Those tense times that predictably play out over and over? They don't have to! Re-create them for the better with these strategies.
Monday, 8 a.m. In the car. Now.
No matter how much you do all weekend, you still find yourself drilling: "Let's move! Shoes, jacket, potty, go." Meanwhile, all your kid hears is, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
Do the opposite of yell. "If you whisper in a calm, firm voice, 'We have to leave now,' kids will pay attention," says advice columnist Carol Weston who is also the author of GirlTalk: All the Stuff Your Sister
Never Told You. "It's so alarming, they perk right up." Be your own emotional coach. Tell yourself, "I made a mistake and assumed we could eat breakfast and get out of the house in 30 minutes, but let me see how I might turn this around," suggests William Doherty, Ph.D., a family-social-science professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and author of Take Back Your Kids.
Re-center a frantic kid. "If your little one is in hysterics over the wrong shoes or having to wear a jacket, don't try to impart any lessons right now," says Denise Pope, Ph.D., cofounder of Stanford University's Challenge Success, an organization that aims to improve student well-being. "Your child won't process it." Instead, crouch down to her level, put your hands on her shoulders, and talk in a tone that's several notches down from where she is, says Dr. Pope. Explain that this is what she's wearing today but that later you two can talk about what she'd rather wear tomorrow.
Assume something will go wrong. A super-productive workplace style doesn't translate to home life. If your child takes ten minutes to get dressed, always build in 15 minutes, says Dr. Doherty. That way, you won't have to nag, and little snares -- such as an unsigned permission slip -- won't suddenly throw you off schedule.
Give up illusions. If you think that your slow, picky-eating child is going to eat more quickly to hustle out the door, you will draw the short straw every morning. "Kids are not going to change their core habits to meet our needs," says Dr. Doherty. "We can help shape their behaviors over time, but not in the moment."
Foster independence. Does your preschooler always want to buckle her seat belt, but you don't have the extra minute to let her try? "Explain that there are certain days when you have to leave right on time, and that she can practice on the weekend -- and follow through on that," says Dr. Pope. Before you know it she'll master it, and that's one task you can write off.
Back to School Advice: Morning Routine
Tuesday, 6 p.m. Please, can we just sit down nicely to eat?
You planned ahead to make a healthy dinner, but it's frowny faces all around when you plate the broccoli. Your toddler won't sit still, milk spills...Honestly, you'd really rather not bother.
Remember, mealtime is a schedule anchor. "It's helpful for kids to feel the household comes to a halt so you can sit down together," says Jennifer Altman, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Even if they complain about the food. Even if it's over in ten minutes. Deep down, they are happy to be there. Take credit for that while you sop up the milk.
Take the focus off food. If your mood is going south listening to the picky chorus, change the conversation. Look your child in the eye and find out one thing about his day. Share one thing about yours. A conversation may ignite, and, hey, that's worth the broccoli-chopping you did at dawn to make this meal happen.
Tune out tech. No texts. No e-mails. If you want dinner to be family time, you have to model that. "If I'm cooking with my daughter, I'm not going to have the cell phone on the counter," says Weston. "I see it as, 'I'm lucky, and being with her is a special time to enjoy.'"
Introduce the three-bite rule. Or the one-bite rule. Or the "you don't have to eat it, but it stays on your plate" rule. Decide what's best for your family. The point is to have a rule, says Dr. Pope, so when your child says, "I don't eat spinach," you don't have to prattle, "It's good for you" or "Your sister eats it." Instead, you give the nonchalant "you know the rule" look and move on to pressing your child for more info about the lunchroom kerfuffle.
Create rituals. Want to transform dinnertime with your 3-year-old? Light a candle. "When our children were young, we would light a candle, dim the lights, even play soft music during dinner," says Dr. Doherty. These things take little time, cost next to nothing, and put kids into a happy trance, helping them sit still, eat nicely, and engage in the table convo.
Say thanks. Consider teaching your child to express gratitude at the end of the meal: "Thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad, for the food." It may feel a little forced at first, says Dr. Doherty. "But sincerity will come if you get your child into the habit of ending meals this way."
Thursday, 4 p.m. First, pick up from origami class, then karate, then quick grocery stop.
Everyone (including you) just wants to go home.
Ease up. "What I think parents don't remember from being a kid is how hard it is to be in school all day and responsible for your body and your thoughts for all those hours," says Dr. Pope. "Afterward, kids just want to let go." So don't expect your child to be able to handle even a simple errand when you pick her up, especially if she's had an after-school activity.
Stick out karate this time. If your child wants to skip an activity -- as you're heading there -- explain that you'll discuss it when you get home, but she has to go today. "If you always take your child home when she asks to ditch an obligation, your communication to her is clear: 'You're right; this is too much for you,'" says Dr. Altman. By sticking with the plan, you're not only building her resilience, you're also teaching her to make important decisions by thinking things all the way through instead of acting impulsively.
Share the plan. In the morning, talk to your child about the end of the day. "First, I pick you up, then we get your brother at soccer, then we'll stop to buy a few groceries, and then we have dinner." Don't assume your child doesn't care about the schedule each day. Most kids need to know, because it makes them feel more in control, says Dr. Pope.
Mix in downtime. "At Challenge Success, our mantra is that kids need PDF every day: playtime, downtime, family time," says Dr. Pope. "Play is alone, or with friends, but unstructured and kid-selected. Downtime looks different for every child, but it can be napping, vegging out in front of the TV for a little while, or reading a book. Family time is reading together, taking a walk, or eating dinner." So if your child runs short on PDF one day, block out another afternoon for it. "In my house, when my kids were young, each child would get up to two activities a week, and if soccer required two practices, that counted as the two things," says Dr. Pope.
Dial it back. It's wonderful to expose your child to a variety of activities, but eventually you have to let him figure out what his true interests are and be okay with that. "Don't keep pushing so that you'll be proud of your child someday," says Weston. "Be proud of him now, and that positive cycle will encourage him to pursue what he likes doing."
Saturday, 1 p.m. Dance rehearsal, a birthday party, and a volunteer fair all at the same time!
You look forward to this day all week. Why does it feel like a Monday?
Recognize good problems. Okay, true, this is not a pancake-breakfast Saturday in your pj's, but try to see it as positive stress, as in, "OMG, we have a birthday party and a recital today -- but that's not exactly a tragedy." Parents set the tone for looking at the upside of good stress, says Weston.
Conduct a casual interview. "I hear from some kids that they feel invisible at home, especially if they are the younger sibling, always tagging along to their older sib's performances or games," says Weston. While walking to the school auditorium, instead of saying, "I hope your sister remembers her lines," say, "How are you? It's so nice to be here with you. Do you think you would want to do this someday?" A brief, cheerful Q&A will make you an all-star parent and build confidence in your younger child.
Make quality time. "I've learned that closeness matters more to children than people realize," says Weston. "So I turn the radio off in the car. If you have it on, try singing together." Play a quick game of "Rock, paper, scissors" or "I spy" in between dropping off library books and picking up dry-cleaning. When you plan ahead to squeeze in fun with your kid, it will still feel natural in the moment. And you'll have earned your stress-less parenting stripes.
Sunday, 7 p.m. Ugh...there's so much to do.
Sweaty basketball shorts, party-favor bags, and school papers are flung everywhere. There are lunches to make, baths to supervise, a kitchen to clean, toys to pick up, and your kindergartner just pulled the class's stuffed dog from his backpack -- turns out he was supposed to keep a diary of the doggy's doings all weekend.
Separate need vs. want. Yes, your child needs a clean outfit laid out for the following day. However, that doesn't mean that all of the clothes in your laundry room have to be folded and put away. Ideal, sure. But on surprise-homework evenings or after getting home late from a day at Grammy's, stick to the Monday musts.
Practice acceptance. "Emotions are contagious in families, and moms are the emotional centerpiece," says Dr. Doherty. "Tell yourself, 'Okay, we tried to avoid this, but it looks like it's going to be one of those Sunday nights,'" says Dr. Doherty. "'We'll get through it.'" By accepting the inevitable in the moment -- instead of stomping around complaining -- you'll lower everyone's stress.
Plan for Sunday on Friday. Or, at the latest, Saturday morning. Have the kids empty out their backpacks and tell them exactly when they're going to do any homework they may have. Make lunches on Sunday morning after sipping your coffee. By chipping away at Sunday-night tasks all weekend, you'll create a relaxed vibe that you will all benefit from.
Bring your family into the plan. To keep your home from looking like a fun house gone wrong by Sunday night, you may need to enlist everyone's help. Teach an older child to unload the dishwasher. Have a younger one play the "Put Everything Away" game and reward her: Promise to read to her during the extra time you saved not having to shoulder all of the grunt work. With your partner, trade vacuuming and dish duty each week, as well as shopping for groceries as soon as either of you can on the weekend to avoid having to dash out on Sunday night.
Nix your own jitters. "Your stress about the week ahead will affect your patience with your kids," says Dr. Doherty. To head off those feelings, set aside 30 minutes early in the weekend to look at your calendar, make to-do lists, and answer e-mail. Knowing you're already prepared for Monday will calm you down come Sunday evening. If only parents could clone themselves, you'd both have more hands to help!
3 Ways to Handle Anything Life Throws at You
1. Guard your calendar. "My husband turned to me one night as I was rushing out the door to a meeting after we'd gotten the kids to bed and said, 'You're not getting paid enough to run around like this,'" says Dr. Denise Pope. Tag-teaming with your spouse can be great, but you need your together time as a couple too. "Whether it's a work talk, a school fund-raiser, or something fun like book club, I now attend only one evening event a week," adds Dr. Pope.
2. Be a sleep role model. "I need to practice the kind of behavior I want to see in my children, like getting enough sleep every night," she says. Staying up late to finish the to-dos you procrastinated on won't inspire your school-age kid to get her homework done so she can turn in early.
3. Work out in short bursts. "If I have 20 minutes between a meeting and a work call, I'll hop on my treadmill on the days I work from home," says Dr. Pope. "It's my coping mechanism for lowering stress, and it's good for my health too."
Parents editors share how they save minutes (or even hours) during the week.
Some online grocers, like FreshDirect, can save shopping lists in their system. I have a list of staple items for our house saved in my account, which means I can order groceries for the week in less than five minutes.
-- Laura Fenton, Lifestyle Director
When my kids were young, multi-piece toys, like Barbie dolls or Legos, had to stay in one specially designated play area in my children's room. This saved a lot of time on cleanup when the pieces weren't scattered all over the house.
-- Alexa Barre, Copy Editor
Either my husband or I make our daughter's lunch for school the night before so there's no last-minute lunch-box packing during the morning rush.
--Jenna Helwig, Food Editor
Every night, I have my kids empty their backpacks of all the papers inside. Finished homework and projects go into a basket for each kid (which I go through when it gets full), permission slips or assignments that need attention go in another, and any upcoming-event flyers get logged on the calendar immediately and get recycled along with any other trash. Keeping up on it every night prevents lost assignments and keeps backpacks clean and not back-breakingly heavy.
--Chandra Turner, Executive Editor
I prefer to do a load of laundry a few nights during the week so I'm not slammed with hours of sorting, folding, and putting away clothes on the weekend. I find it's much more manageable in small amounts. And I'd rather spend time with the baby on the weekend!
--Michaela Garibaldi, Managing Editor
On Sundays, I roast batches of vegetables and keep them in the fridge for the week.
--Diane Debrovner, Deputy Editor
At the early-bird hour of 7 a.m., my husband or I shop for the week's worth of groceries since empty aisles equals faster shopping.
--Mindy Walker, Features Editor
Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Parents magazine.