February 11th, 2019

Love is in the schedule

On Thursday it is Valentine’s day. You may not celebrate the day.  Even if you are in a relationship. Plenty of people think it is overly commercialised and an opportunity to extort money for cards, flowers, chocolates and dinners at prices vastly inflated compared to the rest of the year. You may feel you have no use for red, scratchy lace underwear or perfume that doesn’t suit. 

Ok so I’m being cynical. Maybe you relish an opportunity to celebrate your love for your partner and having a day set aside for it may be a good way to remind you of it and rekindle the old flame. 

When we go from being a couple to being a family many of us find there is no time to spend on our partners any more. Romance dies along with sleep and we find ourselves griping about the things the other forgets to do as the items on our own to-do list breed and multiply. A night out becomes prohibitively expensive when you add in babysitting and if you try to have a date night at home you may find yourself asleep on the sofa by 9pm. The things that we used to find endearing may now seem really irritating. The foot massage you used to give each other is replaced by the weekly nit check and daily search for matching socks. 

Our children so often become our priority and our couple relationship can take second place. Between work and the kids it can be hard to find any time for ourselves or our couple relationships. This is a big mistake. The relationship you have with your partner is the foundation on which your family relies. It is the template on which your children will model their own future relationships and sets the tone for the sense of belonging in the family. Having someone else to tag team with in the parenting race also makes it much easier. When parents are united about values and discipline the children feel more secure and push against the boundaries less. Of course the adults may have some differences in their styles of parenting, but what’s important is that both mum and dad present fairly similar expectations and limits. 

Here are some ways to develop a united front with your partner 

    • Schedule date nights where you don’t talk about the kids.
    • Set aside (other) regular times to communicate with your partner –discuss what your values are and what you want to happen. Work out your differences in private so that you can be consistent in public.
    • Where there is disagreement, compromise –consistency is more important than the actual rule
    • Acknowledge each other’s strengths. (I recommend the practice of writing down one descriptive praise for each other each day in a little book.)
    • Say positive things to/about your partner in front of the children. Speak to and about the other with respect. Your children will take their cue from you.
    • Be affectionate with each other in front of the children. (Yes they’ll say yuck but it will make them feel secure!)
    • Don’t criticise and try not to argue with your partner in front of the children. If you do disagree do so respectfully.
    • Don’t play good cop/bad cop: Check in with other partner before promising something to the children and if your child comes to you when you suspect they’ve already asked their other parent, ask them “what did mummy/daddy say?” and go along with their decision
    • Don’t compete to be the better parent. Remember that even when your partner is parenting differently from you s/he has the best interests of the children at heart.
    • If you’re not together with the child’s other parent then communication may be difficult. Children can cope with different rules and approaches in different households but be sure you never denigrate the other parent. 

    Involving an absent or disinterested partner

    • Consider why they’ve checked out. Are they working very long hours? Why? Is this a financial necessity? Do they feel more successful/ comfortable at work than at home?
    • Ask for their support, opinions, input on family rules, outings, holidays etc without criticism. Be honest with yourself and question whether your style of involving your partner in the past has largely been to nag and criticise them.
    • Ask for your partner’s involvement in small ways at first where they are likely to feel successful and enjoy the experience such as taking the kids to the park for a short outing. Build up to them taking a full share of the less pleasant aspects of parenting over time. Be appreciative even if you still think they should be doing more. 

    Healthy ways to deal with conflict:

      • Acknowledge and reflect back your partner’s point of view to him/her, especially where this is different from yours
      • Don’t criticise, but make requests and state your needs. eg I need more help around the house. Please can you take out the garbage each week.
      • State how you feel using ‘I’ statements, not ‘you’ statements – “when you leave the kitchen in a mess I feel as if you expect me to clean it up and I feel taken for granted.” not “you always leave the kitchen untidy –you really take me for granted.”
      • Confine yourself to the matter under discussion –don’t bring up history. Don’t use the words ‘always’ or ‘never’.
      • Avoid defensiveness ie denying responsibility for a problem. eg Steve has a sharp intake of breath after Maggie just braked hard in the car. She says: there you go again being a back seat driver! Accept some personal responsibility for at least part of the problem. “Sorry! That was a bit abrupt.”
      • Avoid stonewalling - where the listener withdraws from the interaction and doesn’t respond. It indicates an emotional withdrawal from the relationship. If you feel the need to withdraw ask for a break and agree upon a time to resume the conversation. 

      So take some time this week to focus on your other half and remember why you got together in the first place. Tell them what small things you appreciate about them.

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      January 21st, 2019

      How to stop a child from doing what you don’t want them to do

      A few days ago my 21 month old granddaughter came over to visit with a friend of hers. They were accompanied by both their mothers and had come over to swim in our pool. (Don’t gasp Northern hemisphere readers –we’re currently experiencing a heatwave in Sydney!) The two little girls enjoy each other’s company and were running around excitedly and revving each other up. When one started screeching the other one thought that was a hoot and joined in. The two mums were doing their best to stop the noise. They shooshed the girls and said “no shrieking”, “stop making so much noise,” but to no effect. I realised why. I could see that the toddlers were having so much fun letting off steam after being in the car and now they had lots of space to run around in. And they were getting lots of attention from their mums. My daughter in law and her friend, in their embarrassment, were giving too much attention to the very behaviour they didn’t want. Toddlers are fairly easily distracted so it wasn’t difficult to refocus their attention on something else and so end the noise. As soon as the adults paid attention to something else that is what the children wanted.

      Children are hard-wired to get our attention. They have evolved that way because they are born in such a vulnerable state compared to other animals. They are utterly dependant on adult attention for survival. And nothing gets adult attention like crying or shrieking. Whatever we pay attention to we will get more of. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention when our children cry but if we give too much attention to undesirable behaviours we’ll get more of what we don’t want. Many a parent of a small child has fallen into the trap of laughing at something that seems cute the first time only to realise that if repeated that behaviour quickly palls or other people won’t be quite so entranced by it. I made the same mistake when L first threw something out of her highchair by reacting too much –she thought it was very funny and did it again of course. Subsequently when she threw things we just left it and distracted her with something else. She soon stopped doing it.

      Adults are used to responding to poor behaviour by saying “No, don’t do that. “That’s silly”. Or “Naughty!” Sometimes we might shout or punish or if the behaviour is really unsafe, such as when a child darts into the road, we might smack out of fear. These responses are supposed to dissuade the child from repeating the behaviour but often they have the reverse effect. Even an older child is very keen to get parental attention and if they can’t get it through positive behaviours they will seek it any way they can. Many time-poor parents inadvertently give too much attention to negative behaviour and not enough to the good things the child does.

      This week I’ve been preparing an in-service training for mentors on an adolescent behavioural change programme and realised the same negative patterns occur in the classroom too. When my son, (L’s father) was a little boy he struggled in the classroom because of dyslexia (at that time undiagnosed). He would distract from tasks that were too challenging for him by disruptive behaviour and would get in trouble. He was given demerits and detentions. In the Reception class he had a little book in which his teacher recorded all his missteps, every little (and large) misdemeanour and this was presented to me. When he was in year 1 his punishment on one occasion was to be sent to sit in the Reception year. The idea was to shame him into behaving. All of these sanctions were designed to inform him, and others, of his misdeeds to shame him in the hope that this would change his behaviour. It didn’t. But his self-esteem plummeted. And with that came more poor behaviour.

      Paul Dix in his book ‘When the adults change, everything changes’ tells the story of Chelsea who had a chart at school that recorded in two columns all her good and bad behaviour and she formed the view that one cancelled the other out, that if there were more good behaviours at the end of the day she was ahead. Dix recounts that when Chelsea was a young teenager and got in trouble for staying out past curfew she sought to wipe the slate clean by tidying up the house and pronounced “You can’t get me –look what I’ve done.” She did not learn to be accountable for her actions with this behavioural ledger.

      Likewise my son’s sense of self was so vulnerable that when his teachers shouted at him he made lied or made excuses for his behaviour and wasn’t able to accept responsibility. This isn’t what anyone intended.

      What does work?

      Paying attention to the child or teenager’s good behaviour gives our kids the attention they need. It makes it more likely that that behaviour will be repeated. It builds strong connections between us and our children which strengthens our influence –they are more likely to do what we ask. Then when they are doing something we don’t want they are more likely to listen to us when we (calmly) explain why that behaviour isn’t ok.  If kids get lots of messages about what they’re doing right their view of themselves is that they are capable and valued. This helps them be resilient and less anxious. Then when they get something wrong they can take responsibility because they see themselves as basically good humans who sometimes make mistakes. We can have problem-solving conversations with our children that help them clear up their mistakes without loss of self-esteem.

      To get into the praise habit have a look at our video on the pasta jar. Enjoy catching the good stuff!

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      January 05th, 2019

      24 Positive things to say to Kids

      New Year’s resolutions are a bit old hat aren’t they? Do you have a negative response to the idea of forming resolutions to live a better life, to be a better person? That implication that you are somehow deficient as you are now is a bit life-sapping. Maybe you don’t want to tell anyone about your new resolutions because you fear their judgment when you fall off the wagon. If you expect to fail at your resolutions maybe they’re the wrong resolutions, or maybe you need a bit of help with them. Research shows that many resolutions have foundered by 14th January, just a week away! This is mainly because our goals are unrealistic or vague and we fail to recognise that it will take time and effort to change our habits. We may also not delve into why we want to make the proposed changes in the first place. Without this meaning for the change we won’t be able to sustain motivation.

      If you do, privately, want to bring up your children to be good people and you recognise that the job of parenting would actually be made easier and more pleasant by not yelling at them, then maybe just one simple resolution would be good for you –STOP SHOUTING. But resolutions which are about stopping doing something, like giving up smoking or reducing the amount you eat or drink or the amount of time you spend on a screen are notoriously difficult to fulfil. For a goal to be really worth your time, you must move towards something you do want, rather than just move away from something you don’t want.

      Check your feelings

      If you want to speak more positively to your children you will need to do something about those feelings that caused you to yell at them in the first place. Resolve to be kinder to yourself and look after your physical and emotional wellbeing better. When you lose it and you shout how were you feeling? Did you feel disrespected or powerless or stupid or ignored? If you’re feeling like that no WONDER you shouted!

      Check your thoughts

      Looking after yourself better and recognising your feelings will help stop them from dictating your behaviour but you may also be able to prevent yourself from feeling that way by changing what you were thinking about what happened.

      If your 11 year old boy comes home from school and drops his filthy sports kit in the middle of the hall and announces that he’s not doing his Maths homework ‘because Miss Jenkins stinks’ and you think he’s going to ruin his academic chances and his future because of a silly whim and he’s taking you for granted and you’ve failed to teach him to consider others…. then you’re likely to feel panicky and disrespected. And if that’s how you feel you’re likely to try to assert yourself and grab control of the situation and deflect blame from yourself. And you may yell.

      If you reframe your thoughts about your children’s behaviour it will have less potential to push your buttons. I recommend that whenever you feel your buttons being pushed you take some cool down time. Tell your kids what you’re doing –this is great modelling of handling emotions in a mature way.

      When you come back to your kids in a new calmer state before dealing with the behaviour seek to understand why they did what they did and describe it to them. Did your son drop his gear in the hall because he was caught up in an impulse to race off and do something fun after his busy day? Did he forget that he’s supposed to put his stuff in the laundry basket? Does he feel challenged by the current topic in maths? Does he feel defeated by the task? Does he believe that there is nothing he can do to improve things? When you reframe your thoughts about your child’s behaviour there’s a good chance you can be calmer.

      How can you fill the void created by the absence of shouting? Create a new habit of speaking positively. Creating a bank of positive phrases will help you to pull them out even when provoked. So here are 24 things to say to kids (adapt for your family) to take you to the end of January.

      1. You look a bit concerned. Do you want to talk?
      2. For you to speak to me like that I’m guessing something is really troubling you.
      3. Thank you for looking at me when I’m talking. That’s polite.
      4. I noticed you have made a start on cleaning up your room. That probably felt a bit overwhelming but you seem to have divided it up into tasks which is a good way to tackle it. I see you’ve returned the plates and glasses to the kitchen.
      5. Thanks for ringing to tell me your rehearsal ran on and you’ll be late. Now I won’t worry.
      6. I love it when you tell us stories about what happened at Scouts. You do a perfect impersonation of Akela. You really have observed the way he speaks very accurately.
      7. It sounds like you felt left out when the others were talking together about the movie they went to. Maybe you were wondering why they didn’t ask you to come too?
      8. You’ve been practising your chord changes in guitar. They’re getting more fluent I think, don’t you?
      9. I was thinking of you today when I was walking the dog. I saw some daffodils just poking out of the ground and I was thinking that Spring is coming and how you love it when the flowers come out.
      10. I love the way you’re such a good friend. You took a lot of time to help Toby go through those Biology notes that he missed.
      11. Child loses mouthguard for the 3rd “I guess you’re feeling really bad about losing it. Maybe you’re worried that I’ll be cross with you. You’re probably thinking about how much they cost.”
      12. You were quick getting into your pjs so we’ve got time for a bit of play before bed.
      13. Lexie, you’re being very gentle with the baby. Look how he’s smiling at you. He loves it when his big sister cuddles him gently.
      14. Tell me that joke about the frog and the ducks again. I want to tell it to Daddy when he gets home.
      15. You’ve got 6 of the 7 letters in ‘because’. Can you take a guess what the 7th letter is?
      16. It probably feels like your brother always has his way about the computer. Maybe we need to work out a plan so you both get an equal turn on it.
      17. You’ve been sounding out your words so carefully and practicing really hard so you’re able to read more and more –you can read stories and interesting facts on the computer or in books and know what the signs say and you can order from menus by yourself.
      18. I appreciate it when you speak to me calmly even though you’re really mad. I know this matters to you and I’m really trying to understand your perspective so it really helps that you’re not yelling.
      19. Even though I know how much you hate being woken up in the mornings you haven’t complained. You probably feel very cosy and warm under your duvet but you managed to say Good Morning to me.
      20. You’re remembering to use your knife and fork and you’ve cut your food into bite-sized mouthfuls.
      21. When your little sister was struggling with her zip just then you didn’t laugh at her. You know she’s learning just like you did.
      22. You’ve written your homework clearly in your diary. How sensible - now you know exactly what to do.
      23. Thank you for remembering to hang your blazer up when you came in. It will stay a lot cleaner on its peg.
      24. Just then you asked your brother to move over in a polite way. 

      I hope you have a very happy, positive and calm 2019!

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      December 17th, 2018

      The Make-Believe Minefield

      Mythical figures such as the Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, make up the many iconic and nostalgic symbols of childhood for many families. They are very much a feature of many  childhoods. But sometimes our John Lewis ad fantasy of Christmas can be marred by our concerns about  ‘breaking the news’ to our children and revealing our apparent deception about these childhood figures. Some parents  dread the question “Mummy, is Father Christmas real?” and older children who are ‘in the know’ may use their power to shatter their younger sibling’s illusions. This dilemma requires UN-level diplomacy. (All in a day’s work for parents, right?)

      Ideally you would decide when the time is right to tell your child about Santa but sometimes older siblings or friends get in there first or adult ‘loose lips’ mean that your child works it out for themselves or they’re suspicious and they confront you.

      It is often a moment of sadness, as we realise that their innocence about the magic of Christmas may be shattered. Some parents worry about having ‘lied’ to their children. Will their kids ever trust them again? We struggle to know what to do for the best. Do we tell him the truth? What do I say? What if he accuses me of being a liar?

      Here are 5 top tips on handling the Santa Illusion

      1. Put your mind at rest. If you have kept the magic of Santa Claus alive this is not the same as lies that hurt or avoid responsibility and children from 7 upwards can distinguish pro-social lies from other kinds of falsehoods. Tell your child that there once was a real man called St Nicholas who lived a long time ago and gave away everything he owned to the sick, the needy and the suffering. The name Santa Claus is derived from St Nicklaus. You need not go into a full historical account of the emergence of the roly-poly white-bearded red-suited modern version, including the involvement of Coca-Cola’s marketing department!

      Santa Claus is all part of the mystery and the spirit of Christmas and the image of a jovial man with a white beard flying in the sky with all his reindeers and visiting the children all over the world is magical. The way he comes down the chimney; gulps back the whisky  and eats all the shortbread ( at least in Scotland) with Rudolph munching the carrots is pure fantasy and all part of the folklore that has been passed down through generations from your grandparents to your own parents as you are doing now.

      1. If your child asks is Santa real? The best way to reply is what do you think? This lets you know where your child is in his thought processes and allows him to come to his own conclusions.
      2. When asked the question “Do you believe in Santa?” you can say

      When I was a little girl, I really believed in Santa Claus and loved the idea of him bringing gifts to all the children across the world. Now I am grown up, I see that Santa Claus is not a real person but is part of the Christmas celebration alongside singing carols and putting up xmas trees.  He is all about generosity and love.”

      Santas seem to emerge everywhere during the festive season and this can be so confusing for littlies. Indeed it may be may be a relief to learn that the slightly smelly man in the shopping mall is not the real McCoy. What our children need is to believe in something that they can’t see or touch or prove; something bigger than themselves.

      1. Explain that Santa Claus represents hope, how to believe, how to share and be generous and how to love and fill everyone’s hearts with joy and wonder.

      Do think about what the Santa tradition means to you. It’s a ritual that is handed down in families, not just those who celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival. Those shared stories preserve the sense of belonging to that family. Each family has their own Christmas rituals . These traditions are even more important to my children as they’ve got older and the act of gift giving encourages them to think about others and the world beyond their own.

      1. In order to get big brother not spilling the beans, ask your child to continue the story for his little sibling so that he too can experience the wonder of Christmas. Ask him to take on the role of being ‘The Keeper of Secrets’ and a Custodian of the Santa myth. Letting the older ones be part of the creation of the mystery, is key. Maybe he can stay up a little later on Christmas eve and be Santa’s helper.

      Dig deep and try to imagine what it feels like to be 7, 8, 9,with an annoying/perfect younger sibling. Empathise with those feelings and don’t try to brush them aside or make your child wrong for them. You may think those feelings are uncharitable but that won’t make them go away. What your older child needs more than anything is to feel heard. Teach him to show caring for others, by showing compassion for your prickly older one.

      I can see you felt very tempted to break the news about Santa to your sister. I’m glad you didn’t because believing in Santa is a very special part of Christmas. In this family we believe it’s important for all of us to believe in some things that we can’t see or touch or prove. We think imagination and mystery and a sense of wonder are very special. Just like when you looked up at the Supermoon and wondered about it. My guess is you’d like to show your sister that you already know. That might make you feel important and powerful and grown up. I get it. But you know, I have a very important grown-up job for you now that you’re 8….”

      Wishing you and your family a magical mythical christmas.

      Elaine & Melissa

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      December 06th, 2018

      12 days of [a happier] Christmas

      For peace and goodwill in your family this Christmas try these 12 strategies.

      1. Pay attention

      When there are positive connections between ourselves and our children everything goes better; we have greater influence so the children are more cooperative and their self-esteem grows. It’s not easy but we need to put our digital devices to one side, park the never-ending to-do list and engage with our children.

      1. Make time to play

      Don’t skip over this one! You may be thinking that with all that you have to do how can you possibly play? Invest in some fun with your child to make this the Christmas that she remembers with delight. She will not notice that the presents were immaculately wrapped and that guests were served with those special Spanish almonds you tracked down with great detective powers. Schedule a small amount of time each day over the holiday season for time to play, either one to one or with all the children. Board games, card games, charades, silly dancing. Take your pick. Tip: minimal equipment to minimise clean up.

      1. Resolve to speak less and listen more 

      Resist the urge to nag, advise, lecture, take over, fix or even offer solutions when your child is facing difficulties. Instead give him the message that you trust he can figure it out because he is a problem-solver. Let him know that making mistakes is ok and a necessary part of reaching solutions. When children develop competencies they grow in confidence. Feeling capable is the antidote to anxiety. 

      1. Give positive, not negative attention 

      When children ‘act up’ it’s often because they are not getting the attention they need. Don’t make them wrong for that. Instead recognise it is a primal need and fill that need with positive attention. Use a pasta jar as a prompt for you to notice the positive things they do. Just keep an empty jar handy and pop in a pasta piece any time you notice good behaviour. Get the kids to help you and give them a pasta when they tell you about something good their siblings are doing –the sibling gets one too so it’s a win-win situation! 

      1. Make your child feel appreciated and important

      The best present you can ever give your child is to really see them. You can do this just with looks – let your face show delight to be with them. And you can use words. Make sure they are descriptive, not evaluative. Notice their efforts.

      1. Ask open-ended questions

      Sometimes it can be hard to start up a conversation with kids. That’s because grown-ups often ask them closed questions to which the answer is yes/no/fine. An open-ended question makes it possible to find out something real and meaningful about the other.

      Try: 

      • What is your favourite Christmas ritual? What do you like about it?
      • If you could be a superhero what would your super power be?
      • Who is your favourite film/TV character? What do you like about them?
      • What’s the best thing to do with friends? What’s the best thing to do all by yourself?
      • If you were Prime Minister what’s the first thing you would change in our country? 
      1. Sideways talk

      Sometimes children don’t want to talk, especially if the subject is challenging for them. Make sure you listen non-judgmentally and without comment. It can help to do an activity together to get the conversational juices flowing. Some of the best conversations I had with my sons were when walking the dog together. Get them to help wash the dishes with you and you may be surprised what you learn.

      1. Validate feelings and empathise

      Feelings can run high during the festive season –for the kids too! Sometimes this shows up as grumpiness, rudeness or uncooperative behaviour. The kids too! Try not to get stuck on the behaviour but delve deeper to the feeling beneath. Name that feeling to tame it. All feelings can be validated even if the behaviour isn’t ok. This tells your child that they are ok even when the behaviour isn’t. And it is far more effective in getting the child out of a behavioural rut than any amount of scolding.

      1. Don’t ask why

      When faced with challenging behaviour don’t ask your child why they did it. They probably won’t have the maturity to be able to identify the emotional cause for their actions. Don’t ask why are you so cross? Instead just acknowledge that they are angry and maybe make suggestions based on your observations. I can see that you got really angry when your sister messed up your new train set. You had taken so long to set it up just perfectly. Babies can be very annoying sometimes can’t they?

      • Enthuse about their passions

      When we enter into our child’s enthusiasms we let them know that we understand and value them. My youngest son has always been quite obsessive about quite niche interests (Star Wars when he was very young). As he’s got older he has learnt that not everyone shares his enthusiasms so he tries to temper them. He recently apologised if he was boring me. I could say that while I didn’t share his interest in that particular thing my own niche area of enthusiasm was him and I was caught up in his passion for and knowledge of his subject so it wasn’t difficult to listen to him talk about it. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a teenager trying (and failing) to suppress their pleasure.

      1. Plan for sleep and down time

      I know this is easy to say and difficult to do but it is so essential for a calmer, happier Christmas period. It’s so tempting to let the kids stay up later once school breaks up and there may be pantomimes to attend or trips to look at Christmas lights or visit relatives. Of course there will be some disruption to normal routines but do try to keep this to a minimum. Kids (and adults) need sleep of course but they also do better when they have consistent routines. Certainty reduces stress. They also need time to just chill out so don’t over-schedule them with festive activities. They need to be able to just play, especially after the big day when there will be new toys and books. The only thing to organise is getting out in nature so do plan for some walks or bike rides.

      1. Practice tricky situations in advance

      Avoid embarrassment by teaching young children how to occupy themselves (non-digitally?) while adults are preparing meals etc, how to greet relatives they don’t see very often and how to be gracious in receiving gifts. Practice in role play what to do/how to arrange one’s features if they are given something they already have or don’t like the look of. And be realistic with younger ones.

      We hope that these tips will give you 12 very happy days of Christmas. All the best to you and your family these holidays.

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      November 02nd, 2018

      Supporting Your Child at School – The Early Years

      Guest Blog by Rachel Busby Director  of  Great  Reading  Ltd


      Many  schools  talk  a  lot  about  the  importance  of  the  home/school  partnership  and  the  value  that  they  place  on working  with  parents  as  partners.    As  children  return  to  school  after  a  well-­earned  half  term  holiday,  hopefully settled  and  raring  to  go,  how  do  you  go  about  working  with  the  school?  What  does  this  actually  mean  in reality? 

      There  has  been  a  huge  amount  of  research  into  the  positive  impact  of  parent  partnerships  on  student  success  
      not  just  in  school  but  throughout  life. When  schools  and  families  work  together  children  have  a  far  better  chance  of  being  successful. So, what  is  the  best  way  to  partner  with  your  child’s  school? 

      1.   Structure  and  routine  are key. 

      - Try  and  provide  a  calm  environment  at  home  with  set  routines.    
      -­ Get  your  child  to  school  on  time  having  had  a  good  breakfast  and  make  sure  they  are  collected  on  time  too.  Children  who  are  often  collected  late  definitely  show  signs  of  anxiety.      
      -­ Help   your  child   remember   all   their   kit   and   equipment.   Maybe   display a timetable   showing   which  activities  are  on  each  day  to  help  you  both  ensure  you  have  the  correct  resources.      
      -­ If  your  child  is  increasingly  tired  move  bedtime  forward  and  ensure  they  have  a  gadget  and  screen free bedroom  so  that  you  know  they  are  getting  good  quality  sleep.    School  can  be  exhausting!

      2.   Encourage  your  child  to  become  as  independent  as  possible.  Make  sure  they  can  dress  themselves  and  think   carefully   about   the   type   of   shoes   and  coat   that you  choose   so   that   they   have   the   best   possible  chance of  fending  for  themselves  in  a  busy  classroom.  Don’t  be  tempted  to  dress  them  or  do  their  shoes  up  for  them – try  and  leave  yourself  enough  time  to  allow  them  to  do  things  for  themselves.  

      3.   Read  with  your  child  every  day  at  home.  Very  often  there  could  be  20-30  children  in  a  class  so  the  role  of   1:1  reading   is  increasingly   becoming   the  responsibility   of   the  parent. hildren   who  read  every   day  at  home  always  make the most  progress.
        
      4.   Provide  an  environment  that  is  conducive  to  working.  The  television  should  not  be  on  and,  in  an  ideal world,  it  should  be  calm  and  quiet  (easier  said  than  done  if  you  have  younger children  too).  
       
      5.   Find  a  time  to  read  and  to  do  homework  that  suits  your  child  and  your  family.  There  is  no  right  time.    
      -­ It   might   be   that   they   are   exhausted   when   they   first   arrive  home  from   school   and   need   to   refuel  and  refresh  with  snacks  and  a  bit  of  sofa  time. Prepare  them  for  the  fact  that  they  need  to  read/do  their  homework  later  and  maybe give  them  a  10  minute  warning  that  their  rest  time  is  coming  to  an  end.      
      -­ Some  children  will  cope  with  getting  the  homework  done  as  soon  as  they  get  home.  
      -­ Others   might   be   early   risers   who   benefit   more   from   getting   it done   before   school   the   following day.    
      -­ If   you   are   struggling   to  get   homework   done   you   might   need   to  review   your   weekly   schedule   and possibly,  in  the  short-­term,  reduce  the  number  of  extra  activities  your  child  is  participating  in.  Over-­scheduling, with  no  down  time,  can  put  a  lot  of  pressure  on  children  and  parents! I  used  to  read  with  my  youngest  when he was  tucked  up  in  bed  before  we  started  the  bedtime  story – it  was  the  only  quiet  1:1  time  I  could  find. Work out  what  fits  in  with  your  routine  and  your  family.  
       
      6.   Support   your   child   with   their   homework.   However,   DO   NOT   do   it  for  them!   Encourage   your   child   to  work   independently   and   to   be   resourceful.   Your  teacher   should   have   given   you   an   idea   of   how   long homework   should   take. Keep   an   eye   on   the   amount   of  “focused”  time   your  child  is   spending   on the homework  and  if  it  is  taking  a  lot  longer  than  is  expected,  be  honest  and  feed  back  to  the  school.  
       
      7.   Hopefully  your  school  will  have  already  run  a  workshop,  or  held  a  meeting,  explaining  how  they  teach  the   basics   of   reading,   writing   and   maths   at   the school.   If   they   use   a   particular   phonics   scheme,   learn  the  basics  and  use  language  that  your  child  is  familiar  with.    If  they  need  help  with  reading  or  spelling  a  word  resist  telling  them  (particularly  using  the  letter  names)  and  instead  encourage  them  to  sound  the  word   out   for   themselves. It   might   not   be   spelt   perfectly   but   you   are encouraging   them   to   work  independently  and  this  means  that  they  can  demonstrate  resourcefulness  and  resilience  when  in  class  rather  than  asking  the  teacher  for  help  every  step  of  the  way.  
       
      8.   Buy  a  mini  wipeboard  (A4  size  are  great).  Get  your  child  to  practice  a  spelling  on  this  and  see  if  they  can  work   out   if   it  looks   correct.   Mistakes are   easy   to   correct   and   remove   on   a  wipeboard   and   they   often  encourage children  to  take  greater  risks.  
       
      9.   If  your  child  has  to  write  several  sentences  ask  them  to  tell  you  what  they  are  going  to  write.  Try  and  get  your  child  to  say  the  sentence  out  loud  and  get  them  to  repeat  it  several  times.  Very  often  children  forget   what   they   are writing.   Get   them   to   read   what   they   have   written   so   far   and   see   if   they  can  remember  what  they  need  to  write  next.    Resist  the  urge  to  tell  them  what  to  write  and  to  spoon  feed  and  spell  every  word.  Whilst  doing  this  means  you  are getting  the  homework  over  and  done  with  more  quickly  the  experience  is  not  actually helping  your  child  learn  or  consolidate  any  skills.  
       
      10.   When   your   child   has   finished,   tell   them   how   proud   you   are   of   how hard   they   have   worked.     Also   ask  them   to   check   their   work   and   make   sure they   don’t   need   to   make   any   corrections.   A   question   like  “What   goes   at   the beginning/end   of   every   sentence?”   or   “Does   that   word  look right?” is   better  than  telling  them  what  they  need  to  correct.    
       
      11.   Be   honest. If   your  child  is  really   struggling   try   to  remain   positive and   patient   but   also  go   and   chat   to  the  teacher.  Work  at  both  school  and  home should  always  be  differentiated  with  each  child  being  given  work  that  is  appropriate  for  their  ability.    If  it  is  taking  significantly  longer  than  it  should,  I  would calmly  stop   and  reassure   your   child   that   it   is   OK   and   that   you   are  going   to   write   to   the   teacher.  The   teacher  needs  to  know.    No  one  expects  young  children  to  be  working  for  hours  on  homework.  Equally,  if  your  child  is  flying through  it  you  can  feed  back  that  they  worked  independently  within  a  certain  time  frame.  Resist  the  urge  to  ask  for  harder  work.    
       
      12.   If  you  want  to  have  a  chat  with  the  teacher  try  and  find  an  appropriate  time.    It  is  never  easy  to  chat  when  the  children  are  all  going  into  class  in  the  morning  or  when  the  teacher  is  trying  to  ensure  everyone  has  been  safely  collected at  the  end  of  the  day.  Initially  feedback  via  the  homework  diary/reading  record  and  if  needs  be  call  and  make  an  appointment  for  a  chat.      
       
      13.   Always   try   and   attend   meetings,   workshops   and   parents’   evenings.     Schools   often   judge   a   parent’s  commitment   to   working   in   partnership   on   attendance   at   such   events.   If   work   commitments   make   it  difficult  make  sure  you  communicate  this.    Schools  will  often  put  on  evening  sessions  to  accommodate  working  parents.  If  you  have  a  nanny  or  au-pair  make  sure  you  have  introduced  him/her  to  the  teacher  and  ask  them  to  attend  if  you  can’t.      
       
      14.   If  you  have  a  nanny/au  pair  who  does  homework  and  reading  with  your  child  make  sure  you  have  had  discussions   and   communicated   your   expectations   with   them so that   they   are   dealing   with   homework  in   the   same   way   that   you   would   be. Make   sure   they   are   also   aware   of   any   concerns   and   that   you  communicate  regularly  about  the  tasks.  
       
      15.   Find   out   what   topics   your   child   is   studying   at   school   and   design   some   family   activities   around   them.  Maybe   visit   a   castle   or   an   art   gallery,   cook   some   different   food   or   go   to   the   library   to   find   out   more  information and  to  develop  their  knowledge.    Encourage  your  child  to  share  what  they  have  done with  their  teacher.  
       
      16.   If   your   child   puts   up   a   lot   of   resistance   to   homework,   try   and   work  at   some   strategies   to   help   and  encourage  them.  Explain  that  it  is  not  you  that has  set  the  homework  but  the  teacher  and  that  you  will  need  to  feed  back  to  the  teacher  if  they  are  not  going  to  do  it.    Don’t  be  afraid  to  let  them  experience  the  consequences  of  not  doing  the  work.  This  is  an  essential  lesson  in  learning  and shielding  them  from  every  bump  will  produce  a  passive,  dependent  learner  rather  than  a  resourceful  and  resilient  one.  
       
      17.   Enjoy   the   journey   together.   Get   to   know   other   parents   and   share concerns   if   you   have   them.   Get  
      involved   in   the   school   community   with   social   events   and   volunteer   to   help if   required.   Don’t   be concerned   if   you   get   very   little   information   from   your   child   about   what they   did   at   school.   They   will have crammed   so  much  into   one   day   that  it   is   hard   to   remember   anything.  Try and  get   to   know   their  weekly  timetable  and  ask  slightly  narrower  questions  if necessary  to  aid  their  recollection  of  what  they  actually   did.     Maybe  ask  “Which new   sound   did   you  learn   today?”   or  “What   did   you  do   in   PE   today?”  rather  than  a  blanket  “What  did  you  do  today?”  You  might  well  get  the  “I  can’t  remember”  response!  
       
      Rachel  Busby  –  October  2018  
       
      Rachel  is  Director  of  Great  Reading  Ltd  and  has  over  20  years  of  experience  in  schools.  
      Great  Reading  primarily  supports  young  children,  parents,  nannies/au  pairs  and  schools  with  the  development  of  reading.    They  offer  workshops  for  parents  covering  early  literacy  skills  and  how  to  help  at  home;  1:1  Introduction  to  Reading  courses;  Catch-­up  programmes  for  struggling  readers  and  bespoke  training.    They  will  work with  children  from  the  age  of  4  (before  any  formal  dyslexia  screening)  to  help  them  catch  up  with  peers  and  close  any  gaps  that  may  be  beginning  to  emerge.    They  also offer  advice  to  parents  who  have  any  concerns  about  their  young  child’s  progress  at  school.    Please  do  get  in  touch  if  you  require  any  help  or  advice  with  supporting  your  child  at  school  and  email rachel@greatreading.co.uk  or  visit  www.greatreading.co.uk  

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