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March 19th, 2015

It’s Never Too Early To Think About Swim Lessons

By Kaitlin Gardner of AnApplePerDay.com

When we started our family, water safety was a big concern for me. My husband and I love the water, and I knew we would be spending time at the pool, or on a family vacation to the beach. I wanted my kids to be well prepared to be safe in the water, and that meant swim lessons.

The safety factor. It’s just a reality that there are inherent dangers when around the water. I read that drowning is one of the biggest causes of unintentional death among small children, so safety needs to start early. Formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning for young kids as much as 88 percent, which only reinforced my desire to start early with my kids. Here are some great articles with more details about swim lessons for kids:

Introduction to the water. I used our bath time as a way to introduce my kids to the water, but also to see how receptive they would be to the whole experience. One of my kids loved the water when he was a baby, so bath time was a joy for him. I got soaked with suds the first time he discovered the art of splashing. By smiling a lot and laughing with him, it reinforced the water as a positive place to be. My other boy was more hesitant, and wanted to investigate everything cautiously before deciding if it was alright. I realized we might have to be more patient with him.

Getting in the pool. When my kids were about 6 months old, they were ready for a Mommy and Me class. My water baby took right to it, and took in everything we did in the class. It wasn’t really a lesson, but a way to let the child get oriented to the water. I liked that idea a lot – when they took lessons, it would be in a familiar environment. He played and wanted to reach out to the other babies, and was soon splashing merrily and enjoying the whole experience.

The hesitant child. With my child who was more hesitant about the water, I thought a class might move too fast for him. My husband and I took him to our community pool (in swim diapers) for several sessions, to let him check out the water. My husband sat in the shade back from the pool, holding our baby. I went into the water and began laughing and splashing like we had done in the bathtub. My husband moved gradually closer to the pool, and when my baby reached out for me, I took him in my arms. I just held him against me to let him look around. Over time he decided the water was safe, so we began to move around the water. I gently bobbed him where his feet touched the water. Now he is fine with the water just like his more adventurous brother.

Formal lessons. It is suggested that a child is developmentally ready for lessons at around age 3 or 4. By then they will be able to move around safely, and listen and retain instructions. We signed our kids up when they were that age. I didn’t think learning to swim should be a one time experience, so I have continued their training with intermediate and advanced lessons. We sign up in the fall – when they’re more used to being in a school atmosphere, and are receptive to learning. It’s been a pleasure to watch my kids grow in confidence around the water.

As my boys splash and play in the pool, it makes me smile to know that they have learned how to safely enjoy all the fun the water has to offer.

Kaitlin Gardner started An Apple Per Day to explore her passion for a green living lifestyle, and healthy family living. She and her husband have just moved to rural Pennsylvania, where they enjoy exploring the countryside to discover interesting and out of the way places. She is also learning how to paint watercolors.

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March 05th, 2015

Best Present for a Mum

How would it be if your child turned around to you one morning and said “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..” and you knew that was because of what you had just done? You. Super mum. Deserving of the highest accolades on Mothering Sunday.

A parent in one of our classes told us this is what her son said to her recently and it brought a tear to our collective eye.

By way of background this mum told us that their usual experience of morning getaways was the all too familiar horror story of rushing, nagging, dawdling, nagging, feet-digging in, nagging, cheekiness, telling-off, daydreaming, SHOUTING, crying, threatening, more crying (this time mum) and pulling out of hair. We all know how it goes. She would wake the kids up in plenty of time and get herself dressed so that she’d be available to marshall everybody. She’d go into their rooms and no progress would have been made. At all. None. Nobody would have even started on getting dressed. And by now 20 minutes would have elapsed and the timetable would be seriously jeopardised. So she would berate them for not doing anything. They would look at her puzzled and she would wonder how she’d spawned such half-wits, and realise it must be her husband’s genes. Well when you’re working with poor material you have to be creative. So she’d try again. “If you get dressed and come downstairs quickly I’ll let you have Nutella on your toast.” She’d go downstairs thinking she’d provided the necessary incentive and get going on the lunchboxes. 15 minutes later there would be no sign of anyone so she’d go back up again to find two half-dressed children playing with the Sylvanian families. More shouting and ushering and they were downstairs but she felt like a worn our dish-cloth and it was nearly 8am.

Well our mum had just done our class on Descriptive praise so she decided to try it. You know descriptive praise. You don’t? You don’t know about the magic key that unlocks cooperation? The secret  formula to motivate your child? The thing that is guaranteed to bring a smile to a little face (and your child’s too) and that leads to “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..?” If you don’t know about descriptive praise you must be new to our blogs. If we didn’t tell you about it at every opportunity we would be derelict in our duty. We would be failing in our mission to bring happiness to the families of the world.

So let us tell you now. It’s not rocket science. It does what it says on the tin. You just describe what they’re doing ….positively. 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. So you might say: “I see you two have got out of bed. That’s a good start to our day. That’s a lovely smile to get us off to a good beginning Jacob. Pause. Ella, you put out your clothes last night which will make things quicker this morning. That was really sensible, wasn’t it?  You prepared for success! And you are getting really good at getting your dress on yourself. Would you like me to help with your tights? …Jacob I see you’ve got your pyjamas off now….Oh Ella, thank you for helping him with his shirt. What a kind sister. I love it when you two are being so helpful. I need to put lots of pasta pieces in the jar so Daddy can see what a great morning we had when he comes home.”

And if you think nobody talks to their children like that, we concede it is different from the norm. But the norm is as described above. And the norm doesn’t lead to “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..”

So what would you like? Would you like to talk a bit weirdly to your kids and watch them beam at you and each other, stand a bit taller in front of your eyes, feel more confident and be more cooperative? Would you like them to start their day feeling happy and thinking you’re the best mum in the world?

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.

If this is your first Mothering Sunday, congratulations. If not do let us know about any funny or touching presents you’ve received from your children on Mothering Sunday.

Keep developing your parenting practice with love,

Melissa and Elaine

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March 04th, 2015

How to minimise a meltdown in 5 easy steps

meltdown |ˈmeltˌdoun| noun

1 An external demonstration of emotional distress caused by anything from a dropped ice-cream cone on a hot summer’s day; being given a red cup when all he really wanted was a blue one; having to go to swim practice when she really wanted to go to her best friend’s party; when he didn’t want to switch off the video game … and many other triggers. 

The good news is that parents can support their children during their meltdowns to minimise the negative effects … eventually getting to the point where a solution is possible.  Here’s what happened at my house a while ago. 

Me: Seems like something is bugging you.  It’s not like you to be snarky with me.

Her: I’m fine. (shouting) I-M F-I-N-E FINE … What part of ‘I’m Fine’ don’t you understand?

Me: (Silently to myself) Well … I’m kinda getting that you’re not fine.

Me: Listen, I’m getting that something is up.  You don’t seem like you want to talk about it right now.  I’m going to go downstairs and if want to talk, let me know.

Ten minutes later …

Her: Mum … 

  1. Engage without judgment … or give time to calm

You know your children better than anyone and you know what calms them down.  Some children will respond to a calm, quiet hug; others a few minutes to run around outside; others a gentle voice; others simply some quiet time to play and reconnect the thinking part of their brain with the big emotional part. 

I gave my daughter time.  She was in the bathroom, with the door locked and that was what she needed.  She wasn’t going to hurt herself or damage anything, she just needed to be alone for the few minutes it took for her to call out to me.  I must confess, the time was good for me too because I was feeling pretty helpless and frustrated! 

  1. Listen to the behavior (or the words) and reflect back to them

If your children are speaking, just listen.  It’s often pointed out that LISTEN and SILENT are made up of the same letters.  If they’re not speaking, listen to the behaviour.  If they’re crying, you can say something like ‘you’re so upset about something’.  If they’re slamming doors or throwing things ‘wow … you are so MAD!’. 

My daughter unlocked the door.  She was sitting on the floor crying.  I picked her up and she sat on my lap saying nothing for about 5 minutes.  I just held her quietly.  Slowly she began to tell me about what was going on.  A few months earlier we had moved from the UK to the US and she was missing her friends and feeling like she was “losing her British-ness”. 

  1. Validate their feelings

Acknowledging your children’s feelings doesn’t have to mean that you are agreeing with them.  When a child says “You love [sister] more than me” and you respond with “you’re feeling like I love her more than you” … is not a confirmation that you do.  It’s simply allowing their feeling to be out there … heard. 

My daughter was missing her friends – terribly – she has incredible friends back in the UK.  If I had said ‘come on, buck up … don’t cry.  Why don’t you call your new friends to come over?’ I would have completely invalidated her feelings and tried to fix things for her.  It’s ok to be sad, to miss people, to be nervous about losing a part of your life that is special to you.  Empathy and compassion will always be your best gift. 

  1. Ask questions

We are so quick to want to fix things for our kids and to help them feel better.  Rather than advising them and telling them what to do, it is so much more effective to allow them to come up with their own solutions.  

I asked my daughter what would help her retain her British-ness and how she could maintain her friendships.  Over a cup of tea and a nice Cadbury biscuit (a little bit of Britain!) she decided that she would FaceTime her best friend over the weekend so they could have a virtual playdate.  Her ideas … her solutions.

 Stay Calm

We know this is the holy grail of parenting. (For more help with keeping calm click here.)  It always helps to have a go-to mantra to catch yourself.  I love Bonnie Harris’ ‘my child is having a problem … not being a problem’.  I will also say to myself ‘Choose: respond or react’.  That usually clears my mind to make the conscious choice to respond to the situation with calm compassion.  And each time, that alone makes all the difference in the world. 

Using these five simple steps, meltdowns can be averted or reduced, family harmony restored, self-knowledge gained, understanding achieved, solutions found, self-esteem nurtured, compassion shown and relationships greatly enhanced. 

Wishing you peace and calm in your parenting practice, 

Elaine and Melissa 

This blog written by Ann Magalhaes (The New York branch of The Parent Practice)

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January 29th, 2015

My life was a hot mess

By Kelly Pietrangeli of Project Me

Last week I got a few emails from mothers who'd read my story of sobbing on my steering wheel after dropping the kids off at school (back in my crazy shout-a-holic days).  Many are in the same boat I was back then and I'm feeling their pain. 

In 2005 my life was a hot mess. My two year old was ruling the roost and didn’t listen to a word I said. He and my five year old squabbled incessantly. I felt like I was losing my mind.

My husband and I disagreed over discipline and ended up having huge arguments in front of the kids. I remember him leaving on a business trip and saying he couldn’t wait to get out of there. I sat on the floor and bawled my eyes out.

This wasn’t the happy family life I’d envisioned. No one told me it would be so hard. In fact everyone else was making it look easy. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a mother? I didn’t seem to be made from the right stuff.

I’m ashamed to admit that I took my frustrations out on my kids. I overreacted, shouted, punished, and I was heavy handed with them more than once. I even feared a new version of ‘Mommy Dearest’ being written about me one day.

My kids deserved better, but I had no idea how to change things. I read some books on discipline and parenting, but didn’t manage to implement anything that made a difference

One day I happened to spot an ad for a parenting skills workshop run by The Parent Practice near my home in London. I went along for a free taster class, unsure if I would actually commit to the money or time of the full ten week course.

I found myself surrounded by mothers who were also finding parenting tough. I realised I was not alone and that there were many ways to make things better.

I walked away with some valuable tips and was able to put them into practice with immediate results. But I still dithered about whether to sign up as it seemed expensive… and I’d be missing my beloved spinning class at the gym for ten Fridays in a row….

Somehow I ended up going for it and The Parent Practice gave me homework each week with fill-in-the-blank sheets so I could identify our hot spot areas and put focus where it was needed.

My husband and I became more of a united front once we were both operating from the same resources.

Ultimately it changed our family life and I shudder to think of how things would have continued if I hadn’t learned the skills needed to be a calm, happy parent. The investment in time, money and energy have paid off for my whole family in some pretty incredible ways and you can read about that here: 

What Parenting Skills Classes Did To My Family

For ten I’ve been wholeheartedly recommending The Parent Practice to everyone I know in London, but it’s only now that I can shout it from the rooftops to anyone in the world who wants to get a handle on their family life.

They’ve finally turned their programme into an on-line course that you can do from the comfort of your home with guided videos, worksheets, course notes and audio recordings. Yay!

I’m thrilled to be a proud affiliate of The Parent Practice’s new Positive Parenting Academy. Check out the full course information and if you do decide to invest in a happier family life, using my special affiliate link below let’s them know I sent you and I’ll receive a nice little reward from them to say thanks. (Even though it’s me who should be thanking them.)

Click here for the Positive Parenting Academy on-line course details. I genuinely recommend it and I'm happy to answer any Q's you have in the comments below the blog, or you can email me directly: kelly@myprojectme.com 

I absolutely would not be running a business like Project Me if I hadn't first got my parenting act together. Once I got that part of my life running smoothly, it paved the way for everything else.

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January 14th, 2015

Teens Online: Keeping Your Child Safe from Cyberbullying

by Guest blogger Amy Williams 

It’s no secret that as long as popular social media sites have existed, the virtual distance between computer screens has acted as a veil behind which many bullies feel safer lashing out in disrespectful or harmful ways. 

Our children are up against unfavorable odds when it comes to cyberbullying and educating them on how to handle it is their best line of defence. 

Cyberbullying is only becoming a bigger problem as the idea of anonymity online becomes increasingly popular. Sites like ask.fm, which allows questions from strangers, or apps like whisper, which allows anonymous conversations through picture messages, are making it easier for bullies to get away with leaving harmful comments. 

In addition to teaching them how to keep a swivel in their neck when they walk down a dark street, hide their personal belongings when in public, and the age-old ‘never talk to strangers,’ it is now essential to show them some digital ropes. So don’t hide your head in the sand as a technically challenged, antiquated thinking adult but instead open your eyes to the many sordid actions your child may be challenged with on a daily basis. 

 

Break the Barrier 

With statistics showing approximately 25% of young people being bullied on the internet, 65% witnessing cyberbullying, and a whopping 90% admitting that they would never tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs, it is now or never to break this barrier. 

If your child is still young enough to be shown some savvy digital moves then you are in luck. If you cover some ground rules when handing over an expensive, powerful device such as a smartphone or tablet chances are they will have a healthier transition. 

However, if you are raising a tween or teen you may have to implement a whole new set of requirements for them to follow to keep their device. This can be met with extreme adversity but through the help of your partner and/or a professional such as a local cyber-police person or talk therapist hopefully your child will comply. (See The Parent Practice’s useful publications on ensuring cooperation with teens through good communication. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications

If not, tough love may have to be put into place until they are willing to comply (over 27% of parents take their child’s device away until they can prove better digital practices). 

 

Do Your Research 

There are many websites that offer their take on how to prevent cyberbullying. 

Most suggest fear based remedies that can end up being counterproductive as this tactic may make your child hyper vigilant and paranoid. Stick to sites that teach a more intellectual approach toward the many aspects of your child’s digital as well as physical world. 

Offering them the opportunity to look through well taught eyes rather than panic at every situation they encounter will, in the long run, be the best gift you can give them. A fearful child will inevitably grow up to become a fearful adult and living a life of fear can be fraught with all sorts of unwanted scenarios including constant illness, misinformation, anger, victimization, difficult relationships and a constant challenge within career advancement. 

 

The Tease Effect 

Outside of computer communication, teasing can be witnessed as an underlying passive/aggressive tactic toward bullying or being bullied. 

As it may begin somewhat innocently, when children tease one another their back and forth banter can quickly escalate into an ugly scenario. It is a way that children explore their ability to see how far their controlling tactics can be utilized. 

When in the presence of an adult it can rapidly be quelled with some talk lessons on the damage or potential damage it carries. However, when it is transferred to a digital platform teasing remains beyond an adult’s supervision until it is too late.

 

A Scary Manifestation 

Through what is referred to as the ‘Disinhibition Effect bullying can easily manifest on the web a lot faster and harsher than in person. It is described by researchers at the Department of Psychology, Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey in an article titled, ‘The online disinhibition effect’ as, “While online, some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” 

This article explores six factors that interact with one another in creating this effect: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity [being unaccountable], solipsistic introjection [regarding only one self], dissociative imagination [separating from reality], and minimisation of authority.”

 

It Won’t Go Away 

Your child may seem well adjusted to school, friends, clubs, sports and so on for as they grow older face-to-face bullying lessens substantially. However, a study by the University of California - Riverside Graduate School of Education which was published in the journal, School Psychology Quarterly titled ‘Examination of the Change in Latent Statuses in Bullying Behaviors Across Time,’ researchers found that as students age they are verbally and physically bullied less, but cyberbullied more.

 

School Based Intervention 

The University of California study recommended some school-based interventions as published by Science Daily. Here are a few to consider: 

  • Considering the oldest students were more likely to engage in bullying, and bullying perpetration increased after students transitioned into middle school, school personnel should focus their intervention resources on students in sixth and eighth grades. 
  • Interventions should teach social-emotional learning skills to students and appropriate ways to navigate new peer groups and social ierarchies. 
  • Considering the gender differences for those that bully, different interventions may be warranted for boys and girls. Interventions for girls may focus on relationship issues and appropriate use of social media, while interventions for boys may address physical bullying. 
  • It is important for teachers and parents to talk to students about cyber safety and to supervise internet and mobile device use to help prevent cyber victimisation. It is also important for adults to take reports of verbal/relational bullying and cyberbullying seriously and to intervene in all cases. 

The researchers go on to warn that school as well as parental intervention for bullying should address each individual victim and perpetrator experience rather than attempt a wide curve education as a ‘one size fits all’ approach. 

Whether it is utilising tracking software to determine the severity of cyberbullying your child may be involved in, talk therapy, community and/or school involvement, using any means necessary can stop this destructive cycle.

 

Cyberbullying in the U.K.

Anywhere where internet use is a significant aspect of daily social interaction, cyberbullying will be an issue. 

Fortunately, resources exist in the UK for anyone struggling to handle cyberbullying cases. From hotlines dedicated to handling these and similar issues, to laws protecting victims, this is a problem about which government officials are aware, and have adapted to handle. 

Of course, all of the above, non-country specific advice is applicable too. Awareness is one of the most important steps towards dealing with online threats. Keeping that in mind alongside available laws and apps will give you or your child the power you need to handle online bullies. 

For more information on cyberbullying and how it affects those targeted by it, check out the infographic below.

 

Author Bio 

Amy Williams is a freelance writer based in Southern California. As a mother of two, helping parents understand their teens is something she is very passionate about. You can follow her on Twitter.

 

 

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January 06th, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions

This is the time of year for new year’s resolutions of course and while it’s good to set goals (so you know where you are aiming to get to) sometimes new year’s resolutions become a major guilt exercise and there’s enough of that around parenting already. The worst kind of resolutions are those that are proposed for you by someone else! Bit like receiving a gym membership as a Christmas present! (Thanks Hun.)

Resolutions, like goals at any other time of year, often fail for being too ambitious, not precise enough and not being something you really believe in or are committed to. No new year’s resolution will work unless it is in line with your values, what you are passionate about. You have to make your own resolutions to be committed to them.

But if you’re in a kind of spring cleaning for the mind sort of space and you want some easy targets to help you build stronger relationships with your children (and others) then some of the 21 easy to follow suggestions below may be ones you can adopt and adapt.

  1. Make a gratitude jar (with the things you're grateful for written on slips of paper or on ice cream sticks [from craft suppliers])
  2. Make a golden book (to record small things your child has done that day of which they could be proud, have made family life go more smoothly, brought a smile to someone else’s lips)
  3. Keep a pasta jar (to visually acknowledge the numerous small good things your child does in a day)
  4. Have an appreciation book for the adults (to record what you appreciate about the other)
  5. Eat together as a family at least [insert realistic number] a week
  6. Do one whole family activity at least [insert realistic number] a week/month
  7. Do at least one thing to look after yourself (physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially or spiritually) each week- plan this each month
  8. Teach your child one essential life skill this year/month, eg crossing the road, swimming, apologising, planning a social outing, cooking, managing social media.
  9. Skype family who live some distance away regularly
  10. Make videos for absent family of your family's daily life
  11. Set up a tradition on each child's birthday of video'ing them reciting/reading a poem or singing a song. Record the highlights of that child's year in the video. Review past videos each year. Put them together for the 21st! Or write them a letter acknowledging the high (and low) points of their year.
  12. On special occasions, plan a treasure hunt or quiz with clues for each child that only that child will know the answer to, eg their favourite colour or where you went on their last birthday or your special name for them. This helps foster their sense of specialness and a unique bond between you.
  13. Record memories –put photos and other memorabilia in albums or somewhere else where they can be easily accessed –they will not be seen in an unedited folder on your computer. Do this with the children. This helps promote a sense of belonging so important to children.
  14. Practice an act of kindness a day - however small or seemingly insignificant, or un-noticed by the world at large. This includes descriptively praising or smiling at anyone you meet! Or picking up someone’s coat when they’ve forgotten to hang it up, or making someone’s bed, etc, but without demanding thanks and pointing out that they have NOT done it.
  15. Make a calendar of birthdays you want to remember and involve the children in making cards/gifts (edible ones are popular) for those people.
  16. Set aside some planning time each month to remind yourself of what values you want to promote in your family and how you want to encapsulate these values eg having a ‘value of the month’ on your fridge or noticeboard.
  17. Make a rule/practice that captures one of these values. Eg I want us to be fun-loving and family oriented so we will do something fun each Friday in Friday Family Fun night.
  18. Turn the rule of never going to sleep on an argument on its head – never engage in an argument when heated! Always take time to cool down and come back to the problem when your cool brain has reasserted itself.
  19. When you’re upset say how you feel without criticism or judgment. Eg when you text on your phone when I’m talking to you I feel unimportant and disrespected. Teach your children to do the same.
  20. Apologise when you’ve made a mistake. Say why it was wrong and take steps to make amends/alter things for the future.
  21. Forgive others for their mistakes and don’t hold grudges. If you can’t forgive perhaps you need something from the other that you can ask for without criticism (see resolution 19 above).

 

Hope 2015 is a calm and happy year for your family.

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