January 1, 2022

This month’s school issue brings to mind how overwhelming the selection of a school can feel to parents.

But if you are just starting out as a new parent, the first years of life require lots of decisions involving a child’s care: eating, sleeping, childcare arrangements, and discipline, just to name a few. Often the wide variety of parenting advice available may seem more confusing than helpful.

Claire Lerner and Amy Laura Dombro, of the national Zero to Three organization, address this dilemma in their book Bringing Up Baby: Three Steps to Making Good Decisions in Your Child’s First Years.

They suggest using the following steps when considering how to handle any concern about your child:

1. Develop self-awareness.

Reflecting upon your own childhood experiences helps you understand your feelings and reactions to your child’s behavior, and to help you consider different possible meanings behind the behavior.

Self-awareness can allow us to be more intentional in how we are raising our children, rather than just reacting to the situation in the moment, especially when it feels stressful. Reflection upon what your own values are as a parent will help you see how your beliefs influence daily decision-making. 

2. Tune in to your child.

Learning to read your child’s cues is an important skill you can develop using observation, reflection, and a process of trial and error.

Ask yourself these questions: What did I observe? Where did it take place? What was happening before and after? What might my child’s behavior be saying? How should I respond? What can I learn from my child’s reaction to my response? Try to stay curious, rather than slip into anxiety or anger.

Also, think about where your child is developmentally in order to develop realistic expectations. There are many reliable sources of information for parents, although it can be difficult to discern trustworthy sources online sometimes.

Certainly an open relationship with your child’s pediatrician may be the best place to start when you have questions. Websites such as healthychildren.org (the American Academy of Pediatrics’ site for parents); cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/ (the Center for Disease Control’s developmental checklists); and pathways.org, all provide clear, evidence-based information about early childhood developmental milestones. 

3. Make sensitive and effective decisions.

Knowledge and acceptance of your child’s basic temperament will help guide you in this process. Avoid making comparisons between your child and others, and between yourself and other parents. This is harder than it sounds, but all children are different, and what one child needs from us may be different than what another child does, even within the same family.

Families, too, have different demands, resources, etc., and coming up with an effective way to address an issue will depend on your family’s specific situation. If you have a partner, discuss a plan for how to handle a particular issue, and then re-evaluate and revise as necessary.

Sometimes plans need to be given some time to take effect, but then need some revision if they’re not working for everyone. Regular reflection and problem-solving as a couple can help you handle the normal ups and downs of parenting as a team.


Lisa Phillips, MSW, LMSW, has been a parent educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital since 2001 and is a regular contributor to the award-winning “Parenting Corner” column. She can be reached at (504) 896-9591; chnola.org/parentingcenter.

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