What Your Child Needs From You: Creating A Connected Family

by Justin Coulson

Reviewed by      Karen Fontaine

Justin Coulson is an Australian parenting, relationships and happiness expert, but what really jumped out from his bio at the start of this, his first book, is the not-insignificant fact that this academic has five daughters. Here, I thought, is a man who understands the value of free time! No father of five would pen a turgid tome his fellow parent would never have the time, nor the inclination, to pick up.

 
Once I’d settled in to read, what ricocheted off the page and sank straight into my psyche was Dr Coulson’s statement that parenting is “really a self-development course for adults…our children teach us things about ourselves we might never have otherwise learnt”. Indeed, this book is actually less about your children and more about yourself, and how you can moderate your emotions in reaction to theirs. A sort of I’m Okay, You’re Okay for the modern family, it’s a self-help book cleverly disguised as a parenting manual.
 
Dr Coulson has written a small but perfectly formed manual for 21st-century parenting which aims to teach men and women how bringing up children has the capacity to “teach us how to be truly kind, compassionate people – if we make it a priority”. 

 

WHAT (it’s all about)

 
In four succinct chapters, Dr Coulsontries to help you improve your relationships with young children, adult children, your spouse, your parents and even your colleagues. He talks of mindful (and mindless) parenting; how emotions are contagious; how parents often talk too much and forget to listen; and “how the way we respond to our children’s emotional state teaches them about whether emotions are appropriate or not”. 
 
And here’s the point that will make most parents sit up and listen: Dr Coulson tells us effective discipline “is most likely to occur as we take the time to be emotionally available and really understand our children”. That is, recognising and acknowledging their level of development; working with them rather than doing things to them; teaching good ways to act through effective and repetitive induction (where we ask more questions rather than giving the answers); taking our child’s perspective and encouraging them to take the perspective of others; and using gentle reminders.
 

WHY (you should read it)

 
“We all want a happy family,” writes Dr Coulson in the preface. “This book will show you how to have one.”And so right from the get-go, Dr Coulson reveals the number-one secret to raising a happy child: “A parent who is emotionally available…this is the single most important thing we can do to create a happy, peaceful home and a secure child.” 
 
The beauty of this book is the introspection it invites; after Dr Coulson has laid out his theories and arguments, he prompts his readers to reflect via a “Points to Ponder” box at the end of each chapter. 
 
It is the polar opposite of spoon-feeding. He’s not doing all the work for you; on the contrary, he presents his insights and views – and then he leaves it up to you to do the best you can with the tools you have. Just as the midwife did when she handed you your bundle of baby in the labour ward, from this point on, it’s entirely up to you.
 
Reading this book won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be ultimately worthwhile. Much like the parenting journey itself, really.
 

WELL…

 
No parent in the world has endless time on their hands. However, the particularly time-strapped might take affront to Dr Coulson’s assertion that “hurry(ing) tells a child, ‘my needs are more important than yours’, ‘you are slowing me down’, ‘you’re not pulling your weight’, ‘you are a burden’.” He goes on to say that “often our demands that our children hurry are the result of poor planning, impatience or intolerance…we can hurry them up, or we can embrace their enthusiasm for exploration, learning and new experiences”. Try reciting that to a working mother trying to drop two toddlers at daycare before battling peak-hour traffic. 
 

 

Here's an excerpt of a particularly profound part of the book

“The alternative to being emotionally available is to be emotionally disengaged. When we are emotionally disengaged, we ignore our children and refuse to involve ourselves in their lives. Our responses to our children’s needs are automatic, with little or no awareness of what is occurring within our child. Author Alfie Kohn calls this kind of parenting operating on ‘autoparent’. This happens at those times when we brush our children off, giving them a cursory ‘uh-huh’ while we listen to our own thoughts and respond to our own needs. All of us are guilty of operating on autoparent at times and, while not ideal, disengagement is completely normal. 

 

 

 

No parent can be endlessly involved in everything their child is doing, thinking, saying and feeling. In fact, for our households to function effectively it is necessary, and healthy, to allow our children space. Being emotionally available does not mean hovering over our children, or ‘helicopter parenting’. What matters most is our availability when we are needed. The best parents find a way to be emotionally available and present for their child when the need does arise. All other priorities can be put off. The child becomes the focus, and the parent becomes mindful: present and aware.”



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