Back in the heady days when Dad-dancing was still happily for other people (my Dad, for example), popular-beat-combo JXL, you may remember, remastered the old Presley classic, A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action. Mingling floor-filling big beats with deeper tones from Memphis, ‘JXL vs Elvis’ pepped-up the summer of 2002. And though clearly not a song written about early parenting, I’ve found myself wondering this week whether its central injunction is really right? And if it’s not, what that’s got to do with NCT?
We’re in the middle of hundreds of conversations ourselves just now with parents, practitioners and volunteers about the future of ourNCTservices – itself a central chapter in #ourNCTstory. How, in the decade ahead, do we make sure that what we deliver for and with parents stays relevant, accessible and impactful?
We are still very much at the investigation stage and will be sharing emerging findings in the now-annual summer roadshows. In the meantime, I’ve personally really enjoyed and taken much from four events I’ve been part of in Belfast, Birmingham, London and Manchester, including some specific conversations with practitioners on how we can encourage more parents to take up our Early Days courses. Early Days evaluates consistently well. Selling it is persistently hard.
A number of themes have surfaced as we explore with parents and practitioners why this is and I won’t attempt to summarise here. Yet one that keeps coming up is that parents will spend on their babies sooner than themselves. I get this. We all do. But it’s a problem, right? Because we also know how hard these early days are. How bewildering, isolating, daunting, doubtful. And we know from our insight work how parents so often feel they are uniquely failing. This in itself points to the importance of making space to talk. So does wider evidence.
Catching up on reading as trains wind slowly through the snow and its remnants, the ever-green International Journal of Birth and Parent Education (a brilliant publication edited by our own Mary Nolan and Shona Gore) draws me to Sutton Trust research on parenting and attachment and a meta-analysis exploring the link between parenting style and cognitive and emotional development. The links are well-known of course. Though one specific finding particularly struck home – that children with more stimulating home environments but less secure attachment have lower language competence aged two than those in less educationally stimulating home environments with more secure attachments. In other words, in nurturing vs. activity, nurturing wins.
We know this already of course. Not least because facilitation, conversation, connectedness are our thing. And spending a lot of time with practitioners in the past ten days reminds me of this powerfully. Of course baby activities, done well, can be very much about developing a nurturing relationship – eye contact, responsiveness, touch, singing, knowing how to play. And in the sidelines, quiet conversations take place which are about mum. They also play into the ‘low pressure to socialise’ theme. So the route to developing nurturing environments might be via activities which are (seemingly) focused on baby.
All further evidence that ‘spending on my baby, or spending on me’ shouldn’t be a zero-sum. Finding space to talk and be, matters more than filling early days with stuff. A little more conversation, a little less action. It’s best sung loud.