When I deliver talks and workshops in schools, it surprises me how many parents and teachers ask me what my best parenting tip is. Over the years I have interviewed many leading figures from the world of education and psychology, but a few 'golden nuggets' have stayed with me.
1. Be the kind of person you want your child to be
Some years ago when the psychologist Steve Biddulph arrived into the UK to promote his book, Raising Girls, I interviewed him for a radio broadcast. Steve talked about the effect of parental love and affection on children. He described the psychological legacy that love has on our children and how it will impact future generations: "Your kindness will go down the centuries to children you will never meet" he told me. His comments on parents as role models literally gave me goose-bumps:
"They take your whole being into themselves; your body language, emotional tone, words, your posture. They turn into you." His final, wise words, were simply put: 'be the kind of person you want your child to be'.
2. If you aren't a credible source of information, the internet will be
Given her role as one of England's leading health sociologists on adolescent behaviour we would do well to heed Professor Fiona Brooks's advice, conveyed to me during an informal conversation. It is scary to think that we have to be one step ahead in terms of what our children might see online, but we really have to be. Today's children are exposed to an unprecedented amount of inappropriate and harmful material. Sure, we can set up filters, passwords and download the right software at home, but as Professor Brooks' s latest research demonstrates, children are best protected by regular, open and honest conversations with those who love them the most.
3. Don't despair, ride out the storm
Parents might assume that 'real-life' parenting tips would be in short supply from the former Head of the world's most elite schools. However, Tony Little's book "An Intelligent Person's Guide to Education" is littered with good sense on how best to manage the ever-changing moods and impulses of teenage boys. Let's face it, when you manage a school of 1300 of them, you pick up a few ideas!
He advises parents coping with stroppy teens to "Ride out the storm. Be firm but affectionate. At the moment when [they] seem to need you least, [they] need you most."
Interestingly, his big 'No-Nos' included ever allowing boys to give car lifts to friends or have girlfriends sleepover. Good luck laying down those Laws!
4. Teach them that there is strength in vulnerability
One in ten children and young people aged 5 to 16, living in Britain today have a mental health disorder. As parents, we need to keep a close watch on our children's emotional well-being, which can be fragile against a tide of peer and societal pressure. As Brene Brown says in her work on vulnerability and shame, daring to be vulnerable demonstrates real courage and strength. As parents, we need to model resilience and that it is ok to ask for help if you get stuck, make a mistake or don't know something. Knowing where to find help and that is always ok to ask for it, gives children a vital sense of agency over their lives. To feel emotionally well, they need to know that they can affect change and seek effective solutions to the challenges that come their way.
5. Just enjoy them
This was a comment made to me in conversation with Dr Janet Goodhall during a discussion about the role of parental involvement in children's learning. As a leading academic in this field, Janet understands exactly how parents influence outcomes in their children's lives. Her advice was pure and powerful. We all know how endearing our children can be, with their quirky questions, comments and ways of seeing the world. Janet reminded me of how fleeting childhood is....after all, before long, our innocent little jokers will be cynical grown-ups! So just enjoy them!