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5 Tips for Stress Free Parenting

Updated on March 22, 2013

Is Stress Free Parenting Possible?

Being a parent is one of the most challenging roles in life, and knowing how to keep a balance between nurturer and disciplinarian - getting your children to mind you in a stress-free and non-confrontational way - is one of the biggest challenges of all. Here are 5 simple tips that will not only lower parenting stress, but will also result in a stronger bond and more successful parenting.

Photo by: Cynthia Turek

#1 Preparation

Preparation and Preempting
Preparation and Preempting

The Power in Preempting

Preempting and preparing can work miracles for lowering stress in parenting - and it makes for more effective parenting. It needn't take much time, and you'll save so much more time than it takes!

I'm going to share a few examples of what I mean by preempting and preparation, and of course the details will depend on the individual circumstances. If you need ideas for a specific issue, please use the comments section below, and I'll share some suggestions.

What Do I Mean by Preparation and Preempting?

If you know your child usually throws a tantrum in the grocery store, it's not a surprise when it happens. So, going to the grocery store expecting it to happen, and having a plan will mean eliminating the stress.

If your child routinely refuses to go to bed on time, you know it's coming, so having a plan in place, preempting the drama, means solving the issue as painlessly and effectively as possible.

Below is a real-life example, from my own experience...

Photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Bath Time Battles
Bath Time Battles

Bath Time Battle

When my son was 7 years old, he decided to resist bathtime in favor of playing longer. The first day this happened, it was a major mission to get him into the bath. He refused to stop playing, debated that he would have his bath later, and in the meantime the supper I was cooking was getting ruined.

Preparation

That night I hatched a plan. I was pretty certain this was not a "one-off" and I needed to nip it in the bud - for his sake as well as mine. So, I planned bath time half an hour before his favorite TV program. At the time he adored "Scooby Doo" (it's a good idea to encourage your child's enthusiasm for specific TV programs - it makes for great leverage! ;) ). "Scooby Doo" started at 4.30pm. So I made my son's bath time 4pm, and supper for 5pm ("Scooby Doo" ran for half an hour).

I then explained the plan to my son at about 3pm. I told him that at 4pm he would need to get in the bath, then his bath would be finished in time for him to watch "Scooby Doo" at 4.30pm, and then supper was to be at 5pm, after "Scooby Doo".

Preempting

He agreed to this at the time.... HOWEVER, I preempted he would not stick to this the first time - it's natural and perfectly human-child-like to resist the first time, so I was prepared and not taken by surprise when 4pm came and went, and he refused to get in the bath.

Because I was expecting it, I wasn't angry. And because I was prepared, I knew that I'd have to follow through with the plan - AND that he was bound to be upset... and that was okay.

So, here's how it went:

At 4pm I reminded him of the plan and timescale, and told him it was now time to get in the bath so that he would be finished in time to watch "Scooby Doo". He mumbled something about finishing what he was doing. I left him alone, came back at 4.15pm and mentioned that if he didn't get in the bath now, unfortunately he would miss "Scooby Doo" because there wouldn't be enough time. I did this in a calm, friendly manner. He continued playing.

At 4.30pm he went to switch on the TV. I said "Ah, sorry Sweetie, but unfortunately you still need to have your bath." He said he'd have his bath after "Scooby Doo". I patiently and kindly explained that unfortunately that wasn't possible because supper was after "Scooby Doo" and then it was too late to have a bath. Now, because I was expecting this, it was no more stressful or upsetting for me than a new puppy peeing on the carpet. I knew it was going to happen, and I was in the training process of changing the behavior. It was all part of the plan.

Dramatics

Well, he of course kicked off big-time! Very dramatic, lots of fury and frustration and loud wailing and theatrics. But the great thing is that because I was prepared and expecting this, I was able to stick to the plan while remaining calm and sympathetic. "Ah, Sweetie, I know it's terrible. It's really frustrating. But you know what? Tomorrow you can have your bath at 4pm, and then you'll be in time to watch "Scooby Doo" So tomorrow you'll get to see it." Of course there was a lot of "But I want to see it nooooow!" and "Why can't I have my bath later..." and so on, and my answer was to be sympathetic, remind him that tomorrow he would be able to take his bath on time and then see "Scooby Doo", and then I left him to grieve in peace.

Again, because I knew this was coming, and because I reminded myself that it's perfectly human to express frustration and anger, I was happy to let him cry and express his frustration until he'd finished.

Here's The Best Part:

The next day HE came to ME at 3.45pm asking if it was time for his bath yet! :) We never had another issue with bath time after that.

Photo by Janis Gonser

Important Tip

It's okay to let your child express his frustration, there's no need to give in so he'll stop crying. Allow him to cry. Sympathize, and gently remind him that he has the power to have this not happen again. ;)

Then leave him to get over it in his own time. And he WILL get over it. ;)

Time to Cry
Time to Cry

"But I Don't Have Time to Let Him 'Express His Frustration'!"

This is why the first tip is so important. Preparation and pre-empting will take time pressure out of the picture. Setting your child up (I mean that in the nicest way of course ;) ) for a time that's convenient for you, means you plan ahead, knowing there is going to be drama that will take some time. So it doesn't happen as you're rushing out the door, or trying to get errands done. Bearing in mind the point of this process is that it only takes once or twice for the behavior to change, it's worth setting aside the time now, in order to save time in the future.

If your child usually throws a tantrum in the grocery store, set her up by planning a trip to the store when you don't actually need anything - and make sure you have plenty of time.

Then, explain the plan to her: "We need to go to the store, and if you behave (then explain what "behave" means) - in other words, if you ask me for something and I say "no" you must accept that and say "ok". You musn't cry and scream. If you behave, we will then ______________ " (fill in whatever she loves to do - go to the park, feed the ducks, get an ice-cream etc. It's better if it's not connected to the grocery store - this will avoid building a habit of expectation that she'll get something from the store each time! ;) ).

Then check back with her for clarity and understanding: "So, what's the plan?" (say this in an excited way - get her excited by the plan. The idea is that she is enthusiastic about the fact that she gets the treat at the end of the plan). Then ask her what "behave" means - make sure she is perfectly clear on exactly what is expected of her.

Then go to the store knowing that she'll probably kick off. This is an exercise. It's a part of training her out of the behavior. You've prepared by choosing a time that's convenient for yourself - you're not in a hurry, and you don't have to do the shop right now. Take your usual route around the store, put a few things in your basket that you might like to get.

When she does throw her tantrum, remind her of the plan. (Make sure you use conversational, friendly language - you're just reminding her of the plan, not threatening or warning - this is vital for success).

If she won't listen and continues (which is perfectly natural and not a surprise), take her out of the store (luckily you don't need the shopping ;) ) and quietly and calmly start heading home.

When she asks about the treat (and I use the word "asks" loosely ;) - she may well still be frustrated and possibly screaming) say something along the lines of: "Ah, honey, I'm sorry, but remember, we were only going to do that if you behaved in the store, and unfortunately because you didn't, now we can't do that. But never mind, tomorrow you can behave, and then we'll _________ "(whatever the treat was)

Then let her cry and scream and express her fury. It's not a problem because you were expecting this, and it's all part of the plan.

Again, because you're prepared, you knew this was the most likely outcome, you can be sympathetic and calm, and you can support her through her "cold turkey" symptoms. :) And because you scheduled this time for this purpose, you can give her the time to get over it. You have allocated this time for her to cry and scream and express her frustration until she gets over it. So, leave her to it. Later, once she's calmed down and got over it, she will process the information, and she will very likely confirm with you if she'll get the treat tomorrow if she behaves. ;)

Tomorrow (or whenever the next time is), make sure you plan for the time again - just in case it's going to take her more than one go at this. ;)

It's worth investing whatever time it takes - at a time that suits you. It will save you so much more time when you can't spare it.

Photo by John Evans

Point to Remember:

If she hadn't thrown that tantrum as planned, you wouldn't have been able to complete the exercise! She has to display the behavior, so you can deliver the consequence, so she can learn the lesson. So, remind yourself in the middle of her screaming session - this is a good thing! ;)

Something to Bear in Mind:

Every time she misbehaves and you follow through with the consequence, and she gets upset, and you allow her to express her frustration while calmly and supportingly sticking to the plan, you're that much closer to solving this issue completely.

#2 The Importance of Clarity

Explain the Plan
Explain the Plan

Explaining the Plan

Once you've made your plan, it's vital to explain it clearly to your child - and have your child explain it back to you.

In order for this to work, your child has to know exactly what is expected of him, and the order of events.

For Example:

Make sure you have his full attention.

1. "Okay, Peter, here's the plan. We need to leave the house at 11 o'clock, to go to the store. If you're dressed and ready to leave before 11, we'll get an ice-cream on the way to the store. Of course, if you're not ready before 11, then unfortunately we won't be able to get the ice-cream. Okay?"

(Note: When giving a time deadline, like the one above, make sure you stick to it. If he's only ready at 11.05am, unfortunately, no ice-cream. Trust me, next time he will make sure he's ready before the time you give. ;) The reason for this is he needs to know that you mean exactly what you say. If not, this "leeway" has a tendancy to grow and it will be more difficult to control. It'll only take once or twice of you sticking to exactly what you say for him to get the message - see the example from my own experience in "5 Means 5" below)

2. "So, can you tell me what the plan is?" Listen to him, focused, with eye contact, while he explains the plan back to you.

3. "And what do you need to do, to be ready to leave?" Make sure he knows exactly what is expected of him.

By explaining the plan, and clarifying that he understands exactly what is expected of him, you're leaving no doubt that whatever the consequences are, he has the power to avoid them if he wants to. This is vital for the final phase of the exercise - the bit where he gets over his anger and frustration at the consequences, and makes up his mind to not have this happen again.

It also ensures that his frustration and anger is purely at the consequences of his actions, and not as a result of unfairness and misunderstandings and helplessness through not knowing what he's "done wrong". You want the full focus to be on the fact that he has the power to have this not happen again because he knows where he went wrong, because he made the choice in full awareness. :)

Photo by Horton Group

Important Point

If your child wasn't completely clear on exactly what was expected of him, his focus will be on feelings of helplessness, unfairness and being misunderstood, instead of on the fact that his choices produced those consequences, and he can avoid them by making different choices.

Five Means Five
Five Means Five

When 5 Means 5 and Not 5 and a Half.... ;)

... And certainly not 6

As I mentioned above, it's very important to be inflexible regarding deadlines during this process. If you tell him that the plan is: he needs to be dressed before 8am in order to allow for enough time to get an ice-cream on the way, and he's only ready at 8.05am, unfortunately he can't get the ice-cream. 8.05 is not 8 am.

Stick to the consequence - he WILL get over it, and he will learn from it. Not only will he learn that you mean exactly what you say, he will gain a subconscious sense of trust. It also means you will follow through with the positive things as well.

It Only Takes Once

When my son was younger, there was an incident when he left the table during a meal, and went to play in his room. He refused to come back to the table - treating it as a joke. I calmly said that I was going to count to 5, and if he wasn't back at the table before I got to 5, he wouldn't be able to have any pudding.

I counted - at a normal pace - no 4 and a half or slowing down to give him time. 1 to 5 was more than enough time. He stood at the door of his room and watched me. I got to 5, and only after I said 5 did he run and sit at the table.

I pointed out sympathetically that unfortunately, because he wasn't there before I got to 5, he wasn't able to have the pudding. Well, he threw the mother of all tantrums. He was furious. I sympathized, but reiterated that when I say: "If you're not here before I get to 5" I mean before I get to 5. And I pointed out that: "In the same way, if I say I'll buy you an ice-cream, I will buy you an ice-cream. I mean exactly what I say."

Naturally he continued to wail and kick and scream. I left him to it, and he eventually got over it on his own.

BUT....

A couple of days later, we were at a playground, and it was time to leave. He refused to get off the swing. I told him that if he wasn't off the swing by the time I counted to 5, unfortunately, he would not be able to watch TV that afternoon when we got home. I reached 3 and he was off the swing and standing next to me ready to leave. :)

Ever since then (he's now almost 16 years old), he has never called my bluff - he knows that I mean exactly what I say. In the nicest possible way. ;)

Photo by Andrew C.

#3 The Power of "Unfortunately" :)

Maintaining Control as an Ally

The most powerful way to maintain control of your child is to instill the belief that you are his ally, not the enemy. And it's easier than you might think, to be an ally while still enforcing rules and consequences.

The Power of "Unfortunately"

I have found that the word "unfortunately" is powerful beyond expectation! :)

In the situation I described above - the bath time issue - the result wouldn't have been as effective if I'd used "retributional" language - you know, the: "I warned you!" and "It's your own fault" and "You should have thought about that before you..." and "No! You're NOT watching "Scooby Doo"!" and "Stop crying, you had your chance."... and so on.

The reason it worked so well is because I showed genuine sympathy, and allowed him to effectively "kick himself" for letting this happen. I allowed him to express his frustration, without allowing myself to feel pressured into "giving in".

By doing this, I took the focus off any possible conflict between him and me, and made sure his focus was purely on the fact that:

a) it was an unavoidable consequence of his own action (there was no need to point this out - he knew! ;) )

b) I was not the enforcer, I was a supportive by-stander who sympathized with him and felt sorry for him

c) he has the power to have this never happen again

Eliminating Stress and Guilt by Allowing...

As parents, when we have to follow through on consequences (I find consequences infinitely more effective than punishment), we have a tendency to feel bad, to feel guilty, and this can lead to either giving in, or being authoritarian (trying to counter the pressure we feel to give in).

But if we remind ourselves that it's perfectly natural for children (and adults!) to express their frustration and anger and hurt - and it's okay for them to do that, without our needing to stop it by either threatening them or giving in - there's a whole lot of stress right there that we can wave goodbye to! :)

Using "unfortunately" conveys the message that if you had a choice you wouldn't have this happen, but it's out of your hands. If said with genuine compassion, it is clearly supportive, and it's "ally" talk rather than authoritarian.

It also gives nothing to fight against. By using phrases like "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but unfortunately because you didn't have your bath at 4pm, there's not enough time for...." or "Ah, I know that's really frustrating, but remember, I did mention to you that if you wanted to get an ice-cream, you'd need to pick up all your toys before we had to leave. And unfortunately because you didn't, we can't get the ice-cream today. But never mind, tomorrow you can make sure you pick up your toys in time, and then you can get an ice-cream!" you're keeping conflict out of the picture.

And then let him cry and express his frustration - because it's natural AND because what you have just said has delivered the following message to the back of his mind: "Mum/Dad want me to have the ice-cream, but they can't because I didn't do ____. It's in my power to have this not happen again tomorrow. " - obviously not in those words, but the essence of that message will be embedded and very powerful.

The focus is taken off the feeling of punishment and helplessness, and it is put firmly on Empowerment.

You are empowering your child - bringing to his attention the fact that he has the power to get that ice-cream. The important thing to remember is that he is obviously not going to admit it (or even have it in his conscious awareness) in the moment - in this moment he is coming to terms with the loss of that ice-cream he so badly wants. Later, when he's got over it, he will process the information that he can avoid this disaster tomorrow, and he will make sure he picks up those toys if he really wants that ice-cream.

Time Scale

Now, some children may not respond as quickly as the next day. Depending on the individual and the particular issue, it may take a few dramatic incidents before the improvement takes place, but that's also okay.

You, as the parent have the power to calmly sympathize and support while sticking to the follow-through.

A Friend in Need

Think of a friend who is addicted to something, who is begging you to give her some of whatever it is. She may try to convince you, then she may get angry with you, she will probably cry, may even scream and shout. You would be kind, supportive and caring, you would feel compassion for her.... but you would not give in and give her the "fix". That's the same kind of attitude to have towards a child who is throwing a tantrum because you followed-through on a consequence. :)

Image by Aleksandra P.

#4 Listening on Purpose

The Power of Listening to Your Child
The Power of Listening to Your Child

The Magic of Really Listening

Listening to your child when he speaks does more than just hearing him in the moment, it has far-reaching effects that can change, not only his behavior as a child, it can change the adult he becomes.

Short Term Benefits of Listening:

When you really listen to your child - meaning, making eye contact and actively listening to what he's saying - he feels validated, he is reassured that you have heard what he's saying, and he is more likely to listen as attentively when you speak (children are designed to unconsciously copy the influential adults in their lives). He is also more likely to do as you ask if he knows he's been heard.

Some children who come across as disruptive, difficult and naughty are actually displaying symptoms of not being listened to. Children who "act out" can often be transformed by having their parents pay honest, focused attention when they speak.

Long Term and Knock-on Effects of Listening:

When a child is consistantly listened to, his subconscious is automatically programmed with the core belief that he matters, that he is interesting, and that he is important enough to be listened to. This core belief affects not only his behavior, but his decisions and choices, the way he relates to others, and his confidence and self esteem - which of course affect all areas of his life into adult-hood. His career, relationships, achievements and even his health are affected by the choices he makes based on his beliefs about himself.

Taking a moment to stop the hoovering, to look your child in the eyes and actively listen to what he's trying to tell you can save you a lot of time and stress in the future, by creating a trust, mutual respect, and by modelling what you want him to do when you speak.

This, of course, doesn't mean you should always drop everything when your child has something to say.

It means not half-listening, ignoring or dismissing your child. It means deciding in the moment: "How important is it if I finish the hoovering 10 minutes later? Can I afford to stop for 10 minutes to really listen to him, knowing the effect it has - not just now, but for the future?"

And when you can't stop to listen right now, tell him. Look him in the eyes, with full focus, and say something like: "I'm sorry, honey, I can't listen now because I have to get this done. But I want to hear what you have to say, and I'll be able to listen to you after ________" or "... when we get home." or "... at 4 o'clock"

And then, of course, you need to make sure you do take the time when you said you would, to really listen to him.

Because of the long-term effect it has, it's worth prioritizing listening to him.

If you start really listening to your child, over time (and it doesn't take long), you'll notice a marked improvement in his behavior, and in the way he responds to you. :)

Photo by: Benjamin Earwicker

One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of attention

- Jim Rohn

#5 More Sleep = Less Stress

How Sleep Affects Behavior
How Sleep Affects Behavior

How Sleep Can Change Your Child's Behavior

Making sure your child gets sufficient, good quality sleep can dramatically lower parenting stress!

When a child isn't getting enough sleep, the symtoms are more than just tiredness. Lack of sleep can lead to a child coming across as "naughty", irritable, "difficult", argumentative, and aggressive - amongst many other issues.

If a child is not consistantly getting enough sleep, his brain will have trouble processing information - leading to lack of concentration and an inablilty to focus and follow instructions.

Then, when he fails to "do as he's told" - it can appear he is being deliberately disobedient - he can even come across as a liar.

So much relies on good sleep. I believe that if a child has to be woken up for school, he's not getting enough sleep. If he's awake naturally on time, then he's getting enough.

For more information on exactly how sleep affects behavior, self esteem, confidence and even character - as well as for tips on how to get your child to bed earlier without drama - have a look at the page below....

Photo by Carla Peroni

To Recap:

1. Prepare, Plan, and Pre-empt.

Set your child up for when you have plenty of time for the follow-through.

2. Explain the plan. Make sure your child is clear on exactly what is expected of her.

3. Be the ally. Use a word like "unfortunately" You dont have to give in, and you don't have to threaten to avoid giving in. You can be sympathetic while allowing her to express her fury.

4. Prioritize listening with both ears.

5. More sleep = Lower stress.

Stress Free Homework

Stress Free Homework
Stress Free Homework
Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions to Stress-Free Homework
Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions to Stress-Free Homework

Helping a child with homework can be one of the most stressful challenges a parent can face - especially if the child is constantly distracted, easily frustrated, disorganized or an expert in avoidance! Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed. has heard it all, and come up with a comprehensive guide for parents - regardless of what particular challenge their child has when it comes to homework. This highly recommended book helps parents to help their children in the most stress-free, effective way. Containing easy-to-understand, practical and easy-to-put-into-practice advice and tips, this is a remarkable resource which has already helped thousands of parents and children to take the stress out of homework.

 
10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior
10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior

10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior

This little ebook details, in a conversational, easy-to-read style, 10 simple steps parents can take which results in impressive behavioral changes in their children. Great parenting advice.

10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child's Behaviour ebook $2.50

Give as much information as possible, including the age of the child, as this will make a difference of course.

What Do You Think? - Share your thoughts and ideas for stress free parenting.

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    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Excellent advice! I appreciate the clear, practical suggestions.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm going to send this to my son to r4ad. Great tips for grand parents too. :)

    • jjj1 profile image

      jjj1 5 years ago

      An excellent lens!!! We find that our 6 year old twins "mess about" and play and generally take forever to get through the bedtime routine (highly stressful at the end of a tiring day) - but if I say that I will set the timer and any time that's left over once they're in their PJs and have had teeth done can be spent watching bedtime TV, the diffference is amazing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow. You have put a lot of great information into this lens. My two year old has hit the tantrum stage and you've given me some powerful reminders. I can't wait for him to understand the word "unfortunately.

    • profile image

      periwinklekitty 5 years ago

      Great lens! We have been following these ideas since my son was born, adjusted of course because he lacked the ability to listen then. He is a well-adjusted, near 3 year old, who listens for the most part, and knows that we mean what we say. What you said was intuitive for me and my husband, but from what I see, many people need this advice. You can't stress enough how important sleep is. I see kids who lack sleep as young toddlers and act absolutely terrible. This effect seems to be lasting, as they probably learn to act this way from repetition. Don't skip a child's nap because it is inconvenient in your day, work around it! A few years of slight inconvenience won't kill a parent.