The power of positive parenting

1st August 1997 at 01:00
Holiday time is, of course, the time when we who teach other people's children can devote a more sensible proportion of our life to being parents to our own children. The comparisons between parenting and teaching are an interesting subject for reflection, but the confusion between the two roles was emphatically underlined recently as I enjoyed a kick-about with my son in the back garden.

I turned gracefully and drove the ball, Roberto Carlos-like, swerving viciously, towards the top corner of the net. (This scenario is diminished somewhat when you realise that the garden is a postage stamp and the goal is dwarfed even by the nine-year-old goalkeeper, but, hey, this is father and son football). McPartlin junior dived to his right to palm it past the post.

As much to underline the quality of the shot as the competence of the save, I was fulsome in my praise. His response was amazing. I realise this whole thing is beginning to verge on the apocryphal, but, believe me, what he said was: "I love it when you praise me, Dad, because it gives me more confidence to play better."

The first response to this was an ill-mannered snigger from my neighbour across the hedge who was in the last stages of laying a patio. My first reaction was to check the bedroom windows, as I expected to see his mother holding up an idiot board as part of the ongoing mickey-taking I have to suffer from the others in the household.

But no, one look at his face assured me he was serious. I was at a loss for a moment. I realise I've been banging on about positive approaches in this column for most of the past year, but I promise I don't force him to read these pieces, not unless he's been exceedingly naughty.

I was forced to confront the fact that, unless this was some weird genetic transfer of educational philosophy, the views I employ as a teacher were being fed back to me, as a parent, by my son, who's just completed five years of primary school.

I don't know why he responded to my praise like that, or if he was parroting views he'd heard elsewhere. I'd have to admit that, at our dinner table, he's more likely to hear a debate about supermarkets than one on educational philosophy. However, it did remind me of a national guidance course in the 1970s, when a lecturer opined that you could only be a really effective guidance teacher if you had children. Most of those present being childless, this was greeted with the kind of hissing you'd only really expect to hear in the reptile house at the zoo.

I'm still not sure there's any evidence for his statement, which I suspect was as much devil's advocacy as a firmly-held belief, but a recent comment in a report on children in care made a similar point. The writer merely pointed out the inappropriateness of workers placing children in residential situations which they would deem as unsuitable for their own children.

In a sense, when we teach the children of others, we are in effect teaching our own. Though the skills of parenting and teaching differ in many respects, there are also important areas of overlap, and the new Children Act (Scotland) has much to say about the responsibilities of parents (as opposed to their rights), the responsibilities of all local authority workers in relation to those in their care, and, vitally, the right of the child to be heard. What is abundantly clear is that pupils reach their full potential on the back of the mutual support given by effective teaching and parenting.

Maybe it's time we took the capital letters out of Parent Teacher Association and made it a living reality.

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