WHEN my nephew was a teenager I stumbled on The Tomorrow Series of books.
My daughters were much younger and mostly fancied anything by Mem Fox ie. Where Is The Green Sheep? (fast asleep, unlike my non-napping two) and my all-time favourite Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge.
Australian writer, educator and school principal John Marsden penned Tomorrow, When the War Began and its sequels, which turned out to be one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed series of novels aimed at young readers in Australian literature history.
It has sold more than 3 million copies in Australia and has been translated into five languages.
Last year Marsden pulled together all he had learnt from more than 40 years' experience working with and writing for young people into his new book The Art of Growing Up.
He shares his insights into everything - from the role of schools and the importance of education, to problem parents and problem children, and the conundrum of what it means to grow up and be happy in the 21st century.
It's a wide-ranging topic that I waded into willingly.
MORE MATERIAL GIRL:
The Art of Growing Up is an insightful and revealing read.
Marsden makes many excellent points on how overprotective parents damage their children's emotional and social development in trying to avoid physical risks.
I wasn't entirely comfortable with his use of emails sent to him from parents and shared verbatim throughout the book, but I appreciated his insights from the coalface of the school system.
While saying he wasn't a fan of "how to succeed" lists, Marsden did indulge his readers with his take on: What can parents do to achieve a happy family?
His list of seven items resonated more with me above anything else.
- Accept that, as children grow, the style of parenting must evolve from "I'll do everything you need approach", which is mandatory in the first few months of life. Gradually, and sometimes rapidly, parents must step back further and further.
In the first six weeks, even six months, of bringing a newborn home, it's easy to think your time will never be your own again. Sleep deprivation compounds this. However, time flies and kids get the hang of stuff quickly, if only given the chance and the freedom to make a mess. Danish children can get themselves almost everywhere independently by bike by the age of about nine. Although this is not always geographically possible here, it shows the different approach to childhood in Scandinavia.
- Converse with children in a way which will encourage them to develop sophisticated language skills. It is essential that these skills include the ability to communicate feelings.
It's all-too easy to skirt around their big feelings or shut them down as "tantrums".
- Have kids do jobs from an early age. The tasks should benefit others, not be unduly easy, and be completed to a high standard.
While it's often faster and easier to do it ourselves, we do our kids no favours when they're not learning new skills such as cooking.
- Help children develop a range of strategies for problem solving. They need to recognise that every problem has many solutions.
We love to step in and solve their problems but again we're doing them a disservice.
- Let kids be bored.
Most kids live pretty full lives. I, for one, am thrilled when one of mine says they're bored. It breeds creativity.
- Be completely indifferent when kids get muddy.
We need to say yes to mess.
- Encourage kids to embrace all kinds of weather.
It's simple enough yet Australians are truly expert at complaining about the weather and letting rain keep us indoors. But it's good to remember the sun always shines after the storm.