A stress-free family life can sound quite alien to a lot of people.
With all the chores, work, looking after the children, and other demands of daily life – is it possible not to feel frazzled?
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, author of ‘The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships and Purpose’, and Dr Genevieve von Lob, a clinical psychologist and author of ‘Happy Parent, Happy Child’, believe you can have a calmer family life.
Here are their nine tips to help you achieve it.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s tips
1: Have tech-free mealtimes
“Mealtimes are a great way to connect, to communicate, to nourish those relationships with each other. Having tech there…can be really distracting.
So my top tip is whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, put the phones away and engage with those people around you.”
2: A daily practice of gratitude
“This is my favourite part of the day. Every evening at dinner time, my wife, myself and my kids have to answer three questions:
1. What have I done today to make someone else happy?
2. What has somebody else done today to make me happy?
3. What have I learnt today?
I guarantee that if you start putting this into your everyday life, you’ll feel less stressed and you’ll feel closer with your children.”
3: Do breathing exercises together
“Now it sounds like the kind of thing that kids may not want to do, but I tell you, if you model this behaviour, they are very likely to follow it.
One of my favourite breaths is one I created in my practice a few years ago – called the 3-4-5 breath.
You breathe in for three, you hold for four, and you breathe out for five.
Any time your ‘out’ breath is longer than your ‘in’ breath, you’re able to activate the relaxation part of your nervous system and switch off the stress part.”
4: Prioritise sleep
“A lack of sleep is one of the biggest stresses on the body in both adults and children.
It affects your ability to make decisions, your ability to remember things and your ability to concentrate.
The simplest tip that I find helps adults, but particularly children in my GP practice, is to switch off all tech for one hour before bed…see how quickly your children’s sleep improves.”
5: Do some form of physical activity together
“When you’re stressed, when you’re anxious, you’re priming your body for physical activity, yet in the modern world we’re often sat on our bums not doing anything about it.
A simple thing to do is before dinner put on some loud music, and just dance with your children.
That’s what I do with my children before dinner.
You can do some body weight exercises together or you can do play fighting.
The point is physical activity helps lower stress levels, and if you do it together, you engage relationships and it’s much more likely that you continue it long term.”
Dr Genevieve von Lob’s tips
6: You come first!
“As parents it’s really important we can be that calm presence for our children, and be that safe haven.
It’s really important to find ways to calm yourself down. Whether that’s having a glass of water, or taking really deep breaths, or taking some time out or just listening to some calm music.
So before we can be there for our children, we need to fill up our own cup first and calm down.”
7: Pack a toolbox
“When your child is in the midst of stress or anxiety, find ways to calm them down.
Initially, it will be a lot of trial and error and finding what works for your child. Some children like to count, some children like to breathe, some like to have a hug, or some like to do rough and tumble play or go running, or bounce on the trampoline.
So whatever it is, we need to help our children calm down the stress response before we can talk to them rationally, because if they are in the midst of a lot of big feelings, they can’t hear logic or reason – the thinking brain has gone offline.
So put together a coping toolbox with your child and see what works.”
8: Listen to your children
“One of the most powerful gifts that you can give your kids is to unplug from your phone, sit, be present with them and just listen.
Often as parents when our children come to us with a problem we just want to fix it for them, we just want to make it all OK. And actually sometimes our children just need us to hear them.
Think of how you feel when you’ve unloaded all your problems on to a friend. You don’t need them to tell you what the answer is, you just want to be heard.
This is the way your child will feel validated. This is the way that you can really bond with your child. And that bond and emotional connection is what is going to help you for the future.”
9: Have fun
“As parents, sometimes life can be very serious – there’s a lot of responsibilities and a lot of chores.
So I think we all need to carve out time to be less serious, to be fun, and to play with our children.
Put away the schedule and routine for a bit and just be with your children. Put on silly voices, dress up, dance, just connect with that child-like aspect of yourself.
It will really help your emotional connection with your kids.”
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