By Heidi Scrimgeour
What’s the one thing most parents wish they did less of?
Inadvertently stepping on Lego in bare feet would probably feature in the top three things we wish we did less of, but I’m going to wager that being ratty and impatient with the kids takes top spot.
Even if you’re blessed with a peaceable disposition which means you’re not prone to over-extending your vocal chords, I bet you’d still agree that you could do with more laughter and less conflict in the course of everyday family life.
Who wouldn’t want to shout less and laugh more?
So, instead of beating yourself up for being a yeller, try these tips for toning down the fishwife act and cranking up the cracking up…
Pick your battles
If I had to choose a single mantra for whenever the parenting path seems all uphill, this is it.
I can’t remember who first shared this pearl of parental wisdom with me, but it has profoundly affected my whole approach to family life ever since.
It simply means there are some areas of family life which are inevitably going to be a battle-ground, but I don’t have to don full military armour and wade in all-guns-blazing every single time I encounter one of them.
So I no longer waste energy arguing with the children about every tiny thing that we might disagree on. If I did, I’d have no time or energy left for anything else.
Here’s an example; every time my ten year old tries to skip the tooth-brushing part of his daily routine, I feel justified in reading him the riot act. Tidying his room, on the other hand, doesn’t have an impact on his health (not yet, anyway) and isn’t significantly inconveniencing other members of the family. So it’s one battle I’ve stopped fighting.
We’ve reached a compromise whereby I don’t nag him about his room every day, and he gives it a decent once-over every few weeks just to ensure that he isn’t inadvertently harbouring the 21st century’s answer to penicillin.
Consequently - and here’s proof that picking your battles can make family life more harmonious - his room is actually tidier now than it ever was when I used to yell about it several times a week, and we don’t have humdingers over it anymore.
I suspect he feels more respected as a result, and when we hunker down for a bedtime chat we invariably end up enjoying a precious moment of connectedness, instead of another row about his bedroom.
I’m talking about the things that distract you - not the things that occupy your child’s attention.
There’s must no denying that I shout more when I’m distracted. It makes little difference whether I’m inwardly panicking about work whilst homeschooling, or scrolling through Facebook while the kids are playing - whenever I’m in the company of my kids but have my mind elsewhere, I am always tetchier, less patient and more prone to snapping. So for me, minimising distractions when I’m in mum-mode is a sure-fire way to minimise conflict and up the fun-factor.
You only have to watch a child whose parent is distracted to see that kids know when they’re not the centre of attention, and seem hard-wired to rectify the situation - by any means necessary.
I’m not saying that every waking moment you spend with your child requires you to make them the sole focus of your attention. That’s neither practical nor beneficial, but many of us live such perpetually distracted lives that it can be difficult to recognise or admit that our kids aren’t getting the attention they need from us.
So for a set period of time per day, try ensuring that you’re available to your child with no distractions. I can practically guarantee that even a short space of time together in your day during which your child doesn’t have to compete with anything else for your attention, will significantly extend your patience.
Say sorry when you get it wrong
The feeling I hate most in the world is the one that descends after I lose my patience with my kids and end up barking at them.
Nothing leaves you feeling quite so racked with guilt or consumed with remorse as that moment when the kids have gone to school or fallen asleep, leaving you to ruminate on where the school run or bedtime routine went wrong, and what you should have said or done differently.
But I’ve had enough moments like that over the past ten years to know that the best response is to apologise.
Be quick to say sorry when you end up in a bout of bad-tempered shouting, and your kids will likely admit to their own shortcomings more quickly in future, too.
And while I dread to think how many times I’ve ended up hollering at my kids, I’m marginally cheered up to think that they’ve also experienced, more times than I can count, the power of a heart-felt apology and the comfort that can be found in making amends.
Resource yourself for family life
The aeroplane oxygen mask analogy is a well-worn cliche of parenthood which you’ve no doubt heard countless times. In the event of an emergency, passengers on an aircraft are advised to apply their own oxygen masks before attending to those of their children, on the basis that you can’t help your child if you’re unconscious, and the same theory applies to parenthood.
Self-care is the number one thing that improves my parenting skills. Try it: make time every single day for something that energises you. Whether it’s yoga, a run or a candle-lit soak in the bath; resourcing yourself properly for the demands of family life extends your capacity for all that it demands of you.
It’s completely counter-intuitive, because taking time for ourselves feels selfish, but I’d go so far as to say that it’s actually one of the very best things you can do for your children. (Which is why, as soon as I’ve finished this, I’ll be lazing on the sofa with a tub of ice cream instead of folding laundry. I’ve got my kids’ best interests at heart, see…)
The funny bone is your greatest weapon
Above all else, remember that no matter the age of your child or the cause of conflict between you, humour has the capacity to diffuse almost any confrontation.
It won’t magic away whatever’s making you feel like shouting, but if you can make your child laugh in the midst of a moment of family mayhem, you’re halfway towards a truce.
I’m no scientist but I am convinced that some kind of alchemy happens when we make our kids laugh in the very moment that they make us feel like crying.
So the next time you find your tone of voice rising along with your blood pressure, try getting a laugh out of your kid. As well as diffusing tension, I can give it to you on good authority that it’s practically impossible to stay cross with someone when they’re laughing uproariously… ν