Everywhere I go around Australia parents tell me they are stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed. Many can't believe they have turned into a frazzled, shouting parent.
Aside from generally feeling pressure from the demands of life, there are other possible reasons why this is happening.
Firstly, children tend to spend so much more time inside their homes than in previous generations.
Parenting in the 1980s was much easier, as it was completely acceptable to send the kids outside to play for hours with neighbourhood kids. You could also get them out there because they didn't have little devices to distract them from real play.
We also weren't able to access the enormous amount of information about raising children that has, quite frankly, created as much confusion and stress as it has been helpful.
Also there was no social media where we could see into the lives of other parents — much of which leads to comparing and despairing!
Stress has a nasty habit of getting worse. The flooding of the stress hormone cortisol can become habitual and it's a bit like keeping the accelerator flat to the floor.
Our body and nervous system needs times when things are calmer.
I struggled with being a wonder mum, involved in parent bodies, volunteering at a hospice, coaching basketball teams and running my husband's business while mothering four sons. I almost snapped.
I took up Tai Chi, just one class a week, and within a month everything had changed.
Prior to that, I had forgotten what it felt like to feel calm and centred. I also began using calming CDs that use visualisation because I found this was the best way to calm my inner critic. I still use calming audios to this day
Both of these activities helped because they reduce cortisol, thus inducing more calmness. Cortisol always floods when stress peaks and it needs to be counteracted by positive neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.
So, given that parents are so busy, here are some quick and easy hacks to help reduce tension and create some calmness in your home.
1. Take three deep breaths often – this extra oxygen is good for calming the brain and, if done often, your kids may copy you. Enjoying three deep sighs is also a fabulous way to trigger serotonin.
2. Stop striving to be a perfect parent – good-enough, imperfect parents can raise awesome children.
3. Accept that as a mother you will never 'get in front' – your kids are already wearing the next load of washing and your son's probably already done a skiddy in his jocks!
4. Routines and habits help the brain make less decisions, which means it is less stressed – so set up clear routines around mealtimes, bath times, bedtimes and getting ready in the morning.
5. Playing music at home can trigger positive neurochemicals. Play music that calms, or nature sounds. My sons listened to a lot of Enya! There are many other choices and playlists with online streaming.
6. Music that makes you want to dance will lift energy and create dopamine instantly.
7. Spontaneous dancing is a great stress buster – and it even works with moody teens!
8. The smell of slow-cooking food like soup, curry, roasts and bread can trigger feel-good endorphins.
9. Take your kids outside – fresh air and nature will calm everyone.
10. Safe touch soothes most of us – it seems the busier we become the less we touch lovingly. Gentle tickles on the 'tickle spot' – high up on the back – is a quick way to trigger serotonin – anywhere and anytime!
11. Start speaking to your kids the way you speak to your best friends. Also try a gentle whisper into a child's ear rather than a loud voice.
12. When you find the endless commanding, demanding, nagging and giving consequences is not working – try something new – try kindness. Kindness triggers all the positive neurochemicals – and lowers stress while lifting the love.
13. Use creative visualisation and calming audios regularly. I have some free audios on my website for kids struggling with heightened stress and irrational fears, to help with sleep and also a special one for mums in particular. The free Smiling Mind app also has some fabulous mindfulness tracks for all ages.
Finally, remember it's okay when you are struggling with stress to excuse yourself to the bedroom for some calm-down time. Ensure you have good quality fruit and nut chocolate hiding in your wardrobe for such an emergency (after all, it has fruit and nuts so surely it's a health food?).
Just doing one thing a day will make a calm difference.
Maggie Dent is one of Australia's favourite parenting authors and she has been writing about the importance of calmness in children's lives since publishing her first book, Saving Our Children from Our Chaotic World, in 2003 (updated 2017). www.maggiedent.com