September 30th, 2014

6 ThingsYou'll Regret Saying to Your Children

Do you ever feel guilt and regret for something that you’ve said to your child? The words that just came out of your mouth sounded as if they were from an alien being (and awfully like some things your mother said to you, and you vowed you would never say) and there is no way you would speak like that to your best friend! Immediately you regret what you said – no surprise that your child is now arguing with you. Both of you have just fallen into one of the parenting manholes – it is deep and dark and unless you have your parenting skills toolkit to hand, you are both stuck!

Don’t feel bad –we all make mistakes with the things we say. Read on to the end to see what you can do to remedy matters if you have verbally vomited on your child.

Faber and Mazlish, authors of ‘How to talk so teens will listen, and listen so teens will talk’ tell a story of a girl in her late teens who had borrowed the family car.  The father always insisted that she return the car with the petrol tank full. He was also a real stickler for punctuality, so the girl was faced with a problem when she had to get home for a family event and found herself short of time. Should she fill up and risk being late, or arrive on time, with a not-full petrol tank?  In the end, she gambled, and filled the tank and still managed to make it home on time.  She was so relieved that she raced in and said, “Dad, I’m home on time AND I’ve filled the car with petrol!”  She was met with, “Did you put oil in it as well?”

We parents get into the habit of noticing what’s wrong with our children’s behaviour and we often don’t notice what they’re doing right. It can feel very hard for kids to win parental approval. And sometimes they stop trying.

So what are the things we say that don’t show respect and don’t motivate our children?
“Hurry up Tom. You are so SLOW…..if it was down to you we would never get to school on time”
“I am so DISAPPOINTED in you  – I should have known better than that!”
“You’re so LAZY….I am sure you will ace those exams if you sit around on your backside all day gaming!”

The language we use with our kids is crucial to developing a good sense of self-worth but in the moment when our buttons get pressed we utter statements that, if said by a friend, would cause us to re-think our friendship!
 Things you’ll regret saying to your children:

1.    Labelling. It is so easy to start labelling children  with LAZY, SILLY, NAUGHTY, SELFISH  – the more we label our children the more they believe what we are saying and take it on as part of their identity. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is why ideas such as ‘the naughty step’ can be positively damaging to our children (watch out for another blog on how the naughty step can damage your child.)

2.    “I’m disappointed in you” –this is a killer statement. It’s not always obvious but our children really crave our approval and this phrase lets them know really clearly that they don’t have it. The connotations underlying this are ‘what a failure you are’.

3. “ I’m proud of you”. I know, you’re wondering what’s wrong with that –it’s definitely not the worst thing you could say to a child. We’ve all said this when our child returns from nursery or school clutching the medal or certificate – we are genuinely thrilled for their success. However it is vital we encourage our kids to value themselves, not be dependent on OUR evaluation of them. Encourage them to assess their achievements, saying:
“what did you do today that you were proud of?” or
“you should free proud of yourself for doing that.”

4. ‘If’-  When trying to get kids to do something we often say “if you tidy up your toys, you can watch TV.” ‘If’ implies it is optional. Replace ‘If’ with ‘when’ and you get a completely different response. ‘When’ implies trust that they are going to tidy up and when this is done they will have earned their screen time.

5. ‘But’ – When you put ‘but’ in a sentence it negates what has preceded it and your child only hears the ‘but’ and the negative coming after it.
“Looks as if you have made an effort to tidy the toy room Laura, BUT you have put the Lego bricks in the wrong place again.” Instead you can say:
“Hey Laura– good on you for tidying up the playroom all by yourself! Do you remember the new place we have for the Lego bricks that keeps them safe and away from baby Tom?”

6. “You’re so clever.” Studies have shown that the ‘clever boy’ kind of praise is actually damaging to kids. Children praised for intelligence perform less well on tasks than children who are praised for effort and attitude.

Words are powerful and shape experience.
 What we are trying to do as parents is use our words to encourage good  behaviours and to build up a strong sense of self-worth. If we get it wrong we can apologise. “I’m so sorry I yelled at you and called you stupid. You’re not stupid. I was frustrated and worried that we would be late.” “This morning when we were rushing to leave the house I didn’t tell you how much I appreciate you helping your sister get ready. She loves it when you brush her hair.”

PS: Grab your free parenting insights by signing up to our mailing list by clicking on the ‘Sign-up’ button on the top left of this page.   I promise it will help you bring out the best in your children and give them happy childhoods and bright futures.

Happy parenting!     Elaine and Melissa 


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September 25th, 2014

Reading Pleasure not Reading Pain 5 Steps to make it happen.

Guest Blog by Clio Whittaker of Ampersand Learning and presenter of the 'Easy to Read' Workshop


 I find it hard to imagine what my life would be like if I couldn’t read English easily. The nearest I can get is when I try to read in French, a language I speak reasonably competently.

Reading a whole book in French is really hard and slow work for me. I rarely attempt to do so and - guess what – I’m not getting any better at it! We all know that being able to read fluently is the key to children’s success at school, and a love of reading provides a lifelong source of information and pleasure.

Helping our children so that they WANT to practise this important and difficult skill and develop a real passion for and fluency in reading, is one of the best things we can do for them as parents.

And it’s good for us too! Sharing a book should be something that we both look forward to, a special and enjoyable time when we can focus on one another and share a good experience.

Unfortunately, too often and for too many children and too many parents, reading becomes a painful chore, associated with tension and unhappiness. So what can be done?

Here are five things that help to make reading a pleasure not a pain:

1. Read often and not for too long
Reading is a skill and, like any skill, you need to practise in order to become good at doing it. If you read with your child often, both of you will become better at reading and enjoy it more. Ten minutes every day is much better than an hour once a week.

2. Talk about what you read
When children hear you talking about what they read, they see that reading is an important part of everyday life for adults. If you don’t often read books yourself, talk about what you read in newspapers, magazines or online. If reading English is difficult for you, start by talking about the pictures either in English or in the language you usually use with your child. Find another person who would enjoy reading regularly with your child – it’s a great way for a friend, sibling or grandparent to build their relationship.

3. Read things that interest your child
No one looks forward to doing something they are not interested in. Read what your child wants to read, rather than what you think they ought to read. There are so many fantastic books for children nowadays, there is bound to be something out there that appeals to your child. If you don’t know how find those books, ask a teacher or librarian for ideas and help. The Booktrust charity is a great source of information about children’s books and their authors and illustrators.

4. Create opportunities to read
Get books, newspapers and magazines into your home so that opportunities to read are always there. Join the local library. Give your child books as presents. Tell the school that you would like to read more books and ask to borrow from their library.


5. Make reading as easy as you can for your child
Read a book aloud first so your child knows the story before they try to read the words on their own. Children often don’t need you to tell them when they get a word wrong, because they soon realise it doesn’t make sense. Give them the chance to correct their mistakes. Praise them for trying and don’t leave them to struggle too long over words that are too difficult.

To understand more about what is involved in learning to read, and learn techniques and ways to make a real difference, come along to the ‘Easy to Read’ workshop on Thursday 2nd October! Click HERE for details (click on the workshop tab). Click HERE to Book

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September 19th, 2014

How to Make Reading Fun

At the start of the school year parents are usually very focused on how to help their children do well but sometimes this can backfire. Sometimes our attempts to help can create pressure that puts children off and nowhere is this more so than with reading.

Reading is the gateway to the world of information and creativity and is of course a necessary first step in school-based learning so it’s not surprising we feel under pressure to help our children succeed at mastering this important tool.

What doesn’t work:

  • nagging
  • criticising their efforts –if you feel they can do better ask yourself why they don’t want to try. Is it because they don’t feel very good at it, in which case criticising won’t help, or is it because they feel under pressure or over-controlled, in which case step back and let them decide how, when and where to go about it.
  • offering rewards for reading –this can make a child feel as if reading is so unpalatable they need to be bribed to do it. They feel manipulated.
  • comparing their attainment levels with another, particularly a sibling.
  • labelling. Calling your child stupid or lazy will not motivate them to try harder and will limit the possibility of them changing. It will also damage your relationship with them.

What does work:

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. There are also many things we can do to encourage and motivate children who have started reading, but are struggling to improve or enjoy it. 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 positive comments and enthusiasm. Talk about the story read last time and ask the child what they enjoyed about it. When you praise your child’s efforts don’t say “well done” or “clever boy” but praise something in the way she read last time. Perhaps how she persevered with difficult words, and tried hard to sound out each word clearly, or how she observed the punctuation marks, or used expression . You could also praise how promptly they came to do their reading, or how consistently 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 can be to read in the beginning, 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. 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. 
  1. 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. Tell 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. 
  1. 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.
  • Personalise the stories using their names. 
  1. 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. 
  1. 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!

What do you do that makes reading fun?

If you’ve found these ideas useful share them! And get more great ideas by subscribing to our newsletter here. You may also be interested in a workshop by Ampersand Learning, Easy to Read: Encourage a love of reading in your child on Thurs 2nd Oct 2014, 10am-12:30pm, Clapham

Happy parenting,

Melissa and Elaine


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September 10th, 2014

Do you use the Naughty Step? Quick tips for a more positive approach to discipline

What parent has not heard of the ‘naughty Step’? It is one of the main sound bites from the Super Nanny program with Jo Frost and indeed if I earnt money for every one of my clients who mentions discipline and the naughty  step in the same sentence I would be a millionaire!

If you are one of many parents who has used it and feels a failure for not being able to make it work, either because your child will not stay there and you end up physically manhandling or he thinks it’s a game and starts laughing at you and blowing raspberries in your face or it has no impact on changing the behaviour – you are not alone! Join the posse of parents who have had the same experience.

Don’t blame yourself if you have experienced this, as the idea of the naughty step is fundamentally flawed.

The naughty step and other punitive and shaming forms of dealing with misbehaviour seem to work in a fashion  - i.e. they can quell a particular behaviour in the moment, but the unintended results are often:

  • resentment and rebelliousness
  • reduced self-worth
  • naughty identity –i.e. the child has a picture of himself as a ‘bad’ person and bad people go on to do bad things, as that is who they think they are
  • he may learn to toe the line in the moment due to fear
  • he does not learn about self-discipline nor understand how to clear up his mistakes

Do you recall the incident last Christmas when a little girl broke a bauble whilst shopping with her Mummy in John Lewis’s and John Lewis then used Face Book to show the world how this little girl had cleared up her mistake?

How effectively you react in the moment depends on your ability to see all misbehaviour as a teachable moment and an opportunity to allow your child to clear up her mistakes.


Clearly this little girl’s parents had established a system of positive discipline so she had an opportunity to put right her mistake and will no doubt have felt better for it. I wonder how she would have felt if her parents had punished her by placing her on the naughty step?

A more positive approach to discipline doesn’t amount to permissiveness and it really works. Our experience is that telling off kids or pointing out what they are doing wrong just DOES NOT WORK and often results in the same misbehaviour at a later date.

 So here’s a step by step guide to what to do and say when your child misbehaves:

  1. Approach the matter without anger or judgment. (This may necessitate leaving it until you’re calm).


  1. Encourage the child to admit what happened and that it was a mistake. Why was it a mistake?

If child says ‘I didn’t mean to’ don’t lecture her on how that doesn’t matter and that the harm is still done. Descriptively praise the child for not meaning to.

 “I’m so glad that you didn’t mean to. It means a lot to me. It shows me that you know it wasn’t the right thing to do and that maybe you wouldn’t have done it if you’d thought about it.”

Explore with the child (without judgment) how the behaviour happened. Don’t just ask why did you do that? This is so that everyone can learn from the episode –maybe something needs to be altered for the future.

  1. Make amends – set wrongs to rights. Fix someone’s upset feelings. This might include an apology but not unless the child is ready.

 “You’re probably sorry inside your head –when you’re ready you’ll also need to apologise out loud. You’re probably wishing you hadn’t done this.”

Sometimes just clearing up the mess (eg washing the ink off the walls) is enough to help them alter their behaviour ….but shouting at them would not!

  1. Alter behaviour- What can you learn from this? /what can you do differently? What would help you not to do this again? Maybe we need a rule about where you can use your coloured pens?


  1. Acceptance - forgive self. We want to teach our children to think ‘when I make a mistake I know how to clear it up.’

Go on  - next time your child gets something wrong try this Mistakes Process and see the results – we guarantee they’ll be much more effective than the naughty step. Let us know what your experiences of using the naughty step have been. What consequences have you used that you think really taught your child something.

Happy parenting!                                

Elaine and Melissa

PS You too should use the Mistakes Process if you feel you got something wrong. This would be very powerful modelling that cleaning up mistakes does not diminish one but is what a good person does.

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September 04th, 2014

Are you dreading homework starting up again?

I recently listened to Alfie Kohn being interviewed on the Great Parenting Show. He commented that homework is akin to children being asked to do a second shift after a full day at school and that  “no research has found any benefit for primary school children” which got me thinking again about this key topic. Homework can, for many families, be the single most stressful issue at home. Few children like it and not many of us parents enjoy homework either.

Is it right that children who have already been at school for up to 8 hours take on a second night shift to do more essays, test papers or worksheets? Does homework improve learning? Or help them gain study skills? Does it teach them responsibility or self-discipline ?

I do believe it’s important to question the value of homework rather than just accept it; that we talk to other parents to compare experiences, and share our concerns with the schools. However, in the meantime, if your children are in conventional education and need to cope with the here and now, here are our thoughts on to make homework easier and less stressful and less likely to extinguish a love of learning.

(1)         Don’t make homework be the first thing you mention  when you see them after school– give them a chance to mention it first and take responsibility for it.

They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you taking responsibility for it, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…

If you need to mention homework, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time to play that game after homework?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)

(2)         Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.

Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s –you will help set the parameters but make sure you get input from them.

(3)         During homework find many things to descriptively praise

Focus on attitudes, focus and improvements rather than results. If they do something well relate it back to strategies or effort employed –don’t say it’s because they’re clever.

“You’re sitting still and really concentrating.” “I like the way you’re using your ruler to make sure that line is straight.” “All that tables’ work you’ve done is paying off –it looks like you’re finding these sums easier now.”

(4)         When homework is complete, first find several things to descriptively praise and then encourage them to look through their work and find improvements.

Don’t point out errors– this is de-motivating and it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work and spotting improvements. This way they get used to the idea that mistakes will happen, but they can identify them, put them right and move on.

“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”

(5)         Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have  you put it, but ask their opinion about the content, share ideas and thoughts.

This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake can be one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.

“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.” Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’

(6)         When they moan and complain about homework, listen.

When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that validating the negative things they say will encourage negativity. None of this is true.

“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” If you say “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, …” This is empathising.

(7)         Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!

We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes about the topics they’re studying.   Or simply go for a walk and talk or let them go out in the dark to see the stars. Or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the idea of homework.

(8)         Stay in – and make science and maths real!

It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake, weigh ingredients and divide into slices, or make salad dressing and see how the elements mix together or not. Try

(9)         Model an interest in learning –enthuse!

Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to research something, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives and that we enjoy ideas.

Help us to promote a debate around the value of homework for primary school children.

Do you agree with the amount of homework your children get? What do you hope your children will gain from doing homework ?

Hope everyone settles back into their new terms well and let us know your thoughts on homework.

Happy Parenting

Melissa and Elaine

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