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Stress-busting tips for a ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier’ 2021
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None of us has a magic wand that will make all of the usual family problems simply disappear, but you can reduce your parenting stresses and be calmer and happier in 2021 by making small changes in your everyday activities.

In this article I will give an overview of the five strategies I guide parents to use that reduce stressful family situations. These five strategies are:

  • Descriptive Praise
  • Special Time
  • Taking care of the adult relationships
  • Experimenting
  • Preparing for calmer school mornings

1. Descriptive Praise

Every day, frustrated parents tell me that the most stressful aspect of being a parent is feeling that they have to remind, repeat, nag, persuade, threaten, bribe, negotiate or shout just to get their children and teens to do what they’re told. But there is another way.

One of the most effective techniques for improving cooperation is Descriptive Praise. When you use Descriptive Praise you are giving your children and teens praise that is specific and informative. Instead of the usual superlative-type of praise that is frequently along the lines of ‘Great job’, ‘Well done’, ‘That was amazing’, and which generally slides off your children unnoticed and unheeded, include clear and concise details as part of the praise you give.

Initially you are likely to feel that using Descriptive Praises appears forced and unreal, that maybe it’s not genuine praise. Also, your children and teens may complain about receiving this new type of specific praise. But all children (and even teens) want to please their parents, so by putting into practice this strategy every day you will increasingly experience more cooperation and better behaviours.

Some examples of Descriptive Praise:

  • ‘Even though you didn’t enjoy writing that story, you kept going until you’d completed it. That took perseverance and determination.’
  • ‘You picked up your coat and hung it on your hook properly. I didn’t even have to ask. That shows you are becoming more thoughtful.’
  • 'Even though your sister was screaming and crying because she was hungry and tired, you didn’t get angry or upset with her. You stayed calm and tried to help. I can see that you are becoming more mature.’
  • ‘I really appreciate that you kept sending me text messages to let me know where you were while you were out with your friends. I know that was probably a bit annoying, but it helped me to stop worrying about you. I love that you showed me that kind of respect, thank you.’

Even on days where your children’s behaviour is not so great, you can still find lots of little bits of good behaviour that you can praise, such as:

  • cooperating the first time you ask
  • sharing (even if it’s for only a few minutes)
  • being gentle with the baby
  • saying please or thank you
  • writing a slightly longer essay than last week
  • turning off the computer with less of a fuss

Another way to use Descriptive Praise is for the absence of a negative or undesirable behaviour. Even in difficult situations or regular family flashpoints, when there are only fleeting moments in which your children are not doing something wrong, you can jump in with a Descriptive Praise. Give your children or teens as little as one second to stop doing the misbehaviour and then given them a Descriptive Praise. Situations such as:

  • not grabbing
  • not laughing when a sibling makes a mistake
  • not interrupting
  • not leaving their schoolbag on the floor (even if they didn’t put it where it belongs)
  • not hitting when they’re angry

There are usually many opportunities throughout each day take a few moments to notice and then crucially to mention to your children exactly what they did right. Your children will soon come to know that you are really paying attention to them. And eventually your children may even start using Descriptive Praises for you.

So make a commitment today to Descriptively Praise your children and teens at least ten times a day. Remember this can be for something they did that was right or for the times when they didn’t do anything wrong, however small that something was. Soon you’ll be finding plenty of things to praise your children for. And when both you and your children get used to this new way of appreciating each other that is genuine, warm and loving, you’ll discover just how much of a true stress-buster Descriptive Praise is for improving your children’s cooperation more of the time.

2. ‘Special Time’

A powerful de-stressor is spending time with each of your children separately. Even siblings who usually get on well together will appreciate spending time alone with you because they won’t be having to compete for your attention. I call this one-on-one activity ‘Special Time’ because it results in lovely times together.

If you’ve been working from home and home-schooling over this past year because of COVID, you may feel that you’ve spent more time with your children than you would normally. However, Special Time is specifically about giving each of your children and teens uninterrupted time that is just for them. You may also feel that with the recurrent situation of off and then on again lockdowns, juggling irregular work schedules and school activities leaves you with little time to spare for each of your children separately. But with a bit of planning, you’ll find that almost every day you’ll be able to squeeze in some Special Time, even if it’s only 15 minutes with each child.

For each Special Time, do something you both enjoy that:

  • isn’t in front of a screen
  • doesn’t cost money
  • isn’t about a food treat

Here are some ideas for activities that you and each of your children could do together during this Special Time:

  • learn new things
  • play a game
  • cook a favourite dish
  • do a puzzle
  • read to each other
  • tackle chores such as weeding the garden or clearing out unwanted toys
  • go for a walk
  • hang out and chat

The time you spend with your children enjoying each other means you are also helping them to want to become more cooperative, confident, motivated, self-reliant and considerate - all of which helps to reduce your parenting stresses.

Whatever you choose to do during Special Time, as you put into practice this habit of dedicated daily time with each of your children, you’ll discover that without the undercurrent of sibling rivalry and without screen distractions, you will be seeing your child at his or her best. And when you are not rushed or preoccupied, your children will experience you at your best.

Special Time not only helps you to reduce your parenting stresses, and also helps you to create lasting happy memories for yourself and for your children.

3. Taking care of your adult relationships

One way to be a happier parent in 2021 is to devote more time and attention to the couple relationship.

Every evening that you and your partner are both at home, and as soon as the children are in bed, leave the dinner dishes or that urgent email until later and spend the next half-hour (or longer if you like) on what I call a ‘nightly half-hour date’. Reconnecting with your partner is more important. Spend this precious half-hour enjoying yourselves as a couple.

These are the rules:

  • no screen
  • no talking about problems
  • no discussing the logistics of daily life
  • no talking about the children

What can you do instead?

Here are some favourite activities that our clients have told us about:

  • listening to music together
  • playing cards or board games or doing a crossword puzzle together
  • looking at family photos and reminiscing
  • reading aloud to each other
  • telling jokes
  • planning the next family holiday
  • exercising together
  • and of course cuddling

If you’re a single parent, you can use your nightly half-hour ‘date’ to take care of yourself. The rules remain the same, as do the results.

What can you do to replenish yourself? How about:

  • phone a friend
  • listen to or read a good book
  • enjoy the silence
  • start a hobby
  • write in a journal
  • pick up a pencil and draw something you can see or something from your imagination
  • meditate or do breathing exercises

This habit of a nightly half-hour date will help to refocus you both on each other’s good points. If you’re single, you may find that the half-hourly date with yourself becomes a sacred time just for you. This time devoted to replenishing yourself relieves a lot of stress. The half-hour dates will also help to build up your emotional stamina, enabling you to stay more positive, more firm and more consistent when dealing with the inevitable stresses of family life - and one result of this is that you (and your children) will feel calmer and happier.

4. Experimenting

You might already know what could help to improve things, but maybe you just haven’t got round to implementing any consistent changes. Or maybe you’re not sure which changes would make a real difference. If the last point is true for you, experimenting with new ways of doing things might help.

Perhaps you already know which flashpoints are causing you the most stress, but if not, first look closely at each family flashpoint that feels stressful. Typical family flashpoints are:

  • mornings
  • mealtimes
  • bedtimes
  • homework
  • screen time
  • sibling interactions

Choose one flashpoint to tackle first. You might want to start with the least stressful or the most stressful or perhaps one that feels particularly important to resolve.

Together with your partner if you have one, or with a friend if you’re a single parent, decide on a few adjustments that would probably reduce the problems and make things go more smoothly.

Make those adjustments to the flashpoint that you’ve agreed to tackle first. Stick with your new plan for a minimum of one month before you judge how well it’s working.

Your children may be resistant at first. But during that month you’re likely to see improvements. And if at any time you think the problematic flashpoint needs further adjustments, keep making changes until you can see that what you’re doing is having a significant positive impact.

At that point, when the flashpoint is significantly reduced and no longer a stressful issue for you, pick the next flashpoint you want to tackle. Again, decide on which strategies and changes you will experiment with to improve things.

In my books I recommend a number of practical changes and strategies that you can make use of to improve all the usual family flashpoints. These include:

  • Think-throughs
  • Planning your day realistically
  • Action replays
  • Being positive, firm and consistent about rules and routines
  • and much more.

By reducing or resolving how many family flashpoints there are, you will be reducing your stress levels and, as a result, you’ll find you have more time to enjoy family time together.

5. Preparing for calmer school-day mornings

School-day mornings are an example of a flashpoint that is often stressful, both for parents and for children. Research has shown that when mornings are less fraught, parents and children feel happier and more relaxed all day long, even though they often don’t realise why.

To help your children and teens be better prepared for school-day mornings requires you to take action first. You need to get yourself completely ready for the day ahead before the time your children need to be up. This means that you’re probably going to have to wake up and start your day a bit earlier to make that happen. But by doing so you can focus your attention on guiding your children and teens into sensible habits because you’ll already be ready and so less likely to be rushing, nagging or scowling.

You may also need to get your children up earlier. Giving your children plenty of time to do everything they have to do at a pace that’s realistic for them at their current stage of maturity (or immaturity) will go a long way to keeping school-day mornings less stressful.

Paediatricians tell us that most children and teens aren’t getting enough sleep, which often results in them being distractible or irritable in the mornings, and not interested in a healthy breakfast. To achieve smoother mornings where everyone has enough time to get ready for the day ahead, you will probably need to put your children to bed earlier as well. Another benefit of earlier bedtimes is that you will have more time to unwind in the evenings.

So experiment with making adjustments to both your evening and morning routines and discover new strategies and approaches that makes school-day mornings stress-free and that creates a positive start to the day for everyone.


The above suggestions are just a few of the strategies that I teach all parents. To discover some of the other strategies that I recommend, explore the rest of the website for videos and podcasts as well as these articles:

The more consistently you put into practice the above strategies, the more likely you are to reduce your stress levels. As a result, no matter the challenges that may come in 2021, you will create a year that is calmer, easier and happier for all the family.

Let us know how you get on. We love to hear from our calmer, easier, happier families!

You may like these ideas but be unsure how to put them into practice. Would you like some advice about how to make all this happen? To find out how the ‘Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting and Teaching’ resources and services can help you and your family, please browse our website or email us:

On our website, our Youtube channel and our Facebook page we provide support materials: videos, podcasts, articles, books, Audiobooks.

If you would like personalised advice that is specific to your family’s needs, we offer a parenting programme that includes private consultations (via Skype) and home visits.

For schools we offer parenting talks and teacher-training.

Please get in touch for more information. Noël and her team welcome enquiries from parents and educators.

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