Starting School

The new school year is not far away….. and the key to a successful start to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

•    Familiarise your child with their new school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. Hopefully you will have had a visit where your child could see the parts that will affect him – his classroom, the toilets, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the playground.

•    Reading books about starting school is a good way to teach your child about the reality of school life. Try the following books:
o    Starting School – Allan Ahlberg
o    Going to School – Usborne First Experiences
o    I am Absolutely Too Small for School – Lauren Child
o    Topsy and Tim Start School – Jean Adamson

•    Uniform – Get any uniform well in advance and try it on. Practice getting in and out of it and go through the morning routines eg would you prefer that uniform goes on after breakfast to minimise the chance of spills? Should your child get dressed in the kitchen to avoid the distractions of a bedroom? Should hair brushes and toothbrushes be downstairs to make for a quicker getaway? All these things need thinking through.

•    Practice
o    If they’re starting school for the first time explain unfamiliar things like bells and what they signify.
o    Play schools –sit on the mat to get them used to ‘circle time’, call the register and practice saying hello, practice making eye contact, asking questions and putting hands up, asking to go to the toilet. Let them be the teacher and you the student and explore through play what behaviour is required in school.
o    If they’re not yet independent in going to the toilet on their own, it’s a good time to practice wiping bottoms, flushing and washing hands.

•    Friends –are a very important part of school
o    If you know of anyone else starting at your child’s school try to make contact before the term begins so there is a familiar face when they go. The school may put you in touch with people in your neighbourhood.
o    If your child is a bit shy it will be worth practising some opening lines for making conversation with other children. Remind them that the other children will all be new too.

•    Chat through what school will be like (in a positive way) –
o    Tell them that you will be there every day at the end of the day to talk about things and look forward to hearing about what they did. But don’t pump them for information –kids are often tired at the end of the day and they live in the moment so often don’t share much about what happened earlier.
o    Explain that if they are worried about anything, they can always go and speak to the teacher and that you and the teacher are working together to make sure that things go well for them at school.
o    Maybe talk about your experiences of being a child at school (positive ones). Mention friends, the activities you liked best, the games you played, the teachers you remember fondly. Maybe find a photo of you when you were at school.

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this puzzle. It’s complicated but you kept going until you finished it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”

Helping them cope with their feelings
There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.

When we acknowledge negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ – such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. When we accept feelings we encourage our children to talk.

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new things you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Sometimes it’s not till the excitement of the new activity wears off that your child experiences some doubt.

Talk about common concerns around starting a new school:
o    Will the teacher like me?
o    Will the other children like me?
o    Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
o    How will I know what to do?
o    What if I get lost?
o    What if I need to go to the loo?
o    I don’t like the look of the toilets.
o    I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
o    It is too noisy and confusing at lunchtime/sports or I don’t have anyone to play with.
o    How will I remember where to put my things?

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”
“You might be feeling both excited and a bit nervous about starting school. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

And lastly!

First, remember how tiring school is in the beginning.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness – because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, this is reflected in our children.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

What are your memories of starting school –either yourself or your older children? My eldest had settled into nursery so easily I wasn’t prepared for the upset when she started ‘big school’. I often went on to work upset after dropping her off.
If you’ve found these ideas helpful please share them on your favourite forum/social media platform and sign up for our regular newsletter –full of parenting news, information and ideas.

Happy parenting,

Melissa and Elaine

28/08/2014   No Comments

Back to School

The new school year is not far away….. and the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

Physical Preparation

This time of year is usually so hectic. This year make getting ready for school a team effort and involve the children as much as possible.

•    Change schedules – Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Whether it is going to bed or waking up earlier, allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.

Girl with I Can

•    Uniform –children have a habit of growing in the school holidays so do make sure the uniform and shoes still fit in time. Don’t leave it till the night before to check it’s clean and pressed. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his uniform, putting it in the wash and checking that it’s ready the night before. Is everything marked? Perhaps the children can even learn to sew on those name tapes and polish shoes.

•    Other kit –involve the children in assembling what they need for school –there will probably be a checklist from the school.

•    Lunch –if your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it – and eating it – as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. This might be a time to start involving them in the preparation.

•    Infrastructure –set up white/notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quick getaway in the mornings.

Chat through what is needed for the first day back – ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers.  Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies but they also give you LOTS of opportunities for Descriptive Praise, which also helps boost self-esteem.

And there’s a great side effect – it will reduce the pressure on you. The return to school is a busy time of year and if you feel overwhelmed and underappreciated you might fall back into old habits of nagging, shouting, and the like!

Emotional Preparation

Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together.

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you can do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.

When we accept and validate negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ – such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately.

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. Did you love every single day of school?! It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going.

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”
“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools.  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. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”
Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation.

And two last tips!

First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness – because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

What do you do that helps prepare children for school life? Elaine found that adjusting the coat pegs to a height her children could reach without a stool meant that they actually hung up their coats!

If you found these tips useful why not sign up for a regular dose of parenting news, information and ideas in our newsletter and share this blog with your friends?

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

28/08/2014   No Comments

Talking (and listening) to baby

If you’re expecting your first baby you will have done a lot of preparation. You will have been to doctor’s check-ups and ante natal classes and you’ve probably been trying to eat healthily and take care of yourself physically. You may have been taking special supplements for mothers-to-be and no doubt you’ve been avoiding a long list of prohibited foods. You may also have just gone off some! So those are all the physical needs of pregnancy taken care of. No doubt you’ve had lots of advice on taking care of your baby’s physical needs too. You will have some idea already of how to feed and wind the baby, bathe it and change its nappy.

But will you know how to communicate with your baby? What? Surely it’s not that hard? Anyway they can’t understand what you’re saying.

Mum lifting baby

 

Well, they may not understand the exact meaning of the words but right from the beginning parents can use ways of touching and holding their baby, responding to its cries and other forms of communication, to help them become secure and trusting and to know that they are cared for, that they matter. Babies make bids to connect with others from the moment they are born and they communicate more than you might think.

Linguistic processes begin long before birth. Experts know that babies are able to hear noises in the womb – the ear and the auditory part of the brain that allow this are formed by around 23 weeks’ gestation. Babies get familiar with their mother’s voice (and dad’s) while in the womb and are soothed by it from the minute they are born.

Your baby is ready to interact with you from the moment it is born.

How to talk to baby

When a baby is born it cannot focus very well more than 20cms away which is exactly the right distance to an adult’s face when feeding. It helps penetrate the double vision that exists until the eye muscles strengthen if we use the exaggerated expressions that seem to come naturally when talking to babies.

Babies are fully engaged in the moment, with their attention focused solely on the parent. Their favourite toy is you. They like it when adults change the way they speak to a higher tone with exaggerated words.  It also helps babies decipher sounds if adults speak slowly, repetitively and in a sing-song way. A baby’s readiness to interact with you is dependent on its alertness so parents need to read the cues to judge whether baby is ready and able to interact.

There are 6 states of consciousness:

quiet alert –baby is attentive, breathing is regular, face looks bright. This is the best time to interact

active alert –baby is moving, fussy, sensitive to stimuli, her breathing is irregular –this signals a need for feeding, changing or repositioning.

crying –again a signal for change or cessation of activity.

quiet sleep –still and difficult to awaken. This is not good time to play or connect although new parents have been known to wake their baby to play with them. This phase doesn’t last long!

active sleep –moving, breathing irregular, may make faces or smile. Feeding in this state is often unsuccessful.

drowsy- delayed responsiveness, breathing irregular, eyes may open and close but appear glazed and heavy lidded. If left alone baby will return to sleep or gradually awaken.

To communicate well with your newborn recognise baby’s cues –learn what your baby is saying and help him to self soothe. Because a baby has an immature nervous system face to face play can occasionally overstimulate the baby so adults need to follow baby’s cues. It is important to recognise when your baby is overstimulated or upset and to help her to self soothe

•    signs of overstimulation
o    looking away from you  (to decrease stimulation, not because they are rejecting you). The baby may suck on a hand to regulate arousal/self soothe and the parent needs to allow this to happen or she may lose the ability to soothe herself and may show increasing signs of distress.
o    shielding face with hands
o    pushing away
o    wrinkling the forehead
o    arching the back
o    fussing
o    crying

It is important to respond to baby’s cues so that she gets the message that what she does matter to her parents and that she can affect her world by letting people know how she feels.

If baby is overstimulated:
o    back off and let her calm down and give her a rest if she is showing the above signs, but is she is enjoying the game –keep going. Let the baby look away and soothe himself. If he can’t soothe himself give him something to suck or pick him up and rock him, making soothing noises. Nursing or feeding may help.
o    stay calm
o    soften your voice
o    sing to baby
o    maybe continue with play, action or song but in a softer, less stimulating way

Most of this will probably come naturally and hopefully both mums and dads will enjoy playing with, touching and communicating with their newborns. Just remember that it’s not one-way traffic and that your baby is trying to communicate with you too. Be open to what your child is saying from early on and you will have mastered one of the secrets to successful parenting –connectedness.

Sometimes parents find themselves saying the most inane things to their babies –what’s the weirdest thing you’ve said to your baby/heard parents say to their babies?

If you’ve found these ideas interesting you’ll love our new workshop Preparing for Parenthood running in September (click on the green workshop button, top left of this page for details)

Share this with other expectant or new parents and sing up for other free ideas, suggestions and information in our newsletter.

Happy parenting!

Elaine and Melissa

27/08/2014   No Comments

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.

Girl giving thumbs up

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.

Disappointed Boy

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 publication Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity. Clcik on ‘Our Shop and then ‘publications’ to buy)

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.

If you have found this useful or interesting please share in your favourite media and send us your comments.

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

21/08/2014   No Comments

Moving from a Couple to a Family

Are you ready emotionally?

The tragic news last week of the death of one of the world’s most beloved actors and comics, Robin Williams, has left many of us reeling and wondering why people take their own lives. His battle with drink and drugs and the ‘black dog’ of depression is well documented and sadly is not as uncommon as we may believe.

Another tragic case recently, nearer to our practice in SW London concerned a young mother who, also  suffering from depression, took  not her own life but the lives of her three children. Mental illness can affect us all even without such catastrophic and well broadcast outcomes. A recent report from our local hospital – St George’s in Wandsworth – highlighted that many new mothers are affected by depression post birth.

If you are an expectant  parent, I am certain you will have  prepared for the physical aspects of having a baby, done the ante-natal classes, prepared your birth plan, maybe even packed your hospital bag; you’ve bought the cot, the pram, the clothes etc, etc and you’ve probably being nurturing your body during your pregnancy. Hopefully your medical advisers have spoken to you about post-partum depression.

But are you prepared emotionally for the transition to parenthood?

Mixed Race Young Family with Newborn Baby

Have you thought about how it will affect you and your relationships with your partner, your parents, your friends? Do you know what to expect of the first few months? How will you cope with all the (well-meaning but possibly conflicting) advice? How will you take care of your own mental health to ensure that your baby gets the best possible start in life?

Every year approximately 720,000 babies are born in the UK. Having a baby is an opportunity for a new beginning – new relationships are built, new goals are set and new dreams are created. However, as well as the excitement that comes with becoming a family the transition to parenthood also brings with it stresses for the couple which can impact on the infant. Research shows that after the birth of a child many couples experience a drop in relationship quality which can lead to compromised parenting and decreased quality in parent-infant interaction. (Source: The Gottman Institute)

Years of research show that a strong emotional life between the parents is the best foundation for a baby’s development

As you move from a couple to a family be aware of some of the changes you can expect. Being aware is being prepared and ensures you are realistic about what changes are afoot.

•    Both parents’ love for the new baby can form a very strong bond between them as they take on new responsibility for another life. A couple may act more as a team than ever before; becoming  more flexible, learning to adapt, to be creative. You will reassess your values and goals and get in touch with your fun, playful side.

•    Babies can teach adults to wonder and marvel at simple things, to experience the joy of discovery. Children are great teachers and we learn a lot about ourselves through interacting with them.

•    Research shows that both men and women (about 67%) experience a decline in relationship satisfaction after the first baby is born and it continues to decline after the birth of the second child (which adds to the complexity of family dynamics and places additional demands on resources). There is also often a change in relationship with your own parents and with friends with or without children.

•    Sleep deprivation can lead to depression (one study shows even when healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep for one month they became depressed) so get as much support as you can and don’t be a super Mum! Naps are more important than housework.

•    Sex/intimacy declines – be patient. Developing a culture of appreciation for each other will help greatly –that means telling each other regularly what you appreciate about each other. Develop a daily practice around this or it won’t happen. My partner and I kept a little book on our bedside table and we wrote one thing in it each evening that we appreciated about each other. It created a lovely atmosphere of trust and made us both feel more confident in our handling of our new daughter.

•    Fathers sometimes withdraw if the mother or the women in the mother’s circle, in an attempt to be supportive to her, inadvertently make him feel not needed. He may also feel replaced in her affections as she bonds with the new baby. This needs to be aired. Fathers have a very special role to play with newborns and are just as capable of caring from them as mums. (More on this in subsequent blogs).

•    Reduced emotional availability-conversation/communication declines with tiredness. Awareness of this possibility allows you to make communicating a priority.

•    Philosophical/psychological changes-shift in roles, relationship roles may become more traditional than previously, which can be challenging for both parents. If you’ve been a working parent in a challenging job and now you’re at home on leave or you’ve made the decision to be a stay at home parent you may experience a drop in status that is challenging. Reframe these assumptions by thinking about how important, challenging and rewarding your role as a parent is. Nurturing a small human being is a critically important job that goes way beyond the physical aspects of her care.

Ensure you are emotionally prepared for your baby.

Had you thought about how having a baby would affect your relationship with your partner? Do let us know what you do to nurture your couple relationship.

If you found these ideas interesting please share them with friends and family and subscribe to our newsletter.  You will also like our upcoming workshop ‘Preparing for Parenthood’ on in September. Click on the green ‘WORKSHOP’ button on the top left for details

PS  Watch out for the follow up blogs on how to build a strong emotional foundation with your partner and reduce conflict between partners and how to communicate and bond with your baby.

Happy parenting,

Elaine and Melissa

20/08/2014   No Comments

Will you stop fighting!

Sibling rivalry

Does it really push your buttons when your kids fight? When they’re home over the summer holidays they’re in each other’s company more and they may goad each other out of sheer boredom. You know sibling fighting is meant to be normal, but seriously, over who gets to open the door when dad gets home? Which, after all, he does every day.  Really? What did you envisage when you brought into the world a sweet little sister or brother for your adored first-born? That she should become a punch bag for him? That he should call her all manner of names and tease her? That she should provoke the life out of him? I thought not. You were probably like me with fantasies of them playing happily together and keeping each other occupied while you watched over them benignly with cup of tea in hand.

When my boys were younger I thought we’d made a serious mistake in having more than one, one which we hadn’t worked out until too late. My older boy turned into a monster around his brother. He tormented him endlessly and seemed so aggressive with him I envisaged a future where I would be visiting him behind bars as I thought he’d turned into a psychopath.
The advice I received was to stay out of their fights. I tried to do this but it was as if I’d given permission for the older one to bully the younger. My younger child felt abandoned. I could understand why I shouldn’t take sides in their disputes but I needed to do something….didn’t I?
Studies have shown that effective intervention has the effect of reducing the number and intensity of sibling rows. (Perlman, M and Ross, H ‘The benefits of parent intervention in their children’s disputes: An examination of concurrent changes in children’s fighting styles.’ Child Development 1997)

Faber & Mazlish’s Siblings Without Rivalry had some good ideas.
Parents need to know when to get involved in their children’s arguments and when to stay out of them.
We need to distinguish between minor squabbles and major on-going battles. We decide upon our intervention based on the level of dispute. We need to be ready to intervene when the children seem to be struggling, or the situation is potentially dangerous, but our intervention is only to encourage and support them to resolve their dispute constructively themselves.
And when we do intervene, we need to do so in ways which not only encourage children to sort out their own disputes but which also support the children’s relationships, and reduce the risk of long term conflict. If we take sides or impose judgments not only does the accused retaliate later but the children don’t learn how to resolve matters themselves.

The basic approach is to:
•    describe the problem
•    acknowledge how each child feels
•    help the children find a solution; support them in using more constructive conflict resolution strategies

Example: Jack, aged 5, wants to watch Peppa Pig on TV but Bella, aged 8, is watching her ‘Frozen’ DVD and singing (loudly) along to ‘Let it go’.

Jack says “I want to watch Peppa now Bella” and Bella just says “no”, so Jack hits her, saying “It’s my turn now horrible Bella.” And Bella shouts and hits him back. Jack cries. Dad thinks it’s time to intervene and doesn’t say “Ok, you two that’s enough. Bella don’t be so mean, give Jack a turn”. (He did that last week and it ended in tears all round – Dad too, well, almost.)

Dad: Jack I can see you’re upset. We don’t hit in this family. Can you tell Bella what you want, rather than calling her names?
Jack: She’s being mean. I want a turn.
Bella: But it’s my turn now. I want to watch the end of this video.
Jack: You watched it on the weekend. I want to watch Peppa now.
Dad: (Dad has some sympathy – he wouldn’t mind some respite from ‘Let it go’ himself.) Jack is saying he wants a turn to watch his show. Bella is saying she’s not ready for her turn to be over….Hmm…That’s a tough situation…I know it can be hard to wait, Jack.
Jack: I don’t want to wait…I want to watch Peppa now! Bella gets to watch her show all the time.
Dad: You feel you’re not getting a fair go? Can you tell Bella that and ask her when she’ll be ready to give you a turn? Bella can you tell Jack, without hitting, what would be a fair time for you to have on the video.
Jack: It’s not fair Bella, you had a turn on the weekend and I haven’t had my turn for ages. When will it be my turn?
Bella: Ok Jack! You can watch Peppa when the next song is finished. Why don’t you be Olaf?
Dad gives lots of descriptive praise for both children for resolving this situation constructively.
Both kids feel heard and they have learnt how to assert themselves without hitting.

Managing sibling conflicts is one of the most difficult parts of parenting. Helping children to resolve disputes without abusing power or resorting to name-calling or violence is a great gift.

Do you have brothers or sisters? If so, do you still have a strong level of sibling rivalry or are you close now? My own borther denied my existence during adolescence and now we are very close. What did your parents do that helped or hindered those relationships?

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Happy parenting!
Elaine and Melissa

15/08/2014   No Comments

Is Your Digital Distraction Spoiling Family Life?

Man with mobile phone

 

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.

Be honest -how many times do you look at your phone while you’re with the children? Does it impact on your levels of attentiveness? I still think I’m the worst culprit in my family but becoming more self aware. Tell us how the digital world impinges on your family life.

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 (click on the ‘sign-up’ button on the top left of this page)

PS:  When are you going to plan your digital downtime TODAY?

Happy parenting!  Elaine and Melissa

13/08/2014   1 Comment

Get to sleep PLEASE!

Bedtime

 

Are you finding with the long summer nights and changes in routine it is getting harder to get the kids to bed?

Do you struggle to get them to stay in bed? Do you find yourself longing for  ‘wine o’clock time’ at the end of a long day only to be thwarted by a child who comes out of bed so many times that he would give Magic Roundabout’s Zebedee a run for his money!

A good night’s sleep is essential for health and well being

Toddlers need at least 12 hours sleep and primary school children 10 hours sleep at night, to enable them to function effectively the next day. Studies have shown that school performance is compromised by less sleep.

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.

What have you done to help kids settle to sleep? Has anyone used the sleep fairy? If you have an equivalent we’d love to hear about it.

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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Happy parenting,

Melissa and Elaine

08/08/2014   No Comments

6 Things You’ll Regret Saying to Your Children

Do you ever feel guilt and regret for something that you’ve said to your child? The words that just came out of your mouth sounded as if they were from an alien being (and awfully like some things your mother said to you, and you vowed you would never say) and there is no way you would speak like that to your best friend! Immediately you regret what you said – no surprise that your child is now arguing with you. Both of you have just fallen into one of the parenting manholes – it is deep and dark and unless you have your parenting skills toolkit to hand, you are both stuck!

Don’t feel bad –we all make mistakes with the things we say. Read on to the end to see what you can do to remedy matters if you have verbally vomited on your child.

Faber and Mazlish, authors of ‘How to talk so teens will listen, and listen so teens will talk’ tell a story of a girl in her late teens who had borrowed the family car.  The father always insisted that she return the car with the petrol tank full. He was also a real stickler for punctuality, so the girl was faced with a problem when she had to get home for a family event and found herself short of time. Should she fill up and risk being late, or arrive on time, with a not-full petrol tank?  In the end, she gambled, and filled the tank and still managed to make it home on time.  She was so relieved that she raced in and said, “Dad, I’m home on time AND I’ve filled the car with petrol!”  She was met with, “Did you put oil in it as well?”

We parents get into the habit of noticing what’s wrong with our children’s behaviour and we often don’t notice what they’re doing right. It can feel very hard for kids to win parental approval. And sometimes they stop trying.

So what are the things we say that don’t show respect and don’t motivate our children?
Hurry up Tom. You are so SLOW…..if it was down to you we would never get to school on time”
“I am so DISAPPOINTED in you  – I should have known better than that!”
“You’re so LAZY….I am sure you will ace those exams if you sit around on your backside all day gaming!”

The language we use with our kids is crucial to developing a good sense of self-worth but in the moment when our buttons get pressed we utter statements that, if said by a friend, would cause us to re-think our friendship!
Things you’ll regret saying to your children:

1.    Labelling. It is so easy to start labelling children  with LAZY, SILLY, NAUGHTY, SELFISH  – the more we label our children the more they believe what we are saying and take it on as part of their identity. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is why ideas such as ‘the naughty step’ can be positively damaging to our children (watch out for another blog on how the naughty step can damage your child.)

2.    “I’m disappointed in you” –this is a killer statement. It’s not always obvious but our children really crave our approval and this phrase lets them know really clearly that they don’t have it. The connotations underlying this are ‘what a failure you are’.

3. “ I’m proud of you”. I know, you’re wondering what’s wrong with that –it’s definitely not the worst thing you could say to a child. We’ve all said this when our child returns from nursery or school clutching the medal or certificate – we are genuinely thrilled for their success. However it is vital we encourage our kids to value themselves, not be dependent on OUR evaluation of them. Encourage them to assess their achievements, saying:
“what did you do today that you were proud of?” or
“you should free proud of yourself for doing that.”

4. ‘If’-  When trying to get kids to do something we often say “if you tidy up your toys, you can watch TV.” ‘If’ implies it is optional. Replace ‘If’ with ‘when’ and you get a completely different response. ‘When’ implies trust that they are going to tidy up and when this is done they will have earned their screen time.

5. ‘But’ – When you put ‘but’ in a sentence it negates what has preceded it and your child only hears the ‘but’ and the negative coming after it.
Looks as if you have made an effort to tidy the toy room Laura, BUT you have put the Lego bricks in the wrong place again.” Instead you can say:
“Hey Laura– good on you for tidying up the playroom all by yourself! Do you remember the new place we have for the Lego bricks that keeps them safe and away from baby Tom?”

6. “You’re so clever.” Studies have shown that the ‘clever boy’ kind of praise is actually damaging to kids. Children praised for intelligence perform less well on tasks than children who are praised for effort and attitude.

Words are powerful and shape experience.
What we are trying to do as parents is use our words to encourage good  behaviours and to build up a strong sense of self-worth. If we get it wrong we can apologise. “I’m so sorry I yelled at you and called you stupid. You’re not stupid. I was frustrated and worried that we would be late.” “This morning when we were rushing to leave the house I didn’t tell you how much I appreciate you helping your sister get ready. She loves it when you brush her hair.”

Be honest -we’ve all done and said things we later regret. What’s your worst outburst? In our practice they’re known as LPMs (low parenting moments) and it’s quite cathartic sharing them.

PS: Grab your free parenting insights by signing up to our mailing list by clicking on the ‘Sign-up’ button on the top left of this page.   I promise it will help you bring out the best in your children and give them happy childhoods and bright futures.

Happy parenting!     Elaine and Melissa

04/08/2014   16 Comments

Exam results –responding to disappointment

Disappointed Boy

In the UK educational system children could be doing exams for entry to their next educational establishment – and getting the results – at any time of year. They sit for 11+ in March, Common entrance (CE) generally in June but possibly January or November also and A levels results come out in August. And sometimes there are disappointing results.

So maybe some time this year your child sat an exam and 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. Of course if your child has been accepted at the school/university of your choice congratulations –but you don’t need help from me. Although possibly a word of caution about giving extra rewards for doing well in exams. Achieving the coveted entrée to the school you think is right for your child is the result and the reward for all the work they put in. If you dangle the promise of a trip to Disneyland or a new ipad in the hope of encouraging harder work from your child it may well backfire as your child feels manipulated and such an approach does not encourage self-discipline.

I recently heard about one boy who had undergone multiple exams – Y6 assessment exams for various schools which give conditional offers for Y9 subject to CE, and he’d also done the 11+ for the London day schools. He didn’t get a place. Not surprisingly he felt pretty down. The London day school situation is getting crazy. I hear the numbers are about 10-12 applicants for each place. The pass rates are going up towards 65-70% and the interview which used to be a token check is now considered crucial. The system creates an enormous amount of pressure for children and many educationalists worry that it is destroying their childhoods.

Some children will take failure to get into schools 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.

This particular boy then didn’t do all that well in his end of year exams; not badly, just not quite as well as he or his teachers might have expected. And other kids picked up on it –he was subjected to some tough teasing. On top of his ‘failure’ to get into the schools earlier in the year it hit hard. He retreated into himself and became moody and angry. He found it hard to concentrate in class, and was unwilling to put his hand up or volunteer to take part in activities.

Luckily this boy’s mum was doing a course with us and got a lot of support at a time that is tough for parents. It is so easy to get sucked into the pressurising vortex and add to our children’s anxieties in our efforts to support them. Year 6 is a tough year for these boys, they are still so young, and yet they are expected to produce results and perform well. His mum started thinking ahead and preparing for the two years to come before he faces exams again. She wanted to build his self-confidence and increase his resilience and help him to prepare for his exams to the best of his ability while getting a whole education and without burning out with worry.

Over time his mum can help him by:
•    encouraging and motivating him by descriptively praising him 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 his parents pay most attention to is crucial –is it his results or his effort, the attitude he shows or strategies he employs? What they 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 boy 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 publication Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity.

In the short term his mum can respond with emotion coaching:

If this boy is struggling with what the other boys are saying about his results, it will be helpful for him to have a response.  Rather than telling him not to worry what the other boys think, that it doesn’t matter what they say, or that he just needs to ignore them, or suggest he should tell a teacher, which is what we feel compelled to say, his mum can empathise with him. “That’s tough, having them talking about your results. It must make you feel very uncomfortable, even angry. You wish they didn’t know, or if they did know, that they would keep it to themselves.”

Having connected with how he feels about it, she can turn to solutions. The aim is that he comes up with the solution, but he may need a little guidance from her to start. “I imagine you just don’t know what to say when they talk about your results. You probably want to shout at them to leave you alone, that it’s none of your business. I am glad you’ve not been rude. Not saying anything doesn’t feel right either, does it? I wonder what you could say?”

Obviously it depends what they are saying – my experience was some boys taunting one of my sons “we beat you, we beat you, we’re better than you” and his response was “I’m glad you did well”. He wasn’t completely glad, but apart from that it was relatively honest! The point was there was nothing they could say back. We had to practice it a few times at home first but then it was a response he could use.

If you are worried that your child is negative and pessimistic, and this will be particularly hard if you are a positive and optimistic person, accept his concerns in the same way rather than trying to change him straight off. This only has the effect of making him feel wrong.  “I see your point about this – and it’s clearly worrying you. You’ve thought about all the pitfalls and possible dangers. That’s clear thinking. This is what keeps us safe and helps us put things right.” The trick then is to flesh out his worries and then put them into perspective. Are there any possible upsides? Is there any chance things may go well? How likely is each scenario? He will be more willing to do this with you when you have heard and accepted his point of view first.

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.

07/07/2014   No Comments