Monday, 27 April 2020 15:26

From Chaos to Calm - 7 Parenting Principles for a Happier, More Peaceful Home

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Is your life chaotic right now? If it is, then you are in good company. Many families have been turned upside down these past few weeks. Children, forced home from school and all their activities, are trying to finish their classes online, going stir crazy, and getting on each other’s nerves. Parents are trying to work from home so they can keep their jobs, and new stressful regulations are keeping us further away from our church, the Sacraments, family, and friends. 

If you feel like your family is spiraling quickly out of control, one chaotic day to the next, consider trying some of these tried and true parenting principles, and see if you find that much needed and desired calm within your family.

1. Mom and Dad are in charge

The fourth commandment states, “Honor your father and mother”. That means that the duty to obey and respect one’s parents comes from God. This is a beautiful and Divine calling that He has given us so we can raise souls for Heaven. And God does not leave us alone! Instead, He gives us all the help we need with the graces from the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony. We just need to ask for them, and have confidence in our God-given authority and leadership. Believe this, and you will be one step closer to regaining peace in your family. 

2. A House divided cannot stand

You and your spouse must unite together. Children need one unified and coherent set of directions coming from both parents. If they sense disunity, often children will play one parent against the other. A child should never think he can receive a “no” from Mom, then go to Dad to gain a “yes”. Many discipline issues can be traced back to disunity between parents. We cannot expect unity within our family if there is a lack of unity at the top. Take the time to talk with your spouse and commit to working together.

3. Make a schedule…. and stick to it

After understanding who is in charge, and agreeing with your spouse to tackle this together, the next most important thing to do is to make a schedule — for the whole family. Unless you are comfortable having the next few weeks turn into the longest spring break vacation ever, it's time to get back to school, work, and “normal” life — and that means having a plan for each day. Starting from wake time to bed time, the day should be structured, loosely or tightly, depending on your comfort level and perhaps even the level of chaos. The higher the level of chaos, the tighter the schedule may need to be. But remember, because we are working toward a more united, peaceful family, try to schedule as much together as possible. For instance, Mom and Dad can wake an hour before the children (having time to pray together and have a cup of coffee), then begin the day with family prayer after the children wake. After breakfast together and tidying up, children can work on school, while parents do their work (or help the kids with schoolwork). The afternoon can be used for music practice, finishing school or work, preparing the evening meal, and of course, time outside. After dinner, the family might take a Rosary walk, or pray the Stations of the Cross outside, ending with a family game and bedtime prayers. Whatever your schedule is, keep it simple. Write the schedule down and post it clearly where everyone can see.

Talk about the importance of maintaining a schedule with your children. You might be surprised to see them rise to the challenge when they are part of the discussion and implementation. Because anything different is often uncomfortable at first, they may balk and complain, but children really do appreciate having boundaries and knowing what is expected of them. Soon you might hear your daughter telling her brother, “No, I can’t play with you now. I have to practice the piano, but at 4:00, when it’s outside time, we’ll play together.” Wouldn’t that be beautiful?

Children (and adults) often act up out of boredom, not knowing what is expected of them, or in times of stressful change. Having a schedule (and sticking to it) provides much needed security in an insecure time. 

In your schedule make sure you plan plenty of outside time for play, walks, sports, or gardening. Limit screen time, especially if the kids are now doing more of their schoolwork online.  Most importantly, set aside time for prayer (more on this later!).

4. Families who work together, play together

If you haven’t already established household chores for your children, this is a great time to start. Include in your schedule a set time for chores. For us, it is at noon. We take a break from school, pray the Angelus, and everyone gets busy on their assigned chores, with beautiful, lively music in the background. A great chore for an older child is to make lunch for the family — he or she can learn a new skill, and you can get started on that pile of laundry!

Post your chore list, and keep things simple. Right now you are trying to gain some semblance of order (and cleanliness) in a household of people. Necessary chores like sweeping the floor, emptying the dishwasher, folding the laundry, and wiping down the bathroom are the ones to stick to. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, pair them with an older child so they can join in on the fun and learn some new skills.

On Saturdays, you might consider tackling bigger chores or projects when you have more time. My favorites are those we can all work on together — clearing out brush, pruning bushes, washing the cars or weeding the garden. At least once a month, we dedicate one Saturday as an outside yard maintenance day — and everyone pitches in. By the end of the day, we are dirty from head to toe, but the kids are happy because they know they will be rewarded — after showers — with pizza and a family movie night.

5. Let your “yes” be “yes”, and your “no” be “no”

Be clear in your instructions to your child, and follow through to make sure it is being done. Arguing, talking back, or simply refusing to do as instructed should not be tolerated. Often the best way to nip this in the bud is to simply make it counterproductive for them to disobey. For instance, if your son does not empty the dishwasher when asked, he may not only have to do that chore, but also clean the kitchen as well (before the next meal or before being allowed to play). If your daughter whines and complains about going to bed, then perhaps her bedtime needs to be 15 minutes earlier the next evening.

But consistency is necessary on the part of the parent. The more consistent you are, the sooner the children will learn it is better to obey the first time they are told. More importantly, a child who knows his parents will keep their word is a happier, more secure child. 

Of course, the parenting principle “make all negative behavior counterproductive” should be balanced with “reinforce positive behavior”. Thank your child when he behaves well or does something good without even being asked. 

6. More is caught than taught

These are trying, stressful times for the whole family. Our children will look to us for how to respond and imitate our actions and attitude. We can talk to them about staying positive and being obedient, but if we are spending our days complaining and moping, they will do the same. We can’t expect them to be focused on their schoolwork if we are constantly leaving our work to check our social media or hear (for the 10th time that day) the latest news updates. If we want our children to stay focused, be obedient, and remain cheerful in the midst of a difficult time, we need to set the standard for them.

One great way for our children to be more inclined to listen and obey is by taking the time to just be with them. That includes working together, playing together, and having meals together. We have been given this unique opportunity to give our children (and our spouses) the gift of time — let’s not waste it! This may be the perfect opportunity to teach your daughter how to make a delicious lasagna, or finally get around to building that fort in the backyard with your son. When we work alongside our children, we teach them not only important skills, but also virtues such as diligence and resourcefulness. More importantly, when parents spend time with their children, sharing a common goal, a beautiful relationship is formed that makes it that much harder to break by rebellion.

7. Take time every day to pray together as a family

Although this is last on the list, it is by far the most important. As a family, begin and end each day together on your knees. If everything has gone awry, the whole day has been a disaster, and you feel like giving up — stop everything and gather your family together to pray. Ask for help - God is so generous! If we are not already praying together as a family, we have now been given this unique opportunity to begin! Pray the Rosary, make the Stations of the Cross, make Spiritual Communions throughout the day, and of course, ask for God’s blessing before and after meals. Prayer is the number one way to regain peace in your family during this challenging time. Keep it your number one priority during each day, and Our Lord will bless you abundantly.

You have probably heard that it takes 30 days to implement a new habit. When good habits are in place, why drop them and go back to regular behavior when this is all over? These ideas are not just for dire times, but tried and true principles for parenting and family life. 

God is allowing this time so that we can grow closer to Him and, I would venture to add, closer to our families as well — so we must trust Him. St. John of Avila so beautifully reminds us, “God knows all things, He can do all things, and He loves us.”

St. Joseph, protector of families, pray for us!

Cheryl HernandezCheryl Hernández and her husband of more than 30 years, Kevin, live in Florida. They have nine children, including a daughter who is a Servant Sister. They are lay members of the Home of the Mother.

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