It’s a common trope that parents are mostly figuring out how to do the job on the fly. And to some extent it’s perfectly accurate. Parenting is something you can only prepare so much for, and ultimately the only way to learn it is through instinct and experience. In a sense, every parent is figuring it out on the fly, at least the first time around (but really for each child all over again).

With all of that said, there are certainly some steps parents or people planning on becoming parents can take to set themselves up for success. And among these steps is some personal education in the field of psychology. Whether that means taking official courses in the subject, obtaining a psychology degree, or simply reading some books, the idea is the same: A better understanding of various aspect of human nature and behavior will prepare you to see your children more clearly, and react to their behavior in appropriate ways.

To expand on this idea, we are going to look into a few specific ways in which learning about psychology can actually help you become a better parent.

You’ll See Your Child as an Individual 



This point may sound silly at first; as a parent, you will no doubt see your children as individuals from the moment you lay eyes on them. But knowing a child and having deep affection for that child aren’t necessarily the same as true understanding of individual identity, impulses, and so on.

In a previous article about ‘How to Empower Your Children to Be Inclusive’ it was stated here that differences shouldn’t be ignored. This is an idea to impart in your children to help them be empathetic and inclusive to others. But it’s also something you should focus on as a parent. Your child is different than every other person, and while you undoubtedly have an inherent understanding of this fact, a little bit of education in psychology will help you to see it all the more clearly. You’ll be able to discern why your child makes certain decisions or feels certain things, and this understanding — coupled with your personal relationship and attachment — can result in a profound appreciation for your child’s uniqueness.

You’ll Learn Specific Subjects That Help

When you’re not actually engaging with it, the study of psychology can come across almost like some sort of academic mind-reading — a comprehensive study on how to figure out what people are really thinking. There’s a touch of accuracy to this perception in the most general sense, but the truth is that studying psychology actually means learning specific subjects and disciplines that can help you to assess behavior, understand others, and react more appropriately to them in any number of situations. 

Maryville University’s look at what a psychology degree entails does a nice job of laying out some of these specific subjects and disciplines in a way that may grab your interest as a parent. It points to human development, abnormal psychology, social psychology, biological psychology, and more — any of which can come into play in better understanding your children and how to raise them. In short, psychology is not a vague, general practice so much as a detailed field of study that will lead you to insights in many helpful areas. 

You’ll Parent with Empathy Over Expectation 

One of the most interesting concepts in psychology when it comes to parenting is something known as “functional analysis.” It’s a relatively complex concept when you really dig into it, but the basics are quite clear: This is the practice of analyzing a situation practically, rather than emotionally or with any degree of bias.

This is important because even the most well-meaning parents can be susceptible to frustration if they first consider how they want children to act, or how children should act, without first dissecting why a child might be acting in a certain way. Over time, parenting from a standpoint of expectation or from a place of emotion can lead to unfair and burdensome pressure on children. Rather than being spoken to and (when necessary) corrected based on understanding and logic, they can grow used to being scolded for not fitting certain expectations. An approach based on functional analysis can help you to avoid this all-too-common issue.

You’ll Excel at Validation

The word “validation” can rub some parents the wrong way. Out of the proper context of psychology, it can sound a little bit like coddling, or allowing children to believe that their behavior is always okay. Really though, validation shouldn’t be thought of as affirmation so much as understanding. It means recognizing how children feel or why they’re behaving a certain way, acknowledging the reality, and then moving forward accordingly.

In a Medium article about validation for toddlers specifically, this was framed as a means of helping young children to really discover who they are. As that article conveyed, babies and toddlers don’t understand their own feelings and impulses, and are very much in the early stages of developing an understanding of who they are individually. Validating feelings and actions — not necessarily affirming, but validating — helps them along with self-recognition. It teaches them to process and eventually articulate their own feelings, which is foundational to developing identity (and confidence in that identity).

Your Time Will Be More Effective

A lot of parents operate under the mistaken impression that it’s best to spend as much time as they possible can with their children. While it’s certainly a good thing to create a lot of time for children though, this isn’t really borne out in any data. Studies have consistently shown that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to time spent with kids. In fact, input from a professor at Bowling State University as part of a report on this very subject suggested that parents can even stress their children out by aiming for quantity. Parents themselves become stressed trying to juggle their own lives and excessive time for children, and the children in turn can be negatively affected.

Quality time, meanwhile, can mean a lot of different things: having real conversations about what’s going on with your children, taking a trip or enjoying a special activity with them, or even reading to them from books they love, etc. But generally speaking, education in psychology is likely to boost the quality of the time you spend with your children. The better you’re able to understand them, the better you’ll be able to ensure that your time parenting directly is effective and meaningful.

Hopefully all of this has helped to convey what a key role psychology can play in parenting. Undoubtedly you have a lot on your plate already if you have children or are planning to have them in the future. And for the most part, you will learn how to handle things as you experience them. But some education in psychology can help you to take a more patient and understanding approach, which will ultimately benefit you and your children alike.

Exclusively written for SHEHEROES.org
By: Reena Janeen

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