Q: Our son is bored with our ideas for things we could do together. How can we get him interested?
A: Satisfying your son’s inquiring mind is the key to keeping him interested in doing things with you. When you’re out together, take advantage of his natural curiosity by creating family challenges. In the countryside or local park, you can set “seeking” tasks, such as identifying five different kinds of tree or three types of birds. Time trials work well and run off energy, so see who can be fastest to run back to the car or around the edge of the playing field. On special outings, target places of interest to him such as historic sites or particular museums. You’ll find there are often trails or activity sheets to complete as you explore. As friends are becoming a more important part of his life encourage him to invite someone along. He’ll enjoy the company, and you’ll still share time with him. At home he’ll probably want to satisfy his competitive spirit by playing games with you, such as two-player video games and board games. He might enjoy making a meal or washing the car with you, or researching possible holiday destinations on the internet.
Q: My daughter has become defiant. I don’t want to spend time with her. What can I do?
A: It’s easy to get caught up in a negative pattern like this. What starts as a few clashes can build up until you and your child have fewer and fewer good times together. With disagreements dominating your lives, each of you may find it hard to see the positive in the other.

As the adult in the relationship, it is up to you to break this pattern. Make a conscious effort to identify things about your daughter that you like or are helpful. Look for the smallest virtue—perhaps she gets up on time, eats her breakfast when you ask, or hangs up her coat as she comes in. Begin to praise and comment on her good qualities, soften your expression as you speak to her, and show her some physical affection. This may seem forced at first, but making yourself notice and acknowledge her good points is the precursor to feeling genuinely warm toward her. At the beginning she may be suspicious of this behavior, even asking you what you’re after. Don’t be discouraged; this means she’s noticed that things have changed. This may be a long process, since you are each undoing months of conflict, but when you are relentless in pursuing the positive, she’ll find it hard not to warm up, too.

Q: I’m a slave to my child but hardly get to talk to her. How can I get some time to relax?
A: It is definitely time for your child to start helping herself rather than requiring you to run around after her. Support her transition from helpless to helpful by giving her some clear guidelines. Explain that, as she’s getting more grown-up, you are prepared to give her some responsibilities for herself. Put this way it can seem like a privilege to do more, rather than a result of your frustration.

Start small, by asking that she get her own drinks, make herself simple snacks such as toast or a sandwich, and pack her own school bag each morning. Make sure all the tasks are achievable—you may need to rearrange the kitchen a little so she can reach the plates and food items she needs. If she’s going to make hot drinks or food, teach her to do this safely. She’ll probably continue the habit of asking you for things for a while, but a polite reminder of her new skills and responsibilities should get her helping herself.

With your new-found free time, consider what you’d like to do with your daughter and enjoy the extra family time you have available.

Q: My child won’t attend family meetings. Should we try again?
A: This must have been disappointing. However, your daughter is in a rapid phase of development and may have a different view if you try again. Encourage her by putting forward only positive topics for the first few meetings—for example, ideas for planning an upcoming celebration, or redecorating a room of the house. Gradually introduce more challenging subjects, such as chores or curfew, once meetings are established. Do hold the meeting even if your daughter does not attend; each time you meet, you demonstrate your willingness to involve her in family decisions. Eventually, she will be ready to take part.

When family meetings are dominated by crises or misbehavior, they can be punishing for everyone, and your child may opt out by not coming to them at all or refusing to speak. If you need to manage misbehavior, try to do this between yourself and your child in private.

Q: My son and I are both stubborn. How can I prevent arguments?
A: There are definite advantages in your child’s stubbornness; an ability to pursue his goals with confidence and persistence goes with the territory. However, as you have found, being stubborn often means being unwilling to compromise, and the possibility of winning an argument keeps you both in conflict. Try a different challenge: Instead of seeking the buzz of victory, try daring each other to find a solution. Slow down the argument so you have time to listen, consider each others’ needs, and come up with ideas. Give yourselves a score out of 10 for each disagreement—higher points meaning you’ve come up with more ways to compromise. Lastly, consider whether there is a reason you feel you must “win.” Question whether this is how you want to be as a parent, and find the negotiator in yourself if you can.
Q: What might be a good way to structure our family meetings?
A: Make a list of topics to talk about: Start by asking each person to name one thing they want to have a decision on. Try to get a balance of positive issues with one or two negatives to resolve. For example, a typical list might be: How often are sleepovers allowed? Should we go bowling or to a movie this weekend? For more privacy, should there be a lock on the bathroom and bedroom doors? No one is cleaning the cat-litter box—whose job is it?

Discuss topics one by one, and ask each family member if they have an opinion on it. Listen carefully: You are trying to reach a consensus or a compromise. For example, if three out of four of you want to go bowling then you have a majority view and will probably opt to go bowling. On the privacy issue, there may be mixed views and safety to consider, so a compromise could be to have locks on the bathroom and “Knock before entering” signs on bedroom doors.

There may be times when you exercise the right to make the final decision in family meetings. You have the responsibility to ensure that decisions are reasonable and achievable so, on certain topics, let your child know you will have the deciding vote. For example, she might argue for three exotic holidays a year while you know the budget stretches to just one trip. If so, tell her the range of choice she has; set out the price range, and possibly the option of two short trips or one longer one, and then start the debate.

Finish off your meeting with a round of positive comments. You could invite each person to tell a joke or relate the best thing that happened to them in the past week. These small examples of sharing will end the meeting on an upbeat note.

Getting along Sharing a bedroom

My two sons share a bedroom but have very different styles. One likes everything neat, while the other spreads his stuff out everywhere. They get on each others’ nerves all the time. In the end I swapped their bunk beds for twin beds to divide the room more easily, and made each responsible for their own half. Each has chosen the decorations and posters for his part of the room, and this has given them more pride in their space. They’ve agreed set times to put on their own music or an audiobook, and how to politely ask each other to turn the volume down. It doesn’t always work, but there are fewer fiery moments. Despite the challenges, room-sharing seems to be teaching them to be more considerate of each other, and they’re getting plenty of practice in negotiating.

Having a good argument

It can be a positive learning experience for your child to see you have a good argument. You model negotiation and problem-solving skills for him during a “successful” disagreement, in which you are reasonable, calm, and find a solution together. It is not good for him, however, if arguments involve shouting, put-downs or bad language, dredging up the past, or hurting each other physically or in any other way. This creates anxiety and affects his sense of safety and security.

If arguments are a problem for your child or yourself, seek help to improve your relationships. Find a local therapist or speak to your doctor about other local resources.

Family meetings

Hundreds of decisions are being made in your family every day—what to have for dinner, who can come to play, where to go on a weekend outing, and many more. As your child matures he may want to play a greater role in this process and voice his preferences. Try having family meetings: a somewhat formal gathering of the whole family as an opportunity to discuss large and small issues, take everyone’s point of view into account, and make decisions together.

  • Family meetings work best when they happen regularly and become a habit or tradition. Once a month, for about half an hour to an hour might be enough for your family, or more frequently if you have plenty to talk about.

  • Set a time for the meeting and find a place where everyone can sit together, perhaps around the dining table. Turn off distractions such as the TV and computer so you can all concentrate. It may be tempting to have your meeting during a meal but it can be difficult to try to eat and concentrate on a serious subject at the same time.


Support your child’s transition from helpless to helpful by giving her clear guidelines

Showing an interest Get more from mealtimes

Your child may be more independent, have his friends for companionship, and no longer rely on you the way he did, but you are still the person he’ll turn to first to share his achievements or disasters. Like many families you may be “time poor,” with adults juggling work or studying and trying to get to the gym each week while school, sports, clubs, and friendships keep your child on the go. However, even on a busy day, it will be the short periods of high-quality communication that help keep your family connected.

Eating together

Where does your family do most of its talking? For many it will be at the dinner table while you enjoy your food. Meals are your opportunity to catch up, share the day’s events, and gauge the emotional temperature of your family. This daily dose of communication allows you to pick up on moods, either positive or troubling, notice achievements, or soothe tensions as they arise, all helping to strengthen your bonds.

Get the most from mealtimes
  • Be flexible about timing to try to get as many family members at the table as you can.

  • Start the conversation and use open-ended questions to get people talking.

  • Make mealtimes distraction free. You will be able to concentrate on each others’ conversation if the television, mobile phones, and handheld games consoles are turned off.

  • Cook together. Preparing and sharing food together is one way you can express the care you have for your family.

  • No pressure. Minimize mealtime stress by staying calm and avoiding nagging or pleading if your child is fussy or slow with his food.

  • No time? If you simply can’t get to eat together, find other connection points in the day. Good talking times can be found when your child is just in from school having a snack before he heads out to play or when he’s winding down and you’re tucking him up at night.

Happy eating

Keep mealtimes calm and stress free by discussing the day’s events, while trying not to nag your child about table manners or berate her for a previous misdemeanor.

Junior chef

Getting your child to help you with meal preparation or just spending time together baking increases opportunities to catch up, teaches your child valuable life skills, and takes some pressure off of you.

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