How to escape the pushy parent trap

Treat them like demanding kids, says childcare expert Gina Ford

She is famous for her ultra-strict parenting tips, but now childcare guru Gina Ford has some equally dogmatic advice for teachers: treat pushy parents as you would demanding children.

"Applying good boundaries to a pushy parent is as necessary as applying good boundaries to a demanding child," Ford told TES in advance of the publication of her new book, The Contented Baby Goes to School. "A pushy or demanding parent needs to understand that he or she can't fundamentally alter the way the school operates.

"Good schools will work with the parent to improve communication and resolve matters successfully, but being fair but firm may be the only way to deal with a really demanding parent."

Ford, Britain's best-selling childcare author, is renowned for her emphasis on routine and boundaries in child-rearing. Her new book, published next week, also highlights the importance of routine, suggesting that children may benefit from a brisk start to the day and meals at their prospective school's lunchtime in advance of the new term.

"Starting school is a huge milestone in the life of a child," she said. "Although the majority of children will have experienced some type of preschool care outside the home environment prior to starting school, the transition is still hugely important."

Parents, she suggested, may struggle to leave their children. Her book discourages them from lingering over goodbyes or watching their offspring through classroom windows; while comforting to parents, this is likely to be unsettling for children.

"It is easy to underestimate what a big thing a child starting school can be for a parent. Those parents who are particularly demanding when their children start school are sometimes just particularly anxious," Ford said. "The parent ultimately wants to be heard. By listening, one demonstrates that their concerns, whether valid or not, are being met with consideration."

She also suggested that teachers might be able to accommodate and minimise the fears of new parents. For example, one boy found arriving at school very stressful. The teacher advised his mother to bring him into school 10 minutes early, allowing him to settle before the other students arrived.

"Adapting to a significant change takes time for adults as well as small children," Ford said. "Hopefully teachers will have a well-thought-through policy in place, if a parent's anxieties are reflecting on to their child.

"Talking to all parents about how to manage leaving their child, and setting ground rules for the whole class, will help teachers avoid singling out the one parent who lingers over farewells and finds it hard to leave."

And for those parents who have not, perhaps, been following the Gina Ford method as closely as they should, she suggested that teachers could help to compensate.

"A caring, confident, patient approach from parent and teacher is the most effective way of minimising separation anxiety. Some children thrive in a new school from Day 1. For others, emotional independence takes time to grow. Ideally, a teacher will be able to encourage, reassure and engage with a child struggling with separating from his or her parent."

The Contented Baby Goes to School by Gina Ford is published by Vermilion on 3 July

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