Should we teach parents about how babies develop, not how to be parents?

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I love the way Twitter can initiate debate.

My lovely friend Laura Henry, a highly experienced Early Years Consultant, sent me this fascinating article discussing the proposals by the Government to instigate parenting classes.

In my experience I gave up trying to run formal parenting classes as it proved so difficult to get people to come on them – parents seeing parenting classes as paramount to admitting that they were failing. Yet my 1-2-1 coaching programmes are  really popular and my way of working over FaceTime or Skype, offer the flexibility that parents seem to like. Also my free Parenting Made Easy app click here to download
has been hugely popular as parents use technology as an easy way to get the information that need through my audio, podcast, video and blog format.

I think this article raises a really interesting and different approach to supporting families, as it suggests teaching parents about their babies’ psychological development will transform how parents  see their babies and interact with them.

We go on courses from marketing to management but we still see it as embarrassing, or an admission of failure, or a taboo subject, to go on a parenting course.

Raising happy, confident, resilient children isn’t easy or always straightforward, so maybe the better way forward is to offer courses on the ages and stages of development but what is crucial and vital for me, is that it is all done free from finger pointing, judgment or criticism.

Here is the article

‘There is little evidence to show that different parenting styles affect a child’s development. And yet these reasons seem central to David Cameron’s proposal that parenting classes are necessary in Britain.

Several things in the prime minister’s recent speech on improving the life chances of the UK’s children are undoubtedly welcome: 30 hours free childcare per week, providing better educational support for disadvantaged teenagers, and destigmatising mental illness.

But the take-home message in his Life Chances Strategy is that experiences in the first two years of life have the power to alter children’s destinies “for good or ill in this window of opportunity”. Cameron highlighted the need “to think big, be imaginative … opening ourselves up to the new thinking”. But extending the existing parenting classes that did not prove popular hardly seems a big, new solution.

Other improvements Cameron wants to instigate in order to enhance children’s chances – a good education, inspiring teachers, supportive mentors, exciting opportunities, access to good mental health services – imply that these things, and not just the first two years of life, are critical to children’s development.

I’m not saying that parenting isn’t important for children’s development or that we shouldn’t try to help people be the best possible parents. But this scaremongering about early parenting having the potential to damage your baby’s brain development, as well as his or her lifelong chances of success, really isn’t helpful.

No wonder hardly anyone signs up for parenting classes. It’s like admitting you’ve caused irreparable damage to your child.

Missed opportunity

I’d forget about new parenting classes altogether and use existing structures that are working well. The majority of first-time mothers attend antenatal classes and over a million families regularly use children’s centres.

The heavy focus in antenatal classes on the birth and physically caring for the baby is a missed opportunity. So make it policy to cover material on babies’ psychological development through these routes: this has the potential to improve parenting on a grand scale.

And if you want to reach all parents, you could do some big, new thinking about how information is delivered. In this social media age, face-to-face classes seem very old fashioned. Media technologies are increasingly being used in health and psychological services to deliver information and intervene in people’s lives.

My own research uses a smartphone app to improve parenting. Every day, the app provides parents with interesting facts about their babies’ development. Parents also share photographs and video of their babies with the research team so that we can provide support and feedback. Parents get this information and support without having to sign up for a class. It’s available to them all day, every day, wherever they are.’

Read more here on The Conversation 


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