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November 23rd, 2015

How do I talk to my child about the Paris tragedy?

This is a question that parents have understandably been asking in our classes this week. What has happened in Paris and in Beirut recently is a very shocking and terrible thing and how you talk to your children about it 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’.  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?



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, for the people of Paris and Beirut, and perhaps for themselves. You may be despairing of how to handle this barrage. You may have an example of both approaches within your own family.

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’s happened far away and 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 overseas 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 happen where you live 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.


You may wonder why I’m mentioning values here. Surely we all have the same values –that this was a terribly wrong thing to do? Well, yes. But there is an opportunity here for us to teach our children something about difference.

As we know this atrocity was committed in the name of an 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.

I was brought up as a Catholic so I can point to the troubles in Ireland and say to my kids that they know full well that not all Catholics are terrorists. If your children have Muslim friends say to them “Ahmed is not a killer is he?”  If you meet a woman wearing Muslim dress smile at her 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!

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November 20th, 2015

Skill Three: Listening and Connecting

An extract fron the upcoming book by Melissa Hood, 'Real Parenting for Real Kids' - available April 2016

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  Ralph Nichols

"Listening is noting what, when and how something is being said. Listening is distinguishing what is not being said from what is silence. Listening is not acting like you’re in a hurry, even if you are. Listening is eye contact, a hand placed gently upon an arm. … Listening involves suspension of judgment. It is neither analysing nor racking your brain for labels, diagnoses, or remedies. Listening creates a safe space where whatever needs to happen or be said can come."  Allison Para- Bastien

My daughter, being an extrovert, used to come home from school talking nineteen to the dozen about what had happened that day. “Sophie told Hannah that she wasn’t going to be her friend anymore and Hannah won’t invite her to her party and …. I want to be friends with both Hannah and Sophie but if I go to Hannah’s party Sophie won’t be my friend anymore!...etc” I was very tempted to jump in with my pearls of wisdom that I ‘knew’ would solve the problem and teach my daughter some valuable life skills. Luckily something stopped me and I looked at her and just nodded and said hmmm occasionally. I discovered that if I bit my tongue and just listened my daughter would talk her way round to her own solutions. She needed opportunities to vent, she needed me to be her sounding board and, having off-loaded, she felt heard and understood.

To continue reading the complete extract click here

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November 18th, 2015

Skill seven: Keeping calm

An extract from the upcoming book by Melissa Hood, 'Real Parenting for Real Kids' - available April 2016

When my sons were young their fighting really pushed my buttons. Christian could be really mean to Sam. He would provoke him mercilessly, saying “you smell” or “you’re ugly” at any opportunity and play his music really loudly when Sam was doing his homework. He would tease, call names and sometimes push, shove or hit him. Sam, in turn, could whine for Britain. He would come and tell tales on his brother, seeking to get him into trouble. These behaviours made me see red. I looked at these two kids whom I’d brought into the world and raised, and thought, ‘where did I go wrong?’ I thought Christian was mean and aggressive and would never have any friends and I imagined a future where I would be visiting him behind bars! I thought Sam was manipulative and would never learn to stand on his own two feet. These boys would never have the relationship with each other that I had envisaged for them. I’d obviously failed as a parent. I felt powerless and enraged and desperate. So I punished them, sending Christian to his room with a resounding character reference and withdrawing privileges and telling Sam off with a good lecture about tattle tales. I now know how ineffective those knee jerk reactions are. Of course the minute my back was turned Christian retaliated against Sam and Sam didn’t learn anything about resolving disputes. Had I been able to stay calm I might have been able to access some of the skills I had in my tool basket. But I had lost it and my skills went right out the window.

When we ‘lose it’ several things happen. We turn from that lovely, kind, empathetic parent into That Other Person and we say things that later we regret like “I don’t want to be your mummy any more.” Where is that other parent coming from? We answer that question in chapter 7 of our forthcoming book Real Parenting for Real Kids from which this is extracted.

When we lose it what happens physiologically is that our muscles tense, our blood pressure and rate of breathing goes up, the levels of the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline increase and our attention narrows, with our ability to hear and see reduced. The red mist descends and our ability to access the rational part of our brains is reduced.

This is not ideal - if we’re in conflict situations our ability to see and hear the other is crucial.

When we lose it with our children they know we have lost control. The effect on our kids is that they may lose respect for us or be fearful of us or they may learn that they can provoke us into irrationality. Often when we lose it and have a knee-jerk reaction we regret it later and we may over-compensate out of guilt.

Keeping calm in the face of children’s provocative behaviour is the holy grail of parenting.

The main points to remember in order to keep calm are:

  • We need to understand what makes us crazy
    • What makes kids do what they do
    • What makes us react the way we do
  • We have to take steps to reduce our stress levels and to look after ourselves
  • We need strategies to teach our children to behave differently

Keeping calm is all about altering our thought processes.

  1. We need to review our expectations and make sure they’re realistic for this child at his stage of development and with his needs, including temperament. Were you expecting your 8 year old son to love doing homework and to stop playing on the play station and come and do it without grumbling? 
  1. Understanding why they do what they do really helps us to stay calm.

Is he tired, hungry, under-exercised, 6 years old, a cautious personality or unable to put his feelings of inadequacy, hurt or upset into words? Even if we don’t understand exactly why our kids are doing what they’re doing thinking about possible causes rather than assuming they’re out to get us puts us in a more compassionate frame of mind. And helps us to stay calm…well, calmer.

  1. Understanding why we do what we do helps us to be compassionate towards ourselves and to alter our thought processes to something more constructive.

When our children do something that ‘makes us’ crazy we assume that their behaviour has ‘caused’ our reaction. They made us do it. Honest, guv. When our children ‘misbehave’ that is certainly the event that triggers our reaction. But the causation is not that direct.

Our children’s behaviour triggers in us feelings that drive our responses. Our emotions cause our reactions, not their behaviour. And those feelings arise out of what we think about what our child is saying or doing, or who we fear our child is, or will become. We can reframe our assumptions and our expectations about our children and ourselves so that we respond in more constructive ways. Your child is not out to get you. He is persistent and wants what he wants when he wants it. He can learn, with guidance, how to wait and how to use words to express himself. 

  1. To be calm we need some strategies:
  • Outside of trigger moments we need be taking care of our own wellbeing and taking steps to work out our priorities and reduce stress
  • In the moment we need a calming technique –a visualisation strategy, a calming mantra or a physical release
  • We need to know what to do about our children’s behaviour. Knowing you have positive and effective strategies for dealing with behaviour helps you to stay calm. It’s not knowing what to do next that can make us panic and causes us to default to ineffective knee-jerk reactions. One parent described this sensation thus: “I feel like I’ve tried everything and I’m paralysed by my own inability to think of solutions, my own incompetence and guilt.”

This is what Real Parenting for Real Kids is all about.

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November 09th, 2015

3 ways to build your parenting practice

By Ann Magalhaes

I love yoga.  After each practice, I feel stronger, more flexible, calmer and I’ve had an hour to quietly think about life.  Often the instructors talk about yoga as a metaphor for life and in a recent class, my teacher was speaking about the importance of abhyasana, consistent practice.  The only way to continue to build, improve and transform one’s ability to do yoga is through consistent practice.  As we are The Parent Practice, I started thinking about how consistent practice is what is required as we go through our own parenting transformations. 

In yoga, as in life … and especially in parenting, perfection does not exist.  As Madeline Levine so beautifully says in The Price of Privilege: “There is no perfect Christmas, child, outfit, family, vacation, home, marriage, or friendship. This is real life, and we would do well to cast the notion of perfection out of our lives and get on with the real business of living with strengths and weaknesses, abilities and deficits, accomplishments and failures.  This is how we help our children learn the art of living: by encouraging them, to take pleasure from their efforts and successes and to tolerate their limitations.”  There is no perfect headstand, and there is no perfect parent!  Yet, when we look around, it always feels like everyone else is doing a better job than we are!  We compare, we judge, we hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard. 

In last Thursday’s class, the instructor was talking about how she’ll never be Prime Minister or play at Wimbledon.  That won’t be the route her life takes her.  Her journey - like your parenting journey - will be your own.  And, as she said, it can be awfully hard not to look at the person beside you doing the most beautiful crow position when you can barely touch your toes and not feel somewhat lacking.  But, that’s not what yoga - or parenting - is about.  And, the moment we stop comparing ourselves and judging others, we can all be supportive of each other no matter where we are along the way.  And we can start the consistent practice of using positive parenting skills.  Here are three simple things you can put into practice right now.  Choose just one for this week!  

  1. Prompts

We live busy lives and we easily fall back into automatic patterns of behaviour.  Sometimes all we need is a simple prompt to remind us to use new skills.  Here’s one that I use in my kitchen as a reminder to comment on the behaviours that I appreciate in my child.  I have a bunch of rubber bands on one knob of  the kitchen cabinet, and when I descriptively praise my child, I move a rubber band to the other knob.  The trick is to have LOTS of rubber bands.  Remember, the magic ratio for positive : negative comments needs to be at least 5:1.  

  1. Rules and Routines

While it may not always seem to be true, children love responsibility and the feeling of being trusted to do things by (and for) themselves and for their family.  When rules and routines are visible … and when we are remembering to use descriptive praise as acknowledgement (e.g. thanks for setting the table) our children are much more likely to be motivated to follow them.  Eventually, with practice, the things that started off as rules and routines become habits.    Make sure your rules and routines are clear, simple and stated in the positive.  Most importantly, make sure that you are consistently following up with descriptive praise (see #1).  This will leave your child feeling good about him/herself, and they will be much more likely to want to cooperate. 

  1. Pause button

When your own emotions get hijacked and you start to feel like you’re about to handle a situation in a way that you’re not likely to feel good about, hit your pause button.  We all know that it is so much easier said than done … and with practice, yes, consistent practice, it gets easier.  Whether you need to take some deep breaths, splash some water on your face, envision a ‘happy place’ or use a mantra to keep you centered, pausing gives you the choice to respond positively, rather than reacting in a way that you end up regretting.  I quite literally say to myself: “Choose”.  That buys me that split second to ensure that what happens next is absolutely up to me. 

When we start to use descriptive praise rather than evaluative praise, it can feel like a completely new language - for you as well as for your children.  When we start to catch ourselves and empathise with our children rather than quickly getting cross, it can feel odd and perhaps a bit uncomfortable at first.  And, if you’ve been in a yoga class and started off with not being able to touch your toes, then with the bit of practice, your toes get a bit closer until one day, you’ve done it … then there is something else to master.  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  We all know there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ in parenting.  Practice does, however, make better and easier … and therefore, more calm and more fun.



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October 30th, 2015

7 Skills for Raising a Good friend

“I have NO friends” are words that no parent ever wants to hear from their child.  A few years ago I remember having to pop into my child’s school during playtime.  I saw my daughter out in the playground, alone, while the other girls were all running around after one another.  I jumped to the most dire conclusion … that she really didn’t have anyone to play with.  I felt a combination of fear and sadness along with my own memories of being a young child, not being quite sure where I fit in.  Friendships are so important - to girls and boys - and as parents, we have a tremendous influence on the kind of friend our child is, as well as the kind of friends our children choose.  How can we raise children who are kind, considerate friends?  Here are 7 key skills with which parents can help their children to be a good friend, and deal positively with friendship issues that might arise. 

7 skills needed for friendships: 

  1. Enjoy the company of others and know how to connect and communicate with others.

Spending positive time with our own friends, without malicious gossiping or complaining about others, is wonderful modelling.

It’s also important to be considerate of your child’s temperament so they can connect and communicate positively.  My daughter is a bit of an introvert and while she can spend hours playing outside with the neighbours, she eventually needs to come inside and go up to her room for ten minutes of quiet time.  She loves to be with her friends but needs to re-energise by being alone.  

  1. Learn to take turns and share

We start to teach our children to take turns and share from toddlerhood.  Knowing a playdate for her three boys (each bringing a friend over) could have potential blowups and meltdowns, one mum sat down with her sons and together they decided on a rota for sharing the Wii and for making sure that the plans for football were equitable.  They set up teams ahead of time, and made sure to have a blend of strong and weaker players on each team. 

  1. Be able to read emotions

Children today are busy and often focused on their own needs.  Sometimes, though, their friends will be having a rough day.  We want to be raising children who can check in with their friends and lend a kind ear and help out if necessary.  When you’re out and about, pay attention to other people.  Say things like, ‘That lady looks so happy’ or ‘He looks like he’s having a rough day’. … which segues perfectly into … 

  1. Be able to empathise

When our children can take the time to imagine how they would feel in their friend’s shoes, they are empathising.  They are not trying to fix their friend’s problems, or feel sorry for them.  They are simply providing a safe ear that doesn’t invalidate what their friend has to say.  “I can’t believe she said that to you.  That must have really hurt your feelings.” 

  1. Regulate aggression

With girls, aggression tends to be in the form of words and exclusion; with boys, it can be more physical.  We can teach our children that it is perfectly acceptable to have big feelings like anger, hurt or jealousy, but that they need to have safe and acceptable outlets for dealing with these feelings.  By empathising with them and teaching them feeling-releasing strategies, they learn to use words or acceptable outlets for aggression.  Another useful strategy is teach our children to withdraw from potentially fractious situations.  

  1. Apologise when you are wrong and have hurt a friends feelings

We have all done or said something that has not landed well with another person and has caused a rift in a friendship. Making mistakes is a big part of life and learning and parents can teach children so much by the way we handle our own mistakes.  Do we complain and blame, or do we get on the phone, take responsibility for what we did, and apologise?  And when our kids make mistakes do we get angry and punish them, or do we support them in fixing their mistakes and making amends? 

  1. Learn when to trust!

As adults, we know that most people are genuine and can be trusted.  We also know that there are some people who can be deceptive for different reasons.  We need to be honest with our children, and teach them that they can walk away when they feel that the trust is no longer there, or the friendship is no longer contributing to their wellbeing. 

By instilling these seven skills in our children, we will support them in being confident, kind, respectful friends who will be able to stand up for, and be a strong voice, when their own friendships call for it.

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October 23rd, 2015

Don't Call Your Child 'Clever'

For years now parents have understood the need to build strong self-esteem in their kids and one of the ways we do this is to tell them they’re clever when they achieve something, whether its walking unaided or tying a shoelace or reading a sentence. We still might be saying it to our teens who’ve figured out algebra or penned a good persuasive piece of writing. 

Of course it’s a good idea to encourage our children but what if our words are having the opposite effect? What if calling them ‘clever’ actually discourages them from trying or stretching themselves?

Research, by Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, shows that focusing on a child’s intelligence or talent can be counter-productive and lead to the development of a mindset that actually prevents them from achieving. Studies have shown that when a child is praised for his intelligence he develops a ‘fixed’ mindset –he thinks that a person is given a fixed amount of talent and intelligence at birth, and whatever they do simply demonstrates the 'cleverness' that they possess. That child thinks that if she is ‘clever’ she shouldn’t have to work too hard at something. People with a 'fixed' mindset tend to avoid exploration and challenge. They take the easy option rather than running the risk that they will prove that they are not in fact ‘clever’. 

People with a fixed mindset have no way of responding to mistakes or failures but tend to give up. My friend’s son is suffering from this way of thinking as he approaches his final year of schooling –he simply believes that he shouldn’t have to apply himself because he is ‘clever’. The result is he’s not doing as well as he could be. 

In contrast others have a 'growth’ mindset, which means the belief that a person's natural capabilities and talents can be developed through application and effort. Good news, eh? The risk-taking and struggle that is inherent in all learning is therefore not regarded as frightening, and more real learning can take place. When faced with mistakes or failures the growth mindset people believe that they can overcome through perseverance. They shall conquer the world! 

So how can we encourage our kids without developing a fixed mindset?

We need to change the way we use praise. 

Praise effort, attitude, strategies and improvement

Parents can encourage a growth mindset by not calling their children clever and instead paying attention to the effort the child employs, the improvements they make and the attitude they bring to a task. “I noticed that when the first approach you tried with your science project didn’t work you tried another tactic. How’s it going?” “You kept on trying with these sums even though you didn’t find it easy. I call that persevering. Your efforts have paid off – five out of six are correct. I wonder if you can work out how to correct the sixth one. 

If self-esteem is connected to results it becomes too fragile. Instead of focusing on results we can notice and comment on effective strategies our children use such as when they look up a spelling word in the dictionary or go back over notes before a test or by keeping an organised folder.  Paying lots of attention to grades (and sporting outcomes) can make the child feel that our approval is dependent on them always getting good results which might feel unattainable. When your daughter comes home from a netball match don’t let your first question be ‘did you win?’, but ‘Did you enjoy the game? Did you play your best? Did you listen to the coach? Did her tips about shooting work? Were you able to set up some goals? How did the team play together?  

When we say “you’re a brilliant artist”, they know they’re not ‘brilliant’; they think of someone who can draw better than them and discount our praise. It also creates pressure to always be the ‘brilliant artist’.

This was true for me growing up – I knew that I would only retain my father’s interest while I continued to perform well academically. It made it feel as if his love for me was conditional. 

Describe the positive behaviours you see

- focus on the positives.  “You’ve remembered to bring your homework diary home.”  “You got on your bike again even though you fell off just now.” 

Notice and mention the tiny steps in the right direction

- be specific and detailed. It shows that the parent is paying attention, it is accurate, relevant and persuasive as well as non-evaluative. “You’re sitting at the table at the right time and you’ve got all your books out. You look like you’re

getting ready to start your homework.” 

Use praise focused on the individual

Use non-comparative praise – in order to avoid children becoming conceited or thinking they’re better than others. It is also necessary so that kids know we appreciate them just for themselves, not compared to anyone else. This reduces the unhealthy sort of competition.

“Your good result in your spelling test reflects the hard work that you put into it. This is the best you’ve done so far” not “You did better than anyone else.”


Parents can also encourage and model a healthy attitude to mistakes –accepting that as part of being human and looking for learning each time.

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