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August 17th, 2015

What my Puppy taught me about Parenting

My only child has just turned 12.  For the last 6 years she has been repeatedly asking for a sibling - in the form of a dog.  After years of promises and procrastination we finally adopted Ozzie, a Cavapoo puppy, and I feel like I have a new baby in the house!  

Just as the parents of a new baby would stock up on all the necessities, I headed down to the local pet shop!  I bought chew toys, special organic puppy food and treats … and, on the recommendation of the owner, a book called The Art of Raising a Puppy, written by The Monks of New Skete, who in addition to living a monastic life, also run a well-regarded dog training facility in upstate New York.   A few pages in – with my Parent Practice facilitator hat on – I did a double take!  Was I reading a puppy-training book or a parenting book?  Many of the things I read were looking awfully reminiscent of things that I had read in parenting books and were equally applicable.   I suddenly had a surge of confidence that I can adapt the positive parenting skills I use with my daughter in order to bring out the very best in our puppy as well!  

Here are some of the lessons: 

  1. Children thrive on routine 

Once I hit page 145, I was right back at the beginning of my daughter’s life, nursing in the rocking chair, with my head in a parenting book!  Puppies, like babies … and growing children, thrive on structure and routine.  While following a schedule may not have had my daughter sleeping through the night until she was well over a year old, the Monks of New Skete have made it possible for Ozzie to sleep through the night from the very first day!  

  1. You have the Power to Bring out the Best in your Children 

“Part of training means that you become a student of your dog and employ an approach that brings out the best in him.” 

This is true for raising children as well.  Over time, we become the experts in our children – we start to know what triggers their upsets, what drives them, what makes them happy, and we get really good at reading their cues.  While being the expert doesn’t always mean that we consistently do the right thing, it puts us in the position to choose our approach.  As Goethe wrote:

 “It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.” 

When we choose to use the positive parenting perspective, we are choosing an approach that ultimately makes our parenting life more joyful and inspiring … and better yet, it helps us instill in our children the values, qualities, habits and behaviours that they will carry with them throughout their lives. 

  1. You are in charge … in the best possible way

 “Being a benevolent leader is learning the characteristics of good training: patience, fairness, consistency, attentiveness and intelligence.  Good trainers may feel impatient with a dog, but they always do their best to avoid showing it.  They take a long view of the training process and don’t try to do too much too quickly, building one step at a time.  They keep their anger in check when things aren’t going as planned and realize that a calm and quiet approach vis-à-vis their pup is more helpful.  With that sort of self possession, a trainer can be flexible, responding to what the dog needs, instead of reacting to mistakes.” 

In our Being in Charge class, we ask our clients to come up with qualities and characteristics they believe inspiring leaders posses.  The common responses are things like: motivating, kind, trusting, patient, charismatic, visionary, and calm. 

When we are calm we are able to access all our positive parenting skills.  We are able to use positive rules to consistently reaffirm our family values; we are able to use descriptive praise to build motivation, cooperation and confidence; we are able to be emotion coaches to help our children handle upsets and disappointments; and we are able to use positive discipline so that our children can make mistakes and learn how to fix them. 

  1. Parenting requires a long-term focus

Another thing parenting and raising a puppy have in common is that it is most effective to take the long-term approach to training our children in the habits and behaviours that will last a lifetime.  We can get our children to do things out of fear of punishment, but this doesn’t teach them to do the right thing because it is the ‘right’ thing to do.  When we can look upon our children’s mistakes as opportunities for teaching and learning rather than as deeply rooted deficits, we can approach them in a whole other way – with compassion, kindness and a focus on solutions rather than blame, anger and judgment. 

One of the benefits of positive parenting is the constant creation of meaningful relationships with our children.  As our new addition has his mid-morning nap (lunch is in 20 minutes!), I know that he will teach us all a thing or two as well!!

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August 10th, 2015

8 simple tips to deal with “Are we nearly there yet?”

What parent does not dread that question, when travelling on a hot sweltering day, when the kids are screaming and squabbling in the back of the car and every other comment is interjected with that question in a whining voice? That is such a button pusher for parents. 

ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?” 

We know sticking them in front of the i-pad in the back of the car is a quick and easy fix, but there are downsides to that and it may leave us feeling a bit guilty. We then complain about them always asking for more screen time on holiday and wonder from where this habit developed? 

We think by now they SHOULD be able to recognise that Mum or Dad need a tranquil environment to drive the car and why can’t they just entertain themselves nicely and recognise that everyone is in the same position and that by now they should have learnt how to occupy themselves and not rely on us to be their entertainment director? 

Sound familiar? The reality is many children may find a long car journey boring and depending on age and stage of development their ability to entertain themselves will be limited. We do need to support them and be creative, as the more we nag and criticise and scold or tell off the worse their behaviour will become. 

Here are 8 top tips for how to have a successful long car journey:

  1. If possible, give your children a good run around before the start of the journey to expend some energy 
  1. If it’s a long journey, apportion some timings for activities, e.g. If it’s a 2 hour journey you could have ½ hour looking out of the window chatting, ½ hour of games (see below), ½ hour meal/packed lunch, ½ stories on a disc player/ipod. 
  1. Be prepared to make regular stops possibly up to every 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on the age of your children. This is recommended for drivers too. 
  1. Carry a bag of emergency supplies in your car (wipes, plastic bags, water, children’s pain relief and travel medication, emergency food etc.) 
  1. Be realistic about sleep. – Under 4’s tend to nod off quite quickly in the car whereas older children can find it difficult to sleep in the car. 
  1. Make sure the car seat or booster is relatively comfortable. Older children may like to bring along a pillow if it is appropriate. 
  1. If there is squabbling in the car and it is beginning to get to you, find a safe place and pull over. Get out of the car and take some deep breaths. 
  1. Get Creative and develop some games for the car.
  • The ‘yes and no game’ – if you say either when asked questions, you are out!
  • Take turns to tell jokes.
  • ABC spotting – take turns to name something you can see beginning with a, then b, then c etc.
  • Cricket –certain number of ‘runs’ for different things seen along the route, eg single run for a red car, four runs for an ambulance and six for a police car. If there’s a motorcycle coming the other way you’re out.
  • 20 questions.
  • Alphabet games like my grandmother went to market and bought apples, bananas and cherries etc. Or one person thinks of a name, like Annabel, and the next person has to think of a name beginning with the last letter, in this case L.
  • Make up funny or nonsensical stories. Construct a sentence each. You may need rules like ‘you can’t kill off a character introduced by another person’. (Yes, there’s a story there – a tedious one.)
  • Chocolate or cheese – each person takes turns to ask the question ‘if you had to choose between the following things, would you choose? e.g. chocolate or cheese?’
  • 1 minute game – choose a topic and talk about it for one minute.
  • Rhyming nonsense – together think of a given number of rhyming words and then make up a funny story incorporating the words e.g. ‘A goat sailed on a boat without a coat. He wanted an oat so he wrote a note…..’
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August 03rd, 2015

How to get kids to do what you ask - in three easy steps

How many times have you asked your children to do something – put the milk back in the fridge, hang up a wet towel, brush their hair … the first response you’ll hear back could be any of the following … ‘just a sec’, ‘I already did it’  - as the milk remains on the counter, the un-brushed breath still horrendous!)  The truth is that when we ask our children to do something, we have an underlying expectation: 

I expect that she will do it
IMMEDIATELY
THE WAY I WANT HER TO DO IT
EVERY SINGLE TIME
FULL OF GRATITUDE THAT SHE WAS ASKED IN THE FIRST PLACE! 

Now, let’s say, you’re getting dinner ready and your child calls down for help with homework.  What is your likely first response?  I’m just guessing that it’s not to put everything on hold and race upstairs.  You’re more likely to shout up a ‘Just a minute’ or ‘Be there in a sec”.  We are just as unlikely to drop all that we’re doing – the important things on our own agendas – and immediately run and do what has been asked of us (unless it is a serious emergency).   

It’s just the same with our children.  Our children also have their own agendas.  They have their heads in a good book, or that Lego construction is almost complete, the puzzle only has 5 more pieces to go, they’ve nearly finished that level of Minecraft … and we jump in and expect that they will drop everything and happily do exactly what we’ve asked, to our standards!

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that our children don’t have to do what is required.  There is however, a really great way to ensure that it gets done in a positive way … without the nagging, cajoling and shouting … and in just three easy steps!  These steps assume that your child has a clear understanding of your family rules and knows what is required of them.   Let’s say one of your rules is ‘Dinner is at 6pm.’ 

Step One:      Go to your child. Rather than shouting from one room (or floor) to another. This is a no brainer … especially as your kids might not hear you otherwise.  You save yourself the frustration of shouting.  Engage with them in whatever it is that they’re doing.  ‘What are you reading?’ ‘Where are you up to?’ ‘Wow, you’re almost finished the whole puzzle!’ ‘I can’t believe you got so much of the Hogwarts set built’, ‘That game looks amazing’.

Step Two:      Give the instruction. It’s 6 o’clock.  You know what that means, right?  That’s right … dinner!  And you’ve looked at me –thank you.  Two more pieces and we need to go. Ask them to tell you what they have to do.

Step Three:  Follow through.  Stay in their space and acknowledge small steps in the right direction.  Empathise with any resistance that comes up.  

It IS possible!  I used it just tonight as my daughter was next door, drawing with her friend.  I went to her, had a look at what she was drawing, told her that it was 6pm and that dinner was on the table.  She asked if she could go back after dinner.  I told her that as she was already heading to the door of course she could go back! 

Three easy steps!  Give it a go!

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July 27th, 2015

The Second secret to Screen Time Sanity – Be your child’s emotion coach

Hopefully you have discussed with your partner and your children the rules about screen time use and started to get clarity over how, when, where and what, as suggested in our first tip but you may still have been met with some serious resistance.

Hopefully you are using descriptive praise to motivate and saying many  positive things to your child about their use of technology.

I saw you put your phone to re-charge. That’s planning ahead - now it will be fully functional for tomorrow!”

“I love how you determined you are to work your way through this. You’re persevering, even though you’re getting frustrated.”

“You remembered our new rule about leaving the ipad in the drop zone.”

And yet you are still met with the whining tones of:

Why won’t you let me play”?

“These are stupid rules. You are so unfair - no other parent does this to their kids.”

“Just one more minute, I have to finish this level…..”

And you are left thinking what now? I have communicated clearly what needs to happen, acknowledged when they have got it right and STILL they resist!

The secret to this is learning how to LISTEN and be an EMOTION COACH  for your child

In order to help our children behave appropriately we need to accept how they feel.  Being an emotion coach is not about indulgence or letting them get away with poor behaviour, but about understanding and connection.

Generally we don’t show much empathy when they say “You’re the only parent who is like this. Everyone else is on it, they spend HOURS playing. It’s so unfair, I hate you!”

A usual response would be :

That’s not true.”

“Don’t be so rude”

It’s not good for you and I’m the boss”

“ I don’t care what other people do. These are my rules!”

“Life’s tough, get with the programme.”

“School is really important, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t keep up your school work.”

“Don’t be silly – it’s not an important game!”

We rationalise, attack, dismiss their feelings, judge them, justify ourselves and generally tell them that they are WRONG and we are right.

And it does nothing to help you and your child manage their screen habits. If anything it encourages them to go undercover, or defy you. It doesn’t teach them any of the self-control or values we want them to learn!

What can we do instead?

Be your child’s emotion coach and understand that all feelings can be accepted, but some behaviours need to change.

The key is we don’t make our children  wrong for the way they feel about things - whether that’s wanting to play Minecraft or preferring to watch TV than do homework.  That doesn’t mean we let them play whenever they want.

We name it to tame it - we acknowledge that they wish they could play more or longer, that reading and maths can be hard, that everyone else has the new game….. We let them have their feelings . 

We connect first so we can then teach and help them stick to the rules….

How does it sound?

I can see you’re enjoying your new computer game. You really don’t want to stop and come to dinner. It’s frustrating to have to stop doing something you enjoy and it takes self-control to do something you don’t feel like doing.”

“I know you don’t want to turn the TV off. You’d like to be able to watch as much TV as you’d like”

“I know Jake is allowed to play Grand theft auto so you want to be able to play it too. You’re mad at me for saying no. I know you think it would be ok because it’s not really real life. I appreciate you do know the difference between games and real life. It’s hard for you to understand why I don’t think this is healthy for you. Let me tell you what I don’t like about it…”

This is how we build rapport and trust - we show them we understand how they feel, and we are on their side to help them do the things they need to do, but may not want to do. When your child feels heard and understood there will be less resistance and he will be more accepting of your rules and values. He will be more able to problem solve and look for solutions. What an amazing gift to give your child.

What are you waiting for? Give it a go today and be your child’s emotion coach.

 

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July 19th, 2015

The (First of Two) Secrets to Screen Time Sanity

When the summer holidays begin we are excited about the thought of no nagging about homework, longer days to play in the garden and the fact that we are not such a slave to the clock. However the first flush of enthusiasm can quickly die away with the realisation that our children may be spending too long on screens and we are using them as a babysitter.

You may be wondering:
“How much screen time should my children be having?” and
“How do I control my children’s screen usage?”

Managing screens is not about coercion and control as that can only lead to long term problems. The answer lies in connection and communication.

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

The same is true for screen safety. The more we nag and shout and blame and criticise and forbid and take away and threaten, the more children will push back and try and regain control. It may work to get them off the gadget in the moment but does nothing to help them long term to enable them to exercise self-control around screens. Children do need limits and boundaries and they are not YET able to set these from themselves so we need to do it for them. The trick is to set ones that will work, that we feel comfortable and competent to implement. We also need to remember that our role is to teach self-control.

Rules for the Digital Jungle:

  1. THINK . Begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate destination? To encourage children to feel in charge of technology and use it responsibly, as opposed to technology being in charge of them. 
  1. DECIDE . You need to decide WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO AND HOW MUCH.
  • How much time? We know that when parents set limits on media consumption, children consume less media than those who have no limits. The consensus amongst professionals is no screens before age of 2 years and no more than1 hour per day for under 8’s. But it’s also about what else you need to do first? Eat, sleep, play or practice?
  • When can they play or surf or game? This depends on your family schedule but not during the hour before bedtime as screen-usage interferes with sleep.
  • What sites/ apps? Watch out for the parental guidance certificates and if you are not ready for your child to smoke or drink or drive why would we think they are ready to use Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto which are rated 18?
  • Where? Do keep internet enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used. 
  1. Include the children rather than imposing the rules from on high! Including them shows you are interested in their views; it is respectful to seek their opinion. It works best with children over 8 if you outline what you need and acknowledge what they would like at the outset. Then ask how you can accommodate both sets of needs. They will probably have some good ideas. They may not like all the rules –empathise with that and reiterate why you need to have them. 
  1. WRITE IT DOWN. I guarantee you will forget the rules and by writing them down it depersonalises them. Then you have a contract, with both sides needing to respect and abide by it. 
  1. KEEP IT POSITIVE. Don’t have negative rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm” but rather “mobiles are used downstairs” and “ you can game after homework and before 7pm.” 
  1. FOLLOW THROUGH. Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get it right. Do comment when they follow the screen rules. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again. 

If they do break the rules we usually take the gadget away and punish them for getting it wrong. This sort of works in the moment, BUT they are may be defiant and FURIOUS with us. A better approach is: 

“The rule is that you play on your ipad after kumon and the positive consequence is that you get to play the next day. (Or better still ask them what the rule and reward is.) As your kumon sheet is untouched and you’re on the ipad, remind me what is the consequence?" 

“I don’t get the ipad the next day!” 

Exactly! And when they lose access they may feel guilty and angry… and that’s ok. Our job as parents is allow them to feel that disappointment and anger, empathise but not back down. 

Tune into Secret No 2 on screen time sanity to find out how we stay firm to our values around screen use.

 

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July 02nd, 2015

Is it possible to enjoy children’s parties?


I read an article recently about children’s parties, where to host them, what party bags to provide, where to source the most fabulous cakes and find the best entertainers. Well, it left me longing for a simple game of pin the tail on the donkey. Then a friend told me about an 8 year old’s party her child had been invited to at the Mandarin Oriental where champagne was flowing –well the parents would stay if that was on offer wouldn’t they? I have been aware for many years that the children’s birthday party has become an arena for competitive parenting where adults seek to outdo each other in providing the most of everything. When my son was about 7 the party entertainer of choice at the time was Ali-doo-lally who made the party child so much the centre of attention as to exclude everyone else there. But what do the children get from such an event, apart from a sense of extreme entitlement and ludicrous expectations and perhaps a sugar hangover? Do your children even enjoy parties? The article I read didn’t say anything about preparing the children.

Well of course not all parties are grandiose examples of parental one-upmanship and can involve some simple party foods and fun games. But even then do your children like parties? Your child may love a party but you have misgivings about sending them because of how they behave when there. Some children will love parties but there will be some kids who find them quite difficult too. Some children are shy and don’t have the social skills to enjoy being with a crowd of children. Others may find the noise, lights and number of people overwhelming. This child may find the number of activities and foods too much. Some children get over excited and hyped up and then behave badly. Recently doubt has been cast over whether sugar, long thought to be the culprit for hyper behaviour, is to blame. But whether it is down to food consumption or the excitement of the occasion and a pack mentality some children will run around and shout uncontrollably. Then there’s the inevitable disappointment of not winning the games or even not receiving the gifts which may lead to tears. Are you wondering why you’d ever bother hosting a children’s party? And there’s the clean up afterwards. 

If your child has been invited to a birthday party (or indeed is the birthday child or a sibling) and you want to prepare him for it here are 4 simple ways of ensuring it goes well: (these ideas are for children under the age of 8 –if you have a teenager there’s an altogether different set of rules)

  1. If your child has a sensitive temperament then he will need coping mechanisms for all the stimuli you get at festive gatherings. Teach him about his own temperament by making a habit of describing for him all the sensations and emotions he experiences. Let him know that he needs to protect himself from overstimulation. Depending on age you could ask him for ideas about how he could protect himself from too much noise. He might suggest cotton wool/ear plugs in his ears! Make sure he’s well rested before a party so that he can cope. Make sure you reduce the amount of stimulation in that day –so no shopping mall trip to get the present on the way there! Electronic stimulation is also a factor so no computer time beforehand. Get your child to think about what he can do if he feels overstimulated at the party. Can he go somewhere quiet like the bathroom or the garden or a bedroom for a bit? You may need to set this up with his host.
  2. If your child is unconfident in social settings you can prepare by using role play at home. Use her dolls and teddies to practice how to behave and what to say. Get to the party early as it’s easier to talk to one or two people than to come into an established crowd.
  3. When preparing for a party its best to ask your children how they will need to behave rather than tell them, otherwise it just sounds like a nag and they will tune you out. If they’ve said how they will behave it’s more likely to happen. Don’t threaten a punishment for poor behaviour, or offer a bribe for good behaviour either. Instead look out for signs of the type of behaviour you want to see and mention it to them. We get more of the behaviours we pay attention to. Eg you’re eating with your fork –that’s just the way you’ll eat at Sam’s party. I like the way you walked into the house from the car even though you were excited about seeing Granny. That way nobody got knocked over!
  4. Ask them how they may feel when the party child gets given presents or if others win games. For younger children you may need to suggest that they might feel a bit jealous or sad or disappointed that’s it’s not them winning or receiving the gift. Don’t tell them off for feeling that way or tell them you don’t want them to feel like that. Don’t say jealousy isn’t nice. Instead acknowledge that it’s natural and that we all like to win and receive gifts. Ask her what she can do if she feels that way so that the birthday child’s experience is not spoiled. She may suggest coming to get a hug from you if you’re there or an older child may be able to do something else to comfort herself or remind herself that she can have another go in the next game (or say something inside her head to alleviate her frustrations!)

 

Enjoy!

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