Trees_Good Parents Parent Themselves

How to Be the Big Person Your Little Person Needs

Your little person needs a strong big person – but what exactly does that mean?

Being the best parent you can be is a bit like being a tree, says Claire Broad, a Cairns-based parenting coach and early childhood professional who works with families with children aged one to seven.

“Think of your child as a tree. Before a seed can grow into a tree, it must have strong roots,” Claire explains in her book, How to Be the Big Person Your Little Person Needs.

“They will keep it grounded through rough weather in later life. The plant is then free to unfurl towards the sun and grow big and tall. Over time, the trunk will thicken and get strong. Only then can it bear fruit. As a parent, you have to be in touch with your child’s ‘inner tree’.”

But to raise a happy, well-behaved toddler, you also have to be in touch with your own ‘inner tree’, Claire advises.

“You have to change, not just your Little Person,” she says. “Grow your roots by creating patterns of behaviour that benefit you and your mental health. Once you do that, your own trunk grows strong and your leaves unfurl. You become the Big Person your Little Person needs.”

A, B, C…..

To grow your toddler’s ‘tree’, Claire uses seven ABCs to help parents stay calm, in control and ready to offer the best guidance to them (and to teenagers).

She emphasises that no one-size-fits-all solution works for every child, family and situation, but for the tree to grow, all seven ABCs need to be in place.

A is for A Routine.
“Children are happiest when they know what’s coming next and how long they have to finish what they are doing. A routine is invaluable, especially with really Little People, as it allows them to have their needs met, before they end up screaming,” advises Claire.

Between three and six months, she recommends you start a feeding and settling routine.

“It is very rare that a Little Person will just ‘grow out’ of things like night-time wake-ups and food refusal.” Aim for somewhere between the ‘cult-following’ routiners and no routine at all, she says, and be prepared for your toddler’s habits to demand a change in routine.

B is for Boundaries.
Inside a child’s boundaries is their circular safe zone.“If a child finds a shaky boundary in one area of their circle, they will do a perimeter check and test all the other boundaries. So if you think it’s simpler to just give in on a battle, be prepared to have many of your other limits tested in the coming days,” Claire advises.

Tell (or better, show) your child where the boundaries are, always provide a reason, especially if it is a safety matter (but keep it short; long-winded safety speeches go in one ear and out the other), and when a child reaches a boundary make sure you let them know.

Explain what will happen if boundaries are over-stepped: “At Grandma’s house, I need you to stay in the living room. If you try to leave, you will have to sit on my knee.”

C is for Consistency.
It helps them to stop experimenting with behaviours. “Testing behaviour, temper tantrums, arguments and bargaining will just fall away,” says Claire.

Consistency gives kids a sense of security.

“Consistent Big People will promote confident Little People. Inconsistency leads to children feeling anxious and confused, with poor self-esteem and negative self-values. Only set rules that every adult in the family is willing to enforce. Every. Single. Time.”

D is for Discipline.
There are five different types of consequences you can use to discipline your child, says Claire: feeling-based (“When you take the baby’s food, it makes him feel sad”), natural (let the Universe do the work – let the cat scratch when your child pulls its tail), action-reaction (you do the work by creating a negative reaction to your child’s action), attention-removal (very effective for some annoying behaviours; be sure to reward good behaviours with positive attention) and final straw consequences (for extra-challenging or unsafe behaviour; this kind of consequence is often over- or under-used, Claire notes).

Don’t give second, third or fourth warnings.

Don’t negotiate; and don’t ignore poor behaviour after the first warning.

“There’s no need to get angry,” suggests Claire. “Let the consequence do the job.”

E is for Environment.
The two key elements of a positive environment are ‘encouragement’ and ‘engagement’. The fastest way to get children to do what we want is sometimes to tell them, and to positively reinforce good behaviour. Children don’t always know what is expected of them, and may even exceed your expectations if they know what they are.

And help the kids engage. They can’t research a craft activity on Pinterest, but you can. Engaged children are happy children.

F is for Follow Through.
Follow through not just on threats, but on the positives. Do the things you say you’re going to do.

G is for Gratitude.
Gratitude blocks negative emotions and helps both Big and Little People be more stress-resistant, explains Claire.To instill it in kids, give them chores so they appreciate how much work goes into things, say ‘no’ to buying every item of stuff your child desires, and ask your child to write thank you notes to people who give them gifts.

Your Own Inner Tree

Among the strategies Claire recommends to be a strong Big Person is to nurture your body with good food, exercise and sleep (whenever you can).

Her own approach to diet is a simple two tactics. She follows Michael Pollan’s advice in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”, and the 80/20 rule to allow for caramel fudge icecream, because “trying to do anything perfectly takes a huge amount of energy.”

Other tactics? Assemble your team.

Sit down with your partner at an official exploratory (not confrontative) meeting and discuss things like who is doing the 4am feed, who will take the nappy bin out, and how would they handle a tantrum. Set aside any topics you disagree on for a separate discussion. A joint outcome is the aim.

Surround yourself with friends, childcare support and relatives.

“Grandparents can be a bit of a mixed bag, but remember, you are the Big Person in charge, and it can be okay to go a bit Mumzilla (or Dadzilla) sometimes,” she says.

Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebound (SMART). Set up an accountability buddy and text her with ‘done’ when you’ve ticked off your goals.

Keep a gratitude journal.

“And train your mind to hear the leaves rustling next time your toddler belts out Let It Go for the 54th time, or to see that you managed to explain particle physics in toddler-speak, push the pram, and scrounge in the nappy-bag for a milk bottle all at the same time, or that you have trained a wild human being to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, unprompted. That is seriously cool.”

Claire Broad offers evening parenting workshops, private consultations and phone coaching around Australia. Sign up to her newsletter for nine free parenting-guide printables including emotional communication charts at She is the author of How to Be the Big Person Your Little Person Needs (Omne Group, $24.99).