Section 1: Why parenting matters
The role that parents and carers play in raising the next generation of Scots is central to everything that we want to achieve for our families, our communities and our country.
It's well documented that the love and nurturing a child receives is integral to their health, mental health and wellbeing  , not just in their early years  but also throughout childhood and adolescence and into young adulthood  .
Loving children doesn't mean always letting them have their own way. It involves providing a positive role model, setting appropriate boundaries and applying them consistently, all of which is integral to a secure, safe and nurturing home environment. This also helps children learn what's acceptable behaviour and what's not, how to get along with people and how to resolve differences in an appropriate way – essential life skills that can all be learned by families doing basic activities such as talking and listening, eating together, doing chores together and critically, playing together.
The benefits of play and having fun for a child's development cannot be underestimated  . It's what stimulates young babies, and helps children to forge strong bonds with their families and develop an appetite for exploration and learning that lasts throughout life. As children get older, active outdoor play not only contributes to health and fitness but also presents a natural vehicle through which children can develop their independence.
During the primary school years, play helps children learn to share, negotiate, take on board others' points of view and develop their social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional skills, and it remains equally important throughout the teenage years and beyond.
Part and parcel of playing is learning with a wealth of research evidence – including Scottish research  – showing that early learning experiences at home are crucial in creating strong foundations for nursery, school and beyond. Parents are the first educators and as such, the biggest single influence on a child's educational aspirations and attainment throughout life  .
Studies also show that children who experience a secure, loving and nurturing home environment are better able to withstand life's challenges and achieve their full potential. Why? Because consistent positive parenting helps to develop strong self-control, reduce risks and build the resilience to cope with setbacks  .
It's no coincidence that these same two qualities of self-control and resilience have been repeatedly linked with reducing antisocial and criminal behaviour. Quite simply, the better equipped parents are to help their children develop these strengths, the better our chances of reducing some of Scotland's key social problems in the future.
Of course there are other factors that influence a child's outcomes – poverty, where they live, their housing, the local community, their friendships and the resources that their parents have or can access all have an impact. But we also know that some of the deeply engrained problems we face, for example drug and alcohol dependency, and offending behaviour, can stem from poor experiences in the early years. We recognise that prevention is better than cure. Effective parenting, by building more positive futures for children and their families, will have long-term benefits for communities and the country as a whole.
The National Parenting Strategy is, therefore, a national strategy in the truest sense. Everyone stands to benefit and everyone has a part to play, whether or not we have children ourselves. Parents alone cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility of improving the life chances of Scotland's children and young people. In the words of the World Health Organization  :
"the nurturant qualities of the environments where children grow up, live and learn – parents, caregivers, family and community – will have the most significant impact on their development. In most situations, parents and caregivers cannot provide strong nurturant environments without help from local, regional, national, and international agencies"
The success of the National Parenting Strategy relies on our public services, communities, employers and the commercial sector all playing their part in making Scotland more child-friendly and supporting parents to do their best.
After all, it's in all our best interests that children grow up to be responsible citizens, willing and able to make their own contribution to society, with strong foundations for being good parents themselves one day.