment. For example,
- pretend play together,
- volunteer in your child’s classroom,
- help your child prepare for a test at school, or
- offer to listen as they practice their musical instrument.
Also, find opportunities to bring your child into your environment. For example,
- have them help you make cookies or water the flowers,
- participate in chores you normally do like grocery shopping, or
- take them to a class you participate in or a hobby you like to do.
Involving your child in your world helps foster mutual respect.
Sometimes just being available is enough. It sends the message that you are there if they need you. Keep talking to your child and checking in with your child regularly. It might take a few tries to get your child to talk, but you will learn valuable information about your child by being available and engaging them in conversations. Anything they say is an opportunity for learning and for instilling values. Do not lose contact with your child, always know where they are, especially as your child ages.
Be Consistent and Predictable
Consistency and predictability send a clear message regarding expectations. Clear rules and expectations that are consistently followed reduce anxiety in children because they know what to expect. Research suggests that consistent and predictable relationships between parents and children reduce negative effects of difficult childhood experiences. They can also serve to buffer against mental and physical problems in adolescence and adulthood.10 Establishing routines (e.g., morning time, reading time, dinner time) and responding consistently to behavior can foster predictability. For example, do not allow a behavior one day and overreact the next day for the same behavior. Being able to predict how you will respond has a calming effect on your child’s brain.
Establish routines (bedtime, reading time, dinner time) and respond consistently to behavior.
Provide Opportunities Within Which Your Child Can Find Their Own Way
The opportunities you provide your child form the foundation where they get to practice making choices. This allows your child to develop their sense of ownership, it sends the message that you respect them, and it develops their problem-solving skills. The way you provide guidelines will vary based on the age of your child.
For a young child, the guidelines might sound like providing two choices, both of which you are comfortable such as, “Would you like to start cleaning up now or after your bath?” or “Would you like to drink water or milk?”
For an older child, guidelines are boundaries not step-by-step instructions.
Be available if your child needs help figuring out the steps, but allow your child to find their way within the guidelines you have provided. You want your child to struggle, because it is in the struggle that they learn that you can provide support and ideas. It grows independence and responsible decision making. This strategy aligns closely with being present, so you can step in and problem solve with them as they need help. Your child learns to communicate and negotiate with you in this process. When your boundaries are clear and your expectations are high, your child will respond positively, and this will reflect in their academic achievement.11
For a young child, the guidelines might sound like providing two choices, both of which you are comfortable (e.g., “Would you like to start cleaning up now or after your bath?” or “Would you like to drink water or milk?”). For an older child, guidelines are boundaries, they are not step-by-step instructions.
Practice Intentional Communication
Intentional communication helps develop social and emotional skills. Intentional communication provides opportunities to grow thoughtful interactions between you and your child. Intentional communication grows the brain by creating a safe space for learning. It encourages curiosity from your child and allows them to freely explore. Intentional communication teaches and models an effective communication approach that can be applied to many areas of your life and your child’s. These skills can be used at school, work, with friends, in disagreements, and in talking with others. Intentional communication gives your child a sense of ownership in the conversation because it is more meaningful to them. Intentional communication is about “talking with” instead of “talking to.”
More information on intentional communication can be found in the I Want to Know More section of the ParentingMontana.org website.
Intentional parenting is an approach to parenting that fosters safe, stable, and nurturing parent-child relationships. As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you are essential to your child’s success, and you are instrumental in shaping their development. When you practice intentional parenting, you can adjust your strategies to meet the developmental needs of your child. You can develop your child’s social and emotional skills no matter what age they are. Regardless of your child’s age, now is the time to be involved. You make a difference now and into your child’s future!