I have worked professionally promoting better parenting, mainly
in the baby and toddler field, for almost 20 years. I believe the
vast majority of parents worry about their children’s
behaviour. They are usually well aware that others may attribute
problems to their parenting, and almost all welcome advice and
opportunities to hear about positive ways of managing discipline.
Of course, for most, there is precious little of this help
What parents need to do a good job of raising their children is
not rocket science. They need an acceptable standard of living, and
some information and support at the right times.
With the DfES now responsible for parenting, the latest agenda
is about keeping children in schools and off the streets. The
Antisocial Behaviour Act includes forcibly imposing parenting
classes and jailing parents who allow their offspring too many days
absent from school, measures that will surely further damage what
may already be a difficult parent-child relationship. Parenting
contracts are included to ensure behaviour is monitored, as are
on-the-spot £100 fines when children truant!
Nobody seems to be asking why 50,000 pupils a day vote with
their feet to skip school. Parenting orders, contracts, fines, and
even prison sentences do little to address the reasons behind
non-attendance, and they assume that all parents are complicit.
Can parents never be trusted to make decisions for the best?
Suppose they decide that their child is overwhelmed by the school
day, or is exhausted, and would benefit from a day spent at home
recharging batteries. Perhaps they consider a trip to the Science
Museum or a holiday would be of equal educational value to sitting
in a classroom.
Studies have shown that involved and positive parenting brings a
range of benefits, including reduced crime and better use of
educational opportunities. Unfortunately, this has led to parent
training being forced on parents perceived to be “failing” instead
of being offered to all parents at an earlier stage when it is so
much easier to effect change.
What about the real ethos of parenting education and support –
improving relationships, better communication, raising self-esteem
and improved mental health? How easily can these be tackled from a
starting point of coercion and mistrust?
Eileen Hayes is vice chairperson of the Parenting
Education and Support Forum.