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June 28th, 2017

Summer in the Digital Jungle

Roll on the summer holidays! No nagging about homework, longer days to play in the garden and no being a slave to the timetable!

But are you worried about your children spending too long on screens and using them as a digital babysitter?An English summer usually has at least a scattering of light showers when indoor activities may be required.

You may be wondering:

“How much screen time should my children be having?” and

“How do I control my children’s screen usage?”

Crucially managing screens should not be about coercion and control - that can only lead to long term problems. The answer lies in connection and communication.

If you think about keeping your kids safe around a swimming pool you can protect them from falling in by putting up fences and setting alarms and using padlocks and banning them from going near, but the most important thing to do is TO TEACH THEM HOW TO SWIM.

The same is true for screen safety. The more we demonise screens and nag and shout and blame and criticise the children and forbid and take away and threaten, the more children will push back and become sneaky. We need to remember that screens have great benefits but that children do need limits and boundaries around their use as well. We also need to remember that when we control we do so to teach them self-control. You will need to employ technological protections so have all the filters and passwords you need but don’t forget to educate your children to be safe and kind online as well. They can get around your external controls so you need to cultivate internal values.

Here are some top tips to helping you find your way through the digital jungle this summer: 

  1. THINK . Begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate destination? To encourage children to be in charge of technology and use it responsibly, instead of technology being in charge of them. 
  1. DECIDE. You need to decide WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO AND HOW MUCH. 
  • How much time? We know that when parents set limits on media consumption, children consume less than those without limits. The consensus amongst professionals is no screens before age 2 but after that it gets a bit vague with many experts now being less concerned about amount than type of use. But it’s also about what else you need to do first - eat, sleep, play or practice.
  • When can they play or surf or game? This depends on your family activities but not during the hour before bedtime as screen usage interferes with sleep.
  • What sites/apps? Watch out for the parental guidance certificates. If we are not ready for our children to smoke, drink or drive why would we think they are ready to use Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto which are rated 18? Refer to media sites like commonsensemedia.com
  • Where? Do keep internet enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used and always out of the bedroom at night. 
  1. Include the children rather than imposing the rules from on high! Including them shows you are interested in their views. It is respectful to seek their opinion. It works best with children over 8 if you outline what your values are and acknowledge what they would like at the outset. Then ask how you can accommodate both sets of needs. They will probably have some good ideas. They won’t like all the rules –empathise with that and reiterate why you need to have them. 
  1. WRITE IT DOWN. I guarantee you will forget the rules and by writing them down it depersonalises them. Then you have a contract, with both sides needing to respect and abide by it. 
  1. KEEP IT POSITIVE. Don’t have negatively-phrased rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm” but rather “mobiles are used downstairs” and “you can game after homework and before 7pm.” 
  1. FOLLOW THROUGH. Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get things right. Comment when they follow the screen rules. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again. 
  1. MODEL GOOD HABITS . Be aware that if your own phone is surgically attached to your hip 24/7 and you are making calls at the dinner table, and taking your phone to bed, it can be hard for the children to accept your rules. You need to model your own values.

 

 

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June 05th, 2017

Sibling Squabbling

The days are getting longer and there’s a feeling of lightness in the air. I always seem to feel happier as the mercury rises and I love the long evenings. May has such promise of a good summer - I feel hopeful. But that feeling of bonhomie doesn’t necessarily extend to the children it would appear, as parents in our classes are lamenting the constant bickering.

Sibling squabbling is one of the issues most frequently mentioned by parents as a real button-pusher. Just the noise can get on your nerves but also the meanness can be upsetting. When my sons were young my older one never lost an opportunity to deliver a put-down to his brother. He called him a ‘loser’ and a ‘weirdo’ and told him he was stupid and that he stank. It was constant! Fortunately my sons now get on really well.

So what made the difference? The first step was to understand why my older son was being unkind to his brother and take steps to address that instead of just punishing the surface behaviour. We’re never very effective unless we look for the cause of our children’s behaviour. At this time of year kids may be tired as the school year comes to an end. They may have lots of activities going on. Older siblings may have just completed SATs or even GCSEs with the stress that brings. Unkind behaviours may be prompted by emotions that the child doesn’t know how to express which are vented on the sibling. Of course one sibling may be jealous of another; he may feel his brother or sister gets more of his parents’ love and attention, measured in the time devoted to the sibling, the possessions they get or the amount they get into trouble compared to him! At the height of my sons’ fighting my older boy was struggling at school and getting in trouble a lot and his self-esteem was low. He didn’t want to be the only one feeling that way so his brother copped it!

Part of the solution is building self-esteem but we also need to teach siblings social skills like compromising and negotiating and sharing. We also need to teach them to be kind.

Here are 7 ways to encourage harmony between siblings from my book Real Parenting for Real Kids:

  1. Give each child POSITIVE ATTENTION

A big reason for fighting is low self-esteem. Another is kids’ need for parents’ attention and approval. Usually when our children are getting on well together we don’t even notice it and just get on with our to-do list but we give plenty of attention when they start fighting!

Use Descriptive Praise to ensure your child gets attention, feels noticed, valued and good about himself. 

  1. NOTICE POSITIVE INTERACTIONS

Descriptively praise your children for getting on, for team work or problem-solving, even if they’re just leaving each other alone.

  • Just then you asked Sanjiv to move over in a polite way.
  • When Tom and William were making a noise while you were listening to your story you didn’t say anything hurtful. 
  1. Provide TIME ALONE and TIME TOGETHER

Set up opportunities for positive play together. Having fun together is important if siblings are to see the point of each other! Play should be with you initially.

In addition, each child needs some Special Time alone with each parent. When children get our undivided attention, at least at certain defined times, they are less likely to compete with their siblings for our attention. 

  1. Teach children to MANAGE FEELINGS and ENCOURAGE EMPATHY

When we acknowledge how our children are feeling - angry, jealous, hurt, frustrated, disappointed, inadequate, left out – they learn to recognise and manage feelings, rather than take them out on others. Focusing on their feelings helps shape their ability to ‘read’ other people’s feelings and thoughts. 

  1. Teach SOCIAL SKILLS

Some children pick up on social skills easily but some need to be taught them explicitly. Use role play (maybe with teddies and dolls or action figures) to teach skills like sharing, negotiating, trading deals, asking for something without whining etc. 

  1. Provide RULES FOR FAMILY LIFE 
  • Acknowledge the feelings kids have for each other and set firm limits on actions. “You’re really cross with Jason. Nobody likes to be called a ‘retard’. That hurt your feelings. You can tell him how you feel. You may not hit him.”
  • Be clear about your family values. “In this family we treat each other with respect. So no name-calling. When you’ve calmed down you will need to make amends to Victoria.”

You may need some rules about possessions and sharing common resources like computers or the front seat of the car! 

  1. MODEL what you want to see

Children who grow up with positive discipline get along better with other children. Punishment teaches children to give way to greater force, not wisdom. If parents are aggressive children are more likely to be aggressive. If children see you treat others with kindness and empathy they are more likely to do the same.

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