My nephew is 13 and he has been crazy about rugby since he could kick a ball around. It’s a passion he shares with his father and his uncle and the three of them are most happy when playing or talking about the game. My nephew won a sports’ scholarship at his prestige private school on the strength of his prowess with a ball. He is also learning some valuable life lessons on the rugby field.
I was struck by comments in a recent article by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in The Atlantic (The Confidence Gap, April 14, 2014) which describes the difference between men and women in terms of confidence. One of the reasons they attribute to women’s lower levels of confidence is their experiences with failure growing up. Girls are less likely to get in trouble at school because “They have longer attention spans, more-advanced verbal and fine-motor skills, and greater social adeptness. They generally don’t charge through the halls like wild animals, or get into fights during recess. Soon they learn that they are most valuable, and most in favor, when they do things the right way: neatly and quietly. … In turn, they begin to crave the approval they get for being good. …the result is that many girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. This is to their detriment: many psychologists now believe that risk taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building. Boys, meanwhile, tend to absorb more scolding and punishment, and in the process, they learn to take failure in their stride. ”
Taking part in sports exposes one to the experience of taking risks and making mistakes. It can teach one to accept making mistakes and learning from them. If he works on his techniques, skills and strategies over time a child can learn that he can improve with effort and he also learns resilience. Taking part in competition feeds on boys’ natural testosterone- fuelled competitiveness and it makes them relish winning. Kay and Shipman argue that boys’ greater exposure to sports gives a confidence edge as they ‘flick off losses’.
They also mention that “Boys also benefit from the lessons they learn -or, more to the point, the lessons they teach one another-during recess and after school. From kindergarten on, they roughhouse, tease one another, point out one another’s limitations, and call one another morons and slobs. In the process … such evaluations ‘lose a lot of their power.’ Boys thus make one another more resilient. Other psychologists we spoke with believe that this playground mentality encourages them later, as men, to let other people’s tough remarks slide off their backs.”
This weekend my nephew learnt a very valuable lesson on the rugby field thanks to the sensitive parenting of his father and uncle. He played on the Saturday for his school and his team were not doing very well against a very competent side. At one point a friend of his had been tackled and was getting a beating from an opponent while on the ground. My nephew went to defend his friend and overstepped the mark. He was sent off. He was mortified then, feeling he’d let his side down and himself. The next day he was due to play for a club side and was told he would not be allowed to play because of the sending off in the previous game. He came over to where his father and uncle were standing, very down in the dumps and a bit teary.
His father did not tell him to suck it up, that life was like that and there’d be other games. He did not tell him he was reaping the consequences of his lack of judgment the previous day. Nor did his uncle say “Poor you. That’s so tough. It was really unfair that you got singled out and the guy on the opposing team who was doing the wrong thing didn’t get picked up at all.”
Instead his dad acknowledged how he felt. He told him he understood how his feelings had got the better of him in the moment and how embarrassed he felt now. He acknowledged that it must feel unfair. He told his son he trusted that he had learnt a valuable lesson, that he needed to trust the referee to take care of things when there was unfair play on the field, and that sometimes referees missed things and this was something you lived with when you played the game. He applauded his son’s urge to protect his mate. He let his boy know he knew that he felt he was letting down his side. Only then did he say “and you can help out your team from the sidelines today. You can go back over there and give out the water and support your mates.” The boy did go back over and his team did that male sportsman thing of backslapping and handshakes that clearly let him know without any more words that he was accepted.
He learnt that his feelings were ok. He learnt that he was ok. He learnt that he could learn from his mistakes and he still have the respect of the important adults in his life and his friends. He is learning resilience, to slough off the mistakes and to pick himself up and have another go. He is developing confidence.
19/06/2014 No Comments
At the Hay Reading Festival last week, the children’s laureate Michael Rosen announced the start of a campaign to get children to read for pleasure. “READ FOR PLEASURE” – of course children should read for pleasure we all cry, but clearly there is something very amiss with our educational system if the energy and focus from government is a fixation on phonics and spelling and grammar. Parents regularly tell us that reading set by schools is about completing a set number of pages and it can quickly become a chore. Without realising it our children quickly start to lose a natural love of stories and we create a society of reluctant readers. The memories many of us have of losing ourselves in a childhood story has been replaced with the drudgery of parents having to force children to read set pieces and a prescribed number of pages. There is little enjoyment, little understanding of the story and no emotional connection for the child.
So here are some top tips to ensure reading is a pleasure in your family:
1. Make reading comfortable and special.
Try to make sure the place you read in is quiet, and warm, well lit, and generally comfortable.
Create a special place for your child’s books – decorate a box, or shelf – or a personalised nameplate for their own books. Some families recreate a library space with books presented on shelves with covers facing you.
2. Bring reading and stories into everyday life.
As well as reading books to them read books yourself in front of them and talk about what you have read recently, or stories you remember from your childhood. Tell them what you like about your books and ask their thoughts or opinions about the stories they are reading. Discuss the ideas or themes within the stories. Sometimes you can pause as they’re reading to ask what they think will happen next or why the characters acted as they did or what they would have done in that situation. You want to encourage interest in the story rather than just focusing on the mechanics of reading.
Encourage them to read road signs, games manuals, instructions, recipes, menus, magazines, backs of cereal packets, even internet pages on a topic that interests them.
Look out for topical stories – at Christmas or Easter time, or about the seaside in the summer, or places you have been or are going, or to do with particular events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics.
3. Make reading interesting and fun.
Try having a Story Tea or Story Bath, or make a Reading Den or try reading in your bed on Sunday morning, as a special treat.
Take a book to the park, read with a torch, or read as a family with each member taking turns or parts. (Remember, children can ‘read’ more complex stories in groups, than they can on their own.) Let yourself go when you are reading out loud – use lots of expression, in your voice and in your face and body too. Try some sound effects – they will either love it or tell you to calm down. You could even go for costumes….
Make up quizzes, crosswords, word searches or anagrams of characters, or places, in familiar and favourite stories.
Personalize the stories using their names.
4. Encourage their creativity and imagination.
When reading familiar stories, leave gaps for them to fill in or make up alternative silly versions.
Help them write their own stories, with spaces for pictures, using a laptop and printer to ‘publish’ copies and distribute to family members.
5. Encourage love of story without books
Don’t forget the oral tradition of telling stories to give them a reason to want to read.
You don’t have to be a very creative story teller –just talk to them about when you were a child or re-create familiar fairy tales with different characters or settings. Children love familiarity. Make up stories together. Play story games on long journeys where everyone has a go at a sentence in the story. (You may need some rules about not killing off their siblings’ characters! Yes, you can tell there’s a story there.)
Ask them to draw a picture that tells a story and get them to tell you the sotry when its done.
6. Get lots of books.
Use the library – most libraries let children take out many books at a time, and often there are no late return fees. Books can be renewed on-line and particular stories ordered for collection. Schedule a regular library trip, and let them choose some of their own stories, as well as those you think they will like, and try talking to the librarian to find out what’s new or particularly popular. Take out books for yourself too.
Give a book allowance –it doesn’t have to be big and can be part of, or additional to, any pocket money.
Give subscriptions to a magazine as a birthday present or special treat – there are so many to choose from. Receiving a named copy of a magazine in the post is exciting for children!
I recently gave my god child a magazine subscription to the National Geographic for children and it was a huge success. The only issue was her twin sister wanted to read as well at the same time as her….. Great news that the girls wanted to read but did I just add to sibling rivalry I wonder? Watch out for next blog on siblings and how to promote harmony
28/05/2014 No Comments
This week I had two different experiences of the use of praise. I heard a psychologist on the radio talking about how it was important to use adjectives rather than verbs when praising children. He said when we use adjectives as in “You are helpful”, rather than “you are helping” this enables children to see themselves as helpful; being helpful becomes part of their identity.
He also suggested that when describing behaviour that we don’t like, negative behaviours, it’s better to use words that distance the action from the child, such as “that was a silly thing to do”. This makes sense at one level. We don’t want our children to see themselves as silly or bad or wrong and they will do that if they hear those labels applied to them. When they think of themselves in those terms it’s not surprising if we get silly, bad or wrong behaviour. We do want our children to take on good qualities as part of their identity, to build strong self-esteem and because a child who sees himself as helpful is likely to behave in a helpful manner.
But there are two problems with this analysis.
The first is that when young children, generally under the age of eight, hear negative labels like naughty, bad or wrong even if they’re carefully being applied by a well-meaning adult to their behaviour rather than to them, eg that was naughty, the child often applies it to himself. This is an egocentric stage of his development when everything applies to him. It’s really better to be very wary of using negative labels of any kind around children including ones like shy, disorganised and bossy which we might not think are so terrible. We run the risk of pigeon-holing our children and cutting off possibilities for them to be a different way.
The second problem is that this kind of acknowledgment on its own suffers from lack of credibility. Our children need evidenced-based praise! I was working with a group of 9 and 10 year olds this week who, when told they were brave or caring or kind immediately denied it! They rejected this form of praise and would not believe it. It was intriguing how uncomfortable the children felt. This often happens as kids get older. A child may hear this kind of praise and doubt it because he is not always a helpful person and it may create pressure for him to be always helpful, which he knows he can’t do. He will know others who are more helpful than he is and discount the well-intentioned words. This is all the more true for a child who has developed a negative identity over time. A child who has grown up hearing a lot of criticism will find it even harder to believe positive words when they come his way.
So what can adults do? It is more believable and less pressurising if, when you’re praising, you also use verbs “you’re taking your plate over to the dishwasher –you’re helping” to point out what the child is doing that is helpful. Notice and mention what the child is doing right. That way the evidence is before him and he can’t deny it. It is more likely to be believed and taken in at the level of identity. He can see that he can be a helpful person. We call this descriptive praise but it describes the actions of the child and it is an evidenced-based approach which is really effective because it is credible.
09/05/2014 No Comments
I have a friend who has a son who is 18 and in his final year at school. He has just received an offer from a university conditional upon him gaining an A,B,C in his A levels. This is a truly remarkable thing. You may think it’s not that remarkable as you will know that students all over the country will be receiving offers and some will have more difficult obstacles to overcome in terms of grade requirements. But this is an amazing achievement for this young man.
When I first met him he was 7 years old and had had a tough life up until that point. He is very dyslexic and had been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder. He felt very different and most inadequate. He believed he was a bad person. Indeed he was a very angry young boy. The first time I met him he brought his fist down really hard on his mother’s foot which she’d hurt. He was generally quite aggressive and definitely oppositional. His parents were at their wits’ end, having received much conflicting advice and having tried most opportunities available for a child with his set of difficulties. Travelling on public transport was a complete nightmare as he was all over the place and wouldn’t listen to anything anyone told him to do-it was sometimes dangerous and always embarrassing. He had been to three special needs schools and been excluded from all of them. One school had been so unable to manage his behaviour that they locked him in a cupboard!
Luckily his parents were not going to give up on him. Parents don’t generally give up on their children but sometimes they do accept that there are limits to what can be achieved of course. They took positive parenting courses and trained hard to help him. They researched all kinds of different therapies to support him. But mostly they never gave up on the picture they had of who he could be. I don’t mean that they wanted him to be a scholar or an athlete or a musician or follow any particular career path but they knew he was a good and capable person.
They found schools which could support him and it became possible for him to attend school because of all the work they put in at home. In all the years I’ve known him I’ve always been amazed at the way he progressed. He has always had drive and a self-belief that I think comes, not in small part, from his parents’ belief in him. It may not be possible for him to achieve these ABC grades but I wouldn’t like to bet on that because I don’t think anyone knows what’s possible for him. He keeps pushing on past the boundaries of what was thought possible. Literacy is still a struggle for him but this young man will not be stopped by that. He has great resilience and a maturity well beyond his years. His social skills are very acute and he has insights about people rare in someone his age.
I’m not advocating a ‘tiger mum’ approach to pushing our kids to achieve, to acquire accomplishments and qualifications but knowing this boy has given me an insight into what’s possible, not just with blind faith, but with hard work. What has worked here has been 10 years of acknowledging small steps in the right direction, much concrete and specific and sincere affirmation of effort and improvement more than results, requiring him to do the most that he was capable of while using small steps to prepare, giving him responsibilities and encouraging independence, helping him understand and accept his feelings of difference, his anxieties, his frustrations and anger, and helping him learn from failures and bounce back from set-backs. One of the really effective things this family has done is spend time together in play –they all play golf and both children have developed skills in this area. The boy has developed passions in this and other areas that are separate from school work which has helped his sense of achievement. There are no glass ceilings when your sense of self-worth is strong. I don’t mean that he will be studying medicine or astrophysics but he will be able to lead a really fulfilling productive life, doing the best that he is capable of. That is every parent’s dream for their children.
03/03/2014 No Comments
Parents often comment on the difficulty of managing multiple children and how everyone always clamourS for mum’s attention.
Attention is always a good place to start when thinking about being an effective parent. Rule No. 1 is that children are hardwired to seek our attention. It ensured their survival when we all lived in caves. When everyone is striving to get our attention it is helpful to replace the thoughts ‘Why are they so demanding’, ‘Can’t they see I am overwhelmed’, ‘How do they expect me to do everything at once’………..with the thought ‘of course they want my attention – they’re hardwired for this’. It doesn’t immediately turn the moment into sweetness and light, but it does make you feel a bit more empathetic towards them….and realize they are not doing this because they are thoughtless and mean.
Here are a few tips to help smooth the way:
Ensure you notice and comment on good behaviour significantly more than bad. All too often we say nothing when they are behaving well and only pay attention when they are starting to misbehave. From a kid’s perspective any attention is better than none – so they will take the bad route if they have to.
Try to carve out some individual time for each child. It may only be 30 mins once a week, but in those 30 minutes let the child lead the activity. It might be a dolls’ tea party with your five year old daughter or a game of hide and seek with your eight year old son. The point is they will feel valued and special by having this time – and it is about their agenda – so no pretending it is special time with mum whilst they practice their times tables!
Every so often organise individual ‘daddy dates’. Perhaps a visit to Pizza Express, a trip to the Science Museum but it could also be as simple as a walk in the park. Diarise it in advance and mention it in the run up to the event. It will make the child feel you are really focused on them.
Turn your phone off over meal times so you are not continually distracted and can have a proper conversation. It is also excellent modeling for the times we want them to turn off their digital devices.
If your children continually talk over each other, institute a talking stick. This was an ancient Native American tradition where only the person with the talking stick was allowed to speak and they were always allowed to finish before the talking stick was handed over to the next person. Start with a physical stick and then move to a metaphorical one once everyone understands the concept.
Try to promote collaboration between siblings – not competition. You want your children to feel there is plenty of attention to go round and they are not in a competition for it. In this vain try to avoid saying things like ‘I wish you could be more organized in the mornings like your sister’, ‘why can’t you eat as nicely as your brother’, ‘the first child to finish their dinner is the winner’.
Schedule quality family relaxation time at the weekend. Play a board game together, have a long lunch in which everyone gets involved in helping to prepare and clear up. Go and play catch in the playground. Ensure the weekend is not just a non-stop series of scheduled activities with children and parents all going in separate ways
In a recent survey by UNICEF UK the thing that children wanted most from their parents was not more toys, or more electrical gadgets…..it was simply more time with their parents.
Try the suggestions above. The funny thing you find about children, the more they feel confident of having your attention, the less they fear they are going to be criticised for asking for your attention……the less they clamour for it!
18/02/2014 No Comments
Sometimes small children get very fearful of monsters (although Mike and Sully might have helped with that), things under the bed, dragons, dinosaurs and ‘bad’ guys. The fears all come out at bedtime and just when everyone’s got few energy reserves to call on we need to find ways of reassuring the little darlings so that they’ll GO TO SLEEP so we can have (finally) have some adult time.
These are the years when a child’s powers of imagination are exploding, which means that now she can imagine new and scary things to be afraid of. And because she spends a good portion of her day immersed in fantasy play (in the company of dragons and dinosaurs and bad guys), or listening to stories, it can be hard for her to shut off her imagination at bedtime and go to sleep. Thoughts of monsters can also reflect whatever the child is going through at that age, whether it’s struggles with aggressive feelings, independence, or fears of separation. The cast of characters might include monsters, bad guys, animals, imaginary creatures, or familiar people, places, and events combined in unusual ways.
It’s really important that parents don’t dismiss these fears in our attempts to reassure. When we deny our child’s fears we teach them not to trust their inner experiences and that we don’t take them seriously. They learn not to trust us and we lose an opportunity to connect with them. It is important to talk about the monsters so you can understand what is happening beneath the image and it won’t make it any worse to talk about it. The ideas are already in her head. Perhaps even more than she is letting on. You can’t put them there or make them bigger. By bringing them out into the ‘daylight,’ you help her to manage them.
What to do:
o Establish a peaceful evening routine that includes, for example, a warm bath, maybe a milky drink, a gentle story, a quiet song, and a few minutes of you sitting quietly by his bed while he settles. A night light might help.
o Talk to him about the monsters and his fears away from bedtime if you can. What do they look like? Can you compare them to creatures he doesn’t find scary – Shrek? Sully from Monsters Inc, The Gruffalo? Perhaps you could make a story about them. Where do they live? Do they fall in love and have babies? Can you use fantasy to make them friendly and fun?
Name it to tame it
o If he’s really fearful acknowledge the fear. The more you talk about it the more you normalise their experience.If the adults don’t want to talk about it, it must be really scary. Labelling the emotion makes it manageable. “Are those scary monsters here tonight? That is so mean of them to scare you and keep you up all night. Why don’t you draw a picture of them so that I know what they look like so that I can keep an eye out for them? Now why don’t we draw what you would look like if you could be a scary monster, then we can scare them away!”
o “I can see how frightened it has made you feel. The fact that you’re crying lets me know that it was a really frightening experience for you. Was the monster this big to you or this big to you? Use hands to find out how big it seemed, then say, wow that is big, no wonder you felt as frightened as you did? What else did it make you feel?” Sometimes it can work to then shrink the monster or give him a funny face.
o Use fantasy and maybe humour (without minimising her fears) to deal with those pesky monsters – the magical powers of your love and protection can work wonders. You might be able to make the pretend monsters disappear with a dose of pretend monster spray. Some families work with magic ‘talismans’ that can ‘magic’ away monsters –these can be any object that can be invested with magic properties.
I have found a courage stone to be very useful. Find a nice smooth stone and put it in the child’s hands. Ask them to recall a time when they were brave. Recreate that memory vividly with sounds, visuals and smells. Ask the child to think about how they felt and what they did that was brave. The stone is now invested with the quality of courage. Now whenever the child needs to feel brave he can touch the stone.
o You’re validating her feelings, not necessarily confirming the reality of monsters. You could say something like “even though monsters aren’t real they can feel very real in the middle of the night.” This won’t dismiss her feelings but nor does it suggest that there is actually something for her to be afraid of.
o Can you make a plan for what she can do next time she thinks about monsters at night? Could she call out to them? Could she listen to music or read a book for a few minutes? Brainstorm ways to manage her fear of monsters.
10/10/2013 No 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
Guest blog by Kelly Peitrangeli of myprojectme.com
“I’m bored.” “I don’t know what to do.” Sound familiar?
Inevitable words out of the mouths of children during the school break.
It’s great to organise outings and social get togethers, but don’t feel you have schedule their every move. Children need the time and space to transition from busy school life to laid back summer break. It’s ok to feel a bit bored, they just have to learn to overcome it.
A few summers ago I pre-empted the cries of boredom by getting my kids to create a Not Bored Board. It worked a treat and they do it every year now.
• Grab a notebook. Get your child brainstorming and writing down ideas to do at home.
• Divide it into sections: Things to do alone – read, puzzles, art, lego, play solitaire, listen to music, build a fort, take photos or videos. Things to do with siblings – board/card games, make believe / dressing up, trains, cars, dolls, outdoor games and sports, singing, dancing, choreographing a show, hide & seek. Things to do with you – games, sewing, arts and crafts, cooking/baking. They can rummage through the toy cupboard for more ideas.
• Next, give them a big piece of poster board to turn their brainstorm session into an art project. They can write, draw, clip photos from magazines or print from the internet.
• Proudly hang the Not Bored Board and refer them to it whenever they’re stuck for what to do.
Top tip: The most effective time to do this is before school breaks up, when they’re still fantasising about how great all of that free time will be!
A bored child really struggles to think of anything to do and your suggestions never seem to appeal. Get them to create their board before they’re bored and the ideas come fast and furious.
While they are off occupying themselves, use the time to get your own things done and to have a little “me time”. You’ll have more energy and patience on long summer days when you get small breaks from the kiddie action.
Reward your children for periods of entertaining themselves by having quality time with you afterwards. Be fully present and engaged with them during your time together. No checking emails, taking phone calls or prepping dinner. They will soon learn that by occupying themselves for a while each day, they will have your undivided attention later. Good for them – and you.
Kelly Pietrangeli is passionate about helping mothers quickly identify where things could be better in life – and taking action. As a busy mother herself with two musical boys and a DJ husband, life is anything but quiet. She overcame her early struggles with motherhood by taking courses with The Parent Practice and has evolved into the happy mama she is today. Kelly is excited to launch www.myprojectme.com on September 17, 2013. In the meantime, check out the Project Me for Busy Mothers Facebook page: Facebook.com/myprojectme
10/07/2013 1 Comment
Fathers’ day in the UK this year is June 16th. Rather than paying lipservice to it by buying a card for the kids to give Dad or (better) encouraging them to make one, it’s worth considering the role of fathers on this day. Mums, what do you value about your partner? Kids what do you love about Dad? Make sure that if you’re giving him a card you include some descriptive praise for him. In other words tell him specifically what you like to do with him or what you appreciate about him.
Is it the way he pretends to be an elephant and lets you climb on his back? Is it the pillow fights you have? Is it the funny voice he uses when reading you stories? Is it the way he helps you with your homework? Maybe you love his jokes or his crazy singing. Maybe you appreciate that he sits down with you quietly at bedtime and talks to you about your day and stuff you’re interested in. Maybe you love the way he supports you in trying new things like riding your bike or flying a kite or learning guitar. Maybe you just love your dad because he loves you.
There is a great deal of research and evidence that shows that when fathers (and father figures) are engaged in their children’s lives children do better academically and socially and have stronger self-esteem. (A longitudinal study done with 300 families by Stanford University beginning in the 1950s found that the best predictor of adult empathy was dads’ involvement in child rearing when the children were 5 years old and those men and women who had better social relationships in their 40s had experienced increased warmth from fathers as children. Nugent, JK. (1991) Cultural and Psychological Influences on the Father’s Role in Infant Development. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53)
Children whose fathers are emotionally engaged show greater resilience, are able to focus on their studies better, persevere longer, take reasonable risks and are less aggressive. Girls who get positive attention from their fathers also are less at risk from eating disorders and self-harm and make better partner choices. In addition when dads are involved from an early point in a baby’s life the couple relationship benefits, if the couple should separate there is higher degree of father contact, fathers adopt healthier lifestyles, and mothers are less likely to smoke or suffer from depression. (Sources: The Fatherhood institute, Fatherhood: Parenting Programmes and Policy -A Critical Review of Best Practice, www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/?p=3744; the Gottman institute)
So what can mums do to facilitate fathers’ engagement with kids?
It’s not unusual for fathers to withdraw when a new baby arrives. Mums need a lot of emotional support which is typically provided by women who are mothers and dad can feel pushed out. He may feel inexpert as mum spends more time with the new infant (sometimes the women may even laugh at dad’s incompetence at changing nappies, feeding, bathing) so he does what he knows how to do and spends more time at work. He may also feel a strong urge to provide for his new family. In fact studies show dads are just as competent as mums in knowing how to respond to a crying baby (Ross Parke: fathers held and rocked infants more than mums and equalled them in talking, kissing and exploring. Throwaway Dads: The myths and Barriers That Keep Men From Being The Fathers They Want To Be. 1999 Houghton Mifflin).
From the time they are babies right through to adulthood women can encourage dads to take an active role with their kids by not criticising or laughing at their efforts but instead appreciating them for what they do. Recognise that in fact men have something unique to offer in parenting. Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Dads tend to give children more freedom to explore. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.
The differences are very marked in the way they each play with children. Mums tend to play visual games and are verbal with children while dads are more physical and tactile. (Gottman: when given a choice of play partners 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds prefer dad.) Dad’s style is more jazzed up and has heightened intensity followed by periods of calm in contrast to mum’s more even style. Provided dads know how to calm a child when over stimulated this style is very effective at helping children regulate emotions.
• Dads are more likely to be involved when they feel they’re doing a good job -acknowledge them for all their positive parenting input but especially for spending time with the children eg: Thanks for coming home early and minding the children while I went out. It was great to see you had fed everyone and read stories (even if the house is a tip when you get back).
• Schedule time for Dads to play with the kids. It is a strength for them. Get dads to encourage a healthy attitude to competition – have rules around rough play. When playing board games model a good attitude to losing.
• Encourage Dads to do practical things around the house such as cooking or hanging out the washing. It is good modelling for the children, stimulates their interest in those activities, includes Dad as part of the team and leaves more time for fun.
• Use descriptive praise to reward his efforts eg. I really appreciate it when you remember to put the rubbish out/empty the dishwasher, rather than pointing out the soggy bath mat on the floor. Can’t you ever wipe down a surface? doesn’t motivate anyone!
• Don’t expect perfection in parenting skills either for your partner or yourself. Increase his awareness of the skills by downloading parenting CDs onto his ipod or giving him small chapters of books to read; it’s less likely to feel like nagging or be overwhelming. Praise his willingness to read/listen. When we are criticised while parenting in the moment we can feel undermined and de-motivated.
• Take the children to visit Dad at work; get Dads to talk about their world and what they do when they go away from the family. Encourage Dads to phone at a regular time when away from the home to make them feel included and to let children know their Dad is thinking of them.
• Achieve a united front on matters of discipline by scheduling regular time together to discuss child-relates issues eg. A strategy for training children to put their own shoes on (rather than Mum trying to encourage self- reliance and Dad doing it for them) or what to do when they have a tantrum (it won’t work if Mum thinks the child should go to their room and Dad thinks it is better to listen and try to find the source of the problem). Focus on solutions more than the problem and keep track of progress by writing it down. Find a workable compromise for areas where you don’t have exactly the same values eg. how much screen time should children have?
• Use “I feel” statements rather than “You never, you always” when you have a difference of opinion. Eg “I feel my discipline is undermined if you say yes to something I’ve just said no to without checking with me. That makes me feel like the bad guy and it’s a bit lonely.”
• Remember less can be more when communicating with men. Sometimes emails or notes work better than direct speech.
13/06/2013 No Comments
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