Parenting is not child’s play, as Nadim Saad would be the first to admit, but his company has strategies and tools that make it a whole lot easier. We find out more

Nadim Saad is recounting the experience of a friend – he’s laughing. “So, this guy works for a major international bank, and he’s managing a team of around 100 people. Then when he arrives home after a day at the office, he’s faced with this two-year-old going, ‘NO, Daddy!’.” The feisty non-compliance and implacable conviction of a tiny toddler overwhelms one great big adult – an all-too-familiar scenario played out in homes up and down the land.

Here, in a nutshell, is one of the biggest issues for parents. We may be at the top of our game in our professional lives and know exactly how to manage complex situations at work, but that doesn’t translate to family life. Most of us come into parenting feeling almost as innocent as the newborn placed in our trembling hands, and the sense of responsibility – the feeling of not being equipped – overwhelms nearly all of us at some point.

This is where The Happy Confident Company comes in. Nadim Saad and team have taken strategies proven to work in business and applied them to parenting. This has some very obvious benefits when you’re explaining the principles. “Anyone who has worked in a business environment, worked as part of a team, immediately thinks: ‘I have to do this as part of my job – It’s so logical – how did I do anything different?’,” he says.

Saad speaks to lots of parents – working with corporates, schools and individuals – and very often one of the first comments he hears is: ‘now you’re going to make me feel guilty’. Guilt is common, but we have bigger issues to contend with. We all come to the business of raising a brood with baggage. Our tendency is to replicate the approaches from our own childhoods, and that includes tactics our parents used on us that never worked. This is also one reason parenting remains an all too frequent battleground among couples. Saad says that three quarters of couples have conflicts around parenting style and, guess what, in over half the arguments the issue centres around discipline. Some parents get into ‘good cop, bad cop’ roles that make both sides unhappy and children confused.

We may be at the top of our game in work and know exactly how to manage complex situations, but that doesn’t translate to family life”

It’s worth understanding a little more about Nadim Saad’s own experiences as a parent as these have underpinned The Happy Confident Company’s approach. The father of three children, he’s refreshingly honest about his past failings – describing himself as the authoritarian one in the family dynamic. His style was, he recalls, similar to the strict approach of his own childhood. He also didn’t have much faith in parenting manuals. “I was the kind of guy who thought, ‘I do that OK so why would I do anything different’,” he says.

There were several things that led to Saad’s decision that he wasn’t doing OK. First were watershed moments with his children that set seeds of doubt. This then sparked further exploration of parenting theories. Ultimately, he began working on his own patterns of behaviour (including undertaking Hoffman Process therapy), to reappraise his approach. “I realised all my reactions were creating a lack of safety for my children. When you can be this loving parent one minute and then suddenly switch to shouting it causes issues.”

What happens when parents are inconsistent – individually or as a couple – is that children don’t know where the solid ground is. Then they don’t feel safe. Developing that sense of safe ground – via tools and strategies that can be used as a family – is what The Happy Confident Company does. With psychologists as part of the team, it has developed parent-child online courses. There are journals designed for young children up to teenagers with exercises to help them express themselves, build self-belief and regulate feelings. Then there’s a brilliant game called FEELIt!, suitable for whole-family play, that helps young children learn the names of different emotions. It employs the approach of ‘name it to tame it’ coined by psychiatrist Dr Dan Siegel. Now similar principles are being developed as a FEELIt! programme currently being piloted in schools.   

Happy parenting: interview with Nadim Saad
Simple changes to parenting style – including giving children agency – can make a huge difference to family harmony, says Nadim Saad

Saad believes families change outcomes by changing behaviour patterns. So, what are some business-style strategies that help? First is giving children a sense of agency over their own lives through choices. “It’s giving children the impression that they are driving their own lives but with our help, coaching and support,” he says. This strategy is all about questions. “Replace commands as far as possible with questions. With younger children (from as young as 18 months), you can present simple choices. Would you rather leave the park in five minutes or ten minutes?” Of course, as they grow, these choices become more complex, but always framed by parents.

Another thing Saad recommends is to give children a sense of responsibility for their behaviours. “About 95% of what we say to our children on a daily basis is something we’ve said hundreds of times before. So instead of telling them every time to wash their hands before coming to the table, you ask them, ‘have you done what you were supposed to do before coming to the table?’.”

So what about when children don’t do as asked? “You can remind them. Then you can add a consequence, but they choose the consequence,” says Saad. (Interestingly, children usually come up with much harsher punishments than parents would.) What’s important here is that they are not being berated or cajoled but shown how to do the right thing, what happens when they don’t and the route to better outcomes. “There are a lot of parallels with business leadership,” he says. “It’s about creating a sense of purpose.” He adds that children invariably want to be good – and crave parental approval.

“Three quarters of couples have conflicts around parenting style – in over half the arguments the issue centres around discipline”

Another great tool for ensuring a more harmonious life at home is regular family meetings. Rather like business meetings, these discuss the successes, the challenges, and then the strategies for tomorrow. “First of all, it’s about feeling good as a family – sharing compliments and appreciating each other – and then problem solving,” says Saad. “Everyone, even from the age of three, can come up with ideas for how to deal with things better as a family.”

One thing all these family strategies do is improve children’s sense of connectedness, which is vitally important to their sense of safety. They also help to minimise meltdown moments – what Saad describes as ‘fight or flight’ mode. The well timed and appropriate question or discussion reconnects a child with the thinking part of their brain. “Our role as parents is to connect our children to their pre-frontal cortex, the part which continues developing until the age of 24-25, because that’s what allows long-term thinking, that’s what enables them to become more responsible.”

Nadim Saad believes we are moving towards a much fuller understanding of what children need, and the pandemic has shone a light on the importance of open discussion of feelings. He hopes the pilots of FEELIt! in schools build on this systemic shift. And his response to all those guilty parents out there is simple. “Don’t go down into the guilt cycle. Let’s all do the best we can – everyone doing the best they can at every moment.” With The Happy Confident Company’s approach, we now have tools and strategies to do even better.

Further reading: Mind games – journals and games to help children express their feelings