Parenting expert Sue Atkins on love, divorce and discipline

Children spell love T-I- M-E so spend time playing with them, talking with them, listening to them and eating together counts.

Sue Atkins is an internationally recognised Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author of the Amazon best-selling books  "Parenting Made Easy – How To Raise Happy Children” & “Raising Happy Children for Dummies" one in the famous black and yellow series as well as author of the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. Sue offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, resilient children from toddler to teen & specialises in using her “5 Step Self Esteem Solution” with families to boost long term self-esteem and self-confidence.
She regularly appears on the award winning flagship ITV show “This Morning”, BBC Breakfast and “The Jeremy Vine Show” on BBC Radio 2 and is the parenting expert for many BBC Radio Stations around the UK. She is a regular contributor on radio and TV and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

Currently, she is in India for pep talk organised by Along with Educationist Swati Popat Vats and Harish Shetty among other, she will give her talk tomorrow at Bhaidas Hall, Andheri West, Mumbai at 10:30 am.

Lifestyle editor Khristina Jacob spoke to her about the nuances of Parenting -- Frustrating to Fun. Challenging to Inspirational. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
KJ: How does culture and history of a country matter in the process of bringing a child up?

SA: Countries and cultures vary in detail but basically hold the same vision for their child which is to help them grow up to be happy, confident, resilient adults.

KJ: Can you give us some examples of parenting styles and how they differ from culture to culture?

SA: There are basically three types of parenting around the world – ‘Authoritative Parenting’ where you are in charge but are flexible in your approach, ‘Authoritarian Parenting’ which is a restrictive, punishment heavy parenting style in which parents make their children follow their directions with little to no explanation and ‘Indulgent Parenting’ where the parent is responsive but not demanding. Indulgent parenting also called permissive, non-directive or lenient and is characterised as having few behavioral expectations for the child.

In my opinion the best form of parenting style is the ‘Authoritative’ style where parents have clear expectations, clear boundaries but are flexible and positive as well as confident in their style and methods of discipline. They bend, not break and change their expectations as their child matures and grows up. Speaking to a teenager the same way you spoke to a teenager is not going to work.


KJ: Keeping the above question in mind, what are some universal parenting advice that you can give to young parents with regards to discipline and obedience.

SA: Children love you and you are their primary role model in all you do and say and your children want to please you. So they need you to have clear rules and consistent boundaries around what is and isn't acceptable to you. Then be firm, fair and consistent in implicating your rules and have clear consequences if they don't do as they are told. Stickers, extra stories, extra time on the computer or playing outside are all good ways to motivate your children to do as they are told.

Children are either motivated 'towards' something or motivated 'away from' something so work out which way your children are motivated and you've cracked your discipline. The trouble is children in the same family can all be different in the way they are motivated.


KJ: In this day and age, when even in India, both parents have full time jobs; they tend to overcompensate on not being able to spend time with their kids. What kind of advice would you give them?

SA: Yes, that's a problem across the world with the parents I work with. It's about being totally focused in the moment with your children - if you are at home playing, then be totally in that moment and not worrying about the report you have to write later from work. Similarly, when you are at work don't feel guilty about not being at home. I wrote an article on 'The Big G - The Gremlin of Guilt' which is just a negative way to beat yourself up and helps no one as it just exhausts you. Don't overcompensate by over indulging your child by letting them stay up late, or by eating too many sweets you will be saving up problems for later.

KJ: What advice would you give working parents about how to spend time with their children, that does not involve malls/movies/dinners?

SA: Children spell love T-I- M-E so spend time playing with them, talking with them, listening to them and eating together counts. We all live in a very fast paced, hectic world of 'busyness' so take the time to sit down at least once a week and eat together and talk. Don't just nag about eating the vegetables and holding the cutlery properly.

KJ: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child'. This is one line everyone in our generation has heard and experienced first-hand. However, nowadays, it seems like parents are getting more and more afraid to pick up the "rod". What do you suggest?

SA: There really is no need to smack a child. There are so many ways to discipline a child that are firm, fair and consistent. I have been interviewed many times on prime time UK TV about this issue but the problem is - when do you start and when do you stop and the real question to ask yourself is ' What am I teaching my child when I hit them for making mistakes or doing something wrong? What am I doing to their self esteem?'

I recorded my ' Secret to Well Behaved Kids' CD to help parents find lots of alternatives to 'picking up the rod' with their children.

Many studies have shown that smacking children really doesn't work and can quickly escalate and damage their long term confidence. Being frightened of your parent is not the best way to nurture, cherish and build a loving bond between you.
KJ: There was a recent research that claimed that divorce was actually good for kids (with the idea that it's better for parents to separate than to continue fighting, which eventually is a worse growing environment for kids) Do you agree? What are your thoughts on this?

SA: Children often feel trapped in the middle of their parents failing relationship and often blame themselves for what's happening. Children unconsciously know when there is tension in their home and in those circumstances, it can be better if the parents separate or divorce. Each family circumstance is different and unique and that's where my work comes in helping families look at the pros and cons of divorcing. I am publishing 2 new Conversational Cards around Divorce to help children feel heard, understood and nurtured around the really stressful and challenging time of divorce as this is a subject very close to my heart as I have recently divorced after 22 years of being married.
KJ: Tell us something about your own experience with parents coming to you for advice. What are some of the heartbreaking and exhilarating stories you can share with us; stories to warn our young parents and encourage them too.

SA: Well, it's an enormous privilege and honour to work with parents, children and families and I love hearing all the stories around families using my 'Easy Button' as it's such a simple, fun and easy way to discipline kids of all ages.
KJ: We are now hearing about several parenting ‘styles’ that are gaining popularity. From helicopter to tiger parenting, urban couples are lapping up books and DVDs based on these methods. Your thoughts on this?

SA: I think parenting is the most important job in the world but it is also one of the hardest jobs in the world too as I always say 'Kids don't come with a handbook' - even our washing machines come with more instructions don't they than our children?

So it's a good idea to read some books to inspire you ( of course mine included ! ) but it's about trusting your instincts as you love and know your child the best so be patient with yourself as you discover the ways that feel right for you. See your parenting as an adventure and always stay positive.

KJ: Top 5 things we SHOULD say to our kids:

SA: I love you
Well done - that was brilliant
What shall we play today?
Fancy a story?
You are an amazing, wonderful, unique person - I love this -------- about you, I respect ------- this about you and I admire ------- this about you.

KJ: Top 5 things we SHOULD NOT say to our kids:

SA: Shut up
That was hopeless
Why are you always the naughty one, clumsy one, lazy one?
Why aren't you more like your sister/brother?
I'm busy

KJ: In closing, you are a writer yourself; tell us how important it is for new parents to read parenting books. Purists will say it is better to learn through experience (and elders) itself. Your thoughts?

SA: It's a balance - some times we all hit a niggle, worry or a problem in our parenting and books and parent coaching provides you with new ideas, fresh perspectives and different strategies from what you might be currently doing. We are all a work in progress and there is no such thing as a ' perfect parent' they only exist in Bollywood films. So go out there and be a real one and have fun on your parenting adventure.

PepTalkParents is an interactive forum created for parents to hear, read about and watch videos on parenting techniques, latest brain research and effective ideas on and about parenting. It is also an official YouTube channel populated by BornSmart (India’s first ever video-based parenting website)