There have been several times when I’ve caught myself telling my five year old something and feeling like a hypocrite. Like when I tell him to calm down and yet I know how much I struggle to contain my emotions at times (a work-in-progress I write about here frequently).
It got me thinking about all of the lessons I (try to) teach my son regularly that I could do with following myself. A bit like the popular Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. And the more I thought about it, the more things sprang to mind. Here are a few of my favourites.
With small kids, it’s helpful to prime them for transitions and ease from one stage of the day to the next. Starting with the idea of bedtime routines to help newborns differentiate night and day, we regularly prepare our kids for shifting gears.
And these often make a huge difference. I know if I can prime my son that we’re going to turn off the TV after one more episode of Octonauts, he deals better when I turn it off. He’s prepared.
Similarly I give him the warning we’re going to leave for school in 15 minutes or going to start getting ready for bed in a specified amount of time. We play quiet, calming games before bedtime and in summer I close the curtains and dim the lights plenty of time before it’s time to brush teeth and read bedtime stories, so he can get adjusted to the transition from day to nighttime (even as the sun blazes outside in summer).
But do we do enough around transitions for ourselves? Or do we expect ourselves to shift from one thing to the next abruptly, and then wonder why we feel frantic?
Everyone will find different transitions more clunky and different ways to smooth the way between them. Here are a few ways I’ve eased some transitions, by way of example:
- I have a small morning routine upon waking up that consists of lying in bed cuddling with my baby (and sometimes my older boy, too). I then get up, brush my teeth, wash my face, make the bed, and start the coffee, making lunches if it’s a school day, and making breakfast. I then sit with coffee and breakfast and read while we play CBeebies for the kids.
- Coming home, I like to put everything away (handbag, baby carrier, shoes in the shoe cabinet by the door) and get a glass of water. Putting things away helps minimise the mess later and makes it easier to find things when the time comes. This little transition helps me segue from out-in-the-world to safe-at-home, and signals relaxation for me.
- The time of day when I struggle to shift gears the most is ____________.
- The ways I might make this transition smoother include: ______.
- List as many as occur to you. Don’t evaluate as you go, just generate ideas.
- Go back and circle any that really appeal to you at a gut level, trying not to jump on too many things or habits that are impractical. For instance, I would LOVE a morning and evening ritual where I meditate but that’s just not been practical for me and my family and when the kids and I wake up. It has to be little things you can actually do. Small is beautiful.
- See how you get on with trial and error.
Use your words
I remember a friend saying this phrase over and over to her little girl whenever she was on the verge of a tantrum. I have then used it myself when I could see my son overcome by emotion and resorting to behaviours to express himself, like pouting or screaming or hitting. Finding the words helped him slow down, calm down, and express himself to me in a way I could better understand.
And you know what? It’s a useful mantra for us, too. Just like how using words calms a toddler down and helps them express themselves in a more productive way, using our words gives us a better chance of being understood.
And whilst we may not hit or throw a tantrum in Sainsbury’s, we use sarcasm, comments under our breath, eye rolls, raised voices, or passive aggressive behaviour…there are loads of ways we express ourselves without using our words, expecting others to get what we’re feeling.
But words are so much more effective, even when it’s a bit clunky or hard to express.
When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help
I got this gem from Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.
I love that it’s when, not if, because everyone gets frustrated. And the advice could not be simpler. Take a step back. Then ask for help.
Sometimes people see asking for help as a weakness, but in actual fact, it can be a gift to the potential helper. Have you ever had someone you know and respect ask for your advice? When done correctly (see below), it can feel gratifying and leave you with a helper’s high. Obviously when done thoughtlessly, selfishly, or constantly, it can be a drain on your resources. But done respectfully it can be a great compliment.
How to ask for help
- Find the right time and the right person. Asking someone who is already under a lot of stress may not be gratifying for them, but another strain.
- State plainly and kindly what it is you want. There’s no need to dress it up or try to water it down (it can be SO frustrating when you’re waiting for the other person to get to the point, and the longer they beat around the bush the more anxious you feel that there’s a reason they’re nervous to just come out with it). And keeping your request simple and clear gives the person you’re requesting help from a better chance of answering how they really want to answer.
- Accept if it’s a no. They don’t have to grant you your request, of course.
Get enough sleep
We all know we should get plenty of sleep, but think about how some parents of babies design their entire lives around the sleep needs of the baby. It’s easy to get why when you spend more than five minutes with a cranky, overtired baby.
But babies are just little people. And maybe we don’t scream and fuss, but we need our sleep, too.
Just like babies, how many hours of sleep and what sleeppattern we have will differ for each of us. Some of us, like my husband, are terrible sleepers who take a while to fall asleep and wake frequently, while others (like me) fall asleep easily and are pretty much able to sleep through be night (breastfeeding baby aside).
But we all need sleep. As with the transitions above, it can help to have a bedtime routine for ourselves. I like to brush my teeth and then read a not-too-engrossing novel to help me fall asleep (right now I’m working slowly through Middlemarch) after a couple hours of dimmed lights and quiet activity like watching a documentary on TV and having a conversation with my husband. I also try to cut right back on any over screen time like facebooking on my phone.
Some people meditate, or use scents like lavender that help set the mood.
Good sleep to me means _________.
I deserve good sleep because _________.
The barriers to good sleep for me are ___________ [list as many as occur to you].
To help me get a good night’s sleep, I will do this simple step tonight: _______.
Eat your veggies
We know we should have five a day, but doubling this to 10 servings a day has even further significant health benefits. Studies have also shown increasing our intake of fruit and veg helps reduce depression. Another study found increasing one’s intake from zero to eight portions a day made the same positive impact on happiness as going from unemployment into employment.
Again, I see parents who are so conscientious about their kid’s’ diets, making sure everything is organic, all natural, sugar free, and then they don’t spare time or thought for themselves. Many of us knock back coffee during the day and wine at the evening (often because we’ve “earned” it).
In his book and corresponding documentary In Defence of Food, journalist Michael Pollen has found the best way to eat for health is to:
Eat mostly plant-based food
Eat less of it
Food as in real, whole foods. Not the processed and plastic-wrapped stuff in the grocery stores. Plant-based food most of the time if not all the time – so food that is from a plant but not food made in a plant. And controlling your portions, which can be done fairly easily when we eat mindfully. Simple hacks for portion control include taking a few breaths before picking up the fork again (and wing sure to set down the fork between bites), using smaller plates, and serving yourself your salad/veggies first.
We often want our kids to eat well so we are setting them up for healthy lives. By eating well ourselves, we not only fuel our lives for greater happiness and longer quality living; we also model healthy eating for our kids, helping embed the lessons around food we want them to take with them into the rest of their lives.
Limit screen time
I fully appreciate the hypocrisy of me writing this on a screen and you reading it on a screen. I’m not saying we need to become neo-Luddites and shun technology. Technology is a good servant and a poor master. It’s also incredibly addictive.
Whenever I use my tech more mindfully, I find I’m happier and more productive.
What’s right for you may be different for what’s right for someone else. I find I get value from things like Facebook and WhatsApp as it enables me to keep in touch with family and friends across the Pond. I’ve also had real pleasure watching good programmes on Netflix (hello, Call the Midwife, Grace and Frankie, The Crown…) and my husband and I enjoy watching an hour of TV together after the boys are asleep.
BUT…it’s easy to get sucked in. Five minutes of Facebook is good for me. Any more and I find it has the opposite effect. One episode of one of my favourite shows on Netflix is bliss, but anything over an hour starts to drain my energy. It’s taken trial and error to figure out my ideal screen time. What’s yours?
Just like kids, we need time to play. It could be reading for pleasure, walking in a nearby park at lunchtime, writing a blog (::waves::), painting, a weekly tennis match…but we deserve to play too. As psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD said:
Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.
So take time to play. What does playing look like for you?
And schedule it in. It could mean making plans with a friend for tennis or signing up for that painting class. Or it could mean scheduling one hour of free time and tuning into what you really want to do when that time comes around. But the time is here waiting for you, with nothing expected of you except to play.
Ask nicely for what you want
I have a bit of a pet peeve when my son wails, “I’M HUNGRY” right after coming downstairs in the morning without so much as a “please” or “good morning” first.
So I’m regularly asking him to ask me what he wants, nicely, rather than stating how he is feeling or what’s uncomfortable.
I realised it’s the same for us. This kind of goes hand in hand with the “Use your words” lesson, but it goes a step further. Sometimes we use our words to express how we feel, but this advice suggests we use our words to make a clear request when we actually want something from someone.
It’s the difference between sighing and saying how tired and achy we are after a gruelling day, hoping our other half will volunteer to sort dinner, and stating plainly, “Hey, I’ve had a horrendous day and feel like I need to take a few minutes to myself. Could you fix dinner tonight?” Of course, your partner can say no, but you’ve got a better chance of getting that fee minutes to yourself.
I’ve had fun paying attention to the lessons I try to teach my kids, and listening to my own mother-wisdom and applying it myself.
Are there any lessons you hope to instil in your kid(s) that you benefit from yourself?