May 04th, 2020
In Australia, where I am sitting out the pandemic, schools are re-opening gradually in some states. In the UK there is talk of primary schools going back on 1st June. Reactions to that possibility will differ according to people’s different experiences of at-home learning during lockdown, their need to work themselves and anxieties about the degree of risk posed to physical health by reopening schools. Of course parents, teachers and authorities are concerned about the impact on our children’s education by keeping them away from face to face learning. But another important factor is the loss of social interaction they are experiencing at potentially formative times in their lives for acquiring and practising social skills.
Human beings are social animals and our brains are wired for social interactions which are essential for our wellbeing. Much of our brain evolution has occurred because of our social nature. We’ve all missed being able to engage with our friends and there has quite rightly been a lot of concern about the effect of loneliness on our mental wellbeing. The body perceives social isolation as a threat to a basic human need and it triggers a stress response but if stress hormones remain at elevated levels for too long they can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, infectious illness and cognitive deterioration. So not having friends around is bad for our health.
But our children are likely to suffer even more than us as a result of this time of reduced social contact. Younger children do most of their learning through play with others and engagement with their peers in early years’ settings is crucial for learning the social skills that are the foundation for all their future relationships. Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, Associate Professor at the Early Start centre at the University of Wollongong, says. “Ninety per cent of their brain is developed by the time they reach five years old. Missing out on early education experiences is going to have a bigger impact than, say, missing out on year 4.” Friendship skills develop over time so the over fives are still fine-tuning their social skills. When children play with and learn alongside others they learn these vital skills for life:
Our teens are also suffering disproportionately from social deprivation as in this period of development social interaction is of profound importance. In their excellent book ‘The Incredible Teenage Brain’ Bettina Hohnen, Jane Gilmour and Tara Murphy explain that in adolescence social pain is experienced as strongly as physical pain. Some teens will have actually appreciated an opportunity to be away from the school setting if that has been a place of discomfort for them, either academically or socially. Introverts may have relished a home-learning environment that suited them better but even these young people are expressing a yearning to be back amongst their peers.
While we can’t have playdates just now there are things that parents can do to help our young children develop the social skills they need and to give older children the chance to practice these vital skills while in physical isolation and to facilitate non-physical social contact for our teens.
The following are social skills that all children need which can be practised in different ways at home:
Try to facilitate contact with friends using video based technologies but these have their limits for younger children. Littlies will need a lot of direction and perhaps setting up a shared activity like Play-doh so they can play ‘alongside’ each other. Older children can manage better with this form of contact. Teens may need more latitude in their access to the various platforms via which they can make contact with their peers.
Let’s hope our physical isolation will let up a bit soon and make the most of the time we have for family togetherness.
January 26th, 2020
Yesterday was Australia day. The 26th January is celebrated by many with barbecues and picnics and there is much talk of what it means to be Australian. In Sydney people flock to the harbour to watch a fly past and a ferry race. It looks like a joyful day. But appearances can be deceptive. It is not a joyful day for the first peoples of Australia for whom the 26th January is known as ‘invasion day’. That day marked the end of their free existence in close harmony with the land they loved and began a period of conflict and loss of culture.
This period began with an assumption. When British people arrived in Australia it was called ‘settlement’, not conquest, because there was a legal assumption that the land was unoccupied, that is the peoples who lived there were not recognised as people. Black people in many parts of the world have been assumed by whites to be ‘less than’; less intelligent, less cultured, less morally principled, less worthy. These assumptions deprive us of real connection with our fellow human beings. When we ditch our assumptions and get curious we find out about others. Inevitably we find we have more in common than we had thought and even something to learn from each other. In the recent Australian bush fires traditional methods of land management were shown to be particularly effective.
Closer to home perhaps we find ourselves making assumptions within our own families. We assume our children are blank slates for us to imprint upon, but they are born with their own personalities and develop their own ideas. We assume that as their parents our job is to control and to teach them, but they have much to teach us. We sometimes assume that their behaviour is a deliberate attempt to ‘get us’. This week I had a great conversation with Bonnie Harris for our podcast where she talked about the assumptions we make about our children’s behaviour that pushes our buttons and causes us to ‘lose it’. We often think it is their behaviour that makes us see red and react poorly. But in fact it is what we think about our children, and ourselves, that gives rise to the feelings that prompt our regrettable reactions. If my six year old refuses to get dressed and it’s 7.45am and we’re going to be late for school and work and I feel like I’ve tried everything but he WILL NOT cooperate, I might shout and threaten the cancellation of the promised outing to Legoland for his birthday…. If I assume that he should do what I ask, straightaway, and if he doesn’t it means he’s a bolshie, difficult child …and that I am an incompetent parent…then no wonder I feel powerless and react by trying to seize control through threats and punishments and maybe shaming talk! And we start the day with unpleasantness and we’re already exhausted before we get to school and work. And we’ve lost connection and maybe my words have chipped away at his self-esteem. And all of that came about because of my assumptions.
Let’s start with a new assumption. If things aren’t going well it means my child is having a problem with whatever I’ve asked him to do.
He is having a problem, not being a problem.
It may be simple: my six year old son gets distracted playing with his games. He doesn’t mean to defy me but he has different, six year old, priorities than mine. He has a hard time giving up on his play agenda and bending to my adult clock-dictated agenda. He struggles to curb his impulses because his higher brain which regulates emotions is undeveloped.
Or if we dig deeper it might be more complex: he might be feeling very controlled. It’s Friday and he’s already had four days of adults telling him what to do. After school he either goes to after school care or an organised activity and when he gets home it’s tea time and then reading practice and worksheets and bed. He doesn’t get time to play with his Lego and he doesn’t get any say in what happens.
We can hold on to our parenting skills and respond in ways we’ll be proud of if we ditch the assumptions and get curious. When our children are behaving in ways we don’t like let’s ask ourselves why. Sometimes it takes superhuman reserves of patience to be a parent, so forgive yourself if you do lose it but then ask why did that happen, apologise and repair the relationship.
I might speak to my six year old like this: “I’m sorry I shouted at you this morning when we were leaving the house. I said you were behaving like a baby and that wasn’t right. Nobody deserves to be shouted at or called names. I was feeling anxious about being late so I need to try and find some better ways for us to be ready on time. Now that I’m calm and thinking about it I guess you were feeling bossed around. You wanted to play your Lego and you don’t get much time to play your own games. I’m wondering what we can do about that. Do you have any ideas?
This kind of conversation restores connection. With older children you can ask them what they were feeling but they won’t always know or feel able to express themselves. It’s fine for the adult to take a guess at the child’s feelings and suggest it to them. But wait to see how they respond. You’ll know if you’ve accurately identified their feelings. That is how they develop both a vocabulary of emotions and the ability to apply the words to their experience. It is how they grow in self-awareness, a key part of emotional intelligence. If we listen to our children, both to their words and what’s behind their words and actions, then we can learn. This way you are modelling for your children an approach based not on assumptions but on curiosity and connection.
August 28th, 2019
Your kids are about to start a new school year, maybe at a new school, maybe for the first time. No doubt you have lots of hopes for them. You want them to do their best, to thrive in the classroom and on the sporting fields, or in the art or music room and also in the playground with friends. You want them to try new things and find activities to throw themselves into with passion. You may hope that they’ll find a vocation which they’ll pursue throughout life, something that will bring them joy and sense of fulfilment. Above all you want them to be happy.
When kids go to school they enter into a world in which we parents cannot take part. Oh sure, we can and should be interested in what they’re doing but it’s their world. We can, and should, support from the sidelines, but they are the players on the field.
All parents want to know that their children are doing well and have had a happy day. So we ask them: How was your day? Enquiring after their day is so much better than not caring, being too engrossed in our own world, our emails, our texts and our to-do lists, our adult concerns, to connect with theirs at the end of the day. Connection is important.
But if you’ve ever asked your child that question How was your day? You may have felt dissatisfied with the answer. You may have felt it didn’t give much connection. It’s just a ritual that you go through. Every parent knows that the answer to How was your day? is ‘fine’. And the answers to follow up questions what did you learn? and what did you have for lunch? are nothing and I forget respectively, or interchangeably. Sometimes we ask the supplementary question who did you play with?
Don’t kids want to tell us about their lives? Well sometimes, no.
We need to listen to what they say without judgment, without lots of questions that imply failure, and without dismissing their concerns. We need to acknowledge and validate their feelings. We can’t take away all our children’s worries and it’s not our job to do so but we can help them to manage their feelings. If our children are talking to us we need to make time to listen (which isn’t always easy in our busy lives) and let them know through our words and body language that we are really paying attention. If they’re not talking we need to supply the words. I’m wondering if you felt a bit jealous when Taylor got that commendation in assembly; Maybe you felt left out when Jacob invited Raoul to go to his house; I sense that you’re a bit anxious about your piano exam; I guess it can be a bit irritating to have to include your younger brother in your game. You wish you could just play on your own; you’re a boy who likes to check things out first before you do something so you’re not sure about getting in the water just yet. Would you like to watch the others first and then get in? What do you need to make yourself feel safe?
But as well as encouraging them to share problems we want to know about the good things in our children’s lives.
Being interested in your child’s life shows you are a good parent. But you need better questions if you’re going to be able to make real connections. Instead of How was your day? , try asking them, “What was the best thing that happened today?”
Curiosity fuels connection.
January 05th, 2019
New Year’s resolutions are a bit old hat aren’t they? Do you have a negative response to the idea of forming resolutions to live a better life, to be a better person? That implication that you are somehow deficient as you are now is a bit life-sapping. Maybe you don’t want to tell anyone about your new resolutions because you fear their judgment when you fall off the wagon. If you expect to fail at your resolutions maybe they’re the wrong resolutions, or maybe you need a bit of help with them. Research shows that many resolutions have foundered by 14th January, just a week away! This is mainly because our goals are unrealistic or vague and we fail to recognise that it will take time and effort to change our habits. We may also not delve into why we want to make the proposed changes in the first place. Without this meaning for the change we won’t be able to sustain motivation.
If you do, privately, want to bring up your children to be good people and you recognise that the job of parenting would actually be made easier and more pleasant by not yelling at them, then maybe just one simple resolution would be good for you –STOP SHOUTING. But resolutions which are about stopping doing something, like giving up smoking or reducing the amount you eat or drink or the amount of time you spend on a screen are notoriously difficult to fulfil. For a goal to be really worth your time, you must move towards something you do want, rather than just move away from something you don’t want.
Check your feelings
If you want to speak more positively to your children you will need to do something about those feelings that caused you to yell at them in the first place. Resolve to be kinder to yourself and look after your physical and emotional wellbeing better. When you lose it and you shout how were you feeling? Did you feel disrespected or powerless or stupid or ignored? If you’re feeling like that no WONDER you shouted!
Check your thoughts
Looking after yourself better and recognising your feelings will help stop them from dictating your behaviour but you may also be able to prevent yourself from feeling that way by changing what you were thinking about what happened.
If your 11 year old boy comes home from school and drops his filthy sports kit in the middle of the hall and announces that he’s not doing his Maths homework ‘because Miss Jenkins stinks’ and you think he’s going to ruin his academic chances and his future because of a silly whim and he’s taking you for granted and you’ve failed to teach him to consider others…. then you’re likely to feel panicky and disrespected. And if that’s how you feel you’re likely to try to assert yourself and grab control of the situation and deflect blame from yourself. And you may yell.
If you reframe your thoughts about your children’s behaviour it will have less potential to push your buttons. I recommend that whenever you feel your buttons being pushed you take some cool down time. Tell your kids what you’re doing –this is great modelling of handling emotions in a mature way.
When you come back to your kids in a new calmer state before dealing with the behaviour seek to understand why they did what they did and describe it to them. Did your son drop his gear in the hall because he was caught up in an impulse to race off and do something fun after his busy day? Did he forget that he’s supposed to put his stuff in the laundry basket? Does he feel challenged by the current topic in maths? Does he feel defeated by the task? Does he believe that there is nothing he can do to improve things? When you reframe your thoughts about your child’s behaviour there’s a good chance you can be calmer.
How can you fill the void created by the absence of shouting? Create a new habit of speaking positively. Creating a bank of positive phrases will help you to pull them out even when provoked. So here are 24 things to say to kids (adapt for your family) to take you to the end of January.
I hope you have a very happy, positive and calm 2019!
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.
May 14th, 2018
Shouting is like smoking in several ways. We know it’s a bad idea but we keep doing it. It doesn’t make any difference if people lecture us about it –we’ve heard it all before. We know, we know. We’ve got into the habit, ok, and it’s hard to break.
There was a good reason why we started in the first place. With smoking you may have felt daring, rebellious or grown up when you took your first puff at age 16…14…12. All your friends might have been doing it. It gave you something to do with your hands at parties. It helped you to not eat. Lung disease is what happens to other people, old people; and you were never going to be one of those. Now that you are older having a cigarette is one of the few quiet moments in the day when you can stop…and think…or just stop. And it’s the cool gang outside with the cigarettes.
When we shout at the kids we have good reasons too. I mean you should hear what they say to us! I would never have spoken to my mother the way they speak to me! We have to shout at them, don’t we, to get them to pay attention to us? One boy confirmed this when he responded to the question why didn’t he do what his mum asked with the answer, “She hasn’t shouted yet”. And we shout because our emotional cup/to-do list is overflowing. Because we started the day behind the eight ball by sleeping through the alarm, finding the uniforms in a great unwashed ball in the bedroom corner, by our 8 year old cheerily announcing that it didn’t matter because they didn’t need to wear uniform today because it was World book day and they had to go in costume. And this is the first you’ve heard of it and you should have left 10 minutes ago and nobody has had breakfast. And we shout because nobody, but nobody (except maybe the dog) listens to us. We shout because we’ve already asked nicely 515 times and nothing’s happened. And surely we deserve some respect? I mean we brought those children into the world; half of us laboured to give birth to them! They should be grateful. And they should do what we say. It’s because they don’t that we shout, isn’t it?
There’s a small difference between smoking and shouting. When we smoke we do most damage to ourselves and potentially some damage to others through passive smoking. When we shout we risk some damage to our children and we also damage ourselves. When we get ourselves into a position where shouting seems like the answer our blood pressure is elevated, our hearing is diminished and our sight is reduced to a very narrow focus. We are stressed and cortisol is flooding our brains. Our children know when we have lost it. The ‘it’ we have lost is self-control and with it we lose their respect.
If we get into habits of shouting children learn:
• not to pay attention when we speak normally
• to disrespect us
• that we don’t respect them
• that shouting is what you do in order to persuade someone of your point of view
• that their agenda, their opinions or feelings don’t matter.
When we shout connection is broken and with it the chance of cooperation is greatly reduced and children do not learn all the valuable lessons we could have taught them, including how to interact respectfully with others.
But we don’t always shout at our kids. For some it’s only certain behaviour that pushes our buttons and we’re calm the rest of the time. And our partner may not be bothered by that behaviour. My husband used to be quite relaxed when our great big galumphing boys came and wrestled with each other on our bed… when we were in it, quietly reading our books at the end of a long day. But I used to hate it and feel it was an invasion of our precious quiet time and I’d yell at them to get off and get out! Some of us can react calmly to exactly the same behaviours today that we shouted about yesterday. What’s going on? It can’t be the kids’ behaviour that determines whether we shout or not or we’d all shout about the same behaviour, all the time. It must be something to do with us.
Life doesn’t make us react in set ways –we have choices. But it often doesn’t feel that way. When the red mist descends it feels automatic to go into shouting mode. What is it that pushes our buttons? Well, what pushes my buttons may be different from what pushes yours. But we have this in common; we react because of how we’re feeling. When you feel disrespected or powerless you may respond with harsh, authoritarian behaviours to try to command some respect. Why do I feel disrespected when my husband doesn’t? That’s because I have a different set of thoughts about the behaviour than he does and it’s those thoughts that prompt my feelings out of which I react.
When I was growing up it was instilled in me to think of others; to be selfish was a Really Bad Thing. So when I saw behaviour in my teenagers that I interpreted as selfish (who’d have thought a teenager might be self-focused?) I thought of it as a character flaw rather than a stage of development. That made me anxious and I responded harshly. And when I did that I lost the connection that would have enabled me to teach my children without bruising their self-esteem, without judging them or making them feel my disappointment and disapproval. When you shout at a teenager their ears bang shut and they are convinced that you are unreasonable, mean and nasty.
But we can get our kids to listen without shouting.
We need to stay calm and that means:
• prioritising self-care
• pushing the pause button before you respond (you may need a calming strategy like taking deep breaths or going for a walk or repeating a mantra to yourself like ‘he’s having a problem, not being a problem’)
• reframing our negative thoughts about our children’s actions to see if there’s another more helpful explanation for what they’re doing
• scheduling time to spend with them doing fun stuff to build connection
• using lots of descriptive praise –nothing opens kids’ ears faster
• listening to them.
Of course we’re only human so we’ll slip up and shout from time to time but, as they say with smoking, don’t give up giving up, and join me in taking the ‘vow of yellibacy’.
January 08th, 2018
At The Parent Practice we usually like to focus on the positives. Not just because we’re a jolly little band but because it’s more effective for training. When we ask our kids to do things it’s more efficient to say what we want them to do rather than what we don’t want them to do. That’s because our brains conjure up images and they have a hard time processing negatives. So if I say ‘don’t think of pink elephants’ you will almost certainly be imagining a pink elephant. Likewise if you say to your child ‘don’t run inside’ he will be processing an image of himself running in the house. So instructions need to be positively framed. Instead say ‘walk inside’. Family rules also need to be positive for the added reason that lots of no’s feel very restrictive and may provoke rebellion. ‘Enjoy time on the computer after homework’ feels much less constraining than ‘No screen time unless homework is done.’
We also need to focus on the positives of what our children do because we get more of what we pay attention to. So if we notice and point out when they forget to hang up their towel or are mean to their sister but we don’t say anything when they put their book bag away or help unload the dishwasher then we can be sure to get more meanness and uncooperative behaviour. Children have evolved to do what gets their parents’ attention so we need to be careful what we prioritise with our words.
Another reason for positivity is that a positive connection between parent and child is the very best basis for discipline. Positive discipline teaches a child how to behave well rather than just not to get caught doing something wrong. It encourages self-discipline and the adoption of a set of values. Spending time with your kids doing fun things and letting them know how much you value them builds self-esteem and gives them a very strong incentive for accepting your influence.
But have you noticed that at this time of year with all the talk of resolutions how much they focus on negatives? How to get rid of excess pounds or drink less or spend less etc. While it’s not generally very motivating to focus on what we need to do less of there may be some merit in looking at some of the negative things we say in parenting so that we recognise them and can change. So many of the things that slip out of our mouths do so so automatically that we don’t even realise that we’re doing it.
So here are 4 things we shouldn’t say to our kids, what they sound like and why they kill connection: (before you read any further do realise that all parents have said these things –we’re human and we make mistakes but we’re trying to limit the number of mistakes we continue to make.)
Phew! Now go hug your child and tell them why you love them!
January 04th, 2018
Guest Blog by Dina Shoukry Weston
Do you want to raise kind, empathetic kids who care about others and stand up for what is right? Of course you do, who wouldn’t? Do you have time to do it? You’re probably thinking, “but when?” Well, here are 5 New Year’s Resolutions that can be incorporated into your daily life to raise socially aware global citizens or as I like to call them, KidCitizens!
Make giving part of your family’s everyday life by doing something for charity together in 2018. A Child Trends report showed that children who volunteer are more likely to have greater respect for others, leadership skills, and an understanding of citizenship that can carry on into adulthood. You don’t have to do anything overly complicated and you can do it with kids of any age from toddlers to teenagers. So whether you donate food to the local Food bank together, do a walk or run for a cause, hold a fundraising coffee morning or play date, or give money to a charity nominated by your kids, make sure you do something for charity with your children in 2018. If you are looking for ideas, check out these suggestions I prepared earlier!
Our society is becoming increasingly diverse. Have a look at your street, your town, your city and you will see people from all walks of life who given the chance, could enrich our children’s outlook on life in so many ways. So in 2018, go out of your way to look for opportunities to celebrate diversity. One of the easiest ways to do this is to diversify your kids’ book collection. Look for books featuring character leads from a broad ethnic background or disabled characters. Visit as many cultural events, exhibitions, performances as you can. The Chinese New Year in February is an excellent opportunity to do this. If you have friends from a different religion or culture, ask if you can join in their celebrations. Last Diwali, my family and I celebrated with a dear Hindu friend and we had the most magical time. Or travel the globe from your home through kid friendly dishes from around the world. Celebrating diversity is fun and needn’t be taxing.
A Jordans Cereal survey revealed that more than one third of adults don’t have a clue about wildlife and can’t teach their kids about the great outdoors. Let’s reconnect our kids with nature in 2018. Head out to your local park. Don’t just make a beeline for the playground, but walk slowly there and talk about the different trees, leaves and insects. Make sure your kids are taking in what they see – the sights, smell and textures - so that they can truly appreciate their surroundings. Let them climb trees and play with sticks. Risky play is healthy and encourages independence and calculated risk taking – skills they will need their whole lives. At home, plant tomatoes or herbs together or buy a grow your own butterfly kit. Talk about recycling, using less water and conserving energy. None of this is rocket science and you probably do many of these things already, but how much time do you take to explain it to your kids? One of the things I am doing with my kids at the moment is saying no to plastic straws in restaurants, as they are so harmful to the environment. If we don’t teach our kids to appreciate nature, who is going to look after it in future?
The issues our society faces are difficult to explain to young children and in many ways, we don’t want to infringe on their innocence. However, whether we like it or not, our kids are exposed to society’s problems every day whether it’s at school or on TV. The truth is, there are many opportunities to talk about tricky issues and they shouldn't be treated as anything extra special. For example, you can talk race, religion, culture, disability, homelessness, gender equality, refugees and climate change on the walk to school, at the bus stop, at dinner, anytime really. The whole point is not to fixate or over explain but rather to talk about issues little and often in a natural environment so your kids don’t feel lectured and quite simply put off. Thankfully, there are books and resources online on pretty much any tricky issue to help you. So in 2018, really think about tackling issues with your kids, it will help them to understand and empathise with their community and their surroundings.
Be visibly kind to others in front of your kids and they will be kind too. You can help a neighbor, write a thank you card to someone in the community, bake cupcakes together to cheer someone up, or simply say hello to someone you pass on the street. There are many things you can do and they don’t have to be grand gestures, just make sure you explain to your kids why you are doing them. I always ask my kids how it feels to do something kind, to which they always reply “good”.
Finally, remember to pick your moments, kids are kids and if they aren’t in the mood for your lesson on global citizenship, then leave it and try again another day. Raising a global citizen should be fun and provide opportunities to bond as a family.
Dina Shoukry Weston is a Wandsworth mum; copywriter and founder of KidCitizen, a social media campaign helping parents empower their kid to make a positive impact on their community and their world.
May 09th, 2017
Ann Magalhaes, who runs our classes in Rye, New York, was listening to a radio programme in which the interviewee was Norman Lear, writer and producer of sitcoms, who was just shy of his 94th birthday. Mid-way through the interview, he was asked if he had any tips for getting to 94 as spry and as successful and happy as he is. This was his response:
“[It] may be as simple as any two words in the English language – over and next. And we don’t pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over … and we are on to next. And if there was to be a hammock in the middle … between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.”
Ann said as a parenting educator this hit home! At The Parent Practice we encourage our clients not to linger on the ‘bad’ things our children have done. We often stew about slammed doors, muddy shoes in the hall, rolled eyes, tantrums … and we find ourselves staying angry or resentful about things that have already happened. Those of you who have ever asked a teenager to un-slam a door – well, you know how that goes!
Over and Next serve as a reminder that what happened is over and now it’s time to move forward with some learning. It’s now, as Lear says, ‘hammock time’, that split second between your child’s emotional outburst and your response – the magical moment that enables you to connect with your child without anger, judgement or blame. It is the time to be present — take a deep restorative breath and remember that what happened is now over – and you get to choose how you handle what comes next. When we can get into the habit of responding this way, we no longer have to lose it with our kids! As Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective Families) suggests, we can push the pause button and decide on a more constructive response.
Next is all about supporting your child in a constructive and positive way to learn a more appropriate behaviour; to make amends; or simply to solve whatever problem they are facing that day. This way, your child can start to think about what he or she can do the next time they are feeling that same emotion, so that they are empowered to deal with it in a more effective and positive way.
‘Hammock time’ is a moment to decide to build a deeper connection with your child. It is about practicing living in the space between over and next – the space where you can listen, encourage and love.
The key to making use of hammock time lies in these 5 things:
Taking good care of ourselves is not being selfish or self-indulgent – it is taking care of our needs so that we are better equipped to support our families. Try thinking of it as on-going professional development for your job as a parent. When we’re calm, we can access the parenting skills we already have, and the ones we’re learning and working on.
What can you do to look after your physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
To make sure you get into action:
TAKE one small step – rather than applying to run the marathon next year, join a local fitness class or download some running tracks and set off for the local park.
COMMIT money – if we pay up in advance, we’re less likely to back out on the morning.
SCHEDULE it – the act of writing it into our diary makes it more likely to happen.
FIND a friend – either persuade a friend to join you in your run or trip to the museum, or ask them to act as a ‘stand’ for you which means you give them permission to call you and find out how it went.
It may help to use some calming techniques in the moment too so you can access your ‘hammock’ moment.
VISUALISE You can either visualise the stress and get rid of it or visualise something very calm and soothing.
VERBALISE Use a mantra to help you calm down. “Breathe and relax.” Or maybe “That’s over. What’s next?” Counting to 10 also works.
MOVE Take deep breaths, do something physical like go for a walk, splash cold water on your face or hands, get a massage, leave the room.
Understanding why our kids do the things they do and why we respond the way we do is the subject of chapter 7 of our book, Real Parenting for Real Kids.
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.
November 23rd, 2015
This is a question that parents have understandably been asking in our classes this week. What has happened in Paris and in Beirut recently is a very shocking and terrible thing and how you talk to your children about it 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’. 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?
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, for the people of Paris and Beirut, and perhaps for themselves. You may be despairing of how to handle this barrage. You may have an example of both approaches within your own family.
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’s happened far away and 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 overseas 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 happen where you live 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.
You may wonder why I’m mentioning values here. Surely we all have the same values –that this was a terribly wrong thing to do? Well, yes. But there is an opportunity here for us to teach our children something about difference.
As we know this atrocity was committed in the name of an 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.
I was brought up as a Catholic so I can point to the troubles in Ireland and say to my kids that they know full well that not all Catholics are terrorists. If your children have Muslim friends say to them “Ahmed is not a killer is he?” If you meet a woman wearing Muslim dress smile at her 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!
May 13th, 2015
Some kids talk more than others.
If you’ve got more than one child chances are you’ve noticed this. Some of that is down to temperament and some may be attributable to gender. I have a daughter who is very extroverted. She used to come home from school and tell me everything that had gone on in her day in the first 2 minutes. I had to gear myself up for the onslaught the minute she got home. I became really grateful when the kids got home at different times so I could focus on all their different needs. With Gemma my challenge was just to listen, not to jump in with advice. When I buttoned my lip and let her know I was listening the storm would blow itself out and often she would find her own solutions. She would talk in order to work out what she thought about things. She just needed to be heard.
I also have two sons who happen to both be introverts. They like to think through things before speaking. When they got home from school they liked to chill out and wouldn’t offer anything about their day until the evening. I had a friend with a son with a similar disposition and she used to say she only found out what was going on in her son’s life through what I told her I’d heard from my boy.
Many boys don’t talk about their feelings. Traditionally men weren’t encouraged to and perhaps unwittingly we still give boys messages that in order to be a man they need to manage alone. Sometimes parents still say “big boys don’t cry” or we tell them not to make such a fuss or to be a big boy. If we tell our children to ‘man up’ what do we mean?
If dads model talking about how they feel about stuff then boys learn that it’s ok for men to do so.
The best way to get a boy to talk is not to sit down for an eyeball to eyeball conversation but to do an activity together. This is what Steve Biddulph calls ‘sideways talk’. Some of my best conversations with my sons have been while we’ve been walking or even doing the washing up together. When I picked them up from school we were more likely to get a conversation going if we were walking home. Usually pumping them for information about their day didn’t work. We all know that the answer to the question “How was your day?” is “fine”, with all the information that doesn’t convey. Young children live in the moment and often can’t be bothered to dredge up what happened earlier in their day. Some will actually want to keep their school world separate from home. They certainly won’t tell us anything if they think we’re going to judge, criticise, or perhaps even advise them.
You start the conversation. Tell him about your day. Tell him about age-appropriate things that you care about. Thank him for listening and maybe tell him you feel good talking to him. If you think he has something on his mind tell him you think he might be a bit worried about something. You can tell because of his body language or facial expressions or because of what he has said or done. Try to put yourself in his shoes. If you think you know what he’s feeling describe what that might be like for him. He might not talk now but you’ve opened the door for a conversation. If he does talk don’t say much, just nod a lot. Don’t judge and DON’T offer advice.
I remember when my older son was preparing (or not) for exams he started being mean to his younger brother. He used to do that a lot when he was younger and I was afraid we were slipping back into old patterns. In my anxiety and frustration I was tempted to tell him off or punish him but I realised in time that it might be connected to the exams that he showed no signs of caring about. I talked with him about how he might be feeling, detailing his anxiety, wondering whether he was afraid of letting us down, speculating that it might be difficult to follow in his academically able sister’s footsteps, even that he might be cross with himself for not having worked harder earlier. He didn’t say much…but his body language changed –his shoulders were less slumped and he made more eye contact. And his behaviour toward his brother changed.
I’d like to say he aced those exams but that would be fiction. But he developed better habits for the next set and, more to the point, he learnt to process his feelings well and find appropriate outlets for his frustrations and fears. This son still doesn’t talk a lot about his emotions but he is a great conversationalist and has good emotional awareness - he knows how to manage his feelings.
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