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July 04th, 2016

It’s NOT about the shoes!

I find myself thinking about the first day back at school, even though the summer has yet to begin. 

My teenagers will still need some help and ‘encouragement’ in September to get themselves organised, but it will be easier than it has been before. We’re used to it, after all. 

So I am not thinking so much about the next first day back but more about all the first days that have come before. What have I learned over the last decade? 

I am a self-confessed planner. Being organised makes me feel better, as if it proves I am doing the best job I can. 

And for the last ten summers, I have focused on the practical details of the first day at school, including the Big Shoe Dilemma. 

Do I go early, and avoid the queues and get it done, but risk their feet growing over the holidays? Or indeed, as once happened, getting the right shoes, only to lose them altogether by the time September arrived! 

Or do I go later, and risk the mad scrum and the possibility they will have to turn up in the ‘wrong’ shoes because the ones they wanted, or needed, are not available in their size? 

I have spent many hours of my summer working out the ‘right’ way to name socks, lunch boxes, pants, etc. 

And after a decade of first days back, I get it. It was never about the shoes or any of the other practical stuff. And it was not something that I suddenly turned my hand to in mid-August. 

It’s not about their external world, although of course this matters. The wrong lunch box can send your child into a spin, and the whole “where to put the name-tapes” also matters if you want to (1) keep a track of things and (2) have a hyper-sensitive child who really can feel every stitch and wrinkle. 

It is about their internal world.  Our children’s success, or otherwise, at school depends on what they carry inside, not on the outside. 

What does it really take to do well at school? 

Yes, you need shoes and pencils, and a water bottle. There is a whole lot to be said for being punctual and prepared. And I still believe in tidiness and hope, one day, my sons will voluntarily use a hairbrush. And, yes, it’s also a bit about knowing your numbers and letters. 

More than anything it’s about knowing how to listen, how to co-operate, how to wait, how to focus and keep going when things get tricky, how to make things interesting, how to read other people and communicate. This is what helps children do their best at school. 

And we can help them develop these valuable skills day in, day out, by paying attention to all the little steps they take in the right direction. Because none of these things come naturally to small people! 

So this summer, I am not stressing about nametapes or shoes. I am going to keep my eye on the end goal and focus on their internal world – I want to notice every time they listen, wait, help, co-operate, plan and problem-solve, and make suggestions and show initiative. And I will say something to them about how it is appreciated and valued.  

And, as teenagers, they have most of the practical stuff ‘sorted’ and sometimes their growing competence can mean I feel they don’t need me any more. 

Is my work done? Of course not! And quite honestly I never want it to be! Helping my sons understand and manage their inner world is something I can do for a while yet. Oh, and I also need to teach them to iron! 

What advice would you have for parents of children going back to school in September? How can they use the holidays to prepare? 

Juliet Richards, facilitator at The Parent Practice

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January 06th, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

 

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

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August 08th, 2014

Go to sleep PLEASE!

If you’re making changes around sleep routines the summer holidays may be a good time to do it if you’ve got some time off work and are feeling rested yourself.

One of the changes that can be difficult is moving from a cot to a bed. It is new big deal for your child and may be bit scary without the high sides of the crib, so make sure there is some form of bed guard in place.

Here are 5 great ideas for good bed time routines:

1.    A 30 mins winding down time routine  is a vital way to signpost to the brain that sleep is on its way.
•    Lie babies down, tell them it’s sleep time, turn off the lights, stay in the room (or just outside) to gently soothe and settle if they cry, and repeat until sleep. Let them self-soothe for a few minutes –don’t leave them alone for longer to cry it out, which raises the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
•    Avoid stimulants in the hour before sleep –no screens, sugar or hyped up activity. Winding down in front of a DVD is not a good idea as the light from the screen signals the brain that it is time to be awake.
•    For toddlers a good routine is bath, pyjamas and story in bed. The warm water of a bath will raise the temperature and then when he gets out the core body temperature lowers, promoting sleep. Don’t make bath time too stimulating.
•    Speak to your child in a low voice and slow down the pace of your speech. Rhythmic stroking in sync with the child’s breathing will help a hard to settle child.
•    If your child struggles to settle to sleep you might like to allow her to listen to some music or talking books.  This is her cue for sleepiness.
•    If you’re a working parent try to avoid coming home in the middle of bedtime routine as it will disturb the rhythm and excite the child.

2.    Make him feel successful- he will have cracked other stages like learning to walk and talk and potty training and he can do the same here but it is going to take time. Refer to these successes. He might like to have a motivational sticker chart. Maybe he can choose a favourite animal or character that you can use as a template that is filled in with stickers during the course of the bedtime routine. When you tell him “It’s sleep time now …what do you need to do” and he says “stay in my big bed” – put lots of stickers on the chart as well as a verbal acknowledgment. When he jumps into bed for his stories- give stickers for being in the right place; when he chooses his music to listen to, stickers for being sensible and following the rule.

3.    Introduce the sleep fairy – he picks one of his favourite toys to watch over him at night and keep him safe and help him get into good bedtime habits. Say “the sleep fairy wants to give you something in your sleep box when you stay in your bed like you did last night; you didn’t call out for Mummy and followed most of the bedtime routines like a big boy”. The token is quite small and not of any real value –it might be a flower or a feather or a shiny button. Make a huge deal of it and say the sleep fairy will leave a token in the morning to say well done for the effort and progress you are making to become a successful bed time sleeper!

4.    Acknowledge how it feels. If your child says “I’m not tired and need to get something”  – articulate how he’s feeling by saying “ I know you find it hard to settle yourself to sleep. You would rather be racing round the house!” If you think he wants your attention don’t deny him by ignoring him – you need to give it to him for doing the right thing.

5.    Motivate with Descriptive Praise  Establish a GOLDEN BOOK  – help your child decorate a notebook and notice the good things they do, around bedtimes and more generally, and commemorate it in the book.  This helps the parent to pay attention to progress made.

“You should feel proud of yourself –I only had to remind you twice last night about where you should be and you stayed in your bed longer than the other night! That’s progress. Very soon you will be able to stay in your big bed with no trouble.”

Some children need a parent to stay close to their bed to catch them doing something good BEFORE they get up. They need the parent to remain close (not in bed with them) but out of sight and over a few nights move their chair to outside the room so the child can see your presence but not engage with your face. After a few minutes the parent goes in BEFORE she gets out of bed and praises her for doing the right thing…explaining you are just outside and that you’ll be back very soon…a few minutes later repeat the same thing.

PS: Don’t give up – these habits take time to establish and most of us want results too quickly and have unrealistic expectations. Get support from friends and family and if necessary consult a specialist sleep coach.

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February 18th, 2014

Children Are Hard Wired For Attention

Naughty girl

Parents often comment on the difficulty of managing multiple children and how everyone  always clamours for mum’s attention.

Attention is always a good place to start when thinking about being an effective parent.  Rule No. 1 is that children are hardwired to seek our attention.  It ensured their survival when we all lived in caves.  When everyone is striving to get our attention it is helpful to replace the thoughts ‘Why are they so demanding’, ‘Can’t they see I am overwhelmed’, ‘How do they expect me to do everything at once’………..with the thought ‘of course they want my attention – they’re hardwired for this’.  It doesn’t immediately turn the moment into sweetness and light, but it does make you feel a bit more empathetic towards them….and realize they are not doing this because they are thoughtless and mean.

Here are a few tips to help smooth the way:

Ensure you notice and comment on good behaviour significantly more than bad.  All too often we say nothing when they are behaving well and only pay attention when they are starting to misbehave.  From a kid’s perspective any attention is better than none – so they will take the bad route if they have to.

Try to carve out some individual time for each child.  It may only be 30 mins once a week, but in those 30 minutes let the child lead the activity.  It might be a dolls’ tea party with your five year old daughter or a game of hide and seek with your eight year old son.   The point is they will feel valued and special by having this time – and it is about their agenda – so no pretending it is special time with mum whilst they practice their times tables!

Every so often organise individual ‘daddy dates’.  Perhaps a visit to Pizza Express, a trip to the Science Museum but it could also be as simple as a walk in the park.  Diarise it in advance and mention it in the run up to the event.  It will make the child feel you are really focused on them.

Turn your phone off over meal times so you are not continually distracted and can have a proper conversation.  It is also excellent modeling for the times we want them to turn off their digital devices.

If your children continually talk over each other, institute a talking stick.  This was an ancient Native American tradition where only the person with the talking stick was allowed to speak and they were always allowed to finish before the talking stick was handed over to the next person.  Start with a physical stick and then move to a metaphorical one once everyone understands the concept.

Try to promote collaboration between siblings – not competition.  You want your children to feel there is plenty of attention to go round and they are not in a competition for it.  In this vain try to avoid saying things like ‘I wish you could be more organized in the mornings like your sister’, ‘why can’t you eat as nicely as your brother’, ‘the first child to finish their dinner is the winner’.

Schedule quality family relaxation time at the weekend.  Play a board game together, have a long lunch in which everyone gets involved in helping to prepare and clear up.  Go and play catch in the playground.  Ensure the weekend is not just a non-stop series of scheduled activities with children and parents all going in separate ways

In a recent survey by UNICEF UK the thing that children wanted most from their parents was not more toys, or more electrical gadgets…..it was simply more time with their parents.

Try the suggestions above. The funny thing you find about children, the more they feel confident of having your attention, the less they fear they are going to be criticised for asking for your attention……the less they clamour for it!

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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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July 10th, 2013

How to Combat School Break Boredom - Before it Sets In

Things to do lists

Guest blog by Kelly Peitrangeli of  myprojectme.com

“I’m bored.” “I don’t know what to do.”   Sound familiar?

Inevitable words out of the mouths of children during the school break.

It’s great to organise outings and social get togethers, but don’t feel you have schedule their every move. Children need the time and space to transition from busy school life to laid back summer break. It’s ok to feel a bit bored, they just have to learn to overcome it.

A few summers ago I pre-empted the cries of boredom by getting my kids to create a Not Bored Board. It worked a treat and they do it every year now.

Here’s how:

•    Grab a notebook. Get your child brainstorming and writing down ideas to do at home.

•    Divide it into sections: Things to do alone  – read, puzzles, art, lego, play solitaire, listen to music, build a fort, take photos or videos. Things to do with siblings – board/card games, make believe / dressing up, trains, cars, dolls, outdoor games and sports, singing, dancing, choreographing a show, hide & seek. Things to do with you – games, sewing, arts and crafts, cooking/baking. They can rummage through the toy cupboard for more ideas.

•    Next, give them a big piece of poster board to turn their brainstorm session into an art project. They can write, draw, clip photos from magazines or print from the internet.

•    Proudly hang the Not Bored Board and refer them to it whenever they’re stuck for what to do.

Top tip: The most effective time to do this is before school breaks up, when they’re still fantasising about how great all of that free time will be!

A bored child really struggles to think of anything to do and your suggestions never seem to appeal. Get them to create their board before they’re bored and the ideas come fast and furious.

While they are off occupying themselves, use the time to get your own things done and to have a little “me time”. You’ll have more energy and patience on long summer days when you get small breaks from the kiddie action.

Reward your children for periods of entertaining themselves by having quality time with you afterwards. Be fully present and engaged with them during your time together. No checking emails, taking phone calls or prepping dinner. They will soon learn that by occupying themselves for a while each day, they will have your undivided attention later. Good for them – and you.

Happy Summer!

Kelly Pietrangeli is passionate about helping mothers quickly identify where things could be better in life – and taking action. As a busy mother herself with two musical boys and a DJ husband, life is anything but quiet. She overcame her early struggles with motherhood by taking courses with The Parent Practice and has evolved into the happy mama she is today. Kelly is excited to launch www.myprojectme.com on September 17, 2013. In the meantime, check out the Project Me for Busy Mothers Facebook page:  Facebook.com/myprojectme

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January 31st, 2013

2013 Is the time to slow down

Do you ever feel like life is a race and you are left wondering where the finish line is? Are you worried that life will overtake you? Do you feel that your life as a parent  is one big race against time with our quest to ensure our children are doing x in order to achieve Y and not be left behind. Whether it’s speed walking, speed dating, speed dialling and heaven forbid speed drive-thru funerals in USA there is a need for us all to just SLOW down and perhaps not cram so much into our day.

Carl Honoré’s latest book on Slow Parenting  raises some really key questions for us all as parents and has been written as a response to the helicopter parenting we have been seeing where parents are micromanaging their children’s lives to such an extent that parenting is now seen by some as product development or akin to a professional pastime.  Students are not coping at University  – unable to stand on their own and Merrill Lynch offers Parent Days to cater to the professional pack of parents ready to try and negotiate their offspring’s salary package.

As a society we are going badly wrong – robbing children of their childhood as evidenced by increasing cases of mental health issues, eating disorders, binge drinking, substance abuse and prolific teenage sexual activity.

So what can you do as a parent to find your tempo and ensure your children have a balanced journey of discovery?

  • Less is more – spend less, do less, stimulate less
  • Don’t buy elaborate toys for kids that do all their thinking for them and direct how they should play; rather buy them generic blocks and let them build whatever they want. There is no evidence that so-called educational toys have any impact on learning whatsoever
  • Breakfast  in bed for kids, and grown-ups; or other spontaneous events
  • Schedule in unstructured time – yes it probably needs to be scheduled!
  • Have family meal times together. Harvard research indicates this is better for language development than reading stories
  • Create family rituals around birthdays and family events
  • Have regular calendar nights on a  Sunday evening
  • Get up 10 minutes earlier
  • Limit the use of screen time and be disciplined about use. It is insidious and creeps into every corner of our lives. Never allow screens in children’s bedrooms
  • Stop and look at leaves, or sunsets, or clouds….

So if you are worried life will overtake you – you’re wrong. Life is where you are now and when we slow down we find life has a natural groove that is richer more pleasurable and more fulfilling – we may do fewer things but what we do, we do well.

When the Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore – home of tiger mom culture – spoke on the National Day of Singapore about the Singaporean style of parenting, and  launched an attack on tiger mothers in a speech last year , you know it’s time to change . He berated parents for “coaching their three- or four-year-old children to give them that extra edge over the five-year-old competition”. And he added: “Please let your children have their childhood…Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It’s good for young children to play, and to learn through play.”

So when was the last time you stopped and allowed your child to have those moments looking at the ice crystals  and the snow patterns or the rain drops?

When was the last time you took a really deep slow breath and felt the natural air ticking over of your respiratory system – breathing in and out long deep breaths to their comfortable conclusion, until you are flooded with calm.

We all know it’s time to slow down.

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September 28th, 2012

A dinosaur ate my trousers

According to this week’s Daily Mail, £187 million worth of school kit will be lost before the school year is out. Although the excuses that our children come up with may make us chuckle, lost kit drives parents mad, as well as adding another pressure on the household budget. So, is there anything we can do? Of course there is. And it’s not just naming everything that can move.

Getting everyone ready for the morning school run is a challenge in many homes. It’s tempting, and often quicker and easier, to do it all ourselves. This works in the moment, but creates another problem in the longer-term because it doesn’t help children learn how to look after their things, or even be aware of what they have with them at any given time.

Involve the children in the process of collating what they need for the day ahead and packing it into their bag. When we position this to them as a powerful and positive thing to be trusted to do, rather than an awful chore that will drag them down, they will be more inspired to try. There are some great practical tips that parents have come up with – including checklists (written by the children!) that can be stuck to the inside of the locker, or sewn into the school bag, as well as having another copy at home in the kitchen or by the front door.

It’s all very well to be told “this is how you need to do it” but actually we all learn best by doing, rather than just listening.

So spend a little time one weekend, with lots of humour and empathy, practicing getting changed into your games kit and putting everything back in your bag. Or talk through a few ideas about safe places to put your jumper when you get too hot. Any idea they come up with is a good one – it shows they’re taking it seriously, thinking about it, trying hard, wanting to be responsible etc. And it’s probably a good enough idea to try. Our children are much more likely to commit to their own ideas. If there seems to be a flaw in the idea, gently point it out and ask them what else they think they can do.

With a little up-front planning and preparation – which does take time, energy and a little patience, but considerably less than the time, energy and patience it takes to go out and buy another blazer- we should find that more items are kept safe. But realistically, school is a fast-moving, busy, crowded environment and it’s almost inevitable that some things will go missing. What can we do now?

First, it helps to remember the £187 million figure! It means they’re all at it – with over 9 million school children in the UK, that’s about £20 worth of lost kit each year. It’s not just your kid!

At this point, we want to avoid throwing our hands up in the air, and saying “well, this is so typical, you would lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your body” because we don’t want our children to start to believe the label that says they’re just the sort of person who loses stuff.  If we believe it about them, they’ll believe it about themselves. And guess what the sort of person who loses stuff does? They lose stuff…..

Instead, we want our children to believe they’re the sort of person who tries hard to be responsible and is a solution-seeker. We don’t want them to be discouraged by problems, we want them to be up for the challenge of sorting things out – and that means finding that missing trainer.

Rather than cutting their pocket-money til they’ve ‘paid’ for the new trainers, which will probably only make them angry with us (it’s so unfair, you’re so mean), we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t mean or plan to lose the trainer, and then brainstorm ideas of how to find it. (I’ve taken my sons to school a few minutes early quite a few times over the years to trawl through an empty cloakroom – and it’s been pretty successful, and a great way to start the day with a ‘phew, I got it’ moment. Once, after two finger-tip searches, we were still down a tracksuit and my son decided to offer a reward. He went into school the next day with copies of a “Wanted: One Tracksuit. Reward: One Toblerone” flyer. The next morning, the tracksuit appeared, and the reward was duly handed over to the ‘finder’.)

So, in essence, we need to be realistic that it’s not easy to keep safe all the items they need, given their relative immaturity, and taking into account the environment they’re in.  It will not be surprising – or a dire omen on their future ability to look after themselves – if they do lose something. However, there are lots of things we can help them to do – before and after – that will help keep their stuff safe, and at the same time build their independence, resilience, and foster good a approach to life.

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July 18th, 2012

Things to do on Rainy Days

Boy baking cakes

As the schools empty and our homes fill with tired children, many parents are relishing the opportunity of a break from the school routine, and yet we’re also looking at the weather forecasts and wondering how on earth we’re going to fill the next 1,000 hours or so until term starts again!

The joy of doing nothing

At the beginning of the holidays, it can be a relief for children to have some time to do the things that matter to them, and even simply to be able to choose what they do after weeks of being told what, where, how and when.  Of course, it’s a universal parenting truth that most of the things that they want to do involve noise and mess, but it’s in playing that children learn and discover so much about themselves and the world.  After the constant stimulation and organisation of the school term, it’s no bad thing to find yourself with nothing to do, and no ideas either. It’s in moments of solitude and idleness that we often discover what truly interests us, and who we really are.  As far as possible, let them play.

The joy of doing something

On the other hand, with so little practice of finding their own amusement, it probably won’t be long before they’re asking “I’m bored, what can I do?”.  When we’re busy (somehow school holidays don’t seem to make much difference to the amount of things parents have to do) and it’s raining again, it’s so tempting to give in to the easy option of screens.  This summer there will be some inspiring and fascinating TV opportunities with the Olympic coverage. (At the last Olympics we had the TV on pretty much all day every day and saw an amazing range of sports and memorably courageous wins and losses.). There are also some valuable websites which encourage creativity (FIND SOME EXAMPLES LIKE STICK MAN or learn to type).

And what else is there? According to a recent survey by npower, 87% of children can’t repair a puncture, 83% can’t tie a reef knot, 81% can’t read a map and 78% can’t build a camp fire or put up a tent. (They can pretty much all work a DVD players, log onto the internet, use a games console and work sky plus!). How about taking some time during the holidays to put this right? If it can’t be done outdoors, there’s plenty to be done inside the home – it may sound strange, but most children love the challenge of learning to make a cup of tea, iron a shirt, cook an omelette…..

There are also many things children can do indoors with relatively little equipment or supervision – although they will love any of these activities all the more if you’re involved.  As the holidays start, set some time aside to sit down together and come up with a list of all the things they would like to do – think of all those things they keep asking and you keep saying no, not now, later, another time….. (Making a den and not having to clear it away is always top of the list in our home!) No idea is too whacky, too silly, too dull, too anything. All ideas get recorded and then you can move on to deciding what to do when. As far as possible, let the children lead this process. It’s fine to put some parameters in place – about what might work when and where and with whom – but try to let them have ownership of their own time and enjoyment.

And just in case it’s not so easy to get started with this list, here is TPP’s Top Tips for a Rainy Summer…..

Make an indoor camp – snuggle up with duvets and books

Make a treasure trail – using hand or foot prints, or clues

Hopscotch – use numbers or shapes or colours

Movie night – get in character, costume, themed food

Rain sticks – use paper towel tubes, and decorate and fill with pebbles, pasta or rice and make the rain go away!

Hide and seek and sardines

Dance party – invite friends for a dance-off

Charades – songs, films, books

Indoor obstacle course – finish before they’re too tired to help clear up

Toy safari – hide toy animals around the house and seek them out

Fashion show – choose outfits and music and do the cat-walk

Sink or swim – find out what sinks or swims

Make a movie – write a script, make costumes and create scenery

Photography project – choose a theme, and make an album

Book club – everyone chooses their favourite book and reads out their best bits

Robot Mummy or Daddy – they get to order you around (for a short while!)

Grow seeds – mustard and cress on loo roll, sunflowers or even tomatoes or strawberries in pots

Family Band – just have to decide who is the conductor!

Listen to songs in foreign languages (opera is great for this) and make up alternative words – we had Pavarotti extolling the virtues of squashed tomatoes and kids in convulsions

Take photos at strange angles around the house – and guess where they are

Indoor picnics – under the table, behind the sofa, in the den….

Paper airplanes – all sorts of designs to see which one flies furthest

Make a rock family – paint faces and create characters that you can then make up stories with

Edible necklaces – from pasta or cheerios or sweets

Paper bag piñata – fill with little surprises (doesn’t have to be edible)

Make ice-cubes – you can colour them with food colouring, or add little flowers (or worse) to them

Hand puppets – from old socks (finally a use for the orphan socks!) with silly faces and voices

Magic cups – three cups, one marble, put it under one of the cups and move the cups around and guess where it’s gone

Make a mobile – with a stretched out wire hanger, and decorate it

What’s missing – lay out items, memorise them, then take one away….

Family Tree – make a family tree and discover some stories about their ancestors (the funnier the better!)

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