Super Granny Diane Levy talks to Kerry Burridge about her books and her work with families.
Kerry So, Diane, it’s said that most people have one book inside them, but now you have written three! What prompted you to write this one?
Diane Being unable to get their children to do as they are told is still the biggest barrier for parents, when it comes to enjoying their children.Whenever I give seminar and whenever I see clients privately, the most popular topic seems to be “Getting our children – tots, teens and everyone in between – to do as they are told.”

Exhausted and frazzled parents come to see me having tried all sorts of energy-intensive ways of persuading their children to be compliant. So it seemed to me that parents want clear and simple ways of getting their children to do as they are told.

Kerry And did it take you long to write? Was it a difficult or enjoyable process?
Diane It has taken me about eighteen months from committing to writing it to getting it to print. It is not that I have done eighteen months of continuous writing. It is that, once the decision was made, I still wanted to front up to the seminars that I had committed to up to fifteen months ahead. I also had clients with whom I was working and needed to complete the counselling.I found having to turn down client and seminar requests hard. I put a great deal of effort in trying to refer on people who were struggling with issues.

On the bright side, when I am actually writing, I enjoy the process. I try to write in much the same way I would talk to people. Since I find it very easy to talk to people I am always surprised to find how much more precise I need to be when I write. I have to go over sentences again and again and again till I have expressed myself clearly enough.

Kerry On tough writing days, how do you keep yourself motivated? Do chocolate bikkies help?
Diane I have several motivations. Firstly, I really wanted to have this book available for parents, so that helped me keep going. Secondly, I committed myself to Random House to write a book so I had strong motivation to meet my commitment. Thirdly, the thought of holding a brand new book in my hand was tremendously excitingAnd fourthly, in my darkest moments, there were always chocolate biscuits…and coffee… and apples…and sliced meat… and cashew nuts. Some days, it was so bad that I needed to add dry noodles, dry Puffed Wheat or virtually anything except the outside of the fridge!
Kerry Did you and your family celebrate the completion of each chapter, and of the end of the book?
Diane I don’t want to sound pathetic, but the end of each chapter was marked by having one or two family members vetting it. Then I rewrote it and then straight on to the next chapter.As soon as the last chapter was written, it went straight to be edited and I started getting email queries from the editor. There were also the diagrams that I roughed out and needed to be turned into something pleasant to look at. Then it came back to me looking almost like a book – a layout copy – and I needed to do the final edit before it was printed. Not very glamorous!

Then there was the cover, the press releases, the flier and the order forms. (I hope I’m not being boring. It is just that, until I had written the first book, I had no idea what was involved.)

Round about this time, the first copy of the book arrived. That was breathtakingly exciting.

In fact, having a book is very like having a baby. Before the baby is born, you find the pregnancy rather demanding and you focus a lot on that. As the release (an interesting word!) date gets closer that becomes the primary focus. The birth is no picnic but holding your baby/book makes it all seem worthwhile.

After the baby/book is born the hard work really starts. They both need a lot of nurturing and you are at the baby’s/book’s beck and call. In the case of the book there is publicity with whatever media will have you and whenever they want you to be available. And you desperately hope that everyone will love you baby/book as much as you do.

When is comes to successive babies and books, there is a wonderful amnesia that makes you forget all the labour pains and say “yes” to having another!

The last similarity is that once the baby/book is born that is when the real work starts and it goes on for a very, very long time. Books need a lot of nurturing and care to keep them going. However, they don’t have tantrums, they do sleep at night and you never have to give them driving lessons!

Kerry What’s the new book about, and what will parents learn from it that they did not learn from your two previous books?
Diane One of the most upsetting things for all of us as parents is when we no longer enjoy our children’s company and start fantasizing about boarding schools (maybe even for three year-olds) at the other end of New Zealand!I think we owe it to our children to raise them as pleasant, productive individuals whose company we – and everyone else who comes into contact with them – can enjoy.

Chapter Seven talks about why we need our children to do as they are told and I set out simple steps for low-energy ways of setting things up so that children – tots, teens and everyone in between – struggle with themselves (“I don’t want to do it: it looks like I might have to”) rather than struggling with us.

My guiding ethos is consistent with my other books. This book is a response to parenting getting even harder. We live in an age of the “anti-smacking” bill and the feeling that we parent alone with very little support from the world around us.

We have to be even smarter and more skilful at handling our children. This book is precisely directed and focussed on stopping undesirable behaviour and creating pleasant children.

Kerry So the key message from this book would be….?
Diane Support your child’s feelings when they are upset. When they are non-compliant or behaving inappropriately use an Effective Time Out (as distinct from ‘naughty chairs’, ‘thinking steps’, consequences and punishments), so that you are free to enjoy the company of a pleasant child.
Kerry Diane, if you look back on your years of parenting, is there anything you would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Diane Most of what Vernon and I have done as parents has worked pretty well. The one area where I think that I would have liked to know then what I know now was in the area of sibling scraps. I put lots of energy and effort into trying to sort out their scraps with pretty variable results.If I could do it all over again I would put less energy into trying to be the “counsel for the prosecution, the counsel for the defense, the jury, the judge and the executioner.” I would have intervened faster to stop scraps and insisted on a peaceful household rather than trying to work out who was right and who was wrong.

It is great to have a chance to stop fellow parents making the mistake that I did and I address Sibling Scraps in the book.

Kerry Diane: Just for fun – what is your favourite food, favourite tv programme, favourite book and favourite movie?
Diane I am not very good at picking favourites – it is like asking me to pick a favourite child – but for you, Kerry, I’ll give it a go.My favourite food would have to be (sorry, I can’t limit it to one) very dark chocolate preferably accompanied by coffee and good friends. Strawberries and blueberries come close.

My favourite TV programme is “Boston Legal.”

My favourite book…that’s a hard one…but I have a particular warmth for “Elegance” which made the long flight from Israel to Singapore almost bearable.

My favourite movie? “Ladies in Lavender”

Kerry And what are your pet hates in life – what really winds you up?
Diane I really appreciate anyone, in any field, doing their job well. It profoundly irritates me when skills or services are unnecessarily rude or bad.
Kerry If you had to provide some uplifting advice to parents of youngsters today in 25 words or less, what would you say to them?
Diane Ignore the press, ignore the TV, ignore the magazines. Look around you. There are plenty of everyday wonderful parents raising perfectly delightful children.
Kerry So Diane – are there any more books on the horizon, or have you done your dash?
Diane Would you ask a mother, twelve hours after delivery, how she felt about having another child?At the moment I am very content with my two older ones and very grateful for the safe delivery of my “newborn” book.


Interview with Kerry Burridge

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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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