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Pat Wills observes how parents of young children are judged but not helped .

The recent longitudinal study revealing the gap between advantaged children and the rest by the age of three highlights many difficulties facing parents in today's society. Since its publication I have been observing parents and children in public locations, looking with fresh eyes at the dilemmas that child rearing brings.

In IKEA I observed that the majority of infants were sucking on dummies. The parents were concentrating on looking at their surroundings, talking to each other or communicating via their mobile phones. The only interaction between parent and child was when the child attempted to make some noises, in which case the parent ensured that the dummy was put in place more securely.

Incidentally, one of the few little ones who was being cuddled and had the adult's full attention was being breastfed. The mother was making cooing noises and snuggling the baby close to her to encourage reassurance and security.

In an Italian restaurant the toddlers had the full attention of both parents. The restaurant provided colouring pencils and paper to occupy them while they waited. These children were enjoying a chasing game and being brought back to the colouring table when caught. All very praiseworthy so far.

Sadly, however, when the food arrived it was a different story. The game had been too exciting and sitting down to eat a meal with the adults was not what the children wanted to do. The parents, who were sharing the outing with other adults, had a hurried and frenetic meal and left hastily. They were no doubt embarrassed by their children's behaviour at the table.

At no point in any of these interactions did any other adult intervene. The parents were behaving as though in a bubble. In the restaurant exemple, even the accompanying adults left the young couple to get on with it.

Children's behaviour away from their own homes seems to bring out the worst in us. As a nation we are extremely judgemental, without modelling acceptable strategies for inexperienced parents to follow. No wonder that there seems to be an implicit understanding that children should be seen and not heard - and an over-emphasis on dummies to silence all of those babbling noises that babies should be making.

The phrase 'It takes a village to raise a child' is increasingly important. The challenge of underachieving children is for us all in society. What have you contributed today?

Pat Wills is a parenting co-ordinator in Blackpool.

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