Families that enable children - and the future - to flourish
Parenting is a process - you do not have the same conversations with a 2 year old as with a 12 year old. But there are fundamentally different ways of being a parent, from letting children get away with unacceptable behaviour to being highly controlling. There is one parenting style, however, that research says has the best outcomes, at least in Western societies14. Children in such families are more likely to become not only confident and independent but also thoughtful, kind, and conscientious. This parenting style has the following features:
- • Parents are warm and affectionate, ensuring their child feels loved and wanted. Children who feel secure are better able to form positive relationships with others and are more open to learning.
- • They accept their child for who he or she is, fitting their expectations to the child, not the other way around.
- • They do not give their child everything they ask for and explain why. This avoids the development of a sense of entitlement. Children who are able to 'delay gratification' and encouraged to wait in order to have something better later have been shown to have better self-control, leading to higher physical and mental wellbeing15.
- • They have clear expectations about social behaviour, letting them know that being unfair or unkind is not acceptable, and encouraging them to be considerate and inclusive.
- • They talk with their children about important issues such as illness or loss - a child imagines the worst unless they hear the truth. The language used needs to be at the child's level of development.
- • They have high expectations about their child's potential and give encouragement to become the best of themselves, not better than others.
- • They do not, however, expect their child to be perfect. Children who develop extremely high aspirations are more at risk of mental health problems.
- • When their child is struggling, parents listen to their concerns, do not make quick judgements, and show they can be flexible. This models empathy for others.
- • They communicate positively, talking about the strengths their child is developing, such as gentleness, responsibility, creativity, or thoughtfulness, and do not label them negatively as lazy, naughty, or selfish. Children need positives to reach up to, not negatives to live down to.
- • They value all their children equally and do not favour one over another.
- • They also encourage agency: supporting children to make their own decisions and think through what this means.
What might encourage and support parents to have this style of interaction with their children?
What might get in the way?
All over the world, families were thrust together as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some this was a welcome opportunity to have time to play, leam, and talk together. The internet is now full of ideas for shared activities. Some children, however, have been in households where the lockdown exacerbated what was already a toxic environment. To prevent this leading to increased inequality and inter-generational disadvantage we need to actively address the issues in this chapter, putting the principles of kindness and compassion into practice and all taking responsibility for the wellbeing of every child.