December 06th, 2018

12 days of [a happier] Christmas

For peace and goodwill in your family this Christmas try these 12 strategies.

  1. Pay attention

When there are positive connections between ourselves and our children everything goes better; we have greater influence so the children are more cooperative and their self-esteem grows. It’s not easy but we need to put our digital devices to one side, park the never-ending to-do list and engage with our children.

  1. Make time to play

Don’t skip over this one! You may be thinking that with all that you have to do how can you possibly play? Invest in some fun with your child to make this the Christmas that she remembers with delight. She will not notice that the presents were immaculately wrapped and that guests were served with those special Spanish almonds you tracked down with great detective powers. Schedule a small amount of time each day over the holiday season for time to play, either one to one or with all the children. Board games, card games, charades, silly dancing. Take your pick. Tip: minimal equipment to minimise clean up.

  1. Resolve to speak less and listen more 

Resist the urge to nag, advise, lecture, take over, fix or even offer solutions when your child is facing difficulties. Instead give him the message that you trust he can figure it out because he is a problem-solver. Let him know that making mistakes is ok and a necessary part of reaching solutions. When children develop competencies they grow in confidence. Feeling capable is the antidote to anxiety. 

  1. Give positive, not negative attention 

When children ‘act up’ it’s often because they are not getting the attention they need. Don’t make them wrong for that. Instead recognise it is a primal need and fill that need with positive attention. Use a pasta jar as a prompt for you to notice the positive things they do. Just keep an empty jar handy and pop in a pasta piece any time you notice good behaviour. Get the kids to help you and give them a pasta when they tell you about something good their siblings are doing –the sibling gets one too so it’s a win-win situation! 

  1. Make your child feel appreciated and important

The best present you can ever give your child is to really see them. You can do this just with looks – let your face show delight to be with them. And you can use words. Make sure they are descriptive, not evaluative. Notice their efforts.

  1. Ask open-ended questions

Sometimes it can be hard to start up a conversation with kids. That’s because grown-ups often ask them closed questions to which the answer is yes/no/fine. An open-ended question makes it possible to find out something real and meaningful about the other.


  • What is your favourite Christmas ritual? What do you like about it?
  • If you could be a superhero what would your super power be?
  • Who is your favourite film/TV character? What do you like about them?
  • What’s the best thing to do with friends? What’s the best thing to do all by yourself?
  • If you were Prime Minister what’s the first thing you would change in our country? 
  1. Sideways talk

Sometimes children don’t want to talk, especially if the subject is challenging for them. Make sure you listen non-judgmentally and without comment. It can help to do an activity together to get the conversational juices flowing. Some of the best conversations I had with my sons were when walking the dog together. Get them to help wash the dishes with you and you may be surprised what you learn.

  1. Validate feelings and empathise

Feelings can run high during the festive season –for the kids too! Sometimes this shows up as grumpiness, rudeness or uncooperative behaviour. The kids too! Try not to get stuck on the behaviour but delve deeper to the feeling beneath. Name that feeling to tame it. All feelings can be validated even if the behaviour isn’t ok. This tells your child that they are ok even when the behaviour isn’t. And it is far more effective in getting the child out of a behavioural rut than any amount of scolding.

  1. Don’t ask why

When faced with challenging behaviour don’t ask your child why they did it. They probably won’t have the maturity to be able to identify the emotional cause for their actions. Don’t ask why are you so cross? Instead just acknowledge that they are angry and maybe make suggestions based on your observations. I can see that you got really angry when your sister messed up your new train set. You had taken so long to set it up just perfectly. Babies can be very annoying sometimes can’t they?

  • Enthuse about their passions

When we enter into our child’s enthusiasms we let them know that we understand and value them. My youngest son has always been quite obsessive about quite niche interests (Star Wars when he was very young). As he’s got older he has learnt that not everyone shares his enthusiasms so he tries to temper them. He recently apologised if he was boring me. I could say that while I didn’t share his interest in that particular thing my own niche area of enthusiasm was him and I was caught up in his passion for and knowledge of his subject so it wasn’t difficult to listen to him talk about it. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a teenager trying (and failing) to suppress their pleasure.

  1. Plan for sleep and down time

I know this is easy to say and difficult to do but it is so essential for a calmer, happier Christmas period. It’s so tempting to let the kids stay up later once school breaks up and there may be pantomimes to attend or trips to look at Christmas lights or visit relatives. Of course there will be some disruption to normal routines but do try to keep this to a minimum. Kids (and adults) need sleep of course but they also do better when they have consistent routines. Certainty reduces stress. They also need time to just chill out so don’t over-schedule them with festive activities. They need to be able to just play, especially after the big day when there will be new toys and books. The only thing to organise is getting out in nature so do plan for some walks or bike rides.

  1. Practice tricky situations in advance

Avoid embarrassment by teaching young children how to occupy themselves (non-digitally?) while adults are preparing meals etc, how to greet relatives they don’t see very often and how to be gracious in receiving gifts. Practice in role play what to do/how to arrange one’s features if they are given something they already have or don’t like the look of. And be realistic with younger ones.

We hope that these tips will give you 12 very happy days of Christmas. All the best to you and your family these holidays.

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November 02nd, 2018

Supporting Your Child at School – The Early Years

Guest Blog by Rachel Busby Director  of  Great  Reading  Ltd

Many  schools  talk  a  lot  about  the  importance  of  the  home/school  partnership  and  the  value  that  they  place  on working  with  parents  as  partners.    As  children  return  to  school  after  a  well-­earned  half  term  holiday,  hopefully settled  and  raring  to  go,  how  do  you  go  about  working  with  the  school?  What  does  this  actually  mean  in reality? 

There  has  been  a  huge  amount  of  research  into  the  positive  impact  of  parent  partnerships  on  student  success  
not  just  in  school  but  throughout  life. When  schools  and  families  work  together  children  have  a  far  better  chance  of  being  successful. So, what  is  the  best  way  to  partner  with  your  child’s  school? 

1.   Structure  and  routine  are key. 

- Try  and  provide  a  calm  environment  at  home  with  set  routines.    
-­ Get  your  child  to  school  on  time  having  had  a  good  breakfast  and  make  sure  they  are  collected  on  time  too.  Children  who  are  often  collected  late  definitely  show  signs  of  anxiety.      
-­ Help   your  child   remember   all   their   kit   and   equipment.   Maybe   display a timetable   showing   which  activities  are  on  each  day  to  help  you  both  ensure  you  have  the  correct  resources.      
-­ If  your  child  is  increasingly  tired  move  bedtime  forward  and  ensure  they  have  a  gadget  and  screen free bedroom  so  that  you  know  they  are  getting  good  quality  sleep.    School  can  be  exhausting!

2.   Encourage  your  child  to  become  as  independent  as  possible.  Make  sure  they  can  dress  themselves  and  think   carefully   about   the   type   of   shoes   and  coat   that you  choose   so   that   they   have   the   best   possible  chance of  fending  for  themselves  in  a  busy  classroom.  Don’t  be  tempted  to  dress  them  or  do  their  shoes  up  for  them – try  and  leave  yourself  enough  time  to  allow  them  to  do  things  for  themselves.  

3.   Read  with  your  child  every  day  at  home.  Very  often  there  could  be  20-30  children  in  a  class  so  the  role  of   1:1  reading   is  increasingly   becoming   the  responsibility   of   the  parent. hildren   who  read  every   day  at  home  always  make the most  progress.
4.   Provide  an  environment  that  is  conducive  to  working.  The  television  should  not  be  on  and,  in  an  ideal world,  it  should  be  calm  and  quiet  (easier  said  than  done  if  you  have  younger children  too).  
5.   Find  a  time  to  read  and  to  do  homework  that  suits  your  child  and  your  family.  There  is  no  right  time.    
-­ It   might   be   that   they   are   exhausted   when   they   first   arrive  home  from   school   and   need   to   refuel  and  refresh  with  snacks  and  a  bit  of  sofa  time. Prepare  them  for  the  fact  that  they  need  to  read/do  their  homework  later  and  maybe give  them  a  10  minute  warning  that  their  rest  time  is  coming  to  an  end.      
-­ Some  children  will  cope  with  getting  the  homework  done  as  soon  as  they  get  home.  
-­ Others   might   be   early   risers   who   benefit   more   from   getting   it done   before   school   the   following day.    
-­ If   you   are   struggling   to  get   homework   done   you   might   need   to  review   your   weekly   schedule   and possibly,  in  the  short-­term,  reduce  the  number  of  extra  activities  your  child  is  participating  in.  Over-­scheduling, with  no  down  time,  can  put  a  lot  of  pressure  on  children  and  parents! I  used  to  read  with  my  youngest  when he was  tucked  up  in  bed  before  we  started  the  bedtime  story – it  was  the  only  quiet  1:1  time  I  could  find. Work out  what  fits  in  with  your  routine  and  your  family.  
6.   Support   your   child   with   their   homework.   However,   DO   NOT   do   it  for  them!   Encourage   your   child   to  work   independently   and   to   be   resourceful.   Your  teacher   should   have   given   you   an   idea   of   how   long homework   should   take. Keep   an   eye   on   the   amount   of  “focused”  time   your  child  is   spending   on the homework  and  if  it  is  taking  a  lot  longer  than  is  expected,  be  honest  and  feed  back  to  the  school.  
7.   Hopefully  your  school  will  have  already  run  a  workshop,  or  held  a  meeting,  explaining  how  they  teach  the   basics   of   reading,   writing   and   maths   at   the school.   If   they   use   a   particular   phonics   scheme,   learn  the  basics  and  use  language  that  your  child  is  familiar  with.    If  they  need  help  with  reading  or  spelling  a  word  resist  telling  them  (particularly  using  the  letter  names)  and  instead  encourage  them  to  sound  the  word   out   for   themselves. It   might   not   be   spelt   perfectly   but   you   are encouraging   them   to   work  independently  and  this  means  that  they  can  demonstrate  resourcefulness  and  resilience  when  in  class  rather  than  asking  the  teacher  for  help  every  step  of  the  way.  
8.   Buy  a  mini  wipeboard  (A4  size  are  great).  Get  your  child  to  practice  a  spelling  on  this  and  see  if  they  can  work   out   if   it  looks   correct.   Mistakes are   easy   to   correct   and   remove   on   a  wipeboard   and   they   often  encourage children  to  take  greater  risks.  
9.   If  your  child  has  to  write  several  sentences  ask  them  to  tell  you  what  they  are  going  to  write.  Try  and  get  your  child  to  say  the  sentence  out  loud  and  get  them  to  repeat  it  several  times.  Very  often  children  forget   what   they   are writing.   Get   them   to   read   what   they   have   written   so   far   and   see   if   they  can  remember  what  they  need  to  write  next.    Resist  the  urge  to  tell  them  what  to  write  and  to  spoon  feed  and  spell  every  word.  Whilst  doing  this  means  you  are getting  the  homework  over  and  done  with  more  quickly  the  experience  is  not  actually helping  your  child  learn  or  consolidate  any  skills.  
10.   When   your   child   has   finished,   tell   them   how   proud   you   are   of   how hard   they   have   worked.     Also   ask  them   to   check   their   work   and   make   sure they   don’t   need   to   make   any   corrections.   A   question   like  “What   goes   at   the beginning/end   of   every   sentence?”   or   “Does   that   word  look right?” is   better  than  telling  them  what  they  need  to  correct.    
11.   Be   honest. If   your  child  is  really   struggling   try   to  remain   positive and   patient   but   also  go   and   chat   to  the  teacher.  Work  at  both  school  and  home should  always  be  differentiated  with  each  child  being  given  work  that  is  appropriate  for  their  ability.    If  it  is  taking  significantly  longer  than  it  should,  I  would calmly  stop   and  reassure   your   child   that   it   is   OK   and   that   you   are  going   to   write   to   the   teacher.  The   teacher  needs  to  know.    No  one  expects  young  children  to  be  working  for  hours  on  homework.  Equally,  if  your  child  is  flying through  it  you  can  feed  back  that  they  worked  independently  within  a  certain  time  frame.  Resist  the  urge  to  ask  for  harder  work.    
12.   If  you  want  to  have  a  chat  with  the  teacher  try  and  find  an  appropriate  time.    It  is  never  easy  to  chat  when  the  children  are  all  going  into  class  in  the  morning  or  when  the  teacher  is  trying  to  ensure  everyone  has  been  safely  collected at  the  end  of  the  day.  Initially  feedback  via  the  homework  diary/reading  record  and  if  needs  be  call  and  make  an  appointment  for  a  chat.      
13.   Always   try   and   attend   meetings,   workshops   and   parents’   evenings.     Schools   often   judge   a   parent’s  commitment   to   working   in   partnership   on   attendance   at   such   events.   If   work   commitments   make   it  difficult  make  sure  you  communicate  this.    Schools  will  often  put  on  evening  sessions  to  accommodate  working  parents.  If  you  have  a  nanny  or  au-pair  make  sure  you  have  introduced  him/her  to  the  teacher  and  ask  them  to  attend  if  you  can’t.      
14.   If  you  have  a  nanny/au  pair  who  does  homework  and  reading  with  your  child  make  sure  you  have  had  discussions   and   communicated   your   expectations   with   them so that   they   are   dealing   with   homework  in   the   same   way   that   you   would   be. Make   sure   they   are   also   aware   of   any   concerns   and   that   you  communicate  regularly  about  the  tasks.  
15.   Find   out   what   topics   your   child   is   studying   at   school   and   design   some   family   activities   around   them.  Maybe   visit   a   castle   or   an   art   gallery,   cook   some   different   food   or   go   to   the   library   to   find   out   more  information and  to  develop  their  knowledge.    Encourage  your  child  to  share  what  they  have  done with  their  teacher.  
16.   If   your   child   puts   up   a   lot   of   resistance   to   homework,   try   and   work  at   some   strategies   to   help   and  encourage  them.  Explain  that  it  is  not  you  that has  set  the  homework  but  the  teacher  and  that  you  will  need  to  feed  back  to  the  teacher  if  they  are  not  going  to  do  it.    Don’t  be  afraid  to  let  them  experience  the  consequences  of  not  doing  the  work.  This  is  an  essential  lesson  in  learning  and shielding  them  from  every  bump  will  produce  a  passive,  dependent  learner  rather  than  a  resourceful  and  resilient  one.  
17.   Enjoy   the   journey   together.   Get   to   know   other   parents   and   share concerns   if   you   have   them.   Get  
involved   in   the   school   community   with   social   events   and   volunteer   to   help if   required.   Don’t   be concerned   if   you   get   very   little   information   from   your   child   about   what they   did   at   school.   They   will have crammed   so  much  into   one   day   that  it   is   hard   to   remember   anything.  Try and  get   to   know   their  weekly  timetable  and  ask  slightly  narrower  questions  if necessary  to  aid  their  recollection  of  what  they  actually   did.     Maybe  ask  “Which new   sound   did   you  learn   today?”   or  “What   did   you  do   in   PE   today?”  rather  than  a  blanket  “What  did  you  do  today?”  You  might  well  get  the  “I  can’t  remember”  response!  
Rachel  Busby  –  October  2018  
Rachel  is  Director  of  Great  Reading  Ltd  and  has  over  20  years  of  experience  in  schools.  
Great  Reading  primarily  supports  young  children,  parents,  nannies/au  pairs  and  schools  with  the  development  of  reading.    They  offer  workshops  for  parents  covering  early  literacy  skills  and  how  to  help  at  home;  1:1  Introduction  to  Reading  courses;  Catch-­up  programmes  for  struggling  readers  and  bespoke  training.    They  will  work with  children  from  the  age  of  4  (before  any  formal  dyslexia  screening)  to  help  them  catch  up  with  peers  and  close  any  gaps  that  may  be  beginning  to  emerge.    They  also offer  advice  to  parents  who  have  any  concerns  about  their  young  child’s  progress  at  school.    Please  do  get  in  touch  if  you  require  any  help  or  advice  with  supporting  your  child  at  school  and  email  or  visit  

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October 18th, 2018

Your Child’s Secret Weapon Is You: How Parents Can Set Children Up For Career Success

Guest Blog by Alex Webb of Flying Start XP

Look back over your child’s life and you will see years of planning and strategy. You were the one who worked out how to get them to eat vegetables. You wheeled out the chocolate buttons and did what it took to get you both through potty training. When it came to the transition from cosy primary school to the wild world of secondary, there you were, making sure all they needed was in place. At each big moment, you harnessed all your knowledge of your child, and came up with a plan.
As they move towards adulthood, your role is similar but different: you need to pass on the baton, and make sure that they themselves have the self-knowledge needed to come up with the plan.

Creating self-knowledge

Helping your child towards self-knowledge is a powerful gift. Knowing their own strengths will help them do the one thing all parents want their children to do: make good decisions.

At Flying Start XP, we meet a lot of parents who welcome expert guidance in speeding up their child’s journey towards self-awareness. We work face-to-face with young people, exploring every aspect of their personality. They develop a picture of their strengths and areas for development. They learn where they naturally add value to a team, and how to communicate within a team so that each individual can give their best performance.

In fact, this is how we met Elaine Halligan, London Director of The Parent Practice. She has two adult children, one at University and one entering the world of work, and we worked with them both on using The C-ME profiling tool. Elaine says
“I was delighted when both my children said they were open to working with Alex, and they were fascinated by the results of the C-ME assessment. It raised their awareness of how they interact with others, their personality type, how they are perceived by others and most importantly where their strengths lie. With this new self-awareness, they are able to make more informed career choices. Alex has a fresh and vibrant style, and teens and young adults love working with her. Often we are so invested in our children’s schooling and education, we fail to take note of how important the soft skills piece is as they enter into the adult years –it’s vital we give them that positive edge.”

One of the most powerful tools we use is C-Me, an online profiling tool based on colour. Following a 10-minute questionnaire, individuals are located on the wheel to show their colour blend and given an in-depth behavioural profile. Young people respond strongly to the simplicity and strength of this tool. They’re able to remember the colour blend that define their particular strengths, and refer back to them throughout education and their early career. This tool is also used in business, helping to build highly effective teams. Giving young people these foundations is a huge step to building confidence and self-belief.

Doing this work with us allows you child to come back to you and have a new and different type of conversation. They’re full of excitement at discoveries that will possibly seem completely obvious to you: that they are hugely competitive, for example, or that they can’t relax when they feel that someone in the room is unhappy. Now you can get them talking positively about who they are, and you can help them speak confidently about their unique potential and the value they bring.

Emotional Intelligence

“If you are emotionally intelligent, even if you have average intellectual intelligence, you will always come out on top” (Dr. Neslyn Watson-Druée CBE, award-winning business coach)

Emotional intelligence is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity. The world of work is changing fast. We are coming into the ‘conceptual age’, where the need for soft skills like communication, empathy and storytelling is key. We need to be able to do all the things that robots can’t: that is the future of work.

Emotional intelligence relies heavily on self-knowledge. We can’t work with others unless we understand the way we work ourselves. And young people no longer enter forgiving work environments where they can hone these skills over years ‘on the job’. Employers are looking for them to work in teams, manage up and down, and make a real contribution to the business from day one.

Hard skills will still be needed to be shortlisted for jobs, but increasingly we hear that it’s soft skills (teamwork, creativity, communication, leadership potential) that get the job and that determine career progression.

Cracking interviews
Like it or not, your child is facing up to a decade that will be interview-intensive. Again and again they’ll have a short space of time to talk to strangers about why they deserve an opportunity more than the next person in the queue.

Sadly, we see plenty of young people get beaten down by this process. They can’t understand why they miss out, and they take the result of each interview massively to heart. They settle for second best, or change tack, away from a career that they might well have been perfect for.

To survive and thrive in a personal-interview based work culture, self-knowledge is the absolute foundation. Simply being able to put together an articulate, strongly spoken sentence about what they are good at will make more difference than most people ever guess. At Flying Start XP, we spend hours on constructing this sentence and practicing saying it loudly and clearly.

With self-knowledge comes resilience. Doing the work required to know what they really want and where their strengths lie gives them purpose and direction. Knockbacks still hurt, but they can bounce back and continue with their journey. If they have a C-Me profile, they’re also pre-equipped with some personalised colour profiling on how they receive and process feedback. This helps them take a step back and use that extra self-awareness to recover and soldier on.

Unlocking potential
You know your child’s unique potential. More than anything, you want them to achieve it. The wayforward is to make sure they know what you know: they have unique strengths, they have a contribution to make, and they are big and strong enough to choose a direction and go for it.

Flying Start XP
We work directly with schools and businesses to inspire and open minds to accelerate career development. For further opportunities such as psychometric profiling, 1:1 coaching, C-Me workshops and employability courses please visit our website or contact us at

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September 18th, 2018

Get ready for the 11+

School’s back and while many families are glad to be over the summer exams the 11+ are in fact just a few weeks away in January and for those children just starting year 6 the pressure will start to build over this term.

Parents need to get prepared for what their children will face and also realise that the Christmas holidays will inevitably include some revision time - just at the time when younger siblings and other members of the family are having fun! If you can get a head start on it then perhaps the holidays will be easier.

So if this is your first time doing the 11+ or any other exams that are conveniently set at the start of term here are some essential tips gathered from many a veteran of the process.

It’s too easy to say “make a revision schedule and stick to it” because we all know this will work in theory, but what we want to know is HOW we can do it in practice. What’s the right amount of revision? Too much, too little - how do we get the balance right? We all know we need to make revision motivational and rewarding, but we can’t keep handing out sweets or letting them use the i-Pad, so what can we say and do that will encourage a child to persevere and feel confident they can do what is required?  We all know that on the day it’s going to pay off to be organised, and if the child is getting anxious, they will need to breathe. But what is the best way of preparing ourselves and our child so they go into the exam with the best chance of doing their best? For full details on how to motivate without pressurising and how to support children’s learning see our publications on 'Creating Happy Learners' and 'How to Handle Homework Horrors'. Below are three ideas that we know will help, but aren’t usually mentioned.   

LET them do it their way (mostly!) and have a choice
And this doesn’t mean doing NO revision! Try, whenever possible, to let your child revise their way rather than insisting they do it your way. Most children find it very hard to sit still and simply regurgitate facts and in fact being forced to be still may impede their learning. Many learn better by moving, maybe hitting or bouncing a ball, or simply walking around the room. Others are more visual and need pictures – get drawing with shapes and flow-diagrams on a white board, or blank postcards. Other children are more auditory and they may find background music helpful and not distracting. They may find making up songs or poems, or using mnemonics helpful – it doesn’t matter if these are wacky and not very serious. They just need to be memorable to your child. Your child remembers things differently to the way you do now as an adult.  

ALLOW them to be upset or worried – name it to tame it!
This is probably the biggest stress they’ve been under in their life, so it would be strange if there weren’t some tears and tantrums, but this doesn’t spell doom and disaster.

Our instinctive reaction is of course to reassure and try to push them through to feeling ‘better’ about revision and exams so we say “don’t worry, it will be absolutely fine soon, it will all work out” or “You poor thing, this is just awful and unfair” or “Come along, there’s no need for all this upset, it’s just a test, you need to toughen up and get your head down, getting cross doesn’t help any of us….”

Instead we need to really listen to how they feel and then help them work their way towards a solution. We have to connect first, before they can trust us to redirect them. For example: “I sense this is really getting you down right now. I wonder if it feels like this is all you get to do, and maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you’re scared about what will happen after you’ve tried your best….”

This doesn’t make them feel worse, or feel anything they don’t already feel, but it does make them feel connected and understood. This in itself is calming. Take care not to add “but….” afterwards because this undoes everything you’ve said so far. It’s usually best to keep quiet and hear how they respond. Most children feel less resistant after they’ve been allowed to express their reluctance to do something.

And make sure that you don’t add to their stress by the way you’re talking about these exams. Scare tactics will never make children perform better.   

UNDERSTAND their reluctance
We can understand how they feel about revising, and still require that they do revise. But we need to understand why they don’t want to do it. It’s not always what we assume. We often start with the assumption they are lazy, not taking it seriously, etc, and when we approach it this way, it ends up negative and confrontational. And ineffective!

Children in fact do want to do well – it’s in their nature. And they do care about the result and their future (to the extent that they can imagine their future), and what we think about them, even when it may not seem that way!

The problems come when they start to believe they can’t do something well, and that we are not happy with them, so they pull back from trying. Some children will bluster this out and vigorously assert they don’t care or they may simply shrug and refuse to put much effort in. In their mind, they believe this will protect them from the failure they fear is coming – the price they have to pay on the way is to accept the negative reaction they get from us….

Our best approach is to face this head on – but not with a direct question, let alone an accusation! So, try “I wonder if you’re worried about trying hard, and still not getting a good mark. It’s scary to push yourself to the full, and not know whether you will achieve what you hope for. It may feel as if you’ve used up all of your brain power. In fact your brain grows the more you make it struggle with things.”  Wait here; this isn’t the time to go on to lecture about how this is how life works, and they have to learn to knuckle down and get on with things….. Let them open up and talk to you about how they feel about the exams. It may be quite illuminating – they may have some crossed wires in their understanding, which you can help untangle. Or there may be some real issues that are concerning them that you can help them address. These things don’t come out with direction questions such as “what’s wrong, what’s the matter” etc. Most children duck these questions with ‘nothing’ because they sense a judgment in the question that they are wrong to be worried etc.  Empathise also with the fact that they’d just rather be playing and that other children (and adults) don’t have to be working as they are. 

Make sure they do have some down time. 

Remember that this stressful time will pass and think of it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to handle the stress that they will inevitably encounter in life. Encourage them to employ some anti-stress measures such as physical play and having a good laugh.  Make sure you look after your own stress levels too.



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September 11th, 2018

Wanted: Good Friend

Did your child go back to school or start at a new school this week? If you’re wondering how to help him maximise his potential this year at school come along to our 3 part workshop series on this topic. If your mind is turning more to their friendships, read on.

Friendships can be lovely - affirming, supportive and nurturing. They can bring a child out of themselves and challenge them to try things they wouldn’t on their own such as climbing a tree, tricks on a skateboard, joining a choir or the Brownies. Friends can learn from one another in an academic context too. Being with friends teaches trust and intimacy and cooperation. Negotiating with peers teaches communication skills and compromise. Having friends of different backgrounds teaches respect and understanding. And learning how to break up and make up is also useful. Arguing helps a child to learn conflict resolution, including how to repair relationships.

Friends can help children through tough times, help them develop their own personality and help them transition toward independence. They are the forerunners for adult intimate relationships with a mate. Friendships can buffer a child from the negative effect of family conflict or break up, illness, poverty or lack of success at school.

Human beings have some basic primal needs –the first is to satisfy our physical needs and to be safe, and the second is to belong.

Friendships can also be troublesome sometimes – children fall out with each other; some kids find it hard to make friends, some are bullied. Children can be left out or have mean things said to or about them. They can be physically hurt themselves or their belongings hidden, stolen or broken. They can have hurtful words hurled at them, face to face or via social media. Children can be very cruel and fickle –they may be best buddies one day and off with someone else the next. Children may have immature responses to differences of opinion, feeling jealous, being unwilling to share possessions, wanting to dictate how the game goes etc etc.

Friendships are relationships chosen by the children themselves, nurtured, broken, repaired and perhaps discarded, and by and large it’s best if parents let kids navigate these relationships themselves. Child-child relationships are egalitarian in a way that adult-child relationships are not and that freedom should be protected. Kids will learn more from their own failures and successes in relationships than if parents muscle in.

“Friendships matter to children because they are relationships that are all their own – created and nurtured by them.” (Dr Eric Lindsey, Texas University

That doesn’t mean that parents can’t help their children at all to successfully manage peer relationships. Here are 8 ways we can help:

1. Provide play opportunities

Provide opportunities for children to play together- but don’t butt in too much. Children need both physical and emotional space to play!  Research has found that how mothers behave when children have friends round can be a key to children’s popularity. Parents who micro-manage children’s playtimes tend to have offspring who are less well-liked. Hard as it is, try not to intervene in every spat. Children can often work it out for themselves. 

2. Involve children in groups outside school

Involve them in after-school activities of their choosing; sporting or arts clubs or youth groups, active groups doing physical or creative things or community involvement. Encourage children to take part in extra-curricular groups to get them outside themselves and find out what they’re interested in and to provide a friendship pool other than at school. 

3. Let them choose
As kids get older their friends will be those they choose to hang out with rather than the children of your friends. Friendships are generally transitory in the 5-8 age group – this is the time to try a lot of different friends. We shouldn’t direct or limit this as it is a learning time; the ‘wrong’ children are as important as the right ones because even a ‘bad’ friend can be a great learning experience. Don’t criticise their friends. When appropriate ask your child what they think about the friend’s behaviour, rather than criticising the individual. 

4. Give lots of approval

Let your kids know how much you value them, both to build connection and self-esteem and so that they don’t become over-dependant on peer approval. Children who don’t get much approval at home can be vulnerable to peer pressure which may lead to poor behaviour that they mightn’t engage in otherwise. Provide them with regular positive family time so they feel connected there. All families need to spend time together, so that conversations can occur during non-crisis moments such as around the dinner table. Praise them descriptively for any good friendship qualities they show. 

5. Model being with your own friends and being friendly with your partner. 

Demonstrate loyalty, commitment, self-respect, constructive dispute resolution, and communicating and managing feelings. 

6. Train children in social skills through play and practice tricky situations in role play.

Teach children to be aware of their own and others’ feelings by watching films or reading books with emotional content. Ask them what the characters are feeling. How do they know? Have they ever felt like that? If they’re feeling that way how are they likely to act? Use role plays to prepare for difficult conversations or conversation openers or retorts to teasing. Use games like ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Chinese Whispers’ to practice listening and collaboration and games of chance to practice following rules and winning and losing well. 

7. Acknowledge how they feel when children are upset about friendships. 

Don’t brush their feelings aside in an attempt to cheer them up and don’t rush in to advise them what to do. If you let them release their feelings it will free up their thinking brains to allow them to come up with solutions for themselves. 

8. Help them to be thought detectives.

When your children assume that their friend’s behaviour has a malicious motive, listen to those feelings first, then gently challenge their thinking by asking questions. Encourage your child to be more accurate in their thinking by:

* Catching his thoughts (“No one at school likes me.”)(“Ed thinks he’s more important than me.”)

* Collecting evidence (“Sherry and I do homework together—she’s a friend of mine.”) (Ed pushed in front of me in the line at breaktime.)

* Challenging her thoughts (“Is it really true that no one at all likes me? Where is the evidence?”) (“Ed might have been in a hurry to get inside after break. Maybe he needed the bathroom.”)













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August 27th, 2018

Back to school –is your child trying too hard to be 'perfect'?

Many schools go back in the UK next week. If your child is starting school for the first time there are some ideas in this blog which will help you to prepare. Even if it’s not your child’s first year at school you should probably be thinking now about how to transition from holiday mode to school routines. There are some useful tips here.

I was talking to a journalist, Anna Tyzack, during the holidays about perfectionism for a piece she was writing for the Telegraph. It got me thinking about the number of parents who worry about their child’s perfectionist tendencies at school. Do you have a child who won’t put up their hand to answer a question because they might get the answer wrong? Or maybe your child labours over a story or drawing for hours only to screw it up because they’re not happy with it.

As your child is embarking on a new academic year are concerned about perfectionism or do you think it will spur your child on to greater achievements? Are you a proud perfectionist yourself? If you are worried about it is there anything you can do?

Last week GCSE results came out and I was struck by the different ways different children I knew received their results. One boy at a highly academic school was quietly satisfied with exceptional results (but was very keen to know if his 8s were nearly 9s) whereas another girl was over the moon excited with ‘merely good’ grades. Perfectionism can be a problem if it means we’re never content with what we achieve. You may well know adults like that. They are driven to achieve ever greater things, get better grades, better qualifications, better positions, but are never satisfied. They never believe that they are good enough.

Research conducted by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill [the University of Bath and York St John University respectively (Study Personality and Social Psychology Review 2015)] found that perfectionism is associated with a wide range of mental illnesses, including depression, social anxiety, agoraphobia, anorexia, insomnia, and even self-harm and suicidal ideation. They also found that rates of perfectionism are increasing, especially among young people and children.

The modern world is geared towards perfectionism. Our society is a highly individualistic one which places heavy emphasis on social comparison and competition, whether we’re talking about  accomplishments or looks. On a daily basis through advertising and social media (which provide platforms for us to put forward perfect versions of ourselves and our lifestyles) we are exposed to the idea that perfection is attainable and that our status and our value are judged by externally-set standards. Schools have of course become even more focused on comparative results with the introduction of league tables and many educators lament the resultant teaching to the test at the expense of a holistic education. Social media offers the possibility of comparisons and judgment about how we raise our children too. An innocent question often brings forth resounding judgment.

But perfection is an abstraction, an impossibility, and pursuing it is a route to unhappiness. Perfectionists, in their pursuit of success are often so focused on avoiding failure that it leads to procrastination. I know I delayed starting writing my book for years because of the notion that it had to be perfect. Perfectionists want to avoid mistakes and often find that they get less done because of their fears. They can become risk-averse. The ability to persevere even when things are going badly is a key element of success, and it's a quality that perfectionists often lack.

There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection and parents can either contribute to perfectionist anxieties or encourage children to do their best and be happy with that. Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings and good parents do not require perfection of their children in everyday behaviour or in their schoolwork, sporting endeavours or artistic activities.

So what can parents do to relieve their children of the burden of perfectionism?

  1. Stop being perfectionists ourselves

What we model is very important so if our children see us beating ourselves up when we make a mistake they will learn that failure is unacceptable. If we give the appearance of perfection they will think they need to be perfect too. We need to consciously model the idea that making mistakes is normal, that it doesn’t diminish us as human beings and is often desirable if it means we learn from them. Point to famous people in sports, science, music and industry who have made many mistakes and not given up. Check out this video on You Tube.

  1. Encourage a growth mindset

You may be aware of Carol Dweck’s now famous work on growth vs fixed mindsets as a way of explaining attitudes toward intelligence and towards failure. Encourage a growth mindset by paying more attention to your child’s efforts, attitudes and strategies for learning as well as their improvements, rather than focusing on their results or grades. Pay attention to the intrinsic benefits and joys of whatever they’re learning, rather than an assessment of their performance. Do NOT call your child clever, or pretty. They need to know that we value them for much more than how they look, that they're courageous, that they're capable, that they are kind people, for so many other things than just the way they look. 

  1. Let go of blame

When something goes wrong, whether in ordinary behaviour or some aspect of performance seek not to judge or blame but to understand and to guide. Do not deal with the matter until everyone is calm and then use the mistakes process:

  • Acknowledge how your child feels about what has happened. Assume they feel bad even if they’re making a show of bravado.
  • Help your child admit what happened. What did they do that contributed to the problem? (Only possible if they are clear there is no judgment)
  • What can they do to make amends?
  • How should they alter their behaviour for the future? Do they need help with this?
  • Help them to accept that they’re human and will make mistakes. Move on.

Wishing you well for a non-perfect new school year.

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