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Learning To Parent Is As Important As Preparing For Birth

Larissa Dann

When I was pregnant, I planned.

I prepared for the birth by attending antenatal classes, where I learned about stages of labour, and how to breathe through pain. I thought I was ready…to have a baby. But was I ready to be a parent?

We know, but maybe don’t realise, that being a parent is perhaps the most important job we could ever undertake. Yet, as respected psychologist and multiple Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thomas Gordon said, “Parents are blamed, not trained.”

As I held my newborn, I realised that having this baby was the easy part. Now began the real work, the work of a lifetime. Somehow, I had to guide this new person into becoming a contributor to society, someone who could be the best they could become.

Gazing into my babies’ eyes, I wondered about their future, and the relationships they would have – with each other, their friends, their partners, and their children. Their ability to form respectful relationships would be crucial to their success as adults.

And here was the rub. The first relationships my children would ever have would be with their family – their parents, their siblings, their extended family.

I needed to ensure that my children’s experience of their early family relationships would stand them in good stead. I needed to build a relationship of respect, trust, warmth, and compassion. I needed to take them seriously, from the moment they gave their first cry, so I had a basis for modelling the relationship skills they would take into their lives.

But did I have the skills and knowledge to do this?

Research from the Parenting Research Centre found a difference in attitude between ‘experts’, and ‘public’, towards knowing how to parent. Experts saw parenting as a set of skills that could be acquired. The public thought parenting should be something that comes naturally, through ‘having a concern’ for children.

As a new parent, I thought parenting should come naturally. Then I lucked onto a parenting course (which happened to be Parent Effectiveness Training or PET), and completed the class, despite the disapproval from some close to me.

I learned that parenting skills could be acquired.

As a Mum-In-Training, I discovered that I could learn how to really listen, to truly understand my child. I discovered how to talk to my child, in a way that encouraged them to change their behaviour because they wanted to, not because they were afraid of me. I discovered that there were words and phrases that would undermine our relationship. I discovered I didn’t need to reward or punish my children. In fact, I could involve my children in solving our problems together. I learnt how to develop a mutual relationship of warmth and respect.

I found that by changing the way I thought about children, by seeing them as innocent people who simply need to meet their needs of the moment, I respected them as my equal.

These were all skills that I learned in a course. I read about them in a book, wrote about them in homework exercises, talked about and practised them in role-plays with other parents.

These skills changed my life, and arguably, the lives of my children. Now, I teach those same skills, and I’ve been fortunate to hear how other families’ lives have changed as the result of parent training.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not just parent training that is important, but the approach and philosophy behind the program that will affect our children. Research suggests that, in order to do well in their adult lives, we need to help our children develop empathy, to solve problems, and have the social skills to build warm, respectful relationships.

Moving beyond the individual, Robin Grille‘s book Parenting for a Peaceful World describes how parenting styles influenced history. He indicates that the way we parent and think about children, the quality of relationships within families, and a family’s attitude towards relational power, form the foundation of a society.

In my opinion

  • If parent training can teach parents how to relate warmly and respectfully with their children, then their children will relate respectfully with others.
  • If parent training can teach parents to listen with empathy to children, then their children will learn to listen with concern and understanding to their friends, their future partners, their workmates.
  • If parent training can teach parents to assert their needs without blame or shame, then children will learn to consider others, value themselves, and to assert their needs with compassion.
  • If parent training can teach parents to resolve conflict peacefully, and avoid rewards or punishment such as time-out, then children will not bully. Instead, they will learn to problem solve with respect. And they are less likely to become perpetrators, or victims, of family violence.

Learning how to parent needs to be as normal, as acceptable, and as available, as baby birthing classes.

When parents learn to value children and communicate respectfully, they equip their children with skills to use every day, for the rest of their lives.

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Larissa Dann

Larissa is a parent who, many years ago, attended a parenting course. The skills and approach of that program influenced her life so profoundly that she became a parent educator. She is now an experienced instructor of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), having taught over 1000 people, including parents, teachers and practitioners. Larissa uses the skills everyday, endeavouring to ‘practice what she preaches’. She is an accredited P.E.T. facilitator, group leader, and counsellor. She feels privileged each time she teaches, as she observes the communication skills empower children, parents and carers in a relationship of respect. Larissa is now enjoying dabbling in the area of written reflections, otherwise known as blogs at www.parentskills.com.au/blogs/larissa

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  • Maddie

    A lot of those skills mentioned – the ability to listen, understanding others as your equal, developing empathy – are not specific to parenting. There are a lot of childless people who could use training in those areas. Parenting skills are closely related to people skills, after all.

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