Celebrated Australian author and parenting expert Michael Grose tells CHRIS PRITCHARD parents should remember clever techniques must be aimed at crafting a child’s success, not at increasing parental convenience.
Words CHRIS PRITCHARD
“That’s putting it a bit strongly,” laughs Michael Grose when asked whether Australian parents are producing a nation of wimps. “Mind you,” he quickly adds, “it’s a very fair conclusion.”
Grose has been doling out parenting advice for 30 years since first conducting classes at Melbourne’s Monash Parent-Teacher Education Centre, a facility attached to the Victorian state capital’s esteemed Monash University. What’s more, he’s the author of 10 books focused on how to be a better parent. The latest of these, Spoonfed Generation, How To Raise Independent Children was published by Bantam Australia in February.
Parenting may be natural – but for many people it isn’t easy.
Potential pitfalls are numerous. Grose himself was fortunate. A father-of-three, he watched his own offspring blossom into “well-adjusted independent adults who no longer live at home”. As Grose sees it, they’re solid evidence that he’s “practised what I’ve preached”.
From talking to many thousands of parents over three decades, he reveals “one common thread: parents treat kids as if they’re three years younger than they actually are – and kids think of themselves as three years older than they really are.”
He recalls the case of his own daughter. “When she was 15 and wanted to join a group going on a visit to Denmark I was horrified. I believed she wasn’t ready to travel without her parents. She, on the other hand, believed she was ready – and should go. It turned out she was correct. Everything turned out to be fine.”
There’s always a risk of disaster, Grose agrees. “But sometimes you have to take risks, whether you’re an adult or a child, in order to have memorable experiences.”
“Sometimes you have to take risks, whether you’re an adult or a child, in order to have memorable experiences.”
Most Australian families now have a maximum of two children. Often, adds Grose, there’s only one child. This is a fact of life in current times and isn’t likely to change. As Grose explains: “Being brought up in a large family means children continually hone conflict-resolution skills on their siblings, which is great preparation for negotiating in the many social situations that children encounter at childcare, preschool, school – and beyond.”
Big families are rare nowadays, he sighs. Children in large families have more “emotional space” than those in small units to resolve problems without constant parental intervention and control.
A lesson for parents: even with a small family, develop a “big-family mindset” to aid children’s independence and resilience. Don’t be too ready to drop in and resolve situations. “The real art of raising kids to be independent is giving them opportunities to solve their own problems – without parental involvement.” Being s parent shouldn’t mean always being there, ready to butt in. Sometimes it’s better to keep out.
While families are mostly smaller, children stick around longer. “Whether it’s free or cheap accommodation – to enable saving for a house or a long trip – or not having to shop for food, children often live with their parents well into their twenties,” Grose observes.
These days, childcare centres expose young children to socialising and learning opportunities – but small families make good parenting all the more important.
“Kids who do best at childcare and school understand this ‘bigger family’ concept,” Grose says, adding that they do this even when they come from small families. “They learn when to wait, when to follow. When they don’t get what they want, they don’t fall apart or go home and complain – that’s what we call resilience.”
Grose notices parents often worry obsessively that they’re “over-parenting” – which he defines as “always being ready to make decisions for the child when decisions could just as easily be made by the offspring themselves and are part of the learning process.” Such parents agonise over whether others consider them “neglectful parents”. Worse, do friends and neighbours consider them “too strict” or “not strict enough”?
Worry about “over-parenting” is common in Australia, Grose reveals. “Parents are often over- protective.” He recalls thinking of this in an Italian village where children were visiting each other’s homes on their bicycles. “That doesn’t happen nearly as often here in Australia.”
Becoming a successful parent is a trial-and-error process, says Grose. “It means not obsessing about what other people think and then changing your approach. All children are different and if you want to raise an independent, resilient child you need to back off from being over-protective.
“Always remember, it’s the child’s future we’re talking about – not yours.”
“Always remember, it’s the child’s future we’re talking about - not yours.”
FIVE KEYS TO RAISING A WELL-ADJUSTED CHILD
• MANAGE a child visually rather than verbally. Have rosters pinned up that include Mum and Dad, stating clearly whose turn it is to put out the garbage or whatever. Stick strictly to rosters so kids respect them.
• HELP at home should be unpaid, not a way to earn pocket money. This shows kids they belong – they’re part of a family where everyone pitches in to do chores such as emptying the dishwasher and no-one expects rewards.
• DEVELOP self-help skills as a parent. This means taking time to work out solutions to problems that inevitably present themselves. Once you’ve announced your decision, stick to it.
• FREEDOM is important. Give a child freedom to explore the local environment. Kids don’t routinely get sent to the corner store anymore – because there isn’t a corner store. There’s possibly a mall or strip of shops nearby. Tragic incidents get plenty of publicity – but they’re very, very rare. Not everyone’s bad out there. Walking home from school is a possibility for some.
• MAKE time for your own interests. (Grose played basketball.) These give you something additional to talk about – so the child isn’t the focus all the time. You’re less likely to be an over-protective parent.