There is an abundance of parenting information available but it's often contradictory, leaving many parents overwhelmed and confused. Parents can find themselves second-guessing the decisions they make - wondering if they are being too harsh, too lenient, too detached, too available ... the list goes on.
Good news – there is a simple balance that offers an easy-to-remember parenting posture. It combines warmth and affection, is held in place with gentle leadership, and is delivered calmly knowing that children thrive when the atmosphere is peaceful. I like to call this KFC - kind, firm, calm.
In my opinion, keeping a balance of these three things is the key to parenting. Unlike Colonel Sanders, I'll happily share my KFC secret recipe.
When we're communicating with our kids, our tone of voice really matters. If it's sarcastic, angry, tense or desperate, our kids will sniff it out. We need to stay kind, dignified and pleasant. If we are mean or shouty, our children will feel like they need to defend themselves and the issue will get lost as they fight with the "fight" in us. A lot of what we communicate comes via our tone, so keep it sweet and keep it kind.
Listen to your children and offer them empathy and support. Convey warmth, interest and love so they feel seen and heard by you, and don't have to work for your attention or affection.
Kindness is also conveyed in how we look at our children. A certain look or raised eyebrows can say more about how irritated we are or how impatient we feel than words ever could. Gazing lovingly at your children and showing you are pleased to see them offers a deep feeling of safety and being loved.
Children need us to be firm, even though they will do their best to get us to fold, buckle, adapt and change course. Work out what you're really prepared to stand by and stay the course. Children will be relentless if they find they can sway us, and our job will be much harder. A great motto is, "Say it, mean it, do it." Remember that children feel safe, loved and protected when the big people set boundaries and stick to them.
Some of us are overly weighted towards kindness at the expense of firmness, while others come down too heavily on firmness and need to increase kindness to restore balance. Our kids need kindness and firmness in equal measure to feel safe with us in charge.
We need to be a constant source of calm in our families – as if we are set on a thermostat. The weather may change, but we don't. When storms threaten, instead of losing our cool, yelling, huffing and puffing, and reminding our kids about stuff they already know – we stay calm. Our confidence is conveyed by speaking quietly and bringing our voice down at the end of a sentence. Avoid fighting words that invite a challenge. For example, "There will be no swimming until you have unpacked your school bag" works better with an invitation to co-operate instead. "You may have a swim as soon as you have unpacked your school bag."
If you find yourself flooded with emotion, find a way to regain your composure. Press pause. Take some deep breaths and a few steps back. Make a cup of tea or go for a walk around your garden and reflect on what just happened. When you keep your composure, your children look at you and see how it's done. They see the big person in their life is not thrown or overwhelmed by their behaviour and it helps them relax and begin their own process of self-regulating.
• Extract from Kind, Firm, Calm – Simple strategies to transform your parenting, by Jenny Hale. Jenny is a Senior Family Coach at Parenting Place who loves working with families and helping them find solutions to the challenges they face with behaviour and parenting.