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April 14th, 2016

What opens kids’ ears?

Before writing Real Parenting for Real Kids we surveyed our clients and asked them what their current goals were with their children. The majority said that they wanted more cooperation. Probably you too want your children to do what you ask, not just so you can have an easier life but because it’s your job to train your children into good habits for life. And for that you need some cooperation. 

You may wish your child was more polite or would eat his greens or go to bed and stay in bed or focus more on his school work or try harder at swimming or would try again when he failed or do more around the house or get off his Xbox when you ask him to or get dressed promptly in the morning. You may wish your child would show more consideration for others or take responsibility when she does something wrong or wouldn’t flare up and bite your head off when she is upset about something. You may want her to do her eye exercises or stop sucking her thumb or to put her clothes in the laundry basket or to look people in the eye when they talk to her. To teach your child good habits and attitudes you’ll need them to cooperate with you. 

That doesn’t mean your child can’t have an opinion or feelings about what they’ve been asked to do. I usually suggest that we don’t want to be breeding mindless automatons, but some of the parents in my classes admit they would settle for some blind compliance! If you’d like your child to listen to you more this is the place to be! Nothing opens the ears of a child (of any age) more than the skill we’re exploring here –Descriptive Praise. This is magic. 

Praise, you think. That old hat! I know about praise. I try to praise my child but frankly he’s not often doing anything particularly praiseworthy. And I think kids actually get too much praise these days. Isn’t that what leads to this sense of entitlement everyone worries about?

Well yes, and no. If children are given meritless and meaningless praise all the time not only does it not have the desired effect of improving self-esteem and encouraging good behaviours but it does in fact lead to an expectation of constant praise and the worry that if they’re not being praised they must be rubbish. This is a result of the WRONG KIND OF PRAISE. 

Descriptive praise is praise, but not as you know it.

Children cooperate when there is real connection between them and their parents. There is a biological imperative for a child to want to please their parent. I hear you scoff. That basic instinct can fade if the child no longer believes he can please his parent. If he hears a lot of criticism (so easy for us to lapse into this) then he will lose focus on doing what gets approval. The onus is on us adults to make the change and start noticing and commenting on the small things children get right. It’s no good just saying ‘well done’ or ‘good job’, ‘clever girl’ or ‘awesome’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘fantastic’. That kind of praise will have no meaningful effect and can make a child dependant on external approval. 

Since we get more of what we pay attention to we need to notice the good stuff, rather than commenting on what’s gone wrong. Instead we need to describe to our children what they are doing right so that they can absorb that behaviour as a value and learn to self-assess. “Harry, you’re carrying that plate really carefully with your eyes on your hands. That way nothing has spilt.” “Georgia, you were really cross with Jack for turning off your video but you didn’t hit him or even yell at him – you told him it was your turn and you even gave him something else to play with. That shows me you understand that Jack finds it hard to wait. You’re teaching him patience.” 

Descriptive Praise shapes behaviour more than any other tools in our parenting toolbox. We still need to have rules and we need to give instructions carefully to maximise cooperation and when our kids don’t want to do what we’re asking we’ll need to be able to empathise but Descriptive Praise is the magic that opens kids ears. 

For more tools on getting the best out of your children, click here to pre-order Melissa Hood’s book Real Parenting, for Real kids at the discounted price of £13.99 until the launch date of 27t April 2016.

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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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August 10th, 2015

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

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

ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three easy steps!  Give it a go!

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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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