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Hands-off approach lowers stress and improves parenting

Parents who sit back and let their children learn for themselves a lot of the time are less stressed than when using a more direct approach, a study finds.

Researchers from Australia studied a group of parents enrolled in parenting classes and studied how effective a hands-off method was.  

This so-called ‘respectful approach’ treats children as capable and independent humans and was compared to other parenting techniques.  

It is hoped that by giving the youngsters more space, they can flourish with the extra freedom away from too much adult direction. 

Analysis revealed that parents that took this class once a week for a month and a half were significantly more competent and marginally less stressed.  

Mandy Richardson, a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University, took data from the 15 parents enrolled in the Respectful Approach parent-child classes and compared it to a control group of 23 parents.

Once a week, parents and their children attended a weekly class where the adults watched the infants or toddlers play in a room with age appropriate toys.

At the end of the six weeks, a meeting was held to assess how the adults had found the change in their parenting methods and the impact it had on their mental health. 

Parents in the Respectful Approach classes reported significantly lower stress levels, with more confidence and a better understanding of their children’s capabilities. 

‘Parents in the intervention group demonstrated a significant increase in parent competence with no significant change observed in the control group,’ the researchers write in their study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. 

‘Parent stress significantly increased in the control group and marginally decreased in the intervention group. 

‘Qualitative analysis revealed that the intervention parents felt they were calmer and better understood their children.’ 

Ms Richardson said the Respectful Approach is about building a trusting, lasting bond with positive communication between parents and children. 

Milestones and specific targets are not priorities, instead it is about nurturing the emotional bond between parent and child. 

‘Participants in the study reported worrying less about performance pressure after attending the classes, which let them refocus on their relationship with their children,’ she said.

‘As parents we tend to go and ‘save’ our children when they start to struggle with something, instead of letting them try to resolve their own challenges. 

‘But if the children aren’t looking for help, perhaps they can be left to do their own thing and work it out themselves.’

Ms Richardson explained the Respectful Approach helps to establish good patterns in early years which sets children up well for later life.  

‘Traditionally early behavioural interventions have predominantly focused on modifying undesirable child behaviours,’ Ms Richardson said.

‘By building good communication and a close parent-child bond, we can potentially prevent problems occurring in the long term.’

The research will now be expanded to track parents and children over three years to see if a decline in parental stress levels is long-lasting and how it impacts child development. 

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