Wednesday Wisdom

October 21, 2020

Spinning Plates

By Dr Kathy Weston

Spinning Plates


Happily, on the 25th October, the clocks move back by an hour. Unless you are a parent of an infant, and know that the promise of extra sleep will be unrealised, many of us will welcome the gift of ‘extra time’. The reset of the clocks is a useful reminder to reset our minds ahead of a long winter.

Yes, we might currently feel intermittently gloomy, but that’s to be expected, when we all have many, many items on our various plates. There are plenty of things out of our control at the moment, but there are also lots of things that are absolutely within it. I have been reflecting on the metaphor of ‘spinning plates’ this week and how useful it is to tap into further as a family. Ahead of the half-term holiday, it is a good idea to really consider all that is on our respective plates.

Holiday periods attract high expectations; we can’t help it. We imagine time spent reading through accumulated bedside books, bonding with our children over board games and reinvesting in relationships.

It tends to be the case that everyone has wildly different ideas and expectations about what constitutes a ‘holiday’ and is secretly balancing their own (many) spinning plates. The net result is that individual family members can feel unvalued, needs are unmet and pre-holiday stress sets in. Holidays have the potential to be hugely disappointing and, if not well thought through, could even damage family relationships.


By literally taking six plates (or, really, however many you like), and putting them on the kitchen table, conversation about what is on everyone’s plate can begin.

On each plate, write or add post-it notes naming your top worries. When we did this exercise, my plates ended up being labelled as ‘domestic stuff’, ‘business admin’, ‘relationships’, ‘school admin’, ‘worries about our holiday’ and ‘work pressures’. Yours might be different. The family goal is to work out how to make each person’s plate that bit easier to manage, or perhaps even to give a plate to someone else.

At the heart of this exercise is modelling how to navigate stress and discussing coping strategies with our children. If you anticipate family resistance to this, consider first asking everyone to listen as you chat through your spinning plates. Hopefully they can help to co-create strategies which will lighten your load.

Of course, this can be completed with good friends, rather than children, but the beauty of doing it with our offspring, is that we begin to teach them that stress is not to be tolerated (as it will begin to affect our bodies and relationships), and that knots in our thinking can be worked through.

Also, it teaches them that we are in it as a family and should work together as a team. Even if they aren’t amenable to participating themselves, we are modelling an approach that they may find beneficial in the future. It goes without saying that major adult stressors shouldn’t be part and parcel of these chats. Age-appropriate themes are key!


Parents are always asking me for ideas to help their children ‘open up’ or ‘reach out’. Truth is, before we can expect our children to readily divulge their deepest worries and fears to us, we need to reach in, as well as provide templates for talking and coping.

As we all know, parental stress can negatively affect our children in multiple ways. So let’s start by focusing on ourselves! Hopefully, by completing the spinning plates exercise (particularly ahead of half-term), we might enjoy our time together much more and feel like our family units are charged up, ready for the weeks ahead.

If you do the plate exercise, consider adding a plate of ‘unknowns’; things that can and might happen over the coming weeks (e.g. extended lockdowns). Develop contingency plans that make everyone feel organised, empowered and ready.

Please note, there will be no Wednesday Wisdom next week, as I spend time applying all that I preach. Stay safe, stay resilient and enjoy your lovely children!

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