Parents can be trained to ensure children's bad behaviour does not escalate into teenage law-breaking, research has revealed. But educational psychologists say the Government's proposals to force parents of misbehaving pupils to attend parenting classes are unlikely to help.
This week, the Prime Minister announced an extra pound;70 million to support mothers and fathers, including a national parenting academy, under the Government's "respect action plan".
The academy will be staffed by social workers, psychologists, community and youth workers and will teach parents how to spot and tackle potential problems.
Government plans to reduce bad behaviour include "baby Asbos" for children under 10 ,and schools will get the power to ask courts to order parents of badly-behaved pupils to attend parenting classes.
Juliet Starbuck, senior educational psychologist for West Sussex, said: "I don't believe parenting orders will work. You don't tell parents, 'Today we are going to look at how to talk to your teenager.' Parents have to decide that they are ready for change."
Ms Starbuck has piloted alternative training with more than 400 families in West Sussex. It targets parents of children aged between five and 13 who have misbehaved in at least two settings, such as at school, home or in the community.
The parents are offered six one-hour meetings with workers trained and supervised by educational psychologists. The programme encourages parents to reflect on their own situations and behaviour. For example, a mother might realise she is expecting her son to fill the role of his absent father.
Ms Starbuck said: "Parents want you to go in and tell them what to do. But it doesn't work. After the support is withdrawn, they stop doing it and are back to square one. We help to change their thinking and bring about long-lasting change."
Debbie, a 47-year-old single mother from Bognor Regis, took part in the scheme. Her 12-year-old son has Asperger's syndrome and was anxious about starting secondary school. He had mood swings at home and on several occasions lashed out and hit his mother.
After the sessions, the boy became much calmer and his behaviour improved.
Ms Starbuck asked parents to rate their abilities on a scale of one to 10.
Confidence in managing behaviour was initially at 3.5. By the end of the programme, it had risen to seven. The ability to realise their hopes for their child rose from three to seven.
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ON THE RESPECT AGENDA
* National network of projects providing support for families
* Sanctions, such as loss of housing benefit, for parents who do not take responsibility for their children's behaviour
* "Baby Asbos" to be given to offending children under 10
* Government to roll out national secondary school behaviour and truancy partnerships by September 2007 to improve behaviour and tackle persistent truancy
* Schools to be able to apply to courts for parenting orders to ensure parents of badly-behaved pupils attend parenting classes
* Schools will have to provide full-time education for excluded children six days after their removal from school
* Schools will have a duty to take on problem pupils.