December 17th, 2018
Mythical figures such as the Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, make up the many iconic and nostalgic symbols of childhood for many families. They are very much a feature of many childhoods. But sometimes our John Lewis ad fantasy of Christmas can be marred by our concerns about ‘breaking the news’ to our children and revealing our apparent deception about these childhood figures. Some parents dread the question “Mummy, is Father Christmas real?” and older children who are ‘in the know’ may use their power to shatter their younger sibling’s illusions. This dilemma requires UN-level diplomacy. (All in a day’s work for parents, right?)
Ideally you would decide when the time is right to tell your child about Santa but sometimes older siblings or friends get in there first or adult ‘loose lips’ mean that your child works it out for themselves or they’re suspicious and they confront you.
It is often a moment of sadness, as we realise that their innocence about the magic of Christmas may be shattered. Some parents worry about having ‘lied’ to their children. Will their kids ever trust them again? We struggle to know what to do for the best. Do we tell him the truth? What do I say? What if he accuses me of being a liar?
Here are 5 top tips on handling the Santa Illusion
Santa Claus is all part of the mystery and the spirit of Christmas and the image of a jovial man with a white beard flying in the sky with all his reindeers and visiting the children all over the world is magical. The way he comes down the chimney; gulps back the whisky and eats all the shortbread ( at least in Scotland) with Rudolph munching the carrots is pure fantasy and all part of the folklore that has been passed down through generations from your grandparents to your own parents as you are doing now.
“When I was a little girl, I really believed in Santa Claus and loved the idea of him bringing gifts to all the children across the world. Now I am grown up, I see that Santa Claus is not a real person but is part of the Christmas celebration alongside singing carols and putting up xmas trees. He is all about generosity and love.”
Santas seem to emerge everywhere during the festive season and this can be so confusing for littlies. Indeed it may be may be a relief to learn that the slightly smelly man in the shopping mall is not the real McCoy. What our children need is to believe in something that they can’t see or touch or prove; something bigger than themselves.
Do think about what the Santa tradition means to you. It’s a ritual that is handed down in families, not just those who celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival. Those shared stories preserve the sense of belonging to that family. Each family has their own Christmas rituals . These traditions are even more important to my children as they’ve got older and the act of gift giving encourages them to think about others and the world beyond their own.
Dig deep and try to imagine what it feels like to be 7, 8, 9,with an annoying/perfect younger sibling. Empathise with those feelings and don’t try to brush them aside or make your child wrong for them. You may think those feelings are uncharitable but that won’t make them go away. What your older child needs more than anything is to feel heard. Teach him to show caring for others, by showing compassion for your prickly older one.
“I can see you felt very tempted to break the news about Santa to your sister. I’m glad you didn’t because believing in Santa is a very special part of Christmas. In this family we believe it’s important for all of us to believe in some things that we can’t see or touch or prove. We think imagination and mystery and a sense of wonder are very special. Just like when you looked up at the Supermoon and wondered about it. My guess is you’d like to show your sister that you already know. That might make you feel important and powerful and grown up. I get it. But you know, I have a very important grown-up job for you now that you’re 8….”
Wishing you and your family a magical mythical christmas.
Elaine & Melissa
December 06th, 2018
For peace and goodwill in your family this Christmas try these 12 strategies.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
November 02nd, 2018
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.greatreading.co.uk
October 18th, 2018
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 www.flyingstartxp.com or contact us at email@example.com.
September 18th, 2018
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.
September 11th, 2018
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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