What does it take… to be a great parent?

To discover the answer, The Best You talked to Andy Cope, co-author of The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager

What defines the perfect family?

If you’re of a certain age you might remember Little House on the Prairie? If you’re not old enough, Google it. It’s right up there with The Waltons as the classic clean-cut wholesome family unit. Now I don’t know about you but our house doesn’t resonate with a cheery ‘Night Jim-Bob’ at lights’ out. And try as we might, we hardly ever manage to sit down around a huge table, slicing into and handing round generous helpings of hearty home-made pumpkin pie. This isn’t 1930s Walton Mountain. It’s the next millennium along.

How can we ensure that everyone’s happy?

First the bad news. Life is exhausting. Life that contains children, quadrupally so! Emotions are contagious, so I think it’s fair to say, ‘You’re only as happy as your least happy child.’ That principle also applies to the classroom. But, good news, you can implement strategies that will enable your family and classroom to function brilliantly, most of the time. If you’ve got small children, here’s a parenting belter from Gretchen Rubin. You know how last thing at night can be a mad rush, dashing around getting school bags sorted, packed lunches packed and school uniforms ironed. Instead of rushing around headless-chicken style, why not indulge in a spot of what Gretchen calls ‘gazing lovingly’. Gretchen and her husband say, ‘Come on, let’s go and gaze lovingly at the kids as they sleep.’ That is such a fabulous idea. Simple, free and a perfect example of being in the moment.

How can we encourage our kids?

Carol Dweck’s book is crammed with good advice. One of her experiments involved setting a group of children a really stern exam after which one group was praised for intelligence (‘You are sooo clever!’) and the other for effort (‘You’ve worked reaaally hard!’). Next, she set a test that was impossible for them to complete. For a 13-year-old, that’s a real bummer. And here’s the rub folks, the first group (praised for being clever) soon capitulated, figuring that they weren’t clever enough. But the second group (praised for effort) stuck at it and out-performed the others by 30 per cent. So what? Dweck’s advice is that if your child accomplishes something, don’t say, ‘Well done, you are such a little genius!’ But rather, ‘Awesome, you put the effort in and got the reward.’ Always praise effort rather than talent. If your son scores a goal at football, don’t high-five him and say, ‘Holy cow, total genius dude. You were born to play football.’ You’d be better off saying, ‘Amazing goal, son. That’s what practise and hard work gets ya!’ And ruffle his hair chummily. Or when your daughter wins an award for art? ‘Crikey young lady, you are destined to be the next Picasso.’ Nope. ‘That’s what you get for all those hours of hard work.

What about treats and rewards?

Dan Pink says you shouldn’t pay your kids to do chores and on no account should you bribe them with cash for exam results. According to Dan, it’s a slippery slope that kills their work ethic and love of learning. Let’s examine the sub-text of your well-meaning SATs ‘payment by results’ system, carefully devised in consultation with your Year 6 child. What you are effectively saying is, ‘I understand that studying is a horrible thing to do. And I appreciate that you will only do it for money.’ Bang goes their love of learning. You are teaching them (subconsciously) that learning is a chore.

So what’s the best approach?

Putting it all together, the truth is that as a parent and/or teacher, you are having an extraordinary effect on the young people in your life. This doesn’t mean that they will necessarily do what you say. But, we’re wired to copy behaviours so, I promise you, they will do what you do. Look at Ma and Pa Walton; positive, supportive, close-knit, loving behaviours. Same with Charles Ingells from The Little House on the Prairie. And 1970s American TV shows never lie, so I rest my case

 

The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager is published by Capstone.

 

 

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