Today show co-host Ally Langdon is gearing up to present Parental Guidance, a brand-new series that will examine a diverse range of parenting methods in hopes of determining the 'best' approach.
Together with one of the country's most trusted parenting experts, Dr. Justin Coulson, Ally will observe 10 vastly different sets of parents — from the super strict to 'free range' — as they face tough challenges and even tougher questions.
Do you smack your kids? Would they go off with a stranger? How much screen time is too much?
These are just some of the provocative discussion topics that Dr. Justin and Ally ask the parents — and the responses they get are just as contentious.
In an exclusive chat with Yahoo Lifestyle, Ally offers a sneak peek at the fun and sometimes confronting scenarios the 10 families find themselves in throughout the series.
"Where it gets really interesting is when we set them these challenges to see how they stay true to their parenting style, and how that all plays out," she explains.
"Some are incredibly fun and you just get a laugh. We send them all off to a fine dining restaurant and I'm sure you can imagine how our 'Nature' parents who live in tents with their five kids go in that challenge.
"It's wonderful television, it's so great to watch," she says. "But then there are other challenges that look at things like, 'Would your child go off with a stranger?' and that's very emotive."
But how have Ally and her husband, fellow TV journo Michael Willesee Jnr., chosen to parent their own children: son Mack, 4, and two-year-old daughter Scout?
"I know my husband and I, we don't really have a specific style, I think we just wing it," she says with a chuckle.
"And I think a lot of Australian families will be in the same boat as us," she adds.
While Parental Guidance is all about the 10 sets of parents discovering their strengths and weaknesses and learning how to improve, Ally admits it had a similar effect on her personally.
"I think my husband and I have changed the way we raise our kids because of this experiment," she says. "I would come home after shooting each day and we'd talk about what had happened."
Ally herself was raised as a 'free-range kid' in the country — "On school holidays we'd be sent down the bush where there were dams, axes and chainsaws" — but Mack and Scout's city upbringing is slightly different.
While the absence of large bodies of water and dangerous tools is probably for the best, Ally's time on Parental Guidance saw her reach an epiphany when it came to protecting her little ones.
"I've probably wrapped them in cotton wool a little too often," she says. "What I've found is how often I'll say, 'Be careful! Watch out!' And the message I'm sending them when I do that is, 'What you're doing is dangerous!' as opposed to sometimes letting them work out their own limits with those things."
Setting an example
With two kids under four, there are a lot of big emotions at play and Ally has caught herself telling an upset Mack to stop crying in the past — something that she's trying to do less of in the future.
"I don't know if anyone's ever said to you, 'Stop crying,' but does it ever work? No! So we're trying to change the language a little bit around how we deal with such things and not dismissing their emotions when they have them."
Another change Ally and Michael are making is reducing the amount of time they spend in front of screens, such as mobile phones, to set a better example for their kids.
"You gotta walk the walk and that's why before dinnertime, from when the kids get home from daycare, our phones go away and there's just a chunk of time where they get our full attention because when we're both distracted and doing stuff on our phones, whether it's for work or what have you we turn to each other and go, 'Gee, why are the kids so ratty?'
"And it's because they don't have our full attention and that's something all parents know but it's nice to be reminded of. Kids want our time more than anything else, they want our full attention so when we give them that they're far better behaved."
Ally: 'My two kids are entirely different'
Observing multiple different parenting styles at play has helped Ally realise that there's no one size fits all approach.
"It's kind of a combo of styles and I think most people watching this experiment will go, 'Okay, I do a little bit of that. I'm a little bit of that'. We're a mishmash of the different styles on the show. And there'll be moments where you go, 'Okay, well, I definitely don't want to do that. That doesn't work for me,' but I felt that there was something that I took from pretty much every set of parents in the room that has definitely helped me with how we deal with our kids."
That's not to say that parents can apply the same approach to each of their children, as Ally well knows.
"My two kids are entirely different. How we raise one doesn't work for the other one," she explains.
Ally recounts her son Mack's recent encounter with the household 'timeout step' after whacking his younger sister as an example.
"He went straight on the timeout step and he was so emotional, he was so upset. But a couple of days earlier my husband found my two-year-old daughter sitting on the step and was like, 'Why are you sitting here, did mummy put you on the step?'
"She said, 'No, but I punched Mackie so I just came and sat here.' The timeout step doesn't work for her, it doesn't bother her. [Laughs] She sat on it for a couple of minutes then went back and I think she belted him again!"
One of the biggest lessons Ally learned on the show was realising that all parents and caregivers are just doing their best, and to be kind to themselves and others.
She hopes that viewers at home can learn that, too.
"I think we'll just all sit back and go, 'You know what, we're all doing our best.' Maybe it means next time at the supermarket when we see a child having a meltdown and the parent isn't coping with it very well we'll be a little less judgmental.
"I say that because it's normally me with the kid having the meltdown or I'm the one having a tantrum on the floor as the kids look at me. [...] It'll just be an opportunity for us to go, 'Let's just be kinder on ourselves and a little bit kinder when it comes to each other'. We all have good days, we all have bad days and you've just got to celebrate the wins."
Parental Guidance starts Monday 7.30pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.
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