Don’t sweat the small stuff
Toddler tantrums, pre-school meltdowns – every age and stage has its challenges. But rather than simply kicking off in the heat of the moment, save your energy and choose your battles.
By actively deciding which issues are important and which are better ignored, you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and simply observe what your child is trying to tell you.
When you engage in a debate about small things, it can become a battle of the wills, pitting parent against child.
So next time a debate looks to be brewing, lighten the mood with an outrageous alternative, suggest you all do 25 star jumps, or ask your child to come up with the solution; you might just be surprised at the unique wisdom your toddler has to offer.
Book a table
Getting the whole family around the dinner table all at once can be hard, but it’s a great way to introduce new foods to your little ones, teach table manners, and find time to talk about what they’ve done during the day.
“Family mealtime is very important,” says Dr David Janicke, an associate professor leading the Family Mealtime project at the University of Florida.
“Routine is really important for kids. A lot of research shows that families who eat together for three meals a week or more have more connectedness.”
Spend time outdoors
Getting in touch with nature – literally – has emotional and physical benefits for your children.
A recent report by the National Trust demonstrates that it’s important to get children outside, building dens, picking flowers, climbing trees, and connecting with nature.
“Natural places are life-enhancing environments where children can reach new depths of understanding about themselves, their abilities, and their relationship with the world around them,” explains Tim Gill, a leading expert in children’s play and childhood.
Research also shows that parents are the most powerful influence over a child’s exposure to nature and the countryside. So pull on your coats and wellies, start splashing in puddles and explore the big, wide world together.
Play the ‘let’s get organised!’ game
With meals to prepare, clothes to mend, school runs to, well, run, it can become all too easy to feel overwhelmed by daily demands. The key is to set the tone for the year with a little organisation at the start.
Invest in a family diary to highlight important dates – then make sure you use it! Then set some routines: children adore ‘chores’, so make it their job to pack up the bath toys before they get out of the bath or to help you put groceries away after the supermarket run.
It might be a game at first, but as children get older, the routines will not only help you keep some order around the house, but studies have shown learning to follow instructions helps children develop crucial attention skills and increases their ability to concentrate on tasks in the long-term too.
Go back to basics
According to a recent study, a child born today will have spent an entire year looking at TV, video, and computer screens by the age of seven.
While modern life means we are surrounded by technology, screen time has been linked to wider waistlines, higher blood pressure and a life-long risk of diabetes and heart disease.
On the other hand, play – especially play that is child-led – helps children gain confidence in sharing, negotiating, resolving conflicts and learning how to work in groups.
Whether it’s deciding to make a robot from scratch or pretending to be pirates on the open sea, creative and imaginative play is a simple joy that has brilliant benefits socially and mentally. So make a resolution to have a no-TV night at least once a week and do creative things as a family instead, preferably following your child’s lead.
If you need some inspiration, check out our fab craft ideas, such as our cuddly penguins.
Cook up a storm
Stirring up a pan of risotto or baking a batch of cookies with children is a great way to spend time together on so many levels!
Not only do children love the process – measuring, weighing, stirring, taste-testing – it also helps your little ones understand where food actually comes from and why it tastes the way it does.
“It’s a good opportunity to talk about the origin of the food,” says Justine Pannett, senior campaigns manager at the RSPCA Freedom Food campaign.
“This makes kids aware of the food they are buying and cooking in the future, and hopefully they will pass this knowledge onto their children, too.” Besides, it’s always rewarding to be able to eat the fruits of your labour.
Give yourself me time
It’s easy to feel like you need to give the chores and the children all your energy, but making dedicated me time is important too.
Half an hour of yoga will refocus your mind, and you’ll probably achieve more than if you’d stayed at home running yourself ragged.
It’s also important to have more than toilet training and school enrolment forms to talk about when you catch up with friends, so rekindle a passion for something you loved doing before you had your children, or learn something new – perhaps a new language – or join a dance class or book club.
“Self-care is a necessity, and giving yourself me time will allow you to be a more present parent,” says Mia Redrick, author of Time for mom-Me.
Tell a tale
Bedtime stories are a wonderful way of unwinding and bonding with your child, and now research shows that having just ten children’s books to hand when a child is age four, means the part of the brain involved in language and thought matures more quickly than it would otherwise.
The study’s lead author, Brian Avants explains that this provides “powerful evidence that even relatively minor variations within the normal range of home experience can affect brain development over a lifetime”.
Another study also highlights that children who grew up in homes with access to books do better at school.
“Getting books into homes is an inexpensive way we can help children succeed,” said Dr Mariah Evans, associate professor of sociology and resource economics at the University of Nevada, where the study was run. “Even a little bit goes a long way.”
Sleep on it
Getting the whole family into a good sleep routine is a parent’s secret weapon.
For parents, it means you will have more patience and energy, and studies have shown that a regular sleep routine for children improves their temperament as well as their performance at school.
“Just like good nutrition, adequate sleep is a basic need that gives children the best chance of getting what is most important from the people and things they experience each day,” says Professor Monique LeBourgeois from the University of Colorado.
Make the most of each moment
Modern life means we all have hectic schedules, so it’s all the more important to find time to really be together.
Creating a window of quality time to concentrate on your kids and to listen to what they are telling you is a wonderful gift – for both of you.
Even the most time-poor of us can find a few minutes to play a game of noughts and crosses or to snuggle up for a couple of hours at the weekend to watch a movie together.
There are so many special moments that can pass us by in the rush – so remember to be present in the moment. These are your family memories in the making.