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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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August 08th, 2017

Summertime   - The secrets to good friendships

We’re in the middle of the summer holidays and we hope you and your children are relaxing away from the rigours and routines of school life. Some kids find school quite stressful either because of the academic life or because the social side of things is difficult for them. Some kids find it hard to make friends and feel lonely and all kids will fall out with others from time to time.

“The single best childhood predictor of adult adaptation is not IQ, not school grades, and not classroom behaviour, but rather the adequacy with which the child gets along with other children.” Williard Hartup, Regents Professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota

If you’re at home maybe your children will get a chance to spend unstructured time with the neighbourhood kids. Maybe they can have some sleepovers given that you don’t have to worry so much about being fresh for school the next day. You may not get much sleep either but these are magnificent opportunities for kids to practice their social skills. When adults don’t intervene and there is less structure to their activities they need to rely on their own resources to solve problems. David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, said that Amy Chua (Tiger Mom) was coddling her children by not allowing sleepovers, playdates etc. Brooks said “She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t…. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.” These are skills that children need to learn and the summer holidays may be a great time to get some practice.

Maybe your children will spend some time at summer camps where they get a chance to bond with other kids over common interests. Maybe you’ll be spending time with cousins of different ages where they will have to practice sharing, compromise, negotiation skills and maybe dispute resolution techniques. Wonderful!

In case you don’t think your children are very good at any of those skills so vital for friendships here are 7 ways you can help your children develop these skills over the holidays.

  1. Practice perspective-taking. That means understanding someone else’s point of view. Obviously your child’s ability to empathise will vary according to his age but he can be learning from the age of 3 to think about what others feel. Read books and watch films that have emotional content in them. This allows them to practice essential skills first as an observer, much easier than as a participant! Look at the illustrations in the book or the facial expressions and body language of the characters in the film and (maybe without sound) ask your child to identify what the feelings are. How do they know? Ask them if they have ever felt that way. Get them to guess what the character might do next. Don’t pause the action for too long or too often or it will get annoying! 
  1. Develop a culture in your family of considering each other’s feelings. Talk about how various members of the family feel at different points. Naming a feeling greatly adds to your child’s emotional vocabulary and intelligence. It also demonstrates acceptance of that feeling. 
  1. Get familiar with feelings. Create together and then play games such as the Feelings card game. Paste onto cards pictures of people showing feelings (in face and body) and on a corresponding card have the word for that feeling. Then you can play ‘snap’ with them or place all the cards face down and turn up pairs with the object of pairing up the word with the picture.

 Other games will help develop other vital skills such as listening, like Simple Simon and the whispering game- listen to a message from someone with your eyes shut, then repeat it to the next person. 

  1. Model being with your own friends and being friendly with partners. Model loyalty, commitment, kindness, self-respect, constructive dispute resolution, communicating and managing feelings and needs. When dealing with upsets between yourself and your children be sure that you are not just imposing your will based on your greater age and size and position of authority lest your children learn that they need to exploit whatever power they have to get their way. Instead teach them to reason and explain. 
  1. Teach your children how to make friends. Practice making eye contact, ways to say hello, conversation starters and what they can contribute to a game. “That looks a fun game of explorers. I could be a local chief who can show the explorers the island.” 
  1. And how to deal with friendship upsets. Let’s take an example: a six year old girl had two friends at school. They had been friends from before school whereas Ella joined in year 1. The other two girls started telling Ella that she could not play with them and made other mean comments. The two six year old girls gave Ella a letter (laughing) calling her a ‘princess of poo’ and saying she is a poo and should dress as a poo... Ella was very upset. One of them said "we were happier before you came."

In circumstances like this it’s very tempting to call up the other parents and get them to tell off their children. But when parents take matters into their own hands it tells children that they can’t handle things themselves which doesn’t make them any more socially confident. And sometimes our reaction can be a bit over the top and embarrassing. And sometimes it makes it worse for our kids as the other children retaliate and then our child won’t want to confide in us again.

Sometimes adults do need to get involved but more often it works better when we empower our children to deal with matters themselves.

  • First empathise with your child. Fully appreciate how it felt to be in their shoes.
  • When they’re calmer explore through role play how things could have played out differently. Explain what the teasing child is trying to do –provoke/cause distress and that the most effective thing to do is to deprive them of that result. Practice with them ways that they could respond (words, tone, body language) that show indifference.
  • In considering why a child does mean things you could suggest ideas through questions –“Do you think these girls believe there’s a limit to the number of friends you can have? Do you agree?” 

We’ll be running our new workshop on friendships in October so do come along. In the meantime have a great summer.

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May 26th, 2017

How do I talk to my child about terrorism and violence?

It is with great sadness that we are addressing this question again. The attack in Manchester is only a few weeks after the incident in Westminster on 22nd March. This attack on a concert venue attended by children and teenagers is a very shocking and terrible thing and we thought it might be helpful to look again at how to talk to your children about such events, particularly as there were children amongst the casualties this time.

How you address this will vary a lot depending on the age of your children and their temperament and your own values. While everyone will be appalled by what has happened there may be different aspects of it that you would want to highlight to your children.

Age

If your children are under the age of 3 then hopefully they are unaware of what is going on. I would always try to make sure that this age group are not exposed to the adult content of news programmes and the pictures on the front of the newspapers.

If they are 3-5 then I wouldn’t raise it with them unless they ask questions and then try to do it without scaring them unnecessarily. We don’t want our children to be assuming that people they see in the street are ‘terrorists’ or even ‘bad people’ and we don’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep or to go out or to be terrified of any family members attending concerts or sporting fixtures. Calmly ask them what they know and don’t add to the list of horrific facts. If you can see that they are afraid then admit that this was a shocking thing to have happened and that it is natural to feel frightened at first. You will have to find a balance, determined by your child’s nature, between not promising them they will always be completely safe which is unrealistic, and making them jump at their own shadow. We face this balancing act already when we talk to our children about ‘stranger danger’. (Although we recommend you don’t use the word ‘stranger’ so that children don’t learn to fear everyone they don’t know. Teach them about ‘tricky people’ instead.) You could try something along the lines of “sometimes people get very angry and they do very terrible things and they hurt others. They forget to use their words to sort things out. That’s why it’s very important to learn to talk about problems and not hurt anyone.” This is putting it into words that they can relate to.

This theme can be used with older children too but they may be able to handle more information about what happened and they may be seeing for themselves some of the details in the media. School aged children will probably be hearing it about it at school so it’s good to discuss it with them. Ask your aged 10+ children for their ideas about why it happened and what world leaders can do about it. What can we do about it? This is important to prevent them feeling powerless.

Temperament

Some of you will have kids who are oblivious to what’s been going on and you’re surprised to find that they knew about the attacks at all. Others may have been asking you questions endlessly and worrying about how it happened and being tremendously concerned for the families and perhaps for themselves, given that this has happened in their own country.

This doesn’t mean that the first child doesn’t have any compassion or doesn’t care. But it is an indication of different temperaments. The more relaxed child may not be able to relate to something that is beyond his experience and understanding. The latter child is just more sensitive than the former. It’s not good or bad –it just is. And we need to adapt our approach for each temperament.

For the former you may try to raise awareness a little if it feels appropriate whereas for the highly sensitive child you may be trying to temper it a little and to help him deal with his feelings. If you’ve got both in one family you may have to help one understand the other.

It will help to name the feelings overwhelming your upset child. Don’t try to brush it under the carpet or your child will not be able to tell you about his worries in future. “You are really upset, aren’t you? These events have really worried you. You’re a person who feels things in a big way and sometimes that is lovely and sometimes it can be hard for you. I know you felt really sad for those families of the people who were killed. I’m glad you care. Sharing your worries makes them a bit easier to deal with.” It may help to use some kind of ritual to acknowledge the lives of the people who have passed away such as lighting a candle. This will give your child something practical to do.

If your child is very worried that something similar could affect her own family don’t tell her there’s no need to worry but acknowledge her worries and tell her about the steps that are being taken by the authorities to protect us. Sometimes it can help for children to have a worry box. Get them to write their worries down on a piece of paper and screw the paper up into a tight ball and then put it into the box. Then put the box away somewhere (not in the child’s room) until the end of the week. At the end of the week unfold the worries and see that they have not come to pass. You can put them back in the box or throw them away –whatever the child chooses.

Values

This was of course a terribly wrong thing to do. But there is an opportunity here for us to teach our children something about difference.

Although this has just happened there will no doubt be speculation that this atrocity was carried out by Islamic fundamentalists and indeed an ISIS-related website has claimed the attacker was “a caliphate soldier” although the person responsible grew up in Manchester. Even though such extremists do not represent the majority of peace-loving people who practice Islam many negative words have been and will be said about Muslims. Those of us who are not Muslims can teach our children that most Muslims are good people and that they don’t need to be afraid of anyone wearing a hijab or otherwise looking a bit ‘foreign’. We can teach our older children that the aim of organisations like IS is to make us afraid and to stir up dissension between faiths and that is exactly what leads to conflict. Encourage them not to give these bullies the satisfaction. Tell them that you will be going about your daily lives and will not alter what you do because you are not afraid and that you will be kind to any Muslim person you see who must be feeling very uncomfortable. If you meet a person wearing Muslim dress smile at them and tell your children why you’re making a point of that right now.

If you are a Muslim parent you may be feeling anxious for yourself and for your children. You may be feeling very angry about what is being in done in the name of your religion and tarnishing you in the process. You may have experienced prejudice. You may be clear what to say to your child about these events but wonder how to explain bigotry. It must be very difficult to explain to your child that others may judge and treat him unfairly because of his religion. I can’t tell you exactly what to say but I would acknowledge his pain and fear and tell him that the Quran values people of all faiths.

Whatever our faith, colour, physical abilities, social standing or level of education we can teach our children to respect themselves and others by how we interact with them and others. We can teach them not to fear difference or the unfamiliar by our modelling and by exposing them to different experiences and people.

Fear comes from lack of understanding and from feeling powerless. We can help our children to see that they can make a difference by taking small steps to build trust between different peoples. Taking positive action to address these problems and make the world a better place helps empower kids. When people of minority groups feel a sense of belonging in their community they will have no reason to act out their disaffection and they can feel accepted enough to speak out against prejudice. Whether Muslim or non-Muslim talk with your child about how he or she can take a stand against intolerance. Talk to them about how this may be difficult to do if their friends are bad-mouthing Muslims. Practice with them how to say something like “I don’t believe that.

This was another terrible thing to happen. And I believe that parents need to re-commit to raising children committed to not fearing people who are different and to talking through problems. This may be a learning process for you too if you’ve grown up in an environment with little exposure to difference races or faiths. Let your children know that you are expanding your own horizons!

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April 25th, 2017

A Problem with Biting - Your questions answered

A parent in our Barnes class asked this question at the end of last term and we thought others might be dealing with similar issues. 

When my aggressive two year old is frustrated or cross she hits/bites/slaps (whatever to get attention I presume or get a toy that she wants). I have tried removing her from the poor person she is hitting and empathising with how she is feeling, but it is quite difficult to get through. Eventually she apologises but I’m not sure how much that is down to me trying to persuade her to. There don't seem to be many consequences to her actions that I can come up with. This is not really working and she continues to behave in this fashion... 

Our facilitator had this advice: 

You may be aware that hitting or biting or slapping is very normal behaviour for 2 year olds who don’t yet have sufficient command over language to be able to express what they feel/want/need adequately. I love that you are thinking about why she does things. Does she need attention/does she want a toy? Is she competing with her older siblings? This is so crucial to being successful in dealing with it effectively. Whenever you see a behaviour you’re not happy about be curious. Ask yourself, why is she doing that? Because only then can you respond to her needs and teach her what she needs to know. Only then can you keep calm enough to respond with compassion and wisdom. 

Try really hard to alter your internal conversation about her. Change the word ‘aggressive’ to one that also fits the situation but is a more positive reframing. When you think of your daughter maybe these words will fit: impulsive, strong-willed, feisty, energetic. Some of these are great qualities. 

  1. Use cool down time. This is how you can push your own ‘pause’ button and reflect on her intentions. What was behind that behaviour? If she is hitting it will not be because she is mean or aggressive but because she is impulsive and maybe feels things intensely and because she doesn’t yet know how to get what she wants. She may not always know what it is that she wants/needs. Eg sometimes she might feel confused or overwhelmed or upset or even anxious and lash out because she doesn’t know what to do with her feelings. Other times she might actually be cross with the person she hits. Maybe they have what she wants or are obstructing her in some way. Obviously understanding those reasons doesn’t make it ok to hit but it does make it easier to teach her.
  2. So glad you are trying to connect with her by empathising with how she feels. When you say it is quite difficult to get through it sounds like you are expecting a response from her that you’re not getting. Sometimes we expect the behaviour to change in the moment but raising children is never a quick fix. If you’re expecting her to open up and talk about her feelings, that’s probably unrealistic for a 2 year old. Nonetheless it is essential for you to describe to her how you think she might be feeling. Name the sensations she could be having. You could ask her “Do you feel cross right in your tummy like a knot? Or can you feel worry in your chest? Or did you notice your hands going into fists? Maybe you felt it in your head? Maybe you had lots of feelings going on all at the same time –that can be a bit confusing. Did you want mummy to notice what you were doing rather than your sister? Did you want the toy that [Sam] was playing with? I’m guessing you were really mad at [Ella] for taking the Lego that you wanted to play with. Emotion coaching has a profound effect in the moment in being able to shift behaviour but more importantly in the long term our children feel that we care.
  3. An apology is somewhat secondary to your goal of teaching her how to get what she wants/needs without hitting. A real apology involves being able to empathise with the hurt person, understanding that they are hurt and caring about that. Empathy is something that evolves in children with the maturation of their pre-frontal cortex and is not be expected in abundance in a 2 year old who is very much focused on their own feelings. Empathy is learnt by our modelling –the more we show that we care about their feelings, the better they understand that human feelings matter. Once her feelings are heard (step 2 above) you can begin to talk about the feelings of the person who is hurt. “[Sam] is sad. He was hurt when you bit him. In this family we don’t hurt each other. You can make Sam feel better by stroking his arm/lending him your teddy. When you’re ready we’ll practice asking Sam for what you wanted. I will help you. Shall I hold your hand while you say….?” At her age there are no consequences that will work as well as this kind of teaching.
  4. You can also use role play with teddies and dolls etc to practice what to do when they want something the other has/when they want attention/when they feel cross/upset/annoyed. The more you talk about feelings, the better her vocabulary will become and the more tools she will have at her disposal to deal with her emotions. There are some great books for talking about feelings too. Do you know the Mike Gordon series ‘I feel….’? https://www.amazon.co.uk/I-Feel-Angry-Your-Emotions/dp/0750214031/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491804582&sr=1-3&keywords=mike+gordon+i+feel 

This is not a quick process. You will need to repeat the lesson many times but she will learn it provided she is not stressed by feeling as if she is a bad person. Stress prevents the pre-frontal cortex from developing as fast. It is essential that your little girl gets the message that she is a lovable and capable person who needs a bit of help to control her feelings and impulses. And luckily you are there to help her.

 

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March 25th, 2017

How do I talk to my child about terrorism and violence?

Sadly this is a question that parents have had to ask before. The attack in Westminster this week was exactly a year after the attack in Brussels by suicide bombers. A few months earlier there had been attacks in Paris and Beirut. What has happened in London on 22nd March is a very shocking and terrible thing and we thought it might be helpful to look again at how to talk to your children about such events.

This will vary a lot depending on the age of your children and their temperament and your own values. While everyone will be appalled by what has happened there may be different aspects of it that you would want to highlight to your children.

Age

If your children are under the age of 3 then hopefully they are unaware of what is going on. I would always try to make sure that this age group are not exposed to the adult content of news programmes and the pictures on the front of the newspapers.

If they are 3-5 then I wouldn’t raise it with them unless they ask questions and then try to do it without scaring them unnecessarily. We don’t want our children to be assuming that people they see in the street are ‘terrorists’ or even ‘bad people’ and we don’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep or to go out or to be terrified of you travelling. Calmly ask them what they know and don’t add to the list of horrific facts. If you can see that they are afraid then admit that this was a shocking thing to have happened and that it is natural to feel frightened at first. You will have to find a balance, determined by your child’s nature, between not promising them they will always be completely safe which is unrealistic, and making them jump at their own shadow. We face this balancing act already when we talk to our children about ‘stranger danger’. (Although we recommend you don’t use the word ‘stranger’ so that children don’t learn to fear everyone they don’t know. Teach them about ‘tricky people’ instead.) You could try something along the lines of “sometimes people get very angry and they do very terrible things and they hurt others. They forget to use their words to sort things out. That’s why it’s very important to learn to talk about problems and not hurt anyone.” This is putting it into words that they can relate to.

This theme can be used with older children too but they may be able to handle more information about what happened and they may be seeing for themselves some of the details in the media. School aged children will probably be hearing it about it at school so it’s good to discuss it with them. Ask your aged 10+ children for their ideas about why it happened and what world leaders can do about it. What can we do about it? This is important to prevent them feeling powerless. 

Temperament

Some of you will have kids who are oblivious to what’s been going on and you’re surprised to find that they knew about the attacks at all. Others may have been asking you questions endlessly and worrying about how it happened and being tremendously concerned for the families and perhaps for themselves, given that this has happened in their own city.

This doesn’t mean that the first child doesn’t have any compassion or doesn’t care. But it is an indication of different temperaments. The more relaxed child may not be able to relate to something that is beyond his experience and understanding. The latter child is just more sensitive than the former. It’s not good or bad –it just is. And we need to adapt our approach for each temperament.

For the former you may try to raise awareness a little if it feels appropriate whereas for the highly sensitive child you may be trying to temper it a little and to help him deal with his feelings. If you’ve got both in one family you may have to help one understand the other.

It will help to name the feelings overwhelming your upset child. Don’t try to brush it under the carpet or your child will not be able to tell you about his worries in future. “You are really upset, aren’t you? These events have really worried you. You’re a person who feels things in a big way and sometimes that is lovely and sometimes it can be burdensome for you. I know you felt really sad for those families of the people who were killed. I’m glad you care. Sharing your worries makes them a bit easier to deal with.”  It may help to use some kind of ritual to acknowledge the lives of the people who have passed away such as lighting a candle. This will give your child something practical to do.

If your child is very worried that something similar could affect her own family don’t tell her there’s no need to worry but acknowledge her worries and tell her about the steps that are being taken by the authorities to protect us. Sometimes it can help for children to have a worry box. Get them to write their worries down on a piece of paper and screw the paper up into a tight ball and then put it into the box. Then put the box away somewhere (not in the child’s room) until the end of the week. At the end of the week unfold the worries and see that they have not come to pass. You can put them back in the box or throw them away –whatever the child chooses.

Values

This was of course a terribly wrong thing to do. But there is an opportunity here for us to teach our children something about difference.

There is speculation that this atrocity was inspired by the organisation calling itself Islamic State and even though they do not represent the majority of peace-loving people who practice Islam many negative words have been and will be said about Muslims. Those of us who are not Muslims can teach our children that most Muslims are good people and that they don’t need to be afraid of anyone wearing a hijab or otherwise looking a bit ‘foreign’. We can teach our older children that the aim of organisations like IS is to make us afraid and to stir up dissension between faiths and that is exactly what leads to conflict. Encourage them not to give these bullies the satisfaction. Tell them that you will be going about your daily lives and will not alter what you do because you are not afraid and that you will be kind to any Muslim person you see who must be feeling very uncomfortable.

If your children have Muslim friends say to them “Ahmed is not a killer is he?”  If you meet a person wearing Muslim dress smile at them and tell your children why you’re making a point of that right now.

If you are a Muslim parent you may be feeling anxious for yourself and for your children. You may be feeling very angry about what is being in done in the name of your religion and tarnishing you in the process. You may have experienced prejudice. You may be clear what to say to your child about these events but wonder how to explain bigotry. It must be very difficult to explain to your child that others may judge and treat him unfairly because of his religion. I can’t tell you exactly what to say but I would acknowledge his pain and fear.

Whatever our faith, colour, physical abilities, social standing or level of education we can teach our children to respect themselves and others by how we interact with them and others. We can teach them not to fear difference or the unfamiliar by our modelling and by exposing them to different experiences and people.

Fear comes from lack of understanding and from feeling powerless. We can help our children to see that they can make a difference by taking small steps to build trust between different peoples. Taking positive action to address these problems and make the world a better place helps empower kids. When people of minority groups feel a sense of belonging in their community they will have no reason to act out their disaffection and they can feel accepted enough to speak out against prejudice. Whether Muslim or non-Muslim talk with your child about how he or she can take a stand against intolerance. Talk to them about how this may be difficult to do if their friends are bad-mouthing Muslims. Practice with them how to say something like “I don’t believe that.”

This was a terrible thing to happen but perhaps out if it will come a generation committed to not fearing people who are different and to talking through problems. This may be a learning process for you too if you’ve grown up in an environment with little exposure to difference races or faiths. Let your children know that you are expanding your own horizons!

 

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February 12th, 2017

Six Steps to a Successful Skiing Holiday

Children love snow and they love being active. So the family skiing holiday is a guaranteed winner, surely?!  Not always. Although a skiing holiday with children has great potential for physical fun and family bonding, it also has the potential for frustration and disappointment…. So here are Six Steps to a Successful Ski Holiday this year

(1) BE REALISTIC

A family skiing holiday is NOT the same as pre-children! We may dream about hours on the slopes, relaxing over lunch or in the sauna, but children have different requirements and agendas. Some children may be able to adapt to change of routines, but others will struggle. Less adaptable children may be feeling out of their depth in a new environment, with different language, different food, and a new level of tiredness, let alone other physical effects of altitude, dehydration, chapped lips, sore legs, blisters…..

Your child is not trying to ruin your holiday – she’s not BEING a problem, she’s HAVING a problem. Can you anticipate which bits might be trickier for your child and plan ahead to help her?

(2) BE FLEXIBLE

You want to maximise your time on the slopes but consider whether you also have other priorities for the week together than improving your own technique? If this is a rare opportunity to spend time with your child away from school, in the fresh air, without 4G or wifi, make the most of it!

We want our children to be competent and safe on the slopes, and we also want them to enjoy skiing holidays. Spend some time with them doing the more childish snow activities at a more childish pace – it will be good for you too!

(3) BE PREPARED

You will inevitably spend time preparing practically - collecting kit together, booking lift passes, hiring equipment etc. You can also prepare on another level. What areas may cause problems, or have been tricky in the past for your child? Typical hot spots are putting on boots, carrying skiis, using the chair or button lift, settling into ski school….. Or arguments about who sits where on the train or plane…..

Rather than hoping that nothing goes wrong, prepare with a Family Ski Meeting, and discuss together possible challenges. Encourage the children to contribute solutions - they can be quite ingenious!

(4) GET PHYSICAL

Some of the challenges of skiing with children involve struggling with helmets, lift passes, chapsticks, goggles, under time pressure or in the cold or heat. Before you go practice beforehand at home. Help them practice putting their own coat and gloves on, decide which pocket has the emergency smarties and tissues, and have some fun pretending to get on a sofa chair lift, bringing the imaginary bar down, or waiting at the top or bottom of a slope until everyone is together, playing a snow-themed word game to keep the mood up!

(5) LISTEN

Obviously the plan is to have fun, but children will also feel tired, worried, confused, anxious, unsure, incapable, hesitant, frustrated, vulnerable, embarrassed, uneasy, discouraged, disappointed….. It doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful! When we try to change how a child feels – by dismissing or belittling or ignoring the emotions, or reassuring them, the unacknowledged and unresolved emotions continue to swirl around and eventually burst out into behaviour.

Connect with how your child feels, and help them re-direct what they do.

Rather than: “Don’t worry about how high up we are, these lifts are perfectly safe.”

Try:  “It can feel scary to be up so high, we’re not used to it. Where shall we look?”

Rather than: “everyone is tired, but no-one else is complaining.”

Try: “I hear how tired you feel, I bet your legs feel really heavy…. wouldn’t it be nice if we could just snap our fingers and find ourselves tucked up in bed?!”

Acknowledging how they feel does NOT condone any negative behaviour. It DOES mean we stay connected and we help them learn to manage their emotions so the behaviour can improve.

(6) ACKNOWLEDGE EFFORT AND IMPROVEMENT

Encourage them to repeat particular behaviours by descriptively praising them.

Notice any effort they make, and any improvement. Recognise any coping strategy they try, and acknowledge them for being brave, resilient, flexible, persistent, determined, also for paying attention, remembering, being organised or helpful and for not complaining (too much!)

“You are hardly complaining at all about the cold.

I know you’re not sure that skiing is really your thing but you’re trying to do the snow plough just the way your teacher showed you. I saw that you were really paying attention while he was talking. Then you watched carefully while he showed you and you had a go. I love that you’re willing to try – it shows a wonderfully positive attitude!

 “When the instructor asked you to wait for the little ones to go first on the magic carpet you stepped back. That was patient because I could see you really wanted to have another go. You are getting good at following instructions and controlling your impulses.

“I noticed you got all your kit together last night and remembered where to put it all. That made this morning easier!”

 “I like that you are being so responsible about your helmet. It’s tricky to do the strap but you’re persevering with it.”

Avoid comparing siblings on the slopes or encouraging competition. Instead focus on their individual effort and listen to any frustration about mixed abilities.

 “I love the way you pick yourself up and brush off the snow and just get straight back to trying your hardest”

“I can see those parallel turns getting closer and closer together each time you come down the slope, keeping working on them like this and soon they will get easier!”

“It’s hard for you, Jack flies down the slopes and you want to be as fast as him.”

“When Sally gets scared and we all have to stop, you feel frustrated with her because you want to keep going.”

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November 24th, 2016

Christmas is coming...but so is the 11+

Christmas is coming – but many parents are counting down revision days rather than shopping days…..

Exams in early January cast a shadow over the festive season for many families. How do parents get the balance right, so their child enjoys a rest and gets the seasonal cheer and family fun they need, and is also ready for the Big Day in the New Year?

The obvious advice is to make a revision schedule and stick to it – but what is a good revision schedule for your child? And how do you stick to it?!

Each child needs different preparation – it may be the same exam, but the children are not the same! It’s hard to walk your own path, and hear that other families may be doing more revision, or indeed to hear them insisting they are taking a laid-back approach when you know your child needs more support.  

Children today DO have to get used to taking exams. How can we find the right approach and avoid piling on pressure and overwhelming them so they can learn how to do their best?

There are lots of tips about revising – eating healthy foods, getting good sleep, using post-it notes or flashcards. And here are four ideas that will definitely help that you may not have heard before!

Take a tip from computer games!

Have you noticed how motivated your child is to play Minecraft or Jelly Splash? Why? Children love playing these games, and keep going back for more, because lots of clever people have worked hard to make them enjoyable. And, obvious as this may seem, when children enjoy themselves, they are willing to keep going and they improve their performance.

What does this mean for revision?! There are ‘educational’ or ‘revision’ games available, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Children thrive on feeling successful and being rewarded for their efforts as they are in computer games. Does that give us a clue? Does your child feel successful at revision? Do they feel acknowledged and rewarded for the effort they put in?! Mmmmm…..

Computer games work on giving the child something that they value and appreciate every 7 seconds. How much positive feedback does your child get for each revision session? Computer games also break themselves down into munchable chunks – a few minutes of intense work, then a shift of pace or perspective to refresh the previous skills.

Keep revision sessions SHORT and make them REWARDING – that doesn’t mean handing over smarties for every right answer, but it does mean giving LOTS of Descriptive Praise. Say something positive about their effort, any improvement and strategies they use, and for persevering and much more!

 

“I see you’ve used different colours to make that diagram more interesting and clear. This will help you remember it better.”

“You’ve been very conscientious about filling in your scores on the exercises. Now you can keep track of your progress.”

“I noticed you had a glass of water before we started. That was good thinking, it means your brain is ready to work!”

“You’re pushing yourself to do this, it’s not easy for you, and it will pay off over the next few weeks.”

“Even though you would rather we weren’t doing this, you realise it’s important we get it done. Your attitude towards these exams is mature.”

“I love that you are sticking with this, even when you don’t get the right answer straight away.”

 

LET them do it their way and have a choice

This doesn’t mean doing NO revision, but it DOES mean letting them have some input and autonomy in their revision. Given that there is no choice about IF they do it, then allow them to have some say about the HOW, the WHEN or the WHERE.

There isn’t one right way (your way!) to revise. Many children do not enjoy sitting still and repeating facts. In fact, trying to do so may be impeding their learning. Some children really do learn better when they are walking around the room, or squeezing, bouncing or hitting a ball. Moving can make learning more enjoyable as well as more effective - have you tried BEING a volcano erupting? It’s much more fun than talking about it…..

Does your child enjoy creating images? Then get them drawing shapes and flow diagrams using a whiteboard, blank postcards or even powerpoint, rather than using something already created by someone else. Yes, it takes a little more time, but the personalisation and engagement is key.  Does your child like rhymes and sounds? They can create songs or poems to help them remember facts – it doesn’t matter whether they are rather silly songs or poems! The sillier the better in fact.

We get so worried that our children take revision seriously that having fun and doing it differently to how we would do it, doesn’t sit well with us. Just because your 10 year old works differently from you, doesn’t mean he’s not working or indeed it’s not working for him!

UNDERSTAND their reluctance

This is likely to be the first time your child has experienced this level of pressure or stress. It won’t be the last. That’s not meant to sound all doom and gloom, but rather this is an opportunity! Our job is to coach our children through this new experience and help them learn that they can manage it.

There is nothing wrong with a child who does not look forward to doing revision and would rather be doing something else..

Telling them off for not realising how important revision and exams are doesn’t work. And it probably isn’t true either. They probably do realise, as it’s unlikely we’ve kept it to ourselves. Equally, trying to persuade them that revision is really fun isn’t effective either. It’s simply not true, unless you have taken our first tip very seriously and it really is fun now!

So what’s happening?

Well, we may have come to believe that our child is lazy or defiant . Assuming they are lazy is untrue, although they may have been unmotivated to date. How hard have you seen them work, and for how long, when they’re really enthusiastic about something?  It helps to remember that children want to do well, and they care about what happens and what we think of them. When they don’t think they can achieve or make us happy, they pull back from trying. They can do this two ways – either by noisily and defiantly claiming it’s all pointless and you can’t make them do it, or quietly and equally strongly by pulling back and making cursory, if any, efforts. The negative response they get from us hurts, but they believe it’s the best way to protect them from something worse – the feeling of failing and letting us down.

So what can we do?

First and foremost we need to model a positive attitude towards getting things wrong ourselves. Rather than berate ourselves for making mistakes, we can show our children a more healthy way to handle mistakes by talking about what we are going to do next to improve.

We can also explain to our children that our brains grow and get stronger through use, just like any other muscle, and actually the best exercise they can get is struggling to get something right and finally achieving it!

This is part of how our children develop a Growth Mindset – a belief that we can keep improving by working hard, trying different strategies and persevering.

We can also help our children understand their own reluctance by putting it into words for them – this is very different from asking them “What’s wrong, what’s the matter?” however kindly and gently this is asked. Even if they understood and could articulate it, they probably wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so. So, instead, try “I wonder if you’re scared about working hard and still not getting a good mark. It’s very difficult to push yourself without knowing whether you will get the result you hope.”

We absolutely can help our child feel better – but we can’t PUSH them to do so. We need to support them. That means we FIRST need to LISTEN to how they feel and then help them work their way through. They can’t hear our advice or encouragement until we have heard their concerns.

You could try: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

If your child is getting frustrated and stressed, we know this doesn’t help so we are tempted to reassure them or brush their negative feelings away by saying: “Don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine, it will all work out, you’ve got this if you focus” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down”

Instead try: “It’s hard to keep on going, particularly over the holidays. Maybe it feels like you’re not getting anywhere and at the same time the exam is getting closer….”

What’s next? Stay quiet! Let your child open up rather than diving in with a homily about how life works…… This moment is not about what you know, this is about what they are thinking and feeling. And it can be very powerful and illuminating. Sometimes we hear that a child has developed some muddled ideas about what is going to happen or not happen, and we can help clarify these. Sometimes we hear about practical concerns that we can help them sort out.

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August 31st, 2016

Helping your child with Change

Children often have difficulties coping with change. These could be everyday minor transitions such as moving from one task to another (such as packing up toys and coming to have a meal) or from one environment to another (such as home to school) or even from one person to another (parent goes out leaving a babysitter in charge). Moving from holiday mode to term time routines involves change and at the beginning of the school year additional change as children move up a year or move schools or even start school for the first time. 

Whatever the change children often need help dealing with a multitude of feelings which they frequently don’t understand. Their discomfort may be reflected in withdrawn, sulky, regressive behaviours or ‘testing’ behaviour. Or they may get physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, eczema, stomach cramps. 

Some children have more trouble with changes than others, depending on their temperament. Does your child really thrive on routine and need warnings of changes in routines? If they are flexible that’s great but if they’re not try to see this trait as stability and organisation. 

Preparing for change: 

Children, like all of us, find it easier to succeed/cope when well prepared, even if what we’re asking them to do is different or a challenge. 

Where there is change what is familiar and safe disappears and the future feels uncertain. Since there is a lot of fear in the unknown parents can help by talking a lot about the change, helping the child understand what is happening and making it more familiar. 

If your child is starting a new school (perhaps for the first time) you can help familiarise them with the new school by:

  • Visiting the school and viewing areas that will affect your child more than once, eg classroom, toilets, playground, etc
  • If you live close by go past ‘their’ school frequently. If not get a picture (off the website) and put it on the fridge or somewhere prominent. Look at pictures of the school and school life on the website.
  • Meet the teacher
  • If possible get to know some of the local kids going to the school-ask the school to let them know you’re interested in meeting up. 

For kids starting ‘big’ school:

  • Get the uniform and any other kit well in advance and practice putting it on/using it
  • Play ‘schools’ with your children so that they get used to the idea of sitting quietly on the mat or at tables, putting up their hands, forming lines –give lots of stickers for good behaviour
  • Practice essential skills for school like going to the toilet without help, using scissors, being able to read their name, sharing
  • Read books about starting school. 

Prepare by talking about common concerns:

    • 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 toilet block.
    • I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
    • How will I remember where to put my things? 

Emotion coaching

To be effective and helpful to our children we need to be able to look beyond behaviour which may be annoying or downright difficult to its causes -usually feelings of some kind – and help the child to deal with those feelings. We can help our children to express themselves in words. This results in better behaviour and a strong connection between parent and child. 

Emotion coaching isn’t about ‘making it better’ or making the child’s feelings go away. Instead it is about recognising, understanding and accepting their feelings and making sure the child knows it is ok to have them. It’s important that feelings don’t get suppressed or they may emerge later in behaviour or physical problems. 

Children often feel things much more intensely than adults as they don’t yet have the experience to gain some perspective on a particular situation. They usually need help to express in words how they feel and help dealing with them. 

The following behaviours indicate that a child is experiencing powerful feelings.

  • Appearing withdrawn or sulky
  • Refusing to do what s/he’s been asked to do
  • Being silent when spoken to, refusing to join in the group, talking back, using a disrespectful tone of voice, slamming doors, crying, hitting someone, throwing things or damaging property.
  • Mean-spirited behaviour with a sibling
  • Body language, eg no eye contact, clenched fists, hunched shoulders.  

Emotion coaching: 

Stop what you are doing and convey with your body language that you are listening.  Convey that you have the time and interest to listen to your child. You might sit close to him, cuddling him, maybe making eye contact if it is appropriate.  Some children will find it easier to talk when they’re doing an activity alongside you or when the lighting is low. Use empathetic noises, such as ‘umm’ or ‘I see’. 

Take time to look for the feeling behind your child’s action or words and imagine how he is feeling, reflect it back to him in words. Give your child the sense that this is manageable, that it has a name, it is recognised, that you’ve had that feeling too. 

Give wishes in fantasy Giving your child her wishes in fantasy shows you understand how she feels without suggesting that the fantasy is really possible. 

Don’t try to make it better children don’t need protection from feelings of sadness – they need to be able to express it. 

“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  I guess 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 and that is really normal”. 

To ensure good communication the adults must make opportunities to talk. Sometimes these come up when you least expect it and they may not be at very convenient moments. Your child may open up at bedtime or something may come up as you’re trying to get them to school or the childminder. You can invite opportunities for conversation through reading books, playing fantasy games or doing an activity together. 

Get your child off to a good start this year by understanding what’s going on for them.

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June 06th, 2016

Cake and/or ice cream, to choose or not to choose

An article appeared in PsyPost (a psychology and neuroscience news website) this week about how children confuse simple words like ‘and’ with ‘or’ which had The Parent Practice team excitedly sending emails back and forth (don’t laugh it’s to your benefit!)

Apparently young children (under the age of 6 at least) confuse the word ‘or’ with ‘and’ so that when parents offer cake or ice cream children hear ‘cake and ice cream’.  Doesn’t that explain a lot?

Researchers in linguistics at MIT and a team at Carleton University have conducted studies with children between the ages of 3 and 6 and found that there are subtle differences between how adults and children clarify the meaning of sentences. Both adults and children test out the meaning of statements. Take the sentence “Max ate some of the biscuits.” Now suppose you find out that Max actually ate all of the biscuits. So the sentence “Max ate some of the biscuits” is still technically correct, but it would be more accurate to say, “Max ate all of the biscuits.”

Adults can make this distinction – we can compare the two sentences and consider the implications of using ‘all’ or ‘some’ and recognise that each alternative spells out a specific new meaning. But guess what? The researchers discovered that children can’t make the same distinctions as adults. When they hear ‘cake or ice-cream’ they are very much focussed on two of the three words! And the subtle and important implications of ‘or’ is missed.

What can parents do? Should we not offer children choices? Offering choices is generally thought to be a good idea as children at this age have so few opportunities to make decisions for themselves and can feel very frustrated and powerless.

But choices have downsides. If you have a child in this age bracket you may have watched them choose cake, only to be terribly disappointed with their choice later and wished they’d chosen ice cream… and have a meltdown. When a child realises that making a choice means giving up on something or losing something it takes maturity they may not have yet to handle the responsibility of that choice. Their pre-frontal cortex which governs perspective and the ability to weigh the consequences of decisions will not be fully mature until their 20s. Under the age of 6 the brain is still in its infancy and is largely governed by emotions.

So what do we do? Not give them any choices at all?

No. We think there is still merit in giving choices for under 6s (perhaps less for under 3s) but with this knowledge we can be very clear about the potential for confusion and support our children to handle the implications of their choices.

“William would you like some dessert? You can have yoghurt or fruit. You know that means just one. I’m going to put the one you choose on the table and the other one in the fridge. That will be for tomorrow. Which one for today and which one for tomorrow?”

William chooses fruit but later wants yoghurt. “Oh you want both the fruit and the yoghurt. That’s hard for you to remember that Mummy said just one. I guess you didn’t understand that and now you feel so disappointed. Maybe you wish you’d chosen the yoghurt.” This may seem like a big fuss, especially when it’s between two fairly healthy options but the parent is supporting the child to deal with disappointment by naming the feeling.

“Hannah, you’re going to have to think carefully about how you want to spend your birthday money. There’s enough there for you to buy one thing. You liked both the bubble factory and the butterfly mosaics but you can only choose one. I’m sure you wish you could have both. And when you choose one you might feel sad later that you didn’t choose the other one. If that happens come and tell me and I’ll give you a hug. That’s the tough bit about making choices. The good bit is you get to choose something that you really like yourself. You get to be in charge of this decision.”

Giving those pesky feelings a label helps strengthen the neural pathways between the emotional part of the brain and the logical part and at is the core of developing emotional intelligence.

Does your child get to choose sometimes? Does he sometimes change his mind? Does she want both? Next time there’s a meltdown tell them you know what it’s like to really, really want something when a few minutes ago you really, really wanted something else. It’s so confusing! Let us know how you get on.

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May 23rd, 2016

Preparing for exam season

While many of us are looking forward to half term, some families will be trying to combine having some fun with preparing for exams. What can we do to support our children in the lead-up to these important days, without adding to their stress? 

We all know that to ‘make a revision schedule and stick to it’ is a good idea in theory, but HOW can we do it in practice? What’s the right amount of revision? Too much, too little - how do we get the balance right? Our attempts to motivate them so easily slip into bribes and can also feel manipulative, so what can we say and do that will encourage our children to persevere and feel confident they can do what is required?  On exam day what will matter is to be organised, and to manage anxiety. Giving lots of encouragement through Descriptive Praise will be very important but below are three other ideas that we know will help, but aren’t usually mentioned. 

LET them do it their way and have a choice

And this doesn’t mean doing NO revision! Let your child revise his way rather than insisting he does it your way. Most children find it very hard to sit still and simply regurgitate facts and in fact being forced to be still may impede their learning. Many learn better by moving, maybe hitting or bouncing a ball, or simply walking around the room. Others are more visual and need pictures – get drawing with shapes and flow-diagrams on a white board, or blank postcards. Other children are more auditory and they may find background music helpful and not distracting. They may find making up songs or poems, or using mnemonics helpful – it doesn’t matter if these are wacky and not very serious. They just need to be memorable to your child. She remembers things differently to the way you do. 

DESCRIBE how they feel – name it to tame it!

This is probably the biggest stress they’ve been under in their life, so it would be strange if there weren’t some anxiety, and maybe poor behaviour.

Our instinctive reaction is to reassure and try to push them through to feeling better about revision and exams so we say “don’t worry, it will be fine soon, it will all work out” or “You poor thing, this is just awful and unfair” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down, getting cross doesn’t help any of us….”

Instead we need to really listen to how they feel and then help them work their way towards a solution. For example: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

This doesn’t make them feel worse, or feel anything they don’t already feel, but it does make them feel connected and understood. This in itself is calming. Take care not to add “but….” afterwards because this undoes everything you’ve said so far. It’s usually best to keep quiet and hear how they respond.

And make sure that you don’t add to their stress by the way you’re talking about these exams. Scare tactics don’t usually make children perform better. 

UNDERSTAND their reluctance

We can understand how they feel about revising, and still require that they do it. But we need to understand why they don’t want to do it – we often start with the assumption they are lazy, not taking it seriously, etc, and when we approach it this way, it ends up negative and confrontational. And ineffective!

Children want to do well – it’s in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and they want to please us, though sometimes it may not seem that way!

If they start to believe they can’t succeed, and that we are not happy with them, they pull back from trying. Some children will bluster this out and vigorously assert they don’t care or they may simply shrug and refuse to put in much effort.

Our best approach is to face this head on. So, try “I wonder if you’re worried about trying hard, and still not getting a good mark. It’s scary to push yourself to the full, and not know whether you will achieve what you hope for. It may feel as if you’ve used up all of your brain power. In fact your brain grows the more you make it struggle with things.”  This isn’t the time to go on to lecture about how this is how life works, and they have to learn to knuckle down and get on with things…..

Their real concerns don’t come out with direction questions such as “what’s wrong, what’s the matter” etc. Most children duck these questions with ‘nothing’ because they sense a judgment in the question that they are wrong to be worried etc.  Empathise also with the fact that they’d just rather be playing and that other children (and adults) don’t have to be working as they are.

Make sure they do have some down time.

Remember that this stressful time will pass and think of it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle the stress that they will inevitably encounter in life. Encourage them to employ some anti-stress measures such as physical play and having a good laugh –maybe get them a joke book. Make sure you look after your own stress levels too…. 2 joke books. 

How does your child react to stressful situations? What do you do to inject calm? Let us know your thoughts.

 

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March 21st, 2016

Anyone for chocolate? How do we learn self-control?

Even families who aren’t at all religious may practice certain rituals around Easter that fall on opposite ends of the consumption spectrum. At the beginning of Lent I know many who take the opportunity to ‘give up something for Lent’. At the end of that period there is often a great glut of consumption with chocolate overload. My gym is preparing us for this overindulgence now by exhorting us to burn calories in preparation!

So, knowing that modelling is at least 80% of parenting, what does this tell our children about self-control?

It is a good idea to teach children about moderation in consumption, or delayed gratification if not complete self-deprivation and maybe Lent is as good a time as any to do it. But maybe you want to introduce such ideas throughout the year rather than just one month?

My son had a highly impulsive temperament as a little boy and got into trouble a lot because of not stopping to think about his actions. On one memorable occasion he and his cousin dropped pebbles off the balcony of a high-rise apartment, not considering the consequences of that action. They didn’t think that the cars parked below might be damaged and that costs would be incurred and people would be upset. The parents were sorely tempted to come down hard with punishment and shouting (there had been plenty of that on previous occasions) but by then we knew that approach would have led to resentment without any learning. Instead the boys were (relatively) calmly held accountable and required to make amends and so took a step toward gaining some perspective and some self-control.

Here are some ideas to encourage children to be able to make choices for the future that depend on some sacrifice in the present, to show self-control:

  • Start with realistic expectations. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that deals with perspective and impulse control and this is not fully developed until early adulthood so don’t expect young children to be very good at not sucking their thumbs for the sake of their future orthodontic health! Our children can learn self-control if we are non-critical teachers.
  • As always what we model counts for so much. What do they see us doing in the way of saving for coveted items or putting time into a project that will benefit us long term, such as study? When we slip up in the pursuit of our goals do they see us giving up or accepting that we’re human and trying again? Rather than berating our lack of will power we can talk about what strategies we’ll use to get back on track. We may need to draw attention to what we do so that they take on these family values. Cringey, I know, but this is how children learn from us.
  • After you’ve set a good example, what do you require your children to do? Many families will have rules like homework is done first before screens can be accessed. Some families will have tripartite pocket money systems whereby children must save some and give some away as well as being able to spend some.
  • Notice and comment whenever your children show self-control. Eg “You were really cross with Jason just then but you didn’t hit him. You told him loudly that you don’t like it when he messes with your Lego.” “You made a healthy eating choice when you only took 2 biscuits, even though those are your favourites.” “That was a good strategy to do your Biology homework first when you were fresh. I know that’s the most challenging at the moment.”
  • Encourage self-control by showing it to the children. When they do something you don’t like, push the pause button and consider the reason for the behaviour. Give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they weren’t trying to get at you. What did they really need in that moment and how can you help them repair the situation?
  • Describe how they feel in words so that they develop stronger connections between the emotional part of their brains and the logical part. Impulse-control depends on being able to access your cool brain and tell yourself, yes I’d love to play Minecraft all day but it takes away from time with my family and friends. Describing to them how they feel gives them a measure of control over those feelings. Name it to tame it.
  • Developing self-control depends on having opportunities to make choices. This means parents shouldn’t micro-manage but step back and allow children to learn from their choices. Sometimes asking questions can channel a child’s thinking in the right direction better than telling them what to do.

In a world where many act to fulfil only their own desires and get into difficulties by not stopping to think teaching self-control is an amazing gift for your children.

For many more ideas like these look no further than Real Parenting for Real Kids: Enabling parents to bring out the best in their children (published on 27th April 2016). www.theparentpractice.com

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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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November 20th, 2015

Skill Three: Listening and Connecting

An extract fron the upcoming book by Melissa Hood, 'Real Parenting for Real Kids' - available April 2016

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  Ralph Nichols

"Listening is noting what, when and how something is being said. Listening is distinguishing what is not being said from what is silence. Listening is not acting like you’re in a hurry, even if you are. Listening is eye contact, a hand placed gently upon an arm. … Listening involves suspension of judgment. It is neither analysing nor racking your brain for labels, diagnoses, or remedies. Listening creates a safe space where whatever needs to happen or be said can come."  Allison Para- Bastien

My daughter, being an extrovert, used to come home from school talking nineteen to the dozen about what had happened that day. “Sophie told Hannah that she wasn’t going to be her friend anymore and Hannah won’t invite her to her party and …. I want to be friends with both Hannah and Sophie but if I go to Hannah’s party Sophie won’t be my friend anymore!...etc” I was very tempted to jump in with my pearls of wisdom that I ‘knew’ would solve the problem and teach my daughter some valuable life skills. Luckily something stopped me and I looked at her and just nodded and said hmmm occasionally. I discovered that if I bit my tongue and just listened my daughter would talk her way round to her own solutions. She needed opportunities to vent, she needed me to be her sounding board and, having off-loaded, she felt heard and understood.

To continue reading the complete extract click here

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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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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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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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May 13th, 2015

Getting Boys to Talk

Some kids talk more than others.

If you’ve got more than one child chances are you’ve noticed this. Some of that is down to temperament and some may be attributable to gender. I have a daughter who is very extroverted. She used to come home from school and tell me everything that had gone on in her day in the first 2 minutes. I had to gear myself up for the onslaught the minute she got home. I became really grateful when the kids got home at different times so I could focus on all their different needs. With Gemma my challenge was just to listen, not to jump in with advice. When I buttoned my lip and let her know I was listening the storm would blow itself out and often she would find her own solutions. She would talk in order to work out what she thought about things. She just needed to be heard.

I also have two sons who happen to both be introverts.  They like to think through things before speaking. When they got home from school they liked to chill out and wouldn’t offer anything about their day until the evening. I had a friend with a son with a similar disposition and she used to say she only found out what was going on in her son’s life through what I told her I’d heard from my boy.

Many boys don’t talk about their feelings. Traditionally men weren’t encouraged to and perhaps unwittingly we still give boys messages that in order to be a man they need to manage alone. Sometimes parents still say “big boys don’t cry” or we tell them not to make such a fuss or to be a big boy. If we tell our children to ‘man up’ what do we mean?

If dads model talking about how they feel about stuff then boys learn that it’s ok for men to do so.

The best way to get a boy to talk is not to sit down for an eyeball to eyeball conversation but to do an activity together. This is what Steve Biddulph calls ‘sideways talk’. Some of my best conversations with my sons have been while we’ve been walking or even doing the washing up together. When I picked them up from school we were more likely to get a conversation going if we were walking home. Usually pumping them for information about their day didn’t work. We all know that the answer to the question “How was your day?” is “fine”, with all the information that doesn’t convey. Young children live in the moment and often can’t be bothered to dredge up what happened earlier in their day. Some will actually want to keep their school world separate from home. They certainly won’t tell us anything if they think we’re going to judge, criticise, or perhaps even advise them.

You start the conversation. Tell him about your day. Tell him about age-appropriate things that you care about. Thank him for listening and maybe tell him you feel good talking to him. If you think he has something on his mind tell him you think he might be a bit worried about something. You can tell because of his body language or facial expressions or because of what he has said or done. Try to put yourself in his shoes. If you think you know what he’s feeling describe what that might be like for him. He might not talk now but you’ve opened the door for a conversation. If he does talk don’t say much, just nod a lot. Don’t judge and DON’T offer advice.

I remember when my older son was preparing (or not) for exams he started being mean to his younger brother. He used to do that a lot when he was younger and I was afraid we were slipping back into old patterns. In my anxiety and frustration I was tempted to tell him off or punish him but I realised in time that it might be connected to the exams that he showed no signs of caring about. I talked with him about how he might be feeling, detailing his anxiety, wondering whether he was afraid of letting us down, speculating that it might be difficult to follow in his academically able sister’s footsteps, even that he might be cross with himself for not having worked harder earlier. He didn’t say much…but his body language changed –his shoulders were less slumped and he made more eye contact. And his behaviour toward his brother changed.

I’d like to say he aced those exams but that would be fiction. But he developed better habits for the next set and, more to the point, he learnt to process his feelings well and find appropriate outlets for his frustrations and fears. This son still doesn’t talk a lot about his emotions but he is a great conversationalist and has good emotional awareness - he knows how to manage his feelings.

 

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April 21st, 2015

Improving your Child's Attention Span

Does the fruit of your loins whom you love to death sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat? Does your darling child forget what you’ve asked him to do on the way to do it? Are you worried about their future at school?

My boys used to fidget, get up and down, need the loo, stare out the window or chase imaginary rubbers (erasures) around the floor rather than focus on homework.

Instead of concluding that lack of focus is hereditary (as you get distracted by incoming emails and Face book messages) consider first what is realistic to expect for your child’s age (and gender). Under 8s generally fidget and wriggle around a lot and it isn’t always an indicator that they’re not paying attention. Boys generally move around a lot more than girls do. They are impulsive and they forget things. All of this is normal. Research gives us a rough rule of thumb for how long children should be able to focus on a learning task.

Attention span for learning = chronological age + 1

This means that a 6 year old should be able to focus for about 7 minutes on a task that is a learning activity. He can focus for a lot longer on a game that he’s engaged in. So motivation is a key factor. This is a clue for adults trying to get kids to focus –try to make the task interesting or fun!

Other things that will help expand on your child’s ability to focus that you might like to try in the holidays:

  1. limit time spent on electronic games and TV

Most children’s games and TV are designed to be very fast-moving –they flick from one image and idea to the next very quickly, discouraging sustained thought and puzzling out solutions. Several US studies have found that too much time in front of a screen can affect development of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning, attention and self-control.

  1. encourage activities involving sustained thought and listening 

Get children interested in construction toys, craft and jigsaw puzzles and give them mysteries to solve such as on http://kids.mysterynet.com/  Play games that involve careful listening like Simple Simon. 

  1. provide opportunities for physical release of energy and enough sleep 
  1. make sure kids are getting enough ‘down time’

Kids need down time to just think and be creative. Make sure they have some non-scheduled time where they can just gaze out the window and come up with some brilliant scheme.

  1. use descriptive praise

When we praise our children descriptively and specifically it really focuses their attention on what they’re doing in a much more effective way than by pointing out what they get wrong. Comment when they’re focused on a task and they’ll do it more.

  1. build your child’s emotional intelligence

Research shows that parents can influence the development of the pre-frontal cortex and encourage emotional intelligence in their children by recognising and validating their children’s feelings. When they do this children can process their feelings and move on. This greatly assists focus. Kids can’t pay attention to learning tasks when they’re consumed by emotions.

  1. when you ask them to do something just get them to do one thing.

Children under 8 can’t retain more than 2-3 pieces of information at one time.

If you use these 7 fun, easy ideas your child’s ability to focus will definitely improve.

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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.


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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 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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June 19th, 2014

Football Feelings

Boys playing rugbyMy nephew is 13 and he has been crazy about rugby since he could kick a ball around. It’s a passion he shares with his father and his uncle and the three of them are most happy when playing or talking about the game.  My nephew won a sports’ scholarship at his prestige private school on the strength of his prowess with a ball. He is also learning some valuable life lessons on the rugby field.

I was struck by comments in a recent article by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic (The Confidence Gap, April 14, 2014) which describes the difference between men and women in terms of confidence. One of the reasons they attribute to women’s lower levels of confidence is their experiences with failure growing up. Girls are less likely to get in trouble at school because “They have longer attention spans, more-advanced verbal and fine-motor skills, and greater social adeptness. They generally don’t charge through the halls like wild animals, or get into fights during recess. Soon they learn that they are most valuable, and most in favor, when they do things the right way: neatly and quietly. … In turn, they begin to crave the approval they get for being good. …the result is that many girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. This is to their detriment: many psychologists now believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building. Boys, meanwhile, tend to absorb more scolding and punishment, and in the process, they learn to take failure in their stride. ”

Taking part in sports exposes one to the experience of taking risks and making mistakes. It can teach one to accept making mistakes and learning from them. If he works on his techniques, skills and strategies over time a child can learn that he can improve with effort and he also learns resilience. Taking part in competition feeds on boys’ natural testosterone- fuelled competitiveness and it makes them relish winning.  Kay and Shipman argue that boys’ greater exposure to sports gives a confidence edge as they ‘flick off losses’.

They also mention that “Boys also benefit from the lessons they learn -or, more to the point, the lessons they teach one another-during recess and after school. From kindergarten on, they roughhouse, tease one another, point out one another’s limitations, and call one another morons and slobs. In the process … such evaluations ‘lose a lot of their power.’ Boys thus make one another more resilient. Other psychologists we spoke with believe that this playground mentality encourages them later, as men, to let other people’s tough remarks slide off their backs.”

This weekend my nephew learnt a very valuable lesson on the rugby field thanks to the sensitive parenting of his father and uncle. He played on the Saturday for his school and his team were not doing very well against a very competent side. At one point a friend of his had been tackled and was getting a beating from an opponent while on the ground. My nephew went to defend his friend and overstepped the mark. He was sent off. He was mortified then, feeling he’d let his side down and himself. The next day he was due to play for a club side and was told he would not be allowed to play because of the sending off in the previous game. He came over to where his father and uncle were standing, very down in the dumps and a bit teary.

His father did not tell him to suck it up, that life was like that and there’d be other games. He did not tell him he was reaping the consequences of his lack of judgment the previous day. Nor did his uncle say “Poor you. That’s so tough. It was really unfair that you got singled out and the guy on the opposing team who was doing the wrong thing didn’t get picked up at all.”

Instead his dad acknowledged how he felt. He told him he understood how his feelings had got the better of him in the moment and how embarrassed he felt now. He acknowledged that it must feel unfair. He told his son he trusted that he had learnt a valuable lesson, that he needed to trust the referee to take care of things when there was unfair play on the field, and that sometimes referees missed things and this was something you lived with when you played the game. He applauded his son’s urge to protect his mate. He let his boy know he knew that he felt he was letting down his side. Only then did he say “and you can help out your team from the sidelines today. You can go back over there and give out the water and support your mates.” The boy did go back over and his team did that male sportsman thing of backslapping and handshakes that clearly let him know without any more words that he was accepted.

He learnt that his feelings were ok. He learnt that he was ok. He learnt that he could learn from his mistakes and he still have the respect of the important adults in his life and his friends. He is learning resilience, to slough off the mistakes and to pick himself up and have another go. He is developing confidence.

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