By Rachell Kingsbury. Mum, Guidance Counsellor, Psychologist & Neuropsychologist
I don’t know about you, but I feel like today’s world of parenting is about trying to constantly do more and be more. Families are becoming busier, and with that, it would seem more stressed. In paradox, it is common to hear parents ask: what more can I do to help my children to be less stressed and to promote calm in my home? Perhaps the answer lies in doing less not more.
It is a common occurrence to walk into a darkened classroom during the afternoon at our school, with turning off lights being one of ways to bringing calm to the students. Likewise, turning off overheads, screens, televisions, music, etc. in the home can alleviate the tension of the day and help children settle quicker into sleep.
Unsurprisingly, research shows we’re spending more time engaged in social media. The negative association of digitally distracted parents ranges from reduced concentration, to risk, neglect, potential indications for autism, and so forth. What is surprising is that research also indicates that we’re experiencing greater negative versus positive emotions when using social media. Limiting your social media may circumvent becoming an unnecessarily grumpy and distracted parent.
The perfect recipe for a ‘day from hell’ always includes the ingredients of 1) me trying to complete deadline work, whilst 2) attempting to simultaneously parent. ‘Visible but not available’ as a parenting framework does not work in my family. Though there are times when this is inevitable, the reality is: constant interruptions by children mean you work less efficiently and parent less presently = stressful for you and stressful for them. If possible, accessing formal or informal care for short periods to enable you to work more effectively can be better than a drawn-out day of trying to do both things poorly. If possible, letting one parent takeover to give you a couple of hours of uninterrupted work time can help. For me, personally, if I’m down to the wire, working from 4am–6am (before the kids wake) will bring down my work-related stress before the parenting day begins.
Give yourself permission to put you and your family first by saying ‘yes’ to less. Some days, simply cancelling something non-essential can immediately reduce the busyness within yourself and your family.
I seem to be in the minority with not trying to build a law firm, train for a triathlon, romantically date my partner weekly, grow all our consumables organically, look like I haven’t had children, as well as be the best mum in the universe to a 10-week old baby. I’m at a loss as to whether today’s motherhood expectations are self-generated or externally-pressured, but whatever the cause – please stop trying to do everything right now. Chose one or two things that genuinely make you feel like you parent in a less stressful manner, and focus on that.
For families of school-aged kids, homework represents possibly the most stressful way to end your day. Each year, I enable parents to negotiate homework breaks at school. The benefits of merely reading to your kids are well established. Likewise, encouraging ‘rest days’ at the end of terms can help overtired children to restore and families to regroup.
Similarly, loading children up with daily and/or multiple extra-curricular activities is a common catalyst for stressed out children and time-poor families. School really does provide ample learning in the early years. Beyond that, chose one or two extra-curriculars a year, and be willing to let them go if you feel like you and your child are more stressed than benefited by the additional learning.
Recent research shows that children’s executive function (e.g. attention, concentration, planning, organisation, emotional functioning, and complex play skills) develops better in unstructured play environments. So, relax mamas! Grab your best friend and a coffee, and let kids do what kids do best: run like maniacs through parks and playgrounds.
When given the choice, my kids will always opt for a home day every time. Modern parents, like myself, tend to think that engaging our children in constant, external stimulation must be positive for them. Some of my most stressful days have been when I’ve failed to hear that my kids just want to be at home.
Easier said than done, but with some research suggesting that our children’s emotional connectedness to mum commences in the third trimester, it is not surprising that when we feel worried/stressed/anxious/sad – so do they.
My most overused quote that I borrow daily from Circle of Security is: “You only have to be good enough 30% of the time to make great kids”. Good enough can be the perfect way to reduce your family’s stress. At the end of last year, when everyone was at the end of their tether, I grabbed fish and chips and headed to a free, outdoor water park. That dinner was good enough and that swim in the pool was a good enough bath. No meal prep, no table manners, no sitting still, no dishes to be done. Good enough was way better than ideal that night.
I’ve learnt this lesson more than once. It is perhaps my best less is more example. I was visiting my home town and had thought that setting up two, back-to-back, group play dates was a good idea in terms of catching up with as many old friends with children as possible. It was not a good idea. At the end of that day we collectively couldn’t have been more over it. I ditched everything but my hotel key card, headed to the beach – no phone, no toys, no money, no company, no distractions, and if your children are like my children, no clothes! Just me, my sons and the sun setting on Noosa Beach.
I watched them run, laugh and importantly, unwind and reset. And so then could I. With absolutely nothing – the perfect example of less being so much more: to restore our family calm.