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January 31st, 2016

Managing Morning Mayhem

We’re a few weeks into the Spring term in the UK and although it’s called the Spring term it really feels pretty wintry still. It’s dark when the kids get up in the morning and can be dark when they come home from school too, especially if they have any after school activities. Mornings can be hellish for lots of us. They can be marked by shouting and nagging, threatening and cajoling, sometimes begging. And that’s just us…the adults! Kids have absolutely no sense of urgency and sometimes seem to be moving deliberately slowly. 

The children may seem to be intentionally obstructive, but they’re not –they just have a different agenda. Unlikely as it sometimes seems our children are hard wired to want to please us. It’s an evolutionary thing –their survival depended on it. 

Children are willing to stop doing what they want to do and do what we want/need them to do when:

  1. Parents acknowledge how it is for the child. “You wish you could sort out your football cards now, don’t you? You love those cards. I’ll bet that feels a whole lot more interesting than getting your uniform on.” Only then move on to what needs to be done. “Do you think there’ll be time to play with them once you’re dressed?” Validating their feelings is respectful and allows us to connect with our children in a way that makes communication and cooperation more likely. 
  1. Parents are not nagging, criticising and threatening, which makes kids tune us out. One of the reasons we lose our cool in the mornings and yell is that we feel rushed. Doing more to prepare the night before or getting up a bit earlier to get yourself ready first are the two solutions most often put forward by parents. The other thing that helps us keep calm (the holy grail of parenting) is to remember that your child is not doing what he’s doing to wind you up but that his brain’s frontal cortex is not fully developed yet (and won’t be for years) and that’s the bit that deals with executive functioning like planning and impulse control. The younger she is the harder it is to resist the urge to move off schedule and play with her dolls. Some parents find it’s much easier for kids to get dressed in a low-distraction area like the bathroom. Others keep hairbrushes and toothbrushes downstairs, rather than sending kids back upstairs after they’ve had breakfast. 
  1. The children know that doing what their parent asks gets them positive attention and approval. Give lots of descriptive praise for small steps in the right direction. “You looked at your list. Good strategy –that way I’ll bet you’ll motor through your jobs.” “Hey, you’ve got your pants on already” -much more motivating to a semi-naked child than “oh, what have you been doing? You’ve barely started to get dressed! You’re so slow!” Telling a child that he’s slow almost guarantees that he’ll move at a snail’s pace. This an example of the golem effect which is a psychological phenomenon in which lower expectations placed upon children lead to poorer performance. The opposite is true too –this is called the pygmalion effect. So give your child positive messages about their capacities and watch them live up to that. “I saw that you laid out your uniform last night. That was good planning. It meant you had less to do this morning and now we aren’t so rushed.” It’s always a good idea to point out the positive consequences of a child’s actions.

Try these 3 ideas, and get a good night’s sleep yourself, and we reckon you’ll see a difference in your mornings and you’ll get off to your various activities feeling a whole lot better.

 

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January 15th, 2016

How The Parent Practice saved my sanity

or Zen and the Art of Parenting

by Rachel Cuperman, a Parent Practice client who did our 10 week course.

I first came across the idea of parenting classes several years ago.  A friend had enrolled on a course to improve compliance levels at home with her two school-age kids.  It seemed to involve pasta shapes in jars and being Very Positive and I remember at the time thinking “Why would you need to go on a course about parenting?  Surely, it’s something you just, well, get on with?” 

In my defence, I was then a newly minted mum.  A total and utter neophyte.  My bouncing baby boy spent his waking hours gurgling happily, when he wasn’t smiling benevolently.  The behaviours of older children were still a mystery to me.  Like a far away land, full of temper tantrums and tears.  A land I secretly hoped never to visit.  Hah. 

Three years and another new baby later and the picture was rather different.  My contended baby boy had turned into a strapping 3 ½ year old, with a will of iron and a frankly awesome temper.  Our son was (and is) a joy.  Loving, kind, affectionate and great fun.  Until he didn’t get his way, that is.  Anything that deviated from his agenda was met with nuclear strength resistance, violence and histrionics.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to soil himself in fury.  Each day became a series of skirmishes that ended in tears, exhaustion and remorse, on both sides.  But the pattern repeated itself, over and over.  

My husband and I tried everything we could think of to get a handle on the situation.  In terms of discipline, we didn’t consider ourselves to be pushovers.  We’d read the childcare books, watched the programmes, canvassed friends for their advice.  We’d reasoned, cajoled, punished, done star charts and elaborate reward systems.  But nothing worked, for longer than a day or two anyway. 

Crunch time came when my son, in the grip of fury, kicked his nursery teacher.  Being summoned to come and remove him was a mortifying and deeply upsetting experience, for all of us. We were now desperate and totally stumped.  We didn’t understand why our son was so angry and what we could do to help him curb his undesirable behaviour. 

It was at this point the friend at the start of this story aimed me back in the direction of The Parent Practice.  And for this I will always be grateful.  When I plucked up the courage and phoned them, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  What I got was the very sympathetic ear of the Elaine Halligan, one of the organisation’s excellent Facilitators.  Elaine listened carefully as I outlined our situation. She was compassionate, practical and most importantly, said she felt she could help us turn our situation around.  We decided to meet her for an initial consultation.  And that consultation proved to be the start of a transformative journey.  

Once she’d got the measure of our family set up, Elaine introduced us to The Core Skills: a set of tools and strategies which are designed to help parents cope with the myriad challenging situations that arise in daily life with kids, and are at the heart of what The Parent Practice teaches. 

The first skill we learnt was “Descriptive Praise”. In action, this means noticing and mentioning the small good things your child does rather than focussing on the negative or on what they haven’t done.  The thinking behind this is that your children are hard-wired to get your attention, positive for choice. I already knew that it was a good idea to praise children, but this type of praise is different from the ‘good boy’ kind I was used to.  The more specific you can be in your appreciation, the more likely it is they’ll be motivated to repeat the behaviour.  Essentially, you train them into good habits with positive reinforcement. 

I can honestly say that using this single skill was transformative.  It didn’t magically remove our problems but it made a massive difference.  Immediately.  Heartened by the results, I booked myself onto the course to learn more and I can honestly say its one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. 

The other parents I met were terrific.  All of them were grappling with issues of their own.  The weekly sessions gave us all the space to listen, think, discuss and laugh together and proved to be a great support. 

As far as our little family goes, I can report that our son is a reformed character: happy, relaxed and much more able to cope with disappointment and take the rough with the smooth.  The tools that we have acquired help both ourselves and our son cope better with difficult situations.  And I’m sure its no coincidence that these situations now happen less and less often.

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January 07th, 2016

New Year resolution-free-zone

Over the New Year weekend I was getting seriously irritated with article after article in print and online media exhorting me to shed weight, give up the booze, stop smoking, become more positive, stop procrastinating, get more organised, clear out my clutter and get fit, all of which just made me feel deficient. When I asked around I found that many others were seriously fed up with these New Year resolutions finding them smug, self-righteous and self-serving.

When I dug down to see what particularly irritated me about them I found that most of them suggested I had a problem that needed to be fixed. Of course. That is a well-tested marketing method and as I am also in business and need to pay bills I don’t mean to criticise people peddling their services by highlighting the need that their service or product addresses.

However when it comes to parenting we already experience much guilt about the way we bring up our children. You only have to go online to find out what a rubbish parent you are. It’s not just your mother-in law insinuating that your children are particularly problematic or that your child-rearing methods are particularly suspect. Parent-bashing is a favourite theme of the media. Even where you might expect a more empathetic approach, such as among other parents, there is criticism. Any parenting chat thread will have some quite judgmental voices suggesting you’re getting it all wrong. In our classes we often meet parents who worry about ‘getting it wrong’ and screwing up their kids. 

At the Aspen festival of ideas in 2012 when discussing the purpose of parenting Ericka Christakis, early childhood educator and Harvard College administrator, said that “we live in what we call the ‘epidemiological age,’ where we have a lot of information about what is unhealthy and healthy” and this creates a “crisis of information” which causes a lot of anxiety. We feel so responsible for ‘creating’ a future generation of not just happy and well-adjusted adults but successful high-achievers too. This anxiety can be made so much worse when we hear about critical ‘windows of opportunity’ in our children’s development that we think we may have missed and we feel terribly responsible in a way that our parents’ generation didn’t. (Lucky carefree things). 

Yet in the work we do at The Parent Practice we have a unique opportunity to observe masters at work. In our face to face work with parents we hear about the issues they have faced and the solutions they have devised. We have learnt much from our clients and have incorporated into our trainings many of the ideas generated by these ‘masters of parenting’. In our book, Real Parenting for Real Kids, we celebrate these masters and we bring their success stories to you. They would hasten to deny that they are masters but I am not talking about attaining any kind of perfection, just continuing to improve all the time, getting to know their children better and devising practical solutions that work in their own families.

In your quest for mastery (or just a bit of calm) if you’re setting goals for yourself it’s never effective to focus on what is wrong. Your brain will visualise your fat, unfit, smoking, disorganised, shouty self if you do that. You need to imagine your desired outcome instead. So rather than creating New Year’s resolutions which focus on what needs fixing think about what you can celebrate in your parenting. What small successes from 2015 can you acknowledge yourself for? Is it around playfulness or being connected with your child? Is it about being a good role model? Do you think you managed to pass on some values? Were you encouraging? Notice those good parenting moments, acknowledge yourself and make sure you do more of that in 2016. 

Here is one example from Chapter one, Knowing your Child: 

William was always reluctant to go to school at the start of each term, even after the half-term break. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I would end up pushing him through the door with tears in his eyes. Until we talked. And he told me that he didn’t like the newness of the fresh classroom. He didn’t know where he would be sitting, he didn’t know what lessons were coming up, he didn’t know what the new lunch menu would be like. And when I saw it from his point of view, and took into account his temperament of finding change difficult, and being a very regular child, I was able to make the shift from him ‘being a problem’ to ‘having a problem’.

We brainstormed how he could walk in, even when he wouldn’t be able to know what he wanted. We practised things for him to say, something to take in to show someone, just to get him through the door. That, in conjunction with accepting how he felt about the start of each term was enough. He went in with a little smile and a big breath, and hasn’t looked back.

Juliet, mum of two 

Have a great 2016 and keep developing your parenting practice.

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