Confused baby looks over parent's shoulder

Parenting advice shouldn't create confusion

These days, parenting advice really is everywhere. And when you’re relying on guesswork, an internet article, or well-meaning comments of the “in my day” variety, it can be hard to have confidence in your parenting skills. But there’s a big difference between the mountains of parenting advice served up to parents on a daily basis via the internet, and a tried-and-tested parenting programme based on research.

Thirty years ago, finding answers to common parenting problems meant trying your luck in a bookstore or a library, or at your local health clinic. Your goal would be to find a suitable “expert” who could “tell” you how to deal with tantrums, biting, fighting, and the like. Now, you can just do a Google search. But the search results run into the millions, and it’s hard to separate the online articles that are genuinely helpful, from the ones that have been written just for click-bait or laughs – or both.

THE UPSIDE…

In some ways, the fact that parenting is more widely discussed is a good thing. Acknowledging that parenting is difficult, and that everyone needs support at various points along the way, means we can stop pretending everything is always fine and parenting comes naturally. The fact is, modern parents often feel stressed, isolated from their extended families, and pressured to be perfect.

…AND THE DOWNSIDE

Ironically, this is also part of the downside of an avalanche of parenting articles. An overload of these, especially if they’re conflicting, can make Mums and Dads feel even more uncertain and alone.

And unfortunately, a lot of parenting advice available online is based on opinions and anecdotes, rather than research. When a “fad” method goes out of fashion, parents are sometimes even told that what was hailed as the latest thing back then is now potentially damaging to children. (Remember hot-housing?)    

SKILL BUILDING, NOT “TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO”

By contrast, evidence-based parenting education programmes are developed:

  • Over time
  • Through studies and research
  • Using established principles of clinical psychology and child development.

There may be some small refinements, or new levels of support developed, but the principles remain the same. In addition, quality parenting programmes aren’t based on “telling people what to do”. They offer parents new skills and strategies, so they can choose what they think will work best for their family. Parents also gain a better understanding of their own emotions, which is useful not just within the family environment but in everyday life.  

There’ll always be people who say things like “parents today just need a dose of good old-fashioned common sense”, or sentiments along those lines. If only it were that simple. We now know, not because of guesswork but because of science, that it’s especially important to help the many, many families, from all walks of life, whose children have a certain temperament and/or behavioural issues that may be red flags for future problems. Early intervention is vital, and as well as helping make parents less stressed, kids more resilient and families happier, it can save the whole community money as well as heartache down the track. 

As a parent, you probably want to make informed decisions about raising your children. You want to have confidence in your own judgement to decide what form of discipline will be effective, and what values and skills you want your children to grow up with. You probably want to give children the skills to handle difficult situations in appropriate ways. It’s not just about preventing misbehaviour; it’s also about teaching responsible, caring, pro-social behaviour.

So if you think you have more than enough “parenting advice”, you’re probably right. What’s more effective and productive is to make proper evidence-based parenting programmes more available, more understood, and more a part of everyday life for all families. You can take what you need from an evidence-base parenting programme, and also feel confident about where it came from and why it exists. The benefits will flow on to you, to other families, and to the whole of society as well.