February 11th, 2019
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
Involving an absent or disinterested partner
Healthy ways to deal with conflict:
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.
January 21st, 2019
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!
January 05th, 2019
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.
I hope you have a very happy, positive and calm 2019!
December 17th, 2018
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
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.
“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.
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.
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
December 06th, 2018
For peace and goodwill in your family this Christmas try these 12 strategies.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
November 02nd, 2018
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.greatreading.co.uk
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