October 31st, 2011

Halloween Horrors!!!

Are your children excited about all the Halloween trick – or- treating? Do they adore dressing up? Or are they fearful at the thought of venturing out in the dark night and encountering all the scary ghoulish faces. Many children under the age of 6 have difficulty divorcing reality from fantasy so for many of our younger children this truly can be a night of horrors.

In addition many  of us as parents are confused about what Halloween represents as a festival  and may worry about the pagan or Christian origins of All Hallows Eve being taken over for commercial purposes. Relax – for the children this day is about dressing up, being with friends and the age long tradition of collecting sweeties and telling jokes! (The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the  Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. On Hallowmas (November 1) the poor would go door to door receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls’ Day, (November 2).)

Here are some top tips to make Halloween a success:

Talk to your children about what may be frightening them – is it the costumes; the scary masks; the symbols or images of blood and gore? Make sure they get that you are listening and understanding and not treating their fears as if they are silly or babyish. Once a child feels heard and his feelings validated he is in a far better place to look for solutions.

  1. If you need to take a young reluctant child along with older ones let him know you will support him, holding his hand or whatever else he needs to feel safe. Keep reminding him that there are real people under the costumes and if you know who then name them.
  2. The costumes sold on the high street can be very scary so let your child decide what he is going to dress up as. If he wants to be Batman or a Power Ranger then let him be……..  Equally if he is happy to dress as a devil/monster for the night then again let him do so and be assured this does not mean all his  belief systems about what is right and wrong will be threatened. Research indicates that children who are able to dress in scary costumes are more likely to overcome their fears and be more resilient.
  3. If your child is nervous about trick-or-treating, then set up for success by enlisting the help of a few friendly neighbours who know you are going to visit. Start well before dark and ensure you have some of your children’s friends by your side to help them get into the festive spirit.
  4. If trick-or treating is really out of the question, then invite people to the house for a Fancy dress party with Halloween food and games. Children feel safer and secure in their own home and by involving them with Pumpkin carving and house decorating they will feel successful and involved.

Ultimately the key lies in listening to your child’s fears – they are very real and let him decide how much/little he wants to participate. Be aware that for children with sensory sensitivities the sounds, smells and feel of everything different may send them spinning. So have empathy – they may be HAVING a problem not BEING a problem and if we tell him to “grow up and stop being a baby” and “face his fears” they will feel very misunderstood and learn it is not right to be afraid. Over time your child will learn with the right support to deal with his anxieties and fears and become more resilient.

Halloween is here to stay – commercially it becomes bigger each year. You may choose not to take part but if you do, explain to your children what are your values that prevent you from joining in and empathise if they would like to do what many of their friends are doing. If you do choose to take part to make it a success requires a little planning.

Your child may not be fearful at all and look forward to trick or treating and getting sweets. You may need to remind them (by asking the children) about what to say at the door of participating neighbours (only call on those households who are participating-decorations are a good indicator) and to say thank you. To avoid sugar overdosing you may also need to establish some rules ahead of time about how many sweets can be consumed on the night and thereafter. The whole experience can be very exciting so be prepared for it to take time to wind down. Start the whole evening with plenty of time to do the trick or treating round and get home in time for a wind down and maybe a hot milky drink before bed.

Enjoy your ‘guising’ and ‘souling’ and your pumpkin carving and wrap up warmly!

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October 20th, 2011

The Grateful Letter

Descriptive Praise in Action

At The Parent Practice we have many parents who never cease to amaze us with simple ideas that have a long-reaching, positive impact on the relationship they have with their children.

One Mum recently emailed us with a grateful letter that she intended to include with her soon-to-be 8 year old’s birthday card.  This wasn’t just any old letter.  This was a heartfelt testament (full of descriptive praise) to the year her son had just completed: the milestones he achieved; the new skills he learned; his new friendships; the frustrations and the overcoming of those frustrations; the enhanced relationships with his brothers; even his height and shoe size at the beginning of the year.  Some of us  have kept baby books where we keep track of all the firsts – teeth, steps and words – but we usually stop by the time our children start school if not before.  It is a wonderful idea to continue to keep a record and celebration of their lives.

This Mum is beautifully participative in her son’s life – not overbearing – but present in a way in which she can observe and note down (her son is oblivious until he receives the card) things that may at first seem mundane, but actually are important moments in the life of a child.  Here’s an excerpt:

We are grateful that you are growing so independent

in the mornings… always dressed and downstairs by

7am, getting your own breakfast and setting the table

for everyone else. For the pride you take in doing up

your new school tie, and the way you make your own

bed every day without reminders. For accepting the

new ‘no Wii on a school day’ rule with good grace… but

playing it like a madman at the weekends.


We are grateful for your strong will … for never backing down

which is both infuriating and admirable. For your desire to

win and be the best, and how mad it makes you when you

lose.  For finding it impossible to say sorry out loud, but then

spontaneously writing a beautiful and sincere letter of apology.

For trying so hard to control your anger and getting frustrated

when it is sometimes the hardest thing to do.


He must start his birthday each year on such a high!  This particular year he will be reminded not just that he is deeply loved, but also that he is independent, cooperative, contributing, proud, disciplined, determined and sincere – all qualities that we hope to instill in our children.  We love the honesty of the letter: the Mum isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses, but rather she takes aspects of her child’s behaviour that could infuriate her, and sees them in a positive and caring way – enabling her son to know that he is appreciated for who he is.  We imagine that her son is left knowing that being determined, for example, can be a good quality!

We hope that reading this letter doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or beaten at the competitive game parenting can be but instead inspires you to create something similar for your child.  It would be wonderful for them as teenagers and adults to be able to re-read an accurate record of their lives. We like the idea of excerpts being read out (with laughter and tears) one day at a 21st or wedding reception!

So, how do we do it?  The Mum who sent us her letter has it down to an art!  She jots down notes on the ‘notes’ app on her iPhone and pulls them all together at the end of the year.  The writing down seems like it will be the easy part!  The more challenging aspect will be taking the time to participate, observe, and truly connect with your children as they grow up.  Although it will take time we suspect it will be time you will enjoy and will help you see your child in a truly positive light.

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October 11th, 2011

How to make reading fun for children

Child reading

Reading is the gateway to the world of information and creativity.  There are many ways we can help our children develop a love of reading right from the beginning, and to keep their interest as they progress. Most research on reading agrees that the most important part is how the child FEELS about reading, and positive reinforcement and association really helps.

Start any reading session with a positive comment – not simply “well done” or “clever boy” but praise something in the way your child read last time. Perhaps how they persevered with the difficult words, and tried hard to sound out each word clearly, or how they remembered the punctuation marks, or put some expression in. You could also praise how calmly they came to read, or how consistent they have been remembering to bring their story home, or simply how much you love spending time with them.

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

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

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

  1. 1.      Make reading comfortable and special.
  • Try to make sure the place you reading in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.
  • Create a special place for your child’s books – decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books.

 2.      Bring reading and stories into everyday life.

  • Read books in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Teel them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.
  • Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.
  • Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.

 3.      Make reading interesting and fun.

  • Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat. 
  • Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can “read” more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.”)
  • Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes….
  • Make up quizzes, crosswords, wordsearches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories. 
  • Personalize the stories using their names.

 4.      Encourage their creativity and imagination.

  • When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.
  • Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to “publish” copies and distribute to family members.

 5.      Get lots of books.  

  • Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection.  Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.
  • Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.
  • Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children!

By Juliet Richards

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