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September 04th, 2017

Confidence vs Ego

Some schools will be starting up this week and as kids begin the new school year of course parents will be thinking about how to motivate and encourage their offspring. We want our children to develop confidence so that they will be willing to give things a go, to try hard and to persevere if when things get tough. We want them to put themselves forward for things where they may discover new talents and enthusiasms. We want them to have courage and drive and self-control and be willing to follow their own dreams and maybe try a different path than that taken by the majority.

And whenever we mention using praise to build confidence someone will say “but I don’t want my child to become conceited or too self-focused”.  And quite rightly.

Our instincts in this direction are backed up by research that shows that children who are ‘other-focused’, that is empathetic, are happier, bounce back from adversity faster and have better academic outcomes, apart from just being kinder and nicer to be around. Study after study has found that kids with good emotional intelligence (which includes empathy)  are not just better adjusted emotionally, more popular and more sensitive but they are also physically healthier and perform better academically than less empathetic children.[1] 

In 2012, researchers at McGill University in Montreal found a direct connection between empathy and learning capacity.[2]  Children who receive empathy and are taught to empathise, especially from an early age, develop a higher capacity to learn. Part of the reason for this is that empathy is an especially effective antidote to stress which negatively affects learning and brain development in children. It affects the prefrontal cortex which manages non-cognitive skills like self-control as well as memory and reasoning. Children who are coached in emotional intelligence techniques are also more resilient which allows them to quickly refocus on learning.

Michelle Borba, in her book, Unselfie, talks about a generation of kids who are all about self-promotion, personal branding and self-interest to the exclusion of others’ feelings needs and concerns. She calls it the ‘selfie syndrome’ and claims that there is a rise in narcissism and a drop in empathy in today’s young. There is an observable increase in bullying and some evidence of greater cheating as they focus on winning at all costs. We also know that there is an increase in mental health problems, especially anxiety, and with that empathy wanes.

In the last few days I’ve had several conversations with family and friends who all work in very disparate fields about difficulties working with colleagues. At the root of each situation the problem appeared to be ego – the colleague in the different situations was non-collaborative, self-promoting, obstructive, undermining others or unwilling to accept feedback as they focused on themselves.

It is clearly better for society at large and indeed for our individual children too if we can develop healthy self-esteem without risk of producing kids with inflated egos. We want our children to promote themselves (particularly girls who haven’t always done so in the past) but still want them to be collaborative. We want them to pursue their goals and interests but not at the expense of others’. I think we want all our children to believe in themselves but not necessarily to think they are better than others.

How do we get that balance right?

  1. Well we need to make sure we are using realistic praise based on facts. That means descriptive, not evaluative, praise. So avoid “Brilliant darling, you’re amazing” ,  and go for noticing and commenting on what they get right, including the attitude they show, improvements they make and strategies they employ. It is not about results as much as focusing on efforts. Instead of saying “you’re so clever” try “I’m so pleased to see you’re not giving up with that sum. Fractions can be tricky, but you’re persevering.”  “Because you’ve been practising your guitar chord changes you’re able to make them much more fluid now, don’t you think? I’ll bet you’re pleased with yourself.” “When you stood up for Kim when those girls were teasing her, that took courage. You weren’t prepared to stand by and allow it to happen. That was real friendship.”
  2. And what are we praising them for? We get more of what we pay attention to so maybe we can think about what qualities we want to encourage in our children. For some it will include humility, for acknowledging others’ efforts and contributions, for kindness and generosity and treating others fairly and with respect. And of course we need to be modelling these qualities ourselves if we expect to see them in our children. No pressure!
  3. When we are descriptively praising we need to avoid comparisons. Let your child know what you appreciate about him as a unique individual, not in comparison with someone else. Tell him this is his best effort –not that he is the best. “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 got a better score than Luke.”
  4. Build empathy in children by showing it to them. Let them know you understand and care about their feelings by describing them. “You seem really stuck on this problem. It can be hard to think of solutions when you feel like that. Last week when you had those spellings to learn you really persevered and had some creative ideas for remembering them. As I recall you found it helped you to move around while you were memorising. You got them in the end”.   “I know sometimes it’s hard to get started on your homework/music practice when you’d rather play your new game. Those computer games are designed to be really appealing and when something’s new it’s even more tempting”.   This builds self-awareness, the first step toward perspective taking and empathy.

In a seminar to the leaders of a global manufacturing company with a strong engineering base Daniel Goleman put forward a strong business and scientific case for emotional intelligence as the active ingredient in strong leadership which he then wrote about in the Harvard Business Review. His research showed that when it comes to the top echelon leaders, companies find that 80-90% of the competencies that distinguish star leaders are built on emotional intelligence.  Being able to understand someone else’s perspective is vital for negotiating with and managing others. In a nutshell if your child develops emotional intelligence skills he will have a competitive edge for the future.

Hope this year is a great one for you and your children. 

Melissa and Elaine

[1] John Gottman: The heart of parenting: How to raise an emotionally intelligent child 1997

[2] http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/empathy-and-learning/

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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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February 08th, 2016

Childhood Anxiety

Anxieties are very much on the rise in children and young people. 2.2% or about 96,000 children in the UK have an anxiety disorder.[ref:http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics]

Normal worries

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, a worry or fear. Children can be fearful of many things, some of them imaginary and many of them irrational. It can be hard for an adult to understand their fears.Many worries are a normal part of growing up.

0-2 years – infants and toddlers are often afraid of loud noises, strangers, separation and large objects

It’s very common for young children to experience separation anxiety from about 8 months. They may become clingy and cry when separated from their parents or carers. This normal stage of development tends to ease off at around age two to three.  

3-6 years – young children are frequently afraid of imaginary things such as monsters, the dark, sleeping alone and strange noises

It’s also common for pre-school children to develop specific fears or phobias of certain animals, insects, storms, heights, water, and blood. These fears usually go away gradually on their own. Gentle gradual exposure to the feared object can help.

7-16 years – older children have more realistic fears such as injury or illness, death and natural disasters, school performance and their future, social anxiety, identity and belonging.

Throughout a child’s life there will be times when they feel anxiety. 

What makes a child anxious?

  • Some children are more prone to worries and anxiety than others.
  • Playing certain computer games can trigger adrenaline rushes which may not get burned off if the child doesn’t get out and move around.
  • Children often find change difficult and may become anxious following a house move or when starting a new school or even if parents are using very inconsistent parenting approaches.
  • Children who have had a traumatic experience, such as a car accident or house fire, may suffer with anxiety afterwards. Some children who experience stress at an early age remain with elevated stress levels.
  • Family arguments and conflict can also leave children feeling insecure and anxious.
  • School can be a very anxious place for some, especially those who find school work difficult or social life tricky.
  • Sleep deprivation is a cause as well as a symptom of anxiety.
  • Parental anxiety plays a big role in a child’s worries.

When is anxiety a problem for children?

Sometimes anxieties are very big, very frequent and very consuming.

Anxiety becomes a problem for children when it starts to get in the way of their day-to-day life. Example: a 10 year old girl who is so afraid of being on her own that she won’t sleep in her own room but sleeps in her parents’ room. This is obviously disruptive to both her parents and her.

Paul Stallard, Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath says “If you go into any school at exam time all the kids will be anxious but some may be so anxious that they don’t get into school that morning…. Some will sit in an exam and their mind freezes and they can’t get anything down on paper. This is when anxiety starts to interfere with what children need to do or would like to do in everyday life.”

Severe anxiety can affect children’s self-esteem. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things or situations that make them feel anxious. Anxiety disorders that start in childhood often persist into the teenage years and early adulthood. Teenagers with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop clinical depression, misuse drugs and feel suicidal.

This is why you should get help as soon as you realise it's a problem.

What are the signs of anxiety in children?

When young children feel anxious, they cannot usually understand or express what they are feeling. They may become irritable, angry, tearful, clingy, withdrawn or have difficulty sleeping, waking in the night, wetting the bed or having bad dreams. They may start or revert to thumb-sucking, tics or stammers, hair pulling or nail biting. They may experience eczema or headaches or stomach aches. They may engage in ritualistic, repetitive or obsessive behaviours. They may ask many, many questions, not because they really want the answers but because they’re seeking connection.

Older children may:

  • lack the confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges and may avoid everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going out in public or attending school
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • have problems with sleeping or eating
  • be prone to angry outbursts
  • talk about their negative thoughts or the bad things that are going to happen
  • engage in comfort eating

What can parents do?

It doesn’t work to tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of, not to be worried or to pull themselves together.

Emotion Coaching

This helps children cope with their uncomfortable feelings, to understand them, be able to verbalise them and to find ways to manage them or alleviate them. Emotion coaches recognise and respect children’s feelings and reflect back to the child what they are experiencing. Giving the emotion a label helps the child to manage it. Name it to tame it.

When your 3 year old won’t go to bed because she’s afraid of monsters don’t say “don’t worry about it” or “don’t be silly-monsters aren’t real.” This will not work. You could say something like “even though monsters aren’t real they can feel very real in the middle of the night. I can see how frightened it has made you feel because you’re crying.  This won’t dismiss her feelings but nor does it suggest that there is actually something for her to be afraid of. Sometimes it can work to get her to shrink the monster or give him a funny face. Some families will work with magic ‘talismans’ that can ‘magic’ away monsters –these can be any object that can be invested with magic properties. 

Alicia Eaton (Words That Work: How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything by Alicia Eaton) suggests using a worry box. She describes worries as emotional messages that our minds send us to take care of us. This is ok where you can take action about the worry such as revising more for an exam. But it’s a problem if there’s nothing you can do. To make the message go away we need to acknowledge receipt –trick the mind into believing action has been taken. Get your child to write down or draw their worry, fold up the paper and put it in a box. Keep the box out of sight, not under their bed. At the end of the week review the worries-most will have taken care of themselves or won’t have materialised. Acknowledge that they didn’t occur without saying “see I told you there was no need to worry.” The child can then decide if they want to put the worry back into the box or throw it away.

Prepare
You can help by preparing children in advance for new situations; talk through what’s going to happen and maybe practice in role play.

Build confidence
Encourage children to feel capable by giving credible descriptive praise for the strategies they use to cope with life. “I like the way you tried again when your first attempt didn’t work. Looks like you’ve found a solution.” Do this all the time. Give them lots of opportunities to be independent and support them by training in small steps. Make your focus be less on results and more on effort and tactics used. Don’t ask ‘did you win?’ when they’ve played a match. When kids think all their parents care about is results they get very anxious.

Failure
When kids make mistakes or fail let them know that mistakes and struggles are a normal part of learning and an indication that their brains are growing. Model an attitude of ‘what can I learn from this?’

Consider environmental factors
Food –can affect stress levels and create mood swings, especially toxins like caffeine and sugar

  1. Exercise –regular exercise soaks up excess adrenaline and releases endorphins
  2. Laughter –do a lot of it
  3. Relaxation –teach your child relaxation and breathing techniques

If you think your child is suffering from greater than normal levels of anxiety consult your GP.

 

 

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