Key tips by age to make family life happier

I have a huge list of question in a spreadsheet that I continually add to as I receive questions from readers. I try to answer as many as I can, even if it is years later! Today’s post is my answer to this reader question:

What is your number one tip for making you and your family happier at each stage of kids, eg 2.5 yo, 3yo, 3.5 yo, 4yo , or maybe it’s preschool, kinder, school etc)?

It is hard to remember every single age, but there are certainly stages of development that I distinctly remember so have included them below. I would love to read yours so feel free to add them in the comments below.

2.5 year olds

Choose your battles wisely. There is lots of pushing boundaries at this age and I found to ensure we weren’t constantly having melt downs, I just needed to let some things go.

For example when our last child was born, our fourth child was 2.5 years old. He happily dressed himself each day, the only thing was he wore boardies (bathers) and a rashie regardless of whether we were going swimming or not. I chose to let this go. He was happy, he dressed himself and they required no ironing! This did mean we went through a winter wear he still wore bathers, but he never complained of being cold. By letting this go our mornings were much happier and I could focus on other behaviours that needed managing. (He did eventually start wearing other clothes towards the end of winter.)

You can read more about 2.5 year olds in this post – Characteristics of Two (and a half) Year Old Behaviour.

3.5 year olds

Limit choice, but allow them some small choice. At this age they are wanting to decide more for themselves but get easily overwhelmed if there is too much to choose from. Allow them to choose from two pair of shorts to put on for the day for example, or the choice may be as slight as they go to bed with a story or without a story.

You can read more about 3.5 year olds in this post – Characteristics of Three (and a half) Year Old Behaviour.

4.5 year olds

4.5 years olds can really be quite silly and deliberately do things they know they are not allowed to do like swearing. I found selective ignoring works really well at this age. The more you make a fuss of some of these behaviours, the more they will do them. Of course there are limits in terms of safety and rudeness to other people, but if he was simply swearing while playing on his own, I would ignore it. I would also tell the other kids to do the same and not make a fuss.

You can read more about 4.5 year olds in this post – Characteristics of Four (and a half) Year Old Behaviour.

First year at school

There is so much for both mum and child to learn when the first child goes off to school. Routines to me are key for happy mornings and smooth after school times. Routines that kids can follow themselves means mum doesn’t have to nag them to get ready for school. Kids are very capable at this age, but they are also very smart. They realise that it is less work if mum does it all so you can see some push back for mum to do it.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing it for them especially towards the end of the week when they are getting tired. This is where I found compromise to work well, for example, I would say to them “I will do one shoe and you can do the other”.

You can read more about our kids’ routines here – Children’s routines.

First year at secondary school

This is actually a great stage, but first time round I think this is harder on mum than it is on the child. They are really increasing in independence, spending more time away from home and they start to question how much you know, because they know so much!

It is also an age where I have found they start to stretch the truth. Don’t ask them questions that back them into a corner. If you know they have done something wrong, just state it. Year 7 boys will attempt to cover their tracks where possible and this can involve lying. Everyone is happier if we just say it as it is, as opposed to trying to catch them out.

I have written a few posts on the lovely stage of year 7 which you can read here:


I have learnt so many things that make family life happier at this stage of life. I wish I knew them when our first child started his teenager years:

  • Teens lose 1/3 of cerebral cortex causing them to sometimes be confused and very forgetful – starting around age 12, they need to be reminded about simple tasks – rather than hounding them, ask them “how would you like to be reminded?” Do not “do” for your teen, do “with” them. For example, if they often forget their backpack or lunch or gym clothes, have a checklist posted by the front door on what they need to bring to school and pause there before going out the door. Make them responsible for what is on that list. Read more.
  • They want to either have the last word or the loudest. Let them have it. It helps reduce or shorten arguments and keep family harmony in better shape.
  • They crave and deserve privacy, within health and safety limits, let them have it. There can be no relationship with a teenager without trust on both sides.
  • Allow them to learn from the consequences of their behaviour, for many teens this is the only way they will learn.
  • This is advice from my teenager which I try to remember – “Everything isn’t a big deal.” Remember to laugh with them and not to take everything so seriously, they are good kids!

In 2013 I wrote a monthly series on parenting teenagers which you can find here

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