Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist and author who understands how to parent. At Stylist Live LUXE she shared her simple wisdom.
When you’re tired, bored of playing with Lego and find your mind drifting off to your email list, it can be easy to ignore what your children really want from you. Especially as busy women, it sometimes feels like what we want and what our kids need can be at odds with each other. In fact, “we’re all on the same side,” reminds Philippa Perry, author of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, at Stylist Live LUXE. “We all want the kids to be happy so we can have a quiet life.”
Sharing her pearls of wisdom with the crowd, Perry explained that good parenting requires four things: empathy, tolerance, flexibility and problem solving. Here’s some simple (and rhyming) steps to get there, according to Perry.
Connect don’t correct
Perry says that creating a relationship is about understanding. Even as adults, being corrected can be embarrassing and humiliating, and sometimes all we want is sympathy and a listening ear rather than practical advice. Perry told a story of when she told her father she didn’t have a very happy childhood, and he told her off. “I felt unhappy, like I’d done something wrong. What he should have done is ask what’s wrong, and I would have said I hate school, and he could have said he hated school too. That would have been a moment of connection.
“I see it from his point of view: he lived through the second world war and here I am, living in peace time. I had nothing to complain about! But just because we had it harder doesn’t mean our children don’t have feelings.”
Feel with rather than deal with
This means really understanding what your child means, regardless of what they say. Think about the monsters under the bed: if you say there’s no monsters, the conversation ends with them frustrated and still scared. “Instead, ask about them, find their names,” advises Perry. “You might learn something about what’s going on with your child. Mine always found monsters when I was being impatient and wanted her to hurry up. It’s not always easy to articulate our feelings, even as parents, but children have their ways of telling us.”
Confide don’t hide
This is about telling our child how we feel so they understand why we do things. That means defining our boundaries relating to ourselves, not the child. Don’t say, ‘you’re tired, why don’t you go to bed?’ Say ‘I’m tired and so you need to sleep, because I need to put you to bed before I go to bed’. Tell them you’re leaving the park because you’re cold and bored. “It’s surprising how well they take that,” encourages Perry. “Tell the truth. Go for authenticity. Being real about your own feelings means your child will be open with theirs too.”
Be their friend
Ok, this doesn’t rhyme, but it was important to say. No one wants to confide in someone who, when you show them who you are, tell you not to be silly. Neither do our children. “We want our children to be happy all the time so we have a difficulty really hearing them when they’re not. We want to be in denial about our kids being unhappy. But in order to develop happiness we have to allow our children to have all of their emotions. Even the inconvenient ones. Even the ones you don’t feel in that situation.”
Perry also advises not “giving them two things to cry about”. For example, if they say they are sad that you’re going, don’t make them sadder by telling them it doesn’t matter. “Be with them in their grief,” she says.
Image: Bronan McNeil
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).