August 28th, 2017
The school holidays are winding down and many parents, if not their children, are beginning to prepare for going back to school. Your child may be starting school for the first time in which case we have a blog that may be of interest to you.
Or your child may be going back to school and you’re keen to help them have a successful year. It may be a significant year for them with important exams to prepare for, or you just want to get the new term off to a good start.
Many parents want to help their children do well at school but what’s the difference between supporting them and being a ‘helicopter’ or ‘tiger’ parent? Over the summer we have been collaborating with the wise folk behind Tutor Fair to create a series of workshops designed to help children with the essential non-academic skills they need to help them be successful at school. One of the questions considered therein is how to get the balance right between over-controlling or over-protecting our kids and setting them up for success.
Much has been said about parents becoming ‘helicopter parents’, shielding them from mistakes and failures and doing too much for them. This can happen unwittingly as parents just get in the habit of doing things for kids when they’re young and don’t notice when they could be doing that thing for themselves. It’s quicker, easier and neater when we do a task. Our history projects/essays are better! We mistakenly think that doing things for our children is a sign of our love. It would be more loving however to empower them to deal with the world themselves.
You will also be aware of the phrase ‘tiger parenting’ to describe parents who push and push their kids in the belief that they are nurturing talent and ensuring great futures for them.
Australian Primary Principals Association president Dennis Yarrington noted that parents often interfere with homework and attributed this to increased academic competition created by league tables (Sydney Morning Herald May 2017) Yarrington said time-poor parents often find it easier to take over than to sit by while the child attempts to work it out.
If parents step in too much eg by ‘fixing’ their child’s mistakes the child learns that the outcome is more important than the process or more important than being challenged or taking a risk. They miss out on learning from a poor outcome, including learning to cope with that. We reduce their opportunity to practice handling stress and adversity.
Both helicoptering and tiger parenting are forms of overparenting that need to be avoided whilst still supporting children to do the best that they are capable of. Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has done many studies on parental involvement and has found that “the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child’s autonomy”. These parents raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive, and less involved, or controlling and more involved.
We really need to avoid this trap as children with parents who are overparenting can become tense and unable to look after themselves. They develop learned helplessness or even a victim mentality. They don’t develop and don’t trust their own abilities or judgment. They certainly don’t develop the competence that leads to confidence. Such children can become fearful if they do not have faith in their own abilities to sort things out. They try less and give up easily. They expect everything to be done for them, not just by their parents but everyone else too.
It’s hard to know how to find that balance. What is involved parenting and where does it become over-controlling?
Here are 10 ways to ensure you’re being supportive, not interfering:
If we ask a child to do something that is too difficult for him he is likely to fail. Feeling a failure does not motivate anyone to try again. Contrast this with a task that is a bit of a stretch for the child.
Ask yourself could my child do this himself or be learning to do it himself?
We need to consider a child’s individual temperament and developmental stage as well as any special needs or conditions they may have when asking them to do something.
Tip: parents often UNDER-estimate what their children are capable of. Spend time with your child really observing him and listening to him to find out what he’s capable of. You may be surprised.
What is the best environment in which my child can do his homework? When is the best time for him to do it? What will he need to do the task? What obstacles/ challenges may arise?
This will be much more successful than imposing your ideas on your child. She may not have a choice about doing homework but can have input on how it happens. This makes it more likely that she will be committed to the process, will be more cooperative and will get used to coming up with solutions to problems.
Ask your child questions about the task at hand to elicit from them what they have to do, what challenges may arise and how they can overcome these.
Then LET THEM GET ON WITH IT.
And help them to see that they can manage the micro skills involved in a task.
Make sure that you drop in from time to time while your child is working to descriptively praise some aspect of what they’re doing. Focus, attitude, effort, any improvements, amount of work done, content of the work, etc.
Sometimes it may seem as if there is nothing to praise. This means you need to look for smaller things to mention. “I like the way you’re tackling this task before dinner while you’re fresh. I can see that you’ve remembered to bring your French dictionary home –that will help.” You are the chronicler of your child’s achievements/improvements. You can paint a portrait to them of themselves as learners and solution finders.
If a child is reluctant to do work consider why. They may be unmotivated about school work. They may not be feeling very successful in that arena. You can help them see small successes through descriptive praise. You can also help them to see that struggle with a task isn’t a sign of failure but a natural part of the process of learning. Explain that struggle makes brains grow.
Nothing is more motivating than someone else’s passion for a subject. Remember how your best teachers enthused you? You can help your child see the relevance of what she’s learning by applying it to real life, whether it’s reading or maths problems or history or science.
Empathise that it can be difficult to motivate oneself to do what we need to do when there are other more fun things to do or if we are afraid we can’t do it. Point out any examples of your child being able to control an impulse in order to do something that he needs to do.
This gets in the way of their learning and sends them the message that they are incapable of doing it themselves. Instead we can offer clues and suggestions and ask probing questions to stimulate their thinking.
Kids need time to chill, to process, to play, to have fun and they need the space to be creative. They need time that is just their own, to do what they want, to explore their interests, not adult-directed activities. This is essential both for their ability to later re-focus on stuff they may be less motivated by but also to find out what their real passions are.
Hope this school year is a great one for you and your children.
Melissa and Elaine
February 12th, 2017
Children love snow and they love being active. So the family skiing holiday is a guaranteed winner, surely?! Not always. Although a skiing holiday with children has great potential for physical fun and family bonding, it also has the potential for frustration and disappointment…. So here are Six Steps to a Successful Ski Holiday this year
(1) BE REALISTIC
A family skiing holiday is NOT the same as pre-children! We may dream about hours on the slopes, relaxing over lunch or in the sauna, but children have different requirements and agendas. Some children may be able to adapt to change of routines, but others will struggle. Less adaptable children may be feeling out of their depth in a new environment, with different language, different food, and a new level of tiredness, let alone other physical effects of altitude, dehydration, chapped lips, sore legs, blisters…..
Your child is not trying to ruin your holiday – she’s not BEING a problem, she’s HAVING a problem. Can you anticipate which bits might be trickier for your child and plan ahead to help her?
(2) BE FLEXIBLE
You want to maximise your time on the slopes but consider whether you also have other priorities for the week together than improving your own technique? If this is a rare opportunity to spend time with your child away from school, in the fresh air, without 4G or wifi, make the most of it!
We want our children to be competent and safe on the slopes, and we also want them to enjoy skiing holidays. Spend some time with them doing the more childish snow activities at a more childish pace – it will be good for you too!
(3) BE PREPARED
You will inevitably spend time preparing practically - collecting kit together, booking lift passes, hiring equipment etc. You can also prepare on another level. What areas may cause problems, or have been tricky in the past for your child? Typical hot spots are putting on boots, carrying skiis, using the chair or button lift, settling into ski school….. Or arguments about who sits where on the train or plane…..
Rather than hoping that nothing goes wrong, prepare with a Family Ski Meeting, and discuss together possible challenges. Encourage the children to contribute solutions - they can be quite ingenious!
(4) GET PHYSICAL
Some of the challenges of skiing with children involve struggling with helmets, lift passes, chapsticks, goggles, under time pressure or in the cold or heat. Before you go practice beforehand at home. Help them practice putting their own coat and gloves on, decide which pocket has the emergency smarties and tissues, and have some fun pretending to get on a sofa chair lift, bringing the imaginary bar down, or waiting at the top or bottom of a slope until everyone is together, playing a snow-themed word game to keep the mood up!
Obviously the plan is to have fun, but children will also feel tired, worried, confused, anxious, unsure, incapable, hesitant, frustrated, vulnerable, embarrassed, uneasy, discouraged, disappointed….. It doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful! When we try to change how a child feels – by dismissing or belittling or ignoring the emotions, or reassuring them, the unacknowledged and unresolved emotions continue to swirl around and eventually burst out into behaviour.
Connect with how your child feels, and help them re-direct what they do.
Rather than: “Don’t worry about how high up we are, these lifts are perfectly safe.”
Try: “It can feel scary to be up so high, we’re not used to it. Where shall we look?”
Rather than: “everyone is tired, but no-one else is complaining.”
Try: “I hear how tired you feel, I bet your legs feel really heavy…. wouldn’t it be nice if we could just snap our fingers and find ourselves tucked up in bed?!”
Acknowledging how they feel does NOT condone any negative behaviour. It DOES mean we stay connected and we help them learn to manage their emotions so the behaviour can improve.
(6) ACKNOWLEDGE EFFORT AND IMPROVEMENT
Encourage them to repeat particular behaviours by descriptively praising them.
Notice any effort they make, and any improvement. Recognise any coping strategy they try, and acknowledge them for being brave, resilient, flexible, persistent, determined, also for paying attention, remembering, being organised or helpful and for not complaining (too much!)
“You are hardly complaining at all about the cold.”
“I know you’re not sure that skiing is really your thing but you’re trying to do the snow plough just the way your teacher showed you. I saw that you were really paying attention while he was talking. Then you watched carefully while he showed you and you had a go. I love that you’re willing to try – it shows a wonderfully positive attitude!”
“When the instructor asked you to wait for the little ones to go first on the magic carpet you stepped back. That was patient because I could see you really wanted to have another go. You are getting good at following instructions and controlling your impulses.”
“I noticed you got all your kit together last night and remembered where to put it all. That made this morning easier!”
“I like that you are being so responsible about your helmet. It’s tricky to do the strap but you’re persevering with it.”
Avoid comparing siblings on the slopes or encouraging competition. Instead focus on their individual effort and listen to any frustration about mixed abilities.
“I love the way you pick yourself up and brush off the snow and just get straight back to trying your hardest”
“I can see those parallel turns getting closer and closer together each time you come down the slope, keeping working on them like this and soon they will get easier!”
“It’s hard for you, Jack flies down the slopes and you want to be as fast as him.”
“When Sally gets scared and we all have to stop, you feel frustrated with her because you want to keep going.”
July 04th, 2016
I find myself thinking about the first day back at school, even though the summer has yet to begin.
My teenagers will still need some help and ‘encouragement’ in September to get themselves organised, but it will be easier than it has been before. We’re used to it, after all.
So I am not thinking so much about the next first day back but more about all the first days that have come before. What have I learned over the last decade?
I am a self-confessed planner. Being organised makes me feel better, as if it proves I am doing the best job I can.
And for the last ten summers, I have focused on the practical details of the first day at school, including the Big Shoe Dilemma.
Do I go early, and avoid the queues and get it done, but risk their feet growing over the holidays? Or indeed, as once happened, getting the right shoes, only to lose them altogether by the time September arrived!
Or do I go later, and risk the mad scrum and the possibility they will have to turn up in the ‘wrong’ shoes because the ones they wanted, or needed, are not available in their size?
I have spent many hours of my summer working out the ‘right’ way to name socks, lunch boxes, pants, etc.
And after a decade of first days back, I get it. It was never about the shoes or any of the other practical stuff. And it was not something that I suddenly turned my hand to in mid-August.
It’s not about their external world, although of course this matters. The wrong lunch box can send your child into a spin, and the whole “where to put the name-tapes” also matters if you want to (1) keep a track of things and (2) have a hyper-sensitive child who really can feel every stitch and wrinkle.
It is about their internal world. Our children’s success, or otherwise, at school depends on what they carry inside, not on the outside.
What does it really take to do well at school?
Yes, you need shoes and pencils, and a water bottle. There is a whole lot to be said for being punctual and prepared. And I still believe in tidiness and hope, one day, my sons will voluntarily use a hairbrush. And, yes, it’s also a bit about knowing your numbers and letters.
More than anything it’s about knowing how to listen, how to co-operate, how to wait, how to focus and keep going when things get tricky, how to make things interesting, how to read other people and communicate. This is what helps children do their best at school.
And we can help them develop these valuable skills day in, day out, by paying attention to all the little steps they take in the right direction. Because none of these things come naturally to small people!
So this summer, I am not stressing about nametapes or shoes. I am going to keep my eye on the end goal and focus on their internal world – I want to notice every time they listen, wait, help, co-operate, plan and problem-solve, and make suggestions and show initiative. And I will say something to them about how it is appreciated and valued.
And, as teenagers, they have most of the practical stuff ‘sorted’ and sometimes their growing competence can mean I feel they don’t need me any more.
Is my work done? Of course not! And quite honestly I never want it to be! Helping my sons understand and manage their inner world is something I can do for a while yet. Oh, and I also need to teach them to iron!
What advice would you have for parents of children going back to school in September? How can they use the holidays to prepare?
Juliet Richards, facilitator at The Parent Practice
October 23rd, 2015
For years now parents have understood the need to build strong self-esteem in their kids and one of the ways we do this is to tell them they’re clever when they achieve something, whether its walking unaided or tying a shoelace or reading a sentence. We still might be saying it to our teens who’ve figured out algebra or penned a good persuasive piece of writing.
Of course it’s a good idea to encourage our children but what if our words are having the opposite effect? What if calling them ‘clever’ actually discourages them from trying or stretching themselves?
Research, by Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, shows that focusing on a child’s intelligence or talent can be counter-productive and lead to the development of a mindset that actually prevents them from achieving. Studies have shown that when a child is praised for his intelligence he develops a ‘fixed’ mindset –he thinks that a person is given a fixed amount of talent and intelligence at birth, and whatever they do simply demonstrates the 'cleverness' that they possess. That child thinks that if she is ‘clever’ she shouldn’t have to work too hard at something. People with a 'fixed' mindset tend to avoid exploration and challenge. They take the easy option rather than running the risk that they will prove that they are not in fact ‘clever’.
People with a fixed mindset have no way of responding to mistakes or failures but tend to give up. My friend’s son is suffering from this way of thinking as he approaches his final year of schooling –he simply believes that he shouldn’t have to apply himself because he is ‘clever’. The result is he’s not doing as well as he could be.
In contrast others have a 'growth’ mindset, which means the belief that a person's natural capabilities and talents can be developed through application and effort. Good news, eh? The risk-taking and struggle that is inherent in all learning is therefore not regarded as frightening, and more real learning can take place. When faced with mistakes or failures the growth mindset people believe that they can overcome through perseverance. They shall conquer the world!
So how can we encourage our kids without developing a fixed mindset?
We need to change the way we use praise.
Praise effort, attitude, strategies and improvement
Parents can encourage a growth mindset by not calling their children clever and instead paying attention to the effort the child employs, the improvements they make and the attitude they bring to a task. “I noticed that when the first approach you tried with your science project didn’t work you tried another tactic. How’s it going?” “You kept on trying with these sums even though you didn’t find it easy. I call that persevering. Your efforts have paid off – five out of six are correct. I wonder if you can work out how to correct the sixth one.”
If self-esteem is connected to results it becomes too fragile. Instead of focusing on results we can notice and comment on effective strategies our children use such as when they look up a spelling word in the dictionary or go back over notes before a test or by keeping an organised folder. Paying lots of attention to grades (and sporting outcomes) can make the child feel that our approval is dependent on them always getting good results which might feel unattainable. When your daughter comes home from a netball match don’t let your first question be ‘did you win?’, but ‘Did you enjoy the game? Did you play your best? Did you listen to the coach? Did her tips about shooting work? Were you able to set up some goals? How did the team play together?
When we say “you’re a brilliant artist”, they know they’re not ‘brilliant’; they think of someone who can draw better than them and discount our praise. It also creates pressure to always be the ‘brilliant artist’.
This was true for me growing up – I knew that I would only retain my father’s interest while I continued to perform well academically. It made it feel as if his love for me was conditional.
Describe the positive behaviours you see
- focus on the positives. “You’ve remembered to bring your homework diary home.” “You got on your bike again even though you fell off just now.”
Notice and mention the tiny steps in the right direction
- be specific and detailed. It shows that the parent is paying attention, it is accurate, relevant and persuasive as well as non-evaluative. “You’re sitting at the table at the right time and you’ve got all your books out. You look like you’re
getting ready to start your homework.”
Use praise focused on the individual
Use non-comparative praise – in order to avoid children becoming conceited or thinking they’re better than others. It is also necessary so that kids know we appreciate them just for themselves, not compared to anyone else. This reduces the unhealthy sort of competition.
“Your good result in your spelling test reflects the hard work that you put into it. This is the best you’ve done so far” not “You did better than anyone else.”
Parents can also encourage and model a healthy attitude to mistakes –accepting that as part of being human and looking for learning each time.
September 20th, 2015
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.
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.
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.
August 10th, 2015
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: