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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Mental Health and Growing Up Factsheet

Good Parenting: information for parents, carers and anyone working with young people

Good Parenting: information for parents, carers and anyone working with young people

About this leaflet

This is one in a series of factsheets for parents, teachers and young people entitled Mental Health and Growing Up. This factsheet looks at the reasons behind why it is important to use good parenting skills from an early age.


  What helps?

Parenting is an important part of loving and caring for your child. Good parenting is about providing a warm, secure home life, helping your child to learn the rules of life (e.g. how to share, respecting others, etc.) and to develop good self-esteem. You may have to stop them from doing things they shouldn't be doing, but it is just as important to encourage them to do the things you do want them to do.


Why is parenting important?
Rules are an important part of everyday life. They make it possible for us to get along with one another. If children do not learn how to behave, they will find it difficult to get on, both with grown-ups and with other children. They will find it hard to learn at school, will misbehave and will probably become unhappy and frustrated.
Matty's story

"It’s only in the last year or so that I began to think that a family could be a good place to be…a home. I’m the eldest, and I took a lot of my Dad’s fury – or just being pissed which is what it often was. I know my Mum wasn’t always a saint – she could really wind him up - in fact she does it to me sometimes and then I get terrified that I’ll react like him.

Anyway sometimes they would just argue and shout...but then I’d seen what he could do when he loses it…I had to take Mum to hospital once and it was just horrible. In fact I remember being amazed how she looked almost normal when they’d cleaned her up. But seeing it or even worse just hearing it was … don’t know ... I couldn’t bear it, and I wanted to kill him. I couldn’t I know – even if I was strong enough – so I just used to hold onto the little ones and sort of hide with them till it was over.

But it did get so I didn’t want to go home after school ... so I’d stay out late sometimes with my mates. Then my Mum started saying I was just like him. That was the worst time ever.

Then he left and things sort of calmed down, but I was still scared I’d be the same. Then we had this counsellor who talked to my Mum, and me and the kids together. Somehow it all began to seem ... well at least possible."



It is important to make sure that children feel secure, loved and valued, and to notice when they are behaving well. The trick to this is to find strategies that work well for you and your child. Here are some ideas:

Be consistent
If you don't stick to the rules your child will learn that if they ignore them, you will probably give in.
Give lots of praise
Let your children know when they have done something well and when you are pleased with them. For example, give them a hug, give them a kiss and tell them how great they are. You need to do this straight away.
Planning ahead
It helps if you and your child know the rules for particular situations before they happen. Don't make them up as you go along (e.g. if bedtime is 7pm, make sure you both stick to it).
Involve your child
Sit down with your child and talk to them about good behaviour. You might be surprised about how much you both agree on.
Be calm
This can be difficult in the heat of the moment, but it does help. Be calm and clear with your commands, for example 'please switch off the TV' or 'it's bedtime'.
Be clear with your child
For example 'please put your toys away' tells children exactly what you expect them to do. Simply telling them to 'be good' does not. If your child can't understand you, they can't obey you. Keep it short and simple.
Be realistic
It's no good promising a wonderful reward or dreadful punishment if you are not going to see it through. It is much better to offer small rewards rather than punishments. For example, 'when you have tidied your room, you can have an ice cream'. Don't expect miracles. If your child has only partly tidied their room, praise them for having started.
The importance of your relationship
When times are difficult, it is easy to forget that you can actually have nice times together. Everybody can end up feeling angry and upset. So you need to plan to have good times together. For example, you could play a game, read or cook with them for 10 minutes every day.


How not to let it go wrong?


  • Be clear and consistent

Your own experience of childhood is very important. Even if you want to do things differently from your own experience, you may find yourself doing the same with your own children. Or you find that you are doing the opposite! It is helpful if you can aim to be as clear and consistent as you can be.


  • Show a unified front

If parents disagree about rules and their expectations for their children, the children may get mixed up because they don't know what they are expected to do. They may find that if they ask each parent/carer the same question, they get different answers. So whether parents are together or living in different homes, it is important, as far as possible, that everyone who cares for the child agrees on the most important matters and the behaviours they want to encourage their children to do.


  • Encourage positive behaviours

Parenting can be hard work, both physically and emotionally. It's easy to let things slip if you are stressed, depressed, tired, very busy or don't have any help looking after your children. Without consistent encouragement and expectations, children may get in to bad habits with their behaviour.


  • What can I do to help?

Talking problems over with other parents or friends is often useful. Talk to your child's teachers, as there may be a similar problem at school. It will help your child if you and the teachers can work together to agree on how to tackle the problem. Changing a child's behaviour is a slow, hard job, but it can be done.

You can ask your health visitor, school nurse or general practitioner for advice. If more specialist help is needed, they will be able to refer your child to the local child and adolescent mental health service. Specialists can help to find out what is causing the problem and also suggest practical ways of helping.

Janet, mother of Sam (age 6yrs)

When Sam’s dad and I separated, I had big problems getting Sam to be in bed for 7pm. At first he was upset at night and did not want to go to bed until I did. After the school holidays when he started year 1, I decided he should go to bed at a regular time but he refused, threw himself on the floor, cried and shouted.


My GP said that children seem to manage better with regular routines. Sam and I started a sort of routine; he has a story in bed and I sit with him for a while and then he falls asleep. Of course it’s different when Sam sleeps in his dad’s flat. His dad says he doesn’t have any problems, but it’s at weekends and not a school night, so he’s allowed to stay up and watch TV.


When Sam spends weekends with me he wants to stay up, but I am sticking to 7pm on Sundays because he has school next day. It’s hard to be firm but there are fewer rows now as Sam knows I will not give in.


Further information  


Family Lives - Parentline offers help and advice to parents bringing up children and teenagers. Helpline 0808 800 2222. - Website has information and links on various difficulties and conditions.


Positive Parenting - Organisation has a useful website offering training, resources and literature.


Young Minds - A charity that offers information to young people about mental health and emotional well-being.


Further reading

The Young Mind: an essential guide to mental health for young adults, parents and teachers. Edited by Bailey, S. and Shooter, M. (2009)

‘Understanding your child’s behaviour?’ Contact a Family: focusses more on children with a disability.


  • Jo Douglas (2002): Self help books on pre-school parenting problems. The Psychiatrist, 26: 78-79.
  • Parenting programmes: a systematic review and synthesis of qualitative research.
  • Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2008) 'Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry' (5th edn). London: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Stephen Scott (2008): An update on interventions for conduct disorder Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 14:61-70;

Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).

With grateful thanks to Professor Ann Le Couteur, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy..


This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.


© Royal College of Psychiatrists March 2017

Due for review March 2020



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