In the News

The Parent Practice is regularly invited to give parenting tips and guidance to the press and television about many aspects of parenting in today's world. The Parent Practice specialises in those everyday parenting issues which every family faces and has come up with tried and tested strategies for dealing with them. The Parent Practice is a leading voice on parenting matters in the UK and beyond.

For all press enquiries, please contact Elaine Halligan on 0208 673 3444 or email The Parent Practice.

Here are a wide range of press articles and TV appearance to which we have contributed over the last few years.

Getting off to a Great Start in School

By Melissa Hood, Child of London, July 2008


Starting a new school can be traumatic. Here are some ideas from The Parent Practice to help children to be happy, cooperative and confident.

Help children settle in well at school by:


- Preparing children in advance

- Encouraging confidence and cooperation

- Empathising with and validating their feelings

Prepare your child for school by:

  • Familiarising your child with the school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. Explain unfamiliar things.
  • Getting any uniform well in advance.
  • Practicing in role play conversations with other children.

Build confidence and cooperation by noticing and describing what the child has done right.

  • Focus on the positives “You hung up your coat without me reminding you.” “You remembered to bring home your games kit (or most of your games kit!)
  • Praise effort and attitude. “You’re not giving up on tying your shoelaces. They’re really tricky when you’re first learning.”
  • Praise improvement. “You’re getting quicker at putting on your socks now.”
  • What quality does that show? eg maturity, self-control. “You didn’t interrupt me when I was on the phone although I could see you wanted to speak to me. That takes self-control.”

Help children cope with feelings
If children can say how they feel parents need to listen and not deny the child’s feelings.
Eg, Child: I don’t like school. Parent: Don’t say: “You’ll love it, you’ll see.” Do say: “There are probably a lot of things that are quite confusing right now since school is so new to you.”
Some children don’t speak about their feelings but parents can guess something is amiss and need to address the underlying feelings. 

  • Stop what you are doing and convey with your body language that you are paying attention.
  • Look behind your child’s action or words and imagine how he is feeling; reflect it back to him in words.
  • Don’t try to make it better. Children don’t need protection from their feelings– they need to be able to deal with them. Once children’s feelings have been expressed they may be ready to focus on solutions.

10 Hot Tips for the Holidays

By Melissa hood

What can go wrong with holidays?

  • Lack of structure – routines go out the window, rules get relaxed/abandoned, especially if you’re staying with another family.
  • Changes in diet, sleeping and exercise patterns. At Christmas and Easter particularly children can overdose on sugar and they may not get as much exercise as when they’re at school.
  • They may get over stimulated or may say they’re bored.
  • We may have expectations of holidays which are not met. We may be looking forward to cosy, friendly, family times together and instead the children might be bickering and whining and not appreciating the trouble we’ve taken to organise fun things etc. As a result we feel disappointed and frustrated and blame ourselves for our children’s selfishness etc…
  • On top of all that you may have to focus on the needs of others more than usual especially if you’re staying with someone else or have friends or relatives staying with you. Interacting with relatives you don’t see all that often can bring its own stresses (!).


On the other hand holidays do have some advantages:

  • The absence of the school routine means you have an opportunity to not be a slave to the clock and take the time to really train your children into good habits. This is a fantastic opportunity to train your children to be more cooperative and self-reliant.
  • Some children experience school as a competitive and pressured environment and a break from that is less stressful. Time to go to work on building up their self-esteem.


The Parent Practice’s Ten Top Tips:

  1. Do less in order to minimise stress and to allow you to focus on enjoying being with your children and getting them into good habits. Beware of over stimulating the children. Plan for some time for yourself so that you can replenish the resource that you are for your family.
  2. PLAN more. Spend time anticipating what could go wrong and take preventive action. Have solution time with your partner and family meetings to discuss planned events.
  3. Think through rules and routines for the holidays and discuss them with your partner. There should be rules even if these are different from those you have at home/in term time. You may need to discuss house rules with the parents of other families under the same roof. Even if this means compromising on what you really want to happen you are more likely to be able to make the compromise rule work.
  4. Think of possible non-material rewards (tick or star charts, time with a parent, stories, and choices) for when the children keep the rules and consequences you are able to follow through on when the rules are broken. Don’t forget to praise specifically when the children have followed a rule. Require them to do the things they need to do to the standard you require. This may mean just waiting and praising every tiny step in the right direction until they’ve done what you asked (nothing else happening in the meantime) or it may mean requiring an action replay. Some behaviours require stronger consequences and that means forward thinking so you do not get caught out threatening a consequence that you don’t carry out. You may also need to plan ahead for some consequences like travelling in two cars in case you need to take a misbehaving child home.
  5. Set up routines so that the children are earning holiday outings, screen time, pocket money or special foods by completing the tasks they need to do. Eg tidying up before TV. Beds made, pyjamas folded and get dressed before breakfast or before a game with you.
  6. TALK THROUGH situations or activities before they arise. Get your children to say what will need to happen/ how they need to behave, in detail. Eg look Granny in the eye when you say Hello. (If this is difficult then practice it in a role play) Maybe ask them how they might feel, eg when having to try food they don’t like. What can they do in that situation? Praise every sensible/brave response.
  7. SET THE MOOD by descriptively praising your children (and the other adults) early and often.
  8. PROVIDE TIME ALONE with each child every day.
  9. Have STRUCTURED TIME AND UNSTRUCTURED TIME every day. Do not become the children’s entertainment director – it is not your job to think of things for them to do. They need to become self-reliant in managing their own time and just being by themselves. In a family meeting you might ask them to come up with a list of possible things to do on their own which they can consult when they’re ‘bored’. Some children may have holiday school assignments – do not leave them till the last minute and don’t agree with your child that he shouldn’t have to do it or that it’s boring. Show an interest in what they’re learning. Some activities in the holidays should be learning ones.
  10. When things go wrong and children behave inappropriately DO NOT BLAME, CRITICISE, SHOUT OR NAG but think about the reason for the misbehaviour. Was there an emotion driving it or was the child looking for attention? Reflectively listen to the feelings and when things have calmed down you might have the child think of an appropriate way of making amends. If your child is looking for attention make sure you’re giving lots of it for the positive things he’s doing.


Happy Holidays!

Contact The ParentPractice - Offers parenting helps, advices and 10 hot tips for the holidays.

Bedtime Horrors

By a Parent attending Parenting Skills Classes

It used to seem to me that I was the only parent around experiencing the acute horrors of bedtime until I started attending courses with The Parent Practice. In fact it was a huge relief to meet people who were either going through the same thing or had used the skills taught there to transform the bedtime nightmare.

The first thing I realised that I was being very inconsistent. Some nights I would let the children come downstairs if they said they couldn’t sleep, other nights I’d let them come into my bed in the night as I was simply too dog-tired to take them back. Other times I’d “clamp down” get very cross and stern and often loose my temper at the end of it.

The solution started with me making the decision that the bedtime horrors were bad enough for me to committing to trying some of the Parent Practice suggestions. If I had been unresolved in my own mind or hadn’t had the support of my partner I wouldn’t have seen it through.

Here are the steps:

  1. Sit down with your partner (if you have one or alone if you don’t) and decide on what you think the rules of the house should be about bedtime. What time do you want to exit the room and (after a little time) not go back in. What are you agreeing to do if children come into your bed at night? What reward systems could you have in place to encourage children to follow the rules?
  2. Both parents sit down with the children and first ask them what they think the rules are for bedtime. (It is surprising how much they actually know even if they aren’t following them). Write down what they say. Amend anything that isn’t in line with your rules. The adult gets the final decision on what the rules should be. Make the rules as detailed as possible ie not “go to bed nicely” but “have two stories, do a wee if you need to, kiss mummy or daddy goodnight, check you have everything you need in your bed, get into bed, turn out the light and say “goodnight see you in the morning”. Each amounts to one rule.
  3. Decide on some appropriate reward for each stage of the proceedings – ie a tick for each rule followed and a sticker for following them all in one night. You may want to have five stickers add up to a bigger reward – time with a parent is always popular. Smaller children respond better to more immediate rewards so an extra story the following morning providing all rules have been followed would be motivating. TV can also be used as a reward.
  4. In the early stages of training it is much better to go back into the bedroom after short periods of time to praise them for following the rules rather than to wait till they have called you back or come out of their rooms. If they do call out wait for the brief period in between shouts and go in and say “you stopped shouting, thank you, now what is the rule about calling mummy back?”
  5. Training takes time. They probably won’t get it perfect for the first few nights but remember to praise them for what they have done right.
  6. The only solution for children who come into your bed at night is to consistently take them back to their own bed with lots of praise for being grown up and able to sleep alone. Only follow this through if it is important for you to have the children sleep in their own bed, they will sense if you are half-hearted about it.
  7. Remember that when you have time away from your children you are able to recharge your batteries and be a more effective parent when you are with them. 

Contact The ParentPractice - Offers parenting helps, advices, tips, suggestions to become a better parent.

Talking to children about use of the Internet

By Melissa Hood, Sting magazine, March 2008.


Parents are very mindful of the dangers posed by unsupervised access to the internet. It can seem to bring the dangers parents are most fearful of right into your own home. Children on the other hand are captivated by what it offers in terms of communicating with others, information and games. They may well argue that all their friends are allowed to do just what you don’t want them to do.

The most effective thing parents can do before they attempt any conversation about their child’s use of the internet and the dangers therein or to lay down any rules about their child’s access to the net is to acknowledge these differences in perspective. Let your child know that you understand that he would like to spend as much time as possible in front of a screen; that he feels you’re being unfair or unreasonable in depriving him of what all his friends have; and that maybe he feels you don’t trust him. Acknowledging these feelings helps your child feel heard and lessens his resistance a little. It doesn’t mean that you have to give in to what he wants. It’s very important to acknowledge your child’s feelings before talking about why you think it’s important to have restrictions on access. Otherwise he will just tune out what he hears as nagging and lecturing.

To ensure your children are listening first appreciate them for any aspect of good behaviour, especially to do with responsibility around screens (TV, computer, playstation etc). If they turn off the TV or computer when you ask them to, then praise them for that. If not, look for any other aspect of cooperation or self control to praise them for, for example, if they do their homework before turning on a screen or if they stop playing a (electronic or non-electronic) game and come when you call them for dinner or bath. Tell them that those behaviours show self control and cooperation and that is what will be needed around use of the internet. Acknowledge that it won’t always be easy because the internet is very alluring and use of any screen can be terribly addictive. That is one of the reasons it is important to limit its use.

If a child feels appreciated for their efforts and you acknowledge their feelings or point of view they are much more likely to be listening when you open up a conversation about the pitfalls of internet use. Sometimes it can help if the dangers are pointed out by someone other than a parent. You could perhaps look at sites such as together.

Before parents discuss the dangers of internet use with their children they need to be clear in their own minds how they feel about their children using the net. It can be a valuable resource but has dangers which parents may not be aware of, such as the scope for bullying on networking sites such as Facebook. Parents need to inform themselves through sites such as Childnet International (above), and and then decide how much access to allow and under what conditions, for example where and when can children use the net and what sites can they access. This will depend on the age of your children and your own views and values.

Apart from the dangers inherent in use of the internet there also the considerations of what children are not doing that they could otherwise be doing if they weren’t glued to a screen. Children today are not being as active as they should, they are not getting enough fresh air, they don’t use their imaginations, there is not as much creative play or reading. In addition they are not interacting with other people and developing communication and other social skills. 

Once you’ve decided how you feel about these things write down what you want to happen around use of the internet. This will help you to remember, it will help you and your partner to present a united front (very important) and it will depersonalise the rules. You can refer to the piece of paper whenever issues come up rather than repeating yourself which children experience as nagging. When they say “can I go on the computer?” you can point to the list and say “what’s our rule about that?

Once the rules are in place it is essential that the children get acknowledged for following them. Eg “You turned the computer off when I asked you to and hardly complained at all.” “You’ve only been going on the sites Mummy and Daddy said you could. That’s very responsible.” “I noticed that as soon as the egg timer went off you saved what you had done and closed the computer. It’s so nice to be able to trust you to do the right thing.” When children follow the rules they are rewarded with praise and they earn the right to use the internet at the next appropriate time. If they do not follow the rules they don’t get to go on it next time or their time on it is reduced. Expect a child to be disappointed or even angry if they lose their time on the computer and acknowledge that they are upset, but resist the urge to lecture!

Preparing for the Teenage Years

By Melissa Hood, Families Magazine Jan 2008

The teenage years can be a difficult time. Many parents dread them! There are many changes for both parent and child and both parties need to make adjustments.

The teenager takes steps towards independence and begins to separate from his family, emerging as a separate individual with his own identity and values who thinks for himself. In adolescence there are changes not just in hormones but also in the brain.

The teenage years can be a difficult time for parents too. Teens are often quite cutting in pointing out their middle aged parents’ deficiencies. It often appears that teenagers are rejecting their parents and their values which can be quite hurtful. Adolescence may take parents by surprise and they may not be ready for the change in their child. They may feel a sense of loss for the child that was and for their old role. It can be hard to adjust to a new style of parenting. Parents may be fearful in this period as their child becomes more independent as they lose the control they used to have and they worry about keeping their child safe and protecting her from danger and from making big mistakes.
Parents often respond to their worries by getting tough and laying down the law or by giving up and hoping for the best. A middle ground is possible and it depends on good communication. Communication is vital between parents and teenagers. Without it parents will have a hard time making boundaries stick. But the onus is on the parents to lead the way in opening communication. It is important to lay the foundations now before children hit the teens.

How to talk to pre-teens:

Adults usually criticise their teenagers in the mistaken belief that this is the way they learn. In fact when we tell them what they’re doing wrong they stop listening. Parents’ efforts to help a child improve are often interpreted by the child as attacks and criticisms. If he feels attacked a teenager will withdraw or counter attack and become defensive. When parents criticise, a teenager stops listening and his self esteem is reduced. When he is reprimanded he feels disapproved of. When parents threaten and order their children they may be met with defiance or sullen compliance. Parents often find themselves nagging, lecturing and moralising and find their teenager has tuned them out.

Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
they criticise everything, and I mean everything about me: my behaviour, my personality, my manners; every inch of me, from head to toe and back again…”

Teenagers need to be appreciated because this is a time of great self-doubt for them. They need to know that they are valued if they are to value themselves and others. Descriptive praise is a more effective, more believable kind of praise than the evaluative praise (good girl, well done, fantastic, brilliant, clever boy, you’re pretty/smart/artistic) that most parents are familiar with. Descriptive praise is about noticing and mentioning specifically what they’ve done right.

1. Use descriptive praise and avoid criticising, nagging, lecturing, blaming, accusing, threatening etc.

Ways of descriptively praising your teen:

  • Describe what you see (“You’ve remembered to bring your homework diary home.” “I noticed that you’ve been setting your alarm clock to get yourself up a lot lately.” “I see that you’ve made your bed and already begun to pick up some of the clothes off your floor.”)
  • Praise tiny steps in the right direction (“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.” “Even though you find it really hard to get up in the morning and you wish you could just stay in bed you’ve opened your eyes and looked at me and not told me to go away.” You’ve put some of your dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Thank you.”)
  • Praise effort and attitude (“I’m so pleased to see you’re not giving up with that sum. Calculus can be tricky, but you’re persevering.” “I really admire the effort you’re putting in with your piano practice. It’s not easy to keep going with something when success isn’t instant.” “You put your all into that race. I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever seen you run.”)
  • Praise improvement (“Your presentation is improving. You’ve remembered to put the date on the page and the loose sheets are stuck into your book.” “Because you’ve been practising your guitar you’re able to make the chord changes much more quickly.” “This week you fed the dog four out of five times without being reminded. You’re becoming much more responsible.” “This is the third time this week you’ve remembered to lay out your clothes in the evening. Your organisational skills are really improving.”)
  • Praise the absence of the negative (“Even though you’re really angry with your brother you just shouted his name. You didn’t hit him and you didn’t say anything unkind.” “You didn’t complain much at all even though I know you really don’t like the new rule about homework before TV.”)
  • What quality does that show, eg maturity, self-control, responsibility, consideration, tolerance etc (“It takes courage to tell the truth when you think someone may be angry with you.”)
  • What is the positive consequence of the behaviour (“Thank you for ringing to let me know you’ll be late. Now I won’t worry.” “Since you’ve done your homework, you have time for an extra half hour on your skateboard.” “When you tell me you like the dinner I made I feel appreciated.” “Since you let your brother have a turn on your playstation game on the weekend he is willing to let you borrow his new CD.” “You put your games things in the wash straightaway. That way they’ll be available when you need them next. You’re becoming much more responsible for your own things.”)


2. Have conversations with your teens – show an interest in them, what’s going on in their lives, what their opinions are, what they believe in, what they hold important. Even listen to their music sometimes!

3. Minimise instructions to avoid nagging. Having routines means you don’t need to tell your teens what to do so often so they don’t hear your voice as a nag. Ask questions rather than give instructions where possible. 

4. Use ‘I’ statements eg “I get worried when you’re late and haven’t phoned” rather than “Where have you been? You didn’t ring me as you promised. You’re so irresponsible. You’re grounded”

5. Point out the impact of their behaviour without criticising eg what they did cost money, created extra work, interfered with someone’s right to privacy or hurt someone’s feelings. Remember that every problem does not need to be solved instantaneously. When parent and teen are both calmer progress is more likely.

6. Use problem solving “I need to know that you’re safe when you’re out and about but I appreciate that you want to be independent too. How can we make sure that both our needs get met?” The key is to get your teen to suggest solutions and then to follow through on them. He will be much more committed and will be learning invaluable lessons if he is doing the thinking.


How to listen to pre-teens

Why is it important to be able to listen to our teens?

Impact on self-esteem. When parents recognise and respect their teens’ feelings and listen to their opinions they validate their teens.

Facilitates problem-solving. Parents want their teens to seek help when they need it. Teens won’t come to their parents when they’re in trouble if they anticipate anger, disapproval or criticism. Adults can help them when they know what’s going on.

Help develop critical thinking and judgment. Parents should encourage teens to say no when appropriate and stand up for themselves. When teens question boundaries or argue parents should welcome it as a sign of increasing exercise of judgment and development of opinions rather than just an example of them testing or being bloody-minded. That doesn’t mean parents should necessarily give in to what the teenager wants.

Avoids battles A common complaint of teens is that their parents don’t understand them. When we understand our children it leads to shifts in our attitude and behaviour which makes for more positive relationships with our kids. Eg actually trying to really understand why it is so important that they dress the way they do, want to pierce their bodies, dye their hair etc as expression of independence and control over their bodies and finding their identity.

When we listen to teens’ feelings and opinions and consider their point of view they are more likely to consider our perspective and accept our rules and values.

To get along with others Children growing up in a culture where feelings are respected learn to consider others’ feelings and to form loving relationships.


Reflective listening

  • Real listening. Stop what you’re doing and convey withyour body language that you are listening. The parent does not talk much but makes empathetic noises.
  • Take time to look for the feeling behind your teens’ words or actions and imagine how they are feeling. Reflect it back to them in words. Imagine how it is for that child with their temperament, their vulnerabilities, at their age. “I imagine that you felt jealous”. “Maybe you felt embarrassed/left out/ betrayed then.” “It seems to me you might have mixed feelings about this party –part of you wants to go and the other part isn’t sure.” “For you to swear at me like that tells me how strongly you’re feeling. You’re furious with me.” “You think I’m making a big fuss about a little thing. To you it doesn’t seem important what you wear to Granny’s lunch. In fact I want you to know how much I appreciate you coming to this lunch. I know you’d rather be with your friends today.”
  • Describe their resistance in words. “You really hate doing biology homework.” “You think you should be able to watch as much TV as you’d like” “I know you’d rather be on the Play station than taking the dogs for a walk.” “You wish I’d make this phone call for you. When you’re in a situation you haven’t come across before you’re not sure what to do. It can make you feel nervous about saying something stupid.” This doesn’t mean that you have to give in to what they want; it actually helps lower their resistance when they see that you understand.
  • Model handling feelings eg express your anger in ways that show you are controlling it without becoming abusive, blaming, threatening or crushing the other person. Eg “When you leave your towel and clothes on the floor I feel that you don’t consider my need to have a tidy bathroom. I feel disregarded and I get very upset.”

Contact The ParentPractice, we offer professional parent education courses for your parenting issues.

Six Point Plan for Fostering Harmony between Siblings

By Melissa Hood, SE Parenting, Nov 2007

Holidays can be bliss but sometimes they can bring out the worst in your kids too. Prolonged exposure to each other can result in siblings fighting so much that parents long for school to resume!

Rather than asking what should I do when my children fight, the question to ask is what can I do so they are less likely to fight?

6 Point Plan for fostering harmony between siblings

  1. Build up your child’s self esteem through descriptive praise. Children fight with each other when they don’t feel good about themselves and in an effort to get parents’ attention. Make sure they’re getting plenty of appreciation and attention for the positive things they’re doing.
  2. Pay attention to the times when they’re not squabbling or to any aspect of team work, Eg “You two have been playing so nicely together while I’ve been cooking.”
  3. Schedule regular ‘special time’ alone with each child. It need not be very long. Eg playing a game, reading a story, having a conversation, going for a walk.
  4. Limit screens (ie TV, videos, playstation, gameboys etc) especially violence.
  5. Have rules about areas that cause conflict eg sharing toys, computers etc.
  6. Encourage children to express their feelings in words eg “Sometimes I think it feels like your brother gets all the attention. I’m so glad you’re beginning to tell me when you want to be noticed.”

Starting School for the First Time

By Melissa Hood, Sept 2007

When your child starts big school for the first time everything may go very smoothly or there may be teething problems. You might be taken by surprise by upsets if your child settled happily at nursery school. Here are some tips for helping your child settle in well at school:

  • Familiarise your child with the physical environment of the school. Visit it often, even if only to look at the outside. If it's too far to visit often take a picture and hang it somewhere accessible. Refer to your school often but acknowledge that it might not feel like your school quite yet. Hopefully the children will have been to an induction day. Make sure they know where their classroom is, where the loos are, the playground, and the lunch area.
  • If you have an older child in the school don't assume that your younger one will know where everything is that's relevant to him. Make sure your little one understands when he will see his older sibling at school. They may be in separate playgrounds and he might have missed the point about different classes. Spell everything out.
  • Talk through any concerns you think your child may have. Typical anxieties are: will I make friends, will the teacher like me, will I like the teacher, will I be able to do what's asked of me, will I be able to find my way around. Many children are concerned by school loos which are very different from those at home and they may find the lunch arrangements daunting. Talk them through what's required and practice in role play using the loos and queuing for lunch if that's what they do. There's a good book which goes through the school day - Starting School by the Ahllbergs. Play schools at home for a few days.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about your child's anxieties - it won't cause them to feel anxious but will help alleviate their worries if you know what's going on for them and are not afraid to talk about it. This normalises things for the children. Once they've started school listen to any concerns they have and empathise - do not minimise their concerns and do not say 'You'll be fine, don't worry'. Instead you can say 'right now you're worried about making friends. Maybe we can talk about some ways to start conversations or to start a game.'
  • Get used to the uniform if there is one. Put it on and make sure your child can get in and out of it quickly by herself. Practice this. Children are often embarrassed if they can't get changed quickly enough and get chivvied by the teacher and sometimes teased by the other children.If you can meet up with some other children in your child's class during the holidays so that there are some familiar faces when they start.

Contact The ParentPractice - Offers parenting helps, advices, tips, support to become a better parent.

Meet the Parents

By Lucy Etherington, Rise Magazine, July 2007

I’m in a rather splendid drawing room in south Clapham watching a grown woman pretend to be a petulant seven-year-old.

The woman is called Sarah and she’s one of the helpers in tonight’s Parent Practice parenting workshops in the UK. Although the mere phrase ‘role play’ is usually enough to send me screaming to the nearest pub, this isn’t so bad because I’m not being asked to participate.

The dad next to me also seems to have lightened up, although this could be because Sarah, has started kicking her legs (as petulant seven-year-old). Another woman with nice hair wearing a pair of sparkly L K Bennet slingbacks is playing the mum, and is demonstrating how to get your child out of bed and dressed and ready for school without resorting to threats, bribery or shouting. As cringeworthy as it sounds, this simple little demo is gold dust to any of us parents who weren’t born saints.
“When I first came to The Parent Practice, I thought it was awful,” admits Elaine Halligan, who did a course when her son, Sam, was thrown out of three schools for difficult behaviour. “But by the time I completed the first course, the effects were so dramatic, I was converted.”

Not only did Elaine’s relationship with her son, now 10, improve vastly and to the benefit of his education; she also ended up jacking in her job as a chartered accountant and training as a ‘facilitator’ (that’s non-aggressive lingo for teacher) for The Parent Practice.

She’s the one in the sparkly slingbacks. “I think I used to be a horrible person,” she whispers to me, during the break for tea and biscuits. “Now I’m so calm. My son even tells his friends he thinks I’m the greatest mum!”

The Parent Practice runs several long-term and short-term courses aimed at arming new parents with all the tools to produce healthy, well rounded children.

It is based on the very simple and obvious idea that we’re trained to do virtually everything else in life – from cooking to driving to being successful in our careers. But when it comes to babies, we’re supposed to know instinctually what to do, and are left to get on with it. Many of us muddle through and end up making the mistakes we swore we never would.

My daily sins include begging, making physical threats to beloved soft toys (“If you don’t clear your room, Teddy gets it!”), sweets and even cash bribes (through which my daughter has learned the valuable skill of bartering, while unfortunately for her, clearing out her own school fund).

Like the other 15 or so parents in the very lovely house – which also happens to be the home of Melissa Hood, who runs The Parent Practice – I admit to having resorted to shouting and saying the things I swore I never would, only to be totally ignored.

Which is why I have chosen to attend the Positive Discipline workshop. Through it, I’m hoping to establish a few basic household rules without coming on like the strict disciplinarian against whom my kids will invariably rebel. Like most parents, I’d like to earn my children’s trust and respect.

A parenting workshops is a good way of getting a feel for how the Parent Practice works before signing up for one of four 10 week intensive courses, their personal consultations, or even the a shorter four week course.

It also offers some ingeniously simple tips on how to communicate with – and, let’s be honest, control – toddlers. And if three hours seems like a long time, they pack a lot in. I didn’t particularly warm to the presentation charts and slightly patronising lingo, like positive praise, pendulum parenting and ‘rules are your friends’. But the core clients – lawyers and management and city types – are clearly more used to this style of delivery. Even Elaine admitted to me that she found it all a bit “Californian and contrived” when she attended her first workshop five years ago.

Yet beyond my deeply ingrained scepticism (essential as a journalist, you understand) I must admit that I came away with some invaluable tips, and more importantly, a new way of seeing my role as a parent that was really rather refreshing.

My particular epiphany was when Elaine said: “What makes you think your agenda is more important than your child’s? Your child isn’t starving, so why do they want to stop playing with their cars or dolls and sit at the dinner table? That’s boring.”
The trick, therefore, is to convince the child that eating dinner is a brilliant idea, and that it’s their brilliant idea. I tried it, and it works – and it’s so much more fun and less exhausting than nagging, yelling and being ignored. Or indeed holding a spud gun to Teddy’s knees!

Contact The ParentPractice, we offer parent education courses for your parenting issues.

A readers review (of The Parent Practice's courses)

By Gail Macfarlane, Families SW, June 2007

A (Families SW) Readers Review on The Parent Practice's 10 week Parenting Skills Course

When I cradled my newborn (now 10 years ago) in my arms I never thought about ‘parenting’. I expected it would be quite straightforward, and that I would be a relaxed, carefree, fun-loving, easy going mum. I thought that just the sleepless nights and endless nappies in the early months was the hard bit. I had, after all, done my NCT course - surely the only course I would ever need? I didn’t reckon on the temperament of my son, who by 2 was strong willed, oppositional and defiant, and seemed to want to cross every boundary I was trying desperately to set.

My Health Visitor told me that he needed more praise, so, for the next 2 years I told him he was a ‘good boy’ 100 times a day. Amazingly this seemed to make no difference, and by 4, and one little sister later, the family was out of control. I spent too much of my parenting life shouting, repeating, nagging, crying (me and him!) and bribing for cooperation.

I think life would have continued along those miserable lines, had it not been for The Parent Practice. I attended their 10 week Parenting Course in Putney and realised very quickly that my son was the one in charge at home (and if I’m honest, I would do anything to avoid one of his frequent tantrums), that I didn’t really follow through on my threats, that he probably didn’t believe that he was a ‘good boy’ and that we, as a family had to make some adjustments to regain control and learn some new skills.

Having read more ‘Parenting Self Help’ books than I’d like to admit to, I wasn’t sure what a course could offer, that the books or ‘Super Nanny’ hadn’t already covered.

The first thing we were encouraged to do, as a family, was to write down some rules, and include the children in this process. The second thing, and this bit was a challenge, was to stick to them. Sounds simple. Where The Parent Practice helped here, was in preparing me for what to do when the melt downs started because ‘mummy wasn’t giving in like she used to’. They gave me the strength and support, that you don’t get from a book, and coached me through a very different type of praise which was detailed and descriptive, but more importantly, they made me realise that there were many more smaller, less obvious things to praise for than I had realised. I learnt how to stay calm in the face of provocation, praising tiny little steps in the direction of better behaviour. I had to really work hard to see them, and when I did, this had the most startling effect!

Within days, he was learning that his exhausting tantrums weren’t working for him, and that his parents stayed calm(er!). He drank up the new style of praise like a thirsty plant and seemed happier and more willing to comply.

I learnt how to listen to him, whereas I’d never really made time for that, or perhaps I had always been too exhausted and fed up to even consider how he felt. The older my children get, the more I use this skill. It is like a key that can unlock a bolted door, and the feelings that can tumble out have often left me not only moved, and closer to my children, but that I have been given an amazing gift and I’d hate to think where I’d be without it.

The class attracted a mix of parents with tots and teens, and the facilitator skilfully adapted the class to address the needs of each different scenario and age group. I went because my family was in chaos, but many others were there for very different reasons; to boost their children’s self-esteem, to encourage self-reliance, to deal with sibling squabbling etc. I think we all came away with more enthusiasm for being a parent and definitely better behaved children.

None of us would dare say we had become perfect parents, or had perfect children (or, that it was easy) but we all had more confidence to deal with whatever challenges our children presented to us! They also have 2 brilliant CDs (Positive Discipline and Harmony At Home) which are great for sharing with reluctant partners and/or for listening to when you start to fall back into old habits when the course is over!)

Now, when I see a parent being challenged by their child, I want to rush up to them and tell them about The Parent Practice, and promise them that it will make such a difference. This method could make me unpopular, or at least a bit ‘born again-ish’ so writing this is my way of sharing what I (and my family) have got from this amazing course. Anyone reading this, who is unsure, can attend a free ‘taster’ class with no obligation to sign up for the full course. At first glance, it may seem expensive, but I see it now as an investment in my relationship with my children, the benefits of which, hopefully, will last for many years to come.

Contact The ParentPractice, UK based providers of positive parenting courses to improve your parenting skills.

Teatime tantrums and bolshie bedtimes - dealing with family hotspots

By Caroline Haigh, Families Magazine, Nov 2006

How hard can it be to get a couple of kids up and ready for school by 8.30am? Surely it’s just a question of waking them up, getting them dressed and then having a harmonious breakfast together before donning coats and shoes and skipping out the door? I wish this were the case. The usual scenario is not so serene – most kids like to play the second they open their eyes so even getting clothes on can feel like a hour in the gym after you’ve chased them up and down the corridor socks in hand. Then of course encouraging kids to eat breakfast can be like negotiating a peace deal. Most mums have probably shouted, threatened and punished the kids before feeling exhausted and wracked with guilt and its only 8am.

There are certain moments in daily family life that are far more stressful then others – these are known as Family Hotspots. Mornings tend to be chief culprits but bedtimes and mealtimes can cause similar angst when children just seem to know exactly what to do to get a reaction from mum and dad. In the evenings, kids seem turn into the Duracell bunny at exactly the moment when mum is longing for a bath and a glass of wine. Mealtimes, on the other hand, can disintegrate into complete chaos as one child throws food, the other won’t sit still and another thinks he’s superman and informs you that superheroes don’t eat chicken!

So, what is the solution? How can you ensure that you have fun family meals without tempers fraying or leave the house on time with no arguments? Well, help is at hand from the team at The Parent Practice where I recently attended a workshop. Based in Clapham, this excellent company runs informative and friendly courses that teach parents practical and usable skills to transform family life. Mums and dads can learn how to be in charge and help their kids be more cooperative, confident and motivated.

When dealing with Family Hotspots The Parent Practice urge mums and dads to be very clear about what behaviour they want to see from their children and then ask them to ensure the expectations are realistic for their ages. There is no point expecting a two-year-old to be able to eat with a knife and fork without making a mess, for example. Once standards are established then parents must put up a united front and be consistent with any new rules set in place.

One of the best ways to ensure your children accept any new rules is to get them involved in the process. Sit them down and ask them what they think the rules are at mealtimes, bedtimes or when you have most problems. Depending on their age, you could get them to write the list – this can be as detailed as you like including such things as ‘sit facing forwards at meals, use a fork, ask to get down when finished’ and so on. This method makes the kids feel involved (rather than just informed) and means the new rules have more clarity and consistency and the kids are more committed to them. It also reminds parents of the huge number of small things for which a child can be praised. Once the list is drawn up, get the kids to decorate it and then pop it on the fridge – like a star or tick chart. Here everyone can see it and it can become something positive (won’t always seem fun )– Daddy can come home and say “lets see how many ticks / stars we have all got today”. If you make the list very detailed including simple things such as sitting on your chair, kids can rack up a lot of ticks in one go. This is turn will make children feel pleased with themselves and more motivated to improve. So, even if the meal has seemed chaotic you will still be able to notice the good things: “well done for sitting so straight and still on your chair today” for example even if there is food is on the floor!

This kind of praise is known as ‘descriptive praise’ and it is an extremely effective way to motivate your kids to do the right thing. It is based around the idea that when parents notice and mention any small improvement in their kids’ behaviour rather than always focusing on the negative or what the child didn’t do children behave better. How often do you find yourself saying ‘don’t throw food’ or ‘stop tipping your chair’ or ‘you never go to bed on time’ – all maybe true, but won’t motivate a child to improve. The other day, my little one suddenly threw all her pudding on the floor and I of course immediately shouted and said what a mess she’d made which then made her shout and cry and made me feel guilty. In fact, while I was gossiping to my friend she had been sitting quietly for a good 20 minutes eating up her main course without a fuss but the only thing I reacted too was the bad behaviour. Using descriptive praise I could have said something like “you have been such a good girl sitting quietly and eating up your meal, If you have had enough just ask mummy if you can get down”.

If you have a child that just will not go to bed at night despite endless pleas and bribes try setting up some new rules. Ask them what it is they need to do before bedtime – they will probably list such things as cleaning their teeth, going to the loo, getting into bed and so on. You can then add such things as just one book and then being quiet or staying in bed. If the child calls out after five minutes, rather than getting annoyed that they have disregarded one of the rules focus on what they are doing right – for example, “well done for staying in bed and not complaining when we had just one story, that is very grown up of you. I know you want mummy to stay longer”. To reinforce the bedtime rule you will probably need to go back in frequently for the first few nights but focus on the positive things and the progress they are making.

Star charts can also be fantastic and kids tend to love them especially if covered in colourful stickers. Stars can be sufficient reward in themselves especially if accompanied by lots of praise or you might establish how many stars makes a reward – for example six stars in a day results in a story read by torchlight or 15 stars over the week means a trip to the café for breakfast. (Younger children can’t wait too long for a reward.)Try to make the rewards simple and non-material such as cooking some biscuits, an extra book at bedtime or lots of bubbles at bathtime.

In order to have the desired effect, descriptive praise really needs to be used liberally and consistently. It can often feel like you are being a bit over the top, but it does work and children respond fabulously well – they often can’t understand why mummy is being so nice and not shouting so much!

Another simple factor to bear in mind when dealing with hotspots is the time factor. Firstly ensure you have allowed enough time to get everything ready because kids hate being rushed and often go into reverse if sergeant major mummy is constantly commanding “come on, come on”!

Also, remember that kids have very different agendas to you. You may have a detailed minute-by-minute schedule planned but they are unaware of it, so when you announce supper is ready this minute they will know doubt protest. It helps if you talk through in advance what needs to happen. For example, go through the morning routine, “once we get up and have said good morning, what do you need to do?”Ask questions to prompt the answers ‘wash my face, get dressed, make bed and come down to breakfast’. This way you are involving them in the process. For example, “after breakfast what do we need to get ready for school?” More often than not, when kids say what they have to do they are more likely to do it.

If your little one wants to play with soldiers rather than get dressed it is not because he is trying to make your life difficult. He would just rather play soldiers. He is having a problem with having to stop playing; he is not being a problem specifically to annoy you. Wouldn’t you rather read your magazine than cook supper? And if someone suddenly grabbed your magazine and demanded “I want supper now” would that motivate you to actually get to the cooker? I doubt it and I certainly hope not!

So, if you have had enough of the morning mayhem, stress-filled suppers and nocturnal kids at bedtime, just give these ideas from The Parent Practice a go… I will be amazed if they don’t work.

The Parent Practice’s Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Family Hot Spots Allow more time – saves you being stressed by the clock.

  • Establish rules and stick to them
  • Involve the kids in setting rules
  • Morning Mayhem? Do as much as possible the night before.
  • Ask the children what needs to be done in advance
  • Brainstorm with the kids for strategies for dealing with difficult situations
  • Make written or fun pictorial routines for those difficult times
  • Ensure good things follow chores – stories after clearing up toys for example.
  • Give time warnings before something is going to happen.
  • Praise the kids as they are doing something – show their behaviour matters to you.

Contact The ParentPractice, UK based providers of positive parenting courses to improve your parenting skills.

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