Tough love trumps puppy love: Expert parenting advice from teachers, researchers and Trinity Grammar

There are as many different ways to raise children as there are parents and kids but some styles are definitely less effective than others.

Too permissive or outrightly neglectful child rearing are obviously problematic but research shows too-close supervision can be almost as detrimental to children’s development.

From tiger mums to doting dads, there’s mounting evidence that over-involved, “helicopter parenting” is at the very least, counter-productive, if not damaging.

Standing on their own two feet … even puppies benefit when parents encourage them to overcome obstacles on their own. Credit: Shutterstock

Interestingly, this holds true not just for human parents but for canine carers as well.

A study on guide dog training released this week, shows that overprotective canine mothers produce less capable offspring as measured by guide dog training completion rates.

The researchers attributed the dogs’ handicap to their mothers’ propensity to shield them from adversity in the first few weeks of life. Over-zealous protectiveness inhibited the development of resilience in puppies with lifelong temperamental consequences.

“It seems that puppies need to learn how to deal with small challenges at this early age and, if they don’t, it hurts them later,” lead researcher Emily Bray said in a University of Pennsylvania media statement.

“A hypothesis might be that you have to provide your offspring with minor obstacles that they can overcome for them to succeed later in life because, as we know, life as an adult involves obstacles,” said Bray’s co-researcher, Robert Seyfarth.

Indeed. A growing body of opinion sees overcoming failure in childhood as integral to long-term success.

In The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed, US teacher and author Jessica Lahey cautions, “today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation.”

To counter our modern tendency to coddling, Lahey offered these words of parenting wisdom to Psychology Today readers:

  • Failure helps children learn about themselves…and they will recover
  • Be patient and trust in your kids
  • Remember that when we say “Let me do that for you,” we are telling our kids we don’t think they are capable
  • Let kids make mistakes that test their abilities. This is a good thing that will strengthen learning and teach them how to be resilient
  • Remember that intelligence is malleable. The harder kids work to overcome challenges, the smarter they become
  • The children of parents who support autonomy are more competent and resilient in the face of frustration, so give kids space to work through temporary setbacks
  • Kids who pursue their own goals are far more likely to meet those goals and stick with activities for the long haul

Experts agree that allowing children to make and learn from their own mistakes is of primary importance but knowing exactly when — and how far — to let go can be difficult to judge.

An “authoritative” parenting style that tempers discipline and clear expectations with warmth and acceptance is generally considered to be the approach most conducive to raising resilient and successful kids. It is also the most closely associated with good academic results.

As children move into the later stages of adolescence, it’s important to allow them greater autonomy but within the framework of “a secure and predictable environment”, says Andrew Martin, professor of education psychology at UNSW.

Some parents may be reluctant to pull back at this stage, fearing the worst; but it’s a normal and necessary part of helping them grow up, Dr Martin says.

“Undoubtedly, they will push and exceed the boundaries, but that and its consequences are part of the development of their identity and understanding the social ‘norms’ to which they will be held to account in adulthood.”

To help parents find the right balance between strictures and structure, Trinity Grammar offers this excellent advice:

Encourage independence
Don’t be tempted to do everything for your child because it’s quicker, they need to gain some independence from a young age, so even a pre-schooler can be encouraged to do things on their own, like dress themselves. For older children and teens, resist the urge to solve their problems and protect them from disappointment – they will learn much more from making mistakes and considering the consequences of their actions. Demonstrate your belief in your child’s abilities to boost their self-esteem and confidence.

Maintain stable and loving relationships
This applies to relationships between parents, children, other family members and with the Church. Ensuring a child experiences secure relationships based on respect, trust and love shapes the way they manage relationships for the rest of their lives. If they experience conflict being managed in a respectful way, children in turn will learn to manage conflict in a passive rather than aggressive manner. If you apologise to your child for a wrongdoing, they learn the importance of acknowledging mistakes and considering the feelings of others.

Be there for your children
It is easy to get bogged down in the routine of daily life and chores that need our attention. Regularly put aside some of those tasks and make a point of spending time with your children and simply having fun. This will strengthen your relationship and is rewarding for both you and your child. Properly engage with your children, whether it be through play or really listening to what they have to say.

Set clear rules
Children crave boundaries and need clear rules for behaviour. Try to avoid making threats you do not plan to carry out and instead be consistent and ensure you and your partner provide a united front to avoid confusion for children. Although the equilibrium can sometimes be difficult to maintain, parents must balance empathy and support with structure and clear expectations.

Be a good role model
We can try to teach our children morals and values by talking about it, but children learn far more from the behaviours of their role models. Try to be the person you want your child to be, whether that be patient, loving, trustworthy, respectful or all of these things. For example, if you demonstrate sensitivity, your child will develop empathy for others.

Love unconditionally
You teach your children many life lessons through the simple act of loving them. They learn when you show them affection, play with them, provide encouragement and advice, and offer them security. By remaining steady, being attentive and listening to your children, they become self-confident with higher self-esteem. Praise them where it is due and try to avoid comparing siblings to each other.

 

References:

Children of “tiger parents” develop more aggression and depression, research shows — Stephen Smith, CBS News, June 20, 2013
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/children-of-tiger-parents-develop-more-aggression-and-depression-research-shows/

7 crippling parenting behaviours that keep children from growing into leaders — Kathy Caprino, Forbes, January 16, 2014
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2014/01/16/7-crippling-parenting-behaviors-that-keep-children-from-growing-into-leaders/#207130b85957

Helicopter parenting bad for kids: study — AFP, NewsMax, June 2, 2015
http://www.newsmax.com/Health/Health-News/helicopter-parents-study-brigham/2015/06/02/id/648311/

Successful guide dogs have “tough love” moms, Penn study finds — Michele Berger, Katherine Unger Baillie, Penn News, August 7, 2017
https://news.upenn.edu/news/successful-guide-dogs-have-tough-love-moms-penn-study-finds

How allowing children to fail helps them to succeed — Susan Newman, Psychology Today, August 11, 2015
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201508/how-allowing-children-fail-helps-them-succeed

How to maintain the balance between boundaries and freedom in secondary school parenting — Andrew Martin, The Conversation, July 13, 2017
https://theconversation.com/how-to-maintain-the-balance-between-boundaries-and-freedom-in-secondary-school-parenting-80388

Celebrating parents and six tips for effective parenting — Trinity Grammar website
http://info.trinity.nsw.edu.au/blog/celebrating-parents-and-six-tips-for-effective-parenting

Co-ed Or Single Sex: What Will Work Best For Your Child?

Australia has perhaps the widest range of schooling options in the English-speaking world, including a comparatively high proportion of single-sex schools in both the public and non-government sectors.

While co-education is the predominant mode of schooling in the US and Canada, and is rapidly becoming so in the UK as well, gender-specific education remains a popular choice for Australian families.

Greater than the sum of its parts … consider all the elements to find the right school for your child.

This is especially true in NSW, where there are more than 130 single-sex schools throughout the independent, public and Catholic school systems.

Sydney-based parents have many excellent schools of either type to choose from and deciding between the two can present a real dilemma for many.

With a wealth of research on the topic available, there is a strong case to be made for the merits of each. Excellent academic results can be seen in both types of schools and there are no distinct drawbacks to either schooling style.

However, they do differ in terms of environment and social factors.

Research shows that girls are more likely to excel in music, maths, and science subjects when they attend single-sex schools. It is presupposed that the absence of boys may help girls to develop greater self-confidence in their abilities as well as making them more willing to speak out and perform for an audience.

Meanwhile, boys are said to benefit from male-centric teaching methods, which are more readily delivered in boys-only schools.

Dr Tim Hawkes, former headmaster of The King’s School in Parramatta, is a vocal advocate of gender-specific teaching methods.

“We must allow boys to be boys, we must allow them run in the playground and learn according to their learning style and not try to force them to adopt learning behaviours that are antithetical to the way they discover and learn new information,” he says.

On the co-ed side of the ledger, Barker College head Phillip Heath makes the point that the contemporary workplace is a mixed-gender environment and that schools need to prepare students for adult reality. Last year he announced that Barker College would be transitioning to a fully co-ed school by 2022 because “life is co-ed.”

“Barker College aims to prepare young people for much more than an ATAR or even for life at university. The real purpose of a school is to support students to reach their full potential in the workplace and in their communities, and in building strong relationships and families,” Mr Heath told the Hornsby Advocate.

Proponents of single-sex schooling counter this view with the argument that schools aren’t employment training centres but are instead, as MamaMia contributor Zoe Rochford wrote in defence of girls’ schools, “a safe place where developing brains can learn about things, both conceptually and practically, from a distance. They’re a recognition that our adolescents aren’t ready for the “real world” yet – that they still have learning and growing to do… If that means that single-sex education suits some brains better, the way it did mine, then so be it.”

That said, international research demonstrates that teacher quality is the most decisive factor in academic outcomes. Breaking down the various influences on education attainment including individual capability, family background, teachers, principal, peers and school, the data shows that 50 per cent of achievement can be attributed to a student’s academic potential and 30 per cent to teacher ability, with the other elements making up the balance.

It’s probably fair to say that a school is greater than the sum of its parts. No single institutional component will make or break a student’s education but the overall mix will have a huge impact.

In a column for the Manly Daily, Greg Whitby, executive director of schools for the Parramatta Catholic diocese, counsels parents against focussing solely on the single sex vs co-ed issue, advising them to look at the bigger picture.

“To put it simply, there are good single-sex schools but also some pretty poor ones. The same applies to co-educational schools.

“The best learning environments for young people are the ones that respond to their social, emotional and learning needs, that allow for diverse opinions, encourage healthy and positive relationships­ and ultimately reflect the diversity of the communities in which they live,” he writes.

When it comes to deciding between a single sex or coed school, there is no clear winner. Like many complex questions, the honest answer is: it depends. There are distinct advantages to each type of school but, ultimately, the best option is the one that suits your child the best.

References:

Research versus the media: Mixed or single-gender settings? — Helen J Forgasz, Gilah C Leder and Calvin Taylor, Monash University, 2007
http://www.aare.edu.au/data/publications/2007/for07148.pdf

Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence? — John Hattie, University of Auckland, Australian Council for Educational Research, October 2003
https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/qt_hattie.pdf

Barker College becomes Sydney’s first private boys’ school to welcome girls across all grades — Jake McCallum, Hornsby Advocate, November 4, 2016
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/hornsby-advocate/barker-college-in-hornsby-will-introduce-female-students-to-junior-year-groups-in-new-coeducational-scheme/news-story/32934b26dbcbd698426a48e89d884b40?nk=71c909cf3ea5cdff59e0c34f1859f415-1493967386

A prestigious school goes co-ed and suddenly everyone’s saying how evil single sex schools are. Rubbish. — Zoe Rochford, MamaMia, November 8, 2016
http://www.mamamia.com.au/benefits-of-single-sex-schools/

Dividing line not key to success – Greg Whitby, Manly Daily, February 18, 2017
http://www.pressreader.com/australia/manly-daily/20170218/283167198322183

Why school choice matters

Head start … Parents value the opportunity to choose the best school for their child.

Australia has one of the highest rates of private schooling in the OECD. Approximately 35 per cent of students attend a non-government school, either a Catholic systemic institution — 20 per cent — or an independent school — 15 per cent.

In NSW, the figure is slightly higher. More than 16 per cent of students attended an independent school in 2016 and in the high school years, this number jumped to 22 per cent. The OECD average for all students is 4 per cent, according to the latest available figures (2014).

Australian parents clearly value school choice but considering our comparatively good public education system, it’s reasonable to wonder why.

The Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) argues that school choice gives parents the opportunity to find a school that best suits their children’s needs while supporting their values and academic preferences. “Independent schools reflect Australia’s social and ethnic diversity, offering choice for young Australians to be educated in schools with different cultural, religious and educational philosophies,” ISCA says.

With more than 300 independent schools in the Sydney metropolitan area alone, the sector is incredibly variegated, both culturally and academically.

The intensity of competition within the education sector incentivises better performance resulting in higher student achievement, ISCA says. “The freedom of students and their families to exercise choice in schooling is one of the most demanding forms of accountability for independent schools. Schools need to remain competitive to survive and consistently meet high parental expectations for the development of students.”

This effect is seen in the excellent HSC results attained by independent school students and in their greater take-up of higher education post-school.

A recent report by the Australian National University (ANU) reveals that students who complete Year 12 at an independent school are far more likely to attend university than their counterparts at Catholic and state schools.

The study found that 68.7 per cent of school leavers in the independent sector went onto university in 2016, whereas only 53.9 per cent of Catholic system and 45 per cent of public school graduates enrolled in a bachelor degree. This trend accelerated over the three-year period of the study with the rate of university attendance by private school students increasing while corresponding Catholic and public school figures fell or remained static.

Perhaps as a consequence of their greater propensity to attend university, private school kids grow into adults who earn more and live in wealthier suburbs. A 2016 Curtin University study of 17,000 Australians found that independent schooling results in an average wage premium of 15 per cent. Study author Mike Dockery concluded: “Overall, the results suggest that private schooling continues to be an important mechanism by which socio-economic advantage is transmitted between Australian generations, largely due to enhanced access to higher education.”

Another inducement for parents, especially those whose children hope to attend university overseas, is the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.

Available in NSW only through accredited independent schools, the IB has seen rapid growth since its introduction to Australia in 1978. In 2016, more than 2000 students from around the country received an IB diploma.

The key attraction of the IB is its international recognition and the academic rigour of the program. For scholarly students, the IB offers an unsurpassed opportunity to explore a broad range of subject matter in a course structure that promotes independent learning.

The IB’s global perspective and emphasis on critical thinking provides an excellent grounding for university and research has shown that IB students are more likely to attain entry to university and to complete a degree.

University isn’t for everyone though. Independent schools cater to children of all abilities and inclinations with a view to helping every child realise their full potential.

Private schools are well-known for nurturing gifted and talented students but many readers might be surprised to discover the range and depth of vocational education and training (VET) programs taught at these schools.

The Association for Independent Schools NSW website lists 16 Stage 5 VET courses offered at the HSC level ranging from Business Services and Information Technology to Construction and Sports Coaching.

These certificate courses are employment-oriented with students undertaking mandatory work experience to gain industry-recognised skills. School leavers are able to transition into the workplace directly after graduation giving them a valuable head start in their careers. Additionally, independent schools typically provide purpose-built facilities for VET students allowing them to complete their studies on campus with their peers instead of attending TAFE.

There are many reasons to choose an independent school and the greater the choice of schools, the better the options. It’s little wonder that so many Australian parents seize the opportunity to choose the best school for their child.

References:

School statistics – Independent Schools Council of Australia website
http://isca.edu.au/about-independent-schools/school-statistics/

School statistics – Association of Independent Schools NSW website
https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/About/Pages/Statistics.aspx

Datablog: Private schools are winning over Australian parents — Nick Evershed, The Guardian, March 11, 2014
https://www.theguardian.com/world/datablog/2014/mar/11/datablog-private-schools-are-winning-over-australian-parents

Parents and School Choice — Independent Schools Council of Australia website
http://isca.edu.au/about-independent-schools/parents-and-school-choice/

NSW Secondary Students Post-School Expectations and Destinations, 2016 Annual Report — Dr Paul Myers, Alexandra Parkes, Natasha Vickers, Andrew Ward, Esther Corcoran, ANU Social Research Centre, April 2017
https://www.cese.nsw.gov.au/images/stories/PDF/2016_NSW_Destination_and_Expectations_Survey_final.pdf

Does private schooling pay? Evidence and equity implications for Australia — Associate Professor Mike Dockery, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University, October 27, 2016
http://bcec.edu.au/publications/private-schooling-pay-evidence-equity-implications-australia/

International Baccalaureate (Australia) — International Baccalaureate website
http://www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/the-ib-by-country/a/australia/

VET Courses, Association of Independent Schools NSW website
https://www.aisnsw.edu.au/FundedPrograms/VET/Pages/VET-in-Stage-5.aspx