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.



Children of “tiger parents” develop more aggression and depression, research shows — Stephen Smith, CBS News, June 20, 2013

7 crippling parenting behaviours that keep children from growing into leaders — Kathy Caprino, Forbes, January 16, 2014

Helicopter parenting bad for kids: study — AFP, NewsMax, June 2, 2015

Successful guide dogs have “tough love” moms, Penn study finds — Michele Berger, Katherine Unger Baillie, Penn News, August 7, 2017

How allowing children to fail helps them to succeed — Susan Newman, Psychology Today, August 11, 2015

How to maintain the balance between boundaries and freedom in secondary school parenting — Andrew Martin, The Conversation, July 13, 2017

Celebrating parents and six tips for effective parenting — Trinity Grammar website

Tough love trumps puppy love: Expert parenting advice from teachers, researchers and Trinity Grammar
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The independent school advantage: student engagement

From girls to Renaissance women … nurturing student engagement is central to Wenona School’s teaching practice.

Disruptive behaviour, talking back, schoolwork avoidance. These are some of the telltale signs of a disengaged student. Media headlines tend to highlight extreme misbehaviour in schools but low-intensity resistance to learning is far more common — and equally problematic.

A recent Grattan Institute report found that up to 40 per cent of Australian students are effectively tuned out in any given year. The consequences for their education and that of their fellow students are dire.

Disengaged students quickly fall behind with their performance trailing their peers by up to two years, on average. The difficulty of teaching children with insufficient base knowledge is stressful for teachers and hinders the progress of the entire class, the report found.

Study authors Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann have called for urgent reforms. Their recommendations are two-fold: augmented teacher training that incorporates specific classroom management strategies and the development of techniques to establish a constructive learning environment in the classroom.

The overall aim of teaching should be learning — now and into the future, say the researchers.

“The teacher’s ambition should not necessarily be a quiet classroom, but a genuinely productive class. The broader aims are to help students feel comfortable, be confident in their own abilities, be willing to participate and make mistakes, and be keen to challenge themselves in learning.

And effective teaching goes further: creating an environment that not only makes learning possible now, but also teaches attitudes and behaviours that enhance learning and success in later life. Student skills in self-regulation, such as self-monitoring and self-evaluation, are vital for life-long learning,” the report states.

International research bears out these findings. The UK’s Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has assessed the impact of various components of the educational experience on learning outcomes based on worldwide evidence. Assessing everything from physical aspects such as the built environment and digital technology to parental involvement and teaching methods, the results show that teaching children meta-cognition skills such as reasoning and self-evaluation are the most effective strategies for improving engagement and lifting academic results.

As EEF chief executive Kevan Collins told Quartz, “Getting children to think and talk about their own learning more explicitly can be one of the most effective ways to improve academic outcomes.”

Independent schools are well aware of the benefits of this teaching style and have fully embraced it.

An exemplar is the Renaissance Woman educational framework found at North Sydney’s Wenona School. The school says this holistic practice is “modelled on the Socratic method of teaching, a form of cooperative dialogue and debate that encourages critical thinking; there are no ‘right answers’ in the course. The point is to consider, contemplate and question.

Strengthening student engagement is of primary importance at Wenona. “We explore ways to enhance our girls’ engagement and connectedness, including providing opportunities for them to learn to be present with themselves without distraction. Encouraging this capacity for reflection and self-awareness promotes self-confidence and a stronger sense of identity, building all-important resilience.”

The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has found that independent schools have the most deeply engaged students and this is due to the nature of the schools themselves.

Family background and a student’s inherent motivation play a significant role but on the centrality of schools, ACER is unequivocal: “It does matter which school a student attends,” the organisation says. This, ACER explains, is because the highest levels of engagement are found in schools where “students believe that their school has a good school climate, that is one where they have high quality teachers, effective discipline, high levels of student learning and a positive school spirit.”

Research shows that academic achievement is closely correlated with student engagement. “There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between engagement, wellbeing and outcomes. Engaged students do better and doing better increases engagement,” says the NSW Government’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation.

The excellent HSC results attained by independent schools throughout the state are testament to the positive learning climate found in these schools and the deep engagement they cultivate in students.

To learn more about what makes independent schools so successful, visit the North Shore School Expo, August 5-6, at the Concourse in Chatswood.



Engaging Students: Creating Classrooms that Improve Learning — Peter Goss and Julie Sonneman, The Grattan Institute, February 2017

Teaching and Learning Toolkit — Education Endowment Foundation, 2017

We’re asking kids all the wrong questions in school — Jenny Anderson, Quartz, July 7, 2017

Student engagement with school: individual and school level influences — Sue Fullerton, ACER, July 2002

Student Wellbeing — Literature review, Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, NSW Education and Communities, May 2015.


The independent school advantage: student engagement
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Penny wise: Why a good school is about more than money

Peer support … experts agree that school culture plays the strongest role in academic outcomes.

What do you think of when you hear the words “good school”? The first images that spring to mind might be of tidy grounds; well-maintained buildings; exuberant but courteous students; enthusiastic, knowledgeable teachers; and an overall air of diligence and positivity.

Most of us would agree that good schools are happy schools where staff and students are motivated to high performance by a genuine affection for and pride in their school.

So, if we all have a similar idea of what makes a good school, why is it so hard to achieve in practice?

Last year, the OECD released its latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report to much hand-wringing in the country’s media as it revealed that Australia’s students had slipped even further behind their counterparts in 72 countries since the 2012 report. This reflected an overall decline since 2000 both comparatively and in terms of absolute scores.

PISA Senior Manager Peter Adams, a former teacher himself at Melbourne’s Toorak College, told Education HQ this week that there is cause for concern over this “persistent downward trend” particularly in the realm of mathematics. Adams emphasised the need to learn from the pedagogical practices of more academically successful countries and pointed to the very high levels of reported bullying and stress amongst Australian students as impediments to their academic performance.

A lack of discipline is another factor with both PISA and the Australian Centre for Educational Research’s 2015 Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) finding that far too many Australian classrooms are unruly with teachers practising “crowd control” at the expense of teaching.

Disruptive behaviour in the classroom has a measurable impact on a school’s academic quality. The TIMSS report found that: “There was a clear relationship between the achievement of Australian students and teachers’ reports of their school being safe and orderly, with more safe and orderly schools associated with higher achievement.”

That is perhaps why the news is not all bad. One sector of our education system — independent schools — is producing superlative results across the board.

The PISA 2015 scores showed that Australian students attending independent schools ranked in the top five internationally on every measure and they are the world’s best readers, outranking every other student cohort in terms of literacy and reading comprehension. These are fantastically good results, especially considering Australia’s relatively small population, but it begs the question: what are these schools doing differently?

Many people may assume that it comes down to resources. Australia’s most famous private schools are its oldest and most expensive and, consequently, its best-resourced. But these schools make up a tiny fraction of the sector with the vast majority of independent schools being low- or medium-fee institutions serving their local suburbs, ethnic and/or religious communities on a shoestring budget. Yet, they make an outsize contribution to the sector’s academic success. This is where the essential traits of a good school come into play: funding and facilities are important, experts says, but, ultimately, education is underpinned by enculturation.

“PISA shows that the school a student attends has an impact on outcomes,” TIMSS lead author Sue Thomson says. Her recommendation to lift Australia’s academic rankings is for schools to “provide high-quality teaching and foster a culture of high expectations for all students, alongside the development of practices to foster excellence in all schools in order to harness the influence of students on each other as a valuable learning resource.”

With their autonomy and emphasis on community, independent schools are able to cultivate precisely these characteristics. Barker College head Phillip Heath makes the point that: “Independent schools are recognised as having strong school cultures, built on high expectations of all students. There is a focus on development of the full human, including spiritual and character development, through religious, pastoral care and wellbeing programs.”

These qualities can’t be bought. In answer to the question: “Does money buy strong performance in PISA?” The OECD says, beyond a certain point, no. It cites the example of South Korea, which spends relatively little on education but consistently tops the PISA rankings. This is because cultural values are the overriding determinant of a nation’s academic achievement, the OECD says. “Money alone can’t buy a good education system. Strong performers in PISA are those countries and economies that believe — and act on the belief — that all children can succeed in school.”

Money can’t buy you love, nor, it seems, a love of learning. It may take money to run a school, but only its values can make it great.


PISA results don’t look good but before we panic, let’s look at what we can learn from the latest test — Stewart Riddle, The Conversation, December 6, 2016

PISA Senior Manager says Australia’s performance concerns justified — Chelsea Attard, Education HQ, June 13, 2017

Our man in PISA – Melbourne educator creates testing times in Paris — Sally Robinson, The Age, May 8, 2016–melbourne-educator-creates-testing-times-in-paris-20160502-gojufk.html

TIMSS 2015: Reporting Australia’s Results — Sue Thomson, Nicole Wernert, Elizabeth O’Grady, Sima Rodrigues, Australian Centre for Educational Research, 2017

How Australia’s Independent Schools Sector Rated in 2015 — Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, December 7, 2016.

New PISA results show education slide – it’s time to stop the slide — Sue Thomson, The Conversation, December 3, 2013

Does money buy strong performance in PISA? — PISA in Focus 13, February 2012

Penny wise: Why a good school is about more than money
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