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January 17th, 2011

What every child wants - presents or your presence?

Parent and children working together

As the recycling trucks take away the last bags of ripped wrapping paper and broken up boxes, homes are full of new toys and games. In the playgrounds, children are comparing notes about who got what, and, at home, they are busy determining which are destined to become much loved favourites and which will be gathering dust on the shelf.

After all the recent focus on presents, it’s interesting to read about some research from Cardiff University which concluded that 75% of 11-12 year olds rated spending time with their family, above spending time with friends or time alone. When asked what they enjoyed doing with their family, the children didn’t mention playing games or being taken shopping or on day-trips or outings. They talked about “routine” and “ordinariness” and about the feeling of “having someone around”. What the children seem to value is a time to rest and relax, with a sense of control and security, which they get from being WITH us, rather than being with friends, or indeed from having the latest gizmos, gadgets and games.

In our classes, we talk about making sure you spend some “Special Time” with each child at some point during the week.  It needs only be 5-10 minutes, and it can take place at any time of the day and anywhere. The point that makes it “Special” is that is guaranteed and regular time with you – uninterrupted by anything or anyone. There are many benefits, but the beauty is the simplicity. You don’t have to do anything with them, just be with them. If there is a particular conversation or an activity, it’s at their urging and under their direction.

But I was still not sure I’m that great company for my children, until I asked my eldest (aged 10 years) what was good about the recent holidays, and the answer was “just being at home with you”. It surprised me, in the lovely way it does when you realise they sometimes know more and better than we do….. I asked what was so good about “just being at home” because personally “just being at home” can drive me mad….. And the response of “I like knowing you are here, and knowing where everything is and what is going to happen because I feel safe” very much confirmed the Cardiff University research.

Now, I don’t think my child feels particularly unsafe anywhere else. There are no signs to cause me any concern in this area. But I had not thought about it like this before. The world outside the front door really can be pretty big and scary, even when you’ve reached double digits, and I realise now I hugely underestimate the comfort and pleasure our home and my presence in it gives my children.  I don’t always need to add anything particular – although being actively engaged with your child is always going to be something you wish you did more of.  Sometimes I just have to be me and be here.

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January 10th, 2011

The family that eats together, stays together!

Is 2011 the year in which you want to get your children to eat more healthily?

With the New Year upon us we are sure that you will all be making some sort of New Year’s resolutions. They might be about losing weight, being a better parent or eating more healthily. 

However, it is not likely that our children will be thinking about how to eat more healthily. So it’s down to us, as parents, to make that resolution for them. But, we also know that with the fervour of a new year, we can often be unrealistic about what changes we can make and the timeframe in which our goals can be achieved.  As adults we all know that many drastic New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January because they were simply unrealistic in the first place. They are even harder to keep when other people are involved.

Each household has its own unique dynamics in terms of work patterns, outside activities and eating habits. As such general advice about how to lead a healthier life is all well and good but it may not seem relevant or achievable in the context of your own family. We believe that if you want to change things in a family you need to take stock of where you are starting from, how committed you are to change and how much support or resistance you are likely to encounter. If you don’t take these individual factors into account at the start you are setting yourself up for failure. 

No one said that getting children to eat healthily was easy. There are so many pressures out there which encourage unhealthy eating behaviour such as advertising, peer pressure, the drive for convenience and speed. No one wants to go head to head with their child on a meal by meal by meal basis. But the more you care about what your child eats, the more emotional the food issue can become. Some children can and do exploit this emotional dimension – either consciously or sub-consciously to exert influence and control in the home. They seem to know all the buttons to press to get you to react to what they are or are not eating. Food is so central to our lives and to our desire to nurture our family that it is bound to cause you anxiety if your child refuses to eat or will only eat a limited number of foods. There is often frustration if you have lovingly prepared a healthy meal from scratch only to see a turned up nose before the fork has left the plate. You would have to be pretty stoic not to take that as a personal rejection.

We have developed a workshop which helps you to focus on the specific food issues in yourhousehold and in particular for your children. We do not judge where you are starting from and we aim to support you to identify which changes will make the biggest difference to your child’s health and relationship with food. Setting realistic aims is an important first step – you can’t expect to change habits overnight if they have developed over years. We then suggest strategies you can try in order to help you to achieve your aims. It’s all about making sure you have the right resources to help you, such as short cut solutions to making healthy food; easy and child friendly recipes; star charts to reinforce and reward healthy eating; knowledge of how to make sense of labels and which convenience foods are better than others.    

Lots of mums feed back to us that they do feel like a voice in the wilderness when it comes to getting the family to eat well. So it is important to enlist the support of other family members and to try to make the experience enjoyable. There is a lot of truth in the old adage that “the family that eats together, stays together”.  If meal times are about more than just the food they can become another opportunity to communicate with your child and enjoy their company.

To find out more:

http://www.theparentpractice.com/parenting-workshops/58.html#nutrition

Recipe for Health are delivering another Healthy Eating workshop – Thursday 27th January 10-1pm – don’t miss out.

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January 10th, 2011

Stop Playing Seriously and Seriously Play!

We are now well into January.  The Christmas tree has been taken down, life is slowly getting back to normal and I’m feeling that this has been one of the best Christmas holidays ever!  And, it’s not over yet!  Just over 3 weeks into the holidays, and I’m getting a bit sad that my daughter will soon be heading back to school.  As I think back to December 15th, I remember almost feeling a sense of dread that the holiday would be so long!  Now, though as she is heading up to 8, she is a total joy to spend time with, and I have had a really great time playing, baking, reading, drawing … all the things that she loves to do.  It was really a holiday where – inspired by theDiane Loomans poem, decided to ‘stop playing serious, and seriously play’.

The holidays started with a magical blizzard, that left many people here in London stranded, unable to get their planned flights either out to see family, or heading somewhere warm.   We were already planning on staying in London, as my Mum was coming to visit, so we could really enjoy the snow.  During the weekend of the big blizzard, we were all out in the park building snowmen and had a great time throwing snowballs and making snow angels.  Sadly for all those who were trying to reschedule flights, they didn’t necessarily see the fun side of the weather.

The snowy days brought to mind a Maya Angelou quote: You can tell a lot about a person about how they manage these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.  I would add to that, a dumping of snow while you’re stuck on an airplane on the runway at Heathrow not knowing whether you’re going to take off on that lovely trip – and with small children who are getting increasingly tired, hungry and bored.  You can prepare all you like, but things can still go awry.

What can help you in those unpredictable moments is the ability to stay calm – almost surrendering to the fact that there is very little you can do to change the situation.  About the only thing you have any control over is how you are going to approach it!  You can go down many different routes: the complaining route (‘these airlines …’ ); the victim route (‘why does this have to happen to me?’); the practical route (attempting to make new travel arrangements); or the ‘let’s make this fun anyway’ route!  Choosing to not get swept away by feelings of frustration and sadness about possibly missing out on your vacation, and actually choosing a more positive approach works on so many levels.  First, there is the obvious benefit of having happier children.  There is also the added bonus that your children are learning a great lesson about how to deal with situations when things don’t go swimmingly.  If you’re able to stay calm and creatively deal with the challenges, you’re giving your children an amazing lesson in how to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them.

So now that the parks are green again, the Christmas cookies have all been eaten and the decorations put away for another year, I’ve decided to take on a renewed commitment to stay calm when life gets crazy, and to always remember to take time to seriously play! Happy New Year!

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January 05th, 2011

2011 - the year to start walking and talking!

Walking in the snow

Have you committed to all those unrealistic New Year resolutions yet? Off to the gym 4 times a week in a burst to lose those excess festive pounds? Of course we all know that it’s a good idea to try to incorporate exercise into our daily routines as it’s more likely to get done that way and walking to school with your kids is ingraining in them some important values about exercise and fresh air I want to give walking a plug for two other equally important reasons. It’s good for your mental and emotional health and it’s really good at stimulating communication with your children.

At this time of year in the Northern hemisphere we need to wrap up warmer  to beat the Nordic conditions and may feel slightly resistant to get outside (I hope I’m not the only wimp who feels that way) so I may need to make an awfully strong case for walking other than to the kettle in your kitchen. I’m advocating a therapeutic tool which is infinitely variable, completely free and offers side benefits in terms of physical health as well. I’m proposing a tool that can bring parents and children (and couples) closer together without any expert intervention or having to read any heavy tomes. This miracle solution helps unblock your mind when problem saturated, it helps you to see things more clearly, helps you gain perspective and a more positive outlook and it is an aid to developing important communication skills in your children. Anyway someone once said there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.

On what basis do I make these fulsome claims? Well more learned (and certainly more famous) writers than I have cogitated upon this before. Nietzsche wrote that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” and he had some good thoughts. Henry Thoreau also apparently liked to amble as he said “Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” I’ve also had some good thoughts whilst in the shower or just as I’m about to go to sleep (those ones lost to oblivion unless I write them down there and then) but I have also had the experience that when something is troubling me I need to move. When I was studying at university I used to walk around the room with my notes in my hand. Some of us are quite kinaesthetic learners, meaning we learn best while moving. Try getting your child to move when doing any rote learning like spellings or tables or even more complicated thought processes.

Apart from the benefits of oxygen to the brain I think it’s just the repetitive movement of putting one foot in front of the other that helps stimulate the brain as well as getting away from the distracting environment of our homes. In any case, when my husband and I have a problem we find we need to leave the house (also our working environment) and walk to find a solution. When I’m upset or angry I find walking at a frenetic pace helps but if I’m sad or just thinking a more laconic amble works –my dogs are getting very sensitive to my moods! A good breeze can only assist in the head clearing process. Encourage and model walking for your kids as an effective emotional release.

I promised another great result from walking with your kids –communication. Learned psychologist and parenting author Steve Biddulph talks about the need for ‘sideways’ talk with boys and I would agree that boys especially, but not exclusively, prefer a style of communication which involves doing some activity alongside them rather than an eyeball to eyeball Deep and Meaningful. I find my boys open up more when we’re out walking than at any other time. We may talk about things that are troubling them or just things that interest them. My youngest has long conversations with my husband about history and politics and it gives me great pleasure to watch his stride outstripping his father’s as they chat about their shared interests.

When you walk and talk you have an opportunity to use a technique to build rapport which in Neuro Lingustic Programming is called ‘mirroring’. At its simplest level this merely involves matching your stride to the other person’s. As you get more expert you may swing your arms in rhythm, match head movements and ultimately synchronise your breathing to the other person’s –then you are in accord, even though the content of your conversation may involve disagreement.

So enjoy the great outdoors and absorb all the therapeutic, creative and communication benefits as well as noticing the details of the change of season and burning a few calories!

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