Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: Britain's nanny state

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The ruling British coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats has backed a report recommending a national parenting campaign which would teach would-be parents the importance of smiling at and cuddling their babies. Photo / Thinkstock
The ruling British coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats has backed a report recommending a national parenting campaign which would teach would-be parents the importance of smiling at and cuddling their babies. Photo / Thinkstock

Like here in New Zealand, the ruling British coalition of Tories and Liberal Democrats came to power moaning about the "nanny state" Labour Government they were replacing.

Indeed, the British pollies have quickly set about slashing benefits and budgets as they promised - no surprises there then.

But there have been a few surprises along the way. This week, the British Government has given its rubber stamp to two quite unique parenting ideas that they would have most certainly been decrying if they'd been suggested by a ruling Labour party.

The first is a coalition-backed report recommending a national parenting campaign that would teach would-be parents the importance of smiling at, looking at, and cuddling with their babies - especially in the first 18 months.

The reasoning, according to the report detailed in the Telegraph, is that many parents are are "ill-informed or poorly motivated" when it comes to raising their offspring, especially those on lower incomes.

The study on which the report was based says in a host of countries observed, the findings are consistent: the quality of a child's relationships and learning experiences in the family has more influence on their achievement than any innate abilities, material circumstances or the quality of their nursery and school.

It's a chilling reminder to all societies - including New Zealand - that all the scores of young people now living less than optimal preschool lives are destined for real trouble as adults.

(If it all sounds too much for our lawmakers, why don't they do what they do in England's Pendle district, where the local Borough Council has backed a campaign of baby safety tips on beer mats throughout the district. Pendle - roughly the centre north of England - has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.)

The other interesting suggestion from the UK this week is one made by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who reckons that by 2015 men will be able to take as much as 10 months' parental leave, in order that childcare in the first year be "more flexible".

At present, they are entitled to two weeks. In New Zealand, men are entitled to two days, unpaid.

Business is up in arms over the proposals and others point out the plan doesn't do much to encourage breastfeeding, which is still a stated aim of the state, despite a recent study that seemed to pour cold water on the idea that six months' exclusive breastfeeding of babies isn't necessarily the right thing.

It remains to be seen whether these ideas make it through Parliament. But it's encouraging to see that a Government guided by conservative principles can still acknowledge early childhood is the most important age for shaping the kinds of future citizens we all would like.

After all, there are only so many ambulances you can put at the bottom of the cliff.

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