'British Nanny' Emma Jenner on the Crisis in Modern Parenting & Why Sippy Cup Colors Matter

keep calm and parent on cover emma jennerEven before her new book, Keep Calm & Parent On: A Guilt-Free Approach to Raising Children by Asking More From Them and Doing Less, hit shelves earlier this week, Emma Jenner found herself at the epicenter of ardent debate among moms. All because her article for The Huffington Post, which details the "modern parenting crisis," struck some parents as controversial (to say the least!).

As a reality star on TLC's Take Home Nanny, child development and child behavioral specialist, and founder of consulting service Emma’s Children, Jenner has studied and worked with children for 17 years. Upon noticing that the same parenting mistakes were arising among family after family, she decided it was time to share her approach with the masses. 

Emma spoke with The Stir about the biggest mistakes parents are making today, what they can do to be happier and more effective, and of course all those tongues clucking about kids' right to choose their own sippy cup colors.

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What inspired you to write the book and call attention to what you see as a crisis in modern parenting?
I have a parenting consulting firm, and in each house I went into, I kept seeing the same mistakes over and over again. I just knew I could help parents [with] a book. It's a checklist format, because I think it's really hard to be objective and see what's happening when you're standing so close, and you're in the trenches. And the book really helps you isolate the problem and see what's going on. It essentially puts me on your shoulder or in your house, but you don't need me, because you have the checklist! I've read huge books on discipline, and they're overwhelming. I just wanted to put it in a format that was really easy to follow and would actually work.

What factors have lead up to, or are contributing to, the biggest problems you see in parenting today?
There are so many factors. Parents are a lot more busy now than they ever used to be. When both parents are working and they're gone all day, and they only see their children for two hours a day, the last thing they want to do is be the disciplinarian and set certain boundaries. They want to make their child happy, and they want to enjoy their time with them. A lack of support within the community is another huge one. We don't live in small villages anymore, and everybody was there to support you, whereas now if your child acts out in public, everyone's frowning upon you. I think there's a lot of judgment to have really well-behaved kids. The community as a whole used to set a standard for what was acceptable and what wasn't, and parents used to be more open to criticism. Now, parents take that personally vs. okay, 'My child's not behaving well at the local school or store. What can I do to better my child?' The parent now gets defensive and isn't open to that. Everybody wants to portray this perfect image of, you know, my kid's perfect, and kids are scheduled up the yin-yang to be the best football player and piano player and speak five languages! I feel like it's become more of a competition. I also think we've also lowered the bar. We don't expect children to behave well, instead we make excuses for poor behavior.

What should parents be focusing on teaching their children to rectify this?
[We should be asking] what does a child really need? They need to be respectful, have really good manners, to be able to communicate with others around them. 'What is going to help my child function in the real world?' We're not taking the time to teach children basic skills, like how to behave nicely in a restaurant. Instead, we're taking the easy way out in giving them an iPad, or excusing their behavior. First and foremost is respect. If you can teach your child to respect themselves, respect others, you, their belongings, and their surroundings, I think that you've won half the battle, really. Then, they'll look after their things and be polite to their friends and obviously listen to you more if they respect you. Also, we baby kids today. Having faith in our children, knowing they can do something -- like sit in a restaurant or say 'thank you' for a playdate -- if you show them how is huge.

What do you have to say to your critics who say "just give your child the sippy cup they want" and generally disagree with your approach?
The whole sippy cup thing actually drives me bonkers. I believe in giving kids choices. So, if I haven't poured the milk, and a child asks me for the color blue, of course she can have the color blue. Or if I have time, maybe I'll give her a choice of the blue cup or pink cup today. The point is, if I've already poured the milk, just because you have a tantrum, I'm not going to then switch the cup. If you'd like the blue or pink, you can have that next time, but the whole point of that is ... it's not about a sippy cup. It's about not giving in to your child just because they have a tantrum. Because there are going to be scenarios in life where kids don't get everything they want. You're going to be in a store, and they're going to want a toy, and just because they have a tantrum, they are going to think they can now have the toy. It spirals across their whole world. You're encouraging a tantrum. They now realize, 'If I have a tantrum, I'm going to get what I want,' so you're encouraging tantrums left, right, and center! They can't just have a fit when things don't go their way. It's part of life, we have to teach children to cope with disappointments.

How are parents making parenting harder on themselves?
Like the sippy cup, if you set your child up in a way that they learn how to deal with disappointments, and they know you're important too, and you need to take a shower, certain behavior is expected of them, children will then rise to the occasion. They will do all of those things. Parents are catering to their kids so much that they literally have no lives themselves.

What's an example of a situation in which parents were able to put your approach to work for them?

I worked with a family that was in complete chaos. The mum was catering to her boys every need, and the dad just yelled a lot. The boys were fighting all the time and behaved atrociously. I spent a couple of days working with them; I set up a schedule incorporating enough sleep; regular meal times and lots of outdoors time. Kids need fresh air and time to blow off steam. Then, I tackled the main problems. I encouraged dad not to yell and gave mum permission not to cater to her child's every want, which included not making two different meals every night. We set firm boundaries with the boys and followed through with consequences if the boys acted out. It only took a couple of days but the boys quickly learned there was a level of behavior that was expected of them and anything less would not be tolerated.

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What are some simple tips you offer moms to help them "keep calm" and have an easier time parenting?

First of all, respect is huge. Get your confidence back -- really, really own it! There's nothing your child can do that you can't handle, whether you're in a restaurant, the grocery store, etc. Just know you have it under control. Set realistic boundaries. Pick your battles, but know what's important to your family and know what your expectations are and then, stand by them, be firm with them. Have a list of consequences ready. In the throws of something, it's hard to pull out a consequence you can follow through with. Have a list of three you can use (like pulling TV away) and always follow through on them, because your word is everything. If you say you're gonna do it, and you don't, your child isn't going to believe you. With food, if your child doesn't want to eat their dinner, that's up to them. There are some things kids can control, and eating is one of them. So don't make it your problem. Put a well-balanced meal in front of them, and if they eat it, great, and if not, well, they'll just be hungry. I think parents need to be okay with their kids being hungry sometimes. Otherwise, if you get up and make a second meal or make them only chicken nuggets or pasta, well, then, guess what, that's what they're going to want every day. And don't be too hard on yourself. Parenting is incredibly difficult, and parents are never going to be perfect. I'm certainly not perfect! I see so many parents say, 'I'm doing this and that wrong.' You're gonna have days when you're going to lose your cool, and that's okay. I know it's really hard to do, but when you can take a big breath, and try to calm yourself, and you'll notice what a difference it makes to the situation. Your child will respond better to you, and you'll feel in much more control.

 

Does this change how you feel about any of your own parenting techniques?

 

Image via Atria Books

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