February monthly review – 3 tips for greater family harmony

Each month I review my progress (or lack of!) towards my personal goals for 2014. You can see my full goal list in this post here – Goal Setting For 2014 And Creating My Decision Making Framework. The monthly review will look at my key learnings for the month and each quarter I write a full review of my progress. This month the focus is on my goal to increase family harmony.


I learnt a significant amount across the month of February about how my behaviour impacts family harmony. For the last couple of weeks I made some changes to address it and the result as I hoped, was to increase family harmony.

These changes were simple, they were changing to a way I have behaved previously but somehow in the busyness of life I had moved away from. I still slip up, I am far from a perfect parent or partner, but I have improved and am happy with that.

1. “When someone is drowning that is not the time to give swimming lessons” (Faber et al 1995)

I read this quote in the fantastic book from Louise Porter, Children are People Too. What it means to me is that when there are plenty of emotions floating around and one of the kid/s has an issue, then is not the time to tell them how it could have been prevented, should have been done or was the wrong thing to do.

Example 1 – A child cannot find his school hat and is starting to panic that he will be late for school.

  • Response A from me – If the hat was put out last night we could have looked for it then and if you had put it back where it goes when you came home from school this wouldn’t be a problem.
  • Response B from me – You brought it home from school yesterday so it has to be in the house. Plan B if you can’t find it would be to use your brother’s old one. Then when he comes from school and is calm, talk to him about putting his hat in the right spot and making sure it is ready for school before he goes to bed.

I think everyone can guess which response increases stress and which one help calm things down.

Example 2 – Child is having a melt down over someone breaking his LEGO he left on the table, just as it is time for bed.

  • Response A from me – The LEGO should not have been left on the table. You will have to fix it in the morning, you need to go to bed now. (More howling ensues.)
  • Response B from me – You must feel sad that the LEGO house is broken. Let’s get a special container and put all the pieces in there and you can rebuild it tomorrow. In the morning, show him a place where he can put his LEGO creations he doesn’t want the other kids touching.

While the second response still has some residual crying associated with it, it is minimal and I can get him calmly into his room for a story and bed.

2. Say yes

I think it was quite possible I just got in the habit of saying no to the kids. I would do a quick assessment of whether it involved extra work from me, if that was yes then I think I was saying no too often as a short cut, not for any sound reason.

Saying yes more often to the little things diffuses tension and shows the kids I have some flexibility, so when I am saying no there is a solid reason for it.

Example – As we enter the room for story time in the evening – Mum can we build a cubby house to sleep in tonight?

  • Response A from me – My mental assessment: it is already a few minutes past their bedtime and I have things to do. My answer – No, if you wanted to do that you should have organised it earlier.
  • Response B from me – My mental assessment: it is already a few minutes past their bedtime, it is a Saturday night, they will love it. My answer – Yes, you get the chairs and I will get the blankets.

The kids are happy and it actually only took a few minutes of my time to help them with that.

While I am not saying yes to everything, I am just making sure I am not automatically going to no as my first option.

3. Stop saying “hurry up”

Children can be great teachers. A recent Friday night, I had scoring duties at cricket, Mr I had training, the eldest child had after school activities, so I need to take the youngest two with me. Scoring was going to take about  1.5 hours and then I would need to leave straight away to pick up our daughter from the train station.

I had packed a picnic dinner for the kids and topped up the activity packs with some new stickers etc that I had stashed away. Both kids were tired adjusting to being back at school and I wanted to make sure I made it as fun as possible for the kids.

All was well until it came time to go. I wanted to move quickly as I knew my daughter would be waiting. I gave them a five minute warning to pack up. One of them did very quickly, the other however was moving quite slowly, playing a little bit as he did.

Having a chat with another mum, I asked him to hurry up, went back to chatting. A couple of minutes later, I again asked him to hurry up and pack up as we had to leave. He proceeded to completely lose it, started crying saying he was hurrying and why did I have to keep saying that.

I felt dreadful. If I was in such a hurry I should have stopped my conversation, knelt down to his level and worked with him to do it. I didn’t address how he spoke to me rudely then and there, but we did talk about it the next day. He told me he doesn’t like it when I tell him to hurry up, “it makes me feel rushed and I am trying to hurry”.

While his version of trying to hurry and mine are very different, it made me sad to hear him say that. He does find it difficult to stop what he is doing often, but my current pattern of behaviour to tell him to hurry up, has only been making the situation worse.

So for Lent I am giving up saying hurry up and other phrases which effectively mean the same thing.When I told my son about this on the walk to school one morning he was very happy about this.

This doesn’t mean he can take his time and make us late, it means I need to work with him differently. Wish me luck!

What have you learnt about family harmony this month?