Sophie Ellis-Bextor on parenting: You just have to do what feels right for you and your family
The mum of four 'boisterous boys' reveals her tricks of the trade. Pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor knows all about the juggling act of life as a busy, working parent – but she wouldn't have it any other way
"I LOVE our busy, chaotic, noisy household with my boisterous boys," says Sophie Ellis-Bextor (38), who has balanced her music career with raising four boys – Sonny (13), Kit (eight), Ray (five), and Jesse (17 months) alongside her husband, The Feeling basist Richard Jones.
"I don't think there are any rules for parenting, you just have to do what feels right for you and your children, but I talk a lot to my mum (former Blue Peter presenter, Janet Ellis) and friends, and we share what works and what doesn't."
The singer (she released her sixth album, aptly-named Familia, last year) has teamed up with Pampers, as an ambassador for the Preemie Protection range for premature babies – a cause close to her heart, as two of her own boys were born early. Here, the singer reveals her guide to positive parenting...
TALK IT THROUGH
"I'm quite tight on the boundaries of how we talk to each other in the family. I emphasise the importance of us being kind to people and to each other, and if I ever feel they're not being kind or respectful, I'll ask, 'Is that really how we talk to each other? That's not really how we should be'.
"Mealtimes are an important time for me to sit down with the boys and look them in the eye when they're telling me how they are. I ask lots of questions about what's going on and if anything's bothering them. It helps me keep on top of stuff that's happening in their lives."
GETTING THEM TO BEHAVE
"I'm a big fan of talking things through with children as I don't think shouting works – unless it's spontaneous and stops them from running into danger.
"I don't think there's a 'one-size-fits-all' on discipline. For instance, my eldest boy Sonny, responded really well if I told him off, as he didn't like getting into trouble, but his younger brother, Kit, wasn't so bothered at one point. I had to get him to understand he could own a consequence.
"I explained that when he made a decision and a good thing happened or he ended up in someone's bad books, then he'd chosen the route that got that result. I think it helps kids still feel they're in control if you show them there are alternatives, negative and positive, they can consider."
ENCOURAGE HEALTHY EATING
"My mum brought me up to eat healthily and she never used the word 'diet'. I want my boys to have a good relationship with their bodies and the food they're eating, so I've always explained about where food comes from, and how a burger or whatever comes to be on their plate.
"Sometimes we'll cook together or they'll watch Richard and I preparing a meal for ourselves for later and they'll ask questions and try a bit, so they learn to experiment with tastes. With four kids with different likes and dislikes, I try to cater to them but I won't cook separate meals for each – that would be too time-consuming."
KEEPING THEM SAFE ONLINE
"My attitude to social media is to walk side-by-side with my kids as they explore it. I think there's wonderful stuff on the internet and it's a misapprehension that kids are looking for bad stuff. My eight-year-old, for instance, isn't trying to find things which could confuse him or are too grown up.
"Generally, I make sure when he's on the web I'm in the room with him, either watching stuff with him or playing a game like Minecraft, which keeps me involved and in touch with what he's seeing."
GET THEM OUTDOORS
"We have a house rule of always doing something active outdoors once a day at the weekends, whether it's a walk around the park, swimming, or a ball game. It's also fun exploring new places. I think it helps relax them, and then they're more than happy to get home and play with their toys or watch a movie."
TAKE TIME FOR YOU AS A COUPLE
"It's OK to be a bit selfish and enjoy time with your partner sometimes. My kids respond really positively to seeing Richard and I enjoying each other's company. I think they really like the fact we're happy, and that happiness kind of radiates outwards. So give yourselves permission to enjoy yourselves together and let them see you as people."
:: Sophie Ellis-Bextor is ambassador for the Pampers Preemie Protection range for premature babies. Visit www.pampers.co.uk