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March 07th, 2016

Why are they so weird? Understanding Teenagers

Up until the 20th century, children entered adult society earlier and were surrounded by adults providing examples - they worked alongside adults. Now teenagers learn from their peers and the media as well as from adults. 

The notion of adolescence as a separate category only really emerged in the 1950’s when there evolved a separate culture of music and fashion. The period of adolescence has now been extended by prolonged economic dependence with children living at home often well into their twenties. 

Puberty is occurring earlier due to improvements in nutrition but there is some doubt that emotional maturity happens any earlier. Our kids look like adults which affects our expectations of their behaviour but in many ways they are still immature. On top of this there is much blurring of the lines between childhood and adulthood with our Peter Pan culture and love of all things youthful. 

Sometimes parents are really taken by surprise when their previously lovely child metamorphoses into an alien being, complete with strange language, belligerent attitude and risky behaviours. 

Why are they so weird?

So what causes this transformation? Hormones have always taken the rap of course but research in recent  years shows that the brain restructuring that happens in adolescence is also to blame. 

Teenagers’ brains go through changes which allow them to develop enhanced powers of perspective, criticism, abstract thought, hindsight and memory; these can create difficulties for them and affect their behaviour. They develop new awareness of existential aloneness and self-consciousness emerges. A dip in self-esteem is the norm and many teens experience depression. Adolescents go through many obvious physical changes during puberty and become tremendously self-conscious about their bodies. They are so aware of the changes that are so apparent that they assume everyone else is looking at them too. Parents can get frustrated with this apparent self-absorption. 

Teens develop a very strong desire to spend time with their peers, sometimes rejecting family in the process. Friends are very important to allow teenagers to sever links with family before finding the emotional nourishment of a mate. Over-dependence on peers can be a problem for teenagers who don’t feel sufficiently appreciated at home. It’s very easy for parents of teenagers to fall into habits of criticising as parents are nervous about teen behavior and choices. When teens feel appreciated at home they still adopt family values on important issues of health, safety, education, career etc. 

Teens take risks. Sometimes unhealthy risks. This is partly because the changes in their frontal lobes make it hard for them to evaluate risks. Much risk-taking behaviour takes place in the presence of their peers. The urge to fit in with or impress their peers makes it even harder to weigh the risk of the behavior they are contemplating. 

Teens argue. They need to as they work out who they are and what they believe in. 

It is the job of a teenager:

  • To take steps towards independence
  • To achieve clearer emotional separation from his family
  • To emerge as a separate independent person with his own identity and values and be able to think for himself
  • To be competent and responsible for his own needs, feelings and behaviours
  • To develop as a sexual being 

It is the job of a parent:

  • To support and affirm moves towards independence and the development of a sense of identity
  • To continue to provide values and boundaries
  • To expect responsible thinking, problem-solving and self-determination
  • To accept the teen’s feelings and opinions (this doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with them!)

Negotiating adolescence 

For a (relatively) smooth ride through adolescence parents need to:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. The onus is on the adult to make sure channels of communication remain open. It’s not enough to say my teen won’t talk to me.
  • Teens do listen when parents avoid criticising, nagging, judging, lecturing and advising. Ears open up when young people expect to hear positive things.
  • Teenagers need to be appreciated probably even more than younger children as their confidence takes a real hit at this time. Make sure praise is credible and meaningful. “I noticed that you’ve been setting your alarm clock to get yourself up a lot lately.” “I really admire the effort you’re putting in with your piano practice. It’s not easy to keep going with something when success isn’t instant.” “This is the third time this week you’ve remembered to lay out your clothes in the evening. Your organisational skills are really improving.” “You put your games things in the wash straightaway. That way they’ll be available when you need them next. You’re becoming much more responsible for your own things.”
  • When adults actively look for the good things in their teens they can see the humour, passion and intelligence of the emerging adult, and maybe occasionally some responsibility. Don’t miss it!
  • Always assume your teen is trying to get things right and will make mistakes. Give him the benefit of the doubt. He had a reason for doing what he did. (Although he may not know what it was.) It’s the parent’s job to look behind the aggravating/dangerous/inappropriate behaviour for a possible reason.
  • Parents need to provide boundaries even though teens don’t want them/think they need them. Empathise that that is a pain and that parents are mean control-freaks.
  • Empathise a lot. Understand how it feels to be them. Acknowledge that they feel stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, frustrated, angry, disappointed, hurt, betrayed, misunderstood….etc.
  • Teens will talk, and even share problems, if they don’t get judged or yelled at. Of course parents shout when taken by surprise but as soon as they’ve calmed down they need to put judgment to one side and help your child to problem-solve. They need help from your mature brain. 

Good luck and enjoy your awesome adolescent.

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February 29th, 2016

You really love me Mummy don't you?

What would your reaction be if your little girl turned to you and said “You really love me, Mummy, don’t you? When I grow up I want a little girl just like me.” A dad in one of our classes told us that this is exactly what his 4 year old daughter had said to his wife that week. He said ruefully, “nothing wrong with her self-esteem is there?” Although he meant that in a typically English self-deprecating manner he did in fact feel very proud, of his little girl and of his wife. And with good reason. How lovely would it be to know that your child knows that you really, really love her? And that she wants to have a child herself in future to replicate that same experience because she can see that it is wonderful for the mum too. Because all mums love their kids and they would like them to know it. And not just on Mothering Sunday.

Now you may be asking yourself what had that mum done to make her daughter feel that way? Well these parents were attending our Positive Parenting Course and they had done the class on Descriptive Praise in the previous week.

Descriptive Praise is magic.

With Descriptive Praise parents have very specific and effective skills for building closeness, strengthening confidence and encouraging cooperation. When parents use Descriptive Praise the emotional bond between parent and child is so strong that children want to listen, they want to do what they’re asked. Parents can encourage the behaviours they need to teach their children and pass on the values that are important to them.

Children are hard-wired to get attention. We mustn’t make them wrong for it –it’s an evolutionary thing. It’s what kept them safe when sabre tooth tigers were lurking. Descriptive Praise allows us to give attention for the behaviour we want to encourage in very effective ways.

Descriptive Praise is not rocket science. It does what it says on the tin. You just describe what they’re doing ….positively. It’s different from conventional, empty praise which is the ‘good girl’, ‘clever boy’, ‘awesome’, ‘good job’ kind of praise which is easy to throw over your shoulder without much effort. Descriptive Praise takes more time and it is genuine and really credible. It is based on the evidence of your own eyes and when you point out to your children what they are doing right, and perhaps why it is a good thing, they will believe it and absorb it as part of their identity. Their self-worth improves.

You notice something small (and we mean small) that they’re doing that is good, or possibly that is not bad. And you mention it to them. Sometimes you’ll add what positive quality that behaviour shows or what the positive consequence of that behaviour is. So you might say: “I see you two have got out of your pjs. That’s a good start to our day. Pause. Emily, you’ve put your pyjama top on your pillow. You’ve remembered where it needs to go. It’s so much tidier than if it’s left on the floor. You’re making a good contribution to our family’s tidiness aren’t you? You are also getting really good at getting your uniform on yourself. I wonder how long it will take you today? Will you beat your best time which was yesterday? …Jacob I see you’ve got your shirt on now….Oh Ella, thank you for helping him with his buttons. What a kind sister. I love it when you two are being so helpful. I think I  should write this in your golden book this evening don’t you?”

Would you like your children to start their day feeling happy and thinking you’re the best mum in the world? Would you like them to know you really love them?

We thought so. You are the best mum in the world, especially with Descriptive Praise in your toolkit.

Start using descriptive praise today. It’s free and the results are miraculous. If you want to know more about it check out our face to face courses and our online courses here. Tell us how descriptive praise worked for you at admin@theparentpractice.com.

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February 08th, 2016

Childhood Anxiety

Anxieties are very much on the rise in children and young people. 2.2% or about 96,000 children in the UK have an anxiety disorder.[ref:http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics]

Normal worries

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, a worry or fear. Children can be fearful of many things, some of them imaginary and many of them irrational. It can be hard for an adult to understand their fears.Many worries are a normal part of growing up.

0-2 years – infants and toddlers are often afraid of loud noises, strangers, separation and large objects

It’s very common for young children to experience separation anxiety from about 8 months. They may become clingy and cry when separated from their parents or carers. This normal stage of development tends to ease off at around age two to three.  

3-6 years – young children are frequently afraid of imaginary things such as monsters, the dark, sleeping alone and strange noises

It’s also common for pre-school children to develop specific fears or phobias of certain animals, insects, storms, heights, water, and blood. These fears usually go away gradually on their own. Gentle gradual exposure to the feared object can help.

7-16 years – older children have more realistic fears such as injury or illness, death and natural disasters, school performance and their future, social anxiety, identity and belonging.

Throughout a child’s life there will be times when they feel anxiety. 

What makes a child anxious?

  • Some children are more prone to worries and anxiety than others.
  • Playing certain computer games can trigger adrenaline rushes which may not get burned off if the child doesn’t get out and move around.
  • Children often find change difficult and may become anxious following a house move or when starting a new school or even if parents are using very inconsistent parenting approaches.
  • Children who have had a traumatic experience, such as a car accident or house fire, may suffer with anxiety afterwards. Some children who experience stress at an early age remain with elevated stress levels.
  • Family arguments and conflict can also leave children feeling insecure and anxious.
  • School can be a very anxious place for some, especially those who find school work difficult or social life tricky.
  • Sleep deprivation is a cause as well as a symptom of anxiety.
  • Parental anxiety plays a big role in a child’s worries.

When is anxiety a problem for children?

Sometimes anxieties are very big, very frequent and very consuming.

Anxiety becomes a problem for children when it starts to get in the way of their day-to-day life. Example: a 10 year old girl who is so afraid of being on her own that she won’t sleep in her own room but sleeps in her parents’ room. This is obviously disruptive to both her parents and her.

Paul Stallard, Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath says “If you go into any school at exam time all the kids will be anxious but some may be so anxious that they don’t get into school that morning…. Some will sit in an exam and their mind freezes and they can’t get anything down on paper. This is when anxiety starts to interfere with what children need to do or would like to do in everyday life.”

Severe anxiety can affect children’s self-esteem. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things or situations that make them feel anxious. Anxiety disorders that start in childhood often persist into the teenage years and early adulthood. Teenagers with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop clinical depression, misuse drugs and feel suicidal.

This is why you should get help as soon as you realise it's a problem.

What are the signs of anxiety in children?

When young children feel anxious, they cannot usually understand or express what they are feeling. They may become irritable, angry, tearful, clingy, withdrawn or have difficulty sleeping, waking in the night, wetting the bed or having bad dreams. They may start or revert to thumb-sucking, tics or stammers, hair pulling or nail biting. They may experience eczema or headaches or stomach aches. They may engage in ritualistic, repetitive or obsessive behaviours. They may ask many, many questions, not because they really want the answers but because they’re seeking connection.

Older children may:

  • lack the confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges and may avoid everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going out in public or attending school
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • have problems with sleeping or eating
  • be prone to angry outbursts
  • talk about their negative thoughts or the bad things that are going to happen
  • engage in comfort eating

What can parents do?

It doesn’t work to tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of, not to be worried or to pull themselves together.

Emotion Coaching

This helps children cope with their uncomfortable feelings, to understand them, be able to verbalise them and to find ways to manage them or alleviate them. Emotion coaches recognise and respect children’s feelings and reflect back to the child what they are experiencing. Giving the emotion a label helps the child to manage it. Name it to tame it.

When your 3 year old won’t go to bed because she’s afraid of monsters don’t say “don’t worry about it” or “don’t be silly-monsters aren’t real.” This will not work. You could say something like “even though monsters aren’t real they can feel very real in the middle of the night. I can see how frightened it has made you feel because you’re crying.  This won’t dismiss her feelings but nor does it suggest that there is actually something for her to be afraid of. Sometimes it can work to get her to shrink the monster or give him a funny face. Some families will work with magic ‘talismans’ that can ‘magic’ away monsters –these can be any object that can be invested with magic properties. 

Alicia Eaton (Words That Work: How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything by Alicia Eaton) suggests using a worry box. She describes worries as emotional messages that our minds send us to take care of us. This is ok where you can take action about the worry such as revising more for an exam. But it’s a problem if there’s nothing you can do. To make the message go away we need to acknowledge receipt –trick the mind into believing action has been taken. Get your child to write down or draw their worry, fold up the paper and put it in a box. Keep the box out of sight, not under their bed. At the end of the week review the worries-most will have taken care of themselves or won’t have materialised. Acknowledge that they didn’t occur without saying “see I told you there was no need to worry.” The child can then decide if they want to put the worry back into the box or throw it away.

Prepare
You can help by preparing children in advance for new situations; talk through what’s going to happen and maybe practice in role play.

Build confidence
Encourage children to feel capable by giving credible descriptive praise for the strategies they use to cope with life. “I like the way you tried again when your first attempt didn’t work. Looks like you’ve found a solution.” Do this all the time. Give them lots of opportunities to be independent and support them by training in small steps. Make your focus be less on results and more on effort and tactics used. Don’t ask ‘did you win?’ when they’ve played a match. When kids think all their parents care about is results they get very anxious.

Failure
When kids make mistakes or fail let them know that mistakes and struggles are a normal part of learning and an indication that their brains are growing. Model an attitude of ‘what can I learn from this?’

Consider environmental factors
Food –can affect stress levels and create mood swings, especially toxins like caffeine and sugar

  1. Exercise –regular exercise soaks up excess adrenaline and releases endorphins
  2. Laughter –do a lot of it
  3. Relaxation –teach your child relaxation and breathing techniques

If you think your child is suffering from greater than normal levels of anxiety consult your GP.

 

 

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February 04th, 2016

What are we bragging about?

I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend about something her insightful son asked her. Her son is a terrific kid: athletic, wise, fun, friendly and incredibly hard-working and disciplined.  

There had been a dance at his school where the girls invite the boys to dance.  My friend’s son had not been invited.  He probably wouldn’t have said anything at all if he hadn’t seen pre-dance photos on his Mum’s Facebook page that her friends had posted.  There were the shots of girls dressed up, boys in tuxedos, corsages, poses … you know the photos.  He asked his Mum: “What are they bragging about?”  Then he offered this as his own answer: “Mum, they are bragging about their children being popular and social. They’re not bragging about the things that matter!” … the things that matter to him.  And, you know, he’s right! 

So, here’s the question again: what are we bragging about?  Do we want OUR Facebook pages to be showing that we value our daughter’s prettiness, or the length of her legs, or the way her hair looks?  Do we want our sons to be valued for their good looks and that they were deemed worthy of being invited to dance?  I decided to scroll through my own Facebook feed from the last few months … and while I consciously post very few individual photos of my child, there are clear themes that jump out! 

- A photo of my child and my husband both dressed up at a Halloween party.  I guess I want everyone to see that they are good sports and like to get dressed up!

- An outdoorsy picture.  I want everyone to see that my daughter loves to be outdoors.

- She did her first triathalon.  She’s athletic.

- The obligatory first-day-of-school-look-how-grown-up-and-pretty she is photos of her alone and with neighborhood friends.  She is cute, she has friends … and a dog!

- Jumping off a dock into the ocean at sunset.  She’s a kid that loves the water and is always up for fun with new friends.

- A photo with neighborhood friends as they run a lemonade stand and golf ball sale for local golfers to raise funds for the Nepal earthquake relief efforts.  I want people to see that she cares about making a difference in the world and that she has a responsibility to contribute. 

I could go on … but I guess what I want my friends to know about my child is essentially that she is sporty, has a global understanding and wants to make a difference; she is friendly, fun and pretty … and that she has a dog!  Here’s the follow up question though, how might my friends perceive what I’m posting?  How does that leave other children feeling if/when they see my posts.  And I know exactly what can happen! 

While writing this, a 1-year ago memory photo appeared on my feed.  It was a photo posted by a friend of the children from 4 out of 5 neighborhood families out on a hike.  The children from the 5th family hadn’t been invited … a complete oversight … not a malicious exclusion by any stretch of the imagination.  But, the son of said 5th family saw the photo on his Mum’s Facebook page and was left feeling excluded, hurt and angry.  

As parents, we are absolutely allowed to feel proud of our children and we do want to share our joyful experiences with family and friends.  I am not writing this at all as a judgement of what we should or shouldn’t post on our pages.  We should, however, post with a greater understanding of two things: 

  1. That our children may not want us posting anything about them anyway.
  2. And if they are ok with us posting, we need to be careful about the messages we are inadvertently sending out about We all know that our children are special and wonderful in so many ways.  What one child has in terms of sociability, another may have strengths in sports, or the arts … or community service. 

If your children are ok with you sharing their life experiences, check in from time to time to see how you are presenting your children to your world.  Is it a true reflection of the important qualities you value in your children?

Ann Magalhaes, The Parent Practice NY

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January 31st, 2016

Managing Morning Mayhem

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

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

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

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

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

 

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January 15th, 2016

How The Parent Practice saved my sanity

or Zen and the Art of Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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