My West London Life

Weekly with David Boddy: Parenting Q&A


David Boddy, former Headmaster, grandfather of nine and now senior education consultant with home tutoring company, TUTOR DOCTOR, answers your questions on parenting...

I can’t get my four-year-old to do anything and I need him to help because his younger sister (18 months) seems to take all my attention. What do you suggest?

For the under 5s, everything is a game and your skill in making the task fun and seem like play is the secret to getting some order for yourself and the family. For example, if you want him to clear up the toys scattered across the living room, get him to imagine it’s a circus ring and the clowns need some clear space to do their tricks. Then let him become the clown and see what fun it is.

Your question includes mention of another vital ingredient – he wants your attention, even for a short while. You’ve got your hands full, but somehow try and spend some quality time every day where he is the undoubted focus of your love. Even a short period like this will create much more space than you think is possible to look after your daughter and get everything else done. You have one of the toughest jobs in town – don’t forget that.

Do you think our children face too much pressure at school too early? Are there too many exams?

Broadly, yes. If you squeeze a plastic bottle it goes out of shape, and if you squeeze your children too early or too much they will go out of shape too. Good parenting requires two factors– the inner spirit of unconditional love and the gentle application of discipline, which means, setting boundaries, especially when youngsters are growing from 5-10. The same is at school; that’s why our schools need to become less like exam factories and much more “warm-hearted”. Life is going to throw up plenty of challenges and it is possible to teach children – at home and school – how to cope with them, without getting stressed out.

To my mind, children are missing one thing – the opportunity, on a frequent basis, to be inwardly quiet and still. Building in quiet times, such as a minute or two before meals where there are no phones, no chatter, no movement, allow children to drop mental and emotional stuff that they have been carrying all day. Then engage them in happy conversation. Stress can so easily build, but if they learn how to let it go before it boils, they will have a valuable skill for life.

My teenagers seem to have picked up a lot of my habits, some of which I am not so proud of. What can I do?

Teenagers are really apprentice adults; they are open to reasonable responses and because they love you, they probably don’t see your ‘faults’. It’s a very high chance they don’t see you like you might be seeing yourself. So first, have a good look at all your positive attributes, which will almost certainly be greater than you initially think.

We often misunderstand our children, because we think they see things as we do. Fortunately, they don’t. Adopt a more positive view of yourself first and then start to model different behaviours from the ones you are worried about. Chances are the youngsters will start to model those too.


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