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I recently listened to Alfie Kohn being interviewed on the Great Parenting Show. He commented that homework is akin to children being asked to do a second shift after a full day at school and that “no research has found any benefit for primary school children” which got me thinking again about this key topic. Homework can, for many families, be the single most stressful issue at home. Few children like it and not many of us parents enjoy homework either.
Is it right that children who have already been at school for up to 8 hours take on a second night shift to do more essays, test papers or worksheets? Does homework improve learning? Or help them gain study skills? Does it teach them responsibility or self-discipline ?
I do believe it’s important to question the value of homework rather than just accept it; that we talk to other parents to compare experiences, and share our concerns with the schools. However, in the meantime, if your children are in conventional education and need to cope with the here and now, here are our thoughts on to make homework easier and less stressful and less likely to extinguish a love of learning.
(1) Don’t make homework be the first thing you mention when you see them after school– give them a chance to mention it first and take responsibility for it.
They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you taking responsibility for it, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…
If you need to mention homework, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time to play that game after homework?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)
(2) Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.
Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s –you will help set the parameters but make sure you get input from them.
(3) During homework find many things to descriptively praise
Focus on attitudes, focus and improvements rather than results. If they do something well relate it back to strategies or effort employed –don’t say it’s because they’re clever.
“You’re sitting still and really concentrating.” “I like the way you’re using your ruler to make sure that line is straight.” “All that tables’ work you’ve done is paying off –it looks like you’re finding these sums easier now.”
(4) When homework is complete, first find several things to descriptively praise and then encourage them to look through their work and find improvements.
Don’t point out errors– this is de-motivating and it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work and spotting improvements. This way they get used to the idea that mistakes will happen, but they can identify them, put them right and move on.
“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”
(5) Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have you put it, but ask their opinion about the content, share ideas and thoughts.
This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake can be one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.
“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.” Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’
(6) When they moan and complain about homework, listen.
When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that validating the negative things they say will encourage negativity. None of this is true.
“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” If you say “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, …” This is empathising.
(7) Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!
We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes about the topics they’re studying. Or simply go for a walk and talk or let them go out in the dark to see the stars. Or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the idea of homework.
(8) Stay in – and make science and maths real!
It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake, weigh ingredients and divide into slices, or make salad dressing and see how the elements mix together or not. Try http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/experiments.html
(9) Model an interest in learning –enthuse!
Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to research something, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives and that we enjoy ideas.
Help us to promote a debate around the value of homework for primary school children.
Do you agree with the amount of homework your children get? What do you hope your children will gain from doing homework ?
Hope everyone settles back into their new terms well and let us know your thoughts on homework.
Melissa and Elaine
04/09/2014 6 Comments
A level and GCSE results have just come out. If your child has done well, congratulations. Go celebrate with them and acknowledge the effort they must have put in to get the results they did.
But maybe your son or daughter just got results he or she wasn’t happy with or that you weren’t happy with! If the outcome was not as hoped for read on to find out how best to respond.
There’s much advice around at the moment about what to do if your child doesn’t get the hoped for grades or the place at the institution of his choice. There are courses of action to take and it’s not the end of the world. There are often alternatives.
But before you can get on to discussing any solutions or steps to take it’s important to acknowledge the feelings –both yours and your child’s.
Acknowledge to yourself how you’re feeling. Are you confused? Was this result unexpected? Are you angry –because it was totally expected given the paltry amount of work your beloved offspring put in? No doubt you’re feeling anxious. There is a huge amount of pressure to do well in exams and it is easy to think that your child’s future has just slipped away from him. You need to acknowledge these feelings because if not they’ll fuel your responses and you will not be able to support your child in his moment of anxiety.
He’ll be feeling pretty down, and possibly guilty and anxious. Even if he doesn’t show it. Some children will take failure to get grades or places at college or university as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully. If your child has got poor GCSE results but his place at school is secure then he needs to be able to pick himself up and move on with determination to do better. Even if there has to be a rethink about how he will continue his education he will need parents’ support to avoid him giving up. Parents can help build self-confidence and increase resilience and help him to see that increased or redirected effort will pay off.
Over time parents can help with ongoing studies by:
• encouraging and motivating young people by descriptively praising them extensively, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
• avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
• developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What parents model around failure will count for a lot too.
• encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him chores to do which require skill and responsibility. Validate his opinions. This demonstrates to the child his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.
(For more on this see our publication Creating Happy Learners: How to reduce pressure and increase creativity. Clcik on ‘Our Shop and then ‘publications’ to buy)
There will need to be decisions about further education choices soon.( For help try the Exam Results Helpline on 0808 100 8000 between Thursday 14 and Saturday August 23, calls are free from landlines and some mobile networks or the UCAS Contact Centre on 0871 468 0468).
But in the immediate aftermath of the results parents need to respond with emotion coaching:
Even if you think he could have worked harder there is no point berating him for that now.
“You’re obviously really disappointed with these results Tom. I know you’d been hoping for better grades in History and Biology [and you needed As in those subjects to get into Exeter university]. Maybe you think Dad and I are mad at you. I’m disappointed with the results too but could never be disappointed in you. I know that you’ll be feeling really worried about what to do now and we’ll discuss that later.
Life throws up difficulties all the time and we will support you to deal with this difficulty. I have faith in your ability to show the courage and determination to get over this hiccup when you’ve had a bit of time to absorb it. Right now you might be thinking there’s no point in doing anything. You’ve really been knocked for six so you may be feeling a bit hopeless. You might be comparing your results with your sister’s too. It’s hard to follow in the wake of someone for whom academics seems to come so easily. [don’t be tempted to say “and if you’d worked as hard as she did you might have got somewhere…”] When you’re feeling a little less flat come and we’ll talk about what you can do next. This is one of those life blips that is going to require the kind of resilience you showed when you broke your shoulder and couldn’t play rugby for so long. You didn’t give up then and I’m sure you won’t now either”
Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them. The first step is to just admit that this sucks and he feels rubbish. Only then can the child move on to look at solutions.
If you have found this useful or interesting please share in your favourite media and send us your comments.
How have you dealt with disappointments in your life? Have you given up? When have you been able to give things another go? We’d love to hear about your experiences with setbacks, academic or otherwise. Tell us your story. The most inspiring will win our publication Creating Happy Learners.
Melissa and Elaine
21/08/2014 No Comments
Do you ever feel guilt and regret for something that you’ve said to your child? The words that just came out of your mouth sounded as if they were from an alien being (and awfully like some things your mother said to you, and you vowed you would never say) and there is no way you would speak like that to your best friend! Immediately you regret what you said – no surprise that your child is now arguing with you. Both of you have just fallen into one of the parenting manholes – it is deep and dark and unless you have your parenting skills toolkit to hand, you are both stuck!
Don’t feel bad –we all make mistakes with the things we say. Read on to the end to see what you can do to remedy matters if you have verbally vomited on your child.
Faber and Mazlish, authors of ‘How to talk so teens will listen, and listen so teens will talk’ tell a story of a girl in her late teens who had borrowed the family car. The father always insisted that she return the car with the petrol tank full. He was also a real stickler for punctuality, so the girl was faced with a problem when she had to get home for a family event and found herself short of time. Should she fill up and risk being late, or arrive on time, with a not-full petrol tank? In the end, she gambled, and filled the tank and still managed to make it home on time. She was so relieved that she raced in and said, “Dad, I’m home on time AND I’ve filled the car with petrol!” She was met with, “Did you put oil in it as well?”
We parents get into the habit of noticing what’s wrong with our children’s behaviour and we often don’t notice what they’re doing right. It can feel very hard for kids to win parental approval. And sometimes they stop trying.
So what are the things we say that don’t show respect and don’t motivate our children?
“Hurry up Tom. You are so SLOW…..if it was down to you we would never get to school on time”
“I am so DISAPPOINTED in you – I should have known better than that!”
“You’re so LAZY….I am sure you will ace those exams if you sit around on your backside all day gaming!”
The language we use with our kids is crucial to developing a good sense of self-worth but in the moment when our buttons get pressed we utter statements that, if said by a friend, would cause us to re-think our friendship!
Things you’ll regret saying to your children:
1. Labelling. It is so easy to start labelling children with LAZY, SILLY, NAUGHTY, SELFISH – the more we label our children the more they believe what we are saying and take it on as part of their identity. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is why ideas such as ‘the naughty step’ can be positively damaging to our children (watch out for another blog on how the naughty step can damage your child.)
2. “I’m disappointed in you” –this is a killer statement. It’s not always obvious but our children really crave our approval and this phrase lets them know really clearly that they don’t have it. The connotations underlying this are ‘what a failure you are’.
3. “ I’m proud of you”. I know, you’re wondering what’s wrong with that –it’s definitely not the worst thing you could say to a child. We’ve all said this when our child returns from nursery or school clutching the medal or certificate – we are genuinely thrilled for their success. However it is vital we encourage our kids to value themselves, not be dependent on OUR evaluation of them. Encourage them to assess their achievements, saying:
“what did you do today that you were proud of?” or
“you should free proud of yourself for doing that.”
4. ‘If’- When trying to get kids to do something we often say “if you tidy up your toys, you can watch TV.” ‘If’ implies it is optional. Replace ‘If’ with ‘when’ and you get a completely different response. ‘When’ implies trust that they are going to tidy up and when this is done they will have earned their screen time.
5. ‘But’ – When you put ‘but’ in a sentence it negates what has preceded it and your child only hears the ‘but’ and the negative coming after it.
“Looks as if you have made an effort to tidy the toy room Laura, BUT you have put the Lego bricks in the wrong place again.” Instead you can say:
“Hey Laura– good on you for tidying up the playroom all by yourself! Do you remember the new place we have for the Lego bricks that keeps them safe and away from baby Tom?”
6. “You’re so clever.” Studies have shown that the ‘clever boy’ kind of praise is actually damaging to kids. Children praised for intelligence perform less well on tasks than children who are praised for effort and attitude.
Words are powerful and shape experience.
What we are trying to do as parents is use our words to encourage good behaviours and to build up a strong sense of self-worth. If we get it wrong we can apologise. “I’m so sorry I yelled at you and called you stupid. You’re not stupid. I was frustrated and worried that we would be late.” “This morning when we were rushing to leave the house I didn’t tell you how much I appreciate you helping your sister get ready. She loves it when you brush her hair.”
Be honest -we’ve all done and said things we later regret. What’s your worst outburst? In our practice they’re known as LPMs (low parenting moments) and it’s quite cathartic sharing them.
PS: Grab your free parenting insights by signing up to our mailing list by clicking on the ‘Sign-up’ button on the top left of this page. I promise it will help you bring out the best in your children and give them happy childhoods and bright futures.
Happy parenting! Elaine and Melissa
04/08/2014 16 Comments
(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
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