Theory > Parenting Practice and the Magnolia Tree
At the bottom of our garden is a wonderful magnolia tree. Every spring it is covered in dramatic flowers and through the summer it provides welcome shade and shelter.
However it wasn't always like this. In fact this magnolia tree had a difficult start in life. First of all it was planted in front of the house in a place where there was far too much shade. Then it was dug up and replanted without much care and placed behind a dark shed. It did its best and most springs there were one or two flowers.
However it wasn't until we cleared things away that were creating the shade and started to nourish the roots with a newly placed compost bin that something exciting started to happen. Suddenly that Magnolia tree found its confidence and suddenly there was no stopping it!
Parenting and caring and the styles we use is one of those areas of everyday experience and professional practice in which we find a great deal of theory and research evidence that points to some key very important conclusions. However these conclusions are still not well understood in our everyday practices in homes and professional settings.
When we understand that parenting and caring is just like gardening - we can also see that an understanding of key ideas and the skills involved can often make a huge difference - and sometimes quite fast - to some difficult and apparently very stuck situations.
Often the only thing really missing is understanding and skills. And the only thing needed to gain improved understanding and improved skills is determination to learn and support. Or willingness of someone else to provide the support that facilitates the practice until the skills become second nature.
The truth is that when we look around and see how many children are struggling it is clear that when it comes to caring for children, parents and professionals have all got a lot to learn.
So here are some fundamentals: children are raised in very different circumstances and parents and carers and teachers and educators can have very different ways of being in their own roles. There is a lot of variability and we don't all have to approach things in the exact same way to be perfectly effective.
However the research evidence is clear that children of all ages thrive best when they get a balanced mixture of three key types of nutrients or support. The three elements that children and young people need are:
i) to feel special and loved to the adults who care for them
ii) to experience the adults as strong enough to be able to set limits that keep them safe and the relationship healthy and respectful.
iii) to have developmentally sensitive care - this is thoughtful care that responds to the child's physical and emotional needs and to their developmental age not their chronological age.
When adults don't manage to provide any one of these three elements, at any key stage of development, children and young people WILL struggle. As with gardening, the key role for adults is to provide the nutrients and support in the right amounts so that the plant can develop its own strong roots and beautiful form, and flowers with their own unique shape.
The good news is that as with nature, a plant that has failed to get some key nutrients at certain stages can be helped to develop new roots and new strength and can move on to become strong and vital again. However this process takes time and so careful and thoughtful care really does matter.
Parents and carers and teachers need to bear in mind therefore that their key most goal is to equip young people for being able to manage as independent adults with healthy relationships with themselves and others, including the ability to bounce back from the challenges that they will inevitably experience. What is most important is that we pay attention to care for the roots. What is under the surface is key.
So parenting and caring is a hugely important role. What is happening in the first five, ten, fifteen and twenty years of childhood is equipping the child for the next twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years of adulthood. Yikes...
So anyone who wants to learn more about how to play the role of an effective gardener can learn. Some of the learning may be a bit uncomfortable. However its never too late to make a difference.
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Dr Cathy Betoin
Clinical Psychologist, Teacher, Parent
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