September 04th, 2017
Some schools will be starting up this week and as kids begin the new school year of course parents will be thinking about how to motivate and encourage their offspring. We want our children to develop confidence so that they will be willing to give things a go, to try hard and to persevere if when things get tough. We want them to put themselves forward for things where they may discover new talents and enthusiasms. We want them to have courage and drive and self-control and be willing to follow their own dreams and maybe try a different path than that taken by the majority.
And whenever we mention using praise to build confidence someone will say “but I don’t want my child to become conceited or too self-focused”. And quite rightly.
Our instincts in this direction are backed up by research that shows that children who are ‘other-focused’, that is empathetic, are happier, bounce back from adversity faster and have better academic outcomes, apart from just being kinder and nicer to be around. Study after study has found that kids with good emotional intelligence (which includes empathy) are not just better adjusted emotionally, more popular and more sensitive but they are also physically healthier and perform better academically than less empathetic children.
In 2012, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found a direct connection between empathy and learning capacity. Children who receive empathy and are taught to empathise, especially from an early age, develop a higher capacity to learn. Part of the reason for this is that empathy is an especially effective antidote to stress which negatively affects learning and brain development in children. It affects the prefrontal cortex which manages non-cognitive skills like self-control as well as memory and reasoning. Children who are coached in emotional intelligence techniques are also more resilient which allows them to quickly refocus on learning.
Michelle Borba, in her book, Unselfie, talks about a generation of kids who are all about self-promotion, personal branding and self-interest to the exclusion of others’ feelings needs and concerns. She calls it the ‘selfie syndrome’ and claims that there is a rise in narcissism and a drop in empathy in today’s young. There is an observable increase in bullying and some evidence of greater cheating as they focus on winning at all costs. We also know that there is an increase in mental health problems, especially anxiety, and with that empathy wanes.
In the last few days I’ve had several conversations with family and friends who all work in very disparate fields about difficulties working with colleagues. At the root of each situation the problem appeared to be ego – the colleague in the different situations was non-collaborative, self-promoting, obstructive, undermining others or unwilling to accept feedback as they focused on themselves.
It is clearly better for society at large and indeed for our individual children too if we can develop healthy self-esteem without risk of producing kids with inflated egos. We want our children to promote themselves (particularly girls who haven’t always done so in the past) but still want them to be collaborative. We want them to pursue their goals and interests but not at the expense of others’. I think we want all our children to believe in themselves but not necessarily to think they are better than others.
How do we get that balance right?
In a seminar to the leaders of a global manufacturing company with a strong engineering base Daniel Goleman put forward a strong business and scientific case for emotional intelligence as the active ingredient in strong leadership which he then wrote about in the Harvard Business Review. His research showed that when it comes to the top echelon leaders, companies find that 80-90% of the competencies that distinguish star leaders are built on emotional intelligence. Being able to understand someone else’s perspective is vital for negotiating with and managing others. In a nutshell if your child develops emotional intelligence skills he will have a competitive edge for the future.
Hope this year is a great one for you and your children.
Melissa and Elaine
 John Gottman: The heart of parenting: How to raise an emotionally intelligent child 1997
August 28th, 2017
The school holidays are winding down and many parents, if not their children, are beginning to prepare for going back to school. Your child may be starting school for the first time in which case we have a blog that may be of interest to you.
Or your child may be going back to school and you’re keen to help them have a successful year. It may be a significant year for them with important exams to prepare for, or you just want to get the new term off to a good start.
Many parents want to help their children do well at school but what’s the difference between supporting them and being a ‘helicopter’ or ‘tiger’ parent? Over the summer we have been collaborating with the wise folk behind Tutor Fair to create a series of workshops designed to help children with the essential non-academic skills they need to help them be successful at school. One of the questions considered therein is how to get the balance right between over-controlling or over-protecting our kids and setting them up for success.
Much has been said about parents becoming ‘helicopter parents’, shielding them from mistakes and failures and doing too much for them. This can happen unwittingly as parents just get in the habit of doing things for kids when they’re young and don’t notice when they could be doing that thing for themselves. It’s quicker, easier and neater when we do a task. Our history projects/essays are better! We mistakenly think that doing things for our children is a sign of our love. It would be more loving however to empower them to deal with the world themselves.
You will also be aware of the phrase ‘tiger parenting’ to describe parents who push and push their kids in the belief that they are nurturing talent and ensuring great futures for them.
Australian Primary Principals Association president Dennis Yarrington noted that parents often interfere with homework and attributed this to increased academic competition created by league tables (Sydney Morning Herald May 2017) Yarrington said time-poor parents often find it easier to take over than to sit by while the child attempts to work it out.
If parents step in too much eg by ‘fixing’ their child’s mistakes the child learns that the outcome is more important than the process or more important than being challenged or taking a risk. They miss out on learning from a poor outcome, including learning to cope with that. We reduce their opportunity to practice handling stress and adversity.
Both helicoptering and tiger parenting are forms of overparenting that need to be avoided whilst still supporting children to do the best that they are capable of. Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has done many studies on parental involvement and has found that “the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child’s autonomy”. These parents raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive, and less involved, or controlling and more involved.
We really need to avoid this trap as children with parents who are overparenting can become tense and unable to look after themselves. They develop learned helplessness or even a victim mentality. They don’t develop and don’t trust their own abilities or judgment. They certainly don’t develop the competence that leads to confidence. Such children can become fearful if they do not have faith in their own abilities to sort things out. They try less and give up easily. They expect everything to be done for them, not just by their parents but everyone else too.
It’s hard to know how to find that balance. What is involved parenting and where does it become over-controlling?
Here are 10 ways to ensure you’re being supportive, not interfering:
If we ask a child to do something that is too difficult for him he is likely to fail. Feeling a failure does not motivate anyone to try again. Contrast this with a task that is a bit of a stretch for the child.
Ask yourself could my child do this himself or be learning to do it himself?
We need to consider a child’s individual temperament and developmental stage as well as any special needs or conditions they may have when asking them to do something.
Tip: parents often UNDER-estimate what their children are capable of. Spend time with your child really observing him and listening to him to find out what he’s capable of. You may be surprised.
What is the best environment in which my child can do his homework? When is the best time for him to do it? What will he need to do the task? What obstacles/ challenges may arise?
This will be much more successful than imposing your ideas on your child. She may not have a choice about doing homework but can have input on how it happens. This makes it more likely that she will be committed to the process, will be more cooperative and will get used to coming up with solutions to problems.
Ask your child questions about the task at hand to elicit from them what they have to do, what challenges may arise and how they can overcome these.
Then LET THEM GET ON WITH IT.
And help them to see that they can manage the micro skills involved in a task.
Make sure that you drop in from time to time while your child is working to descriptively praise some aspect of what they’re doing. Focus, attitude, effort, any improvements, amount of work done, content of the work, etc.
Sometimes it may seem as if there is nothing to praise. This means you need to look for smaller things to mention. “I like the way you’re tackling this task before dinner while you’re fresh. I can see that you’ve remembered to bring your French dictionary home –that will help.” You are the chronicler of your child’s achievements/improvements. You can paint a portrait to them of themselves as learners and solution finders.
If a child is reluctant to do work consider why. They may be unmotivated about school work. They may not be feeling very successful in that arena. You can help them see small successes through descriptive praise. You can also help them to see that struggle with a task isn’t a sign of failure but a natural part of the process of learning. Explain that struggle makes brains grow.
Nothing is more motivating than someone else’s passion for a subject. Remember how your best teachers enthused you? You can help your child see the relevance of what she’s learning by applying it to real life, whether it’s reading or maths problems or history or science.
Empathise that it can be difficult to motivate oneself to do what we need to do when there are other more fun things to do or if we are afraid we can’t do it. Point out any examples of your child being able to control an impulse in order to do something that he needs to do.
This gets in the way of their learning and sends them the message that they are incapable of doing it themselves. Instead we can offer clues and suggestions and ask probing questions to stimulate their thinking.
Kids need time to chill, to process, to play, to have fun and they need the space to be creative. They need time that is just their own, to do what they want, to explore their interests, not adult-directed activities. This is essential both for their ability to later re-focus on stuff they may be less motivated by but also to find out what their real passions are.
Hope this school year is a great one for you and your children.
Melissa and Elaine
August 08th, 2017
We’re in the middle of the summer holidays and we hope you and your children are relaxing away from the rigours and routines of school life. Some kids find school quite stressful either because of the academic life or because the social side of things is difficult for them. Some kids find it hard to make friends and feel lonely and all kids will fall out with others from time to time.
“The single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not IQ, not school grades, and not classroom behaviour, but rather the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.” Williard Hartup, Regents Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota
If you’re at home maybe your children will get a chance to spend unstructured time with the neighbourhood kids. Maybe they can have some sleepovers given that you don’t have to worry so much about being fresh for school the next day. You may not get much sleep either but these are magnificent opportunities for kids to practice their social skills. When adults don’t intervene and there is less structure to their activities they need to rely on their own resources to solve problems. David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, said that Amy Chua (Tiger Mom) was coddling her children by not allowing sleepovers, playdates etc. Brooks said “She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t…. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.” These are skills that children need to learn and the summer holidays may be a great time to get some practice.
Maybe your children will spend some time at summer camps where they get a chance to bond with other kids over common interests. Maybe you’ll be spending time with cousins of different ages where they will have to practice sharing, compromise, negotiation skills and maybe dispute resolution techniques. Wonderful!
In case you don’t think your children are very good at any of those skills so vital for friendships here are 7 ways you can help your children develop these skills over the holidays.
Other games will help develop other vital skills such as listening, like Simple Simon and the whispering game- listen to a message from someone with your eyes shut, then repeat it to the next person.
In circumstances like this it’s very tempting to call up the other parents and get them to tell off their children. But when parents take matters into their own hands it tells children that they can’t handle things themselves which doesn’t make them any more socially confident. And sometimes our reaction can be a bit over the top and embarrassing. And sometimes it makes it worse for our kids as the other children retaliate and then our child won’t want to confide in us again.
Sometimes adults do need to get involved but more often it works better when we empower our children to deal with matters themselves.
We’ll be running our new workshop on friendships in October so do come along. In the meantime have a great summer.
July 12th, 2017
The Summer Holidays have started, and there is much to look forward to!
The absence of the school routine means you have an opportunity to not be a slave to the clock, and there is time to meet up with family and friends, and do the things you enjoy with your children. For some children who experience school as competitive and pressured, and somewhere they don’t feel particularly successful, a break is great news. It’s also good for introverts to have some respite.
The lack of scheduling in the long school holidays can bring its own problems for some but it also provides a perfect opportunity to take time to focus on getting your children established in some good habits. Parents in our classes have been asking us about pocket money recently. What a great time to teach your children how to manage money as well as values about giving and receiving. Many families will take holidays somewhere other than home and there may be money being spent on meals out and holiday activities. This summer you could focus on teaching your children to appreciate what they have.
So many parents we coach complain they are sick and tired of kids asking for things; “why don’t they value what they have”? “Why are they always asking for more?” It can be hard to be clear and firm and consistent with kids and to not succumb to pester power. It can be so difficult to say NO when faced with your children telling you "you're the best mum in the world. I love you so much - thanks for buying me that game."
Managing money is a life skill and needs to be taught. We give our kids swimming lessons in order to keep them safe in water; we don't throw them in the deep end and expect them to swim. And the same principle needs to be applied to ensuring they are safe with money and know how to budget and how to be canny consumers and savvy savers, if they are going to cope in adult life.
We recommend the following approach to money:
Help your child become more appreciative by:
June 28th, 2017
Roll on the summer holidays! No nagging about homework, longer days to play in the garden and no being a slave to the timetable!
But are you worried about your children spending too long on screens and using them as a digital babysitter?An English summer usually has at least a scattering of light showers when indoor activities may be required.
You may be wondering:
“How much screen time should my children be having?” and
“How do I control my children’s screen usage?”
Crucially managing screens should not be about coercion and control - that can only lead to long term problems. The answer lies in connection and communication.
If you think about keeping your kids safe around a swimming pool you can protect them from falling in by putting up fences and setting alarms and using padlocks and banning them from going near, but the most important thing to do is TO TEACH THEM HOW TO SWIM.
The same is true for screen safety. The more we demonise screens and nag and shout and blame and criticise the children and forbid and take away and threaten, the more children will push back and become sneaky. We need to remember that screens have great benefits but that children do need limits and boundaries around their use as well. We also need to remember that when we control we do so to teach them self-control. You will need to employ technological protections so have all the filters and passwords you need but don’t forget to educate your children to be safe and kind online as well. They can get around your external controls so you need to cultivate internal values.
Here are some top tips to helping you find your way through the digital jungle this summer:
June 05th, 2017
The days are getting longer and there’s a feeling of lightness in the air. I always seem to feel happier as the mercury rises and I love the long evenings. May has such promise of a good summer - I feel hopeful. But that feeling of bonhomie doesn’t necessarily extend to the children it would appear, as parents in our classes are lamenting the constant bickering.
Sibling squabbling is one of the issues most frequently mentioned by parents as a real button-pusher. Just the noise can get on your nerves but also the meanness can be upsetting. When my sons were young my older one never lost an opportunity to deliver a put-down to his brother. He called him a ‘loser’ and a ‘weirdo’ and told him he was stupid and that he stank. It was constant! Fortunately my sons now get on really well.
So what made the difference? The first step was to understand why my older son was being unkind to his brother and take steps to address that instead of just punishing the surface behaviour. We’re never very effective unless we look for the cause of our children’s behaviour. At this time of year kids may be tired as the school year comes to an end. They may have lots of activities going on. Older siblings may have just completed SATs or even GCSEs with the stress that brings. Unkind behaviours may be prompted by emotions that the child doesn’t know how to express which are vented on the sibling. Of course one sibling may be jealous of another; he may feel his brother or sister gets more of his parents’ love and attention, measured in the time devoted to the sibling, the possessions they get or the amount they get into trouble compared to him! At the height of my sons’ fighting my older boy was struggling at school and getting in trouble a lot and his self-esteem was low. He didn’t want to be the only one feeling that way so his brother copped it!
Part of the solution is building self-esteem but we also need to teach siblings social skills like compromising and negotiating and sharing. We also need to teach them to be kind.
Here are 7 ways to encourage harmony between siblings from my book Real Parenting for Real Kids:
A big reason for fighting is low self-esteem. Another is kids’ need for parents’ attention and approval. Usually when our children are getting on well together we don’t even notice it and just get on with our to-do list but we give plenty of attention when they start fighting!
Use Descriptive Praise to ensure your child gets attention, feels noticed, valued and good about himself.
Descriptively praise your children for getting on, for team work or problem-solving, even if they’re just leaving each other alone.
Set up opportunities for positive play together. Having fun together is important if siblings are to see the point of each other! Play should be with you initially.
In addition, each child needs some Special Time alone with each parent. When children get our undivided attention, at least at certain defined times, they are less likely to compete with their siblings for our attention.
When we acknowledge how our children are feeling - angry, jealous, hurt, frustrated, disappointed, inadequate, left out – they learn to recognise and manage feelings, rather than take them out on others. Focusing on their feelings helps shape their ability to ‘read’ other people’s feelings and thoughts.
Some children pick up on social skills easily but some need to be taught them explicitly. Use role play (maybe with teddies and dolls or action figures) to teach skills like sharing, negotiating, trading deals, asking for something without whining etc.
You may need some rules about possessions and sharing common resources like computers or the front seat of the car!
Children who grow up with positive discipline get along better with other children. Punishment teaches children to give way to greater force, not wisdom. If parents are aggressive children are more likely to be aggressive. If children see you treat others with kindness and empathy they are more likely to do the same.
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