26/05/2012 18:52 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

How To Have A Happier Family

How to have a happier family Rex

Mornings in our house can be fraught. By the time clothes, breakfast, teeth cleaning, shoes, coats and book bags have been attended to for three children, tempers are frequently fraying. I am generally heartily sick of the sound of my own voice.

It is rare that any of the aforementioned tasks will be completed on the first request. I might well ask five times before anyone takes a blind bit of notice. The children are generally too busy wrestling to hear me. So I shout or make a few empty threats. Then I drop them off at school and feel guilty.

My children are lovely, mostly biddable and well-behaved, but at certain times the whingeing, squabbling or just not listening can drive me mad. I know I am far from alone.

According to parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton it doesn't have to be like this though. Founder of the New Learning Centre in London, she has been running parenting courses for over 40 years. Her aim is to set clients on the path to "calmer, easier, happier parenting".

Last year actor Helena Bonham Carter declared that Janis-Norton's techniques had worked wonders with her two young children. What is more they had even sorted out her film director husband Tim Burton.

Until now though, with a four week course costing around £470, Janis–Norton's advice may be invaluable, but it hasn't come cheap. A new book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, promises to make her techniques accessible to everyone.

"Every parent has certain things they would like to improve. We can all be happier, calmer," she tells me. "I'm not scolding anyone or calling them a bad parent, but I recognise the stresses."

According to Janis-Norton there is no one size fits all description of what makes a happy family, but she is pretty sure of something that can make one happier.

"When children are in the habit of doing what they are told first time without a fuss, and start to become confident and self-reliant rather than expecting their parents to do everything for them, the tension level in the family goes way down," she explains.

Many of her clients are in a common trap, their lives governed by repeating, nagging, threatening and constantly pointing out what the child is doing wrong.

"That makes the kids turn off which then makes the parents repeat and nag more. The more we mention what a child is doing wrong the more it reinforces in their mind that they are the kind of kid that does that. They get discouraged and give up."

With work responsibilities for adults, packed schedules for children and adults alike, and the presence of technology in every corner of our lives, Janis Norton feels families are under more stress than ever.

"Parents no longer trust their common sense. Then the community support, which is how people used to learn to parent – because it isn't something we know instinctively – is no longer there."

Parents need help to slow down and think about what their family priorities are.

"No-one has kids to rush them through each day. We cannot be so focused on what we have to do that we forget to just hang out with our children. It is vital that communication is positive and meaningful."

To this end, she says, parents must ensure each child has some special one on one time with a parent, daily if possible. "This has to be just as urgent as answering an email or getting out of the door. Your child knows you love them, this shows you like them as well."

She suggests building the time into a busy schedule by involving one child at a time in cooking or errands, or staggering bed times.

The key to her whole programme, she says, is to be "positive, firm and consistent". The starting point for this is to use descriptive praise.


Just saying something is brilliant or wonderful is meaningless. They stop listening.


"But when you mention something the child has actually done - even if only a small thing or even just not doing the wrong thing if you really can't find anything else - they are motivated.


Children want to please their parents.


It is important too that parents prepare the ground for their calmer family life. This means making sure children know what is expected of them.

Children should be made to explain the rules their parents have set – rather than simply being told to listen to them.

"They don't automatically know the right way to behave and sometimes we get annoyed with them because of that. It is our job to teach them."

Parents can also make their job easier by thinking about practical preparations for success in whatever the target might be. "Have all the things children need for homework ready, create accessible storage for children to tidy things, seat them apart at a table if they poke each other, bring bedtime forward and get up earlier if the morning schedule is too much of a rush," she suggests.

Turning screen time into a reward to be earned rather than a right which can be withheld – a common cause of conflict – is another recommendation.

Steps like these will reduce pressure on typical flash points like meal-times, homework sessions and tidy up time.

Family life is not just about behaviour management though. Parents want their children to grow into confident, expressive and happy adults.

Reflective listening – imagining what your child is feeling and reflecting it back to them in words – is Janis- Norton's technique for this. It is, she explains, "a way of showing children that we care about their feelings, teaching them to express their feelings in words, and helping them to resolve conflicts."

I finish the book, and the interview, feeling positive, if a little guilty. Reassuringly, Janis- Norton –mother of three and now a grandmother - freely admits to not having got it all right either. The important thing, she says, is to look forward.

"I am extremely positive about how family life can be. It's never too late to make it easier. We just need to remember what we are trying to achieve."

Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noel Janis-Norton is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99