Getting to know…Dr Justin Coulson

Dr Justin Coulson is one of Australia’s leading parenting experts and is a highly sought-after international speaker and author. Justin has recently launched his 2nd book called 21 Days to a Happier Family. This impressive, scientific-based book is aimed at guiding parents through the latest research and up to date parenting thinking.
Tell us about yourself
I’m a Dad to 6 daughters (aged 16 to 2), and a husband to Kylie. We have been married for 18 years. Yes we do have a TV, but we don’t like watching it! And yes, we think 6 is the perfect number of children for us. It’s funny, but I don’t feel old enough to have 6 daughters and to have been married for that long – but I am!
I’m an author and speaker. I feel as though the reason I am on this earth is to help make families happy. It’s not a job, it’s my vocation. I really feel as though this is my calling in life.
I write books and articles about parenting and happiness both together and individually. I speak in schools and organisations around Australiasia on how to make our families happy, how to get our relationships right, and improving our wellbeing.
In addition I am an avid reader, an incessantly curious learner, and a Lycra-clad cyclist who doesn’t mean to slow the traffic down – I promise.
You have a wonderful new book called 21 Days to a Happier Family which launched early this month – tell us about it?
I noticed that parents don’t smile much, whether it’s in the park or at the beach or in the car – and especially at the shops. When parents are with their children they tend to look stressed and maybe its my line of work but I have also noticed that parents are struggling to know how to raise their children in the society and culture that we are operating in now.
Things have changed immensely since the 1970’s and 1980’s when we were growing up. I wanted to help parents to understand what the very best new science is telling us about making our families happy, and what is making children resilient.
One of the reasons for this is we are operating with the 1970’s parenting skills we learnt through being raised ourselves. The universities are still teaching 1970-1980’s parenting paradigms. The science and best practice of parenting has unquestionably moved on since then.
21 Days to a Happier Family is about equipping parents with the latest science to improve family life.
There is online program content that accompanies the book – what can parents expect to find and learn with this?
The book is a stand-alone product and you can buy the book and get everything you need. Some parents want extra guidance and help with it and often I am the same – I want someone to hold my hand and walk me through things. That’s why I created the program. Completed online, the program includes PDF’s and videos to give parents the basics that the book talks about and guides them through the process of making their family happier. If desired, a professionally printed and designed workbook can also be mailed out to members. It’s a really nice addition to the program.
How does this book vary from your previous books?
It covers the whole range of ideas related to wellbeing and family life. It incorporates content from foundational concepts through to some of the most advanced things we can do with our families to make them happier. The material covers the beginning through to the most advanced stages of parenting. And it contains new science that is only just beginning to be understood.
What needs were you looking to meet with this new book? How did the needs become apparent?
Every day I talk to parents who want their families to be happy. And the reality is that most parents are struggling. I wanted to point out where we are going wrong as parents, and point the way to better relationships with their children and happier home lives. It is the kind of book that makes you feel a little bit bad so that you can change and feel good that you have. It gives parents hope that they can make their families a little bit better.
What are your top 3 guiding principles to parenting?

  1. Parents have got to establish great relationships with their children – too often we get caught up in correction and direction and so many of our interactions are nothing more than telling them what to do. Over time this actually causes problems in our relationships. We have to take the time to invest in the relationship.
  2. Children don’t need reprimanding they need understanding. When our children are being challenging our typical response is to dismiss them and turn away or we disapprove and we turn against them. We become their enemies. If someone treated us like that as an adult our relationships would not last long. I recommend we see their challenging behaviour as an opportunity to turn towards our children and reconnect with them. We do this by recognising and labelling their emotions, understanding their perspective, and guiding our children to regulate their emotions by being patient, kind and calm.
  3. Understanding the difference between discipline and punishment – we often think they are the same thing but they are not. Punishment means hurting someone because we don’t like what they have done. Discipline means teaching, guiding or instructing and problem solving. When we understand that we approach our children’s challenging behaviours in immensely different ways than our typical approach.

 You once said you love talking and presenting on a wide scale. What sort of talks do you give and who is your audience?
I give two different kinds of talks. First, I talk about parenting. I am passionate about talking parenting. I speak to parents about parenting whether it’s teenagers, toddlers, or general parenting topics that apply to all ages.
I also hold a lot of professional development talks in schools and in corporate workplaces about work life balance, wellbeing and relationships.
You have 6 daughters, is your home a flurry of human emotion?
I don’t know any different but from what I have seen my home is no difference to any other homes. Children have outbursts, get tired, get hungry, pick on each other, and have difficult moments. It doesn’t matter if they are boys or girls; it is just called growing up. I’m crazy about them and they are mostly delightful most of the time.
How do you find the time to spend individual attention with each child? It’s something I struggle with and I have half the kids you do!
We used to work really hard to have one on one time and we would schedule it in and make it happen. But we found it wasn’t the most effective way to be with our children.
Now we simply make ourselves available when they need us – you might call it the triage system. If a child needs attention either Kylie or I will go and spend time with her until things are sorted out.
We find bedtime is wonderful for one on one time but what we have also discovered is that good quality family time boosts our wellbeing more.
We have begun some traditions like Super Saturday. Every Saturday we do something super. It’s low or no cost, its low or no tech, and it’s all about time together. It could be hiking up the Illawarra escarpment through a leach infested rainforest in the pouring rain or going to visit some waterfalls and having a picnic, or spending time in Sydney seeing the sites and exploring this amazing city.
We are proactive and plan it ahead so that the children are looking forward to it and we make it super. We don’t really take them to the aquarium, for instance, as we don’t want to take out a bank loan. It is about good quality time doing wholesome activities together and even our 16 year old loves it and quit working on Saturday so she could join us.
You have become a household name in parenting, have you ever been out with one of your kids who is having an epic tantrum? Do you feel the pressure to be a perfect role model dad considering your work?
I make no claims to parenting perfection. I got into this because I needed to be a better dad. One of the most embarrassing experiences was when I had a journalist following me for a day. The kids had been great all day but with 10 minutes to go before the journo left one of the children had a meltdown. I picked her up (my daughter, not the journalist) and put her in the car and said “we’re done.” She was tired, hungry and was on show all day and had had enough.
So yes there is pressure. People just expect that I’ll get it right all the time and that my children will be perfect. And while we do get it mostly right a good proportion of the time, we have our moments just like any family. It can be tough. In those moments I try to be forgiving of myself and the children and do better next time.
Favourite places in Sydney’s Inner West?
We don’t come into the city often and we have chosen to live in Wollongong for the extra space that a larger family demands. When we do visit the city we love Pyrmont and Darling Harbour as there’s lots of entertainment, food, and it works well for our family.
Justin’s other books include:
What Your Child Needs From You, Creating a Connected Family
Creating Confident Kids – eBook & audiobook
How to Get Your Kids to Really Listen – eBook & audiobook
5 Surprising Secrets to Creating a Happier, More Successful You – eBook
Time Out Is NOT Your Only Option – eBook & audiobook
Eat Right Without a Fight, Raising happy & Healthy Eaters – eBook
Toilet Training: Easy as One, Two, Wee? – eBook
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  • Felipe
    02/03/2016 at 7:14 am

    I saw you got blasted the other day for anweirsng a question about taking children to movies. I totally agree with you about expecting some children to show up at a children’s movie. I remember one time when I was 8, my Dad and I went to a movie after visiting my Mom in the hospital. I remember thinking, Dad sure is letting me run around alot. I just kind of entertained myself in the aisle or wherever. My Mom died three days later. I’m sure there were people like the woman who asked that question the other day looking down her nose at my behavior and my Dad’s parenting skill. I say they can all go to hell for all I care. They’re your kids, take care of them and don’t worry about what know-it-all busybodies think.

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