Dr John Clark: Investing in parenting is a principle worthy of pursuit

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Tapu Misa mentioned in her Herald column on Monday Ross Campbell's book How to Really Love your Child. My wife and I first came across this book in 1984 when we were inexperienced parents of four young children.

At that time I had been studying for 10 years and held four university degrees before starting to practise in medicine.

But there was little good advice and information available on parenting.

Most of it was about "discipline and punishment" on the one hand or along the lines of Dr Spock, which seemed to infer that good parents just let their children grow and develop in their own ways; both of which didn't sit well with us.

For the first time, Campbell's book gave us some positive direction for our parenting. We began to understand that our children were like small plants that needed the right care to grow and develop properly.

They needed to be fed with love and affection while protecting them from the junk that would threaten to stunt their growth.

Later, we incorporated many of Campbell's principles into a parenting programme which, until recently, we have used in New Zealand and around the world to great effect.

Now that my children are grown, I can honestly say that these principles really do work.

And how do I know? I hear you ask. Well, because my children who are now parents themselves are using the very same principles in their own parenting.

In fact, they have taken up where we left off in our parenting skills and are doing even better than we ever did.

And what is interesting is how they have incorporated these same principles into their professional lives. My son is a clinical psychologist working with adolescents who are showing the first signs of serious mental illness, and my daughter is an educational psychologist working with children who are having serious problems learning.

Both have reiterated to us the real need to invest in families from the start - not just teaching parents the importance of good nutrition but also how to nurture children with healthy love and affection.

As a nation, we could save a lot of the money that we now dump at the bottom of the cliff, picking up the pieces of broken lives that fill our overburdened courts, our overloaded mental health services and our overstretched education system. Developing the right skills for every parent would pay off in the long term, just like a very sound investment.

Of course, it is not a panacea that will fix all of our social problems. But I know it will go a long way to reducing the problems we struggle with day after day.

It would not only enable us to seriously consider lowering taxes in the long term but we would again become the envy of other countries, as we were in the days of Sir Truby King and the Plunket revolution.

Dr John Clark, MBChB, DipObst, FRNZCGP is medical director of the Tamaki Family Health Centre, Panmure, Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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