It is very easy to relax around other people’s children, but not so much around your own young ones — and by “young” I am speaking between the ages of 3 and 6 years old.

If you are a parent at a playground brimming with kids, and you suddenly hear a shrieking cry or the sound of an almighty temper tantrum, nothing is more relaxing at that precarious moment to find that the culprit is not your child.

But what if it is your child?

Are you the kind of parent who just freaks out? Are you constantly on a knife’s edge with merely the thought of your child potentially misbehaving, getting into accidents or creating an ungodly mess?

I certainly am.

However, I have gotten a lot better over the years by following these general guidelines:

Get Off Your Helicopter

It seems that the “helicopter” school of parenting has garnered a tremendous following in recent years. This style of parenting involves constantly hovering above your children, closely supervising every bit of their activities. While I understand the preciousness with which all parents regard their off-springs, such a modus operandi is not only suffocating for the kids, but can produce insufferable stress for the parents.

Having started out as a severe practitioner of this parenting method, I have gradually learnt that my two boys (aged 3 and 5) are actually much more resilient than they appear, that they do not need constant encouragement or positive sideline commentary when playing, and that the messes they create (whether on their bodies or around the house/car) are rarely irreversible.

More importantly, by getting off my “helicopter”, I have realised how much more I enjoy being around my children, and how less often my shoulders and neck strain from the anxiety of surveying their every move.

Respect the Kids’ Clocks

Some parents expect their children to promptly respond to commands. Unfortunately, children do not usually respond to a request the first few times (if at all). This naturally leads to the parent repeating the request (“brush your teeth”, “cleaning up your toys”, “turn off the TV”) again and again, with each iteration accompanied by increasing irritation. It has taken this long for me to realise, however, that my children are not deliberately defying me in such situations but are merely following their own internal clocks.

While I count the Greenwich-Meridian-based seconds after each request, ruminating as to why they are not responding, my boys usually hear the request but decide to attend to it after whatever it is they are doing at that time, be it assembling a Transformer kit, trying to cram a teddy bear into the kitchen drawer or playing an iPad app that I never knew I had. The point is, eventually, they do respond, just not in the timeframe that I autocratically expect. On the other hand, their tendency to respond markedly deteriorates the more I repeat the request because the repetition then becomes white background noise.

So, tell your kids what to do in firm fashion—contrary to some new-age thinking, I believe you have the right to do that as a parent. However, give the little ones a chance to respond in their own time. This will not only eliminate much angst but will help you avoid that dreaded “nagging parent” perception in your children’s eyes.

Breathe and Smile

Beyond their clocks, parents need to respect that children are little people with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. Consequently, it is rare (in my experience anyway) that they will behave in a way that perfectly meshes with your own standard or emotional state. Once you accept that, the only way to relax around your children is to set the broad, non-negotiable limits and then allow your kids a free rein within those limits.

Of course, they will still do things within those boundaries that make you uneasy or anxious. However, that is where the “breathe & smile” technique comes in handy—a crude but powerful technique that invariably puts things in their proper context and makes you feel blessed to have children of your own.

Young children between the ages of 3 and 6 are, by their very nature, excitable creatures foreign to the concept of being “relaxed”—that glorious state in which they are so agreeable and malleable. One way they learn is by watching how their parents behave. So, instead of inadvertently having your agitated emotional state rub off on them, learn to relax around your children. It is good for them developmentally, great for their perception of your persona, and downright invaluable for your own emotional well-being.

(Photo credit: FAther and Young Son Fishing via Shutterstock)

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