Georgina Fuller finds out whether being a parent should come with a guidebook
I don’t know about you, but I devoured all the baby books I could get my hands on when I was pregnant with our first child. I highlighted all the bits I thought might be useful in Gina Ford, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and What to Expect When You’re Expecting and mistakenly thought that would prepare me for navigating the crazy world of motherhood. How very wrong I was!
Eight years and two more children later, I had long since stopped bothering with parenting books. Until, that is, one which promised to give me solutions to overcoming whinging, arguments, uncooperativeness and tantrums (all a significant part of my day-to-day life as mum to Charlie, eight, Edward, five, and Jemima, two) landed on my desk.
The Working Parents’ Guide to Raising Happy and Confident Children by father of three Nadim Saad (£11.99, Best of Parenting Publishing), is based on the latest research in child psychology and leadership.
Saad, an entrepreneur with an MBA from INSEAD business school, takes the basic principles he has learned in the workplace and applies them to his family. He advises that we, as parents, should try to establish our own ‘family culture’ where we identify and exercise a clear set of values, for example, healthy living. First, he advises, we sit down with our partner to discuss what sort of values we think are important to us. Then we give our children a pen and ask them what they think the family rules and values are. Saad suggests trying to incorporate at least two of these values into your family schedule each week.
Another concept Saad actively promotes is the idea of being a ‘leader parent’. This involves identifying the main issues you struggle with on a day-to-day basis, such as sibling conflicts or refusing to go to bed, and thinking about what you can do in advance to tackle them. He recommends that you use what he terms ‘positive and enforceable statements’. For example: “I take children who don’t whine and demand treats with me to the supermarket”, rather than the less-specific but more personal: “If you don’t behave, I won’t take you to the supermarket”.
Saad believes that we have to engage our children in ‘thinking mode’ and empower them to set their own boundaries, in order to make them cooperative. He recommends saying ‘yes’ rather than the default ‘no’ to their requests (“Yes, you can have chocolate, after you’ve finished your supper”) and setting limited choices (“Do you want to tidy your room now, or in five minutes?”).
I am cautiously optimistic, and think Saad’s hacks may have helped us create a calmer household. Giving the children limited options, such as asking whether they want to clean their teeth before or after their bath, definitely seems to have been a hit, and they now do it on command without prompts. I’ve also adopted the saying ‘yes’ approach to their many requests, which has got me into trouble a few times. Such as when I told our five year old we would get him a unicorn but forgot to add the bit about ‘when we could afford it’. He is now expecting one for his birthday next week and I think the bike we have got him might be something of a disappointment.
Saad’s advice about speaking to your children about rules in the third person has also stumped our eight year old. I tried the “In this house, it’s mummy and daddy time at 8pm and children go to bed and stay in their rooms” with him, but he asked why I kept saying ‘in this house’ and proceeded to mess around on the landing for the next 45 minutes, dive-bombing Lego down the stairs.
We are still working on establishing our family values too, but the eight year old has sited kindness and sharing as two key ones, along with having fun, and that certainly works for me.
With three children under nine, it still feels as if we’re in the thick of it now, but surely it’s got to get easier over time, hasn’t it?!
Waking up horrendously early. Try explaining to your kids that you’ll have an ‘energy drain’ later and won’t be able to play with them if they jump on your head at 5.30am.
Demanding chocolate and snacks throughout the day. Use positive redirection. Rather than saying an immediate ‘no’, try saying, “yes, you can have them, after lunch, or when you’ve done your homework.”
Whining and whinging. Rather than ignoring or berating them, try saying, “I know” and acknowledge their issue. Give empathy and hope that that will placate them.
Not listening or ignoring you. Say: “Under our new rules, we only do things for children that listen to us in this house.”
Wanting to go on the iPad for long periods of time and having a meltdown when you take it away. Try saying: “In this family, children can only use screens for half an hour a day” (or longer – depending on their age).
Sibling squabbles or fighting. Ask them: “What are our rules for fighting in this house?” Then say: “The new rule is that fighting or teasing is unacceptable.”
Back-chatting, being rude and/or swearing. Say to them: “Is this the way we speak to each other/the language we use in this house?” Or, “Do you think I’m going to want to give you what you just asked for when you ask for it in that way?”