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September 13th, 2015

Don’t Pick Your Battles

As the children go back to school you may be thinking of all the areas associated with school where you end up battling with your kids. Often we're told to pick our battles but I say don't pick battles with your children. Battles are between enemies and result in a win/lose situation. If you win, your child loses. We often forget this when we talk about not letting our children ‘get away with things’ and not letting them win.

Parents do need to provide discipline for children because their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed (and won’t be until their 20s). So we have to lend them our higher brains with their greater capacity for rational thought and impulse control. We are not our children’s enemy –we are their teacher. The purpose of discipline is not to win, or to get revenge, but to teach. Effective discipline comes from influence over time rather than the exercise of power in the moment.

We need to make sure we avoid the terminology of battles even in our own minds because language shapes our experience and the more we talk or even think about battling with our kids the more that will happen. That’s how our brains work.

What makes you want to go into battle with your child? Is it when you’ve asked them nicely to do something several times and they ignore you? And then you calmly and reasonably give them a gentle warning that they won’t get their TV time or stories… and they ignore you. And then you shout… but they still ignore you. And then you take away the TV or story… and then they react. They act as if that came straight out of the blue and is the most unreasonable thing ever and you are the meanest mummy/daddy in the world.

Generally when people suggest picking your battles it means choosing which things you’re going to get into a lather about and ignoring the rest. At The Parent Practice we say don’t ignore behaviours that you’re not happy about and don’t battle over them. Don’t ignore but take small actions before the behaviour escalates too far and while you’re still calm enough to deal with it.

Take action sooner with take 2s –Get your child to do it again correctly. This works well for little things like saying please and thank you or speaking in a polite tone of voice or asking to get down from the table.

Here’s how you can teach rather than engaging in battles:

  • Understand your child. Is what you’re asking them to do reasonable given his temperament and stage of development? Does he need time to transition from what he’s doing to what you’re asking him to do? As soon as parents start thinking about why kids aren’t cooperating and what their needs are then they can be more compassionate and more effective.
  • Don’t give too many instructions. Young children are likely to forget parts of what you’ve asked them to do and they may feel nagged and tune you out. Reduce the number of instructions you give by having some written rules and routines and by asking the children what they need to do. They usually know.
  • Children have their own set of priorities and their agenda is just as important to them as ours is to us. They will give up on what they’re doing and submit to your control when there is the greater priority of pleasing you. That means they have to know that they can earn your approval.
  • Give lots of approval with descriptive praise. This means that kids want to cooperate. And spend time with them doing fun things.
  • Connect with your child. Acknowledge that he doesn’t want to do his homework, have a bath or stop playing and come to dinner. When we recognise how they feel about the situation children feel understood and are more likely to comply. Once feelings are heard much resistance disappears. 

If something has gone wrong and you’re heading into battle mode:

  1. Take time to cool down - essential to avoid saying or doing something you’ll later regret.
  2. Connect –acknowledge the feelings driving the behaviour.
  3. Take constructive steps –have a problem-solving conversation without anger, blame or judgment (hence the need for the cool down) to help your child see why their actions were a mistake and what they can do about it. Use natural consequences (if they don’t get out of the bath promptly there’s no time for the story) or fixing consequences (clean up a mess or mend someone’s hurt feelings). Teach your child what to do differently next time –practice it.

Kids will get things wrong because they’re learning but the way we teach them how to behave will have long term ramifications for how they deal with disagreements in their lives. Instead of teaching them to get into battles don’t we want to teach them to try to understand, use words to negotiate and compromise?

For more on Positive discipline techniques see www.theparentpractice.com

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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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March 03rd, 2014

He will Be OK

Children in school

I have a friend who has a son who is 18 and in his final year at school. He has just received an offer from a university conditional upon him gaining an A,B,C in his A levels. This is a truly remarkable thing. You may think it’s not that remarkable as you will know that students all over the country will be receiving offers and some will have more difficult obstacles to overcome in terms of grade requirements. But this is an amazing achievement for this young man.

When I first met him he was 7 years old and had had a tough life up until that point. He is very dyslexic and had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder. He felt very different and most inadequate. He believed he was a bad person. Indeed he was a very angry young boy. The first time I met him he brought his fist down really hard on his mother’s foot which she’d hurt. He was generally quite aggressive and definitely oppositional. His parents were at their wits’ end, having received much conflicting advice and having tried most opportunities available for a child with his set of difficulties. Travelling on public transport was a complete nightmare as he was all over the place and wouldn’t listen to anything anyone told him to do-it was sometimes dangerous and always embarrassing. He had been to three special needs schools and been excluded from all of them. One school had been so unable to manage his behaviour that they locked him in a cupboard!

Luckily his parents were not going to give up on him. Parents don’t generally give up on their children but sometimes they do accept that there are limits to what can be achieved of course. They took positive parenting courses and trained hard to help him. They researched all kinds of different therapies to support him. But mostly they never gave up on the picture they had of who he could be. I don’t mean that they wanted him to be a scholar or an athlete or a musician or follow any particular career path but they knew he was a good and capable person.

They found schools which could support him and it became possible for him to attend school because of all the work they put in at home. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve always been amazed at the way he progressed. He has always had drive and a self-belief that I think comes, not in small part, from his parents’ belief in him. It may not be possible for him to achieve these ABC grades but I wouldn’t like to bet on that because I don’t think anyone knows what’s possible for him. He keeps pushing on past the boundaries of what was thought possible. Literacy is still a struggle for him but this young man will not be stopped by that. He has great resilience and a maturity well beyond his years. His social skills are very acute and he has insights about people rare in someone his age.

I’m not advocating a ‘tiger mum’ approach to pushing our kids to achieve, to acquire accomplishments and qualifications but knowing this boy has given me an insight into what’s possible, not just with blind faith, but with hard work. What has worked here has been 10 years of acknowledging small steps in the right direction, much concrete and specific and sincere affirmation of effort and improvement more than results, requiring him to do the most that he was capable of while using small steps to prepare, giving him responsibilities and encouraging independence, helping him understand and accept his feelings of difference, his anxieties, his frustrations and anger, and helping him learn from failures and bounce back from set-backs. One of the really effective things this family has done is spend time together in play –they all play golf and both children have developed skills in this area. The boy has developed passions in this and other areas that are separate from school work which has helped his sense of achievement. There are no glass ceilings when your sense of self-worth is strong. I don’t mean that he will be studying medicine or astrophysics but he will be able to lead a really fulfilling productive life, doing the best that he is capable of. That is every parent’s dream for their children.

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February 07th, 2012

Fight Free February!

In successful relationships it’s not that there is no conflict but conflicts are handled well. When there is conflict the following approach will help stop it escalating and allow disagreement without harm to the relationship.

Ask for what you want rather than criticising or accusing Instead of “You never clean up after yourself. You treat me like a slave.” Say “Can you please put your clothes in the laundry basket?”The first 3 minutes of an interaction will determine how well the conflict discussion will proceed. If it starts with criticism and blame it will go downhill from there.

Consider the other’s point of view. This is hard to do when you are in conflict but it is essential to remember that there are two perspectives. It is easier to do if you have built a culture of appreciation in your family. Be prepared to understand and validate the other’s point of view even if you don’t agree. “When you shouted at me then I guess you were really mad about me turning off the Play Station. You really get engrossed in those games and it’s hard for you to tear yourself away or even to listen to me. They are designed to be really compelling.”

Repair and redirect the interaction when it is getting negative. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t a nice thing for me to say. I think we need a time out.” “When you talk to me like that I feel hurt. Can you rephrase it?”

Compromise. How can we find a solution that is fair to both of us? “I know you love your PlayStation game and you also need to do your homework and do some other things. How are we going to work this out?”

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