By Carol Dores
Parenting can be so stressful. Parents aren’t given many instructions when they are first born. Many feel judged by their own parents, friends and neighbors. Some feel a need to build their child’s resume, so that they can eventually get in to the “right” college. This can start with getting them in to the right nursery school and continues to them taking as many Advanced Placement classes in high school. Getting involved in many extracurricular activities positions can also be important, and adds stress with driving children from place to place, sometimes seven days a week. No wonder parents feel stressed out!
Positive Discipline can help parents manage the stress, build a stronger family community, and bring more joy in to parenting.
Getting children involved with doing jobs at home is a good place to begin. As a family, come up with a list of the jobs that need to be done to keep the household running. This can include a wide range of things, from setting the table to mowing the lawn, paying the bills to folding the laundry, menu planning to take the garbage out. Once the list is developed, ask each child which jobs they would like to be responsible for. Parents then sign up for jobs as well. Then, take the time to teach the children how to do the jobs they have chosen. For younger children, having a picture of can be helpful, as a parent’s view of what a “clean playroom” looks like may be different than a child’s. As a family, decide how often jobs will be rotated and when they will be done. Some families put music on and all do their jobs on Saturday mornings, and watch a movie with popcorn when it’s all done. By being involved, children feel more empowered and like they are a meaningful part of the household. They develop a sense of capability and purpose. Contributing to a household by having jobs for each family member, we feel a part of the home community.
Work together with each child develop a routine chart for morning and bedtime, and any other times that are stressful. Help each child list all of the things that need to get done, suggesting any that they have forgotten. Then ask them to put them in the order they would like to do them. For younger children, having them draw pictures or take pictures of them doing each thing and putting it on the routine chart can be helpful. When they then are doing something else, simply ask, “What is next on your routine chart?”
Another way to reduce the stress of parenting is to figure out what each child’s strengths are. Sit with each child separately, and together come up with a list of their strengths. This can include things like music, helping younger children, taking care of animals, drawing, taking things apart, building things, math, etc. Have them put a copy in their room where they can see it, and make a copy that you can look at when feeling upset with a child, to help remind you of positive things about each child. This list can be used to help them use their strengths with areas that are challenges. For example, if they are strong in music and struggle with spelling, they can sing spelling words quietly to help them remember them. The list can also be used to think about areas they might want to focus their extracurricular activities, high school electives, college courses and career. They are likely to be more motivated when encouraged to use their strengths. Also, when we focus on strengths, they grow.
Another cause of parent’s stress is when children push our buttons, and they certainly seem to know how! When stressed out or angry, we do not have access to the rational thinking part of the brain. We only have access to the emotions and the fight/flight/freeze response. It is not the time to engage in conversation. It is in everyone’s best interest if we let children know we are upset, and need to take time to calm down before talking. Slow breathing or counting to ten are ways to calm down. When calm, it is important to talk with children about what was upsetting, and resolve the problem together.
Learning how to express feelings in a respectful and appropriate way can also be helpful. There are four basic emotions: mad, sad, scared and glad. Developing a list of other words to describe these feelings can be helpful, both for parents and children. Then, we can use “I statements” to express how we feel, “I feel ____ because _____, and I wish _____.” For example, I feel angry when my clothes are borrowed without asking, and I wish I would be asked first.” When we express how we are feeling respectfully, it helps us feel better, and also is more likely to be heard by the person we are talking with.
When feeling burned out, it is hard to remain calm. It is important that time is set aside to take care of ourselves. This doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Make a list of all of the things you like to do to calm down. This can range from digging in the dirt to walking, reading to taking a bath, listening to music to meditation, etc. Schedule time at least once a week to do one of the things on this list. It’s also a real gift to children to have them develop their own list, and have this become part of their weekly routine.
Lastly, finding time to do enjoyable things with each child and together as a family can bring more joy into parenting. Doing what each child likes for 20 minutes a week can help build a stronger relationship. Family meals and activities at least a few times a week can help build the family relationship. Positive Discipline family meetings can also help a family connect, resolve problems together and have fun.