Parenting may well be the hardest job that you ever do. Unfortunately, babies do not arrive with an instruction manual. The plethora of books and websites that are available can sometimes seem to be making the difficulties even worse, with conflicting advice and approaches that just may not feel right. Our parenting skills pages take a ‘common-sense’ approach. We try to explain what advice is available, and offer you some thoughts about how to decide what is right for you and for your child.
Parenting starts during pregnancy, when your body is effectively taken over from within. Most people know about morning sickness, but tiredness, anaemia, and mood changes can also be a feature of many pregnancies. Our page on Pregnancy and Wellness explains what you can do to stay well in pregnancy. As well as being pregnant, and managing your body, you may also want to make preparations for your baby’s arrival. Our page on Preparing for Parenthood sets out some of the things you may like to consider. You may also like to read our page on Eco-Friendly Parenting, especially if you are keen to minimise the environmental impact of your parenting choices.
It is possible that nothing could ever prepare anyone for that moment when they first hold their new baby. Our pages on looking after a new baby help you to get to grips with the changes in your life, and how to look after your baby. A good place to start is our page on Looking After a New Baby. For more specific issues, including sleeping, try our pages on Babies and Sleeping, and Sleep Problems in Babies. While your focus may be on your baby, it is important not to neglect yourself. Our page on Meeting Other Parents gives you some advice on how to build up your network, and get to know other parents in the area. Many people have commented that they are, and remain, particularly close to the friends they made while their children were small because they shared such a lot of very emotional times. It is well worth putting energy into these relationships.
Feeding comes probably second only to sleeping as an issue for parents of babies and young children.
From the issues of ‘how to wean’ through to questions about whether your child will always be a fussy eater (no) and whether this is a phase (yes), you will find pages that we hope will provide some guidance.
There are a number of very specific stages covered in our feeding pages, including
• Feeding Babies;
• Weaning; and
• Feeding Toddlers.
As your child reaches toddler stage, another issue—that of behaviour—will almost certainly arise. The toddler years are not called the ‘Terrible Twos’ for nothing, and almost every child will throw at least one tantrum over the period. The crucial issue is to develop an understanding of your child, and the reasons for their behaviour. As a general rule, children want parental attention and will do whatever is necessary to get it, including throwing tantrums. It is important to understand this and to avoid doing anything that may reinforce the unwanted behaviour in your child.Our page on Understanding Your Young Child or Toddler will help here.For further reading see our pages on Managing Toddler Behaviour, and Dealing with Tantrums.
Keeping children busy is half the battle in keeping them quiet and happy, and there is a huge amount of advice available on ways to manage this, including our page – Top Tips for the School Holidays.
For more inspiration try our pages on Cooking with Children, Gardening with Children, and Craft Activities with Children for some ideas for things to do at home.
If you’re thinking of going out and about, check out our pages on Outings with Children.
Of course, there is the issue of the ‘electronic babysitter’, and whether it is good for children to spend time watching television or using computers. This is a perennial issue for all parents, whether your child is barely 18 months or approaching 18 years old. Read more in our page on Screen Time for Children.
Children’s parties are an ongoing challenge for parents. Learn more about how to cope in our pages on Planning Children’s Parties and Managing Children’s Parties.
If you just want some general advice on parenting, and don’t know where to start, try our Top Ten Parenting Tips.
You may also find our pages on Parenting Boys, Parenting Girls, and Mindful Parenting are good starting points.
One of your most important functions as a parent is to help your child to learn, and support their learning.
This doesn’t just mean their formal learning, but also informal learning, social skills and interpersonal skills.
One of the most useful things that you can do, for example, is to read with children on a regular basis.
As your child grows and learns, you also need to choose settings for their learning.
Choosing childcare is a challenge with which most working parents will be familiar, and our page on Types of Childcare is designed to help.
Another important function of parents is to help their children to develop independence, a gradual and ongoing process that starts in babyhood and continues throughout childhood into adulthood. This process, done right, ensures that children grow up able to manage their own lives, both physical and emotional. For more, see our page on Encouraging Independence.
Choosing a school is also reportedly a subject for discussion wherever parents get together.
Many parents will admit to dreading the teenage years.
If you’re not struggling to Cope with Teenagers, or keep open communication channels, you’re worrying about how you can support them with exams and revision, or dealing with concerns about them.
For particular concerns, you may want to read our pages on Teenagers and Alcohol, Teenagers and Drugs, Teenage Parties and Sleepovers and Teenage Aggression.
To help you understand more about what’s going on in your teenager’s head and body, you may want to have a look at our page on Understanding Adolescence.
As your children grow and develop, of course the challenges you face change. What doesn’t change is that you are still required to be patient, resourceful and resilient. Your self-esteem and self-confidence will probably be tested to the limit over the years.
Finding that your child has been, or is being bullied, is always going to be hard.
Our pages on bullying are designed to help you through the process of understanding the situation (see An Introduction to Bullying), to Helping Someone to Cope with Bullying.
You may also find our page on Cyberbullying useful as this is a rising trend that seems likely to be an issue for some time to come.
If you are being bullied, the page on Coping with Bullying may help. As an adult, you may need to know about Workplace Bullying too.
It’s also important to confront bullying when you see it happening to other people. Our page on Confronting Bullying explains how you can do this.
What do employers want?
Employers are looking to recruit graduates with a broad range of experience, and the ability to demonstrate the wide range of skills that they have developed through academic study, work experience, and extra-curricular activities.
There is no definitive list of the skills that every employer will want you to possess, but the main employability skills that you should try to develop whilst at university are:
Numeracy /IT skills
- Numeracy: the ability to understand, interpret and reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts. Involves a wide range of knowledge and skills including the ability to calculate and to give meaning to numbers; short term memory; spatial and measurement skills, and the ability to think logically. A high level of numeracy is essential in a range of occupations and is a key requirement of many employers.
- Also known as “computer literacy”, IT skills can cover beginner usage to programming and advanced problem solving. Be specific – if you have good knowledge of Microsoft Office, say so! Do you have excellent Excel skills, a moderate Access user or are you an advanced C++ programmer?
- One definition of communication is ‘to communicate by talking’ since this implies a two way interaction that emphasises the communication aspect rather than the simple act of articulation.
- Speaking and listening are by far the most widespread forms of communication. In most jobs, people spend much more time speaking, listening and discussing than reading or writing.
- Talk is an important medium for getting things done, but equally important is the ability to listen carefully and to both act and reflect on what is heard.
- Characterised by effective communication, coordination of activities, balance of contributions, mutual support, effort and cohesion.
- Teams come in all shapes and sizes: families, seminar groups, office groups and colleagues at work.
- Teams need a basic understanding of individual responsibilities; they need cooperation, sharing, direction and leadership.
Research/critical thinking skills
- The ability to source materials, read and digest them, and to create detailed reports.
- Taking others’ work and critiquing it.
- Sifting through large amounts of information or data.
- The ability to solve challenges by identifying and systematically analysing relevant information and factors to infer a logical and effective solution
- The ability to think both creatively and logically to improve performance, to troubleshoot problematic procedures or equipment, and to complete research tasks
- Adapting to novel situations or dynamic and changing situations frequently requires finding a solution for new and unfamiliar problems.
- A creative approach is best to solve the atypical, ill-defined and complex problems that confront today’s work situations and organisations
- Employers need you to have planning skills because they need to be able to let you break down the tasks they give you into manageable chunks.
- Being able to organise a task is vital at all levels of employment. The better your ability to plan and organise, the more likely you are to be hired.
- Having an interest in business or relevant work sectors and an understanding of the wider environment in which organisations operate
- Encompasses an appreciation of organisational culture, policies and processes, including awareness of the need for professionalism, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, customer care and knowledge of the market place/sector in which the organisation operates (current economic climate and major competitors, for example)
- Having solid information, whether this is on finance, markets, customers, competitors, communities, technologies, or anything else relevant to the organisation and the role and having the ability to research new information and use it
These are often known as transferable skills, as they are generic and can be used equally well in all areas of work. Other examples include:
o Time management
o IT skills
o Customer awareness
o Project Management
2. Creativity and innovation
3. Critical reflection
4. Global/cultural awareness
5. Integrity and accountability
6. Intellectual curiosity
o Commercial awareness
o Negotiation and persuasion
o Perseverance and motivation
o Ability to work under pressure
Effective spoken communication involves expressing your ideas and views clearly, concisely and confidently, tailoring your content and style to the audience and promoting free-flowing communication.
- Be clear and concise. Vary your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions.
- Persuading and negotiating: arriving at an agreement that is agreeable to both sides. Back up your points with logic, and show tact to those you disagree with.
- Making a speech in front of an audience: presenting your message in an interesting way, structuring your presentation, using audio-visual aids effectively and building a rapport with your audience.
- Communicating effectively in a team.
Body language  is a form of communication that can be used unconsciously. It’s a good idea to understand others’ – and your own – body language, in order to use it effectively.
Use appropriate body language: face the personwith an open, attentive posture andmaintain good eye contact (look at the speaker a lot, but don’t stare all the time), smiling and nod your head from time to time.
Be sensitive to the other person’s body language as well as what they say: eye contact, gestures, appropriate humour and analogies.
- Listen attentively. Express interest in what people are saying and don’t interrupt them.
- Good listening builds a rapport and understanding with the speaker and allows them to freely express their views. It motivates them to say more.
- Poor listening makes assumptions, creates resistance and hostility, demotivates the speaker, inhibits their development and creates dependence on the listener.
- Use active listening . This reflects back what the speaker is saying in other words to clarify understanding: you paraphrase and repeat back key points. This shows you’re listening carefully and checks you understand what they are saying.
Empathy means being open to the ideas of others and sensitive to their values and feelings: trying to see things from the other person’s perspective. It is about demonstrating that you understand, that you can listen from other person’s point of view and reflect their meaning.
Each individual has a unique perspective which should be valued. We each occupy our own private world and never completely know what’s going on inside other people’s minds. Be prepared to disclose your own feelings and beliefs to encourage others to do the same: be open with other people.
Most jobs involve some form of presentation or public speaking. This could be in a small group, at a meeting, or to a large audience. It’s important to look confident, speak clearly and to communicate your message to all listeners.
Some interviews involve giving a presentation, so it’s a good idea to take every opportunity possible to practice your presentation skills.
Remember that social media, as well as other digital communications (email, websites, texts, etc.) are often used in business settings these days, so it is really important to communicate professionally when using them.
Think about how you communicate in an email: it is used in the same way that a letter would have been used in years gone by, so do not abbreviate, use text speak, or say “hi”. Structure it as you would a professional business letter.
Look at your social media presence. Does it communicate a professional message? If not, make sure you clear it up prior to applying for jobs or going for interview. See our tips on using social media  to find a job.
Questioning and gathering information
Open ended questions: These are prompts to get the other person to talk about a topic, and require longer, more detailed answers, producing better quality information. They help the person crystallise their thoughts and help you to understand their views, feelings and attitudes. They may start with: How? When? Where? What? Which? Why? Who? What? If? Example: “Tell me what you think about this?”
Probing questions: These delve more deeply into the interviewee’s answers, and allow you to dig down to reach the important information. Example: “Tell me exactly what your duties were at Bloggs & Co.”
What if questions: These are hypothetical questions, which are used because it’s impossible to work out your answer beforehand, thus it tests your ability to think quickly, and reason logically. Examples: “How would you deal with a staff member caught stealing a packet of biscuits from the shop?”, “How would you deal with an irate customer?”
Clarifying questions: These reflect back what the speaker is saying, using different words, in order to clarify understanding. They may summarise and bring new interpretations to the speaker’s words. They show you’re listening carefully and checks you understand what they are saying allowing the speaker to confirm or correct your feedback. They encourage the speaker to elaborate and to define their problems. Example: “If I heard you correctly, you felt very angry about the way you had been treated?”
The Devil’s Advocate: These questions are provocative, and often reflect the opposite view to the real view of the questioner and can lure out any hidden prejudices you may have. Example: “I think that the Government has made some really stupid decisions recently: don’t you agree?”
Question types to try to avoid
Closed Questions: These demand simple yes or no answers with no chance to elaborate, limiting the gathering of information, and failing to explore possibilities. They can sometimes be useful for quick checking of facts or to show that you have been listening carefully to the other person. They typically start with: Could? Couldn’t? Should? Would? Have? Are? Is? Will? Examples: “Couldn’t you have resigned?”, “Are you poor at exams?”
Leading questions: These are similar to closed questions. They predict a particular answer and should be avoided. Example: “You’re bad at maths aren’t you?”
Negative questions: These can sometimes be good for analysis but may demotivate the intervieweefrom talking. Examples: “What went wrong?”, “Whose fault was it?”
If you have a difficult or complex question, introduce it first with “I know this will be tough to answer so please take your time”. This is more likely to elicit a considered response and doesn’t put the other person on the defensive. Ask your question and try to stay silent until you get an answer: the longer it takes to get answer, the more powerful the answer is likely to be.
Confirm and clarify
- Ask yourself exactly what you want to gain from the conversation: a lack of clarity can lead to confusion and poor decisions.
- Asking clarifying questions: “How?”, “Why?”, “When?”, “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?”
- Summarise the main points in simple language.
- Get the other person’s agreement that your summary is accurate.
- Define the problem and then move the focus to the solution: separate the points that relate to the problem and those that relate to the solution.
- Agree on the action you will both take: even if this is that there will be no action.
Giving feedback/constructive criticism
- Praise more than you criticise! Identifying and developing strengths is more effective than focusing too much on negatives.
- Not “Debbie was hopeless!“, but “Debbie made some very useful contributions but her voice was a bit quiet. I couldn’t hear her very well, so she needs to raise her voice a bit in future.”
- It’s a good idea to ask permission: “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”. This gives the person time to prepare. Give feedback in private if at all possible, it’s insensitive to do this in front of others.
- Try to give feedback immediately: on the spot if possible: it’s most effective when fresh in the person’s mind. The more quickly it is given the more relevance and power it will have.
- Be direct and honest.Get to the point, don’t have long introductions, although starting with some genuine praise based on what the person has actually done will help.
- Focus on the most concrete and recent example. Stick to a single clear issue, and don’t pack in too much criticism as this can be disheartening. Don’t repeat the same point over and over: this will just build up resentment.
- Only criticise behaviours that can be changed: “You need to improve your computing skills” rather than “You’re stupid”!
- Give feedback on a person’s behaviour, not about the person themselves: “You have been late for work a lot in the last month” rather than :“You’re lazy”!
- Don’t compare the person with other people, as this can build jealousy: “Jane is always punctual”
- Use “I” not “You” statements: “I feel upset” not “You made me feel upset”.
- Describe the behaviour, describe your reaction, explain why you feel this way, show you understand what’s behind their behaviour, and suggest a different way of behaving.
- The best decisions are those people reach for themselves.Try not to tell the other person directly what they should and shouldn’t do. Let them explore their behaviour and say themselves what needs to be done.
- Allow the criticised person to express any concerns they may have.
- Use tentative words such as “sometimes” and “perhaps” rather than “always” and “never”: these allow the other person to avoid argument by saying that “always” is not strictly true.
- Keep your emotions under control.
- At the end, check understanding: “Does what I’ve said make sense to you?” and summarise what you’ve agreed.
- Include positive comments. The praise sandwich can be an effective way to give criticism to someone without alienating them:
- First make a positive statement to the person: “I think you are really trying your best“
- Then the criticism “But you need to structure your essay more logically”.
- Make another positive statement to finish “However it’s a very good first attempt”
If you are receiving feedback yourself, try to accept it in a positive and non-defensive manner.
- Tell people something they have done that you like or what you like about them.
- Give them thanks if they have done something for you.
- Give encouragement. If someone is not sure that they are able to do something, give them encouragement if you think they can do it.
- Describe positive behaviour and its effect inconcrete terms “I really appreciate how you took the time to ….”