My children are now 27 and 21 years old. I find it hard to believe they are that old and “grown up”. I often look at myself and wonder how I did as a parent? Parenting is a lifelong job, a passion, chore, challenge, and true joy.
I have spent thirty years in teaching and 21 years as a head of three prep schools. The world has changed, not least in this last year. During this time there has been great change in parenting, parent engagement with schools and the relationship parents have with their children and their schools.
In a previous life, I played cricket professionally and it was a huge part of my life. My dad supported me; always there, always watching. If it was a good day for me he would be thrilled, but he never left the game if it was a bad day, always supporting the team and all the players. My father never spoke to a coach, he left the coaches to coach and left me to make my own decisions but he was there, he was a support, he was my dad. In my view he did everything a parent should do: support from a distance and let the professionals get on with their jobs.
Parents are more involved in their child’s development than ever before and in particular what happens at school. There is much positivity in this; a greater parental interest and active support of their child. Parents have a better knowledge of the curriculum, a watchful eye upon the teacher and standards are demanded and obtained. Balance and a measured approach, however, is key and the follow up to any issue should be carefully thought through as it can quickly slip into negative territory and over protection.
“There is a trend for parents to say yes too often, to smooth the path and resolve issues on behalf of their children.”
Responsibility must be given to the child. They must have space to breathe, learn from errors and be supported through mistakes. Problems should not be solved for them, they need encouragement to “have a go”. Children should hear the word “no”, have the resilience to deal with it and move forward. There is a trend for parents to say yes too often, to smooth the path and resolve issues on behalf of their children. It is often the easy option and the one that child demands. A parent is there to support from a distance, to guide their child to achieve resolution. Parents should give confidence to their child that “you can and you will sort this out because you are strong”.
Resilience and perseverance – two skills synonymous with modern schooling – only mature with experiencing failure and problem solving, learning to be honest and knowing yourself; not allowing or creating a manipulation of the truth, but facing up to it and moving on. We all want these skills in our children, but do we really all buy into how tough it can be to follow through with these ambitions at times? Does the child always paint an accurate picture and how easy is it to be objective when dealing with a situation? Being the measured presence and guiding your child in these skills is important for both children’s studies and their relationships.
“Developing a ‘can do’ and resourceful attitude is key for children to become young adults who will cope and thrive.”
I try to be a very encouraging and positive headmaster; children do thrive on praise, but I also believe schools can create a “perfection bubble” of constant positivity which can lead children to believe that mediocrity of effort is fine. Most people respond to praise and reward much more than sanction but we should reward when it is truly deserved, expectations must be high, and reward must be earned. Children need guidance to recognise that they are loved and cared for and that the parent or teacher is acting in their best interests, children will thrive when we are honest with them and support them to be the best version of themselves.
Perhaps children need to be told “no” more often. If we do not encourage a desire to make ourselves better, to develop an awareness and the toughness to see our own weaknesses and what one must then do to succeed, we are failing them as teachers and parents. Developing a “can do” and resourceful attitude is key for children to become young adults who will not only cope, but thrive in a tough, competitive and rapidly changing world. This strength and confidence to deal with difficulty does not mean we encourage selfishness. We want to develop warm and generous people who will go on, if they choose, to be great parents themselves. Teaching and parenting both have their tough moments, yet they are careers that ultimately bring such joy – we hold the future in our hands, we must give them the inner strength to fly on their own.