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David Coleman Column: My son is driving my stress levels through the roof


Parents should think of themselves as 'coach' rather than 'policeman'.

I write out of sheer frustration regarding my relationship with my three-year-old son. To start off, I was made redundant from my job job six months ago and we had to take the kids out of creche. I have been a stay-at-home dad since.

Over the past month or so, my lad (who generally adores me) has stopped listening to me and will not take part in any 'tidy up' type activity. Little things have started spiralling out of control.

I have no doubt that my own stress levels are contributing to my dealing with this 'unruly' child but the more he won't listen, the more frustrated I become.

I tried for two hours to get him and his two-year-old brother to tidy up their playroom before we went out into the sunshine.

Right now he is up in bed, pretending to be asleep, because he refused to eat his dinner (I sent him up following an unsuccessful spell on the Time Out step).

To make matters worse, my wife wants to give up work, too! Where am I going wrong?

David replies:

IT SOUNDS like several factors are all conspiring to raise your stress levels. Once your stress levels are up you may not be coping so well (perhaps allowing your own 'inner three-year-old self' to throw a tantrum or two!).

It might be worth taking some time to process how you really feel about being a stay-at-home dad. It is a role you have taken on by necessity rather than by choice and so you may have a whole range of feelings lingering.

It would be easy, for example, to imagine that you may resent being at home, preferring to be in paid employment. Then any such resentment could be triggered by 'bold' behaviour from the children prompting your own angry response with a possible, "I don't even want to be here doing this" type of thought.

Rather than considering your role to be that of 'policeman', who must keep order and control at all times, think of yourself as the boys' coach.

You are there to guide, direct and, at times, insist on certain things happening. Mostly, however, you are there to make sure they have fun and don't break things!

So trying to take a playful and distracting approach to the chores with them will get much more engagement and co-operation than standing over them with threats of terrible consequences (which, like sending him to bed early, you then feel obliged to carry through).

In that regard, you might want to think about getting rid of the Time Out step entirely.

As you are probably experiencing, it leads to greater conflict when they complain and we parents end up getting angry about their refusal to sit.

Making games out of chores, setting challenges and races to fill toy boxes, clear away clothes and such like is much more effective with toddlers and pre-schoolers. Most importantly, however, is that you stay present and involved, showing them what you want them to do.

Your wife wanting to give up work may be her response to perceiving that you are finding it hard to cope at home and a fear that your frustrations may be bad for both you and the children.

Ironically, even if that is the case, you could probably end up more worried and stressed about money such that you become even more frustrated.

So talk openly with her. Listen carefully to her reasons for wanting to stop work, and then share any worries you have about the implications of that for the family and for you.

You can also help your stress levels by making sure to build in some "me" time.

You need opportunities to hang out socially with other adults, get exercise and feel like a grown-up.

Balance, like this, is really important. You will be able to be a much better dad for your children when you feel like some of your needs are being met, too.

Health & Living