David Coleman: With four children under 10, how can I keep my home calm?
I am a stay-at-home mum and I have four children, aged three, five, seven and nine years. I also mind two other children, aged three and seven, three days a week.
I dread the approach of the school holidays as it also means the approach of 'mayhem in the house'. Our three-year-old girl rules the roost and she is going through the 'terrible threes'.
She could cry unnecessarily if she doesn't get her way and can upset the whole equilibrium of our house. So often it is non-stop crying for no apparent reason -- I am ready to pull my hair out!
Of course, I do everything that I shouldn't do: I shout and roar and scream like a lunatic! It's a constant battle in our house.
My other three children are demanding in their own ways -- they can be so dramatic.
My husband is the only calm person in our house. I am the more passionate one. I think it is up to me to change, but I am not sure what to do.
How would you suggest I take the shouting down a peg or two, and how can I get things to calm down to a more civilised manner?
I would love to look forward to summer holidays where I can create a nicer, calmer environment in our house.
It is possible to have a calm family environment, but not exclusively so. All children will need opportunities to vent their energy and that means that they will, on occasion, get very excitable, dramatic, loud and busy.
Knowing that some noise and chaos is unavoidable means that we can be more realistic in achieving a bit of calm for more of the time. Expecting a quiet house with up to six children under the age of 10 in it is impossible!
I do believe that the tone and atmosphere in a family comes from the top down. The role-modelling that we offer to our children is hugely important. Children will always do what we do sooner than they will do what we say. If you have ever found yourself screaming "BE QUIET!" at your children, then the true ridiculousness of such a conflict between words and actions is apparent.
When you "shout and roar and scream" at the children then you give them a very clear message that this is a normal and expected way to interact with each other. Indeed, you show them specifically that when you are frustrated, shouting is an acceptable way to show your frustration or try to insist on your will being enforced.
Consequently, they too will yell, shriek and bawl when things don't go their way or they become otherwise frustrated.
Although it is important to retain your passion, I do think you definitely have to look at how you can calm yourself down before worrying about calming the children.
Deep breathing, taking a time out for yourself, counting to 10 and having visual reminders stuck on the fridge and walls of your determination to speak more gently are all ways to reduce the tension and excitable nature of situations.
You could have a family meeting with all of the children and your husband to discuss the noise levels and the chaos, and to get everyone's agreement to work on being calmer. Your children will be delighted to remind you to stop shouting, and you will find that it can introduce a bit of humour into an otherwise stressful situation when you see your son or daughter giving you "the look" about your shouting.
Think too about why you get so frustrated with the children so quickly. I often think that our frustration surfaces because parenting is such hard work.
We give our children so much, often with little appreciation, and at the same time our own needs might not be getting met. Being a stay-at-home parent is a vocation and you need to feel that it is what you want. If you don't feel fulfiled, then think are there other ways you can have some of your needs met.
I wonder if you should reconsider the child-minding that you do. You mention that your three-year-old is trying to "rule the roost" by making demands and crying when she doesn't get her own way. Remember that she has to compete with the other, 3-year-old whom you mind for your time, attention and notice.
Some of your own stress and frustration (that seems to be expressed in your "lunatic" moments) is probably from the relentless nature of minding the children. Perhaps if you had a bit more time to yourself and your three-year-old in the mornings, you and she would find it easier to cope when everyone is around.
You also need to remember that she is the youngest of four children, and so probably is trying many strategies to work out how to get noticed in the house. At the moment, it seems that when she cries she gets a response from you, even if it is the case that you are screaming at her in return.
During the summer, everyone will be around more, so do make sure to get them out and about within the estate or your garden to let them burn of the excess energy that comes with their youth.
Limit the TV and computer game time that they have because this too leads to unnecessarily heightened emotions for children.
Mostly, though, you need to mind yourself so that you are best able to mind the children.
Discover what helps you to relax, like warm baths, yoga, walks, meditation, sport, music, singing, being in nature or indulging in art. Build these kinds of activities into your summer schedule and you'll find you have more energy, less resentment and a more zen approach to your family!