Christmas, Materialism and Toys

Child Psychologist and play expert Amanda Gummer has warned parents not to give in to pressure and buy kids lots of expensive toys this Christmas. (Research, carried out by Sainsbury’s and reprted in Metro on 30th November, has found that parents spend an average of £104.4 on each child.) She thinks that the lists of top toys released at this time of year and of course advertising add to the pressure on parents. She advises: “Don’t give in to the pressure from the media and the school playground to buy the most expensive, latest toys on the market. Often toys that children will play with over and over again don’t make it into the top 10 lists.” (click here to see Amanda’s article).

In Carl Honoré’s book Under Pressure he explores the nature of modern toys and looks particularly at electronic toys and toys like iTeddy which do all the child’s thinking for them and concludes that these do not allow for the child’s imagination to grow. Simpler toys like dolls, construction kits, train sets and cars, ‘house’ items like kitchen sets provide the richest experience for children because they can use their own imagination more. Many parents have had the experience of the child unwrapping an expensive, complicated gizmo at Christmas only to find it discarded and the child playing with the box it came in a week later. The Stockholm based International Toy Research Centre concludes that what children really need is time without external input so that they can process their own experiences. Many modern toys superimpose someone else’s story on the users. There has even been a change in Lego from simple bricks which allow the child to create and problem solve to sets with specific dedicated pieces and instructions which dictate what should be made. If children get spoon fed everything, even in play, their imaginations close down, they don’t develop the ability to pursue sustained thought and they get bored easily, always looking for the next electronic stimulus or experience. This can make it hard for children to focus at school. It also means that children get tired of these toys quicker.

In fact at TPP we were pleased to see a mix of traditional toys on one list of top toys for 2012 (John Lewis’s top ten list) –these included dolls houses, scooters, Lego and Furbys and other soft toys as well as some electronic toys.

This might help guide parents’ choices about what type of gift to give their children but they may still be concerned about how much children get at Christmas and whether or not their children appreciate what they are given.

Last year UNICEF UK 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, where shopping has become a leisure activity and status is defined by what we own. The shops and TV screens are full of enticements, no more so than in the run up to Christmas…. and everyone wants everything….. and they want it now!

As loving parents, we want our children 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 need to let them know that they are ‘worth it’ even without the advertised product. 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 what does Christmas mean to us and what is the place for gift giving and receiving? What do we want our children to grow up believing is important? What values do we want them to inherit? Are we buying too much for our children?  These may be uncomfortable questions to answer honestly.

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 also because we feel guilty about the amount of time we are able to spend with them as is suggested in the 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 not know other ways to make them feel worthwhile? Has the availability of relatively cheap goods made us lazy and undiscerning about consumer choices? Do we buy because we can’t bear to see them unhappy and we are unable to say no?

Having clarified our values, we now have to communicate them to our children.

Children learn by copying as much as by what we say to them. So we can talk about what our values are but this will be for nought if our own behaviour doesn’t live up to what we say we believe in. So if we believe in moderation and then buy each child a mountain of gifts we are not walking our talk. If we say we think Christmas should be about others and do nothing to encourage them to think of anyone other than themselves we are just paying lip service.

Giving – before focussing on what they want to receive, involve children in giving – it
can be just as much fun!
* Can they select a family member to choose a gift for?  Discuss the budget and what the person enjoys and will enjoy getting. Don’t just buy a gift for your child to give without involving them.
* Can they give to others less fortunate? Can you organise a toy tidy-out and donate old toys or books to the local hospital, can they arrange to bake some Christmas goodies and take them to a local children’s home? Even if they’re involved in some kind of charitable activity at school it would really reinforce this as a family value if you did something at home as well. Last year the Oxfam goat was sold out – so get there early if you would like to give a female goat to a needy family in countries like Malawi.   www.oxfam.org.uk
* Can they think of non-material gifts?  Home made gifts can be wonderful and really appreciated. Bake cookies or make confectionery with the children or get them to write a story or poem and illustrate it or even make a power point story for someone else.

Receiving – many parents worry about increasing piles of unwanted toys.
* Can you set up a system so people club together to buy one gift for your child – that they really, really want? Some families eschew the idea of buying for huge numbers and instead concentrate their energies and resources on buying one gift on behalf of the wider family. We do this in my extended family (32 and growing) and choose the donor and recipient by drawing names out of a hat each year.
* Can they practice how to receive gifts with grace even if they don’t really love them – or have the item already. Use role plays.
* Take your time – we wait 364 days for Christmas yet the giving and receiving of gifts often happens in a few frantic minutes of unwrapping. Can they be Santa’s Little Helper and give out the gifts?
* Saying thank you – writing letters may seem very old-fashioned, but young children can do a drawing, or dictate a letter to you. Older children could Skype or send an email.

We can also model appreciation by being appreciative ourselves, and noticing and mentioning it 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.”  Obviously you’ll love whatever they give you for Christmas –one can never have too many novelty ties or socks or ‘cute’ little trinkets. My now grown up children marvel that I found a use for or display place (in my bathroom) for the holiday souvenirs they brought me. Tip: little shell covered boxes are a great place to keep safety pins. None of you will do what my husband’s great grandmother did when she asked who’d given her ‘this ridiculous thing’ as she discarded a gift from one of her children!

Chat throughs
When we prepare for Christmas many of us prepare endless lists of things to do and things to buy but we often don’t prepare our children except for revving them up for the arrival of Santa. If we want to encourage particular behaviours in our children we need to chat through with them beforehand what we expect. This is not a lecture and in fact they should do most of the talking as they are far more likely to do what they say they need to do.

Ask them questions – what will happen on the day, what are they looking forward to and what might be difficult, what behaviour is expected at different points, in church, at the table, when opening presents etc, 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 very excited and get a bit wild, when it comes to receiving presents they may want to rush to open them, they may be disappointed with what they receive, they may feel jealous of what others are given, and young children often get overwhelmed. We can ask how the child could handle these feelings – some ideas include telling the parent or using some safe venting technique like stamping feet or pounding their fists or taking some time out in their own room if you’re at home.  It’s really important we don’t make our children wrong for any of their feelings.

If our children have a meltdown, 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. What won’t work is to tell them off for their ungratefulness or other less desirable behaviour.

We are more effective when 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 have a car like Jamie’s. You really like it -maybe because it’s so shiny and it’s got cool tires. You know what? I’m proud of you for only making a little fuss about this. I know you’re disappointed and you’re finding it hard to focus on the great things you’ve been given right now. When you’ve given yourself a little time I know  you’ll choose one of your own toys to play with.”

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.

Overall, it pays to take time to prepare and train ourselves and our children how best to cope with life in today’s modern material world. It may help to bear in mind the following tough advice from Dr. Phil McGraw,  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.”

Hope your Christmas is a happy one and you enjoy being with your families.

30/11/2012   No Comments

Lessons from the Lance Armstrong Affair – modelling is 80% of parenting, part II

My husband and I have been following Lance Armstrong’s career since he started racing in the Tour de France following his battle with cancer.  We read his books, bought LiveStrong bracelets and clothes, and in 2010 we even went to Paris for the last stage of the TdF, when Armstrong raced his final Tour.

Recently it was announced that Armstrong had been officially stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and that his best race result would have been 36th  – before his cancer diagnosis.  This story has been making headlines for weeks, and has been simmering since Floyd Landis (Armstrong’s former teammate and winner of the 2006 TdF) started commenting on the systemic doping that took place.  The recent news essentially eradicates the career that made Armstrong a household name. Pat McQuaid, the President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) said, “There is no place for Lance Armstrong in cycling.  “ [He is] a serial cheat who led one of the worst doping conspiracies in sport.”

Armstrong wasn’t acting alone.  He was part of a team of doctors, coaches, team managers and other cyclists who were all involved in the doping.  The Tour de France is leaving those 7 years without a winner, as they would be pretty hard-pressed to find a cyclist who wasn’t doping during those years. It’s when the story gets a bit deeper and shows that not only was Armstrong doping, it was how he pretty much bullied former team-mates and others who testified against him.  Many articles appeared that describe abusive voicemail messages that Armstrong used against those who would testify against him.  The wife of one of Armstrong’s former teammate “described receiving a voicemail from an Armstrong friend telling her she hoped ‘somebody breaks a baseball bat over your head,’ after her husband spoke out about doping allegations.”  Clearly doping is not good, but covering your tracks and bullying people into helping you cover your tracks?  Well, that’s quite possibly even worse.

Why is this story so interesting story for me, as a parenting facilitator?  Well, Lance Armstrong has 5 children – 3 from his first marriage, and 2 from his current relationship.  In the past he tweeted regularly about his children and especially the joy he and his partner felt when she fell pregnant – especially after all his cancer treatment and surgery.  I can imagine that he will get through the damage to his career – as he said, “I’ve been better, but I’ve also been worse.”  The side of the story I am fascinated by is how you repair the damage with your family and other loved ones.  This situation provides a wealth of learning.

1. Winning at any cost will most likely catch up with you at some point
When we teach our children to play games, we teach them to play fair and to not cheat.  We’ll say thing like “cheaters never win”, and even though sometimes it seems that they do, eventually some evidence will come out that will stamp out the victory.

We can work with our children to teach them rules, to advise them about what is and is not fair play.  We can set up a system that rewards values like collaboration or accepting successes and losses graciously.  We can always be on the look out for when our children are exhibiting the behaviours we want to be seeing more of. We need to notice and acknowledge such behaviour.

We want to be raising our children to take pride in their efforts, their improvement and their attitude instead of being the best at any cost.

2. Model honesty and integrity

About a year ago, Melissa Hood, the co-founder of The Parent Practice wrote a terrific blog called 80% of Parenting is Modeling in which she writes:

“Once we’re aware of the influence we have we can consciously set out to influence our children. Michael Grinder, communications expert, says “The power of influence is greater than the influence of power”.…

Sometimes our children are not copying the things we’d like them to. And for that there is the other 20% of parenting – we need some positive and effective parenting tools like using rules constructively, setting things up so that our children are likely to behave well, motivating them to do the right thing, understanding the causes of behaviour and responding effectively when they don’t. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as if our children are learning anything in the moment but it may be years later that your children show they have taken on your values.”

It is so important to have an idea of what values you want to be passing on to your children, to model those values and to establish rules that help you bring those values to life within your family.  One of the values we might seek to model is being happy with our own best efforts, measuring our value, not by outcomes, but by our efforts. Model enjoying sport or other games, even if we don’t win. Focus not on the results of our children’s  matches but on their enjoyment of the game and how well they participated.

Find New Heroes
This past summer was one that will go down in history as probably the best ever for UK sport.  Bradley Wiggins with Team Sky won the General Classification in the TdF, Mark Cavendish had his 23rd TdF stage win and that was all before the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics where this country saw incredible athletes pushing themselves to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.  We’ll never forget Jessica Ennis, or Mo Farah or the amazing Paralympians.  It is so important to learn from our own limitations, as well as from those of others.  In doing so, we can be honest, authentic parents who set an example of integrity and passion that will empower our children.

3. Make Amends and Move Forwards
One word that Lance Armstrong often used in his Twitter posts was ‘onward’ … continuous positive momentum.  It’s a powerful notion that will serve him well after he takes responsibility for the mistakes he has made.  Like Armstrong, we can all move forward once we take responsibility for our mistaken behaviour, put wrongs to right, and explore ways to make sure that the same thing won’t happen again.  We like to call this The Mistakes Process (or the 4As). It goes like this:

1.    ACKNOWLEDGE
Explore (without judgment) what happened and why it was a mistake.  Use the mistake as an opportunity for everyone to learn.  Acknowledge the courage required to fess up to having made a mistake.
2.    Make AMENDS
This is all about putting wrongs to right.  This can look many different ways ranging from a sincere apology; cleaning up an actual mess; fixing something that got broken; writing a letter; or doing something nice for someone else.  Often, it is the simple act of fixing the mistake that provides the lesson so the same thing doesn’t happen again.  And it is so much more effective than shouting!
3.    ALTER
This is where you want to take some time to explore what could have been done differently so that it will be less likely to happen again.
4.    ACCEPTANCE
This is where ‘onwards’ comes into play.  You have taken responsibility for the mistake, you have cleaned up your mess, and you have looked at how to make sure to get it (more) right next time.  It is done.  It is now in the past.  It is time to acknowledge that a positive lesson has been learned.  Onwards!

I imagine that Armstrong’s oldest son has always seen his Dad as a hero, and it must be very hard to hear that your Dad won because he cheated and to witness the fallout.  The damage to Armstrong’s career is vast, but quite possibly, cleaning up this mess with his family and other loved ones will be an even greater challenge.

While cycling has had an inspirational summer, it is likely that the repercussions of the doping scandal will be felt for a while.  But will the sport move forward?  Of course!  As Pat McQuaid said, “My message to cycling, to our riders, to our sponsors and to our fans today is: cycling has a future.  … This is not the first time that cycling has reached a crossroads or that it has had to begin anew and to engage in the painful process of confronting its past. It will do so again with renewed vigour and purpose and its stakeholders and fans can be assured that it will find a new path forward.”

The message from the Lance Armstrong scandal is a clear and inspiring one for parents: acknowledge your children’s strengths and weaknesses and celebrate their effort and improvement; model honesty and act with integrity; take responsibility for (and truly learn from) your mistakes.  By modeling your own ability to take responsibility and clean up your messes, you are sending a very powerful message to your children.  And when you can teach your children to clean up their own messes (both literal and figurative), you are giving them a real gift.

14/11/2012   No Comments

A dinosaur ate my trousers

According to this week’s Daily Mail, £187 million worth of school kit will be lost before the school year is out. Although the excuses that our children come up with may make us chuckle, lost kit drives parents mad, as well as adding another pressure on the household budget. So, is there anything we can do? Of course there is. And it’s not just naming everything that can move.

Getting everyone ready for the morning school run is a challenge in many homes. It’s tempting, and often quicker and easier, to do it all ourselves. This works in the moment, but creates another problem in the longer-term because it doesn’t help children learn how to look after their things, or even be aware of what they have with them at any given time.

Involve the children in the process of collating what they need for the day ahead and packing it into their bag. When we position this to them as a powerful and positive thing to be trusted to do, rather than an awful chore that will drag them down, they will be more inspired to try. There are some great practical tips that parents have come up with – including checklists (written by the children!) that can be stuck to the inside of the locker, or sewn into the school bag, as well as having another copy at home in the kitchen or by the front door.

It’s all very well to be told “this is how you need to do it” but actually we all learn best by doing, rather than just listening.

So spend a little time one weekend, with lots of humour and empathy, practicing getting changed into your games kit and putting everything back in your bag. Or talk through a few ideas about safe places to put your jumper when you get too hot. Any idea they come up with is a good one – it shows they’re taking it seriously, thinking about it, trying hard, wanting to be responsible etc. And it’s probably a good enough idea to try. Our children are much more likely to commit to their own ideas. If there seems to be a flaw in the idea, gently point it out and ask them what else they think they can do.

With a little up-front planning and preparation – which does take time, energy and a little patience, but considerably less than the time, energy and patience it takes to go out and buy another blazer- we should find that more items are kept safe. But realistically, school is a fast-moving, busy, crowded environment and it’s almost inevitable that some things will go missing. What can we do now?

First, it helps to remember the £187 million figure! It means they’re all at it – with over 9 million school children in the UK, that’s about £20 worth of lost kit each year. It’s not just your kid!

At this point, we want to avoid throwing our hands up in the air, and saying “well, this is so typical, you would lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your body” because we don’t want our children to start to believe the label that says they’re just the sort of person who loses stuff.  If we believe it about them, they’ll believe it about themselves. And guess what the sort of person who loses stuff does? They lose stuff…..

Instead, we want our children to believe they’re the sort of person who tries hard to be responsible and is a solution-seeker. We don’t want them to be discouraged by problems, we want them to be up for the challenge of sorting things out – and that means finding that missing trainer.

Rather than cutting their pocket-money til they’ve ‘paid’ for the new trainers, which will probably only make them angry with us (it’s so unfair, you’re so mean), we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t mean or plan to lose the trainer, and then brainstorm ideas of how to find it. (I’ve taken my sons to school a few minutes early quite a few times over the years to trawl through an empty cloakroom – and it’s been pretty successful, and a great way to start the day with a ‘phew, I got it’ moment. Once, after two finger-tip searches, we were still down a tracksuit and my son decided to offer a reward. He went into school the next day with copies of a “Wanted: One Tracksuit. Reward: One Toblerone” flyer. The next morning, the tracksuit appeared, and the reward was duly handed over to the ‘finder’.)

So, in essence, we need to be realistic that it’s not easy to keep safe all the items they need, given their relative immaturity, and taking into account the environment they’re in.  It will not be surprising – or a dire omen on their future ability to look after themselves – if they do lose something. However, there are lots of things we can help them to do – before and after – that will help keep their stuff safe, and at the same time build their independence, resilience, and foster good a approach to life.

 

 

 

 

28/09/2012   No Comments

Focus, Focus, Focus

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

Things to do on Rainy Days


 

As the schools empty and our homes fill with tired children, many parents are relishing the opportunity of a break from the school routine, and yet we’re also looking at the weather forecasts and wondering how on earth we’re going to fill the next 1,000 hours or so until term starts again!

The joy of doing nothing

At the beginning of the holidays, it can be a relief for children to have some time to do the things that matter to them, and even simply to be able to choose what they do after weeks of being told what, where, how and when.  Of course, it’s a universal parenting truth that most of the things that they want to do involve noise and mess, but it’s in playing that children learn and discover so much about themselves and the world.  After the constant stimulation and organisation of the school term, it’s no bad thing to find yourself with nothing to do, and no ideas either. It’s in moments of solitude and idleness that we often discover what truly interests us, and who we really are.  As far as possible, let them play.

The joy of doing something

On the other hand, with so little practice of finding their own amusement, it probably won’t be long before they’re asking “I’m bored, what can I do?”.  When we’re busy (somehow school holidays don’t seem to make much difference to the amount of things parents have to do) and it’s raining again, it’s so tempting to give in to the easy option of screens.  This summer there will be some inspiring and fascinating TV opportunities with the Olympic coverage. (At the last Olympics we had the TV on pretty much all day every day and saw an amazing range of sports and memorably courageous wins and losses.). There are also some valuable websites which encourage creativity (FIND SOME EXAMPLES LIKE STICK MAN or learn to type).

And what else is there? According to a recent survey by npower, 87% of children can’t repair a puncture, 83% can’t tie a reef knot, 81% can’t read a map and 78% can’t build a camp fire or put up a tent. (They can pretty much all work a DVD players, log onto the internet, use a games console and work sky plus!). How about taking some time during the holidays to put this right? If it can’t be done outdoors, there’s plenty to be done inside the home – it may sound strange, but most children love the challenge of learning to make a cup of tea, iron a shirt, cook an omelette…..

There are also many things children can do indoors with relatively little equipment or supervision – although they will love any of these activities all the more if you’re involved.  As the holidays start, set some time aside to sit down together and come up with a list of all the things they would like to do – think of all those things they keep asking and you keep saying no, not now, later, another time….. (Making a den and not having to clear it away is always top of the list in our home!) No idea is too whacky, too silly, too dull, too anything. All ideas get recorded and then you can move on to deciding what to do when. As far as possible, let the children lead this process. It’s fine to put some parameters in place – about what might work when and where and with whom – but try to let them have ownership of their own time and enjoyment.

And just in case it’s not so easy to get started with this list, here is TPP’s Top Tips for a Rainy Summer…..

Make an indoor camp – snuggle up with duvets and books

Make a treasure trail – using hand or foot prints, or clues

Hopscotch – use numbers or shapes or colours

Movie night – get in character, costume, themed food

Rain sticks – use paper towel tubes, and decorate and fill with pebbles, pasta or rice and make the rain go away!

Hide and seek and sardines

Dance party – invite friends for a dance-off

Charades – songs, films, books

Indoor obstacle course – finish before they’re too tired to help clear up

Toy safari – hide toy animals around the house and seek them out

Fashion show – choose outfits and music and do the cat-walk

Sink or swim – find out what sinks or swims

Make a movie – write a script, make costumes and create scenery

Photography project – choose a theme, and make an album

Book club – everyone chooses their favourite book and reads out their best bits

Robot Mummy or Daddy – they get to order you around (for a short while!)

Grow seeds – mustard and cress on loo roll, sunflowers or even tomatoes or strawberries in pots

Family Band – just have to decide who is the conductor!

Listen to songs in foreign languages (opera is great for this) and make up alternative words – we had Pavarotti extolling the virtues of squashed tomatoes and kids in convulsions

Take photos at strange angles around the house – and guess where they are

Indoor picnics – under the table, behind the sofa, in the den….

Paper airplanes – all sorts of designs to see which one flies furthest

Make a rock family – paint faces and create characters that you can then make up stories with

Edible necklaces – from pasta or cheerios or sweets

Paper bag piñata – fill with little surprises (doesn’t have to be edible)

Make ice-cubes – you can colour them with food colouring, or add little flowers (or worse) to them

Hand puppets – from old socks (finally a use for the orphan socks!) with silly faces and voices

Magic cups – three cups, one marble, put it under one of the cups and move the cups around and guess where it’s gone

Make a mobile – with a stretched out wire hanger, and decorate it

What’s missing – lay out items, memorise them, then take one away….

Family Tree – make a family tree and discover some stories about their ancestors (the funnier the better!)

18/07/2012   No Comments

Celebrating Fathers

Father’s day in the UK is June 17th. I know some people are a bit bah humbug about these ‘Hallmark’ days and regret the commercialisation of such occasions but I think we should seize the opportunity to celebrate fathers.

There is the risk, especially with newborns, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with in some relief. But this is to miss out on a great resource and ‘expertise’ that men bring to parenting. Men have a unique style to their parenting that women tend not to have and children who don’t experience this are missing out.

Some dad facts:

  • Dads are more involved with children than ever before –in childcare and in housework. (The time spent by British men on domestic work rose from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 148 minutes per day by 2004; British fathers’ care of infants and young children rose 800% between 1975 and 1997, from 15 minutes to two hours on the average working day  despite the fact that over this period fathers’ time spent at work was also increasing. Fathers in two-parent families carry out an average of 25% of the family’s childcare related activities during the week, and one-third at weekends. (Source: The fatherhood institute)
  • Many studies have shown that when dad is involved in his children’s lives they have better educational, developmental, health and social outcomes (Source: The fatherhood institute,)
  • If dad is emotionally involved as an emotion coach and play partner the following outcomes can be predicted: (the Gottman institute)
    • Better self control abilities
    • Acceptance by peers at school
    • Better social competence and emotional intelligence
    • Higher verbal ability test scores (Ross and Taylor 1989 Do Boys Prefer Daddy or His physical style of play?)
    • Better academic performance
    • Increased empathy (longitudinal study (300 families) done by Stanford University beginning in 1950s)
    • Better social relationships as adults
    • Higher self esteem
  • Studies show dads are just as competent as mums to care for babies and know what to do when babies cry. (Ross Parke 1976 Father-Mother-Infant Interaction in the newborn period: Some findings, Some observations and some unresolved issues.)
  • Fathers make unique contributions to their children and infants respond to involved fathers differently than to mums. They are more wide-eyed playful and bright-faced. 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds will choose dad over mum as a play partner.

Where fathers are not present in their children’s lives the kids really benefit from being involved with ‘uncle’ figures.

What are the differences in style?

When considering the question what do mums and dads contribute to the role of parent ask yourself what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree?

Dads typically say “go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”

Whereas Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”

Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.

This is what the kids think:

Mummies are smaller and Daddies are bigger.

Dads normally go out to work and you come out of mummy’s tummy.

Dads have fun and mums don’t.

Mums listen and Dads don’t…it’s the same for all my mates.

(Source: Netmums March 09)

While we don’t want to minimise the importance of the nurturing, the encouraging and the listening that mums are traditionally good at let’s celebrate what dads do well:

Play

To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do the laundry, the cooking, the chauffeuring and the supervising of homework and music practice etc. When Roald Dahl died his children wrote about their memories of him and predictably they valued the story telling and creating he encouraged in them. My guess is when we die our children will remember the play times and the conversations with us rather than the fact that we always ensured they had clean and matching socks.

Dads tend to be more physical than mums in the way they play. Mums generally play visual games and are verbal with babies and young children while dads are more physical and tactile. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both. Rough and tumble play by dads predicts better self control abilities in their children. (Source: Gottman institute)

 

Encourage independence and risk taking

Dads encourage kids to climb higher, go to the store on their own, go down the highest slides etc while mums may have to stifle the urge to keep their babies safe. Encouraging self reliance and reasonable risk taking in children encourages them to discover what they are capable of and to grow in confidence. If children become fearful they will not grow and will not acquire essential life skills and coping strategies for dealing with the world.

 

Allow kids to experience uncomfortable feelings

When dads recognise their children’s struggles and allow them to experience some frustration and learning through failure they are helping children grow through experience. When we protect our children from their feelings of discomfort or frustration we can prevent valuable learning in the same way as if we prevent them from making discoveries physically. Although we shouldn’t shield our children from uncomfortable feelings we can help them identify them and manage them by acknowledging what’s going on. Eg I can see you’re feeling frustrated with those wretched shoe laces –but I like the way you’re persevering. You don’t give up easily do you?

 

Don’t judge or compare self with other parents

Dads are less prone to perfectionism than women in the parenting field and less apt to compare and judge their own or others’ parenting efforts. A great combination in a dad is that willingness to trust his instincts with an openness to new ideas.


Being a good role model

Dads are needed as good role models for their sons, especially in areas like school work, responsibility, handling physicality and aggression, how to treat women, how to handle and express emotions and seeking support when they need it. Men can show their boys how to be determined without taking competition to harmful levels. Dads are also important models for their daughters as they show them how to relate to the opposite sex. How a father treats his daughter sets up expectations for what she’ll look for in adult relationships with men. Involvement in his daughter’s life profoundly affects her self esteem.

Mums, while encouraging your children to show their love for their dads, let your partners know what you appreciate about them this father’s day.

 

13/06/2012   No Comments

Does homework extinguish the flames of curiosity?

Although many 7-year olds (and their parents) are celebrating the scrapping of government guidelines saying they had to complete an hour of homework each week, the rest are still labouring away. And while a few voices, getting increasingly louder, are asking “what are we doing this for?” the reality is that in the UK children start homework in Year 1, and by Year 10-11 are completing up to 2½ hours a night.

And few of them like it. And not many of us enjoy it either

Homework can be the single most stressful issue in a home (at least 50% of parents report having serious rows with their children over homework that involve yelling and crying – the reality is probably higher given a natural reluctance to admit that these things happen) and homework can come to dominate our schedules, and our conversations with our children.

In addition to our parenting role, which can be stressful enough in its own right, in the evening we have to don our teaching hat, and support our children who have already been at school for maybe 8 hours already to do more work sheets, essays, test papers etc.

The ‘quality’ moments where we build and boost our relationship with our children are usually the first casualties of the ever-increasing levels of homework. It also reduces their time for unstructured play or thinking and processing time. However, we all want our children to do well at school, and while the debate will continue to rage about whether children need homework, how much should be set, what type, when it should start, and the rest, back at home the parental role is to help our children cope with whatever homework they bring back.

So, what is homework for?

It may seem like a simple question, but the answer may not be that straightforward and until we understand what we are hoping our children will gain from homework , we can’t be sure HOW to help them.

Is homework to improve their learning? Or for them to gain study skills? Does homework teach children about responsibility and self-discipline? Or as Alfie Kohn suggests in ‘The Homework Myth’ is homework simply something they need to get used to, because that in itself is a life-skill they need to learn?

There’s a lot of research about homework – although most of it starts from the premise that homework should exist and then aims to demonstrate that it benefits students.  In ‘The Homework Myth’ Alfie Kohn lays out the case against homework.  The evidence he presents is compelling, if a little overwhelming.

And the central problem is that we’re just not asking the right questions – we ask how we can strengthen our children’s back muscles so they can carry increasingly heavy back-packs, and we don’t ask why they’re carrying so many books, and whether it is doing them any good.  We ask how much is the perfect amount of homework in order to increase test scores, and we don’t ask whether tests are a good way to improve learning. We accept homework, and we content ourselves with asking questions about the detail, rather than challenging the concept.

These are good questions for parents and schools to ask and we need to educate ourselves about this. I do believe it is important that we question rather than simply accept, that we talk to each other, and share our concerns with our schools; that we don’t meekly accept without question something that we don’t always believe is right for our children. For now we have homework and so I want to focus on how we can help our children not just cope with it and not lose their natural love of learning but to be motivated to do it, to develop creative thinking and to get into independent habits of study.

Many schools officially encourage parents to let them know if a child is struggling with homework. But it’s not easy to do this – there are many credible reasons why we feel uncomfortable about it. We may accept that homework should be difficult, that children will dislike doing it, and we don’t want to be seen to be indulgent to our child, or cause a fuss…. It’s a long list. (My 11-year old son didn’t want me to discuss a recent comprehension with his English teacher because he didn’t want his mates to see that his mother had come into the classroom – it’s my world, he said, and it’s not cool for your mum to come in….).

So, as well as considering taking an active role in the homework debate for future children, what shall we do for OUR children in the here and now?

First, let’s go back to the question of what we hope our children will gain from doing homework.

In our classes we ask parents what characteristics they want their children to develop. No parent has ever said they want their children to buckle down and accept things without question, instead they say they want their children to be curious, self-motivated, to know themselves, to be confident to share their opinions, and much more.

Let’s look at a few of the qualities that we strive to bring out in our children, and see how they relate to homework.

 

Taking ownership

In theory, homework COULD teach our children to take responsibility for their own learning, but, in real life, we don’t often give them the chance to take any responsibility for it. The school decides it must be done, the teacher decides what it shall be about, and, in most families, the parents decide the where, when and even how. (“Use this pen, sit here, no you can’t have music on, underline this, rub that out…..”) In fact, we usually don’t even let our children have the responsibility of remembering to do homework – a Californian study found that parents raise the topic of homework within 5 minutes of meeting their children after school!
What shall we do?

(1)        Hold back asking them about their homework – give them a chance to mention it first, and take ownership of their homework.

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 bringing it up, 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 really can’t wait to raise the topic, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time after tea to play that game?” 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 – it’s perfectly reasonable that you set the parameters (they need to be where you can hear/see them,) and it’s effective and fair when they take some ownership of the details (have a snack first).

I have, in the past, dictated the chair my sons sat on, and the direction they faced. I insisted homework was attended to before anything else, including a meal. Then I realised I was using the food as a lure, and I wasn’t comfortable with this. As growing boys with growing appetites, they needed food before they could concentrate for another nano-second, and as normal boys with huge energy levels, they often need to blow off steam first before settling down for another session of study.  So, the routine in our home has changed recently – their favourite option is eat, play, study, which (rather unsurprisingly) is my least favourite option! However, it’s working so far.

Start small, and let them make small choices about their homework NOW so they can make big choices about their homework IN THE FUTURE. (We don’t get better at making decisions by having them made for us!) Much resentment is avoided when they feel they have a measure of control.

(3)     When the homework is completed, encourage them to look through their work and suggest improvements to you.

This replaces us pointing out the errors they have made– not only is this de-motivating, it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work, and spotting improvements. When we encourage them to look for themselves, it helps them get used to the idea that they will make mistakes, but they can identify them, and 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?”

Creativity, motivation and the love of learning

The majority of homework is repetitive – and while some repetition is necessary for transferring to our long term memories things like times tables, spelling words and French verbs (and even then there are more creative/fun ways of  doing this) doing the same thing over and over again is boring for those who can already do it, and depressing and stressful for those who can’t. Not only that, it can limit our ability to search for alternative ways to answer problems, and research shows us over and over again that doing something because you HAVE to do it decreases motivation.

“Homework may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.” Deborah Meier, quoted in ‘The Homework Myth’

Of course we want to teach our children – let’s allow the teachers to focus on the front-end academic side, and let’s focus on teaching our children about real-life. And there’s an awful lots of maths, English, Science, Geography and History in our every day world – there’s even a fair amount of Latin!

What can we do?

(1)        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 some schools in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the ideas of homework and testing.

(2)     Stay in – and make fractions and ratios 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 or salad dressing, and weigh ingredients and see how they mix together or not; have a Victorian evening, with candles and playing cards; plot holidays on a globe or atlas, dress up like an Egyptian, make an ant-factory, have a scrapbook or project about anything that interests them.

3)          Model an interest in learning

Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to find something out we don’t know, 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.

Independence and involvement

Children are encouraged to do their homework on their own. However, research is showing that working with others, brainstorming and collaborative work, is more productive than working alone.

So that brings up the contentious issue of parental involvement.  We know we’re not supposed to actually do their homework. (In my experience, my ability to do their homework didn’t last as long as I expected or hoped it might…. but then I ‘learned’ a lot by rote, and out of fear, perhaps it’s not surprising most of it has evaporated.)

Research shows that when parents get involved, the level of stress rises.  When parents are told that the homework is for a test, they tend to interfere with the homework more, and the child tends to do less well on the test. When parents are not aware there is to be a test, they tend to stand back more, and the child tends to do better in the test.

What can we do?

(1)     Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have  you put it, but ask their opinion, 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 is one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount of their book, 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’

After your child has read, either with you or on their own, rather than sign the reading book, talk for a few moments about what they’ve read. If appropriate, perhaps your child can fill in the reading book – putting the date and number of pages read – and give it to you to sign-off. It’s these tiny acts that help them feel involved – that homework is something they do, not something that is done to them. Don’t reward kids for reading other than to praise them for their progress – it should be enjoyable for itself and if we dangle a carrot then we are undermining that message.

(2)        When they moan and complain about homework, hear them.

When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that if we validate the negative things they say they will become negative about other things whereas we want them to be positive. None of this is true. (“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” “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, etc.”-this is empathising)

We’re allowing them to tell us how they feel. How children feel about homework is very important as it affects their whole relationship with school, studying, and learning. When we empathise with them, we can actually lower their reluctance or resistance to doing it and let go of their negative feelings. When we try to explain or cajole them to do it, or make them feel wrong for complaining, we give them the message that their instincts and emotions are wrong, and they need to learn to over-ride them and get on with doing as they’re told. Not only that, they can’t talk about it with us because we’re not going to hear it. Not really the life lesson we want our children to learn, nor the relationship we hope to have with them. When they feel heard they have the experience of someone validating their perspective. When we acknowledge their point of view we can help them be calm and move on.

03/05/2012   No Comments

What if we could encourage creative thinking and curiosity in our children

Children discover a very important tool for survival when they play –especially when they engage in fantasy play. They learn how to imagine and talk about things not present, they learn how to pretend and speculate. This is such an important tool for life to learn as it enables those who master it to plan, project, conceptualise and to think creatively. When children engage in fantasy play they are involved in an age old process of story telling that enables them to make sense of a sometimes confusing and unpredictable world and find solutions to problems.

Clearly there are inspired entrepreneurs who are examples of creative visionaries such as Bill Gates, who once envisioned a computer in every home; or Steve Jobs’ vision for the series of iProducts; or, Richard Branson with his plan to send people into space.  And with the subsequent generation led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergei Brin and Larry Page, certainly ‘what-if’ questions are being posed regularly (there’s even a management consultancy called WhatIf! in London).  Clearly these ‘what if’ conversations can and do exist, but in a culture of over-scheduled and hyper-parented children, many of whom are simply learning all they need to know to pass a test, are we instilling in them a sense of ‘what-if’curiosity, or are we simply giving them all the answers?

What is the magic trick to raising kids that are imaginative, creative and curious?  Here are some tips that we think can support you in making it happen:

Play – Allow your children time for unstructured and non –adult directed play.  Let them dig holes in the garden, plant seeds, make dens, allow their imaginations to run wild.  Limit the amount of time your child spends in front of a screen. Give them toys which don’t do all their thinking for them or direct how the game should develop – the simpler the better.

Ask – don’t tell Ask questions of your children that will require more than a yes or no answer.  Even in the madness of the morning routine, you can ask them what they need to do rather than nag them.  They can think for themselves, and will respond to questions more positively than to nagging. We get into the habit of repeating ourselves because we say our children don’t listen but it is the very repetition (nagging) that causes our children to tune us out.

Be interested in what they have to say.  Toddlers will go through the “why?’ stage.  Don’t shut down their questions.  They’re simply trying to make sense of their world. Sometimes you can respond to a question with a question of your own or a direction to where they can find the answer. “That’s a very good question – I wonder if you’d find the answer in your book about dinosaurs/on the internet?”

Encourage awareness of the wider world Talk to your children about things that happen in your life, within your community and around the world. Don’t just talk about world disasters but when they come up rather than leaving them feeling detached and helpless, encourage them to do something to help (e.g. donate some of their allowance to charities to support relief efforts for things like the Tsunami in Japan; or make up a relief package made up of things from their own toy collection and your kitchen cupboards). Encourage an attitude of solution orientedness. Point to solutions people have found such as discoveries in science and medicine. Inspire them with your enthusiasm for new inventions- many men particularly find it easy to be inspired about new gadgets!

Trial and Error Allow your children to fail. We love Michael Jordan’s quote “I have missed over 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games; been trusted with the game-winning shot 26 times – and missed.  I failed over and over and over and that is why I succeed”.  Practice won’t necessarily make perfect, but it will sure make things better.

Praise the qualities that will encourage a ‘what-if’ child.

-          Persistence When you see your child persevering at something (even if it’s your toddler trying to get a pea on a fork!) This should be easy to spot as small children get up time and time again when they fall over.

-          Effort When your child puts extra effort into riding a bike or skateboard, learning their spelling, practicing the piano or building a Lego tower.

-          Ingenuity Your children will come up with ideas … if you ask them.  Allow them to contribute to solutions to problems involving them and others in which they are not involved. Eg “does anyone have any ideas how Mummy can remember to take her phone when she goes out?”

-          Improvement Children of all ages are learning every day.  Make sure to notice those small improvements, whether it is a small child remembering to flush the toilet or a teenager remembering to text to say they’ll be late.  You will get more of what you pay attention to.

-          Curiosity Don’t denigrate the ‘why’ questions.  If you don’t know the answer, it’s great modeling to say, “you know what, I don’t know!  Let’s go find out”.  If you model curiosity for learning, it will rub off on your children.  And be grateful that Google does exist!

Play a ‘what-if’ game when your children ask for your help in solving a problem.  This is great for so many reasons including that your children start to see that you trust their ideas, and they learn to trust themselves to figure things out. It’s really simple! It’s nothing more than a conversation with each sentence beginning with ‘Yes, and what if …?’  If your child asks you if they can do something, say build a spaceship, the conversation could go something like this:

Child: What if we get that big empty box from the garage and build a rocket

Parent: Yes, and what if we get the Christmas lights from the attic and stick them to the box?

C: Yes, and what if we get out the paints and decorate our rocket?

P: Yes, and what if you get that jumpsuit Granny made for you and use it as a spacesuit?

C: Yes … and the ski goggles and my bike helmet.

P: What if you need to steer the rocket?

C: What if we get a plastic plate to be a steering wheel?

P: Yes, and you can’t leave your toys behind!  What if I build a toy box inside the rocket?

C: And I might get hungry.  It’s a long way to the moon.   What if I make a snack?

You get the idea.  It’s simply a way of opening up ideas and new possibilities rather than stifling creativity.

Focus on the process, not the result Sophie, age 9, is obsessed with creating a dance camp for kids when she’s 12.  Instead of shutting down the idea because she can’t be bothered, her mother is encouraging her to think about all the things she’ll need to do to get the camp going – whether it happens three years down the road or not.  At the same time her mum is praising her for things like creativity, contribution, fun, sharing and collaboration.

For a younger child carrying their own cup but spilling quite a bit try hard not to take over and do it for them. Instead say something like “You are trying really hard to carry your cup over to the table without spilling it. I watched you walking really slowly and I see that you have discovered that if you keep your eye on it and look up occasionally you spill less and still don’t bump into anything. You are figuring it out all by yourself. There’s a cloth for wiping up on the kitchen bench.”

No idea is wrong Encourage healthy dialogue about ideas within your home.  Discussing an idea will teach your child how to take it to fruition.  It will also help them separate the good from not-so-good ideas!

Create an ideas forum –having regular family meetings is a good idea for many reasons including providing a forum for discussing ideas, finding solutions.

Probably now, more than ever, our children need to be curious, innovative, and have the skills to take something that starts as an idea and take it to fruition.  We once heard someone say that today’s children need to learn skills for careers that don’t currently exist. What do you think Mark Zuckerberg responded when he was a young boy when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up? The whole idea of social media didn’t exist. It is a completely new and innovative industry. He clearly grew up with an innovative and entrepreneurial flair.

Perhaps many of our own children possess the same ability.  As one of the founders of The Blue School in New York says in the film ‘Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture’, “kids come to the table with this creativity and this love of learning.  Let’s just not take it out of them”.

It’s hugely exciting to think about the possibilities that will arise from raising ‘what-if’ children rather than raising kids that are waiting to be told what to do all the time. By encouraging ‘what-if’ conversations, we are more likely to raise children who can imagine, pretend, conceptualise, plan and solve problems. This will help them not just make sense of their world, but redefine it.

28/02/2012   No Comments

Fight Free February!

In successful relationships it’s not that there is no conflict but conflicts are handled well. When there is conflict the following approach will help stop it escalating and allow disagreement without harm to the relationship.

Ask for what you want rather than criticising or accusing.  Instead of “You never clean up after yourself. You treat me like a slave.” Say “Can you please put your clothes in the laundry basket?” The first 3 minutes of an interaction will determine how well the conflict discussion will proceed. If it starts with criticism and blame it will go downhill from there.

Consider the other’s point of view. This is hard to do when you are in conflict but it is essential to remember that there are two perspectives. It is easier to do if you have built a culture of appreciation in your family. Be prepared to understand and validate the other’s point of view even if you don’t agree. “When you shouted at me then I guess you were really mad about me turning off the Play Station. You really get engrossed in those games and it’s hard for you to tear yourself away or even to listen to me. They are designed to be really compelling.”

Repair and redirect the interaction when it is getting negative. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t a nice thing for me to say. I think we need a time out.” “When you talk to me like that I feel hurt. Can you rephrase it?”

Compromise. How can we find a solution that is fair to both of us? “I know you love your PlayStation game and you also need to do your homework and do some other things. How are we going to work this out?”

07/02/2012   No Comments

Naughty words

Over the holiday period I spent some time with my nieces and nephews ranging in age from 6 to 18 years which was delightful, and occasionally instructive. On one occasion I was quite shocked to hear my youngest niece address her 15 year old cousin as ‘penis breath’ which prompted the question ‘why?’ And ‘where is she hearing that kind of talk?’ My niece is bilingual and only speaks English at home and I’m fairly sure her parents aren’t speaking to her or to each other in that way. So it begs the question what makes kids use offensive language. But that’s a question we can’t ask until we’re calm enough to do so. If you’re the parent of a child who’s just uttered an expletive that you find shocking, and in particular if its front of others, especially if its front of disapproving relatives, then the chances are your buttons have been pushed and you’re not asking sensible questions about the provenance of the utterance but have responded sharply, maybe punitively or maybe with resignation and an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders… ‘kids these days.’

Once you’ve calmed down and in the privacy of your own home the concerned parent might consider why children use such language. I think there are three reasons and the cause will determine the most effective parental response. It seems to me that kids use poor language because:

  • It is generated by a strong emotion and they need to express themselves strongly
  • They are trying to shock – whether or not they know the meaning of what they’re saying they know what the effect will be
  • They are in the habit of using such language and it means little to them; they may be in an environment where they hear language which would some would find offensive used as an everyday adverb –‘that’s f***ing brilliant’ is not used with the intention to offend.

We certainly cannot shield our children from hearing words which we might prefer not to hear coming from the mouths of babes or even older kids. They will be exposed to strong language in the school playground, in the media and on the street. Maybe they hear it from the adults on whom they model their behaviour too. This is one of those difficult areas where parents cannot avoid responsibility –while we might accept certain language from an adult and find it offensive in a child they will of course not make that distinction, or not without learning an early lesson in hypocrisy. “We rejoice if they say something over free and words which we should not tolerate from the lips even of an Alexandrian page are greeted with laughter and a kiss…They hear us use such words…every dinner party is loud with foul songs, and things are presented to their eyes of which we should blush to speak.” (Quintilian 1st century AD) What we can do is pass on whatever our values are about language –the appropriateness of certain words at certain times and in certain settings. Sometimes our children pick up on our values without us realising. One day when my daughter was five years old I was driving her and a friend home for a playdate when her friend said something offensive. Before I could say anything my pompous little girl had said “ours is not a rude house”. While I wouldn’t have expressed it like that I’m glad she’d got the message.

 

If our children’s choice of words has been dictated by strong emotion then we will teach them nothing if we do not acknowledge the strength of that feeling. “For you to talk to me/your brother like that tells me you are REALLY angry.” “The fact that you’ve chosen that word shows me you really want me to take you very seriously.” Only once the emotion has been acknowledged can we require the child to express themselves differently. This clearly requires a certain level of detachment that you won’t be able to muster in the heat of the upset so come back to it when you’re calmer.

Likewise we will be ineffective in dealing with inappropriate language if we are judgmental. It’s important that we don’t say anything that makes our children wrong even though we think the language offensive –they won’t learn while they feel judged. So don’t say “Don’t say that –that’s wrong/bad/disgusting” because, being egocentric, they will hear “YOU are wrong/bad/disgusting” and will shut down in defence or become retaliatory or resistant or otherwise stop listening.

If ‘naughty words’ are used to get attention conventional wisdom would have it that we should ignore such language but many parents worry that this means we are condoning it. Instead of ignoring we shouldn’t give it a massive amount of attention as we do when we get upset but quietly take the child to one side and explain that we find such words hurtful and that they are inappropriate. If the inappropriate language continues some kind of consequence is often used. Some families use a swear box into which a coin is put when there is an ‘offence’.  

However a more positive approach is to teach your child to get attention differently. If you think that attention seeking is the motivation say so and be clear what behaviour will get your attention and then make sure you do give lots of attention for good behaviours. In this situation it is important not to be melodramatic but speak to the child in a calm, neutral voice. Again this may require a time out to calm down first.

If your child is swearing or using other offensive language merely out of habit changes to his environment will be required as well as an acknowledgment of how things have been to date and what the new rules are for everyone. Is your child being exposed to inappropriate media? Are they watching programmes with a classification beyond their age? Where do they watch TV or use the computer? If you are making changes to these habits your child will not be happy and you will meet resistance. Empathise but be firm. Make sure your expectations are realistic and don’t expect change to be quick.

Acknowledge your child for accepting changes, for trying to control their language and for using alternative ways of expressing themselves when frustrated, thwarted or angry. My daughter’s favourite way of getting her point across without being offensive was to say “oh, rude words!”

19/01/2012   No Comments