Monday, 31 January 2011

RTFM By Kate

"They don't come with instructions," is a favourite comment, usually given by a well-meaning friend or relative at some point soon after the birth of a first baby.

In fact, that's not quite true. Babies may not have a label with their washing instructions dangling from their navel when they exit the womb, but there are loads of step-by-step manuals available on how to bring up babies and children. Thankfully.

There's a school of thought that goes, "Put away the books and listen to your instincts," but when it comes to parenting, I don't subscribe to that one. I'm naturally a reader anyway and I've always liked having some kind of "How To..." book related to my most passionate interests.

For example, when I started writing songs, I began by listening to my instincts and taking what I had absorbed from the music surrounding me in order to construct my lyrics and melodies. My early efforts weren't too bad, but they weren't that good either. Once I read a few books about songwriting however, the improvement was immediate. A song may be born in a soup of mood, inspiration and half-remembered bits and bobs of other songs, but it takes a piece of proper know-how to craft it. To take an embryonic idea and shape it into something ready for the world outside.

And it's the same with children. We think we instinctively know how to parent, but where do we get those instincts? Parental love may be instinctive, but the nuts and bolts of bringing up a child aren't. Not even the keeping warm/safe/well-fed etc. etc. part. Plenty of social workers and health professionals will tell you that.

As for things like dealing with tantrums; encouraging socially acceptable behaviour; fostering empathy and a myriad of other abstract concepts, instinct has little to do with it in my view. Our "instincts" in that regard are actually a hotch-potch of learned behaviours from our own parents; our observations of other parents; and what comes flying past us in the cultural ether.

So when it comes to sussing out some effective parenting techniques, rather than muddling through in a hit or miss fashion, I'm happy to take some tips from people who profess to know their stuff.

It's easy enough - for most people - to grow a child. But if you ask me, true parentcraft has a lot more thought behind it. And if a book on the subject can stop me spending stressful hours trying to reinvent the wheel, that's fine by me.

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