8 Habits That Help Me Parent, Even on Tough Days [Short Read]

I love being around kids. I feel alive in their company. But, some days are HARD. Some days, exhaustion can consume and overwhelm. Some days, multiple things demand your attention. Some days, everything is going really well and then…

kid, ski, fail.gif

I am fortunate that I spent so many years working with and being around children. The range of experience has helped me form habits that make the most stressful parenting moments more manageable. These habits are not a magic solution, but they do make life easier (and more fun).

1. Hold on to happy

Awesome days happen. Soak in them. Drink them up. Record them in whatever way you prefer (photos, journals, videos, etc…). Have those records on hand for the days that aren’t awesome. They cheer you up AND they cheer your children up!

2. Accept Chaos

Chaos and destruction are guaranteed. Mistakes happen. Emotions explode. Problems pile up. Sometimes, we have to let things go and just roll with it. If you can, ask for help. If not, take a few moments for yourself. Breathe. Then, forget everything else and be fully present with your child. Know that this too shall pass.

Good and fine

3. Slow down

The easiest way to encourage kids to hurry up, is to slow down. It may sound counter-intuitive, but as much as children like to do things “fast,” they struggle with hurrying. The stress causes them to shut down, become distracted, or even meltdown completely. Slowing down your speech and your movements helps calm both you and the child.

4. Trust

Trust your kids, they will communicate their needs (and wants). They may not communicate calmly or efficiently, but they will let you know when they need something.

Trust yourself. You know your kids. Take some time to understand what is needed then find a kind way to deal with the request calmly and kindly, especially when saying, “No.”

5. Be kind

Approach everything with kindness (you can still be firm, confident, and consistent). Kindness is not passiveness; it simply sets the tone, determines boundaries, and encourages empathy. Kindness simplifies every decision. In difficult situations, choose the kindest option (this is not always the easiest one); everything else will fall into place.

Oh, and don’t forget, be kind to yourself.

6. Forgive, learn, and start again

Bad days. Mistakes. Emotional breakdowns. Anxiety. Stress. Poor choices. All human. So, forgive yourself. Forgive your kids. If you need to apologise, do so. Then, figure out what you can do better next time. Mistakes are simply opportunities to learn and be better.

7. Treat yourself

Whatever your budget, whatever your circumstances, whatever your history, you are worthy of happiness. In the midst of a storm, it is good to know there is a little piece of joy that is just for you. I choose chocolate and always have a secret supply for emergencies. Most of the time, it’s enough to know it is there.

eat chocolate

8. Smile

This is perhaps the simplest and most effective strategy of all. A private smile works, but if you can share a smile with your little ones nothing else matters. This is a great time to remind yourself, just how awesome you are.

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There are probably a thousand more habits and strategies out there. What do you do to get through the tough days or moments? I love hearing new ideas or inspiration from others. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.

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Stay kind and keep buzzin’.

 

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Earlier today, my 2 year old was exuberantly happy. Then, without warning, he was upset. No, not upset, he was devastated. Fortunately, he told me how he was feeling: he screamed, shouted, threw his milk, cried, held me close, pushed me away, yelled, sobbed, grabbed his milk, then threw it again.

My toddler was upset.

Meltdowns or tantrums can build slowly or erupt without warning; either way, they are unavoidable.

Some FAQs:

  • What is wrong?
  • Am I a bad parent?
  • Is my child a bad child?
  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Why? Why? Why?
  • How do I make it stop?

THE BAD NEWS: There is no way to stop emotion.

THE GOOD NEWS: All tantrums end. Eventually. 

THE BEST NEWS: There is one simple way to tame a tantrum.*

DISCLAIMER: This strategy works best when the grown up is not on the verge of a meltdown too. So, if needed, get some space, take a few deep breaths, then dive in.


 

Tame the tantrum

Young children are learning to understand a world that doesn’t understand them. How stressful and frustrating that must be. Seemingly small events (the ball has snow on it) can trigger huge emotions and it falls to us to help our children navigate them. 

When in the presence of an erupting child, we are witnessing one side of a conversation. We can either participate in the conversation or reject it.

Imagine: you are talking to a trusted friend or family member about a struggle or difficulty you are going through, but they do not have time to deal with your problems. They reject you or yell at you. They tell you to be quiet. Perhaps they suggest you sit alone to think about it.

How would you feel?


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  1. Children are humans.
  2. Humans have emotions.
  3. To escalate emotion, ignore or reject attempts at communication.

SO…

  1. Be present
    Sometimes, we need to cuddle. Sometimes, we need to give space (and be close). A small, gentle touch will often help. Mostly, we need to be there. Be quiet. Listen (yes, listen to the crying). Crying is talking. We can soothe, nod, agree, and participate in the conversation without dispensing advice.
  2. Take turns
    Just like in conversation. When there is a pause, it is our turn to speak. It may be a two word phrase, or maybe we can say a little more. Follow the rhythm of the conversation. When a person is upset, they are vulnerable. Let them control the flow (this does not mean they control what we say, that is always up to us).
  3. Identify
    Children, like most humans, listen when we are talking with them; not at them. Identify how the child is feeling, and narrate it. This simple act shows the child that we understand. It will also help to develop the language skills they will need in the future.
  4. Resolve
    The sign of a good conversation is one where everyone has been heard. To show we have listened, summarize the conversation. Encourage the child to show they have listened by asking a couple of questions:

We don’t need to tame our toddlers, we need to transform the tantrum.

SAMPLE CONVERSATION

Child: NOOOOOOOOO!!! Aaaagh! (sobs, screams, kicks, stamps, throws self on floor, picks up a block, throws it, etc…)

Adult: (Calmly intercepts the chaos. Holds child and listens to crying). You were so mad that the blocks wouldn’t line up you threw one! Do we throw blocks?

Child: No (sobbing and sniffing).

Adult: That’s right. Because they are hard. They can hurt someone. Can you think of something we can throw?

Child: Balls.

Adult: Yes, that’s right. Soft balls. Would you like to play with a ball or your blocks?

Child: Green ball.

Adult: OK. Let’s clean up the blocks. Can you help me?

Child: (helps put blocks away)

Adult: Here’s the green ball. I love you.

Child: (bounces ball and laughs)

A tantrum is a one-sided, emotional conversation. We don’t need to tame our toddlers, we need to transform the tantrum.

Oh, and if this seems like a lot of effort, it is so much easier than a prolonged and stressful screaming match.

Keep buzzin’

 * There is not only one strategy to fit all circumstances; this is merely my first response as a teacher, caregiver, and parent. It’s simple. It works. AND, as a bonus, each time we choose to listen instead of scold, we reinforce a healthy relationship with the child. It also becomes progressively easier to set and stick to boundaries. 

Advent Presents!

Yes, you read that right… I am suggesting Advent presents!!!

And, I cannot wait to try it.

Each year, I devise a simple and Advent activity (it’s more of a Christmas countdown in Japan) for my students. This year, as my son is about to turn 2, I wanted to do something with my family; something with the potential to evolve over the years and become a family tradition.

Fortunately, my husband and I had a disagreement about the “big” Christmas present; should it be from Santa or Mummy and Daddy? We both grew up with different family traditions and they conflicted. And there, in conflict, was an idea.

Of course, I am not talking about a new present every day. I am talking about one gift, wrapped 25 times! We just unwrap a little everyday. And there is SO MUCH POTENTIAL!!!

I love ideas that act like gremlins in a swimming pool; my whole body bubbles with excitement. The problem is, when you have an idea explosion it is really difficult to simplify and explain it to others. I have had to sit on this for a week, because every time I tried to write or talk about it, I would disappear into a tornado of possibilities and confuse myself, never mind who I was talking to.


So how does it work?

Hakuba Childcare Present opening

This year, my husband and I will buy a gift for our son. We will loosely wrap it using contrasting tissue paper. Every day, our son can take some paper off and throw it around, or scrunch it, or use it in a craft, or eat it…

And that is it. On Christmas day, he will unwrap the final piece of paper to find a present (from his parents)!

Simple, easy, and not much preparation. I don’t even need to be a Pinterest mom; it doesn’t matter if the wrapping is appalling!


A few future adaptations:

Treats
Treats can be placed inside each layer (or every few layers)

Game, Task, or Challenge Cards (Download printable for ideas.)
Under each layer is a card with some kind of task or question. Older children can write their own cards.

Speculate
Guess the present. What a fun way to generate conversation. Families could even keep track and award a prize to the earliest accurate guess.

Secret Santa
Incorporate this in your usual Secret Santa activity – it means you need to be a little more organised and have your presents bought and wrapped a little earlier than usual, but it adds a nice bit of spice.

Wrap challenge
Try to wrap the gifts creatively to disguise them as something else.

(Silent) Pass the Parcel
Have one present. Set a timer on your phone for a random number of seconds/minutes. Pass the parcel around the each participant. When the timer goes off, the person holding the present unwraps it (or is eliminated and the last person gets to unwrap one layer).

More…
Blend a few of the ideas above. Add your own ideas. Let your family suggest ideas. Have fun with it and let me know in the comments if you try it or have any inspiration to share.

British English Printable

American English Printable

Why?

This weekend I, like many others, learned of the horrific acts of violence in Paris. I learned of tragedy and more tragedy, around the world. Again. 

The blog I was planning to write didn’t happen. So many questions, the foremost being, “why?” What do these attacks achieve, other than heartache and pain? 

Like a child I keep asking, “Why?”

When children ask, “Why? Why? Yes, but Why?” is it because they are as perplexed at the world as I am today?

And what do we say to our children when they ask about the awful things that happen in the world? How do we explain that the world is not the beautiful place we want it to be?

I am consumed by thoughts for all the families. Parents have lost children. Children have lost parents. Siblings have lost brothers and sisters. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and co-workers have been brutally taken. Families have been irrevocably changed; damaged. How can this be anyone’s victory? 

Why?

There is no reason. There is only hope. That hope is our children. 

As I type this, I look at my son playing. I gaze at him and know that parenting is not about bedtime routines or limiting screen time; parenting is love. Parenting is about sending our kids into the world to brighten it. It is our job, to help our kids be a promise of a better, safer, more beautiful world. 

Three steps to cope with Crazy

Could have been Mamma's head!

Could be worse

There are times when life overtakes us. We have a mound of laundry to do. The fridge is almost empty. The toys are scattered all over our home. The children need our attention. We have work to complete. The floor needs vacuuming (and decontaminating). There is some unexpected cr*p we need to deal with (see picture). And, we desperately want to sit down with some tea/coffee/wine/beer/chocolate (circle all that apply).

When we talk about the importance of work life balance, we never seem to account for the work that needs to get done at home, and our “break time” is sadly not a priority.

I do not have any answers. I wish I did. But, I do have a strategy that helps me feel less overwhelmed on crazy days.

Step One

Choose ONE task
Simple, right! Just choose one task. Sometimes the choice is made for us;  the baby needs feeding, or the toddler is stuck in a cupboard. Other times we need to be grown up and choose for ourselves; should I do the dishes or put the laundry on? Maybe I should run out and get groceries first. There is no wrong choice – only a lack of decision.

As soon as you know what you are going to do, life becomes simpler.

Step Two

Say what you are about to do (now).
As a determined (not very good) multitasker and (excellent) procrastinator, I find Step One the most difficult. I need Step Two to get me moving. It may seem strange, but I find that by stating my intentions out loud the other distractions fade away. For example, I opt to do the dishes so I say, “I am going to do the dishes, now.” The key to this statement, and any variation on it, is the word “now.” When you say “now,”  you commit.  Everything else fades away and becomes less of a priority. There is no procrastination. The same is true when we do not choose a task, when the task chooses us; the blanket fort has collapsed again and your child needs (urgent) assistance. Simply state, “I am going to help you, now.” And that is it – you both feel better!

Step Three

Take action
This might seem obvious, but sometimes there is a big, fat distraction between us and the job at hand. The other day, I had a break!!! But, out of the corner of my eye, I could see vegetables waiting to be washed and chopped.  It took a huge effort (well, not that big), to ignore them and finish pouring my cup of tea. The trick? When saying, “now” step toward the task .

Do not deviate.

Do not look back.

Do not compromise.

Unless you hear urgent cries for help, in which case return to Step One!