Parenting expert Nigel Latta chats with NZME reporter Sadie Beckman before his upcoming Adventures in Parentland talk in Levin.

Parenting is hard.

There's no denying that, says clinical psychologist, parenting expert and television personality Nigel Latta.

However, it is also simple.

Advertisement

What is really all boils down to is relationships, he says. As a parent, you have to make sure you are the one your offspring can talk to about stuff.

Latta is bringing his unique brand of wisdom to Levin next week when he will present his talk Adventures in Parentland at Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō.

With a career spanning more than two decades, Latta trained in clinical psychology, working for more than 20 years in forensic psychology and family therapy. He went on to become an associate of the ground-breaking Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study at the University of Otago, and was later made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to psychology.

His eight books have been published in 19 countries and 10 languages, and he has had an acclaimed television career that included presenting series Beyond the Darklands, The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show and The Hard Stuff.

He is the co-founder of a production company and he is poised to launch an interactive parenting app, among the first of its kind.

He knows what he's talking about.

"The stronger your relationship with your kids, the easier stuff is going to be," he says.
"That's the biggest, most powerful tool you've got."

Simple things can help with this, such as juggling the dynamic of lecturing kids versus listening to them, Latta says, but don't be disheartened if you don't always get it right, because nobody does.

"I struggle with that too," he says of his relationship with his own sons, aged 19 and 16.

"When I talk too much and don't listen enough, and there are times when I push it too far and should just shut up. It is all about the relationship, and creating that sense in them that you're the one they can come and talk to even if they've done something dumb or stupid or bad."

Teens in particular do their best to work you, he says, but this is a natural part of their brains going through a big growth spurt.

"They're figuring out how to manipulate people, because that's what we all do. Adults do it, we're just better at it than teens. They tend to be a bit clumsy and ham-fisted and that can make it just a bit stressful and hard."

The stress of parenting can be compounded by external causes too, and Latta believes we could improve outcomes for kids by improving the circumstances of their families.

"I think there's some simple things we could do, like more companies could pay the living wage for a start," he says.

"There are these people who are working their arses off and they can't afford to pay for their kids. They're working 70 hours a week, so they can't be there for those basic parenting needs."

"As a country we could look at this ridiculous notion of the minimum wage, which is not the minimum that you need to survive, it's the minimum you're legally required to pay."

He says there are also bigger economic solutions, such as making sure the tax burden is shared more fairly, and landlords need to step up too because families who rent suffer when they have to move frequently.

"If you want to own and invest in property, that's fine, but that comes with special responsibilities because if you're providing a place for humans to live, they should have the option, if they're good tenants and paying their rent, of staying there for as long as they want," Latta says.

"And you should have to provide warm, dry homes, with smoke alarms and stuff. People whinge about how this passes the burden onto landlords, well yeah. Either invest in some other asset or stump up. Leaving kids and families in cold, dark houses should be criminal."

Latta also believes it is important to support parents and young people through community and to speak up if we see that something is not okay, even in someone else's family.

"Community is the way humans have lived for a few hundred thousand years; it's about everyone saying we have a kind of collective responsibility for each other," he says.

"We need to do this very un-Kiwi thing of stepping in and asking people how they're going. There's lots of social psychology about why people don't do these things - the bystander effect where we just assume that if no one else is doing anything, it must be okay so we don't do anything. But what it takes is strong leadership within a community and ultimately it needs people to step forward."

On an individual parenting level though, if we feel overwhelmed at times, it might help to take on Latta's advice of boiling things down to a set of basic principles and skills, one of which is teaching kids how to calm themselves and self-soothe.

"As a human in the world, that's a good skill to have and the earlier you start doing that the better."

Ultimately though, Latta advocates accepting that we are not perfect.

"Life is messy and humans are messy," he says.

"There is no paint-by-numbers solution [for parenting] but there are some fundamental principles that work and don't work."

This is exactly what his soon-to-be-released app will address, creating a resource for parents to turn to in the moment.

"When you're panicky and lost, and you don't know what to do, you just need something that will say "this is north, I know it's foggy and the wind is blowing but trust me, this is north - keep going north"."

And this, Latta says, could sum up a lot of his career advice.

"The complexity of the problem can hide what is sometimes a much more simple solution," he says.

"And that's really what the [Adventures in Parentland] talk is about too - it's just these are some simple basic things, some compass directions and if you follow this, you're more likely to get out the other end.

Nigel Latta's Adventures in Parentland, talk at Te Takeretanga 0 Kura-hau-po, Levin, Tuesday February 19th, 7pm. FULLY BOOKED.

The Revolution breakfast: Surviving and Thriving in the New World, Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-po Youth Space, Levin, Wednesday February 20th, 7am. Tickets at www.eventbrite.co.nz or from Te Takere.
For more information on Nigel Latta visit www.goldfishwisdom.org