May 01st, 2017
You may have heard that celebrated author and psychologist Steve Biddulph has been in the UK to promote his new book about raising girls: 10 Things Girls Need Most to Grow Up Strong and Free. We look forward to reading it as we admire Biddulph’s previous works. Watch this space for a review soon.
But the launch of this book has been attended with some controversy as Biddulph apparently blamed parents for the mental health epidemic among young people that is sweeping Britain today. It is certainly true that there has been a massive increase in mental health issues amongst our young people in recent years, especially anxiety and depression. In a NHS survey in 2016 girls as young as 12 were found to be self-harming and one in four girls in the age group 16-24 had self-harmed. So there is definitely a problem.
But is it really parents’ fault? And even if there are things parents could be doing differently how useful is it to blame them? In my experience most parents already feel guilty about their parenting. Have a look at our blog from last year about this.
When Biddulph was being interviewed for a piece in the Times by Lorraine Candy (a mother herself) he acknowledged that if I’ve made you feel bad I’ve failed.
He’s right. Making someone feel guilty does not promote change.
In my 18 years of adult education (and six years of working with adolescents in a behavioural change programme) I have learnt a few things about how to encourage people to make changes in their lives. Parenting is a very sensitive subject and suggestions that we might raise our children differently aren’t always well received. Parenting is very personal.
I find parents without exception want to do the best they can for their children. Usually we raise our children according to a set of principles we inherit from our own parents. Even when we’re actively trying to adopt a different approach we often default to what feels instinctive because we’re so used to it! My experience is that when parents understand more about child development and how a child’s maturing brain dictates behaviour and when they get insights into their own child’s temperament they are happy to modify their approach. Parents, like all of us, have open minds and are ready to learn when they don’t feel blamed or judged. When they do feel blamed they become defensive.
Funnily enough the same is true for our children! So when we’re trying to discipline them we need to remember our purpose; to educate. Discipline comes from the Latin root ‘disciplinas’ which means ‘teaching’. If our actions don’t serve to teach then they’re pointless, and sometimes harmful. Kids can’t learn if they’re stressed or feeling bad about themselves. Since young children live very much in the moment they don’t understand that what they’re feeling right now is not a permanent condition. So if your discipline leaves them feeling shame they will be consumed by that feeling and not open to learning.
Steve Biddulph is an evangelist and passionately speaks in forthright terms. In fact he was not directly blaming parents for the poor mental health of our young people. He was saying that circumstances in Britain (cost of housing requiring two parents to work, working culture of very long hours, pressurised exam-focused educational system which begins at a very young age etc ) are not conducive to good mental health. But reassuringly he thinks that just a 5% change in the way parents do things can make a huge difference to their kids. He also said that working parents who have limited time with their children don’t want to sully the time they do have by disciplining their children. This is mistaken (but not surprising) thinking. Biddulph says parents need courage to discipline. But we think what parents need to know is how to discipline in positive ways –you don’t need to be so brave for that and you can be confident that it works to teach kids without humiliation or shaming.
For discipline without shame and many proactive ways to shape children’s behaviour have a look at our book Real Parenting for Real Kids.
April 25th, 2017
A parent in our Barnes class asked this question at the end of last term and we thought others might be dealing with similar issues.
When my aggressive two year old is frustrated or cross she hits/bites/slaps (whatever to get attention I presume or get a toy that she wants). I have tried removing her from the poor person she is hitting and empathising with how she is feeling, but it is quite difficult to get through. Eventually she apologises but I’m not sure how much that is down to me trying to persuade her to. There don't seem to be many consequences to her actions that I can come up with. This is not really working and she continues to behave in this fashion...
Our facilitator had this advice:
You may be aware that hitting or biting or slapping is very normal behaviour for 2 year olds who don’t yet have sufficient command over language to be able to express what they feel/want/need adequately. I love that you are thinking about why she does things. Does she need attention/does she want a toy? Is she competing with her older siblings? This is so crucial to being successful in dealing with it effectively. Whenever you see a behaviour you’re not happy about be curious. Ask yourself, why is she doing that? Because only then can you respond to her needs and teach her what she needs to know. Only then can you keep calm enough to respond with compassion and wisdom.
Try really hard to alter your internal conversation about her. Change the word ‘aggressive’ to one that also fits the situation but is a more positive reframing. When you think of your daughter maybe these words will fit: impulsive, strong-willed, feisty, energetic. Some of these are great qualities.
This is not a quick process. You will need to repeat the lesson many times but she will learn it provided she is not stressed by feeling as if she is a bad person. Stress prevents the pre-frontal cortex from developing as fast. It is essential that your little girl gets the message that she is a lovable and capable person who needs a bit of help to control her feelings and impulses. And luckily you are there to help her.
March 25th, 2017
Sadly this is a question that parents have had to ask before. The attack in Westminster this week was exactly a year after the attack in Brussels by suicide bombers. A few months earlier there had been attacks in Paris and Beirut. What has happened in London on 22nd March is a very shocking and terrible thing and we thought it might be helpful to look again at how to talk to your children about such events.
This will vary a lot depending on the age of your children and their temperament and your own values. While everyone will be appalled by what has happened there may be different aspects of it that you would want to highlight to your children.
If your children are under the age of 3 then hopefully they are unaware of what is going on. I would always try to make sure that this age group are not exposed to the adult content of news programmes and the pictures on the front of the newspapers.
If they are 3-5 then I wouldn’t raise it with them unless they ask questions and then try to do it without scaring them unnecessarily. We don’t want our children to be assuming that people they see in the street are ‘terrorists’ or even ‘bad people’ and we don’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep or to go out or to be terrified of you travelling. Calmly ask them what they know and don’t add to the list of horrific facts. If you can see that they are afraid then admit that this was a shocking thing to have happened and that it is natural to feel frightened at first. You will have to find a balance, determined by your child’s nature, between not promising them they will always be completely safe which is unrealistic, and making them jump at their own shadow. We face this balancing act already when we talk to our children about ‘stranger danger’. (Although we recommend you don’t use the word ‘stranger’ so that children don’t learn to fear everyone they don’t know. Teach them about ‘tricky people’ instead.) You could try something along the lines of “sometimes people get very angry and they do very terrible things and they hurt others. They forget to use their words to sort things out. That’s why it’s very important to learn to talk about problems and not hurt anyone.” This is putting it into words that they can relate to.
This theme can be used with older children too but they may be able to handle more information about what happened and they may be seeing for themselves some of the details in the media. School aged children will probably be hearing it about it at school so it’s good to discuss it with them. Ask your aged 10+ children for their ideas about why it happened and what world leaders can do about it. What can we do about it? This is important to prevent them feeling powerless.
Some of you will have kids who are oblivious to what’s been going on and you’re surprised to find that they knew about the attacks at all. Others may have been asking you questions endlessly and worrying about how it happened and being tremendously concerned for the families and perhaps for themselves, given that this has happened in their own city.
This doesn’t mean that the first child doesn’t have any compassion or doesn’t care. But it is an indication of different temperaments. The more relaxed child may not be able to relate to something that is beyond his experience and understanding. The latter child is just more sensitive than the former. It’s not good or bad –it just is. And we need to adapt our approach for each temperament.
For the former you may try to raise awareness a little if it feels appropriate whereas for the highly sensitive child you may be trying to temper it a little and to help him deal with his feelings. If you’ve got both in one family you may have to help one understand the other.
It will help to name the feelings overwhelming your upset child. Don’t try to brush it under the carpet or your child will not be able to tell you about his worries in future. “You are really upset, aren’t you? These events have really worried you. You’re a person who feels things in a big way and sometimes that is lovely and sometimes it can be burdensome for you. I know you felt really sad for those families of the people who were killed. I’m glad you care. Sharing your worries makes them a bit easier to deal with.” It may help to use some kind of ritual to acknowledge the lives of the people who have passed away such as lighting a candle. This will give your child something practical to do.
If your child is very worried that something similar could affect her own family don’t tell her there’s no need to worry but acknowledge her worries and tell her about the steps that are being taken by the authorities to protect us. Sometimes it can help for children to have a worry box. Get them to write their worries down on a piece of paper and screw the paper up into a tight ball and then put it into the box. Then put the box away somewhere (not in the child’s room) until the end of the week. At the end of the week unfold the worries and see that they have not come to pass. You can put them back in the box or throw them away –whatever the child chooses.
This was of course a terribly wrong thing to do. But there is an opportunity here for us to teach our children something about difference.
There is speculation that this atrocity was inspired by the organisation calling itself Islamic State and even though they do not represent the majority of peace-loving people who practice Islam many negative words have been and will be said about Muslims. Those of us who are not Muslims can teach our children that most Muslims are good people and that they don’t need to be afraid of anyone wearing a hijab or otherwise looking a bit ‘foreign’. We can teach our older children that the aim of organisations like IS is to make us afraid and to stir up dissension between faiths and that is exactly what leads to conflict. Encourage them not to give these bullies the satisfaction. Tell them that you will be going about your daily lives and will not alter what you do because you are not afraid and that you will be kind to any Muslim person you see who must be feeling very uncomfortable.
If your children have Muslim friends say to them “Ahmed is not a killer is he?” If you meet a person wearing Muslim dress smile at them and tell your children why you’re making a point of that right now.
If you are a Muslim parent you may be feeling anxious for yourself and for your children. You may be feeling very angry about what is being in done in the name of your religion and tarnishing you in the process. You may have experienced prejudice. You may be clear what to say to your child about these events but wonder how to explain bigotry. It must be very difficult to explain to your child that others may judge and treat him unfairly because of his religion. I can’t tell you exactly what to say but I would acknowledge his pain and fear.
Whatever our faith, colour, physical abilities, social standing or level of education we can teach our children to respect themselves and others by how we interact with them and others. We can teach them not to fear difference or the unfamiliar by our modelling and by exposing them to different experiences and people.
Fear comes from lack of understanding and from feeling powerless. We can help our children to see that they can make a difference by taking small steps to build trust between different peoples. Taking positive action to address these problems and make the world a better place helps empower kids. When people of minority groups feel a sense of belonging in their community they will have no reason to act out their disaffection and they can feel accepted enough to speak out against prejudice. Whether Muslim or non-Muslim talk with your child about how he or she can take a stand against intolerance. Talk to them about how this may be difficult to do if their friends are bad-mouthing Muslims. Practice with them how to say something like “I don’t believe that.”
This was a terrible thing to happen but perhaps out if it will come a generation committed to not fearing people who are different and to talking through problems. This may be a learning process for you too if you’ve grown up in an environment with little exposure to difference races or faiths. Let your children know that you are expanding your own horizons!
March 19th, 2017
If your child has problems at school, you may have been advised to seek an Educational Psychologist (EP) assessment. What is an EP assessment and how might it help your child?
What is an EP and what do they do?
EPs are skilled assessors with extensive training in the many aspects of child development that affect learning. They can identify the factors that are holding children back. EPs are often employed by local authorities, they may work in their own private practice or they may provide assessments via clinics.
Why should my child see an EP?
Many children experience difficulty with learning at some point in their school career. Generally, it is good to nip problems in the bud and take low level action at an early stage. Either the school may raise concerns with you or vice versa. Together you can agree adjustments that can be made to support your child or a block of targeted learning support to plug any gaps. You may also be able to help your child catch up through some extra work at home. Usually, the situation will improve within a couple of terms, but if the problems persist it may be time to seek the help of an EP.
How do I commission an EP assessment?
There are different pathways to obtaining an EP assessment depending on whether your child attends an independent or state school. If your child attends a state school and the school share your concerns, then it may offer to commission an assessment using its SEN budget. There will usually be a waiting list as the EP your child sees will likely be employed by the local authority. If your child attends an independent school then the school may raise concerns with you will be asked to arrange and pay for the assessment yourself. Sometimes parents have concerns about their child’s learning that are not shared by the school. As a parent, you may want an independent view and in this case, irrespective of whether your child attends an independent or a state school, you can commission your own private assessment from an educational psychologist.
What will the process be like?
You will be asked for background information and after this the EP will meet you and your child either at school, at your home or in a clinic. They will talk to your child and carry out tests of intellectual development. These tests are extremely useful as they reveal the unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses which underlie your child’s learning and interactions at school. The EP will then pull their findings together to explain the problems your child is experiencing. They will feed this back to you in a meeting where you will be able to ask questions and you will be given advice on what to do next. Recommendations for learning support will be made and advice on suitable school environments may be given. The EP may suggest that your child undergoes further, more specialised assessments with other professionals, such as a paediatrician or speech and language therapist. You will then receive a report which will give you detailed information about the assessment and the recommendations.
March 06th, 2017
On Wednesday March 8th it will be International Women’s Day. This is a day that marks the huge advancements made by women and also is an opportunity to pause and look at where change still needs to be made. In the developing world of course there is much work still to be done in lifting women out of poverty, in healthcare, education and in improving the rights and status of women. But in the developed world also there is still a way to go before gender parity will be achieved.
I feel that those of us who are bringing up young women have a responsibility to educate our daughters to regard themselves and others with respect and to fight for equality for all, whether on the basis of gender or any other difference.
My daughter is my first born child. Before she was born my mother had warned me that boys were straightforward and that girls were much more complicated. To be honest that was not my experience. My boys taxed my parenting resources much more than my daughter. Perhaps I understood her better? Perhaps it was just personality differences? She is now, I hesitate to admit, old enough to be getting married. And as she is poised on that threshold I pause to reflect on what I want to say to her as she enters the next phase of her adult life.
As if that doesn’t make me feel old enough my son and his wife are expecting their first child in a few weeks, a daughter. As we wait to welcome her into the world I’m thinking about what I’d say to her too about being a girl.
What do you want to say to your daughters? What messages do you want to give them about being women? If you are their mother what does it mean to you to be a woman in the 21st century? If you are their father what do you hope for on behalf of your little girl?
Mums, being a girl today is not the same as when you were growing up. Some things have improved. Attitudes toward women are generally different and there are many more legal protections against gender-based harassment and discrimination. Domestic violence is now being talked about whereas it used to be a ‘dirty’ secret. But your daughters are also subject to different and more intense challenges and pressures than the previous generation. From about the age of 10 a girl’s self-esteem often goes into decline as she becomes more focused on herself, who she is and who she’s becoming; the pressure to achieve in the academic, sporting and arts arenas today is enormous. While you will also have gone through the process of recalibrating your identity and working out friendships, what you believed in and how you fit into the world, you will have been able to do it in the privacy of your own home without the full glare of the spotlight that is social media to hinder the process. Young girls are sometimes behaving in a way they feel they ‘should’, rather than in a way they would like. Peer pressure has taken on new meaning.
The stresses in a tween and teen girl’s life are so great now that eating disorders, self-harm and depression are more prevalent than ever before. Girls are growing up much faster. They are exposed to far more media and with it relentless messages about how they should look and behave. For girls how they look has become a constant obsession.
Girls tend to suffer much more from perfectionism than boys. Many believe that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. They can think that if they are not perfect they are unacceptable. We, as parents, may think that aiming high is a good thing but not if it turns into nothing is good enough. Perfectionism is a real problem when it prevents your daughter from taking risks, when she plays it safe, won’t put up her hand, won’t risk trying anything unless she’s sure she can excel at it. It stifles ambition, wastes her potential and causes anxiety and loss of performance.
Nowhere is perfectionism more obvious than in relation to body image. This reaches a peak in the teens but starts much earlier. Studies show that 3 year olds are very aware of their bodies and talk about being fat-some kids insult each other by calling others ‘fat’. We know that body dissatisfaction significantly affects feeling of self-worth and engagement with life. We also know that mums, as the same gender parent, can unwittingly pass on attitudes of dissatisfaction with their bodies to their daughters.
So what can parents of girls say to their daughters on International Women’s Day? Well this is what I want to say to my daughter (and my granddaughter):
You may have many other things you’d say to your girls. Let us know what you think they need to hear.
If you’re interested in exploring issues relating to girls come along to our Raising Girls Workshops.
February 27th, 2017
Is your child racing towards the teenage years faster than you expected? Does that fill you with dread? Or are you looking forward to that greater independence? Either way a better knowledge of what goes on in the teenage mind will smooth the path of adolescence for both parent and teen.
Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all science. You need to have a real understanding of the real child in front of you at the stage he is at now to know how to apply your parenting techniques and strategies.
Unrealistic expectations are the source of much upset in families.
When we understand our child’s stage of development we’ll have a better understanding of what’s reasonable to expect of them. Understanding what your child is capable of now doesn’t mean giving up on goals for the future but it will direct our efforts so we can give them the support they need to achieve what we want from them.
You are the experts on your children – you know what they like and don’t like, what are their fears, what makes them happy and how they’re likely to behave in different situations. But sometimes you might not understand why they do the things they do. And just when you think you’ve ‘got’ them, they change.
The perfectly reasonable child you used to know may morph overnight into an alien being when they hit puberty. If you’re both going to get through this turbulent period ok you need to understand what’s going on for your adolescent.
Hormones generally get blamed for the changes in adolescence and although they play a part recent research is showing that changes in the adolescent brain are responsible for much of the ‘strange’ behaviour.
From the ages of 11 to 24 the brain undergoes a complete remodelling. The way we think, remember, reason, focus attention, make decisions and relate to others all change.
There are dramatic changes in the frontal lobes — the area of the cortex behind the forehead
which acts as a command centre. Eventually the changes will allow the teen to regulate their emotions, think about risks in big-picture terms, exercise wise judgment, plan for the future and have empathy. But for now it is a building site, where parts will go offline for a while. That’s why adults need to have respect for the remodelling process and make adjustments for the fact that the adolescent mind is a construction zone.
While the frontal lobe develops, it’s the limbic region (emotional centre) that is more active. That’s why a bland remark or an innocent bump in the hallway can be interpreted by a teenager as intentional and they will respond with anger.
But the massive re-modelling of the brain’s basic structure in early adolescence is good news – the brain is thought to be especially receptive to new information and primed to acquire new skills during this period of exuberance.
Some brain development is driven by genes, some by use. Experience alters the structure of the brain at any age but progresses faster when young.
“…we know that the major innovations in technology, in science, in music and art come from adolescent minds. That’s because adolescents are literally biologically programmed to push against the status quo that adults have created and imagine a world that could be, and not just learn the world as it is. That’s why we need to see adolescents as the hope for the future.”
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Dan Siegel
We mustn’t see adolescence as a period of aberration to be endured. It can also be regarded as perfectly adaptive – the teen is a creature highly adapted for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.
Understanding what’s going on for teens makes it easier for us to be compassionate, to not assume they’re doing what they’re doing just to wind us up.
Teens tend to:
For more help in understanding the teenage years and some strategies for making the most of them come to our regualr workshops on Teenagers. Click here for more details.