He’ll Be OK

 

teenage boy with school bag

I have a friend who has a son who is 18 and in his final year at school. He has just received an offer from a university conditional upon him gaining an A,B,C in his A levels. This is a truly remarkable thing. You may think it’s not that remarkable as you will know that students all over the country will be receiving offers and some will have more difficult obstacles to overcome in terms of grade requirements. But this is an amazing achievement for this young man.

When I first met him he was 7 years old and had had a tough life up until that point. He is very dyslexic and had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder. He felt very different and most inadequate. He believed he was a bad person. Indeed he was a very angry young boy. The first time I met him he brought his fist down really hard on his mother’s foot which she’d hurt. He was generally quite aggressive and definitely oppositional. His parents were at their wits’ end, having received much conflicting advice and having tried most opportunities available for a child with his set of difficulties. Travelling on public transport was a complete nightmare as he was all over the place and wouldn’t listen to anything anyone told him to do-it was sometimes dangerous and always embarrassing. He had been to three special needs schools and been excluded from all of them. One school had been so unable to manage his behaviour that they locked him in a cupboard!

Luckily his parents were not going to give up on him. Parents don’t generally give up on their children but sometimes they do accept that there are limits to what can be achieved of course. They took positive parenting courses and trained hard to help him. They researched all kinds of different therapies to support him. But mostly they never gave up on the picture they had of who he could be. I don’t mean that they wanted him to be a scholar or an athlete or a musician or follow any particular career path but they knew he was a good and capable person.

They found schools which could support him and it became possible for him to attend school because of all the work they put in at home. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve always been amazed at the way he progressed. He has always had drive and a self-belief that I think comes, not in small part, from his parents’ belief in him. It may not be possible for him to achieve these ABC grades but I wouldn’t like to bet on that because I don’t think anyone knows what’s possible for him. He keeps pushing on past the boundaries of what was thought possible. Literacy is still a struggle for him but this young man will not be stopped by that. He has great resilience and a maturity well beyond his years. His social skills are very acute and he has insights about people rare in someone his age.

I’m not advocating a ‘tiger mum’ approach to pushing our kids to achieve, to acquire accomplishments and qualifications but knowing this boy has given me an insight into what’s possible, not just with blind faith, but with hard work. What has worked here has been 10 years of acknowledging small steps in the right direction, much concrete and specific and sincere affirmation of effort and improvement more than results, requiring him to do the most that he was capable of while using small steps to prepare, giving him responsibilities and encouraging independence, helping him understand and accept his feelings of difference, his anxieties, his frustrations and anger, and helping him learn from failures and bounce back from set-backs. One of the really effective things this family has done is spend time together in play –they all play golf and both children have developed skills in this area. The boy has developed passions in this and other areas that are separate from school work which has helped his sense of achievement. There are no glass ceilings when your sense of self-worth is strong. I don’t mean that he will be studying medicine or astrophysics but he will be able to lead a really fulfilling productive life, doing the best that he is capable of. That is every parent’s dream for their children.

03/03/2014   No Comments

Children Are Hard Wired For Attention

Naughty words 1 -girl

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

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

Here are a few tips to help smooth the way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18/02/2014   No Comments

Bed Time Fears

Boy cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

Name it to tame it

Name and tame

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

10/10/2013   No Comments

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

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

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

What to do if:

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

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

Golly! We’d better start intense training now!

03/09/2013   No Comments

How to Combat School Break Boredom – Before it Sets In.

Holiday Chart Pietrangeli

 

Guest blog by Kelly Peitrangeli of  myprojectme.com

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

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

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

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

Here’s how:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Summer!

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

10/07/2013   1 Comment

Engaging Fathers

Dad_with_son_fallen_off_bike

Fathers’ day in the UK this year is June 16th. Rather than paying lipservice to it by buying a card for the kids to give Dad or (better) encouraging them to make one, it’s worth considering the role of fathers on this day. Mums, what do you value about your partner? Kids what do you love about Dad? Make sure that if you’re giving him a card you include some descriptive praise for him. In other words tell him specifically what you like to do with him or what you appreciate about him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13/06/2013   No Comments

Confessions of a parent who uses tutors

Child being tutored

The recent announcement that one of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11 plus is being undermined by an ‘endemic’ culture of tutoring has once again put the spotlight on the private tutoring industry and after the Sutton Trust released figures last year that showed 43% of children nationally had received private tuition, this decision may be celebrated by many parents.
Is it parental fear that if a good place at a selective school is not secured for their children they stand no chance in the overly competitive job market or is tutoring a way for parents to compensate for choosing state education and fearing they may not be doing the best for their children? Whatever the reason it is clear that tutoring is now so commonplace for many parents it is assumed to be a requirement of any child’s education. Of course tutoring is very widespread in the private sector as well where parents are already paying high fees. My 9 year old niece recently moved on from one of London’s top day schools to a gentle boarding school in the country. She was the only child in her year of 60 students at her old school not being tutored. This endemic has to stop.
I confess that today my teenage son, who has specific learning difficulties, is currently accessing a tutor to help him with basic numeracy and to re-sit a Maths GCSE. The one-to-one environment of learning some basic arithmetic skills that were overlooked early in his education is one he is thriving on. His self -esteem has increased as a result. He can ask unlimited questions without the fear of sounding silly and it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. After watching as a family this week some reality TV in the form of The Apprentice and witnessing some sensationalist cringe-making TV in the form of a group of bright young things unable to do basic  measurements and percentages, he appreciates and values the input he is having so that he has the essential life skills to cope with numbers! Clearly there is room for tutoring to help fill a specific gap where a child has missed out on some essential skills which are necessary pre-skills for the next level and which are difficult to address in the classroom.
This is very different from the tutoring that is done to coach children for 11 plus and other exams. And when tutoring is done so routinely that the majority of children in a year are receiving tutoring that is a very anxious environment in which to be (not) learning. The high pressure, high stakes culture that permeates schools and children’s lives, and so worries educationalists, often is as a result of anxious and pushy parents, the tiger mums and turbo charged Dads with very, very high expectations for their children. Let’s not rob our children of their childhood and let Chelmsford High school lead the way on the ‘tutor proof’ test enabling schools to distinguish between the naturally bright and able child and the one who has been tutored to within an inch of their lives.
As a parent coach I see the results and outcomes of a pressured child later in their teenage years feeling not quite good enough; parents feeling disappointed in their children;  parents maybe complaining of the overly pressurised environment. Some educational environments described as overly pressurised may just be the wrong environment for that child. The child may not have developed the skills or the best work habits and having been placed in an environment not best suited to their learning style and profile. The effect on self-esteem and how children view themselves can often be a high price to pay.
Let parenting not be a competitive sport and our children be one of our own ‘achievements’. It’s a real challenge for us as parents but we must strive to achieve some kind of balance between equipping our children with skills for adult life and allowing them to have a happy, unstressed childhood without the years of tutoring. We want them to develop a good work ethic and to enjoy learning rather than just passing exams.
In the words of Madeline Levine from The Price of Privilege:
“Children need to see that we value their character first, their effort second, and then their grades.” Dr Madeline Levine

10/05/2013   No Comments

Wedding Bliss – Teaching kids about relationships

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

Boy at work

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

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

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

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

04/04/2013   No Comments

Understanding your Child’s Temperament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temperament -shy child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other writers have different ways of characterising temperamental traits.

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

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

11/03/2013   No Comments

2013 IS THE TIME TO SLOW DOWN

Do you ever feel like life is a race and you are left wondering where the finish line is? Are you worried that life will overtake you? Do you feel that your life as a parent  is one big race against time with our quest to ensure our children are doing x in order to achieve Y and not be left behind. Whether it’s speed walking, speed dating, speed dialling and heaven forbid speed drive-thru funerals in USA there is a need for us all to just SLOW down and perhaps not cram so much into our day.

Carl Honoré’s latest book on Slow Parenting  raises some really key questions for us all as parents and has been written as a response to the helicopter parenting we have been seeing where parents are micromanaging their children’s lives to such an extent that parenting is now seen by some as product development or akin to a professional pastime.  Students are not coping at University  – unable to stand on their own and Merrill Lynch offers Parent Days to cater to the professional pack of parents ready to try and negotiate their offspring’s salary package.

As a society we are going badly wrong – robbing children of their childhood as evidenced by increasing cases of mental health issues, eating disorders, binge drinking, substance abuse and prolific teenage sexual activity.

So what can you do as a parent to find your tempo and ensure your children have a balanced journey of discovery?

  • Less is more – spend less, do less, stimulate less
  • Don’t buy elaborate toys for kids that do all their thinking for them and direct how they should play; rather buy them generic blocks and let them build whatever they want. There is no evidence that so-called educational toys have any impact on learning whatsoever
  • Breakfast  in bed for kids, and grown-ups; or other spontaneous events
  • Schedule in unstructured time – yes it probably needs to be scheduled!
  • Have family meal times together. Harvard research indicates this is better for language development than reading stories
  • Create family rituals around birthdays and family events
  • Have regular calendar nights on a  Sunday evening
  • Get up 10 minutes earlier
  • Limit the use of screen time and be disciplined about use. It is insidious and creeps into every corner of our lives. Never allow screens in children’s bedrooms
  • Stop and look at leaves, or sunsets, or clouds….

 

So if you are worried life will overtake you – you’re wrong. Life is where you are now and when we slow down we find life has a natural groove that is richer more pleasurable and more fulfilling – we may do fewer things but what we do, we do well.

When the Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore – home of tiger mom culture – spoke on the National Day of Singapore about the Singaporean style of parenting, and  launched an attack on tiger mothers in a speech last year , you know it’s time to change . He berated parents for “coaching their three- or four-year-old children to give them that extra edge over the five-year-old competition”. And he added: “Please let your children have their childhood…Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It’s good for young children to play, and to learn through play.”

So when was the last time you stopped and allowed your child to have those moments looking at the ice crystals  and the snow patterns or the rain drops?

When was the last time you took a really deep slow breath and felt the natural air ticking over of your respiratory system – breathing in and out long deep breaths to their comfortable conclusion, until you are flooded with calm.

We all know it’s time to slow down.

 

31/01/2013   No Comments