Defining your guiding principles

Louise Porter has written a fantastic book on young children’s behaviour called Children Are People Too: A Parent’s Guide to Young Children’s Behaviour In her book, Porter outlines the guiding principles parents should follow when interacting with their children. They’re short, simple statements on how adults can choose to act in the parent–child relationship.

I found the idea of guiding principles powerful and set about creating my own principles of behaviour towards my family. These principles gave me a framework for responding to daily situations in my family life:

• Listen attentively to others.

• Work towards a solution, not someone to blame.

• Show patience — role model the behaviour I want to see.

• Be kind to myself and consider my own needs.

• There is no ‘have to’ or ‘should’ — I have a choice.

• It’s okay to say ‘no’.

• Make time for play.

• Give the children (and adults!) some space and independence.

• There’s no need to make comparisons.

• Have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments.

When I use these principles in my interactions with the kids, family life is happier and contains less conflict. Some days I fare better at following them than others. I also find some of the principles more challenging than others. Looking for a solution and not someone to blame requires considerable conscious effort on my behalf. For example, if I enter one of the kids’ bedrooms and there has obviously been an altercation that’s left debris and a child crying, my first reaction is often to want to know who did this. If I take this path, the kids look to blame each other when explaining themselves to me with excuses such as, ‘He pushed me first’, or ‘He called me names’. None of this is helpful in finding a solution to the problem.

In these circumstances I have to actively remind myself to focus on helping the children resolve the issue and not dwell on the who, how and why of the incident. Instead of asking ‘Who did it?’, I should be asking them ‘What’s the problem?’ At first they may give me the same answers as if I asked them who did it, but as I’m not looking for someone to blame, I then guide them into identifying what the actual problem is and what can be done to resolve it.

I have my guiding principles printed out and stuck on the fridge for easy access and regular reflection. On days when I haven’t fared so well, I find it useful to read over them once the situation has cooled down and think about how I could have better handled the situation. The guiding principles aren’t just confined to my interactions with my family either; they also transfer across to how I operate in general. Establishing the principles makes it easier to deal with new and challenging situations, regardless of who they’re with, as I have a reference point I can use for framing my response.

Setting yearly goals

Now that I had principles that would guide the way I interacted, I needed to start thinking about what I wanted out of my life. Being a parent is a role that I adore, but it’s not the only role I have, and there were ideas and dreams that I wanted to invest more time in. I needed to think about what I want to achieve:

• for myself

• with the kids

• with my husband

• for others.

I had so many answers to these questions that I reached a point where I felt almost overwhelmed and disheartened. Here were all these things I wanted to do, but in the mix of raising five kids, how was I going to achieve any of them? I took a step back and realised that many of these were long-term goals, some of which I wouldn’t be able to even contemplate until the kids were older. What I needed to do was narrow in on my priorities for the immediate future, and which goals would be achievable over the coming year.

This was the start of a yearly goal-setting process. Using a technique I’d learned in my working life, I took the SMART approach to determining my goals.

Specific. I had to narrow the focus of my goals. They needed to be clear and definitive in their meaning.

Measurable. In the past when setting goals I had made general statements such as ‘learn to say no’. Now I had to find a way of measuring that statement. Changing the goal to something specific and measurable, such as ‘complete Project A and B before taking on any new commitments’ has allowed me to measure how I’ve progressed.

Attainable. My goals needed to take into account my current workload and known events for the coming year. They had to challenge me out of my comfort zone, but not be set so high that from day one I’d feel I couldn’t meet them.

Realistic. I needed to set goals that reflected my ability, time restraints and available funds.

Time bound. Most of the goals would have a one-year time frame; however, some of them may need more specific time frames — for example, ‘Save for flights to Sydney by July’.

It took me a couple of years to build better goal statements for myself. Some years my goals resembled vague wish lists rather than a plan for the coming year.

With practice, I’m getting better each year at setting goals. Here’s what my 10 goals for this year look like:

Launch a new blog and relaunch two smaller ones together by the end of March.

Begin creating video content for the blog by February.

Go to the Aussie Bloggers Conference in Sydney on 19 March.

See a band once a quarter with my friends.

Go out to dinner once a quarter with the family.

Take the family bushwalking twice during the year.

Have a weekend away with my husband (no kids!) by May.

Host one dinner party for eight by the end of the year.

Donate food to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre quarterly.

Visit or call our nanas monthly.

A template for yearly goals can be downloaded from www.planningwithkids.com/resources.

Monthly planning and review

The very first time I set myself yearly goals, I was conscious of them for the first month or two. Then, as we waded further into the year, they began slipping off my radar. New opportunities and adventures had come my way and I’d lost my focus on some of the things I’d set myself to achieve. By the end of the year, when I looked at my list there were very few goals I’d succeeded in achieving.

This highlighted to me something I already knew — once set, goals won’t achieve themselves. I needed to revisit them regularly, review my progress and — most importantly — take action. So, each month I began revisiting my yearly goals and assessing what I had to do to achieve my goals. Each month I’d list the key tasks I had to complete in order to help me achieve my yearly goals. I’d also add any ad hoc tasks that were a priority for the month. I had created my own monthly review and used it as a method for focusing my energies on my main goals for the year.

I set monthly tasks using the SMART principles as well. After overwhelming myself in the first few months with more than 10 tasks per month, I now limit them to four or five per month. These tasks aren’t overly complicated or strategic, but they’re clear, tangible and action-oriented. In a busy month such as November (in the lead-up to Christmas), this is what my monthly plan might look like:

• Make an extra set of handmade Christmas gifts.

• In the first week, reorganise my Christmas plans to reduce my workload.

• Send out Christmas cards by the end of the month.

Get out! Take time to socialise with friends at least twice.

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