Koemba Blog

Cindy was mortified. The Estate Agent hadn’t warned her he’d be bringing viewers to her house that afternoon. It was early afternoon when the doorbell rang. There he stood with the ‘perfectly happy’ couple hanging on each other’s arms and ready to peer into every room of her home. And all Cindy could think was, ‘I haven’t made the beds!’ 

We’ve probably all had those ‘Cindy moments’ when people get to see the side of our lives  – the clutter, the chaos, the disorganisation – that we’d prefer others not to see. You might have googled, ‘How to have an organised home?’ but what’s your real reason for wanting that? Are you trying to impress the would-be house buyers, the visitors or to create the pleasant home you really want for your own family to enjoy? Because if the cost of a tidy home is constant nagging, the price is way too high. If you’re trying to do it all yourself, you’ll be frazzled, but how do you get kids to cooperate?

– How do we get out the door for school in the morning without upsets?

–  How do I get my child to tidy up after himself?

–  How do I get my child to help in the home?

So here’s the one thing you need to know to create a tidy and happy home:  Help your children learn Habit.

Habit comes out tops over Motivation every time. Take for example, ‘I’d love to have a tidy house.’ I can look at magazine pictures of gorgeous homes, I can buy great new storage containers, I can read books on how to organise my personal space. But, unless I develop habits that support me to fulfill my motivation to have a tidy house, I’ll still be living with the clutter.

I’d love a tidy house and yet I tend to put the clothes I’ve worn that day on the chair next to my bed in the evening. Perhaps I imagine they’ll somehow magically transport themselves into the laundry bin or back into the cupboard during the hours I’m blissfully asleep – but of course, there they are still lying on the chair in the morning. Then I can get caught up with the new day and here I am at 11 am and yesterday’s clothes are still piled on the chair. My motivation is ‘tidy home’. I can dream of how it will be with everything neatly in place, but the bottom-line is that it’s the every day helpful habits I choose that will give me what I desire. It’s not Motivation that’s needed, its Habit.

‘Okay, habits are fine,’ you may be saying, ‘but I always end up being the one cleaning everything up. How do I get my kids to take responsibility?’

It’s still down to habit. Your child learns from you. And the best way to get cooperation is to involve them in helping from toddler stage when they want to help. It’s easy to do it all yourself when they’re young because you can do it so much quicker, but when they develop the habits, the habits stick.

Children learn what you model. Start from wherever you are now. Identify just one small area in the home where you’d really like to create a change. What mindful habit would help to make this a reality? Become consciously aware of that one habit you’d like to change or to develop. Habits are wired into our brain circuitry, so we don’t ‘stop habits’ – we replace them.

For instance, rather than thinking, ‘I mustn’t leave the dishes unwashed,’ I remind

The ‘Happy Sink’ Habit

myself I like to leave a ‘happy sink’ at night. (Think what you do want, not what you don’t.)   

That means every dish needs to be washed, dried and put away, or packed in the dishwasher immediately after the meal. If you create the habit it soon sticks (and television doesn’t get switched on until we have a happy sink). The more we repeat the habit, the less mental energy we spend on it and the more automatic it becomes. Our chores become regular habits. If you think ‘chores’, like me you probably inwardly groan. But why can’t chores be a fun family time? A time to sing favourite songs, to catch up on the day, to tell silly jokes – whatever works for your family.  It doesn’t need to be a choice between tidy house or pleasure. The idea of tidy house is for home to be more pleasurable. So create collaborative connection. But how?

I’ll chat about the three keys to successful habit, identified by Tara Bennet-Goleman in her brilliant book, ‘The Mind Whisperer’.

1. Identify the Trigger

Our brains run everyday routines automatically, so that we don’t have to waste energy thinking about them. When you’ve been to the loo you automatically reach for the loo paper. You don’t have to think about it. You’ve done it so many times that sitting on the loo seat triggers your habit of reaching for the toilet paper.  So to get the family to develop helpful habits, establish the trigger from as early an age as possible. When I get up from the table I take my plate to the sink.

  2. Establish the Routine

Habit is routine. We do the same thing each time. That’s how it gets established as automatic habit in our brain circuitry. Leave the dirty dishes on the table tonight and you’re weakening the habit.  A habit is a habit is a habit. You need to stick to it if you want it to work for you. Establish the routine to establish the habit.

3. Give Reward

When we experience a reward, we’re more likely to want to repeat the behaviour, and that helps to establish the habit.You know how good it feels to leave the sink clean and shining – that’s the reward in itself. Notice how you feel when it’s looking good. Use phrases like ‘happy sink’ that give your child a picture to identify with, so they experience that inner satisfaction too. And hearing your satisfaction is also reward for your child. But beware – it’s easy to slip into giving treats as rewards. When we start this we’re heading down a slippery slope. You’ll end up in future years having to barter to get jobs done.

Hearing ‘Thank you’ is reward, but if you’re talking about household chores, avoid saying, ‘Thank you for helping me.’ It’s everyone’s home – it’s not about helping you, as though you alone are responsible for a tidy home. You’re not a servant. It’s about all cooperating together for everyone’s benefit.

Teach your children how to make habits stick – to give the routines we need – to keep the house pleasant – to have the connection and cooperation that creates happy family.

Help your child learn helpful habits by consistently using all three keys

3 Keys to a Tidier Home

– Trigger, Routine and Reward.

Experiment today.

What one habit will you choose to begin establishing today?

What’s the trigger?

What’s the routine you need to establish?

What’s the implicit reward you can all experience?

Please comment on this blog post. Let’s share what happens when you focus on habit to create the cooperation you need in the home.

‘The road in life forks at every moment, with one path leading toward confusion, separateness and entanglement, and the other toward clarity, connection, and mental freedom.’ Tara Bennet-Goleman

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Is your  school looking for a keynote speaker for its Parents’ Council AGM? Look no further! Val Mullally MA, Parenting expert, and author of forthcoming book, ‘BEHAVE! – what to do when your child won’t’ is an engaging, experienced keynote speaker.  CLICK HERE to discover more.



My Mirror Makes Me Fat


When you have one of those ‘not-feeling-beautiful’ days (or weeks or years!) do you avoid the mirror?

When we moved into our new home we bought a new dressing table.

Whilst I love thepiece of furniture, the attached mirror makes me look fat. Fat and hippy. The mirror distorts and enlarges the parts of me I least want to see enlarged. Do I really look that bad! I avert my eyes when I walk towards the mirror so I don’t have to see myself like that, or else I scold myself about how I should be working harder on my weight. Not that it helps – the fat image makes me feel ‘not ok’ and demotivates me from achieving my healthier me.

Ironically I have another new mirror in my house that has the reverse effect. I love this jewellery cabinet with a place for every pair of earrings, every necklace and my bangles. And when I look in that mirror I look thin! First time I saw this reflection of myself it jolted me.Then I got to quite like this mirror. Hey, I really look slim in this new dress. Great! But this mirror doesn’t really help either. I can kid myself I’m looking fine and that also doesn’t motivate me to make the health changes I really want to make.

I need a regular, kind and realistic look at myself to see how I am and to remind me of what’s working and what I need to do differently to be the healthy me I want to be.

I’ve been thinking that the same applies to parenting. There are those ‘expert’ books and people that are like the ‘fat’ mirror. They make you feel not good enough in your parenting. That ‘not ok’ experience leaves you feeling – ‘not ok’, not good enough – and instead of motivating – you feel resigned nothing is going to change no matter how hard you try.

Then there are the people, perhaps even your best friends, and the articles that are equivalent to the ‘skinny’ mirror – ‘You’re fantastic! You’re brilliant!’ And deep inside you know that’s not true. That’s not how you really are. And either you choose to pretend to believe the lie – and go on as you were (which ultimately isn’t helpful); or you remind yourself that’s just an illusion. Either way it doesn’t motivate you to be the parent you’d really love to be.

Imagine having a gentle, rose-tinted mirror that lets you see how you really are, in a way that helps you to really notice your best bits. The bits of you that you like and are working for you. This mirror accurately and kindly reflects what you need to work on. The good news is – you do!  I figure every parent has one or more of those mirrors in their home – they just haven’t noticed that mirror is there all the time.

So you want me to tell you where to find this mirror that will give you the helpful reflection you need about being the parent you want to be? I figure that mirror is our children’s behaviour. The thing is, our children love us and want to cooperate with us. And their behaviour tells us when our parenting isn’t helpful in creating the enjoyable and fulfilling family life we all need.

Many ‘experts’ tell us how to manage our children’s behaviour – but that’s not possible. The only person’s behaviour you can manage is your own. Rather we need to learn to understand our children’s behaviour – to recognise that all behaviour has a cause and all behaviour has an intention. Rather than focusing on how to manage your child’s behaviour, ask yourself, ‘What might this behavour be telling me?’

In other words, ‘How is my child’s behaviour an image of what’s really going on here?’  The family behaviour (including yours!) is a pretty accurate reflection on how things are really shaping up in your family.

The rest of this letter is sharing with you about my latest resource for parents who are facing the challenge of children’s challenging behaviour. If you want to know more, please read on:  

You may be wondering, ‘But how do I figure out what my child’s behaviour is trying to tell me?‘ I’ve been asked that question so many times that it’s spurred me on to produce resources for parents specifically on this issue. Some people are so keen to get this material that, rather than you having to wait for the book, I’m giving you some of the insights in my audio for parents: ‘Behave – an introduction to Parenting Challenges’, because I know parents are looking for answers now!

In this audio you will discover two significant signposts that help you make sense of your child’s challenging behaviour.  And when you have the signposts, you can understand how your children’s behaviour is a message. Sometimes it’s a message about what they need. Perhaps their behaviour is telling you they need you to be more consistent, more firm on boundaries, or maybe more relaxed. And you’ll also discover that their behaviour might be telling you when you aren’t looking after your own needs. They get ratty when we get ratty. They’re happy when we’re happy. They’re relaxed and go with the flow when we’re relaxed and go with the flow. After all, didn’t you have kids because you wanted it to be fun? Didn’t you want having kids to be an enjoyable, pleasant experience? If some days you feel as though you don’t like the parent you see when you look in the mirror, here’s practical help to discover how to use what your children are reflecting as helpful feedback to be the parent you really want to be! If you want to know how to see your child’s behaviour as a reflection to guide you to be the parent you want to be you’re only one click away on iTunes!

‘Smother Love?’

We’re delighted to have Koemba founder and Parent Coach Val Mullally quoted in article by Alex Meehan in Sunday Business Post magazine  (27 April 2014)  re ‘Are we raising risk-averse children?’

For further reading on this topic see: ‘Why keeping your child safe might-stop-your-child-from thriving.’



Every parent has concerns about their children’s health. But have you considered: are grandparents making your child obese?  Val Mullally discusses how to comfort an upset child, without resorting to unhealthy food habits.

I am lying in bed with my throbbing ankle propped up. I’d taken the dog for a walk – my foot found the pothole my eyes had missed – I hobbled home  – and now feeling immensely sorry for myself, alone in the house. And all I want is bread and butter pudding. Not any old bread and butter pudding. My Gran’s bread and butter pudding. Bread and butter pudding is for me the ultimate comfort food.

Are Grandparents Making Your Child Obese?

Possibly grandparents are contributing to children’s weight problems.  giving children unhealthy treats are one concern but I’d like to chat about how we unwittingly hook kids on Comfort Food. Like my craving for Gran’s bread and butter pudding. It’s my psychological substitute for the warm hug and loving support I need when I feel down.

But aren’t grandparents supposed to be doing the loving, calming, make-you-feel better thing? Of course they are. But what children really need, like all human beings, is loving connection. Food becomes the addictive substitute.  Not any food – but the sweet, sugary food we associate with tender love and care.

Are grandparents making children fat?

What Can A Parent Do?

As the parent, you need to have a calm discussion with the grandparents about giving TLC without creating a dependence of overly sugary, high-calorie foods to feel better.

Take for example the day Betty comes home from school to her grandparents’ house. Within minutes she’s in floods of tears, sobbing because the class has just been told that their beloved teacher will be leaving them at the end of this week.

Doting Gran, in her concern for her grand-daughter, scurries to the kitchen.

She comes back with a plate laden with a gI-NOR-mous slice of rich chocolate cake.

comfort food when a child is upset

‘Here, darling, this will make you feel better.’

The sugary chocolately goo has the desired effect as Betty stops sobbing and begins munching.

But what’s the long-term impact?

Repeated incidents of comfort food teach Betty to reach for the indulgent, sugary, fat-inducing foods whenever she feels sad.

And so the loving grandparent unwittingly opens a trapdoor that could lead to unhealthy eating, and ultimately serious life-long health challenges that they would never wish on the child they love so dearly.

Grandparents need to hear that developing their grandchildren’s habit of comfort eating could lead to diabetes, heart problems and other debilitating and life threatening health issues. Grandparents might see a ‘cuddly child’ and be unaware the child who is overweight in pre-school years is likely to have a life-long challenge with weight. What grandparent would wish ill health on their grand-children.

How to Respond to a Child’s Distress

Betty needed a loving person to hear her story, without interrupting, without trying to explain it away or tell her it’s not really so bad. She just needed her experience to be heard.  And she needed someone close to empathise with her emotional pain:

“You’re feeling so sad about your teacher going. You’re really disappointed.”

When a loving person connects with Betty’s story she will ‘feel felt’, and she will be more able to contain her emotional pain. Yes, she’ll cry. That’s okay. Grandparents need to know the tears we cry when we are distressed are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. Upset tears contain stress hormones. So there’s wisdom in the old sayings, “Have a good cry.” / “Cry it all out.”

When Gran or Grandad have listened deeply and been there for her in her tears, Betty will be able to move forward. The wise grandparent will now ask something like,

“I can see you really care about your teacher. What would you like to do to show your teacher you’re sad she’s going?”

Here’s the opportunity to provide the child with a healthy stress relief. Grandparents (and parents) need to have crayons, coloured papers, glue and suchlike always at the ready. Get her involved in something creative to give to her teacher – maybe a hand-made farewell card.

When we make art we make meaning of our lives.


Other Ways A Grandparent Can Support Grandchildren

Of course, there are other ways Grandparents can help their grandchildren deal with upset emotions. Gardening, planting our spring seedlings or raking up autumn leaves, picking flowers, walking, building a model, knitting, cooking, quilting  – all take time. And time is often exactly what the child needs. Time to slow down and have someone there to hear you. Someone who listens with their whole heart. Someone to hold you. Someone to hold your thoughts and emotions. Your ups and your downs.

Are grandparents making children fat



Grandparents can be key to helping our children develop healthier lives. Not only physically healthier but emotionally healthier.

Rather than leaving the discussion with grandparents at “Don’t give them sugary food,”  tell grandparents all the ways in which you do appreciate their support of your children.  Grandparents can be key to giving children what they really need, instead of the hollow sugar food substitutes that never fill the hole in a child’s soul.

Take time to affirm grandparents for all the meaningful ways in which they give your children the message, “You are precious. You are special. You are loved.”

Over to you. In what ways do you see grandparents encouraging unhealthy eating habits?  What are the grandparenting qualities you most appreciate?












Linda Martin, what were you thinking?  Storming off the stage to confront Billy McGuinness, after verbally attacking him as an ‘odious little man’ in front of a TV audience of thousands. (Replay on the Irish Examiner webpage.) 

It seems TV loves it when chaos erupts during a live performance – reality TV at its ‘finest’ but what are our children learning about human interaction?

Are we adults giving a message that if somebody says something you don’t like or agree with:

– it’s okay to insult them

– it’s okay to make them feel small in front of others

– it’s okay to bring other unrelated comments into the argument?

(‘You may not be used to dealing with women with brains’  – Linda, what is that saying about your opinion of the many woman who interact with Billy McGuiness, including Laura O’Neill!)

What was Linda hoping to achieve?  She’s a fine lady and we’re proud of her contribution to our country.  I just wish she’d used this opportunity to model  graciousness. What I want my children to know is how to have a good clean fight that improves understanding and restores relationship.

So for Linda Martin and for any parent who wants to raise their child’s level of Emotional Intelligence, here are ten top tips on how to use Anger constructively.

* You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.

* When you get angry the reactive part of your brain takes control, so your clear thinking temporarily shuts down. So rather than blurting out the first thing that jumps onto your tongue, focus on your breathing.  Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7- out 8-9-10-11 several times. You’ll get more oxygen into the brain, you’ll become calmer, your thinking brain will reengage

* Ask yourself, ‘What really matters here?’  (If you were to look back on this incident in ten years’ time, what would you like to remember?)

* The person’s behaviour is about them; your response is about you.

* Two wrongs never make a right.

* It’s never ok to insult another.  Treat others as you would like to be treated, even (or especially) when you’re angry.

* When there’s an issue that needs to be discussed, stick to that topic only and don’t allow any other issue to contaminate the space.

* Anger is always a signal, ‘I need change.’  (So figure out how to create the change you need. And sometimes the only change you can make is the way you think about something).

* Anger and aggression are not the same thing.  I feel angry but when I act out of that anger it becomes aggression.  Aggression is never pretty, helpful or healing in any relationship.

* My feelings are never wrong, providing I never use them as weapons against anyone, including myself.

What  tip would YOU add to this list about Managing Anger?

Nearly fifteen years ago I started a programme that introduced preschoolers to basic Emotional Intelligence, including what to do when you’re feeling angry.  I was so amazed at the children’s enthusiastic and wise response to this work that it began my path of working with parents so that families can:

think more clearly,

connect more compassionately,

behave more response-ably

and live more joyfully.

If you’d like to discover more, I’m running a six week evening Parenting Course in Douglas, Cork: How to Listen so your child Will Talk

and also Kinsale: ‘BEHAVE – what to do when your child won’t’ (based on Val Mullally’s forthcoming book)

18 July 1998 I had the rare privilege to be present at an 80th birthday celebration for Nelson Mandela. That morning hundreds of conference delegates, including myself, shuffled slowly through high level security, without complaint, knowing how privileged we were to be present on such an occasion. The intensity of the guards, as each of us was checked in and thoroughly searched, emphasized the importance of the event.

And after what seemed hours of anticipative waiting, finally this legendary man addressed us. If his speech was inspiring, I don’t remember. What has always stayed with me is not what he said but what he did. A children’s choir of more than a hundred children sang ‘happy birthday’ to President Mandela and then prepared to leave the assembly. The master of ceremonies thanked the children and continued with proceedings. But, as he began, Mandela stood up and whispered something in his ear. The master of ceremonies stopped. The whole assembly watched and waited. Stopping a dignitary mid-sentence was not usual protocol, no matter who you were.

Mandela, in his own unhurried and dignified manner, walked off the stage and stood where the children would file past him. His attention was solely on the children. He shook hands with every child, smiling and saying a few words to each one as they passed.

The assembly waited, every eye fixed on his example. Only when he had greeted the last child did he return to his seat and indicate for the ceremony to proceed. That day I saw the greatness of the man.  Mandela lived what he believed: that there is no more important agenda than showing each unique person ‘You matter!’