National parenting strategy: making a positive difference to children and young people through parenting

Our national parenting strategy seeks to strengthen the support on offer to parents and make it easier for them to access this support.

Section 5: Positive parenting for all

Section 5.1: Information and advice

Our research and our engagement with parents highlighted a huge appetite for clear, concise and consistent information on everything from pregnancy to the teenage years and beyond.

Our research also highlighted a number of recurring obstacles experienced by parents, many of which were reported by parents in the Growing Up in Scotland study [19] . Namely:

  • Finding relevant information when it's needed

The different stages of children's development, how to manage behaviour, how to respond to the challenges of the teenage years – these are all issues Scotland's parents would like information on but many say they don't know where to start looking. Others find there can be too much information on certain subjects, much of it conflicting and therefore adding to the confusion.

  • Not knowing where to turn for help

Many parents said they don't know where to go or who to ask, leading to feelings of isolation and being left to cope alone.

  • Cultural differences

The language barrier was one commonly cited reason for parents of different cultures not asking for help, along with a lack of understanding by services and agencies of their culture.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Knowing what's available nationally and locally, where to go, who can help.'

'Providing information in different languages and formats.'

Going forward, we will strengthen our efforts to ensure that all parents have access to accurate and reliable information.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will assess the information and advice we provide to parents in Scotland to ensure that it is comprehensive, consistent and appropriate, meets the needs of families throughout their children's lives, and is accessible to a diverse range of parents and carers. We will work with local partners to ensure that information and advice is delivered to parents in the right ways
  • Through the Children and Young People Bill we aim to ensure that every child in Scotland will have a Named Person; a designated professional who can help parents and families get advice, and can give or coordinate support for their children's wellbeing
  • We will strengthen antenatal parent education and support by developing and sharing good practice guidelines, and develop a new resource for prospective parents with information on health and wellbeing in preparation for pregnancy, launching later this year
  • We are launching a Ready Steady Baby! smartphone app to provide free, impartial and NHS Scotland evidence-based information on maternal and child health, wellbeing and early development, and information on access to services.


Children have the right to play and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities. UNCRC, Article 31 (2.2)

The importance of play to a child's development, health and fitness is now well established amongst practitioners. It also provides the basis for parents to engage with their child's education and create the positive home environment that numerous studies, including the Growing Up in Scotland study, show to be a crucial factor in a child's educational achievement.

Parents themselves however, would like more information, along with affordable opportunities for play for children and young people of all ages.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Help with understanding the different stages of children's development, physical and social – and how to support it.'

'Knowing the appropriate amount of time to allow for playing individually with kids.'

The Scottish Government is committed to promoting the positive ways of playing with children and young people, highlighting to parents the benefits of outdoor play and ensuring that more and more opportunities exist to do so.

Linked to this is our social marketing campaign PlayTalkRead which, as its name suggests, encourages parents and carers to play, talk and read more with their babies and young children. It's been specially created to emphasise the importance of positive interaction with children from day one and offers practical support on how to create the best foundations for a child's development.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will invest £1 million per year in the PlayTalkRead campaign from 2012–2015, and over the coming year will:
    • Focus on fathers and male carers, including those who live away from their children
    • Subtitle and translate resources into a range of languages and different formats for greater accessibility
    • Link with national literacy programmes to ensure the campaign contributes to improving literacy skills
    • Include information about affordable family meals and nutrition in parental information packs
  • We will launch the PlayTalkRead 'parenting club', enabling us to build an ongoing relationship with all parents who register on the database – and with it, create the opportunity to bring about sustained behavioural change
  • Families with children under 5 will continue to receive play@home resources, free packs of books and information on home learning such as Education Scotland's booklet Every Day's a Learning Day
  • Education Scotland will continue to provide support to parents through a number of resources and their online service to promote learning opportunities for babies, toddlers and pre-school children
  • Through Go2Play we are investing in eight charities to provide free play in local communities for 5 to 13 year olds, with many projects focused on outdoor play. Parents are encouraged to volunteer which can further increase confidence, health and employability
  • Through the Early Years Taskforce we will promote the value of play to parents across Scottish communities.


Setting and applying appropriate boundaries is one of the ways parents can provide the secure, nurturing home that children need, helping them to develop their confidence and autonomy as they become more independent.

Parents told us they wanted advice on setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries and promoting positive behaviour, and the best ways of managing challenging behaviour.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Information about children's behaviour and the possible causes for it.'

'Help with the things that promote positive behaviour even when times are hard.'

We want to ensure that the consistent, comprehensive guidance parents seek is readily available to them as and when they need it.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • Building on the Scottish Government's leaflet Children, Physical Punishment and the Law, last updated in 2003, we will commission new work to develop comprehensive, practical advice on different approaches to assist parents in managing their children's behaviour.

Nutrition and healthy weight

Children have the right to nutritious food and information to help them stay healthy. UNCRC, Article 24 (23)

Parents are fundamental to instilling in their children the habits of healthy eating and regular physical activity – habits that can last a lifetime and are associated with preventing or reducing the likelihood of obesity in childhood and later life [20] .

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Advice on what to give them to eat, mealtimes, fussy eating and everyone eating together.'

'Greater awareness about the need to monitor weight.'

Our aim is to ensure that information around healthy living is readily available to Scotland's parents at every stage of the parenting journey.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will assess what new information or guidance is needed to help parents make healthier and more informed choices for themselves and their children. We will also work to improve food labelling and marketing, making it easier for parents to make healthy choices
  • We will involve parents and carers as well as children themselves in our healthy weight programmes that incorporate diet, physical activity and behaviour change.

Section 5.2: Promoting attachment and parenting support

Secure parent-child attachment is one of the building blocks for positive early development and resilience for later life. Without it, infants can experience significant stress and anxiety that can develop into mental health difficulties as they get older.

The more we can do to encourage attachment in children's early years, the greater the likelihood of protecting them against negative behaviours that can be hard to reverse once established.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Courses on parenting to help build communication and confidence.'

'Ways of building good, healthy relationships with our children.'

Much good work is already underway in this area – work that we want to build on.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will make basic infant mental health training more widely available to professionals
  • Through NHS Health Scotland we will develop practical ways to promote and encourage bonding and secure attachment between parents and their children
  • We will improve provision of child psychotherapy services by investing in a new cohort of trainees to start in 2013.

Parenting support

Governments are recommended to provide parental education and professional training in positive parenting. Concluding observation 42d, UN Committee 2008

Most parents and carers can – and do – an extremely good job of bringing up their children, but almost all experience times when they are unsure what to do.

Research with Scottish families highlights that different parents have different support needs [21] and we want to ensure that, whatever the issue and wherever they live, the support they want is readily available to them, proportionate to their needs and those of their children.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Knowing that support is there if I need it.'

'Reassurance about what's normal and what needs to be addressed.'

Key to empowering parents to be the best that they can be is creating the opportunities for them to build the knowledge and skills they need to care for their child. Something that's best done using approaches that provide practical and informed 'take home' strategies for dealing with all sorts of difficulties, while at the same time strengthening parents' own sense of self-efficacy.

Certain group-based parenting programmes such as Triple P and The Incredible Years have an impressive track record in this area, proving particularly effective at helping parents address negative behaviour in the early years that affects around 10 per cent of Scotland's young children.

Research shows that provided these programmes are skillfully delivered, roughly two-thirds of participating children can be expected to behave at a level comparable to that of their peers – changes that represent better outcomes for the children involved, as well as attractive cost-savings as certain patterns of early-onset behavioural difficulties are closely linked to high costs for the public purse as these children grow up [22] , [23] .

Our commitment to Scotland's parents

  • In line with a commitment in the Mental Health Strategy, NHS Education for Scotland ( NES) will take forward its detailed implementation plan for the roll out of the Psychology of Parenting Project (PoPP). This will increase the availability and improve the long-term high quality delivery of the pre-school version of the Incredible Years and Level 4 Group Triple P to parents of all 3 and 4 year olds children who display particularly difficult behaviour. NHS will engage with a third early implementer site in 2012, make available information on the delivery plan for national roll out and initiate an expression of interest and site preparation process with other areas early in 2013
  • The Early Years Taskforce will issue guidance to Community Planning Partnerships, helping them to plan how best to support parents, drawing on the best available evidence about 'what works'
  • The Early Years Taskforce will explore the potential for a national rollout of evidence-based parenting programmes on a population basis.

Postnatal depression

Postnatal depression ( PND) is a condition that can interfere with the secure attachment that is so crucial for infants and their emotional development, and can have implications for the whole family.

The more we can raise awareness of its causes and symptoms and ensure that appropriate support is available and easy to access, the earlier new mums can get help from their services and support from those around them.

Some of the things parents said would help included:

'Help recognising the symptoms and information on the things that will help.'

'Reassurance that talking about it won't make you look like a bad mum and risk losing your child.'

A recurring theme amongst mums was that postnatal depression can leave many feeling inadequate or as if they have failed in their parenting role. We want to remove such fears by equipping Scotland's mums and their families with information on how to spot the telltale signs and the steps they can take.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • In March 2012 the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network published new guidelines on the treatment of PND, including recommendations based on updated evidence and expanding its scope to include mood disorders in the antenatal period. A new booklet has been produced for women, their partners and their families to help promote these new guidelines [24] .

Section 5.3: Family support

It's not just parents that stand to benefit from more information and support, but the wider family network too.

The family should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community. UNCRC preamble

Feedback from parents, families and practitioners highlighted a number of recurring issues, for example:

  • The need for help at an earlier stage
    Lots of parents said they would have liked help at an earlier stage and that this could have prevented things getting worse.
  • Stigma of asking for help
    Many parents confided that they were embarrassed and ashamed to ask for help, worried that they will be judged as not being able to cope.
  • Fear of losing parental control
    Some groups of parents fear that by asking for help, they could risk feeling that their responsibility as parents is being taken away from them or, worse, that their children might be taken away from them.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'More promotion of local services to encourage parents and carers to come forward and use them.'

'Making it easier to get support earlier.'

No parent or family should feel isolated or that they lack the information, advice and support they need. We are investing £18 million through the Early Years Change Fund over three years to develop high quality, accessible family support across our communities. The aim is to increase the wellbeing of children, parents, families and whole communities through improved access to a comprehensive range of activities and services that make the best use of the resources available across all sectors.

Community information strategies will help ensure that every parent and practitioner knows exactly what services are available in the local area to support families, and that those services are reflective of, and accessible to, our diverse families and communities.

The implementation of the GIRFEC approach meanwhile, will ensure that children as well as families and carers will be fully involved in decisions that affect them.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • As part of our £18 million investment, the Scottish Government has committed £3 million per year from 2012 to enable local authorities to assess local need, develop community information strategies and coordinate delivery of family support across all sectors
  • A further £9 million, over 2013–2015, will be committed to support the implementation of parent and family support in line with emerging Early Years Taskforce priorities and other evidence-based approaches that support change and deliver tangible benefits
  • The Scottish Government will continue to support third sector organisations working with children, young people and families through a new £20 million fund over the next two years. This fund will aim to improve outcomes through activities focused on prevention and early intervention
  • The Big Lottery Fund, in its commitment to supporting parents, will help third sector and statutory organisations develop projects and services that support Scotland's families. They will be investing in parenting projects through their Investment in Communities programme that aims to improve the quality of family life and fund projects that build stronger families.

Public health nurses (health visitors and school nurses)

The right to appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers. UNCRC, Article 24 (2d)

Without doubt, Scotland's public health nurses play a crucial role in supporting parents, with many positive experiences shared amongst the feedback received. However there were also areas which parents felt could be improved further.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Face to face is better than any leaflet or website.'

'Having one person you know you can turn to for specific help.'

With this in mind, the Scottish Government will continue to work with NHS Boards to ensure that services delivered through public health nurses are safe, effective and person-centred.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • Public health nurses (health visitors) will undertake notification visits within 10 to 14 days after birth, offering a programme of screening, surveillance and health promotion checks while also ensuring that all children have a health plan indicator by the age of six months
  • NHS Boards and public health nurses (health visitors) as Named Persons will work in partnership with midwives and maternity care staff to ensure pregnant women, children and parents who require additional support are quickly identified and the appropriate referrals, interventions and care plans are put in place
  • By April 2013 we will introduce a 24-30 month review covering issues such as child development and physical health, parenting capacity and family matters including domestic abuse and parent-child relationships, along with wider parental health such as smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, and mental and physical health. We will also promote the role of fathers in their child's health and development
  • As part of our Modernising Nursing in the Community programme, we will work with NHS Boards to set out plans for improving public health nursing services (health visitors and school nurses), including their contribution to the delivery of the parenting strategy.

Early learning, childcare and out-of-school care

Governments have a responsibility to provide support services to parents, especially if both parents work out of the home. UNCRC, Article 18 (3)

Not only is the formal provision of early childhood learning and care important for the learning and development of children25 but it's also crucial in supporting parents who want to start or continue work or training. Many parents told us they juggle a number of informal and formal arrangements for their children so that they can go out to work and provide financial security for their families.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Nursery placements that are flexible and suit working hours, even part-time. For example, 2.5 days instead of five mornings.'

'Appropriate childcare facilities for disabled children.'

The Scottish Government has invested £4.5 million in a £6 million Big Lottery Communities and Families Fund to support community-based solutions to family support and early childhood learning and care, and a further £4.5 million to local authorities to provide additional early learning and childcare for Scotland's looked after 2 year olds and work with their parents and carers.

But this is just the first step on our journey. Once passed, the Children and Young People Bill proposes to increase the amount and flexibility of funded early learning and childcare.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We are proposing legislation to increase the current entitlement to 475 hours per year of pre-school education for 3 and 4 year olds and looked after 2 year olds to a minimum of 600 hours
  • We will also make provision more flexible, enabling parents to better access employment, training and education opportunities
  • We will develop childcare options in areas where unmet need has been identified, using social enterprise or Public Social Partnership ( PSP) models. These areas would include parents on low incomes or in poverty, parents who work shifts, out-of-school care including holidays and non-term times, and issues associated with living in rural areas.


Parental employment is a key factor in protecting families from moving into or remaining in poverty [26] , [27] . It's also been proven that the children of working households are themselves more likely to acquire the confidence and skills necessary to succeed in the workplace. Yet despite the benefits, working parents often feel undervalued, under-supported and over-burdened because of the dual role they are juggling.

Some of the things that parents told us would help included:

'Employers could do more to recognise childcare responsibilities and be more flexible with working.'

'More flexible working hours would help a lot.'

Whilst it's encouraging to note that Scotland currently has the highest rate of working households with children of any part of the UK [28] , the number of workless households still remains too high – something we need to address.

We also recognise that securing and staying in work may be harder for some parents than for others. For example, lone parents have to balance the combined role of breadwinner and carer making reliance on childcare and/or family-friendly work practices even greater.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • Since 2011 we have invested £64.6m of European Social Funds to support 21 strategic employability projects across the country, many of which will address the specific needs of parents in the labour market. At the same time, we are also providing funding to a number of organisations to offer support, including advice about benefits and childcare, to individuals and families
  • Following the National Business Summit held in June 2012 we will encourage businesses to promote family-friendly working practices
  • Following the Women's Employment Summit we hosted in September 2012 we are considering ways to ensure that parents are more effectively supported into or back to work.

Parental involvement in education

It's well proven that children do better when parents and schools work together. However, not all parents find it easy to be involved in their child's learning. Challenging family circumstances, separation, busy working lives and communication difficulties – these are just some of the barriers that parents face and that schools must do their best to overcome in order to help every parent support their child at school.

We are committed to promoting parental involvement at all levels, in line with the 2006 Parental Involvement Act that covers learning at home, home/school partnerships and parental representation. Already, there are some great examples of innovative approaches to parental engagement in place at early learning centres and schools across Scotland but more could and should be done.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • We will explore ways to support parents to engage in their child's education and create a good home learning environment
  • We will continue working in partnership with the National Parent Forum of Scotland to ensure that parents' voices are heard at a national level and contributes to key educational developments including the Curriculum for Excellence
  • Education Scotland will work with local authorities and the Higher Education sector to provide current and future teachers with resources to help them engage with parents effectively.


We want to help parents lay strong foundations for the loving, nurturing relationships that we know are integral to children's emotional, physical, socio-economic and educational wellbeing.

These start with secure attachment and bonding between infants and their main caregiver, developing over time into connectedness (the quality of the bond/relationship between the parent and child). As the child or young person grows, they're likely to base their own relationships on those that surround them – their own interaction with their parent, their siblings and the wider family. So the more respectful and communicative the relationships they experience early in life, the more positive their own relationships are likely to be in later life and possible future parenthood.

The interaction between parents (including during and after separation) also shapes a child's own relationship with others and the parental stress that often accompanies relationship difficulties can have a knock-on effect on the life chances for children and young people. We want to help families struggling with relationship issues, aiming to heal relationships where possible and reduce conflict when separation occurs.

Some of the things parents said would help included:

'We want information about children's different stages, including advice on relationships in the teenage years.'

'Advice on families splitting up, where to go, who to ask for help, information for non-resident parents.'

The Scottish Government is already taking a number of steps to help foster and strengthen relationships – steps that we intend to add to over the coming months and years.

Our commitment to Scotland's parents:

  • Through the Early Years Taskforce we are reviewing how, as a nation, we can collectively improve our relationships and the support needed to do so
  • We will set up a new relationship support website to highlight the provision of family and relationship support services across Scotland, including counselling and mediation for parents who are separating
  • We will invest an additional £0.5 million to support counselling services and support for family relationships 2012–2013
  • At a national level we are committed to doing more to enable our children and young people to develop healthy, positive relationships and to prepare for possible future parenthood. Building on the Curriculum for Excellence we will develop plans for new activity
  • In 2014 we will update the Parenting Agreement for Scotland – a pack with a parenting agreement for separating parents, a Charter for Grandchildren and material on where further information can be obtained – and we will work with others to find better ways to publicise this information.


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