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When is your parenting pinch point?

According to a recent survey, the key pinch point for parents comes at 7:23am. Does this ring any bells with you?

The combination of getting everyone up, dressed, fed, packed, and out of the house to a specific deadline of school, transport and meetings, brings a whole load of stress for families.

Other parents find the morning mayhem is nothing compared to the evening chaos of getting everyone back, unpacked, fed, and completing the many tasks associated with the after-school timetable of homework and extra-curricular activities, after which the whole bath and bed routine has to start.

Whether it’s morning or evening, we all have pinch points in our day when we put our heads down and try to power our way through.  

But that’s not how we want to spend time, or remember spending time, with our kids … It’s not how we want them to remember us either!

In times gone past, things were easier in some ways. Many mums didn’t work outside the home and kids had very few, if any, commitments outside school. We used to have a more community or collaborative approach to parenting when everyone mucked in and helped out whenever there was a need. A recent study at Cambridge University into ‘alloparenting’ (the term used to describe relatives, friends and older siblings helping raise younger children) found there were many benefits, including less stress for the parents.

Today, it’s pretty much all on individual parents, other than the odd shared lift and playdate, although these are stressful in their own way!

Given that we can’t go back in time, and we wouldn’t want to for many reasons, how can we smooth the edges of the rougher moments of the day with the kids?

First, let’s breathe a little easier knowing that everyone is finding it tough.

Yes, there’s always some parent who appears to float through the school drop-off or pick-up, without a care in the world and with perfectly turned out and well-behaved kids who have all the right kit. It is human nature to look at them and think “why can’t I do it like that?”. The reality is the majority of us are paddling frantically .The chances are high that any seemingly serene parent has had their own pinch point and they’re faking it to make it!

A few facts about the school run from to put things in perspective:

  • Parents return home to pick up forgotten kit or homework up to 37 times a year
  • Parents spend over 6 hours a year dealing with arguments about the front seat of the car, and another 6 hours a year trying to stop at least one child crying on the school run
  • Kids complete their homework on the way to school at least 18 times a year and eat breakfast on the run nearly 40 times a year

Let’s stop trying to compete with an unrealistic vision of what parenting looks and sounds like – at any time of the day or night! It’s usually messy and noisy, with a fair bit of unpredictability, and our goal needs to be good enough, not magazine perfect.

Having realistic expectations doesn’t mean we give up! We can always make things a bit better.

When things are tough, our brains highlight the problems. It makes sense. We need to identify the negatives in order to fix them and make progress. But focussing on the negatives puts our brains into panic mode. We feel powerless and we stop thinking creatively.

So let’s check we’re not trying to do the impossible. If we set ourselves too tight a deadline – or ask too much of ourselves or our kids – we fall into a pattern of failure. Before we even start, we are expecting things to go wrong, and the first sign of a problem triggers us!

Mornings and evenings are busy times for families. There is a lot to be done in a relatively short window, and sometimes we need to accept we need to allow more time, or maybe drop or delegate something from the list.
Juliet spent weeks trying to get her sons up and out to nursery and school within, what she believed, was a reasonable time-limit. They rarely achieved it. One evening she wrote down everything that had to be done and considered how much time each thing actually took to do. When it was added up, it was double the time she had allocated. She decided to do some of the tasks the evening before, without any interruptions from her sons, and then decided she would prefer 20 minutes less sleep in return for a better frame of mind and smoother run in the morning!

And it’s important we keep an eye on what is going well during our pinch points. There are always some positives, even at 7:23am or 7:23pm!

It’s worth the few seconds it takes to say something positive to the children about what they’re getting right. Showing our children that we’re noticing and appreciating their positive behaviour changes the mood of the moment. It’s the first step forwards to a better morning or evening.
One mum told us how she decided to up the positive comments in the morning, so she could leave for work feeling less fraught. She had to plan some in advance so she didn’t come up blank in the moment! It worked better than anything she had tried before.

Next we need to consider who is responsible for what. We can’t do it all.

We’re the leader of our little tribe. We set the goal and the tone, and the boundaries, but we have to take our team with us, and we also have to slowly hand over the reins of responsibility.

Between us, with 9 children, we’ve done over 55,000 morning and evenings with our kids, so we recognise that feeling of “if I don’t do it, it won’t happen”. But our children need to step up, bit by bit, and we have to step back, bit by bit …

The good news is that kids are wired to want to get stuck in, do things for themselves, acquire skills and take ownership. And actually they’re often more competent than we realise. So why don’t they just get on with it?

Well, sometimes it’s not clear to them what they’re supposed to be doing, although it’s perfectly obvious to us! Maybe we actually haven’t told them specifically what they need to do and when, maybe we’re not always consistent and we leap in and take over at times, maybe they don’t feel it’s worth the effort, or they get easily distracted, or all of the above!

We need to be clear with our children about what we expect them to do in the morning or the evening routine.

And we have to recognise that most practical domestic tasks that need to be done each morning and evening are simply not very appealing to our kids. So we need to keep going with gentle (positive!) encouragement, usually for much longer than we thought necessary, so they fall into the habit of doing things that don’t interest or mean much to them.

Sometimes they need more than encouragement. It’s worth having a chat about the task to see if there is something they believe would help them do it better, or more consistently.
Jenny used lots of positive encouragement over tooth-brushing with her daughter who had a plate. Even so, the brushing fell below standard and a cavity appeared so further action was needed. When they talked about it, her daughter said that an electronic toothbrush with an app showing the missing bits would help her. The toothbrush cost more than fixing the cavity, but it worked because the brushing improved and there were no more cavities. There’s lots more to this story, which Jenny runs through in the Positive Discipline class!

Sometimes what seems to us a very simple task – get on with your homework – isn’t at all simple to our children. They need help planning and organising themselves.
Ann’s pinch point was homework in the evening. Her daughter found it hard to get started because it seemed like one huge job. So they made some grids, covering the whole week, using colour pens and some wacky erasers, so her daughter could see individual bits to take on. This sense of ownership and feeling successful bit by bit made her feel more motivated.

Starting and sticking to tasks is something most children struggle with. They live in the moment – even when they can tell the time, and know the days of the weeks and months of the year! But they’re easily distracted. Long-term thinking such as “if I don’t do this now, then later on something else will happen that I don’t want, or someone else will be affected” or “although I don’t enjoy doing this, I need to do it now so I can enjoy what happens later” isn’t their strong point.

This is particularly so for children with ADHD. Staying on track is a real struggle. It’s not that they can’t be bothered, or don’t care, they just glide off in another direction without lots of structure to keep them focussed.
Victoria says that lists saved their mornings and evenings, particularly for her son with ADHD. The lists started with pictures so he could recognise the tasks, and visualise the order, and as he learned to read, words were added. The most effective part was allowing her son to tick each task off one at a time which kept him focussed although she had to keep an eye on him ticking things off before he’d actually done them! Many of you will have seen examples of Victoria’s lists in our classes.

Our pinch points – whatever time of day they occur – are problems to be solved. But they’re team problems. We take leadership, and then we focus on involving the rest of the team.

We’re happy to be part of your team and brainstorm through any parenting pinch point you have at