When Leah’s two-year-old son Freddie starts a fight on a bouncy castle or at a play park, she looks the other way or smiles sweetly at another child, pretending he’s not hers. Her sister Jemima is usually there, hovering over her own daughter in case she trips, hears a swear word or needs to blow her nose.
Not far away, their mutual friend Kate is sending out work emails – she hasn’t seen her children for at least half an hour, but she hasn’t heard any screams so she assumes they’re safe enough.
We all have our own style of raising children. Some parents play by the rule book, with everything from mealtimes, screen time, play dates and homework set in stone, while others are so laid-back, some days they just about manage to get out of bed and their children look after themselves.
Many of us are in between, with parenting tips we picked up from our own parents. We even say some of the same things. “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and, “If you don’t brush your teeth, you won’t have any by the time you’re 40,” we repeat two or three decades after we first heard our parents saying those exact words.
Experts say parenting is usually a learned behaviour. If we remember our parents as fair, we copy their techniques, but if we question the way we were parented, we often do exactly the opposite.
“Most of us are influenced by our own parents,” says parenting expert Sue Atkins, author of Raising Happy Children (Wiley). “That’s fine if it works for you, but if your parent was very strict and you have memories of being shouted at or humiliated, you’re more likely to be a pushover with your own children.
“We even remember and repeat the things our parents told us, even though we live in a different world to the one we were brought up in.”
Coaches believe there are five types of parents – here they analyse each one and give advice on how to tone down that style of parenting if it isn’t working for you or your children...
THE HELICOPTER PARENT
This is you if… you interfere in every aspect of your child’s life.
You don’t let them climb trees in case they fall and break an arm. You don’t let them go out and cross roads or go shopping on their own when they’re old enough in case they get run over or abducted. They hand you their rubbish to put in the bin and leave you to clear their dinner plates away. You want to know everything from what their maths teacher said about their homework, to who they talked to on a play date.
When they’re older and go out with their friends, you text them all evening to check they have enough money and then you drive to pick them up at 3am!
You’re most likely to say… "Let me do that for you.”
“These parents fuss and they can’t let go,” says Sue Atkins (www.sueatkinsparentingcoach.com). “They’re anxious and they won’t let their children
make a mistake, even though life is about learning from our mistakes.
They’re always rescuing their children so the young ones don’t learn autonomy– they stay victims and dependent on their parents. Behaving like this helps the parent feel important and needed but it tells the child they’re not to be trusted and the world is a frightening place.”
Help! Let your child make the occasional mistake and see that nothing major happened. Leave them alone on play dates or on nights out and don’t interrogate them afterwards.
THE YES PARENT
This is you if… you let your child get away with breaking a valuable vase, punching another child, or staying out later than allowed.
You always believe your child is in the right. When you’re called in to speak to the head teacher about a playground incident, you go in on the defensive, believing your child has done no wrong.
Poor marks in a test? You blame the teacher. Caught smoking? You blame your daughter’s friends. You never impose a bedtime so your child stays up half the night on his Nintendo DS or iPad.
They have a drawer full of sweets to eat whenever they like. You sigh a lot and you speak to your child in a defeatist tone of voice.
You’re most likely to say… “Oh, all right then, go on.”
“This parent is hands-off,” says UK-based children’s life coach Naomi Richards, author of The Parent’s Toolkit (Vermilion, www.thekidscoach.org.uk). “So the child grows up thinking they can get away with poor table manners, throwing tantrums, not doing their homework and fighting in the playground. They have never had to say sorry so they grow up not knowing how to apologise. They have problems fitting in with other people’s lifestyles, at school and eventually work because they’ve always got away with bad behaviour.”
Help! Introduce simple rules such as sitting at the table and eating dinner with a knife and fork, going to bed at 8pm, no TV after 7pm, or being home by 10pm at weekends. And stick to them, no matter how much your children moan at you.
THE NOT-THERE PARENT
This is you if… you have a nanny as you work long hours and get home after your children are in bed.
But even when you’re with your children, you’re busy emailing the office or checking Facebook, and you don’t really listen to what they tell you. When your six-year-old tells you about her best friend Charlotte, you ask: “Who?”
If you make it to parents’ evening, you don’t know which grade your son is in, or who his teachers are.
On the rare occasions you go out with your children, you take them clothes shopping… for you. You see them getting close to nannies but that doesn’t bother you – it lets you off the hook. Now and then you feel guilty so you splash out on an expensive gift for them, like an iPad or some designer clothes.
You’re most likely to say… ”Not now, I’m busy!”
“I see a lot of children who are looked after by their nannies or maids and they have little or no interaction with their parents,” says Adam Zargar, a coach at 2b Limitless in Dubai, a child empowerment coaching centre (www.2blimitless.com). “They’re sad that no one goes to their assemblies, sports activities or even asks about their day. These children retreat to their computers or television. They soon learn there is little point telling their parents anything as they won’t want to listen or give any support so the child feels isolated or helpless, especially if they make a mistake.”
Help! Spend some quality time with your children. Even just once a week, have dinner as a family, or do something fun, like watch a movie or visit a waterpark. During this time, put your smartphone away and give them 100 per cent of your attention!
THE STRICT PARENT
This is you if… you tell your children off about everything.
If they carry their cereal bowl to the dishwasher, you shout at them for spilling milk on the kitchen floor. You expect grade As in exams and personal bests at sports day. They’re allowed an hour of TV at weekends, their friends can call round between 4pm and 6pm on Saturdays, they must visit/call grandparents every Friday and their manners must always be impeccable.
You never, ever deviate from your rules, even when your children are ill or upset and you never listen to other people’s opinions. When your teens challenge a decision, you tell them sharply: “Because I said so.”
You’re most likely to say… ”It’s my way or the highway!”
“Children with strict parents are so afraid of the consequences of failure that they work really hard and do extra study in order to succeed,” says Adam Zargar. “They tend not to engage in problem behaviour and they steer clear of trouble as children.
However, because they’re afraid to talk to their parents, they don’t get enough practice at conversation and sometimes struggle communicating with their peers. They’re so used to routine, rules and regulations they don’t know how to handle free time or be spontaneous. At university they don’t know how to fend for themselves.”
Help! Give your children two days a week when you have nothing planned for them and they can go with the flow. You may be surprised they behave perfectly well without you standing over them shouting.
THE PERFECT PARENT
This is you if… you love your children, you’re there for them and you support them as they grow up. You have clear rules and boundaries and they’re certain about
what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
If they miss the train after a movie, they know they must call home immediately. You reward them for doing well at school and you praise them when they’re considerate, kind, hard-working and generous. If your child is involved in any trouble, you hear what happened, and talk to all parties to assess what action should be taken. You have open discussions and listen to your children’s views and you encourage them to problemsolve and be independent.
You’re most likely to say… ”I hear what you’re saying.”
“These children are good at communicating as they have had an open dialogue with their parents and plenty of time to practise,” says Adam Zargar. “Their parents have sat down with them and planned a balanced timetable for study, free time, friends and family time. They’re aware of their parents’ boundaries and they know there will be rewards or punishments depending on their behaviour.”
Help! Keep up the good work and in years to come enjoy watching your children bring up your grandchildren in exactly the same way. Keep an ear open, too, for some of your old sayings!