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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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June 18th, 2015

Celebrating Fathers

Father’s day in the UK is on the 21st June. I know some people are a bit bah humbug about these ‘Hallmark’ days and regret the commercialisation of such occasions but I think we should seize the opportunity to celebrate fathers.

There is the risk, especially with newborns, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with in some relief. But this is to miss out on a great resource and ‘expertise’ that men bring to parenting. Men have a unique style to their parenting that women tend not to have and children who don’t experience this are missing out.

Some dad facts:

  • Dads are more involved with children than ever before –in childcare and in housework. (The time spent by British men on domestic work rose from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 148 minutes per day by 2004; British fathers’ care of infants and young children rose 800% between 1975 and 1997, from 15 minutes to two hours on the average working day  despite the fact that over this period fathers’ time spent at work was also increasing. Fathers in two-parent families carry out an average of 25% of the family’s childcare related activities during the week, and one-third at weekends. (Source: The fatherhood institute)
  • Many studies have shown that when dad is involved in his children’s lives they have better educational, developmental, health and social outcomes (Source: The fatherhood institute,)
  • If dad is emotionally involved as an emotion coach and play partner the following outcomes can be predicted: (the Gottman institute)
    • Better self control abilities
    • Acceptance by peers at school
    • Better social competence and emotional intelligence
    • Higher verbal ability test scores (Ross and Taylor 1989 Do Boys Prefer Daddy or His physical style of play?)
    • Better academic performance
    • Increased empathy (longitudinal study (300 families) done by Stanford University beginning in 1950s)
    • Better social relationships as adults
    • Higher self esteem
  • Studies show dads are just as competent as mums to care for babies and know what to do when babies cry. (Ross Parke 1976 Father-Mother-Infant Interaction in the newborn period: Some findings, Some observations and some unresolved issues.)
  • Fathers make unique contributions to their children and infants respond to involved fathers differently than to mums. They are more wide-eyed playful and bright-faced. 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds will choose dad over mum as a play partner.

Where fathers are not present in their children’s lives the kids really benefit from being involved with ‘uncle’ figures.

What are the differences in style?

When considering the question what do mums and dads contribute to the role of parent ask yourself what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree?

Dads typically say “go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”

Whereas Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”

Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.

This is what the kids think:

Mummies are smaller and Daddies are bigger.

Dads normally go out to work and you come out of mummy’s tummy.

Dads have fun and mums don’t.

Mums listen and Dads don’t…it’s the same for all my mates.

(Source: Netmums March 09)

While we don’t want to minimise the importance of the nurturing, the encouraging and the listening that mums are traditionally good at let’s celebrate what dads do well:

Play

To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do the laundry, the cooking, the chauffeuring and the supervising of homework and music practice etc. When Roald Dahl died his children wrote about their memories of him and predictably they valued the story telling and creating he encouraged in them. My guess is when we die our children will remember the play times and the conversations with us rather than the fact that we always ensured they had clean and matching socks.

Dads tend to be more physical than mums in the way they play. Mums generally play visual games and are verbal with babies and young children while dads are more physical and tactile. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both. Rough and tumble play by dads predicts better self control abilities in their children. (Source: Gottman institute)

 

Encourage independence and risk taking

Dads encourage kids to climb higher, go to the store on their own, go down the highest slides etc while mums may have to stifle the urge to keep their babies safe. Encouraging self reliance and reasonable risk taking in children encourages them to discover what they are capable of and to grow in confidence. If children become fearful they will not grow and will not acquire essential life skills and coping strategies for dealing with the world.

 

Allow kids to experience uncomfortable feelings

When dads recognise their children’s struggles and allow them to experience some frustration and learning through failure they are helping children grow through experience. When we protect our children from their feelings of discomfort or frustration we can prevent valuable learning in the same way as if we prevent them from making discoveries physically. Although we shouldn’t shield our children from uncomfortable feelings we can help them identify them and manage them by acknowledging what’s going on. Eg I can see you’re feeling frustrated with those wretched shoe laces –but I like the way you’re persevering. You don’t give up easily do you?

 

Don’t judge or compare self with other parents

Dads are less prone to perfectionism than women in the parenting field and less apt to compare and judge their own or others’ parenting efforts. A great combination in a dad is that willingness to trust his instincts with an openness to new ideas.

 

Being a good role model

Dads are needed as good role models for their sons, especially in areas like school work, responsibility, handling physicality and aggression, how to treat women, how to handle and express emotions and seeking support when they need it. Men can show their boys how to be determined without taking competition to harmful levels. Dads are also important models for their daughters as they show them how to relate to the opposite sex. How a father treats his daughter sets up expectations for what she’ll look for in adult relationships with men. Involvement in his daughter’s life profoundly affects her self esteem.

Mums, while encouraging your children to show their love for their dads, let your partners know what you appreciate about them this father’s day.

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May 22nd, 2015

Why teenagers need the skills and confidence to help in an emergency

Guest blog by Emma Hammett of 'First Aid for Life'

When considering First Aid training the priority is generally to train new parents, child carers and equip people for First Aid for the workplace. Babies and children are accident prone and it is vital that those caring for them are able to help if something happens; there is a duty of care for workers, however the other major group of risk takers are our teenagers. There is currently a campaign to introduce First Aid training to the national curriculum as currently only 2 in 10 schools offer First Aid training and there is no doubt that empowering the next generation with these skills will save lives.

A survey, commissioned by the British Red Cross revealed startling statistics:

  • One in seven young people (aged 11-16) have been in an emergency situation as a result of a friend drinking too much alcohol.
  • More than 532,000 young teenagers have been left to cope with a drunken friend who was sick, injured or unconscious in the last year. 
  • 89 per cent of 11-16 year olds had found themselves confronted with some kind of medical emergency.
  • A quarter of young people have had to deal with asthma attacks.
  • A third of teenagers have had to cope with someone with a head injury.
  • One in five teenagers have had to help someone who is choking.

Crucially: when faced with these emergency situations, 44 per cent panicked and 46 per cent simply didn’t know what to do.

In the survey’s most compelling statistic, 97 per cent of young people, believed first aid education would improve their confidence, skills and willingness to act in a crisis. 

5 vital first aid skills that all young people should know:

If I was to prioritise the key areas to empower teenagers to save lives it would be for them to be completely confident in the following areas:

  • Understand the importance of the recovery position and how critical it is to put someone who is unconscious and breathing into a position that will keep their airway open – particularly if they have been drinking.
  • Know how to calmly asses if someone is seriously ill or injured – what signs to look out for and what to do.
  • Understand how to treat a major bleed – the best way to stop the bleeding and the position to put them in to treat shock.
  • How to help an adult, baby or child who is choking
  • How to help someone having a serious asthma attack or acute allergic reaction. 

First Aid  is a life skill and gaining a First Aid qualification is invaluable to young people striving to achieve their Duke of Edinburgh and Sports Leadership Awards and is highly sought after by UCAS – particularly if applying for a medically related subject. Parents would feel far more confident leaving their little ones with a teenager who has been equipped with the skills to help if there is an accident and Sports and kids clubs see First Aid skills as a necessity. 

Therefore not only are the skills hugely valuable, likely to be used and could save a life; the qualification gained is likely to increase a young person’s chances in this highly competitive world. 

First Aid for Life runs courses with numerous schools and clubs and provides scheduled courses suitable for young people to attend. We also love running bespoke courses for groups of friends and are happy to tailor them for specific requirements such as post exam trips away, GAP years and sports qualifications. Please contact emma@firstaidforlife.org.uk, www.firstaidforlife.org.uk or call 0208 675 4036 

In addition http://www.onlinefirstaid.com has a specific First Aid for Teenagers course which will allow them to access these vital skills on their computers and mobiles.

 

 

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May 13th, 2015

Getting Boys to Talk

Some kids talk more than others.

If you’ve got more than one child chances are you’ve noticed this. Some of that is down to temperament and some may be attributable to gender. I have a daughter who is very extroverted. She used to come home from school and tell me everything that had gone on in her day in the first 2 minutes. I had to gear myself up for the onslaught the minute she got home. I became really grateful when the kids got home at different times so I could focus on all their different needs. With Gemma my challenge was just to listen, not to jump in with advice. When I buttoned my lip and let her know I was listening the storm would blow itself out and often she would find her own solutions. She would talk in order to work out what she thought about things. She just needed to be heard.

I also have two sons who happen to both be introverts.  They like to think through things before speaking. When they got home from school they liked to chill out and wouldn’t offer anything about their day until the evening. I had a friend with a son with a similar disposition and she used to say she only found out what was going on in her son’s life through what I told her I’d heard from my boy.

Many boys don’t talk about their feelings. Traditionally men weren’t encouraged to and perhaps unwittingly we still give boys messages that in order to be a man they need to manage alone. Sometimes parents still say “big boys don’t cry” or we tell them not to make such a fuss or to be a big boy. If we tell our children to ‘man up’ what do we mean?

If dads model talking about how they feel about stuff then boys learn that it’s ok for men to do so.

The best way to get a boy to talk is not to sit down for an eyeball to eyeball conversation but to do an activity together. This is what Steve Biddulph calls ‘sideways talk’. Some of my best conversations with my sons have been while we’ve been walking or even doing the washing up together. When I picked them up from school we were more likely to get a conversation going if we were walking home. Usually pumping them for information about their day didn’t work. We all know that the answer to the question “How was your day?” is “fine”, with all the information that doesn’t convey. Young children live in the moment and often can’t be bothered to dredge up what happened earlier in their day. Some will actually want to keep their school world separate from home. They certainly won’t tell us anything if they think we’re going to judge, criticise, or perhaps even advise them.

You start the conversation. Tell him about your day. Tell him about age-appropriate things that you care about. Thank him for listening and maybe tell him you feel good talking to him. If you think he has something on his mind tell him you think he might be a bit worried about something. You can tell because of his body language or facial expressions or because of what he has said or done. Try to put yourself in his shoes. If you think you know what he’s feeling describe what that might be like for him. He might not talk now but you’ve opened the door for a conversation. If he does talk don’t say much, just nod a lot. Don’t judge and DON’T offer advice.

I remember when my older son was preparing (or not) for exams he started being mean to his younger brother. He used to do that a lot when he was younger and I was afraid we were slipping back into old patterns. In my anxiety and frustration I was tempted to tell him off or punish him but I realised in time that it might be connected to the exams that he showed no signs of caring about. I talked with him about how he might be feeling, detailing his anxiety, wondering whether he was afraid of letting us down, speculating that it might be difficult to follow in his academically able sister’s footsteps, even that he might be cross with himself for not having worked harder earlier. He didn’t say much…but his body language changed –his shoulders were less slumped and he made more eye contact. And his behaviour toward his brother changed.

I’d like to say he aced those exams but that would be fiction. But he developed better habits for the next set and, more to the point, he learnt to process his feelings well and find appropriate outlets for his frustrations and fears. This son still doesn’t talk a lot about his emotions but he is a great conversationalist and has good emotional awareness - he knows how to manage his feelings.

 

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