Shouting at the children

I remember my hardest part of the day when my children were small was leaving for school in the morning. The children had to make their own lunch boxes and get their own book-bags ready for the day.

Two of the children exercised the dog. But they all had to get up, get dressed, have breakfast and be ready to leave by 8 am. All four of them. Five mornings a week. It was organised chaos, and yes, I usually ended up shouting.

Wanting to be a better parent

Being a parent is not easy. There are so many demands on us. It is easy to feel we can never do quite enough –spend as much quality time with our children as we should, be as involved in their education, have as much control of our children as we should. Be as calm and serene as we would like. There are so many ‘shoulds’, it is difficult to keep up!

Recognising ‘flash points’

And then there is life at home. Why can’t things be a bit calmer –a bit more under control –less hassle? The flash points seem to come at the same times each day –getting up, breakfast, getting the children ready to go out or go to school. When they come home, getting them to put their things away. Mealtimes, homework time, bedtime. No wonder we’re exhausted.

What would make a difference?

So how did things get to this point? Well I’m sad to say that as parents we’ve had a lot to do with it. And there are two things in particular that could make all the difference to our day. Planning what rules we want to have, and then being consistent in following the rules.


The first part is deciding which rules you want to have in your house. Some families sit down at a family meeting and plan the rules, writing them on decorated charts and having rewards for following rules and consequences if they are not followed. Other families are much more laid back, chatting about rules over a meal.

Whatever your family is like it is important that parents guide the process, by deciding beforehand what is important to them –their values and what they really want to happen to make family life calmer and happier. Plus to plan what needs to happen at different times of the day to reduce the stress.

Planning a good routine

So, if getting ready for school is a difficult time in your family, talk the children through what will happen and when.

For example ‘I’ll wake you up at 6.45, for you to get dressed and put everything in your book bag that you need for school. At 7.15 we will all sit down for breakfast together. After breakfast you get to wash your face, clean your teeth and pack your lunch box. At 7.45 I will tell you when it is time to put on your shoes and we will all leave for school at 7.50’.

When the routine has been clearly explained, ask your children to repeat it back to you, to be sure they understand what will happen. Talk it through with them again just before bed. When you wake them up in the morning ask them if they remember the plan and what they must do first?

Other rules and routines can be managed in the same way. Decide what needs to happen. Talk the children through the good behaviour you want, and have a reward for doing it. Let them know what natural consequences will happen if they don’t cooperate. Sometimes just the absence of the reward is enough to motivate the children to behave.

Consistency is key

But here is the hard bit. Being consistent. Many parents have gone through setting rules at some time. But parents get tired like everyone else. Sometimes we just don’t feel we have the energy to follow through. Just this once, we let our child get away with it. And that is our downfall. Children learn that the rules are flexible. There is a chink in the armour. And that is when all the planning and good intentions fall by the wayside. Toddlers learn that if they whine a bit louder and push a bit harder they can have that biscuit; teenagers learn that when Dad comes home you can ask for extra money, because he is too tired to argue.

Where there is flexibility there is a chance they can get away with it. So they push just that bit harder. And they keep pushing, just in case there is some leeway today. If we really want our day to go smoothly, our children to behave and for there to be a calmer atmosphere at home we have to insist that our children follow our guidelines.

Dealing with exceptions to the rule

If you decide to make an exception tell them in advance: ‘Today, because we have visitors I will let you stay up until 9 pm, but tomorrow we will be back to bedtime at 8’. Otherwise stick to the plan. Both parents. All the time. Even when you are tired. Especially when you are tired!

The benefits of consistency

I can only say that when I am consistent about the behaviour I expect form my children, everything improves –their behaviour, my relationship with them, mealtimes, the mood, getting ready to go out, the pleasure of being with them- everything. Why not give it a try and see if you can make a difference at home. What have you got to lose?

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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