In the United States and other developed countries, researchers have examined parenting and families to try and figure out what the best practices are. These studies have come up with ten basic competencies that good parents have, most of which are probably also applicable to Trinidad and Tobago. The argument is that parents who have these skills are more likely to raise children who are emotionally balanced, sociable, and intellectually competent.
Now this is so important a task that you would think every society with the wherewithal would conduct such research. But only in 2009 did the Family Development Centre of the University of the West Indies conduct a survey of child-rearing practices in T&T, the first such in almost 40 years.
The report, which must be required reading for all policy-makers and persons interested in children, was launched last month and is edited by FDC director and pedagogy expert Carol Logie and Caribbean-born US-based child development psychologist Jaipaul L Roopnarine.
Of the ten skills identified by the American researchers, two stood out as especially important. Yet these two primary skills are not what most parents would prioritise. A 2010 article by Scientific American writer Robert Epstein identified the following ten competencies:
1. Love and affection–meaning hugs and quality time
2. Stress management–you reduce anxieties for your child as much as possible, and try to keep yourself calm.
3. Good spousal relationship– even if you quarrel (and who doesn't) you make sure the children see you making up. If you are not together, you never badtalk the other parent.
4. Autonomy and independence–you encourage your child to be as self-reliant as appropriate for their age.
5. Learning–you expose your child to educational materials, and preferably show yourself learning as well.
6. Life skills–financial stability and securing child's economic future.
7. Behaviour management–you use positive reinforcement and punish only as a last resort.
8. Health–you feed them healthy food and make sure they're physically active
9. Religion–you support religious and spiritual activities.
10. Safety–you protect your child and are aware of their activities and friends.
Now obviously some of these have to be modified for our society. In respect to (6), for instance, we don't live in a developed economy so financial stability is less under our control.
Therefore, we have to prepare our children to cope fiscally in other ways. In respect to (9), the FDC report found that "more Indo Caribbean caregivers engaged in religious and ethnic socialisation than African Caribbean caregivers."
Epstein, however, notes that most child development experts do not consider religious upbringing important or even consider it harmful, and he argues that the experts are wrong.
So, of these ten competencies, what are the two most important things parents should work on? It turns out to be (2) and (3)–managing stress and having a good relationship with your spouse. Unfortunately, it appears that most people are better at all the other parental competencies than this one.