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April 25th, 2017

A Problem with Biting - Your questions answered

A parent in our Barnes class asked this question at the end of last term and we thought others might be dealing with similar issues. 

When my aggressive two year old is frustrated or cross she hits/bites/slaps (whatever to get attention I presume or get a toy that she wants). I have tried removing her from the poor person she is hitting and empathising with how she is feeling, but it is quite difficult to get through. Eventually she apologises but I’m not sure how much that is down to me trying to persuade her to. There don't seem to be many consequences to her actions that I can come up with. This is not really working and she continues to behave in this fashion... 

Our facilitator had this advice: 

You may be aware that hitting or biting or slapping is very normal behaviour for 2 year olds who don’t yet have sufficient command over language to be able to express what they feel/want/need adequately. I love that you are thinking about why she does things. Does she need attention/does she want a toy? Is she competing with her older siblings? This is so crucial to being successful in dealing with it effectively. Whenever you see a behaviour you’re not happy about be curious. Ask yourself, why is she doing that? Because only then can you respond to her needs and teach her what she needs to know. Only then can you keep calm enough to respond with compassion and wisdom. 

Try really hard to alter your internal conversation about her. Change the word ‘aggressive’ to one that also fits the situation but is a more positive reframing. When you think of your daughter maybe these words will fit: impulsive, strong-willed, feisty, energetic. Some of these are great qualities. 

  1. Use cool down time. This is how you can push your own ‘pause’ button and reflect on her intentions. What was behind that behaviour? If she is hitting it will not be because she is mean or aggressive but because she is impulsive and maybe feels things intensely and because she doesn’t yet know how to get what she wants. She may not always know what it is that she wants/needs. Eg sometimes she might feel confused or overwhelmed or upset or even anxious and lash out because she doesn’t know what to do with her feelings. Other times she might actually be cross with the person she hits. Maybe they have what she wants or are obstructing her in some way. Obviously understanding those reasons doesn’t make it ok to hit but it does make it easier to teach her.
  2. So glad you are trying to connect with her by empathising with how she feels. When you say it is quite difficult to get through it sounds like you are expecting a response from her that you’re not getting. Sometimes we expect the behaviour to change in the moment but raising children is never a quick fix. If you’re expecting her to open up and talk about her feelings, that’s probably unrealistic for a 2 year old. Nonetheless it is essential for you to describe to her how you think she might be feeling. Name the sensations she could be having. You could ask her “Do you feel cross right in your tummy like a knot? Or can you feel worry in your chest? Or did you notice your hands going into fists? Maybe you felt it in your head? Maybe you had lots of feelings going on all at the same time –that can be a bit confusing. Did you want mummy to notice what you were doing rather than your sister? Did you want the toy that [Sam] was playing with? I’m guessing you were really mad at [Ella] for taking the Lego that you wanted to play with. Emotion coaching has a profound effect in the moment in being able to shift behaviour but more importantly in the long term our children feel that we care.
  3. An apology is somewhat secondary to your goal of teaching her how to get what she wants/needs without hitting. A real apology involves being able to empathise with the hurt person, understanding that they are hurt and caring about that. Empathy is something that evolves in children with the maturation of their pre-frontal cortex and is not be expected in abundance in a 2 year old who is very much focused on their own feelings. Empathy is learnt by our modelling –the more we show that we care about their feelings, the better they understand that human feelings matter. Once her feelings are heard (step 2 above) you can begin to talk about the feelings of the person who is hurt. “[Sam] is sad. He was hurt when you bit him. In this family we don’t hurt each other. You can make Sam feel better by stroking his arm/lending him your teddy. When you’re ready we’ll practice asking Sam for what you wanted. I will help you. Shall I hold your hand while you say….?” At her age there are no consequences that will work as well as this kind of teaching.
  4. You can also use role play with teddies and dolls etc to practice what to do when they want something the other has/when they want attention/when they feel cross/upset/annoyed. The more you talk about feelings, the better her vocabulary will become and the more tools she will have at her disposal to deal with her emotions. There are some great books for talking about feelings too. Do you know the Mike Gordon series ‘I feel….’? https://www.amazon.co.uk/I-Feel-Angry-Your-Emotions/dp/0750214031/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491804582&sr=1-3&keywords=mike+gordon+i+feel 

This is not a quick process. You will need to repeat the lesson many times but she will learn it provided she is not stressed by feeling as if she is a bad person. Stress prevents the pre-frontal cortex from developing as fast. It is essential that your little girl gets the message that she is a lovable and capable person who needs a bit of help to control her feelings and impulses. And luckily you are there to help her.

 

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October 30th, 2016

Be a Rewarder not a Briber

The countdown to Christmas is now on! In the weeks before the festive season (8 weeks, since you ask) many parents will use the (potential) forthcoming visit of the portly gentleman as an inducement to good behaviour. Otherwise known as a bribe or threat. Don’t cringe –we’ve all done it. Who hasn’t said “Santa won’t bring you any presents if you don’t behave?” Which brings up the whole question of bribes, a standard-issue tool in the average parental tool basket, but one that has some downsides. So what is the difference between a bribe and a reward? Or is there no difference? Are they both problematic? This is an important question that we ponder in our classes and I distil years of thought on this issue for you below.

My dictionary defines a bribe as ‘an illegal payment made in exchange for favours or influence’ but that’s not how parents use the word. A bribe is something appealing which is offered prior to a behaviour as an inducement to the child to behave in a particular way. Correspondingly a threat is the promise of an unappealing event if the child does not behave as desired. A reward would be given after the behaviour in acknowledgment of that behaviour.

But as in many things in family life it’s all a little bit more nuanced than that. Let’s look at the language of inducement.

Bribe = “I’ll buy you these sweeties if you promise not to make a fuss about sitting in the shopping trolley.”

Reward = “You have been so patient while I was helping Ethan with his homework. You didn’t interrupt and just did something else for a while. Now you have earned a game of UNO with me.”

In the first example, the ‘if you do X you can have Y’ model involves a loss of parental control. The child is firmly in charge as the parent pays a price for what they want the child to do. One of the concerns parents quite rightly have is that this price goes up! ‘Bribe inflation’ means that the child will raise the stakes and may end up only doing what’s required for a treat and that treat will get bigger and bigger. “I won’t do it for 3 sweeties. I’ll do it for 4.” This teaches our children that they can manipulate situations with their parents and that ‘rules’ are negotiable.

Another issue with this model is that the inducement is portrayed as the coveted thing whereas the required behaviour is something to be endured only to earn the treat. This is problematic if we are bribing our children to do things we think are intrinsically good for them. And why else would we be requiring them to do it? Eg we say “you can play on the iPad if you do your reading/homework” or “you can’t have dessert unless you eat your broccoli.”  or “you won’t get a story unless you brush your teeth”. While stories and dessert and iPads no doubt have intrinsic appeal we actually want our children to see homework, reading, eating healthily and brushing teeth as of value in themselves. We also set up all kinds of problematic eating associations if we use certain foods as inducements.

When we use bribes our children are unlikely to learn anything beyond the skills of manipulation and bargaining, and the emphasis is on behaving well purely for material reward. In fact we want our children to do what’s required because it is the right thing to do.

So if bribes are so problematic what can we do? Is there a place for rewards? We think so.

Some rewards straightforwardly come after the behaviour, as in our example. But sometimes we may want to set up rewards in advance, while being wary of the pitfalls of bribes. A different way of speaking is the ‘When you have done X you will have earned Y’ model. This language is much more intentional and conveys trust that the child will do as required. This is much less coercive and focuses on empowering the child herself to learn the value of the behaviour, rather than being centred on material gain. Rewards may often be the natural positive consequence of the positive behaviour e.g. having extra time to play because they got ready so quickly or staying dry because they remembered their raincoat. Importantly rewards are earned and they occur after the child has accomplished something.

When I see you leave Tom’s house without any fuss when I collect you this evening as we discussed, you will be able to invite Tom to come and play at our house next week, as you’ll have shown me you know how to make a play date a real success.” (Empathise that it can be hard to stop playing if you’re in the middle of something fun and that it’s the parent’s timetable that always takes precedence.)

It’s important to have realistic expectations. Don’t expect your young child to brush his teeth or do his homework happily just because these are the ‘right things to do’. He will acquire those values over time and then he too will think they are the right thing to do. In the meantime you will teach him to do what’s required (repeatedly) by:

  • modelling the desired behaviour
  • having clear expectations about what’s required
  • commenting favourably (and sometimes rewarding) when he does it
  • following through in non-punitive ways when he doesn’t do it

The behaviours become habitual over time and then are internalised as values. Two things to remember about rewards:

  1. Use them sparingly and make sure they’re non-material
  2. Talk up the intrinsic benefits of the required task “Thank you for standing still and letting me rub in your sun cream. That’s really responsible. It shows me you understand how important it is to look after your skin, to stop yourself from getting burnt. Now you can have fun all afternoon playing in the paddling pool with your friends.”
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January 31st, 2016

Managing Morning Mayhem

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

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

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

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

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

 

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September 13th, 2015

Don’t Pick Your Battles

As the children go back to school you may be thinking of all the areas associated with school where you end up battling with your kids. Often we're told to pick our battles but I say don't pick battles with your children. Battles are between enemies and result in a win/lose situation. If you win, your child loses. We often forget this when we talk about not letting our children ‘get away with things’ and not letting them win.

Parents do need to provide discipline for children because their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed (and won’t be until their 20s). So we have to lend them our higher brains with their greater capacity for rational thought and impulse control. We are not our children’s enemy –we are their teacher. The purpose of discipline is not to win, or to get revenge, but to teach. Effective discipline comes from influence over time rather than the exercise of power in the moment.

We need to make sure we avoid the terminology of battles even in our own minds because language shapes our experience and the more we talk or even think about battling with our kids the more that will happen. That’s how our brains work.

What makes you want to go into battle with your child? Is it when you’ve asked them nicely to do something several times and they ignore you? And then you calmly and reasonably give them a gentle warning that they won’t get their TV time or stories… and they ignore you. And then you shout… but they still ignore you. And then you take away the TV or story… and then they react. They act as if that came straight out of the blue and is the most unreasonable thing ever and you are the meanest mummy/daddy in the world.

Generally when people suggest picking your battles it means choosing which things you’re going to get into a lather about and ignoring the rest. At The Parent Practice we say don’t ignore behaviours that you’re not happy about and don’t battle over them. Don’t ignore but take small actions before the behaviour escalates too far and while you’re still calm enough to deal with it.

Take action sooner with take 2s –Get your child to do it again correctly. This works well for little things like saying please and thank you or speaking in a polite tone of voice or asking to get down from the table.

Here’s how you can teach rather than engaging in battles:

  • Understand your child. Is what you’re asking them to do reasonable given his temperament and stage of development? Does he need time to transition from what he’s doing to what you’re asking him to do? As soon as parents start thinking about why kids aren’t cooperating and what their needs are then they can be more compassionate and more effective.
  • Don’t give too many instructions. Young children are likely to forget parts of what you’ve asked them to do and they may feel nagged and tune you out. Reduce the number of instructions you give by having some written rules and routines and by asking the children what they need to do. They usually know.
  • Children have their own set of priorities and their agenda is just as important to them as ours is to us. They will give up on what they’re doing and submit to your control when there is the greater priority of pleasing you. That means they have to know that they can earn your approval.
  • Give lots of approval with descriptive praise. This means that kids want to cooperate. And spend time with them doing fun things.
  • Connect with your child. Acknowledge that he doesn’t want to do his homework, have a bath or stop playing and come to dinner. When we recognise how they feel about the situation children feel understood and are more likely to comply. Once feelings are heard much resistance disappears. 

If something has gone wrong and you’re heading into battle mode:

  1. Take time to cool down - essential to avoid saying or doing something you’ll later regret.
  2. Connect –acknowledge the feelings driving the behaviour.
  3. Take constructive steps –have a problem-solving conversation without anger, blame or judgment (hence the need for the cool down) to help your child see why their actions were a mistake and what they can do about it. Use natural consequences (if they don’t get out of the bath promptly there’s no time for the story) or fixing consequences (clean up a mess or mend someone’s hurt feelings). Teach your child what to do differently next time –practice it.

Kids will get things wrong because they’re learning but the way we teach them how to behave will have long term ramifications for how they deal with disagreements in their lives. Instead of teaching them to get into battles don’t we want to teach them to try to understand, use words to negotiate and compromise?

For more on Positive discipline techniques see www.theparentpractice.com

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August 17th, 2015

What my Puppy taught me about Parenting

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

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

Here are some of the lessons: 

  1. Children thrive on routine 

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

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

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

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

 “It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Parenting requires a long-term focus

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

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

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April 21st, 2015

Improving your Child's Attention Span

Does the fruit of your loins whom you love to death sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat? Does your darling child forget what you’ve asked him to do on the way to do it? Are you worried about their future at school?

My boys used to fidget, get up and down, need the loo, stare out the window or chase imaginary rubbers (erasures) around the floor rather than focus on homework.

Instead of concluding that lack of focus is hereditary (as you get distracted by incoming emails and Face book messages) consider first what is realistic to expect for your child’s age (and gender). Under 8s generally fidget and wriggle around a lot and it isn’t always an indicator that they’re not paying attention. Boys generally move around a lot more than girls do. They are impulsive and they forget things. All of this is normal. Research gives us a rough rule of thumb for how long children should be able to focus on a learning task.

Attention span for learning = chronological age + 1

This means that a 6 year old should be able to focus for about 7 minutes on a task that is a learning activity. He can focus for a lot longer on a game that he’s engaged in. So motivation is a key factor. This is a clue for adults trying to get kids to focus –try to make the task interesting or fun!

Other things that will help expand on your child’s ability to focus that you might like to try in the holidays:

  1. limit time spent on electronic games and TV

Most children’s games and TV are designed to be very fast-moving –they flick from one image and idea to the next very quickly, discouraging sustained thought and puzzling out solutions. Several US studies have found that too much time in front of a screen can affect development of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning, attention and self-control.

  1. encourage activities involving sustained thought and listening 

Get children interested in construction toys, craft and jigsaw puzzles and give them mysteries to solve such as on http://kids.mysterynet.com/  Play games that involve careful listening like Simple Simon. 

  1. provide opportunities for physical release of energy and enough sleep 
  1. make sure kids are getting enough ‘down time’

Kids need down time to just think and be creative. Make sure they have some non-scheduled time where they can just gaze out the window and come up with some brilliant scheme.

  1. use descriptive praise

When we praise our children descriptively and specifically it really focuses their attention on what they’re doing in a much more effective way than by pointing out what they get wrong. Comment when they’re focused on a task and they’ll do it more.

  1. build your child’s emotional intelligence

Research shows that parents can influence the development of the pre-frontal cortex and encourage emotional intelligence in their children by recognising and validating their children’s feelings. When they do this children can process their feelings and move on. This greatly assists focus. Kids can’t pay attention to learning tasks when they’re consumed by emotions.

  1. when you ask them to do something just get them to do one thing.

Children under 8 can’t retain more than 2-3 pieces of information at one time.

If you use these 7 fun, easy ideas your child’s ability to focus will definitely improve.

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March 20th, 2015

Can boys play with dolls?

I think parents these days are often mindful about stereotyping on the basis of gender and try to avoid it by not dressing their children in ‘gendered’ colours (but did you know that up until the early 20th century pink was thought of as a strong boys’ colour?), providing them with opportunities to play with toys and to take part in sports or activities generally associated with the opposite sex, exposing them to different role models (in literature and in reality) and speaking to them in gender neutral terms. 

But it’s actually really easy to get caught out by little gendered remarks that slip out unnoticed. For instance have you told either your sons or daughters to ‘man up’? What does that mean? If it means to toughen up and be strong is that an attribute just for men? If it means don’t give in to your feelings or don’t talk about your feelings or, worse, don’t have those feelings, what are we saying about men and emotions? The answer to that last question was made abundantly clear to me once when I was giving a workshop on Raising Boys. I was talking about encouraging boys to identify and manage their feelings when one father said “I would question my son’s masculinity if he was talking about his feelings”! 

Sometimes with the best of intentions we’ll say things like “big boys don’t cry.” In hundreds of little ways we give our sons the message that it is weak and unmanly to express emotion and to be a man is to cope on your own. Statistics show what terrible repercussions this has for adult men not seeking help when they need it –men don’t even go to the doctor let alone ask directions! More seriously the suicide rate is much higher in men than women. 

It’s just as problematic if we’re giving limiting messages to our daughters. Have we fallen into the trap of calling our daughters ‘bossy’ for behaviour that we would find acceptably assertive in our sons? I hope you’ve seen the wonderful you tube video ‘Run like a girl’ by Proctor & Gamble which aims to celebrate the phrase rather than allowing it to be derisory. 

And of course there is still much stereotyping in music, the media, video games and in film through images and the behaviours portrayed by men and women despite recent efforts by children’s programme makers. Certain ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ qualities are ascribed to men and women. And children will be exposed to a lot of gendered stereotypes in shops with pink and blue aisles and packaging as well as boy toys and girl toys. 

There is much that parents can do to avoid these stereotypes and to offer contrary images and messages to those absorbed through the media etc. But what if, in spite of your best efforts, your child is the one coming up with stereotypes for boys’ and girls’ behaviour? 

One parent told us that her three and a half year old son had been making comments like "only boys can play with this…" to which the mum responded that "Actually boys AND girls can play with the same toys!" she was curious as to where this fixed attitude came from as neither she or her husband had ever consciously stereotyped boys vs girls. She said she always tried to use gender-neutral words such as ‘firefighter’ instead of ‘fireman’ etc. 

It is perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate behaviour for a young child to explore his or her identity including gender roles. Research has shown that children may be born with gendered tastes in toys, in that girls prefer dolls over cars and nothing we do or say can change this! However up until the age of 12 months boys are equally interested in dolls. It is only after this age that boys show a preference for toys with wheels, whereas girls continue to prefer dolls. This suggests that this is attributable to social factors rather than genetics. By the age of 3 or 4 children have surprisingly definite ideas about what behaviour and dress is appropriate for boys and girls. By this age most children when interviewed give stereotypical answers about behaviours appropriate for male and female dolls -100% of the children interviewed in one study said the female doll liked to clean the house and took care of the babies while the male doll went out to work! 

These perceptions of ‘boys’ toys’ or ‘girls’ toys’ and dress and behaviour show a normal, healthy development of gender identity and a natural inclination to want to fit in with their sex. This adapting to belong is a sign of good social skills but parents are wise to offer contrary messages as well. The strongest message we can give our children is through what we model so if boys see their dad sewing on a button or cooking a meal they will think that is an appropriate activity for a male. Likewise if mum mends the fuses or changes a tyre then obviously women can do those things. Children will model themselves on the same gender parent so dads please let your sons know its ok to talk about your feelings.

Children this age are very black and white –its only as they get older that they can understand the grey areas of life, including the idea that boys and girls can do things beyond the stereotypes.

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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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