How to Support Your Child’s Growth – An Interview with Dr Judith Locke

How to Support Your Child’s Growth - An Interview with Dr Judith Locke

Dr Judith Locke is a Clinical Psychologist and child wellbeing specialist who presents sessions for parents and teachers at schools around Australia, New Zealand and internationally.

St Leonard’s College was fortunate to have Judith present a parent workshop earlier this year titled Confident and Capable in which she shared many practical strategies to build social skills, confidence and resilience in children.

Judith is also the author of the highly successful book The Bonsai Child and the recently released The Bonsai Student. We interviewed Judith on her book, and we are delighted to share her wisdom below.



The Bonsai Student follows on from your successful book The Bonsai Child. This powerful visual analogy conveys how ‘overparenting’ can stunt a child’s growth. Can you share more on this?

Many parents these days are doing everything they can to give their children a fantastic childhood. That in itself is not a problem; however, it’s the way that parents are doing this that becomes problematic. These days many parents are giving children almost perfect childhoods – making them happy and successful at all times through enormous parental effort. But it doesn’t prepare a child for the reality of their future which will likely involve some disappointment and some bad days. So, like a bonsai tree, the childhood experience looks perfect, but it’s somewhat stunted and it’s not going to reach its full potential.

Can you elaborate on the significance of semantics in relation to the terms ‘helicopter parenting’, ‘lawnmower parenting’ and ‘overparenting’?

These are all just images that I hope will help people understand the challenges of the approach more. I use ‘overparenting’ more because, for me, it represents good parenting actions but going too far with them. Recently, I created a term, ‘Sherpa parenting’, to describe parents overdoing assistance – such as carrying their bags into school or doing all of their chores for them. This makes children potentially reach heights they shouldn’t necessarily be reaching and gain a false confidence in their true skills. It’s just another piece of imagery, which is often so much richer than just describing the actions.

What inspired you to apply an educational lens to ‘overparenting’ with this second book?

Originally, I had a chapter in The Bonsai Child on schooling that was so enormous, and I still needed to add even more to it. So, I decided to pull it out and create an entire book on it. I have to say education and schools are of a particular interest to me because I’m an ex-teacher and most of my work now is in schools. I wanted children to get the most out of their schooling experience, so this is a particular passion project for me.

There is a section in your book Schooling 101, can you share more on this and why it is important for parents to understand their child’s scholastic world?

Schooling is so much more than results and it frustrates me that some people these days are judging the quality of the school and school experience by the results that the child achieves. There is so much more that a child should gain out of their school years, such as a sense of community, social skills, a healthy lifestyle, interest in the world… I could go on. Schooling doesn’t just give them an ATAR – schooling starts them on their journey through life.

I think parents need to really assess the type of person the child is becoming as a result of their schooling, much more than what’s written in their results section of their report card.

What are some of the practical strategies you recommend to parents to ensure they don’t restrict their child’s potential at school?

There are so many strategies in the book, it’s hard to just pick a few. I think it’s important that parents deliberately and slowly step back from being highly involved in their child’s school experience. One area that’s particularly important is homework. Generally, parents often over assist or over remind their child to do their homework (even in the high school years) and they really should be developing their child’s organisational skills and independent academic confidence in a very deliberate slow way throughout their schooling. Understandably, there’s a whole chapter on homework – the bane of parents’ and children’s existence!

What do you believe are the five essential skills a child needs and how can parents support their children in the development of these skills?

I’ve written an entire chapter on this in The Bonsai Student and it is probably my favourite chapter that I’ve ever written. These skills are resilience – coping with challenge; self-regulation – stopping current pleasure for future gain; resourcefulness – being able to solve a problem; respect – appropriate regard for others; and, responsibility – being community-minded and not just focused on your own needs. Bonsai parenting really mucks up the development of these skills by over assisting their child or not allowing them to experience the natural consequences of their choices. You have to step back for them to step up and develop these skills and I tell parents exactly how to do this in the chapter. For example, not bringing their lunch when they forget it, will enable them to become resourceful enough to solve future minor problems that occur to them. Bring it to them and you miss that opportunity.

If there were one final tip you would give to parents in this modern world, as they endeavour to support their child’s growth, what would it be?

Allow them to grow. Really have confidence in your child and become a little less involved, over time, so they can do that. If you continue to hover around them or trim their daily experience to a point where they’re only getting the good things of life then you’re not truly letting them develop into being independent, mature individuals.

And trust that they can overcome challenges. While I understand that COVID has been a difficult experience, particularly for Melbourne people, I am concerned that many people are talking about this event potentially ruining children’s future. I have much more faith in kids, and while I think we need to be understanding of the situation they currently face, I think we do them no favours and show no confidence in them if we start imagining their terrible future because of this challenge. There is every chance that your child will emerge from this stronger and more capable because of all the pivoting. Have faith in that happening.

For more information on Dr Judith Locke, her workshops, or to purchase her books, please visit