November 18th, 2015

Skill seven: Keeping calm

An extract from the upcoming book by Melissa Hood, 'Real Parenting for Real Kids' - available April 2016

When my sons were young their fighting really pushed my buttons. Christian could be really mean to Sam. He would provoke him mercilessly, saying “you smell” or “you’re ugly” at any opportunity and play his music really loudly when Sam was doing his homework. He would tease, call names and sometimes push, shove or hit him. Sam, in turn, could whine for Britain. He would come and tell tales on his brother, seeking to get him into trouble. These behaviours made me see red. I looked at these two kids whom I’d brought into the world and raised, and thought, ‘where did I go wrong?’ I thought Christian was mean and aggressive and would never have any friends and I imagined a future where I would be visiting him behind bars! I thought Sam was manipulative and would never learn to stand on his own two feet. These boys would never have the relationship with each other that I had envisaged for them. I’d obviously failed as a parent. I felt powerless and enraged and desperate. So I punished them, sending Christian to his room with a resounding character reference and withdrawing privileges and telling Sam off with a good lecture about tattle tales. I now know how ineffective those knee jerk reactions are. Of course the minute my back was turned Christian retaliated against Sam and Sam didn’t learn anything about resolving disputes. Had I been able to stay calm I might have been able to access some of the skills I had in my tool basket. But I had lost it and my skills went right out the window.

When we ‘lose it’ several things happen. We turn from that lovely, kind, empathetic parent into That Other Person and we say things that later we regret like “I don’t want to be your mummy any more.” Where is that other parent coming from? We answer that question in chapter 7 of our forthcoming book Real Parenting for Real Kids from which this is extracted.

When we lose it what happens physiologically is that our muscles tense, our blood pressure and rate of breathing goes up, the levels of the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline increase and our attention narrows, with our ability to hear and see reduced. The red mist descends and our ability to access the rational part of our brains is reduced.

This is not ideal - if we’re in conflict situations our ability to see and hear the other is crucial.

When we lose it with our children they know we have lost control. The effect on our kids is that they may lose respect for us or be fearful of us or they may learn that they can provoke us into irrationality. Often when we lose it and have a knee-jerk reaction we regret it later and we may over-compensate out of guilt.

Keeping calm in the face of children’s provocative behaviour is the holy grail of parenting.

The main points to remember in order to keep calm are:

  • We need to understand what makes us crazy
    • What makes kids do what they do
    • What makes us react the way we do
  • We have to take steps to reduce our stress levels and to look after ourselves
  • We need strategies to teach our children to behave differently

Keeping calm is all about altering our thought processes.

  1. We need to review our expectations and make sure they’re realistic for this child at his stage of development and with his needs, including temperament. Were you expecting your 8 year old son to love doing homework and to stop playing on the play station and come and do it without grumbling? 
  1. Understanding why they do what they do really helps us to stay calm.

Is he tired, hungry, under-exercised, 6 years old, a cautious personality or unable to put his feelings of inadequacy, hurt or upset into words? Even if we don’t understand exactly why our kids are doing what they’re doing thinking about possible causes rather than assuming they’re out to get us puts us in a more compassionate frame of mind. And helps us to stay calm…well, calmer.

  1. Understanding why we do what we do helps us to be compassionate towards ourselves and to alter our thought processes to something more constructive.

When our children do something that ‘makes us’ crazy we assume that their behaviour has ‘caused’ our reaction. They made us do it. Honest, guv. When our children ‘misbehave’ that is certainly the event that triggers our reaction. But the causation is not that direct.

Our children’s behaviour triggers in us feelings that drive our responses. Our emotions cause our reactions, not their behaviour. And those feelings arise out of what we think about what our child is saying or doing, or who we fear our child is, or will become. We can reframe our assumptions and our expectations about our children and ourselves so that we respond in more constructive ways. Your child is not out to get you. He is persistent and wants what he wants when he wants it. He can learn, with guidance, how to wait and how to use words to express himself. 

  1. To be calm we need some strategies:
  • Outside of trigger moments we need be taking care of our own wellbeing and taking steps to work out our priorities and reduce stress
  • In the moment we need a calming technique –a visualisation strategy, a calming mantra or a physical release
  • We need to know what to do about our children’s behaviour. Knowing you have positive and effective strategies for dealing with behaviour helps you to stay calm. It’s not knowing what to do next that can make us panic and causes us to default to ineffective knee-jerk reactions. One parent described this sensation thus: “I feel like I’ve tried everything and I’m paralysed by my own inability to think of solutions, my own incompetence and guilt.”

This is what Real Parenting for Real Kids is all about.

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November 09th, 2015

3 ways to build your parenting practice

By Ann Magalhaes

I love yoga.  After each practice, I feel stronger, more flexible, calmer and I’ve had an hour to quietly think about life.  Often the instructors talk about yoga as a metaphor for life and in a recent class, my teacher was speaking about the importance of abhyasana, consistent practice.  The only way to continue to build, improve and transform one’s ability to do yoga is through consistent practice.  As we are The Parent Practice, I started thinking about how consistent practice is what is required as we go through our own parenting transformations. 

In yoga, as in life … and especially in parenting, perfection does not exist.  As Madeline Levine so beautifully says in The Price of Privilege: “There is no perfect Christmas, child, outfit, family, vacation, home, marriage, or friendship. This is real life, and we would do well to cast the notion of perfection out of our lives and get on with the real business of living with strengths and weaknesses, abilities and deficits, accomplishments and failures.  This is how we help our children learn the art of living: by encouraging them, to take pleasure from their efforts and successes and to tolerate their limitations.”  There is no perfect headstand, and there is no perfect parent!  Yet, when we look around, it always feels like everyone else is doing a better job than we are!  We compare, we judge, we hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard. 

In last Thursday’s class, the instructor was talking about how she’ll never be Prime Minister or play at Wimbledon.  That won’t be the route her life takes her.  Her journey - like your parenting journey - will be your own.  And, as she said, it can be awfully hard not to look at the person beside you doing the most beautiful crow position when you can barely touch your toes and not feel somewhat lacking.  But, that’s not what yoga - or parenting - is about.  And, the moment we stop comparing ourselves and judging others, we can all be supportive of each other no matter where we are along the way.  And we can start the consistent practice of using positive parenting skills.  Here are three simple things you can put into practice right now.  Choose just one for this week!  

  1. Prompts

We live busy lives and we easily fall back into automatic patterns of behaviour.  Sometimes all we need is a simple prompt to remind us to use new skills.  Here’s one that I use in my kitchen as a reminder to comment on the behaviours that I appreciate in my child.  I have a bunch of rubber bands on one knob of  the kitchen cabinet, and when I descriptively praise my child, I move a rubber band to the other knob.  The trick is to have LOTS of rubber bands.  Remember, the magic ratio for positive : negative comments needs to be at least 5:1.  

  1. Rules and Routines

While it may not always seem to be true, children love responsibility and the feeling of being trusted to do things by (and for) themselves and for their family.  When rules and routines are visible … and when we are remembering to use descriptive praise as acknowledgement (e.g. thanks for setting the table) our children are much more likely to be motivated to follow them.  Eventually, with practice, the things that started off as rules and routines become habits.    Make sure your rules and routines are clear, simple and stated in the positive.  Most importantly, make sure that you are consistently following up with descriptive praise (see #1).  This will leave your child feeling good about him/herself, and they will be much more likely to want to cooperate. 

  1. Pause button

When your own emotions get hijacked and you start to feel like you’re about to handle a situation in a way that you’re not likely to feel good about, hit your pause button.  We all know that it is so much easier said than done … and with practice, yes, consistent practice, it gets easier.  Whether you need to take some deep breaths, splash some water on your face, envision a ‘happy place’ or use a mantra to keep you centered, pausing gives you the choice to respond positively, rather than reacting in a way that you end up regretting.  I quite literally say to myself: “Choose”.  That buys me that split second to ensure that what happens next is absolutely up to me. 

When we start to use descriptive praise rather than evaluative praise, it can feel like a completely new language - for you as well as for your children.  When we start to catch ourselves and empathise with our children rather than quickly getting cross, it can feel odd and perhaps a bit uncomfortable at first.  And, if you’ve been in a yoga class and started off with not being able to touch your toes, then with the bit of practice, your toes get a bit closer until one day, you’ve done it … then there is something else to master.  Practice doesn’t make perfect.  We all know there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ in parenting.  Practice does, however, make better and easier … and therefore, more calm and more fun.



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October 30th, 2015

7 Skills for Raising a Good friend

“I have NO friends” are words that no parent ever wants to hear from their child.  A few years ago I remember having to pop into my child’s school during playtime.  I saw my daughter out in the playground, alone, while the other girls were all running around after one another.  I jumped to the most dire conclusion … that she really didn’t have anyone to play with.  I felt a combination of fear and sadness along with my own memories of being a young child, not being quite sure where I fit in.  Friendships are so important - to girls and boys - and as parents, we have a tremendous influence on the kind of friend our child is, as well as the kind of friends our children choose.  How can we raise children who are kind, considerate friends?  Here are 7 key skills with which parents can help their children to be a good friend, and deal positively with friendship issues that might arise. 

7 skills needed for friendships: 

  1. Enjoy the company of others and know how to connect and communicate with others.

Spending positive time with our own friends, without malicious gossiping or complaining about others, is wonderful modelling.

It’s also important to be considerate of your child’s temperament so they can connect and communicate positively.  My daughter is a bit of an introvert and while she can spend hours playing outside with the neighbours, she eventually needs to come inside and go up to her room for ten minutes of quiet time.  She loves to be with her friends but needs to re-energise by being alone.  

  1. Learn to take turns and share

We start to teach our children to take turns and share from toddlerhood.  Knowing a playdate for her three boys (each bringing a friend over) could have potential blowups and meltdowns, one mum sat down with her sons and together they decided on a rota for sharing the Wii and for making sure that the plans for football were equitable.  They set up teams ahead of time, and made sure to have a blend of strong and weaker players on each team. 

  1. Be able to read emotions

Children today are busy and often focused on their own needs.  Sometimes, though, their friends will be having a rough day.  We want to be raising children who can check in with their friends and lend a kind ear and help out if necessary.  When you’re out and about, pay attention to other people.  Say things like, ‘That lady looks so happy’ or ‘He looks like he’s having a rough day’. … which segues perfectly into … 

  1. Be able to empathise

When our children can take the time to imagine how they would feel in their friend’s shoes, they are empathising.  They are not trying to fix their friend’s problems, or feel sorry for them.  They are simply providing a safe ear that doesn’t invalidate what their friend has to say.  “I can’t believe she said that to you.  That must have really hurt your feelings.” 

  1. Regulate aggression

With girls, aggression tends to be in the form of words and exclusion; with boys, it can be more physical.  We can teach our children that it is perfectly acceptable to have big feelings like anger, hurt or jealousy, but that they need to have safe and acceptable outlets for dealing with these feelings.  By empathising with them and teaching them feeling-releasing strategies, they learn to use words or acceptable outlets for aggression.  Another useful strategy is teach our children to withdraw from potentially fractious situations.  

  1. Apologise when you are wrong and have hurt a friends feelings

We have all done or said something that has not landed well with another person and has caused a rift in a friendship. Making mistakes is a big part of life and learning and parents can teach children so much by the way we handle our own mistakes.  Do we complain and blame, or do we get on the phone, take responsibility for what we did, and apologise?  And when our kids make mistakes do we get angry and punish them, or do we support them in fixing their mistakes and making amends? 

  1. Learn when to trust!

As adults, we know that most people are genuine and can be trusted.  We also know that there are some people who can be deceptive for different reasons.  We need to be honest with our children, and teach them that they can walk away when they feel that the trust is no longer there, or the friendship is no longer contributing to their wellbeing. 

By instilling these seven skills in our children, we will support them in being confident, kind, respectful friends who will be able to stand up for, and be a strong voice, when their own friendships call for it.

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October 23rd, 2015

Don't Call Your Child 'Clever'

For years now parents have understood the need to build strong self-esteem in their kids and one of the ways we do this is to tell them they’re clever when they achieve something, whether its walking unaided or tying a shoelace or reading a sentence. We still might be saying it to our teens who’ve figured out algebra or penned a good persuasive piece of writing. 

Of course it’s a good idea to encourage our children but what if our words are having the opposite effect? What if calling them ‘clever’ actually discourages them from trying or stretching themselves?

Research, by Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, shows that focusing on a child’s intelligence or talent can be counter-productive and lead to the development of a mindset that actually prevents them from achieving. Studies have shown that when a child is praised for his intelligence he develops a ‘fixed’ mindset –he thinks that a person is given a fixed amount of talent and intelligence at birth, and whatever they do simply demonstrates the 'cleverness' that they possess. That child thinks that if she is ‘clever’ she shouldn’t have to work too hard at something. People with a 'fixed' mindset tend to avoid exploration and challenge. They take the easy option rather than running the risk that they will prove that they are not in fact ‘clever’. 

People with a fixed mindset have no way of responding to mistakes or failures but tend to give up. My friend’s son is suffering from this way of thinking as he approaches his final year of schooling –he simply believes that he shouldn’t have to apply himself because he is ‘clever’. The result is he’s not doing as well as he could be. 

In contrast others have a 'growth’ mindset, which means the belief that a person's natural capabilities and talents can be developed through application and effort. Good news, eh? The risk-taking and struggle that is inherent in all learning is therefore not regarded as frightening, and more real learning can take place. When faced with mistakes or failures the growth mindset people believe that they can overcome through perseverance. They shall conquer the world! 

So how can we encourage our kids without developing a fixed mindset?

We need to change the way we use praise. 

Praise effort, attitude, strategies and improvement

Parents can encourage a growth mindset by not calling their children clever and instead paying attention to the effort the child employs, the improvements they make and the attitude they bring to a task. “I noticed that when the first approach you tried with your science project didn’t work you tried another tactic. How’s it going?” “You kept on trying with these sums even though you didn’t find it easy. I call that persevering. Your efforts have paid off – five out of six are correct. I wonder if you can work out how to correct the sixth one. 

If self-esteem is connected to results it becomes too fragile. Instead of focusing on results we can notice and comment on effective strategies our children use such as when they look up a spelling word in the dictionary or go back over notes before a test or by keeping an organised folder.  Paying lots of attention to grades (and sporting outcomes) can make the child feel that our approval is dependent on them always getting good results which might feel unattainable. When your daughter comes home from a netball match don’t let your first question be ‘did you win?’, but ‘Did you enjoy the game? Did you play your best? Did you listen to the coach? Did her tips about shooting work? Were you able to set up some goals? How did the team play together?  

When we say “you’re a brilliant artist”, they know they’re not ‘brilliant’; they think of someone who can draw better than them and discount our praise. It also creates pressure to always be the ‘brilliant artist’.

This was true for me growing up – I knew that I would only retain my father’s interest while I continued to perform well academically. It made it feel as if his love for me was conditional. 

Describe the positive behaviours you see

- focus on the positives.  “You’ve remembered to bring your homework diary home.”  “You got on your bike again even though you fell off just now.” 

Notice and mention the tiny steps in the right direction

- be specific and detailed. It shows that the parent is paying attention, it is accurate, relevant and persuasive as well as non-evaluative. “You’re sitting at the table at the right time and you’ve got all your books out. You look like you’re

getting ready to start your homework.” 

Use praise focused on the individual

Use non-comparative praise – in order to avoid children becoming conceited or thinking they’re better than others. It is also necessary so that kids know we appreciate them just for themselves, not compared to anyone else. This reduces the unhealthy sort of competition.

“Your good result in your spelling test reflects the hard work that you put into it. This is the best you’ve done so far” not “You did better than anyone else.”


Parents can also encourage and model a healthy attitude to mistakes –accepting that as part of being human and looking for learning each time.

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October 04th, 2015

The Value of Dads

There is the risk, especially with babies, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with play visual games and are verbal with babies and young children while dads are more physical and tactile. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both. Rough and tumble play by dads predicts better self control abilities in their children. (Source: Gottman institute) 

Encourage independence and risk taking

Dads encourage kids to climb higher, go to the store on their own, go down the highest slides etc while mums may have to stifle the urge to keep their babies safe. Encouraging self-reliance and reasonable risk taking in children encourages them to discover what they are capable of and to grow in confidence. If children become fearful they will not grow and will not acquire essential life skills and coping strategies for dealing with the world. 

Allow kids to experience uncomfortable feelings

When dads recognise their children’s struggles and allow them to experience some frustration and learning through failure they are helping children grow through experience. When we protect our children from their feelings of discomfort or frustration we can prevent valuable learning in the same way as if we prevent them from making discoveries physically. Although we shouldn’t shield our children from uncomfortable feelings we can help them identify them and manage them by acknowledging what’s going on. Eg I can see you’re feeling frustrated with those wretched shoe laces –but I like the way you’re persevering. You don’t give up easily do you?

in some relief. But this is to miss out on a great resource and ‘expertise’ that men bring to parenting. Men have a unique style to their parenting that women tend not to have and children who don’t experience this are missing out. 

Some dad facts:

  • Dads are more involved with children than ever before –in childcare and in housework, spending about the same amount of time at weekends as mothers on reading, playing and talking with their children. (source: the Fatherhood Institute)
  • Many studies have shown that when a dad is involved in his children’s lives they have better educational, developmental, health and social outcomes
  • If dad is emotionally involved as an emotion coach and play partner the following outcomes for the child can be predicted: (the Gottman institute)
    • Better self-control abilities
    • Acceptance by peers at school
    • Better social competence and emotional intelligence
    • Higher verbal ability test scores
    • Better academic performance
    • Increased empathy
    • Better social relationships as adults
    • Higher self-esteem 

Where fathers are not present in their children’s lives the kids really benefit from being involved with ‘uncle’ figures. 

What are the differences in style? 

When considering the question what do mums and dads contribute to the role of parent ask yourself what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree? 

Dads typically say “go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”

Whereas Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”

Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious. 

This is what the kids think: 

Mummies are smaller and Daddies are bigger.

Dads normally go out to work and you come out of mummy’s tummy.

Dads have fun and mums don’t.

Mums listen and Dads don’t…it’s the same for all my mates.

(Source: Netmums March 09) 

While we don’t want to minimise the importance of the nurturing, the encouraging and the listening that mums are traditionally good at let’s celebrate what dads do well: 


To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do to the laundry, the cooking, the chauffeuring and the supervising of homework and music practice etc. When Roald Dahl died his children wrote about their memories of him and predictably they valued the story telling and creating he encouraged in them. My guess is when we die our children will remember the play times and the conversations with us rather than the fact that we always ensured they had clean and matching socks. 

Dads tend to be more physical than mums in the way they play. Mums generally 

Don’t judge or compare self with other parents

Dads are less prone to perfectionism than women in the parenting field and less apt to compare and judge their own or others’ parenting efforts. A great combination in a dad is that willingness to trust his instincts with an openness to new ideas. 

Being a good role model

Dads are needed as good role models for their sons, especially in areas like school work, responsibility, handling physicality and aggression, how to treat women, how to handle and express emotions and seeking support when they need it. Men can show their boys how to be determined without taking competition to harmful levels. Dads are also important models for their daughters as they show them how to relate to the opposite sex. How a father treats his daughter sets up expectations for what she’ll look for in adult relationships with men. Involvement in his daughter’s life profoundly affects her self-esteem. 

If you want to hone your fathering skills why not come to our workshop How to be an even better dad on 14th October 2015 at 7.30pm? Click here for more details and to book.

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September 25th, 2015

What to do instead of screens when the weather turns grim

My daughter has a t-shirt that reads “Summer, please don’t leave me”,  which is exactly how I’m feeling now that the days are getting shorter and the skies are turning grey.  Our natural tendency in autumn is to head indoors.  Once inside, it’s easy to turn to the things that are easy to do.  So, the iPad or the x-Box emerge and one-by-one each member of the family disappears into their own zone.  

When you were ten years old and you woke up in the morning to see that the sky was grey what were the things that you loved to do?  Were your first thoughts to call your friends to arrange a potentially muddy game of football; did you hope that you’d be able to go and see a movie; stay in your room to  build a Meccano creation, or were you curled up reading a good book, or listening to music …?  What activities gave you your best days when the weather was gross? 

English Heritage has created a website and app (I know … we’re trying to go lo-tech here) with 50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4.  Many of these are warm-weather activities but some of them can be adapted for a less than pleasant day.  After all, as the Scandinavians say, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’.  If your plan is to head outside, take a hint from English Heritage and try … 


Head to and create an account for your family.  You can also download the app for your phone - which makes it easy as you have a built-in GPS.  To make it more challenging, encourage your children to use a compass.  Caches are located all over the world.  We have found them in Australia, Brazil, Canada, the US, and all over the UK.  Caches can be all sorts of things from virtual caches to small plastic containers with knick knacks inside.  It’s not only a fun exercise in navigation and treasure hunting, but because most caches are created by locals, it is also a great way to discover hidden gems of places that you might not have known about. 

Create a Family Vision Board

Our friend Kelly Pietrangelli (Project Me for Busy Mums) is a huge advocate of brainstorming with kids about what kinds of things they’d like to be doing in future. All you need is some large pieces of poster board … and lots of questions.  Kelly starts with things like “what will you be doing for fun in 5 years?  What will your hobbies be?”  Vision boards are a great way to set goals and by keeping them visible around the house those things you and your children include are more likely to happen. 


I cannot tell you how many people I have met recently who have put down their phones, cleared the kitchen table, pulled out the felt-tips and started colouring … yes, as a family!  One friend - a mother of 3 teenagers - told me that her daughter sat down with her one evening, then was joined by a couple of her daughter’s friends and the four of them sat, coloured and talked for a good two hours.  Check out … they have loads. 

Tap into Pinterest

Pinterest can be a bit like Marmite.  People either really love it, or feel totally overwhelmed by all the craftiness that it seems everyone else seems to possess.  I’m somewhere in the middle and love to have a quick search of FAMILY CRAFTS to come up with some fun ideas.  Why not …

  • Trace around your child’s arms and head and presto, you’ll have a hug to send on to Grandparents.
  • Let your children use (easily removable) tape on the carpet to create a road system for playing with their toy cars.
  • Get inspired by the Great British Bake Off and bake some bread, biscuits or fairy cakes. There are loads of child-friendly recipe books and websites.
  • Make an old-fashioned photo album. Print out photos from your summer holidays and either make frames or create an album. That way you get to re-live the summer! 

What we have learned in all our years of working with families is that children don’t want things as much as time with their parents.  Children want to feel connected.  Take some time this autumn to find some new hobbies.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money.  You just need to carve out time.  Make your weekends be times when you’re not racing from one activity to the next. These are the days when you can create family memories and add to your list of fun family stories. 

We would love to know what are those special things you love to do as a family?  Drop us a note at or post on our facebook page to let us know.


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