March 25th, 2017
Sadly this is a question that parents have had to ask before. The attack in Westminster this week was exactly a year after the attack in Brussels by suicide bombers. A few months earlier there had been attacks in Paris and Beirut. What has happened in London on 22nd March is a very shocking and terrible thing and we thought it might be helpful to look again at how to talk to your children about such events.
This will vary a lot depending on the age of your children and their temperament and your own values. While everyone will be appalled by what has happened there may be different aspects of it that you would want to highlight to your children.
If your children are under the age of 3 then hopefully they are unaware of what is going on. I would always try to make sure that this age group are not exposed to the adult content of news programmes and the pictures on the front of the newspapers.
If they are 3-5 then I wouldn’t raise it with them unless they ask questions and then try to do it without scaring them unnecessarily. We don’t want our children to be assuming that people they see in the street are ‘terrorists’ or even ‘bad people’ and we don’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep or to go out or to be terrified of you travelling. Calmly ask them what they know and don’t add to the list of horrific facts. If you can see that they are afraid then admit that this was a shocking thing to have happened and that it is natural to feel frightened at first. You will have to find a balance, determined by your child’s nature, between not promising them they will always be completely safe which is unrealistic, and making them jump at their own shadow. We face this balancing act already when we talk to our children about ‘stranger danger’. (Although we recommend you don’t use the word ‘stranger’ so that children don’t learn to fear everyone they don’t know. Teach them about ‘tricky people’ instead.) You could try something along the lines of “sometimes people get very angry and they do very terrible things and they hurt others. They forget to use their words to sort things out. That’s why it’s very important to learn to talk about problems and not hurt anyone.” This is putting it into words that they can relate to.
This theme can be used with older children too but they may be able to handle more information about what happened and they may be seeing for themselves some of the details in the media. School aged children will probably be hearing it about it at school so it’s good to discuss it with them. Ask your aged 10+ children for their ideas about why it happened and what world leaders can do about it. What can we do about it? This is important to prevent them feeling powerless.
Some of you will have kids who are oblivious to what’s been going on and you’re surprised to find that they knew about the attacks at all. Others may have been asking you questions endlessly and worrying about how it happened and being tremendously concerned for the families and perhaps for themselves, given that this has happened in their own city.
This doesn’t mean that the first child doesn’t have any compassion or doesn’t care. But it is an indication of different temperaments. The more relaxed child may not be able to relate to something that is beyond his experience and understanding. The latter child is just more sensitive than the former. It’s not good or bad –it just is. And we need to adapt our approach for each temperament.
For the former you may try to raise awareness a little if it feels appropriate whereas for the highly sensitive child you may be trying to temper it a little and to help him deal with his feelings. If you’ve got both in one family you may have to help one understand the other.
It will help to name the feelings overwhelming your upset child. Don’t try to brush it under the carpet or your child will not be able to tell you about his worries in future. “You are really upset, aren’t you? These events have really worried you. You’re a person who feels things in a big way and sometimes that is lovely and sometimes it can be burdensome for you. I know you felt really sad for those families of the people who were killed. I’m glad you care. Sharing your worries makes them a bit easier to deal with.” It may help to use some kind of ritual to acknowledge the lives of the people who have passed away such as lighting a candle. This will give your child something practical to do.
If your child is very worried that something similar could affect her own family don’t tell her there’s no need to worry but acknowledge her worries and tell her about the steps that are being taken by the authorities to protect us. Sometimes it can help for children to have a worry box. Get them to write their worries down on a piece of paper and screw the paper up into a tight ball and then put it into the box. Then put the box away somewhere (not in the child’s room) until the end of the week. At the end of the week unfold the worries and see that they have not come to pass. You can put them back in the box or throw them away –whatever the child chooses.
This was of course a terribly wrong thing to do. But there is an opportunity here for us to teach our children something about difference.
There is speculation that this atrocity was inspired by the organisation calling itself Islamic State and even though they do not represent the majority of peace-loving people who practice Islam many negative words have been and will be said about Muslims. Those of us who are not Muslims can teach our children that most Muslims are good people and that they don’t need to be afraid of anyone wearing a hijab or otherwise looking a bit ‘foreign’. We can teach our older children that the aim of organisations like IS is to make us afraid and to stir up dissension between faiths and that is exactly what leads to conflict. Encourage them not to give these bullies the satisfaction. Tell them that you will be going about your daily lives and will not alter what you do because you are not afraid and that you will be kind to any Muslim person you see who must be feeling very uncomfortable.
If your children have Muslim friends say to them “Ahmed is not a killer is he?” If you meet a person wearing Muslim dress smile at them and tell your children why you’re making a point of that right now.
If you are a Muslim parent you may be feeling anxious for yourself and for your children. You may be feeling very angry about what is being in done in the name of your religion and tarnishing you in the process. You may have experienced prejudice. You may be clear what to say to your child about these events but wonder how to explain bigotry. It must be very difficult to explain to your child that others may judge and treat him unfairly because of his religion. I can’t tell you exactly what to say but I would acknowledge his pain and fear.
Whatever our faith, colour, physical abilities, social standing or level of education we can teach our children to respect themselves and others by how we interact with them and others. We can teach them not to fear difference or the unfamiliar by our modelling and by exposing them to different experiences and people.
Fear comes from lack of understanding and from feeling powerless. We can help our children to see that they can make a difference by taking small steps to build trust between different peoples. Taking positive action to address these problems and make the world a better place helps empower kids. When people of minority groups feel a sense of belonging in their community they will have no reason to act out their disaffection and they can feel accepted enough to speak out against prejudice. Whether Muslim or non-Muslim talk with your child about how he or she can take a stand against intolerance. Talk to them about how this may be difficult to do if their friends are bad-mouthing Muslims. Practice with them how to say something like “I don’t believe that.”
This was a terrible thing to happen but perhaps out if it will come a generation committed to not fearing people who are different and to talking through problems. This may be a learning process for you too if you’ve grown up in an environment with little exposure to difference races or faiths. Let your children know that you are expanding your own horizons!
March 19th, 2017
If your child has problems at school, you may have been advised to seek an Educational Psychologist (EP) assessment. What is an EP assessment and how might it help your child?
What is an EP and what do they do?
EPs are skilled assessors with extensive training in the many aspects of child development that affect learning. They can identify the factors that are holding children back. EPs are often employed by local authorities, they may work in their own private practice or they may provide assessments via clinics.
Why should my child see an EP?
Many children experience difficulty with learning at some point in their school career. Generally, it is good to nip problems in the bud and take low level action at an early stage. Either the school may raise concerns with you or vice versa. Together you can agree adjustments that can be made to support your child or a block of targeted learning support to plug any gaps. You may also be able to help your child catch up through some extra work at home. Usually, the situation will improve within a couple of terms, but if the problems persist it may be time to seek the help of an EP.
How do I commission an EP assessment?
There are different pathways to obtaining an EP assessment depending on whether your child attends an independent or state school. If your child attends a state school and the school share your concerns, then it may offer to commission an assessment using its SEN budget. There will usually be a waiting list as the EP your child sees will likely be employed by the local authority. If your child attends an independent school then the school may raise concerns with you will be asked to arrange and pay for the assessment yourself. Sometimes parents have concerns about their child’s learning that are not shared by the school. As a parent, you may want an independent view and in this case, irrespective of whether your child attends an independent or a state school, you can commission your own private assessment from an educational psychologist.
What will the process be like?
You will be asked for background information and after this the EP will meet you and your child either at school, at your home or in a clinic. They will talk to your child and carry out tests of intellectual development. These tests are extremely useful as they reveal the unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses which underlie your child’s learning and interactions at school. The EP will then pull their findings together to explain the problems your child is experiencing. They will feed this back to you in a meeting where you will be able to ask questions and you will be given advice on what to do next. Recommendations for learning support will be made and advice on suitable school environments may be given. The EP may suggest that your child undergoes further, more specialised assessments with other professionals, such as a paediatrician or speech and language therapist. You will then receive a report which will give you detailed information about the assessment and the recommendations.
March 06th, 2017
On Wednesday March 8th it will be International Women’s Day. This is a day that marks the huge advancements made by women and also is an opportunity to pause and look at where change still needs to be made. In the developing world of course there is much work still to be done in lifting women out of poverty, in healthcare, education and in improving the rights and status of women. But in the developed world also there is still a way to go before gender parity will be achieved.
I feel that those of us who are bringing up young women have a responsibility to educate our daughters to regard themselves and others with respect and to fight for equality for all, whether on the basis of gender or any other difference.
My daughter is my first born child. Before she was born my mother had warned me that boys were straightforward and that girls were much more complicated. To be honest that was not my experience. My boys taxed my parenting resources much more than my daughter. Perhaps I understood her better? Perhaps it was just personality differences? She is now, I hesitate to admit, old enough to be getting married. And as she is poised on that threshold I pause to reflect on what I want to say to her as she enters the next phase of her adult life.
As if that doesn’t make me feel old enough my son and his wife are expecting their first child in a few weeks, a daughter. As we wait to welcome her into the world I’m thinking about what I’d say to her too about being a girl.
What do you want to say to your daughters? What messages do you want to give them about being women? If you are their mother what does it mean to you to be a woman in the 21st century? If you are their father what do you hope for on behalf of your little girl?
Mums, being a girl today is not the same as when you were growing up. Some things have improved. Attitudes toward women are generally different and there are many more legal protections against gender-based harassment and discrimination. Domestic violence is now being talked about whereas it used to be a ‘dirty’ secret. But your daughters are also subject to different and more intense challenges and pressures than the previous generation. From about the age of 10 a girl’s self-esteem often goes into decline as she becomes more focused on herself, who she is and who she’s becoming; the pressure to achieve in the academic, sporting and arts arenas today is enormous. While you will also have gone through the process of recalibrating your identity and working out friendships, what you believed in and how you fit into the world, you will have been able to do it in the privacy of your own home without the full glare of the spotlight that is social media to hinder the process. Young girls are sometimes behaving in a way they feel they ‘should’, rather than in a way they would like. Peer pressure has taken on new meaning.
The stresses in a tween and teen girl’s life are so great now that eating disorders, self-harm and depression are more prevalent than ever before. Girls are growing up much faster. They are exposed to far more media and with it relentless messages about how they should look and behave. For girls how they look has become a constant obsession.
Girls tend to suffer much more from perfectionism than boys. Many believe that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. They can think that if they are not perfect they are unacceptable. We, as parents, may think that aiming high is a good thing but not if it turns into nothing is good enough. Perfectionism is a real problem when it prevents your daughter from taking risks, when she plays it safe, won’t put up her hand, won’t risk trying anything unless she’s sure she can excel at it. It stifles ambition, wastes her potential and causes anxiety and loss of performance.
Nowhere is perfectionism more obvious than in relation to body image. This reaches a peak in the teens but starts much earlier. Studies show that 3 year olds are very aware of their bodies and talk about being fat-some kids insult each other by calling others ‘fat’. We know that body dissatisfaction significantly affects feeling of self-worth and engagement with life. We also know that mums, as the same gender parent, can unwittingly pass on attitudes of dissatisfaction with their bodies to their daughters.
So what can parents of girls say to their daughters on International Women’s Day? Well this is what I want to say to my daughter (and my granddaughter):
You may have many other things you’d say to your girls. Let us know what you think they need to hear.
If you’re interested in exploring issues relating to girls come along to our Raising Girls Workshops.
February 27th, 2017
Is your child racing towards the teenage years faster than you expected? Does that fill you with dread? Or are you looking forward to that greater independence? Either way a better knowledge of what goes on in the teenage mind will smooth the path of adolescence for both parent and teen.
Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all science. You need to have a real understanding of the real child in front of you at the stage he is at now to know how to apply your parenting techniques and strategies.
Unrealistic expectations are the source of much upset in families.
When we understand our child’s stage of development we’ll have a better understanding of what’s reasonable to expect of them. Understanding what your child is capable of now doesn’t mean giving up on goals for the future but it will direct our efforts so we can give them the support they need to achieve what we want from them.
You are the experts on your children – you know what they like and don’t like, what are their fears, what makes them happy and how they’re likely to behave in different situations. But sometimes you might not understand why they do the things they do. And just when you think you’ve ‘got’ them, they change.
The perfectly reasonable child you used to know may morph overnight into an alien being when they hit puberty. If you’re both going to get through this turbulent period ok you need to understand what’s going on for your adolescent.
Hormones generally get blamed for the changes in adolescence and although they play a part recent research is showing that changes in the adolescent brain are responsible for much of the ‘strange’ behaviour.
From the ages of 11 to 24 the brain undergoes a complete remodelling. The way we think, remember, reason, focus attention, make decisions and relate to others all change.
There are dramatic changes in the frontal lobes — the area of the cortex behind the forehead
which acts as a command centre. Eventually the changes will allow the teen to regulate their emotions, think about risks in big-picture terms, exercise wise judgment, plan for the future and have empathy. But for now it is a building site, where parts will go offline for a while. That’s why adults need to have respect for the remodelling process and make adjustments for the fact that the adolescent mind is a construction zone.
While the frontal lobe develops, it’s the limbic region (emotional centre) that is more active. That’s why a bland remark or an innocent bump in the hallway can be interpreted by a teenager as intentional and they will respond with anger.
But the massive re-modelling of the brain’s basic structure in early adolescence is good news – the brain is thought to be especially receptive to new information and primed to acquire new skills during this period of exuberance.
Some brain development is driven by genes, some by use. Experience alters the structure of the brain at any age but progresses faster when young.
“…we know that the major innovations in technology, in science, in music and art come from adolescent minds. That’s because adolescents are literally biologically programmed to push against the status quo that adults have created and imagine a world that could be, and not just learn the world as it is. That’s why we need to see adolescents as the hope for the future.”
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Dan Siegel
We mustn’t see adolescence as a period of aberration to be endured. It can also be regarded as perfectly adaptive – the teen is a creature highly adapted for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.
Understanding what’s going on for teens makes it easier for us to be compassionate, to not assume they’re doing what they’re doing just to wind us up.
Teens tend to:
For more help in understanding the teenage years and some strategies for making the most of them come to our regualr workshops on Teenagers. Click here for more details.
February 20th, 2017
Does that headline make you cross? Is the feminist in you outraged? Are you saying of course girls are brave! My girls are brave. Boys don’t have a monopoly on courage.
Well, think about it in the context of school and work. Are girls as willing to put their hand up in class to answer a question where they are not certain they know the answer? Will girls choose to study subjects unless they think there’s a chance they’ll get top grades? Will they choose careers that they think they might not excel in? Will they put themselves forward for jobs if they think they are don’t have all the necessary qualifications?
It’s arguable that boys pay less attention than girls to what other people think for one thing, but even if they only reference their own evaluation boys will put themselves forward where girls will not.
It is well known that women are under-represented in board rooms and parliaments across the world and various theories have been put forward about women’s self-confidence. You may have heard of the Hewlett Packard report of 2014 which stated that men will put themselves forward for positions when they have 60% of the necessary qualifications while women won’t apply unless they have 100% of the qualifications.
Reshma Saujani suggests in her fascinating TED talk Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fC9da6eqaqg, that we are teaching our girls not to take risks. That women have been socialised to aspire to perfection.
Perfectionism means that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. Girls tend to suffer from it more than boys. Many believe that being perfect, whether in relation to school work, sports or extra-curricular activities or their appearance or behaviour, is not only possible but their duty. They can think that if they are not perfect they are unacceptable.
Does your daughter like to do things right or not do them at all? Does she screw up a drawing or piece of work that looked perfectly ok to you? Does she not take risks for fear of making mistakes/looking silly? Will she put up her hand in class? Does she suffer from learned helplessness, i.e. ask for help a lot so that if there is a failure it won’t be her fault? Does she give up easily? Does she attribute success not to her own efforts but to luck? Does she berate herself for making mistakes whether in school work or relationships? Are you afraid to tell her off because she takes it so badly?
Typically girls suffering from perfectionism engage in black and white thinking, critical self-talk, avoiding things as a means of coping, and generally negative thinking and reasoning. Perfectionism can actually lead to a drop in grades, anxiety and lack of sleep in the short term and missing out on opportunities over the long term. Not to mention the great loss to society of what that girl might have contributed.
Think about this in terms of body image. We know that girls and women often have quite unrealistic views about how they should look due in part to the preponderance of airbrushed and photo shopped images and exaltations to ‘look after ourselves’ in the media. Body image is very important to girls (and dominates their engagement with social media). Their obsession with it reaches a peak in the teens but starts much earlier (studies show 3 year olds are very aware of their bodies and talk about being fat-some kids insult each other by calling others ‘fat’).
Saujani claims that we are raising our girls to be perfect and raising our boys to be brave. She says we teach our daughters to play it safe and avoid failure while boys are encouraged to aim high, no matter the risks. Boys are habituated to take risks and are rewarded for it.
Saujani really caught my attention when she referred to the Mindset research of Professor Carol Dweck of which I’d been a huge fan for many years. She referred to an aspect of it I hadn’t come across before when she claimed that there was a difference between boys’ and girls’ mindsets, that girls(especially bright girls), when faced with a problem that was challenging were more likely than boys to give up. Boys found the tasks energising and were more likely to redouble their efforts. Dweck’s research included presenting children with tasks that were beyond their abilities and observing how they responded to those challenges. She found a difference between the children according to what words of encouragement the researchers used. The children who more likely to rise to the challenge of the beyond reach task were those who had been praised in an earlier task with words which addresses the effort they’d applied rather than any innate ability they might have. Eg they were told “Oh you did really well, you must have tried really hard” as opposed to the other group who were told “Oh you did really well, you must be really good at these.”
Interestingly the boys in the study appear to have embraced the challenge more and Dweck explains this by reference to their earlier school experience. She says that in early schooling boys usually get told off quite a lot! They get used to criticism and are often told to apply more effort. Girls, who are working hard already, are not being given the effort message.
So herein lies the solution for parents of girls:
Healthy self-esteem is a direct result of the child seeing that she can make mistakes, solve problems, struggle and come out triumphant, and that her value as a human being is not contingent upon her results.
Messages to encourage a healthy mindset:
The Parent Practice runs regular courses on Raising Boys and Raising Girls.
Click here to see when the next ones are running
February 12th, 2017
Children love snow and they love being active. So the family skiing holiday is a guaranteed winner, surely?! Not always. Although a skiing holiday with children has great potential for physical fun and family bonding, it also has the potential for frustration and disappointment…. So here are Six Steps to a Successful Ski Holiday this year
(1) BE REALISTIC
A family skiing holiday is NOT the same as pre-children! We may dream about hours on the slopes, relaxing over lunch or in the sauna, but children have different requirements and agendas. Some children may be able to adapt to change of routines, but others will struggle. Less adaptable children may be feeling out of their depth in a new environment, with different language, different food, and a new level of tiredness, let alone other physical effects of altitude, dehydration, chapped lips, sore legs, blisters…..
Your child is not trying to ruin your holiday – she’s not BEING a problem, she’s HAVING a problem. Can you anticipate which bits might be trickier for your child and plan ahead to help her?
(2) BE FLEXIBLE
You want to maximise your time on the slopes but consider whether you also have other priorities for the week together than improving your own technique? If this is a rare opportunity to spend time with your child away from school, in the fresh air, without 4G or wifi, make the most of it!
We want our children to be competent and safe on the slopes, and we also want them to enjoy skiing holidays. Spend some time with them doing the more childish snow activities at a more childish pace – it will be good for you too!
(3) BE PREPARED
You will inevitably spend time preparing practically - collecting kit together, booking lift passes, hiring equipment etc. You can also prepare on another level. What areas may cause problems, or have been tricky in the past for your child? Typical hot spots are putting on boots, carrying skiis, using the chair or button lift, settling into ski school….. Or arguments about who sits where on the train or plane…..
Rather than hoping that nothing goes wrong, prepare with a Family Ski Meeting, and discuss together possible challenges. Encourage the children to contribute solutions - they can be quite ingenious!
(4) GET PHYSICAL
Some of the challenges of skiing with children involve struggling with helmets, lift passes, chapsticks, goggles, under time pressure or in the cold or heat. Before you go practice beforehand at home. Help them practice putting their own coat and gloves on, decide which pocket has the emergency smarties and tissues, and have some fun pretending to get on a sofa chair lift, bringing the imaginary bar down, or waiting at the top or bottom of a slope until everyone is together, playing a snow-themed word game to keep the mood up!
Obviously the plan is to have fun, but children will also feel tired, worried, confused, anxious, unsure, incapable, hesitant, frustrated, vulnerable, embarrassed, uneasy, discouraged, disappointed….. It doesn’t mean they’re ungrateful! When we try to change how a child feels – by dismissing or belittling or ignoring the emotions, or reassuring them, the unacknowledged and unresolved emotions continue to swirl around and eventually burst out into behaviour.
Connect with how your child feels, and help them re-direct what they do.
Rather than: “Don’t worry about how high up we are, these lifts are perfectly safe.”
Try: “It can feel scary to be up so high, we’re not used to it. Where shall we look?”
Rather than: “everyone is tired, but no-one else is complaining.”
Try: “I hear how tired you feel, I bet your legs feel really heavy…. wouldn’t it be nice if we could just snap our fingers and find ourselves tucked up in bed?!”
Acknowledging how they feel does NOT condone any negative behaviour. It DOES mean we stay connected and we help them learn to manage their emotions so the behaviour can improve.
(6) ACKNOWLEDGE EFFORT AND IMPROVEMENT
Encourage them to repeat particular behaviours by descriptively praising them.
Notice any effort they make, and any improvement. Recognise any coping strategy they try, and acknowledge them for being brave, resilient, flexible, persistent, determined, also for paying attention, remembering, being organised or helpful and for not complaining (too much!)
“You are hardly complaining at all about the cold.”
“I know you’re not sure that skiing is really your thing but you’re trying to do the snow plough just the way your teacher showed you. I saw that you were really paying attention while he was talking. Then you watched carefully while he showed you and you had a go. I love that you’re willing to try – it shows a wonderfully positive attitude!”
“When the instructor asked you to wait for the little ones to go first on the magic carpet you stepped back. That was patient because I could see you really wanted to have another go. You are getting good at following instructions and controlling your impulses.”
“I noticed you got all your kit together last night and remembered where to put it all. That made this morning easier!”
“I like that you are being so responsible about your helmet. It’s tricky to do the strap but you’re persevering with it.”
Avoid comparing siblings on the slopes or encouraging competition. Instead focus on their individual effort and listen to any frustration about mixed abilities.
“I love the way you pick yourself up and brush off the snow and just get straight back to trying your hardest”
“I can see those parallel turns getting closer and closer together each time you come down the slope, keeping working on them like this and soon they will get easier!”
“It’s hard for you, Jack flies down the slopes and you want to be as fast as him.”
“When Sally gets scared and we all have to stop, you feel frustrated with her because you want to keep going.”
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