Want to be a great parent? Read this
In his new book, The Parenting Revolution, Dr Justin Coulson looks at a parenting style nobody has considered and explains why it matters.
Many of us will be familiar with common parenting styles such as “free-range parenting”, “helicopter parenting” or even “attachment parenting”. What about leaf-blower parents—not to be confused with lawnmower parents?
“Leaf-blower parents are very loud, very aggressive,” Dr Justin informs me in our interview over Zoom (watch our full conversation below). “They don’t actually deal with stuff so much as they dramatically blow it around so that someone else can clean it up.”
Then there are Tesla parents, iPhone 6 parents, tiger parents, gentle parents and more. Some come with hilarious descriptions while others seem potentially damaging for our children’s psyches.
“There are so many different parenting styles but there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to support any of them,” says Dr Justin. “I was getting really frustrated about all these parenting styles that are proliferating and yet the one that’s the most important, no-one ever talks about.”
The best way to parent
If Dr Justin’s name sounds familiar, you’ve probably watched him co-host Australia’s popular TV show Parental Guidance a few years ago. (If you’re a fan, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s returning soon with a new season.) Or perhaps you’ve listened to him on Australia’s top-ranked parenting podcast, Happy Families.
Dr Justin is probably one of the few people you should pay attention to when it comes to telling others how to parent. He’s a psychologist and has authored four other bestselling family and parenting books. He also has six daughters.
His latest book is called The Parenting Revolution and it promises to teach you “what it takes to be a great parent”. I thought it was a big call until I put his teachings into practice.
The day after reading The Parenting Revolution, I was immediately put to the test by my six-year-old who refused to go to school. Utilising Dr Justin’s strategies as recommended in his book, I was able to get my son to school—and me to work—happily and without a screaming match.
It was unbelievable.
There was a radiant smile on Dr Justin’s face when I shared how his book helped my difficult parenting moment. “I feel like I could float out of the building right now,” he told me. “[What you did is] sublime in its simplicity, but also in the profound way that it impacts on children’s wellbeing and our relationships. You’re meeting what psychologists call basic psychological needs and when we do that, our children feel motivated, they feel well, they feel healthy.”
Need-supportive parenting: 3 basic psychological needs
At a time when we’re obsessed with labelling our parenting styles, Dr Justin has created one of his own: need-supportive parenting. It may sound gimmicky, but its application is anything but.
As Dr Justin says, “It’s a science-based style of parenting that nobody’s ever written about before.” The Parenting Revolution, as Dr Justin puts it, “is about how we can tap into those basic psychological needs that kids have and be better parents because of it”.
Need-supportive parenting focuses on what Dr Justin has found—through research—are the three basic psychological needs. The Parenting Revolution doesn’t simply list what the needs are, it also has the science to back it up (in an easy-to-read way).
Children need to feel connected with us, their primary caregivers, and feel that they matter. As Dr Justin emphasises several times during our conversation, “Children need to feel seen, heard and valued.” This means having warm, supportive and involved parents. What this translates to is spending meaningful time together. (We’ll talk more about time later in this article. It also appears at 11:42 in the interview above.)
Children crave the desire to master something and to feel competent and capable. School—or learning a new skill—is often when they feel the most incompetent. “So much new content! All. The. Time. And then there are music teachers, sports coaches and others who, with the best of intentions, spend a lot of time pointing out all the ways that their students are getting things wrong,” Dr Justin writes in his book. Children often give up because they don’t feel confident. Children often act up because they don’t feel competent. Our job as parents is to push them that little bit further, but help them to break things down into smaller, more achievable steps.
Children need to feel a sense of autonomy and to be in control. Dr Justin is quick to point out this doesn’t mean putting them in charge or letting them make the rules. Instead, it’s about presenting the problem to them and working together to find a solution, while guiding them using parental experience and wisdom. So instead of saying, “You need to do this,” you instead say, “I’m concerned [XYZ] may happen, what do you think will work?” (Dr Justin explores this practically at 25:03 in our full interview.)
Time as confetti
It’s possible you’re starting to think what Dr Justin is advocating requires a significant time investment on our part. Time that no busy parent has. As he admits in the book, need-supportive parenting is not a fast parenting style and that love to children is spelled T-I-M-E.
“We have to be intentional,” Dr Justin says about how we can find and create time. “There’s no other way.”
Thankfully, he offers a different perspective on time that somehow manages to make need-supportive parenting achievable, despite the time commitment required. And that solution starts with the concept of time confetti, first coined by journalist Brigid Schulte.
Time confetti refers to the little snippets of time we have while going about our day. Two minutes waiting in a queue. Twenty minutes driving in the car. Five minutes before the washing machine cycle ends. All of that time adds up and more often than not, is spent scrolling through our phones.
“What if we use those moments of time confetti—when we’re in the car with the kids—as an opportunity to connect? And what if we had some fun conversations rather than how was your day?” proposes Dr Justin.
It’s a small amount of time, but the impact on relationship can be profound thanks to the conversations (Dr Justin even conveniently provides some fun conversation starters in his book).
“It changes the relationship and you’re taking advantage of the time confetti. And all of a sudden it feels like you’ve got time because you’re having meaningful connection, even in a three- or an eight-minute car ride. It changes our sense of time,” he says.
Emotions up, intelligence down
An important element of need-supportive parenting lies in being able to stay calm and patient especially when our children are being trying. This is obviously challenging for any parent, made even worse by the fact children often test us when we’re in a hurry or running late for something.
Dr Justin recognises this, but as he states in the book and in our conversation together, getting angry and forcing our children to bend to our will may get things done, but is a pattern that’s bound to rear its ugly head again and again.
“When your emotions start to go up, your intelligence starts to go down,” he says. “Emotions are contagious and so your child catches the emotion. So all of a sudden, we’ve got two really, emotional fighting people that are yelling at each other.”
Instead, if we allowed our children the space and time to be upset, and to really connect with them, and if we then took the time to talk with them and calmly explore a solution together, they will intrinsically know what to do should the situation arise again.
What I didn’t mention when I wrote earlier about my son’s school refusal was that while the problem was resolved with a happy feeling on both our hearts, we did end up having to rush to school to make up for the time lost by having a conversation. Need-supportive parenting requires time, patience and the ability to remain calm.
Dr Justin shows me the upside to all of this: “Today you’ve gone slow, but that means next time you’ll go a bit faster and a bit faster because you’ve done the heavy lifting.”
Putting everything into practice
That afternoon, after my chat with Dr Justin, I had another chance at being a need-supportive parent. It was close to dinnertime and I talked to my son about the problem we faced: He wanted to watch Bluey but he also had to finish his home readers—and we only had time for one of those.
To ensure he didn’t feel obligated to do his home readers for fear of negative consequences, I told him we could simply complete his readers the next day. Bluey or home readers, which would it be?
My son voluntarily chose his home readers over watching Bluey. If he was disappointed or upset about the decision, he didn’t show it.
Yes, I couldn’t believe it myself.
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