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March 19th, 2017

Problems at School? Advice from an Educational Psychologist

Guest Blog Written By:
Batul Daulby (Al-Khatib)
Independent Educational Psychologist
BSc.(Hons), PGCE MSc. (Distinction), HCPC Registered
www.cfconsultancy.co.uk
batul@cfconsultancy.co.uk

If your child has problems at school, you may have been advised to seek an Educational Psychologist (EP) assessment. What is an EP assessment and how might it help your child?

What is an EP and what do they do?

EPs are skilled assessors with extensive training in the many aspects of child development that affect learning. They can identify the factors that are holding children back. EPs are often employed by local authorities, they may work in their own private practice or they may provide assessments via clinics.

Why should my child see an EP?

Many children experience difficulty with learning at some point in their school career. Generally, it is good to nip problems in the bud and take low level action at an early stage. Either the school may raise concerns with you or vice versa. Together you can agree adjustments that can be made to support your child or a block of targeted learning support to plug any gaps. You may also be able to help your child catch up through some extra work at home. Usually, the situation will improve within a couple of terms, but if the problems persist it may be time to seek the help of an EP. 

How do I commission an EP assessment?

There are different pathways to obtaining an EP assessment depending on whether your child attends an independent or state school. If your child attends a state school and the school share your concerns, then it may offer to commission an assessment using its SEN budget. There will usually be a waiting list as the EP your child sees will likely be employed by the local authority. If your child attends an independent school then the school may raise concerns with you will be asked to arrange and pay for the assessment yourself. Sometimes parents have concerns about their child’s learning that are not shared by the school. As a parent, you may want an independent view and in this case, irrespective of whether your child attends an independent or a state school, you can commission your own private assessment from an educational psychologist.

 What will the process be like?

You will be asked for background information and after this the EP will meet you and your child either at school, at your home or in a clinic. They will talk to your child and carry out tests of intellectual development. These tests are extremely useful as they reveal the unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses which underlie your child’s learning and interactions at school. The EP will then pull their findings together to explain the problems your child is experiencing. They will feed this back to you in a meeting where you will be able to ask questions and you will be given advice on what to do next. Recommendations for learning support will be made and advice on suitable school environments may be given. The EP may suggest that your child undergoes further, more specialised assessments with other professionals, such as a paediatrician or speech and language therapist. You will then receive a report which will give you detailed information about the assessment and the recommendations.

Advice

  1. Follow up on hunches – You know your child best. Although state schools have a duty to identify a child’s SEN, reduced budgets and increased work pressure mean that things can get missed. Increasingly, difficulties like dyslexia are not considered a priority even though they can make life incredibly difficult for a child. 
  1. Act quickly – The sooner you understand what the problem is, the sooner you can get the right help for your child and prevent the problem getting bigger and more complex. Even if you discover via an EP assessment that there is nothing to worry about, this will put your mind at ease. 
  1. The EP is the first port of call – EPs provide a broad assessment covering all the different factors that may be affecting your child. Sometimes further assessments may be required from other professionals and your EP will advise if this is necessary. 
  1. Inform your school – Sometimes parents don’t want to involve the child’s school. The outcomes are always better if the school makes a contribution by supplying information to the EP. EPs are used to dealing with situations where there are diverging views on a child’s difficulties. They can read between the lines and will form their own independent view. 
  1. Share the EP report with the school – EP reports are valuable documents. They contain important information about your child that will help your child’s school understand what to do. If you are concerned about how the information will be perceived by the school, you should discuss this with the EP. EP reports are used to draw up EHC Plans (statements) and can be used as evidence in tribunals.

 

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November 24th, 2016

Christmas is coming...but so is the 11+

Christmas is coming – but many parents are counting down revision days rather than shopping days…..

Exams in early January cast a shadow over the festive season for many families. How do parents get the balance right, so their child enjoys a rest and gets the seasonal cheer and family fun they need, and is also ready for the Big Day in the New Year?

The obvious advice is to make a revision schedule and stick to it – but what is a good revision schedule for your child? And how do you stick to it?!

Each child needs different preparation – it may be the same exam, but the children are not the same! It’s hard to walk your own path, and hear that other families may be doing more revision, or indeed to hear them insisting they are taking a laid-back approach when you know your child needs more support.  

Children today DO have to get used to taking exams. How can we find the right approach and avoid piling on pressure and overwhelming them so they can learn how to do their best?

There are lots of tips about revising – eating healthy foods, getting good sleep, using post-it notes or flashcards. And here are four ideas that will definitely help that you may not have heard before!

Take a tip from computer games!

Have you noticed how motivated your child is to play Minecraft or Jelly Splash? Why? Children love playing these games, and keep going back for more, because lots of clever people have worked hard to make them enjoyable. And, obvious as this may seem, when children enjoy themselves, they are willing to keep going and they improve their performance.

What does this mean for revision?! There are ‘educational’ or ‘revision’ games available, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Children thrive on feeling successful and being rewarded for their efforts as they are in computer games. Does that give us a clue? Does your child feel successful at revision? Do they feel acknowledged and rewarded for the effort they put in?! Mmmmm…..

Computer games work on giving the child something that they value and appreciate every 7 seconds. How much positive feedback does your child get for each revision session? Computer games also break themselves down into munchable chunks – a few minutes of intense work, then a shift of pace or perspective to refresh the previous skills.

Keep revision sessions SHORT and make them REWARDING – that doesn’t mean handing over smarties for every right answer, but it does mean giving LOTS of Descriptive Praise. Say something positive about their effort, any improvement and strategies they use, and for persevering and much more!

 

“I see you’ve used different colours to make that diagram more interesting and clear. This will help you remember it better.”

“You’ve been very conscientious about filling in your scores on the exercises. Now you can keep track of your progress.”

“I noticed you had a glass of water before we started. That was good thinking, it means your brain is ready to work!”

“You’re pushing yourself to do this, it’s not easy for you, and it will pay off over the next few weeks.”

“Even though you would rather we weren’t doing this, you realise it’s important we get it done. Your attitude towards these exams is mature.”

“I love that you are sticking with this, even when you don’t get the right answer straight away.”

 

LET them do it their way and have a choice

This doesn’t mean doing NO revision, but it DOES mean letting them have some input and autonomy in their revision. Given that there is no choice about IF they do it, then allow them to have some say about the HOW, the WHEN or the WHERE.

There isn’t one right way (your way!) to revise. Many children do not enjoy sitting still and repeating facts. In fact, trying to do so may be impeding their learning. Some children really do learn better when they are walking around the room, or squeezing, bouncing or hitting a ball. Moving can make learning more enjoyable as well as more effective - have you tried BEING a volcano erupting? It’s much more fun than talking about it…..

Does your child enjoy creating images? Then get them drawing shapes and flow diagrams using a whiteboard, blank postcards or even powerpoint, rather than using something already created by someone else. Yes, it takes a little more time, but the personalisation and engagement is key.  Does your child like rhymes and sounds? They can create songs or poems to help them remember facts – it doesn’t matter whether they are rather silly songs or poems! The sillier the better in fact.

We get so worried that our children take revision seriously that having fun and doing it differently to how we would do it, doesn’t sit well with us. Just because your 10 year old works differently from you, doesn’t mean he’s not working or indeed it’s not working for him!

UNDERSTAND their reluctance

This is likely to be the first time your child has experienced this level of pressure or stress. It won’t be the last. That’s not meant to sound all doom and gloom, but rather this is an opportunity! Our job is to coach our children through this new experience and help them learn that they can manage it.

There is nothing wrong with a child who does not look forward to doing revision and would rather be doing something else..

Telling them off for not realising how important revision and exams are doesn’t work. And it probably isn’t true either. They probably do realise, as it’s unlikely we’ve kept it to ourselves. Equally, trying to persuade them that revision is really fun isn’t effective either. It’s simply not true, unless you have taken our first tip very seriously and it really is fun now!

So what’s happening?

Well, we may have come to believe that our child is lazy or defiant . Assuming they are lazy is untrue, although they may have been unmotivated to date. How hard have you seen them work, and for how long, when they’re really enthusiastic about something?  It helps to remember that children want to do well, and they care about what happens and what we think of them. When they don’t think they can achieve or make us happy, they pull back from trying. They can do this two ways – either by noisily and defiantly claiming it’s all pointless and you can’t make them do it, or quietly and equally strongly by pulling back and making cursory, if any, efforts. The negative response they get from us hurts, but they believe it’s the best way to protect them from something worse – the feeling of failing and letting us down.

So what can we do?

First and foremost we need to model a positive attitude towards getting things wrong ourselves. Rather than berate ourselves for making mistakes, we can show our children a more healthy way to handle mistakes by talking about what we are going to do next to improve.

We can also explain to our children that our brains grow and get stronger through use, just like any other muscle, and actually the best exercise they can get is struggling to get something right and finally achieving it!

This is part of how our children develop a Growth Mindset – a belief that we can keep improving by working hard, trying different strategies and persevering.

We can also help our children understand their own reluctance by putting it into words for them – this is very different from asking them “What’s wrong, what’s the matter?” however kindly and gently this is asked. Even if they understood and could articulate it, they probably wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so. So, instead, try “I wonder if you’re scared about working hard and still not getting a good mark. It’s very difficult to push yourself without knowing whether you will get the result you hope.”

We absolutely can help our child feel better – but we can’t PUSH them to do so. We need to support them. That means we FIRST need to LISTEN to how they feel and then help them work their way through. They can’t hear our advice or encouragement until we have heard their concerns.

You could try: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

If your child is getting frustrated and stressed, we know this doesn’t help so we are tempted to reassure them or brush their negative feelings away by saying: “Don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine, it will all work out, you’ve got this if you focus” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down”

Instead try: “It’s hard to keep on going, particularly over the holidays. Maybe it feels like you’re not getting anywhere and at the same time the exam is getting closer….”

What’s next? Stay quiet! Let your child open up rather than diving in with a homily about how life works…… This moment is not about what you know, this is about what they are thinking and feeling. And it can be very powerful and illuminating. Sometimes we hear that a child has developed some muddled ideas about what is going to happen or not happen, and we can help clarify these. Sometimes we hear about practical concerns that we can help them sort out.

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September 07th, 2015

Back to school - is it with trepidation or delight?

How are you feeling about the return to the school routine? Perhaps you have a littlie starting school for the very first time? Or a tween making that big transition to secondary school? 

Many clients we speak to are breathing a huge sigh of relief as getting back to a regular routine and a bit of ME TIME is much needed, but there are others for whom the transition may not be so welcome. 

Perhaps you are feeling anxious about the rushed mornings and the thought of getting everyone up and out of the house by 8.15am or earlier! 

Perhaps you have a child who does not like change or transition and finds going to school hard. 

It may not surprise you to hear that the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION! 

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success  with these top tips

Physical Preparation 

This year make getting ready for school a team effort as much as possible. 

  • Change schedules - Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.
  • Uniformdo make sure the uniform and shoes still fit in time. Don’t leave it till the night before to check it’s clean and pressed. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his uniform, putting it in the wash and checking that it’s ready the night before. Is everything marked? Perhaps the children can even learn to sew on those name tapes and polish shoes.
  • Other kitinvolve the children in assembling what they need for school –there will probably be a checklist from the school.
  • Lunch if your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it - and eating it - as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. Involve them in the preparation.
  • Infrastructure –set up notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quick getaway in the mornings.
  • Morning task list  - help your children be independent by setting up a list of the essentials that need to be done. After teeth and hair brushing and packed school bag and making bed they then get to select a  non-material reward perhaps choosing which music to listen to in the car, or selecting the scooter instead of walking to school. Be creative and pick a reward that motivates your child! 

Chat through what is needed for the first day back - ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers.  Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies which boosts self-esteem.. 

 

Emotional Preparation 

Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together. 

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing their efforts WHENEVER your children display them describing in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do. 

Praise them for qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas such as perseverance and  they will likely transfer those attributes to school life.

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you could do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.” 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling. 

When we accept and validate uncomfortable feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or defiance. We help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have dealt with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.” 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling. 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety. 

Sometimes feelings show up in butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school. 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going. 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers.  Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation. 

And three last tips! 

First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, or disrupted sleep and rudeness  because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down. 

Secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start. 

And finally, “rushing is the enemy of love”. I know it sounds obvious but just getting up 20 minutes earlier will enable you to get on top of things and prevent overwhelm and stress. When we start the day off feeling in charge we will feel more confident about using all our skills and get results! 

Follow  these tips and let us know the results and any other great tips for helping your children go back to school?

If you found these tips useful why not sign up for a regular dose of parenting news, information and ideas in our newsletter and share this blog with your friends?

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

 

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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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December 04th, 2014

Surviving the 11plus exam preparation

While many of us are looking forward to the holiday season, many families will be trying to combine having some fun with preparing for January exams. What can we do to support our children in the lead-up to these important days, without losing all the festive spirit? 

It’s too easy to say “make a revision schedule and stick to it” because we all know this will work in theory, but what we want to know is HOW we can do it in practice. What’s the right amount of revision? Too much, too little - how do we get the balance right? We all know we need to make revision motivational and rewarding, but we can’t keep handing out sweets or letting them use the i-pad, so what can we say and do that will encourage our child to persevere and feel confident they can do what is required?  We all know that on the day it’s going to pay off to be organised, and if our child is getting anxious, they will need to breathe. But what is the best way of preparing ourselves and our child so they go into the exam with the best chance of doing their best? For full details on how to motivate without pressurising and how to support children’s learning see our publications on 'Creating Happy Learners' and 'How to Handle Homework Horrors'. Below are three ideas that we know will help, but aren’t usually mentioned.  

LET them do it their way (a bit!) and have a choice
And this doesn’t mean doing NO revision! Try, whenever possible, to let your child revise their way rather than insisting they do it your way. Most children find it very hard to sit still and simply regurgitate facts and in fact being forced to be still may impede their learning. Many learn better by moving, maybe hitting or bouncing a ball, or simply walking around the room. Others are more visual and need pictures – get drawing with shapes and flow-diagrams on a white board, or blank postcards. Other children are more auditory and they may find background music helpful and not distracting. They may find making up songs or poems, or using mnemonics helpful – it doesn’t matter if these are wacky and not very serious. They just need to be memorable to your child. Your child remembers things differently to the way you do now as an adult.  

ALLOW them to be upset or worried – name it to tame it!
This probably the biggest stress they’ve been under in their life, so it would be strange if there weren’t some tears and tantrums, but this doesn’t spell doom and disaster.

Our instinctive reaction is of course to reassure and try to push them through to feeling ‘better’ about revision and exams so we say “don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine soon, it will all work out” or “You poor thing, this is just awful and unfair” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down, getting cross doesn’t help any of us….”

Instead we need to really listen to how they feel and then help them work their way towards a solution. We have to connect first, before they can trust us to redirect them. For example: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

This doesn’t make them feel worse, or feel anything they don’t already feel, but it does make them feel connected and understood. This in itself is calming. Take care not to add “but….” afterwards because this undoes everything you’ve done so far. It’s usually best to keep quiet and hear how they respond. Most children feel less resistant after they’ve been allowed to express their reluctance to do something.

And make sure that you don’t add to their stress by the way you’re talking about these exams. Scare tactics don’t usually make children perform better.  

UNDERSTAND their reluctance
We can understand how they feel about revising, and still require that they do revise. But we need to understand why they don’t want to do it – we often start with the assumption they are lazy, not taking it seriously, etc, and when we approach it this way, it ends up negative and confrontational. And ineffective!

Children want to do well – it’s in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and what we think about them, even when it may not seem that way!

The problems come when they start to believe they can’t do something well, and that we are not happy with them, so they pull back from trying. Some children will bluster this out and vigorously assert they don’t care or they may simply shrug and refuse to put much effort in. In their mind, they believe this will protect them from the failure they fear is coming – the price they have to pay on the way is to accept the negative reaction they get from us….

Our best approach is to face this head on – but not with a direct question, let alone an accusation! So, try “I wonder if you’re worried about trying hard, and still not getting a good mark. It’s scary to push yourself to the full, and not know whether you will achieve what you hope for. It may feel as if you’ve used up all of your brain power. In fact your brain grows the more you make it struggle with things.”  Wait here, this isn’t the time to go on to lecture about how this is how life works, and they have to learn to knuckle down and get on with things….. Let them open up and talk to you about how they feel about the exams. It may be quite illuminating – they may have some cross-wires in their understanding, which you can help untangle. Or there may be some real issues that are concerning them that you can help them address. These things don’t come out with direction questions such as “what’s wrong, what’s the matter” etc. Most children duck these questions with ‘nothing’ because they sense a judgment in the question that they are wrong to be worried etc.  Empathise also with the fact that they’d just rather be playing and that other children (and adults) don’t have to be working as they are. 

Make sure they do have some down time.

Remember that this stressful time will pass and think of it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle the stress that they will inevitably encounter in life. Encourage them to employ some anti-stress measures such as physical play and having a good laugh –maybe a joke book in the Christmas stocking! Make sure you look after your own stress levels too. 2 joke books.

How does your child react to stressful situations? What do you do to inject calm? Let us know your thoughts.

If you found the ideas in this blog helpful do share them on your favourite social media outlet. 

Wishing you a happy Christmas and calm holidays,

Melissa and Elaine.

 

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October 17th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Boarding schools

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

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

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

London day schools

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


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

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


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

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

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

What do I need to think about as a parent? 

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

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

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

Your daughter’s wellbeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny, Melissa and Elaine

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September 19th, 2014

How to Make Reading Fun

At the start of the school year parents are usually very focused on how to help their children do well but sometimes this can backfire. Sometimes our attempts to help can create pressure that puts children off and nowhere is this more so than with reading.

Reading is the gateway to the world of information and creativity and is of course a necessary first step in school-based learning so it’s not surprising we feel under pressure to help our children succeed at mastering this important tool.

What doesn’t work:

  • nagging
  • criticising their efforts –if you feel they can do better ask yourself why they don’t want to try. Is it because they don’t feel very good at it, in which case criticising won’t help, or is it because they feel under pressure or over-controlled, in which case step back and let them decide how, when and where to go about it.
  • offering rewards for reading –this can make a child feel as if reading is so unpalatable they need to be bribed to do it. They feel manipulated.
  • comparing their attainment levels with another, particularly a sibling.
  • labelling. Calling your child stupid or lazy will not motivate them to try harder and will limit the possibility of them changing. It will also damage your relationship with them.

What does work:

There are many ways we can help our children develop a love of reading right from the beginning, and to keep their interest as they progress. There are also many things we can do to encourage and motivate children who have started reading, but are struggling to improve or enjoy it. Most research on reading agrees that the most important part is how the child FEELS about reading, and positive reinforcement and association really helps.

Start any reading session with positive comments and enthusiasm. Talk about the story read last time and ask the child what they enjoyed about it. When you praise your child’s efforts don’t say “well done” or “clever boy” but praise something in the way she read last time. Perhaps how she persevered with difficult words, and tried hard to sound out each word clearly, or how she observed the punctuation marks, or used expression . You could also praise how promptly they came to do their reading, or how consistently they have been remembering to bring their story home, or simply how much you love spending time with them.

When it’s getting tough, try to keep positive. Empathise with your child just how hard it can be to read in the beginning, particularly if everyone else seems to be finding it easy. Take a break, get a glass of water, run around the garden, jump up and down, and come back again a little later. You may find it easier to keep calm and be patient if you have something to do with your hands, like knitting….

It can also help a struggling reader to have some privacy, particularly from annoying or smug siblings. And even if they are finding reading hard, there is always something they are doing right. Look for small things that they are succeeding at, and point them out to the child.

Here are a few practical ideas that you may find helpful.

  1. Make reading comfortable and special.
  • Try to make sure the place you reading in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.
  • Create a special place for your child’s books - decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books. 
  1. Bring reading and stories into everyday life.
  • Read books in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Tell them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.
  • Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.
  • Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics. 
  1. Make reading interesting and fun.
  • Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat.
  • Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can ‘read’ more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.)
  • Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes....
  • Make up quizzes, crosswords, wordsearches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories.
  • Personalise the stories using their names. 
  1. Encourage their creativity and imagination.
  • When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.
  • Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to “publish” copies and distribute to family members. 
  1. Get lots of books.
  • Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection. Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.
  • Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.
  • Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children!

What do you do that makes reading fun?

If you’ve found these ideas useful share them! And get more great ideas by subscribing to our newsletter here. You may also be interested in a workshop by Ampersand Learning, Easy to Read: Encourage a love of reading in your child on Thurs 2nd Oct 2014, 10am-12:30pm, Clapham

Happy parenting,

Melissa and Elaine

 

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September 04th, 2014

Are you dreading homework starting up again?

I recently listened to Alfie Kohn being interviewed on the Great Parenting Show. He commented that homework is akin to children being asked to do a second shift after a full day at school and that  “no research has found any benefit for primary school children” which got me thinking again about this key topic. Homework can, for many families, be the single most stressful issue at home. Few children like it and not many of us parents enjoy homework either.

Is it right that children who have already been at school for up to 8 hours take on a second night shift to do more essays, test papers or worksheets? Does homework improve learning? Or help them gain study skills? Does it teach them responsibility or self-discipline ?

I do believe it’s important to question the value of homework rather than just accept it; that we talk to other parents to compare experiences, and share our concerns with the schools. However, in the meantime, if your children are in conventional education and need to cope with the here and now, here are our thoughts on to make homework easier and less stressful and less likely to extinguish a love of learning.

(1)         Don’t make homework be the first thing you mention  when you see them after school– give them a chance to mention it first and take responsibility for it.

They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you taking responsibility for it, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…

If you need to mention homework, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time to play that game after homework?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)

(2)         Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.

Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s –you will help set the parameters but make sure you get input from them.

(3)         During homework find many things to descriptively praise

Focus on attitudes, focus and improvements rather than results. If they do something well relate it back to strategies or effort employed –don’t say it’s because they’re clever.

“You’re sitting still and really concentrating.” “I like the way you’re using your ruler to make sure that line is straight.” “All that tables’ work you’ve done is paying off –it looks like you’re finding these sums easier now.”

(4)         When homework is complete, first find several things to descriptively praise and then encourage them to look through their work and find improvements.

Don’t point out errors– this is de-motivating and it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work and spotting improvements. This way they get used to the idea that mistakes will happen, but they can identify them, put them right and move on.

“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”

(5)         Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have  you put it, but ask their opinion about the content, share ideas and thoughts.

This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake can be one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.

“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.” Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’

(6)         When they moan and complain about homework, listen.

When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that validating the negative things they say will encourage negativity. None of this is true.

“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” If you say “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, …” This is empathising.

(7)         Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!

We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes about the topics they’re studying.   Or simply go for a walk and talk or let them go out in the dark to see the stars. Or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the idea of homework.

(8)         Stay in – and make science and maths real!

It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake, weigh ingredients and divide into slices, or make salad dressing and see how the elements mix together or not. Try http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/experiments.html

(9)         Model an interest in learning –enthuse!

Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to research something, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives and that we enjoy ideas.

Help us to promote a debate around the value of homework for primary school children.

Do you agree with the amount of homework your children get? What do you hope your children will gain from doing homework ?

Hope everyone settles back into their new terms well and let us know your thoughts on homework.

Happy Parenting

Melissa and Elaine

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August 29th, 2014

Starting School

The new school year is not far away..... and the key to a successful start to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

Familiarise your child with their new school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. Hopefully you will have had a visit where your child could see the parts that will affect him - his classroom, the toilets, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the playground.

  • Reading books about starting school is a good way to teach your child about the reality of school life. Try the following books:
  • Uniform - Get any uniform well in advance and try it on. Practice getting in and out of it and go through the morning routines eg would you prefer that uniform goes on after breakfast to minimise the chance of spills? Should your child get dressed in the kitchen to avoid the distractions of a bedroom? Should hair brushes and toothbrushes be downstairs to make for a quicker getaway? All these things need thinking through.
  • Practice
    • If they’re starting school for the first time explain unfamiliar things like bells and what they signify.
    • Play schools –sit on the mat to get them used to ‘circle time’, call the register and practice saying hello, practice making eye contact, asking questions and putting hands up, asking to go to the toilet. Let them be the teacher and you the student and explore through play what behaviour is required in school.
    • If they’re not yet independent in going to the toilet on their own, it’s a good time to practice wiping bottoms, flushing and washing hands.
  • Friends –are a very important part of school
    • If you know of anyone else starting at your child’s school try to make contact before the term begins so there is a familiar face when they go. The school may put you in touch with people in your neighbourhood.
    • If your child is a bit shy it will be worth practising some opening lines for making conversation with other children. Remind them that the other children will all be new too.
  • Chat through what school will be like (in a positive way) –
    • Tell them that you will be there every day at the end of the day to talk about things and look forward to hearing about what they did. But don’t pump them for information –kids are often tired at the end of the day and they live in the moment so often don’t share much about what happened earlier.
    • Explain that if they are worried about anything, they can always go and speak to the teacher and that you and the teacher are working together to make sure that things go well for them at school.
    • Maybe talk about your experiences of being a child at school (positive ones). Mention friends, the activities you liked best, the games you played, the teachers you remember fondly. Maybe find a photo of you when you were at school.

 

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.

 

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.

 

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this puzzle. It’s complicated but you kept going until you finished it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”

 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.

 

When we acknowledge negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. When we accept feelings we encourage our children to talk.

 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new things you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”

 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.

 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.

 

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.

 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Sometimes it’s not till the excitement of the new activity wears off that your child experiences some doubt.

 

Talk about common concerns around starting a new school:

    • Will the teacher like me?
    • Will the other children like me?
    • Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
    • How will I know what to do?
    • What if I get lost?
    • What if I need to go to the loo?
    • I don’t like the look of the toilets.
    • I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
    • It is too noisy and confusing at lunchtime/sports or I don’t have anyone to play with.
    • How will I remember where to put my things?

 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be feeling both excited and a bit nervous about starting school. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

 

And lastly!

 

First, remember how tiring school is in the beginning.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.

 

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, this is reflected in our children.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

 

What are your memories of starting school –either yourself or your older children? My eldest had settled into nursery so easily I wasn’t prepared for the upset when she started ‘big school’. I often went on to work upset after dropping her off.

If you’ve found these ideas helpful please share them on your favourite forum/social media platform and sign up for our regular newsletter (click here)–full of parenting news, information and ideas.

 

Happy parenting,

 

Melissa and Elaine

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August 28th, 2014

Back to School

The new school year is not far away..... and the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

 

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

 

Physical Preparation

 

This time of year is usually so hectic. This year make getting ready for school a team effort and involve the children as much as possible.

 

  • Change schedules - Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Whether it is going to bed or waking up earlier, allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.
  • Uniformchildren have a habit of growing in the school holidays so do make sure the uniform and shoes still fit in time. Don’t leave it till the night before to check it’s clean and pressed. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his uniform, putting it in the wash and checking that it’s ready the night before. Is everything marked? Perhaps the children can even learn to sew on those name tapes and polish shoes.
  • Other kitinvolve the children in assembling what they need for school –there will probably be a checklist from the school.
  • Lunch if your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it - and eating it - as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. This might be a time to start involving them in the preparation.
  • Infrastructure –set up white/notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quick getaway in the mornings.

 

Chat through what is needed for the first day back - ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers.  Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies but they also give you LOTS of opportunities for Descriptive Praise, which also helps boost self-esteem.

 

And there’s a great side effect – it will reduce the pressure on you. The return to school is a busy time of year and if you feel overwhelmed and underappreciated you might fall back into old habits of nagging, shouting, and the like!  

 

Emotional Preparation

 

Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together.

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.

 

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.

 

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you can do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”

 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.

 

When we accept and validate negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately.

 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”

 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.

 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.

 

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.

 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. Did you love every single day of school?! It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going.

 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers.  Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation.

 

And two last tips!

 

First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.

 

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

 

What do you do that helps prepare children for school life? Elaine found that adjusting the coat pegs to a height her children could reach without a stool meant that they actually hung up their coats!

If you found these tips useful why not sign up for a regular dose of parenting news, information and ideas in our newsletter (click here to sign up) and share this blog with your friends?

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

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May 10th, 2013

Confessions of a parent who uses tutors

Child being tutored

The recent announcement that one of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11 plus is being undermined by an ‘endemic’ culture of tutoring has once again put the spotlight on the private tutoring industry and after the Sutton Trust released figures last year that showed 43% of children nationally had received private tuition, this decision may be celebrated by many parents.
Is it parental fear that if a good place at a selective school is not secured for their children they stand no chance in the overly competitive job market or is tutoring a way for parents to compensate for choosing state education and fearing they may not be doing the best for their children? Whatever the reason it is clear that tutoring is now so commonplace for many parents it is assumed to be a requirement of any child’s education. Of course tutoring is very widespread in the private sector as well where parents are already paying high fees. My 9 year old niece recently moved on from one of London’s top day schools to a gentle boarding school in the country. She was the only child in her year of 60 students at her old school not being tutored. This endemic has to stop.
I confess that today my teenage son, who has specific learning difficulties, is currently accessing a tutor to help him with basic numeracy and to re-sit a Maths GCSE. The one-to-one environment of learning some basic arithmetic skills that were overlooked early in his education is one he is thriving on. His self -esteem has increased as a result. He can ask unlimited questions without the fear of sounding silly and it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. After watching as a family this week some reality TV in the form of The Apprentice and witnessing some sensationalist cringe-making TV in the form of a group of bright young things unable to do basic  measurements and percentages, he appreciates and values the input he is having so that he has the essential life skills to cope with numbers! Clearly there is room for tutoring to help fill a specific gap where a child has missed out on some essential skills which are necessary pre-skills for the next level and which are difficult to address in the classroom.
This is very different from the tutoring that is done to coach children for 11 plus and other exams. And when tutoring is done so routinely that the majority of children in a year are receiving tutoring that is a very anxious environment in which to be (not) learning. The high pressure, high stakes culture that permeates schools and children’s lives, and so worries educationalists, often is as a result of anxious and pushy parents, the tiger mums and turbo charged Dads with very, very high expectations for their children. Let’s not rob our children of their childhood and let Chelmsford High school lead the way on the ‘tutor proof’ test enabling schools to distinguish between the naturally bright and able child and the one who has been tutored to within an inch of their lives.
As a parent coach I see the results and outcomes of a pressured child later in their teenage years feeling not quite good enough; parents feeling disappointed in their children;  parents maybe complaining of the overly pressurised environment. Some educational environments described as overly pressurised may just be the wrong environment for that child. The child may not have developed the skills or the best work habits and having been placed in an environment not best suited to their learning style and profile. The effect on self-esteem and how children view themselves can often be a high price to pay.
Let parenting not be a competitive sport and our children be one of our own ‘achievements’. It’s a real challenge for us as parents but we must strive to achieve some kind of balance between equipping our children with skills for adult life and allowing them to have a happy, unstressed childhood without the years of tutoring. We want them to develop a good work ethic and to enjoy learning rather than just passing exams.
In the words of Madeline Levine from The Price of Privilege:
“Children need to see that we value their character first, their effort second, and then their grades.” Dr Madeline Levine

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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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September 17th, 2012

Focus, Focus, Focus

The kids are back at school now and some of you ultra-organised ones may have turned your minds to Christmas already. Don’t worry if you haven’t –there will be more on that in our next newsletter. Others may be focused on your child just having started a new school or a new year with a new teacher and will be wondering how to support your child to do the best they can do.

In a recent article in the Telegraph (7th August 2012)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9458290/Teaching-toddlers-to-pay-attention-is-the-key-to-academic-success.html# reference was made to recent research by child development experts which concludes that it is not tutoring in academic subjects that will help your child to succeed but supporting them to pay attention and to perservere. This particular research by Dr Megan McClelland from Oregon State University, published in the online journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, reflects what the Gottman Institute had noticed as part of their research on developing emotional intelligence. Drs John and Julie Gottman found that children whose parents are emotion coaches for them, that is they recognise, respect and respond to their child’s emotions:

  • Are better able to manage their feelings
  • Have better academic achievements
    - They are able to sustain attention for longer and
    - Able to shift attention from one subject to another more easily
  • They get along with their peers better

Author (and champion table tennis player) Matthew Syed, in his best-selling book Bounce, explores the idea that innate talent (whether in academic, musical, business or sporting fields) is a myth and that all the best performers in their various areas of endeavour have got to the top of their fields by a combination of opportunity, application and focus. (He does concede that it helps to be a tall if you’re a basketballer).

Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University’s research into mindsets is particularly interesting for parents. She developed the thesis that people can have different attitudes to learning which either promote or inhibit their development. With a fixed mindset one believes that one has a fixed amount of innate intelligence and that if you can’t do something it means that you have exhausted your store of intelligence. A person who has this attitude will not want to challenge the status associated with his cleverness and will not take risks that will show him to be less intelligent. Her research showed that children would not tackle harder tasks when in this fixed mindset. By contrast people with a growth mindset believe that they can with effort get better at anything and therefore are willing to try new and harder things.

A child’s mindset is affected by how adults talk to them. When we praise a child for cleverness or talent and when we focus on their results we promote a fixed mindset. However when adults praise kids for the effort they make, the attitudes they show, the strategies they employ; when we focus more on the process than the outcome we encourage in them a growth mindset. So don’t praise your child for being clever and don’t let your first question after a football game be did you win?

Parents often ask us, in classes or consultations, how to help children to focus more. Here is what we say:

  • Don’t pay too much attention when your child’s attention wanders and particularly don’t criticise it. Instead notice when they bring their attention back to the task in hand and mention that. You’re looking at your page. You brought your focus back to your work without me saying anything to you.
  • Praise in a descriptive way whenever you see signs of persistence. Wow, you really stuck with trying to learn to balance on your bike. You didn’t give up until you mastered the wobbles!  One mum told us how she’d been praising her daughter for persevering with tying her shoe laces, thinking it was big word to be using for a little girl. Then when she’d just finished manoeuvring her big car into a tight parking space a little voice from the back seat piped up with “Gee mum, you really persevere.”
  • Our children need to think of themselves as people who can pay attention and persist if they are to do well in life so we need to notice and point out to them whenever there is behaviour which shows up these qualities. Children are natural learners; just look at a toddler learning to walk. They don’t give up despite numerous set backs. We can train ourselves to notice their efforts and point them out to the child. Some families put the words on their fridge so that they remember to notice them. Others use a jar in which they collect tokens for examples of focus.
  • Give lots of descriptive praise, not just for paying attention and persistence but more generally. A child who feels generally capable will be better able to handle set backs and try again.
  • Be an emotion coach for your child. Help them understand their emotions by talking about them so that they can manage them and move on to the next task. This is surprisingly one of the most helpful things we can do in encouraging focus.
  • Some families have found that it helps to use an idea from Neuro Linguistic Programming to help children focus. It might work to use an ‘anchor’ or a talisman which is an object imbued with certain qualities, in this case focus, which the child can look at or hold (or listen to). Choose your object and invest it with its magical properties by recalling a time with your child where they were very focused (something about which they were very enthusiastic). Relive that moment by focusing on all the details of the event; what could you see and hear, what could you feel? While bringing that moment to life have your child hold or look at his object and describe what was happening to him –“you were really concentrating hard, you were so focused.” Then when focus is needed pull out the magic focus object. Refer to it as the focus object.
  • Enthuse about the tasks they are doing. If your child is learning to read try to read with them at a time when you’re not exhausted so that you can be interested. Get into the story they are reading. If decoding the words becomes too consuming that the story gets lost share the reading with them. Look at the pictures and guess what is going to happen next. Talk about how the characters feel.
  • When children are motivated and interested it’s easier to focus but there are many things they need to do where they may not be so interested or motivated. Parents can do a lot to build motivation, mainly through descriptive praise. But even if children remain unmotivated about the intrinsic nature of the task we can motivate through praise for doing what they have to do even when they’re not interested! I know that brushing your teeth isn’t interesting and it gets to be a bit of a drag day in, day out. I know you’d rather just skip it and get on with your game so I really admire you for doing it anyway because you know that’s the only way to have healthy teeth and gums. Not only are you doing it but you’re doing it thoroughly so you now have a really sparkly smile and beautiful fresh breath!
  • Of course it helps if we can provide our children with an environment where it is easy for them to focus so when they’re doing homework or tackling some other kind of task try to eliminate noise and visual clutter.
  • Limit the amount of fast moving TV and computer and other electronic activities your children do where they are not required to focus for more than a few seconds. Instead encourage activities which involve their own creativity and sustained thought to work out a problem or develop a story line, such as fantasy play, building a den or board or card games.

So be focused on developing good habits of focus and perseverance in your child to help them do well in life.

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March 31st, 2011

Homework: Reduce your child's stress levels without compromising their grades

By The Study Gurus.

The Race To Nowhere film showed us that an increasingly significant number of high school students are feeling an unhealthy amount of pressure when it comes to school and their future. In some cases it’s so extreme that it’s not unheard of for 16 year olds to be popping pills to sacrifice sleep for more study.

Clearly, something’s out of kilter.

Perhaps you’re concerned your child is feeling a lot of pressure to get into the right university? Perhaps they’re at risk of burning out before they even get there?

Well here’s the question; what is it you want your child to value?
Success for the sake of success? Or happiness and career satisfaction?
If your answer is the former, then by all means do everything necessary to get your child into the ‘best’ school possible. But if it’s the latter, then what are you so worried about? To achieve career satisfaction and happiness your child needs to have confidence in themselves and the right attitude, not necessarily an Oxford education.
The children who enjoy learning, have a good work ethic and a likeable personality are guaranteed to go far. And YOU can instil these characteristics into your child quite easily all on your own.

What are you talking about at the dinner table?
Do you spend more time over dinner obsessing over what school or university your child is going to get into, or more time having erudite conversation about current events? More time discussing what grades your child needs to get in their exams, or what they learnt today at school?
No wonder our kids are crumbling under pressure… all we talk about is grades, grades, grades!
But grades are important right? Of course – they can have a huge influence on a child’s life after school. But we are saying that we need to emphasise both grades and the importance of learning and actually enjoying it.
The reason being, a student who enjoys learning will do well at school for all the right reasons – because they want to, because they’re curious, because they’re motivated.

Where should you start?
A technique we like to use to spark an interest in learning in our students is to steer conversation away from solely facts and equations, and more towards the real world context behind their subjects wherever appropriate.
For example, if they’re reading a book for their English class, instead of just talking about what’s going to be in the exam, we ask questions like, what’s it about? What do you think the author was trying to say with the story? Are they enjoying it? Yes? No? Why not? What would they rather read?
Or with their maths and science subjects, we try and talk about how these are applied in real life. What does E = mc2 actually mean? Who figured it out? How did it change what we know about the world?
Open and topical questions like these that spark an interesting conversation will make your child appreciate their school subjects in a way that isn’t necessarily attached to school. They’ll be more interested in the content of their subjects, rather than totally consumed by grades.

Help your child find their magic study formula
Every student will have their own unique way of studying most effectively. This is why your child needs to figure out their study formula. This is their personal formula for academic success. It’s the academic equivalent of a personally designed training regime for a top athlete.
Once your child knows what their study formula is, they will understand exactly what they need to do to get the most out of any study session. They won’t have the stress of not knowing how to approach study, and they’ll save time by avoiding study techniques that don’t work for them.
There are a number of facets involved in understanding what your study formula is. Questions you and your child need to start thinking about might be:
• What sorts of techniques help them remember stuff well?
• What’s their predominant Learning Style?
• Do they like writing long notes, or bullet-pointed short lines?
• Do they like drawing diagrams?
• Do they like watching videos?
• Do they learn best by actually doing things?
• Do they study best in the morning or at night?
• Do they study best with long periods or short bursts of study?
The list goes on…
Figuring out your study formula is a game of trial and error. It should be thought of as a constant work in progress. But very quickly it will enable your child to study efficiently and effectively, and will be something that will serve them well all throughout their life.

If you have a child who’s motivated and who wants to succeed, you should be celebrating – not stressing.
Sure they’re going to be nervous when it comes to exams and university acceptance letters – that’s not a bad thing. But if your child has a good work ethic and enjoys learning they are 100% guaranteed to make a success of themselves.
It would be impossible not to.

The Study Gurus are Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington. Their aim is to show parents how they can help their children reach their academic potential. They’re sharing their years of studying and tutoring experience at www.thestudygurus.com.

 

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March 22nd, 2011

The Race to Nowhere or the Path to Somewhere?

School exams

The Path to Somewhere

The Parent Practice is delighted with the response of our two screenings of “Race to Nowhere” earlier this month. If you attended a screening, we hope you enjoyed it.  If you weren’t there, we thought you might like to hear how the screenings went!

If you’re unfamiliar with “Race to Nowhere”, it is an American documentary that explores the pressures today’s children are under to succeed.  While the film is American in content, the themes are absolutely universal, and as we saw from the speed with which the tickets sold, it seems the concerns are shared by many parents in the UK.

While some children are able to thrive with pressure placed upon them by schools and extracurricular activities, there are also many that aren’t able to deal as well.  This film tells their stories.  It raises so many questions: the benefits of standardised testing and early years’ homework, getting into the ‘best’ school versus a school where that particular child may be better able to flourish, and redefining success.

We had initially planned on holding only one screening at Channel 4, and were bowled over by the overwhelming response which had that screening sell out within hours – and almost crash our website!  The waitlist quickly grew, so we decided to host a second screening at the Clapham Picture House.  Overall, the film screened to over 150 people. Both screenings were followed by a 30 minutes panel discussion which was led by Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice, and included Bonnie Harris M.S. Ed, the author of the series of parenting books including What To Do When Kids Push Your Buttons; Heather Hanbury, Headteacher at Wimbledon High School; Charles Bonas, Educational Consultant & Commentator; Sue Kumleben, Facilitator with the Parent Practice, Holli Rubin (Psychotherapist), and Philippa Jackson (Headteacher of Hollymount School).

From the panel discussion, and conversations afterwards, it was apparent that all the parents attending have a clear awareness of the challenges and pressures their children face within today’s education system. There is a collective sense of helplessness – many parents feel they are on a treadmill, and that if they decide to step off, they have in some way failed their children, despite knowing instinctively it may be the best thing for them!

Although our audience was just a small sample of parents, it was clear to us that that there is a considerable increase in parents’ concerns about how their children are coping at school. At the same time, many parents don’t believe they possess the appropriate knowledge, confidence or courage to support their children through school, and make the most appropriate choices for them.

If anyone is interested in hosting their own screening of the film we are happy to support you in doing so.  It looks like there will be 2 or 3 more screenings in the London area this spring/summer.

We feel really thrilled to have brought this film to London and look forward to seeing what impact it will have for parents and educators alike.   Some changes have already started to happen!  A few days after the first screening, Wimbledon High School’s Headteacher blogged that:

We should beware of ‘over-scheduling’ children’s lives: students need time just to ‘be’, to play, to ‘hang out’ – it’s something we believe in strongly at WHS. Within our new timetable, which I am announcing soon as part of the outcome of the curriculum review, there will be more time at lunchtime to do just that. I want our students to enjoy extra-curricular clubs for their own sake, not in order, as they get older, to tick boxes on a UCAS (university entrance) form. I do think that busy teenagers are often the happiest. Those with interests and hobbies will gain confidence which will help them academically as much as socially. But those interests have to come from the girls themselves – we can’t and shouldn’t push them.    

True to our Parent Practice ethos, we have decided to be part of the solution as well, and to focus our minds and resources on creating a response for parents. We are in the process of developing a workshop, which has a working title of ‘The Path To Somewhere’. This workshop will look at how we can re-define success, and how we can empower our children with appropriate life-skills so they can thrive within whichever school environment best suits them.

So, stay tuned … it looks like something exciting may be starting to happen, and we’re proud to be part of it!  And in the meantime, we’ll let you know when ‘Path to Somewhere’ is ready to launch!

If you’re curious to know more about the film, please take a look at www.racetonowhere.com.

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November 23rd, 2010

Don't call your child clever!

What kind of so-called parenting experts say don’t call your child clever? Since the sixties haven’t we been exhorted to extol the virtues of our children ad nauseam in the hope of building self esteem and encouraging desirable behaviours? When we want them to feel good about themselves we say well done darling, good girl. And if we think they’re not buying it or we really want to big them up we say ‘fantastic, marvellous, brilliant –you are so clever.’ What’s wrong with that?

Well, usually we say to parents that if they want their kids to have good self esteem and all the positive outcomes that go with that then we need to focus on what children do right more often than what they get wrong. Every parent knows this even though we sometimes have difficulty doing it –like when you’re trying to get them all out of the house and one is on a ‘go slow’ and the other two are complaining that they have to breathe the same air and you can’t find your car keys and NOBODY has got their shoes on!

But even when things are a little calmer we still feel an overwhelming urge to point out what’s wrong with what they’re doing. We’re not bad people but we’ve had decades of conditioning so forgive us if we mistakenly believe we need to highlight what they’ve done wrong in order to help them learn. In fact when we do that the children are apt to tune us out and lose their naturalmotivation to improve and to learn. So yes we do need to focus on the positives and praise our children. In fact  the ratio of positive to ‘improving’ should be about 9:1. John Gottman is a researcher who did a lot of work in the area of couples’ relationships. He found that there are a number of criticisms compared to praises beyond which a marriage crumbles, and that number is one (1) criticism to five (5) praises. That’s right. The minimum to keep a marriage off the rocks is 1 bad:5 good. While you’re trying to remember when you last said something positive to your partner I would add that in the case of children parents should be praising even more frequently because we are actively trying to shape our children’s behaviour and form their characters. I would assert therefore that we parents should give 9 praises for every criticism/improving comment/correction / just pointing out what could be done differently.

So I’m clearly in favour of praise. But why can’t I tell my child he’s clever? Because he is you know –or at least I want him to do well. How can it hurt? In the past I would have said that any praise was better than none. But even then I would have admitted that there’s a good chance your child is not going to believe you when you say he’s clever so your words lose impact. We have always advocated using praise which is specific and descriptive to make it more credible and give the child enough information to allow them to repeat the positive behaviour on which you’re focusing. We would have said ‘clever girl’ isn’t a very effective form of praise but not actually harmful. And then I discovered some research by a psychologist in the US, Carol Dweck, that has made me even more careful about my choice of words when acknowledging children. Her research has shown that evaluative praise of this kind can actually be detrimental.

Professor Dweck’s findings show that the way adults praise children can determine whether they develop what she calls a ‘growth mindset’ or a ‘fixed mindset’. Her research was looking at motivation and perseverance in the face of set backs. Why do some people give up in the face of failure and others try again –it has to do, not surprisingly, with their beliefs about why they had failed. If you believe you failed because of lack of ability you are more inclined to give up than if you think the failure was down to lack of effort. Surely that’s an argument for telling kids they are able in order to motivate them?

Over the years Dweck developed a theory that learners could be classified as helpless vs mastery oriented. The former believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. “I call this a ‘fixed mind-set’. Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so….The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else.… Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort.”

So how does praise affect this belief system? Contrary to adults’ good intentions when they praise, telling someone they are smart or clever actually contributes to the ‘fixed mindset’ whereas praising a child for trying hard or persevering focuses on the effort they’re making and allows them to develop a ‘growth mindset’. Dweck’s work with children in schools showed that confronted by a setback such as a disappointing test grade, students with a growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a different strategy for mastering the material. The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little real regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well. Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability, those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study less in the future, try never to take that subject again and consider cheating on future tests.

So how do we encourage a ‘growth mindset’ in our children? Show them examples of effort producing good results in your own modelling, in stories about other people but above all in their own endeavours. Praise them for not giving up, for trying a different strategy in the face of defeat, for working hard and practising, for improving and don’t focus so much on the outcome or achievement. If they do well in a test say “You must be really pleased -that’s a reflection of all the hard work you put in”. Above all never ever praise your child for being clever.

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October 04th, 2010

Do you allow your children to make mistakes?

Allowing your child to make mistakes

By Ann Magalhaes

I remember growing up, when school reports were handed out and I received grades around the 80% mark. I would then call my Dad and tell him the results, feeling pretty good about myself.  His response was inevitably something like: “what happened to the other 20%”.  Now, to my teenage ears, what I heard was “you didn’t do well enough, or you could have done better, or you were lazy and didn’t study enough.”  My enthusiasm, and motivation to try harder deflated faster than a popped balloon!

Years later, I mentioned this to him and he was really surprised that his words had had such an impact on me.  He told that his intention was always about getting me to think about the other 20%, and that in his eyes, I was so capable of achieving 100%.  He only wanted me to look at the gap and to understand what I could have done differently. 

Fast forward 25 years, and I now have my own child, and one of my greatest concerns is that she will also not put in that extra effort.  What I hope for her is that she works hard to do the best that she can, and that she has the confidence to go for things – whether it be academically or extra curricular. 

A few months ago I was reading Mindset, the Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.  I bought the book after seeing her interviewed by the comedian David Baddiel, who had filmed a documentary about education.  In the show he asked for her opinion about the worst things we can tell our children.  Her response surprised him – and me! She told him that the worst three words we can say to our children are “You’re. So. Clever.”  And don’t we all do it?  ‘Good job, great game, clever girl, atta boy’ Curious, I had Amazon mailing the book to me by the end of the week!   Dweck writes about instilling in our children (and ourselves!) what she calls a growth mindset – believing that intelligence is not innate, but can be developed.  As parents, we need to ensure we’re doing this is by praising the effort and attitude that our kids are putting into their work, sports, musical instrument practices.  It’s about having the curiosity to learn rather than the desire to feel smart; it’s about being able to perceive feedback as contribution rather than criticism; it’s about seeing others as potential collaborators rather than threats.  It makes so much sense! The aspect of growth mindset that I love the most is the focus on trial and error – allowing ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them. 

While writing this blog, I was watching some Carol Dweck interviews on Youtube, and spotted a Nike commercial featuring Michael Jordan – quite possibly the best basketball player ever.  He says “I have missed over 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games; been trusted with the game-winning shot 26 times – and missed.  I failed over and over and over and that is why I succeed”.  One of the most challenging things we face as parents is the ability to let our kids make mistakes.  Perhaps by allowing them the privilege of making mistakes, we also allow them the privilege of figuring things out for themselves, and allowing them to shine!

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September 26th, 2010

Are our schools overly competitive?

By Elaine Halligan

From the moment your child is born, the conversation from coffee mornings to dinner parties can become unhealthily preoccupied with the topic of schools, and for many parents this can almost leave them bordering on an obsessive, compulsive disorder!

“Overly pressurised” and “far too much competition“ are the phrases that come to mind. Competition is healthy if it means we are teaching our children to do their best and strive to improve, and in this process we need to teach them how to handle failure and to regard it as an impetus for improvement. Competition is good as long as you don’t devalue yourself or others in the process -i.e. what are they prepared to do in order to get ahead? The recent “Blood Gate” scandal last year with the Harlequins rugby team gave our family much fodder for discussion as we analysed the nature of competition in sport. We are highly competitive on the sporting front and winning is important but not at any cost if it means we end up devaluing ourselves by cheating.

We can have a huge impact as parents on the way our children view themselves. This is built over time -you can’t ‘quick-fix’ it. If you only focus on and praise achievements the child will come to feel that something is wrong if they don’t come top/win the race/ get voted as class captain/ get a leading role in the play. The child who gets 7/10 in a spelling test and can’t report back to his parents the result through fear of disappointing them, will in time view themselves negatively and this will impact on their self esteem.

What does this all mean for you if you are in the process of choosing schools for the first time or at secondary level? Always match your child’s needs to an individual environment suited to them – this is the hardest part as many of us may not understand or accept our child’s temperament; character; strengths and weaknesses –both social and academic.

Be careful of labelling an educational environment as overly pressurised. There is only too much pressure if indeed your child is struggling and not sufficiently supported in that environment. If your child is academi­cally able, is in good work habits and has the ability to be organised the environment will be right for him.

Be aware of the impact on children of prizes and comparative grades. In reality prizes often go to the same children every year and many know they are never going to get a prize so forms no kind of incentive, and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Comparative grades are the kind where your child is ranked in class as opposed to their own performance being looked at on its own and against the last effort. There are many high performing schools that have no prizes for academic achievement . Instead they recognise the achievements of the pupils whether sporting; in the arts, or the school community or in contribution to the liberal work the school has been involved with

How well rounded will those pupils be when they move into the adult world, knowing from the exam grades obtained how well they have done and also being commended for their activities outside the classroom!

Do your research; follow your beliefs and value system and stay calm in the face of other’s rising hysteria!

By Elaine Halligan

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