When soft parenting doesn’t do the child any favours

Many a time have I visited my local cafe (it’s a 15 minute drive, I’m afraid) to sip a massive cappuccino and write. There’s probably some inter-connection between caffeine and composition. However, many a time too, if I don’t time it right, there too will be some parent or two with push-chairs and high-chairs, attempting to manage an ill-behaved small child, and not getting the better of the confrontation, with a resulting fracas that impacts the whole room. Parenting can be tough, but it’s a responsibility.

It’s been an issue for some time and we in the UK are only slowly waking up to how big a problem we have, and the schools are now struggling to manage it. It’s a problem that belongs at home.

By contrast when we go to France we see similar situations, but instead of tantrums we see well-behaved children with parents very careful to ensure what is and is not OK. Thus sitting in cafes is vastly more pleasurable, and that’s not just the coffee and the country!

In case you are now curious, this article is one of many now coming out. We’ve also, for example, had TV programmes on the Super-nanny, where one person goes into people’s homes and teaches the parents child management and parenting skills, with resulting vastly improved happiness all round, including the small children. We’ve also had TV programmes which reflect the later effects of the failure to manage children effectively, such as Brat Camp.

Of course there are a number of interconnecting factors involved, which we can probably easily list, often linked to parenting styles. Let’s try: poor role models experienced by the parents as children themselves, stress, both parents working, multiple distractions, over-anxious parents attempting to be liberal towards their children as a contrast to perceived repression in previous generations, a lack of knowledge of certain “basics” of child behaviour, parents whose own parents were divorced, parents divorced or separated themselves and trying to bring up children without the other parent, usually the mother, and the chidren missing the presence of their father in the house, fear of someone else’s anger especially your child whom you love….I could go on. It’s painful for people, and brings up all sorts of stuff. And some children can have issues that don’t fit the above, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Within all that there is a need to teach children boundaries. It is something children need, as the Super-nanny programmes on parenting have so well shown. If a child lacks clear boundaries, they will push till they meet one. The parent needs to get very clear what the boundaries are and keep to them, lovingly but very firmly. The child will test them out, and it usually starts around the age of two. If you miss it at that point, the challenge then grows. The so-called “terrible twos” is a vital learning period when the child starts to learn about self-regulation, initially from the parent but in time takes on board and applies to him or herself. It is crucial to the development of the self-responsible, self-managing adult. So the excessively liberal parent, fearful of confronting the child and being clear what the rules are, and sticking to them, is doing the child no favours.

Time and again I’ve heard adults tell me how they didn’t get effective guidance from their parents as children. The art, and it is an art, is to balance being firmĀ  with being loving. The opposite also applies, never to reject the child, physically abuse them or threaten them with abandonment and the other things that enraged parents with poor role-modelling themselves can do. We are always there for those we love, and yet love can also be tough love.