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January 23rd, 2017

Four Secrets to Staying Calm.

Are you amongst the thousands of parents who made a new year’s resolution a few weeks ago in connection with your parenting? Perhaps you resolved to shout less or to stay calm. So many parents tell us they want to be more patient. As we approach February are you amongst that very large group who are finding it hard to keep their resolutions? 

If not, keep up the good work. If you are struggling, it’s probably because parenting goals are often not well defined or because the steps that would enable you to fulfil your goal aren’t clear. How do you stay calm when your child is ignoring you/beating up his sister/has forgotten his homework for the zillionth time? 

Help is at hand. 

If your goal is staying calm, and it is after all the ‘holy grail’ of parenting, then you need four things. Just four. 

  1. You need to look after yourself. Yes, I know you know that when you’re taking care of your own physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual needs you are in a better place to parent positively. But that doesn’t mean you are prioritising it does it? Perhaps you still see it as indulgent. Perhaps you feel you can’t afford to spend the time on your own fitness or social needs or just spending a bit of time doing what you like? Can you afford not to? If you feel like you’re the least important member of the household (and that’s how you’re treating yourself) how are you going to feel? Might some resentment creep in? Will your temper be short? How compassionate can you be to others if you aren’t to yourself? And what are you modelling? Just saying… 

Could you start one quick practice this week to take care of your emotional self? Maybe start using an Appreciation Book –keep a lovely notebook on your bedside table and write in it one thing each day that you appreciate about yourself. Imagine you were writing it about someone you care for. Better still, get your partner involved and write one affirmation for each other. I know from personal experience that when you do this it really builds confidence and trust between you, and makes you much more forgiving of lapses (your own or your partner’s). 

  1. You need to understand your child. We can be the best possible parents when we’re mindful of the individual characteristics of our children, when we really understand the stage of development they’re in right now and their personality traits as well as the emotional drivers for their behaviour. When we take those things into account we can tailor our approach so that it fits perfectly. When we adjust our expectations and accommodate individual temperaments or ages that’s not pandering –it’s providing the conditions in which our children can thrive. Think of your children as prize orchids and give them the conditions they need to flourish!

For example if you have a child who is cautious, who is inclined to reject new ideas, new people and new situations until he’s more familiar with it/them he may need a bit more preparation than another child. This was one mum’s experience: 

William was always reluctant to go to school at the start of each term, even after the half-term break. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I would end up pushing him through the door with tears in his eyes. Until we talked. And he told me that he didn’t like the newness of the fresh classroom. He didn’t know where he would be sitting, he didn’t know what lessons were coming up, he didn’t know what the new lunch menu would be like. And when I saw it from his point of view, and took into account his temperament of finding change difficult, and being a highly regular child, I was able to make the shift from him ‘being a problem’ to ‘having a problem’.

We brainstormed how he could walk in, even when he wouldn’t be able to know what he wanted. We practised things for him to say, something to take in to show someone, just to get him through the door. That, in conjunction with accepting how he felt about the start of each term was enough. He went in with a little smile and a big breath, and hasn’t looked back. 

This mum learnt not to make her child wrong or have him feel he was unacceptable as he was but she was also able to help him come to terms with and work with his own temperament. She couldn’t just wish him into being different but she could help him adjust his behaviour and thrive. We have a workshop next week on just this topic. 

  1. You need to have strategies. Even if we start in a zen-like state we need to have some strategies to call on in the face of poor behaviour. We need to know what steps we can take when our son hits another child in the playground or our daughter has a tantrum in the café or we’ll soon lose our calm. Parenting in public often doesn’t go well so sometimes the best thing you can do is apologise if necessary to any other parents/children involved and take your child home to deal with the incident when you’re both calmer. A forced sorry from your child won’t satisfy the other child and it won’t teach yours anything. When you’re both calm the first thing to do is connect –try to see what happened from your child’s perspective. What were they trying to achieve? Only once your child’s feelings have been expressed can you move on to the teaching part. Then you can discuss the impact of his actions on others and ask him how he could have done things differently. See our Parenting Guide ‘Firm but Fair. Positive and Effective Discipline’ for more. 
  1. You need to act sooner. When you’ve asked your daughter 3 times to get off the computer and go and have a bath and its 20 minutes later and she still hasn’t exited the programme and you’ve ended up yelling… you know you needed to act sooner in a more direct way. She needed help to do what was required. Computer games are designed to be very compelling –even the grownups find them hard to put down. When we act before we lose it we are, of course, much more effective. When we lose it, the ‘it’ we lose is our self-control and children’s respect. 

We know that keeping calm is a really hot topic for parents so we dedicate a whole class to it in our ten week positive parenting programme and there is a whole chapter on it in our book Real Parenting for Real Kids

What action will you take to help your staying calm resolution?

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