HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park.  But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times.  And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old??

Yep, who knew that a two-year old could unearth such an extraordinary amount of pain?  Pain that had laid unexpressed and buried since my childhood. 

But here’s the thing; the realisation of this and the gradual unpacking and coming to terms with it has been transforming.  It has ultimately led to strengthened and more connected relationships with all of my children and a generally happier parenting experience.   

It’s not the easiest of topics to delve into and be open about.  But I feel strongly about being authentic about all aspects of parenthood; being real about the nitty-gritty of the whole process, not just the end result or pretty bits. 

So here goes…


Our first child was pretty compliant and easy going from the start.  Partly down to his temperament, I expect, but he also had that huge advantage of doting first-time-parent attention – no doubt further intensified by the huge gratitude I felt for being present with him at all after coming close to not surviving his birth.

So, when he reached the age when daily routine things had to be done – teeth brushing, for example – it was no big deal.   He would generally comply, or at least, be easily encouraged through silly games or songs or giggles.

Our second child, not so much.  A bright, independent, happy little girl, until aged around 18 months she learnt the joy of saying ‘no’ and identified many things she’d rather not do, brushing teeth included.  She would gleefully, point-blank refuse to co-operate.

It was a bit of a shock, and I guess the truth is, it seriously threatened our ‘good’ parenting status. 

On a good day, I would be mildly irritated, but on a bad day, particularly in the evenings when I was low on energy and resources, there were times I would completely see red.  It made me livid!  How dare she not comply!  How dare she disobey and disrespect me!  I surely could not let her ‘get away’ with such disrespectful behaviour!

The more we tried to clamp down and coerce her into ‘behaving’, the worse it seemed to get. 

The power struggles increased, and I noticed that we started talking about her somewhat negatively and throwing around comments about her being ‘feisty’, ‘stubborn’, having a ‘difficult’ side.

But I knew at the back of my mind something wasn’t quite right.  I would reflect sometimes on the degree of anger she seemed to be able to elicit from me and I would feel quite shaken.  I knew, deep down, that the strength of my feeling was irrationally disproportionate to anything this beautiful, tiny, innocent girl could have ‘done’ to have caused this.

Things came to a head one day during a crazy, and looking back now, quite embarrassing stand-off we were having in the bathroom – over yes, teeth brushing.   We had done with the yelling match and were sat silently side-by-side, both refusing to ‘give-in’.   I was ruminating on a traumatic week of endless power struggles – and school runs, where in order to get my eldest to school, I’d had to carry this poor girl kicking and screaming under one arm, whilst pushing our new-born in the buggy with the other.

But this time, instead of feeling enraged that she was ‘making’ me feel so angry by her stubborn behaviour, I felt only deep helplessness, despair and sadness.  Helplessness and despair that despite all my knowledge and training I was still a rubbish parent and couldn’t ‘control’ my children.  Sadness that we’d somehow got to this point, and though I loved her deeply nothing about the way I was behaving was showing her this.

And that was when it dawned on me.  This was not about her at all. 

It was about me and the tangled mess of buried emotions that were being triggered.

You see anger is just the surface emotion.  It is a less vulnerable and bizarrely more ‘acceptable’ emotion than fear, sadness, worry, hurt, disappointment, rejection and so on.   Underneath the anger are all the feelings we learnt as children were not allowed to be expressed, or felt too painful to be expressed, or caused our own parents’ distress or discomfort.

We learn to bury them, until along comes our own child, who’s behaviour evokes exactly those painful memories and feelings we’d been trying so hard to ignore.

My parents were not intentionally unkind but they were strict and I was scared of them.  So, every time my daughter refused to cooperate, one of the things it triggered was my unexpressed childhood pain of all the times I was too scared to do the same.  I wasn’t allowed to behave like that, so how dare she?!

I know now that my reaction deeply disturbed her.  And often when children are scared, they will keep repeating the same behaviours to test for a better response; they desperately need our calm control, our calm knowing and reassurance that we will keep them safe however they are feeling.  Repeatedly pushing a limit is the only way they know to attempt to establish something that feels safer and somewhere they can feel properly heard.

Very often, our reactions to our children are so automatic that we convince ourselves that we have no control over them.  We blame our child’s difficult nature that ‘makes’ us feel and respond a certain way, or simply believe that it’s just part of our personality and there’s little we can do about it.   And this is where I was; I had barely even considered that I had a choice.

But we always have a choice about how we respond and behave.  It doesn’t always feel like it, and it’s definitely not easy, but we do have a choice. 

Our children, on the other hand, absolutely do not.  They will eventually learn to find ways to deal with their emotions from experience and modelling us, but in the meantime, they are predominantly dinosaur-brain driven.  It is our job then, to bring the logic and rational thinking to the table, and to act as this part of their brain for them during the times that they lose it and cannot control themselves.

Which unfortunately means it’s also our job to be responsible for our emotions and learn to handle them.  Sometimes increased self-care and restoring depleted resources can help a lot with this – that is, more rest, sleep, help, support etc.  And learning ways to stay calm such as breathing, dissociation and mindfulness exercises can also be very beneficial.

But if you have the sense that the degree of anger you feel is beyond the realm of everyday annoyances and frustrations, it could well be that you need to look deeper and start to explore your triggers.

These are extremely personal and can take all sorts of forms, so keeping a note of when and what first sparks your anger can be a useful first exercise.   See if you begin to notice any patterns, and if you can identify the underlying feeling that you are protecting yourself from by going straight to ‘fight’ mode (anger).  Uncovering, naming and getting those feelings out, sitting with them, acknowledging and accepting them are the starting points for healing.  As you take steps to do this, you will gradually find that the triggering situation loses its power to bother you in the same way.

For help with this, do contact me here, and to keep up-to-date with my latest posts and offers, please sign up to my list below.

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

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HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

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EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

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SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

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REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
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DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions.

And one of the biggest tends to be that advocates of this type of parenting do not set any limits or boundaries; they are too ‘nice’ to their kids even when they’re ‘naughty’, and their kids rule the roost and do as they please.

So, is this indeed the case? 

Well, yes and no, but mainly NO! 

Why?  Because setting limits and boundaries is absolutely considered important.  It’s just that the aim is to do so in as peaceful and gentle manner as can be mustered.

But I get it, it’s confusing.  In fact, it was properly getting to grips with this that helped me make the biggest leap in terms of my own parenting confidence.  So let me explain.

As much as you may not want to label yourself as a certain type of parent (me definitely included!), the nature of your day-to-day actions and behaviour with your kids inevitably means that your parenting does fall under some category or other.   Psychologists have spent many, many thousands of hours researching and categorising and describing parenting types (again, me included) and over the years a brain-numbing array of variations have been proposed.

And one of the most long-standing and commonly known ways of examining differences is to assess the degree of control and degree of warmth parents demonstrate toward their offspring.

So, if we imagine a line representing a continuum of these traits, right at one end there is the ‘authoritarian’ style of parenting:

As it sounds, authoritarian parents enforce strict rules, punishments and consequences, and the kids behave because they wouldn’t dare not to and are pretty scared of their parents.  Authoritarian parenting by no means just refers to physical punishment – it also includes using threats of any kind and generally any method that subdues and scares the child into conforming and ‘behaving’.  This is still common practice and pretty much how the majority of us were raised.

But it’s at the other end of the scale where the confusion comes; the opposite of this type of parenting, is not peaceful or positive parenting, but passive parenting.

This is extremely different; passive parents are identified as high in warmth but low in control.  They don’t believe in punishment or scaring their child, and they don’t want their children to be sad or distressed and so they find it hard to set limits.  They want to be friends with them and will do anything to keep the peace.

At the beginning of my parenting journey, I would probably have said I was trying to be somewhere in the middle; in ‘control’ and enforcing boundaries but also warm and responsive.  In reality, what tended to happen was that I’d lurch from one end to the other depending on my mood, energy and what the kids were doing. 

Despite my background and research experience in this very area, I look back now and realise I was extremely confused about what all this meant practically, and exactly how to apply it to real-life, fuzzy-headed, sleep-deprived day-to-day parenting.

All I knew was that I felt uncomfortable and out of alignment with any kind of ‘authoritarian’ way of parenting.  I kept noticing how much I disliked myself when I yelled or lost it, none of the countless strategies I tried made me feel good, and they didn’t even seem to be working or teaching anything.

And then it slowly started to dawn on me that parenting does not have to be about any degree of control at all; there are other ways to parent that don’t fit in with or belong anywhere on this continuum, approaches that focus on teaching, leadership and mutual respect.

And the ultimate light-bulb moment for me was the realisation that I actually had entirely faulty thinking about limit setting.  Somewhere along the line I had absorbed the belief that raising your voice and being cross and authoritative was the only way to set boundaries, and a necessity to manage the potentially out of control tearaways that are our children.

Truly ‘getting’ that this is not the case, totally turned my parenting around.

And then to dig deeper and to find that all the latest research coming from extensive brain studies is totally in line with this way of parenting – and in fact can guide us in exactly how to help bring up our children – was, and still is, immensely exciting.  How lucky are we to live in a time where we know how to best help our children’s developing brains rather than just muddling along and winging it? (See here.)

But to go back to the original point, a minor downside of an approach that strives to maintain respect, nurturing and emotional attunement throughout all interactions is that it can all to easily be misinterpreted as passive.

But as I said, a peaceful style of parenting is very different and cannot logically be placed anywhere on this spectrum at all:

Peaceful parenting differs from all approaches on this continuum because the underlying belief is that every child is born good and wanting to please, and therefore parenting is not about control but about developing an authentic, loving connection.  Children are viewed as doing the best they can and deserve to be respected as unique individuals with the same rights as adults.  As Dr. Seuss said, “A person is a person, no matter how small”.

And peaceful parenting differs specifically from passive parenting because proactive efforts to set limits and boundaries are definitely considered important.  In particular ones that allow you to teach your child safety and respect for other people.  For example, ‘No, it’s not okay to hit your brother.  It’s okay to feel cross with him and feel like you hate him, but it’s not okay to hurt.’

But unlike authoritarian parenting, the aim is always to set limits warmly and calmly.  Respecting a child as a whole person means avoiding coercing them into obedience, but instead gently leading them towards cultivating empathy, genuine values and an internal moral compass.

It is also important to mention that intrinsic to a peaceful parenting approach is a well-developed understanding and acceptance of emotions, both positive and negative.  A passive parent will do anything possible to avoid tantrums or tears, and go out of their way to appease their child to avoid these big emotions.

Peaceful approaches to parenting, on the other hand, welcome these emotions as healthy and healing, and often go as far as setting limits for the child to push against in order to help release tension and tears in a healthy and supported way (see here).

This was the missing piece of the parenting puzzle for me and took a considerably long time for me to fully ‘get’.  If you are interested in exploring this further, I highly recommend Kate Orson’s book, “Tears Heal” and “Born to Thrive” by Harvey Merriam.

And if you are feeling a little bamboozled and over-whelmed by all this focus on theory, please do contact me here to arrange a FREE 15- minute call to help you make sense of where you are right now with your parenting and simple steps you can take to make things easier.  And please do also sign up below to keep up-to-date with my latest posts and offers.

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

Read More

HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
Read More

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe and guide an internal sense of respect for their environment and community, as well as themselves and other people.

I am increasingly convinced that the less control and the more freedom we can give our children the better.  But as much as children need a calm, kind leader who respects their rights to independence of thought, feeling and action, they also need to know that they are safe and cared for.

If we do not help them manage their emotions and set some basic behavioural limits, they will end up feeling insecure and uncomfortable.   Limits around respect and safety are also vital in order for our own needs as parents to be met.

 

THINGS TO BEAR IN MIND BEFORE SETTING A LIMIT:

 

1. Make thoughtful decisions about which limits you will enforce. 

 

Try and ‘pick your battles’.  If you can, consider freeing them from as many arbitrary rules and restrictions as possibleOverly controlling and managing our children tends to be counter-productive and a better aim is to focus on helping them learn to be independent and trust themselves.

Will it teach or help them with something rather than being a random rule that you want them to follow because ‘you say so’?

Do you feel they ‘need’ this boundary for safety reasons?  For health reasons?  To show respect for the boundaries of others?  To help them feel your calm leadership and release emotional tension or big feelings?

Here’s two examples:

1.

For safety reasons (potential glass and sharp objects) I do not let my kids go out of the house without shoes where we currently live.  But I’m much more relaxed about coats; I trust that they will know if they are cold and will put it on when they are. 

2.

If my three-year-old demands a different cup to the one I’ve given, some days I’ll comply and other days I won’t.  If I’m not in a rush and neither of us are overly tired or hungry and I sense there is something he is holding onto and needs to release, I will maintain a gentle limit; ‘You’d really like your red cup, but I’m giving you the Thomas cup today’. 

Doing so will allow him to cry and let go of whatever emotional tension he’s holding onto and needs to get out (see below).  His request for a different cup is not about manipulation or stubbornness; it is the only way he knows at that moment to tell me he has big feelings about something (from earlier in the day or built up over time) that he needs to express in order to heal.  But if I sense it’s not a good time or I don’t have the energy to listen and support the emotional fall-out, it doesn’t matter.  Kids know how to heal themselves, and you can guarantee that he will find another opportunity to do so very soon (see here).

 

 

2. Do not worry about being religiously consistent

 

In-the-moment confidence and rational explanations are much more important than always feeling you need to enforce the same rules and limits (as in the cup scenario above).  Things change, moods change, everyone is different – and this is okay and a good thing, in fact, for our kids to learn.

Here’s an example:

Some days you might be up for supervising high energy bouncing games across the sofas and feel confident you can join in and keep everyone safe.  On another day, not so much, so just say it how it is; ‘sorry guys, no kangaroo games today, I’m feeling too tired to join in and keep you all safe.  How about you play on the trampoline or we play a board game instead?’

You may also choose not to set and enforce limits if you have guests or you are out in public, to avoid (as much as possible) making your child feel embarrassed or disrespected.  I’m not saying you should let them run wild, but if there is another way or another time, why not take that option.

I would advocate behaving this way even with very young children as they are absorbing much more from your daily interaction than is sometimes obvious.  Behave just as you would with a partner or friend; for example, out of respect, most of us would wait until we got home to point out or discuss something we didn’t like or felt was inappropriate rather than publicly shame them.

 

 

3. Is it a behaviour that could be re-directed rather than quashed?

 

Consider if you could avoid saying ‘no’ or setting a limit by re-directing the impulse.  A child who is throwing things around may simply need space to practise their lob.  This is particularly the case with younger children as their impulse control is so very immature and underdeveloped.

Rather than yelling and point blank shutting the behaviour down, could you try something like, “No I can’t let you throw that ball in here as there are breakable things.  Shall we go outside and throw balls in the hoop instead?” 

 

 

4. Can you use playfulness to turn things around?

 

If you have asked your child to do something you consider you ‘need’ them to do (e.g. put on their shoes) and they are ignoring you, could you try being playful or humorous before getting firm with a limit?

Be as creative as you can; use silly voices, pretend you don’t know how to put them on and keep doing it wrong, make it into a race, be a shoe monster who eats any shoes that are not on feet – you get the idea.   It’s surprising how much more fun the whole process becomes for you too, and your kids will feed off your relaxed playfulness and respond accordingly.

I try to only do this with things we ‘have’ to do, that are perhaps a bit tedious or dull – daily routine stuff like brushing teeth or tidying something away, for example.   It is usually not appropriate if your child is already cross or frustrated.  Trying to chivvy them out of a feeling is akin to trampling on that feeling and the opposite of being heard.  It would be similar to telling your friend how sad you are that your dog has died, and for them to respond with a ‘knock, knock’ joke to ‘cheer you up’!

 

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILST YOU ARE SETTING A LIMIT:

 

 

1. State your limit warmly but decisively

 

You want to aim for a ‘calm and kind, but firm’ stance – think unruffled or picture someone you know who represents this state.  It can take a bit of practice to hard-wire, particularly if you’ve previously only set limits when you are already annoyed or triggered or exhausted from the repetitiveness of a testing behaviour.

Imagining it is somebody else’s child can also help (because they don’t tend to emotionally trigger you in the same way).  Or try viewing your child as if they are in physical pain (from a deep cut or something) as this helps distance yourself from irritation or thoughts that they are purposely being annoying or difficult.

 

 

2. Try not to shout, ‘act’ cross, get worked up or irritated  

 

You can still set and hold a limit just as effectively without doing these things.   In fact, if you are feeling frustrated and have lost access to your own rational brain, then addressing this first (if safe to do so) is a priority.  You will not be thinking clearly and will be unlikely to hold a limit with any degree of warmth.

We now know that shouting and yelling at a young brain doesn’t ‘work’ anyway; it activates their primitive fight-or-flight response  causing them to become further enraged and disconnected from their thinking brain (see here),

Bear in mind that even if you are not yelling or puffing smoke, a strangled huffy tone or a despairing, fed-up one will also send clear signals that you are not calm and centred.  As will towering over them, glaring, with hands on your hips!  Sorry, I know it does seem like it requires an impossibly unrealistic level of zen.   But this is only what you are aspiring to, it won’t happen all the time and neither does it matter.  It will gradually get easier and more automatic the more you practise.

 

 

3. Show that you understand their perspective

 

Not always possible I know, but if there is time and you can, showing empathy helps remind your child that you are not the enemy and you are on their side.  It is a natural response of all humans to resist being controlled, but knowing that we are understood helps a great deal to soften the blow.

Here are some examples:

I know you are having a lovely time, and now we have to leave 

I can see that you are cross, and I can’t let you hit your brother

I know you would really love an ice-cream, and we are not having ice-creams today.

 

 

4. If necessary, physically hold them

 

If you’ve clearly stated a limit as above and they continue to do something you deem unsafe or that you cannot allow (e.g. hurt someone, run away), you may have to physically step in.

As Harvey Merriam says, “Controlling our children should not be the first choice for intervening in their lives, but, if we do have to control them against their will, direct physical control is the way to go.” 

If they are trying to hit you (or others), block and hold their hands to gently restrain them.  Face them away from you on your lap if possible.  Let go as soon as they are no longer hitting, even if they are still angry.  You are only there to ensure safety, not to teach them a lesson or punish.  They are not hooligans or being ‘naughty’, they are in pain and not in control of themselves.

Speak minimally, if at all.  Gently murmuring that they are safe is the most you need to say (they won’t be able to absorb anything anyway) as your calmness and body language will do the rest of the talking.

 

5. Expect and welcome tears

Be prepared for your limit to unleash big feelings (or more big feelings).  This is not only okay but a normal part of the emotional healing process (see here for more on this).  Kids are allowed to have and express feelings in the same way as adults; they will undoubtedly be upset if we say they can’t have an ice cream, and that’s fair enough!  If their feelings are not allowed they gradually learn that there is a ‘bad’ part of them that is not acceptable which they learn to suppress.  These buried, unacknowledged feelings can be carried for many years and are often at the root of any number of later mental health issues.

So your job is just to listen with kindness and empathy to all these feelings.  Without, if possible, interrupting the flow by distracting, fixing, diverting, leaving, ignoring, soothing or shushing.  Sounds pretty easy?  It’s not!  At first, anyway – it’s amazing how habitual trying to eradicate or avoid tears becomes.   Again, just keep being aware and practising and it will gradually become your new normal.

 

 

 

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

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HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

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DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
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HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
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IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

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HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

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HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
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ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

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EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

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SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

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REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
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THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

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DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope.  I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted.  So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”.   He puffed in exasperation and sighed, “Oh, Muuuummmmy”.

Something about the way he said it caught my attention.   I queried what it was that he found so annoying – was it the fact I couldn’t come straight away maybe, or the way I said it, or something else??

His reply was awesome: “No Mummy, it’s because you always say ‘in a second’, ‘in a minute’ and it never actually means that!”

And he’s spot on!  When I think about it, I sometimes spend practically the whole day saying things like, ‘hang on a minute’, ‘wait a second’, ‘okay give me five minutes to finish this’, ‘right, we’ve got to leave in a minute.’

And he’s absolutely right that sometimes, often in fact, it means very little; I habitually say ‘in a minute’ to buy some time, then get distracted by something or someone, and it doesn’t actually happen until a lot later than one minute!

So I said, “You are so right J, when I say ‘a minute’ it doesn’t always mean ‘a minute’ does it, that’s so helpful to hear.”  He looked at me in mild surprise and said, “Is it Mummy, shall I write it down for you then?”  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant but he seemed very engaged and eager and, plus, I was grateful for the extra pancake making time.  This is what he wrote:

I laughed, particularly about the ‘later’, and suggested that maybe I’m not very good at estimating!  I explained that I probably say phrases like this out of habit and without thinking, and requested that he pull me up on this in the future.

I could have been annoyed by his tone, or just ignored it (both frequent occurrences 😉 ).  But being curious on this occasion gave me so much insight into how he feels, as well as genuinely helpful changes that I can make. 

It empowered him too in that it reinforced some important messages; that I respect his opinion as valuable and significant, that I was truly listening, that he has a right to pick me up on things, and that we are all continuously growing and open to making changes.

And now when I pat out my auto-respond ‘yes, in a minute’, I usually catch myself and we both laugh.  And then I do a rewind and try to give him a much more accurate and helpful approximation!

So how does being curious help parenting?

Curiosity takes us out of self-absorption and moves the focus to striving to understand others; it’s the starting point for exploring the motivations, intentions, thinking and rationale that lie behind outward behaviour.

Rather than just unthinkingly reacting to something our child says or does, adopting an attitude of curiosity reminds us to pause, ask questions and come up with a considered response based on their world view.  It helps put ourselves in their shoes and be in a better position to truly empathise and acknowledge their feelings.

Remembering to be curious requires consistent conscious effort at first.  We often get so caught up in the daily grind and habitual ways of doing things that it can be easy to forget to ask questions, particularly of our children.  And sometimes I think we mistakenly assume that we know more than them, that we know exactly what they need and even what they’re thinking.

What are the best sorts of questions to ask?

The first step to becoming more curious is simply to make a conscious decision to be more curious, to actively want to explore and delve deeper.

And from there, it’s all about eliciting information by asking questions in the right way; that is, open-ended statements that naturally draw forth information from the speaker without being polluted or influenced by any of your own ‘stuff’ (e.g. opinions, assumptions, beliefs etc.)  To do this:

  1. Check that your tone of voice is genuinely, warm, kind and interested. If you (or your child) are feeling annoyed or stressed or rushed, it’s probably not the right time for curiosity questions.
  1. It’s best to avoid ‘why’ questions as they can often sound a little critical or harsh.   ‘How…’ or ‘What…’ questions tend to be the most illuminating.  Try ‘What was X like?’, ‘How do you feel about what happened?’What can you learn from this?’ or for problem solving/prompting action ‘What’s your plan for getting homework done/dressed/making up with your sister?
  1. Ask a single question and then pause and listen without trying to solve, fix, jump in or direct to the answer you would like to hear/think they should give. This is surprisingly hard!
  1. Keep curious by asking follow up questions e.g. Is there anything else about…? Could you tell me more?  Can you give me an example?
HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

Read More

HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
Read More

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids.  A good amount of time before the kids.  If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t.  But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will.

Why?

Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter.  I’ve had some me-time so I’m centred and relaxed.  I’m showered and dressed so I’m organised.  Lunches are done, or nearly.   I have time to focus on making breakfast or helping the kids get dressed, finish homework, or whatever else needs to be done.

And, most importantly, I have time and space and energy to connect with them.  Being asleep is actually a pretty big separation for children and it’s very common for them to wake feeling disconnected and distant.

Some kids find the transition to the day harder than others and they all seem to deal with it differently.  My eldest, for example, wakes up and reads his way into the day, whilst the littlest tends to want to go straight to his dinosaurs and cars and play his way into the day.  My middlest struggles the most, and more often than not, groggily mopes and grumps her way into the day.

In this state, asking her to put on her clothes or get herself breakfast or happily cooperate in any way is just never going to happen.  I’m talking from LOTS of experience.

She needs more time to wake up than the other two, but even more crucially, she also seems to need more help to re-establish her connection and relationship with us and have her ‘love tank’ re-filled.

This can mean snuggling on the sofa for five minutes reading a story, playing a quick game of cards or silly chasing games, engaging her in making breakfast (she loves cooking), or even just talking to her one-on-one for five minutes about her day or anything to do with her really.  It doesn’t really matter how, the key is that she feels our warmth, desire to connect and belief in her especialness; we quite literally need to re-fill her with love after a long (to her brain) night apart.

I know it perhaps sounds a little hard work for first thing in the morning, but I promise you it’s worth it.  Because once they are re-filled, it’s like re-programming them back to their natural state of ease and co-operation and the rest of the morning tends to flow so much more smoothly from there.

But if I get up late, or haven’t taken time to organise myself, not only can they feel my stress and haste, but I just don’t have the time or space to re-connect like this.  And that’s when I find things can get very messy, very stressy, and a pretty rubbish way for everyone to start the day.

For me, getting up early has also been a way to get some consistent and vital me-time.  It’s often the only time of the day I have to myself and I absolutely treasure it now.

I have never previously been a morning person.  Never.  Always a night owl.   But I happened to come across Hal Elrod’s ‘Miracle Morning’ and was inspired to give it a go (you can find his books on Amazon and he also has a very large and active Miracle Morning Mums Fb group).

The early starts were a struggle for a couple of weeks but the benefits became apparent pretty quickly and I was soon hooked.  Hal advocates a very structured early morning routine including six elements (exercise, silence, reading etc.) but I’ve gradually adapted this to suit my own preferences.

To be honest though, just getting up and having time to get yourself ready before the rest of the house is up makes all the difference in the world.  And if you also have some time to get a few chores done too, you’ll be laughing your way through the rest of the morning.

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

HI! I'M DR. NICOLA FARR

I'm a mama of 3 and a parenting coach specialising in picky eating and mealtime stress.

I'm passionate about inspiring parents to enjoy mealtimes & help their children develop a healthy long-term relationship with food.

See here for the services I offer or email me for more info.  You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.

CREATING PEACEFUL FAMILY EATING HABITS

A doctorate in child development and years of working with children and families did not prepare me for the sheer frustration and stress of feeding my own family. Three different children with three different preferences and three different eating patterns and bodily...
Read More

ARE YOU CONSTANTLY FEELING UNDER THE WEATHER? THIS COULD BE WHY…

When my first two children were around 3 and 1 years old, I distinctly remember that having a cold, sniffles or slight headache became my new normal, particularly during the colder months. I think I mainly put it down to not paying careful enough attention to my diet, and constant close-up exposure to snot-drenched little ones.

Read More

HOW I STOPPED BEING AN ANGRY PARENT (most of the time…)

I never assumed parenting was going to be a walk in the park. But one thing in particular that I was not at all prepared for was quite how angry I would find myself becoming at times. And the very worst of those times were apparently all because of a two-year-old?? Yep, who knew that a…

Read More

DO PEACEFUL PARENTS LET THEIR KIDS DO AS THEY PLEASE?

I have found that as soon as you acknowledge the way you parent in terms such as ‘peaceful’, ‘positive’, ‘freedom’ or ‘respectful’, you are opening a rather large can of worms for a rather large number of misconceptions. And one of the biggest tends to be that...
Read More

HOW TO SET LIMITS THE KIND WAY

Choosing a gentle approach to parenting that doesn’t rely on coercion and punishment is very often the easy bit.  The tricky bit begins as your innocent baby turns into a curious toddler.  All of a sudden, you realise you need to find peaceful ways to keep them safe...
Read More

IS YOUR PARENTING UP-TO-DATE? (WITH THE LATEST BRAIN SCIENCE)

It is probably true to say that most of us were brought up by parents who expected and enforced a pretty high degree of obedience and conformity to rules, and they did so by liberal use or threat of punishments and/or consequences. There is no judgement or blame…

Read More

HOW TO PREVENT TOYS FROM TAKING OVER YOUR HOUSE…AND YOUR SANITY

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of toys in your house? Do you struggle to find places to put them and to get your kids to help keep them tidy? Someone asked me the other day what my thoughts were on managing and tidying toys…

Read More

HOW NOT TO POTTY TRAIN

I suspect that one of the problems for the old woman who lived in a shoe (and perhaps one of many reasons why her children were so unhappy and unruly), was that once she’d found a couple of approaches that worked with the first few of her children, she assumed it...
Read More

ARE YOU A CURIOUS PARENT? How To Ask Questions To Deepen Connection With Your Child

The other day my 7-year-old was engrossed in ‘den’ making and called for me to come and help tie a rope. I was mid making pancakes and knew that’d I’d be liable to char the lot if I allowed myself to be distracted. So I said, “Yes I will, in a minute, I’ve nearly finished”. He puffed in exasperation…

Read More

EMERGENCY PARENTING: The One Word That Can Save The Day

Sibling world war 23756 breaks out just as I’m trying to get tea. I’m tired and frazzled from a long day and too many thoughts going on in my head and too long a gap since I last stopped to clear them. The cries and screams get louder and l can feel my heart rate increase and little bubbles of irritation start to expand in…

Read More

SUPPORTING YOUR SENSITIVE CHILD: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS

My three-year-old is very sensitive. I wouldn’t go as far as highly sensitive, a bit too early to conclude that yet for him I think. But he’s definitely very sensitive. He is astonishingly aware and has been since he was a baby. He has an intuitive understanding of feelings, both his own and other people’s, and he processes the vibe or atmosphere in a room almost immediately…

Read More

REMEMBERING TO REMEMBER HOW HARD PARENTING CAN BE

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="26095147"] “I’ve ruled out any sort of medical problem, which means the bed-wetting must be psychological or behavioural", said the Doctor.  "She probably just needs more attention” she added glibly, glancing with a crushing mix of...
Read More

THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID WEEKDAY MORNING STRESS (for me, anyway)

The absolute game changer for me is getting up before the kids. A good amount of time before the kids. If I don’t, sometimes the morning goes okay, sometimes it doesn’t. But if I DO get up early, I can pretty much guarantee that it will. Why? Because whatever state the kids are in, it doesn’t matter…

Read More

DO YOU HAVE A FUSSY EATER? ARE YOU FED UP WITH MEALTIMES?

 

 

Click here to apply

 to join my
6 week, one-to-one, Fuss-Free Eating for Life coaching programme

 

 

APPLY NOW