This post is part of a series on how we can manage the stress of family life. You can find other posts in the series by clicking here.
90% of the over 650 respondents said they were currently experiencing family life as moderately stressful or higher in the Planning with Kids Annual Survey in January 2020.
Kid stuff was the biggest cause of stress for readers (22%) and this includes things like getting the kids ready in the morning, after school activities, managing homework, managing device use, kids fighting, kids behaviour and kids’ routines in general.
Today I am going to highlight some different planning strategies that can help make these areas with the kids less stressful. When you read over the sections below you will start to see a theme emerge. These were all areas of life that I found stressful and I then used planning and habit formation to help reduce the stress these areas caused in our family life.
My family life isn’t 100% stress free, but over the years I have been able to successfully reduce the stress levels in the house my taking a proactive planning approach to key areas. It took me lots of failures and lots of missteps along the way, but I got there eventually. I hope that you can avoid some of my missteps and reduce stress faster – good luck!
Getting kids ready in the morning
I wrote an updated post on this topic earlier this year which you can find here – Tips for smooth(er) school mornings. The key point I would like to emphasize about school mornings is to see the work you do in this area as an investment. At one stage I had five kids under 10 and it became very clear to me that if I was to get everyone out of the house on time in a calm manner without being exhausted every single day, the kids were going to have to learn to be responsible for getting themselves ready.
When the kids are little it can seem easier to just do everything for them because you can do it quicker than they can and often with less whinging and fuss. But if you continue to get them dressed, pack their school bags, make sure they have the right equipment for the day, etc, they won’t learn to do it themselves. Children in the first year of school are capable of doing all of these things and more – we just have to teach them and give them time.
So this does mean at the start you have to get up earlier so you have time for guiding and allowing kids to do things themselves. But I can tell you this is worth the investment. For the last 10 years and particularly the last 5 years, school mornings have not been a source of stress in our house. Everyone knows what they need to do in the mornings and they set about doing it. Yes there are still the occasional mornings where someone sleeps in / is in bad mood / kids fight, but they are a very small minority of mornings.
After school activities
COIVD-19 has certainly changed the landscape for after school activities and the feedback I have had from parents is how relieved they are feeling that they don’t have all the extra running around! And to me this is very telling and makes me ask the question – Why are there so many after school activities if we find it so stressful?
With five kids, there was definitely times when I found the after school activities stressful. Taking four kids to swimming lessons on your own when you have a baby is not something I ever want to do again! I would do as much as I could before the lessons in this instance to make it as easy for myself as possible when we arrived home. That would mean either:
- Feeding the kids an early dinner before we left; or
- Have a slow cooker meal ready or meal I cooked earlier ready for dinner
We limited the number of activities each child could do to two each term. Up until they were in about year five, one of the activities would be swimming, so effectively the kids could choose one activity. There were of course times when the kids wanted and asked to do other sports or activities, but for my sanity, I needed to say no.
When I said no, I would often feel guilty about saying no, feeling bad that our child would miss out. I would worry that our child might be the only child in their group not doing that activity or they would miss some form of skill or personal development for not doing it.
The reality was, saying no had no detrimental impact on our kids. If the child really wanted to do the activity, we were happy for them to change once the current season or term we had paid for was finished. It actually helped the kids to learn to make decisions on what they really wanted to do, not just change their mind on a whim.
With five kids, even if they are doing only minimal after school activities, unless I planned effectively for them, they could still cause stress in my life especially when I had very little ones. In these posts I share how I used to manage after school activities:
- 10 Tips For Managing After School Activities
- Key Strategies to manage after school activities
- VIDEO – Managing after school activities
- PODCAST – Managing after school activities
I wrote my first post about managing homework with kids in the first year of this blog back in 2008! While homework issue isn’t a big one for us these days, it is great to have a written record of how it was an issue of stress for us in the early days!
In my first post on homework on the blog – 10 Homework Tips For Parents – I wrote the following:
With out going into all the gory details, some of the issues that we came across were:
- homework being left to the last minute
- rushing tasks
- mum interfering
- frustration from both child and parents
- things getting misplaced
- tasks taking much longer than really needed
I found my biggest problem was me wanting the kids’ homework to reflect their abilities. I didn’t want them to receive a low mark when they were completely capable of doing better or not turn homework in. The moment I started to let go of trying to control this, the less stressful I found the whole homework thing.
It wasn’t that I let the kids do whatever they wanted to. I have and continue to work with each child on setting up good homework habits and routines, but the difference is I allow them to feel the consequences of their own behaviours. For a couple of kids in particular in our family, this is really the key way they learn – they learn and then they make changes to their own behaviour, on their own.
When our eldest child was in year 10, I learnt that if I didn’t pull back on trying to manage the homework situation with him, I wouldn’t have a very good relationship with him. Homework had become a significant source of tension for us and while he certainly could have been doing more homework, I was the main cause of the problem and I had to let go.
From the minute I did, our relationship improved. He did always get his homework done, but even though I still felt he could put in more effort, I let go of telling him this on a regular basis. His school was great and they made their expectations clear and over the next couple of years, I was able to watch him really step up.
Most of this didn’t happen until year 12. His homework habits and routines were also so far from what I would have suggested, but we just let him go about it in his own way. I would offer occasional points of guidance but mostly I just asked questions that showed I was interested in what he was learning.
I read the key novel he was studying for English in year 12 and we would chat about themes, characters, and deconstruct key passages for meaning. This was a far better situation than arguing with him about how much effort he was putting into his essay.
Celia Lashlie in her excellent book He’ll be Ok: Growing gorgeous boys into good men wrote:
Every bit of information you push into his head before he turns 13 and the testosterone starts to move stays in there and will eventually re-emerge.
I completely agree with this! There are definitely years between 13 – 18 where you wonder if they listened to anything you said at all, but with both my older boys, when it has come to homework for school and now for uni, I can see that they did listen and they use strategies and habits I encouraged when they were younger. They would not necessarily admit this yet though!
So if you have younger kids who have homework to do, I encourage you to focus on the process of getting the homework completed and helping them to learn to self manage as much as possible. These posts have some tips and strategies to help with this:
- 10 Homework Tips For Parents
- Managing Homework With Little Children About
- Managing homework materials
- Tips on managing school holiday homework
Managing device use
Tech use or device use, whatever you would like to call it, has called me lots of stress over my years as a parent, so I can understand why it came up as an issue in the survey.
And much like with the homework area above, I made this issue more stressful for myself than it needed to be. In a recent newsletter I wrote the following:
Some kids are more drawn to the digital world than others. Some kids really love gaming, while others are happy to game but are not that fussed by it. In our family, we have a couple of kids who love to game and the rest who game a bit but it isn’t really a passion.
The biggest mistake I made when it came to viewing gaming was assuming that if our kids gamed regularly they would turn into those gaming addicts you read about. They would lose interest in their school work, the outside world and as a consequence would end up living with us for the rest of their lives playing games in their bedroom!
I can see now that the above is a ridiculously huge jump from a kid enjoying playing a game and it becoming the ruination of his life. But because it does happen to some kids and the media play these scenarios up with over the top coverage, it is easy to see why I made the extraordinary jump.
This doesn’t mean that I now let our kids game whenever they want with no boundaries. For the kids in primary school, we still have limits on how much time they can spend on devices. For example, our 11-year-old, has no non-school device use Mon – Thu (sometimes if I have work commitments after school, he will have some device time after his homework) and then has two hours per day Fri, Sat and Sun.
For the two secondary school kids, they are to self manage their device use with some boundaries:
- No device use before school
- Off devices 30 minutes before bed
- No devices in bedroom – this is for the 14 year old
- Need to spend time off devices and do a variety of activities through the day
I now take a more balanced approach to device use and gaming in particular. I can see and appreciate the enjoyment they receive, the socialisation it can provide, and the skills they use while playing the games.
Here are some previous posts I have written on managing tech with kids:
- Managing technology with teenagers
- Managing technology with teenagers – what other families do
- Kids and technology – FAQ
- PODCAST – Managing technology
- Book review – The Modern Parent – Raising a Great Kid in the Digital World – I highly recommend this book if you are finding your kids’ device use a source of stress.
In an upcoming post, I will look at the three remaining areas with kids that readers said was causing stress in family life – kids fighting, kids behaviour and kids’ routines.