Parenting with heart and backbone to improve social mobility

Social mobility in the UK has stagnated, with just 1 in 8 children from low-income families likely to become a high-income earner as an adult.

There are many factors that impact social mobility, but we know that parenting is one of the most significant in determining a child’s life chances.

Research from the Brookings Institution highlights that:

“chances of upward social mobility are lower for children with parents struggling to do a good job – in terms of creating a supportive and stimulating home environment. Children lucky enough to have strong parents are more likely to succeed at all the critical life stages, which means policies to help weaker parents do a better job can be investments in opportunity, and equality.”

A recent report from the Social Mobility Commission highlighted research showing that an authoritative parenting style that encourages parents to offer firm yet warm guidance to their children can result in significantly improved outcomes for children.

This is what we at Family Links would call “parenting with heart and backbone” – allowing parents to build emotionally healthy relationships with their children while feeling confident in setting clear, age-appropriate boundaries.

As the Commission sets out in their report, research shows that parenting styles combining warmth with firmness allow parents to develop secure attachment with their child, set boundaries and provide a supportive home-learning environment.

This type of family environment and parent-child relationship can improve children’s life outcomes. It can also provide parents with the confidence to maintain family agreements and positive discipline, as well as a loving relationship with their child.

The Social Mobility Commission’s report also suggests that parents can gain the skills and confidence to build such a relationship with their children by attending a parenting programme, particularly if the programme focuses on parenting styles, relationships, parental stress and mental health.

It is vital that parenting programmes offering a safe, non-judgemental space are made available to parents in universal settings, and that skilled professionals such as social workers, teachers and family practitioners are trained to deliver effective programmes and interventions.

These findings are all positive suggestions that I hope the Government will take on to effectively support all parents to raise emotionally healthy children. We must protect frontline services that provide such transformative and powerful support to families, and it is crucial that as a sector we continue to invest in research to understand what makes particular interventions have a positive impact.

It is also clear that in order for children to grow up to be emotionally healthy adults, we need to look beyond the family. Schools must also be sufficiently equipped with training and resources to mirror “parenting with heart and backbone” in an educational setting.

By supporting programmes to improve children’s social and emotional health in parallel at school and in the home, the Government can help parents and educators to improve life outcomes for children, protect against mental health issues, raise academic attainment, and give children the skills to live emotionally healthy lives.

(Also posted on the Huffington Post website)

Nick Haisman-Smith

Director of The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning

(Former CEO of Family Links)

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