09 Aug 2007,
It's hard to believe that I heard correctly, but I gather that the Government plans to appoint a regiment of psychologists and march them into areas of high social and economic deprivation on a mission to teach parenting.
The press has labelled them 'supernannies', although it sounds more like a rapid response force, the psychological equivalent of the SAS, being parachuted in with all techniques blazing.
Fortunately there are just not enough clinical psychologists to go around, and most of them would have more sense anyway. A better idea would be to build on the skills already in place in children's centres. Paying the staff what they are worth would be a good start!
Leaving aside the possibility that anyone in the psychological trades is the last person you want to teach parenting, due to the likelihood that they were attracted to this work in an unconscious bid to sort out the mess that their own parents left them in, the idea that useful parenting can be learned by instruction is fairly potty. Such a belief shows the inestimable power of wishful thinking.
Anyway, no point in getting too excited - in the long run, most children end up as boring as their parents, whatever the intervening turmoil.
Sure, lots of tricks and mild tortures (like 'time out') can be added to a parent's armoury, but this will not touch their attitude in the slightest. And, quite honestly, if parents have the right attitude, then the everyday details of how the stresses and challenges of parenting are dealt with are comparatively irrelevant.
Can we teach an attitude? I think not. This is something that has to be demonstrated and experienced in a genuine way - and that is how those parenting courses that work actually get results.
Schemes such as Mellow Parenting, the Incredible Years or the Solihull Approach have a place for encouraging self-reflection within parents, containing their anxieties, helping them question what they take for granted in a supportive way and introducing the child's perspective on life. But the emphasis has to be on understanding first, then visible change later.
Good-enough parenting is based on a flexible awareness of oneself, your child and why certain situations may recur between the both of you - not on telling or compelling the child to be good. Thinking about it, we might have avoided a war if our erstwhile leaders had stuck to these principles!
- Robin Balbernie is a consultant child psychotherapist in Gloucestershire.