Category — modelling
(Things to teach your kids before they fly the nest)
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
• 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
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
I am in a state of euphoria following the joyous and loving wedding last week of my middle child.
( 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.
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
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
My husband and I have been following Lance Armstrong’s career since he started racing in the Tour de France following his battle with cancer. We read his books, bought LiveStrong bracelets and clothes, and in 2010 we even went to Paris for the last stage of the TdF, when Armstrong raced his final Tour.
Recently it was announced that Armstrong had been officially stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and that his best race result would have been 36th – before his cancer diagnosis. This story has been making headlines for weeks, and has been simmering since Floyd Landis (Armstrong’s former teammate and winner of the 2006 TdF) started commenting on the systemic doping that took place. The recent news essentially eradicates the career that made Armstrong a household name. Pat McQuaid, the President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) said, “There is no place for Lance Armstrong in cycling. “ [He is] a serial cheat who led one of the worst doping conspiracies in sport.”
Armstrong wasn’t acting alone. He was part of a team of doctors, coaches, team managers and other cyclists who were all involved in the doping. The Tour de France is leaving those 7 years without a winner, as they would be pretty hard-pressed to find a cyclist who wasn’t doping during those years. It’s when the story gets a bit deeper and shows that not only was Armstrong doping, it was how he pretty much bullied former team-mates and others who testified against him. Many articles appeared that describe abusive voicemail messages that Armstrong used against those who would testify against him. The wife of one of Armstrong’s former teammate “described receiving a voicemail from an Armstrong friend telling her she hoped ‘somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head,’ after her husband spoke out about doping allegations.” Clearly doping is not good, but covering your tracks and bullying people into helping you cover your tracks? Well, that’s quite possibly even worse.
Why is this story so interesting story for me, as a parenting facilitator? Well, Lance Armstrong has 5 children – 3 from his first marriage, and 2 from his current relationship. In the past he tweeted regularly about his children and especially the joy he and his partner felt when she fell pregnant – especially after all his cancer treatment and surgery. I can imagine that he will get through the damage to his career – as he said, “I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse.” The side of the story I am fascinated by is how you repair the damage with your family and other loved ones. This situation provides a wealth of learning.
1. Winning at any cost will most likely catch up with you at some point
When we teach our children to play games, we teach them to play fair and to not cheat. We’ll say thing like “cheaters never win”, and even though sometimes it seems that they do, eventually some evidence will come out that will stamp out the victory.
We can work with our children to teach them rules, to advise them about what is and is not fair play. We can set up a system that rewards values like collaboration or accepting successes and losses graciously. We can always be on the look out for when our children are exhibiting the behaviours we want to be seeing more of. We need to notice and acknowledge such behaviour.
We want to be raising our children to take pride in their efforts, their improvement and their attitude instead of being the best at any cost.
2. Model honesty and integrity
About a year ago, Melissa Hood, the co-founder of The Parent Practice wrote a terrific blog called 80% of Parenting is Modeling in which she writes:
“Once we’re aware of the influence we have we can consciously set out to influence our children. Michael Grinder, communications expert, says “The power of influence is greater than the influence of power”.…
Sometimes our children are not copying the things we’d like them to. And for that there is the other 20% of parenting – we need some positive and effective parenting tools like using rules constructively, setting things up so that our children are likely to behave well, motivating them to do the right thing, understanding the causes of behaviour and responding effectively when they don’t. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as if our children are learning anything in the moment but it may be years later that your children show they have taken on your values.”
It is so important to have an idea of what values you want to be passing on to your children, to model those values and to establish rules that help you bring those values to life within your family. One of the values we might seek to model is being happy with our own best efforts, measuring our value, not by outcomes, but by our efforts. Model enjoying sport or other games, even if we don’t win. Focus not on the results of our children’s matches but on their enjoyment of the game and how well they participated.
Find New Heroes
This past summer was one that will go down in history as probably the best ever for UK sport. Bradley Wiggins with Team Sky won the General Classification in the TdF, Mark Cavendish had his 23rd TdF stage win and that was all before the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics where this country saw incredible athletes pushing themselves to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. We’ll never forget Jessica Ennis, or Mo Farah or the amazing Paralympians. It is so important to learn from our own limitations, as well as from those of others. In doing so, we can be honest, authentic parents who set an example of integrity and passion that will empower our children.
3. Make Amends and Move Forwards
One word that Lance Armstrong often used in his Twitter posts was ‘onward’ … continuous positive momentum. It’s a powerful notion that will serve him well after he takes responsibility for the mistakes he has made. Like Armstrong, we can all move forward once we take responsibility for our mistaken behaviour, put wrongs to right, and explore ways to make sure that the same thing won’t happen again. We like to call this The Mistakes Process (or the 4As). It goes like this:
Explore (without judgment) what happened and why it was a mistake. Use the mistake as an opportunity for everyone to learn. Acknowledge the courage required to fess up to having made a mistake.
2. Make AMENDS
This is all about putting wrongs to right. This can look many different ways ranging from a sincere apology; cleaning up an actual mess; fixing something that got broken; writing a letter; or doing something nice for someone else. Often, it is the simple act of fixing the mistake that provides the lesson so the same thing doesn’t happen again. And it is so much more effective than shouting!
This is where you want to take some time to explore what could have been done differently so that it will be less likely to happen again.
This is where ‘onwards’ comes into play. You have taken responsibility for the mistake, you have cleaned up your mess, and you have looked at how to make sure to get it (more) right next time. It is done. It is now in the past. It is time to acknowledge that a positive lesson has been learned. Onwards!
I imagine that Armstrong’s oldest son has always seen his Dad as a hero, and it must be very hard to hear that your Dad won because he cheated and to witness the fallout. The damage to Armstrong’s career is vast, but quite possibly, cleaning up this mess with his family and other loved ones will be an even greater challenge.
While cycling has had an inspirational summer, it is likely that the repercussions of the doping scandal will be felt for a while. But will the sport move forward? Of course! As Pat McQuaid said, “My message to cycling, to our riders, to our sponsors and to our fans today is: cycling has a future. … This is not the first time that cycling has reached a crossroads or that it has had to begin anew and to engage in the painful process of confronting its past. It will do so again with renewed vigour and purpose and its stakeholders and fans can be assured that it will find a new path forward.”
The message from the Lance Armstrong scandal is a clear and inspiring one for parents: acknowledge your children’s strengths and weaknesses and celebrate their effort and improvement; model honesty and act with integrity; take responsibility for (and truly learn from) your mistakes. By modeling your own ability to take responsibility and clean up your messes, you are sending a very powerful message to your children. And when you can teach your children to clean up their own messes (both literal and figurative), you are giving them a real gift.
14/11/2012 No Comments
Father’s day in the UK is June 17th. I know some people are a bit bah humbug about these ‘Hallmark’ days and regret the commercialisation of such occasions but I think we should seize the opportunity to celebrate fathers.
There is the risk, especially with newborns, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with in some relief. But this is to miss out on a great resource and ‘expertise’ that men bring to parenting. Men have a unique style to their parenting that women tend not to have and children who don’t experience this are missing out.
Some dad facts:
- Dads are more involved with children than ever before –in childcare and in housework. (The time spent by British men on domestic work rose from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 148 minutes per day by 2004; British fathers’ care of infants and young children rose 800% between 1975 and 1997, from 15 minutes to two hours on the average working day despite the fact that over this period fathers’ time spent at work was also increasing. Fathers in two-parent families carry out an average of 25% of the family’s childcare related activities during the week, and one-third at weekends. (Source: The fatherhood institute)
- Many studies have shown that when dad is involved in his children’s lives they have better educational, developmental, health and social outcomes (Source: The fatherhood institute,)
- If dad is emotionally involved as an emotion coach and play partner the following outcomes can be predicted: (the Gottman institute)
- Better self control abilities
- Acceptance by peers at school
- Better social competence and emotional intelligence
- Higher verbal ability test scores (Ross and Taylor 1989 Do Boys Prefer Daddy or His physical style of play?)
- Better academic performance
- Increased empathy (longitudinal study (300 families) done by Stanford University beginning in 1950s)
- Better social relationships as adults
- Higher self esteem
- Studies show dads are just as competent as mums to care for babies and know what to do when babies cry. (Ross Parke 1976 Father-Mother-Infant Interaction in the newborn period: Some findings, Some observations and some unresolved issues.)
- Fathers make unique contributions to their children and infants respond to involved fathers differently than to mums. They are more wide-eyed playful and bright-faced. 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds will choose dad over mum as a play partner.
Where fathers are not present in their children’s lives the kids really benefit from being involved with ‘uncle’ figures.
What are the differences in style?
When considering the question what do mums and dads contribute to the role of parent ask yourself what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree?
Dads typically say “go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”
Whereas Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”
Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.
This is what the kids think:
Mummies are smaller and Daddies are bigger.
Dads normally go out to work and you come out of mummy’s tummy.
Dads have fun and mums don’t.
Mums listen and Dads don’t…it’s the same for all my mates.
(Source: Netmums March 09)
While we don’t want to minimise the importance of the nurturing, the encouraging and the listening that mums are traditionally good at let’s celebrate what dads do well:
To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do the laundry, the cooking, the chauffeuring and the supervising of homework and music practice etc. When Roald Dahl died his children wrote about their memories of him and predictably they valued the story telling and creating he encouraged in them. My guess is when we die our children will remember the play times and the conversations with us rather than the fact that we always ensured they had clean and matching socks.
Dads tend to be more physical than mums in the way they play. Mums generally play visual games and are verbal with babies and young children while dads are more physical and tactile. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both. Rough and tumble play by dads predicts better self control abilities in their children. (Source: Gottman institute)
Encourage independence and risk taking
Dads encourage kids to climb higher, go to the store on their own, go down the highest slides etc while mums may have to stifle the urge to keep their babies safe. Encouraging self reliance and reasonable risk taking in children encourages them to discover what they are capable of and to grow in confidence. If children become fearful they will not grow and will not acquire essential life skills and coping strategies for dealing with the world.
Allow kids to experience uncomfortable feelings
When dads recognise their children’s struggles and allow them to experience some frustration and learning through failure they are helping children grow through experience. When we protect our children from their feelings of discomfort or frustration we can prevent valuable learning in the same way as if we prevent them from making discoveries physically. Although we shouldn’t shield our children from uncomfortable feelings we can help them identify them and manage them by acknowledging what’s going on. Eg I can see you’re feeling frustrated with those wretched shoe laces –but I like the way you’re persevering. You don’t give up easily do you?
Don’t judge or compare self with other parents
Dads are less prone to perfectionism than women in the parenting field and less apt to compare and judge their own or others’ parenting efforts. A great combination in a dad is that willingness to trust his instincts with an openness to new ideas.
Being a good role model
Dads are needed as good role models for their sons, especially in areas like school work, responsibility, handling physicality and aggression, how to treat women, how to handle and express emotions and seeking support when they need it. Men can show their boys how to be determined without taking competition to harmful levels. Dads are also important models for their daughters as they show them how to relate to the opposite sex. How a father treats his daughter sets up expectations for what she’ll look for in adult relationships with men. Involvement in his daughter’s life profoundly affects her self esteem.
Mums, while encouraging your children to show their love for their dads, let your partners know what you appreciate about them this father’s day.
13/06/2012 No Comments
Descriptive Praise in Action
At The Parent Practice we have many parents who never cease to amaze us with simple ideas that have a long-reaching, positive impact on the relationship they have with their children.
One Mum recently emailed us with a grateful letter that she intended to include with her soon-to-be 8 year old’s birthday card. This wasn’t just any old letter. This was a heartfelt testament (full of descriptive praise) to the year her son had just completed: the milestones he achieved; the new skills he learned; his new friendships; the frustrations and the overcoming of those frustrations; the enhanced relationships with his brothers; even his height and shoe size at the beginning of the year. Some of us have kept baby books where we keep track of all the firsts – teeth, steps and words – but we usually stop by the time our children start school if not before. It is a wonderful idea to continue to keep a record and celebration of their lives.
This Mum is beautifully participative in her son’s life – not overbearing – but present in a way in which she can observe and note down (her son is oblivious until he receives the card) things that may at first seem mundane, but actually are important moments in the life of a child. Here’s an excerpt:
We are grateful that you are growing so independent
in the mornings… always dressed and downstairs by
7am, getting your own breakfast and setting the table
for everyone else. For the pride you take in doing up
your new school tie, and the way you make your own
bed every day without reminders. For accepting the
new ‘no Wii on a school day’ rule with good grace… but
playing it like a madman at the weekends.
We are grateful for your strong will … for never backing down
which is both infuriating and admirable. For your desire to
win and be the best, and how mad it makes you when you
lose. For finding it impossible to say sorry out loud, but then
spontaneously writing a beautiful and sincere letter of apology.
For trying so hard to control your anger and getting frustrated
when it is sometimes the hardest thing to do.
He must start his birthday each year on such a high! This particular year he will be reminded not just that he is deeply loved, but also that he is independent, cooperative, contributing, proud, disciplined, determined and sincere – all qualities that we hope to instill in our children. We love the honesty of the letter: the Mum isn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses, but rather she takes aspects of her child’s behaviour that could infuriate her, and sees them in a positive and caring way – enabling her son to know that he is appreciated for who he is. We imagine that her son is left knowing that being determined, for example, can be a good quality!
We hope that reading this letter doesn’t leave you feeling inadequate or beaten at the competitive game parenting can be but instead inspires you to create something similar for your child. It would be wonderful for them as teenagers and adults to be able to re-read an accurate record of their lives. We like the idea of excerpts being read out (with laughter and tears) one day at a 21st or wedding reception!
So, how do we do it? The Mum who sent us her letter has it down to an art! She jots down notes on the ‘notes’ app on her iPhone and pulls them all together at the end of the year. The writing down seems like it will be the easy part! The more challenging aspect will be taking the time to participate, observe, and truly connect with your children as they grow up. Although it will take time we suspect it will be time you will enjoy and will help you see your child in a truly positive light.
20/10/2011 No Comments
Britons and people across the world have been mesmerised by the riots that took place recently in London and other cities and have been scrabbling for some sort of explanation for what went on, what motivated the rioters and, it seemed to me, searching for someone to blame. I was sorry to see that one of the knee jerk reactions as we try to make sense of this frightening occurrence in our own neighbourhoods was a spate of parent bashing and blaming.
There have been as many theories about the causes of the violence as there were people who took part in it. But there is no one explanation that has convinced me as applying to all who took part. The causes attributed seem to depend on who are identified as the perpetrators. If the rioters were unemployed, uneducated, fatherless, estate-living, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds then commentators have claimed that it is the socio economic climate in which we live currently that has given rise to this spate of violence. But many of the looters were not from this demographic but were middle class, older people in employment. There were teachers, dental nurses and ballerinas who took part. Many of these people were female, educated and in employment. Some of the young were living in stable homes with two caring parents. Many of us will have heard interviews with ‘hoodies’ who claim to have joined in for the fun of it and because they could get away with it.
Whatever the disparate socio economic and ethnic backgrounds of the people taking part in the rioting and looting maybe one thing that unites them is a sense of powerlessness in their lives that compels them to seize control in this way. One youth was quoted as saying “We wanted to show the police we could do what we wanted.” The other uniting feature, as many commentators have mentioned, is the moral vacuum we have witnessed. Whatever the circumstances of their lives, whatever hardships they may be enduring, whatever frustrations or privations, these don’t justify taking the action they did, causing the damage they did, taking the lives they did. So what is missing? Some of the people taking part seemed to just get caught up in the atmosphere of the mob without any predetermined idea of causing violence or stealing. But why did they give way to the thrust of the crowd? Where is the value system that tells a person when to stop and decide not to join the throng? Why wasn’t there an overriding compulsion that made them put the brakes on and think about how their actions impacted on others? How do you get those values? Clearly from one’s up-bringing. Allison Pearson has written in the Telegraph, “Our young people need adults to stop abdicating authority.”
While it is true that we need parents to behave like adults and to be in charge there are wide differences of opinion about what this means. Pearson quoted her neighbour as saying “They need a smacked bottom and to be sent to bed early”. Generally when people say “what that child needs is some discipline” they mean this kind of punitive approach but this is pendulum thinking where we assume that the alternative to this kind of flagrant permissiveness is clamping down hard with punishment. And if we conclude that there are social factors at work here which facilitated the recent lawlessness then we will not be effective in just bringing down sanctions without addressing those social factors.
In any case there is a more effective middle ground involving parents setting and upholding boundaries, taking an interest in and being responsible for their children and being willing to be the parent not the friend. My view is that there is a crisis of parenting when the adults are not in charge, when they don’t know where a 12 year old is, when they have not been able to pass on values about respect for others, when they have not taught compassion and tolerance, when the young people don’t have the communication skills necessary to get what they need without violence, when they don’t have a proper education.
Not all the young people who took part in the violence have been brought up badly. Some of them may have got caught up in the moment and displayed a real lack of judgment in doing so and they need to be shown that there are consequences for that behaviour. Some parents are bravely doing just that. Chelsea Ives, 18 year old and promising athlete, took part in the rioting and was seen on television by her parents who took the courageous step of turning her into the police. And other parents have taken similar steps to teach their children responsibility for their actions.
But where there has been a failure to educate young people in good values and responsibility I think we have to be careful where we lay the blame for that. It is too easy to say what parents should be doing, especially when we’re pointing the finger at another set of parents, not ourselves. We need to take responsibility as a community for what has happened and think holistically about how we can support parents to bring up the next generation better. However difficult I think we need to try to get to the why’s of what happened so we can take effective action rather than just shooting in the dark like tough punishment and bringing in the army. And we need more data before we can analyse accurately what happened. Just as when we’re disciplining our kids at home we need to take time to understand why they did the thing we didn’t want them to do so that we can respond effectively.
The phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ hasn’t had much application in modern Britain but it needs to now. If one good thing comes out of this maybe it will be that in the spirit of the cleaning up that took place after the riots, that sense of taking back control of our communities, we look out for our neighbours more and help each other to bring up good kids. That might be in direct ways by offering to look after a neighbour’s child to give them a break, or being a male ‘uncle’ figure in the life of a fatherless child, or it might be having the courage to tell a teen to take their feet off the seat on the bus. Or maybe our actions will be to lobby government in this time of austerity measures to not make cuts in the vital area of providing parenting support so that parents have the tools to be able to get their kids to school, get them off the streets, give them the values they want to pass on and teach them respect. Nothing will change if we just mutter about the state of moral collapse in our society and point the finger of blame at parents who are not coping.
17/08/2011 1 Comment
One of the perks of living in London is the opportunity to attend world-class events. Recently I was lucky enough to be at Wimbledon’s Center Court for the final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic won in 4 sets, and he was the deserving winner. He simply played better tennis on the day.
Athletes can be a tremendous inspiration; providing lessons in how to be at the top of their game and remaining confident, yet also maintaining humility. Rafael Nadal summed it up so beautifully in his speech following his defeat by Djokovic. He said:
“First I would like to congratulate Novak and his team for his victory today and his amazing season. It wasn’t possible [for me] today in this final. I tried my best as always. Today one player played better than me. I will try another time next year.”
Here’s what I like about what he captured in those short sentences:
- Djokovich won, Nadal lost and Nadal can still be happy for Djokovich and what he accomplished.
- He acknowledged that he was beaten by the better player on the day. He says that he played his best, and he understands that on that particular day, his best wasn’t good enough to win.
- That he will leave the court with an increased commitment and motivation to learn from his loss; to look at what he could have done differently; and to refine his game and improve so that July 2012 might see a different result!
Apparently one of the things players see before heading on to Center Court is the classic Rudyard Kipling poem If
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same
This is such an important lesson to instill in our children. The ability to win with grace and humility and the ability to lose in the same way. Defeat can lead to (at least) two outcomes: it can shut you down so you no longer want to try; or, you see it as a source of inspiration. Defeat can be the opportunity to take stock with what you have achieved, re-clarify and re-commit to your goals and take some time to refine your skills.
Yesterday’s match demonstrated that, for Nadal, doing your best is not the same as (in that particular match) being the best. While doing your best might not result in a first or second place finish, it will always provide an opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses and see them both as things to learn from and improve upon.
29/07/2011 No Comments
Have you ever had the experience where your child says they are bored and there is nothing to do? Or indeed the situation where a simple family game of cards dissolves into hysteria and tantrums if your child does not win? Simply playing sport or other games can sometimes be fraught with emotion for both parent and child. Encouraging simple creative play from an early age can often be a minefield as parents are bombarded with a n overwhelming array of educational toys – largely electronic, with an amazing range of batteries and buttons. The marketing gurus cleverly stamp a package as “Award Winning Toy” encouraging parents to buy with the implication they will have as a result an “award winning child”. This preconditioning starts early and moves with the development of your child into the more sophisticated area of Nintendo Ds; Playstations and Xbox’s. Electronic toys are largely about children executing tasks and play therefore becomes based on performance and not imagination. The manufacturers may just as well put a health warning on the box saying” creativity and imagination not included in this package!”
Another on going problem for many parents is that as children develop in age, there can be a temptation to fill children’s free time with many organised activities and entertainment often designed to add to their list of accomplishments. Indeed we do live in a culture of organised play, as the pressure to maximize every moment is enormous, especially as time together between parent and child may be compromised. The result can often be children who, when left to their own devices, may not know what to do. We don’t want fun to be seen by our children as commercialised and yet so often this can be the case .
The solutions to the above are so simple as to be overlooked:
- For the younger children, go back to the old fashioned games of “Simon says”, ‘musical bumps’ and “I spy” to encourage not only physical movement but listening skills and language processing. Action rhymes such as “Row, row, row the boat” soon become children’s’ favourites and enable them to focus on words and actions and learn about processing two part instructions.
- For the older child, focus on engaging them in adult activities such as cooking; cleaning; ironing, washing the car as well as playing games. Depending on age and stage of development they may not be able to concentrate for long, but often you find these activities actually inspire creative play and the added benefit to you is you encourage self reliance early on!
In terms of playing competitive games and sports, many life skills are required in order to be successful and enjoy taking part. We need to teach and train our children to:
- Follow rules and instructions
- Use self control
- Handle their feelings
- Consider other people’s feelings
- Look for solutions and develop strategies for dealing with problems
Set up opportunities to practice the above skills by playing sport and other games. (This also provides opportunities for positive time with your children which contributes to a positive relationship with them, improves their motivation to please and increases their self-esteem.)
- Before the game starts ask your child what the rules are or what they must do in detail.
- Ask them or suggest to them what feelings they might have if they win or if they lose.
- What might they feel like doing when they win/lose? What behaviour is required if they win or if they lose?
- Empathise that they might prefer to skip this conversation and get on with the game.
- During the game descriptively praise the behaviour you want to encourage – choose from: self-control, taking turns, stopping when a physical game gets too rough, not hurting physically or verbally, not complaining or storming off, kindness, consideration, tolerance especially re younger siblings, helpfulness, following instructions/rules and anything else that occurs to you.
- 6. Conspicuously model the desired behaviour (i.e. talk about what you’re doing) e.g. “Oh no I’ve picked up a bad card but I’m not going to make a fuss and I’m going to carry on playing the game. Maybe I’ll get good cards next time.” Or “Oops that wasn’t a good shot. I’m going to practice my goal shooting so I’ll get better at it.”
- Acknowledge that it’s hard when the game isn’t going your child’s way or he’s not playing skillfully. (e.g. can’t get the ball in the basketball hoop). “It can be hard to keep going when it doesn’t come easily at first. It takes self discipline.”
And finally when your child returns home from their cricket or rounders match resist the temptation to ask “Did you win?” replacing it first with “Did you enjoy yourself? And then “did you play your best?” or “did you manage to keep your eye on the ball the way you’ve been practicing” or “Did the coach have any good tips?”
01/07/2011 No Comments