January 05th, 2020
It’s the season for New Year’s resolutions! Yay! This is an opportunity to start the year off with positive intentions for the clean slate of 365 days before you. Right? Or maybe it is an opportunity to feel bad about yourself for the resolutions that failed by mid-February (or earlier) last year? You’re not alone if that was your experience. Research shows that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Cue feeling down about yourself at an already grim time of year in the Northern hemisphere.
Are you going to beat yourself up for making the same resolutions in regard to your family that you made last year if you feel like you didn’t do so well on them in the last 12 months? This is a fairly typical reaction when we resolve to be more positive or calmer with our children (or partner). Did you yell at your kids in the last year, having resolved not to? Really? Welcome to the club.
So why do resolutions fail? Because we tend to make them too big and at the same time not big enough.
We can be a bit vague with our resolutions. We vow to eat more healthily or get up earlier or read more books or take more exercise or be more patient with our children. These aren’t very specific goals and they tend to focus on the short term rather than the bigger goal of building our relationships. Resolutions also fail because we don’t get support with them or because we’re not clear on whether they really support our own values. Eg why do I want to read more books? It’s only when we’re clear on the why’s that we can work out the how’s of our goals.
My advice to parents is not to resolve to be perfect parents this year. You are doomed to fail. You know there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, don’t you? And you are a perfect match for your imperfect children. No disrespect intended. You will not turn into perfect parents nor turn them into perfect children with just a little more effort on your part. And aiming for something impossible to achieve is not only the definition of insanity but it will also set a poor example for your children who model their behaviour on what they see you do. It would be such great modelling for your children to see you accept imperfection in yourself and in them while working with them to support progress.
So what are some realistic goals towards becoming more positive and more connected with your children? Here are 5 specific, measurable and achievable ideas.
Acknowledge your efforts towards your goals and when you slip up accept that this is inevitable from perfectly imperfect human beings and therefore isn’t a reason to give up. It may mean you need to adjust the goal itself or your approach to it. It may mean you need more support or more self-care. Like Thomas Edison you may have discovered one of the ways not to achieve this goal. That’s learning.
Wishing you joy and ease in your families in 2020.
November 10th, 2019
You may be aware that this week is anti-bullying week in the UK. Your child’s school may have been talking to them about it already. Some schools are engaging in activities like odd socks day to celebrate difference. If they haven’t already your kids will probably come home talking about it. I hope so because it’s with increased awareness through family and school discussions that bullying is best dealt with.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what bullying is and is not. The definition by the Anti-bullying Alliance is a good one. They say that:
“Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online.”
The intentional element of the definition doesn’t excuse hurtful, offensive, degrading or threatening words, or words which focus on the subject’s insecurities, on the grounds that the person saying them meant to be funny. If the subject isn’t laughing, it’s not funny. Even if others are laughing. It’s pretty clear if the subject has asked the speaker to stop. It’s definitely not ‘just banter’ if the speaker would be upset if someone said the same thing to them. But it doesn’t excuse it if the speaker says they would not be bothered by the same words. If the subject is hurt, it is hurtful. Some people are hurt by things that others wouldn’t be because of their experiences. Aboriginal footballer Adam Goode was offended when he was called a ‘gorilla’ because he has had experiences of racism that the 13 year old white girl taunting him had never had. Schools are much more aware of this these days and are less likely to excuse it as ‘just kids’ teasing’ as they might have done perhaps when you were at school.
The definition refers to an imbalance of power but that doesn’t mean that bullying can only be done by bigger kids to smaller ones or older to younger ones. An imbalance of power can exist because the bully belongs to a majority group of any kind, whether on the basis of race or gender or sexuality or faith or intelligence or what neighbourhood they live in or economic circumstances or membership of a club or even longevity at the school! Power can reside in physical strength or ability or come from status. Some girl cliques have been known to derive their power from their bullying, exclusionary tactics.
Of course there is an imbalance of power between adults and children based on size, strength and the authority invested in us by society by virtue of our position as parent or teacher or guardian. And we have a duty to ensure that we don’t use our power in a coercive way, to hurt. We all know that much of parenting is modelling so we need to be very careful that at home we are showing our children how to get their needs met through discussion, not by just railroading the other. Check yourself next time you’re tempted to say “You’ll do it because I say so!”
Parents often want to know what they can do in response to bullying and that’s a good question to ask but we also need to ask ourselves what we can do to prevent bullying in the first place. Here are 7 things you can do.
Make respect part of the culture of your family by:
Change starts with us.
October 07th, 2019
My son is in year one at school. He has recently come home saying that his teacher has said that if homework is not complete that playtime will be docked. I worry about playtime being taken away as a punishment. One of the homeworks is computer based and it has a leaderboard. The teacher has said that they should all try and beat one boy who is a regular user on it. I don't know if I am being overly sensitive as so many other parents do not seem concerned about playtime being threatened or the competitive element of this approach.
This type of punitive discipline is damaging and the competitive approach to learning isn’t helpful either. I know the teacher is trying to motivate the children to do their homework and to improve their skills but there are many other ways to do that which don’t have such a detrimental effect. This kind of coercive approach is likely to stifle any enjoyment of learning and make the children resentful and perhaps rebellious. And encouraging competition between classmates encourages them to see their peers as rivals, people to get ahead of, rather than friends and collaborators.
On top of that at this age it is really vital that kids have breaks from academic work to relax, run around and engage with friends. Much learning happens in the playground too.
Many parents of children this age feel a bit resentful that their children have to do homework at all. The children have already had a busy day at school and they’re tired when they get home. Parents hate that homework becomes a battle ground. Professionals are also divided in their opinion of the benefits of homework for young children.
You are not being oversensitive –you are showing a more enlightened approach than the school or other parents who just accept this. However you do need to uphold the authority of the school because if you undermine them your son may not do what he is asked to do and get in trouble. This can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem. So you can move him to another school (not necessarily that easy) or you can speak to the school about why a more positive approach would be more effective.
Homework doesn’t have to be a battle. Here are 7 ways to make it easier:
If you do decide that you will accept that this competitive approach is the school’s way I think you can still give your son alternative messages. Teach him to do his work without reference to the leaderboard. Tell him that it is much more fun to do the work and just enjoy it (and the learning in it) rather than doing in order to beat others. Give him the message that tasks become less enjoyable when they are all about winning. Reinforce this by a healthy attitude at home to mistakes and failures. We all make mistakes and must not be afraid of them. It’s how we grow. Focus on the learning/ fun in a task rather than the outcome. Never ask your son if he won a match or what his score is in academic tests. Focus on his effort instead. It doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate achievements but when he does well in something refer that back to his efforts. Eg you did really well at this …because you were concentrating really hard.
It’s tough to be our children’s advocate in a school environment that doesn’t share our values but remember that your child picks up his values at home.
September 30th, 2019
Do you find you have to text or What’s App or message your child on one or other social media platform in order to get their attention? Even though they may be in the same room as you? Does your child get a rabid look about them if you try to prise the controls to their Xbox out of their hands so that they will go and have a shower? At least every third day? Do you sometimes look up from the TV on Friday Family Fun Night and find every member of the family is on a handheld device as well? Yep, we know, you’re all multi-tasking…Does your teenager not feel any experience is complete without having photographed it and posted it on Instagram? Maybe your child has forgotten what her friends look like without the added whiskers offered by Snapchat filters. Your child may be constantly online chatting with friends… while doing their homework (honest mum!)… but may also be worried about a toxic troll culture in that environment. Do you worry about their communication skills as conversation is reduced to 140 character soundbites? (Apparently now that Twitter allows 280 characters the average length of a tweet is 33 characters. Go figure.) Have you calculated how much time your son has spent watching cat videos on YouTube?
If this is your experience you’re not alone. There has been a marked increase in parental concern about their children’s use of technology and parents are finding it harder than ever to control it. Often suggested solutions are technological ones, and that will be part of it. Parental controls are a good idea and so are controls designed to help us help ourselves like iPhone’s Screen Time. The irony of using a device to help us monitor the use of our devices!
But technological controls will only go so far. There was a piece in the New York Times in the summer about parents hiring coaches to help their families wean themselves off screens. Whole new businesses have evolved offering prescriptions of a very basic nature such as reading books, going outside to play and getting a pet. Other solutions are more extreme such as technology abstinence pledges.
At The Parent Practice we believe that children need to be educated in screen literacy and digital citizenship at home. I was interviewed by the Evening Standard on this topic last week and gave my top tips for managing screen life at home:
Top tip: Do not buy your child their own device until they are of secondary school age. Even if they need to use a device of some kind for school work or you’re happy for them to entertain themselves on screens within limits the device itself should be a family one which the child borrows for limited times and for specific uses.
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August 28th, 2019
Your kids are about to start a new school year, maybe at a new school, maybe for the first time. No doubt you have lots of hopes for them. You want them to do their best, to thrive in the classroom and on the sporting fields, or in the art or music room and also in the playground with friends. You want them to try new things and find activities to throw themselves into with passion. You may hope that they’ll find a vocation which they’ll pursue throughout life, something that will bring them joy and sense of fulfilment. Above all you want them to be happy.
When kids go to school they enter into a world in which we parents cannot take part. Oh sure, we can and should be interested in what they’re doing but it’s their world. We can, and should, support from the sidelines, but they are the players on the field.
All parents want to know that their children are doing well and have had a happy day. So we ask them: How was your day? Enquiring after their day is so much better than not caring, being too engrossed in our own world, our emails, our texts and our to-do lists, our adult concerns, to connect with theirs at the end of the day. Connection is important.
But if you’ve ever asked your child that question How was your day? You may have felt dissatisfied with the answer. You may have felt it didn’t give much connection. It’s just a ritual that you go through. Every parent knows that the answer to How was your day? is ‘fine’. And the answers to follow up questions what did you learn? and what did you have for lunch? are nothing and I forget respectively, or interchangeably. Sometimes we ask the supplementary question who did you play with?
Don’t kids want to tell us about their lives? Well sometimes, no.
We need to listen to what they say without judgment, without lots of questions that imply failure, and without dismissing their concerns. We need to acknowledge and validate their feelings. We can’t take away all our children’s worries and it’s not our job to do so but we can help them to manage their feelings. If our children are talking to us we need to make time to listen (which isn’t always easy in our busy lives) and let them know through our words and body language that we are really paying attention. If they’re not talking we need to supply the words. I’m wondering if you felt a bit jealous when Taylor got that commendation in assembly; Maybe you felt left out when Jacob invited Raoul to go to his house; I sense that you’re a bit anxious about your piano exam; I guess it can be a bit irritating to have to include your younger brother in your game. You wish you could just play on your own; you’re a boy who likes to check things out first before you do something so you’re not sure about getting in the water just yet. Would you like to watch the others first and then get in? What do you need to make yourself feel safe?
But as well as encouraging them to share problems we want to know about the good things in our children’s lives.
Being interested in your child’s life shows you are a good parent. But you need better questions if you’re going to be able to make real connections. Instead of How was your day? , try asking them, “What was the best thing that happened today?”
Curiosity fuels connection.
August 05th, 2019
Most children and many parents get anxious about exam results day. It’s completely normal. For those with GSCE results, it’s the culmination of 3 years of studying, or if you’re waiting for A level results, it will have been an intense 2 years. As a parent you will have lived and breathed exams over the past 6 months and yet your role is not yet over as you still you need to help your child get prepared emotionally for results day.
There may well be a mixture of anxiety, fear, uncertainty and maybe even panic or perhaps excitement. All those emotions in hormonal and heat-exhausted teens makes for a lethal cocktail of feelings.
It’s wise to be emotionally prepared for results day in terms of what the possible outcomes may be. They may range from having exceeded expectations, through making the grades needed, or missing by a little, to not getting the grades you want. Your teen retorts “so you don’t believe I’ve got this!” and a cycle of defensiveness and anxiety ensues. The truth is it’s wise to plan for every eventuality from elation and celebration to the possibility of disappointment, if your son or daughter does not get the grades they hoped for. Keep the champagne on ice but also have available the websites or numbers you’ll need for information if a change of plan is required.(eg UCAS)
There are plenty of articles and blog posts abut preparing practically for results day and but few people talk about emotional preparation. In the run up to results day your role is to:
• Keep yourself and your child calm. Let them know you love and value them, no matter what their results
• Keep the connection and communication door open - make time on the day to be there for them to celebrate or commiserate
• In the run up to results day keep them busy and relaxed enjoying their hobbies and favourite pasttimes – for us it was always having fresh air and fun on the golf course or a family board game night
• Reflect back to them how they may be feeling, and show them you understand
Results day! If they’ve done well make sure you acknowledge the amount of work it took to achieve those grades. Make your praise descriptive. Point to specific examples of where your child made good choices and developed good habits around study and achieving balance with exercise and family time. This may not seem important now that the results are in but what you say now will affect their future attitude toward effort whether their future involves further study or not.
If your child does not make their required grades, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings –both yours and your child’s - before you can discuss any solutions or next steps. Taking time to acknowledge the feelings without judgment or blame (this is not the time for ‘I told you to study’) is important to free up the rational brain. If your child is feeling shame or guilt s/he may act as if they don’t care. Name that feeling to show them it is normal and to help them move past it. If indeed your child could have worked harder shame will stop him from getting that learning. You want her to feel that she made a mistake but is not a bad person and she can learn from this and move forward.
Acknowledge to yourself how you feel as a parent. Are you confused? Was this result unexpected? Are you angry –because it was totally expected given the paltry amount of work your beloved offspring put in? No doubt you’re feeling anxious. There is a huge amount of pressure to do well in exams and it is easy to think that your child’s future has just slipped away from him. You need to acknowledge these feelings because if not they’ll fuel your responses and you will not be able to support your child in his moment of anxiety.
I’m sure all of us can recall incidents where we have had to deal with disappointments in life. Have you given up? Were you able to share with others how you were feeling? Were you able to give things another go?
S/he’ll be feeling pretty down. Some children will take failure to get grades or places at college or university as a massive knock back and really take it to heart. Some will make it mean that they are not up to scratch. It’s not uncommon for kids to give up at that point so parents need to respond carefully. If your child has got poor GCSE results but his place at school is secure then he needs to be able to pick himself up and move on with determination to do better. Even if there has to be a rethink about how he will continue his education he will need parents’ support to avoid him giving up. Parents can help build self-confidence and increase resilience and help him to see that increased or redirected effort will pay off.
Moving forward parents can help with ongoing studies by:
• encouraging and motivating young people by descriptively praising them, not just in the academic arena, but generally.
• avoiding evaluative praise so as to encourage a growth mind set (where he seems himself as someone who can grow through his own efforts) rather than a fixed mindset (where he sees his skills and intelligence as limited)
• developing resilience and a healthy attitude to failure –partly through using descriptive praise and partly by emotion coaching him (see below) and also by modelling a positive attitude to set backs and failures. What parents model around failure will count for a lot.
• encouraging independence in thought and action. Give him responsibilities which require skill and dependability. This demonstrates to the young person his own competence and builds confidence. He will learn to trust his abilities, to take risks and give things a go.
But in the immediate aftermath of the results parents need to respond with emotion coaching:
“You’re obviously really disappointed with these results Tom. I know you’d been hoping for better grades in History and Biology [and you needed As in those subjects to get into Exeter university]. Maybe you think Dad and I are mad at you. I’m disappointed with the results too but could never be disappointed in you. I know that you’ll be feeling really worried about what to do now and we’ll discuss that later.”
“Life throws up difficulties all the time and we will support you to deal with this difficulty. I have faith in your ability to show the courage and determination to get over this hiccup when you’ve had a bit of time to absorb it. Right now you might be thinking there’s no point in doing anything. You’ve really been knocked for six so you may be feeling a bit hopeless. You might be comparing your results with your sister’s too. It’s hard to follow in the wake of someone for whom academics seems to come so easily. [don’t be tempted to say “and if you’d worked as hard as she did you might have got somewhere…”] When you’re feeling a little less flat come and we’ll talk about what you can do next. This is one of those life blips that is going to require the kind of resilience you showed when you broke your shoulder and couldn’t play rugby for so long. You didn’t give up then and I’m sure you won’t now either”
Life is tough, and part of our job as parents is, not to shield our children from the rubbish bits of life, which we can’t do, but to build strong children who as adults can cope with whatever life throws at them. The first step is to just admit that this sucks and he feels rubbish. Only then can the child move on to look at solutions.
The one thing we can guarantee they will experience is change and so by emotion coaching we can help our child adapt to whatever changes may come their way.
Sending everyone positive vibes and a good dose of fortune for the 15th and 22nd August 2019!
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