“Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.”
So says Jo Frost, an English television personality and parenting expert better known as Supernanny, who helps troubled families overcome their problems with disciplinary, behavioral, and entertainment techniques.
“The integrity of your word holds a lot of weight with children,” she adds. “Be honest and be truthful, as these are all virtues that you’re teaching your children. Just be polite and be direct. But be kind.”
Speaking at Parenthood: The Unconference, an event organized by Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge in November 2022, the expert of 37 years revealed that one big issue with modern parenting is that many grown-ups don’t understand the difference between being an authoritarian and being authoritative. That can impact their parenting style, which can have a knock-on effect on their children.
“The authoritarian parenting style is very ego-based and fear-based,” she said at her keynote discussion. “It’s ‘my way or highway’, and it can certainly be from a space where parents are not conscious enough to understand they may have had trauma themselves in their own upbringing. Now as parents raising their own children, there’s no communication with a child, there’s no emotional bonding and there’s no validation — it is because I said so, I don’t need to explain because you do as I say.”
An authoritative parenting style is about having boundaries, because these make for healthy relationships. Frost, who has a new show premiering in Australia in 2023 called The Parents Jury, suggests people listen to what kids have to say, and find the patience to listen with empathy.
“Being able to do that means that we create a parenting style that feels very inclusive, because it allows us to understand that we value our children and want to listen to what they have to say — and what they feel matters,” she continued.
Frost has lots of tools to ensure a happy household including the SOS technique, which involves stepping back from a situation, observing, and stepping back in.
“Take a step back and don’t get caught in the tornado of it all, because at that moment, adrenaline is running. When a paramedic comes onto the scene, they’re not looking for the person making noise, they’re looking for the person who’s quiet because that’s the one who needs attention straightaway,” she says. “So, the ability to step back and observe what the situation is, and to then step back in with action, allows us to decide in that moment in time how are we going to correct the behavior. So, it’s so important that you are able to refrain from jumping into a reactive state.”
In a world where busy parents are spinning numerous plates, it’s easy to continue adding to the load, which also adds to the amount of stress. Frost’s advice is to look at these plates and prioritize: which ones are going to have a positive impact on your family and most importantly on your children? “Spin less plates and you’ll be happier. Who are you trying to keep up with? This is not a race,” she smiles.
Mindful and present
Frost also believes making time for yourself is crucial to creating healthy relationships with your family. She suggests that constantly taking from yourself to fulfil others leads to you having less patience, perseverance, and tolerance. She believes it’s detrimental to sacrifice ourselves to the point that then our entire family is unhappy. But it’s not a quick fix.
“Everything’s long term. If you are short-sighted, you lose what it’s all about, which is the privilege and the honor to raise another human being in this world. So, carve that time out for yourselves and make sure that you keep that promise to yourself.”
Being mindful and present is key, she added. “In moments where we feel reactional, we can now catch ourselves for a moment. Ask ourselves: do we change the behavior or do we continue? And if we’re dealing with a lot of anger and frustration, it’s likely we’ll snap because we want to get it off our chest. But if we’re able to continue with the art of mindfulness and practice, it allows us to take a couple of seconds and say, I’ve got a choice here.”
Don’t beat yourself up
Frost’s final piece of advice is simple: perfect parenting doesn’t exist, but it can always be better.
“Parents need to value so many elements such as empathy, inclusivity, respect, and be prepared to mirror that behavior as well as teach it by example,” she told Live Healthy. “And it’s not an easy journey but once you can work out where you are today, you can continue to improve on that.”