August 03rd, 2015

How to get kids to do what you ask - in three easy steps

How many times have you asked your children to do something – put the milk back in the fridge, hang up a wet towel, brush their hair … the first response you’ll hear back could be any of the following … ‘just a sec’, ‘I already did it’  - as the milk remains on the counter, the un-brushed breath still horrendous!)  The truth is that when we ask our children to do something, we have an underlying expectation: 

I expect that she will do it

Now, let’s say, you’re getting dinner ready and your child calls down for help with homework.  What is your likely first response?  I’m just guessing that it’s not to put everything on hold and race upstairs.  You’re more likely to shout up a ‘Just a minute’ or ‘Be there in a sec”.  We are just as unlikely to drop all that we’re doing – the important things on our own agendas – and immediately run and do what has been asked of us (unless it is a serious emergency).   

It’s just the same with our children.  Our children also have their own agendas.  They have their heads in a good book, or that Lego construction is almost complete, the puzzle only has 5 more pieces to go, they’ve nearly finished that level of Minecraft … and we jump in and expect that they will drop everything and happily do exactly what we’ve asked, to our standards!

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that our children don’t have to do what is required.  There is however, a really great way to ensure that it gets done in a positive way … without the nagging, cajoling and shouting … and in just three easy steps!  These steps assume that your child has a clear understanding of your family rules and knows what is required of them.   Let’s say one of your rules is ‘Dinner is at 6pm.’ 

Step One:      Go to your child. Rather than shouting from one room (or floor) to another. This is a no brainer … especially as your kids might not hear you otherwise.  You save yourself the frustration of shouting.  Engage with them in whatever it is that they’re doing.  ‘What are you reading?’ ‘Where are you up to?’ ‘Wow, you’re almost finished the whole puzzle!’ ‘I can’t believe you got so much of the Hogwarts set built’, ‘That game looks amazing’.

Step Two:      Give the instruction. It’s 6 o’clock.  You know what that means, right?  That’s right … dinner!  And you’ve looked at me –thank you.  Two more pieces and we need to go. Ask them to tell you what they have to do.

Step Three:  Follow through.  Stay in their space and acknowledge small steps in the right direction.  Empathise with any resistance that comes up.  

It IS possible!  I used it just tonight as my daughter was next door, drawing with her friend.  I went to her, had a look at what she was drawing, told her that it was 6pm and that dinner was on the table.  She asked if she could go back after dinner.  I told her that as she was already heading to the door of course she could go back! 

Three easy steps!  Give it a go!

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March 19th, 2015

It’s Never Too Early To Think About Swim Lessons

By Kaitlin Gardner of

When we started our family, water safety was a big concern for me. My husband and I love the water, and I knew we would be spending time at the pool, or on a family vacation to the beach. I wanted my kids to be well prepared to be safe in the water, and that meant swim lessons.

The safety factor. It’s just a reality that there are inherent dangers when around the water. I read that drowning is one of the biggest causes of unintentional death among small children, so safety needs to start early. Formal swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning for young kids as much as 88 percent, which only reinforced my desire to start early with my kids. Here are some great articles with more details about swim lessons for kids:

Introduction to the water. I used our bath time as a way to introduce my kids to the water, but also to see how receptive they would be to the whole experience. One of my kids loved the water when he was a baby, so bath time was a joy for him. I got soaked with suds the first time he discovered the art of splashing. By smiling a lot and laughing with him, it reinforced the water as a positive place to be. My other boy was more hesitant, and wanted to investigate everything cautiously before deciding if it was alright. I realized we might have to be more patient with him.

Getting in the pool. When my kids were about 6 months old, they were ready for a Mommy and Me class. My water baby took right to it, and took in everything we did in the class. It wasn’t really a lesson, but a way to let the child get oriented to the water. I liked that idea a lot – when they took lessons, it would be in a familiar environment. He played and wanted to reach out to the other babies, and was soon splashing merrily and enjoying the whole experience.

The hesitant child. With my child who was more hesitant about the water, I thought a class might move too fast for him. My husband and I took him to our community pool (in swim diapers) for several sessions, to let him check out the water. My husband sat in the shade back from the pool, holding our baby. I went into the water and began laughing and splashing like we had done in the bathtub. My husband moved gradually closer to the pool, and when my baby reached out for me, I took him in my arms. I just held him against me to let him look around. Over time he decided the water was safe, so we began to move around the water. I gently bobbed him where his feet touched the water. Now he is fine with the water just like his more adventurous brother.

Formal lessons. It is suggested that a child is developmentally ready for lessons at around age 3 or 4. By then they will be able to move around safely, and listen and retain instructions. We signed our kids up when they were that age. I didn’t think learning to swim should be a one time experience, so I have continued their training with intermediate and advanced lessons. We sign up in the fall – when they’re more used to being in a school atmosphere, and are receptive to learning. It’s been a pleasure to watch my kids grow in confidence around the water.

As my boys splash and play in the pool, it makes me smile to know that they have learned how to safely enjoy all the fun the water has to offer.

Kaitlin Gardner started An Apple Per Day to explore her passion for a green living lifestyle, and healthy family living. She and her husband have just moved to rural Pennsylvania, where they enjoy exploring the countryside to discover interesting and out of the way places. She is also learning how to paint watercolors.

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March 04th, 2015

How to minimise a meltdown in 5 easy steps

meltdown |ˈmeltˌdoun| noun

1 An external demonstration of emotional distress caused by anything from a dropped ice-cream cone on a hot summer’s day; being given a red cup when all he really wanted was a blue one; having to go to swim practice when she really wanted to go to her best friend’s party; when he didn’t want to switch off the video game … and many other triggers. 

The good news is that parents can support their children during their meltdowns to minimise the negative effects … eventually getting to the point where a solution is possible.  Here’s what happened at my house a while ago. 

Me: Seems like something is bugging you.  It’s not like you to be snarky with me.

Her: I’m fine. (shouting) I-M F-I-N-E FINE … What part of ‘I’m Fine’ don’t you understand?

Me: (Silently to myself) Well … I’m kinda getting that you’re not fine.

Me: Listen, I’m getting that something is up.  You don’t seem like you want to talk about it right now.  I’m going to go downstairs and if want to talk, let me know.

Ten minutes later …

Her: Mum … 

  1. Engage without judgment … or give time to calm

You know your children better than anyone and you know what calms them down.  Some children will respond to a calm, quiet hug; others a few minutes to run around outside; others a gentle voice; others simply some quiet time to play and reconnect the thinking part of their brain with the big emotional part. 

I gave my daughter time.  She was in the bathroom, with the door locked and that was what she needed.  She wasn’t going to hurt herself or damage anything, she just needed to be alone for the few minutes it took for her to call out to me.  I must confess, the time was good for me too because I was feeling pretty helpless and frustrated! 

  1. Listen to the behavior (or the words) and reflect back to them

If your children are speaking, just listen.  It’s often pointed out that LISTEN and SILENT are made up of the same letters.  If they’re not speaking, listen to the behaviour.  If they’re crying, you can say something like ‘you’re so upset about something’.  If they’re slamming doors or throwing things ‘wow … you are so MAD!’. 

My daughter unlocked the door.  She was sitting on the floor crying.  I picked her up and she sat on my lap saying nothing for about 5 minutes.  I just held her quietly.  Slowly she began to tell me about what was going on.  A few months earlier we had moved from the UK to the US and she was missing her friends and feeling like she was “losing her British-ness”. 

  1. Validate their feelings

Acknowledging your children’s feelings doesn’t have to mean that you are agreeing with them.  When a child says “You love [sister] more than me” and you respond with “you’re feeling like I love her more than you” … is not a confirmation that you do.  It’s simply allowing their feeling to be out there … heard. 

My daughter was missing her friends – terribly – she has incredible friends back in the UK.  If I had said ‘come on, buck up … don’t cry.  Why don’t you call your new friends to come over?’ I would have completely invalidated her feelings and tried to fix things for her.  It’s ok to be sad, to miss people, to be nervous about losing a part of your life that is special to you.  Empathy and compassion will always be your best gift. 

  1. Ask questions

We are so quick to want to fix things for our kids and to help them feel better.  Rather than advising them and telling them what to do, it is so much more effective to allow them to come up with their own solutions.  

I asked my daughter what would help her retain her British-ness and how she could maintain her friendships.  Over a cup of tea and a nice Cadbury biscuit (a little bit of Britain!) she decided that she would FaceTime her best friend over the weekend so they could have a virtual playdate.  Her ideas … her solutions.

 Stay Calm

We know this is the holy grail of parenting. (For more help with keeping calm click here.)  It always helps to have a go-to mantra to catch yourself.  I love Bonnie Harris’ ‘my child is having a problem … not being a problem’.  I will also say to myself ‘Choose: respond or react’.  That usually clears my mind to make the conscious choice to respond to the situation with calm compassion.  And each time, that alone makes all the difference in the world. 

Using these five simple steps, meltdowns can be averted or reduced, family harmony restored, self-knowledge gained, understanding achieved, solutions found, self-esteem nurtured, compassion shown and relationships greatly enhanced. 

Wishing you peace and calm in your parenting practice, 

Elaine and Melissa 

This blog written by Ann Magalhaes (The New York branch of The Parent Practice)

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January 29th, 2015

My life was a hot mess

By Kelly Pietrangeli of Project Me

Last week I got a few emails from mothers who'd read my story of sobbing on my steering wheel after dropping the kids off at school (back in my crazy shout-a-holic days).  Many are in the same boat I was back then and I'm feeling their pain. 

In 2005 my life was a hot mess. My two year old was ruling the roost and didn’t listen to a word I said. He and my five year old squabbled incessantly. I felt like I was losing my mind.

My husband and I disagreed over discipline and ended up having huge arguments in front of the kids. I remember him leaving on a business trip and saying he couldn’t wait to get out of there. I sat on the floor and bawled my eyes out.

This wasn’t the happy family life I’d envisioned. No one told me it would be so hard. In fact everyone else was making it look easy. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a mother? I didn’t seem to be made from the right stuff.

I’m ashamed to admit that I took my frustrations out on my kids. I overreacted, shouted, punished, and I was heavy handed with them more than once. I even feared a new version of ‘Mommy Dearest’ being written about me one day.

My kids deserved better, but I had no idea how to change things. I read some books on discipline and parenting, but didn’t manage to implement anything that made a difference

One day I happened to spot an ad for a parenting skills workshop run by The Parent Practice near my home in London. I went along for a free taster class, unsure if I would actually commit to the money or time of the full ten week course.

I found myself surrounded by mothers who were also finding parenting tough. I realised I was not alone and that there were many ways to make things better.

I walked away with some valuable tips and was able to put them into practice with immediate results. But I still dithered about whether to sign up as it seemed expensive… and I’d be missing my beloved spinning class at the gym for ten Fridays in a row….

Somehow I ended up going for it and The Parent Practice gave me homework each week with fill-in-the-blank sheets so I could identify our hot spot areas and put focus where it was needed.

My husband and I became more of a united front once we were both operating from the same resources.

Ultimately it changed our family life and I shudder to think of how things would have continued if I hadn’t learned the skills needed to be a calm, happy parent. The investment in time, money and energy have paid off for my whole family in some pretty incredible ways and you can read about that here: 

What Parenting Skills Classes Did To My Family

For ten I’ve been wholeheartedly recommending The Parent Practice to everyone I know in London, but it’s only now that I can shout it from the rooftops to anyone in the world who wants to get a handle on their family life.

They’ve finally turned their programme into an on-line course that you can do from the comfort of your home with guided videos, worksheets, course notes and audio recordings. Yay!

I’m thrilled to be a proud affiliate of The Parent Practice’s new Positive Parenting Academy. Check out the full course information and if you do decide to invest in a happier family life, using my special affiliate link below let’s them know I sent you and I’ll receive a nice little reward from them to say thanks. (Even though it’s me who should be thanking them.)

Click here for the Positive Parenting Academy on-line course details. I genuinely recommend it and I'm happy to answer any Q's you have in the comments below the blog, or you can email me directly: 

I absolutely would not be running a business like Project Me if I hadn't first got my parenting act together. Once I got that part of my life running smoothly, it paved the way for everything else.

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August 08th, 2014

Go to sleep PLEASE!

If you’re making changes around sleep routines the summer holidays may be a good time to do it if you’ve got some time off work and are feeling rested yourself.

One of the changes that can be difficult is moving from a cot to a bed. It is new big deal for your child and may be bit scary without the high sides of the crib, so make sure there is some form of bed guard in place.

Here are 5 great ideas for good bed time routines:

1.    A 30 mins winding down time routine  is a vital way to signpost to the brain that sleep is on its way.
•    Lie babies down, tell them it’s sleep time, turn off the lights, stay in the room (or just outside) to gently soothe and settle if they cry, and repeat until sleep. Let them self-soothe for a few minutes –don’t leave them alone for longer to cry it out, which raises the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
•    Avoid stimulants in the hour before sleep –no screens, sugar or hyped up activity. Winding down in front of a DVD is not a good idea as the light from the screen signals the brain that it is time to be awake.
•    For toddlers a good routine is bath, pyjamas and story in bed. The warm water of a bath will raise the temperature and then when he gets out the core body temperature lowers, promoting sleep. Don’t make bath time too stimulating.
•    Speak to your child in a low voice and slow down the pace of your speech. Rhythmic stroking in sync with the child’s breathing will help a hard to settle child.
•    If your child struggles to settle to sleep you might like to allow her to listen to some music or talking books.  This is her cue for sleepiness.
•    If you’re a working parent try to avoid coming home in the middle of bedtime routine as it will disturb the rhythm and excite the child.

2.    Make him feel successful- he will have cracked other stages like learning to walk and talk and potty training and he can do the same here but it is going to take time. Refer to these successes. He might like to have a motivational sticker chart. Maybe he can choose a favourite animal or character that you can use as a template that is filled in with stickers during the course of the bedtime routine. When you tell him “It’s sleep time now …what do you need to do” and he says “stay in my big bed” – put lots of stickers on the chart as well as a verbal acknowledgment. When he jumps into bed for his stories- give stickers for being in the right place; when he chooses his music to listen to, stickers for being sensible and following the rule.

3.    Introduce the sleep fairy – he picks one of his favourite toys to watch over him at night and keep him safe and help him get into good bedtime habits. Say “the sleep fairy wants to give you something in your sleep box when you stay in your bed like you did last night; you didn’t call out for Mummy and followed most of the bedtime routines like a big boy”. The token is quite small and not of any real value –it might be a flower or a feather or a shiny button. Make a huge deal of it and say the sleep fairy will leave a token in the morning to say well done for the effort and progress you are making to become a successful bed time sleeper!

4.    Acknowledge how it feels. If your child says “I’m not tired and need to get something”  – articulate how he’s feeling by saying “ I know you find it hard to settle yourself to sleep. You would rather be racing round the house!” If you think he wants your attention don’t deny him by ignoring him – you need to give it to him for doing the right thing.

5.    Motivate with Descriptive Praise  Establish a GOLDEN BOOK  – help your child decorate a notebook and notice the good things they do, around bedtimes and more generally, and commemorate it in the book.  This helps the parent to pay attention to progress made.

“You should feel proud of yourself –I only had to remind you twice last night about where you should be and you stayed in your bed longer than the other night! That’s progress. Very soon you will be able to stay in your big bed with no trouble.”

Some children need a parent to stay close to their bed to catch them doing something good BEFORE they get up. They need the parent to remain close (not in bed with them) but out of sight and over a few nights move their chair to outside the room so the child can see your presence but not engage with your face. After a few minutes the parent goes in BEFORE she gets out of bed and praises her for doing the right thing…explaining you are just outside and that you’ll be back very soon…a few minutes later repeat the same thing.

PS: Don’t give up – these habits take time to establish and most of us want results too quickly and have unrealistic expectations. Get support from friends and family and if necessary consult a specialist sleep coach.

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