January 19th, 2012
Over the holiday period I spent some time with my nieces and nephews ranging in age from 6 to 18 years which was delightful, and occasionally instructive. On one occasion I was quite shocked to hear my youngest niece address her 15 year old cousin as ‘penis breath’ which prompted the question ‘why?’ And ‘where is she hearing that kind of talk?’ My niece is bilingual and only speaks English at home and I’m fairly sure her parents aren’t speaking to her or to each other in that way. So it begs the question what makes kids use offensive language. But that’s a question we can’t ask until we’re calm enough to do so. If you’re the parent of a child who’s just uttered an expletive that you find shocking, and in particular if its front of others, especially if its front of disapproving relatives, then the chances are your buttons have been pushed and you’re not asking sensible questions about the provenance of the utterance but have responded sharply, maybe punitively or maybe with resignation and an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders… ‘kids these days.’
Once you’ve calmed down and in the privacy of your own home the concerned parent might consider why children use such language. I think there are three reasons and the cause will determine the most effective parental response. It seems to me that kids use poor language because:
We certainly cannot shield our children from hearing words which we might prefer not to hear coming from the mouths of babes or even older kids. They will be exposed to strong language in the school playground, in the media and on the street. Maybe they hear it from the adults on whom they model their behaviour too. This is one of those difficult areas where parents cannot avoid responsibility –while we might accept certain language from an adult and find it offensive in a child they will of course not make that distinction, or not without learning an early lesson in hypocrisy. “We rejoice if they say something over free and words which we should not tolerate from the lips even of an Alexandrian page are greeted with laughter and a kiss…They hear us use such words…every dinner party is loud with foul songs, and things are presented to their eyes of which we should blush to speak.” (Quintilian 1stcentury AD) What we can do is pass on whatever our values are about language –the appropriateness of certain words at certain times and in certain settings. Sometimes our children pick up on our values without us realising. One day when my daughter was five years old I was driving her and a friend home for a playdate when her friend said something offensive. Before I could say anything my pompous little girl had said “ours is not a rude house”. While I wouldn’t have expressed it like that I’m glad she’d got the message.
If our children’s choice of words has been dictated by strong emotion then we will teach them nothing if we do not acknowledge the strength of that feeling. “For you to talk to me/your brother like that tells me you are REALLY angry.” “The fact that you’ve chosen that word shows me you really want me to take you very seriously.” Only once the emotion has been acknowledged can we require the child to express themselves differently. This clearly requires a certain level of detachment that you won’t be able to muster in the heat of the upset so come back to it when you’re calmer.
Likewise we will be ineffective in dealing with inappropriate language if we are judgmental. It’s important that we don’t say anything that makes our children wrong even though we think the language offensive –they won’t learn while they feel judged. So don’t say “Don’t say that –that’s wrong/bad/disgusting” because, being egocentric, they will hear “YOU are wrong/bad/disgusting” and will shut down in defence or become retaliatory or resistant or otherwise stop listening.
If ‘naughty words’ are used to get attention conventional wisdom would have it that we should ignore such language but many parents worry that this means we are condoning it. Instead of ignoring we shouldn’t give it a massive amount of attention as we do when we get upset but quietly take the child to one side and explain that we find such words hurtful and that they are inappropriate. If the inappropriate language continues some kind of consequence is often used. Some families use a swear box into which a coin is put when there is an ‘offence’.
However a more positive approach is to teach your child to get attention differently. If you think that attention seeking is the motivation say so and be clear what behaviour will get your attention and then make sure you do give lots of attention for good behaviours. In this situation it is important not to be melodramatic but speak to the child in a calm, neutral voice. Again this may require a time out to calm down first.
If your child is swearing or using other offensive language merely out of habit changes to his environment will be required as well as an acknowledgment of how things have been to date and what the new rules are for everyone. Is your child being exposed to inappropriate media? Are they watching programmes with a classification beyond their age? Where do they watch TV or use the computer? If you are making changes to these habits your child will not be happy and you will meet resistance. Empathise but be firm. Make sure your expectations are realistic and don’t expect change to be quick.
Acknowledge your child for accepting changes, for trying to control their language and for using alternative ways of expressing themselves when frustrated, thwarted or angry. My daughter’s favourite way of getting her point across without being offensive was to say “oh, rude words!”
January 19th, 2012
Getting back into a routine after family holidays can be difficult. Sleeping and eating routines may have been disrupted and general activities have been different. Working parents may have had much more time with their children than usual. Hopefully this was lovely for everyone but it may be difficult for you to go back to work and for your child to start up their usual child care routine again. Separation anxiety – tears, screaming, clinging etc – is very common and a completely normal stage of development. And it’s never easy for parents to handle. Some children never experience it; others go through various periods throughout their childhood. It varies hugely from child to child.
Here are techniques you can use to help alleviate the upset for your child and some understanding that might help you feel less stressed too – and therefore be calmer and more consistent, which in turn helps your child. As with all children’s behaviour, your reactions have an impact on the frequency, intensity and duration of the behaviour.
Overall, do remember that your child’s concern about you leaving is a sure and important sign that there is a healthy attachment between you. For now, they may not believe they can cope without you, and they may feel unable to do anything to bring you back, hence the panic, but eventually they will develop coping strategies and feel safe enough on their own. For others it’s just that they would just rather have you around more.
Babysitters- Try to leave when the going is good – not when your child is tired, hungry or unsettled. And always try to introduce carers beforehand, so your child gets a chance to recognize them and bond.
Develop a routine for saying goodbye – keep it short and sweet and stick to it! This will create familiarity and therefore some sense of security. Don’t go back, however hard it is. It’s fine to call later, and check how things are going, but do leave it a good 15-20 minutes to give everyone a chance to settle.
Talk about how they are feeling calmly – rather than encouraging them to suppress their feelings which inevitably leads to difficult behaviour, as the unrecognized emotion tries to escape, and they won’t learn how to deal with the emotion. If they say how they feel say “Thank you for telling me how you feel. Let’s have a big hug.” Remember it’s not your job to take away their feelings of discomfort –it is your job to help them manage such feelings. When you’re prepared to talk about their intense emotions it makes the feeling less overwhelming or scary.
Allow your child to be upset – don’t negate or deny or ignore their feelings by telling them to be a big boy/girl and not to cry. Instead acknowledge it’s hard to say goodbye and accept they may feel sad when you go out, or leave them at nursery. Young children often can’t put into words how they feel so it’s up to the adult to describe their feelings for them. “You wish mummy didn’t have to go. You’re feeling sad and maybe worried.” Allowing these emotions to be expressed does not make the emotions or the behaviour itself worse; in fact it alleviates the stress these emotions are causing.
Explore with them ways they can cheer themselves up – not only does it help in the moment, but it also helps build up a sense that they have control of their emotions. Sometimes children can draw on the magic properties of a talisman (like a pebble) you’ve given them that gives them courage and comfort or you could give them something of yours (like a hanky) to keep close by.
Descriptively Praise them whenever they are brave, make the best of things, are flexible or adaptable, or similar. For example: “you didn’t make a big fuss when you skinned your knee just now even though I could see it hurt. That was brave of you. You told me you were thinking of the cupcakes we’re going to make when we get home –what a great strategy that is!’”
And bear in mind you will be experiencing your own version of separation anxiety. When faced with intense emotions in our child, our own emotions are strong as well. It can be overwhelming in terms of testing your patience and resolve, and many parents feel guilty. Don’t be tempted to trick them and sneak out without them noticing – it only avoids and often worsens the situation by breaching trust. Instead, find yourself a calming strategy – breathing slowly, have a mantra such as “it won’t last” and use it. Remember that this is a phase that won’t last but also that you are doing the important job of coaching your child to deal with their emotions which helps them in so many ways throughout their lives.
January 19th, 2012
There is an assumption that children and parties go together like bread and jam. And parties are important for the social development of our children.
In many ways, children and parties do have a natural affinity – they both tend to be full of activity and noise, and they’re often somewhat chaotic, and usually quite exhausting!
Parties present a different world to children, a world where the rules are often very different and this can make it hard for them to know how to behave.
Some children don’t enjoy parties – and others enjoy them too much! Either can cause challenges for parents.
There is a wealth of information about how to organise a successful child’s party and plenty to say about whether or not creating a Fabulous Event for a 3 year old is appropriate. But for now we’re going to focus on how parents can make a party a success for the child themselves, helping them feel better, and behave better, and gain from the opportunities offered.
In our experience, these are the 3 main areas parents worry about – and some ideas about how you can help your child:
Nerves and reluctance to join in
Some children throw themselves in with abandon as soon as they arrive. Others hang back and find it hard to join in the merriment. Many children feel anxious or insecure in unknown situations, and this can be exacerbated if they are also to be separated from parents/caregivers. (Separation anxiety doesn’t just affect 18month-2 year olds – it comes in fits and starts, and often another peak is at 5-6 and at 7-8 years old.)
When it looks like our child is not going to join in, it can make us feel disappointed that they’re not going to enjoy themselves, particularly if we’ve made an effort to get there, or worried that they’re out of their depth and we’ve done something wrong, or we can’t help them or that they’ll grow up to be a social misfit!
Being the life and soul of the party is not for all of us! And most parents would choose “being a good friend” over “being a party-animal” for their child! If your child’s temperament means they are more cautious, and reserved, this doesn’t make them wrong- it’s just who they are and we need to accept and support them. Understanding our children’s temperament helps us find ways to help them. For example:
Over-exuberance and not wanting to leave
Some children jump in feet first, and commit to having a full role in every aspect of the party and may even take over somewhat. And, with no sense of time, and no awareness of all the other things you have to do that afternoon/evening, they find it impossible to leave when they are asked.
The evening after the party…..
Once we’ve got home safely, it’s tempting to believe it’s all done and dusted.
Actually, it takes children a remarkably long time to calm down after the intensity of a party. After all the hype, nerves, adrenalin and sugar, it’s difficult for them to adjust to the order and expectations of the real world again.
The more tired they are, the harder it is for them to do anything – including going to sleep. Yet all we want to do is collapse into bed! This can mean we ourselves are not calm, and this doesn’t help.
Rather than pushing them to go to sleep earlier, it can help to start the wind-down to bedtime earlier and make time to do something smoothing and calming. Even if it means they go to bed at the same time as normal, they should fall asleep more peacefully and have a better night’s rest.
Ideas include: deep “sleepy” breathing, gentle massage, having candles/bubbles in the bath, reading favourite stories in your bed. When you’re reading it can help children relax if you gradually slow your voice down and lower the volume, making longer pauses between sentences. It might also help to stroke the child in a rhythm that matches your reading.
It may help to modify some rules or expectations about the evening to allow for the earlier mayhem – for example, if you usually require that your child puts their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, maybe you can do this for them. It doesn’t mean the rule is broken, it’s just the rule applies to “normal” days and doesn’t apply on party night! If you want to maintain any house-keeping rules, be prepared that they might be forgotten, not done so well, or done very slowly and grumpily!
Over all, it always helps us to look at things from our child’s perspective – in time they will be able to do this for you too. When we consider the experience they’ve had at the party, it’s not hard to see how they may crumble or explode later at home.
January 19th, 2012
For many of us, our families and friends no longer live locally, but some distance away. And with all these lovely sunny bank holiday weekends approaching over the next few months, this is the ideal time to pack up the car, pack up the kids, and get away to spend some valuable time with loved ones.It sounds such a great idea, until you start to think about the long car journey crawling down the motorway, listening to the squawks and whines in the back of the car. Then we start thinking about them saying “Are we nearly there yet?” and “I need a wee-wee” and suddenly staying at home seems a much better idea.It’s not – getting away for a break, and spending time with family and friends, is too valuable an opportunity to be lost.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Time your journey as smartly as possible
We all know when the roads are busiest, so see if you can be creative about the time you leave and travel. It will be well worthwhile leaving earlier or later than usual – the roads will be quieter, and if the children are usually asleep at this time, it may well be quieter in the car too! If the children are small, wrap them up in their pyjamas and fill your thermos flask. Alternatively, give them a good run around before the start of the journey to expend some energy.
Plan some stops
Regular stops are not just good for the children, they’re good for you too. Check out on the map or route planner where you can pull off the road every couple of hours and have a run around, and revive yourselves for the next stage.
Pack some emergency supplies
Include baby wipes, plastic bags, calpol sachets, emergency snacks, water bottles, a travel potty may also be helpful! It may be worth taking a spare set of clothes, depending on whether it matters what you look like when you get there….
IN THE CAR
Allocate time to various activities
Apportion a set time for different activities – for example, during a 2-hour journey you could have ½ hour for looking out of the window and chatting, ½ hour of games, ½ hour for a packed lunch and ½ hour of stories on the disc player or ipod.
Get as comfortable as possible
Take a pillow or folded up blankets to put under knees or behind necks.
Divide and conquer
Keep as much space as possible between siblings in the back – the closer they are, the feistier they can get. Try a physical boundary like a bag or pillow, or the picnic box between them. Consider rotating children around so everyone gets a turn behind Mummy or by the window or in the back row….
Games for the car
A recent survey showed that, despite all the modern technology that’s available, most families still also play the traditional games in the car, from I-Spy to naming the capital cities or major rivers of Europe. Here are a few of our favourites:
WHEN YOU GET THERE
Just when you thought it was all over…….
Do remember that the children will probably fall out of the car when you arrive, either full of energy, sugar and thoroughly over-excited, or groggy, car-sick and nervous. Either way, plan for some transitional activity – whether that’s running up and down stairs or forming a fireman’s chain to deliver bags, or sitting quietly in the corner reading a book.
Overall, it’s safety first. We can NOT simply expect our children to understand what it is like to drive a car, let alone drive with fighting and arguing going on in the back.
But we can explain it to them beforehand – not angrily or resentfully, but gently and respectfully. We tell them that we have to look in mirrors, make signals, use pedals, judge speeds, guess distances, anticipate other people – as well as steer the car. And we can explain they need to keep the noise to a reasonable level – some parents use a “noise meter” where Levels 1-2 are fine, 3 is the absolute maximum and 4-5 is danger zone. Practice it beforehand!
Once in the car, while they are at Level 1-2, make sure you notice and say something! “Thanks guys, you’ve got the noise level just right – I can concentrate and keep us safe, and you can hear each other too!”. Then if it gets noisier, rather than suddenly shouting to them from the front, just refer to the “noise meter” along the lines of “Uh oh, we’ve reached Level 3, so just be careful”.
Ultimately, if the noise does reach a point that you can’t drive safely, don’t drive. Pull over. Explain that it’s too noisy for you to drive right now, so you need to stop. Rather than haul them out and tell them off, get out yourself, take some deep breaths and count slowly to whatever it takes.
When you get back into the car, perhaps you can start with a “sponsored silence” game for a while!
January 19th, 2012
One of the most common causes of parental stress is what we call ‘morning mayhem’. Parents often report to us that they have awful mornings where they wind up screaming at their children, nagging and making wild threats. By the time they drop their children off at nursery or with the child minder they regularly feel guilty and the children are often upset or withdrawn. By putting a bit of time, thought and effort into making changes and by applying the methods below parents find their mornings are transformed.
January 19th, 2012
UNICEF UK recently released a report entitled Child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden: The role of inequality and materialism. The UK did not compare well with Spain and Sweden in terms of the wellbeing of children and the role of consumer products in their lives. “…in Spain and Sweden the pressure to consume appeared much weaker and the resilience of children and parents much greater than in the UK. Families in the UK appear to face greater pressures on their time and money, and react to this in ways they feel are counter productive to children’s well-being….Most children agreed that family time was more important to them than consumer goods, yet we observed within UK homes a compulsion on the part of some parents to continually buy new things for their children and for themselves. Boxes of toys, broken presents and unused electronics in the home were witness to this drive to acquire new possessions. Most parents realised that what they were doing was often “pointless”, but seemed somehow pressurised and compelled to continue.”
It is real juggling act raising children in the 21st century (particularly in the UK it would appear), where instant gratification has become the norm, and status is defined by what we own. The shops and TV screens are full of enticements…. and everyone wants everything….. and they want it now!
As loving parents, we want to do our best for our children, but we are often unsure what that is in this materialistic world. We want them to have the best we can give, we want to show them how much we love them, and, at the same time, we want them to be appreciative of what they have and learn to value their possessions. Many parents are concerned about falling into the trap of over-indulging their children, fearing that their children will grow up to be overly acquisitive and never satisfied, unable to appreciate the true cost of things or differentiate between their needs and their wants.
So how can we instill in our children the values we want and we believe will equip them best for the future, and yet not always have to be the bad cop, saying no, no, no….?
There is one immediate and relatively simple way we can help our children.
We can protect them from the constant advertising which tells them that their value is tied up in what they own and that they need to acquire certain goods in order to fit in. We can limit their exposure to TV adverts by cutting down on screen-time, or using Sky Plus, and we can discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates!
And then it comes down to being clear and true to our values, and communicating this effectively to our children.
So, first, we need to establish what our values are. We need to ask ourselves why do we buy things for our children? It may be an uncomfortable question to answer honestly…. Is it because we believe everyone else is, and we don’t want them to feel left out? (The UNICEF report suggests that there are high levels of social insecurity in the UK which is compensated for by buying status brands.) Is it because we feel guilty about the amount of time we are able to spend with them as is also suggested in the UNICEF report? Is it because we want them to enjoy what we never had? Some parents interviewed for the UNICEF report suggested that they wanted status brands for their children to protect them from the kind of bullying they experienced themselves as kids. Do we buy because we can’t bear to see them unhappy? Is it because they pester so much that we can’t bear it and don’t know how to avoid giving in? In the heat of the moment do we lose sight of the reasons why it might not be a good idea for them to have what they are asking for? Do we think we’re being mean in denying them?
Having clarified our values, we now have to communicate them to our children and we can approach this on three levels.
LEVEL 1: ON-GOING
Children learn by copying, so we can start involving them in purchasing decisions, showing them the link between earning and spending. This might sound like: “I’m not sure whether we need this now, perhaps it would be better to wait till next month.” Or “I really like those ipads. I’m going to put a bit of money aside each week until I’ve saved enough to buy one.”Or “These Nike trainers are really cool but they’re so expensive –these other ones will do just as well.” We can also model appreciation by being appreciative ourselves, and noticing and mentioning whenever they are. This might sound like: “I love it when you say thank-you for the things I do for you. It’s polite, and makes me feel really appreciated.” or “You’re taking really good care of your new train set –you put it away very carefully in its box each time you’ve finished with it.”
And, we can set up systems so that our children earn the privileges that many of them believe they have as a right, simply because they are alive – whether that is TV or other electronics, outings, play-dates or material possessions. Children appreciate things they have earned for themselves, for good behaviour, more than things they are just given.
LEVEL 2: BEFORE A PURCHASING EVENT
Before we set out for a shopping expedition, we need to manage our children’s expectations beforehand with a chat-through.
In a chat-through, we want our children to be doing most of the talking, to avoid lecturing or nagging and having them feel too controlled, but we can start with an explanation about why we’re having the chat-through. This might sound like: “It’s important to me that you learn about the cost of things and their value, and how to appreciate the good things you have”.
Then we ask them questions – what will happen in the shop, what amount will be spent, on what items, why, what behaviour is expected, and how might the child feel….They need to do the talking if they are to be committed to what needs to happen. It is important to empathise that the child may feel really tempted, disappointed or frustrated at the change in policy, aware that other children may have the things they covet…. We can ask how the child could handle these feelings – some ideas include telling the parent, writing down the items the child wishes she could buy, using some safe venting technique like stamping feet or pounding their fists. It’s really important we don’t make our children wrong for being tempted by the appealing things on the shelves. After all a lot of thought and money is spent by companies seeking to entice them.
LEVEL THREE: THE PESTER MOMENT
However well the chat-through went, the child may be unable to resist and revert to the old pestering ways.
When this happens, we need to keep calm – remembering children feel things very intensely in the moment but these feelings pass, and remembering too that it is not our job to keep them happy in the moment; instead it is our job to enable them to make themselves happy in the future, by developing self-control and problem-solving skills.
So we can empathise with our children, imagining how they are feeling and reflecting it back to them in words. This is the first step in helping our children understand and manage their feelings. This might sound like: “You wish you could buy that car. You really like it because it’s really shiny and it’s got cool tires. You’re really sad that Mummy said we can’t buy anything today. Maybe you think I’m being mean. You know what? I’m proud of you for only making a little fuss about this. I know you’re really disappointed. It’s hard not to be able to have something you really want.”
Although this may not result in an immediate improvement in behaviour, it does show the child that they are understood and their feelings are accepted, even though their behaviour needs to be re-directed.
We can also give ‘wishes in fantasy’. This means we accept what they want and imagine what it would be like if they could have it. It’s an interesting distraction and can help make light of a potentially heavy moment, without making the child or his feelings seem silly. This might sound like: “I bet you would like to have every single piece of lego in the whole world – gosh, I wonder how big a box we would need to hold it all? I don’t think we would be able to lift it up!”
Overall, it pays to take time to prepare and train ourselves and our children how best to cope with life in today’s modern world. It may help to bear the following in mind from Dr. Phil McGraw, a psychologist and author:
“Your child does not have to love you every minute of every day. He’ll get over the disappointment of having been told “no.” But he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled.”
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