Practising Intentional Parenting

Here’s a possible New Year’s Resolution for you — Practise Intentional Parenting.

Intentional parenting is making deliberate, considered, patient and objective decisions about parenting. Most of us learned our parenting skills from our own parents. Let’s face it. Some of those worked for us while others didn’t!

At times our parenting can be reactive, impulsive, rushed and emotionally driven. Intentional parenting is about developing safe, stable and nurturing parent-child relationships. Through intentional parenting, a parent’s role grows strong social and emotional skills in their children.

Research on parenting suggests that when a parent engages in certain deliberate behaviours, it produces positive results and supports healthy development in their child. Intentional parenting is centred on engaging in these types of parenting behaviours 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 behaviours are not present or when parenting is harsh, reactive and controlling, research indicates that children can have negative outcomes such as:

  • lowered emotional wellbeing,
  • lack of academic achievement, and
  • learning similar ways of dealing with people.

Intentional parenting means doing things with your child that will support them, such as:

  • being involved,
  • being consistent and predictable,
  • providing guidelines within which your child can find their own way, and
  • practicing intentional communication.

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, their academic achievement improves and so does their self-regulation and mental health is also enhanced.

Being involved means spending time with your child — for the express purpose of spending time with them. Time is the most important thing parents can give their children. Being involved models how to engage in a relationship and provides your child a clear message that they matter.

Deliberately set out each day to spend time with each child doing what they want. Just ten minutes each day can make a huge difference. Find opportunities to be in their world and for them to participate in your world. Be a participant and not an observer.

Doing Things Together

When you do age-appropriate things together, there is space to have conversations. 

Examples of age-appropriate activities are:

Ages 0-4

  • Cuddle and sing songs
  • Read a book
  • Go for a walk
  • Blow bubbles
  • Play pretend games

Ages 5-10

  • Play games
  • Build with Legos or blocks
  • Work on a puzzle
  • Fly a kite
  • Draw pictures outside with sidewalk chalk
  • Toss or kick a ball

Ages 11-14

  • Play board games or card games
  • Ride bikes
  • Do a craft
  • Bake a dessert together
  • Go on a hike

Ages 15-18

  • Learn something new together
  • Try a new hobby
  • Make dinner together
  • Participate in a community event together
  • Volunteer for a cause — walk dogs at an animal shelter, spend time at a local food bank or join a park clean up.

Be Present

Sometimes just being available is enough. It sends the message that you are there if your child needs you. This means interrupting what you may be doing to show the child that they are important.

A good rule is to respond to the child, not the situation. Often, we leap into problem-solving rather than trying to understand the child’s experience. Anything they say is an opportunity for learning and for instilling values. Do not lose contact with your child — always know where they are, even as they get older.

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 buffer against mental and physical problems. Establishing routines like reading time and dinner time and responding consistently to behaviour foster predictability.

Provide Opportunities for Children to Find Their Own Path

The opportunities you provide your child are the foundation where they can 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.

For a young child, the guidelines might sound like you are providing two choices, although they really have the same outcome. Examples are ‘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 more boundaries rather than step-by-step instructions. You want your child to struggle because it is in the struggle that they learn you can provide support and ideas. It also grows independence and responsible decision-making and 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.

Practice Intentional Communication

Intentional communication helps develop social and emotional skills, provides opportunities to grow thoughtful interactions between you and your child and 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 life — at school, work, with friends and in disagreements. It gives your child a sense of ownership in the conversation because it is meaningful to them and it is talking with instead of talking to them.


Paediatric Psychologist