The principal of a boys’ school in Little Rock, Arkansas, provoked some interesting conversation by posting a sign on the front door which read: “STOP. If you are dropping off your son’s forgotten lunch, books, homework, equipment etc. please TURN AROUND and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”
This was an example of resilience development that was discussed at a Parent Education Series event that we hosted this week with highly regarded parenting expert, Professor Helen McGrath. The session was entitled ‘Where’s the Manual: Parenting Young Children in 2017.’
The School regularly conducts Parent Education sessions in order to provide useful resources to our wider community. Recent sessions have included a focus on educational neuroscience, an understanding of the mechanics of memory, a session on coping with anxiety in young people and one on safe partying.
Professor McGrath has had a lengthy and distinguished career as a teacher, academic, researcher, psychologist and consultant. She is the author of 22 books and has a strong focus on offering support to parents to help develop the skills and character traits in their children that enable them to thrive.
Professor McGrath strongly encouraged parents to take steps to foster the development of their children’s resilience, social confidence and self-respect.
She argued that the decisions of a parent should be guided by what sort of adult they are trying to create and by the nature of the child that they have. She explained that other than parenting, a child’s character is likely to be shaped by genetic factors and dispositions and also by the collective culture that a child grows up in.
To illustrate this point she showed that children who grew up in times of hardship such as war, natural disaster or economic downturn were shown to have heightened levels of resilience in comparison to children who grew up in ‘easier’ times.
Furthermore, Professor McGrath cited the statistic that in 1950, 97% of children aged 3 were successfully trained in daytime toileting but that this had dropped to between 40-60% by 2010. She believes that the difference is not determined by any biological factors but rather the prevailing parental attitudes which resist overcoming their child’s opposition.
Professor McGrath comically exposed what she thought were damaging approaches which she referred to as creating ‘cotton wool kids’, ‘the bubble wrap generation’ and her favourite critique, ‘lawnmower parents’, who mow down all obstacles and smooth over every problem for their children.
She believes that this can lead to the creation of a narcissistic generation who lack the capacity to cope with adversity. She cited research that suggested that children with reduced resilience are more likely to bully other children, to be the targets of bullying, to become depressed and to rely on harmful coping alternatives such as alcohol and drugs in later years.
Professor McGrath suggested that the main challenges that children will face during their lives relate to the following broad categories: coping with change, performing poorly in a particular area, rejection from peers and not getting what they want. She suggested that parents can employ strategies that support children to build the capacity to cope with these matters.
She gave tips for building a resilient family environment and encourages families to have meals together in order to establish communication and to deliberately process events optimistically, to show affection, affirm and support one-another, to use humour as a coping mechanism, to stress family loyalty, to avoid expectations of perfection and to allow and accept difference.
Professor McGrath was clear that there is no such thing as the perfect parent and that parenting can be very difficult. Her argument is that in the application of considered strategies that are directed to development of the character traits and ability strengths that we desire for our children we have a far better chance of achieving these outcomes.
At King David we often speak of the vital importance of working in true partnership with our parents in our collective aim of raising the best children we can. We believe that providing access to world class expertise through our Parent Education Series is a powerful way that we can succeed in this mission.