The Parent Practice is regularly invited to give parenting tips and guidance to the press and television about many aspects of parenting in today's world. The Parent Practice specialises in those everyday parenting issues which every family faces and has come up with tried and tested strategies for dealing with them. The Parent Practice is a leading voice on parenting matters in the UK and beyond.
By Melissa Hood, Quoted in Familes Magazine, May 2009
We were asked recently whether we think children's self esteem is less robust than in the past. In fact we do think children's self esteem is perhaps more fragile than in previous generations which may seem strange given that there is now a much more child-centred approach to parenting than a generation ago and an increased awareness of how important a healthy self esteem is to so many outcomes for children. Parents almost universally say it's a good practice to praise their children and most try hard to do so. But we are very conditioned to notice what's wrong with our children's behaviour and we point it out to them and sometimes punish children. We do this because we mistakenly think this will make their behaviour change. In fact repeated criticism makes children tune out what the adults say and can diminish their self esteem.
Even when we do praise them the difficulty lies in the kind of praise we use which tends to be brief and evaluative. We say 'good boy' or 'clever girl' or 'well done'. If we're feeling upbeat we may say their behaviour or their achievements are fantastic or brilliant. The trouble with this kind of praise is that children don't believe it. The superlative words lose credibility and they may think it's nice that we praise them, but we're supposed to -it's our job. They may doubt our judgment when we say they're wonderful at maths when they know others who know their times tables better than they do. If we praise our children a lot for their achievements, as most parents do, children get the idea that it is the achievement that matters to us. This can make life very pressured for children. If their sense of self worth is tied up in their achievements it is a very precarious thing, always subject to ups and downs. Many children have become very afraid of making mistakes and become risk averse or are unaware of how to use their mistakes to improve. Children are also under far more pressure at school than they ever used to be with more exams than in the past and most schools operating a culture of comparison through grades and awards. (Head teachers have recognised the pressure imposed on children by league tables and SATs and given voice to their concerns about the loss of interest in learning these cause recently)
Another reason why we think children's self esteem is lower than in the past is that children have so much done for them these days, including their thinking. This generation of parents is more fearful than in the past and the term 'helicopter parents' who hover over their children is aptly used to describe many parents. (There are many reasons for this including delaying having families and having fewer children which means we can focus all our energies on them -if you're the youngest of three or four you just learn to do for yourself because there isn't time for the parent to do everything for you). We don't let our children just get on and play unsupervised as much as previously. The culture of fear in 21st century Britain is such that most parents don't allow their children to play outside the home except in supervised trips. The health and safety culture makes us more nervous of physical risk so we don't let children climb trees so much or try to do things for themselves like learn to handle a knife in the kitchen. We often organise so many activities and do so much for our children leaving them little opportunity to learn to be self sufficient. They don't learn the life skills that were learnt in the home in previous generations and they don't establish the kind of competencies that lead to confidence. A child who can see he's capable because he can put his own clothes in the laundry or help vacuum the carpet or feed the cat or help to cook is a confident child.
Another contributor to lack of self esteem is our expectations of children's behaviour these days. In the past it seemed children were expected to be children and to make mistakes while they were learning but now we have high expectations of their self control and maturity (often expecting them to be quiet and compliant and still which goes against the nature of many young children, especially boys). Many parents have unrealistic expectations of children's behaviour maybe because until they have their own children they don't have much experience of how children behave (apart from their own memories of childhood). Many of us are parenting in isolation in modern times, without the benefit of extended families nearby to advise us and help us out. We make children wrong for being children and try to coerce them out of natural behaviours. We get cross with them and tell them off for being curious or impulsive or behaving in a self-centred way, for being unable to share or consider others, for not wanting to tidy up or go to bed or do their homework and for wanting to play when we want them to get ready for school. When a person feels wrong a lot of the time their self esteem is not going to be strong.
By Melissa Hood, Child of London, July 2008
Starting a new school can be traumatic. Here are some ideas from The Parent Practice to help children to be happy, cooperative and confident.
Help children settle in well at school by:
- Preparing children in advance
- Encouraging confidence and cooperation
- Empathising with and validating their feelings
Prepare your child for school by:
Build confidence and cooperation by noticing and describing what the child has done right.
Help children cope with feelings
If children can say how they feel parents need to listen and not deny the child’s feelings.
Eg, Child: I don’t like school. Parent: Don’t say: “You’ll love it, you’ll see.” Do say: “There are probably a lot of things that are quite confusing right now since school is so new to you.”
Some children don’t speak about their feelings but parents can guess something is amiss and need to address the underlying feelings.
By Melissa hood
What can go wrong with holidays?
On the other hand holidays do have some advantages:
The Parent Practice’s Ten Top Tips:
Contact The ParentPractice - Offers parenting helps, advices and 10 hot tips for the holidays.
By a Parent attending Parenting Skills Classes
It used to seem to me that I was the only parent around experiencing the acute horrors of bedtime until I started attending courses with The Parent Practice. In fact it was a huge relief to meet people who were either going through the same thing or had used the skills taught there to transform the bedtime nightmare.
The first thing I realised that I was being very inconsistent. Some nights I would let the children come downstairs if they said they couldn’t sleep, other nights I’d let them come into my bed in the night as I was simply too dog-tired to take them back. Other times I’d “clamp down” get very cross and stern and often loose my temper at the end of it.
The solution started with me making the decision that the bedtime horrors were bad enough for me to committing to trying some of the Parent Practice suggestions. If I had been unresolved in my own mind or hadn’t had the support of my partner I wouldn’t have seen it through.
Here are the steps:
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By Melissa Hood, Sting magazine, March 2008.
Parents are very mindful of the dangers posed by unsupervised access to the internet. It can seem to bring the dangers parents are most fearful of right into your own home. Children on the other hand are captivated by what it offers in terms of communicating with others, information and games. They may well argue that all their friends are allowed to do just what you don’t want them to do.
The most effective thing parents can do before they attempt any conversation about their child’s use of the internet and the dangers therein or to lay down any rules about their child’s access to the net is to acknowledge these differences in perspective. Let your child know that you understand that he would like to spend as much time as possible in front of a screen; that he feels you’re being unfair or unreasonable in depriving him of what all his friends have; and that maybe he feels you don’t trust him. Acknowledging these feelings helps your child feel heard and lessens his resistance a little. It doesn’t mean that you have to give in to what he wants. It’s very important to acknowledge your child’s feelings before talking about why you think it’s important to have restrictions on access. Otherwise he will just tune out what he hears as nagging and lecturing.
To ensure your children are listening first appreciate them for any aspect of good behaviour, especially to do with responsibility around screens (TV, computer, playstation etc). If they turn off the TV or computer when you ask them to, then praise them for that. If not, look for any other aspect of cooperation or self control to praise them for, for example, if they do their homework before turning on a screen or if they stop playing a (electronic or non-electronic) game and come when you call them for dinner or bath. Tell them that those behaviours show self control and cooperation and that is what will be needed around use of the internet. Acknowledge that it won’t always be easy because the internet is very alluring and use of any screen can be terribly addictive. That is one of the reasons it is important to limit its use.
If a child feels appreciated for their efforts and you acknowledge their feelings or point of view they are much more likely to be listening when you open up a conversation about the pitfalls of internet use. Sometimes it can help if the dangers are pointed out by someone other than a parent. You could perhaps look at sites such as www.childnet-int.org together.
Before parents discuss the dangers of internet use with their children they need to be clear in their own minds how they feel about their children using the net. It can be a valuable resource but has dangers which parents may not be aware of, such as the scope for bullying on networking sites such as Facebook. Parents need to inform themselves through sites such as Childnet International (above),www.getnetwise.org and www.getsafeonline.org and then decide how much access to allow and under what conditions, for example where and when can children use the net and what sites can they access. This will depend on the age of your children and your own views and values.
Apart from the dangers inherent in use of the internet there also the considerations of what children are not doing that they could otherwise be doing if they weren’t glued to a screen. Children today are not being as active as they should, they are not getting enough fresh air, they don’t use their imaginations, there is not as much creative play or reading. In addition they are not interacting with other people and developing communication and other social skills.
Once you’ve decided how you feel about these things write down what you want to happen around use of the internet. This will help you to remember, it will help you and your partner to present a united front (very important) and it will depersonalise the rules. You can refer to the piece of paper whenever issues come up rather than repeating yourself which children experience as nagging. When they say “can I go on the computer?” you can point to the list and say “what’s our rule about that?”
Once the rules are in place it is essential that the children get acknowledged for following them. Eg “You turned the computer off when I asked you to and hardly complained at all.” “You’ve only been going on the sites Mummy and Daddy said you could. That’s very responsible.” “I noticed that as soon as the egg timer went off you saved what you had done and closed the computer. It’s so nice to be able to trust you to do the right thing.” When children follow the rules they are rewarded with praise and they earn the right to use the internet at the next appropriate time. If they do not follow the rules they don’t get to go on it next time or their time on it is reduced. Expect a child to be disappointed or even angry if they lose their time on the computer and acknowledge that they are upset, but resist the urge to lecture!
By Melissa Hood, Families Magazine Jan 2008
The teenage years can be a difficult time. Many parents dread them! There are many changes for both parent and child and both parties need to make adjustments.
The teenager takes steps towards independence and begins to separate from his family, emerging as a separate individual with his own identity and values who thinks for himself. In adolescence there are changes not just in hormones but also in the brain.
The teenage years can be a difficult time for parents too. Teens are often quite cutting in pointing out their middle aged parents’ deficiencies. It often appears that teenagers are rejecting their parents and their values which can be quite hurtful. Adolescence may take parents by surprise and they may not be ready for the change in their child. They may feel a sense of loss for the child that was and for their old role. It can be hard to adjust to a new style of parenting. Parents may be fearful in this period as their child becomes more independent as they lose the control they used to have and they worry about keeping their child safe and protecting her from danger and from making big mistakes.
Parents often respond to their worries by getting tough and laying down the law or by giving up and hoping for the best. A middle ground is possible and it depends on good communication. Communication is vital between parents and teenagers. Without it parents will have a hard time making boundaries stick. But the onus is on the parents to lead the way in opening communication. It is important to lay the foundations now before children hit the teens.
Adults usually criticise their teenagers in the mistaken belief that this is the way they learn. In fact when we tell them what they’re doing wrong they stop listening. Parents’ efforts to help a child improve are often interpreted by the child as attacks and criticisms. If he feels attacked a teenager will withdraw or counter attack and become defensive. When parents criticise, a teenager stops listening and his self esteem is reduced. When he is reprimanded he feels disapproved of. When parents threaten and order their children they may be met with defiance or sullen compliance. Parents often find themselves nagging, lecturing and moralising and find their teenager has tuned them out.
Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
“they criticise everything, and I mean everything about me: my behaviour, my personality, my manners; every inch of me, from head to toe and back again…”
Teenagers need to be appreciated because this is a time of great self-doubt for them. They need to know that they are valued if they are to value themselves and others. Descriptive praise is a more effective, more believable kind of praise than the evaluative praise (good girl, well done, fantastic, brilliant, clever boy, you’re pretty/smart/artistic) that most parents are familiar with. Descriptive praise is about noticing and mentioning specifically what they’ve done right.
1. Use descriptive praise and avoid criticising, nagging, lecturing, blaming, accusing, threatening etc.
Ways of descriptively praising your teen:
2. Have conversations with your teens – show an interest in them, what’s going on in their lives, what their opinions are, what they believe in, what they hold important. Even listen to their music sometimes!
3. Minimise instructions to avoid nagging. Having routines means you don’t need to tell your teens what to do so often so they don’t hear your voice as a nag. Ask questions rather than give instructions where possible.
4. Use ‘I’ statements eg “I get worried when you’re late and haven’t phoned” rather than “Where have you been? You didn’t ring me as you promised. You’re so irresponsible. You’re grounded”
5. Point out the impact of their behaviour without criticising eg what they did cost money, created extra work, interfered with someone’s right to privacy or hurt someone’s feelings. Remember that every problem does not need to be solved instantaneously. When parent and teen are both calmer progress is more likely.
6. Use problem solving “I need to know that you’re safe when you’re out and about but I appreciate that you want to be independent too. How can we make sure that both our needs get met?” The key is to get your teen to suggest solutions and then to follow through on them. He will be much more committed and will be learning invaluable lessons if he is doing the thinking.
Why is it important to be able to listen to our teens?
Impact on self-esteem. When parents recognise and respect their teens’ feelings and listen to their opinions they validate their teens.
Facilitates problem-solving. Parents want their teens to seek help when they need it. Teens won’t come to their parents when they’re in trouble if they anticipate anger, disapproval or criticism. Adults can help them when they know what’s going on.
Help develop critical thinking and judgment. Parents should encourage teens to say no when appropriate and stand up for themselves. When teens question boundaries or argue parents should welcome it as a sign of increasing exercise of judgment and development of opinions rather than just an example of them testing or being bloody-minded. That doesn’t mean parents should necessarily give in to what the teenager wants.
Avoids battles A common complaint of teens is that their parents don’t understand them. When we understand our children it leads to shifts in our attitude and behaviour which makes for more positive relationships with our kids. Eg actually trying to really understand why it is so important that they dress the way they do, want to pierce their bodies, dye their hair etc as expression of independence and control over their bodies and finding their identity.
When we listen to teens’ feelings and opinions and consider their point of view they are more likely to consider our perspective and accept our rules and values.
To get along with others Children growing up in a culture where feelings are respected learn to consider others’ feelings and to form loving relationships.
Contact The ParentPractice, we offer professional parent education courses for your parenting issues.
By Melissa Hood, SE Parenting, Nov 2007
Holidays can be bliss but sometimes they can bring out the worst in your kids too. Prolonged exposure to each other can result in siblings fighting so much that parents long for school to resume!
Rather than asking what should I do when my children fight, the question to ask is what can I do so they are less likely to fight?
6 Point Plan for fostering harmony between siblings
By Melissa Hood, Sept 2007
When your child starts big school for the first time everything may go very smoothly or there may be teething problems. You might be taken by surprise by upsets if your child settled happily at nursery school. Here are some tips for helping your child settle in well at school:
Contact The ParentPractice - Offers parenting helps, advices, tips, support to become a better parent.
By Lucy Etherington, Rise Magazine, July 2007
I’m in a rather splendid drawing room in south Clapham watching a grown woman pretend to be a petulant seven-year-old.
The woman is called Sarah and she’s one of the helpers in tonight’s Parent Practice parenting workshops in the UK. Although the mere phrase ‘role play’ is usually enough to send me screaming to the nearest pub, this isn’t so bad because I’m not being asked to participate.
The dad next to me also seems to have lightened up, although this could be because Sarah, has started kicking her legs (as petulant seven-year-old). Another woman with nice hair wearing a pair of sparkly L K Bennet slingbacks is playing the mum, and is demonstrating how to get your child out of bed and dressed and ready for school without resorting to threats, bribery or shouting. As cringeworthy as it sounds, this simple little demo is gold dust to any of us parents who weren’t born saints.
“When I first came to The Parent Practice, I thought it was awful,” admits Elaine Halligan, who did a course when her son, Sam, was thrown out of three schools for difficult behaviour. “But by the time I completed the first course, the effects were so dramatic, I was converted.”
Not only did Elaine’s relationship with her son, now 10, improve vastly and to the benefit of his education; she also ended up jacking in her job as a chartered accountant and training as a ‘facilitator’ (that’s non-aggressive lingo for teacher) for The Parent Practice.
She’s the one in the sparkly slingbacks. “I think I used to be a horrible person,” she whispers to me, during the break for tea and biscuits. “Now I’m so calm. My son even tells his friends he thinks I’m the greatest mum!”
The Parent Practice runs several long-term and short-term courses aimed at arming new parents with all the tools to produce healthy, well rounded children.
It is based on the very simple and obvious idea that we’re trained to do virtually everything else in life – from cooking to driving to being successful in our careers. But when it comes to babies, we’re supposed to know instinctually what to do, and are left to get on with it. Many of us muddle through and end up making the mistakes we swore we never would.
My daily sins include begging, making physical threats to beloved soft toys (“If you don’t clear your room, Teddy gets it!”), sweets and even cash bribes (through which my daughter has learned the valuable skill of bartering, while unfortunately for her, clearing out her own school fund).
Like the other 15 or so parents in the very lovely house – which also happens to be the home of Melissa Hood, who runs The Parent Practice – I admit to having resorted to shouting and saying the things I swore I never would, only to be totally ignored.
Which is why I have chosen to attend the Positive Discipline workshop. Through it, I’m hoping to establish a few basic household rules without coming on like the strict disciplinarian against whom my kids will invariably rebel. Like most parents, I’d like to earn my children’s trust and respect.
A parenting workshops is a good way of getting a feel for how the Parent Practice works before signing up for one of four 10 week intensive courses, their personal consultations, or even the a shorter four week course.
It also offers some ingeniously simple tips on how to communicate with – and, let’s be honest, control – toddlers. And if three hours seems like a long time, they pack a lot in. I didn’t particularly warm to the presentation charts and slightly patronising lingo, like positive praise, pendulum parenting and ‘rules are your friends’. But the core clients – lawyers and management and city types – are clearly more used to this style of delivery. Even Elaine admitted to me that she found it all a bit “Californian and contrived” when she attended her first workshop five years ago.
Yet beyond my deeply ingrained scepticism (essential as a journalist, you understand) I must admit that I came away with some invaluable tips, and more importantly, a new way of seeing my role as a parent that was really rather refreshing.
My particular epiphany was when Elaine said: “What makes you think your agenda is more important than your child’s? Your child isn’t starving, so why do they want to stop playing with their cars or dolls and sit at the dinner table? That’s boring.”
The trick, therefore, is to convince the child that eating dinner is a brilliant idea, and that it’s their brilliant idea. I tried it, and it works – and it’s so much more fun and less exhausting than nagging, yelling and being ignored. Or indeed holding a spud gun to Teddy’s knees!
Contact The ParentPractice, we offer parent education courses for your parenting issues.