Great expectations

Are today's children out of control, or controlled too much?
Are today's children out of control, or controlled too much? 

Children are being controlled by their parents too much, says parenting coach Justin Coulson.

The father-of-five daughters says it's a mistake many mums and dads are making.

"A lot of people think kids are out of control these days," says Coulson, "but I actually think it's the opposite, that kids are being controlled too much and because they're feeling so controlled and so stifled and stymied they rebel, they push against it and they do things that make it seem like they're out of control because there's too much control."

Coulson, who has a psychology degree with a PhD in parenting, also says that a lot of parents get unfairly frustrated at their kids.

We have unrealistic expectations of them and forget that they're learning and developing, he tells AAP.

"We often expect that they should know what we know, especially if we've told them what we know.

"We just expect that if we've told them they should get it and we fail to take into account children's developmental progress; their capacity to understand and then carry out what's right, and so a lot of parents get really frustrated at their kids for just being kids."

A third common mistake, he says, is that we talk and lecture too much and make too many demands.

"I'm not saying that we should let them get away with anything and everything but I think if parents were generally more compassionate that children would actually grow up feeling happier and safer and more secure."

Coulson, 36, lives on the NSW South Coast with his wife, Kylie, and their five daughters, who range in age from two to 13.

He has penned a book about parenting, with the central message that children will learn much faster and more effectively when parents work with them.

The book, titled What Your Child Needs from You, is his first and was penned with the aim of helping parents develop the skills that will help them create a happier family.

Despite Coulson's advice, he says there is no single correct way to being a good parent.

In his book he writes about how there are really only a few things that we, as parents, must do. The first is to make sure we are emotionally available.

"If we are not emotionally available for our children they will suffer, they will struggle, they'll be insecure, they will grow up with substantial challenges both in the short and the long term," says Coulson.

Being emotionally available means that when our children need us, we are there for them, he explains. Instead of the parent telling their children what to do, listen.

The second thing is to show understanding.

"Our kids don't actually need us to fix their problems, they just need us to understand, which we can't do unless we're emotionally available."

Thirdly, children need us to teach them how to behave.

Punishment, says Coulson, doesn't teach children good ways to act, only that the big person with the power can hurt them if they don't do what they're told.

"It doesn't teach them how to think through the consequences of their actions. It doesn't teach them how to take another person's perspective...

"If mum and dad shout and push their weight around then children learn that's the way you get what you want, which means that once they're in a position of power that's the way they'll behave as well."

There are a range of ways to deal with discipline and they depend on the age of the child, says Coulson, but, he adds, it predominantly comes down to asking questions such as "why did you do that?" and "how do people feel when you behave like that?"

Coulson says this approach allows children to think through what they've done, and about the consequences and what better ways to behave might have been.

Despite this, some parents really struggle with their role, he says.

"There's something going on inside us where we know that when we shout, or when we send them to their room or when we spank them, there's something inside us that cringes and says `that's not how I'm supposed to do it', but we just don't know what else to do and out of exasperation and frustration a lot of parents respond like that.

"Kids need our time and our focus and our understanding." 

* What Your Child Needs from You: Creating a Connected Family by Justin Coulson is published by ACER Press, rrp $24.95.

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If we are not emotionally available for our children they will suffer, they will struggle, they'll be insecure, they will grow up with substantial challenges both in the short and the long term