Recently I’ve found myself losing patience at the kids and feeling tired at having to break up fights almost daily.
I was feeling very down one day, and that was when I realised that I’ve been filled with negative thoughts and have also been reacting negatively towards the kids.
There might be a science to it too. Psychologist John Gottman has identified that in the context of marriage, the magic ratio is five positive interactions to every negative one, in determining which marriages are likely to stay longer and which would fall apart.
So…I’m aiming for three positive interactions for every negative one. I think it’s not about rigidly keeping count. Knowing that I have something to aim for helps me to remember to play, hug and tune in to my children more, even if we’ve had difficult moments before this.
Here are 9 ways to increase the number of positive interactions in your home.
1. Get playful.
After staying home for more than two years, and taking on writing assignments from home, I’ve realised the need to set a stop to my work and take one or two play-breaks with my kids daily.
Sometimes it’s off to the playground, or a swim. On some days we stay at home and just bond over a few toys, board games, or pretend play. I try to let them take the lead, since play is one of the few domains that children can have full control over, but sometimes I would suggest a board game that we’ve neglected for a while.
Whatever it is, I try to set work aside and remind myself it’s “Us-time.” It meets my kids’ play needs, which in turn creates a better environment for me to focus on work later on.
2. Manage stress
Throughout the course of a normal day, there will be things that cause unhappiness and stress to your system. That’s life.
The thing is to let the negativity out, without venting on the kids, and not it fester and get out of hand.
It also helps to recognise that some stress and tension in life is actually necessary and good. It helps us to grow, think creatively, and problem-solve. So the key isn’t to avoid all kinds of stress, it’s accepting that it will occur from time to time, and the best strategy is to have a healthy mindset about it.
3. Develop your family values
“In this house, we speak kindly. We share in love. We practise patience. We are givers of joy.” Statements like these help to give children (and ourselves) a sense of identity and values, that come in to help kick us in the butt when we veer in the wrong direction.
Come up with your own set of values, and print them out, so that it is a visual reminder. Name them and speak them out when the kids get into conflict. And don’t be surprised when the kids start using them at you when you get into marital conflicts and disagreements too.
4. Use routines and schedules to help you through the day
This helps to reduce power struggles and give ample time to transit from one activity to another.
If your kids are old enough, enlist their help to set daily/weekly schedules. This helps them to feel in control of their day, and to know what’s coming up next. If changes are expected, like if granny isn’t able to babysit, let them know slightly beforehand too, so they are better prepared for it.
Get them to suggest alternative ideas too, if a block of time gets freed up during the day. This helps them to practise active problem-solving rather than be passive and expect others to entertain them.
5. Identify trigger areas
Perhaps it’s managing TV time. Perhaps it’s meal times. Kids do know how to press all our buttons sometimes.
For me, a hot button is TV time – when the kids try to stretch their allowed TV time, I get irritated to no end.
This is why we try to use agreed upon schedules such as a designated TV time at 4pm. So that it becomes less of a contention. Each time my kids ask, “Mum can I watch TV?” I reply, “What does your schedule say?”
6. Recognise early signs of negativity
Are you snapping at the slightest of things? Are you walking around with a scowl on your face? Are you responding with disdain or being a wet towel on everything your kids are doing?
Learn to identify these warning signs, let them ring a bell in your mind and remind you to work on reconnecting, and keeping a positive mindset.
In the same vein, look for signs of tiredness or anxiety in your child. It can often help to avoid major meltdowns if you can catch them early and take appropriate action to help them feel better.
7. Keep a sane schedule
There’s only so much school, learning and enrichment a child can take. There’s also only so much running around an adult can do too. So recognize this, and establish healthy limits for your family.
Downtime is important for kids to consolidate and reflect on what they’ve learnt. It’s also important for their emotional stability and well being.
8. Do things you enjoy too
Every parent needs time-out once in a while. It’s up to you to decide how often you need it, what you want to do with it, and how to plan ahead so that it happens.
It could be a creative hobby, like watercolour painting or sewing. Whatever it is, recognize that you need to recharge and unwind. Develop a network of close friends who understand and listen without judging.
9. Empower your kids
Allow our kids to grow and rise up to new challenges. Don’t try to do everything for them or make things too easy, as this will do them more harm than good.
I have one child who is more sensitive and emotional that the others. For him, I know that he needs to feel confident about a new game or toy first, so I try to frame it such that he meets with some success or satisfaction at his first attempt. But as he grows more confident, I would remove the initial support, so that he learns to “level up” and deal with small difficulties and failures.
Every meltdown is a teaching moment, if we would just allow it to help us practise staying calm, reconnecting, and problem-solving.
At the end of the day, it’s about allowing our children to learn independence while they’re still in a safe place – our home. Think and plan ahead on the kind of decisions and control you can allow them to have; start small and work from there.
Empower them to make choices within safe boundaries, talk through and discuss options, and before long they would have honed these life-long skills: taking responsibility and decision-making.
What are your favourite ways of creating a calm and joy-filled home? Do share your tips in the comments!