December 17th, 2018

The Make-Believe Minefield

Mythical figures such as the Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, make up the many iconic and nostalgic symbols of childhood for many families. They are very much a feature of many  childhoods. But sometimes our John Lewis ad fantasy of Christmas can be marred by our concerns about  ‘breaking the news’ to our children and revealing our apparent deception about these childhood figures. Some parents  dread the question “Mummy, is Father Christmas real?” and older children who are ‘in the know’ may use their power to shatter their younger sibling’s illusions. This dilemma requires UN-level diplomacy. (All in a day’s work for parents, right?)

Ideally you would decide when the time is right to tell your child about Santa but sometimes older siblings or friends get in there first or adult ‘loose lips’ mean that your child works it out for themselves or they’re suspicious and they confront you.

It is often a moment of sadness, as we realise that their innocence about the magic of Christmas may be shattered. Some parents worry about having ‘lied’ to their children. Will their kids ever trust them again? We struggle to know what to do for the best. Do we tell him the truth? What do I say? What if he accuses me of being a liar?

Here are 5 top tips on handling the Santa Illusion

  1. Put your mind at rest. If you have kept the magic of Santa Claus alive this is not the same as lies that hurt or avoid responsibility and children from 7 upwards can distinguish pro-social lies from other kinds of falsehoods. Tell your child that there once was a real man called St Nicholas who lived a long time ago and gave away everything he owned to the sick, the needy and the suffering. The name Santa Claus is derived from St Nicklaus. You need not go into a full historical account of the emergence of the roly-poly white-bearded red-suited modern version, including the involvement of Coca-Cola’s marketing department!

Santa Claus is all part of the mystery and the spirit of Christmas and the image of a jovial man with a white beard flying in the sky with all his reindeers and visiting the children all over the world is magical. The way he comes down the chimney; gulps back the whisky  and eats all the shortbread ( at least in Scotland) with Rudolph munching the carrots is pure fantasy and all part of the folklore that has been passed down through generations from your grandparents to your own parents as you are doing now.

  1. If your child asks is Santa real? The best way to reply is what do you think? This lets you know where your child is in his thought processes and allows him to come to his own conclusions.
  2. When asked the question “Do you believe in Santa?” you can say

When I was a little girl, I really believed in Santa Claus and loved the idea of him bringing gifts to all the children across the world. Now I am grown up, I see that Santa Claus is not a real person but is part of the Christmas celebration alongside singing carols and putting up xmas trees.  He is all about generosity and love.”

Santas seem to emerge everywhere during the festive season and this can be so confusing for littlies. Indeed it may be may be a relief to learn that the slightly smelly man in the shopping mall is not the real McCoy. What our children need is to believe in something that they can’t see or touch or prove; something bigger than themselves.

  1. Explain that Santa Claus represents hope, how to believe, how to share and be generous and how to love and fill everyone’s hearts with joy and wonder.

Do think about what the Santa tradition means to you. It’s a ritual that is handed down in families, not just those who celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival. Those shared stories preserve the sense of belonging to that family. Each family has their own Christmas rituals . These traditions are even more important to my children as they’ve got older and the act of gift giving encourages them to think about others and the world beyond their own.

  1. In order to get big brother not spilling the beans, ask your child to continue the story for his little sibling so that he too can experience the wonder of Christmas. Ask him to take on the role of being ‘The Keeper of Secrets’ and a Custodian of the Santa myth. Letting the older ones be part of the creation of the mystery, is key. Maybe he can stay up a little later on Christmas eve and be Santa’s helper.

Dig deep and try to imagine what it feels like to be 7, 8, 9,with an annoying/perfect younger sibling. Empathise with those feelings and don’t try to brush them aside or make your child wrong for them. You may think those feelings are uncharitable but that won’t make them go away. What your older child needs more than anything is to feel heard. Teach him to show caring for others, by showing compassion for your prickly older one.

I can see you felt very tempted to break the news about Santa to your sister. I’m glad you didn’t because believing in Santa is a very special part of Christmas. In this family we believe it’s important for all of us to believe in some things that we can’t see or touch or prove. We think imagination and mystery and a sense of wonder are very special. Just like when you looked up at the Supermoon and wondered about it. My guess is you’d like to show your sister that you already know. That might make you feel important and powerful and grown up. I get it. But you know, I have a very important grown-up job for you now that you’re 8….”

Wishing you and your family a magical mythical christmas.

Elaine & Melissa

Continue reading...

December 06th, 2018

12 days of [a happier] Christmas

For peace and goodwill in your family this Christmas try these 12 strategies.

  1. Pay attention

When there are positive connections between ourselves and our children everything goes better; we have greater influence so the children are more cooperative and their self-esteem grows. It’s not easy but we need to put our digital devices to one side, park the never-ending to-do list and engage with our children.

  1. Make time to play

Don’t skip over this one! You may be thinking that with all that you have to do how can you possibly play? Invest in some fun with your child to make this the Christmas that she remembers with delight. She will not notice that the presents were immaculately wrapped and that guests were served with those special Spanish almonds you tracked down with great detective powers. Schedule a small amount of time each day over the holiday season for time to play, either one to one or with all the children. Board games, card games, charades, silly dancing. Take your pick. Tip: minimal equipment to minimise clean up.

  1. Resolve to speak less and listen more 

Resist the urge to nag, advise, lecture, take over, fix or even offer solutions when your child is facing difficulties. Instead give him the message that you trust he can figure it out because he is a problem-solver. Let him know that making mistakes is ok and a necessary part of reaching solutions. When children develop competencies they grow in confidence. Feeling capable is the antidote to anxiety. 

  1. Give positive, not negative attention 

When children ‘act up’ it’s often because they are not getting the attention they need. Don’t make them wrong for that. Instead recognise it is a primal need and fill that need with positive attention. Use a pasta jar as a prompt for you to notice the positive things they do. Just keep an empty jar handy and pop in a pasta piece any time you notice good behaviour. Get the kids to help you and give them a pasta when they tell you about something good their siblings are doing –the sibling gets one too so it’s a win-win situation! 

  1. Make your child feel appreciated and important

The best present you can ever give your child is to really see them. You can do this just with looks – let your face show delight to be with them. And you can use words. Make sure they are descriptive, not evaluative. Notice their efforts.

  1. Ask open-ended questions

Sometimes it can be hard to start up a conversation with kids. That’s because grown-ups often ask them closed questions to which the answer is yes/no/fine. An open-ended question makes it possible to find out something real and meaningful about the other.

Try: 

  • What is your favourite Christmas ritual? What do you like about it?
  • If you could be a superhero what would your super power be?
  • Who is your favourite film/TV character? What do you like about them?
  • What’s the best thing to do with friends? What’s the best thing to do all by yourself?
  • If you were Prime Minister what’s the first thing you would change in our country? 
  1. Sideways talk

Sometimes children don’t want to talk, especially if the subject is challenging for them. Make sure you listen non-judgmentally and without comment. It can help to do an activity together to get the conversational juices flowing. Some of the best conversations I had with my sons were when walking the dog together. Get them to help wash the dishes with you and you may be surprised what you learn.

  1. Validate feelings and empathise

Feelings can run high during the festive season –for the kids too! Sometimes this shows up as grumpiness, rudeness or uncooperative behaviour. The kids too! Try not to get stuck on the behaviour but delve deeper to the feeling beneath. Name that feeling to tame it. All feelings can be validated even if the behaviour isn’t ok. This tells your child that they are ok even when the behaviour isn’t. And it is far more effective in getting the child out of a behavioural rut than any amount of scolding.

  1. Don’t ask why

When faced with challenging behaviour don’t ask your child why they did it. They probably won’t have the maturity to be able to identify the emotional cause for their actions. Don’t ask why are you so cross? Instead just acknowledge that they are angry and maybe make suggestions based on your observations. I can see that you got really angry when your sister messed up your new train set. You had taken so long to set it up just perfectly. Babies can be very annoying sometimes can’t they?

  • Enthuse about their passions

When we enter into our child’s enthusiasms we let them know that we understand and value them. My youngest son has always been quite obsessive about quite niche interests (Star Wars when he was very young). As he’s got older he has learnt that not everyone shares his enthusiasms so he tries to temper them. He recently apologised if he was boring me. I could say that while I didn’t share his interest in that particular thing my own niche area of enthusiasm was him and I was caught up in his passion for and knowledge of his subject so it wasn’t difficult to listen to him talk about it. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a teenager trying (and failing) to suppress their pleasure.

  1. Plan for sleep and down time

I know this is easy to say and difficult to do but it is so essential for a calmer, happier Christmas period. It’s so tempting to let the kids stay up later once school breaks up and there may be pantomimes to attend or trips to look at Christmas lights or visit relatives. Of course there will be some disruption to normal routines but do try to keep this to a minimum. Kids (and adults) need sleep of course but they also do better when they have consistent routines. Certainty reduces stress. They also need time to just chill out so don’t over-schedule them with festive activities. They need to be able to just play, especially after the big day when there will be new toys and books. The only thing to organise is getting out in nature so do plan for some walks or bike rides.

  1. Practice tricky situations in advance

Avoid embarrassment by teaching young children how to occupy themselves (non-digitally?) while adults are preparing meals etc, how to greet relatives they don’t see very often and how to be gracious in receiving gifts. Practice in role play what to do/how to arrange one’s features if they are given something they already have or don’t like the look of. And be realistic with younger ones.

We hope that these tips will give you 12 very happy days of Christmas. All the best to you and your family these holidays.

Continue reading...

December 08th, 2015

“I have enough toys Mummy.”

It is only a few weeks before Christmas, the season of gift-giving, and I am, like many others, thinking about how to give gifts of meaning, that the recipients will really like. At this point I quite enjoy the process and am delighted if I think I’ve got it right. Closer to the date the thought process may become less deep as I scramble to get everything done –it may become “this will do for the brother-in-law won’t it?”

I heard three stories in the last few days that made me think about gifts, the thoughts behind giving them and receiving them. One was amusing and one appalling and the last one generated the kind of ‘aww’ moment that signifies Christmas for the sentimentally-minded like me.

The first was a story I heard on the radio. The presenter laughingly told a story against himself as a child when his brother had given him a tee shirt which for some reason didn’t hit the mark. He received the gift half-heartedly and when his cousin said he liked it the intended recipient happily offered it up! Apparently he was in big trouble and was accused of having ‘ruined Christmas’.

Closer to home my large family have operated a Kris Kringle system for years drawing names out of a hat to see who will buy just one gift on behalf of the whole family for one family member, with an upper limit on expenditure. My niece who is in her twenties decided that this year she wouldn’t be part of this family tradition. When asked why she explained that the previous year her (not very well off) aunt had given her a gift that was ‘below value’ so she didn’t see the point of it!

In stark contrast a friend of mine recently posted in Facebook about a conversation with her youngest where she asked her 3 year old what she wanted from Father Christmas. She was surprised when her daughter said ‘nothing’. Her mum checked and her little girl confirmed that she didn’t need any more toys because she ‘had lots already’. You all want to know what that Mum’s secret is, don’t you? Well she doesn’t know herself but it prompts the question, how do we raise our children to be less focused on ‘things’ when we live in a materialist culture? If the first two stories made you cringe it may be that you would like to raise children who place value on matters other than possessions and who interpret gift-giving without reference to the price tag. Maybe you’d like your children to be grateful for what they’re given.

Research shows that materialism is linked to gambling, debt, marriage conflict and decreased happiness. If you want to encourage your children to be less materialistic and more appreciative two ideas come to mind:

  1. Take the focus off material things in your family generally
  2. Develop gratitude practices 

Having a non-material focus in the family means:

Using non-material rewards

Professor Marsha Richins (Professor of Marketing, University of Missouri) has made a study of materialism and concludes that offering things as rewards and removing them as punishments can contribute to an association between possessions and a sense of accomplishment or achievement. This can morph into ‘I need things to feel good about myself’.

Instead when your child does something good

  • always acknowledge it with Descriptive Praise
  • point out the intrinsic benefits of the behaviour/achievement. For example if your child gets up to the next level in a reading scheme point out what great stories she’ll be able to read. Never give additional rewards for winning a match or getting a good grade. These are rewards in themselves. (The promise of such rewards doesn’t motivate kids to perform better.) Instead encourage your child to enjoy the feeling of achievement and pride.
  • when you do use rewards to acknowledge good behaviour make sure your rewards are non-material. Get creative. The best way to reward children is by spending time with them –play games, cook, dance, listen to music, get silly, dress up, go to the park, go bike-riding or roller-blading or go to a café (more for the conversation than the food or drink).Rewards should be about shared experiences, not stuff.

 

Emphasising other values

Values are caught, not taught. This means that children adopt the principles upon which they live their lives by reference to what they see done in their families. So if you hanker after the latest gizmo to hit the shops and pre-order or queue for days for the latest device you can expect your children to want to buy things too. If shopping has become a leisure activity for you and you suggest a day of ‘retail therapy’ as a way of spending time with your kids then they will also value shopping.

  • get clear about the values you want to pass on to your kids
  • talk about what your values are and point out examples of them. For example if you want your children to respect difference then speak respectfully about other people’s cultures or other points of view or lifestyles.
  • model what you want to see. So if caring for others less fortunate than yourself is a value for you then let your kids see you giving money to charity or helping out with your time.
  • involve the children. Some families make giving a regular part of their lives by operating a tripartite pocket money system. When the child gets pocket money a portion goes into one jar for spending, another portion goes in to a second jar for saving and the third part goes into a third jar for giving. If you’re buying a gift for your child to give make sure they are part of the process of choosing and wrapping, if not paying, or their experience of gifts will be more about receiving than giving.

What conversations are you having with your children in the lead up to Christmas? Is it ‘what do you hope Father Christmas will bring you’ or ‘what do you think Grandpa would like’? What limits should you put on your own Christmas spend? Will you give the message you intend if your child receives many, many gifts from you?

3 practical ways of encouraging gratitude are:

Keep a gratitude book

Many families keep a book in which they record things for which they are grateful. Record 3 things that made you happy that day.  Studies have shown that kids who focused on blessings for just two weeks reported feeling more gratitude, more life satisfaction, more optimism and were more positive even months later.

Model appreciation of things and people.

Say thank you of course (even if a gift is a bit bizarre) but also talk about being grateful for what you have and the people in your lives. Appreciate small things.  “I love the way Daddy always checks with me if I need anything when he’s going up to the shops –that’s really thoughtful” “I love these crisp autumn days when the leaves are so colourful.” “I love the way Auntie Sally makes my favourite dessert when we go there for Sunday lunch. That makes me feel very cared for.” “These tools were expensive so I need to look after them carefully by oiling the blades so they don’t rust and putting them away carefully.”

Acknowledge appreciation

Notice when the children are appreciative and comment on it  -“When you say thank you for the dinner I made I feel really appreciated.” “When you say thank you for driving you to Kim’s house it makes me feel that you don’t just take the things I do for you for granted.” 

Appreciate what they do with Descriptive Praise. “I really love it when you do what Daddy asks you to do quickly. Now we have time for two stories! “That’s sensible that you’ve put all the lids back on your felt pens. That way they won’t dry out.” Or dropping a thank you note into a lunch box or school bag or on their bedside table or pillow for them to find. Or maybe a text message for an older child.

Wishing you the gift of a happy and peaceful Christmas with your families where you really appreciate each other.

Continue reading...

 

Quick links

The Parent Practice GuideJoin Us Now!

Be kept informed about events, offers and top tips for parents. And get a FREE parenting guide.

Join Now

Address

68 Thurleigh Road
London SW12 8UD

Phone: 0208 673 3444

Email: team@theparentpractice.com