Coping with wilful kids? It's as easy as ABCD

By Donna McIntyre

Working with - rather than against - spirited children is key, finds Donna McIntyre.

Fun and communication are vital if a family is to thrive, says parenting advocate Ian Grant. Photo / Thinkstock
Fun and communication are vital if a family is to thrive, says parenting advocate Ian Grant. Photo / Thinkstock

Trying to get to grips with your stroppy child? Well, rest assured, you're not alone. The No 1 question parenting advocate Ian Grant comes across is: How do you deal with a strong-willed child?

"And I always say to parents, don't crush that spirit, but work with it," Grant says.

He and his wife Mary describe themselves as "just ordinary parents sharing great ideas,". They started the not-for-profit organisation Parents Inc in the 90s when they realised parents needed "a few hot tips, a few clues">

They joke about there being three types of parents.

"There are 'parentus sergeant majorcus', who run their home like a parade ground," says Grant.

"And often people who have had parents like that become 'parentus jellyfishicus' because they don't want their kids to go through the pain - but they swing too far the other way.

"We always say you've got to be 'parentus backboneicus'; you have to be loving but firm. Kids want parents who know what they are doing."

And, sure, teens especially give their parents grief, but there is a purpose to it - they are preparing for the challenges of adult life. Ian says teenagers need to "bump against adults to learn how to be an adult".

"If teenagers are not always snotting with their parents, they will turn to their peers to bump up against but their peers haven't got the maturity that parents should have."

He advocates an ABCD of parenting - "A is the atmosphere in the home. It's got to be a great atmosphere where parents are relaxed, they are in love with each other and it's fun. I think with the pressure of both parents working today often that gets squeezed out.

"Kids don't want a holiday to Disneyland, but they do want the fun of Dad arriving home and saying, 'Hey guys, you're the best team a man could have so I bought you some popcorn'.

"Girls want to hear 'you're lovely and you're capable', and boys want to hear 'you've got what it takes, mate'. It's the respectful love for boys and the cherishing love for girls.

"B is boundaries. Kids feel safe when there are good rules. And C is communication and consequences. Your actions have consequences and you're responsible for both ... And then D, discipline, flows easy. But a lot of parents go straight to D."

Grant thinks fun and communication are vital if a family is to thrive. "You sit round the table over meals and you chat about life and you pull each other's legs." And that advice applies whether the family unit is nuclear, sole-parent or blended - "well, we call them blended," says Ian, "but we find they are lumpy homes trying to blend."

He says the team at Parents Inc is proud of the high percentage of men in seminar audiences. "We hear wonderful stories of guys brought up in dysfunctional families who have changed ...

"When we run the seminars, we always talk about ourselves. The wonderful thing I did is I re-parented myself as I was parenting my own kids - because if you don't understand your life story, you can't help your kids with their life story.

"I had to deal with anger that I had learnt with my Dad. And when my boys were teenagers, I didn't know it but I gave them three Rs: the rule with anger is we count to 10, the routine is we get out of the scene and the third R is the ridiculousness - we downgrade our anger."

Ian stays in touch with studies, schools and police for developments in community and parenting trends.

And all those sources agree that the atmosphere in the home is paramount in raising great children. "If kids know they are loved, that's key."

Mantras of parenting

* Atmosphere is everything

* Take a break

* Boys need to hear: "you've got what it takes"

* Girls need to hear: "you're lovely and capable"

* Remember what it was like to be a child

* Children will repeat whatever behaviour gets them what they want

* Don't sweat the small stuff

* We all want to be happy

- NZ Herald

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