First-time parents often feel as helpless as their newborn

Step into a classroom of pre-schoolers and you will find, along with pastel drawings of Peppa Pig and daisy chains, four-year-olds who can’t speak intelligibly, or dress themselves, or are not toilet trained.
These “unlucky” children, according to UK schools inspectors Ofsted head Amanda Spielman, have been raised in a “family culture” that failed to prepare them for nursery – and life.
Spielman is right to raise the alarm. A child’s early years matter.
Without the right mixture of stimulus and nurturing – what scientists call neurotransmission and we used to call parenting – children won’t develop into happy, healthy and functioning adults.
Today, fewer and fewer parents can deliver this.
Under-performing, confused, often isolated, these parents deserve our sympathy.
When they were expecting their child, everyone hovered, keen to help the parents-to-be.
But once the child is born, parents are left to their own devices.
In many cases, these are rudimentary, or rusty.
Eye contact? Diet? Reading out loud? Even kisses and caresses do not come automatically to every parent.
We used to learn about bringing up children from our extended family.
It offered plenty of role models, practical support and advice (some of it, admittedly, unsolicited).
Today, most parents live too far from their own family to benefit from granny’s wisdom on breastfeeding or auntie’s hair-raising anecdotes about nits.
Many parents suffer from loneliness – a recent study of young mothers found three in four felt desperately isolated.
Raising a child on their own, as many do, only intensifies the sense of being cut off.
Some turn to the internet – self-help manuals, chat rooms and videos abound – but clearly this has had little positive impact.
There is one possible solution, however, and Surrey County Council is trying it, over the next two years – classes and discussion groups for parents.
The group I chair has designed a scheme whereby parents who enrol in parenting classes (some are delivered privately, some by the Government) are eligible, once the eight weeks of classes end, to continue meeting with the group in informal discussions.
Local trained mentors, who participated in the parenting class and are therefore familiar to its members, lead the discussions, which can be held in the neighbourhood coffee shop, someone’s home, or a church hall.
Parents learn from one another and from their mentor.
Nothing sticks like hearing that someone shares your challenges and triumphs.
And what a relief to learn that you are not alone on an enterprise that is both terrifying and exhilarating.
The scheme is still on trial, but I am confident of the verdict – support parents, and they are more likely to succeed. – The Daily Telegraph

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