Our family are the most important people in our lives. The bonds we share with our children and for many of us our partners are like none other. I was raised in a close family, and even now I’m still really close to both my parents and other family members. I hope to give my children the same comfort of knowing no matter how old they are, my door will always be open to them when they need me and when just want to hang out. Keeping close can be hard in a time where technology rules many of our lives, but it’s not impossible if we are willing to give the time and effort.
Here are my methods for forging a strong family:
1. Spend your time wisely
Do you need to do those dishes right now? or can they be done later when the kids are in bed? I know how much it can play on your mind making chores wait, it does for me. However, the best way to bond with your child is to be there with them, talking to them and playing with them. Taking the time to listen to them talk about the things they like or how their day has been shows them how much you really care. Our children grow so fast, it’s important to make the most of the time we have in each stage of development, they learn something new every day and being there so see it is incomparable.
2. Take interest in the things they like.
this is really important, you don’t have to like them yourself but taking an interest in the things your children each like shows that you care about them as an individual. This even applies to young children. Ted is completely obsessed with sea animals and dinosaurs right now, so I took the time to read through his children’s encyclopaedia and learn their names. it’s made our playtimes so much more interactive and he thinks its awesome that I know so much! It could be as simple as watching them at a sports club, talking to them about the book they are reading or listening to their music whilst in the car. You could even get involved in their screen time too. Most older children and teens have a hobby that involves some screen time, it’s how our modern world is. why not let them suggest a movie or see if they have a two player video game? you might be terrible – but at least it would give them a laugh and laughter is a great way to bond!
3. Have a family night
I think its important that family night is flexible on what day it is. If you have family night on a set day of the week and it clashes with times when teens or older children want to go out with friends or watch a tv show it can easily become viewed resentfully as an obligation. Having family night on a night that suits everyone is another way to show that you care about their lives; as a parent your child missing out on one night with friends or an event can seem no big thing but to them it can mean a lot.
The best family nights are interactive ones. We love playing board games, they’re a tonne of fun and we always end up laughing which just sets the right tone for the evening. The lack of a screen also makes it easier to talk, its a great time to chat about everything and anything family related. You can have a family meeting without even realising!
4. Spend time 1 to 1 with each child
As a stay at home mum this is something I do every single day, it’s a great way for me to bond with my children. For my partner who works 5 days a week it’s a littler harder. By the time he gets home the children are starting to settle down for bed. He loves the kids wholeheartedly and works everyday to provide for them but naturally young children don’t understand that. He has less time to bond with them, so he really makes the effort to spend time with both children individually, its a really vital way for him to forge and maintain his relationship with them.
Usually on the weekend I will lie in with the baby and he will get up early with Ted to spend some quality time with him, Ted loves and values this daddy time so much. my partner then spends time with our baby girl 1-1 whilst I settle Ted down for bed. For working parents individual time is a great way to show your child that you are never too busy for them and that in fact everything you do is for them.
5. Make memories and Go on days out
Experiencing new things is a tonne of fun and Laughter and fun are the best way to stay close. Ted absolutely loves the safari park and aquarium so for us these are our go to days out. This combines both his interests and having fun. These trips aren’t just great for an enjoyable day out they also make great memories. Taking loads of photos (and perhaps scrapbooking them on a family night) Provides fond reflection in later life. I know I love looking through our old family photo albums, they help me remember many great times as a family that I may have otherwise forgotten.
6. Make time for your partner
As parents you are the head of your little family and your relationship can have a big impact on the way children perceive relationships in general. It’s important for both yourselves and your children that you are feeling happy. Self care as a parent is really essential and a great way to care for your relationship is to spend time alone with your partner. This can be hard if you have young children, I absolutely hated going out without my kids at first but I found for me it was easier to go out every once in a while if it was after i’d settled them down for bed . If you don’t have someone that you trust to look after your babies why not have a date night at home? you could cook a nice meal (or get a takeaway) and rent a new movie!
7. Work together.
This is my personal favourite. As a family there are always going to be times of hardship and times of conflict, it’s only normal. The strongest families are the ones who don’t turn on each other but work together to resolve their problems and support each other. There are very few conflicts that are more important than your family and in the hardest times there is no support net that can hold you like a close family. Working together to overcome these times not only strengthens relationships but lets your children know that you are there for them no matter what.
Living with a strong willed child & how to manage their behaviour.
Parenting is simultaneously the most wonderful and the most difficult job you can ever have. We love our children more than we love ourselves and we would do anything to see them happy, this means sometimes the lines become a bit blurred as to what behaviour is ok and what is not. I’ve been 100% guilty of this with my son. I accepted that his strong will was part of his personality – and that’s fine, it gives him great determination and sticking power and it’ll probably be what helps him go places when he’s older. The problem I realised though, was at 2/3 years old 90% of the time he had no regard for a word I was saying. This was not only frustrating but also meant that all the safety talks we had such as being safe around cars, running off in supermarkets, climbing etc were being ignored.
I realised that this wasn’t just being strong-willed, by allowing him to get away with doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted his strong will had developed into him being a spoilt child. Not spoilt in the material sense, we don’t buy him tonnes of toys and we actively encourage him to give and to share. I guess I mean he was emotionally spoiled; as a mum I was great at love, cuddles and emotional support but not so great and setting boundaries and effectively addressing negative behaviour.
It’s bloody hard. As a rule I don’t shout at my children, Its not me and its not something my son responds to in a productive way. But that’s just me and my child, we each parent differently. If parenting was only about cuddles and affection it would be easy.. and I would probably be an award winning mother! But its not. As parents our job is to help shape our children into who they are in the future, demonstrating to them good key values until they are ready to make their own educated choices. who would my child become if I didn’t teach him that some actions and ways of treating people aren’t ok?
I realised for my sons sake as well as my own I needed to make some changes to the way I addressed unkind or unsafe behaviour. So, naturally I consulted the internet, and I was surprised to find there is actually some great advice out there especially from other mums who had been through similar stages. I also found some great help from the other the other mums In my life. It was from this I developed some new rules for addressing my sons strong willed personality in regards to negative behaviour – In a way where I felt no need to shout and I didn’t feel as if I was being mean or unfair:
1. Be Consistent
If something is not ok one day, It cannot be on another. When my son first started walking he went through a phase of biting. It didn’t really hurt or leave a mark, usually the person would just squeal and then they would laugh, as would the people in the room. But, then he kept biting again and again and it began to really hurt. Of course we started being more thorough in telling him that it wasn’t nice to bite and that it hurt but he would always go back and try again. Why? Because he was looking for the reaction that he had previously gotten. He would bite and then look to others to see if they were laughing. He loves laughing and to make others laugh so it was only natural that he was trying to do something he thought we found funny. We had unintentionally encouraged this unkind behaviour and it was really hard to address the situation.
We should have been consistent from the start about what behaviour was unacceptable or unkind, even when it didn’t actually hurt. We finally managed to explain to him that it was unkind to bite and that it hurt, unfortunately he then transferred biting to aggressive behaviour if he wasn’t getting his own way, usually whilst we were just trying to keep him safe! we needed not only to be consistent about what behaviour was unkind but also that unkind behaviour was not acceptable.
The idea of him going to preschool and biting the teachers or other children really frightened me. Obviously I didn’t want him hurting anyone but it was also because I really wanted school to be a fun and positive experience for him where he made loads of friends, the last thing anyone wanted was for him to ostracise himself because of our lapse in addressing his behaviour.
He may have been using some unkind behaviour but he was not an unkind child. so we decide to add more consistency to the way we handled negative behaviour, we decided what behaviour was unkind and we created a behaviour response plan that would be consistent in demonstrating that unkind behaviour wasn’t ok.
Another way it pays to be consistent is if you say you are going to do something, follow through and do it. children very quickly learn what they can and can’t get away with when It comes to different adults. I remember once my son kept hitting my toes with a dinosaur and I kept telling him not to do it again or I would have to put the dinosaur away, naturally he did it again and I didn’t follow through on what I said, I just told him the same thing again and of course he didn’t believe me and disregarded what I said, he just didn’t really think I was being serious, perhaps that I was just playing. Nowadays I always follow through on what I say, he doesn’t get confused and listens to what I tell him which is obviously so important for his development, the way he treats others and also his safety.
2. Develop a plan to address negative behaviour that suits both them and you
As a family we are 1000% against hitting our children, its just not something we would ever do. How could we ask them to treat us kindly and with respect if we didn’t treat them the same way. If someone bigger than me hit me, i’d probably want to smack them back! We also don’t really shout either, I think the only time ive really shouted is in panic when I thought he was either going to hurt himself or another.
So we had to find a way to deal with negative behaviour that suited my soft nature and his strong will but also resulted in no power struggle and an understanding that hurtful actions would not be accepted. I’d read online about a method where you select a calm down spot such as a bean bag and you go with your child for a time out period and you sit with them and hug it out until they are calm and ready to talk. It sounded lovely and I bet it works for some kids too. My son however just got really cheesed off by it, it didn’t calm the situation and just stressed him out, completely the opposite to what I’d hoped to achieve.
So I went back to the drawing board. I decided to create a calm down space for him, initially I thought about a calm down corner in his room. However, his room was set out just how he liked so that he could easily access all toys and activities, it really didn’t make sense to change that. I eventually decided to use his bed, he often used it like a sofa anyway. I placed several different teddy bears along the side of the bed and created a pocket space to store some books, this became the comforting – but not fun space that he went to when he had been unkind or was feeling angry
How long do children need to calm down?
Back when I was working in the preschool the recommendation was 1 minute per 1 year of the child’s age and it was usually pretty effective. The problem I found with Ted though was sometimes it took less time for him to calm down and sometimes it took more. Being so strong willed and knowing his mind, he knew when he was ready to address the situation and talk. At first I thought letting him decide was giving in to him again and allowing him to take control but actually with the way his behaviour was he needed to be the one to make that decision in order to understand his own feelings and to be able to actively manage them as he grew.
If he was left to calm down longer than he needed he would become distracted and forget why he was there in the first place but if I tried to talk to him too soon whilst he hadn’t calmed down he would become more angry. By allowing him to decide when he was ready to talk we avoided both these situations, allowed him to emotionally grow and could also best talk about what had happened.
Just like Adults, children have their own personalities and their own ways of dealing with different situations, these need to be considered when developing a behaviour plan. Forcing something upon them that doesn’t work for them as individuals wont work and isn’t fair.
Here are some questions to consider when creating a behaviour plan
Does my child calm down better whilst I am sat with them or whilst having some alone time? does my being in the room affect my child’s ability to calm down? does my child need a teddy or a comforter to help calm down and defuse the situation? Will my child benefit more from having a set period for calm down time such as 2/3 minutes or will they benefit more from emotionally making the decision that they are ready to listen/talk? Does my plan suit me and my parenting style?
3. Allow them to take risks
Children learn so much through play. Even as adults one of the main ways we learn is through action and consequence, we do something good or bad, something happens as a consequence and we discover whether or not that’s something we should do again or not. Of course I don’t mean big risks which could majorly put your childs safety at danger, I mean small little everyday risks such as trying the rickety bridge at the park or the opportunity to try walking down the grass slope themselves. As parents we love our children more than anything, we work so hard to keep our children happy and safe but if we don’t allow them to make decisions and experience consequences themselves how can we expect them to confidently make decisions when they are older?
Taking a risk can be a positive experience in many ways, if it pays off it can help to build their confidence and if it doesn’t it can help children to reflect and make wiser decisions in future. Allowing your strong willed child to take controlled risks can really help improve their behaviour because it gives them a way to fulfil their need to be in control in a way that is proactive and isn’t resulting in aggressive behaviour. We all need to express who we are and reasonable risk taking gives strong willed children that opportunity.
4. Talk to your child in a way they understand
Reading a two year old a ten page essay on their behaviour isn’t going to work. The message you are trying to covey needs to be short and understandable, think about the words you are using and if your child will understand what you mean. Reflection time isn’t a time when you need to be teaching your child new words, it’s a time where they need to understand that it is not ok to use certain behaviours. It does get easier for you and them to communicate as their speech improves, improved speech also means that children have an added ability to communicate verbally instead of physically but you can communicate with your effectively before they’re speaking confidently.
I also personally think its really important to not label children, I would never tell my son that he is an unkind child, I think telling him that he is a kind child and that he has used unkind behaviour is not only a nicer approach but it is also not moulding them into a given label.
5. Be the emotional support they need but look out for you too: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Being little is hard. Every day offers new situations and experiences and everyday they experience new emotions that they’re yet to understand and learn to control. It’s important to try and see things through their eyes and imagine how they are feeling. As parents our main job is to simply be there for our children, to give them endless love and to provide what they need to thrive.
However, Parenting a strong willed child can be really hard and it can stretch you out further than you thought possible. It is important that as parents you look after yourselves too. If you are stressed and stretched that will affect your daily life and the way you appear to your children. Having a good support group is great; your partner, family, friends anyone who is around to give you a hand, who you trust to babysit every now and then or who you can go out with; Don’t be afraid to ask for help.. or an evening out. There is no reason for you to feel guilty about going out, this is something I’m only just learning.. it is ok to go out sometimes, it can be hard, I know. I very rarely do it but every now and then, a couple of hours with a group of adults or even a date night with your partner can help you feel refreshed and can really support your mental health.
Another place you shouldn’t be frightened to seek support is your health visitor. We were lucky enough that Ted’s behaviour was something we could address ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t that simple and that’s ok. Your health visitor can offer you some really great support both emotionally and with behaviour techniques, they’ll also be able to help you spot if something more is going on such as sensory processing disorder. you should never be frightened to contact them, they are there to support both you and your child and they are experts at what they do.
Here’s an example of a recent incident and how I dealt with it using our behaviour plan.
Ted became angry and hit his cousin without being provoked.
I intervened and told him that I was unhappy with his behaviour, he had hurt his cousin and that I thought he needed a minute to calm down.
Ted went to his bedroom and sat on his bed with his teddies whilst I comforted his cousin
About 2 minutes later he reappeared and said he wanted to say sorry.
Ted apologised to his cousin and gave her a cuddle. He then gave me a cuddle, he sat on my lap and we had a chat about being kind.
Ted and his cousin went back to playing and there wasn’t a single incident for the rest of the day.
This is a major improvement from the days where he would scream and cry, throw himself on the floor and try to hurt anyone who went near him. Even then though, he really was a lovely boy, he just needed some consistency when it came to managing his behaviour and supporting his emotions.
Nowadays he is much more calm and able to deal with his emotions, I do think a couple of months age wise does make a difference but the biggest game changer was creating a tailored plan to address negative behaviour that suits us as a family. It was hard at first, he was going in to calm down a few times a day and I was trying to combat behaviour that we’d previously not really combatted further than just telling him no. But over the space of a few weeks the aggressive behaviour slowly calmed and he overall became a happier and more content child. He still has the occasional moment -but what human doesn’t? We now know how to work through it and his newfound respect for myself and his dad has made us even closer than we were before.