July 03rd, 2018
I was meant to be interviewed on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning about gifts for teachers but that didn’t happen because the football got prioritised and they ran out of time! Imagine! But of course I had been thinking about gifts for teachers and thought some of you might be thinking of said purchases too so here are my thoughts on the subject.
Some of you may be the super-organised types who took care of this weeks ago. We hate you already. But assuming you haven’t (since you’re reading this) what are the problems with gifts for teachers?
• It can get really expensive, especially if you’ve got more than one child of primary school age.
• It’s a real effort to think of something novel and takes time to go trawling round gift shops or websites.
• Teachers end up with multiple mugs with ‘World’s best teacher’ on them or candles or chocolates or other things they don’t really need or want and we all have enough stuff.
• It ends up being the parent’s effort, not the child’s.
So what’s the solution?
Some parents will group together and pool resources of time and money to purchase something meaningful for a teacher. This is a nice idea but doesn’t really solve the problem of input from the children unless you brainstorm with them.
What does a teacher really want as a gift? Well s/he might really look forward to a nice bottle of something at the end of the year but most of all he or she really wants to be appreciated. We all like to be appreciated.
So how can your child show his or her appreciation? It has to be their effort and it has to be sincere. It might feel like a lot of your effort to get them to think about how to show their appreciation but you will be teaching them a lot about how to be thoughtful.
I would start by asking them what they like about their teacher. Maybe complete the sentence I like it when…. I like it when you read us a story at the end of the day and use lots of different voices. I like it when you give me stickers for good effort. I like the way you smile. The more detail the better. Your child may never have really thought about what he likes about his teacher.
I can hear some cynics asking what if my child doesn’t actually like their teacher all that much? Well why are you buying a gift? Is it just because that’s what everyone does? Has it become an exercise in hypocrisy or one of diplomacy? Do you genuinely think that your child should express gratitude to his teacher? Do you need to help your child see the positive sides to his teacher?
Asking questions will make it more of the child’s effort and will teach them valuable lessons about thinking deeply and practice at appreciating people –an essential social skill. The more perceptive amongst you may recognise Descriptive Praise here.
If for example your daughter says her teacher is boring don’t dismiss that but teach her to see another perspective by asking (without sarcasm) if her teacher is calm? Does she think carefully about things? If your son says his teacher is mean, ask him what makes him say that. Acknowledge any feelings of injustice that your child may have experienced first and then delve deeper to see if he can find any qualities to acknowledge his teacher for. This needs to be sincere. It’s no good mentioning kindness if your child thinks his teacher is cross and shouts all the time. You may need to ask lots of questions to draw this out.
When you’ve got a few positive characteristics decide how you’re going to record them. This may depend on the age of your child. Some ideas (in ascending order of effort, parental involvement and expense):
• Draw a picture of the teacher or of the teacher and child
• Make a word drawing using the qualities mentioned when brainstorming with them
• Make a card
• Get a kit to design your own mug with a drawing of the teacher or the qualities words on it. They come with appropriate indelible pens and sometimes need to be fired in the oven.
• Go to a pottery studio where you design your own plate, mug or bowl.
I was at the Festival of Education hosted by Wellington College the week before last and was really struck by how many of the talks and stands related to teacher burnout. Our teachers do a vital job and we need to support them to stay in the profession and maintain their enthusiasm to nurture our children’s thinking.
Teachers don’t go into teaching necessarily looking for appreciation. Most of them do it because they have a vocation to bring out the best in your children. I hope you had some really good teachers in your childhood. If you did you will remember. Everyone remembers a good teacher but we don’t always think to tell them that we appreciate them at the time.
When my middle son was in primary school I used to dread it when his teacher asked to speak to me because I always assumed (with some justification) that she would tell me something negative about him. But teachers often have the same experience of dreading talking to a parent as they expect to be criticised.
Let’s make sure we let teachers know that both parents and children value them, but it doesn’t need to be through expensive gifts.
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
February 12th, 2017
Children love snow and they love being active. So the family skiing holiday is a guaranteed winner, surely?! Not always. Although a skiing holiday with children has great potential for physical fun and family bonding, it also has the potential for frustration and disappointment…. So here are Six Steps to a Successful Ski Holiday this year
(1) BE REALISTIC
A family skiing holiday is NOT the same as pre-children! We may dream about hours on the slopes, relaxing over lunch or in the sauna, but children have different requirements and agendas. Some children may be able to adapt to change of routines, but others will struggle. Less adaptable children may be feeling out of their depth in a new environment, with different language, different food, and a new level of tiredness, let alone other physical effects of altitude, dehydration, chapped lips, sore legs, blisters…..
Your child is not trying to ruin your holiday – she’s not BEING a problem, she’s HAVING a problem. Can you anticipate which bits might be trickier for your child and plan ahead to help her?
(2) BE FLEXIBLE
You want to maximise your time on the slopes but consider whether you also have other priorities for the week together than improving your own technique? If this is a rare opportunity to spend time with your child away from school, in the fresh air, without 4G or wifi, make the most of it!
We want our children to be competent and safe on the slopes, and we also want them to enjoy skiing holidays. Spend some time with them doing the more childish snow activities at a more childish pace – it will be good for you too!
(3) BE PREPARED
You will inevitably spend time preparing practically - collecting kit together, booking lift passes, hiring equipment etc. You can also prepare on another level. What areas may cause problems, or have been tricky in the past for your child? Typical hot spots are putting on boots, carrying skiis, using the chair or button lift, settling into ski school….. Or arguments about who sits where on the train or plane…..
Rather than hoping that nothing goes wrong, prepare with a Family Ski Meeting, and discuss together possible challenges. Encourage the children to contribute solutions - they can be quite ingenious!
(4) GET PHYSICAL
Some of the challenges of skiing with children involve struggling with helmets, lift passes, chapsticks, goggles, under time pressure or in the cold or heat. Before you go practice beforehand at home. Help them practice putting their own coat and gloves on, decide which pocket has the emergency smarties and tissues, and have some fun pretending to get on a sofa chair lift, bringing the imaginary bar down, or waiting at the top or bottom of a slope until everyone is together, playing a snow-themed word game to keep the mood up!
Obviously the plan is to have fun, but children will also feel tired, worried, confused, anxious, unsure, incapable, hesitant, frustrated, vulnerable, embarrassed, uneasy, discouraged, disappointed….. It doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful! When we try to change how a child feels – by dismissing or belittling or ignoring the emotions, or reassuring them, the unacknowledged and unresolved emotions continue to swirl around and eventually burst out into behaviour.
Connect with how your child feels, and help them re-direct what they do.
Rather than: “Don’t worry about how high up we are, these lifts are perfectly safe.”
Try: “It can feel scary to be up so high, we’re not used to it. Where shall we look?”
Rather than: “everyone is tired, but no-one else is complaining.”
Try: “I hear how tired you feel, I bet your legs feel really heavy…. wouldn’t it be nice if we could just snap our fingers and find ourselves tucked up in bed?!”
Acknowledging how they feel does NOT condone any negative behaviour. It DOES mean we stay connected and we help them learn to manage their emotions so the behaviour can improve.
(6) ACKNOWLEDGE EFFORT AND IMPROVEMENT
Encourage them to repeat particular behaviours by descriptively praising them.
Notice any effort they make, and any improvement. Recognise any coping strategy they try, and acknowledge them for being brave, resilient, flexible, persistent, determined, also for paying attention, remembering, being organised or helpful and for not complaining (too much!)
“You are hardly complaining at all about the cold.”
“I know you’re not sure that skiing is really your thing but you’re trying to do the snow plough just the way your teacher showed you. I saw that you were really paying attention while he was talking. Then you watched carefully while he showed you and you had a go. I love that you’re willing to try – it shows a wonderfully positive attitude!”
“When the instructor asked you to wait for the little ones to go first on the magic carpet you stepped back. That was patient because I could see you really wanted to have another go. You are getting good at following instructions and controlling your impulses.”
“I noticed you got all your kit together last night and remembered where to put it all. That made this morning easier!”
“I like that you are being so responsible about your helmet. It’s tricky to do the strap but you’re persevering with it.”
Avoid comparing siblings on the slopes or encouraging competition. Instead focus on their individual effort and listen to any frustration about mixed abilities.
“I love the way you pick yourself up and brush off the snow and just get straight back to trying your hardest”
“I can see those parallel turns getting closer and closer together each time you come down the slope, keeping working on them like this and soon they will get easier!”
“It’s hard for you, Jack flies down the slopes and you want to be as fast as him.”
“When Sally gets scared and we all have to stop, you feel frustrated with her because you want to keep going.”
May 11th, 2016
Friendships can be lovely - affirming, supportive and nurturing; they can bring a child out of themselves and challenge them to try things they wouldn’t on their own; friendship groups can give a sense of belonging; friends can provide emotional support; good friendships provide an opportunity for a child to air their views and work out what they believe in. Being with friends teaches trust and intimacy; negotiating with peers teaches communication skills; learning how to break up and make up is also useful. Friends can help kids through tough times.
Friendships can also be troublesome if they don’t go well. Children fall out with each other, some kids find it hard to make friends and some are bullied.
Have your children ever experienced any of the following issues?
You can foster good friendships by:
“Having a good friend will lessen the harmful effects of bullying. If you are excluded by the general peer group but have a friend who is saying, ‘you are not so bad as they say you are’, this can be enough to satisfy your need to belong. You will not be damaged if somebody special is valuing you, even if you are not valued by everyone.” Dr Michael Boulton, child psychologist, Keele University.
Use Descriptive Praise on an on-going basis to help your child value themselves and to highlight specific qualities that will help in friendships such as loyalty, good listening and sharing.
Play games with your children to encourage skills such as listening, turn-taking, being a good sport, using self-control, handling their feelings, considering other people’s feelings, following rules and instructions, looking for solutions and developing strategies for dealing with problems.
Role play how to join a group of children, different ways of saying hello and asking to join in. Hi my name’s…what’s yours? I like your ‘Inside Out’ notebook. Do you like Joy? Practice also what to say if the child says “No, you can’t play”.
You can also use role plays to help your child work out how to stand up for herself without hurting anyone else. Practice saying something like “I don’t like it when you take my things. Stop that!” “I want to play with you but I don’t like this chasing game –it hurts when you get slapped.”
You can teach kids to read social cues from words and body language and how to gauge their impact on others and adjust accordingly, including the amount of space a person needs. Get your child to read your face and say what you’re feeling. Ask what you’re likely to do next if you’re feeling that way. Have fun with it!
Sharing demands a level of social understanding which comes with maturity. It means caring about what the other child wants as well as what he wants. Don’t expect too much of this from younger children. Show children how to take turns by playing games and by example. “I’m going to let you have some of my ice-cream because you dropped yours and I can see you’re sad.” Sharing toys provides the first experience of negotiation. First, recognise ownership so the children feel the situation is properly understood. For example: “I know it’s your car and it’s for you to decide. Hannah’s really sad. If you’d like to play with her toys sometimes maybe you could let her play with yours?” Then let them sort it out as much as possible. “Sam’s really upset. Can you think of anything else he might like to play with to cheer him up?” Descriptively praise sharing and turn-taking whenever it occurs.
Good friendships aren’t just a question of luck –show your children how to nurture them.
April 14th, 2016
Before writing Real Parenting for Real Kids we surveyed our clients and asked them what their current goals were with their children. The majority said that they wanted more cooperation. Probably you too want your children to do what you ask, not just so you can have an easier life but because it’s your job to train your children into good habits for life. And for that you need some cooperation.
You may wish your child was more polite or would eat his greens or go to bed and stay in bed or focus more on his school work or try harder at swimming or would try again when he failed or do more around the house or get off his Xbox when you ask him to or get dressed promptly in the morning. You may wish your child would show more consideration for others or take responsibility when she does something wrong or wouldn’t flare up and bite your head off when she is upset about something. You may want her to do her eye exercises or stop sucking her thumb or to put her clothes in the laundry basket or to look people in the eye when they talk to her. To teach your child good habits and attitudes you’ll need them to cooperate with you.
That doesn’t mean your child can’t have an opinion or feelings about what they’ve been asked to do. I usually suggest that we don’t want to be breeding mindless automatons, but some of the parents in my classes admit they would settle for some blind compliance! If you’d like your child to listen to you more this is the place to be! Nothing opens the ears of a child (of any age) more than the skill we’re exploring here –Descriptive Praise. This is magic.
Praise, you think. That old hat! I know about praise. I try to praise my child but frankly he’s not often doing anything particularly praiseworthy. And I think kids actually get too much praise these days. Isn’t that what leads to this sense of entitlement everyone worries about?
Well yes, and no. If children are given meritless and meaningless praise all the time not only does it not have the desired effect of improving self-esteem and encouraging good behaviours but it does in fact lead to an expectation of constant praise and the worry that if they’re not being praised they must be rubbish. This is a result of the WRONG KIND OF PRAISE.
Descriptive praise is praise, but not as you know it.
Children cooperate when there is real connection between them and their parents. There is a biological imperative for a child to want to please their parent. I hear you scoff. That basic instinct can fade if the child no longer believes he can please his parent. If he hears a lot of criticism (so easy for us to lapse into this) then he will lose focus on doing what gets approval. The onus is on us adults to make the change and start noticing and commenting on the small things children get right. It’s no good just saying ‘well done’ or ‘good job’, ‘clever girl’ or ‘awesome’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘fantastic’. That kind of praise will have no meaningful effect and can make a child dependant on external approval.
Since we get more of what we pay attention to we need to notice the good stuff, rather than commenting on what’s gone wrong. Instead we need to describe to our children what they are doing right so that they can absorb that behaviour as a value and learn to self-assess. “Harry, you’re carrying that plate really carefully with your eyes on your hands. That way nothing has spilt.” “Georgia, you were really cross with Jack for turning off your video but you didn’t hit him or even yell at him – you told him it was your turn and you even gave him something else to play with. That shows me you understand that Jack finds it hard to wait. You’re teaching him patience.”
Descriptive Praise shapes behaviour more than any other tools in our parenting toolbox. We still need to have rules and we need to give instructions carefully to maximise cooperation and when our kids don’t want to do what we’re asking we’ll need to be able to empathise but Descriptive Praise is the magic that opens kids ears.
For more tools on getting the best out of your children, click here to pre-order Melissa Hood’s book Real Parenting, for Real kids at the discounted price of £13.99 until the launch date of 27t April 2016.
March 21st, 2016
Even families who aren’t at all religious may practice certain rituals around Easter that fall on opposite ends of the consumption spectrum. At the beginning of Lent I know many who take the opportunity to ‘give up something for Lent’. At the end of that period there is often a great glut of consumption with chocolate overload. My gym is preparing us for this overindulgence now by exhorting us to burn calories in preparation!
So, knowing that modelling is at least 80% of parenting, what does this tell our children about self-control?
It is a good idea to teach children about moderation in consumption, or delayed gratification if not complete self-deprivation and maybe Lent is as good a time as any to do it. But maybe you want to introduce such ideas throughout the year rather than just one month?
My son had a highly impulsive temperament as a little boy and got into trouble a lot because of not stopping to think about his actions. On one memorable occasion he and his cousin dropped pebbles off the balcony of a high-rise apartment, not considering the consequences of that action. They didn’t think that the cars parked below might be damaged and that costs would be incurred and people would be upset. The parents were sorely tempted to come down hard with punishment and shouting (there had been plenty of that on previous occasions) but by then we knew that approach would have led to resentment without any learning. Instead the boys were (relatively) calmly held accountable and required to make amends and so took a step toward gaining some perspective and some self-control.
Here are some ideas to encourage children to be able to make choices for the future that depend on some sacrifice in the present, to show self-control:
In a world where many act to fulfil only their own desires and get into difficulties by not stopping to think teaching self-control is an amazing gift for your children.
For many more ideas like these look no further than Real Parenting for Real Kids: Enabling parents to bring out the best in their children (published on 27th April 2016). www.theparentpractice.com
February 29th, 2016
What would your reaction be if your little girl turned to you and said “You really love me, Mummy, don’t you? When I grow up I want a little girl just like me.” A dad in one of our classes told us that this is exactly what his 4 year old daughter had said to his wife that week. He said ruefully, “nothing wrong with her self-esteem is there?” Although he meant that in a typically English self-deprecating manner he did in fact feel very proud, of his little girl and of his wife. And with good reason. How lovely would it be to know that your child knows that you really, really love her? And that she wants to have a child herself in future to replicate that same experience because she can see that it is wonderful for the mum too. Because all mums love their kids and they would like them to know it. And not just on Mothering Sunday.
Now you may be asking yourself what had that mum done to make her daughter feel that way? Well these parents were attending our Positive Parenting Course and they had done the class on Descriptive Praise in the previous week.
Descriptive Praise is magic.
With Descriptive Praise parents have very specific and effective skills for building closeness, strengthening confidence and encouraging cooperation. When parents use Descriptive Praise the emotional bond between parent and child is so strong that children want to listen, they want to do what they’re asked. Parents can encourage the behaviours they need to teach their children and pass on the values that are important to them.
Children are hard-wired to get attention. We mustn’t make them wrong for it –it’s an evolutionary thing. It’s what kept them safe when sabre tooth tigers were lurking. Descriptive Praise allows us to give attention for the behaviour we want to encourage in very effective ways.
Descriptive Praise is not rocket science. It does what it says on the tin. You just describe what they’re doing ….positively. It’s different from conventional, empty praise which is the ‘good girl’, ‘clever boy’, ‘awesome’, ‘good job’ kind of praise which is easy to throw over your shoulder without much effort. Descriptive Praise takes more time and it is genuine and really credible. It is based on the evidence of your own eyes and when you point out to your children what they are doing right, and perhaps why it is a good thing, they will believe it and absorb it as part of their identity. Their self-worth improves.
You notice something small (and we mean small) that they’re doing that is good, or possibly that is not bad. And you mention it to them. Sometimes you’ll add what positive quality that behaviour shows or what the positive consequence of that behaviour is. So you might say: “I see you two have got out of your pjs. That’s a good start to our day. Pause. Emily, you’ve put your pyjama top on your pillow. You’ve remembered where it needs to go. It’s so much tidier than if it’s left on the floor. You’re making a good contribution to our family’s tidiness aren’t you? You are also getting really good at getting your uniform on yourself. I wonder how long it will take you today? Will you beat your best time which was yesterday? …Jacob I see you’ve got your shirt on now….Oh Ella, thank you for helping him with his buttons. What a kind sister. I love it when you two are being so helpful. I think I should write this in your golden book this evening don’t you?”
Would you like your children to start their day feeling happy and thinking you’re the best mum in the world? Would you like them to know you really love them?
We thought so. You are the best mum in the world, especially with Descriptive Praise in your toolkit.
Start using descriptive praise today. It’s free and the results are miraculous. If you want to know more about it check out our face to face courses and our online courses here. Tell us how descriptive praise worked for you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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