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The Power of Reflective Conversations about Parenting

04/05/2018 - Posted by Georgena

In this complex and uncertain world there is nothing more certain than the challenges of parenting. Long has it been remarked that this fundamental role in society is undertaken without the training, supports and qualifications required for much less demanding activities. However, as the centuries have passed, we have been able to adapt and develop our parenting practices, re-think our impacts as parents on our children’s wellbeing, and alter our cultural attitudes and behaviours towards our offspring accordingly. This does not negate the struggles we experience on a daily basis as parents, however. From the time of the birth of our child we are learning to nurture and respond to another human being with a unique combination of needs, temperament, personality, learning style and responses to the world to which they are exposed.

In the twenty-first century, we are continuing to experience rapid change in demographics, in technology and workplace demands, as well as in the pressures to raise our children to be healthy citizens. Shifts in attitudes and laws associated with the discipline of children, changes in the nature of our working lives, and contradictions in values related to childrearing and market forces are only some of the factors that combine to impact on our sense of what it is to be a good parent to our children. In spite of the range of research on so many facets of family life and child development, we also still have little to guide us on what sort of resources parents need, want, and are able to access at those times when the challenges become tough.

In recent postgraduate research carried out through La Trobe University, Bendigo1, our analysis of interview data obtained from parents suggests that parents respond to their children based on a complicated array of factors including the modelling by their own parents, observations of family and peers, the influences of marketing, professional opinions and the particular demands that face them at any point in time. Those who have less opportunity for support, are vulnerable or are disadvantaged, are often left feeling inadequate and even frightened by the expectations of being a good enough parent, while those who come to the notice of welfare authorities often feel debilitated and blamed for failing to provide care that might be beyond their current capacities.

In other studies, attention has been given to children who experience out-of-home care and the trauma associated with these circumstances. A return to their family of origin means additional pressures for those parents who may not have had opportunities to develop expertise to deal with the impacts of trauma and problems of attachment.

Positive parenting, as a concept, has been discussed in education and welfare circles for many years now, with some notable authors such as Dr Matthew Sanders providing a model for parenting that has been widely promoted2. However, parents’ motivations to provide beneficial outcomes for their children do not always lead to the purchase and reading of books, nor a commitment to maintaining new patterns of parenting based on specific models. It is in the conversations between parents, between professional staff and parents, and between parents and their children that motivation and change become established. Ideas about parenting, like most ideas, need to be discussed within the context of an engaged relationship—in which trust and openness and sharing can occur. It is through these conversations that people are able to see more deeply into their desires for their children, to locate and overcome barriers to achieving better outcomes for their children, and feel supported in their goals.

Professional staff working with parents need straightforward tools for engaging parents in conversations about their children and the card set Positive Parenting provides a medium through which this can occur. The questions are open, allowing parents to contemplate what it is they want and their priorities; and to reflect on the influences shaping their parenting and the direction they wish to take. The design of the cards has a gentle, homelike feel with everyday objects used on an uncluttered background. The fabric-like pattern is subdued so that the effect is light in touch, leaving the questions, themselves, constituting the challenge to parents’ thinking. The questions are skilfully crafted to explore parents’ sense of themselves in their parenting role, the influences of others on their parenting and their hopes for the future. This is one of the consistent strengths of Innovative Resources’ approach to tools—the ability to access conversations about hopes and change, without negating the need to talk about fears and concerns. Reading through the questions on the cards resulted in many pauses on my part, as I remembered some of the parenting behaviours that I valued, that I had rejected and that I always wondered about.

There is no perfect way to parent and it is easy to regret decisions with hindsight, but this card set carries with it the sense that wherever we are on our parenting journey, there is still much to contemplate, to share, to hope for and to smile about as we watch our children mature and make their own way to become caring adults.

by Dr Jennifer Lehmann, Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University, from the Booklet accompanying Positive Parenting cards 

  1. Rachael S, Lehmann J & Gardner F 2014, ‘Parents’ Experiences of Early Parenthood – Preliminary Findings’, Children Australia, 39(3), pp 185-194. doi:10.1017/ cha.2014.20
  2. Sanders, MR 2004, Every parent: a positive approach to children’s behaviour, rev edn, Penguin, Melbourne

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Positive Parenting

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