The foundation of our self esteem and confidence and therefore our mental health lies in our early childhood experiences and so therefore with our parents. It is through the explicit and implicit messages that they give us that we develop the beliefs about ourselves, our value and capacity and what to expect from other people and the world, which form our personalities and determine our responses to the challenges that we face. These beliefs also dictate whether or not we are at risk of developing psychological problems later in life, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Knowing how to foster a sense of value, self belief and confidence in our children is however not innate, especially if this is not the experience that we have been given by our parents. A pivotal part of any mental health prevention programme must therefore be teaching parents how nurture, support and guide they children in a way that allows them to explore and follow their own path, to help parents to meet their children’s needs and prioritise them over their own, to protect their children from their own unresolved issues. This is the only way that children will develop into adults who are calm and comfortable in themselves, who have the confidence to achieve their potential and to enjoy the process as well as the ultimate prize.
A small step towards this is the recently announced initiative by the government to introduce a two-year trial of parenting classes for the parents of children aged five and under in three locations across England. These classes will adhere to evidence based principles including: helping parents develop secure attachment and stimulate their children’s development; using engaging delivery styles to engender behaviour change; information about what children need at various different ages and how to best manage behavioural problems.
The CANparent trial is a good first step in acknowledging that more needs to be done to support parents to support their children, but if we are to reduce the ever increasingly occurrence of debilitating mental health problems, it is just that, a first step.
If you are suffering with any of the issues discussed in this article and would like to seek professional help then you may find our page about Counselling for Parents useful.