Am I a good parent? What can I do better to support my child? Why don't children come with their own instruction manual?
Most parents have probably asked these questions numerous times when facing the many challenges of bringing up a child. From the day a child is born, parents take on multiple roles caring for their young loved ones. Good parents provide a loving atmosphere and a supportive environment for children to grow and flourish. They support and motivate their children, protect them, but also allow them to venture on their own. They celebrate their children's achievements, but also wipe away tears of frustration or failure.
How do parents learn all these skills? Can parents improve their parenting practice? Scholarly research has shown that parents are a crucial factor in determining their children's chances in life and that promoting and providing support for families can increase positive outcomes for children. The vast number of parenting manuals on the market suggests that every parent can become a better parent. RAND Europe's work in this area has shown that strengthening parenting skills is possible.
Our policy brief on parenting support, developed as part of RAND Europe activities for the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC), summarises European practices and policies that strengthen parenting skills. Parenting support has gained attention from policymakers in Europe since the 1990s and has since been incorporated into national strategies and legislation in a number of European Union countries. Although parenting support services provided in European countries vary in scope, organisation, models of delivery and funding, there is a trend among member states to make parenting support services universally accessible.
Provision of family support usually involves professionals in the fields of education, health and social services working collaboratively through multiple agencies. Support to families is mainly delivered through information, education, advice and counselling on parent-child relations and interactions. The EPIC website features evidence-based practices that have been proven to be effective in strengthening parenting skills in Europe.
For instance, the Incredible Years programme is designed to teach parents how to recognize and treat their child's emotional and behavioural problems through positive parenting. The Triple P—Positive Parenting Programme is also designed as a multilevel system of family intervention that aims to prevent severe emotional and behavioral disturbances in children by promoting positive and nurturing relationships between parent and child. These are just two examples of programmes that have been implemented in several member states that have succeeded in bringing positive changes to families. Other such programmes include services targeted at young parents, children's education projects, web-based services, and centres that provide information on family services.
The 20th anniversary of the International Day of Families on 15th May 2014 provides an appropriate occasion to celebrate the important role parents play in children's lives and the parenting skills that help children achieve their full potential.
Barbara Janta is an analyst in the Education, Employment and Social Policy team at RAND Europe.
Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.