A mum I was mentoring once said, “Things are going better. I’m more in flow. I’m not doing a lot of the things that I was doing before.
“In fact, ” she said, “I’ve written myself a not-to-do list – things I don’t need to do anymore…”
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And that was when I realised that one of the secrets of a happier family is NOT doing a whole lot of things that we feel we should be doing.
So, here’s my not-to-do list, inspired by that mum. A list of eight things you can literally strike off your to-do list, and see how much easier it feels to be a parent without them.
#1 – Connection is so much more powerful than correction
You don’t need to correct your children, point out where they’re wrong, or point out where their behaviour is unacceptable.
We don’t need to tell them off!
Now, I know, this feels like one of the core duties of a responsible parent, right? We point out where children have gone wrong. But there is a problem with this approach. When we do this in the normal way, we very often end up making children feel wrong. And when children feel wrong, they feel bad. And that can set up the next cycle of behaviour that we don’t want.
So what can we do instead?
Stop the behaviour continuing. Point out the consequences of it – “Do you see he’s angry because you took that?” And then we can talk with children, either in that moment or later, about why that behaviour came up.
If children show some unwanted behaviour, there’s always a need in there – there’s always a difficult feeling. And that’s where I encourage you to focus your attention.
#2 – You don’t have to make your children happy all the time
When we try to make our children happy all the time, it can make them really, really cranky. It may be subtle – we may not actually say it – but they get the message from us that they should be happy all the time.
I remember talking to a client once whose son was regularly getting upset when she was getting him ready for nursery in the morning, because he didn’t really want to go to nursery. He’d rather stay at home.
At a certain point, I said, “You know, you don’t need to make him happy all the time. It’s alright if he’s unhappy about getting ready for nursery.”
When I said that, I could see something like a paradigm shift happening right in front of my eyes. As well as a huge sense of relief. She hadn’t thought about it in those terms before.
When I talked to her two weeks later, she said, “Since I’ve let go of needing him to be happy, he’s much calmer and more cheerful when we get dressed in the morning for nursery.”
So, instead of believing you need to make your children happy all the time, if your child’s upset is affecting the way you’re feeling, know that that’s a sign to look after yourself and your needs.
Take a rest, if you can – ask your partner for a break, have a sip of water – whatever it is that you need in the moment.
#3 – You don’t need to be right.
You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to always be a model of composure for your children.
Basically, you’re human. And you can give yourself permission to be human in the family, too. And why is this so important? Because it’s real to be human. What’s not real, is to expect ourselves to be perfect. It puts pressure on us.
When we’re feeling under pressure, we transfer those feelings onto those around us. This has to do with the science of mirror neurons. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I understand enough of it to know that our feelings are echoed – they reverberate in those around us. So, by giving yourself permission to get it wrong – to be imperfect – you also give your whole family permission to get it wrong, and this creates a much more relaxed atmosphere.
#4 – You don’t need to make everything fair for your children
This is a big one, because this is something we really feel we ought to be doing. But why should we not?
Well, firstly, because it’s impossible to go far enough back into the past to work out when this whole dynamic was set up. For example, it’s totally unfair to the first child, the prince or princess of the family, to have their crown removed when a second child comes along and takes 90% of the parents’ attention, at least for the first month or so, and longer.
Rather than making things fair, what I find much more helpful for creating harmony and a sense of wellbeing in the family is to help everyone feel better. Just help the children feel better.
When you hear that cry of, “It’s not fair!” what’s often at the core of it is less about fairness, which is more of a construct, and more about feeling somehow lost, left out, or unloved in some way. Address that feeling and you will have more success.
Also, with fairness, you can find yourself in an endless cycle, trying to work it out. You’re very much in your head when you could go to the heart. That’s where you’ll have most success and where you’ll find the true wellbeing for your family.
#5 – You don’t need to make siblings like or love each other
It could be that you had a very special bond with one of your siblings and you’d like your children to have that, or it could be the opposite. Perhaps you had a really awful relationship with one of your siblings and you absolutely don’t want that to come up in your family. Whichever one of these it may be, I get it.
The reason why it’s best not to try to do this is because our trying to engineer things – comments like, “Be nice to your sister. You love her,” – put pressure on children to have certain feelings which they may or may not have access to in that moment. Best to leave them free to have their own relationship.
Children are like us. They’re bound to get on better with some people than with others. It’s wonderful to have a special bond with siblings, but we can’t make that happen. And in fact, the best way to support them to develop a really positive relationship is to step out of it and allow it to develop freely.
Give them space – mental and physical space – don’t put the pressure on, but also allow them time apart, not making them do things specific things for each other. Then they will be more able to connect in their unique way, which will be the best thing for them.
#6 – You don’t need to banish rude words or toilet talk from your family
Why do I say this? Because it’s basically impossible to stop words coming out of your children’s mouths.
In theory, it would only be possible if you were going to resort to very Victorian methods, which I’m pretty sure, if you’re reading this, you don’t want to be.
Instead, don’t attach any attention or energy to that kind of talk, because children often say those things quite unconsciously – they play around with it. It’s natural, they find it hilarious. But if you don’t attach attention to it, it will just dissipate.
I remember a wonderful story from a teacher I once knew, who had a class of six-year olds. At a certain point, the boys thought it was hilarious to get out their water bottles, hold them to their crotches and walk around the classroom talking about their penises.
She let that go for a couple of days. She was wise enough not to try and stamp it out. But then, on the third day, she just said to them, “Oh, you and your penises,” in quite a light-hearted way.
When she said that, they saw that she was cool with it. And they quickly put away their water bottles and it was never heard of again.
So be cool with it.
#7 – Don’t make children say sorry
I don’t think there’s any value in a forced apology. It’s hollow, making the one who’s done the wrong thing feel really wrong.
And it makes the one who’s getting the apology feel slightly elevated. And this isn’t the dynamic you want to create because that sets up a problem for the next incident between these two.
Rather, help them both feel better. Go to the heart again. Help them to feel acknowledged in the wrong that was done to them. Or the reason why they did that wrong, because usually things are more complicated. It’s rarely victim/perpetrator, as you know.
Instead, model apologising. It’s so powerful. We get things wrong and by modelling, we can teach real apology. That’s what we want children to learn – that it’s helpful to be self-reflective, and it’s helpful to be able to repair.
#8 – Don’t have too many rules in the family
Yes, it’s good to have a few for safety. But I wouldn’t go overboard on rules.
One important reason I say this is that the rules won’t do the work for you. We often think if we set up a rule in the family, then that’s it. Job done. But actually, it’s very far from the truth, as you may have found out.
Once children know a rule, they may understand it intellectually, but they won’t necessarily remember it or feel inclined to follow it in the moment – they’ll still need loads of support.
Rules can create a lot of mental clutter, or opportunities for children to get things wrong. I would rather emphasise understanding your children. Why do things come up at certain times?
Be curious about what needs your child is expressing with certain behaviours, then talk to them about that. That’s much more effective than imposing a new rule.
I hope these 8 things ‘not to do’ with your children are helpful. What I’d like you to feel is that you can let go of lots of shoulds, and that you can enter a more heart-centred, freer way of being with your children.
And if you’d like to understand this more deeply and how it applies to you, uncovering the deeper reasons for your child’s behaviour, you are very much invited to apply for one of the FREE CALLS that I open up every month.
We can talk through what’s happening with your child, what the reasons might be for it, and a happier way forward based on connection.
I’d love to talk with you.
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