February 20th, 2017
Does that headline make you cross? Is the feminist in you outraged? Are you saying of course girls are brave! My girls are brave. Boys don’t have a monopoly on courage.
Well, think about it in the context of school and work. Are girls as willing to put their hand up in class to answer a question where they are not certain they know the answer? Will girls choose to study subjects unless they think there’s a chance they’ll get top grades? Will they choose careers that they think they might not excel in? Will they put themselves forward for jobs if they think they are don’t have all the necessary qualifications?
It’s arguable that boys pay less attention than girls to what other people think for one thing, but even if they only reference their own evaluation boys will put themselves forward where girls will not.
It is well known that women are under-represented in board rooms and parliaments across the world and various theories have been put forward about women’s self-confidence. You may have heard of the Hewlett Packard report of 2014 which stated that men will put themselves forward for positions when they have 60% of the necessary qualifications while women won’t apply unless they have 100% of the qualifications.
Reshma Saujani suggests in her fascinating TED talk Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fC9da6eqaqg, that we are teaching our girls not to take risks. That women have been socialised to aspire to perfection.
Perfectionism means that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. Girls tend to suffer from it more than boys. Many believe that being perfect, whether in relation to school work, sports or extra-curricular activities or their appearance or behaviour, is not only possible but their duty. They can think that if they are not perfect they are unacceptable.
Does your daughter like to do things right or not do them at all? Does she screw up a drawing or piece of work that looked perfectly ok to you? Does she not take risks for fear of making mistakes/looking silly? Will she put up her hand in class? Does she suffer from learned helplessness, i.e. ask for help a lot so that if there is a failure it won’t be her fault? Does she give up easily? Does she attribute success not to her own efforts but to luck? Does she berate herself for making mistakes whether in school work or relationships? Are you afraid to tell her off because she takes it so badly?
Typically girls suffering from perfectionism engage in black and white thinking, critical self-talk, avoiding things as a means of coping, and generally negative thinking and reasoning. Perfectionism can actually lead to a drop in grades, anxiety and lack of sleep in the short term and missing out on opportunities over the long term. Not to mention the great loss to society of what that girl might have contributed.
Think about this in terms of body image. We know that girls and women often have quite unrealistic views about how they should look due in part to the preponderance of airbrushed and photo shopped images and exaltations to ‘look after ourselves’ in the media. Body image is very important to girls (and dominates their engagement with social media). Their obsession with it reaches a peak in the teens but starts much earlier (studies show 3 year olds are very aware of their bodies and talk about being fat-some kids insult each other by calling others ‘fat’).
Saujani claims that we are raising our girls to be perfect and raising our boys to be brave. She says we teach our daughters to play it safe and avoid failure while boys are encouraged to aim high, no matter the risks. Boys are habituated to take risks and are rewarded for it.
Saujani really caught my attention when she referred to the Mindset research of Professor Carol Dweck of which I’d been a huge fan for many years. She referred to an aspect of it I hadn’t come across before when she claimed that there was a difference between boys’ and girls’ mindsets, that girls(especially bright girls), when faced with a problem that was challenging were more likely than boys to give up. Boys found the tasks energising and were more likely to redouble their efforts. Dweck’s research included presenting children with tasks that were beyond their abilities and observing how they responded to those challenges. She found a difference between the children according to what words of encouragement the researchers used. The children who more likely to rise to the challenge of the beyond reach task were those who had been praised in an earlier task with words which addresses the effort they’d applied rather than any innate ability they might have. Eg they were told “Oh you did really well, you must have tried really hard” as opposed to the other group who were told “Oh you did really well, you must be really good at these.”
Interestingly the boys in the study appear to have embraced the challenge more and Dweck explains this by reference to their earlier school experience. She says that in early schooling boys usually get told off quite a lot! They get used to criticism and are often told to apply more effort. Girls, who are working hard already, are not being given the effort message.
So herein lies the solution for parents of girls:
Healthy self-esteem is a direct result of the child seeing that she can make mistakes, solve problems, struggle and come out triumphant, and that her value as a human being is not contingent upon her results.
Messages to encourage a healthy mindset:
The Parent Practice runs regular courses on Raising Boys and Raising Girls.
Click here to see when the next ones are running
February 12th, 2017
Children love snow and they love being active. So the family skiing holiday is a guaranteed winner, surely?! Not always. Although a skiing holiday with children has great potential for physical fun and family bonding, it also has the potential for frustration and disappointment…. So here are Six Steps to a Successful Ski Holiday this year
(1) BE REALISTIC
A family skiing holiday is NOT the same as pre-children! We may dream about hours on the slopes, relaxing over lunch or in the sauna, but children have different requirements and agendas. Some children may be able to adapt to change of routines, but others will struggle. Less adaptable children may be feeling out of their depth in a new environment, with different language, different food, and a new level of tiredness, let alone other physical effects of altitude, dehydration, chapped lips, sore legs, blisters…..
Your child is not trying to ruin your holiday – she’s not BEING a problem, she’s HAVING a problem. Can you anticipate which bits might be trickier for your child and plan ahead to help her?
(2) BE FLEXIBLE
You want to maximise your time on the slopes but consider whether you also have other priorities for the week together than improving your own technique? If this is a rare opportunity to spend time with your child away from school, in the fresh air, without 4G or wifi, make the most of it!
We want our children to be competent and safe on the slopes, and we also want them to enjoy skiing holidays. Spend some time with them doing the more childish snow activities at a more childish pace – it will be good for you too!
(3) BE PREPARED
You will inevitably spend time preparing practically - collecting kit together, booking lift passes, hiring equipment etc. You can also prepare on another level. What areas may cause problems, or have been tricky in the past for your child? Typical hot spots are putting on boots, carrying skiis, using the chair or button lift, settling into ski school….. Or arguments about who sits where on the train or plane…..
Rather than hoping that nothing goes wrong, prepare with a Family Ski Meeting, and discuss together possible challenges. Encourage the children to contribute solutions - they can be quite ingenious!
(4) GET PHYSICAL
Some of the challenges of skiing with children involve struggling with helmets, lift passes, chapsticks, goggles, under time pressure or in the cold or heat. Before you go practice beforehand at home. Help them practice putting their own coat and gloves on, decide which pocket has the emergency smarties and tissues, and have some fun pretending to get on a sofa chair lift, bringing the imaginary bar down, or waiting at the top or bottom of a slope until everyone is together, playing a snow-themed word game to keep the mood up!
Obviously the plan is to have fun, but children will also feel tired, worried, confused, anxious, unsure, incapable, hesitant, frustrated, vulnerable, embarrassed, uneasy, discouraged, disappointed….. It doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful! When we try to change how a child feels – by dismissing or belittling or ignoring the emotions, or reassuring them, the unacknowledged and unresolved emotions continue to swirl around and eventually burst out into behaviour.
Connect with how your child feels, and help them re-direct what they do.
Rather than: “Don’t worry about how high up we are, these lifts are perfectly safe.”
Try: “It can feel scary to be up so high, we’re not used to it. Where shall we look?”
Rather than: “everyone is tired, but no-one else is complaining.”
Try: “I hear how tired you feel, I bet your legs feel really heavy…. wouldn’t it be nice if we could just snap our fingers and find ourselves tucked up in bed?!”
Acknowledging how they feel does NOT condone any negative behaviour. It DOES mean we stay connected and we help them learn to manage their emotions so the behaviour can improve.
(6) ACKNOWLEDGE EFFORT AND IMPROVEMENT
Encourage them to repeat particular behaviours by descriptively praising them.
Notice any effort they make, and any improvement. Recognise any coping strategy they try, and acknowledge them for being brave, resilient, flexible, persistent, determined, also for paying attention, remembering, being organised or helpful and for not complaining (too much!)
“You are hardly complaining at all about the cold.”
“I know you’re not sure that skiing is really your thing but you’re trying to do the snow plough just the way your teacher showed you. I saw that you were really paying attention while he was talking. Then you watched carefully while he showed you and you had a go. I love that you’re willing to try – it shows a wonderfully positive attitude!”
“When the instructor asked you to wait for the little ones to go first on the magic carpet you stepped back. That was patient because I could see you really wanted to have another go. You are getting good at following instructions and controlling your impulses.”
“I noticed you got all your kit together last night and remembered where to put it all. That made this morning easier!”
“I like that you are being so responsible about your helmet. It’s tricky to do the strap but you’re persevering with it.”
Avoid comparing siblings on the slopes or encouraging competition. Instead focus on their individual effort and listen to any frustration about mixed abilities.
“I love the way you pick yourself up and brush off the snow and just get straight back to trying your hardest”
“I can see those parallel turns getting closer and closer together each time you come down the slope, keeping working on them like this and soon they will get easier!”
“It’s hard for you, Jack flies down the slopes and you want to be as fast as him.”
“When Sally gets scared and we all have to stop, you feel frustrated with her because you want to keep going.”
January 23rd, 2017
Are you amongst the thousands of parents who made a new year’s resolution a few weeks ago in connection with your parenting? Perhaps you resolved to shout less or to stay calm. So many parents tell us they want to be more patient. As we approach February are you amongst that very large group who are finding it hard to keep their resolutions?
If not, keep up the good work. If you are struggling, it’s probably because parenting goals are often not well defined or because the steps that would enable you to fulfil your goal aren’t clear. How do you stay calm when your child is ignoring you/beating up his sister/has forgotten his homework for the zillionth time?
Help is at hand.
If your goal is staying calm, and it is after all the ‘holy grail’ of parenting, then you need four things. Just four.
Could you start one quick practice this week to take care of your emotional self? Maybe start using an Appreciation Book –keep a lovely notebook on your bedside table and write in it one thing each day that you appreciate about yourself. Imagine you were writing it about someone you care for. Better still, get your partner involved and write one affirmation for each other. I know from personal experience that when you do this it really builds confidence and trust between you, and makes you much more forgiving of lapses (your own or your partner’s).
For example if you have a child who is cautious, who is inclined to reject new ideas, new people and new situations until he’s more familiar with it/them he may need a bit more preparation than another child. This was one mum’s experience:
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 highly 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.
This mum learnt not to make her child wrong or have him feel he was unacceptable as he was but she was also able to help him come to terms with and work with his own temperament. She couldn’t just wish him into being different but she could help him adjust his behaviour and thrive. We have a workshop next week on just this topic.
We know that keeping calm is a really hot topic for parents so we dedicate a whole class to it in our ten week positive parenting programme and there is a whole chapter on it in our book Real Parenting for Real Kids.
What action will you take to help your staying calm resolution?
December 02nd, 2016
As many parents and children head into the last weeks before 11+ exams, final preparations begin. There is a long list of things to check before the day itself – test papers completed, tick, clear pencil case purchased, tick, arrival time and travel plans checked, tick, arrangements for siblings made, tick, nutritious breakfast and early night planned, tick…..
Even with all your preparations, your child will probably still get anxious. This is the real thing; they have not done it before, they know it matters and they may well have picked up that you are nervous. They probably also know that getting nervous won’t help them.
You might take your child aside for a quiet word….. “There’s no need to be nervous, everything is going to be fine, and you just need to breathe and stay calm so you can do your best”.
This kind and practical advice might be reassuring. As the tummy flutters start you remember what Mum or Dad said, and you breathe and maybe it all settles down….
But hearing that you need to manage your nerves is not the same as being able to manage your nerves. Managing anxiety is a really important life-skill, and it takes more than a few minutes of pep talk……
We need to directly approach our children’s anxiety about the approaching exams. It may not feel natural, it may even feel the wrong thing to do. But it will help them if we say things like “I imagine as the exam gets nearer you may well be getting nervous, perhaps it is rumbling away and you’re not sure what to do about it” or “Maybe you’re scared about feeling scared about the exam, even though you have worked so hard on all those tests.”
Despite lots of practical and also emotional preparation, my son was overwhelmed by nerves on the morning on his 13+ exam. He turned as white as a sheet as we arrived at school, his eyes filled with tears, and he started shaking his head…. I so wanted to take these feelings away, I wanted him to feel better – not just for himself and for me, but for the results! I had to dig really deep to say “This is a very tricky moment, you have worked really hard and kept yourself very calm, and now it’s a few minutes away and the nerves have hit you hard and fast and big. Perhaps they have caught you by surprise and that is really tough….” This gave my son a moment to feel OK about not feeling OK, and I saw him trying to pull himself together, and I put my hand on his shoulder. We stood there for a few minutes, and then he dashed into the cloakroom to splash his face. And then he walked off to the exam hall.
The truth is anxiety is already present in our homes – so we’re not going to introduce it or make it worse by talking about it. In fact, when we NAME IT we have a chance to TAME IT.
Let’s give our children a chance to recognise and acknowledge their nerves, by identifying them and then supporting them to work their way through their feelings. We may still give the advice about breathing, but we approach it in a different way.
We can teach children to manage anxiety in a few ways.
First, we can model our own approach to nerves– verbalise how you feel when you’re doing something new or difficult or important, and show them how you handle this. (“I am so excited about driving Dad’s new car, and I am also worried. I think I need to get to know where everything is before I turn the engine on, and then maybe I should do a practice run around the block before we set off to Grandma’s house.”
Be open about the benefits of anxiety. Any performer will tell you that those tingling and jangling adrenaline-fuelled nerves are what can propel you further, keep you going and take to you to new heights – if you welcome and harness them. No nerves? That’s just not true.
Discuss how nervousness feels – can we visualise or describe nerves?
When I asked my sons, I was astonished how clearly they could express their fear! One son said he feels cold and wants to stay very still; he described it as feeling blue and fragile, like glass. My other son described his anxiety as red and bubbling and it makes him want to run.
And what are the early warning signals that things are building inside you? I realise now that I’m concerned about something when my fingers start twitching and I can’t settle to one task. Ask where in their body do they feel the nerves? Tummy, head, arms or legs?
We can refer to other people – it’s not just them. How does Tom Daley feel standing on tip toes at the end of a 10m diving board? They may look completely calm and relaxed – how do we think they manage it?
Talk about various calming techniques that may work for them. They may need a different one to those that work for us. Some well-known options are breathing, visualizing a serene and happy place, or a balloon floating into the distance, or maybe they need to sing or talk to themselves, or have a mad dance around the house to release tension? Whichever one catches their imagination, give it a go and practice it, often.
Obviously doing mad dances or tapping fingers or feet in the exam hall isn’t going to be an option, so it’s likely they will need some alternative calming techniques. (My son takes blu-tak into exams, he squishes it between his fingers in his pocket. )
The trick is to use these techniques early enough – hence the need to spot early warning signs.
So, just as with revision preparations, emotional preparations will help your child deal with exam nerves but also with anxiety generally.
November 24th, 2016
Christmas is coming – but many parents are counting down revision days rather than shopping days…..
Exams in early January cast a shadow over the festive season for many families. How do parents get the balance right, so their child enjoys a rest and gets the seasonal cheer and family fun they need, and is also ready for the Big Day in the New Year?
The obvious advice is to make a revision schedule and stick to it – but what is a good revision schedule for your child? And how do you stick to it?!
Each child needs different preparation – it may be the same exam, but the children are not the same! It’s hard to walk your own path, and hear that other families may be doing more revision, or indeed to hear them insisting they are taking a laid-back approach when you know your child needs more support.
Children today DO have to get used to taking exams. How can we find the right approach and avoid piling on pressure and overwhelming them so they can learn how to do their best?
There are lots of tips about revising – eating healthy foods, getting good sleep, using post-it notes or flashcards. And here are four ideas that will definitely help that you may not have heard before!
Take a tip from computer games!
Have you noticed how motivated your child is to play Minecraft or Jelly Splash? Why? Children love playing these games, and keep going back for more, because lots of clever people have worked hard to make them enjoyable. And, obvious as this may seem, when children enjoy themselves, they are willing to keep going and they improve their performance.
What does this mean for revision?! There are ‘educational’ or ‘revision’ games available, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Children thrive on feeling successful and being rewarded for their efforts as they are in computer games. Does that give us a clue? Does your child feel successful at revision? Do they feel acknowledged and rewarded for the effort they put in?! Mmmmm…..
Computer games work on giving the child something that they value and appreciate every 7 seconds. How much positive feedback does your child get for each revision session? Computer games also break themselves down into munchable chunks – a few minutes of intense work, then a shift of pace or perspective to refresh the previous skills.
Keep revision sessions SHORT and make them REWARDING – that doesn’t mean handing over smarties for every right answer, but it does mean giving LOTS of Descriptive Praise. Say something positive about their effort, any improvement and strategies they use, and for persevering and much more!
“I see you’ve used different colours to make that diagram more interesting and clear. This will help you remember it better.”
“You’ve been very conscientious about filling in your scores on the exercises. Now you can keep track of your progress.”
“I noticed you had a glass of water before we started. That was good thinking, it means your brain is ready to work!”
“You’re pushing yourself to do this, it’s not easy for you, and it will pay off over the next few weeks.”
“Even though you would rather we weren’t doing this, you realise it’s important we get it done. Your attitude towards these exams is mature.”
“I love that you are sticking with this, even when you don’t get the right answer straight away.”
LET them do it their way and have a choice
This doesn’t mean doing NO revision, but it DOES mean letting them have some input and autonomy in their revision. Given that there is no choice about IF they do it, then allow them to have some say about the HOW, the WHEN or the WHERE.
There isn’t one right way (your way!) to revise. Many children do not enjoy sitting still and repeating facts. In fact, trying to do so may be impeding their learning. Some children really do learn better when they are walking around the room, or squeezing, bouncing or hitting a ball. Moving can make learning more enjoyable as well as more effective - have you tried BEING a volcano erupting? It’s much more fun than talking about it…..
Does your child enjoy creating images? Then get them drawing shapes and flow diagrams using a whiteboard, blank postcards or even powerpoint, rather than using something already created by someone else. Yes, it takes a little more time, but the personalisation and engagement is key. Does your child like rhymes and sounds? They can create songs or poems to help them remember facts – it doesn’t matter whether they are rather silly songs or poems! The sillier the better in fact.
We get so worried that our children take revision seriously that having fun and doing it differently to how we would do it, doesn’t sit well with us. Just because your 10 year old works differently from you, doesn’t mean he’s not working or indeed it’s not working for him!
UNDERSTAND their reluctance
This is likely to be the first time your child has experienced this level of pressure or stress. It won’t be the last. That’s not meant to sound all doom and gloom, but rather this is an opportunity! Our job is to coach our children through this new experience and help them learn that they can manage it.
There is nothing wrong with a child who does not look forward to doing revision and would rather be doing something else..
Telling them off for not realising how important revision and exams are doesn’t work. And it probably isn’t true either. They probably do realise, as it’s unlikely we’ve kept it to ourselves. Equally, trying to persuade them that revision is really fun isn’t effective either. It’s simply not true, unless you have taken our first tip very seriously and it really is fun now!
So what’s happening?
Well, we may have come to believe that our child is lazy or defiant . Assuming they are lazy is untrue, although they may have been unmotivated to date. How hard have you seen them work, and for how long, when they’re really enthusiastic about something? It helps to remember that children want to do well, and they care about what happens and what we think of them. When they don’t think they can achieve or make us happy, they pull back from trying. They can do this two ways – either by noisily and defiantly claiming it’s all pointless and you can’t make them do it, or quietly and equally strongly by pulling back and making cursory, if any, efforts. The negative response they get from us hurts, but they believe it’s the best way to protect them from something worse – the feeling of failing and letting us down.
So what can we do?
First and foremost we need to model a positive attitude towards getting things wrong ourselves. Rather than berate ourselves for making mistakes, we can show our children a more healthy way to handle mistakes by talking about what we are going to do next to improve.
We can also explain to our children that our brains grow and get stronger through use, just like any other muscle, and actually the best exercise they can get is struggling to get something right and finally achieving it!
This is part of how our children develop a Growth Mindset – a belief that we can keep improving by working hard, trying different strategies and persevering.
We can also help our children understand their own reluctance by putting it into words for them – this is very different from asking them “What’s wrong, what’s the matter?” however kindly and gently this is asked. Even if they understood and could articulate it, they probably wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so. So, instead, try “I wonder if you’re scared about working hard and still not getting a good mark. It’s very difficult to push yourself without knowing whether you will get the result you hope.”
We absolutely can help our child feel better – but we can’t PUSH them to do so. We need to support them. That means we FIRST need to LISTEN to how they feel and then help them work their way through. They can’t hear our advice or encouragement until we have heard their concerns.
You could try: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”
If your child is getting frustrated and stressed, we know this doesn’t help so we are tempted to reassure them or brush their negative feelings away by saying: “Don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine, it will all work out, you’ve got this if you focus” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down”
Instead try: “It’s hard to keep on going, particularly over the holidays. Maybe it feels like you’re not getting anywhere and at the same time the exam is getting closer….”
What’s next? Stay quiet! Let your child open up rather than diving in with a homily about how life works…… This moment is not about what you know, this is about what they are thinking and feeling. And it can be very powerful and illuminating. Sometimes we hear that a child has developed some muddled ideas about what is going to happen or not happen, and we can help clarify these. Sometimes we hear about practical concerns that we can help them sort out.
November 15th, 2016
Many people were shocked and some were dismayed by Donald Trump’s election as president of the USA last week. But unless you live in America you may not have expected it to have had much impact on your children. I was somewhat taken aback when one of the 13 year old participants on the behavioural change programme I facilitate in Sydney anxiously asked me if I thought we’d go to war now Trump was going to be president. I also heard an account on the radio of principals calling special assemblies in primary schools to assuage children’s fears.
Some parents will have real fears themselves around the election of a man whose campaign was characterised by vitriolic hate-filled statements directed against women, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, his opponent, the media and anyone who disagrees with him. The few policies he identified were inward-looking, protectionist and xenophobic. His utterances seemed impulsive, self-focused and lacking compassion for any other. So it’s not surprising that many worry that this man will be in a position of immense power from January 2017. I personally am very concerned at the display of such bullying tactics and the normalising of a hate and blame-filled discourse, not to mention his vulgar sexualised messages about women, judging them primarily on appearance.
If adults have these concerns then their children will pick up on the vibe of anxiety and may hear things that they don’t fully understand. They will draw their own conclusions if we do not explain to them what is going on and what we think will happen in a calm way, in words they can understand according to their age.
Some children will have been just getting on with their lives and may not have been really aware of the adult interest in politics but may now be hearing things at school.
Even if you think Trump may be the breath of fresh air that the US needs and embrace his policies there will probably have been aspects of his behaviour that you find distasteful. If your children have become aware of this it could be a great opportunity to communicate your values to them.
The family is the source of your child’s values. They see how you treat others, how you disagree with others and how you resolve disputes, how you listen to other opinions. Your rules will count for a lot as they are a statement about your values, a guide to what is expected and acceptable behaviour. But it’s what they see modelled that counts for most. They will see whether in this family we give everyone a say, whether everyone is treated respectfully. They will observe whether people who are different from them are regarded with fear and disrespect or interest, an attempt to understand and enjoy. If we treat our partners or our children with ridicule, treating them to put downs or sarcasm, or bullying tactics then our children will learn that that is how to behave. Whenever we discipline our children they take away from that interaction “this is how you deal with things that you don’t like.”
When someone in the public eye behaves in a way or makes statements that are contrary to our values we need to let our children know that we disagree with that stance or conduct without putting down that public figure.
About this time last year sadly we wrote about addressing children’s worries in the aftermath of the Paris and Beirut tragedies. Click here for our blog. Here are some other ideas about addressing your child’s worries and teaching values: