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!
July 02nd, 2019
The end of the school year and the onset of school holidays mean different things to different people. For some of us there may be a welcome respite from the demands of the school term schedule. For others school holidays may represent a scheduling nightmare as you juggle childcare arrangements with summer activities and work. End of term may equal end of routines and your usual order. You may have to be finding ad hoc solutions to your children’s needs which takes energy and may bring with it new anxieties.
If you’re having one of those reactions spare a minute to think how children respond to disruption in routines. Like us, some will be relieved and some will be feeling anxious. Most children absolutely thrive on structure and routine but some will find school brings with it stresses and they welcome the break from that. Some children have very regular temperaments; they like a schedule and they want to know exactly what’s going to happen today. Others can just go with the flow. Many children benefit from having less structured time to just chill and use their imaginations. Some have lost the knack of entertaining themselves.
So in planning the school holidays as parents we need to factor in many different things:
Phew! The parental juggling act!
Whatever your individual holiday arrangements look like you will greatly benefit from rules and routines. These may look very different from the term time routines and they may vary throughout the holiday period but it will help to have some routines.
What do you need rules about?
Well that’s up to each individual family but if an area of family life isn’t going very smoothly currently it’s usually a sign that a rule is missing (or not being upheld). You will probably still want to have rules for the following areas even if they’re different from term-time rules:
What makes a good rule? Ask yourself:
Below are some examples of family rules. These have been illustrated and signed by the children which gives them ownership over them.
How will you uphold your rules?
Rules are necessary but they are a blunt instrument and they won’t work without relationship. Your children will be motivated to do what you ask if you spend as much positive time with them as you can and they know you value them and you understand them.
Have a great summer holiday.
June 03rd, 2019
Do you live with a teenager? Or do you have children that you get on with pretty well right now but are worried that this harmony may disappear if they morph into Kevin the teenager? Teens get a pretty bad press but it’s not a given that when puberty strikes your child will turn into an alien creature who bites your head off when you ask how was their day.
I am running a workshop on Teens and Boundaries tomorrow evening and when I was preparing for it I reflected on how the teenage years were in my own family. My three now-adult kids did not conform to the stereotype of rude, self-absorbed, risk-taking, idle adolescents. If you ask teenagers about their parents you may be surprised to find a stereotype there too. We don’t listen to them, we don’t understand them, we think we can control them (and we can’t), we think we’re funny (and apparently we’re not!) and we are SO unreasonable.
Of course adolescents are not all the same, any more than their parents. Some we have to force into the shower, some we have trouble getting out of the bathroom; some won’t do their homework while others are super diligent and work themselves into a lather about school work; many find it hard to get up in the morning but are on social media half the night; many will forget mathematical formulae but be able to recount word for word the script to their latest favourite movie; some will spend their free time lolling on the sofa while others are into every sport imaginable; some will hang out with their gang while others have just one bestie, and some have trouble making friends.
But one thing that all adolescents do have in common is great change going on in their lives. Their mission (and they can’t not accept it) is to transform from a child into an adult. This means figuring out who they are for themselves; they are no longer just a child, a member of your family. They have to work out a new adult identity, a set of beliefs and opinions, separate from parents and younger siblings, and learn to make decisions independently. And the hormones and brain changes of adolescence don’t make it easy.
Living with a teenager is much easier for our teens as well as for us if we accept the following realities:
Teens need their parents’ support to navigate through these turbulent times. They need us to be understanding and compassionate. They need us not to take it personally when they are hyper-critical of us (not easy with the sensitivities that can come with middle age) and to read every failure to do what we ask as a sign of disrespect. We have to think about other possible reasons for them not taking a shower/finishing their homework/ feeding the dog how and when we want them to. We have to support them in their mission to become responsible adults by giving them the right amount of independence. How much control we let our kids have is a judgment we make of each individual on a daily basis and it isn’t easy. We will get it wrong. Often.
Finally to parent a teenager successfully is about accepting that it is more about long term influence than short term control. Hopefully we will have laid the foundations of good communication and connection when they were younger (and if not, it isn’t too late). If there is a positive relationship between us then our teens will accept our influence, eventually, if not in the moment. That connection lies mainly in our listening to them, accepting their perspective, assuming their good intentions and acknowledging the good things they do. Even if we have to uphold a rule they don’t like if we explain our values respectfully (and they see us living by those values) then they will accept it if we empathise and acknowledge their perspective. “I know you think I’m being unreasonable about insisting you come to Granny’s on Saturday when you’d rather go to Sophie’s. I know it’s important to you. I get that. I want you to come with us because Granny hasn’t seen you for a long time and in this family we care about each other. How about I drive you around to Sophie’s after the lunch?”
I was lucky enough to discover The Parent Practice skills before my kids hit their teens and it was a lovely period for us where I really enjoyed their ideas, their sense of humour and their energy…if not their music…H
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