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24 August 2017Last updated
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Need parenting help? Meet the UAE’s super-granny

The founder of UAE and Cape Town-based Munchkins, Andalene Salvesen believes that listening and consequences form the cornerstone of family life

Mike Peake
16 Jul 2017 | 11:47 am
  • Source:Supplied

How did you become a parenting coach, Andalene?

I was always interested in how parents raised their children because to me it was very interesting to watch how they did it, even from a young age. Then when I had my own four children I ended up running a mums-and-tots group for 12 years.

Did that lead to coaching?

I had about 100 mums a week through my home and there were always the same questions that came up, so I decided to develop a programme to teach the parents what I’d learned. I started writing that with my brother, who is a clinical psychologist, and I developed it and began that full time about 20 years ago. It started with parenting seminars and then 11 years ago I started with home visits, too.

Who’s a typical client?

The conversation usually starts like this: ‘Hi, you helped my sister, I’m desperate!’ The main problem is that children are not listening, although it presents as ‘my child won’t sleep through the night’ or ‘he won’t eat his vegetables’. Whatever the issue, it always comes down to kids not listening. So I deal with listening skills.

How do you go about it?

When children are under six I will go to their home and I teach the parents how to get the child to listen – and that means the parent being in charge, calm, assertive, speaking once, and then there’s a consequence if the child doesn’t do what he or she has been asked. When children are over seven I typically sit and talk to the children with the parents and we work out a system. Unlike at school there are often no consequences at home so we work out a system, which I have them buy into. It’s almost like drawing up a verbal contract.

And it works?

It’s very easy to get buy-in. I get them eating out of my hands in the first five minutes, even teenagers.

What’s normally gone wrong when a family calls you in?

It’s not listening and it’s parents that have given up their authority due to media and to lack of knowledge. The media is telling people these days to just be their kids’ friend and that doesn’t work because kids don’t respect that. I try and get the parents to think of a teacher they respected at school. That teacher was not your friend. They didn’t shout, but they were firm and assertive, and if parents can be in charge like that then a child feels safe. If the person is floundering and expects the child to be in charge, then the child will lose respect for them and they don’t feel safe. I also help parents figure out age-appropriate consequences that are suitable for their home.

Like what?

With older kids it would be to take away their ‘currency’, and you’ll know what that is, typically cell phones and iPads. But you start with boundaries: ‘The iPad is only allowed x amount of time on the weekends’ or whatever you choose and then you have leverage by adding 15 minutes or taking 15 minutes away. iPads encourage children not to socialise and their social skills are far more important than their iPad skills.

Are there any problems that are UAE-specific?

There’s lots of cultural differences, but no. All over the world parents are floundering for good consequences. Taking away the iPad is just one example – I would also have children work towards a goal, something they could look forward to, and earn points for or have the right to. Especially if it can be something to do with a parent, not toys or sweets; something that is memory-building.

What do many loving parents do that is actually damaging?

They think that loving their kids means giving them things instead of time. That’s what children need: They don’t need toys and a big house, they need time with their parents and they need boundaries in place with their parents. I see it like a scale: you’ve got boundaries and consequences on one side and love and attention on the other. If they don’t weigh the same you’re in for a disastrous ride. You can’t just give endless love and have no boundaries because it causes confusion, and boundaries without love causes rebellion. You have to balance the two out.

Are any trends making parenting more difficult?

Digital devices are definitely a problem because they give parents a good excuse to have a hands-off approach and say, ‘go play with your iPad’. That ruins family relationships. Another danger is parents working longer hours to earn more money when love is really about time together.

What kind of things do parents with older kids need help for?

With teens it’s a lack of communication, which leads to frustration and it’s all because they are not given boundaries. I’ll ask the child what causes fights in the house and they’ll say, ‘bedtimes.’ Then when I ask them what time bedtime is they’ll turn and ask their mum because the child doesn’t even know! It’s not been clearly defined, and no one knows what the consequences are if you go over it.

What do you often say to parents that makes them see things differently?

One big, ‘aha!’ moment is when I explain that I believe there are actually five parenting styles instead of just two. We always talk about the good cop/bad cop but there’s more to it than that. First there’s a nurturer who over-compensates, and that’s good for a baby; then you get the authoritarian and that works for under 6-year-olds who need you to be strict and show them how to respect authority. Then comes the third style, which is more like a teacher or a trainer, someone to guide a child between the ages of 6-12. Then when they are 12-18 they need a coach, someone who poses questions and it’s more a form of working things out together. And then the fifth one is being their friend, and that’s when they leave home. You need to be able to switch from one style to the next.

If a child was reading this, what message would give them?

I would encourage them to speak their mind about what they’d like to do with their parents, because often they’ve never been asked. A lot of parents really don’t know what it is their children want.

Mike Peake

Mike Peake