Tag Archives: support

The Perfectionist Child

9 Jul

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From the Parenting Place

Family coach Jenny Hale explains how to encourage a perfectionist to lower their expectations and simply have a go, rather than being so afraid of failure that they are afraid to even try.

One of the great dreams parents have for their children, is that they will reach their full potential and use their gifts, natural abilities and strengths. So when a child is afraid of taking a risk, uncertain about whether to give something a try, and is devastated when a mistake is made, parents naturally feel concerned because they know life is full of opportunities, and that progress is made when there is a willingness to give things a go.

I meet lots of parents who are concerned about their child’s perfectionist tendencies. These are some of the characteristics that worry them. The perfectionist child:

  • Doesn’t like trying new things
  • Watches on the sideline for ages before attempting to do something
  • Hates to be corrected
  • Is devastated when they get something wrong
  • Often screws up their work in frustration
  • Blames someone else for their mistakes
  • Has incredibly high standards that are self-imposed
  • Under-achieves for fear of failure
  • Is easily embarrassed if in the limelight
  • Puts themselves down unnecessarily
  • Is easily disappointed in life’s events
  • Is very competitive and hates to lose
  • Controls others so they can manage the outcome
  • Procrastinates and finds it difficult to make a decision
  • Is anxious about quite a few things

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The good news is that it is possible to live harmoniously with a perfectionist, and give them some tools for handling life with a different outlook.

Be understanding if you live with a perfectionist. They don’t get along too well with themselves so they really need someone who ‘gets them,’ and is gentle with them. They need you to be on their side. Talking to your child about their temperament helps clarify what is driving them. It also helps them understand what is going on inside their head when they feel cross or anxious.

Openly support the making of mistakes. A perfectionist child often has a perfectionist parent! Be prepared to share your mistakes and let children see that it is normal and acceptable to get things wrong, or do a job that is less than perfect. If you leave something out of a recipe and it’s a flop, let your children see that you are not beating yourself up. In fact, you can laugh at yourself! Celebrate mistakes with a family motto; ‘In our family we make mistakes because that is how you learn.’ It takes the sting out of a mistake if the whole family embraces it.

Children can be inspired by someone else’s story of challenge and triumph. It may be your next door neighbour who has been to nine job interviews without yet landing one, but is not giving up. Research a famous sportsperson or actor who encountered many failures and challenges on the way to success. Let them know that the reason behind the success had as much to do with perseverance and a tolerance for making mistakes, as it did natural talent.

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Encourage your children to see humility as a good attitude. Being able to accept their limitations and acknowledge another’s success, helps a child accommodate their own losses. Humility helps children to be supportive of others when they win or lose. Model phrases such as, “That was a great game of chess you played Thomas, thanks for playing with me.”

Perfectionists need to develop flexible, elastic thinking. You can give your child examples of this in a practical way. Show how a partly deflated ball hits the ground and stays there, but when it is full of air it hits the ground and bounces. This is just what is needed when life gets tough.

If your child gets a lower result on an assignment than was anticipated, explain that instead of losing hope and perspective, flexible thinkers say to themselves, “Not what I wanted, but I bet I can learn something from this and get up and go again”.

Be ready to brainstorm a problem with them so that they learn there is more than one way of doing something. Let’s say they are making a card for a friend’s birthday and you see them begin to ‘lock down’ for a perfect result. Talk them through their options. The focus could be on creating something ‘colourful and crazy’ rather than ‘perfect and neat.’

When perfectionist children learn not to blame themselves or others, it makes starting something a lot easier. Your child will need help to see that getting cross and full of regret for something they did or didn’t do, won’t help them. Instead, teach them to embrace a new thought pattern. Learning that ‘making a start is hard, but it gets easier along the way’ helps facilitate progress.

Perfectionists are often afraid to make a decision because they may regret it and wish they had done something better. Learning to live with our decisions and learn from the consequences is part of life. Nudge them towards making decisions over lots of little things so they get in the habit of living with their choices and dealing with small disappointments along the way.

The flipside of a perfectionist is that they are often very high achievers. They want to do well, and often have an outstanding ability to perform. They can stick at something relentlessly to improve themselves. These children often produce excellent results, and are successful without any need for motivation from parents. Some will be tidy, organised, gifted, disciplined, focused, deep thinkers and extraordinarily capable. Quite a few of them will have leadership qualities that mean they can organise, motivate and bring out the best in others.

The journey for them can be made simpler and kinder if we help them understand that perfectionists have both strengths and shortcomings, and help equip them with the skills and insights to live comfortably with themselves, their standards and their frailty.

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The Power of Praise- John Cowan investigates

29 May

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Confused by whether or not praise is good for your children?

Psychologists fight, but it is a very dull sport to watch. They fire volleys of academic papers at each other before slinking back to their universities and clinics. The dull bit is that you cannot tell who has won. One current raging battle is about praising children.

Some say praise is great and some say it is just manipulation that turns kids into spineless ‘pleasers’. I’ve wandered through the smoke and noise of the battle field (i.e. I have done some pretty intense Googling) to find out what the two camps are on about. Both sides have got their heavy duty PhDs and their research and they both sound very plausible, so how could anyone choose who is right? Well, I can. Of course, I could be wrong, but I am assuming you probably won’t be able to prove it!

I had always thought that praise was great. “Praise is the fastest route to change” is a quote I saw years ago, not in a parenting book but in a management manual. It went on to say that praise works faster than nagging, threats and bribes in changing behaviour to the desired outcome. I took that advice to heart and it has been one of my staple beliefs about how to raise children. I’ve used it at home with my own kids and taught it in courses and seminars. I always found it creates a very agreeable atmosphere in the home as well as ‘doing the trick’ of shaping their behaviour.

One of the things I especially liked about praise as a parenting tool is that it encourages us to seek out and focus on children’s positive behaviour rather than just discovering their misbehaviour and criticising it. I suspect parents possess an innate super-sense to spot mischief, even through solid walls. (Surely some psychologist could get a grant to research this). Most parents seem to be able to stare at a closed bedroom door and tell, just by the mere silence emanating from it, that their children must be up to something on the other side! With a little effort, that same ability can be tweaked to spot their good behaviour and not just their bad.

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When you focus on the positive it is amazing how much you actually like your children more: even if it did not budge behaviour one iota, it at least feels like you have got nicer kids.  But it does change behaviour – even the critics of praise concede that – and that is actually one of the key objections critics have of praise: it is controlling. “Praise is a verbal reward, often doled out in an effort to change someone’s behaviour, typically someone with less power”, writes education expert, Alfie Kohn. “More to the point, it’s likely to be experienced as controlling regardless of the praiser’s intention. Praise is a pat on the head, ‘pat’ being short for ‘patronizing’”, he says in an article called Five Reasons to Storp Saying “Good Job”1Professor Rheta DeVries of the University of Northern Iowa calls it ‘sugar-coated control’: basically it is behaviourism, an attempt to manipulate people like lab-rats with rewards and punishments. It assumes that all the behaviour is due to the reward; it ignores the feelings and values and other motives that might be involved.

In two books, ‘Punished by Rewards’ and ‘Unconditional Parenting’, Kohn unpacks some of his other objections. He thinks it creates “praise junkies who are constantly looking for approval and who depend on other people for their self esteem. It makes them afraid of losing that constant stream of feedback.

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Research by Mary Budd Rowe in Florida found that when students were highly praised by their teachers they were a lot less confident about giving answers in class, less likely to share ideas, backed down quickly if challenged by an adult and gave up on difficult tasks – it seemed that whenever there was a chance that they might jeopardise getting a “well done!” from the teacher, they weren’t prepared to take that risk. Like a drug, they get used to a regular high dose of praise; when praise is withheld it really feels like a punishment. I recall Dr Sylvia Rimm, when she visited New Zealand many years ago, talking about why bright kids often fail in higher education. Throughout their early school years they received high levels of praise – they got honoured as ‘top-of-the-class’ and their work was held up in front of others. But as they move up into high school and university, they get streamed in amongst other bright kids. They are no longer the top of the pile; they are just one of many similarly-smart students. They may still be getting a reasonable amount of good feedback, but nothing like the rate of praise they received when they were the star of their primary classroom, the big fish in the little school pond. The drop feels awful, and many kids give up making the effort that keeps them achieving.

What about kids who are not such high achievers? They simply dislike the idea of being judged. “The most notable feature of a positive judgment isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgment. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged,” says Kohn.

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Praise might even take the pleasure and interest out of doing things. If you practice the piano, there is an ‘intrinsic’ reward: music! You can actually play the piano! But what if you practice the piano to get stickers on a reward chart or some other award or treat? Those are ‘extrinsic’ rewards. “What happens when you get older and don’t get stars?” asks Paul Raeburn in Psychology Today. “Do you lose interest in practising when you’ve lost extrinsic rewards that you’ve become accustomed to? The research suggests that you do.” He continues, “We praise drawings or spelling papers because we want our kids to continue to work hard and to do good work … But what we really want to teach our children is that they should do good work because of the satisfaction it provides, not to earn praise from parents or teachers. I’ve often wondered why so few Americans read books—serious novels and nonfiction. Could it be because  we were so conditioned to getting A’s for reading Melvile or Hawthorne that there is no joy left in reading them for the pleasure and enlightenment they provide? I can’t cite research to answer that question, but I think it’s a good guess.”

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What if that also applies to moral behaviour? What happens if kids learn to be kind and generous and caring simply because it attracts the positive attention of adults? Does the good behaviour stop when the rewards do? Alarmingly, yes! Or so some research seems to suggest. Joan Grusec in Toronto noted that children who were praised for generosity became less generous in the playground (when they weren’t being praised by the teacher) than kids who were not. Generosity became a means of getting praise from adults and not just something that felt good to do.

So, have Kohn and crew convinced me to shelve praise as a parenting tool? No … but their evidence does suggest ways in which we modify our use of praise.

First of all, I do believe that it is right for parents to shape children’s behaviour. It’s not manipulation, it’s parenting. We have the benefit of decades of experience, we have learnt that things like manners, respect, generosity and cooperation actually work very well. It is not a matter of wanting to control or impose our wills on children, it is the firm belief that the most loving thing to do for children is to help them learn to behave ‘well’: it is the the best thing for them and society.

Secondly, I do take very seriously Kohn’s points about intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards, but I think that a praise and reward system can still have a place. External rewards, like praise and star charts, are great ways to start behaviour moving in a new direction, but it is not ideal for maintaining it. The trick is to help the child  realise the real value or pleasure of what they are doing. You might start off by praising them for cleaning their bedroom, but you move on to saying things like, “It must be really nice having a room that is so tidy and you can find everything”; “I feel good every time I go in your room – I bet you do too, it’s so nice and tidy.” You are moving from an external reward to an internal reward, teaching them to reward themselves. You move from, “Good on you for doing your homework” to “Once you get the hang of it, isn’t science fascinating!” – you are connecting them to the intrinsic reward of knowledge rather than simply getting approval for work done.

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We should also beware of empty praise and excessive praise. Children soon pick up on the fact that this is meaningless and manipulative. When Farmer Hoggett says, “That’ll do, pig” at the end of the movie Babe, it is powerful not because it is part of a torrent of praise but for the very opposite. Those few words from a taciturn man  poke volumes, and the pig (and audience) melted.

And finally, there is a huge difference between ‘person’ praise and ‘process’ praise. A team led by Elizabeth Gundersen at The University of Chicago have been doing a long term project. They filmed parents interacting with their children, in their own homes. They did it when the children were one, then two and again at three. Five years later, they tested the now eight-year-old children, measuring all sorts of behaviours. How those children were praised, when they were little, seemed to have a big effect. Some parents praised their kids with things like “You’re a clever kid”, “You’re tall”, “You’re pretty”: this is called ‘person praise’: compliments for who and what they were: their intelligence, skill, looks, height – things they have no control over. Other kids were praised for their effort and their actions – that’s called ‘process praise’ – and those kids at eight enjoyed challenging tasks, they could overcome setbacks and believed that hard work can improve intelligence and personality.

Person praise locks kids into thinking you are what you are – if they don’t do well, they think that’s just the way I am, but process praise gives kids the exciting belief that they can change and get better. “These findings suggest that improving the quality of early parental praise may help children develop the belief that their future success is in their own hands,” said Gunderson.

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So, go ahead and be generous with praise – just be sure it is not empty, manipulative and taking away a child’s real motivation. Praise them for their efforts and actions, rather than their looks and intelligence. Some may worry our children will depend too much on our approval, but I doubt there are few things nicer to have in the back of our heads than the idea that our Mum and Dad are proud of us.

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7 Steps To A Happier Family – by Andrea Stringer

6 Mar

from Parenting Magazine http://www.theparentingplace.com/

To me, the phrase Happy Families brings to mind a cheesy board game, matching sweaters and cups of hot chocolate. Too-cute kids gaze adoringly at their wise and capable parents who deal with everything calmly and most certainly never raise their voices. If you suspect this is what I want to help you achieve, please let me reassure you! What I want to write about is families like my own, and the ones that I coach. Families with flaws, quirks, and issues – in other words, inhabitants of the real world. When parents come to see a Family Coach, one of the most common goals they voice is for everyone to be happier. But it’s incredible how difficult such a simple sounding goal can be to achieve. When things are going right, however, I think the following seven elements are usually in place.

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A hierarchy of power, with the parents at the top, sometimes seems like a terribly old-fashioned idea. But, in a happy family everyone knows exactly where they stand and they’re comfortable with it. These days most people prefer that the children have some say over family matters, are listened to, and their feelings are truly heard. I couldn’t agree more. The problem with this philosophy is that parents sometimes lose their footing as they scramble to make sure the kids are getting the respect they deserve.

Parents have got to be willing to wear their authority, a kind but a firm authority, from time to time. When we get too focussed on the goal of short-term happiness (eg. giving in, backing down or withholding reasonable discipline), then the issue of who is really in charge will be repeatedly tested – even more so if you have one or more determined or argumentative child in your brood.

The great thing about everyone knowing their place is that we can relax. We don’t need to apologise for taking charge, we don’t need the continual wrestle for control that can seriously compromise a family’s happiness.

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A common argument in the debate around teasing and bullying is that we don’t want our children to grow up thinking everyone has to be nice to them, all the time. Of course we don’t want our kids to be so defenceless that they crumble at the first insult. This might be why a fair amount of name-calling and unkind behaviour is allowed to go on in families, mostly between siblings but also between parents and children. Parents could be forgiven for thinking that family is a safe place for a bit of ribbing and learning to cope with jibes. I think that up to a certain point this is true. Recent research conducted in New Zealand however, indicates that the teasing that hurts the most comes from the ones we’re closest to, our family.

Families who are unhappy have often let this one slip away on them without even realising. Often in the face of bigger interpersonal issues, words such as stupid or idiot can fly under the radar. You don’t like hearing it, but you let it go because it’s the least of your worries. But how we talk to one another, is one of the biggest determinants of a close and loving family feeling, and it is so worth the effort to make your family a put-down free zone. It takes vigilance and consistency. Sometimes it will feel as though you’re making a big deal about something that might not matter much, but creating a family environment where people feel safe from emotional harm really does matter.

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When everyone is too busy, or too focussed on simply getting through the day, it seems that one of the first things we drop is the family sense of humour. It’s such a shame that we tend to treat fun, laughter, and adventure as luxuries which we’d get around to if only we could. The truth is that all of these things keep body, soul and spirit healthy, bring family members closer together and help them feel better about each other, themselves, and life in general.

If you haven’t had a good laugh together lately, ask yourself why, and what you can do about it. There might be a game or movie that always sees everyone dissolve into fits of giggles. If there is, then do it regularly! The irony of course is that you need this stuff most when you feel like it least. But trust me, when the kids are getting up your nose and they’re the last people in the world you feel like spending time with – do something fun together. Go somewhere you’ve never been, even in your own neighbourhood. Try hard to see and point out the humour in the silly, mundane, or annoying parts of life. This won’t always be the easy option, of course, it’s usually much easier to stay serious and grumpy. That’s why you have to decide to make an investment in the happiness bank of your family.

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steps to a happier family-10People in happy families, as a general rule, know the importance of flexibility. It’s really heartbreaking to meet with parents who might be absolutely desperate to have things at home be different, and yet they can’t or won’t admit they could look at the problem from another angle or adjust their own behaviour.

There is hope for the control freaks among us, if only we can get comfortable with the fact that we won’t always have the right answer first time. We also have to be willing to adjust an expectation we had of our child, partner, or ourselves. It’s amazing how far our disappointment can take us when we feel a family member is not behaving or coping at the level we expect them to. In the face of repeated evidence to the contrary, we’ll complain to anyone who’ll listen “He KNOWS how to do this!”, or “She KNEW better than to behave like that!”. A flexible thinker stops and reassesses, and also gives the people they love the benefit of the doubt. “If you knew how, you’d be doing it already, so how can I help you learn this?”.

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I think all families probably struggle to connect at times due to the pressures of time, work, and activity overload. On top of that, as children get older their personalities will take them in very different directions. They might prefer different kinds of jokes, books, movies, or one will play every sport going while the other might want to draw all day. If we’re constantly in different spheres, perhaps with Mum and Dad tag-teaming to make sure everyone gets where they need to go, then where is the sense of family?

Happy families build in an atmosphere of mutual support for everyone by making a deliberate choice to be actively interested in each other. Saturday morning soccer might bore you rigid but you need to be there at least some of the time. And if you can’t be there, ask questions afterwards that show your child a curiosity for their world. Your little introvert might seem so happy in the corner immersed in their books, but if you went over and asked what they were reading, and which character was their favourite, and if you could borrow it to have a read yourself, they’ll be (quietly) over the moon. At the very least, family meal times can be used to reconnect, ask questions, and catch up on everything you’ve missed.

By taking an interest in your child’s world, you teach them to take an interest in yours, building a sense of mutual care and concern that keeps both kids and parents happy.

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In a happy family people are allowed to make mistakes. I think this is one that is easy to get right on paper. We say all the right things, but what is the emotional atmosphere like when someone gets it wrong? Body language and facial expression will say so much more than the words. There is a fine balance to be struck between having high expectations and encouraging children to do their best, and a level of perfectionism that attracts shame and guilt when expected standards aren’t met. The most powerful way to send a healthy message is in how we treat ourselves and our partners when we stuff up. Is forgiveness and acceptance of human error regularly practised?

It seems to me that children will often struggle to move forward and change their behaviour while they feel their parents’ disappointment laying heavy over them. It’s not just children who need to know they’re ‘OK’ before they can begin to act differently, we all feel safer, happier, and more secure when we know that we’re accepted just as we are, warts and all.

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Have you ever heard the suggestion that we should basically live in bikinis because we will never be as young or in such good shape as we are RIGHT NOW? Well, I’m not sure about that, but if you haven’t looked through some family photo albums recently, do it soon, because there’s no better reminder that your children will never be as young again as they are RIGHT NOW. We toil so hard to work, clean, improve our homes, and prepare for the future – that magical time when everything will finally be as we’ve been planning for it to be. We’ll have the free time to see people, do things, and have all that elusive fun we’ve been preparing for.

If we don’t fully appreciate that we are actually IN what are potentially the best moments of our lives, right now, then we will always be one step behind the full happiness that family life has to offer. Some people call it living in the moment. I don’t recommend doing it constantly or you’d wander from room to room experiencing everything so intensely that you’d never get out of your pyjamas. But do make sure that every day you stop at least once and abandon yourself to the enjoyment of dancing, playing a game, even having a simple conversation with your children, and with your partner. Because of course, these are the moments that create your family’s happiness, but if we don’t notice it happening, then we miss it.

Maybe one or more of these steps has reminded you of something you’d like to work on. I hope so because going over them has made me want to work harder at all seven! Do remember we’re real people, though. No family (that I’ve met anyway) is happy all of the time, and they shouldn’t worry if they’re not. We do the best we can. And that’s often good enough for a happy family.

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7 reasons parents are doing better than ever – by John Cowan

12 Nov

from Parenting Magazine www.theparentingplace.com

Are parents doing a better job than they were a few years ago? Well EVERYONE KNOWS children today are spoilt, over fed, disobedient, dumbed down, spend too much time on the internet and not enough time doing home work… and of course they all take drugs. So it follows parents today are appalling, a fact quickly confirmed by the majority of in-laws. Actually, I would argue that there are good reasons to believe you are a better parent than many of the parents a generation ago. It’s not hard to find examples of parents doing an appalling job and too many struggle with poverty and other problems but, in general, I think the current crop of parents are great. Here are my reasons:

      1. For a start, you are reading this. Thousands of parents read this and other parenting magazines or browse parenting articles online. Chances are you own parenting books (selected from hundreds of titles available) and you have probably been toparenting courses. I would safely wager you consciously up-skill yourself as a parent far more than your parents’ generation, simply because they never had the opportunity. When I started with The Parenting Place (then called Parenting with Confidence) in the midnineties, we were practically the only parenting organisation on the block. Resources were scarce: we imported books, magazines and speakers from overseas. Parenting education was something a school might occasionally attempt to put on, and these events were usually attended by about three parents, usually the mothers of the best behaved kids in the school.

      2. The second thing I would say in defence of modern parents is that Dads are taking their role more seriously. “WHICH men!?” you might snort derisively. Okay, my gender has a long way to go – Mums are still shouldering the lioness’s share of the parenting burden – but at least we are now feeling guilty about it. They are less shackled by stale masculine stereotypes and are conscious that they need to be involved with their kids. I’ve often met new dads who are quick to show off their prowess at looking after their infant. As the years have gone on I am delighted to see the proportion of men attending our events increase, and our Fathers’ Breakfasts are full of men earnestly wanting to do better.

      3. When I was a kid we rode in the back of utes, never wore helmets on bikes, played unsupervised around creeks and railway lines and had a hearty disregard for hygiene and safety. It was a great childhood… at least for those of us who survived it. Of course, most of us survived just fine, but the statistics definitely show that some didn’t; it was a more dangerous world for children back then. Actually, there are still far too many accidents. Compared with Australian children, our kids are twice as likely to die from injuries and three times as likely as children in England and Wales. If today is an average day, ten kiwi kids will suffer moderate to severe injuries and one child dies from injuries every five days(1). But that rate is a half of what it was in the early nineties(2) and less than a quarter of the rate in my childhood. Well done parents! When it comes to child abuse, the rates are far higher than decades ago, but I think this might in part reflect that it is tolerated less and is reported more

      4. Parents today think more about parenting and have a more sophisticated approach to parenting problems. I cannot cite any research on this but I have had a ringside seat in observing family life over many years, and I am impressed by the competence and knowledge of modern parents. When I was young, there were only two types of bread – white and brown – and only two types of child behaviour – good and naughty. Many in my era were just labelled naughty or stupid, and were whacked and punished, when in fact they may well have had ADHD, learning problems or psychological issues. Parents are much more prepared to look for reasons for behaviour, and to seek solutions apart from punishment. And when they go looking, they can find all sorts of help: school counsellors, psychologists, support agencies and parenting courses. Parents today benefit from the input of hundreds of professionals and dozens of agencies, and I believe they are making a huge difference

     5. I think kids are getting a better education today and parents can take some of the credit. Parents get more involved in education, volunteering and taking an interest. Parents are prepared to support children in their education longer, provide more resources and access extra coaching. Some would say that modern education has been dumbed down, and find old exam papers to show how much more advanced students were in the past. But they are not comparing apples with apples. There were around 1000 pupils in my high school back in the seventies. About half of them left in the fifth form (Year 11); there were only 17 students in the whole seventh form (year 13). Yes, the average senior student was probably better educated and doing more advanced work in my day, simply because all but the most academic had already been weeded out

       6. Parents have always loved their kids – I don’t doubt that for a moment. But it is lovely seeing a generation of parents who don’t mind showing it. “I love you” was something we saw American parents saying to their kids on TV programmes; in good old New Zealand we were a little more reserved, and saved stuff like that for our death beds. As I say, I am not implying that modern parents love their kids more, but I think they are definitely better at showing it.

      7. Parents are older today. I know, we are all older than we were yesterday, but what I mean is that couples are often delaying having children. The median age of first-time mothers has risen from 23 years old in the seventies to nearly 31 in recent years. Compared with young couples who leap straight into procreation, older parents tend to have more money, a bit more maturity and a relationship that has already been road-tested for a few years before subjecting it to the stress of parenthood. Families are also smaller, and though I’m not convinced it makes a huge difference, it probably means there is more to go around.

Please don’t use this article as grounds to boast to your parents that you are a better parent than they were (even if it is true!), but I hope you feel encouraged.

1 Source ACC.
2 http://www.nzchildren.co.nz/hospital_admissions.16 Parenting Spring 2012 php#Footnote_1

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