Good parenting is a critical public health issue. Raising children is the greatest challenge we face in a lifetime.
It's a job most tackle with the best will in the world but with virtually no preparation or education for the role. Good parenting is critical to the wellbeing of children and to society. Troubled parenting can have very serious consequences.
It would be wrong to assume that all parenting problems rest with the most socially disadvantaged. Research shows that families right across the social spectrum suffer stress and anxiety over the many issues that arise - and in some cases escalate - between children and parents who wish they could find effective solutions.
Every day, we are seeing the consequences of parenting difficulties.
The simple way to reduce parental distress and behavioural problems in children is to give parents better information and support.
The single most important thing we can do as a community to prevent and reduce problems is to strengthen the confidence, skills and knowledge of all parents in the task of raising children.
Children do best at school and beyond when they live in safe, secure, loving homes where parents feel confident and prepared to handle the challenges they inevitably confront.
A great deal of research has shown that when parents learn parenting skills there are benefits for both the child and the parent. Children are more co-operative, have better social skills and have fewer problems at school. Parents are more confident in their parenting skills, are less stressed, less depressed, less irritable and there tends to be less conflict in families.
Despite the considerable effort that has gone into developing and evaluating parenting programmes, only a minority of parents ever do a course. This is, in part, because many parents think asking for help is an admission that they can't cope.
But parenting help needs to be destigmatised, so that doing a good quality parenting programme becomes as normal as taking driving lessons before getting behind the wheel.
Over the years, it's become clear that parents who seek help want practical, effective advice that has been put to the test and has been proven to work.
Governments around the world are increasingly recognising that good parenting is related to the prevention of many social and health problems, including anti-social behaviour and the prevention of child abuse.
There is growing understanding that setting policies to support parenting is crucially important and that a public health approach must be taken.
In Australia, a large public health trial that examined the benefits of providing parenting support to parents of children starting primary school produced encouraging findings.
The Government-funded initiative was known as "Every Family" and it involved 30,000 children in the southern suburbs of Brisbane, and their parents, teachers and health professionals. The key question examined was whether the evidence-based Triple P-Positive Parenting Programme would reduce the prevalence of children's behavioural and emotional problems.
Every Family provided intensive parenting support services based on Triple P through the media, community child health services, general practices, schools and preschools.
Every Family was Australia's largest public health trial and the positive findings were numerous. The exercise identified a need for widespread intervention in parenting and showed it was feasible to deliver an intervention on a large scale.
In the United States, a similar trial is being evaluated by the University of South Carolina and early indications are positive. There is much evidence to suggest that a similar public health exercise in New Zealand could bring many benefits to children, parents, parenting education and to the whole community.
A whole-of-community approach to supporting parenting can be contrasted with the traditional "clinical" approach of targeting only the most troubled parents with the most difficult children. We stand a better chance of reducing child abuse and preventing behavioural or emotional problems if parenting programmes known to work are available to all parents. However, for this to work parenting programmes must adapt to what parents are seeking.
Good results are also being achieved with different delivery formats (group, individual face-to-face work with a trained practitioner, over the phone with a telephone counsellor or as a self-help programme).
It's only through communities coming together and working to help ordinary families become confident and competent in dealing with common behavioural, emotional and developmental problems of children that we will see a reduction in major mental health problems in children - and an increase in functional, happy families.
* Matt Sanders is Professor of Parenting Studies and Family Psychology at the University of Auckland and director of the University of Queensland's Parenting and Family Support Centre.