May 05, 2021
By Dr Kathy Weston
The bank holiday gave us all a chance to drop what we were working on and spend time together as a family. We managed to go for a walk, but this time, somewhere different! A change is as good as a rest, as they say. Chatting to close friends, who I have not seen for a significant period of time, was, quite frankly, exhilarating! To find out that my social skills still (largely) function was reassuring.
Letting my hair down has never been my strong point, as I am perfectly happy working. However, as I passed the ball around a basketball court with friends, attempting to slam dunk, in full view of my teen, I saw his expression of quasi admiration/quasi shock: his mum has a really fun side!
Buried beneath requests for homework to be done and rooms to be tidied, is a real person; a woman who can laugh, try something she isn’t very good at, and make her chums chuckle. He was also party to my conversation with friends, where ‘real mummy’ happily emerged, chatting and sharing funny anecdotes. This person was significantly more easy going than ‘Monday morning, school-run mummy.’
The dichotomy between our identity as ‘parent’ and who we might consider ‘our authentic self,’ reserved for our besties, can be stark. However, as our children grow, we should be careful not to forget that modelling joy matters as much as modelling an industrious attitude. We should be unafraid to show our true selves, our zest for life and our sense of fun with friends. Sure, they will say we have embarrassed them (normally on the way home in the car), but deep down, they will likely be enjoying the fact their parents aren’t so stuffy.
Last week I had the pleasure of partnering up with the parent survey app, Parent Ping. We ran a joint webinar on positive self-esteem in children.
Parent Ping surveyed over 1800 parents ahead of my talk and I presented the findings, along with some actionable steps. Over 45 questions were submitted ahead of the talk, but one stood out for me: what is your number one parenting tip? I mulled this question over for days and days, until concluding that, if I had only one top tip to share, it would be to ‘be brave’.
Sometimes, it might feel like, to be a good parent, we should ‘protect’ children from life events, facts or reality. For example, it might seem better to keep important family news from them (for fear of upsetting them). We might leave sex or relationships education to teachers (rather than telling our own children what’s what) and some parents might feel reticent of seeking professional help when children are in crisis (for fear of them being labelled). However, this desire to ‘protect’ is often counter-productive.
In contrast, a brave approach means taking a cold hard look into the future and doing everything we can to give our children the tools to deal with it. It means taking an interest in how our children are doing at school and asking for help, when they need it. A brave approach means taking our children’s feedback on our own parenting skills ‘on the chin’ and striving to do better. Brave parents ‘reach in’ and are prepared to do what it takes to improve themselves, their children’s lives and the quality of their parenting.
After all, our children have one childhood. Let’s not spend it with our heads in the sand or in a state of denial. I believe that some of the critical moments in parenting, that will always be remembered by our own children, are the times when we are demonstrably brave; bringing up uncomfortable facts, questions or reaching in when we are truly afraid of what we might hear.
It’s easier said than done. Initiating brave conversations with children can be truly stomach churning and anxiety-inducing. Parents are understandably scared of opening up Pandora’s box, alarming their children or scratching a psychological wound.
Truth be told, any time I have ever had a ‘brave’ conversation with my children, there is palpable relief on their part that they are finally able to unburden themselves and talk freely. It’s not easy, particularly if you are initiating a conversation from scratch about issues that your children have yet to experience.
I would describe these as ‘pre-emptive strike’ conversations; designed to forewarn, inform and future-proof your child. They allow parents to talk to their children about sensitive topics in a way that reflects the maturity and context that each child finds themselves in. They matter, because at the point of exposure to particular peer pressures, your voice and that conversation will hopefully shape both their response and their decision-making.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
Last week, I delivered a talk on “Everyone’s Invited’ at the North London Collegiate School. This talk highlighted (amongst other things), the importance of teaching young children about body boundaries and inspired a video resource. It also inspired a video on how to encourage one’s children to ‘open up’, arguably the most asked question by Tooled Up parents!
Parents of older children, with an interest in having brave chats with teens about some of the issues raised by the Everyone’s Invited movement, may find our interview with top criminologist Professor David Gadd useful and can look forward to a forthcoming podcast with Dr Fiona Vera-Gray.
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