Life & Culture

How to Calm a Challenging Child

Psychotherapist Miriam Chachamu says she can transform family life.


Israeli-born family psychotherapist and parenting consultant Miriam Chachamu has some wise words for parents who find it hard to relinquish control of their children. "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you."

They are not her words, but come from the 20th-century Lebanese writer and philosopher Khalil Gibran.

Nevertheless they sum up for her "one of the fundamental principles of parenting - nurturing but letting go".

She adds: "You cannot control your children but you can influence them and you can create the conditions for a child to blossom, grow and become independent."

Chachamu, who came to Britain with her three children and husband in 1990, has just written a book called How to Calm a Challenging Child, aimed at parent of children up to age 12. It is the culmination of a decade advising mothers and fathers.

"I realised that parents who understand their children's perspective well and master some practical communication skills are well positioned to give their children a happier childhood, and I wanted to help parents achieve this," she says.

"I wanted the book to be accessible for all parents, which is why I decided to use cartoons to illustrate the concepts that I am trying to convey."

One of the main issues affecting families today, she believes, is that many first-time parents are left to bring up their babies on their own. This was not the case a few decades ago when extended families and neighbours played a significant role in helping to raise children.

On top of this, many parents cannot or do not want to fall back on the model of parenting which they were raised with, because society has changed and that method no longer works.

Chachamu's perspective bridges her experiences both in Israel and the UK. In Israel, while the issues parents struggle with are similar, there are fundamental differences in the way they bring up children.

"Firstly, they do not have ‘play dates' - where parents socialise together to give their children an opportunity to play together. They are also more laid back and their expectations are different. Israeli children are allowed to run around and make a lot of noise, and the parents usually just enjoy it," she says.

"At home, routines are usually less strict, most children walk or take the bus to school from a young age, and it is normal for them to spend some time at home alone or with siblings until their parents come back from work.

"Many families do not have a fixed bedtime or mealtime, but there isn't one right way for raising kids."

She says that children need to fit into the society where they live. In Israel, for example, a typical Israeli child may be perceived as noisy and rude by English standards, whereas an English child may be perceived as too polite to the point of discomfort, and would probably not be able to stand up for himself in an Israeli school playground.

Chachamu is confident that the techniques she teaches work. "If parents take on the ideas in the book, family life will be transformed," she says.

Chachamu's Parenting rules

 Spend enough time together, both as a family and with individual children, doing things you all enjoy.

 The adults in a family are the management team, and as such they need to have meetings, discuss solutions and support each other in carrying them out. The team needs to take children's requests into account, but it has to be in charge.

 Accept that it is impossible to control what children do at any given moment. Instead take a long term view - aim to progress, not to win.

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