Slow parenting: Carl Honoré saving families from a culture of over-parenting

Lisa and Andy's family.
Lisa and Andy's family. Photo: Guss Mallmann

When Carl Honoré found himself looking at a collection of one-minute nursery rhymes he knew it was time to slow down.

Additionally, and after what he calls his wake up call, Honoré had another light-bulb parenting moment when he attended a parent teacher night for his seven-year-old son.

His son's teacher had uttered "that six-letter word that gets the heart of every competitive parent racing": gifted.

"That night, I trawled Google, hunting down art courses and tutors to nurture my son's gift," Honoré told Essential Kids in an email.

"Visions of raising the next Picasso swam through my mind – until the next morning. 'Daddy, I don't want a tutor, I just want to draw,' my son announced on the way to school," he said.

Afraid of turning into one of those "pushy parents you read about in the newspaper" Honoré said it was time to rethink his whole parenting approach.

Now, the author of In Praise of Slowness, Under Pressure and The Slow Fix is encouraging other parents to do the same.

Don't let the name fool you, Honoré says, "slow parenting doesn't mean doing everything at snail's pace."

It means going at a pace that works best for your family.

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"Slow Parenting is about quality over quantity; real and meaningful human connections; being present and in the moment," said Honoré.

"Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms, to play without adults getting in the way, to get bored even."

Honoré says over-scheduling every aspect of a child's time means they will struggle later in life.

"Children need to learn gradually to cope with risk, fear and failure. If you wrap them in cotton wool, they grow up thinking the world owes them a free and easy ride," he said.

Not to mention, "hyper-parenting" is exhausting for adults too.

Stepping up to the challenge, Honoré made it his mission to save three Australian families "from a culture of over-parenting and over-scheduling" in the TV show Frantic Family Rescue.

Armed with his plan, the 'slow fix', the show follows the families over four weeks as they live Carl's slow experiment.

Mother of two on the show, Lisa said both she and her husband work full-time and the kids were laden with activities.

"Our lives felt very chaotic and as a family I felt we were very disjointed," Lisa said.

"As working parents I guess there is an element of guilt and I think to alleviate some of that guilt you put your kids in these extracurricular activities so instead of being in child care they are learning something and benefiting from it, that's where it started.

Taking advice from Honoré, Lisa says she feels like the family are getting to know each other better.

"We are sitting around the table at dinner time talking, I feel like we are getting to know our kids and it's really important as they are moving into the teenage years there's a lot more dialogue and communication, that wasn't happening before."

How to slow down

Ignore the panic and pressure. "Trust your instincts. Find your own way to parent. Listen to and observe your child. A child is not a project or a product or a trophy or a piece of clay you can mould into a work of art. A child is a person who will thrive if allowed to be the protagonist of his own life."

Give children space to explore on their own terms. "Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves but that does not mean childhood should be a race. We should keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together."

Bending over backwards isn't always best. "It denies them the much more useful life lesson of how to make the best of what they've got.) We should make sure that children do not spend too much time in front of electronic screens."

Just let things happen, rather than force them. "That means accepting that the richest kinds of learning and experience often cannot be measured or neatly packaged on a résumé or CV.

Let the child take the lead. If your child is passionate about an activity, then encourage him or her to develop that talent. And to measure that passion you need to observe your children, listen to them, read the signals they send us with their behaviour."

Watch out for stress. "If a kid is always tired or suffering from stress-related problems like headaches, sore stomachs and diarrhoea. Depression, mental illness, self-harm and substance abuse can be other signs. If he lacks that spark of imagination and independence, and wants to be told all the time what to do. All of that can be a sign that he is being hyper-parented."

Frantic Family Rescue starts on Tuesday, August 11, at 9.20pm on ABC.