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The recent announcement that one of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11 plus is being undermined by an ‘endemic’ culture of tutoring has once again put the spotlight on the private tutoring industry and after the Sutton Trust released figures last year that showed 43% of children nationally had received private tuition, this decision may be celebrated by many parents.
Is it parental fear that if a good place at a selective school is not secured for their children they stand no chance in the overly competitive job market or is tutoring a way for parents to compensate for choosing state education and fearing they may not be doing the best for their children? Whatever the reason it is clear that tutoring is now so commonplace for many parents it is assumed to be a requirement of any child’s education. Of course tutoring is very widespread in the private sector as well where parents are already paying high fees. My 9 year old niece recently moved on from one of London’s top day schools to a gentle boarding school in the country. She was the only child in her year of 60 students at her old school not being tutored. This endemic has to stop.
I confess that today my teenage son, who has specific learning difficulties, is currently accessing a tutor to help him with basic numeracy and to re-sit a Maths GCSE. The one-to-one environment of learning some basic arithmetic skills that were overlooked early in his education is one he is thriving on. His self -esteem has increased as a result. He can ask unlimited questions without the fear of sounding silly and it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. After watching as a family this week some reality TV in the form of The Apprentice and witnessing some sensationalist cringe-making TV in the form of a group of bright young things unable to do basic measurements and percentages, he appreciates and values the input he is having so that he has the essential life skills to cope with numbers! Clearly there is room for tutoring to help fill a specific gap where a child has missed out on some essential skills which are necessary pre-skills for the next level and which are difficult to address in the classroom.
This is very different from the tutoring that is done to coach children for 11 plus and other exams. And when tutoring is done so routinely that the majority of children in a year are receiving tutoring that is a very anxious environment in which to be (not) learning. The high pressure, high stakes culture that permeates schools and children’s lives, and so worries educationalists, often is as a result of anxious and pushy parents, the tiger mums and turbo charged Dads with very, very high expectations for their children. Let’s not rob our children of their childhood and let Chelmsford High school lead the way on the ‘tutor proof’ test enabling schools to distinguish between the naturally bright and able child and the one who has been tutored to within an inch of their lives.
As a parent coach I see the results and outcomes of a pressured child later in their teenage years feeling not quite good enough; parents feeling disappointed in their children; parents maybe complaining of the overly pressurised environment. Some educational environments described as overly pressurised may just be the wrong environment for that child. The child may not have developed the skills or the best work habits and having been placed in an environment not best suited to their learning style and profile. The effect on self-esteem and how children view themselves can often be a high price to pay.
Let parenting not be a competitive sport and our children be one of our own ‘achievements’. It’s a real challenge for us as parents but we must strive to achieve some kind of balance between equipping our children with skills for adult life and allowing them to have a happy, unstressed childhood without the years of tutoring. We want them to develop a good work ethic and to enjoy learning rather than just passing exams.
In the words of Madeline Levine from The Price of Privilege:
“Children need to see that we value their character first, their effort second, and then their grades.” Dr Madeline Levine
10/05/2013 No Comments
The kids are back at school now and some of you ultra-organised ones may have turned your minds to Christmas already. Don’t worry if you haven’t –there will be more on that in our next newsletter. Others may be focused on your child just having started a new school or a new year with a new teacher and will be wondering how to support your child to do the best they can do.
In a recent article in the Telegraph (7th August 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9458290/Teaching-toddlers-to-pay-attention-is-the-key-to-academic-success.html# reference was made to recent research by child development experts which concludes that it is not tutoring in academic subjects that will help your child to succeed but supporting them to pay attention and to perservere. This particular research by Dr Megan McClelland from Oregon State University, published in the online journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, reflects what the Gottman Institute had noticed as part of their research on developing emotional intelligence. Drs John and Julie Gottman found that children whose parents are emotion coaches for them, that is they recognise, respect and respond to their child’s emotions:
- Are better able to manage their feelings
- Have better academic achievements
- They are able to sustain attention for longer and
- Able to shift attention from one subject to another more easily
- They get along with their peers better
Author (and champion table tennis player) Matthew Syed, in his best-selling book Bounce, explores the idea that innate talent (whether in academic, musical, business or sporting fields) is a myth and that all the best performers in their various areas of endeavour have got to the top of their fields by a combination of opportunity, application and focus. (He does concede that it helps to be a tall if you’re a basketballer).
Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University’s research into mindsets is particularly interesting for parents. She developed the thesis that people can have different attitudes to learning which either promote or inhibit their development. With a fixed mindset one believes that one has a fixed amount of innate intelligence and that if you can’t do something it means that you have exhausted your store of intelligence. A person who has this attitude will not want to challenge the status associated with his cleverness and will not take risks that will show him to be less intelligent. Her research showed that children would not tackle harder tasks when in this fixed mindset. By contrast people with a growth mindset believe that they can with effort get better at anything and therefore are willing to try new and harder things.
A child’s mindset is affected by how adults talk to them. When we praise a child for cleverness or talent and when we focus on their results we promote a fixed mindset. However when adults praise kids for the effort they make, the attitudes they show, the strategies they employ; when we focus more on the process than the outcome we encourage in them a growth mindset. So don’t praise your child for being clever and don’t let your first question after a football game be did you win?
Parents often ask us, in classes or consultations, how to help children to focus more. Here is what we say:
- Don’t pay too much attention when your child’s attention wanders and particularly don’t criticise it. Instead notice when they bring their attention back to the task in hand and mention that. You’re looking at your page. You brought your focus back to your work without me saying anything to you.
- Praise in a descriptive way whenever you see signs of persistence. Wow, you really stuck with trying to learn to balance on your bike. You didn’t give up until you mastered the wobbles! One mum told us how she’d been praising her daughter for persevering with tying her shoe laces, thinking it was big word to be using for a little girl. Then when she’d just finished manoeuvring her big car into a tight parking space a little voice from the back seat piped up with “Gee mum, you really persevere.”
- Our children need to think of themselves as people who can pay attention and persist if they are to do well in life so we need to notice and point out to them whenever there is behaviour which shows up these qualities. Children are natural learners; just look at a toddler learning to walk. They don’t give up despite numerous set backs. We can train ourselves to notice their efforts and point them out to the child. Some families put the words on their fridge so that they remember to notice them. Others use a jar in which they collect tokens for examples of focus.
- Give lots of descriptive praise, not just for paying attention and persistence but more generally. A child who feels generally capable will be better able to handle set backs and try again.
- Be an emotion coach for your child. Help them understand their emotions by talking about them so that they can manage them and move on to the next task. This is surprisingly one of the most helpful things we can do in encouraging focus.
- Some families have found that it helps to use an idea from Neuro Linguistic Programming to help children focus. It might work to use an ‘anchor’ or a talisman which is an object imbued with certain qualities, in this case focus, which the child can look at or hold (or listen to). Choose your object and invest it with its magical properties by recalling a time with your child where they were very focused (something about which they were very enthusiastic). Relive that moment by focusing on all the details of the event; what could you see and hear, what could you feel? While bringing that moment to life have your child hold or look at his object and describe what was happening to him –“you were really concentrating hard, you were so focused.” Then when focus is needed pull out the magic focus object. Refer to it as the focus object.
- Enthuse about the tasks they are doing. If your child is learning to read try to read with them at a time when you’re not exhausted so that you can be interested. Get into the story they are reading. If decoding the words becomes too consuming that the story gets lost share the reading with them. Look at the pictures and guess what is going to happen next. Talk about how the characters feel.
- When children are motivated and interested it’s easier to focus but there are many things they need to do where they may not be so interested or motivated. Parents can do a lot to build motivation, mainly through descriptive praise. But even if children remain unmotivated about the intrinsic nature of the task we can motivate through praise for doing what they have to do even when they’re not interested! I know that brushing your teeth isn’t interesting and it gets to be a bit of a drag day in, day out. I know you’d rather just skip it and get on with your game so I really admire you for doing it anyway because you know that’s the only way to have healthy teeth and gums. Not only are you doing it but you’re doing it thoroughly so you now have a really sparkly smile and beautiful fresh breath!
- Of course it helps if we can provide our children with an environment where it is easy for them to focus so when they’re doing homework or tackling some other kind of task try to eliminate noise and visual clutter.
- Limit the amount of fast moving TV and computer and other electronic activities your children do where they are not required to focus for more than a few seconds. Instead encourage activities which involve their own creativity and sustained thought to work out a problem or develop a story line, such as fantasy play, building a den or board or card games.
So be focused on developing good habits of focus and perseverance in your child to help them do well in life.
17/09/2012 No Comments
|UNICEF UK recently released a report entitled Child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden: The role of inequality and materialism. The UK did not compare well with Spain and Sweden in terms of the wellbeing of children and the role of consumer products in their lives. “…in Spain and Sweden the pressure to consume appeared much weaker and the resilience of children and parents much greater than in the UK. Families in the UK appear to face greater pressures on their time and money, and react to this in ways they feel are counter productive to children’s well-being….Most children agreed that family time was more important to them than consumer goods, yet we observed within UK homes a compulsion on the part of some parents to continually buy new things for their children and for themselves. Boxes of toys, broken presents and unused electronics in the home were witness to this drive to acquire new possessions. Most parents realised that what they were doing was often “pointless”, but seemed somehow pressurised and compelled to continue.”
It is real juggling act raising children in the 21st century (particularly in the UK it would appear), where instant gratification has become the norm, and status is defined by what we own. The shops and TV screens are full of enticements…. and everyone wants everything….. and they want it now!
As loving parents, we want to do our best for our children, but we are often unsure what that is in this materialistic world. We want them to have the best we can give, we want to show them how much we love them, and, at the same time, we want them to be appreciative of what they have and learn to value their possessions. Many parents are concerned about falling into the trap of over-indulging their children, fearing that their children will grow up to be overly acquisitive and never satisfied, unable to appreciate the true cost of things or differentiate between their needs and their wants.
So how can we instill in our children the values we want and we believe will equip them best for the future, and yet not always have to be the bad cop, saying no, no, no….?
There is one immediate and relatively simple way we can help our children.
We can protect them from the constant advertising which tells them that their value is tied up in what they own and that they need to acquire certain goods in order to fit in. We can limit their exposure to TV adverts by cutting down on screen-time, or using Sky Plus, and we can discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates!
And then it comes down to being clear and true to our values, and communicating this effectively to our children.
So, first, we need to establish what our values are. We need to ask ourselves why do we buy things for our children? It may be an uncomfortable question to answer honestly…. Is it because we believe everyone else is, and we don’t want them to feel left out? (The UNICEF report suggests that there are high levels of social insecurity in the UK which is compensated for by buying status brands.) Is it because we feel guilty about the amount of time we are able to spend with them as is also suggested in the UNICEF report? Is it because we want them to enjoy what we never had? Some parents interviewed for the UNICEF report suggested that they wanted status brands for their children to protect them from the kind of bullying they experienced themselves as kids. Do we buy because we can’t bear to see them unhappy? Is it because they pester so much that we can’t bear it and don’t know how to avoid giving in? In the heat of the moment do we lose sight of the reasons why it might not be a good idea for them to have what they are asking for? Do we think we’re being mean in denying them?
Having clarified our values, we now have to communicate them to our children and we can approach this on three levels.
LEVEL 1: ON-GOING
Children learn by copying, so we can start involving them in purchasing decisions, showing them the link between earning and spending. This might sound like: “I’m not sure whether we need this now, perhaps it would be better to wait till next month.” Or “I really like those ipads. I’m going to put a bit of money aside each week until I’ve saved enough to buy one.” Or “These Nike trainers are really cool but they’re so expensive –these other ones will do just as well.” We can also model appreciation by being appreciative ourselves, and noticing and mentioning whenever they are. This might sound like: “I love it when you say thank-you for the things I do for you. It’s polite, and makes me feel really appreciated.” or “You’re taking really good care of your new train set –you put it away very carefully in its box each time you’ve finished with it.”
And, we can set up systems so that our children earn the privileges that many of them believe they have as a right, simply because they are alive – whether that is TV or other electronics, outings, play-dates or material possessions. Children appreciate things they have earned for themselves, for good behaviour, more than things they are just given.
LEVEL 2: BEFORE A PURCHASING EVENT
Before we set out for a shopping expedition, we need to manage our children’s expectations beforehand with a chat-through.
In a chat-through, we want our children to be doing most of the talking, to avoid lecturing or nagging and having them feel too controlled, but we can start with an explanation about why we’re having the chat-through. This might sound like: “It’s important to me that you learn about the cost of things and their value, and how to appreciate the good things you have”.
Then we ask them questions – what will happen in the shop, what amount will be spent, on what items, why, what behaviour is expected, and how might the child feel….They need to do the talking if they are to be committed to what needs to happen. It is important to empathise that the child may feel really tempted, disappointed or frustrated at the change in policy, aware that other children may have the things they covet…. We can ask how the child could handle these feelings – some ideas include telling the parent, writing down the items the child wishes she could buy, using some safe venting technique like stamping feet or pounding their fists. It’s really important we don’t make our children wrong for being tempted by the appealing things on the shelves. After all a lot of thought and money is spent by companies seeking to entice them.
LEVEL THREE: THE PESTER MOMENT
However well the chat-through went, the child may be unable to resist and revert to the old pestering ways.
When this happens, we need to keep calm – remembering children feel things very intensely in the moment but these feelings pass, and remembering too that it is not our job to keep them happy in the moment; instead it is our job to enable them to make themselves happy in the future, by developing self-control and problem-solving skills.
So we can empathise with our children, imagining how they are feeling and reflecting it back to them in words. This is the first step in helping our children understand and manage their feelings. This might sound like: “You wish you could buy that car. You really like it because it’s really shiny and it’s got cool tires. You’re really sad that Mummy said we can’t buy anything today. Maybe you think I’m being mean. You know what? I’m proud of you for only making a little fuss about this. I know you’re really disappointed. It’s hard not to be able to have something you really want.”
Although this may not result in an immediate improvement in behaviour, it does show the child that they are understood and their feelings are accepted, even though their behaviour needs to be re-directed.
We can also give ‘wishes in fantasy’. This means we accept what they want and imagine what it would be like if they could have it. It’s an interesting distraction and can help make light of a potentially heavy moment, without making the child or his feelings seem silly. This might sound like: “I bet you would like to have every single piece of lego in the whole world – gosh, I wonder how big a box we would need to hold it all? I don’t think we would be able to lift it up!”
Overall, it pays to take time to prepare and train ourselves and our children how best to cope with life in today’s modern world. It may help to bear the following in mind from Dr. Phil McGraw, a psychologist and author:
“Your child does not have to love you every minute of every day. He’ll get over the disappointment of having been told “no.” But he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled.”
19/01/2012 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
It is Valentine’s day and of course our thoughts turn to love – but what if the love we’re pondering is our children’s love …and it’s not ourselves that are the object of their affection but some spotty youth! When our children fall in love what’s the parent’s role, or do we even have one? Have we been totally eclipsed, put out to pasture, past our use-by date? Ok, all clichés to one side, I suppose it depends when your child is smitten with Eros’s arrow. If your ‘child’ is of an age that you think is too young for love, and for fathers of daughters this may be any age up to about 30, then what? When is too young for love and what does love mean at different ages? A 7 year old child may declare themselves to be in love or to have a girlfriend and when questioned this turns out to mean that they are prepared to swap sandwiches at lunchtime . A ten year old may be very keen on a member of the opposite sex and this manifests itself by them calling the object of their affection names and tweaking their hair. By 13 your child may have reached such heights of sophistication that they are now prepared to acknowledge that there is a point to girls/boys and they may really fancy one, but would rather die than admit it to the other. Or you may find that the child who has come over for a ‘playdate’ is making you question what sort of play they had in mind! If you think your child is too young for an exclusive relationship then tell them so without making them wrong or making fun of them and encourage them to be friends with lots of people.
We might think the idea of our children being in love is cute until we see them holding hands or sneaking a kiss and then we decide we need to have some boundaries! Where each parent draws a boundary will depend on their own value system and upbringing and it is worth discussing the rules with them when the other young person is not present. I remember being mortified by my grandfather insisting that my bedroom door had to be kept open when my boyfriend came over. In a household of 7 people there was nowhere else but my room to go for any peace and quiet. Some of the guidelines they may need are about how to behave with integrity and respect towards the opposite sex.
And what if said spotty youth seems totally unsuitable? Just as we can’t choose our children’s friends we certainly can’t choose their boyfriends and girlfriends and we risk alienating them if we try. Assuming we’re talking about a teenager now they are in the process of working out their identity and choosing their friends is an important part of that. You can and should have rules about how they conduct themselves in your house but you can’t dictate who they decide to give their affections to. Trust that the values you’ve been passing on to them since they were small have been taken on board. You may not share their taste and you may question their judgment but a parent’s role at this point is a more backseat one. There is no doubt that the first boyfriend/girlfriend can make a parent question their own relationship with their child. They have moved on to the next phase of their lives –friendships have taken on a different meaning and a parent may feel a bit usurped. It’s important not to take this as a rejection –they still need you.
And what of unrequited love or some other kind of hurt? What do you do when your precious child has been dumped by text message or on facebook? A common phenomenon in these days of social networking. Just as when they were being teased as a small child your first instinct may be to rush in and try to sort things out for them but we need to put the brakes on and work out how to support them more subtly. They need us above all to be there for them, to listen and to comfort. They do not need to be told there are plenty of other fish in the sea and how you didn’t like him anyway or how he could do better than that girl. Try to remember what it feels like to be hurt in love – but don’t tell them about all your experiences –just empathise. They will need to know that they are worthwhile but not by telling them that there’s nothing wrong with them (apart from their taste in girls/boys) and the only way they will believe any words of encouragement from a parent at this point is if those words are completely believable –that means sincere and descriptive.
15/02/2011 No Comments
Do you as a parent have the experience of getting your children into bed and then keeping them there throughout the night as a regular waking nightmare! For many parents preventing their children from waking up and disturbing their own sleep or the sleep of siblings can be a huge problem…..when your kids are teens then this ceases to be a problem as they will then struggle to get out of bed. Such is the developmental pattern of behaviour – life is cruel!
Children and parents need their sleep and we also need to have some time to ourselves in the evening if we are to ensure we are not functioning purely as a C.R.U….. a child rearing unit with no time to nurture adult relationships.
Why do parents experience the issue with bed hopping and bedtime battles? The answer often lies with us, as we as parents can often be so inconsistent that inadvertently our children end up training us to reward the behaviour we don’t want e.g. by allowing them into our bed in the middle of the night. There of course may be other practical issues such as needing the toilet; being scared of the dark; finding it hard to settle in the evening and putting themselves to sleep.
The solutions are plentiful:
- Decide with your partner or if a single parent with anyone who is regularly involved with putting the kids to bed, what your values are around bedtime; create rules and ensure there are meaningful rewards and consequences attached
- Establish your evening routine so that it is conducive to the kids winding down; sitting in bed for stories; playing a quiet game after bath; PJ’s and teeth brushing routine. Make the whole routine positive using masses of descriptive praise and no criticising; nagging or shouting. Try not to encourage rough and tumble at this time of day as this can make some children more excitable
- Alternate which parent puts the children to bed, otherwise they become dependent on one parent and start calling the shots!
- Ensure your bedtime rules are as detailed as possible – “Going to bed nicely” is too general. Ask the question what does this look like and make it detailed. Each of these below amounts to a rule around bedtime:
- Have 2 stories
- Do a wee if need to
- Get into your own bed
- Kiss mummy and /or Daddy goodnight
- Say everything you need to say…have your bedtime chat and may need a time limit for this
- Turn out the light and say “ goodnight, see you in the morning”
- Don’t stay in the room till your child falls asleep, or he will not be able to sleep without your presence and inadvertently you have created a dependency.
- If your child is scared, don’t tell her not to be afraid or that she’s too big to be worrying about monsters and the like. Really listen to her feelings and empathise….and try and help her understand what she is feeling. “It can be scary if you wake up in the night and everyone else is asleep. Maybe you feel lonely”. Once our children feel that we are listening and understand they are much more able/willing to listen to solutions.
- A great Health Visitor friend of mine recommends introducing your child to an anchor which they can reach out and use if indeed they are scared of monsters in the dark. Arm them with an empty plastic pump spray bottle armed with imaginary “anti – monster juice” so they can reach out in the middle of the night and zap the monster away.
- Discuss with your children strategies they can use if indeed they wake during the night to help them get back to sleep. Have reward stickers that build up around the head board of the bed or on a sticker chart so she can earn rewards for each stage of the “going to bed” proceedings. Gives her the message she is being successful and is capable
- The sleep fairy is also a lovely idea….she fills during the day a favourite teddy bear with all the sleep needed to ensure the child has the tools to sleep at night. If progress has been made and he only got out of bed twice compared to 6 times the previous night the sleep fairy will visit in the night and leave a small note or token of how happy she is the child is making progress and getting into better bedtime habits. This token can be anything that tickles you child from a special stone; a pretty flower; a piece of lego; a conker? You are the experts in your children and what motivates them but the sleep fairy does not spend any money and uses her creativity and imagination to reward.
- In the early days of training your child into better bed time habits, it is much better to go back into the room and praise them, rather than wait till you are downstairs cooking supper and they call you back or come out of their rooms. We always recommend that in order to create a new habit you have to be there as the trainer. This may mean sitting outside the child’s bedroom reading a paper or book for 20 minutes or so, but it means you are far less resentful then having to leave the kitchen and head back upstairs and have your buttons pressed
- Training into new habits takes time…don’t expect perfection after just a few nights and do praise for any progress made
- Never use bed as a punishment/consequence
- Remember to recharge your own batteries- think of yourself as a chequeing account – once overdrawn it is not easy to be an effective parent.
If you like this blog and want to see more examples of Descriptive Praise for bedtimes, take a look at our Bedtime Battle publication which you can download from the website:
Here’s to sweet dreams and quality sleep.
09/02/2011 No Comments
As the recycling trucks take away the last bags of ripped wrapping paper and broken up boxes, homes are full of new toys and games. In the playgrounds, children are comparing notes about who got what, and, at home, they are busy determining which are destined to become much loved favourites and which will be gathering dust on the shelf.
After all the recent focus on presents, it’s interesting to read about some research from Cardiff University which concluded that 75% of 11-12 year olds rated spending time with their family, above spending time with friends or time alone. When asked what they enjoyed doing with their family, the children didn’t mention playing games or being taken shopping or on day-trips or outings. They talked about “routine” and “ordinariness” and about the feeling of “having someone around”. What the children seem to value is a time to rest and relax, with a sense of control and security, which they get from being WITH us, rather than being with friends, or indeed from having the latest gizmos, gadgets and games.
In our classes, we talk about making sure you spend some “Special Time” with each child at some point during the week. It needs only be 5-10 minutes, and it can take place at any time of the day and anywhere. The point that makes it “Special” is that is guaranteed and regular time with you – uninterrupted by anything or anyone. There are many benefits, but the beauty is the simplicity. You don’t have to do anything with them, just be with them. If there is a particular conversation or an activity, it’s at their urging and under their direction.
But I was still not sure I’m that great company for my children, until I asked my eldest (aged 10 years) what was good about the recent holidays, and the answer was “just being at home with you”. It surprised me, in the lovely way it does when you realise they sometimes know more and better than we do….. I asked what was so good about “just being at home” because personally “just being at home” can drive me mad….. And the response of “I like knowing you are here, and knowing where everything is and what is going to happen because I feel safe” very much confirmed the Cardiff University research.
Now, I don’t think my child feels particularly unsafe anywhere else. There are no signs to cause me any concern in this area. But I had not thought about it like this before. The world outside the front door really can be pretty big and scary, even when you’ve reached double digits, and I realise now I hugely underestimate the comfort and pleasure our home and my presence in it gives my children. I don’t always need to add anything particular – although being actively engaged with your child is always going to be something you wish you did more of. Sometimes I just have to be me and be here.
17/01/2011 No Comments
Is 2011 the year in which you want to get your children to eat more healthily?
With the New Year upon us we are sure that you will all be making some sort of New Year’s resolutions. They might be about losing weight, being a better parent or eating more healthily.
However, it is not likely that our children will be thinking about how to eat more healthily. So it’s down to us, as parents, to make that resolution for them. But, we also know that with the fervour of a new year, we can often be unrealistic about what changes we can make and the timeframe in which our goals can be achieved. As adults we all know that many drastic New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January because they were simply unrealistic in the first place. They are even harder to keep when other people are involved.
Each household has its own unique dynamics in terms of work patterns, outside activities and eating habits. As such general advice about how to lead a healthier life is all well and good but it may not seem relevant or achievable in the context of your own family. We believe that if you want to change things in a family you need to take stock of where you are starting from, how committed you are to change and how much support or resistance you are likely to encounter. If you don’t take these individual factors into account at the start you are setting yourself up for failure.
No one said that getting children to eat healthily was easy. There are so many pressures out there which encourage unhealthy eating behaviour such as advertising, peer pressure, the drive for convenience and speed. No one wants to go head to head with their child on a meal by meal by meal basis. But the more you care about what your child eats, the more emotional the food issue can become. Some children can and do exploit this emotional dimension – either consciously or sub-consciously to exert influence and control in the home. They seem to know all the buttons to press to get you to react to what they are or are not eating. Food is so central to our lives and to our desire to nurture our family that it is bound to cause you anxiety if your child refuses to eat or will only eat a limited number of foods. There is often frustration if you have lovingly prepared a healthy meal from scratch only to see a turned up nose before the fork has left the plate. You would have to be pretty stoic not to take that as a personal rejection.
We have developed a workshop which helps you to focus on the specific food issues in your household and in particular for your children. We do not judge where you are starting from and we aim to support you to identify which changes will make the biggest difference to your child’s health and relationship with food. Setting realistic aims is an important first step – you can’t expect to change habits overnight if they have developed over years. We then suggest strategies you can try in order to help you to achieve your aims. It’s all about making sure you have the right resources to help you, such as short cut solutions to making healthy food; easy and child friendly recipes; star charts to reinforce and reward healthy eating; knowledge of how to make sense of labels and which convenience foods are better than others.
Lots of mums feed back to us that they do feel like a voice in the wilderness when it comes to getting the family to eat well. So it is important to enlist the support of other family members and to try to make the experience enjoyable. There is a lot of truth in the old adage that “the family that eats together, stays together”. If meal times are about more than just the food they can become another opportunity to communicate with your child and enjoy their company.
To find out more:
Recipe for Health are delivering another Healthy Eating workshop – Thursday 27th January 10-1pm – don’t miss out.
10/01/2011 No Comments
We are now well into January. The Christmas tree has been taken down, life is slowly getting back to normal and I’m feeling that this has been one of the best Christmas holidays ever! And, it’s not over yet! Just over 3 weeks into the holidays, and I’m getting a bit sad that my daughter will soon be heading back to school. As I think back to December 15th, I remember almost feeling a sense of dread that the holiday would be so long! Now, though as she is heading up to 8, she is a total joy to spend time with, and I have had a really great time playing, baking, reading, drawing … all the things that she loves to do. It was really a holiday where – inspired by the Diane Loomans poem, I decided to ‘stop playing serious, and seriously play’.
The holidays started with a magical blizzard, that left many people here in London stranded, unable to get their planned flights either out to see family, or heading somewhere warm. We were already planning on staying in London, as my Mum was coming to visit, so we could really enjoy the snow. During the weekend of the big blizzard, we were all out in the park building snowmen and had a great time throwing snowballs and making snow angels. Sadly for all those who were trying to reschedule flights, they didn’t necessarily see the fun side of the weather.
The snowy days brought to mind a Maya Angelou quote: You can tell a lot about a person about how they manage these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. I would add to that, a dumping of snow while you’re stuck on an airplane on the runway at Heathrow not knowing whether you’re going to take off on that lovely trip – and with small children who are getting increasingly tired, hungry and bored. You can prepare all you like, but things can still go awry.
What can help you in those unpredictable moments is the ability to stay calm – almost surrendering to the fact that there is very little you can do to change the situation. About the only thing you have any control over is how you are going to approach it! You can go down many different routes: the complaining route (‘these airlines …’ ); the victim route (‘why does this have to happen to me?’); the practical route (attempting to make new travel arrangements); or the ‘let’s make this fun anyway’ route! Choosing to not get swept away by feelings of frustration and sadness about possibly missing out on your vacation, and actually choosing a more positive approach works on so many levels. First, there is the obvious benefit of having happier children. There is also the added bonus that your children are learning a great lesson about how to deal with situations when things don’t go swimmingly. If you’re able to stay calm and creatively deal with the challenges, you’re giving your children an amazing lesson in how to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them.
So now that the parks are green again, the Christmas cookies have all been eaten and the decorations put away for another year, I’ve decided to take on a renewed commitment to stay calm when life gets crazy, and to always remember to take time to seriously play! Happy New Year!
10/01/2011 No Comments
Have you committed to all those unrealistic New Year resolutions yet? Off to the gym 4 times a week in a burst to lose those excess festive pounds? Of course we all know that it’s a good idea to try to incorporate exercise into our daily routines as it’s more likely to get done that way and walking to school with your kids is ingraining in them some important values about exercise and fresh air I want to give walking a plug for two other equally important reasons. It’s good for your mental and emotional health and it’s really good at stimulating communication with your children.
At this time of year in the Northern hemisphere we need to wrap up warmer to beat the Nordic conditions and may feel slightly resistant to get outside (I hope I’m not the only wimp who feels that way) so I may need to make an awfully strong case for walking other than to the kettle in your kitchen. I’m advocating a therapeutic tool which is infinitely variable, completely free and offers side benefits in terms of physical health as well. I’m proposing a tool that can bring parents and children (and couples) closer together without any expert intervention or having to read any heavy tomes. This miracle solution helps unblock your mind when problem saturated, it helps you to see things more clearly, helps you gain perspective and a more positive outlook and it is an aid to developing important communication skills in your children. Anyway someone once said there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.
On what basis do I make these fulsome claims? Well more learned (and certainly more famous) writers than I have cogitated upon this before. Nietzsche wrote that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” and he had some good thoughts. Henry Thoreau also apparently liked to amble as he said “Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” I’ve also had some good thoughts whilst in the shower or just as I’m about to go to sleep (those ones lost to oblivion unless I write them down there and then) but I have also had the experience that when something is troubling me I need to move. When I was studying at university I used to walk around the room with my notes in my hand. Some of us are quite kinaesthetic learners, meaning we learn best while moving. Try getting your child to move when doing any rote learning like spellings or tables or even more complicated thought processes.
Apart from the benefits of oxygen to the brain I think it’s just the repetitive movement of putting one foot in front of the other that helps stimulate the brain as well as getting away from the distracting environment of our homes. In any case, when my husband and I have a problem we find we need to leave the house (also our working environment) and walk to find a solution. When I’m upset or angry I find walking at a frenetic pace helps but if I’m sad or just thinking a more laconic amble works –my dogs are getting very sensitive to my moods! A good breeze can only assist in the head clearing process. Encourage and model walking for your kids as an effective emotional release.
I promised another great result from walking with your kids –communication. Learned psychologist and parenting author Steve Biddulph talks about the need for ‘sideways’ talk with boys and I would agree that boys especially, but not exclusively, prefer a style of communication which involves doing some activity alongside them rather than an eyeball to eyeball Deep and Meaningful. I find my boys open up more when we’re out walking than at any other time. We may talk about things that are troubling them or just things that interest them. My youngest has long conversations with my husband about history and politics and it gives me great pleasure to watch his stride outstripping his father’s as they chat about their shared interests.
When you walk and talk you have an opportunity to use a technique to build rapport which in Neuro Lingustic Programming is called ‘mirroring’. At its simplest level this merely involves matching your stride to the other person’s. As you get more expert you may swing your arms in rhythm, match head movements and ultimately synchronise your breathing to the other person’s –then you are in accord, even though the content of your conversation may involve disagreement.
So enjoy the great outdoors and absorb all the therapeutic, creative and communication benefits as well as noticing the details of the change of season and burning a few calories!
05/01/2011 No Comments