Parenting Process for Your Child’s Success
Social and emotional development is the building of critical life skills. These social and emotional skills include understanding and managing oneself, relating to others, and making responsible choices based on self and others. More specifically, these skills include being able to recognize and regulate emotions, empathize and care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, establish and maintain positive relationships, and avoid negative behaviors.1 ,2 Research demonstrates that social and emotional skills are associated with a variety of positive outcomes in life like graduating from high school on time and obtaining stable employment.3 Social and emotional skills are also associated with avoiding negative outcomes like being arrested and engaging in substance misuse.3 In adulthood, social and emotional skills are associated with improved job outcomes and higher salaries.4 Social and emotional skills can help adults perform better at work.4 Social and emotional skill development starts early in life, and can be strengthened and improved throughout life.5 Parents can intentionally grow these skills in their children and in themselves by using a parenting process that focuses on social and emotional skills to address everyday parenting topics and challenges.
Social and emotional skills include understanding and managing oneself, relating to others, and making responsible choices based on self and others.
We never stop growing our social and emotional skills! And, these skills have lasting impacts from childhood into adulthood.
Parents can have a significant impact on growing their child’s social and emotional skills.
Here we describe what the parenting process focused on social and emotional skills is, the benefits of using this process to help you address common parenting issues, and how this process can help build your child’s and your own social and emotional skills. The parenting process includes five steps. This document walks through each step, describes and details information about what each step is, why each step is important, and how you can engage in each step with your child.
What Is the Parenting Process?
The parenting process is a way of interacting with your child that creates an environment for learning that allows you and your child to practice and grow social and emotional skills. Quite simply, it is a style of interacting that keeps you and your child engaged in a conversation without either of you flipping out. This way of interacting with your child is not easy and takes practice. It is through practice that skills are learned and strengthened. One approach parents can take to learn this process is to start slowly by choosing one issue or task on which to practice using this process. Explain to your child that you are trying something new and would like to work on it together. Print out this parenting process and use it as a guide to work through each step with the issue or task you have chosen. As you become more familiar with the process, your confidence will build. For many parents, using the parenting process is a new way of interacting. Be patient with yourself and keep practicing.
Why Should I Use the Parenting Process?
Because it works! It works to keep you as the parent calm yet still guiding the conversation. It works to develop skills in your child so that your child is able to manage their emotions and make better decisions. And it works to improve your relationship with your child.
The parenting process equips you with a step by step process for dealing with simple and challenging parenting issues. Using the parenting process provides you with a way to create intentional opportunities to build your child’s social and emotional skills and your own social and emotional skills, and avoids leaving these important skills to chance.
How Do I Use the Parenting Process?
The parenting process includes five steps. The five steps are: Get Input, Teach, Practice, Support, and Recognize. Here we describe:
- what each step is,
- why each step is important, and
- how to actively engage in each step with your child.
Step 1. Get Input
The first step in the process is: Get Input. Getting input is about purposefully creating an opportunity for your child to cognitively engage in a conversation with you. Getting input allows your child to take an active role in the conversation. Cognitively engaging your child requires your child to process the information being communicated and reflect on the content. Instead of telling your child what to do, lecturing, or giving advice, you invite your child to participate in a dialogue about the topic or issue with you.
Engaging your child cognitively forces your child into the part of the brain that is able to be logical.
Getting input is important for several reasons.
- Getting input helps you, the parent, correct assumptions you may have made about your child’s behavior. Sometimes as a parent you can make assumptions about why your child did certain things in certain ways. Sometimes your assumptions are incorrect, and getting input allows you the opportunity to correct the assumptions you make to teach the right skill.
- Getting input creates a sense of ownership in the outcome. When your child is invited into a conversation, they are more likely to buy-in to the decisions that are made. Further, they will likely be more invested in following the guidelines or expectations you have created.6
- Getting input builds social and emotional skills. When asked for input, your child will have the opportunity to practice their social and emotional skills. Practicing social and emotional skills helps to build those skills. For example, getting input provides opportunities for your child to practice communicating well and listening to what is being said. Getting input also provides opportunities to learn to negotiate in ways that promote healthy relationship skills. Communicating, listening, and learning to negotiate are examples of the social and emotional skills you are building when getting input. These social and emotional skills have broad application in a variety of different situations.
- Getting input builds your child’s confidence and conveys that you respect them and value their feedback. When you ask for input, you are sending a message to your child that your child’s opinions matter to you. You are sending a message that you respect his or her ideas and are interested in learning about them. Getting input builds self-esteem and confidence.
- Getting input helps you too. Getting your child’s input and listening authentically to what they say may shift your thinking, challenge you to rethink your own ideas, or help you to look at the task or issue in a new way. Perhaps, through their input, you find empathy which is a social and emotional skill in social awareness. Empathy is being able to sense what your child is feeling or thinking without having to have them tell you.7 Empathy fosters rapport,5 and helps you to build a positive relationship with your child.
Getting input starts with creating the conditions for intentional communication and parents can do this in a variety of different ways. One approach is to start by asking open questions to encourage two-way communication and to show that you value what your child is thinking or feeling. Asking open questions invites cognitive engagement and allows you to explore your child’s perspective. Open-ended questions might include: “How did you like that?” “How did that make you feel?” “What did you think when that happened?”
Getting input is about purposefully creating an opportunity for your child to engage with an issue (like stress, establishing routines, homework, etc.). Getting input is more than just asking for your child’s opinion. It is about truly hearing and valuing what your child is saying.
“What are chores that should/could be done in our family?”
“Considering all of the activities that typically take place after school, when is the best time for you to do homework?”
“Let’s talk about times when your friends are doing things you don’t want to.”
Listen to your child’s responses with agreement and validate their feelings. For example, “I can see why that would make you upset.” Reflect to your child what you heard. “Let me be sure I got everything you are saying…” (repeat back what you heard them say). Give space for your child to complete their thoughts, to add more details, or correct your interpretation of what was said. Getting input is an opportunity to explore an issue or topic together and to navigate the conversation collaboratively.
Another way of getting input is to engage with your child around an activity to encourage conversation and input, rather than directly asking them questions. Your child may share more when the focus is not on what you are expecting them to say. An activity can also provide opportunities for your child to share in their own time.
- Create Conditions
- Ask Open Questions
- Listen and Reflect
What if…When asking for your child’s input, they may not know exactly what to say or how to engage with you. That’s okay.
Try this: Be patient and give your child time to process the information, reflect, and to respond. It is important not to push your child to share before they are ready. It is also important not to talk too much or teach too soon. Getting input takes time. Allow space for thinking, reflecting, and articulating their thoughts.
What if…Your child responds to you with a question.
Try this: Instead of jumping in with an answer immediately, give your child time to think. If your child is old enough, answer their questions with questions like: “That’s a great question. What do you think?” or “How would you answer that?”
Step 2. Teach
The second step in the parenting process is: Teach. The purpose of this step is to demonstrate how to do a task successfully. Teach also conveys the purpose of a doing a task or engaging in an issue. Teaching equips your child with knowledge and skills.
Teaching is important for several different reasons.
- Teaching builds your child’s capacity and sets them up for success. Teaching helps your child learn what your expectations are. Further, teaching helps your child to learn about what is acceptable behavior. Through teaching, your child learns how to interact in the world, in different situations, and with a variety of different people. Through everyday interactions, you are building your child’s capacity and setting them up for success.
- Teaching builds social and emotional skills. When teaching, your child is growing social and emotional skills. For example, teaching builds your child’s perspective-taking, empathy, and respect for others. Teaching also involves problem solving skills, communication skills, and teamwork. These skills are practiced and strengthened through the teaching process.
- Teaching helps you too. Teaching provides a platform to discuss your expectations and to demonstrate to your child what quality looks like. Teaching can help you to establish standards for how to do a specific task. Further, teaching provides an opportunity to establish meaningful, logical consequences for not doing the behavior/task. Step 2: Teach, also builds your social and emotional skills including clear communication, listening, and perspective taking.
There are many ways to engage in Step 2: Teach. Three approaches parents can take include: Demonstrate, Connect and Label, and Model.
Teaching happens through demonstration. Demonstrating a skill or a specific behavior can help your child visualize what you are asking them to do. When teaching a new skill, it is important to be explicit about the skills you are teaching and your expectations for behavior. For example, if you are teaching your child about being a good friend, it is important to explore with your child what “being a good friend” looks like. If you are teaching them to “follow directions,” discuss what “following directions” looks like. Explore specific behaviors that would demonstrate what you mean by “following directions.” If your child is old enough, talk about why they think these expectations are in place. Demonstrating a behavior or skill allows you to show what quality looks like and provides an opportunity to establish expectations and standards.
Connect and Label
When teaching a new skill or behavior, it is helpful to connect the skill or behavior to something your child already knows.8 Labeling the new information is one way to build onto what your child already knows.8 Labeling “capitalizes on the brain’s natural desire to label, sequence and define” (p. 91).8 Also, when you use a label for the skills you are teaching, it becomes easier to name it again when your child demonstrates the skill at a different time. This way you are building a shared vocabulary of what you are looking for in your child’s behavior.
Statements like: “Practice what you preach” and “Actions speak louder than words” are common phrases that refer to modeling (p. 38).8 As a parent, you are always modeling behavior for your child. Your child will develop skills to deal with situations and regulate their own behaviors and emotions through what they see. What you say and what you do are powerful forms of teaching.
- Connect and Label
“I would love to show you how to do this. Now, can you tell me what you saw me do?” “Whenever approaching a task like this, there are a few things to do and a few things to avoid. What do you think they are?”
Did you know…Your child’s brain is constantly processing information. When teaching, it is important to focus on what you do want your child to do, instead of what you don’t want them to do. Directing your child’s focus on what you do want can help your child focus their attention.9
Try this… Rather than saying “Don’t hit,” say, “Use gentle hands.” Or, instead of saying “No talking,” say, “Let’s use our listening ears.” Or, instead of saying “Don’t get close to the busy street,” say: “Walk on this side of the sidewalk.” The words you choose are important.
Did you know… As a parent, you are always modeling behaviors for your child. Paying attention to your own emotional regulation with others and around your child when dealing with difficult situations, disappointment, or conflict is important. It is okay to have strong emotions, to be frustrated, stressed, or angry, but always remember, you are modeling those behaviors to your child.
Ask yourself… “Am I showing my child how to appropriately deal with a difficult situation, a disappointment, or a conflict? Would the behaviors I am displaying be acceptable to me if I saw my child engaging in these same behaviors?”
Step 3. Practice
The third step in the parenting process is: Practice. Practice is experiential learning. Children learn by doing, applying what they learn, failing, redoing, and repeating the process. Through practice, your child can grow their skills.
Practice is beneficial for several reasons.
- Practice builds your child’s capacity to learn and improve. Practice provides opportunities for your child to demonstrate that they understand and can apply learning to the situation. Based on practice, your child acquires new learning which allows your child to get better at the task or skill.
- Practice grows habits. When you practice a skill, your brain changes to make the neurons that are involved in that skill run more efficiently. This is done by laying fat deposits on the neural system related to the skill – like insulation on an electrical cable. The more insulation, the faster the skill can be reproduced.8
- Practice grows social and emotional skills. Through practice, your child is growing social and emotional skills. For example, practicing a skill or behavior allows your child to make decisions, evaluate their performance, and to reflect on the consequences of actions. In a safe environment, practice allows your child to identify problems and find solutions, which builds self-confidence and self-efficacy.
- Practice supports a growth mindset and provides opportunities to handle feedback and mistakes. Feedback can be hard to hear, but it is a part of everyday life. Practice builds skills in how to handle failure/mistakes and to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations. Practice provides opportunities for self-discipline and self-motivation. It also provides opportunities for goal setting.
- Practice helps you too. Practice is important for your child and important for you. Step 3: Practice, provides opportunities to offer guidance and provide direction to your child. Through practice, parents can continue to establish standards and expectations. Providing opportunities allows you to practice self-management skills like regulating emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Practice provides opportunities for self-discipline. You might also find opportunities for letting go.
It is important to create opportunities for your child to practice the behavior or skill. It is equally important to create an environment where it is okay to fail. Practicing any new skill or behavior takes some risk on your child’s part. As a parent, you can reassure your child that it is okay to practice and to not perform perfectly the first time.
Making sure there is time and opportunities to practice builds success. For example, you might intentionally schedule activities for your child to interact with other children. Scheduling playdates with other children of similar age can provide opportunities for your child to interact and practice new skills like sharing and communication. They also offer opportunities for you to share with them how to regulate feelings like disappointment, anger, and sadness. Depending on the age of your child, it may be helpful to engage in cooperative problem solving about challenges or barriers they come across.
- Create low-risk opportunities to fail.
- Build in practice time.
“So, before you try that, what are the two things you will remember?”
“Let’s try that together.”
“What’s your plan for checking in tonight while you are out?”
Hang in there…Practice is an ongoing process that takes a lot of patience.
Did you know… Taking the time to explain why the skill your child is working on is important or useful helps your child to think more critically in general about their actions.
Try… Creating stories or explanations to make the skill practice more memorable.
Step 4. Support
The fourth step in the parenting process is: Support. Support can include:
- Providing feedback,
- Following through/applying logical consequences, and
Providing support for your child when learning new skills and behaviors is important for several reasons.
- Support grows cause and effect thinking. Providing coaching and feedback allows your child to pause and evaluate the situation as well as the impact of his or her actions.
- Support reinforces your child’s ability to be successful. It helps guide your child toward the expectations you have and allows your child to understand what you want to see more of and less of when engaging in a skill. When your child practices a new behavior, you can support positive behaviors and reteach and model changes that need to be made. Monitor progress as your child learns a new skill or behavior. When needed, support is also following through with logical consequences.
- Support grows social and emotional skills. Support provides opportunities for your child to evaluate the consequences of various actions, helps your child to develop cause and effect thinking, and builds responsibility. Support helps your child to recognize and seek out resources, so they can be successful.
- Support grows social and emotional skills for parents too. Support allows parents to practice coaching, communicating clearly, and listening. Support provides a mechanism for applying consequences and follow through. Support provides an opportunity for evaluating, reflecting, and learning.
Stay engaged. Don’t lose track of what you asked your child to do. If you don’t follow through, your child may think that it isn’t important.
Provide feedback and coaching. Provide feedback and coaching about what your child did by asking your child to evaluate what went well and what they could do better. Your child might need some help learning how to evaluate his or her own performance. Rather than “It didn’t work” or “I just can’t do it,” ask your child to talk about what didn’t work and how they could do it differently.
Reteach and model any changes that need to be made. It is important to support your child’s social and emotional development without taking over. Communicate behavioral expectations, and give your child a heads-up before transitions occur. For example, let your child know how long you will spend at the park, and before it is time to leave, let your child know how many minutes he or she has to start transitioning. This might sound like, “We have five minutes before we leave, let’s start wrapping up.”
Provide reminders to your child and communicate agreed upon rewards and consequences. Reminding your child can be helpful. For example, before a school drop off, remind them to “Use their listening ears,” or “Be a good friend today,” etc.
Always connect then correct, and affirm before you redirect. When you connect with your child first, it helps them be more receptive to any correction from you. For example, if your child has made a big mess, start with “You look like you’re having so much fun” before saying “Clean up.” If your child really wants your attention and you are busy say, “I know you have something so important to tell me, and I really want to hear it, so give me two minutes to finish up and I will be ready.”
Apply logical consequences when needed. The way you provide logical consequences will change depending on the age of your child. However, there are certain guidelines that apply regardless of age. Ideally, logical consequences should come soon after the negative behavior and need to be provided in a way that maintains a healthy relationship. Rather than punishment, a consequence is about supporting the learning process. First, get your own emotions in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your emotions are in check you are able to provide logical consequences that fit the behavior. Second, invite your child into a discussion about the expectations established in Step 2. Third, if you feel that your child is not holding up their end of the bargain (and it is not a matter that they do not know how), then apply a logical consequence as a teachable moment.
- Stay Engaged
- Follow Through
“I love how you just slowed down right then and thought through your response. What made you do that?”
“If you had to redo that, what would you do differently?”
“Tell me how things went last night.”
Allow your child to practice the new skill and support their learning. Avoid taking responsibility for their disappointments, focus on “fixing” them, or absorbing their struggles. These behaviors can hinder their ability to develop skills to regulate their own social and emotional progress.
Reinforce their behavior by acknowledging the behaviors you want to see! Avoid only focusing on when they mess up.
Step 5. Recognize
The final step in the parenting process is to intentionally seek to recognize your child’s efforts and successes. No matter how small those successes are, acknowledging them is important.
While it can be easy to only focus attention on whether or not your child completes a specific task, acknowledging the small steps your child takes and the progress your child makes to complete a task is important.
- Recognition grows motivation. Recognition encourages your child to keep trying and grows motivation for them to continue to improve. Recognition supports your child’s desire to succeed.8
When providing praise, be sure that:
- the praise or acknowledgment is honest and sincere (you must mean it);
- the praise focuses on your child’s effort, the process they engaged in, or other aspects of their behavior that are controllable (praise behavior, not characteristics – say “You did such a great job thinking through that problem.” Don’t say – “You’re so smart”);
- the praise leads your child to believe they have a choice in doing the task (e.g., “You could have chosen to quit and yet you kept going, that’s excellent and shows so much dedication”);
- the praise focuses on competence and builds their belief in their ability to perform the task (“I am really impressed with your skills at…”); and
- the praise weaves in meeting expectations or standards (e.g., “You did that like a pro”).10
- Recognition builds self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Recognition grows social and emotional skills. Specifically, recognizing success and your child’s progress supports skills in setting and working towards goals. It increases intrinsic motivation and bolsters self-management skills such as persistence and self-awareness.
- Recognition is important for parents too. Recognition helps to build a positive relationship with your child, fosters a sense of optimism, and helps develop and maintain a growth mindset which helps you believe that change is possible.
When recognizing, focus on your child’s effort and be specific. For example, “you did a great job taking out the trash” is an effort based recognition. The recognition is anchored to the action or effort of your child. Effort based recognitions are important because they help your child to see the link between effort and success. This is important because you have control over your effort.
Avoid trait based recognitions which focus on the personality traits or characteristics of your child. For example, “You’re a good kid because you took out the trash” is a trait based recognition. In this example, taking out the trash is tied to the child’s behavior or personality. Although this type of recognition is well-intended, it can mistakenly send your child the message that if they don’t take out the trash, they are not a good kid.
Recognitions can be simple, specific, and honest. Here are some ways to recognize that focus on effort, quality, and small successes.
- Acknowledge your child’s effort. Even if your child did not meet the goal or intended outcome, seek to recognize their effort.
- “I can see that you put a lot of effort into deciding on how to handle that situation.”
- “I like how you played together as a team.”
- “I like how you kept trying even though it was difficult.”
- “I am so impressed with your problem-solving on this issue!”
- “I love that you went back and tried it again.”
- Acknowledge the quality of your child’s effort.
- “Wow, the plan you made was really detailed.”
- “I can tell you took your time in creating that plan.”
- “I know this is tough, and I appreciate how hard you are trying right now.”
- Look for small successes. There may be many steps required for your child to reach an intended outcome. Single out a small step that your child engaged in as they made progress towards the outcome.
- “Great job completing the first step of that project.”
- “You tackled the first section well.”
- “I like how you asked for help and didn’t quit.”
- “It was a good idea to organize the art supplies that way.”
- “I could tell that you thought through that well.”
- Write a personal note and leave it for your child to find.
- Provide special one-on-one time with you. Find a time, maybe before your other children wakeup or after your other children go to bed, where you can spend time doing whatever your child wants to do with you to recognize an accomplishment. This special time doesn’t have to be lengthy (10 minutes or so), it just has to be dedicated to your child.
- When appropriate, adjust responsibilities. When appropriate, you might decide to adjust your expectations or your child’s responsibilities. For example, instead of having your child’s curfew at 10pm, you could adjust it to 11pm. Or, instead of making your child call every hour when they are out with their friends, you could adjust your expectation and have them text you instead.
- Share your child’s accomplishments with others. In the presence of your child, share your child’s success with grandparents, family, friends, aunts, and uncles.
Did you know… Recognizing doesn’t have to take a lot of time, be a big deal, or be expensive. Acknowledging effort in small ways makes a big difference.
Did you know… Recognizing doesn’t mean letting your child off the hook from doing what was asked. Your expectations for a task or behavior don’t have to change. There are many ways to recognize.
Did you know… Recognizing is most effective when it is done as close to the event/skill/behavior as possible so that your child associates their positive behavior with the recognition. Putting off recognizing until later won’t provide the same impact.
The parenting process has wide application to a variety of topics and challenges. As a parent, you can intentionally engage in this process to build your child’s social and emotional skills and build your own skills as an effective parent. The parenting process is a way of interacting with your child that creates wonderful opportunities for learning. Even though this process may feel uncomfortable at first, sticking with it will pay off in a stronger relationship with your child. Start small, start slow, and build your skills over time.