Raising can do kids - Herald Sun Article

Published in Herald Sun Saturday, February 19,2011

PARENTING - Raising can-do kids by Cheryl Critchley

Work demands are denying many parents the opportunity to develop vital life skills in their children, writes Cheryl Critchley

Sadly, many parents are now too busy to parent. I’m not talking about using childcare, but about outsourcing almost anything that involves time and effort, such as birthday parties, exercise and even mental stimulation.

These are the sorts of things we should be doing with our kids, developing our relationship and helping them gain life skills.

But unfortunately, when both parents work full-time, it is easy to pay someone else to organise your party or teach your child art or how to kick a footy.

We’ve had more than our share of McDonald’s birthday parties and bought costumes and food for special days rather than make them together.  A hectic work schedule also meant bike rides and park plays were few and far between. Things have improved since I changed my work situation, but few families can afford a big pay cut to balance their lifestyle. So what do you do?

University educator, researcher and mother Dr Rosina McAlpine believes many parents now sit at the extremes and are either overprotective or take little interest in their child’s development.  McAlpine developed an affordable program helping parents reach that middle ground. Inspired Children uses 15-minute activities twice a week over a year. Children develop skills and personal qualities such as self esteem, resilience, communication, play and creativity.

“Parents and children have such busy lives that I felt 15 minutes two times per week was reasonable and could be achieved,” McAlpine says. 

“The aim of each activity is to introduce a life skill that will continue to be developed through experience and reflection and further activities in the program.”

In one game the parent lets the child win and talks about what it means to lose, be resilient and not achieve what you want in life. The child then loses and talks about how they feel.

“It is all about awareness, experience and role modelling by the parent,” McAlpine says.

“Many parents let their children win every game- they don't get to experience losing and life is just not like that.” 

McAlpine says many of her tips are common sense strategies all parents can learn but are often too time poor to attend courses or read books
.
“Everything I include is available in the world to every parent by talking with other mothers, reading books, attending free parenting courses/seminars or surfing the internet,” she says.

In an ideal world all parents would make the time to learn strategies in areas they may be lacking in.  But we know it isn’t that simple and easy to follow programs like this are better than letting things slip.
As Mc Alpine says, we don’t want a generation of young people who can’t do anything for themselves. She sees this all the time as a university teacher. She sees this all the time as a university teacher.

“I’ve been a university lecturer for over 20 years and I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my first year students say things like ... ‘I don’t know how to cook’. ‘I’m sick of living off two minute noodles and takeaway’ … ‘I feel really lonely and depressed’ … (or) ‘I’ve just failed my exam and I’ve never failed anything in my life. I can’t cope’,” she says.

Some parents make excuses for their offspring, such as saying they have so much pressure to succeed at school that they shouldn’t have to do housework. But McAlpine says parenting is about helping children prepare for life. 

“To live a full, happy and balanced life children need to develop key life skills and personal attributes like good self esteem, resilience, communication skills, the ability to set and achieve goals, personal and home cleanliness and an understanding of health, wellbeing- the list goes on.” 

Building resilience

  • Discourage negative self-talk when something goes wrong like a bad exam result. 
  • Encourage children to look at the positives and move forward.
  • Tell them everyone makes mistakes and we can all learn from them.
  • Role play situations that could go wrong at school, like a toilet accident or teasing and work through coping strategies with them.
  • Teach them life skills such as how to cook and manage money.
  • Develop their social and environmental awareness.
  • Encourage their communication skills, creativity and imagination.