How to parent smarter not harder

Anita Cleare’s new book aims to help working parents connect better with their children and improve the overall well being of their families. And she has advice too for dealing with the current coronavirus work life overdrive…

Mum and baby happy


The coronavirus pandemic will show the clear divide between employers who understand the need to take a more holistic approach to the well being of their employees and those who don’t, according to a child psychologist.

Anita Cleare, author of the new book The Work/Parent Switch, says she hopes the pandemic will encourage a more nurturing approach to family well being generally and hopes employers will take into account the hard reality of trying to balance working and childcare simultaneously.

“You can’t change children. You cannot make them capable of amusing themselves. It is not good for them to be ignored all day,” she says. “I would like to think something positive will come out of this in terms of employers rethinking people’s working patterns where they can  and how this contributes to their well being and seeing that it is possible for people to work remotely and get things done. I hope they will understand how they can better meet all of our needs.”

Anita says parents working from home and homeschooling or doing childcare need to make sure they look after themselves. She recognises that that will be hard when everyone is stuck at home, but says they should think about self care in terms of moments rather than big chunks of time. “We often think that self care is a big thing, like a day out at a spa, but small momentary things like taking a few minutes to sit in the sun are a good way of managing stress and keeping calm.”

A holistic approach

Anita came to write her book after years of working with employers, delivering seminars or face to face sessions to working parents. “The companies I have worked with get that working parents need to feel competent in the rest of their lives if they are to bring their full selves to work,” she says. However, many parents do not have employers who can offer this or even acknowledge it as an issue.  Anita wanted to reach out to them. She says a lot of positive parenting books “assume parents don’t have a life”. “They don’t deal with the reality of working parents and how it is doubly difficult trying to manage children’s behaviour when you are already tired and stressed from work,” she says. “I know how hard it is and suggest a slightly smarter way to do it, to make it all more achievable”.

That is particularly apt today when many working parents are taking on the extra role of teacher. “Home schooling has, in some cases, become the latest arena for competitive parenting,” says Anita, referring to the social media posts about artistic pursuits and academic achievements. “We are missing the point an awful lot,” she states. “It’s not about achievements. It’s about connecting with children and switching off from work, about developing a relationship that we should focus on rather than badges of success.”

She says the working parents she speaks to struggle most with the nuts and bolts of parenting, such as doing homework. “If you have a goal-oriented mindset at work it is very easy to be constantly chivying children. Everything is tightly timed and if children sabotage what you are trying to do or are not in the mood for doing what you want them to do it can trigger all sorts of emotions and a dynamic that no-one enjoys,” says Anita, adding that many parents feel bad because they think they are constantly shouting at their children.

Child psychology

Her book aims to bridge the gap between developmental psychology, child development and parents. “We tend to think that children are deliberately trying to make us late, but they are just living in the moment and very open to distraction, very playful. They are not trying to be difficult,” says Anita. Parents need to “stand in their shoes” a bit more.

Another issue is when parents don’t encourage good behaviour and only interact with their children when they are doing something negative, for instance, fighting with their siblings. “Parents have a million things to do so they tend to ignore children when they are being quiet, but we need to unpick that dynamic and positively reinforce when children are doing the right thing and deal calmly with conflict rather than fuelling it,” says Anita.

Part of the problem, she says, is that “parents have been sold a bit of a myth about being a successful working parent”. People are told that they have to be hyper organised and “batch freeze a term’s worth of sandwiches”, but in fact that gets in the way of being calm and tuning into their children. She agrees that the pressure to be ‘always on’ is a big challenge for parents and makes it harder to switch off work and onto children.

While the book is more aimed at younger children, Anita recognises that parenting older children can be very difficult, particularly at the current time. As a mum of two teens, she writes about this regularly on her blog. She says she anticipates many teens will be struggling with mental health issues from being stuck inside and from the anxiety surrounding what is going on at the moment. “Some who suffer from anxiety will find it comforting to have to stay at home; for others it will be triggering,” she says. “That will be very difficult for parents.”

The Work/Parent Switch: How to Parents Smarter Not Harder is published by Vermilion on 30 April, price £14.99. 

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