Long term, not short term goals

January 3, 2012

Having read a recent article in the Observer about different parenting styles in Britain and France, how people may judge the success of these, and a new parenting book on this topic, it strikes me that it appears to have escaped the notice of an alarming number of people that young children are not young children forever. They grow up.  Childhood is a relatively short episode in our lives, and yet, as so much evidence, research, and you would think our own experience tells us, such an important one in shaping who we are, how happy we are, how stable we are, our personalities and emotional well-being.

Now surely most, if not all parents will say that they want their children to be happy when they grow up.  They want them to be various other things too; kind, considerate, confident for example.  It follows that our goals as parents should be focussed on these outcomes.  Think of it as raising adults rather than raising children.  Our children will one day be adults.

So how do we go about achieving these outcomes?  Well, it seems to me the importance of this question in relation to our children’s future is frequently forgotten in the rush to focus on our children’s present; their behaviour in particular. 

Perhaps many parents think that if their child can be what society deems ‘well behaved’ this will lead to them being all the things they want them to be as an adult.  But how is this supposedly desirable behaviour in children achieved? If the aforementioned article is anything to go by, I’d say it is achieved through fear – of being smacked or of other punishment or removal of privileges, or of the withdrawal of their parent’s affection, not because the child has learnt ‘respect’. Do not mistake fear or self-interest for respect. A child cannot be ‘taught’ respect; they learn by example.  The parent is their role model. Smacking a child, expecting instant compliance, constantly disregarding their wishes and feelings, and using punitive methods to gain their obedience does not model respect.

Another thing that strikes me is that the behaviours that seem to be considered important in this article; whether or not our children can go to bed and stay in bed all night, sit still at the table, be quiet and unobtrusive on supermarket trips and on public transport etc, are in fact for the benefit and convenience of adults, and not necessarily for the benefit of the child.  Perhaps we need to re-assess what behaviours are desirable in children and why.  Somehow I don’t think harking back to the old ‘little children should be seen and not heard’ attitude is likely to be in the best interests of our children.

If we want our children to grow up being respectful to others, we need to be respectful to them.  This does not mean we should allow them to run riot, but we might need to just bear with them a little while they’re just children, and find gentle, empathetic and respectful ways to show them the way. If we want our children to grow up to be confident and happy individuals we need to consider how their experience as a child may influence the likelihood of this outcome. A child who never has a tantrum is not a child who is likely to grow up able to face up to and deal with strong feelings.  A child who fears disapproval at every turn and who is constantly made to feel their behaviour is ‘bad’ is not likely to grow up with a positive self-image.  The society of ‘good little sleepers’ and compliant, docile children, that this article seems to imply is desirable, comes at a cost.

The last thing we need is another ill-informed parenting book that drags us back to old methods of behaviour focussed parenting, selling itself to parents looking for quick fixes and convenient behaviour, and ignoring any evidence and research that warns of the potential costs of such methods.  The book has not yet been published so I may be speaking too soon, but if this article is giving a true flavour it is certainly not selling it to me.

Osborne’s nursery places for two year olds – barking up the wrong tree again

December 1, 2011

In his Autumn statement, George Osborne has announced plans to extend free nursery places to 260,000 two year olds.  The money is aimed at disadvantaged families.  Osborne states, “Education, early years learning, this is how you change the life chances of our least well-off and genuinely lift children out of poverty”.

Great.  I live in a country with a school starting age two years younger than the majority of the rest of Europe, with a worrying trend towards young children spending longer hours in private nurseries, and yet despite this we have a woefully poor record when it comes to numeracy and literacy attainment, and have just experienced widespread rioting indicating deeply rooted social problems, and this is the answer?  I don’t think so.

The Telegraph reports, “Following the summer’s riots, there were official warnings that the Government should intervene with very young children to set them on the right path through school.”

I groaned when I read this. This is making it all about education.  And money.  It shows a complete lack of understanding of a two-year-old’s needs. Ensuring infant attachment needs are met is the best way to avoid social problems.  Academic success does not ensure happiness and the avoidance of emotional and social problems later on.  I accept that most of the rioting took place in disadvantaged areas, but if we want young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to do well at school, giving them the best possible early years experience is essential, and putting them in nurseries from age two isn’t the way to do this.

Separating two year olds from their parents in the interests of that parent being able to work for 15 hours week, whilst their child is supposedly educated and stimulated in a nursery, is not what is needed.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, had a good point when she reportedly said: “Today’s changes will not bring back the 124 Sure Start Centres which have closed since the government came into office”.

If the government put more money into initiatives like this, where parents can stay with their children for play, groups and classes, and under 3s can experience that stimulating environment  that the government seem to think is so important, whilst continuing to have their attachment needs met, it would be far more beneficial.

Or how about somehow using this money for tax breaks for mothers who choose to stay at home with their children?  I’m not a politician, so I’m no expert on the practicalities, but I, unlike Mr Osborne it seems, recognise the importance of early infant attachment, and do not believe nursery is what two year olds need.  And I’m not saying no-one should ever put a two-year old in a nursery. Not everyone has a choice. But if the government are trying to create choices for families they need to think harder about what really is the best option for infants.

Once again, the government is working under the illusion that separating children from their parents and starting to ‘educate’ them as early as possible is the way to go.  It isn’t.

Ignore Supernanny, not your kids.

November 1, 2011

I recently attempted to watch an episode of Supernanny.  I thought it might at least give me some insight and some blog material.  I think I managed about ten minutes.  I was horrified by it.  It was ten times worse than I expected.

Supernanny decreed that the children needed to play a game (of her choosing) together in order to ‘learn’ how to play ‘nicely’ with each other and not get frustrated if they were losing etc.  The children didn’t want to play the game they were being told they must play.  This was treated as bad behaviour which resulted in them being put on the ‘penalty spot’.  If a child became upset or frustrated they were put on the penalty spot.

And so it went on.  The adults decided what the children should be doing and how they should be behaving.  If the children didn’t want to do it or didn’t behave the way the adults wanted them to they were shunned, rejected, made to feel bad about themselves.  There was no attempt to try to find another method that worked for the child, to talk or listen to the child, to try to reconnect with the child, to address the cause of the behaviour, to help the child with the feelings they were having difficulty managing.  No. The adults were completely intent in their persistence in ignoring any unwanted behaviour.  At one point the child on the penalty spot started hitting himself on the head.  Supernanny’s advice?  That’s right –  ignore him.  Well, yes Ms Frost, because to address this, or even think about it for a minute, might identify your own behaviour as the cause. Just how bad you have made these children feel about themselves.  Just how desperate for their parent’s attention.

Only in Supernanny are we advised that self-harming behaviour is bad, attention seeking behaviour that should be ignored.  Bad, bad advice.