Our Director and Senior Clinician, Lisa Hughes, has reviewed ‘The Bonsai Child’ by Judith Locke and shares her learnings about how to help our children develop resilience.

 As Occupational Therapists, lots of parents ask us about how they can manage their child’s behaviour at home. It’s easy for us as OTs to do in a one hour therapy session, but maintaining consistency at home 24/7 is a completely different story.

I recently read The Bonsai Child by Judith Locke, which explains how we, as modern day parents, are often getting parenting wrong and how we can build resilience in our children.

The concept of ‘The Bonsai Child’ is caused by ‘over-parenting’ or ‘helicoptering’. Locke describes Bonsai Children as having ‘consistent, parental attention to their every need, and any issues are immediately solved’. The Bonsai Child is ‘placed in surroundings that suit them so they never need to adjust to a tough environment. They never need to learn to adapt to differing conditions as their parents always put them in a position that specifically caters to them’.

Bonsai Children’s lives are mapped out by their parents who bend and twist people and circumstances to keep everything lovely and unblemished for their offspring. The children simultaneously become used to their parents care and attention.

This would be fine if life never threw any curveballs and could be completely controlled. But we all know that’s not the case! Children who don’t have the opportunity to face life’s challenges as kids and teenagers are often under-prepared for life in the ‘real world’ and really struggle when they are eventually in situations we haven’t been able to manage for them.

Unsure if you have a ‘Bonsai Child’?
Some common ‘over-parenting’ habits include:

Packing your child’s school bag for them each night so they don’t forget anything

  • Packing your child’s school bag for them each night so they don’t forget anything
  • Emailing your child’s school requesting they don’t have to do a detention
  • Lobbying the school to get your child into a particular class/sporting team/drama production etc.
  • Setting up playdates for your child even when they’re a teenager
  • Calling your child who has moved out of home every morning to wake them up for uni or work
  • Editing your child’s school or uni assignments
  • Complaining to your child’s boss about them being passed over for promotion or subject to critical feedback

So, yes, we are all guilty of some of these at times — myself included!
So how do we implement change and make our kids more resilient?

Some of the strategies Locke suggests include:

  • Bond with your child by spending time together and giving them affection
  • Provide them with quality, not quantity, time
  • Ensure your praise is truthful and given when the action warrants it
  • Praise effort, not achievement
  • Don’t always make your child the centre of attention
  • Teach them to be respectful of other people
  • Discourage whining and nonverbal expression of problems
  • Teach them to think about their problems with a sense of humour
  • Teach them social skills
  • Don’t put your worries onto your kids

It’s also really important to help your child develop self-regulation. This is when a child can manage their own behaviour and emotions in any given situation. Some of the strategies Locke recommends to develop self-regulation are:

  • Developing and consistently reinforcing basic house rules
  • Developing morning and night-time routines for your child to follow
  • Give your child unpaid and paid chores
  • Give clear, concise and confident instructions
  • Give effective consequences when they are defiant

The Bonsai Child is a must-read for any parent who wants to help their child manage their own behaviour. There’s something in it for parents with children of any age (even me with an 18-year-old!) and it provides lots of practical solutions. Its strategies are clear, easy to implement and designed to help your child develop resilience, so they can cope with the ebbs and flow of adult life.

If you want additional help with managing your child’s behaviour, you can talk to one of our OTs or come along to our next Social Skills Holiday Group.