Smart strategies for confident parenting


Positive parenting guru Professor Matt Sanders on raising happy kids, with James O'Loghlin.

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At a glance

  • Busy kids are less likely to be difficult and disruptive.
  • Kids thrive when they're living in a safe environment where there's plenty of interesting things for them to do.   
  • Parents need to learn skills to encourage kids to do the right thing such as behaving well, making an effort, or taking part in activities without being disruptive or annoying to others.
  • Kids do better when they're living in a world of predictability and certainty, where there are rules. 
  • Set reasonable expectations so that your kids are are capable of doing what you've asked of them.
  • Parents are more likely to be consistent, positive and tuned into their kids' needs when their own needs are met.

James O'Loghlin
Welcome to School A to Z. Hello, this is James O'Loghlin.

We're talking about parenting. It's something none of us get instruction for and yet we have to become very good at it. It's probably the most important thing we want to be good at in our lives.

Professor Matt Sanders is from the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland and he has developed a program called 'Triple P Parenting Program' which has been rolled out to lots of families to help them learn how to improve their parenting skills; just as we work diligently and hard at improving our skills in other areas of life – why not parenting?
Professor Matt Sanders, g'day. Thank you very much for talking to us.
Professor Matt Sanders
Nice to be here.
So what is Triple P parenting?
Triple P is really based on five key ideas and these ideas have to do with practical things that parents can do to help their kids do well at school, get on well with others, get on well in the family and have the sort of social, behavioural and emotional skills they need to do well in life.
The first idea is kids do well when they're living in a safe, engaging environment where there's plenty of interesting and age-appropriate things for kids to do. Busy kids are less likely to be difficult and disruptive children.
The second idea is a positive learning environment, which means that parents need to learn skills to encourage children when they're doing appropriate things – when they're behaving well, when they're making an effort, when they're participating appropriately in activities without being disruptive or annoying others.
The third idea is consistent, assertive discipline. Children do better when they're living in a world of predictability, certainty, where there are rules. Because, let's face it, if children don't learn to respond appropriately to rules, they can get in strife once they get into school.
The fourth principle is reasonable expectation, that is, as parents we need to make sure that what we're asking our kids to do, they are capable of doing. This means neither having too low an expectation of what a child can do or too high.
And the final principle is taking care of yourself as a parent. We are so much better able to be consistent, positive, tuned into our kids' needs when our own needs for intimacy, support, privacy at times and a break from children, are being taken care of.
Get those five key principles of positive parenting working in your home and children will do much better at school.
OK. And how does your course actually assist families in putting into action those five very important, as you say, principles?
Well, there are a number of different ways that parents can do Triple P – for example, they may attend a Positive Parenting seminar series, which is three two-hour seminars focusing on: the first one, the power of positive parenting; the second one, raising confident, competent children; and the third one, raising resilient children. This can be with a large group of parents from 20 to 500 or more who may participate.
Some parents want a bit more than that and then they're able to do what we call 'Group Triple P', which is an eight session program which is a bit more intensive. It involves not only seeing the skills demonstrated through the use of DVDs, but practising the skills in small groups of 10-12 other parents. There are basically five group sessions and three telephone calls that the parent will get to assist them learn these important skills and principles so they can apply them in everyday situations ranging from how you take kids to shopping, to how you get them to bed at night, to how you help them with their homework, how you get them organised in the morning, off, up and out without major friction and drama in the family.
Wow, sounds almost too good to be true. Have you got any results of how families doing the program have enacted a change?
Well, the most obvious thing that happens when parents learn positive parenting is that their children become more cooperative. They're happier, they get on better in the family, there's less friction and conflict between siblings, there's less friction overall within the family. This makes it much better for children when it comes to them then leaving home, going to school, having a happy day at school and returning home to a less conflictual environment.
The other benefits for families is that parents tend to be more confident. There tends to be less stress in the family. Parents who had problems with being a bit depressed are less likely to be depressed after doing Triple P and, interestingly, we found if parents learning Triple P skills can really apply them in that before-work situation, there's less conflict and problems at work. So better parenting at home often enables parents to function better at work, which is a big plus.
Triple P is for all parents. It's really designed as a strategy that will be of interest to everyday mums and dads who are looking for a few extra tips and ideas and strategies to parent well, but it's also very helpful for families with more complex problems where children have developed fairly significant behaviour difficulties. We've got lots of research that shows that it benefits both groups of parents. So it means that doing a parenting program you can think of as a healthy, normal, positive thing to do. It's an investment in your child's future and it's an investment in your family.
These five principles, how did you arrive at them, the five keys to better parenting?
When we were developing Triple P, we looked at all the evidence relating to what promotes good outcomes in children and we really zeroed in on those principles and strategies that have been shown to be effective, that have got an evidence base, and Triple P blends these together in ways that enables parents to have sometimes quite unique solutions to particular issues that they're confronting with their children. So it's the application of good theory and good science into practical parenting.
And is it aimed at parents of kids that are young or right up to – well, you know, kids stay at home until they are 35 these days.
And leave and then return some more.
Triple P actually goes from pregnancy right through to the teen years. So that there are versions of Triple P we call Baby Triple P and there are versions for toddlers and preschoolers, primary school-aged children as well as high school kids.

The thing that is important to remember is that parenthood is an investment for life in the wellbeing of someone else and that good parenting – although it is very important in the early years to promote language, to get children ready for school to help them develop the kind of social and behavioural skills that they need to relate to peers and to get on in the classroom – parenting is important right throughout children's lives, so when they're at school, parents have still a critical role in supporting their children's learning, supporting them doing well at school, but the basic things like being involved and interested in the child's schooling experience. Turning into adolescents, we know that when kids hit puberty and they're moving into their adolescent years, parenting still continues to be important because people do not function well if they're living in an environment at home that's full of conflict and negativity, explosiveness, and where kids are just simply not getting enough time, care and attention in their lives. And this is something that's just really fundamental to our wellbeing as an individual.

I think parents can reasonably look forward to, if they participate in Triple P, that it will make a difference for them.

Professor Matt Sanders from the Parenting and Family Support Centre at University of Queensland. Thanks Matt.
Thank you very much.

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Professor Matt Sanders
Professor Matt Sanders

Matthew Sanders is a professor of clinical psychology and director of the Parenting and Family Support Centre at the University of Queensland. He is also a visiting professor at Oxford, Manchester, South Carolina, Glasgow Caledonian and Auckland universities.

Matt is considered a world leader in evidence-based parenting and family interventions. As the founder of the Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, his work has had a major international impact on child and parenting research, policy and practice.

Matt is the recipient of many prestigious awards including the Australian Psychological Society's President's Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology. He has served as a consultant for local and international governments and he actively promotes positive parenting strategies.



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