The Power of Good Parenting

Dr Holan Liang, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist has written a new book from her wonderfully successful blog, Shrink Grows Kids. She's given us a sneak peak below. The book will be available to buy in stores from June. 


Realizing the enormous impact that we, as parents, will have on our children is daunting. And we are made even more confused and insecure by all the current parenting trends buzzing around. Personally, I think that the tiger parents, the helicopter parents, the micro-managers and maxi-organizers, the French parents whose children don't throw food, the Chinese who are all about the tutoring, have been getting their priorities all wrong. They're been sweating the small stuff and worrying over the less important aspects of what makes a successful child.  Does it really matter if a toddler throw food, eats quinoa or can recite Latin declensions? I call these things the 'outside stuff' - the things that are relatively superficial, whether they are appearances, or manners, or all the other stuff that children can get a certificate for (and parents can brag to their friends about).

For me the crux of the matter, the part that you cannot afford to get wrong, the part that will make it all worthwhile in the longer run, is the 'inside stuff'. This is the stuff you can't see, but you can feel in your child. Typical, isn't it? WE make all that effort to help our children to shine, but no one will ever give them a certificate to say they have an A* in self-esteem. Seriously, without self-esteem, a child's achievements will be unfulfilling, their relationships will be lopsided at best and doomed at worst, and perhaps happiness will elude them forever.  


It seems to me that all the things we parents tie ourselves into knots about - that our children get into 'that selective school', that they get the A* exam grade, give the perfect piano recitals, speak three languages fluently and become captain of the tennis team - are all just the icing on the cake, (undoubtedly sweet and shiny, but not much use without the layers of cake beneath). The bulk of our efforts should be spent on what is really important on what's inside our children: their core and their foundation. We need to start building them up from the inside out, rather than obsessing over the minutiae of presentation and performance on the outside. I am convinced that event with nothing to show immediately for all the effort put in, the long-term pay-out will always be worth-while.  


Of course, if you are also partial to a little bit of window dressing, (as I am), you will be glad to know that when they have a solid core of security, self-belief and self-esteem, it is easier for children to thrive socially, academically and creatively. To that extent, the tiger parents are right: parenting to support natural ability can go a long way, not just for academic achievement but for other crucial skills as well, from social ease to creativity. So many my frustrated inner tiger parents can get those certificates as well! I am Chinese, after all.  


An 'Inside-Out' Approach to Parenting  


What I am proposing in this book is an inside-out approach to parenting. Whilst the outside stuff can be captivating, I believe that the focus of parenting should start with the vital invisible and enigmatic traits at the heart of our children, the inner hard wiring that will give them 'resilience' again life's myriad challenges. This core is the fundamental basis of our children, and, as I said earlier, it is forger in the early years of life, when brain development is still happening. With the basis of a stable and resilient core, development can be built up, layer upon layer, to form a happy, healthy, well-rounded child.  


I will show you how a parent's love, care, attention and affection has the power to actually physically mold a child's brain, thereby profoundly influencing their psychology and transforming their life's path. In this book, I will show you how detailed scientific research has shaped my philosophy on parenting and how I have translated this research into practice, by offering practical tips along the way. As the best evidence for my theories has often been right under my nose, in the form of my own children. I have used many awkward situations I've had to 'solve' with them as examples through the book. Like most things worthwhile, parenting is harder to practice than to preach and by no means do I get it right all the time; as you have seen, sometimes even parenting experts' resort to carrying their howling children like logs at times.  


I am happy to report that five years after 'nursery-gate', after countless more embarrassing episodes, sleepless nights and hours of research, Milly is now a cheerful, bright, bold and articulate eight-year-old, with a love of ballet and swimming who possesses insight beyond her years. She is popular in her class and when she in not pinching her brother, she is making sure to take his hand when they cross the road. My son meanwhile is now a creative analytical six-year-old who loves making crazy inventions by tying bits of the furniture together with Sellotape or elastic bands, or spending hours in his 'lab', mixing together potions made from washing up liquid and paints. Like his inventions, his is clever and silly in equal measure. Of course, part of their transformation is just down to them both being a bit older and therefore much easier to manage. But I also know for sure that some of what I've learned along the way has helped them become the happy children they are - and it has certainly helped me and my husband to become better parents. I hope it helps you too.


I am Dr Holan Liang. I studied experimental psychology and medicine at Cambridge University. I trained in psychiatry and child psychiatry at the Maudsley and Bethlem Hospitals. I have been an honorary clinical lecturer and clinical research fellow at The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London and have received academic prizes in Child Psychiatry from The University of Cambridge, The Psychiatry Research Trust and The Royal College of Psychiatrists. I am a part-time Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist leading a specialist neurodevelopmental disorders (ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Learning Difficulty) team at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust in London and conduct honorary clinical sessions at Great Ormond Street Hospital.


I have recently authored a parenting book called “Inside Out Parenting” and enjoy writing about child mental health and parenting. Most importantly I am a mother to Big Sis (aged 9 years) and Lil Bro (aged 7 years), and wife to Banker. I have always known I wanted to be a mother but not always known what to do as a mother. Although motherhood has definitely helped the way that I practice professionally, it still remains to be seen whether training in child psychiatry can help me raise my children!