You know the scenario. You’re exhausted from work; your children are tired from school or nursery, and it takes only the tiniest thing for the wheels to come flying off the bus.

We’ve all been there.

When we fall into a pattern these hotspots can become habits that replay night after night.

Whether it’s music practice, homework, supper, time to relax and play or going to bed, we each have our own expectations and our own agendas.

So often we anticipate how things are going to unfold before our children cross the threshold and our kids pick up on our mood and anticipate our reaction. Before you know it, our expectations become our reality.

So how do we change the music?  It starts with changing the channel.

Step one:

Get prepared: Remind yourself that you set the tone and your job is to lead the way and thoughtfully and calmly respond rather than react to what’s going on around you. Easier said than done!

Before the temperature starts to rise, take a long deep breath, 4 counts in, hold for 4 and 4 counts out. Pause for 4 and repeat a couple of times. Breathing calms the body and the mind.

Let’s take homework, if it’s become a battle ground, it’s likely your emotions build well before you even utter the word ‘homework’. Just the sight of your 9-year-old child’s book bag, sets off a train of thought that starts with last night’s spelling struggles and ends with your child not getting a single university offer after having failed all their exams.

This catastrophizing drives our emotions and makes it harder for us to be present and calmly and patiently give our kids the support they need now.   Taking a pause and several deep slow breaths tells our body that we’re ok and helps us to remember to focus fully on our child, their struggles, their needs with curiosity and compassion.  We can’t recognise, understand, and empathise with their feelings if we are overwhelmed with our own.

Step Two:

Empathy is your superpower: We don’t want to embrace all our children’s behaviour, but we do want to acknowledge and embrace ALL their emotions. Why? Because our empathy helps our kids feel understood, validated, and heard and it’s often enough to move them towards cooperation and away from a power struggle.

When our kids have been apart from us for the day they’ll feel a need to reconnect, however they might express it.

Our empathy builds connection and a sense of trust and teaches them vital self-awareness, all of which supports their self-worth and improves their behaviour.    Focusing on empathy helps us to be curious about how our children are feeling.  When our children feel seen, they ‘feel felt’ and understood and they don’t feel the need to get our attention through misbehaviour.  Realising that all feelings are valid is the beginning of learning to manage and express them in a healthy way and the foundation of emotional intelligence.

“I’m thinking that homework is the last thing you want to be doing this afternoon.  To have to sit down when you’re tired and you’d rather be outside (or doing practically anything else!) is tough. I get it!”

Step Three:

Solve the problem TOGETHER:  Nobody likes to be told what to do, we’d rather be involved, listened to, and respected. The more we engage our children in finding a solution, the greater the chance that we’ll solve the problem…together.  When we calmly use empathy to build trust and deepen our connection, it’s more likely that our children will be open to our influence and more willing to embrace problem solving including setting boundaries together.

In a quiet relaxed moment away from homework, perhaps when you’re cuddled in bed, you might try:

“I have something I would love to understand.  I get it that you don’t like doing homework.  I’m wondering whether you find it boring or hard?  [wait for an answer] ok so you find it §boring, and you’d rather do something else when you get home… mmm that makes sense.  How about if try and think of some ideas together that might make it easier for you?”

Calmly working together, thinking positively

Step Four:

Acknowledge when they get it right: When we look and acknowledge ALL the things our kids do right, we’ll get more of the behaviour we’re looking for. We boost their self-esteem and our relationship which reinforces their desire to do the right thing and we’ll find that we need to set limits less often. Positive attention leads to positive behaviour.

‘Wow, you’re sitting down and starting that homework. That takes discipline and you should feel really proud. I am right here and when you’re done you can choose what we do next.”

Let’s face it it’s tough when you’re juggling kids, work, and family life. There’s no silver bullet and there certainly is no perfect parent.  Taking the time to look at our lives and solve one challenge at a time is a great place to start. Our kids don’t want perfection, they want calm compassionate parents who are present and tune into their unique world with curiosity, kindness, and love.

This article was written by Heather Rutherford,  a parenting coach. Heather empowers parents to approach the inevitable juggle of family life with confidence, calm, compassion and consistency to raise happy resilient kids. Read more of Heather’s articles or get in touch via her profile page.