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TARA GREEN: Now's the time for parents to have a 'mental spring clean'

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AFTER a long, dark and very cold winter, spring appears to have sprung in Croydon town at last. The lighter evenings are here and some days have even been mild enough to brave the playground... without an anorak!

Traditionally this is the time of year to spring clean, and there is no reason for spring cleaning to be purely for the reorganisation, tidying and cleaning of our homes. It's also a great time of year for a mental de-clutter. We can take a critical look at the methods we're using to raise our children and to spring clean our parenting practices.

Since last spring, your children have aged a full year. There is no resting on our laurels as parents. We hit a plateaux of calm in which we can predict our children's wants, needs and demands.

Each plateau is separated from the next by a mini-revolution. Some new stage of physical, emotional or social development kicks in and throws all of our parenting methods up in the air again.

Parents have to learn to manage this "new" child. It is too easy to miss these transitions to new ages and stages, and to keep attempting to use the parenting methods that used to work.

As you look at each area of your family life and parenting, you will be able to assess how smoothly each one is running at the moment. Some of the main areas include; mealtimes, bedtime, getting dressed, school or childcare arrangements, study habits and chores. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What area do you need to spring clean in your family? Which area will make the most impact on the happiness and smooth running of your home and family life if it is adjusted? Start with that one.

2. What strategies are still working and having the required effects?

3. Which strategies have reached their sell-by-date and need to be discarded or adjusted?

4. List all of the ideas you have for a new way to manage this area of family life. Remember to discuss and ask for ideas from trusted friends and family, and to consult books, parenting websites and parenting experts whose philosophy fits with your own. Watch other parents and notice what works for them.

5. If you have a partner with whom you share parenting responsibility, discuss 1-4 with them and decide on 6 in collaboration. In this way, the message coming from both of you will be consistent, and you will have each other's support as you implement any changes.

6. Choose a maximum of two new strategies and put them into place with a firm commitment to try it out for a reasonable amount of time. If you want to, adjust it to fit better with your knowledge of what works for your children and household.

7. After the allotted trial time, discuss the impact of your new methods and decide what has worked and what isn't right for you at this time.

You may find that by changing one area and bringing more harmony to it, there will be a corresponding change in other areas of family life too. Giving yourself thinking space and making the resulting small changes that you decide on is a simple and powerful process. Its impacts can snowball and bring bigger gains by way of more contentment and harmony in your home.

TARA GREEN: Now's the time for parents to have a 'mental spring clean'


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