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How to keep the kids happy while working from home

Stepping out of job mindsets and being playful makes for content children and parents, writes Lisa Salmon


Stressed out: helping the kids with school work can be a testing ordeal

Stressed out: helping the kids with school work can be a testing ordeal

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Stressed out: helping the kids with school work can be a testing ordeal

Being a working parent has never been easy, but a new level of difficulty has been added now many mums and dads are working from home and trying to look after their children at the same time.

Many parents will simply be managing the best they can by planting young children in front of the TV or leaving them with an iPad to do their school work in order to buy time to get on with their work. But it doesn't have to be that way, says child development expert Anita Cleare.

Cleare runs the Positive Parenting Project (anitacleare.co.uk/positive-parenting-project), through which she delivers talks, workshops and coaching for parents. She has just written The Work/Parent Switch, which looks at the issues working parents face and how to overcome them.

She says: "Working parents have been told the way to be successful is to be hyper-organised, buy five years' worth of birthday cards at once and batch-freeze meals, but that goes against the grain of what children really need from us.

"Good relationships with children are built on quality moments, not on constantly chivying our kids from task to task.

"To create a happy family life, working parents need to step out of their hyper-efficient work mindset and be playful and curious, so they can tune in to our children's signals and understand the world from their point of view."

Here, Cleare suggests six ways to be a happy working parent:

1. Learn to switch out of work-mode

The biggest challenge for working parents is learning to switch between two different mindsets - work-mode and parent-mode.

When we're in work-mode, we tend to be very goal-focused and task-oriented. But when it comes to family life, children need us to deploy different strengths.

They need emotionally attuned parents who are curious, playful and empathetic, who can slow down and prioritise connecting and listening over getting the job done.

Children are naturally chaotic and focused on the moment. If we approach them stuck in our efficiency-focused work-mode, we quickly get frustrated with them.

2. Make space for playfulness

Playfulness is an essential ingredient in happy families. Children and adults need it. If you take the playfulness out of parenting, all you're left with is drudgery.

Playfulness isn't the same as doing lots of activities. Cajoling a herd of children in and out of the car to ballet rehearsals and football matches when lockdown is over doesn't add up to a fun family life. Similarly, while we might be stuck indoors a bit more at the moment, a bit of silliness is good for everyone.

Creating more space for playfulness will give you room to breathe, to relax, to laugh a little more (and shout a little less) and enjoy being a member of your family.

3. Prioritise quality moments

When we're stuck in get-the-job-done work-mode, we tend to focus on all those tasks that need completing during family time. Feeding, washing, laundry, spelling homework, reading, telling off, chasing down lost items...

But families are made up of relationships, not tasks. If we shift our thinking about parenting away from a list of activities to be completed or a project to be undertaken and see our job as parents in terms of building relationships with our children, that opens the door to a very different dynamic.

Building a relationship is about chatting, laughing and slowing down for a few minutes to listen when our children have something to say - really listening with all our attention, not just half our brains. It's through listening that we connect with our children on a deeper level and get to know them.

4. Use your attention smartly

When we're busy, it's easy to slip into the trap of ignoring children when they're being good and overreacting to behaviour we don't like. Your attention means everything to your children and they'll do pretty much anything to get it.

Working parents are often racked with guilt about not being able to give their children enough attention. But it's not how much attention we give that's the crucial issue, it's where we direct it.

Creating a happy family dynamic isn't about finding extra hours or minutes, it's about parenting smarter by targeting your attention towards the behaviour you want to encourage.

5. Set children up to succeed

Avoid constant firefighting by setting some clear, simple and positive ground rules. Children are used to having golden rules at school or nursery, so have some at home too. The best rules help children focus on what good behaviour looks like, so they do it more often.

If the kids are bickering, introduce a ground rule like 'be a team' to encourage alternative behaviour. If mean comments are the issue, then 'use kind words' might be a good rule. Or, if physical aggression is the problem, 'be gentle'.

6. Don't try to do it all

Parental involvement is a great thing, but taking over and doing too much for our children isn't good for them. Running around picking up after children who are old enough to do things for themselves is not an act of love, it's an act of developmental sabotage.

It means you'll never have enough time to enjoy being a member of your family.

Sometimes, when it comes to parenting, less really is more.

The Work/Parent Switch by Anita Cleare is published by Vermilion on April 30, £12.99

Belfast Telegraph