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February 29th, 2016

You really love me Mummy don't you?

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 admin@theparentpractice.com.

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January 07th, 2016

New Year resolution-free-zone

Over the New Year weekend I was getting seriously irritated with article after article in print and online media exhorting me to shed weight, give up the booze, stop smoking, become more positive, stop procrastinating, get more organised, clear out my clutter and get fit, all of which just made me feel deficient. When I asked around I found that many others were seriously fed up with these New Year resolutions finding them smug, self-righteous and self-serving.

When I dug down to see what particularly irritated me about them I found that most of them suggested I had a problem that needed to be fixed. Of course. That is a well-tested marketing method and as I am also in business and need to pay bills I don’t mean to criticise people peddling their services by highlighting the need that their service or product addresses.

However when it comes to parenting we already experience much guilt about the way we bring up our children. You only have to go online to find out what a rubbish parent you are. It’s not just your mother-in law insinuating that your children are particularly problematic or that your child-rearing methods are particularly suspect. Parent-bashing is a favourite theme of the media. Even where you might expect a more empathetic approach, such as among other parents, there is criticism. Any parenting chat thread will have some quite judgmental voices suggesting you’re getting it all wrong. In our classes we often meet parents who worry about ‘getting it wrong’ and screwing up their kids. 

At the Aspen festival of ideas in 2012 when discussing the purpose of parenting Ericka Christakis, early childhood educator and Harvard College administrator, said that “we live in what we call the ‘epidemiological age,’ where we have a lot of information about what is unhealthy and healthy” and this creates a “crisis of information” which causes a lot of anxiety. We feel so responsible for ‘creating’ a future generation of not just happy and well-adjusted adults but successful high-achievers too. This anxiety can be made so much worse when we hear about critical ‘windows of opportunity’ in our children’s development that we think we may have missed and we feel terribly responsible in a way that our parents’ generation didn’t. (Lucky carefree things). 

Yet in the work we do at The Parent Practice we have a unique opportunity to observe masters at work. In our face to face work with parents we hear about the issues they have faced and the solutions they have devised. We have learnt much from our clients and have incorporated into our trainings many of the ideas generated by these ‘masters of parenting’. In our book, Real Parenting for Real Kids, we celebrate these masters and we bring their success stories to you. They would hasten to deny that they are masters but I am not talking about attaining any kind of perfection, just continuing to improve all the time, getting to know their children better and devising practical solutions that work in their own families.

In your quest for mastery (or just a bit of calm) if you’re setting goals for yourself it’s never effective to focus on what is wrong. Your brain will visualise your fat, unfit, smoking, disorganised, shouty self if you do that. You need to imagine your desired outcome instead. So rather than creating New Year’s resolutions which focus on what needs fixing think about what you can celebrate in your parenting. What small successes from 2015 can you acknowledge yourself for? Is it around playfulness or being connected with your child? Is it about being a good role model? Do you think you managed to pass on some values? Were you encouraging? Notice those good parenting moments, acknowledge yourself and make sure you do more of that in 2016. 

Here is one example from Chapter one, Knowing your Child: 

William was always reluctant to go to school at the start of each term, even after the half-term break. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I would end up pushing him through the door with tears in his eyes. Until we talked. And he told me that he didn’t like the newness of the fresh classroom. He didn’t know where he would be sitting, he didn’t know what lessons were coming up, he didn’t know what the new lunch menu would be like. And when I saw it from his point of view, and took into account his temperament of finding change difficult, and being a very regular child, I was able to make the shift from him ‘being a problem’ to ‘having a problem’.

We brainstormed how he could walk in, even when he wouldn’t be able to know what he wanted. We practised things for him to say, something to take in to show someone, just to get him through the door. That, in conjunction with accepting how he felt about the start of each term was enough. He went in with a little smile and a big breath, and hasn’t looked back.

Juliet, mum of two 

Have a great 2016 and keep developing your parenting practice.

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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: 

Play

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.  http://www.theparentpractice.com/courses-and-workshops

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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 … 

Geocaching

Head to www.geocaching.com 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. 

Colouring

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 amazon.com … 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 team@theparentpractice.com or post on our facebook page to let us know.

 

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September 20th, 2015

How to Raise Responsible Children

Responsibility can seem like a daunting word.  If we think about all the things we are responsible for, it can be frightening and overwhelming.  We are responsible for ourselves, our responses, our relationships, our mistakes, our education and careers, our health and well-being … and while our children are growing up, we are responsible for all those things for them as well. But our goal is to teach them to be responsible for themselves. 

When parents ask us how they can encourage their children to be more responsible, here’s what we suggest: 

Be your child’s emotion coach

Today we understand the value of raising emotionally intelligent children – children who are confident, resilient, empathetic, compassionate and authentic.  The way to raise emotionally intelligent children is to be their emotion coach.  That means that when your children are upset, angry, jealous, disappointed, afraid, feeling inadequate, left out or let down… that you acknowledge the feelings and support your child to find her own solutions. Accepting your children’s feelings doesn’t mean that you are agreeing with them or accepting all behaviours.  If your child says “I HATE YOU.  YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER” and you respond with “you’re mad that you have to go to Granny’s and you can’t go to your friend’s party” … it is not a confession or agreement.  It is just allowing their feelings to be heard. And once the feeling is released you may go back to address the behaviour. 

Often, we are quick to invalidate our children’s feelings because we want to fix things for them and make everything better.  Rather than advising them and telling them what to do, it is better for them to allow them to come up with their own solutions.  

Teaching children how to deal with uncomfortable feelings with words will teach them to be responsible for dealing with life’s knocks in a positive way. We can also coach them to deal with anger by taking vigorous exercise or with sadness by listening to music or with overwhelm by putting something in order and we can model how we deal with these feelings ourselves. 

Use the mistakes process

Children will make mistakes.  For children to learn, we need to be able to see mistakes and failure as an opportunity to learn.  The mistakes process will leave you and your children with new learning and a strengthened connection.  This needs to be done when everyone is calm … so take some cool down time beforehand to be able to handle the situation positively. You’ll need to start by acknowledging the feelings involved. 

  • Admit –your child takes responsibility for what s/he did. Because you’re calm and handling this without anger, blame and judgment, your child will be less afraid to tell you what happened.
  • Amends – We want our children to be able to clean up their messes – the literal and the figurative ones. So, if your son has spilled some milk, let him clean it up.  If your daughter has said something hurtful to her sister, help her make it up to her.
  • Alter – This is where the learning comes in. We want our children to learn how alter their behaviour so they will have a better way of handing a similar situation next time.
  • Acceptance – This particular incident has now been dealt with. Accept that it’s over, the mess has been cleaned up and now it’s time for forgiveness and acceptance. 

Set up for Success

At the heart of positive parenting is teaching our children what they can be responsible for – given their age and stage of development.  Setting up for success means being a proactive and prepared parent.  It means teaching your child to tie his shoes throughout the summer holidays rather than thinking he’ll be able to do it on the first day of school.  It’s about giving some thought and training rather than ambushing your children at the last minute expecting that they’ll be happy and willing to do what is required.  Talking through things ahead of time with your children – whether it’s your 4 year old’s first day of school or your teenager’s first secondary school party – is preparing them so they are ready for what could happen.  

Chores

When children have chores to do, they start to see themselves as contributing to the family.  Add on the descriptive praise they receive from you when they have done the chore and they develop the feeling of being trusted.  That in turn builds their confidence and motivation to continue to help out!  

Chores teach children valuable life skills.  Whether your children are making their beds and tidying their rooms, or cooking, cleaning up, preparing a table for dinner, helping in the garden, or taking care of a pet, we know that children gain a stronger sense of pride and dignity from being a contributing member of the family.  

Writer Joan Dideon said: “The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”  We want to give our children the gift of self-respect.  By using these four parenting tools, you will purposefully ensure that you are passing on that gift every day.

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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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September 07th, 2015

Back to school - is it with trepidation or delight?

How are you feeling about the return to the school routine? Perhaps you have a littlie starting school for the very first time? Or a tween making that big transition to secondary school? 

Many clients we speak to are breathing a huge sigh of relief as getting back to a regular routine and a bit of ME TIME is much needed, but there are others for whom the transition may not be so welcome. 

Perhaps you are feeling anxious about the rushed mornings and the thought of getting everyone up and out of the house by 8.15am or earlier! 

Perhaps you have a child who does not like change or transition and finds going to school hard. 

It may not surprise you to hear that the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION! 

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success  with these top tips

Physical Preparation 

This year make getting ready for school a team effort as much as possible. 

  • Change schedules - Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.
  • Uniformdo make sure the uniform and shoes still fit in time. Don’t leave it till the night before to check it’s clean and pressed. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his uniform, putting it in the wash and checking that it’s ready the night before. Is everything marked? Perhaps the children can even learn to sew on those name tapes and polish shoes.
  • Other kitinvolve the children in assembling what they need for school –there will probably be a checklist from the school.
  • Lunch if your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it - and eating it - as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. Involve them in the preparation.
  • Infrastructure –set up notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quick getaway in the mornings.
  • Morning task list  - help your children be independent by setting up a list of the essentials that need to be done. After teeth and hair brushing and packed school bag and making bed they then get to select a  non-material reward perhaps choosing which music to listen to in the car, or selecting the scooter instead of walking to school. Be creative and pick a reward that motivates your child! 

Chat through what is needed for the first day back - ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers.  Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies which boosts self-esteem.. 

 

Emotional Preparation 

Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together. 

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing their efforts WHENEVER your children display them describing in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do. 

Praise them for qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas such as perseverance and  they will likely transfer those attributes to school life.

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you could do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.” 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling. 

When we accept and validate uncomfortable feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or defiance. We help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have dealt with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.” 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling. 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety. 

Sometimes feelings show up in butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school. 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going. 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers.  Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation. 

And three last tips! 

First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, or disrupted sleep and rudeness  because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down. 

Secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start. 

And finally, “rushing is the enemy of love”. I know it sounds obvious but just getting up 20 minutes earlier will enable you to get on top of things and prevent overwhelm and stress. When we start the day off feeling in charge we will feel more confident about using all our skills and get results! 

Follow  these tips and let us know the results and any other great tips for helping your children go back to school?

If you found these tips useful why not sign up for a regular dose of parenting news, information and ideas in our newsletter and share this blog with your friends?

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

 

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August 24th, 2015

“My parents smacked me and I turned out all right!”

We have all heard that sentence uttered as a way of condoning what our own parents may have done or what we may also have done to our own children.  

I was revisiting an interesting discussion about smacking that appeared on BBC Women’s Hour over 5 years ago.  The post is still available at  www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s8hyy and is still worth listening to. 

Five years on, the debate about smacking children still shows how polarised the opinions are on this subject.  For over 15 years now, all of us at the Parent Practice have become familiar with the different views about smacking children. 

The evidence is that overwhelmingly when parents smack their children they do so, not in a controlled way to discipline them, but because the parent is overwhelmed by their own emotions.  Perhaps they are so overcome with fear - as in the example given in the programme - when a child runs into the street, or out of anger or frustration. Often it’s because in the moment they don’t know what else to do –they feel powerless. 

Here’s the thing, though.  A child that has been smacked knows full well (even if they can’t articulate it) that his or her parent has lost control.  One of the fastest ways to lose your children’s respect is through using smacking as a means of discipline. 

There is no doubt at all that discipline is necessary but the point of any method of discipline is to teach and smacking is the least effective of all the tools at our disposal if teaching is our goal. Children are not so open to learning if they are shocked and hurting. We are in danger of teaching them something we don’t intend if we use smacking - that when you are an adult you can use your power to hurt, that you can resolve conflict or get your way by hurting. That is not what parents intend when they smack and I would never judge a parent for smacking but it is clear that parents need to be supported in the difficult job of raising children by giving them tools other than smacking. 

In the five years since this segment appeared on Women’s Hour, the movement towards Positive Discipline has thankfully gathered speed and support.  We now know – through brain science - that positive discipline brings with it so many benefits.  In his book, No Drama Discipline, Dan Siegel outlines the benefits as: “foster[ing] development that builds good relationship skills and improves your children’s ability to make good decisions, think[ing] about others, and act[ing] in ways that prepare them for lifelong success and happiness.” Positive discipline is a way to build a healthier brain through teaching children appropriate behaviours. 

Whenever the discussion about smacking arises, Haim Ginott’s much quoted comment is essential to share.  

“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression.
When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility.
When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.
When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.” 

Haim G. Ginott 

Did those parents who were smacked as children (many of us) turn out all right? Maybe not if they advocate smacking as form of discipline. 

To find out more about how to effectively use positive discipline, sign up for our newsletter at http://www.theparentpractice.com/signup and we’ll send you a free copy of our Positive Discipline parenting insight.

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August 17th, 2015

What my Puppy taught me about Parenting

My only child has just turned 12.  For the last 6 years she has been repeatedly asking for a sibling - in the form of a dog.  After years of promises and procrastination we finally adopted Ozzie, a Cavapoo puppy, and I feel like I have a new baby in the house!  

Just as the parents of a new baby would stock up on all the necessities, I headed down to the local pet shop!  I bought chew toys, special organic puppy food and treats … and, on the recommendation of the owner, a book called The Art of Raising a Puppy, written by The Monks of New Skete, who in addition to living a monastic life, also run a well-regarded dog training facility in upstate New York.   A few pages in – with my Parent Practice facilitator hat on – I did a double take!  Was I reading a puppy-training book or a parenting book?  Many of the things I read were looking awfully reminiscent of things that I had read in parenting books and were equally applicable.   I suddenly had a surge of confidence that I can adapt the positive parenting skills I use with my daughter in order to bring out the very best in our puppy as well!  

Here are some of the lessons: 

  1. Children thrive on routine 

Once I hit page 145, I was right back at the beginning of my daughter’s life, nursing in the rocking chair, with my head in a parenting book!  Puppies, like babies … and growing children, thrive on structure and routine.  While following a schedule may not have had my daughter sleeping through the night until she was well over a year old, the Monks of New Skete have made it possible for Ozzie to sleep through the night from the very first day!  

  1. You have the Power to Bring out the Best in your Children 

“Part of training means that you become a student of your dog and employ an approach that brings out the best in him.” 

This is true for raising children as well.  Over time, we become the experts in our children – we start to know what triggers their upsets, what drives them, what makes them happy, and we get really good at reading their cues.  While being the expert doesn’t always mean that we consistently do the right thing, it puts us in the position to choose our approach.  As Goethe wrote:

 “It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.

I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.” 

When we choose to use the positive parenting perspective, we are choosing an approach that ultimately makes our parenting life more joyful and inspiring … and better yet, it helps us instill in our children the values, qualities, habits and behaviours that they will carry with them throughout their lives. 

  1. You are in charge … in the best possible way

 “Being a benevolent leader is learning the characteristics of good training: patience, fairness, consistency, attentiveness and intelligence.  Good trainers may feel impatient with a dog, but they always do their best to avoid showing it.  They take a long view of the training process and don’t try to do too much too quickly, building one step at a time.  They keep their anger in check when things aren’t going as planned and realize that a calm and quiet approach vis-à-vis their pup is more helpful.  With that sort of self possession, a trainer can be flexible, responding to what the dog needs, instead of reacting to mistakes.” 

In our Being in Charge class, we ask our clients to come up with qualities and characteristics they believe inspiring leaders posses.  The common responses are things like: motivating, kind, trusting, patient, charismatic, visionary, and calm. 

When we are calm we are able to access all our positive parenting skills.  We are able to use positive rules to consistently reaffirm our family values; we are able to use descriptive praise to build motivation, cooperation and confidence; we are able to be emotion coaches to help our children handle upsets and disappointments; and we are able to use positive discipline so that our children can make mistakes and learn how to fix them. 

  1. Parenting requires a long-term focus

Another thing parenting and raising a puppy have in common is that it is most effective to take the long-term approach to training our children in the habits and behaviours that will last a lifetime.  We can get our children to do things out of fear of punishment, but this doesn’t teach them to do the right thing because it is the ‘right’ thing to do.  When we can look upon our children’s mistakes as opportunities for teaching and learning rather than as deeply rooted deficits, we can approach them in a whole other way – with compassion, kindness and a focus on solutions rather than blame, anger and judgment. 

One of the benefits of positive parenting is the constant creation of meaningful relationships with our children.  As our new addition has his mid-morning nap (lunch is in 20 minutes!), I know that he will teach us all a thing or two as well!!

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August 10th, 2015

8 simple tips to deal with “Are we nearly there yet?”

What parent does not dread that question, when travelling on a hot sweltering day, when the kids are screaming and squabbling in the back of the car and every other comment is interjected with that question in a whining voice? That is such a button pusher for parents. 

ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?” 

We know sticking them in front of the i-pad in the back of the car is a quick and easy fix, but there are downsides to that and it may leave us feeling a bit guilty. We then complain about them always asking for more screen time on holiday and wonder from where this habit developed? 

We think by now they SHOULD be able to recognise that Mum or Dad need a tranquil environment to drive the car and why can’t they just entertain themselves nicely and recognise that everyone is in the same position and that by now they should have learnt how to occupy themselves and not rely on us to be their entertainment director? 

Sound familiar? The reality is many children may find a long car journey boring and depending on age and stage of development their ability to entertain themselves will be limited. We do need to support them and be creative, as the more we nag and criticise and scold or tell off the worse their behaviour will become. 

Here are 8 top tips for how to have a successful long car journey:

  1. If possible, give your children a good run around before the start of the journey to expend some energy 
  1. If it’s a long journey, apportion some timings for activities, e.g. If it’s a 2 hour journey you could have ½ hour looking out of the window chatting, ½ hour of games (see below), ½ hour meal/packed lunch, ½ stories on a disc player/ipod. 
  1. Be prepared to make regular stops possibly up to every 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on the age of your children. This is recommended for drivers too. 
  1. Carry a bag of emergency supplies in your car (wipes, plastic bags, water, children’s pain relief and travel medication, emergency food etc.) 
  1. Be realistic about sleep. – Under 4’s tend to nod off quite quickly in the car whereas older children can find it difficult to sleep in the car. 
  1. Make sure the car seat or booster is relatively comfortable. Older children may like to bring along a pillow if it is appropriate. 
  1. If there is squabbling in the car and it is beginning to get to you, find a safe place and pull over. Get out of the car and take some deep breaths. 
  1. Get Creative and develop some games for the car.
  • The ‘yes and no game’ – if you say either when asked questions, you are out!
  • Take turns to tell jokes.
  • ABC spotting – take turns to name something you can see beginning with a, then b, then c etc.
  • Cricket –certain number of ‘runs’ for different things seen along the route, eg single run for a red car, four runs for an ambulance and six for a police car. If there’s a motorcycle coming the other way you’re out.
  • 20 questions.
  • Alphabet games like my grandmother went to market and bought apples, bananas and cherries etc. Or one person thinks of a name, like Annabel, and the next person has to think of a name beginning with the last letter, in this case L.
  • Make up funny or nonsensical stories. Construct a sentence each. You may need rules like ‘you can’t kill off a character introduced by another person’. (Yes, there’s a story there – a tedious one.)
  • Chocolate or cheese – each person takes turns to ask the question ‘if you had to choose between the following things, would you choose? e.g. chocolate or cheese?’
  • 1 minute game – choose a topic and talk about it for one minute.
  • Rhyming nonsense – together think of a given number of rhyming words and then make up a funny story incorporating the words e.g. ‘A goat sailed on a boat without a coat. He wanted an oat so he wrote a note…..’
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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
IMMEDIATELY
THE WAY I WANT HER TO DO IT
EVERY SINGLE TIME
FULL OF GRATITUDE THAT SHE WAS ASKED IN THE FIRST PLACE! 

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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July 27th, 2015

The Second secret to Screen Time Sanity – Be your child’s emotion coach

Hopefully you have discussed with your partner and your children the rules about screen time use and started to get clarity over how, when, where and what, as suggested in our first tip but you may still have been met with some serious resistance.

Hopefully you are using descriptive praise to motivate and saying many  positive things to your child about their use of technology.

I saw you put your phone to re-charge. That’s planning ahead - now it will be fully functional for tomorrow!”

“I love how you determined you are to work your way through this. You’re persevering, even though you’re getting frustrated.”

“You remembered our new rule about leaving the ipad in the drop zone.”

And yet you are still met with the whining tones of:

Why won’t you let me play”?

“These are stupid rules. You are so unfair - no other parent does this to their kids.”

“Just one more minute, I have to finish this level…..”

And you are left thinking what now? I have communicated clearly what needs to happen, acknowledged when they have got it right and STILL they resist!

The secret to this is learning how to LISTEN and be an EMOTION COACH  for your child

In order to help our children behave appropriately we need to accept how they feel.  Being an emotion coach is not about indulgence or letting them get away with poor behaviour, but about understanding and connection.

Generally we don’t show much empathy when they say “You’re the only parent who is like this. Everyone else is on it, they spend HOURS playing. It’s so unfair, I hate you!”

A usual response would be :

That’s not true.”

“Don’t be so rude”

It’s not good for you and I’m the boss”

“ I don’t care what other people do. These are my rules!”

“Life’s tough, get with the programme.”

“School is really important, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t keep up your school work.”

“Don’t be silly – it’s not an important game!”

We rationalise, attack, dismiss their feelings, judge them, justify ourselves and generally tell them that they are WRONG and we are right.

And it does nothing to help you and your child manage their screen habits. If anything it encourages them to go undercover, or defy you. It doesn’t teach them any of the self-control or values we want them to learn!

What can we do instead?

Be your child’s emotion coach and understand that all feelings can be accepted, but some behaviours need to change.

The key is we don’t make our children  wrong for the way they feel about things - whether that’s wanting to play Minecraft or preferring to watch TV than do homework.  That doesn’t mean we let them play whenever they want.

We name it to tame it - we acknowledge that they wish they could play more or longer, that reading and maths can be hard, that everyone else has the new game….. We let them have their feelings . 

We connect first so we can then teach and help them stick to the rules….

How does it sound?

I can see you’re enjoying your new computer game. You really don’t want to stop and come to dinner. It’s frustrating to have to stop doing something you enjoy and it takes self-control to do something you don’t feel like doing.”

“I know you don’t want to turn the TV off. You’d like to be able to watch as much TV as you’d like”

“I know Jake is allowed to play Grand theft auto so you want to be able to play it too. You’re mad at me for saying no. I know you think it would be ok because it’s not really real life. I appreciate you do know the difference between games and real life. It’s hard for you to understand why I don’t think this is healthy for you. Let me tell you what I don’t like about it…”

This is how we build rapport and trust - we show them we understand how they feel, and we are on their side to help them do the things they need to do, but may not want to do. When your child feels heard and understood there will be less resistance and he will be more accepting of your rules and values. He will be more able to problem solve and look for solutions. What an amazing gift to give your child.

What are you waiting for? Give it a go today and be your child’s emotion coach.

 

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July 19th, 2015

The (First of Two) Secrets to Screen Time Sanity

When the summer holidays begin we are excited about the thought of no nagging about homework, longer days to play in the garden and the fact that we are not such a slave to the clock. However the first flush of enthusiasm can quickly die away with the realisation that our children may be spending too long on screens and we are using them as a babysitter.

You may be wondering:
“How much screen time should my children be having?” and
“How do I control my children’s screen usage?”

Managing screens is not about coercion and control as that can only lead to long term problems. The answer lies in connection and communication.

If you think about keeping your kids safe around a swimming pool we can protect them from falling in by putting up fences and setting alarms and using padlocks and banning them from going near, but the most important thing to do is TO TEACH THEM HOW TO SWIM.

The same is true for screen safety. The more we nag and shout and blame and criticise and forbid and take away and threaten, the more children will push back and try and regain control. It may work to get them off the gadget in the moment but does nothing to help them long term to enable them to exercise self-control around screens. Children do need limits and boundaries and they are not YET able to set these from themselves so we need to do it for them. The trick is to set ones that will work, that we feel comfortable and competent to implement. We also need to remember that our role is to teach self-control.

Rules for the Digital Jungle:

  1. THINK . Begin with the end in mind. What is the ultimate destination? To encourage children to feel in charge of technology and use it responsibly, as opposed to technology being in charge of them. 
  1. DECIDE . You need to decide WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO AND HOW MUCH.
  • How much time? We know that when parents set limits on media consumption, children consume less media than those who have no limits. The consensus amongst professionals is no screens before age of 2 years and no more than1 hour per day for under 8’s. But it’s also about what else you need to do first? Eat, sleep, play or practice?
  • When can they play or surf or game? This depends on your family schedule but not during the hour before bedtime as screen-usage interferes with sleep.
  • What sites/ apps? Watch out for the parental guidance certificates and if you are not ready for your child to smoke or drink or drive why would we think they are ready to use Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto which are rated 18?
  • Where? Do keep internet enabled devices in a common place where you can monitor them. And have a DROP ZONE where the devices can stay and recharge when they are not being used. 
  1. Include the children rather than imposing the rules from on high! Including them shows you are interested in their views; it is respectful to seek their opinion. It works best with children over 8 if you outline what you need and acknowledge what they would like at the outset. Then ask how you can accommodate both sets of needs. They will probably have some good ideas. They may not like all the rules –empathise with that and reiterate why you need to have them. 
  1. WRITE IT DOWN. I guarantee you will forget the rules and by writing them down it depersonalises them. Then you have a contract, with both sides needing to respect and abide by it. 
  1. KEEP IT POSITIVE. Don’t have negative rules such as “no mobiles upstairs” or “no gaming after 7pm” but rather “mobiles are used downstairs” and “ you can game after homework and before 7pm.” 
  1. FOLLOW THROUGH. Often we start by thinking of what we should do when they mess up! But really we should be deciding what to do when they get it right. Adults rarely notice when children get it right. Do comment when they follow the screen rules. The positive consequence of following the rules is earning the right to use screens again. 

If they do break the rules we usually take the gadget away and punish them for getting it wrong. This sort of works in the moment, BUT they are may be defiant and FURIOUS with us. A better approach is: 

“The rule is that you play on your ipad after kumon and the positive consequence is that you get to play the next day. (Or better still ask them what the rule and reward is.) As your kumon sheet is untouched and you’re on the ipad, remind me what is the consequence?" 

“I don’t get the ipad the next day!” 

Exactly! And when they lose access they may feel guilty and angry… and that’s ok. Our job as parents is allow them to feel that disappointment and anger, empathise but not back down. 

Tune into Secret No 2 on screen time sanity to find out how we stay firm to our values around screen use.

 

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June 18th, 2015

Celebrating Fathers

Father’s day in the UK is on the 21st June. I know some people are a bit bah humbug about these ‘Hallmark’ days and regret the commercialisation of such occasions but I think we should seize the opportunity to celebrate fathers.

There is the risk, especially with newborns, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with 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. (The time spent by British men on domestic work rose from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 148 minutes per day by 2004; British fathers’ care of infants and young children rose 800% between 1975 and 1997, from 15 minutes to two hours on the average working day  despite the fact that over this period fathers’ time spent at work was also increasing. Fathers in two-parent families carry out an average of 25% of the family’s childcare related activities during the week, and one-third at weekends. (Source: The fatherhood institute)
  • Many studies have shown that when dad is involved in his children’s lives they have better educational, developmental, health and social outcomes (Source: The fatherhood institute,)
  • If dad is emotionally involved as an emotion coach and play partner the following outcomes 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 (Ross and Taylor 1989 Do Boys Prefer Daddy or His physical style of play?)
    • Better academic performance
    • Increased empathy (longitudinal study (300 families) done by Stanford University beginning in 1950s)
    • Better social relationships as adults
    • Higher self esteem
  • Studies show dads are just as competent as mums to care for babies and know what to do when babies cry. (Ross Parke 1976 Father-Mother-Infant Interaction in the newborn period: Some findings, Some observations and some unresolved issues.)
  • Fathers make unique contributions to their children and infants respond to involved fathers differently than to mums. They are more wide-eyed playful and bright-faced. 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds will choose dad over mum as a play partner.

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:

Play

To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do 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 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?

 

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.

Mums, while encouraging your children to show their love for their dads, let your partners know what you appreciate about them this father’s day.

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March 20th, 2015

Can boys play with dolls?

I think parents these days are often mindful about stereotyping on the basis of gender and try to avoid it by not dressing their children in ‘gendered’ colours (but did you know that up until the early 20th century pink was thought of as a strong boys’ colour?), providing them with opportunities to play with toys and to take part in sports or activities generally associated with the opposite sex, exposing them to different role models (in literature and in reality) and speaking to them in gender neutral terms. 

But it’s actually really easy to get caught out by little gendered remarks that slip out unnoticed. For instance have you told either your sons or daughters to ‘man up’? What does that mean? If it means to toughen up and be strong is that an attribute just for men? If it means don’t give in to your feelings or don’t talk about your feelings or, worse, don’t have those feelings, what are we saying about men and emotions? The answer to that last question was made abundantly clear to me once when I was giving a workshop on Raising Boys. I was talking about encouraging boys to identify and manage their feelings when one father said “I would question my son’s masculinity if he was talking about his feelings”! 

Sometimes with the best of intentions we’ll say things like “big boys don’t cry.” In hundreds of little ways we give our sons the message that it is weak and unmanly to express emotion and to be a man is to cope on your own. Statistics show what terrible repercussions this has for adult men not seeking help when they need it –men don’t even go to the doctor let alone ask directions! More seriously the suicide rate is much higher in men than women. 

It’s just as problematic if we’re giving limiting messages to our daughters. Have we fallen into the trap of calling our daughters ‘bossy’ for behaviour that we would find acceptably assertive in our sons? I hope you’ve seen the wonderful you tube video ‘Run like a girl’ by Proctor & Gamble which aims to celebrate the phrase rather than allowing it to be derisory. 

And of course there is still much stereotyping in music, the media, video games and in film through images and the behaviours portrayed by men and women despite recent efforts by children’s programme makers. Certain ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ qualities are ascribed to men and women. And children will be exposed to a lot of gendered stereotypes in shops with pink and blue aisles and packaging as well as boy toys and girl toys. 

There is much that parents can do to avoid these stereotypes and to offer contrary images and messages to those absorbed through the media etc. But what if, in spite of your best efforts, your child is the one coming up with stereotypes for boys’ and girls’ behaviour? 

One parent told us that her three and a half year old son had been making comments like "only boys can play with this…" to which the mum responded that "Actually boys AND girls can play with the same toys!" she was curious as to where this fixed attitude came from as neither she or her husband had ever consciously stereotyped boys vs girls. She said she always tried to use gender-neutral words such as ‘firefighter’ instead of ‘fireman’ etc. 

It is perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate behaviour for a young child to explore his or her identity including gender roles. Research has shown that children may be born with gendered tastes in toys, in that girls prefer dolls over cars and nothing we do or say can change this! However up until the age of 12 months boys are equally interested in dolls. It is only after this age that boys show a preference for toys with wheels, whereas girls continue to prefer dolls. This suggests that this is attributable to social factors rather than genetics. By the age of 3 or 4 children have surprisingly definite ideas about what behaviour and dress is appropriate for boys and girls. By this age most children when interviewed give stereotypical answers about behaviours appropriate for male and female dolls -100% of the children interviewed in one study said the female doll liked to clean the house and took care of the babies while the male doll went out to work! 

These perceptions of ‘boys’ toys’ or ‘girls’ toys’ and dress and behaviour show a normal, healthy development of gender identity and a natural inclination to want to fit in with their sex. This adapting to belong is a sign of good social skills but parents are wise to offer contrary messages as well. The strongest message we can give our children is through what we model so if boys see their dad sewing on a button or cooking a meal they will think that is an appropriate activity for a male. Likewise if mum mends the fuses or changes a tyre then obviously women can do those things. Children will model themselves on the same gender parent so dads please let your sons know its ok to talk about your feelings.

Children this age are very black and white –its only as they get older that they can understand the grey areas of life, including the idea that boys and girls can do things beyond the stereotypes.

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March 05th, 2015

Best Present for a Mum

How would it be if your child turned around to you one morning and said “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..” and you knew that was because of what you had just done? You. Super mum. Deserving of the highest accolades on Mothering Sunday.

A parent in one of our classes told us this is what her son said to her recently and it brought a tear to our collective eye.

By way of background this mum told us that their usual experience of morning getaways was the all too familiar horror story of rushing, nagging, dawdling, nagging, feet-digging in, nagging, cheekiness, telling-off, daydreaming, SHOUTING, crying, threatening, more crying (this time mum) and pulling out of hair. We all know how it goes. She would wake the kids up in plenty of time and get herself dressed so that she’d be available to marshall everybody. She’d go into their rooms and no progress would have been made. At all. None. Nobody would have even started on getting dressed. And by now 20 minutes would have elapsed and the timetable would be seriously jeopardised. So she would berate them for not doing anything. They would look at her puzzled and she would wonder how she’d spawned such half-wits, and realise it must be her husband’s genes. Well when you’re working with poor material you have to be creative. So she’d try again. “If you get dressed and come downstairs quickly I’ll let you have Nutella on your toast.” She’d go downstairs thinking she’d provided the necessary incentive and get going on the lunchboxes. 15 minutes later there would be no sign of anyone so she’d go back up again to find two half-dressed children playing with the Sylvanian families. More shouting and ushering and they were downstairs but she felt like a worn our dish-cloth and it was nearly 8am.

Well our mum had just done our class on Descriptive praise so she decided to try it. You know descriptive praise. You don’t? You don’t know about the magic key that unlocks cooperation? The secret  formula to motivate your child? The thing that is guaranteed to bring a smile to a little face (and your child’s too) and that leads to “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..?” If you don’t know about descriptive praise you must be new to our blogs. If we didn’t tell you about it at every opportunity we would be derelict in our duty. We would be failing in our mission to bring happiness to the families of the world.

So let us tell you now. It’s not rocket science. It does what it says on the tin. You just describe what they’re doing ….positively. 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. So you might say: “I see you two have got out of bed. That’s a good start to our day. That’s a lovely smile to get us off to a good beginning Jacob. Pause. Ella, you put out your clothes last night which will make things quicker this morning. That was really sensible, wasn’t it?  You prepared for success! And you are getting really good at getting your dress on yourself. Would you like me to help with your tights? …Jacob I see you’ve got your pyjamas off now….Oh Ella, thank you for helping him with his shirt. What a kind sister. I love it when you two are being so helpful. I need to put lots of pasta pieces in the jar so Daddy can see what a great morning we had when he comes home.”

And if you think nobody talks to their children like that, we concede it is different from the norm. But the norm is as described above. And the norm doesn’t lead to “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..”

So what would you like? Would you like to talk a bit weirdly to your kids and watch them beam at you and each other, stand a bit taller in front of your eyes, feel more confident and be more cooperative? Would you like them to start their day feeling happy and thinking you’re the best mum in the world?

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 admin@theparentpractice.com.

If this is your first Mothering Sunday, congratulations. If not do let us know about any funny or touching presents you’ve received from your children on Mothering Sunday.

Keep developing your parenting practice with love,

Melissa and Elaine

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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: kelly@myprojectme.com 

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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January 14th, 2015

Teens Online: Keeping Your Child Safe from Cyberbullying

by Guest blogger Amy Williams 

It’s no secret that as long as popular social media sites have existed, the virtual distance between computer screens has acted as a veil behind which many bullies feel safer lashing out in disrespectful or harmful ways. 

Our children are up against unfavorable odds when it comes to cyberbullying and educating them on how to handle it is their best line of defence. 

Cyberbullying is only becoming a bigger problem as the idea of anonymity online becomes increasingly popular. Sites like ask.fm, which allows questions from strangers, or apps like whisper, which allows anonymous conversations through picture messages, are making it easier for bullies to get away with leaving harmful comments. 

In addition to teaching them how to keep a swivel in their neck when they walk down a dark street, hide their personal belongings when in public, and the age-old ‘never talk to strangers,’ it is now essential to show them some digital ropes. So don’t hide your head in the sand as a technically challenged, antiquated thinking adult but instead open your eyes to the many sordid actions your child may be challenged with on a daily basis. 

 

Break the Barrier 

With statistics showing approximately 25% of young people being bullied on the internet, 65% witnessing cyberbullying, and a whopping 90% admitting that they would never tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs, it is now or never to break this barrier. 

If your child is still young enough to be shown some savvy digital moves then you are in luck. If you cover some ground rules when handing over an expensive, powerful device such as a smartphone or tablet chances are they will have a healthier transition. 

However, if you are raising a tween or teen you may have to implement a whole new set of requirements for them to follow to keep their device. This can be met with extreme adversity but through the help of your partner and/or a professional such as a local cyber-police person or talk therapist hopefully your child will comply. (See The Parent Practice’s useful publications on ensuring cooperation with teens through good communication. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications

If not, tough love may have to be put into place until they are willing to comply (over 27% of parents take their child’s device away until they can prove better digital practices). 

 

Do Your Research 

There are many websites that offer their take on how to prevent cyberbullying. 

Most suggest fear based remedies that can end up being counterproductive as this tactic may make your child hyper vigilant and paranoid. Stick to sites that teach a more intellectual approach toward the many aspects of your child’s digital as well as physical world. 

Offering them the opportunity to look through well taught eyes rather than panic at every situation they encounter will, in the long run, be the best gift you can give them. A fearful child will inevitably grow up to become a fearful adult and living a life of fear can be fraught with all sorts of unwanted scenarios including constant illness, misinformation, anger, victimization, difficult relationships and a constant challenge within career advancement. 

 

The Tease Effect 

Outside of computer communication, teasing can be witnessed as an underlying passive/aggressive tactic toward bullying or being bullied. 

As it may begin somewhat innocently, when children tease one another their back and forth banter can quickly escalate into an ugly scenario. It is a way that children explore their ability to see how far their controlling tactics can be utilized. 

When in the presence of an adult it can rapidly be quelled with some talk lessons on the damage or potential damage it carries. However, when it is transferred to a digital platform teasing remains beyond an adult’s supervision until it is too late.

 

A Scary Manifestation 

Through what is referred to as the ‘Disinhibition Effect bullying can easily manifest on the web a lot faster and harsher than in person. It is described by researchers at the Department of Psychology, Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey in an article titled, ‘The online disinhibition effect’ as, “While online, some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.” 

This article explores six factors that interact with one another in creating this effect: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity [being unaccountable], solipsistic introjection [regarding only one self], dissociative imagination [separating from reality], and minimisation of authority.”

 

It Won’t Go Away 

Your child may seem well adjusted to school, friends, clubs, sports and so on for as they grow older face-to-face bullying lessens substantially. However, a study by the University of California - Riverside Graduate School of Education which was published in the journal, School Psychology Quarterly titled ‘Examination of the Change in Latent Statuses in Bullying Behaviors Across Time,’ researchers found that as students age they are verbally and physically bullied less, but cyberbullied more.

 

School Based Intervention 

The University of California study recommended some school-based interventions as published by Science Daily. Here are a few to consider: 

  • Considering the oldest students were more likely to engage in bullying, and bullying perpetration increased after students transitioned into middle school, school personnel should focus their intervention resources on students in sixth and eighth grades. 
  • Interventions should teach social-emotional learning skills to students and appropriate ways to navigate new peer groups and social ierarchies. 
  • Considering the gender differences for those that bully, different interventions may be warranted for boys and girls. Interventions for girls may focus on relationship issues and appropriate use of social media, while interventions for boys may address physical bullying. 
  • It is important for teachers and parents to talk to students about cyber safety and to supervise internet and mobile device use to help prevent cyber victimisation. It is also important for adults to take reports of verbal/relational bullying and cyberbullying seriously and to intervene in all cases. 

The researchers go on to warn that school as well as parental intervention for bullying should address each individual victim and perpetrator experience rather than attempt a wide curve education as a ‘one size fits all’ approach. 

Whether it is utilising tracking software to determine the severity of cyberbullying your child may be involved in, talk therapy, community and/or school involvement, using any means necessary can stop this destructive cycle.

 

Cyberbullying in the U.K.

Anywhere where internet use is a significant aspect of daily social interaction, cyberbullying will be an issue. 

Fortunately, resources exist in the UK for anyone struggling to handle cyberbullying cases. From hotlines dedicated to handling these and similar issues, to laws protecting victims, this is a problem about which government officials are aware, and have adapted to handle. 

Of course, all of the above, non-country specific advice is applicable too. Awareness is one of the most important steps towards dealing with online threats. Keeping that in mind alongside available laws and apps will give you or your child the power you need to handle online bullies. 

For more information on cyberbullying and how it affects those targeted by it, check out the infographic below.

 

Author Bio 

Amy Williams is a freelance writer based in Southern California. As a mother of two, helping parents understand their teens is something she is very passionate about. You can follow her on Twitter.

 

 

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January 06th, 2015

New Year’s Resolutions

This is the time of year for new year’s resolutions of course and while it’s good to set goals (so you know where you are aiming to get to) sometimes new year’s resolutions become a major guilt exercise and there’s enough of that around parenting already. The worst kind of resolutions are those that are proposed for you by someone else! Bit like receiving a gym membership as a Christmas present! (Thanks Hun.)

Resolutions, like goals at any other time of year, often fail for being too ambitious, not precise enough and not being something you really believe in or are committed to. No new year’s resolution will work unless it is in line with your values, what you are passionate about. You have to make your own resolutions to be committed to them.

But if you’re in a kind of spring cleaning for the mind sort of space and you want some easy targets to help you build stronger relationships with your children (and others) then some of the 21 easy to follow suggestions below may be ones you can adopt and adapt.

  1. Make a gratitude jar (with the things you're grateful for written on slips of paper or on ice cream sticks [from craft suppliers])
  2. Make a golden book (to record small things your child has done that day of which they could be proud, have made family life go more smoothly, brought a smile to someone else’s lips)
  3. Keep a pasta jar (to visually acknowledge the numerous small good things your child does in a day)
  4. Have an appreciation book for the adults (to record what you appreciate about the other)
  5. Eat together as a family at least [insert realistic number] a week
  6. Do one whole family activity at least [insert realistic number] a week/month
  7. Do at least one thing to look after yourself (physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially or spiritually) each week- plan this each month
  8. Teach your child one essential life skill this year/month, eg crossing the road, swimming, apologising, planning a social outing, cooking, managing social media.
  9. Skype family who live some distance away regularly
  10. Make videos for absent family of your family's daily life
  11. Set up a tradition on each child's birthday of video'ing them reciting/reading a poem or singing a song. Record the highlights of that child's year in the video. Review past videos each year. Put them together for the 21st! Or write them a letter acknowledging the high (and low) points of their year.
  12. On special occasions, plan a treasure hunt or quiz with clues for each child that only that child will know the answer to, eg their favourite colour or where you went on their last birthday or your special name for them. This helps foster their sense of specialness and a unique bond between you.
  13. Record memories –put photos and other memorabilia in albums or somewhere else where they can be easily accessed –they will not be seen in an unedited folder on your computer. Do this with the children. This helps promote a sense of belonging so important to children.
  14. Practice an act of kindness a day - however small or seemingly insignificant, or un-noticed by the world at large. This includes descriptively praising or smiling at anyone you meet! Or picking up someone’s coat when they’ve forgotten to hang it up, or making someone’s bed, etc, but without demanding thanks and pointing out that they have NOT done it.
  15. Make a calendar of birthdays you want to remember and involve the children in making cards/gifts (edible ones are popular) for those people.
  16. Set aside some planning time each month to remind yourself of what values you want to promote in your family and how you want to encapsulate these values eg having a ‘value of the month’ on your fridge or noticeboard.
  17. Make a rule/practice that captures one of these values. Eg I want us to be fun-loving and family oriented so we will do something fun each Friday in Friday Family Fun night.
  18. Turn the rule of never going to sleep on an argument on its head – never engage in an argument when heated! Always take time to cool down and come back to the problem when your cool brain has reasserted itself.
  19. When you’re upset say how you feel without criticism or judgment. Eg when you text on your phone when I’m talking to you I feel unimportant and disrespected. Teach your children to do the same.
  20. Apologise when you’ve made a mistake. Say why it was wrong and take steps to make amends/alter things for the future.
  21. Forgive others for their mistakes and don’t hold grudges. If you can’t forgive perhaps you need something from the other that you can ask for without criticism (see resolution 19 above).

 

Hope 2015 is a calm and happy year for your family.

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October 01st, 2014

Are your children safe with money? 4 Top tips to canny consumers and savvy savers.

 

I was recently asked by Sky TV to comment on the recent announcement that the Department of Education was introducing

finance management into the curriculum for secondary school children. About time too and this is certainly a step in the right direction, as all parents have a moral duty to ensure we make our children safe with money. Managing money is a life skill and needs to be taught both at home and at school. We give our kids swimming lessons in order to keep them safe in water -we don't throw them in the deep end and expect them to swim.

In order to make our children safe with money we need to be giving them some pocket money or an allowance and allow them to earn extra for additional jobs or duties.

My own daughter is at boarding school and the other day reported back that for the last few months she was really proud of herself for managing her monthly allowance so well. Indeed she was 8p under spent last month and I had to smile to myself with the thought that my 15 year old has taken on my values of budgeting and looking after the pennies!

I get many parents saying they are sick and  tired of kids asking for things; why don’t they value what they have? Why are they always asking for more? We call this pester power and it is symptomatic of our current world where instant material gratification is the norm. Are our children spoilt or is this a popular myth? So many parents today become confused with how to cope with the bombardment of advertising messages and children’s demands for more. It’s hard to be clear and firm and consistent with kids and to not succumb to pester power. It can be so difficult to say NO when faced with your children telling you "you're the best mum in the world. I love you so much - thanks for buying me that game."

Parents have the biggest influence on children’s financial behaviour so in order to raise a generation of sound financial citizens here are our 4 top tips to ensuring canny consumers, savvy savers, generous givers and insightful investors! 

  1. Start giving your children small amounts of pocket money whilst at primary school and for teenage children give them an allowance. It sends a very powerful message that we trust you and feel you can be responsible with managing money. How much you give and what they can spend their money on will be personal to each family and age dependent. You might like to compare notes with other parents. So  primary school age kids may be interested in treats, toys or comics whilst teenagers usually are motivated by  mobile phone allowance and items of clothing.
  1. Set up 3 jars: saving, spending and sharing – you may decide what proportion goes into each one or leave that up to your child. Having your children wait and save teaches delayed gratification. If you want to teach compound interest you can even reward with them earning interest on the savings if they are not spent in the month. 
  1. Do talk to your children about the powerful consumer messages the media world employ to entice you to buy goods. Discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates! 
  1. If it’s important to you that your child learns to be focused on/considerate of others, including spending some money on others then model this (let them know what you do by way of charity) as well as requiring it of them. Let them donate toys to a local hospital, or giving to old folks’ homes in the form of a baked cake etc. Many schools have some kind of charity effort before Christmas –if the children are asked to put together a donation box then consider getting them to fund it themselves or work to earn the money you spend on it or at least to go and make the purchases themselves.

Does your child get pocket money or an allowance? At what age did they understand the value of money?

If you have tweens or teens this may be  becoming a hot topic of conversation, so  do check out our latest teen workshop where we explore values and boundaries and learn how to connect with teens, even when they want more and we say no!

If you found this useful please share it on your favourite platform and like us on Facebook 

'The Teenage Years - setting then up for success.' is running on 8th October 2014, 7:30-10pm in Clapham. Click here for details and don't worry if you have missed it contact us so we can let you know when it is running again.

Happy parenting

Elaine and Melissa

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September 30th, 2014

6 ThingsYou'll Regret Saying to Your Children

Do you ever feel guilt and regret for something that you’ve said to your child? The words that just came out of your mouth sounded as if they were from an alien being (and awfully like some things your mother said to you, and you vowed you would never say) and there is no way you would speak like that to your best friend! Immediately you regret what you said – no surprise that your child is now arguing with you. Both of you have just fallen into one of the parenting manholes – it is deep and dark and unless you have your parenting skills toolkit to hand, you are both stuck!

Don’t feel bad –we all make mistakes with the things we say. Read on to the end to see what you can do to remedy matters if you have verbally vomited on your child.

Faber and Mazlish, authors of ‘How to talk so teens will listen, and listen so teens will talk’ tell a story of a girl in her late teens who had borrowed the family car.  The father always insisted that she return the car with the petrol tank full. He was also a real stickler for punctuality, so the girl was faced with a problem when she had to get home for a family event and found herself short of time. Should she fill up and risk being late, or arrive on time, with a not-full petrol tank?  In the end, she gambled, and filled the tank and still managed to make it home on time.  She was so relieved that she raced in and said, “Dad, I’m home on time AND I’ve filled the car with petrol!”  She was met with, “Did you put oil in it as well?”

We parents get into the habit of noticing what’s wrong with our children’s behaviour and we often don’t notice what they’re doing right. It can feel very hard for kids to win parental approval. And sometimes they stop trying.

So what are the things we say that don’t show respect and don’t motivate our children?
“Hurry up Tom. You are so SLOW…..if it was down to you we would never get to school on time”
“I am so DISAPPOINTED in you  – I should have known better than that!”
“You’re so LAZY….I am sure you will ace those exams if you sit around on your backside all day gaming!”

The language we use with our kids is crucial to developing a good sense of self-worth but in the moment when our buttons get pressed we utter statements that, if said by a friend, would cause us to re-think our friendship!
 Things you’ll regret saying to your children:

1.    Labelling. It is so easy to start labelling children  with LAZY, SILLY, NAUGHTY, SELFISH  – the more we label our children the more they believe what we are saying and take it on as part of their identity. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is why ideas such as ‘the naughty step’ can be positively damaging to our children (watch out for another blog on how the naughty step can damage your child.)

2.    “I’m disappointed in you” –this is a killer statement. It’s not always obvious but our children really crave our approval and this phrase lets them know really clearly that they don’t have it. The connotations underlying this are ‘what a failure you are’.

3. “ I’m proud of you”. I know, you’re wondering what’s wrong with that –it’s definitely not the worst thing you could say to a child. We’ve all said this when our child returns from nursery or school clutching the medal or certificate – we are genuinely thrilled for their success. However it is vital we encourage our kids to value themselves, not be dependent on OUR evaluation of them. Encourage them to assess their achievements, saying:
“what did you do today that you were proud of?” or
“you should free proud of yourself for doing that.”

4. ‘If’-  When trying to get kids to do something we often say “if you tidy up your toys, you can watch TV.” ‘If’ implies it is optional. Replace ‘If’ with ‘when’ and you get a completely different response. ‘When’ implies trust that they are going to tidy up and when this is done they will have earned their screen time.

5. ‘But’ – When you put ‘but’ in a sentence it negates what has preceded it and your child only hears the ‘but’ and the negative coming after it.
“Looks as if you have made an effort to tidy the toy room Laura, BUT you have put the Lego bricks in the wrong place again.” Instead you can say:
“Hey Laura– good on you for tidying up the playroom all by yourself! Do you remember the new place we have for the Lego bricks that keeps them safe and away from baby Tom?”

6. “You’re so clever.” Studies have shown that the ‘clever boy’ kind of praise is actually damaging to kids. Children praised for intelligence perform less well on tasks than children who are praised for effort and attitude.

Words are powerful and shape experience.
 What we are trying to do as parents is use our words to encourage good  behaviours and to build up a strong sense of self-worth. If we get it wrong we can apologise. “I’m so sorry I yelled at you and called you stupid. You’re not stupid. I was frustrated and worried that we would be late.” “This morning when we were rushing to leave the house I didn’t tell you how much I appreciate you helping your sister get ready. She loves it when you brush her hair.”

PS: Grab your free parenting insights by signing up to our mailing list by clicking on the ‘Sign-up’ button on the top left of this page.   I promise it will help you bring out the best in your children and give them happy childhoods and bright futures.

Happy parenting!     Elaine and Melissa 

 

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September 25th, 2014

Reading Pleasure not Reading Pain 5 Steps to make it happen.

Guest Blog by Clio Whittaker of Ampersand Learning and presenter of the 'Easy to Read' Workshop

 

 I find it hard to imagine what my life would be like if I couldn’t read English easily. The nearest I can get is when I try to read in French, a language I speak reasonably competently.


Reading a whole book in French is really hard and slow work for me. I rarely attempt to do so and - guess what – I’m not getting any better at it! We all know that being able to read fluently is the key to children’s success at school, and a love of reading provides a lifelong source of information and pleasure.


Helping our children so that they WANT to practise this important and difficult skill and develop a real passion for and fluency in reading, is one of the best things we can do for them as parents.


And it’s good for us too! Sharing a book should be something that we both look forward to, a special and enjoyable time when we can focus on one another and share a good experience.


Unfortunately, too often and for too many children and too many parents, reading becomes a painful chore, associated with tension and unhappiness. So what can be done?

Here are five things that help to make reading a pleasure not a pain:


1. Read often and not for too long
Reading is a skill and, like any skill, you need to practise in order to become good at doing it. If you read with your child often, both of you will become better at reading and enjoy it more. Ten minutes every day is much better than an hour once a week.


2. Talk about what you read
When children hear you talking about what they read, they see that reading is an important part of everyday life for adults. If you don’t often read books yourself, talk about what you read in newspapers, magazines or online. If reading English is difficult for you, start by talking about the pictures either in English or in the language you usually use with your child. Find another person who would enjoy reading regularly with your child – it’s a great way for a friend, sibling or grandparent to build their relationship.


3. Read things that interest your child
No one looks forward to doing something they are not interested in. Read what your child wants to read, rather than what you think they ought to read. There are so many fantastic books for children nowadays, there is bound to be something out there that appeals to your child. If you don’t know how find those books, ask a teacher or librarian for ideas and help. The Booktrust charity is a great source of information about children’s books and their authors and illustrators.


4. Create opportunities to read
Get books, newspapers and magazines into your home so that opportunities to read are always there. Join the local library. Give your child books as presents. Tell the school that you would like to read more books and ask to borrow from their library.

 

5. Make reading as easy as you can for your child
Read a book aloud first so your child knows the story before they try to read the words on their own. Children often don’t need you to tell them when they get a word wrong, because they soon realise it doesn’t make sense. Give them the chance to correct their mistakes. Praise them for trying and don’t leave them to struggle too long over words that are too difficult.


To understand more about what is involved in learning to read, and learn techniques and ways to make a real difference, come along to the ‘Easy to Read’ workshop on Thursday 2nd October! Click HERE for details (click on the workshop tab). Click HERE to Book

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September 19th, 2014

How to Make Reading Fun

At the start of the school year parents are usually very focused on how to help their children do well but sometimes this can backfire. Sometimes our attempts to help can create pressure that puts children off and nowhere is this more so than with reading.

Reading is the gateway to the world of information and creativity and is of course a necessary first step in school-based learning so it’s not surprising we feel under pressure to help our children succeed at mastering this important tool.

What doesn’t work:

  • nagging
  • criticising their efforts –if you feel they can do better ask yourself why they don’t want to try. Is it because they don’t feel very good at it, in which case criticising won’t help, or is it because they feel under pressure or over-controlled, in which case step back and let them decide how, when and where to go about it.
  • offering rewards for reading –this can make a child feel as if reading is so unpalatable they need to be bribed to do it. They feel manipulated.
  • comparing their attainment levels with another, particularly a sibling.
  • labelling. Calling your child stupid or lazy will not motivate them to try harder and will limit the possibility of them changing. It will also damage your relationship with them.

What does work:

There are many ways we can help our children develop a love of reading right from the beginning, and to keep their interest as they progress. There are also many things we can do to encourage and motivate children who have started reading, but are struggling to improve or enjoy it. Most research on reading agrees that the most important part is how the child FEELS about reading, and positive reinforcement and association really helps.

Start any reading session with positive comments and enthusiasm. Talk about the story read last time and ask the child what they enjoyed about it. When you praise your child’s efforts don’t say “well done” or “clever boy” but praise something in the way she read last time. Perhaps how she persevered with difficult words, and tried hard to sound out each word clearly, or how she observed the punctuation marks, or used expression . You could also praise how promptly they came to do their reading, or how consistently they have been remembering to bring their story home, or simply how much you love spending time with them.

When it’s getting tough, try to keep positive. Empathise with your child just how hard it can be to read in the beginning, particularly if everyone else seems to be finding it easy. Take a break, get a glass of water, run around the garden, jump up and down, and come back again a little later. You may find it easier to keep calm and be patient if you have something to do with your hands, like knitting….

It can also help a struggling reader to have some privacy, particularly from annoying or smug siblings. And even if they are finding reading hard, there is always something they are doing right. Look for small things that they are succeeding at, and point them out to the child.

Here are a few practical ideas that you may find helpful.

  1. Make reading comfortable and special.
  • Try to make sure the place you reading in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.
  • Create a special place for your child’s books - decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books. 
  1. Bring reading and stories into everyday life.
  • Read books in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Tell them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.
  • Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.
  • Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics. 
  1. Make reading interesting and fun.
  • Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat.
  • Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can ‘read’ more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.)
  • Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes....
  • Make up quizzes, crosswords, wordsearches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories.
  • Personalise the stories using their names. 
  1. Encourage their creativity and imagination.
  • When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.
  • Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to “publish” copies and distribute to family members. 
  1. Get lots of books.
  • Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection. Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.
  • Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.
  • Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children!

What do you do that makes reading fun?

If you’ve found these ideas useful share them! And get more great ideas by subscribing to our newsletter here. You may also be interested in a workshop by Ampersand Learning, Easy to Read: Encourage a love of reading in your child on Thurs 2nd Oct 2014, 10am-12:30pm, Clapham

Happy parenting,

Melissa and Elaine

 

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September 10th, 2014

Do you use the Naughty Step? Quick tips for a more positive approach to discipline

What parent has not heard of the ‘naughty Step’? It is one of the main sound bites from the Super Nanny program with Jo Frost and indeed if I earnt money for every one of my clients who mentions discipline and the naughty  step in the same sentence I would be a millionaire!

If you are one of many parents who has used it and feels a failure for not being able to make it work, either because your child will not stay there and you end up physically manhandling or he thinks it’s a game and starts laughing at you and blowing raspberries in your face or it has no impact on changing the behaviour – you are not alone! Join the posse of parents who have had the same experience.

Don’t blame yourself if you have experienced this, as the idea of the naughty step is fundamentally flawed.

The naughty step and other punitive and shaming forms of dealing with misbehaviour seem to work in a fashion  - i.e. they can quell a particular behaviour in the moment, but the unintended results are often:

  • resentment and rebelliousness
  • reduced self-worth
  • naughty identity –i.e. the child has a picture of himself as a ‘bad’ person and bad people go on to do bad things, as that is who they think they are
  • he may learn to toe the line in the moment due to fear
  • he does not learn about self-discipline nor understand how to clear up his mistakes

Do you recall the incident last Christmas when a little girl broke a bauble whilst shopping with her Mummy in John Lewis’s and John Lewis then used Face Book to show the world how this little girl had cleared up her mistake?

How effectively you react in the moment depends on your ability to see all misbehaviour as a teachable moment and an opportunity to allow your child to clear up her mistakes.

 

Clearly this little girl’s parents had established a system of positive discipline so she had an opportunity to put right her mistake and will no doubt have felt better for it. I wonder how she would have felt if her parents had punished her by placing her on the naughty step?

A more positive approach to discipline doesn’t amount to permissiveness and it really works. Our experience is that telling off kids or pointing out what they are doing wrong just DOES NOT WORK and often results in the same misbehaviour at a later date.

 So here’s a step by step guide to what to do and say when your child misbehaves:

  1. Approach the matter without anger or judgment. (This may necessitate leaving it until you’re calm).

 

  1. Encourage the child to admit what happened and that it was a mistake. Why was it a mistake?

If child says ‘I didn’t mean to’ don’t lecture her on how that doesn’t matter and that the harm is still done. Descriptively praise the child for not meaning to.

 “I’m so glad that you didn’t mean to. It means a lot to me. It shows me that you know it wasn’t the right thing to do and that maybe you wouldn’t have done it if you’d thought about it.”

Explore with the child (without judgment) how the behaviour happened. Don’t just ask why did you do that? This is so that everyone can learn from the episode –maybe something needs to be altered for the future.

  1. Make amends – set wrongs to rights. Fix someone’s upset feelings. This might include an apology but not unless the child is ready.

 “You’re probably sorry inside your head –when you’re ready you’ll also need to apologise out loud. You’re probably wishing you hadn’t done this.”

Sometimes just clearing up the mess (eg washing the ink off the walls) is enough to help them alter their behaviour ….but shouting at them would not!

  1. Alter behaviour- What can you learn from this? /what can you do differently? What would help you not to do this again? Maybe we need a rule about where you can use your coloured pens?

 

  1. Acceptance - forgive self. We want to teach our children to think ‘when I make a mistake I know how to clear it up.’

Go on  - next time your child gets something wrong try this Mistakes Process and see the results – we guarantee they’ll be much more effective than the naughty step. Let us know what your experiences of using the naughty step have been. What consequences have you used that you think really taught your child something.

Happy parenting!                                

Elaine and Melissa

PS You too should use the Mistakes Process if you feel you got something wrong. This would be very powerful modelling that cleaning up mistakes does not diminish one but is what a good person does.

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September 04th, 2014

Are you dreading homework starting up again?

I recently listened to Alfie Kohn being interviewed on the Great Parenting Show. He commented that homework is akin to children being asked to do a second shift after a full day at school and that  “no research has found any benefit for primary school children” which got me thinking again about this key topic. Homework can, for many families, be the single most stressful issue at home. Few children like it and not many of us parents enjoy homework either.

Is it right that children who have already been at school for up to 8 hours take on a second night shift to do more essays, test papers or worksheets? Does homework improve learning? Or help them gain study skills? Does it teach them responsibility or self-discipline ?

I do believe it’s important to question the value of homework rather than just accept it; that we talk to other parents to compare experiences, and share our concerns with the schools. However, in the meantime, if your children are in conventional education and need to cope with the here and now, here are our thoughts on to make homework easier and less stressful and less likely to extinguish a love of learning.

(1)         Don’t make homework be the first thing you mention  when you see them after school– give them a chance to mention it first and take responsibility for it.

They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you taking responsibility for it, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…

If you need to mention homework, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time to play that game after homework?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)

(2)         Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.

Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s –you will help set the parameters but make sure you get input from them.

(3)         During homework find many things to descriptively praise

Focus on attitudes, focus and improvements rather than results. If they do something well relate it back to strategies or effort employed –don’t say it’s because they’re clever.

“You’re sitting still and really concentrating.” “I like the way you’re using your ruler to make sure that line is straight.” “All that tables’ work you’ve done is paying off –it looks like you’re finding these sums easier now.”

(4)         When homework is complete, first find several things to descriptively praise and then encourage them to look through their work and find improvements.

Don’t point out errors– this is de-motivating and it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work and spotting improvements. This way they get used to the idea that mistakes will happen, but they can identify them, put them right and move on.

“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”

(5)         Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have  you put it, but ask their opinion about the content, share ideas and thoughts.

This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake can be one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.

“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.” Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’

(6)         When they moan and complain about homework, listen.

When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that validating the negative things they say will encourage negativity. None of this is true.

“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” If you say “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, …” This is empathising.

(7)         Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!

We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes about the topics they’re studying.   Or simply go for a walk and talk or let them go out in the dark to see the stars. Or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the idea of homework.

(8)         Stay in – and make science and maths real!

It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake, weigh ingredients and divide into slices, or make salad dressing and see how the elements mix together or not. Try http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/experiments.html

(9)         Model an interest in learning –enthuse!

Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to research something, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives and that we enjoy ideas.

Help us to promote a debate around the value of homework for primary school children.

Do you agree with the amount of homework your children get? What do you hope your children will gain from doing homework ?

Hope everyone settles back into their new terms well and let us know your thoughts on homework.

Happy Parenting

Melissa and Elaine

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August 29th, 2014

Starting School

The new school year is not far away..... and the key to a successful start to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

Familiarise your child with their new school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. Hopefully you will have had a visit where your child could see the parts that will affect him - his classroom, the toilets, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the playground.

  • Reading books about starting school is a good way to teach your child about the reality of school life. Try the following books:
  • Uniform - Get any uniform well in advance and try it on. Practice getting in and out of it and go through the morning routines eg would you prefer that uniform goes on after breakfast to minimise the chance of spills? Should your child get dressed in the kitchen to avoid the distractions of a bedroom? Should hair brushes and toothbrushes be downstairs to make for a quicker getaway? All these things need thinking through.
  • Practice
    • If they’re starting school for the first time explain unfamiliar things like bells and what they signify.
    • Play schools –sit on the mat to get them used to ‘circle time’, call the register and practice saying hello, practice making eye contact, asking questions and putting hands up, asking to go to the toilet. Let them be the teacher and you the student and explore through play what behaviour is required in school.
    • If they’re not yet independent in going to the toilet on their own, it’s a good time to practice wiping bottoms, flushing and washing hands.
  • Friends –are a very important part of school
    • If you know of anyone else starting at your child’s school try to make contact before the term begins so there is a familiar face when they go. The school may put you in touch with people in your neighbourhood.
    • If your child is a bit shy it will be worth practising some opening lines for making conversation with other children. Remind them that the other children will all be new too.
  • Chat through what school will be like (in a positive way) –
    • Tell them that you will be there every day at the end of the day to talk about things and look forward to hearing about what they did. But don’t pump them for information –kids are often tired at the end of the day and they live in the moment so often don’t share much about what happened earlier.
    • Explain that if they are worried about anything, they can always go and speak to the teacher and that you and the teacher are working together to make sure that things go well for them at school.
    • Maybe talk about your experiences of being a child at school (positive ones). Mention friends, the activities you liked best, the games you played, the teachers you remember fondly. Maybe find a photo of you when you were at school.

 

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.

 

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.

 

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this puzzle. It’s complicated but you kept going until you finished it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”

 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.

 

When we acknowledge negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. When we accept feelings we encourage our children to talk.

 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new things you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”

 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.

 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.

 

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.

 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Sometimes it’s not till the excitement of the new activity wears off that your child experiences some doubt.

 

Talk about common concerns around starting a new school:

    • Will the teacher like me?
    • Will the other children like me?
    • Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
    • How will I know what to do?
    • What if I get lost?
    • What if I need to go to the loo?
    • I don’t like the look of the toilets.
    • I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
    • It is too noisy and confusing at lunchtime/sports or I don’t have anyone to play with.
    • How will I remember where to put my things?

 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be feeling both excited and a bit nervous about starting school. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

 

And lastly!

 

First, remember how tiring school is in the beginning.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.

 

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, this is reflected in our children.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

 

What are your memories of starting school –either yourself or your older children? My eldest had settled into nursery so easily I wasn’t prepared for the upset when she started ‘big school’. I often went on to work upset after dropping her off.

If you’ve found these ideas helpful please share them on your favourite forum/social media platform and sign up for our regular newsletter (click here)–full of parenting news, information and ideas.

 

Happy parenting,

 

Melissa and Elaine

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August 28th, 2014

Back to School

The new school year is not far away..... and the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

 

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

 

Physical Preparation

 

This time of year is usually so hectic. This year make getting ready for school a team effort and involve the children as much as possible.

 

  • Change schedules - Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Whether it is going to bed or waking up earlier, allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.
  • Uniformchildren have a habit of growing in the school holidays so do make sure the uniform and shoes still fit in time. Don’t leave it till the night before to check it’s clean and pressed. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his uniform, putting it in the wash and checking that it’s ready the night before. Is everything marked? Perhaps the children can even learn to sew on those name tapes and polish shoes.
  • Other kitinvolve the children in assembling what they need for school –there will probably be a checklist from the school.
  • Lunch if your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it - and eating it - as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. This might be a time to start involving them in the preparation.
  • Infrastructure –set up white/notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quick getaway in the mornings.

 

Chat through what is needed for the first day back - ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers.  Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies but they also give you LOTS of opportunities for Descriptive Praise, which also helps boost self-esteem.

 

And there’s a great side effect – it will reduce the pressure on you. The return to school is a busy time of year and if you feel overwhelmed and underappreciated you might fall back into old habits of nagging, shouting, and the like!  

 

Emotional Preparation

 

Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together.

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.

 

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.

 

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you can do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”

 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.

 

When we accept and validate negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately.

 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”

 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.

 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.

 

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.

 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. Did you love every single day of school?! It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going.

 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers.  Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation.

 

And two last tips!

 

First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.

 

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

 

What do you do that helps prepare children for school life? Elaine found that adjusting the coat pegs to a height her children could reach without a stool meant that they actually hung up their coats!

If you found these tips useful why not sign up for a regular dose of parenting news, information and ideas in our newsletter (click here to sign up) and share this blog with your friends?

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

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August 27th, 2014

Talking (and listening) to baby

If you’re expecting your first baby you will have done a lot of preparation. You will have been to doctor’s check-ups and ante natal classes and you’ve probably been trying to eat healthily and take care of yourself physically. You may have been taking special supplements for mothers-to-be and no doubt you’ve been avoiding a long list of prohibited foods. You may also have just gone off some! So those are all the physical needs of pregnancy taken care of. No doubt you’ve had lots of advice on taking care of your baby’s physical needs too. You will have some idea already of how to feed and wind the baby, bathe it and change its nappy. 

But will you know how to communicate with your baby? What? Surely it’s not that hard? Anyway they can’t understand what you’re saying.

 

 

Well, they may not understand the exact meaning of the words but right from the beginning parents can use ways of touching and holding their baby, responding to its cries and other forms of communication, to help them become secure and trusting and to know that they are cared for, that they matter. Babies make bids to connect with others from the moment they are born and they communicate more than you might think.

Linguistic processes begin long before birth. Experts know that babies are able to hear noises in the womb - the ear and the auditory part of the brain that allow this are formed by around 23 weeks' gestation. Babies get familiar with their mother’s voice (and dad’s) while in the womb and are soothed by it from the minute they are born.

Your baby is ready to interact with you from the moment it is born.

How to talk to baby

When a baby is born it cannot focus very well more than 20cms away which is exactly the right distance to an adult’s face when feeding. It helps penetrate the double vision that exists until the eye muscles strengthen if we use the exaggerated expressions that seem to come naturally when talking to babies.

Babies are fully engaged in the moment, with their attention focused solely on the parent. Their favourite toy is you. They like it when adults change the way they speak to a higher tone with exaggerated words. It also helps babies decipher sounds if adults speak slowly, repetitively and in a sing-song way. A baby’s readiness to interact with you is dependent on its alertness so parents need to read the cues to judge whether baby is ready and able to interact.

There are 6 states of consciousness:

quiet alert –baby is attentive, breathing is regular, face looks bright. This is the best time to interact

active alert –baby is moving, fussy, sensitive to stimuli, her breathing is irregular –this signals a need for feeding, changing or repositioning.

crying –again a signal for change or cessation of activity.

quiet sleep –still and difficult to awaken. This is not good time to play or connect although new parents have been known to wake their baby to play with them. This phase doesn’t last long!

active sleep –moving, breathing irregular, may make faces or smile. Feeding in this state is often unsuccessful.

drowsy- delayed responsiveness, breathing irregular, eyes may open and close but appear glazed and heavy lidded. If left alone baby will return to sleep or gradually awaken.

To communicate well with your newborn recognise baby’s cues –learn what your baby is saying and help him to self soothe. Because a baby has an immature nervous system face to face play can occasionally overstimulate the baby so adults need to follow baby’s cues. It is important to recognise when your baby is overstimulated or upset and to help her to self soothe 

  • signs of overstimulation
  • looking away from you (to decrease stimulation, not because they are rejecting you). The baby may suck on a hand to regulate arousal/self soothe and the parent needs to allow this to happen or she may lose the ability to soothe herself and may show increasing signs of distress.
  • shielding face with hands
  • pushing away
  • wrinkling the forehead
  • arching the back
  • fussing
  • crying 

It is important to respond to baby’s cues so that she gets the message that what she does matter to her parents and that she can affect her world by letting people know how she feels.

If baby is overstimulated:

  • back off and let her calm down and give her a rest if she is showing the above signs, but is she is enjoying the game –keep going. Let the baby look away and soothe himself. If he can’t soothe himself give him something to suck or pick him up and rock him, making soothing noises. Nursing or feeding may help.
  • stay calm
  • soften your voice
  • sing to baby
  • maybe continue with play, action or song but in a softer, less stimulating way

Most of this will probably come naturally and hopefully both mums and dads will enjoy playing with, touching and communicating with their newborns. Just remember that it’s not one-way traffic and that your baby is trying to communicate with you too. Be open to what your child is saying from early on and you will have mastered one of the secrets to successful parenting –connectedness. 

Sometimes parents find themselves saying the most inane things to their babies –what’s the weirdest thing you’ve said to your baby/heard parents say to their babies?

If you’ve found these ideas interesting share this with other expectant or new parents and sigb up to our newsletter (click here) for other free ideas, suggestions and information. 

Happy parenting! 

Elaine and Melissa

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August 21st, 2014

Exam Results - Handling Disappointment

A level and GCSE results have just come out. If your child has done well, congratulations.  Go celebrate with them and acknowledge the effort they must have put in to get the results they did.

 

But maybe your son or daughter just got results he or she wasn’t happy with or that you weren’t happy with! If the outcome was not as hoped for read on to find out how best to respond.  

There’s much advice around at the moment about what to do if your child doesn’t get the hoped for grades or the place at the institution of his choice. There are courses of action to take and it’s not the end of the world. There are often alternatives. 

But before you can get on to discussing any solutions or steps to take it’s important to acknowledge the feelings –both yours and your child’s.

Acknowledge to yourself how you’re feeling. Are you confused? Was this result unexpected? Are you angry –because it was totally expected given the paltry amount of work your beloved offspring put in? No doubt you’re feeling anxious. There is a huge amount of pressure to do well in exams and it is easy to think that your child’s future has just slipped away from him. You need to acknowledge these feelings because if not they’ll fuel your responses and you will not be able to support your child in his moment of anxiety.

He’ll be feeling pretty down, and possibly guilty and anxious. Even if he doesn’t show it. Some children will take failure to get grades or places at college or university as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully. If your child has got poor GCSE results but his place at school is secure then he needs to be able to pick himself up and move on with determination to do better. Even if there has to be a rethink about how he will continue his education he will need parents’ support to avoid him giving up. Parents can help build self-confidence and increase resilience and help him to see that increased or redirected effort will pay off.

Over time parents can help with ongoing studies by:

• encouraging and motivating young people by descriptively praising them extensively, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
• avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
• developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What parents model around failure will count for a lot too.
• encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him chores to do which require skill and responsibility. Validate his opinions.  This demonstrates to the child his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.

(For more on this see our Parenting Insight Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity. Click here)
 
There will need to be decisions about further education choices soon. (For help try the Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000 between Thursday 14 and Saturday August 23, calls are free from landlines and some mobile networks or the UCAS Contact Centre on 0871 468 0468).

But in the immediate aftermath of the results parents need to respond with emotion coaching:


Even if you think he could have worked harder there is no point berating him for that now.

“You’re obviously really disappointed with these results Tom. I know you’d been hoping for better grades in History and Biology [and you needed As in those subjects to get into Exeter university]. Maybe you think Dad and I are mad at you. I’m disappointed with the results too but could never be disappointed in you. I know that you’ll be feeling really worried about what to do now and we’ll discuss that later.

Life throws up difficulties all the time and we will support you to deal with this difficulty. I have faith in your ability to show the courage and determination to get over this hiccup when you’ve had a bit of time to absorb it. Right now you might be thinking there’s no point in doing anything. You’ve really been knocked for six so you may be feeling a bit hopeless. You might be comparing your results with your sister’s too. It’s hard to follow in the wake of someone for whom academics seems to come so easily. [don’t be tempted to say “and if you’d worked as hard as she did you might have got somewhere…”] When you’re feeling a little less flat come and we’ll talk about what you can do next. This is one of those life blips that is going to require the kind of resilience you showed when you broke your shoulder and couldn’t play rugby for so long. You didn’t give up then and I’m sure you won’t now either”
 
Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them. The first step is to just admit that this sucks and he feels rubbish. Only then can the child move on to look at solutions.


If you have found this useful or interesting please share in your favourite media and send us your comments. To sign up for our newsletter click here

How have you dealt with disappointments in your life? Have you given up? When have you been able to give things another go? We’d love to hear about your experiences with setbacks, academic or otherwise. Tell us your story. The most inspiring will win our publication Creating Happy Learners.

Happy parenting

Melissa and Elaine

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August 20th, 2014

Moving from a Couple to a Family

Are you ready emotionally?

The tragic news last week of the death of one of the world’s most beloved actors and comics, Robin Williams, has left many of us reeling and wondering why people take their own lives. His battle with drink and drugs and the ‘black dog’ of depression is well documented and sadly is not as uncommon as we may believe.

Another tragic case recently, nearer to our practice in SW London concerned a young mother who, also  suffering from depression, took  not her own life but the lives of her three children. Mental illness can affect us all even without such catastrophic and well broadcast outcomes. A recent report from our local hospital - St George’s in Wandsworth - highlighted that many new mothers are affected by depression post birth.

If you are an expectant  parent, I am certain you will have  prepared for the physical aspects of having a baby, done the ante-natal classes, prepared your birth plan, maybe even packed your hospital bag; you’ve bought the cot, the pram, the clothes etc, etc and you’ve probably being nurturing your body during your pregnancy. Hopefully your medical advisers have spoken to you about post-partum depression.

But are you prepared emotionally for the transition to parenthood?
 
Have you thought about how it will affect you and your relationships with your partner, your parents, your friends? Do you know what to expect of the first few months? How will you cope with all the (well-meaning but possibly conflicting) advice? How will you take care of your own mental health to ensure that your baby gets the best possible start in life?

Every year approximately 720,000 babies are born in the UK. Having a baby is an opportunity for a new beginning – new relationships are built, new goals are set and new dreams are created. However, as well as the excitement that comes with becoming a family the transition to parenthood also brings with it stresses for the couple which can impact on the infant. Research shows that after the birth of a child many couples experience a drop in relationship quality which can lead to compromised parenting and decreased quality in parent-infant interaction. (Source: The Gottman Institute)

Years of research show that a strong emotional life between the parents is the best foundation for a baby’s development

As you move from a couple to a family be aware of some of the changes you can expect. Being aware is being prepared and ensures you are realistic about what changes are afoot.

• Both parents’ love for the new baby can form a very strong bond between them as they take on new responsibility for another life. A couple may act more as a team than ever before; becoming  more flexible, learning to adapt, to be creative. You will reassess your values and goals and get in touch with your fun, playful side.

• Babies can teach adults to wonder and marvel at simple things, to experience the joy of discovery. Children are great teachers and we learn a lot about ourselves through interacting with them.

• Research shows that both men and women (about 67%) experience a decline in relationship satisfaction after the first baby is born and it continues to decline after the birth of the second child (which adds to the complexity of family dynamics and places additional demands on resources). There is also often a change in relationship with your own parents and with friends with or without children.

• Sleep deprivation can lead to depression (one study shows even when healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep for one month they became depressed) so get as much support as you can and don’t be a super Mum! Naps are more important than housework.

 Sex/intimacy declines – be patient. Developing a culture of appreciation for each other will help greatly –that means telling each other regularly what you appreciate about each other. Develop a daily practice around this or it won’t happen. My partner and I kept a little book on our bedside table and we wrote one thing in it each evening that we appreciated about each other. It created a lovely atmosphere of trust and made us both feel more confident in our handling of our new daughter.

• Fathers sometimes withdraw if the mother or the women in the mother’s circle, in an attempt to be supportive to her, inadvertently make him feel not needed. He may also feel replaced in her affections as she bonds with the new baby. This needs to be aired. Fathers have a very special role to play with newborns and are just as capable of caring from them as mums. (More on this in subsequent blogs)

• Reduced emotional availability-conversation/communication declines with tiredness. Awareness of this possibility allows you to make communicating a priority.

• Philosophical/psychological changes-shift in roles, relationship roles may become more traditional than previously, which can be challenging for both parents. If you’ve been a working parent in a challenging job and now you’re at home on leave or you’ve made the decision to be a stay at home parent you may experience a drop in status that is challenging. Reframe these assumptions by thinking about how important, challenging and rewarding your role as a parent is. Nurturing a small human being is a critically important job that goes way beyond the physical aspects of her care.

Ensure you are emotionally prepared for your baby.

Had you thought about how having a baby would affect your relationship with your partner? Do let us know what you do to nurture your couple relationship.

If you found these ideas interesting please share them with friends and family and subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to sign up

PS  Watch out for the follow up blogs on how to build a strong emotional foundation with your partner and reduce conflict between partners and how to communicate and bond with your baby.

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

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August 15th, 2014

Will you stop fighting!

Does it really push your buttons when your kids fight? When they’re home over the summer holidays they’re in each other’s company more and they may goad each other out of sheer boredom. You know sibling fighting is meant to be normal, but seriously, over who gets to open the door when dad gets home? Which, after all, he does every day.  Really? What did you envisage when you brought into the world a sweet little sister or brother for your adored first-born? That she should become a punch bag for him? That he should call her all manner of names and tease her? That she should provoke the life out of him? I thought not. You were probably like me with fantasies of them playing happily together and keeping each other occupied while you watched over them benignly with cup of tea in hand.
 
When my boys were younger I thought we’d made a serious mistake in having more than one, one which we hadn’t worked out until too late. My older boy turned into a monster around his brother. He tormented him endlessly and seemed so aggressive with him I envisaged a future where I would be visiting him behind bars as I thought he’d turned into a psychopath.

The advice I received was to stay out of their fights. I tried to do this but it was as if I’d given permission for the older one to bully the younger. My younger child felt abandoned. I could understand why I shouldn’t take sides in their disputes but I needed to do something….didn’t I?
Studies have shown that effective intervention has the effect of reducing the number and intensity of sibling rows. (Perlman, M and Ross, H ‘The benefits of parent intervention in their children’s disputes: An examination of concurrent changes in children’s fighting styles.’ Child Development 1997)

Faber & Mazlish’s Siblings Without Rivalry had some good ideas.

Parents need to know when to get involved in their children’s arguments and when to stay out of them.

We need to distinguish between minor squabbles and major on-going battles. We decide upon our intervention based on the level of dispute. We need to be ready to intervene when the children seem to be struggling, or the situation is potentially dangerous, but our intervention is only to encourage and support them to resolve their dispute constructively themselves.

And when we do intervene, we need to do so in ways which not only encourage children to sort out their own disputes but which also support the children’s relationships, and reduce the risk of long term conflict. If we take sides or impose judgments not only does the accused retaliate later but the children don’t learn how to resolve matters themselves.

The basic approach is to:
• describe the problem
• acknowledge how each child feels
• help the children find a solution; support them in using more constructive conflict resolution strategies

Example: Jack, aged 5, wants to watch Peppa Pig on TV but Bella, aged 8, is watching her ‘Frozen’ DVD and singing (loudly) along to ‘Let it go’.

Jack says “I want to watch Peppa now Bella” and Bella just says “no”, so Jack hits her, saying “It’s my turn now horrible Bella.” And Bella shouts and hits him back. Jack cries. Dad thinks it’s time to intervene and doesn’t say “Ok, you two that’s enough. Bella don’t be so mean, give Jack a turn”. (He did that last week and it ended in tears all round – Dad too, well, almost.)

Dad: Jack I can see you’re upset. We don’t hit in this family. Can you tell Bella what you want, rather than calling her names?
Jack: She’s being mean. I want a turn.
Bella: But it’s my turn now. I want to watch the end of this video.
Jack: You watched it on the weekend. I want to watch Peppa now.
Dad: (Dad has some sympathy – he wouldn’t mind some respite from ‘Let it go’ himself.) Jack is saying he wants a turn to watch his show. Bella is saying she’s not ready for her turn to be over….Hmm…That’s a tough situation...I know it can be hard to wait, Jack.
Jack: I don’t want to wait…I want to watch Peppa now! Bella gets to watch her show all the time.
Dad: You feel you’re not getting a fair go? Can you tell Bella that and ask her when she’ll be ready to give you a turn? Bella can you tell Jack, without hitting, what would be a fair time for you to have on the video.
Jack: It’s not fair Bella, you had a turn on the weekend and I haven’t had my turn for ages. When will it be my turn?
Bella: Ok Jack! You can watch Peppa when the next song is finished. Why don’t you be Olaf?
Dad gives lots of descriptive praise for both children for resolving this situation constructively.
Both kids feel heard and they have learnt how to assert themselves without hitting.

Managing sibling conflicts is one of the most difficult parts of parenting. Helping children to resolve disputes without abusing power or resorting to name-calling or violence is a great gift.

If you found these ideas useful please share them with friends and family and for more parenting insights sign up for our newsletter click here

Happy parenting!
Elaine and Melissa

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August 13th, 2014

Is your Digital Distraction Spoiling Family Life?

Do you worry about the impact of the digital world on your kids? Do you despair about smart phones at the dinner table, late night texting and use of chat rooms, interrupted sleep patterns and children unable to stop gaming?

 “I’ll stop in a minute – I just need to finish this level.”

Did you know that latest research tells us that by the age of seven, the average British child born today will have spent an entire year of his or her life in front of a screen?
 
Do you find yourself checking your emails, Face book and text messages every 10 minutes?

I had a really harsh wake-up call recently after reading Frances Booth’s ‘Distraction Trap’ book. I was inspired to get the whole family to do the ‘How digitally distracted are you?’ test. The results were not as I expected and it was truly alarming to discover that THE most digitally distracted person in the house was ME! I have been finding over the years that I fallen into the distraction trap and was blissfully unaware of the impact it was having on all the family. The digital world is here to stay and at The Parent Practice we are fully embracing it as we prepare for the launch of our on-line course. The digital world is exciting and powerful and the opportunities it presents for children and adults (and businesses) is immense.

I am starting to change my mindset around this however and becoming more aware of the impact of gadgets on our family life. The other day a client recounted a wonderful story about when she took her son to his swimming class last week, after the session he came over to her and in a loud angry voice said:
 “You weren’t watching me!” Mum, immediately defended herself and explained:
“Oh, I was watching you  - you were wonderful and did an amazing dive.” 
“But every time I looked up, I could see you on your phone texting or reading email messages!”
Thank goodness this boy was emotionally intelligent enough to explain how he felt as if he had not been able to do this, I can guarantee his emotions and feelings would have come out as negative, demanding behaviour. He was trying to say he did not feel important or valued and that special time when Mum could have been watching him was sabotaged by the digital distraction.

What can you do?

Be the change you want to see.
For many of us using our electrical devices is a must. They keep us organised and allow us to keep in touch and entertained. We rely on them and enjoy them, yet often we berate our children for doing exactly what we are doing ourselves!  Hypocritical or what?

1. Look at your own habits - ask yourself why you do what you do and when? If you are constantly checking your messages, outside of work, is this more important than being with your family at this time?

2. Ask yourself what you fear missing out on. If you don’t keep checking your phone there is a real and tangible fear that we will miss something very important or worthwhile, but maybe what we are missing out on is being present with our children.  I recall when my son was a baby (he is now 18 years old) the mobile phone market was still in its introductory phase and when I was late picking him up from the child minder due to train delays, unable to connect with her, the world did not end. We survived.

3. Modelling is 80% of parenting    - children absorb all the mannerisms and habits and language we use. I know this and I also know I have some bad habits, so for many, including me, this is uncomfortable reading.  Just by being more aware of how we are using devices and gadgets will raise our levels of consciousness.

4. Be more in the present - and be aware of the environment around you

5. Have gadget free zones – ensure as a family you sit down and agree gadget-free zones and times and how about a gadget-free day or weekend? We recommend no one in the family has their phones in the bedroom. Or does the mere thought of that send you spinning?

6. Quick tip –when at your computer disable the email pop-up functionality so that you can focus on one thing at once. This has been found to increase productivity hugely.

7. Reframe device-free time – When you’re waiting for anything don’t just reach for your handset –you don’t need to look busy and connected for the strangers who may observe you. Think of this as creative thinking or planning time rather than ‘wasted’ time.

PS:  When are you going to plan your digital downtime TODAY?

If you are interested in exploring this topic further see our publication ‘Parenting in a digital world’, packed full of ideas and skills you can implement immediately. If you found these ideas useful please share them with friends and family and for more parenting insights sign up for our newsletter.

Happy parenting!  Elaine and Melissa

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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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July 07th, 2014

Exam Results - responding to disappointment

Disappointed boyIn the UK educational system children could be doing exams for entry to their next educational establishment – and getting the results – at any time of year. They sit for 11+ in March, Common entrance (CE) generally in June but possibly January or November also and A levels results come out in August. And sometimes there are disappointing results.

So maybe some time this year your child sat an exam and got results he or she wasn’t happy with or that you weren’t happy with! If the outcome was not as hoped for read on to find out how best to respond. Of course if your child has been accepted at the school/university of your choice congratulations –but you don’t need help from me. Although possibly a word of caution about giving extra rewards for doing well in exams. Achieving the coveted entrée to the school you think is right for your child is the result and the reward for all the work they put in. If you dangle the promise of a trip to Disneyland or a new ipad in the hope of encouraging harder work from your child it may well backfire as your child feels manipulated and such an approach does not encourage self-discipline.

I recently heard about one boy who had undergone multiple exams – Y6 assessment exams for various schools which give conditional offers for Y9 subject to CE, and he’d also done the 11+ for the London day schools. He didn’t get a place. Not surprisingly he felt pretty down. The London day school situation is getting crazy. I hear the numbers are about 10-12 applicants for each place. The pass rates are going up towards 65-70% and the interview which used to be a token check is now considered crucial. The system creates an enormous amount of pressure for children and many educationalists worry that it is destroying their childhoods.

Some children will take failure to get into schools as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully.

This particular boy then didn’t do all that well in his end of year exams; not badly, just not quite as well as he or his teachers might have expected. And other kids picked up on it –he was subjected to some tough teasing. On top of his ‘failure’ to get into the schools earlier in the year it hit hard. He retreated into himself and became moody and angry. He found it hard to concentrate in class, and was unwilling to put his hand up or volunteer to take part in activities.

Luckily this boy’s mum was doing a course with us and got a lot of support at a time that is tough for parents. It is so easy to get sucked into the pressurising vortex and add to our children’s anxieties in our efforts to support them. Year 6 is a tough year for these boys, they are still so young, and yet they are expected to produce results and perform well. His mum started thinking ahead and preparing for the two years to come before he faces exams again. She wanted to build his self-confidence and increase his resilience and help him to prepare for his exams to the best of his ability while getting a whole education and without burning out with worry.

Over time his mum can help him by:
•    encouraging and motivating him by descriptively praising him extensively, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
•    avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
•    developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What his parents pay most attention to is crucial –is it his results or his effort, the attitude he shows or strategies he employs? What they model around failure will count for a lot too.
•    encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him chores to do which require skill and responsibility. Validate his opinions.  This demonstrates to the boy his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.

For more on this see our publication Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity.

In the short term his mum can respond with emotion coaching:

If this boy is struggling with what the other boys are saying about his results, it will be helpful for him to have a response.  Rather than telling him not to worry what the other boys think, that it doesn’t matter what they say, or that he just needs to ignore them, or suggest he should tell a teacher, which is what we feel compelled to say, his mum can empathise with him. “That’s tough, having them talking about your results. It must make you feel very uncomfortable, even angry. You wish they didn’t know, or if they did know, that they would keep it to themselves.”

Having connected with how he feels about it, she can turn to solutions. The aim is that he comes up with the solution, but he may need a little guidance from her to start. “I imagine you just don’t know what to say when they talk about your results. You probably want to shout at them to leave you alone, that it’s none of your business. I am glad you’ve not been rude. Not saying anything doesn’t feel right either, does it? I wonder what you could say?”

Obviously it depends what they are saying – my experience was some boys taunting one of my sons “we beat you, we beat you, we’re better than you” and his response was “I’m glad you did well”. He wasn’t completely glad, but apart from that it was relatively honest! The point was there was nothing they could say back. We had to practice it a few times at home first but then it was a response he could use.

If you are worried that your child is negative and pessimistic, and this will be particularly hard if you are a positive and optimistic person, accept his concerns in the same way rather than trying to change him straight off. This only has the effect of making him feel wrong.  “I see your point about this – and it’s clearly worrying you. You’ve thought about all the pitfalls and possible dangers. That’s clear thinking. This is what keeps us safe and helps us put things right.” The trick then is to flesh out his worries and then put them into perspective. Are there any possible upsides? Is there any chance things may go well? How likely is each scenario? He will be more willing to do this with you when you have heard and accepted his point of view first.

Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them.

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May 28th, 2014

Do your Children Read for Pleasure?

Boy readingAt the Hay Reading Festival last week, the  children’s laureate Michael Rosen announced the start of a campaign to get children to read for pleasure. “READ FOR PLEASURE” – of course children should read for pleasure we all cry, but clearly there is something very amiss with our educational system if the energy and focus from government is a fixation on phonics and spelling and grammar. Parents regularly tell us that reading set by schools is about completing a set number of pages and it can quickly become a chore. Without realising it our children quickly start to lose a natural love of stories and we create a society of reluctant readers. The memories many of us have of losing ourselves in a childhood story has been replaced with the drudgery of parents having to force children to read set pieces and a prescribed number of pages. There is little enjoyment,  little understanding of the story and no emotional connection for the child.

So here are some top tips to ensure reading is a pleasure in your family: 

1.      Make reading comfortable and special.

Try to make sure the place you read in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.

Create a special place for your child’s books – decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books. Some families recreate a library space with books presented on shelves with covers facing you.

2.      Bring reading and stories into everyday life.

As well as reading books to them read books yourself in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Tell them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.

Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.

Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.

3.      Make reading interesting and fun.

Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat.

Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can ‘read’ more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.) Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes….

Make up quizzes, crosswords, word searches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories.

Personalize the stories using their names.

4.      Encourage their creativity and imagination.

When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.

Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to ‘publish’ copies and distribute to family members.

5.      Encourage love of story without books

Don’t forget the oral tradition of telling stories to give them a reason to want to read.

You don’t have to be a very creative story teller –just talk to them about when you were a child or re-create familiar fairy tales with different characters or settings. Children love familiarity.  Make up stories together. Play story games on long journeys where everyone has a go at a sentence in the story. (You may need some rules about not killing off their siblings’ characters! Yes, you can tell there’s a story there.)

Ask them to draw a picture that tells a story and get them to tell you the sotry when its done. 

6.            Get lots of books.

Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection.  Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.

Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.

Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children! 

I recently gave my god child a magazine subscription to the National Geographic  for children and it was a huge success. The only issue was her twin sister wanted to read as well at the same time as her….. Great news that the girls wanted to read but did I just add to sibling rivalry I wonder?  Watch out for next blog on siblings and how to promote harmony

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May 09th, 2014

How to use praise effectively - a grammatical approach

Girl and tray

This week I had two different experiences of the use of praise. I heard a psychologist on the radio talking about how it was important to use adjectives rather than verbs when praising children. He said when we use adjectives as in “You are helpful”, rather than “you are helping” this enables children to see themselves as helpful; being helpful becomes part of their identity.

He also suggested that when describing behaviour that we don’t like, negative behaviours, it’s better to use words that distance the action from the child, such as “that was a silly thing to do”. This makes sense at one level. We don’t want our children to see themselves as silly or bad or wrong and they will do that if they hear those labels applied to them. When they think of themselves in those terms it’s not surprising if we get silly, bad or wrong behaviour. We do want our children to take on good qualities as part of their identity, to build strong self-esteem and because a child who sees himself as helpful is likely to behave in a helpful manner.

But there are two problems with this analysis.

The first is that when young children, generally under the age of eight, hear negative labels like naughty, bad or wrong even if they’re carefully being applied by a well-meaning adult to theirbehaviour rather than to them, eg that was naughty, the child often applies it to himself. This is an egocentric stage of his development when everything applies to him. It’s really better to be very wary of using negative labels of any kind around children including ones like shy, disorganised and bossy which we might not think are so terrible. We run the risk of pigeon-holing our children and cutting off possibilities for them to be a different way.

The second problem is that this kind of acknowledgment on its own suffers from lack of credibility. Our children need evidenced-based praise!  I was working with a group of 9 and 10 year olds this week who, when told they were brave or caring or kind immediately denied it! They rejected this form of praise and would not believe it. It was intriguing how uncomfortable the children felt. This often happens as kids get older. A child may hear this kind of praise and doubt it because he is not always a helpful person and it may create pressure for him to be always helpful, which he knows he can’t do. He will know others who are more helpful than he is and discount the well-intentioned words. This is all the more true for a child who has developed a negative identity over time. A child who has grown up hearing a lot of criticism will find it even harder to believe positive words when they come his way.

So what can adults do?  It is more believable and less pressurising if, when you’re praising, you also use verbs “you’re taking your plate over to the dishwasher –you’re helping” to point out what the child is doing that is helpful. Notice and mention what the child is doing right. That way the evidence is before him and he can’t deny it. It is more likely to be believed and taken in at the level of identity. He can see that he can be a helpful person. We call this descriptive praise but it describes the actions of the child and it is an evidenced-based approach which is really effective because it is credible.

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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 18th, 2014

Children Are Hard Wired For Attention

Naughty girl

Parents often comment on the difficulty of managing multiple children and how everyone  always clamours for mum’s attention.

Attention is always a good place to start when thinking about being an effective parent.  Rule No. 1 is that children are hardwired to seek our attention.  It ensured their survival when we all lived in caves.  When everyone is striving to get our attention it is helpful to replace the thoughts ‘Why are they so demanding’, ‘Can’t they see I am overwhelmed’, ‘How do they expect me to do everything at once’………..with the thought ‘of course they want my attention – they’re hardwired for this’.  It doesn’t immediately turn the moment into sweetness and light, but it does make you feel a bit more empathetic towards them….and realize they are not doing this because they are thoughtless and mean.

Here are a few tips to help smooth the way:

Ensure you notice and comment on good behaviour significantly more than bad.  All too often we say nothing when they are behaving well and only pay attention when they are starting to misbehave.  From a kid’s perspective any attention is better than none – so they will take the bad route if they have to.

Try to carve out some individual time for each child.  It may only be 30 mins once a week, but in those 30 minutes let the child lead the activity.  It might be a dolls’ tea party with your five year old daughter or a game of hide and seek with your eight year old son.   The point is they will feel valued and special by having this time – and it is about their agenda – so no pretending it is special time with mum whilst they practice their times tables!

Every so often organise individual ‘daddy dates’.  Perhaps a visit to Pizza Express, a trip to the Science Museum but it could also be as simple as a walk in the park.  Diarise it in advance and mention it in the run up to the event.  It will make the child feel you are really focused on them.

Turn your phone off over meal times so you are not continually distracted and can have a proper conversation.  It is also excellent modeling for the times we want them to turn off their digital devices.

If your children continually talk over each other, institute a talking stick.  This was an ancient Native American tradition where only the person with the talking stick was allowed to speak and they were always allowed to finish before the talking stick was handed over to the next person.  Start with a physical stick and then move to a metaphorical one once everyone understands the concept.

Try to promote collaboration between siblings – not competition.  You want your children to feel there is plenty of attention to go round and they are not in a competition for it.  In this vain try to avoid saying things like ‘I wish you could be more organized in the mornings like your sister’, ‘why can’t you eat as nicely as your brother’, ‘the first child to finish their dinner is the winner’.

Schedule quality family relaxation time at the weekend.  Play a board game together, have a long lunch in which everyone gets involved in helping to prepare and clear up.  Go and play catch in the playground.  Ensure the weekend is not just a non-stop series of scheduled activities with children and parents all going in separate ways

In a recent survey by UNICEF UK the thing that children wanted most from their parents was not more toys, or more electrical gadgets…..it was simply more time with their parents.

Try the suggestions above. The funny thing you find about children, the more they feel confident of having your attention, the less they fear they are going to be criticised for asking for your attention……the less they clamour for it!

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September 03rd, 2013

What did your kids learn these holidays, and what more do they need to know?

(Things to teach your kids before they fly the nest)

Teaching children to cook

What did your children learn over the summer holidays? At The Parent Practice a quick survey of parents revealed an interesting array of skills. This prompted the question what life skills do you think your children need to have before they leave home. Our job is to equip our children with the skills they need to be successful adults and we need to start training while they are young.
Our parents think children need to know how to (these are not in order of importance and only some of these ideas reveal what some of our parents coped with during their holidays! This is a list of practical skills; we have not included social skills here or the list would have covered several pages):
•    iron (a shirt)
•    sew on a button or a hem
•    swim and ride a bike
•    change a fuse and a light bulb … and the loo roll
•    manage money and operate a bank account
•    pay a bill, using a cheque or electronic bank transfer
•    cook basic meals or at least boil an egg and make a cup of tea (it doesn’t matter if you don’t drink tea)
•    write a thank you note/email/text/phone call
•    write a personal/professional/complaint/acknowledgement letter
•    know all your relevant ID information (NHS number, National Insurance, driver’s license, passport … and the relevant   expiration dates…or where to find them)
•    know how to operate the answering machine at home (without deleting a message meant for someone else. There’s a story here!)
•    do laundry properly, that is not just how to operate a washing machine, but how to separate colours, decide what needs a special program, what can go in the tumble dryer, how much laundry powder to use, how to hang laundry out properly so it will actually dry, why not to leave damp laundry mouldering in the basket etc
•    hang up clothes that aren’t heading to the laundry basket
•    do basic first aid
•    use some basic self-defence moves
•    mow a lawn, recognise a weed and what to do with it
•    basic cleaning skills, particularly how to clean a toilet and shower/bath and how often to wash towels and sheets
•    remove stains from carpets and sofas
•    bleed a radiator
•    turn off the stop cock (and know where it is)
•    use public transport
•    fill a car with petrol and oil, jump start a car with a flat battery, open the bonnet, change a tyre, fix a puncture or call the AA
•    drive
•    clean a car
•    use a condom (we did say learn before leaving the nest-it doesn’t have to be tomorrow)
•    use power tools and a screwdriver
•    fill in forms
•    make appointments with doctors and dentists
•    make phone calls or use the internet to get information
•    back up a computer/ipod/phone etc
•    recognise scam emails and fake websites
•    protect yourself on-line and what to do if you come across cyber-bullying and trolling
•    set a SIM PIN on your phone
•    write a shopping list and come home with almost everything on it and not much else that wasn’t on it
•    pack a suitcase
•    not wake a baby, and how to distract the baby when they get really crabby later
•    not make rude shapes out of babybel cheese rinds and leave them in your pocket so they go through the wash and ruin everything else in the machine
•    not get confused between deodorant and hairspray.
•    if you’re moving house or to a new country, make sure to pack the online banking security gadgets, a few kitchen knives and at least 1 wine glass (lesson learned!!)

What to do if:

•    they get lost or locked out of the house
•    someone offers them a lift and they are unsure or offers them anything and they are unsure, basically how to say no
•    with a jellyfish sting that doesn’t involve the traditional weeing on it (it’s vinegar, by the way!)

When  to call a friend, their parents, an ambulance, the police, a computer support person, an electrician, a plumber, the gas man and deal with emergencies

Golly! We’d better start intense training now!

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July 10th, 2013

How to Combat School Break Boredom - Before it Sets In

Things to do lists

Guest blog by Kelly Peitrangeli of  myprojectme.com

“I’m bored.” “I don’t know what to do.”   Sound familiar?

Inevitable words out of the mouths of children during the school break.

It’s great to organise outings and social get togethers, but don’t feel you have schedule their every move. Children need the time and space to transition from busy school life to laid back summer break. It’s ok to feel a bit bored, they just have to learn to overcome it.

A few summers ago I pre-empted the cries of boredom by getting my kids to create a Not Bored Board. It worked a treat and they do it every year now.

Here’s how:

•    Grab a notebook. Get your child brainstorming and writing down ideas to do at home.

•    Divide it into sections: Things to do alone  – read, puzzles, art, lego, play solitaire, listen to music, build a fort, take photos or videos. Things to do with siblings – board/card games, make believe / dressing up, trains, cars, dolls, outdoor games and sports, singing, dancing, choreographing a show, hide & seek. Things to do with you – games, sewing, arts and crafts, cooking/baking. They can rummage through the toy cupboard for more ideas.

•    Next, give them a big piece of poster board to turn their brainstorm session into an art project. They can write, draw, clip photos from magazines or print from the internet.

•    Proudly hang the Not Bored Board and refer them to it whenever they’re stuck for what to do.

Top tip: The most effective time to do this is before school breaks up, when they’re still fantasising about how great all of that free time will be!

A bored child really struggles to think of anything to do and your suggestions never seem to appeal. Get them to create their board before they’re bored and the ideas come fast and furious.

While they are off occupying themselves, use the time to get your own things done and to have a little “me time”. You’ll have more energy and patience on long summer days when you get small breaks from the kiddie action.

Reward your children for periods of entertaining themselves by having quality time with you afterwards. Be fully present and engaged with them during your time together. No checking emails, taking phone calls or prepping dinner. They will soon learn that by occupying themselves for a while each day, they will have your undivided attention later. Good for them – and you.

Happy Summer!

Kelly Pietrangeli is passionate about helping mothers quickly identify where things could be better in life – and taking action. As a busy mother herself with two musical boys and a DJ husband, life is anything but quiet. She overcame her early struggles with motherhood by taking courses with The Parent Practice and has evolved into the happy mama she is today. Kelly is excited to launch www.myprojectme.com on September 17, 2013. In the meantime, check out the Project Me for Busy Mothers Facebook page:  Facebook.com/myprojectme

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June 13th, 2013

Engaging Fathers

Father tending to son

Fathers’ day in the UK is in June. Rather than paying lipservice to it by buying a card for the kids to give Dad or (better) encouraging them to make one, it’s worth considering the role of fathers on this day. Mums, what do you value about your partner? Kids what do you love about Dad? Make sure that if you’re giving him a card you include some descriptive praise for him. In other words tell him specifically what you like to do with him or what you appreciate about him.

Is it the way he pretends to be an elephant and lets you climb on his back? Is it the pillow fights you have? Is it the funny voice he uses when reading you stories? Is it the way he helps you with your homework? Maybe you love his jokes or his crazy singing. Maybe you appreciate that he sits down with you quietly at bedtime and talks to you about your day and stuff you’re interested in. Maybe you love the way he supports you in trying new things like riding your bike or flying a kite or learning guitar. Maybe you just love your dad because he loves you.

There is a great deal of research and evidence that shows that when fathers (and father figures) are engaged in their children’s lives children do better academically and socially and have stronger self-esteem. (A longitudinal study done with 300 families by Stanford University beginning in the 1950s found that the best predictor of adult empathy was dads’ involvement in child rearing when the children were 5 years old and those men and women who had better social relationships in their 40s had experienced increased warmth from fathers as children. Nugent, JK. (1991) Cultural and Psychological Influences on the Father’s Role in Infant Development. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53)

Children whose fathers are emotionally engaged show greater resilience, are able to focus on their studies better, persevere longer, take reasonable risks and are less aggressive. Girls who get positive attention from their fathers also are less at risk from eating disorders and self-harm and make better partner choices. In addition when dads are involved from an early point in a baby’s life the couple relationship benefits, if the couple should separate there is higher degree of father contact, fathers adopt healthier lifestyles, and mothers are less likely to smoke or suffer from depression. (Sources: The Fatherhood institute, Fatherhood: Parenting Programmes and Policy -A Critical Review of Best Practice, www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/?p=3744; the Gottman institute)

So what can mums do to facilitate fathers’ engagement with kids?
It’s not unusual for fathers to withdraw when a new baby arrives. Mums need a lot of emotional support which is typically provided by women who are mothers and dad can feel pushed out. He may feel inexpert as mum spends more time with the new infant (sometimes the women may even laugh at dad’s incompetence at changing nappies, feeding, bathing) so he does what he knows how to do and spends more time at work. He may also feel a strong urge to provide for his new family. In fact studies show dads are just as competent as mums in knowing how to respond to a crying baby (Ross Parke: fathers held and rocked infants more than mums and equalled them in talking, kissing and exploring. Throwaway Dads: The myths and Barriers That Keep Men From Being The Fathers They Want To Be. 1999 Houghton Mifflin).

From the time they are babies right through to adulthood women can encourage dads to take an active role with their kids by not criticising or laughing at their efforts but instead appreciating them for what they do. Recognise that in fact men have something unique to offer in parenting. Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Dads tend to give children more freedom to explore. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.
The differences are very marked in the way they each play with children. Mums tend to play visual games and are verbal with children while dads are more physical and tactile. (Gottman: when given a choice of play partners 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds prefer dad.) Dad’s style is more jazzed up and has heightened intensity followed by periods of calm in contrast to mum’s more even style. Provided dads know how to calm a child when over stimulated this style is very effective at helping children regulate emotions.

•    Dads are more likely to be involved when they feel they’re doing a good job -acknowledge them for all their positive parenting input but especially for spending time with the children eg: Thanks for coming home early and minding the children while I went out. It was great to see you had fed everyone and read stories (even if the house is a tip when you get back).

•    Schedule time for Dads to play with the kids. It is a strength for them. Get dads to encourage a healthy attitude to competition – have rules around rough play. When playing board games model a good attitude to losing.

•    Encourage Dads to do practical things around the house such as cooking or hanging out the washing. It is good modelling for the children, stimulates their interest in those activities, includes Dad as part of the team and leaves more time for fun.

•    Use descriptive praise to reward his efforts eg. I really appreciate it when you remember to put the rubbish out/empty the dishwasher, rather than pointing out the soggy bath mat on the floor. Can’t you ever wipe down a surface? doesn’t motivate anyone!

•    Don’t expect perfection in parenting skills either for your partner or yourself. Increase his awareness of the skills by downloading parenting CDs onto his ipod or giving him small chapters of books to read; it’s less likely to feel like nagging or be overwhelming. Praise his willingness to read/listen. When we are criticised while parenting in the moment we can feel undermined and de-motivated.

•    Take the children to visit Dad at work; get Dads to talk about their world and what they do when they go away from the family. Encourage Dads to phone at a regular time when away from the home to make them feel included and to let children know their Dad is thinking of them.

•    Achieve a united front on matters of discipline by scheduling regular time together to discuss child-relates issues eg. A strategy for training children to put their own shoes on (rather than Mum trying to encourage self- reliance and Dad doing it for them) or what to do when they have a tantrum (it won’t work if Mum thinks the child should go to their room and Dad thinks it is better to listen and try to find the source of the problem). Focus on solutions more than the problem and keep track of progress by writing it down. Find a workable compromise for areas where you don’t have exactly the same values eg. how much screen time should children have?

•    Use “I feel” statements rather than “You never, you always” when you have a difference of opinion. Eg “I feel my discipline is undermined if you say yes to something I’ve just said no to without checking with me. That makes me feel like the bad guy and it’s a bit lonely.”

•    Remember less can be more when communicating with men. Sometimes emails or notes work better than direct speech.

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May 04th, 2013

Wedding Bliss. Teaching kids about relationships

I am in a state of euphoria following the joyous and loving wedding last week of my middle child.

Boy working

( I KNOW! How did that happen?) It seems only yesterday I was pulling my hair out wondering how to manage the little renegade, worrying that all my efforts to discipline him were doing him irreparable damage while being completely ineffective anyway. This is the child that regulars in my classes and workshops will know was the impetus for my husband and I taking the parenting course that changed my career and more importantly changed our family’s life and taught me so much about inter-personal relationships generally. So now he’s embarking on his own very important interpersonal relationship and I am really confident that he will handle it well.

When your child takes a partner (and yours may feel a long way off from this – but best to prepare now) you might have a secret wish list that you may not even be aware of yourself for the qualities you would like to find in that person. (Not that you have any say of course –but just hoping!) You would of course wish for them to make your child happy and hope that they will always have your beloved’s back. I am confident that my son and his new wife have three of the necessary attributes that make for a good partnership: they are really good friends, they know how to handle conflict and they share many of the same values. It was apparent that one of their shared values (from the way they planned their wedding) was a common belief in family. Every single member of their extended (and extensive) families was included in some way.

Wedding couple

We can start preparing our children, however young, for future relationships (and current ones) by:

  • modelling for them what it means to be friends and encouraging their own friendships; in particular encouraging in them the qualities that make for good friendships such as sharing, by noticing and mentioning it when we see those qualities in them.
  • spend time with your partner as well as your children so that you can know them well, what they like and dislike, what their goals and concerns are, what makes them laugh, what they value, how they feel about things.
  • ask your partner as well as your children open-ended questions that allow you to find out all of the above.
  • build up a culture of appreciation between your partner and your children by telling them (ALL the time) what you like about them.
  • be on their side, listen to their point of view, give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • model with your partner and teach your children to resolve conflict well, ie ask for what you want or need without criticism or blame (criticism is death to relationships); acknowledge the other person’s point of view; if an interaction gets negative repair and redirect it; compromise.
  • Remember if something has gone wrong it is not as important to assign responsibility for it, ie blame, as it is to repair and move on. I like a quote that was on one of the wedding cards our newly-weds received: if you’re wrong own up, if you’re right shut up.
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March 11th, 2013

Understanding your Child's Temperament

Any parent and certainly anyone with more than one child will attest to the fact that children are born with inbuilt personality traits, characteristics that define how they interact with the world. Some are cautious from infancy while others will leap in and ask questions later. Some feel things intensely (they cannot believe you would give them the red cup rather than the blue cup) while others are more laid back (they will accept the Thomas the Tank Engine plate if the Winnie the Pooh one is in the dishwasher).  Some will nag you until they wear you down while others will accept a ‘no’ and the obverse of this is true too –some kids will give up easily when the going gets tough (and maybe up-end the jigsaw puzzle while they’re about it) while others will stick to it until they’ve mastered the task. Parents will know which of their children need to be told in advance what is going to happen (these ones need the five minute warnings before they have to stop playing and come to have a meal) and which ones will go with the flow. Some kids have phenomenal reserves of energy and can wear parents to a frazzle while others will occupy themselves quietly and may actually be quite difficult to enthuse. Some see the positive side of everything while others persist in seeing the cup as half empty.

Angry boy

Researchers have discovered that “temperament has biological, neurological and physiological underpinnings that affect your child’s mood, ability to calm himself and activity level. … But biology is not destiny….Whether and how strongly genes that underlie behaviours are turned on or expressed depends on the interaction and relationships a child has with the important people in his life.” (Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Raising your Spirited Child)

Understanding what your child’s temperament is and allowing for it is a cornerstone of successful and connected  parenting.  “You don’t get to choose your child’s temperament [I used to think what a shame this was as I could have been such a good parent to a slightly different child], nor does your child, but you do make a big difference. It is you who helps your child understand his temperament, emphasize his strengths, provides him with the guidance he needs to express himself appropriately, and gently nudges him forward.” (Kurcinka)

We can all recognise the above characteristics in ourselves too and sometimes one of the difficulties is the conflict between our own personalities and that of our children. One of our facilitators talks about trying to get her introverted son to be more social as she saw this as the way to happiness because she was such an extrovert herself. I’m still coaching my now adult children to understand the personality differences between themselves and their siblings. My extremely extrovert daughter will spend time with friends in order to re-charge her batteries while my son is perfectly happy with his own company and in fact needs to be on his own for periods to re-energise. She thinks her brother (who is no longer living at home) doesn’t care about her when he doesn’t contact her as often as she’d like.

Child psychologist Brian Daly, who teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia said he often encounters families where parents have no problems with one child but a lot of problems with the other. “One child is very well-behaved and fits their parenting style,” he explained. “You could say the child’s temperament is a good match or fit. They rave about that child; the child is responsive and respectful.” (Parenting Styles: Is Your Child’s Temperament A Good Fit With Yours? By Beth J. Harpaz 05/ 2/12 )

But with the other child, the parents may feel that they’re “constantly butting heads. There may be temper tantrums, digging in heels, but without an appropriate result. A lot of times parents have certain values and it can be hard to adjust those values to meet the temperament of the child.” Daly said parents who are just as stubborn as their kids often get into standoffs because “neither will give ground.”
In 1956 psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess found that children’s personalities could be put in three basic categories: easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. They also identified nine other variables that measured behaviours and traits like wilfulness, moodiness, activity levels, distractibility, attention span, and regularity in sleep, hunger and other biological functions. One finding from their research was that a good ‘fit’ between children and parents results when adult expectations, values and demands are in accord with a child’s natural capacities and behaviours.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka urges us to look at temperament in positive ways. She says that “Identifying your child’s temperamental traits is like taking an X-ray. It helps you to recognize what’s going on inside of your child so you can understand how he is reacting to the world around him and why. Once you realize the reasons behind his responses, you can learn to work with them, ease the hassles, teach new behaviours where they are needed, and most important, help your child understand and like himself.”

Shy girl

How can we understand, manage and accommodate our children’s temperaments?   Below are some ideas of temperamental characteristics taken from Kurcinka’s book Raising Your Spirited Child.   We are all somewhere on a spectrum that encompasses two extremes and everything in between so I may find myself somewhere slightly to the introvert end of that spectrum. There are positives and negatives to each characteristic and it will really help if parents can see the good elements of certain character traits and know how to manage those aspects they find difficult.

Intensity  -this can be framed as doing things with energy and enthusiasm. We need to recognise that it can lead to great frustration for the child and we need to help the intense child to recognise this quality about themselves and to teach them to respond to growing intensity before it overwhelms them. We can provide calming activities (such as massage or calming music), use time outs as calming strategies not as punishments and use humour to diffuse situations.  Parents of intense children will want to provide lots of opportunities for exercise and adequate sleep.

Persistence – this can be seen as sticking to things, determination and commitment rather than stubbornness. Persistent children can be independent and capable. View this as a good thing! Parents need to problem solve with the child to find solutions that work for everyone. It will be important to be consistent with family rules. This involves being clear in the first place about what your values are. Discuss this between parents and then have a family meeting to draw up rules. When the child doesn’t want to do what’s required his feelings will need to be acknowledged. This will help him to let go of the issue.

Sensitivity – it helps to recognise that this child is tender hearted. His sensitivities to feelings make him empathetic but also prone to hurt. He may be creative. He may dislike loud noises, bright lights and crowds, be overwhelmed by too much choice and clutter, he may dislike being touched and may find his clothes scratchy. Protect this child from overstimulation and restrict electronics. Help him manage his feelings by talking to him about them, describing them and accepting them. Teach him to recognise when he is getting overstimulated and find ways to self soothe.

Perceptiveness – this child notices things, has great observational skills and may be very creative. She may also get distracted easily. It may be hard for her to focus and hear instructions. Encourage her to listen by giving her lots of descriptive praise and by asking her to repeat your instructions. Don’t give too many instructions at once. Write rules down or have them in picture form. Ask her what she needs to do more than telling her. Minimise distractions by providing quiet and uncluttered environments for work and play. Allow her plenty of down time to chill out after she has had to focus.

Adaptability – this child likes to be organised, needs to know what is happening and may find change difficult, including transitioning from one task to another. He needs help to be flexible. Parents need to let this child know what’s happening ahead of time and allow time for him to get used to things. 5 minute warnings (but not in a threatening way) are helpful.

Regularity – see this child as flexible and spontaneous and enjoy the surprises rather than focusing on the inconsistencies which his temperament will throw up. He will need help getting used to routine and will need a high degree of consistency –this may be difficult if the parent themselves is irregular. He’d make a great ER doctor, DJ, pilot, police officer or other professional who works crazy hours.

Energy – the child who is full of energy may be a great sports person and work really hard and it can wear parents out living with them so it is important to plan to accommodate high levels of energy. Provide activities that stimulate and try to avoid too many of those that require sitting still for long periods. Allow opportunities to let off steam after being confined.

First reaction – the cautious child will often reject things on first presentation and is slow to warm up but it is alright to observe and judge before joining in. Be glad that this child thinks things through (you will when he’s a teenager) and praise him for it. Parents can help by forewarning of activities, practising in role play, descriptively praising the child for taking some risks, reminding them of similar times when they were successful and allowing time. Help the child recognise that their first reaction may not be their final one –they can change their minds.

Mood – this analytical, serious child may see the negatives of situations and may need encouragement to see the positives –this may involve pulling something apart into smaller segments to see what they enjoy about it. Encourage them to see themselves as deep thinkers. Celebrate little successes with them by using descriptive praise and talking about the good in many things. Keep a golden book where you record their own good behaviours, successes and things to be grateful for.

Other writers have different ways of characterising temperamental traits.

Extroversion – The extrovert is energised by other people. This child thrives in situations where there is a lot of interaction, activity, and stimulation. Extroverts are usually quite social and gregarious and are able to talk to new people. They are comfortable in groups, quick to approach others including strangers, and enjoy working in busy stimulating environments. Conversely, they can feel quite lonely, bored and drained if they have to spend a lot of time alone. They may act before thinking, not listen to others and flare up quickly. Introverts, on the other hand, can become drained by too much interaction. They draw their energy from the inner world of thoughts, emotions, and ideas. They tend to be more contemplative and are likely to pursue solitary activities that allow them to work quietly and alone. They tend to wait and listen until they’ve formulated their thoughts before expressing them.

Get to know your child’s temperament by observing them closely and considering what activities they like and apply the above guidelines to see what fits. The better you know your child the better you will be able to draw out the best in him or her and be less frustrated.

 

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November 30th, 2012

Christmas, Materialism and Toys

Child Psychologist and play expert Amanda Gummer has warned parents not to give in to pressure and buy kids lots of expensive toys this Christmas. (Research, carried out by Sainsbury’s and reprted in Metro on 30th November, has found that parents spend an average of £104.4 on each child.) She thinks that the lists of top toys released at this time of year and of course advertising add to the pressure on parents. She advises: “Don’t give in to the pressure from the media and the school playground to buy the most expensive, latest toys on the market. Often toys that children will play with over and over again don’t make it into the top 10 lists.” (clickhere to see Amanda’s article).

In Carl Honoré’s book Under Pressure he explores the nature of modern toys and looks particularly at electronic toys and toys like iTeddy which do all the child’s thinking for them and concludes that these do not allow for the child’s imagination to grow. Simpler toys like dolls, construction kits, train sets and cars, ‘house’ items like kitchen sets provide the richest experience for children because they can use their own imagination more. Many parents have had the experience of the child unwrapping an expensive, complicated gizmo at Christmas only to find it discarded and the child playing with the box it came in a week later. The Stockholm based International Toy Research Centre concludes that what children really need is time without external input so that they can process their own experiences. Many modern toys superimpose someone else’s story on the users. There has even been a change in Lego from simple bricks which allow the child to create and problem solve to sets with specific dedicated pieces and instructions which dictate what should be made. If children get spoon fed everything, even in play, their imaginations close down, they don’t develop the ability to pursue sustained thought and they get bored easily, always looking for the next electronic stimulus or experience. This can make it hard for children to focus at school. It also means that children get tired of these toys quicker.

In fact at TPP we were pleased to see a mix of traditional toys on one list of top toys for 2012 (John Lewis’s top ten list) –these included dolls houses, scooters, Lego and Furbys and other soft toys as well as some electronic toys.

This might help guide parents’ choices about what type of gift to give their children but they may still be concerned about how much children get at Christmas and whether or not their children appreciate what they are given.

Last year UNICEF UK released a report entitled Child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden: The role of inequality and materialism. The UK did not compare well with Spain and Sweden in terms of the wellbeing of children and the role of consumer products in their lives. “…in Spain and Sweden the pressure to consume appeared much weaker and the resilience of children and parents much greater than in the UK. Families in the UK appear to face greater pressures on their time and money, and react to this in ways they feel are counter productive to children’s well-being….Most children agreed that family time was more important to them than consumer goods, yet we observed within UK homes a compulsion on the part of some parents to continually buy new things for their children and for themselves. Boxes of toys, broken presents and unused electronics in the home were witness to this drive to acquire new possessions. Most parents realised that what they were doing was often ‘pointless’, but seemed somehow pressurised and compelled to continue.”

It is real juggling act raising children in the 21st century (particularly in the UK it would appear), where instant gratification has become the norm, where shopping has become a leisure activity and status is defined by what we own. The shops and TV screens are full of enticements, no more so than in the run up to Christmas…. and everyone wants everything….. and they want it now!

As loving parents, we want our children to have the best we can give, we want to show them how much we love them, and, at the same time, we want them to be appreciative of what they have and learn to value their possessions. Many parents are concerned about falling into the trap of over-indulging their children, fearing that their children will grow up to be overly acquisitive and never satisfied, unable to appreciate the true cost of things or differentiate between their needs and their wants.

So how can we instill in our children the values we want and we believe will equip them best for the future, and yet not always have to be the bad cop, saying no, no, no….?

There is one immediate and relatively simple way we can help our children.

We can protect them from the constant advertising which tells them that their value is tied up in what they own and that they need to acquire certain goods in order to fit in. We need to let them know that they are ‘worth it’ even without the advertised product. We can limit their exposure to TV adverts by cutting down on screen-time, or using Sky Plus, and we can discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates!

And then it comes down to being clear and true to our values, and communicating this effectively to our children.

So, first, we need to establish what our values are. We need to ask ourselves what does Christmas mean to us and what is the place for gift giving and receiving? What do we want our children to grow up believing is important? What values do we want them to inherit? Are we buying too much for our children?  These may be uncomfortable questions to answer honestly.

The UNICEF report suggests that there are high levels of social insecurity in the UK which is compensated for by buying status brands. Is it also because we feel guilty about the amount of time we are able to spend with them as is suggested in the report? Is it because we want them to enjoy what we never had? Some parents interviewed for the UNICEF report suggested that they wanted status brands for their children to protect them from the kind of bullying they experienced themselves as kids. Do we not know other ways to make them feel worthwhile? Has the availability of relatively cheap goods made us lazy and undiscerning about consumer choices? Do we buy because we can’t bear to see them unhappy and we are unable to say no?

Having clarified our values, we now have to communicate them to our children.

Children learn by copying as much as by what we say to them. So we can talk about what our values are but this will be for nought if our own behaviour doesn’t live up to what we say we believe in. So if we believe in moderation and then buy each child a mountain of gifts we are not walking our talk. If we say we think Christmas should be about others and do nothing to encourage them to think of anyone other than themselves we are just paying lip service.

Giving – before focussing on what they want to receive, involve children in giving – it
can be just as much fun!
* Can they select a family member to choose a gift for?  Discuss the budget and what the person enjoys and will enjoy getting. Don’t just buy a gift for your child to give without involving them.
* Can they give to others less fortunate? Can you organise a toy tidy-out and donate old toys or books to the local hospital, can they arrange to bake some Christmas goodies and take them to a local children’s home? Even if they’re involved in some kind of charitable activity at school it would really reinforce this as a family value if you did something at home as well. Last year the Oxfam goat was sold out – so get there early if you would like to give a female goat to a needy family in countries like Malawi.   www.oxfam.org.uk
* Can they think of non-material gifts?  Home made gifts can be wonderful and really appreciated. Bake cookies or make confectionery with the children or get them to write a story or poem and illustrate it or even make a power point story for someone else.

Receiving – many parents worry about increasing piles of unwanted toys.
* Can you set up a system so people club together to buy one gift for your child – that they really, really want? Some families eschew the idea of buying for huge numbers and instead concentrate their energies and resources on buying one gift on behalf of the wider family. We do this in my extended family (32 and growing) and choose the donor and recipient by drawing names out of a hat each year.
* Can they practice how to receive gifts with grace even if they don’t really love them – or have the item already. Use role plays.
* Take your time – we wait 364 days for Christmas yet the giving and receiving of gifts often happens in a few frantic minutes of unwrapping. Can they be Santa’s Little Helper and give out the gifts?
* Saying thank you – writing letters may seem very old-fashioned, but young children can do a drawing, or dictate a letter to you. Older children could Skype or send an email.

We can also model appreciation by being appreciative ourselves, and noticing and mentioning it whenever they are. This might sound like: “I love it when you say thank-you for the things I do for you. It’s polite, and makes me feel really appreciated.” or “You’re taking really good care of your new train set –you put it away very carefully in its box each time you’ve finished with it.”  Obviously you’ll love whatever they give you for Christmas –one can never have too many novelty ties or socks or ‘cute’ little trinkets. My now grown up children marvel that I found a use for or display place (in my bathroom) for the holiday souvenirs they brought me. Tip: little shell covered boxes are a great place to keep safety pins. None of you will do what my husband’s great grandmother did when she asked who’d given her ‘this ridiculous thing’ as she discarded a gift from one of her children!

Chat throughs
When we prepare for Christmas many of us prepare endless lists of things to do and things to buy but we often don’t prepare our children except for revving them up for the arrival of Santa. If we want to encourage particular behaviours in our children we need to chat through with them beforehand what we expect. This is not a lecture and in fact they should do most of the talking as they are far more likely to do what they say they need to do.

Ask them questions – what will happen on the day, what are they looking forward to and what might be difficult, what behaviour is expected at different points, in church, at the table, when opening presents etc, and how might the child feel….They need to do the talking if they are to be committed to what needs to happen.  It is important to empathise that the child may feel very excited and get a bit wild, when it comes to receiving presents they may want to rush to open them, they may be disappointed with what they receive, they may feel jealous of what others are given, and young children often get overwhelmed. We can ask how the child could handle these feelings – some ideas include telling the parent or using some safe venting technique like stamping feet or pounding their fists or taking some time out in their own room if you’re at home.  It’s really important we don’t make our children wrong for any of their feelings.

If our children have a meltdown, we need to keep calm – remembering children feel things very intensely in the moment but these feelings pass, and remembering too that it is not our job to keep them happy in the moment; instead it is our job to enable them to make themselves happy in the future, by developing self-control and problem-solving skills. What won’t work is to tell them off for their ungratefulness or other less desirable behaviour.

We are more effective when we can empathise with our children, imagining how they are feeling and reflecting it back to them in words. This is the first step in helping our children understand and manage their feelings. This might sound like: “You wish you could have a car like Jamie’s. You really like it -maybe because it’s so shiny and it’s got cool tires. You know what? I’m proud of you for only making a little fuss about this. I know you’re disappointed and you’re finding it hard to focus on the great things you’ve been given right now. When you’ve given yourself a little time I know  you’ll choose one of your own toys to play with.”

Although this may not result in an immediate improvement in behaviour, it does show the child that they are understood and their feelings are accepted, even though their behaviour needs to be re-directed.

Overall, it pays to take time to prepare and train ourselves and our children how best to cope with life in today’s modern material world. It may help to bear in mind the following tough advice from Dr. Phil McGraw,  psychologist and author:
“Your child does not have to love you every minute of every day. He’ll get over the disappointment of having been told ‘no.’ But he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled.”

Hope your Christmas is a happy one and you enjoy being with your families.

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November 14th, 2012

Lessons from the Lance Armstrong Affair. Modelling is 80% of parenting, part II

My husband and I have been following Lance Armstrong’s career since he started racing in the Tour de France following his battle with cancer.  We read his books, bought LiveStrong bracelets and clothes, and in 2010 we even went to Paris for the last stage of the TdF, when Armstrong raced his final Tour.

Recently it was announced that Armstrong had been officially stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and that his best race result would have been 36th  – before his cancer diagnosis.  This story has been making headlines for weeks, and has been simmering since Floyd Landis (Armstrong’s former teammate and winner of the 2006 TdF) started commenting on the systemic doping that took place.  The recent news essentially eradicates the career that made Armstrong a household name. Pat McQuaid, the President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) said, “There is no place for Lance Armstrong in cycling.  “ [He is] a serial cheat who led one of the worst doping conspiracies in sport.”

Armstrong wasn’t acting alone.  He was part of a team of doctors, coaches, team managers and other cyclists who were all involved in the doping.  The Tour de France is leaving those 7 years without a winner, as they would be pretty hard-pressed to find a cyclist who wasn’t doping during those years. It’s when the story gets a bit deeper and shows that not only was Armstrong doping, it was how he pretty much bullied former team-mates and others who testified against him.  Many articles appeared that describe abusive voicemail messages that Armstrong used against those who would testify against him.  The wife of one of Armstrong’s former teammate “described receiving a voicemail from an Armstrong friend telling her she hoped ‘somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head,’ after her husband spoke out about doping allegations.”  Clearly doping is not good, but covering your tracks and bullying people into helping you cover your tracks?  Well, that’s quite possibly even worse.

Why is this story so interesting story for me, as a parenting facilitator?  Well, Lance Armstrong has 5 children – 3 from his first marriage, and 2 from his current relationship.  In the past he tweeted regularly about his children and especially the joy he and his partner felt when she fell pregnant – especially after all his cancer treatment and surgery.  I can imagine that he will get through the damage to his career – as he said, “I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse.”  The side of the story I am fascinated by is how you repair the damage with your family and other loved ones.  This situation provides a wealth of learning.

1. Winning at any cost will most likely catch up with you at some point
When we teach our children to play games, we teach them to play fair and to not cheat.  We’ll say thing like “cheaters never win”, and even though sometimes it seems that they do, eventually some evidence will come out that will stamp out the victory.

We can work with our children to teach them rules, to advise them about what is and is not fair play.  We can set up a system that rewards values like collaboration or accepting successes and losses graciously.  We can always be on the look out for when our children are exhibiting the behaviours we want to be seeing more of. We need to notice and acknowledge such behaviour.

We want to be raising our children to take pride in their efforts, their improvement and their attitude instead of being the best at any cost.

2. Model honesty and integrity

About a year ago, Melissa Hood, the co-founder of The Parent Practice wrote a terrific blog called 80% of Parenting is Modeling in which she writes:

“Once we’re aware of the influence we have we can consciously set out to influence our children. Michael Grinder, communications expert, says “The power of influence is greater than the influence of power”.…

Sometimes our children are not copying the things we’d like them to. And for that there is the other 20% of parenting – we need some positive and effective parenting tools like using rules constructively, setting things up so that our children are likely to behave well, motivating them to do the right thing, understanding the causes of behaviour and responding effectively when they don’t. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as if our children are learning anything in the moment but it may be years later that your children show they have taken on your values.”

It is so important to have an idea of what values you want to be passing on to your children, to model those values and to establish rules that help you bring those values to life within your family.  One of the values we might seek to model is being happy with our own best efforts, measuring our value, not by outcomes, but by our efforts. Model enjoying sport or other games, even if we don’t win. Focus not on the results of our children’s  matches but on their enjoyment of the game and how well they participated.

Find New Heroes
This past summer was one that will go down in history as probably the best ever for UK sport.  Bradley Wiggins with Team Sky won the General Classification in the TdF, Mark Cavendish had his 23rd TdF stage win and that was all before the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics where this country saw incredible athletes pushing themselves to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.  We’ll never forget Jessica Ennis, or Mo Farah or the amazing Paralympians.  It is so important to learn from our own limitations, as well as from those of others.  In doing so, we can be honest, authentic parents who set an example of integrity and passion that will empower our children.

3. Make Amends and Move Forwards
One word that Lance Armstrong often used in his Twitter posts was ‘onward’ … continuous positive momentum.  It’s a powerful notion that will serve him well after he takes responsibility for the mistakes he has made.  Like Armstrong, we can all move forward once we take responsibility for our mistaken behaviour, put wrongs to right, and explore ways to make sure that the same thing won’t happen again.  We like to call this The Mistakes Process (or the 4As). It goes like this:

1.    ACKNOWLEDGE
Explore (without judgment) what happened and why it was a mistake.  Use the mistake as an opportunity for everyone to learn.  Acknowledge the courage required to fess up to having made a mistake.
2.    Make AMENDS
This is all about putting wrongs to right.  This can look many different ways ranging from a sincere apology; cleaning up an actual mess; fixing something that got broken; writing a letter; or doing something nice for someone else.  Often, it is the simple act of fixing the mistake that provides the lesson so the same thing doesn’t happen again.  And it is so much more effective than shouting!
3.    ALTER
This is where you want to take some time to explore what could have been done differently so that it will be less likely to happen again.
4.    ACCEPTANCE
This is where ‘onwards’ comes into play.  You have taken responsibility for the mistake, you have cleaned up your mess, and you have looked at how to make sure to get it (more) right next time.  It is done.  It is now in the past.  It is time to acknowledge that a positive lesson has been learned.  Onwards!

I imagine that Armstrong’s oldest son has always seen his Dad as a hero, and it must be very hard to hear that your Dad won because he cheated and to witness the fallout.  The damage to Armstrong’s career is vast, but quite possibly, cleaning up this mess with his family and other loved ones will be an even greater challenge.

While cycling has had an inspirational summer, it is likely that the repercussions of the doping scandal will be felt for a while.  But will the sport move forward?  Of course!  As Pat McQuaid said, “My message to cycling, to our riders, to our sponsors and to our fans today is: cycling has a future.  … This is not the first time that cycling has reached a crossroads or that it has had to begin anew and to engage in the painful process of confronting its past. It will do so again with renewed vigour and purpose and its stakeholders and fans can be assured that it will find a new path forward.”

The message from the Lance Armstrong scandal is a clear and inspiring one for parents: acknowledge your children’s strengths and weaknesses and celebrate their effort and improvement; model honesty and act with integrity; take responsibility for (and truly learn from) your mistakes.  By modeling your own ability to take responsibility and clean up your messes, you are sending a very powerful message to your children.  And when you can teach your children to clean up their own messes (both literal and figurative), you are giving them a real gift.

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September 28th, 2012

A dinosaur ate my trousers

According to this week’s Daily Mail, £187 million worth of school kit will be lost before the school year is out. Although the excuses that our children come up with may make us chuckle, lost kit drives parents mad, as well as adding another pressure on the household budget. So, is there anything we can do? Of course there is. And it’s not just naming everything that can move.

Getting everyone ready for the morning school run is a challenge in many homes. It’s tempting, and often quicker and easier, to do it all ourselves. This works in the moment, but creates another problem in the longer-term because it doesn’t help children learn how to look after their things, or even be aware of what they have with them at any given time.

Involve the children in the process of collating what they need for the day ahead and packing it into their bag. When we position this to them as a powerful and positive thing to be trusted to do, rather than an awful chore that will drag them down, they will be more inspired to try. There are some great practical tips that parents have come up with – including checklists (written by the children!) that can be stuck to the inside of the locker, or sewn into the school bag, as well as having another copy at home in the kitchen or by the front door.

It’s all very well to be told “this is how you need to do it” but actually we all learn best by doing, rather than just listening.

So spend a little time one weekend, with lots of humour and empathy, practicing getting changed into your games kit and putting everything back in your bag. Or talk through a few ideas about safe places to put your jumper when you get too hot. Any idea they come up with is a good one – it shows they’re taking it seriously, thinking about it, trying hard, wanting to be responsible etc. And it’s probably a good enough idea to try. Our children are much more likely to commit to their own ideas. If there seems to be a flaw in the idea, gently point it out and ask them what else they think they can do.

With a little up-front planning and preparation – which does take time, energy and a little patience, but considerably less than the time, energy and patience it takes to go out and buy another blazer- we should find that more items are kept safe. But realistically, school is a fast-moving, busy, crowded environment and it’s almost inevitable that some things will go missing. What can we do now?

First, it helps to remember the £187 million figure! It means they’re all at it – with over 9 million school children in the UK, that’s about £20 worth of lost kit each year. It’s not just your kid!

At this point, we want to avoid throwing our hands up in the air, and saying “well, this is so typical, you would lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your body” because we don’t want our children to start to believe the label that says they’re just the sort of person who loses stuff.  If we believe it about them, they’ll believe it about themselves. And guess what the sort of person who loses stuff does? They lose stuff…..

Instead, we want our children to believe they’re the sort of person who tries hard to be responsible and is a solution-seeker. We don’t want them to be discouraged by problems, we want them to be up for the challenge of sorting things out – and that means finding that missing trainer.

Rather than cutting their pocket-money til they’ve ‘paid’ for the new trainers, which will probably only make them angry with us (it’s so unfair, you’re so mean), we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t mean or plan to lose the trainer, and then brainstorm ideas of how to find it. (I’ve taken my sons to school a few minutes early quite a few times over the years to trawl through an empty cloakroom – and it’s been pretty successful, and a great way to start the day with a ‘phew, I got it’ moment. Once, after two finger-tip searches, we were still down a tracksuit and my son decided to offer a reward. He went into school the next day with copies of a “Wanted: One Tracksuit. Reward: One Toblerone” flyer. The next morning, the tracksuit appeared, and the reward was duly handed over to the ‘finder’.)

So, in essence, we need to be realistic that it’s not easy to keep safe all the items they need, given their relative immaturity, and taking into account the environment they’re in.  It will not be surprising – or a dire omen on their future ability to look after themselves – if they do lose something. However, there are lots of things we can help them to do – before and after – that will help keep their stuff safe, and at the same time build their independence, resilience, and foster good a approach to life.

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September 17th, 2012

Focus, Focus, Focus

The kids are back at school now and some of you ultra-organised ones may have turned your minds to Christmas already. Don’t worry if you haven’t –there will be more on that in our next newsletter. Others may be focused on your child just having started a new school or a new year with a new teacher and will be wondering how to support your child to do the best they can do.

In a recent article in the Telegraph (7th August 2012)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9458290/Teaching-toddlers-to-pay-attention-is-the-key-to-academic-success.html# reference was made to recent research by child development experts which concludes that it is not tutoring in academic subjects that will help your child to succeed but supporting them to pay attention and to perservere. This particular research by Dr Megan McClelland from Oregon State University, published in the online journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, reflects what the Gottman Institute had noticed as part of their research on developing emotional intelligence. Drs John and Julie Gottman found that children whose parents are emotion coaches for them, that is they recognise, respect and respond to their child’s emotions:

  • Are better able to manage their feelings
  • Have better academic achievements
    - They are able to sustain attention for longer and
    - Able to shift attention from one subject to another more easily
  • They get along with their peers better

Author (and champion table tennis player) Matthew Syed, in his best-selling book Bounce, explores the idea that innate talent (whether in academic, musical, business or sporting fields) is a myth and that all the best performers in their various areas of endeavour have got to the top of their fields by a combination of opportunity, application and focus. (He does concede that it helps to be a tall if you’re a basketballer).

Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University’s research into mindsets is particularly interesting for parents. She developed the thesis that people can have different attitudes to learning which either promote or inhibit their development. With a fixed mindset one believes that one has a fixed amount of innate intelligence and that if you can’t do something it means that you have exhausted your store of intelligence. A person who has this attitude will not want to challenge the status associated with his cleverness and will not take risks that will show him to be less intelligent. Her research showed that children would not tackle harder tasks when in this fixed mindset. By contrast people with a growth mindset believe that they can with effort get better at anything and therefore are willing to try new and harder things.

A child’s mindset is affected by how adults talk to them. When we praise a child for cleverness or talent and when we focus on their results we promote a fixed mindset. However when adults praise kids for the effort they make, the attitudes they show, the strategies they employ; when we focus more on the process than the outcome we encourage in them a growth mindset. So don’t praise your child for being clever and don’t let your first question after a football game be did you win?

Parents often ask us, in classes or consultations, how to help children to focus more. Here is what we say:

  • Don’t pay too much attention when your child’s attention wanders and particularly don’t criticise it. Instead notice when they bring their attention back to the task in hand and mention that. You’re looking at your page. You brought your focus back to your work without me saying anything to you.
  • Praise in a descriptive way whenever you see signs of persistence. Wow, you really stuck with trying to learn to balance on your bike. You didn’t give up until you mastered the wobbles!  One mum told us how she’d been praising her daughter for persevering with tying her shoe laces, thinking it was big word to be using for a little girl. Then when she’d just finished manoeuvring her big car into a tight parking space a little voice from the back seat piped up with “Gee mum, you really persevere.”
  • Our children need to think of themselves as people who can pay attention and persist if they are to do well in life so we need to notice and point out to them whenever there is behaviour which shows up these qualities. Children are natural learners; just look at a toddler learning to walk. They don’t give up despite numerous set backs. We can train ourselves to notice their efforts and point them out to the child. Some families put the words on their fridge so that they remember to notice them. Others use a jar in which they collect tokens for examples of focus.
  • Give lots of descriptive praise, not just for paying attention and persistence but more generally. A child who feels generally capable will be better able to handle set backs and try again.
  • Be an emotion coach for your child. Help them understand their emotions by talking about them so that they can manage them and move on to the next task. This is surprisingly one of the most helpful things we can do in encouraging focus.
  • Some families have found that it helps to use an idea from Neuro Linguistic Programming to help children focus. It might work to use an ‘anchor’ or a talisman which is an object imbued with certain qualities, in this case focus, which the child can look at or hold (or listen to). Choose your object and invest it with its magical properties by recalling a time with your child where they were very focused (something about which they were very enthusiastic). Relive that moment by focusing on all the details of the event; what could you see and hear, what could you feel? While bringing that moment to life have your child hold or look at his object and describe what was happening to him –“you were really concentrating hard, you were so focused.” Then when focus is needed pull out the magic focus object. Refer to it as the focus object.
  • Enthuse about the tasks they are doing. If your child is learning to read try to read with them at a time when you’re not exhausted so that you can be interested. Get into the story they are reading. If decoding the words becomes too consuming that the story gets lost share the reading with them. Look at the pictures and guess what is going to happen next. Talk about how the characters feel.
  • When children are motivated and interested it’s easier to focus but there are many things they need to do where they may not be so interested or motivated. Parents can do a lot to build motivation, mainly through descriptive praise. But even if children remain unmotivated about the intrinsic nature of the task we can motivate through praise for doing what they have to do even when they’re not interested! I know that brushing your teeth isn’t interesting and it gets to be a bit of a drag day in, day out. I know you’d rather just skip it and get on with your game so I really admire you for doing it anyway because you know that’s the only way to have healthy teeth and gums. Not only are you doing it but you’re doing it thoroughly so you now have a really sparkly smile and beautiful fresh breath!
  • Of course it helps if we can provide our children with an environment where it is easy for them to focus so when they’re doing homework or tackling some other kind of task try to eliminate noise and visual clutter.
  • Limit the amount of fast moving TV and computer and other electronic activities your children do where they are not required to focus for more than a few seconds. Instead encourage activities which involve their own creativity and sustained thought to work out a problem or develop a story line, such as fantasy play, building a den or board or card games.

So be focused on developing good habits of focus and perseverance in your child to help them do well in life.

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July 18th, 2012

Things to do on Rainy Days

Boy baking cakes

As the schools empty and our homes fill with tired children, many parents are relishing the opportunity of a break from the school routine, and yet we’re also looking at the weather forecasts and wondering how on earth we’re going to fill the next 1,000 hours or so until term starts again!

The joy of doing nothing

At the beginning of the holidays, it can be a relief for children to have some time to do the things that matter to them, and even simply to be able to choose what they do after weeks of being told what, where, how and when.  Of course, it’s a universal parenting truth that most of the things that they want to do involve noise and mess, but it’s in playing that children learn and discover so much about themselves and the world.  After the constant stimulation and organisation of the school term, it’s no bad thing to find yourself with nothing to do, and no ideas either. It’s in moments of solitude and idleness that we often discover what truly interests us, and who we really are.  As far as possible, let them play.

The joy of doing something

On the other hand, with so little practice of finding their own amusement, it probably won’t be long before they’re asking “I’m bored, what can I do?”.  When we’re busy (somehow school holidays don’t seem to make much difference to the amount of things parents have to do) and it’s raining again, it’s so tempting to give in to the easy option of screens.  This summer there will be some inspiring and fascinating TV opportunities with the Olympic coverage. (At the last Olympics we had the TV on pretty much all day every day and saw an amazing range of sports and memorably courageous wins and losses.). There are also some valuable websites which encourage creativity (FIND SOME EXAMPLES LIKE STICK MAN or learn to type).

And what else is there? According to a recent survey by npower, 87% of children can’t repair a puncture, 83% can’t tie a reef knot, 81% can’t read a map and 78% can’t build a camp fire or put up a tent. (They can pretty much all work a DVD players, log onto the internet, use a games console and work sky plus!). How about taking some time during the holidays to put this right? If it can’t be done outdoors, there’s plenty to be done inside the home – it may sound strange, but most children love the challenge of learning to make a cup of tea, iron a shirt, cook an omelette…..

There are also many things children can do indoors with relatively little equipment or supervision – although they will love any of these activities all the more if you’re involved.  As the holidays start, set some time aside to sit down together and come up with a list of all the things they would like to do – think of all those things they keep asking and you keep saying no, not now, later, another time….. (Making a den and not having to clear it away is always top of the list in our home!) No idea is too whacky, too silly, too dull, too anything. All ideas get recorded and then you can move on to deciding what to do when. As far as possible, let the children lead this process. It’s fine to put some parameters in place – about what might work when and where and with whom – but try to let them have ownership of their own time and enjoyment.

And just in case it’s not so easy to get started with this list, here is TPP’s Top Tips for a Rainy Summer…..

Make an indoor camp – snuggle up with duvets and books

Make a treasure trail – using hand or foot prints, or clues

Hopscotch – use numbers or shapes or colours

Movie night – get in character, costume, themed food

Rain sticks – use paper towel tubes, and decorate and fill with pebbles, pasta or rice and make the rain go away!

Hide and seek and sardines

Dance party – invite friends for a dance-off

Charades – songs, films, books

Indoor obstacle course – finish before they’re too tired to help clear up

Toy safari – hide toy animals around the house and seek them out

Fashion show – choose outfits and music and do the cat-walk

Sink or swim – find out what sinks or swims

Make a movie – write a script, make costumes and create scenery

Photography project – choose a theme, and make an album

Book club – everyone chooses their favourite book and reads out their best bits

Robot Mummy or Daddy – they get to order you around (for a short while!)

Grow seeds – mustard and cress on loo roll, sunflowers or even tomatoes or strawberries in pots

Family Band – just have to decide who is the conductor!

Listen to songs in foreign languages (opera is great for this) and make up alternative words – we had Pavarotti extolling the virtues of squashed tomatoes and kids in convulsions

Take photos at strange angles around the house – and guess where they are

Indoor picnics – under the table, behind the sofa, in the den….

Paper airplanes – all sorts of designs to see which one flies furthest

Make a rock family – paint faces and create characters that you can then make up stories with

Edible necklaces – from pasta or cheerios or sweets

Paper bag piñata – fill with little surprises (doesn’t have to be edible)

Make ice-cubes – you can colour them with food colouring, or add little flowers (or worse) to them

Hand puppets – from old socks (finally a use for the orphan socks!) with silly faces and voices

Magic cups – three cups, one marble, put it under one of the cups and move the cups around and guess where it’s gone

Make a mobile – with a stretched out wire hanger, and decorate it

What’s missing – lay out items, memorise them, then take one away….

Family Tree – make a family tree and discover some stories about their ancestors (the funnier the better!)

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May 03rd, 2012

Does homework extinguish the flames of curiosity?

Although many 7-year olds (and their parents) are celebrating the scrapping of government guidelines saying they had to complete an hour of homework each week, the rest are still labouring away. And while a few voices, getting increasingly louder, are asking “what are we doing this for?” the reality is that in the UK children start homework in Year 1, and by Year 10-11 are completing up to 2½ hours a night.

And few of them like it. And not many of us enjoy it either

Homework can be the single most stressful issue in a home (at least 50% of parents report having serious rows with their children over homework that involve yelling and crying – the reality is probably higher given a natural reluctance to admit that these things happen) and homework can come to dominate our schedules, and our conversations with our children.

In addition to our parenting role, which can be stressful enough in its own right, in the evening we have to don our teaching hat, and support our children who have already been at school for maybe 8 hours already to do more work sheets, essays, test papers etc.

The ‘quality’ moments where we build and boost our relationship with our children are usually the first casualties of the ever-increasing levels of homework. It also reduces their time for unstructured play or thinking and processing timeHowever, we all want our children to do well at school, and while the debate will continue to rage about whether children need homework, how much should be set, what type, when it should start, and the rest, back at home the parental role is to help our children cope with whatever homework they bring back.

So, what is homework for?

It may seem like a simple question, but the answer may not be that straightforward and until we understand what we are hoping our children will gain from homework , we can’t be sure HOW to help them.

Is homework to improve their learning? Or for them to gain study skills? Does homework teach children about responsibility and self-discipline? Or as Alfie Kohn suggests in ‘The Homework Myth’ is homework simply something they need to get used to, because that in itself is a life-skill they need to learn?

There’s a lot of research about homework – although most of it starts from the premise that homework should exist and then aims to demonstrate that it benefits students.  In ‘The Homework Myth’ Alfie Kohn lays out the case against homework.  The evidence he presents is compelling, if a little overwhelming.

And the central problem is that we’re just not asking the right questions – we ask how we can strengthen our children’s back muscles so they can carry increasingly heavy back-packs, and we don’t ask why they’re carrying so many books, and whether it is doing them any good.  We ask how much is the perfect amount of homework in order to increase test scores, and we don’t ask whether tests are a good way to improve learning. We accept homework, and we content ourselves with asking questions about the detail, rather than challenging the concept.

These are good questions for parents and schools to ask and we need to educate ourselves about this. I do believe it is important that we question rather than simply accept, that we talk to each other, and share our concerns with our schools; that we don’t meekly accept without question something that we don’t always believe is right for our children. For now we have homework and so I want to focus on how we can help our children not just cope with it and not lose their natural love of learning but to be motivated to do it, to develop creative thinking and to get into independent habits of study.

Many schools officially encourage parents to let them know if a child is struggling with homework. But it’s not easy to do this – there are many credible reasons why we feel uncomfortable about it. We may accept that homework should be difficult, that children will dislike doing it, and we don’t want to be seen to be indulgent to our child, or cause a fuss…. It’s a long list. (My 11-year old son didn’t want me to discuss a recent comprehension with his English teacher because he didn’t want his mates to see that his mother had come into the classroom – it’s my world, he said, and it’s not cool for your mum to come in….).

So, as well as considering taking an active role in the homework debate for future children, what shall we do for OUR children in the here and now?

First, let’s go back to the question of what we hope our children will gain from doing homework.

In our classes we ask parents what characteristics they want their children to develop. No parent has ever said they want their children to buckle down and accept things without question, instead they say they want their children to be curious, self-motivated, to know themselves, to be confident to share their opinions, and much more.

Let’s look at a few of the qualities that we strive to bring out in our children, and see how they relate to homework.

 

Taking ownership

In theory, homework COULD teach our children to take responsibility for their own learning, but, in real life, we don’t often give them the chance to take any responsibility for it. The school decides it must be done, the teacher decides what it shall be about, and, in most families, the parents decide the where, when and even how. (“Use this pen, sit here, no you can’t have music on, underline this, rub that out…..”) In fact, we usually don’t even let our children have the responsibility of remembering to do homework – a Californian study found that parents raise the topic of homework within 5 minutes of meeting their children after school!
What shall we do?

(1)        Hold back asking them about their homework – give them a chance to mention it first, and take ownership of their homework.

They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you bringing it up, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…

If you really can’t wait to raise the topic, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time after tea to play that game?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)

(2)        Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.

Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s – it’s perfectly reasonable that you set the parameters (they need to be where you can hear/see them,) and it’s effective and fair when they take some ownership of the details (have a snack first).

I have, in the past, dictated the chair my sons sat on, and the direction they faced. I insisted homework was attended to before anything else, including a meal. Then I realised I was using the food as a lure, and I wasn’t comfortable with this. As growing boys with growing appetites, they needed food before they could concentrate for another nano-second, and as normal boys with huge energy levels, they often need to blow off steam first before settling down for another session of study.  So, the routine in our home has changed recently – their favourite option is eat, play, study, which (rather unsurprisingly) is my least favourite option! However, it’s working so far.

Start small, and let them make small choices about their homework NOW so they can make big choices about their homework IN THE FUTURE. (We don’t get better at making decisions by having them made for us!) Much resentment is avoided when they feel they have a measure of control.

(3)     When the homework is completed, encourage them to look through their work and suggest improvements to you.

This replaces us pointing out the errors they have made– not only is this de-motivating, it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work, and spotting improvements. When we encourage them to look for themselves, it helps them get used to the idea that they will make mistakes, but they can identify them, and put them right and move on.

“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”

Creativity, motivation and the love of learning

The majority of homework is repetitive – and while some repetition is necessary for transferring to our long term memories things like times tables, spelling words and French verbs (and even then there are more creative/fun ways of  doing this) doing the same thing over and over again is boring for those who can already do it, and depressing and stressful for those who can’t. Not only that, it can limit our ability to search for alternative ways to answer problems, and research shows us over and over again that doing something because you HAVE to do it decreases motivation.

“Homework may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.” Deborah Meier, quoted in ‘The Homework Myth’

Of course we want to teach our children – let’s allow the teachers to focus on the front-end academic side, and let’s focus on teaching our children about real-life. And there’s an awful lots of maths, English, Science, Geography and History in our every day world – there’s even a fair amount of Latin!

What can we do?

(1)        Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!

We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes, about the topics they’re studying.   Or simply go for a walk and talk…. Or let them go out in the dark to see the stars or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in some schools in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the ideas of homework and testing.

(2)     Stay in – and make fractions and ratios real

It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake or salad dressing, and weigh ingredients and see how they mix together or not; have a Victorian evening, with candles and playing cards; plot holidays on a globe or atlas, dress up like an Egyptian, make an ant-factory, have a scrapbook or project about anything that interests them.

3)          Model an interest in learning

Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to find something out we don’t know, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives.

Independence and involvement

Children are encouraged to do their homework on their own. However, research is showing that working with others, brainstorming and collaborative work, is more productive than working alone.

So that brings up the contentious issue of parental involvement.  We know we’re not supposed to actually do their homework. (In my experience, my ability to do their homework didn’t last as long as I expected or hoped it might…. but then I ‘learned’ a lot by rote, and out of fear, perhaps it’s not surprising most of it has evaporated.)

Research shows that when parents get involved, the level of stress rises.  When parents are told that the homework is for a test, they tend to interfere with the homework more, and the child tends to do less well on the test. When parents are not aware there is to be a test, they tend to stand back more, and the child tends to do better in the test.

What can we do?

(1)     Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have  you put it, but ask their opinion, share ideas and thoughts.

This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake is one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount of their book, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.

“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.”Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’

After your child has read, either with you or on their own, rather than sign the reading book, talk for a few moments about what they’ve read. If appropriate, perhaps your child can fill in the reading book – putting the date and number of pages read – and give it to you to sign-off. It’s these tiny acts that help them feel involved – that homework is something they do, not something that is done to them. Don’t reward kids for reading other than to praise them for their progress – it should be enjoyable for itself and if we dangle a carrot then we are undermining that message.

(2)        When they moan and complain about homework, hear them.

When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that if we validate the negative things they say they will become negative about other things whereas we want them to be positive. None of this is true. (“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, etc.”-this is empathising)

We’re allowing them to tell us how they feel. How children feel about homework is very important as it affects their whole relationship with school, studying, and learning. When we empathise with them, we can actually lower their reluctance or resistance to doing it and let go of their negative feelings. When we try to explain or cajole them to do it, or make them feel wrong for complaining, we give them the message that their instincts and emotions are wrong, and they need to learn to over-ride them and get on with doing as they’re told. Not only that, they can’t talk about it with us because we’re not going to hear it. Not really the life lesson we want our children to learn, nor the relationship we hope to have with them. When they feel heard they have the experience of someone validating their perspective. When we acknowledge their point of view we can help them be calm and move on.

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February 28th, 2012

What if we could encourage creative thinking and curiosity in our children

girl thinking

Children discover a very important tool for survival when they play –especially when they engage in fantasy play. They learn how to imagine and talk about things not present, they learn how to pretend and speculate. This is such an important tool for life to learn as it enables those who master it to plan, project, conceptualise and to think creatively. When children engage in fantasy play they are involved in an age old process of story telling that enables them to make sense of a sometimes confusing and unpredictable world and find solutions to problems.

Clearly there are inspired entrepreneurs who are examples of creative visionaries such as Bill Gates, who once envisioned a computer in every home; or Steve Jobs’ vision for the series of iProducts; or, Richard Branson with his plan to send people into space.  And with the subsequent generation led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergei Brin and Larry Page, certainly ‘what-if’ questions are being posed regularly (there’s even a management consultancy called WhatIf! in London).  Clearly these ‘what if’ conversations can and do exist, but in a culture of over-scheduled and hyper-parented children, many of whom are simply learning all they need to know to pass a test, are we instilling in them a sense of ‘what-if’curiosity, or are we simply giving them all the answers?

What is the magic trick to raising kids that are imaginative, creative and curious?  Here are some tips that we think can support you in making it happen:

Play – Allow your children time for unstructured and non –adult directed play.  Let them dig holes in the garden, plant seeds, make dens, allow their imaginations to run wild.  Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen. Give them toys which don’t do all their thinking for them or direct how the game should develop – the simpler the better.

Ask – don’t tell Ask questions of your children that will require more than a yes or no answer.  Even in the madness of the morning routine, you can ask them what they need to do rather than nag them.  They can think for themselves, and will respond to questions more positively than to nagging. We get into the habit of repeating ourselves because we say our children don’t listen but it is the very repetition (nagging) that causes our children to tune us out.

Be interested in what they have to say.  Toddlers will go through the “why?’ stage.  Don’t shut down their questions.  They’re simply trying to make sense of their world. Sometimes you can respond to a question with a question of your own or a direction to where they can find the answer. “That’s a very good question – I wonder if you’d find the answer in your book about dinosaurs/on the internet?”

Encourage awareness of the wider world Talk to your children about things that happen in your life, within your community and around the world. Don’t just talk about world disasters but when they come up rather than leaving them feeling detached and helpless, encourage them to do something to help (e.g. donate some of their allowance to charities to support relief efforts for things like the Tsunami in Japan; or make up a relief package made up of things from their own toy collection and your kitchen cupboards). Encourage an attitude of solution orientedness. Point to solutions people have found such as discoveries in science and medicine. Inspire them with your enthusiasm for new inventions- many men particularly find it easy to be inspired about new gadgets!

Trial and Error Allow your children to fail. We love Michael Jordan’s quote “I have missed over 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games; been trusted with the game-winning shot 26 times – and missed.  I failed over and over and over and that is why I succeed”.  Practice won’t necessarily make perfect, but it will sure make things better.

Praise the qualities that will encourage a ‘what-if’ child.

-          Persistence When you see your child persevering at something (even if it’s your toddler trying to get a pea on a fork!) This should be easy to spot as small children get up time and time again when they fall over.

-          Effort When your child puts extra effort into riding a bike or skateboard, learning their spelling, practicing the piano or building a Lego tower.

-          Ingenuity Your children will come up with ideas … if you ask them.  Allow them to contribute to solutions to problems involving them and others in which they are not involved. Eg “does anyone have any ideas how Mummy can remember to take her phone when she goes out?”

-          Improvement Children of all ages are learning every day.  Make sure to notice those small improvements, whether it is a small child remembering to flush the toilet or a teenager remembering to text to say they’ll be late.  You will get more of what you pay attention to.

-          Curiosity Don’t denigrate the ‘why’ questions.  If you don’t know the answer, it’s great modeling to say, “you know what, I don’t know!  Let’s go find out”.  If you model curiosity for learning, it will rub off on your children.  And be grateful that Google does exist!

Play a ‘what-if’ game when your children ask for your help in solving a problem.  This is great for so many reasons including that your children start to see that you trust their ideas, and they learn to trust themselves to figure things out. It’s really simple! It’s nothing more than a conversation with each sentence beginning with ‘Yes, and what if …?’  If your child asks you if they can do something, say build a spaceship, the conversation could go something like this:

Child: What if we get that big empty box from the garage and build a rocket

Parent: Yes, and what if we get the Christmas lights from the attic and stick them to the box?

C: Yes, and what if we get out the paints and decorate our rocket?

P: Yes, and what if you get that jumpsuit Granny made for you and use it as a spacesuit?

C: Yes … and the ski goggles and my bike helmet.

P: What if you need to steer the rocket?

C: What if we get a plastic plate to be a steering wheel?

P: Yes, and you can’t leave your toys behind!  What if I build a toy box inside the rocket?

C: And I might get hungry.  It’s a long way to the moon.   What if I make a snack?

You get the idea.  It’s simply a way of opening up ideas and new possibilities rather than stifling creativity.

Focus on the process, not the result Sophie, age 9, is obsessed with creating a dance camp for kids when she’s 12.  Instead of shutting down the idea because she can’t be bothered, her mother is encouraging her to think about all the things she’ll need to do to get the camp going – whether it happens three years down the road or not.  At the same time her mum is praising her for things like creativity, contribution, fun, sharing and collaboration.

For a younger child carrying their own cup but spilling quite a bit try hard not to take over and do it for them. Instead say something like “You are trying really hard to carry your cup over to the table without spilling it. I watched you walking really slowly and I see that you have discovered that if you keep your eye on it and look up occasionally you spill less and still don’t bump into anything. You are figuring it out all by yourself. There’s a cloth for wiping up on the kitchen bench.”

No idea is wrong Encourage healthy dialogue about ideas within your home.  Discussing an idea will teach your child how to take it to fruition.  It will also help them separate the good from not-so-good ideas!

Create an ideas forum –having regular family meetings is a good idea for many reasons including providing a forum for discussing ideas, finding solutions.

Probably now, more than ever, our children need to be curious, innovative, and have the skills to take something that starts as an idea and take it to fruition.  We once heard someone say that today’s children need to learn skills for careers that don’t currently exist. What do you think Mark Zuckerberg responded when he was a young boy when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up? The whole idea of social media didn’t exist. It is a completely new and innovative industry. He clearly grew up with an innovative and entrepreneurial flair.

Perhaps many of our own children possess the same ability.  As one of the founders of The Blue School in New York says in the film ‘Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture’, “kids come to the table with this creativity and this love of learning.  Let’s just not take it out of them”.

It’s hugely exciting to think about the possibilities that will arise from raising ‘what-if’ children rather than raising kids that are waiting to be told what to do all the time. By encouraging ‘what-if’ conversations, we are more likely to raise children who can imagine, pretend, conceptualise, plan and solve problems. This will help them not just make sense of their world, but redefine it.

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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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January 19th, 2012

Naughty words

Over the holiday period I spent some time with my nieces and nephews ranging in age from 6 to 18 years which was delightful, and occasionally instructive. On one occasion I was quite shocked to hear my youngest niece address her 15 year old cousin as ‘penis breath’ which prompted the question ‘why?’ And ‘where is she hearing that kind of talk?’ My niece is bilingual and only speaks English at home and I’m fairly sure her parents aren’t speaking to her or to each other in that way. So it begs the question what makes kids use offensive language. But that’s a question we can’t ask until we’re calm enough to do so. If you’re the parent of a child who’s just uttered an expletive that you find shocking, and in particular if its front of others, especially if its front of disapproving relatives, then the chances are your buttons have been pushed and you’re not asking sensible questions about the provenance of the utterance but have responded sharply, maybe punitively or maybe with resignation and an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders… ‘kids these days.’

Once you’ve calmed down and in the privacy of your own home the concerned parent might consider why children use such language. I think there are three reasons and the cause will determine the most effective parental response. It seems to me that kids use poor language because:

  • It is generated by a strong emotion and they need to express themselves strongly
  • They are trying to shock – whether or not they know the meaning of what they’re saying they know what the effect will be
  • They are in the habit of using such language and it means little to them; they may be in an environment where they hear language which would some would find offensive used as an everyday adverb –‘that’s f***ing brilliant’ is not used with the intention to offend.

Swearing and parent challenges

We certainly cannot shield our children from hearing words which we might prefer not to hear coming from the mouths of babes or even older kids. They will be exposed to strong language in the school playground, in the media and on the street. Maybe they hear it from the adults on whom they model their behaviour too. This is one of those difficult areas where parents cannot avoid responsibility –while we might accept certain language from an adult and find it offensive in a child they will of course not make that distinction, or not without learning an early lesson in hypocrisy. “We rejoice if they say something over free and words which we should not tolerate from the lips even of an Alexandrian page are greeted with laughter and a kiss…They hear us use such words…every dinner party is loud with foul songs, and things are presented to their eyes of which we should blush to speak.” (Quintilian 1stcentury AD) What we can do is pass on whatever our values are about language –the appropriateness of certain words at certain times and in certain settings. Sometimes our children pick up on our values without us realising. One day when my daughter was five years old I was driving her and a friend home for a playdate when her friend said something offensive. Before I could say anything my pompous little girl had said “ours is not a rude house”. While I wouldn’t have expressed it like that I’m glad she’d got the message.

Naughty words and swearing

If our children’s choice of words has been dictated by strong emotion then we will teach them nothing if we do not acknowledge the strength of that feeling. “For you to talk to me/your brother like that tells me you are REALLY angry.” “The fact that you’ve chosen that word shows me you really want me to take you very seriously.” Only once the emotion has been acknowledged can we require the child to express themselves differently. This clearly requires a certain level of detachment that you won’t be able to muster in the heat of the upset so come back to it when you’re calmer.

Likewise we will be ineffective in dealing with inappropriate language if we are judgmental. It’s important that we don’t say anything that makes our children wrong even though we think the language offensive –they won’t learn while they feel judged. So don’t say “Don’t say that –that’s wrong/bad/disgusting” because, being egocentric, they will hear “YOU are wrong/bad/disgusting” and will shut down in defence or become retaliatory or resistant or otherwise stop listening.

Introducing a swear box

If ‘naughty words’ are used to get attention conventional wisdom would have it that we should ignore such language but many parents worry that this means we are condoning it. Instead of ignoring we shouldn’t give it a massive amount of attention as we do when we get upset but quietly take the child to one side and explain that we find such words hurtful and that they are inappropriate. If the inappropriate language continues some kind of consequence is often used. Some families use a swear box into which a coin is put when there is an ‘offence’.  

However a more positive approach is to teach your child to get attention differently. If you think that attention seeking is the motivation say so and be clear what behaviour will get your attention and then make sure you do give lots of attention for good behaviours. In this situation it is important not to be melodramatic but speak to the child in a calm, neutral voice. Again this may require a time out to calm down first.

If your child is swearing or using other offensive language merely out of habit changes to his environment will be required as well as an acknowledgment of how things have been to date and what the new rules are for everyone. Is your child being exposed to inappropriate media? Are they watching programmes with a classification beyond their age? Where do they watch TV or use the computer? If you are making changes to these habits your child will not be happy and you will meet resistance. Empathise but be firm. Make sure your expectations are realistic and don’t expect change to be quick.

Acknowledge your child for accepting changes, for trying to control their language and for using alternative ways of expressing themselves when frustrated, thwarted or angry. My daughter’s favourite way of getting her point across without being offensive was to say “oh, rude words!”

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January 19th, 2012

Top Tips for dealing with separation anxiety after the holidays

Getting back into a routine after family holidays can be difficult. Sleeping and eating routines may have been disrupted and general activities have been different. Working parents may have had much more time with their children than usual. Hopefully this was lovely for everyone but it may be difficult for you to go back to work and for your child to start up their usual child care routine again. Separation anxiety – tears, screaming, clinging etc – is very common and a completely normal stage of development. And it’s never easy for parents to handle. Some children never experience it; others go through various periods throughout their childhood. It varies hugely from child to child.

Here are techniques you can use to help alleviate the upset for your child and some understanding that might help you feel less stressed too – and therefore be calmer and more consistent, which in turn helps your child. As with all children’s behaviour, your reactions have an impact on the frequency, intensity and duration of the behaviour.

Overall, do remember that your child’s concern about you leaving is a sure and important sign that there is a healthy attachment between you. For now, they may not believe they can cope without you, and they may feel unable to do anything to bring you back, hence the panic, but eventually they will develop coping strategies and feel safe enough on their own. For others it’s just that they would just rather have you around more.

Babysitters- Try to leave when the going is good – not when your child is tired, hungry or unsettled. And always try to introduce carers beforehand, so your child gets a chance to recognize them and bond.

Develop a routine for saying goodbye – keep it short and sweet and stick to it! This will create familiarity and therefore some sense of security. Don’t go back, however hard it is. It’s fine to call later, and check how things are going, but do leave it a good 15-20 minutes to give everyone a chance to settle.

Talk about how they are feeling calmly – rather than encouraging them to suppress their feelings which inevitably leads to difficult behaviour, as the unrecognized emotion tries to escape, and they won’t learn how to deal with the emotion. If they say how they feel say “Thank you for telling me how you feel. Let’s have a big hug.” Remember it’s not your job to take away their feelings of discomfort –it is your job to help them manage such feelings. When you’re prepared to talk about their intense emotions it makes the feeling less overwhelming or scary.

Allow your child to be upset – don’t negate or deny or ignore their feelings by telling them to be a big boy/girl and not to cry. Instead acknowledge it’s hard to say goodbye and accept they may feel sad when you go out, or leave them at nursery. Young children often can’t put into words how they feel so it’s up to the adult to describe their feelings for them. “You wish mummy didn’t have to go. You’re feeling sad and maybe worried.” Allowing these emotions to be expressed does not make the emotions or the behaviour itself worse; in fact it alleviates the stress these emotions are causing.

Explore with them ways they can cheer themselves up – not only does it help in the moment, but it also helps build up a sense that they have control of their emotions. Sometimes children can draw on the magic properties of a talisman (like a pebble) you’ve given them that gives them courage and comfort or you could give them something of yours (like a hanky) to keep close by.

Descriptively Praise them whenever they are brave, make the best of things, are flexible or adaptable, or similar. For example: “you didn’t make a big fuss when you skinned your knee just now even though I could see it hurt. That was brave of you. You told me you were thinking of the cupcakes we’re going to make when we get home –what a great strategy that is!’”

And bear in mind you will be experiencing your own version of separation anxiety. When faced with intense emotions in our child, our own emotions are strong as well. It can be overwhelming in terms of testing your patience and resolve, and many parents feel guilty. Don’t be tempted to trick them and sneak out without them noticing – it only avoids and often worsens the situation by breaching trust. Instead, find yourself a calming strategy – breathing slowly, have a mantra such as “it won’t last” and use it. Remember that this is a phase that won’t last but also that you are doing the important job of coaching your child to deal with their emotions which helps them in so many ways throughout their lives.

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January 19th, 2012

Top Tips for helping children handle parties

Children's parties

There is an assumption that children and parties go together like bread and jam. And parties are important for the social development of our children.

In many ways, children and parties do have a natural affinity – they both tend to be full of activity and noise, and they’re often somewhat chaotic, and usually quite exhausting!

Parties present a different world to children, a world where the rules are often very different and this can make it hard for them to know how to behave.

Some children don’t enjoy parties – and others enjoy them too much! Either can cause challenges for parents.

There is a wealth of information about how to organise a successful child’s party and plenty to say about whether or not creating a Fabulous Event for a 3 year old is appropriate. But for now we’re going to focus on how parents can make a party a success for the child themselves, helping them feel better, and behave better, and gain from the opportunities offered.

In our experience, these are the 3 main areas parents worry about – and some ideas about how you can help your child:

 

Nerves and reluctance to join in

Some children throw themselves in with abandon as soon as they arrive. Others hang back and find it hard to join in the merriment. Many children feel anxious or insecure in unknown situations, and this can be exacerbated if they are also to be separated from parents/caregivers. (Separation anxiety doesn’t just affect 18month-2 year olds – it comes in fits and starts, and often another peak is at 5-6 and at 7-8 years old.)

When it looks like our child is not going to join in, it can make us feel disappointed that they’re not going to enjoy themselves, particularly if we’ve made an effort to get there, or worried that they’re out of their depth and we’ve done something wrong, or we can’t help them or that they’ll grow up to be a social misfit!

Being the life and soul of the party is not for all of us! And most parents would choose “being a good friend” over “being a party-animal” for their child! If your child’s temperament means they are more cautious, and reserved, this doesn’t make them wrong- it’s just who they are and we need to accept and support them. Understanding our children’s temperament helps us find ways to help them. For example:

  • Talk with them beforehand about how they feel about parties – acknowledge that there is a pressure to enjoy parties, and empathise that parties can feel overwhelming. Wait for them to respond – and allow them to tell you if they don’t enjoy parties – some children are particularly sensorially sensitive and find the lights, noise and activity more stressful. You can empathise about worries they may have WITHOUT making them more worried. This might sound like: “I know you’re looking forward to Charlie’s party because he’s your friend, and I wonder if you’re also a bit worried about what’s going to happen at the party? Sometimes there is so much going on, and it’s loud and there are lots of people and it is hard to join in games….”
  • Discuss with them what friendship involves – it’s not all about playing games at parties and being a standout leader in a group- the ‘popular’ one. Friendship is also about being kind, sharing, and helping others. Encourage your child to see themselves as a good friend, even if they don’t like joining in noisy, boisterous activities. This might sound like: “I know Molly likes music and dancing, and they’re not your favourite things to do. You and she are good friends though – she loves coming here to play with your doll’s house, and spending time with you.”
  • Notice and descriptively praise any progress in the right direction – if your child watches the activities or games from a distance, clutching your hand, that’s better than running out of the room. Some children watch entire puppet shows or balloon displays from the doorway or stairs. At least they’re engaged, as far as they feel they can be, and they have created a great coping mechanism for themselves. Acknowledge them: “I see you’ve settled yourself down there where you feel comfortable. I think you want to watch the clown lady, and you want to make sure you can see your friends, even though you don’t want to sit with them.” One mum helped her child acclimatise to parties in small steps by letting her stand next to her and gradually helping her move closer to the action, until finally the girl said mum could leave!

Over-exuberance and not wanting to leave

Some children jump in feet first, and commit to having a full role in every aspect of the party and may even take over somewhat. And, with no sense of time, and no awareness of all the other things you have to do that afternoon/evening, they find it impossible to leave when they are asked.

  • Practice at home beforehand – do a role play of leaving the party and walk through with your child all the stages involved – from finding their coat, saying thank you to the host, and good-bye to their friends. Have some fun, you can even swap roles and let your child be the host and you can be the reluctant leaver. Role plays work well because they help children practice things they find hard in a safe, non-judgemental, non-pressured, supportive environment.
  • Plan something interesting (and calming!) to do afterwards – discuss and agree this with your child beforehand. When you arrive, you can empathise with their reluctance to leave – rather than make them feel wrong for wanting to stay – and gently remind (rather than nag or threaten!) them about the planned activity at home. This might sound like: “Gosh, you look like you’ve had lots of fun, and now it’s time to leave which isn’t so much fun, is it? Do you remember what we practiced? And what we’re going to do when we get home?”

The evening after the party…..

Once we’ve got home safely, it’s tempting to believe it’s all done and dusted.

Actually, it takes children a remarkably long time to calm down after the intensity of a party. After all the hype, nerves, adrenalin and sugar, it’s difficult for them to adjust to the order and expectations of the real world again.

The more tired they are, the harder it is for them to do anything – including going to sleep. Yet all we want to do is collapse into bed! This can mean we ourselves are not calm, and this doesn’t help.

Rather than pushing them to go to sleep earlier, it can help to start the wind-down to bedtime earlier and make time to do something smoothing and calming. Even if it means they go to bed at the same time as normal, they should fall asleep more peacefully and have a better night’s rest.

Ideas include: deep “sleepy” breathing, gentle massage, having candles/bubbles in the bath, reading favourite stories in your bed. When you’re reading it can help children relax if you gradually slow your voice down and lower the volume, making longer pauses between sentences. It might also help to stroke the child in a rhythm that matches your reading.

It may help to modify some rules or expectations about the evening to allow for the earlier mayhem – for example, if you usually require that your child puts their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, maybe you can do this for them. It doesn’t mean the rule is broken, it’s just the rule applies to “normal” days and doesn’t apply on party night! If you want to maintain any house-keeping rules, be prepared that they might be forgotten, not done so well, or done very slowly and grumpily!

Over all, it always helps us to look at things from our child’s perspective – in time they will be able to do this for you too. When we consider the experience they’ve had at the party, it’s not hard to see how they may crumble or explode later at home.

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January 19th, 2012

Top Tips for Managing Morning Mayhem

One of the most common causes of parental stress is what we call ‘morning mayhem’. Parents often report to us that they have awful mornings where they wind up screaming at their children, nagging and making wild threats. By the time they drop their children off at nursery or with the child minder they regularly feel guilty and the children are often upset or withdrawn. By putting a bit of time, thought and effort into making changes and by applying the methods below parents find their mornings are transformed.

  • Allow more time. Children can find transitions (ie moving from one activity to another) hard. They operate on a very different tempo from adults and rushing them always ends in disaster
  • Do as much as possible the night before
  • Stay focussed on getting the children to do what’s required. When we take our eye off the ball (eg making just a quick phone call) things tend to go ‘pear-shaped’. This often means getting up a bit earlier to get yourself ready first. (Nobody likes this suggestion!)
  • Have written or pictorial routines so everyone knows what has to be done and so you remember what to praise the children for.
  • Talk through with the children as soon as they get up what has to be done. Ask them questions: ‘What do you need to do before we go downstairs?’ Once we’ve had breakfast what needs to be done?’ Praise them for their answers. Even if they’re not correct you can praise the child for taking a guess.
  • Be there while your children are doing what they have to do and praise your children for little steps in the right direction (rather than waiting for the whole task to be completed) ‘Olivia, you have one sock on already and you put it on all by yourself’’. This is much more motivating for children than nagging and chivvying.
  • Empathise with the child who finds it difficult to get going in the morning or has not yet developed good organisational habits or who just isn’t interested in the task at hand. ‘I know you find it hard to concentrate on getting dressed when you’d rather be playing with your train set. You can earn 10 minutes of train-playing after breakfast by getting dressed quickly.’
  • Some children suffer particularly from low blood sugar levels and need to be fed quickly. Some are easily distracted and are best dressed away from the toys in their rooms.
  • Brainstorm with the kids for strategies for dealing with difficult situations. ‘How do you think we can make mornings more fun?’
  • Time events so that good things follow less favourite things eg getting dressed, tidying up, eating breakfast comes before any playtime. We recommend you don’t use TV as a reward in the mornings.
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January 19th, 2012

Top Tips for Surviving Long Car Journeys

For many of us, our families and friends no longer live locally, but some distance away. And with all these lovely sunny bank holiday weekends approaching over the next few months, this is the ideal time to pack up the car, pack up the kids, and get away to spend some valuable time with loved ones.It sounds such a great idea, until you start to think about the long car journey crawling down the motorway, listening to the squawks and whines in the back of the car. Then we start thinking about them saying “Are we nearly there yet?” and “I need a wee-wee” and suddenly staying at home seems a much better idea.It’s not – getting away for a break, and spending time with family and friends, is too valuable an opportunity to be lost.

 

So…..

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

Time your journey as smartly as possible

We all know when the roads are busiest, so see if you can be creative about the time you leave and travel. It will be well worthwhile leaving earlier or later than usual – the roads will be quieter, and if the children are usually asleep at this time, it may well be quieter in the car too! If the children are small, wrap them up in their pyjamas and fill your thermos flask. Alternatively, give them a good run around before the start of the journey to expend some energy.

Plan some stops

Regular stops are not just good for the children, they’re good for you too. Check out on the map or route planner where you can pull off the road every couple of hours and have a run around, and revive yourselves for the next stage.

Pack some emergency supplies

Include baby wipes, plastic bags, calpol sachets, emergency snacks, water bottles, a travel potty may also be helpful! It may be worth taking a spare set of clothes, depending on whether it matters what you look like when you get there….

 

IN THE CAR

Allocate time to various activities

Apportion a set time for different activities – for example, during a 2-hour journey you could have ½ hour for looking out of the window and chatting, ½ hour of games, ½ hour for a packed lunch and ½ hour of stories on the disc player or ipod.

Get as comfortable as possible

Take a pillow or folded up blankets to put under knees or behind necks.

Divide and conquer

Keep as much space as possible between siblings in the back – the closer they are, the feistier they can get. Try a physical boundary like a bag or pillow, or the picnic box between them. Consider rotating children around so everyone gets a turn behind Mummy or by the window or in the back row….

Games for the car

A recent survey showed that, despite all the modern technology that’s available, most families still also play the traditional games in the car, from I-Spy to naming the capital cities or major rivers of Europe. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Yes and No – everyone take turns to ask any questions of one person, but they can’t reply with yes or no or they are out! (For example “Are you sitting next to Rosie?”)
  • Granny’s Knickers – everyone asks one person a question to which they have to respond with the answer “Granny’s Knickers” regardless of the question, without giggling! (For example “What’s your favourite ice-cream flavour?”)
  • Alphabet Spotting – take turns to name something you can see from the car beginning with a, b, c, d etc.
  • Make A Story – take it in turns to construct a sentence each to make up a nonsense story.
  • Chocolate or cheese – each person takes turns to ask the question “If you had to choose between the following, which one would you choose?” For example, chocolate or cheese, or perhaps being able to fly or become invisible!
  • The 1 Minute Game – choose any topic and talk about it for one minute.
  • My Granny Went To Market – one person starts with “My Granny went to market and she bought a…..” and then you take it in turns to remember the whole shopping list! Be as silly as you like…
  • Car Snooker – first spot a red car for one point, then either a yellow, green, brown, blue, pink or black then back to another red car and repeat until all the colours have to spotted in order! (The pink ones will take some time!)
  • Word Linking – think of a theme, fairly broad, like animals or food, and whoever starts chooses an example, say cat, and the next person has to think of another example starting with the last letter of the one before, in this case t. Have a plan for words ending in y in particular!
  • Backseat Bingo – prepare some grids on pieces of paper before you set off, and fill in with words or pictures of the things you expect to see out of the window – blue car, lorry, bridge, telephone box, zebra crossing, sheep, police car etc. Everyone ticks them off as they see them and when they have a full sheet they call out “Bingo!”
  • Landmark Spotting – similar to Bingo, prepare a simple map of the route and mark out the major sites or towns which can be ticked off on the way.
  • Who Am I – one person imagines a character from a favourite story or show, or history, and the others have to ask questions to guess who it is – are you a boy, are you a girl, have you got 4 legs, do you use a wand, are you an alien, are you a baddie etc.
  • Sponsored silence –seems so obvious now you think about it!

 

WHEN YOU GET THERE

Just when you thought it was all over…….

Do remember that the children will probably fall out of the car when you arrive, either full of energy, sugar and thoroughly over-excited, or groggy, car-sick and nervous. Either way, plan for some transitional activity – whether that’s running up and down stairs or forming a fireman’s chain to deliver bags, or sitting quietly in the corner reading a book.

Overall, it’s safety first. We can NOT simply expect our children to understand what it is like to drive a car, let alone drive with fighting and arguing going on in the back.

But we can explain it to them beforehand – not angrily or resentfully, but gently and respectfully. We tell them that we have to look in mirrors, make signals, use pedals, judge speeds, guess distances, anticipate other people – as well as steer the car. And we can explain they need to keep the noise to a reasonable level – some parents use a “noise meter” where Levels 1-2 are fine, 3 is the absolute maximum and 4-5 is danger zone. Practice it beforehand!

Once in the car, while they are at Level 1-2, make sure you notice and say something! “Thanks guys, you’ve got the noise level just right – I can concentrate and keep us safe, and you can hear each other too!”. Then if it gets noisier, rather than suddenly shouting to them from the front, just refer to the “noise meter” along the lines of “Uh oh, we’ve reached Level 3, so just be careful”.

Ultimately, if the noise does reach a point that you can’t drive safely, don’t drive. Pull over. Explain that it’s too noisy for you to drive right now, so you need to stop. Rather than haul them out and tell them off, get out yourself, take some deep breaths and count slowly to whatever it takes.

When you get back into the car, perhaps you can start with a “sponsored silence” game for a while!

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October 31st, 2011

Halloween Horrors!!!

Are your children excited about all the Halloween trick – or- treating? Do they adore dressing up? Or are they fearful at the thought of venturing out in the dark night and encountering all the scary ghoulish faces. Many children under the age of 6 have difficulty divorcing reality from fantasy so for many of our younger children this truly can be a night of horrors.

In addition many  of us as parents are confused about what Halloween represents as a festival  and may worry about the pagan or Christian origins of All Hallows Eve being taken over for commercial purposes. Relax – for the children this day is about dressing up, being with friends and the age long tradition of collecting sweeties and telling jokes! (The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the  Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. On Hallowmas (November 1) the poor would go door to door receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls’ Day, (November 2).)

Here are some top tips to make Halloween a success:

Talk to your children about what may be frightening them – is it the costumes; the scary masks; the symbols or images of blood and gore? Make sure they get that you are listening and understanding and not treating their fears as if they are silly or babyish. Once a child feels heard and his feelings validated he is in a far better place to look for solutions.

  1. If you need to take a young reluctant child along with older ones let him know you will support him, holding his hand or whatever else he needs to feel safe. Keep reminding him that there are real people under the costumes and if you know who then name them.
  2. The costumes sold on the high street can be very scary so let your child decide what he is going to dress up as. If he wants to be Batman or a Power Ranger then let him be……..  Equally if he is happy to dress as a devil/monster for the night then again let him do so and be assured this does not mean all his  belief systems about what is right and wrong will be threatened. Research indicates that children who are able to dress in scary costumes are more likely to overcome their fears and be more resilient.
  3. If your child is nervous about trick-or-treating, then set up for success by enlisting the help of a few friendly neighbours who know you are going to visit. Start well before dark and ensure you have some of your children’s friends by your side to help them get into the festive spirit.
  4. If trick-or treating is really out of the question, then invite people to the house for a Fancy dress party with Halloween food and games. Children feel safer and secure in their own home and by involving them with Pumpkin carving and house decorating they will feel successful and involved.

Ultimately the key lies in listening to your child’s fears – they are very real and let him decide how much/little he wants to participate. Be aware that for children with sensory sensitivities the sounds, smells and feel of everything different may send them spinning. So have empathy – they may be HAVING a problem not BEING a problem and if we tell him to “grow up and stop being a baby” and “face his fears” they will feel very misunderstood and learn it is not right to be afraid. Over time your child will learn with the right support to deal with his anxieties and fears and become more resilient.

Halloween is here to stay – commercially it becomes bigger each year. You may choose not to take part but if you do, explain to your children what are your values that prevent you from joining in and empathise if they would like to do what many of their friends are doing. If you do choose to take part to make it a success requires a little planning.

Your child may not be fearful at all and look forward to trick or treating and getting sweets. You may need to remind them (by asking the children) about what to say at the door of participating neighbours (only call on those households who are participating-decorations are a good indicator) and to say thank you. To avoid sugar overdosing you may also need to establish some rules ahead of time about how many sweets can be consumed on the night and thereafter. The whole experience can be very exciting so be prepared for it to take time to wind down. Start the whole evening with plenty of time to do the trick or treating round and get home in time for a wind down and maybe a hot milky drink before bed.

Enjoy your ‘guising’ and ‘souling’ and your pumpkin carving and wrap up warmly!

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October 20th, 2011

The Grateful Letter

Descriptive Praise in Action

At The Parent Practice we have many parents who never cease to amaze us with simple ideas that have a long-reaching, positive impact on the relationship they have with their children.

One Mum recently emailed us with a grateful letter that she intended to include with her soon-to-be 8 year old’s birthday card.  This wasn’t just any old letter.  This was a heartfelt testament (full of descriptive praise) to the year her son had just completed: the milestones he achieved; the new skills he learned; his new friendships; the frustrations and the overcoming of those frustrations; the enhanced relationships with his brothers; even his height and shoe size at the beginning of the year.  Some of us  have kept baby books where we keep track of all the firsts – teeth, steps and words – but we usually stop by the time our children start school if not before.  It is a wonderful idea to continue to keep a record and celebration of their lives.

This Mum is beautifully participative in her son’s life – not overbearing – but present in a way in which she can observe and note down (her son is oblivious until he receives the card) things that may at first seem mundane, but actually are important moments in the life of a child.  Here’s an excerpt:

We are grateful that you are growing so independent

in the mornings… always dressed and downstairs by

7am, getting your own breakfast and setting the table

for everyone else. For the pride you take in doing up

your new school tie, and the way you make your own

bed every day without reminders. For accepting the

new ‘no Wii on a school day’ rule with good grace… but

playing it like a madman at the weekends.

 

We are grateful for your strong will … for never backing down

which is both infuriating and admirable. For your desire to

win and be the best, and how mad it makes you when you

lose.  For finding it impossible to say sorry out loud, but then

spontaneously writing a beautiful and sincere letter of apology.

For trying so hard to control your anger and getting frustrated

when it is sometimes the hardest thing to do.

 

He must start his birthday each year on such a high!  This particular year he will be reminded not just that he is deeply loved, but also that he is independent, cooperative, contributing, proud, disciplined, determined and sincere – all qualities that we hope to instill in our children.  We love the honesty of the letter: the Mum isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses, but rather she takes aspects of her child’s behaviour that could infuriate her, and sees them in a positive and caring way – enabling her son to know that he is appreciated for who he is.  We imagine that her son is left knowing that being determined, for example, can be a good quality!

We hope that reading this letter doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or beaten at the competitive game parenting can be but instead inspires you to create something similar for your child.  It would be wonderful for them as teenagers and adults to be able to re-read an accurate record of their lives. We like the idea of excerpts being read out (with laughter and tears) one day at a 21st or wedding reception!

So, how do we do it?  The Mum who sent us her letter has it down to an art!  She jots down notes on the ‘notes’ app on her iPhone and pulls them all together at the end of the year.  The writing down seems like it will be the easy part!  The more challenging aspect will be taking the time to participate, observe, and truly connect with your children as they grow up.  Although it will take time we suspect it will be time you will enjoy and will help you see your child in a truly positive light.

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August 17th, 2011

Rioting British youths failed by their own parents? It takes a village

Britons and people across the world have been mesmerised by the riots that took place recently in London and other cities and have been scrabbling for some sort of explanation for what went on, what motivated the rioters and, it seemed to me, searching for someone to blame. I was sorry to see that one of the knee jerk reactions as we try to make sense of this frightening occurrence in our own neighbourhoods was a spate of parent bashing and blaming.

There have been as many theories about the causes of the violence as there were people who took part in it. But there is no one explanation that has convinced me as applying to all who took part. The causes attributed seem to depend on who are identified as the perpetrators. If the rioters were unemployed, uneducated, fatherless, estate-living, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds then commentators have claimed that it is the socio economic climate in which we live currently that has given rise to this spate of violence. But many of the looters were not from this demographic but were middle class, older people in employment. There were teachers, dental nurses and ballerinas who took part. Many of these people were female, educated and in employment. Some of the young were living in stable homes with two caring parents. Many of us will have heard interviews with ‘hoodies’ who claim to have joined in for the fun of it and because they could get away with it.

Whatever the disparate socio economic and ethnic backgrounds of the people taking part in the rioting and looting maybe one thing that unites them is a sense of powerlessness in their lives that compels them to seize control in this way. One youth was quoted as saying “We wanted to show the police we could do what we wanted.” The other uniting feature, as many commentators have mentioned, is the moral vacuum we have witnessed. Whatever the circumstances of their lives, whatever hardships they may be enduring, whatever frustrations or privations, these don’t justify taking the action they did, causing the damage they did, taking the lives they did. So what is missing? Some of the people taking part seemed to just get caught up in the atmosphere of the mob without any predetermined idea of causing violence or stealing. But why did they give way to the thrust of the crowd? Where is the value system that tells a person when to stop and decide not to join the throng? Why wasn’t there an overriding compulsion that made them put the brakes on and think about how their actions impacted on others? How do you get those values? Clearly from one’s up-bringing. Allison Pearson has written in the Telegraph, “Our young people need adults to stop abdicating authority.”

While it is true that we need parents to behave like adults and to be in charge there are wide differences of opinion about what this means. Pearson quoted her neighbour as saying “They need a smacked bottom and to be sent to bed early”. Generally when people say “what that child needs is some discipline” they mean this kind of punitive approach but this is pendulum thinking where we assume that the alternative to this kind of flagrant permissiveness is clamping down hard with punishment. And if we conclude that there are social factors at work here which facilitated the recent lawlessness then we will not be effective in just bringing down sanctions without addressing those social factors.

In any case there is a more effective middle ground involving parents setting and upholding boundaries, taking an interest in and being responsible for their children and being willing to be the parent not the friend.  My view is that there is a crisis of parenting when the adults are not in charge, when they don’t know where a 12 year old is, when they have not been able to pass on values about respect for others, when they have not taught compassion and tolerance, when the young people don’t have the communication skills necessary to get what they need without violence, when they don’t have a proper education.

Not all the young people who took part in the violence have been brought up badly. Some of them may have got caught up in the moment and displayed a real lack of judgment in doing so and they need to be shown that there are consequences for that behaviour. Some parents are bravely doing just that. Chelsea Ives, 18 year old and promising athlete, took part in the rioting and was seen on television by her parents who took the courageous step of turning her into the police. And other parents have taken similar steps to teach their children responsibility for their actions.

But where there has been a failure to educate young people in good values and responsibility I think we have to be careful where we lay the blame for that. It is too easy to say what parents should be doing, especially when we’re pointing the finger at another set of parents, not ourselves. We need to take responsibility as a community for what has happened and think holistically about how we can support parents to bring up the next generation better. However difficult I think we need to try to get to the why’s of what happened so we can take effective action rather than just shooting in the dark like tough punishment and bringing in the army. And we need more data before we can analyse accurately what happened. Just as when we’re disciplining our kids at home we need to take time to understand why they did the thing we didn’t want them to do so that we can respond effectively.

The phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ hasn’t had much application in modern Britain but it needs to now. If one good thing comes out of this maybe it will be that in the spirit of the cleaning up that took place after the riots, that sense of taking back control of our communities, we look out for our neighbours more and help each other to bring up good kids. That might be in direct ways by offering to look after a neighbour’s child to give them a break, or being a male ‘uncle’ figure in the life of a fatherless child, or it might be having the courage to tell a teen to take their feet off the seat on the bus. Or maybe our actions will be to lobby government in this time of austerity measures to not make cuts in the vital area of providing parenting support so that parents have the tools to be able to get their kids to school, get them off the streets, give them the values they want to pass on and teach them respect. Nothing will change if we just mutter about the state of moral collapse in our society and point the finger of blame at parents who are not coping.

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July 29th, 2011

Lessons from the Wimbledon Fortnight

One of the perks of living in London is the opportunity to attend world-class events.  Recently I was lucky enough to be at Wimbledon’s Center Court for the final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.  Djokovic won in 4 sets, and he was the deserving winner.  He simply played better tennis on the day.

Athletes can be a tremendous inspiration; providing lessons in how to be at the top of their game and remaining confident, yet also maintaining humility.  Rafael Nadal summed it up so beautifully in his speech following his defeat by Djokovic.  He said:

“First I would like to congratulate Novak and his team for his victory today and his amazing season.  It wasn’t possible [for me] today in this final. I tried my best as always. Today one player played better than me.  I will try another time next year.”

Here’s what I like about what he captured in those short sentences:

  1. Djokovich won, Nadal lost and Nadal can still be happy for Djokovich and what he accomplished.
  2. He acknowledged that he was beaten by the better player on the day.  He says that he played his best, and he understands that on that particular day, his best wasn’t good enough to win.
  3. That he will leave the court with an increased commitment and motivation to learn from his loss; to look at what he could have done differently; and to refine his game and improve so that July 2012 might see a different result!

Apparently one of the things players see before heading on to Center Court is the classic Rudyard Kipling poem If

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same

This is such an important lesson to instill in our children.  The ability to win with grace and humility and the ability to lose in the same way.  Defeat can lead to (at least) two outcomes: it can shut you down so you no longer want to try; or, you see it as a source of inspiration.  Defeat can be the opportunity to take stock with what you have achieved, re-clarify and re-commit to your goals and take some time to refine your skills.

Yesterday’s match demonstrated that, for Nadal, doing your best is not the same as (in that particular match) being the best.  While doing your best might not result in a first or second place finish, it will always provide an opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses and see them both as things to learn from and improve upon.

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July 01st, 2011

Wimbledon Fortnight- it's all fun and games for our children!

Have you ever had the experience where your child says they are bored and there is nothing to do? Or indeed the situation where a simple family game of cards dissolves into hysteria and tantrums if your child does not win? Simply playing sport or other games can sometimes be fraught with emotion for both parent and child. Encouraging simple creative play from an early age can often be a minefield as parents are bombarded with a n overwhelming array of educational toys – largely electronic, with an amazing range of batteries and buttons. The marketing gurus cleverly stamp a package as “Award Winning Toy” encouraging parents to buy with the implication they will have as a result an “award winning child”. This preconditioning starts early and moves with the development of your child into the more sophisticated area of Nintendo Ds; Playstations and Xbox’s. Electronic toys are largely about children executing tasks and play therefore becomes based on performance and not imagination. The manufacturers may just as well put a health warning on the box saying” creativity and imagination not included in this package!”

Another on going problem for many parents is that as children develop in age, there can be a temptation to fill children’s free time with many organised activities and entertainment often designed to add to their list of accomplishments. Indeed we do live in a culture of organised play, as the pressure to maximize every moment is enormous, especially as time together between parent and child may be compromised. The result can often be children who, when left to their own devices, may not know what to do. We don’t want fun to be seen by our children as commercialised and yet so often this can be the case .

The solutions to the above are so simple as to be overlooked:

  • For the younger children, go back to the old fashioned games of “Simon says”, ‘musical bumps’ and “I spy” to encourage not only physical movement but listening skills and language  processing. Action rhymes such as “Row, row, row the boat” soon become children’s’ favourites and enable them to focus on words and actions and learn about processing two part instructions.
  • For the older child, focus on engaging them in adult activities such as cooking; cleaning; ironing, washing the car as well as playing games. Depending on age and stage of development they may not be able to concentrate for long, but often you find these activities actually inspire creative play and the added benefit to you is you encourage self reliance early on!

In terms of playing competitive games and sports, many life skills are required in order to be successful and enjoy taking part. We need to teach and train our children to:

  • Follow rules and instructions
  • Use self control
  • Handle their feelings
  • Consider other people’s feelings
  • Look for solutions and develop strategies for dealing with problems

Set up opportunities to practice the above skills by playing sport and other games. (This also provides opportunities for positive time with your children which contributes to a positive relationship with them, improves their motivation to please and increases their self-esteem.)

  1. Before the game starts ask your child what the rules are or what they must do in detail.
  2. Ask them or suggest to them what feelings they might have if they win or if they lose.
  3. What might they feel like doing when they win/lose? What behaviour is required if they win or if they lose?
  4. Empathise that they might prefer to skip this conversation and get on with the game.
  5. During the game descriptively praise the behaviour you want to encourage – choose from: self-control, taking turns, stopping when a physical game gets too rough, not hurting physically or verbally, not complaining or storming off, kindness, consideration, tolerance especially re younger siblings, helpfulness, following instructions/rules and anything else that occurs to you.
  6. 6. Conspicuously model the desired behaviour (i.e. talk about what you’re doing) e.g. “Oh no I’ve picked up a bad card but I’m not going to make a fuss and I’m going to carry on playing the game. Maybe I’ll get good cards next time.” Or “Oops that wasn’t a good shot. I’m going to practice my goal shooting so I’ll get better at it.”
  7. Acknowledge that it’s hard when the game isn’t going your child’s way or he’s not playing skillfully. (e.g. can’t get the ball in the basketball hoop). “It can be hard to keep going when it doesn’t come easily at first. It takes self discipline.”

And finally when your child returns home from their cricket or rounders match resist the temptation to ask “Did you win?” replacing it first with “Did you enjoy yourself? And then “did you play your best?” or “did you manage to keep your eye on the ball the way you’ve been practicing” or “Did the coach have any good tips?”

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May 15th, 2011

Rituals

Easter egg unt

Some of you will have recently celebrated Easter with all its attendant rituals. Whether you are Christian or religious or not there are always rituals surrounding holidays and special occasions. At Easter time there are eggs, of a chocolate variety or otherwise, and whether or not the significance of the egg matters many families will have engaged in Easter egg hunts. Many of you will spend such holidays with families or go back to the same place year in, year out. We have always gone to my husband’s family home in Dorset for Easter and when the children were little we started the ritual of Easter egg hunts which involved the children following clues to find their treasure –we like to make them work for their sugar fixes! As they got older this became quite a burden for the adults as we had to devise bigger and better clues and not always hide the eggs in the same place. One year we resorted to our scanty knowledge of the foreign languages the children were learning at school. My grown up children are now involved in devising the clues for the younger ones thank goodness. However there was no suggestion that we could abandon this practice because that was what we’d always done. Any suggested variation in this or other routines is always met with howls of protest.

When Prince William married Katherine Middleton their very public wedding which was watched by so many around the world brought to mind another set of practices. The customs and ceremonies around marriage will of course vary in different cultures but all cultures will have some established conventions. The bride often wears white, there is usually a bouquet of flowers, an exchange or giving of one ring and an exchange of vows. These kinds of rituals are shared by whole cultures. But within families there are often rituals which are uniquely their own, routine ways of doing things around mealtimes or bedtimes or travel, idiosyncratic phrases or family sayings or how birthdays are celebrated for instance. Maybe Dad always sits in his chair; Mum always drives; when Dad comes home the kids always race to greet him at the door; the bedtime routine is bath, stories, cuddles and talk, lights out; everyone sings on long car journeys; the Sunday morning ritual is breakfast in Mum and Dads bed with the newspapers etc, etc.  I always think of my grandfather when I use phrases that he used such as waking my sons in the morning with ‘How’s my bonny boy?’ –hardly unique but I can hear his voice when I say it. He also called me tuppence because I was number two in the family and now my brother calls his second daughter tuppence which I love.

Some practices will be more important than others. My children have long said about certain family practices like dressing the Christmas tree that they will always do things like this with their children. Clearly rituals and routines are loved because of their familiarity and we know that children flourish on routine. I work in a centre for troubled adolescents and they are thriving on a recent increase in structure. They know where they stand and what is expected of them. Most children prosper when there are clear expectations upheld with certainty and consistency. Familiar rituals can provide comfort when things are upsetting.

Rituals are specific to certain communities or families so when we participate in those little rites we show we belong to that community. That sense of belonging is very important to our happiness. Family traditions can also help pass on specific values to your children. In my family when we celebrate a birthday we sing happy birthday and then have the usual 3 cheers but then we also say ‘and one for the umpire’ which is met with a boo! Not sure that’s a value I really meant to pass on to my kids.

Ritualising certain practices will help them become habits. So it’s a good idea to brush your teeth at the same time and in the same place every day. Likewise parents who want to remember to praise their children more find it helps to do it at a set time each day such as mealtimes or bedtimes. It can be part of the bedtime routine to praise your child and ask them to think of things that they are proud of or good things that happened that day. Some families have praise books which they write in each evening. My husband and I write down one thing we want to appreciate the other for every night and have found it creates a wonderful bond and an atmosphere of trust and feeling cherished between us.

You will probably already have your some of own rituals but we recommend you develop further family rituals to create a sense of togetherness and the feeling of comfort and security that certainty brings and to get into good habits. You might like to consider the following:

  • Games you play (we have had hilarious evenings playing charades)
  • Special hugs
  • Code words or signals
  • Morning routines (pleasant ones!)
  • Making scrapbooks
  • Baking
  • Friday Family Fun night with movies and popcorn (my bother’s family has a dress theme)
  • Cooking together
  • Conversations at mealtimes can be started with topic suggestions ( a good aid is the game called Table Topics)

Enjoy!

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February 09th, 2011

Bed Time Fears

Bedtime fears

Sometimes small children get very fearful of monsters (although Mike and Sully might have helped with that), things under the bed, dragons, dinosaurs and ‘bad’ guys. The fears all come out at bedtime and just when everyone’s got few energy reserves to call on we need to find ways of reassuring the little darlings so that they’ll GO TO SLEEP so we can have (finally) have some adult time.

These are the years when a child’s powers of imagination are exploding, which means that now she can imagine new and scary things to be afraid of. And because she spends a good portion of her day immersed in fantasy play (in the company of dragons and dinosaurs and bad guys), or listening to stories, it can be hard for her to shut off her imagination at bedtime and go to sleep. Thoughts of monsters can also reflect whatever the child is going through at that age, whether it’s struggles with aggressive feelings, independence, or fears of separation. The cast of characters might include monsters, bad guys, animals, imaginary creatures, or familiar people, places, and events combined in unusual ways.

It’s really important that parents don’t dismiss these fears in our attempts to reassure. When we deny our child’s fears we teach them not to trust their inner experiences and that we don’t take them seriously. They learn not to trust us and we lose an opportunity to connect with them. It is important to talk about the monsters so you can understand what is happening beneath the image and it won’t make it any worse to talk about it. The ideas are already in her head. Perhaps even more than she is letting on.  You can’t put them there or make them bigger. By bringing them out into the ‘daylight,’ you help her to manage them.

What to do:
o    Establish a peaceful evening routine that includes, for example, a warm bath, maybe a milky drink, a gentle story, a quiet song, and a few minutes of you sitting quietly by his bed while he settles. A night light might help.

o    Talk to him about the monsters and his fears away from bedtime if you can. What do they look like?  Can you compare them to creatures he doesn’t find scary – Shrek? Sully from Monsters Inc, The Gruffalo? Perhaps you could make a story about them.  Where do they live?  Do they fall in love and have babies?  Can you use fantasy to make them friendly and fun?

Name it to tame it

Name and tame

o    If he’s really fearful acknowledge the fear. The more you talk about it the more you normalise their experience.If the adults don’t want to talk about it, it must be really scary. Labelling the emotion makes it manageable. “Are those scary monsters here tonight? That is so mean of them to scare you and keep you up all night. Why don’t you draw a picture of them so that I know what they look like so that I can keep an eye out for them? Now why don’t we draw what you would look like if you could be a scary monster, then we can scare them away!”

o    “I can see how frightened it has made you feel.  The fact that you’re crying lets me know that it was a really frightening experience for you.  Was the monster this big to you or this big to you?  Use hands to find out how big it seemed, then say, wow that is big, no wonder you felt as frightened as you did? What else did it make you feel?”  Sometimes it can work to then shrink the monster or give him a funny face.

o    Use fantasy and maybe humour (without minimising her fears) to deal with those pesky monsters – the magical powers of your love and protection can work wonders. You might be able to make the pretend monsters disappear with a dose of pretend monster spray. Some families work with magic ‘talismans’ that can ‘magic’ away monsters –these can be any object that can be invested with magic properties.

Stone

I have found a courage stone to be very useful. Find a nice smooth stone and put it in the child’s hands. Ask them to recall a time when they were brave. Recreate that memory vividly with sounds, visuals and smells. Ask the child to think about how they felt and what they did that was brave. The stone is now invested with the quality of courage. Now whenever the child needs to feel brave he can touch the stone.

 

o    You’re validating her feelings, not necessarily confirming the reality of monsters. You could say something like “even though monsters aren’t real they can feel very real in the middle of the night.” This won’t dismiss her feelings but nor does it suggest that there is actually something for her to be afraid of.

o    Can you make a plan for what she can do next time she thinks about monsters at night? Could she call out to them?  Could she listen to music or read a book for a few minutes?  Brainstorm ways to manage her fear of monsters.

 

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January 17th, 2011

What every child wants - presents or your presence?

Parent and children working together

As the recycling trucks take away the last bags of ripped wrapping paper and broken up boxes, homes are full of new toys and games. In the playgrounds, children are comparing notes about who got what, and, at home, they are busy determining which are destined to become much loved favourites and which will be gathering dust on the shelf.

After all the recent focus on presents, it’s interesting to read about some research from Cardiff University which concluded that 75% of 11-12 year olds rated spending time with their family, above spending time with friends or time alone. When asked what they enjoyed doing with their family, the children didn’t mention playing games or being taken shopping or on day-trips or outings. They talked about “routine” and “ordinariness” and about the feeling of “having someone around”. What the children seem to value is a time to rest and relax, with a sense of control and security, which they get from being WITH us, rather than being with friends, or indeed from having the latest gizmos, gadgets and games.

In our classes, we talk about making sure you spend some “Special Time” with each child at some point during the week.  It needs only be 5-10 minutes, and it can take place at any time of the day and anywhere. The point that makes it “Special” is that is guaranteed and regular time with you – uninterrupted by anything or anyone. There are many benefits, but the beauty is the simplicity. You don’t have to do anything with them, just be with them. If there is a particular conversation or an activity, it’s at their urging and under their direction.

But I was still not sure I’m that great company for my children, until I asked my eldest (aged 10 years) what was good about the recent holidays, and the answer was “just being at home with you”. It surprised me, in the lovely way it does when you realise they sometimes know more and better than we do….. I asked what was so good about “just being at home” because personally “just being at home” can drive me mad….. And the response of “I like knowing you are here, and knowing where everything is and what is going to happen because I feel safe” very much confirmed the Cardiff University research.

Now, I don’t think my child feels particularly unsafe anywhere else. There are no signs to cause me any concern in this area. But I had not thought about it like this before. The world outside the front door really can be pretty big and scary, even when you’ve reached double digits, and I realise now I hugely underestimate the comfort and pleasure our home and my presence in it gives my children.  I don’t always need to add anything particular – although being actively engaged with your child is always going to be something you wish you did more of.  Sometimes I just have to be me and be here.

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January 10th, 2011

The family that eats together, stays together!

Is 2011 the year in which you want to get your children to eat more healthily?

With the New Year upon us we are sure that you will all be making some sort of New Year’s resolutions. They might be about losing weight, being a better parent or eating more healthily. 

However, it is not likely that our children will be thinking about how to eat more healthily. So it’s down to us, as parents, to make that resolution for them. But, we also know that with the fervour of a new year, we can often be unrealistic about what changes we can make and the timeframe in which our goals can be achieved.  As adults we all know that many drastic New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January because they were simply unrealistic in the first place. They are even harder to keep when other people are involved.

Each household has its own unique dynamics in terms of work patterns, outside activities and eating habits. As such general advice about how to lead a healthier life is all well and good but it may not seem relevant or achievable in the context of your own family. We believe that if you want to change things in a family you need to take stock of where you are starting from, how committed you are to change and how much support or resistance you are likely to encounter. If you don’t take these individual factors into account at the start you are setting yourself up for failure. 

No one said that getting children to eat healthily was easy. There are so many pressures out there which encourage unhealthy eating behaviour such as advertising, peer pressure, the drive for convenience and speed. No one wants to go head to head with their child on a meal by meal by meal basis. But the more you care about what your child eats, the more emotional the food issue can become. Some children can and do exploit this emotional dimension – either consciously or sub-consciously to exert influence and control in the home. They seem to know all the buttons to press to get you to react to what they are or are not eating. Food is so central to our lives and to our desire to nurture our family that it is bound to cause you anxiety if your child refuses to eat or will only eat a limited number of foods. There is often frustration if you have lovingly prepared a healthy meal from scratch only to see a turned up nose before the fork has left the plate. You would have to be pretty stoic not to take that as a personal rejection.

We have developed a workshop which helps you to focus on the specific food issues in yourhousehold and in particular for your children. We do not judge where you are starting from and we aim to support you to identify which changes will make the biggest difference to your child’s health and relationship with food. Setting realistic aims is an important first step – you can’t expect to change habits overnight if they have developed over years. We then suggest strategies you can try in order to help you to achieve your aims. It’s all about making sure you have the right resources to help you, such as short cut solutions to making healthy food; easy and child friendly recipes; star charts to reinforce and reward healthy eating; knowledge of how to make sense of labels and which convenience foods are better than others.    

Lots of mums feed back to us that they do feel like a voice in the wilderness when it comes to getting the family to eat well. So it is important to enlist the support of other family members and to try to make the experience enjoyable. There is a lot of truth in the old adage that “the family that eats together, stays together”.  If meal times are about more than just the food they can become another opportunity to communicate with your child and enjoy their company.

To find out more:

http://www.theparentpractice.com/parenting-workshops/58.html#nutrition

Recipe for Health are delivering another Healthy Eating workshop – Thursday 27th January 10-1pm – don’t miss out.

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December 17th, 2010

Does your child believe they have the X Factor?

Children singing

On the final night of the X-Factor last weekend, what struck me most was the tears of pride of the winner’s father as he said to his son “We always knew you could do it”. 

Whatever you may think about Matt Cardle, his parents have always believed in him….  What an amazing feeling that belief must be ,and it’s taken him a long way and his gratitude to his parents was evident.

We all believe our children are wonderful – most of the time, anyway!

But do we always get that message across to them? Do they believe that we believe in them?

From day-to-day activities to ambitions for the future, children often hear “No, not like that” or “I don’t think that’s going to work”.

Of course, as parents we have to juggle many roles – safety officer, construction instructor, fashion advisor, chief banker, chauffeur and Head Chef – but it is all too easy to fall into the negative trap of pointing out what they do wrong, rather than focussing on what they do right, or looking at the end product, rather than the effort and attitude that created it.

Anyone who has come to our class on Descriptive Praise will know how we can avoid this – and nurture and develop our children’s self-esteem and their growing understanding of who they are.

But knowing you are believed in,  is more than simply growing up in a positive atmosphere.

Knowing others believe in you is how you learn to believe in yourself.

This knowledge is what makes it possible to try new things, and get involved in life and develop the passions and hobbies that ultimately form part of your identity.

As parents we naturally move to protect our children from disappointment. But, over time, real life will affect and shape their future and rather than crush emerging hopes and ambitions, we need to empower them to cope with real life.

Real life has already taught my elder son that he will never work with the Fat Controller on the Island of Sodor. And my younger son has quietly moved on from his assertion that he would, one day, become a penguin.  They never needed me to tell them it wasn’t going to happen. And they certainly don’t hold it against me that I let reality dawn and didn’t shatter their dreams.

The penguin theme remains strong in our house, but now, my younger son is throwing his energy into science because he hopes to travel to Antarctica to build a new ice-floe for the threatened Gentoo species. And my older son is planning to fly across the Channel in a pedal-powered airplane with a group of other 10-year olds.

The problem with the latter, is that it’s turned out to be a real-life project being run in Spring 2011 by real-life aeronautical engineers . Good thing I didn’t dismiss it and him when he first told me about it! Because now when they safely land on the French coast, I can say to him “I always knew you had great innovative ideas”  and he will believe me.

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November 23rd, 2010

Don't call your child clever!

What kind of so-called parenting experts say don’t call your child clever? Since the sixties haven’t we been exhorted to extol the virtues of our children ad nauseam in the hope of building self esteem and encouraging desirable behaviours? When we want them to feel good about themselves we say well done darling, good girl. And if we think they’re not buying it or we really want to big them up we say ‘fantastic, marvellous, brilliant –you are so clever.’ What’s wrong with that?

Well, usually we say to parents that if they want their kids to have good self esteem and all the positive outcomes that go with that then we need to focus on what children do right more often than what they get wrong. Every parent knows this even though we sometimes have difficulty doing it –like when you’re trying to get them all out of the house and one is on a ‘go slow’ and the other two are complaining that they have to breathe the same air and you can’t find your car keys and NOBODY has got their shoes on!

But even when things are a little calmer we still feel an overwhelming urge to point out what’s wrong with what they’re doing. We’re not bad people but we’ve had decades of conditioning so forgive us if we mistakenly believe we need to highlight what they’ve done wrong in order to help them learn. In fact when we do that the children are apt to tune us out and lose their naturalmotivation to improve and to learn. So yes we do need to focus on the positives and praise our children. In fact  the ratio of positive to ‘improving’ should be about 9:1. John Gottman is a researcher who did a lot of work in the area of couples’ relationships. He found that there are a number of criticisms compared to praises beyond which a marriage crumbles, and that number is one (1) criticism to five (5) praises. That’s right. The minimum to keep a marriage off the rocks is 1 bad:5 good. While you’re trying to remember when you last said something positive to your partner I would add that in the case of children parents should be praising even more frequently because we are actively trying to shape our children’s behaviour and form their characters. I would assert therefore that we parents should give 9 praises for every criticism/improving comment/correction / just pointing out what could be done differently.

So I’m clearly in favour of praise. But why can’t I tell my child he’s clever? Because he is you know –or at least I want him to do well. How can it hurt? In the past I would have said that any praise was better than none. But even then I would have admitted that there’s a good chance your child is not going to believe you when you say he’s clever so your words lose impact. We have always advocated using praise which is specific and descriptive to make it more credible and give the child enough information to allow them to repeat the positive behaviour on which you’re focusing. We would have said ‘clever girl’ isn’t a very effective form of praise but not actually harmful. And then I discovered some research by a psychologist in the US, Carol Dweck, that has made me even more careful about my choice of words when acknowledging children. Her research has shown that evaluative praise of this kind can actually be detrimental.

Professor Dweck’s findings show that the way adults praise children can determine whether they develop what she calls a ‘growth mindset’ or a ‘fixed mindset’. Her research was looking at motivation and perseverance in the face of set backs. Why do some people give up in the face of failure and others try again –it has to do, not surprisingly, with their beliefs about why they had failed. If you believe you failed because of lack of ability you are more inclined to give up than if you think the failure was down to lack of effort. Surely that’s an argument for telling kids they are able in order to motivate them?

Over the years Dweck developed a theory that learners could be classified as helpless vs mastery oriented. The former believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. “I call this a ‘fixed mind-set’. Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so….The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else.… Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort.”

So how does praise affect this belief system? Contrary to adults’ good intentions when they praise, telling someone they are smart or clever actually contributes to the ‘fixed mindset’ whereas praising a child for trying hard or persevering focuses on the effort they’re making and allows them to develop a ‘growth mindset’. Dweck’s work with children in schools showed that confronted by a setback such as a disappointing test grade, students with a growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a different strategy for mastering the material. The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little real regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well. Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability, those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study less in the future, try never to take that subject again and consider cheating on future tests.

So how do we encourage a ‘growth mindset’ in our children? Show them examples of effort producing good results in your own modelling, in stories about other people but above all in their own endeavours. Praise them for not giving up, for trying a different strategy in the face of defeat, for working hard and practising, for improving and don’t focus so much on the outcome or achievement. If they do well in a test say “You must be really pleased -that’s a reflection of all the hard work you put in”. Above all never ever praise your child for being clever.

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October 17th, 2010

Are you keeping your children safe on the Internet?

Internet safety and children

By Elaine Halligan

As a parent of children in the 21st century you have, I am sure, many fears – maybe worrying about keeping our children safe outside the home? Maybe you have the perception that your child is in danger due to the news stories about child killings and paedophilia. The reality is however that with the introduction of new technologies and social networking sites the risks are possible as great inside our homes as well. “There are places your kids shouldn’t be hanging out in. Dark alleys. Street corners. Websites.” reports J.Kaplan from Fox News last week.

How well versed are you in the use of Facebook; MSN messaging; SMS and Twitter to name just a few? Our role as parents is to educate and we can only do that when we are knowledgeable about the risks involved. Cyber bullying is a real risk and the impact can be devastating, not just for the victim but also for the perpetrator. There are a growing number of girls and boys ( but particularly girls) as early as Year 5 and Year 6 setting up social networking accounts. Are you aware of what your children are doing?

Take a look at some interesting facts:

  1. FACEBOOK -  It’s against the terms of service for under 13’s to be on Facebook  and young kids online interacting with older kids places them at risk for content exposure inappropriate for their age. If your child is under 13 and on FACEBOOK they will have lied about their age. So what? Our children learn about values through us, so if one of your values is that you want to trust your child and expect him to tell you the truth, this suddenly becomes an important area. Be a good role model for your kids.
  2. CLUB PENGUIN – reported by CEOP (Child Exploitation Operation) to be the most notorious site for paedophilia– who would have imagined that 5/6 year olds innocently playing games in igloos dressed as fairies may be interacting with predatory adults?
  3. DIGITAL IMPRINT – any photos, comments and content published on a social networking page can be read and copied by other users. If you post something offensive and subsequently delete, the imprint is still there and the chances are someone somewhere will have read and even copied to others.
  4. FURTHER EDUCATION Currently two thirds of UK employment agencies and many University admissions offices trawl social networking sites as part of their candidate evaluation process. Be careful of what your child publishes TODAY online as this may endure for ever on the internet.
  5. BYRON REPORT 2008 – the report discovered children frequently act out of character on the internet. In the absence of usual cues of facial expression and tone of voice, it seems that people (and mainly young people) often alter their moral code perhaps doing and saying things that are out of character. In short people are much more likely to lie, deceive or behave with less inhibition online that face to face.
  6. TEXT MESSAGING – your role as parents is to train your kids in the appropriate ways to send texts: “Ask yourself before you send a text, e-mail, or post — Is the message RIGHT? Read the message to be sure it sounds OK. And imagine if you received it…would it be hurtful or upsetting to you?” Once an inappropriate message is sent, the damage has been done…there is no retraction of words as the evidence is there in black and white for all to see.

The subject is vast …if you want to know more register for our intensive workshop on the whole area of screens and internet safety on:

Wednesday 10th November 10-12.30pm at The Parent Practice in Clapham SW London

How safe is your child or teenager on the computer?

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