This week, Toorak College welcomed best-selling Australian author and psychologist Steve Biddulph to speak as part of our Wellbeing Information Series, The Loop.
Recognised globally for his work on parenting, Steve’s Raising Girls and Raising Boys talks were informative, charming, heartfelt, and oh so relatable! Over two nights, Steve shared his wealth of professional experience and expertise to an audience that were captivated by every word.
As a mother of a young boy and twin girls, here are my five key takeaways:
Being a positive role model helps children feel empowered
Biddulph believes that positive role models play a large part in a child’s growth and development and that this should never be ignored or underestimated. “Adults are much more needed in kids’ lives than we realise,” he says.
Children learn about themselves and their surroundings through observation, so we must lead by example and demonstrate expectations of behaviour and norms through our actions. As parents, we are a child’s first role model. However, as children get older, the importance of aunts, uncles, coaches, teachers, and family friends as role models grow even more. Girls over the age of ten benefit from having an aunt they can confide in and boys over 14 need strong male mentors that can solidify their confidence.
It is also imperative that children feel as though the people they look up to take a genuine interest in their unique talents and skills, encourage them to achieve their best and ensure they feel heard and valued. It is our role to nurture and foster their sense of self-confidence and encourage them to discover interests and passions.
Nurture the developmental stages in girls and boys
We must nurture and empower girls and boys as they grow through each stage of their development from both a physical and emotional sense.
Biddulph describes girlhood through 5 stages; security (0-2), exploration (2-5), learning to get along with others (5-10), finding one's soul or "spark" (10-14), and preparing for the freedom and responsibilities of adulthood (14+). Biddulph describes boyhood through 3 stages; the mum stage (0-6), the dad stage (6-14), and the mentor stage (14+).
While the developmental stages between boys and girls differ, finding the balance between protecting our children and allowing them freedom is key. Our aim is to ensure we are approachable for them to talk to about their everyday life, successes, dreams, and vulnerabilities.
Challenge gender stereotypes
Why does society lean towards construction and numbers based play for boys (e.g., cars) and emotional and social-based play for girls (e.g., dolls)? Why do we mostly dress girls in pinks, yellows, and whites and boys in blues, greens, and greys?
Biddulph emphasised the importance of challenging traditional ideals and forging new and meaningful ways in which we treat and place expectations upon males and females. He encourages adults to create opportunities from a young age for boys to express their feelings and emotions and for girls to be ambitious, self-assured, and play in the mud!
Biddulph strongly values single-gender education as a way to help challenge gender stereotypes and create an environment that is specific to the needs and developmental stages of male or female students. “Single-sex schools for girls are often a real haven from the pressure that makes them self-conscious and unhappy.”
Quality time is important, but quantity time is better
"Time is everything in parenting, and 'hurry and rush' are the enemies of our families. We have to slow down."
Spending quality time with children and teenagers is crucial for them to feel valued, loved, and heard. More important than this, however, is quantity time, particularly when our children are between the ages of 6-14. This can be the most difficult ask for busy families. However, making time each day to talk, sit, play, cook, do activities or chores together will result in more trust, healthy communication, building memories and growing positive relationships for years to come.
Build their resilience
We must allow our children to take risks in order for them to make discoveries about their world and themselves. Biddulph said that having the opportunity to fail and be disappointed is not something we should shelter our children from, but rather direct and support them towards so they learn to have confidence in themselves when faced with future disappointments. Instead of solving their problems, fighting their fights, or jumping in too quickly, Biddulph suggests we encourage our children to get outside their comfort zone and learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Walking away from Raising Girls, I was angry about how girls have been stifled for so long, about the expectations that society puts on girls and about the state of girls’ mental health. I was also optimistic that our daughters if encouraged, will challenge the world and thrive.
After Raising Boys, I reflected on my relationship with my parents and parents-in-law and was determined to better cater to the diverse needs of my son from both a physical and emotional standpoint.
I hope those of you who attended walked away with your own takeaways, nuggets of advice, and the confidence to trust your instinct when raising your children.