Nurturing: A critical life skill for parents and caregivers

Increase the health and wellbeing of children by improving your nurturing skills.

Children who are nurtured learn to treat themselves, others and their environment in a nurturing way. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Children who are nurtured learn to treat themselves, others and their environment in a nurturing way. Photo credit: Pixabay.

The National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention has identified five protective factors that affect the well-being of children and families. Nurturing is listed as one of the protective factors and when present, it can increase the health and well-being of children and families.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word nurture as “training or upbringing,” “something that nourishes.” The word nurture comes from the Latin word “nutritura” which means to nurse, nourish and to promote growth. Words that have a similar meaning to the word nurture include encourage, incubate, further and promote. All human beings need to be nurtured and nurturing needs to begin before birth and continue throughout life.

There are many ways that adults nurture. Four intentional ways that a parent or caregiver can nurture children include:

  • Practice empathy - Empathy requires that you observe another’s actions, recognize the related feeling that they are having and then vocalize it in a way that shows that you understand. Psychologist Alfred Adler explained it this way; Empathy is "seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another." This can be difficult if you have not experienced empathy yourself. Begin by observing a feeling in a child, give the feeling a name and then using the name of the feeling in a “you” message. “You must be frustrated at not being able to fit the puzzle piece in that spot.” “You probably wish that your friends would have stood up for you.” “You are angry because Joey took your toy and broke it.”
  • Establish routines - Children need schedules and depend on adults in their life to provide structure for them. You can nurture your child by providing regular meal, play, study and bedtime routines. By providing a schedule your child learns predictability through repetition, security through knowing what will happen next and some control over their environment. A regular routine enables children to reduce anxiety by knowing what is coming next.
  • Use positive touch - We all have a need for human touch. A positive touch is a hug, pat, gentle tickle or soft nudge. Regular warm and gentle touches can help children develop a healthy sense of self and can contribute to positive brain development. Positive touch can assist a child with regaining control when they are being redirected after misbehavior. A recent study by Michigan State University’s Kathy Stansbury showed that “positive touch caused children to comply more often, more quickly and with less fussing than negative touch or physical punishment.”
  • Keep children safe from harm - Children who are small need to feel safe in their own homes, childcare, in their communities and in the larger world around them. Provide limits for the children in your life by providing a safe environment. Choose child care providers carefully. Use car seats, baby gates and other approved equipment for very young children. Explore outdoor play areas for potential hazards and have rules for inside play that allow for learning while restricting unacceptable activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Talk about potential dangers without frightening children. Family friendly information is available from Safe Kids, an organization that is dedicated to providing parents and caregivers with practical resources to protect children from injuries.

Parenting and caregiving can be a stressful job that takes time and sacrifice. It is important to set an example of nurturing for children by nurturing yourself. Set aside time to do something just for you. When adults nurture themselves by having their own needs met, they are more able to meet the needs of their children. The four suggestions stated above also apply to nurturing yourself; recognize and name your feelings, stick to a schedule, give and receive gentle touch and protect yourself from things that could harm you.

Nurturing does not come naturally to all adults and nurturing practices can be learned. Children who are nurtured learn to treat themselves, others and their environment in a nurturing way. Michigan State University Extension offers programs and events that can assist in learning new nurturing skills or improving on those you already have.

For more articles on family and relationships, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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