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February 27th, 2017

Adolescence - Awful or Amazing?

Is your child racing towards the teenage years faster than you expected? Does that fill you with dread? Or are you looking forward to that greater independence? Either way a better knowledge of what goes on in the teenage mind will smooth the path of adolescence for both parent and teen. 

Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all science. You need to have a real understanding of the real child in front of you at the stage he is at now to know how to apply your parenting techniques and strategies. 

Unrealistic expectations are the source of much upset in families. 

When we understand our child’s stage of development we’ll have a better understanding of what’s reasonable to expect of them. Understanding what your child is capable of now doesn’t mean giving up on goals for the future but it will direct our efforts so we can give them the support they need to achieve what we want from them.

You are the experts on your children – you know what they like and don’t like, what are their fears, what makes them happy and how they’re likely to behave in different situations. But sometimes you might not understand why they do the things they do. And just when you think you’ve ‘got’ them, they change.

The perfectly reasonable child you used to know may morph overnight into an alien being when they hit puberty. If you’re both going to get through this turbulent period ok you need to understand what’s going on for your adolescent.

Hormones generally get blamed for the changes in adolescence and although they play a part recent research is showing that changes in the adolescent brain are responsible for much of the ‘strange’ behaviour.

From the ages of 11 to 24 the brain undergoes a complete remodelling. The way we think, remember, reason, focus attention, make decisions and relate to others all change.

There are dramatic changes in the frontal lobes — the area of the cortex behind the forehead

which acts as a command centre. Eventually the changes will allow the teen to regulate their emotions, think about risks in big-picture terms, exercise wise judgment, plan for the future and have empathy. But for now it is a building site, where parts will go offline for a while. That’s why adults need to have respect for the remodelling process and make adjustments for the fact that the adolescent mind is a construction zone.

While the frontal lobe develops, it’s the limbic region (emotional centre) that is more active. That’s why a bland remark or an innocent bump in the hallway can be interpreted by a teenager as intentional and they will respond with anger.

But the massive re-modelling of the brain’s basic structure in early adolescence is good news – the brain is thought to be especially receptive to new information and primed to acquire new skills during this period of exuberance.

Some brain development is driven by genes, some by use. Experience alters the structure of the brain at any age but progresses faster when young.

“…we know that the major innovations in technology, in science, in music and art come from adolescent minds. That’s because adolescents are literally biologically programmed to push against the status quo that adults have created and imagine a world that could be, and not just learn the world as it is. That’s why we need to see adolescents as the hope for the future.”
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Dan Siegel

We mustn’t see adolescence as a period of aberration to be endured. It can also be regarded as perfectly adaptive – the teen is a creature highly adapted for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside. 

Understanding what’s going on for teens makes it easier for us to be compassionate, to not assume they’re doing what they’re doing just to wind us up. 

Teens tend to:

  • Be emotional/moody. You say “hello darling” and they say “what?”; you say “do you need any help with your homework?” and they say “I’ll do it, get off my back!”
  • Be impulsive and do risky, dangerous things. This is partly because of an increase in the production of dopamine — the hormone that creates our drive for reward. This is why teenagers gravitate towards thrilling experiences, as the dopamine release gives them a huge buzz. It’s why teens are often passionate about things. It explains, too, why they are impulsive: they concentrate on the forthcoming reward rather than the risk of an activity.
  • Be vulnerable to drugs and alcohol. The same quantity of drugs or alcohol has a much stronger effect than it does in adults.
  • Be developing as separate independent people with their own identity and values and be able to think for themselves - they are very focused on themselves and self-absorbed. They may express this new identity through their dress, piercings/ tattoos, hair, music, language, how they keep their rooms. They may argue a lot as they work out what they believe in.
  • Start moving towards independence, -going off on their own, not wanting to ‘report in’/not answering mobiles, not wanting to do ‘family things’, resisting rules. They may appear to reject family in the process of separating from them.
  • Be developing as sexual beings- with awkwardness, secrecy and appearance anxiety. They may be looking at explicit websites.
  • Prefer their peers’ company.
  • Not talk much, to family.
  • Want to sleep at inconvenient times.
  • Be unmotivated about school work or chores.
  • Always be on screens.
  • Prone to mental health problems.
  • Teens need:

    Understanding and compassion
    To hear that they are appreciated
    Coaching in organisational skills
    Help with decision-making, and considering other viewpoints
    Warmth and closeness
    Teaching and modelling self-soothing skills
    Coaching in friendship skills
    Family support –this is a stress buffer for teens
    Rules to keep them safe and to develop good habits, such as curfews, use of screens generally and especially social media, bedtimes, family time, chores, homework
    Help in understanding what’s going on in their brains

For more help in understanding the teenage years and some strategies for making the most of them come to our regualr workshops on Teenagers. Click here for more details.

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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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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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October 17th, 2014

Understanding the Independent Girls Schools 11+ Process: What you need to know and how to protect your daughter’s sanity and self-esteem.

The process of applying for independent secondary schools for girls at eleven can be a nightmare for many reasons. Parents and girls are subject to extreme pressures so to take some of the stress out of it we set out here in simple terms how it all works, including insider tips. 

The 11+ process starts to pick up steam from Year 3.  Many preparatory schools commence Christmas and summer exams and girls and parents start to get a sense of how the girls are performing academically.  The subjects of particular importance are English comprehension, English composition, Mathematics and Science. 

In Yr 4 parents start to think about and schedule preliminary visits to potential schools.  Exams become more formal with revision being expected. 

Yr 5 is the year of heavy lifting when most of the 11+ syllabuses are covered.  Depending on how their child is fairing academically, this is the point that many parents start to get their children tutored.  This is particularly true in London where there is intense competition for London day school places and many parents fear taking a too softly, softly approach.  School visits happen in earnest in Yr 5.  For parents considering boarding schools this is particularly important.

Boarding schools

The boarding school process is quite different from the London day school process. With boarding schools you register approximately 18 months in advance.  When enough people have registered they close their lists.  Even for the most academic boarding schools there is likely to be no more than four girls registered for each place.  As soon as you start Yr 6, in the September or October, your daughter gets invited to spend a day at the school.  There may be some computerized aptitude tests (normally some combination of verbal, non-verbal, mathematical reasoning questions), an interview, a chance to do some sport and a general seeing if you will fit in.  The Head Teacher’s report from your existing school is particularly important and there will be an emphasis on your Yr 5 academic performance. 

Just a few weeks after your school assessment you are told whether you are being offered a place.  You can apply to lots of boarding schools but once they have sent out their offers, you can only accept one to sit the 11+ Common Entrance exam for.  The Independent Schools Examinations Board organizes this exam. In mid January of Yr 6 you sit the 11+ exam – this normally takes place at your own school and is then sent off to your chosen boarding school to mark.  The results are normally sent out two weeks after taking the exam. Each school has it’s own mark scheme and pass threshold.  If you reach the necessary pass mark you are then automatically accepted.  For boarding schools you sit papers in English, Maths and Science. There are a few boarding schools that have their own exams so these can be sat for in addition to the 11+ exam. 

In general the boarding school route is much less pressured and there are quite a few good girls boarding schools in easy reach of London including Wycombe Abbey (High Wycombe), St. Mary’s Ascot (Ascot), Downe House (near Oxford), Benenden (Kent), St Mary's Calne (Wiltshire), St. Swithuns (Winchester) to name just a few.   

London day schools

For the London day school process parents generally have to register their daughters to sit the exams by November of Yr 6. There is no limit to the number of exams you can sit.  Some of the London girls’ schools have formed a consortium for purposes of the 11+ exams. The North London Independent Girls’ Schools Consortium comprises two groups of schools that have their entrance examinations on the same day. Schools in the same group set common papers using the same mark scheme.


Group1:
Francis Holland (Clarence Gate), Francis Holland (Graham Terrace), Heathfield School, Notting Hill and Ealing High School, Queen’s College, St. Albans High School, St. Helen’s High School, South Hampstead High School, The Royal School, Hampstead

Group 2:
Channing School, City of London School for Girls, More House, Northwood College, Queen’s Gate School, St. James Independent School, The Godolphin and Latymer School.


By sitting the exams for these two groups you are covering a lot of schools in one go but many London girls schools are not part of these consortia.  For instance, St Paul's Girls School (for which you need to pass a computerized pre-test in November before being eligible to sit the exam), North London Collegiate School, Putney High School, Lady Eleanor Holles School, Latymer Upper, Wimbledon High School.
This means that many girls sit exams for 5 -7 different schools/consortia over a two-week period in early January.  The exams are generally English and Maths (no Science).  Some schools also test for Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning.  This can be very exhausting for the child. 

If you score highly enough in these exams, you are invited in for an interview.  The head teacher’s report will also be taken into consideration at this point. Many of the day schools are highly competitive – in some cases there will be up to 10 applicants for every place.

Around the middle of February the day school places are awarded. The deadline for acceptances for the day school places is early March. 

What do I need to think about as a parent? 

From Year 3 you need to start thinking about what type of school – boarding or day – will suit your daughter and your family. 

From Year 4 start to narrow the list and get as much information as possible, talk to other parents who have children at these schools.  Where possible do preliminary visits. 

From Year 5 do follow up visits.  Visit as many times as needed so you really understand a school’s values, culture and how it will fit with your daughter.  This is the year to decide if you do want to go down the boarding school route (many parents who feel it is too early to make this decision apply to a limited number of boarding schools and then to day schools as well). 

Your daughter’s wellbeing

Consider carefully how hard your daughter is working, particularly if you decide to go down the tutoring route. With girls you have to be very careful about their mental health.  There is some evidence that girls’ brains have a higher blood flow through the area of the brain that handles emotions, thereby making them more susceptible to depression and anxiety and also the pervasive feeling that they are never good enough and they should be striving for perfection.   

Whilst for many parents an academic education is important - it is only one part of a bigger picture.  Confidence, curiosity, resilience, emotional intelligence, good social skills are key to a fulfilling life, so it is important not to focus exclusively on academics.  Girls need to keep a balance in their lives so make sure they keep up the extra curricular activities they enjoy and that there is still plenty of fun and family time at the weekends.  

In Year 6 the boarding school process will start immediately and there is only a term until the 11+ exams.  Try to de stress their lives as much as possible.  Make sure they understand your love and acceptance is not dependent on how well they perform in their 11+ and that the world is much wider than this process!   You can do this by focusing not on exam and test results but on the effort they put in, strategies they use for learning, attitudes they show, improvements made and when they don’t do so well what they can learn from that. Give them lots of descriptive praise and empathise when things are tough. And make sure they get some play time! 

If you want to know more see our publication on Creating Happy Learners. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications 

Wishing you a stress-free approach to secondary school preparations.

Do you find the school system stressful? What are your tips for counteracting those pressures? 

If this information has been useful to you share it on your favourite social media platform. 

Jenny, Melissa and Elaine

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October 01st, 2014

Are your children safe with money? 4 Top tips to canny consumers and savvy savers.

 

I was recently asked by Sky TV to comment on the recent announcement that the Department of Education was introducing

finance management into the curriculum for secondary school children. About time too and this is certainly a step in the right direction, as all parents have a moral duty to ensure we make our children safe with money. Managing money is a life skill and needs to be taught both at home and at school. We give our kids swimming lessons in order to keep them safe in water -we don't throw them in the deep end and expect them to swim.

In order to make our children safe with money we need to be giving them some pocket money or an allowance and allow them to earn extra for additional jobs or duties.

My own daughter is at boarding school and the other day reported back that for the last few months she was really proud of herself for managing her monthly allowance so well. Indeed she was 8p under spent last month and I had to smile to myself with the thought that my 15 year old has taken on my values of budgeting and looking after the pennies!

I get many parents saying they are sick and  tired of kids asking for things; why don’t they value what they have? Why are they always asking for more? We call this pester power and it is symptomatic of our current world where instant material gratification is the norm. Are our children spoilt or is this a popular myth? So many parents today become confused with how to cope with the bombardment of advertising messages and children’s demands for more. It’s hard to be clear and firm and consistent with kids and to not succumb to pester power. It can be so difficult to say NO when faced with your children telling you "you're the best mum in the world. I love you so much - thanks for buying me that game."

Parents have the biggest influence on children’s financial behaviour so in order to raise a generation of sound financial citizens here are our 4 top tips to ensuring canny consumers, savvy savers, generous givers and insightful investors! 

  1. Start giving your children small amounts of pocket money whilst at primary school and for teenage children give them an allowance. It sends a very powerful message that we trust you and feel you can be responsible with managing money. How much you give and what they can spend their money on will be personal to each family and age dependent. You might like to compare notes with other parents. So  primary school age kids may be interested in treats, toys or comics whilst teenagers usually are motivated by  mobile phone allowance and items of clothing.
  1. Set up 3 jars: saving, spending and sharing – you may decide what proportion goes into each one or leave that up to your child. Having your children wait and save teaches delayed gratification. If you want to teach compound interest you can even reward with them earning interest on the savings if they are not spent in the month. 
  1. Do talk to your children about the powerful consumer messages the media world employ to entice you to buy goods. Discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates! 
  1. If it’s important to you that your child learns to be focused on/considerate of others, including spending some money on others then model this (let them know what you do by way of charity) as well as requiring it of them. Let them donate toys to a local hospital, or giving to old folks’ homes in the form of a baked cake etc. Many schools have some kind of charity effort before Christmas –if the children are asked to put together a donation box then consider getting them to fund it themselves or work to earn the money you spend on it or at least to go and make the purchases themselves.

Does your child get pocket money or an allowance? At what age did they understand the value of money?

If you have tweens or teens this may be  becoming a hot topic of conversation, so  do check out our latest teen workshop where we explore values and boundaries and learn how to connect with teens, even when they want more and we say no!

If you found this useful please share it on your favourite platform and like us on Facebook 

'The Teenage Years - setting then up for success.' is running on 8th October 2014, 7:30-10pm in Clapham. Click here for details and don't worry if you have missed it contact us so we can let you know when it is running again.

Happy parenting

Elaine and Melissa

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June 19th, 2014

Football Feelings

Boys playing rugbyMy nephew is 13 and he has been crazy about rugby since he could kick a ball around. It’s a passion he shares with his father and his uncle and the three of them are most happy when playing or talking about the game.  My nephew won a sports’ scholarship at his prestige private school on the strength of his prowess with a ball. He is also learning some valuable life lessons on the rugby field.

I was struck by comments in a recent article by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic (The Confidence Gap, April 14, 2014) which describes the difference between men and women in terms of confidence. One of the reasons they attribute to women’s lower levels of confidence is their experiences with failure growing up. Girls are less likely to get in trouble at school because “They have longer attention spans, more-advanced verbal and fine-motor skills, and greater social adeptness. They generally don’t charge through the halls like wild animals, or get into fights during recess. Soon they learn that they are most valuable, and most in favor, when they do things the right way: neatly and quietly. … In turn, they begin to crave the approval they get for being good. …the result is that many girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. This is to their detriment: many psychologists now believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building. Boys, meanwhile, tend to absorb more scolding and punishment, and in the process, they learn to take failure in their stride. ”

Taking part in sports exposes one to the experience of taking risks and making mistakes. It can teach one to accept making mistakes and learning from them. If he works on his techniques, skills and strategies over time a child can learn that he can improve with effort and he also learns resilience. Taking part in competition feeds on boys’ natural testosterone- fuelled competitiveness and it makes them relish winning.  Kay and Shipman argue that boys’ greater exposure to sports gives a confidence edge as they ‘flick off losses’.

They also mention that “Boys also benefit from the lessons they learn -or, more to the point, the lessons they teach one another-during recess and after school. From kindergarten on, they roughhouse, tease one another, point out one another’s limitations, and call one another morons and slobs. In the process … such evaluations ‘lose a lot of their power.’ Boys thus make one another more resilient. Other psychologists we spoke with believe that this playground mentality encourages them later, as men, to let other people’s tough remarks slide off their backs.”

This weekend my nephew learnt a very valuable lesson on the rugby field thanks to the sensitive parenting of his father and uncle. He played on the Saturday for his school and his team were not doing very well against a very competent side. At one point a friend of his had been tackled and was getting a beating from an opponent while on the ground. My nephew went to defend his friend and overstepped the mark. He was sent off. He was mortified then, feeling he’d let his side down and himself. The next day he was due to play for a club side and was told he would not be allowed to play because of the sending off in the previous game. He came over to where his father and uncle were standing, very down in the dumps and a bit teary.

His father did not tell him to suck it up, that life was like that and there’d be other games. He did not tell him he was reaping the consequences of his lack of judgment the previous day. Nor did his uncle say “Poor you. That’s so tough. It was really unfair that you got singled out and the guy on the opposing team who was doing the wrong thing didn’t get picked up at all.”

Instead his dad acknowledged how he felt. He told him he understood how his feelings had got the better of him in the moment and how embarrassed he felt now. He acknowledged that it must feel unfair. He told his son he trusted that he had learnt a valuable lesson, that he needed to trust the referee to take care of things when there was unfair play on the field, and that sometimes referees missed things and this was something you lived with when you played the game. He applauded his son’s urge to protect his mate. He let his boy know he knew that he felt he was letting down his side. Only then did he say “and you can help out your team from the sidelines today. You can go back over there and give out the water and support your mates.” The boy did go back over and his team did that male sportsman thing of backslapping and handshakes that clearly let him know without any more words that he was accepted.

He learnt that his feelings were ok. He learnt that he was ok. He learnt that he could learn from his mistakes and he still have the respect of the important adults in his life and his friends. He is learning resilience, to slough off the mistakes and to pick himself up and have another go. He is developing confidence.

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March 03rd, 2014

He will Be OK

Children in school

I have a friend who has a son who is 18 and in his final year at school. He has just received an offer from a university conditional upon him gaining an A,B,C in his A levels. This is a truly remarkable thing. You may think it’s not that remarkable as you will know that students all over the country will be receiving offers and some will have more difficult obstacles to overcome in terms of grade requirements. But this is an amazing achievement for this young man.

When I first met him he was 7 years old and had had a tough life up until that point. He is very dyslexic and had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder. He felt very different and most inadequate. He believed he was a bad person. Indeed he was a very angry young boy. The first time I met him he brought his fist down really hard on his mother’s foot which she’d hurt. He was generally quite aggressive and definitely oppositional. His parents were at their wits’ end, having received much conflicting advice and having tried most opportunities available for a child with his set of difficulties. Travelling on public transport was a complete nightmare as he was all over the place and wouldn’t listen to anything anyone told him to do-it was sometimes dangerous and always embarrassing. He had been to three special needs schools and been excluded from all of them. One school had been so unable to manage his behaviour that they locked him in a cupboard!

Luckily his parents were not going to give up on him. Parents don’t generally give up on their children but sometimes they do accept that there are limits to what can be achieved of course. They took positive parenting courses and trained hard to help him. They researched all kinds of different therapies to support him. But mostly they never gave up on the picture they had of who he could be. I don’t mean that they wanted him to be a scholar or an athlete or a musician or follow any particular career path but they knew he was a good and capable person.

They found schools which could support him and it became possible for him to attend school because of all the work they put in at home. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve always been amazed at the way he progressed. He has always had drive and a self-belief that I think comes, not in small part, from his parents’ belief in him. It may not be possible for him to achieve these ABC grades but I wouldn’t like to bet on that because I don’t think anyone knows what’s possible for him. He keeps pushing on past the boundaries of what was thought possible. Literacy is still a struggle for him but this young man will not be stopped by that. He has great resilience and a maturity well beyond his years. His social skills are very acute and he has insights about people rare in someone his age.

I’m not advocating a ‘tiger mum’ approach to pushing our kids to achieve, to acquire accomplishments and qualifications but knowing this boy has given me an insight into what’s possible, not just with blind faith, but with hard work. What has worked here has been 10 years of acknowledging small steps in the right direction, much concrete and specific and sincere affirmation of effort and improvement more than results, requiring him to do the most that he was capable of while using small steps to prepare, giving him responsibilities and encouraging independence, helping him understand and accept his feelings of difference, his anxieties, his frustrations and anger, and helping him learn from failures and bounce back from set-backs. One of the really effective things this family has done is spend time together in play –they all play golf and both children have developed skills in this area. The boy has developed passions in this and other areas that are separate from school work which has helped his sense of achievement. There are no glass ceilings when your sense of self-worth is strong. I don’t mean that he will be studying medicine or astrophysics but he will be able to lead a really fulfilling productive life, doing the best that he is capable of. That is every parent’s dream for their children.

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September 03rd, 2013

What did your kids learn these holidays, and what more do they need to know?

(Things to teach your kids before they fly the nest)

Teaching children to cook

What did your children learn over the summer holidays? At The Parent Practice a quick survey of parents revealed an interesting array of skills. This prompted the question what life skills do you think your children need to have before they leave home. Our job is to equip our children with the skills they need to be successful adults and we need to start training while they are young.
Our parents think children need to know how to (these are not in order of importance and only some of these ideas reveal what some of our parents coped with during their holidays! This is a list of practical skills; we have not included social skills here or the list would have covered several pages):
•    iron (a shirt)
•    sew on a button or a hem
•    swim and ride a bike
•    change a fuse and a light bulb … and the loo roll
•    manage money and operate a bank account
•    pay a bill, using a cheque or electronic bank transfer
•    cook basic meals or at least boil an egg and make a cup of tea (it doesn’t matter if you don’t drink tea)
•    write a thank you note/email/text/phone call
•    write a personal/professional/complaint/acknowledgement letter
•    know all your relevant ID information (NHS number, National Insurance, driver’s license, passport … and the relevant   expiration dates…or where to find them)
•    know how to operate the answering machine at home (without deleting a message meant for someone else. There’s a story here!)
•    do laundry properly, that is not just how to operate a washing machine, but how to separate colours, decide what needs a special program, what can go in the tumble dryer, how much laundry powder to use, how to hang laundry out properly so it will actually dry, why not to leave damp laundry mouldering in the basket etc
•    hang up clothes that aren’t heading to the laundry basket
•    do basic first aid
•    use some basic self-defence moves
•    mow a lawn, recognise a weed and what to do with it
•    basic cleaning skills, particularly how to clean a toilet and shower/bath and how often to wash towels and sheets
•    remove stains from carpets and sofas
•    bleed a radiator
•    turn off the stop cock (and know where it is)
•    use public transport
•    fill a car with petrol and oil, jump start a car with a flat battery, open the bonnet, change a tyre, fix a puncture or call the AA
•    drive
•    clean a car
•    use a condom (we did say learn before leaving the nest-it doesn’t have to be tomorrow)
•    use power tools and a screwdriver
•    fill in forms
•    make appointments with doctors and dentists
•    make phone calls or use the internet to get information
•    back up a computer/ipod/phone etc
•    recognise scam emails and fake websites
•    protect yourself on-line and what to do if you come across cyber-bullying and trolling
•    set a SIM PIN on your phone
•    write a shopping list and come home with almost everything on it and not much else that wasn’t on it
•    pack a suitcase
•    not wake a baby, and how to distract the baby when they get really crabby later
•    not make rude shapes out of babybel cheese rinds and leave them in your pocket so they go through the wash and ruin everything else in the machine
•    not get confused between deodorant and hairspray.
•    if you’re moving house or to a new country, make sure to pack the online banking security gadgets, a few kitchen knives and at least 1 wine glass (lesson learned!!)

What to do if:

•    they get lost or locked out of the house
•    someone offers them a lift and they are unsure or offers them anything and they are unsure, basically how to say no
•    with a jellyfish sting that doesn’t involve the traditional weeing on it (it’s vinegar, by the way!)

When  to call a friend, their parents, an ambulance, the police, a computer support person, an electrician, a plumber, the gas man and deal with emergencies

Golly! We’d better start intense training now!

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August 17th, 2011

Rioting British youths failed by their own parents? It takes a village

Britons and people across the world have been mesmerised by the riots that took place recently in London and other cities and have been scrabbling for some sort of explanation for what went on, what motivated the rioters and, it seemed to me, searching for someone to blame. I was sorry to see that one of the knee jerk reactions as we try to make sense of this frightening occurrence in our own neighbourhoods was a spate of parent bashing and blaming.

There have been as many theories about the causes of the violence as there were people who took part in it. But there is no one explanation that has convinced me as applying to all who took part. The causes attributed seem to depend on who are identified as the perpetrators. If the rioters were unemployed, uneducated, fatherless, estate-living, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds then commentators have claimed that it is the socio economic climate in which we live currently that has given rise to this spate of violence. But many of the looters were not from this demographic but were middle class, older people in employment. There were teachers, dental nurses and ballerinas who took part. Many of these people were female, educated and in employment. Some of the young were living in stable homes with two caring parents. Many of us will have heard interviews with ‘hoodies’ who claim to have joined in for the fun of it and because they could get away with it.

Whatever the disparate socio economic and ethnic backgrounds of the people taking part in the rioting and looting maybe one thing that unites them is a sense of powerlessness in their lives that compels them to seize control in this way. One youth was quoted as saying “We wanted to show the police we could do what we wanted.” The other uniting feature, as many commentators have mentioned, is the moral vacuum we have witnessed. Whatever the circumstances of their lives, whatever hardships they may be enduring, whatever frustrations or privations, these don’t justify taking the action they did, causing the damage they did, taking the lives they did. So what is missing? Some of the people taking part seemed to just get caught up in the atmosphere of the mob without any predetermined idea of causing violence or stealing. But why did they give way to the thrust of the crowd? Where is the value system that tells a person when to stop and decide not to join the throng? Why wasn’t there an overriding compulsion that made them put the brakes on and think about how their actions impacted on others? How do you get those values? Clearly from one’s up-bringing. Allison Pearson has written in the Telegraph, “Our young people need adults to stop abdicating authority.”

While it is true that we need parents to behave like adults and to be in charge there are wide differences of opinion about what this means. Pearson quoted her neighbour as saying “They need a smacked bottom and to be sent to bed early”. Generally when people say “what that child needs is some discipline” they mean this kind of punitive approach but this is pendulum thinking where we assume that the alternative to this kind of flagrant permissiveness is clamping down hard with punishment. And if we conclude that there are social factors at work here which facilitated the recent lawlessness then we will not be effective in just bringing down sanctions without addressing those social factors.

In any case there is a more effective middle ground involving parents setting and upholding boundaries, taking an interest in and being responsible for their children and being willing to be the parent not the friend.  My view is that there is a crisis of parenting when the adults are not in charge, when they don’t know where a 12 year old is, when they have not been able to pass on values about respect for others, when they have not taught compassion and tolerance, when the young people don’t have the communication skills necessary to get what they need without violence, when they don’t have a proper education.

Not all the young people who took part in the violence have been brought up badly. Some of them may have got caught up in the moment and displayed a real lack of judgment in doing so and they need to be shown that there are consequences for that behaviour. Some parents are bravely doing just that. Chelsea Ives, 18 year old and promising athlete, took part in the rioting and was seen on television by her parents who took the courageous step of turning her into the police. And other parents have taken similar steps to teach their children responsibility for their actions.

But where there has been a failure to educate young people in good values and responsibility I think we have to be careful where we lay the blame for that. It is too easy to say what parents should be doing, especially when we’re pointing the finger at another set of parents, not ourselves. We need to take responsibility as a community for what has happened and think holistically about how we can support parents to bring up the next generation better. However difficult I think we need to try to get to the why’s of what happened so we can take effective action rather than just shooting in the dark like tough punishment and bringing in the army. And we need more data before we can analyse accurately what happened. Just as when we’re disciplining our kids at home we need to take time to understand why they did the thing we didn’t want them to do so that we can respond effectively.

The phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ hasn’t had much application in modern Britain but it needs to now. If one good thing comes out of this maybe it will be that in the spirit of the cleaning up that took place after the riots, that sense of taking back control of our communities, we look out for our neighbours more and help each other to bring up good kids. That might be in direct ways by offering to look after a neighbour’s child to give them a break, or being a male ‘uncle’ figure in the life of a fatherless child, or it might be having the courage to tell a teen to take their feet off the seat on the bus. Or maybe our actions will be to lobby government in this time of austerity measures to not make cuts in the vital area of providing parenting support so that parents have the tools to be able to get their kids to school, get them off the streets, give them the values they want to pass on and teach them respect. Nothing will change if we just mutter about the state of moral collapse in our society and point the finger of blame at parents who are not coping.

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February 15th, 2011

Valentine's Day - are your children in love?

It is Valentine’s day and of course our thoughts turn to love – but what if the love we’re pondering is our children’s love …and it’s not ourselves that are the object of their affection but some spotty youth! When our children fall in love what’s the parent’s role, or do we even have one? Have we been totally eclipsed, put out to pasture, past our use-by date? Ok, all clichés to one side, I suppose it depends when your child is smitten with Eros’s arrow. If your ‘child’ is of an age that you think is too young for love, and for fathers of daughters this may be any age up to about 30, then what? When is too young for love and what does love mean at different ages? A 7 year old child may declare themselves to be in love or to have a girlfriend and when questioned this turns out to mean that they are prepared to swap sandwiches at lunchtime . A ten year old may be very keen on a member of the opposite sex and this manifests itself by them calling the object of their affection names and tweaking their hair. By 13 your child may have reached such heights of sophistication that they are now prepared to acknowledge that there is a point to girls/boys and they may really fancy one, but would rather die than admit it to the other. Or you may find that the child who has come over for a ‘playdate’ is making you question what sort of play they had in mind! If you think your child is too young for an exclusive relationship then tell them so without making them wrong or making fun of them and encourage them to be friends with lots of people.

We might think the idea of our children being in love is cute until we see them holding hands or sneaking a kiss and then we decide we need to have some boundaries! Where each parent draws a boundary will depend on their own value system and upbringing and it is worth discussing the rules with them when the other young person is not present. I remember being mortified by my grandfather insisting that my bedroom door had to be kept open when my boyfriend came over. In a household of 7 people there was nowhere else but my room to go for any peace and quiet. Some of the guidelines they may need are about how to behave with integrity and respect towards the opposite sex.

And what if said spotty youth seems totally unsuitable? Just as we can’t choose our children’s friends we certainly can’t choose their boyfriends and girlfriends and we risk alienating them if we try. Assuming we’re talking about a teenager now they are in the process of working out their identity and choosing their friends is an important part of that. You can and should have rules about how they conduct themselves in your house but you can’t dictate who they decide to give their affections to. Trust that the values you’ve been passing on to them since they were small have been taken on board. You may not share their taste and you may question their judgment but a parent’s role at this point is a more backseat one. There is no doubt that the first boyfriend/girlfriend can make a parent question their own relationship with their child. They have moved on to the next phase of their lives –friendships have taken on a different meaning and a parent may feel a bit usurped. It’s important not to take this as a rejection –they still need you.

And what of unrequited love or some other kind of hurt? What do you do when your precious child has been dumped by text message or on facebook?  A common phenomenon in these  days of social networking. Just as when they were being teased as a small child your first instinct may be to rush in and try to sort things out for them but we need to put the brakes on and work out how to support them more subtly. They need us above all to be there for them, to listen and to comfort. They do not need to be told there are plenty of other fish in the sea and how you didn’t like him anyway or how he could do better than that girl. Try to remember what it feels like to be hurt in love – but don’t tell them about all your experiences –just empathise. They will need to know that they are worthwhile but not by telling them that there’s nothing wrong with them (apart from their taste in girls/boys) and the only way they will believe any words of encouragement from a parent at this point is if those words are completely believable –that means sincere and descriptive.

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July 24th, 2010

Toxic Childhood - are your children affected?

Anyone read Sue Palmer’s book “Toxic Childhood” and started panicking that all the modern technology is having a hugely harmful effect on our children, not to mention ourselves?  I have only just started tweeting; blogging and facebooking and find myself fascinated about this social networking world and realise perhaps how easy it is to become addicted! As adults we hope we are able to exercise some form of self control, but how easy is that for our kids?

Is it little wonder therefore that Sue writes about  how the modern world is affecting how our children are growing up? 

A general deterioration in children’s learning and behaviour is being reported throughout the world, and Sue Palmer, a leading authority on literacy, looks through all the different reasons for this and shows how they are connected, rather than focussing on or blaming any one particular issue. She suggests there is a fundamental clash between “our technology driven culture and our biological heritage” because children still develop and mature at “human speed” whereas the world around them moves at “electric speed”.

What does this mean for us as parents? It means we need to be really clear about our values and the importance of good nutrition, adequate sleep, plenty of opportunities to play, quality childcare and ensuring good forms of communication. We need a good toolkit of skills to achieve all this!

Can you detoxify your life? Look out for The Parent Practice course on Children’s use of TV, internet and electronic games  – Keeping Children Safe and Healthy – click here for more details.

Toxic Childhood

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