Q: These days, what with holding down a job and other commitments, there’s little time left for the children. How damaging is this for them?
Psychotherapist Chris Hart: All those scary American ‘Helicopter Parents’ try to make us believe we must manage our children’s lives 24/7. That’s actually really bad for them!
So providing you develop a good parenting style, and spend some time each day with your kids, they’ll be fine. Indeed, kids actually benefit from time spent doing their own thing, becoming more self-reliant and creative for example.
Q: So what’s a ‘good parenting style?’
Most important is having high expectations for your children’s behaviour, and their progress at school. And setting and enforcing consistent rules around the house. Kids need structure and motivation in their lives.
Q: It’s said that quality time is what counts. So what is quality time? And is it really true that quantity doesn’t matter? Does it help if I’m home and accessible, even though on my laptop or doing some work stuff?
Your kids need to see you around, and it motivates them to study harder if they see you working. So that time on your laptop’s actually good parenting! But they do also need to be able to talk to you.
That means being sensitive to hints that they want to say something important, and giving them your undivided attention for a few minutes. That’s what quality means.
Q: Is it true that a stay-at- home mum’s kids are better adjusted than a working mum’s? No matter how busy parents are, what are the things that they absolutely must do with their children?
Parenting’s everything, so providing it’s done well, it really doesn’t matter whether kids are brought up by a stay at home or a working mum. They mustn’t be neglected of course.
So it’s important that a working couple arranges good child care, and takes a real interest in their children’s lives. But provided they see lots of you, have plenty of interactions with friends and family, and pick up your values, they’ll do fine either way
Absolute must do’s? It’s enormously beneficial if the whole family eats together at regular mealtimes. Chatting with your kids about their day over dinner will alert you to any looming problems, like bad friends.
And do some things together, like going out for lunch, shopping, or just playing with them occasionally. Keeping a close watch on their homework and performance at school sends a powerful message. Enforcing your family rules on politeness, kindness, tolerance and chores, etc. sends another
Q: Where’s the line between being a friend or a parent to your child – are they mutually exclusive?
You absolutely can’t be ‘friends’ with your kids, you’re their parent! You should be warm and loving, of course, but good parenting also means being highly unpopular at times – like insisting they do their homework, or go to bed on time.
Trying to be friends usually means being far too permissive, and that results in children who don’t do well as adults, and are much more likely to get into drugs and so on. Good parents are tough. Until one day, when your children are fully grown, a very special kind of friendship will develop between you…
Q: What are the greatest mistakes modern parents make?
Being over protective’s high on the list. Kids need to gradually develop their independence – or they’ll never leave home! Giving them a hard time whenever they talk to you is another really bad idea.
Because it results in them editing what they tell you. You need to know everything that’s going on in their lives – so you can catch trouble before any serious harm’s done.
Being too permissive is another problem. You must help them to develop good values, and that won’t happen if you just let them do whatever they want.
Q: So what are the values a parent needs to impart for their children to be successful?
Kids get their values from watching you. So show them your values in the way you live your life. Show them that to succeed you have to work really hard, and to be passionate and resilient in everything you do.
Show them how to be honest and kind. Show them how to put things right when they – or you – make a mistake.
Explain to them that what they see in the media and the internet isn’t always true – Photoshopped images of ‘perfect’ models, de-blemished selfies, and sanitised violence in films for example.
Explain to them how your beliefs drive your behaviour. And as they absorb your beliefs and values, they’ll become good judges of right and wrong.
Q: The sore issue of discipline. How do you ensure you raise disciplined and respectful kids?
Small kids are great mimics. So they’ll do what you do. As you live your values, that’s how they’ll behave. So show them politeness, respect and kindness.
Small kids are also wildly antisocial! So you’ll have to insist that they don’t hit each other and learn to share gracefully. They’ll be lazy. And throw tantrums.
So you’ll have to insist on good behaviour. Do that, and your squabbling toddlers will gradually become great kids – all through to their teens.
Q. Modern day sages say that dialogue and so on is the way to go. Traditionalists say that the rod has its place. What do you think?
Actually, they both do. First of all, there’s no evidence that spanking does any psychological damage, despite its opponents. Though it must never be allowed to become abuse.
Spanking’s most effective with younger kids, and if it leaves more than a slight reddening, then you’re overdoing things. But the best discipline method of all is simply rewarding good behaviour with your approval.
Kids deeply need your attention and approval, so ignoring bad behaviour, or clearly and consistently saying what you don’t like, is a big deterrent.
Q. What can a single mum do to ensure that their children grow up confident and secure, despite the lack of a father figure in their lives?
A good male role model’s really important, so provide one by encouraging your children to spend time around another male whose life you admire – your own father perhaps, or a brother, uncle, or even a close friend.
Q. How does divorce / separation affect children? And how can the parents ensure a smooth transition?
Ideally, children are best brought up by two happy and loving parents. But if the worst happens and you need to part, don’t worry.
Providing you don’t start a bitter custody battle, don’t bad mouth each other to the children, or restrict their access to your co-parent when they’re with you, then your kids will be fine.
Just remember that your kids love you both, always be honest with them, and do your best to make their lives as little different as possible – except that now they’ve got two houses to live in!
Q. What are some of the things that should make a parent seek out therapy for their child?
Above all, any signs of cruelty or violence at any age. Impulsive behaviour, unwillingness to obey you, and a complete disregard of punishment are also very bad signs. Watch also for signs of excessive anxiety, depression, or eating disorders.
Q. What’s a parent to do when the children hate each other? What can parents do to ensure they grow up as friends? What if they have a bad relationship with you?
Kids are always jealous of each other, so expect sparks to fly some of the time. Be scrupulously fair, emphasise and praise their differences, and insist that everyone in the family is kind to everyone else.
Be a good, tough parent, be warm and express your love for your children. And be patient – and grit your teeth! Even small children are already making their own way in life, so there’s only so much you can do.