Attended a 1/2 day conference held by the Growing Up in Scotland team earlier this week. The session was led off by the new early years minister Angela Constance and one phrase in her speech caught my attention in particular.
As parents its what we do, not who we are, that is most important.
By which I think she meant that parents who are facing adversity in the form of poverty or poor health can do as good a job as parents who aren’t facing the same adversity. I think we all know that to be true, or at least we want it to be true.
However, it is also true that many parents do become overwhelmed by the adversity they face in bringing up children. Talking to some head teachers in the last week or so has highlighted this for me. In the run up to the summer holidays many parents and children face the summer holidays not with a sense of joy and opportunity, but with with a sense of foreboding -‘how am I going to cope without the structure that school and nursery provides’. For many children this fear is expressed in terms of their behaviour in school, and for the child protection system I suspect it is reflected in the number of Initial Referral Discussions that take place in the run up to the summer holidays. ( I would guess that the economic climate is making the summer holiday period even harder for some parents this year?)
Services are responding with partnership approaches to supporting families over the summer period. In Midlothian Equally well champions are using their development fund to support a project called ‘Play in the Park’ which has been developed in the Woodburn community over a number of years, and will extend it to the neighbouring community in Mayfield, they are also exploring ways of further supporting transition from nursery to P1. In East Lothian champions are currently discussing whether to support for a second year a Summer transition programme supporting parents of children who are moving from nursery to P1 who need some additional support
Talking about parenting skills always makes me a bit twitchy, partly because even if nobody is else is making judgements about me as a parent I cant’ help making judgement about myself. For the same reason I have never felt completely comfortable with parenting courses / programmes which are the focus of many parenting strategies. More fundamentally than doubts about my own performance I also wonder whether parenting programmes over emphasise the individual parent behaviours rather than the wider family and community support that is fundamental to good parenting. It is easier to be consistent with rules, be positive and affirmative and to have a good attachment or connection with your child / children if you feel supported as a parent and can access a network of practical and emotional resources. Angela Constance also spoke about the development of a national parenting strategy for Scotland which was a manifesto commitment for the SNP. I for one hope that it is as strategy for family support as much as a strategy for developing parenting skills.
The GUS team have made a particular study of parenting skills and their relationship with health and a presentation on the findings is linked here There is also an audio file of the presentation from Dr Alison Parkes on the GUS website. The slides are quite complex so the audio file is well worth listening to.