The Parent Practice is regularly invited to give parenting tips and guidance to the press and television about many aspects of parenting in today's world. The Parent Practice specialises in those everyday parenting issues which every family faces and has come up with tried and tested strategies for dealing with them. The Parent Practice is a leading voice on parenting matters in the UK and beyond.
By Juliet Richards, May 2009
Are you tired of being your children’s ‘Director of Entertainment’? Do you worry about how much they rely on the TV, computer, Nintendo or Play Station to occupy them?
The parents we meet at The Parent Practice frequently report that they would like their children to get off the screens and use their imaginations more. Often, the challenge is knowing how to make this happen.
Why is it important?
According to The Children's Society's “Play isn't a luxury, it's a fundamental part of a child's psychological and physical development.” The benefits of independent play, where children make up their own games, characters, situations, dialogues, outcomes without adult intervention or direction, are huge. This is because imagination is a really important learning tool and helps determine children’s ‘success’, not just as children, but also later in life as adults in all areas of life.
Imaginative and independent play helps children:
· Learn to solve problems – because it gives them scope to envisage different outcomes to various situations;
· Practice coping with difficult or new or strange circumstances – this can provide an outlet for some emotions and can also help children understand and develop empathy for others;
· Express themselves – explaining ideas, encouraging and responding to others all involve using a wide range of vocabulary within context;
· Develop relationship skills – how to initiate play, how to compromise, how to ‘read’ your friends’ reactions and adapt accordingly
· Learn real life skills – reading and writing and counting when shopping at pretend stores, emulating adult situations (we’ve all heard our children adopting our telephone manner in play phone calls), etc.
And yet, according to a survey by Persil called the Free Play Initative, 71% of over 2,000 parents “always plan the play and entertainment activities” of their children.
But, interestingly, more than half the children surveyed said they preferred having time to create their own games and most parents reported seeing a positive difference in their child’s behaviour after imaginative or independent play in terms of their children’s self-confidence, focus and general levels of behaviour.
So why don’t we let them play independently so much?
Probably because it’s neater, easier and more convenient and contained for us if we manage our children’s play. Independent play is usually noisy, invariably messy, they often stampede through the house, and we don’t understand it! Parents often feel their job is to manage every aspect of their children’s lives and worry that they’re not doing a good enough job if they’re not stimulating their children with educational toys or sending them to activities. We live in a pressured world we are expected to be busy all the time.
So how do we get them to play more independent games and use their imaginations more?
The key to success will probably be taking it easy to start with, particularly if you and your children are used to prescribed or organised entertainment. Ironically, you may need to set it up carefully beforehand – preparing a few toys or items, or ideas, and even having a talk through with the children to elicit their ideas, and gain their commitment. Then, let play commence!
Also, keep it short at the beginning – perhaps just 15 minutes, and then extend the period each day. It is better to stop while things are still going well, than risk going on too long, and then remember to descriptively praise the children for what they have managed to achieve: “You made up a great game with your brother just then, using your imagination and then you explained the game clearly to him so he could join in” or “you played all by yourselves for 10 minutes then which shows me you know how to make your own fun”.
If you find resistance to the idea of playing alone or making up their own games, without electronics or grown-ups, be empathetic. Reflectively listen that trying new things can feel uncomfortable and it is not unusual to be cautious about taking on new challenges at first. It may be that the children are concerned they won’t be able to think of something to do, and you may need to remind them about a time when they showed some creativity or ingenuity to keep themselves amused.
Of course, it will be much harder to encourage independent play while the TV or computer is turned on..... We recommend you establish some clear and positive rules, based on your personal values and views, to clarify when and how much TV or computer time your children are entitled to each day or week. As far as possible, ensure that TV or computer time is seen as a privilege rather than an entitlement, that children ‘earn’ beforehand by their good behaviour.
And then, when the screens are off and the grown-ups are at a safe distance, the real fun can start!
By Melissa Hood, Quoted in Familes Magazine, May 2009
We were asked recently whether we think children's self esteem is less robust than in the past. In fact we do think children's self esteem is perhaps more fragile than in previous generations which may seem strange given that there is now a much more child-centred approach to parenting than a generation ago and an increased awareness of how important a healthy self esteem is to so many outcomes for children. Parents almost universally say it's a good practice to praise their children and most try hard to do so. But we are very conditioned to notice what's wrong with our children's behaviour and we point it out to them and sometimes punish children. We do this because we mistakenly think this will make their behaviour change. In fact repeated criticism makes children tune out what the adults say and can diminish their self esteem.
Even when we do praise them the difficulty lies in the kind of praise we use which tends to be brief and evaluative. We say 'good boy' or 'clever girl' or 'well done'. If we're feeling upbeat we may say their behaviour or their achievements are fantastic or brilliant. The trouble with this kind of praise is that children don't believe it. The superlative words lose credibility and they may think it's nice that we praise them, but we're supposed to -it's our job. They may doubt our judgment when we say they're wonderful at maths when they know others who know their times tables better than they do. If we praise our children a lot for their achievements, as most parents do, children get the idea that it is the achievement that matters to us. This can make life very pressured for children. If their sense of self worth is tied up in their achievements it is a very precarious thing, always subject to ups and downs. Many children have become very afraid of making mistakes and become risk averse or are unaware of how to use their mistakes to improve. Children are also under far more pressure at school than they ever used to be with more exams than in the past and most schools operating a culture of comparison through grades and awards. (Head teachers have recognised the pressure imposed on children by league tables and SATs and given voice to their concerns about the loss of interest in learning these cause recently)
Another reason why we think children's self esteem is lower than in the past is that children have so much done for them these days, including their thinking. This generation of parents is more fearful than in the past and the term 'helicopter parents' who hover over their children is aptly used to describe many parents. (There are many reasons for this including delaying having families and having fewer children which means we can focus all our energies on them -if you're the youngest of three or four you just learn to do for yourself because there isn't time for the parent to do everything for you). We don't let our children just get on and play unsupervised as much as previously. The culture of fear in 21st century Britain is such that most parents don't allow their children to play outside the home except in supervised trips. The health and safety culture makes us more nervous of physical risk so we don't let children climb trees so much or try to do things for themselves like learn to handle a knife in the kitchen. We often organise so many activities and do so much for our children leaving them little opportunity to learn to be self sufficient. They don't learn the life skills that were learnt in the home in previous generations and they don't establish the kind of competencies that lead to confidence. A child who can see he's capable because he can put his own clothes in the laundry or help vacuum the carpet or feed the cat or help to cook is a confident child.
Another contributor to lack of self esteem is our expectations of children's behaviour these days. In the past it seemed children were expected to be children and to make mistakes while they were learning but now we have high expectations of their self control and maturity (often expecting them to be quiet and compliant and still which goes against the nature of many young children, especially boys). Many parents have unrealistic expectations of children's behaviour maybe because until they have their own children they don't have much experience of how children behave (apart from their own memories of childhood). Many of us are parenting in isolation in modern times, without the benefit of extended families nearby to advise us and help us out. We make children wrong for being children and try to coerce them out of natural behaviours. We get cross with them and tell them off for being curious or impulsive or behaving in a self-centred way, for being unable to share or consider others, for not wanting to tidy up or go to bed or do their homework and for wanting to play when we want them to get ready for school. When a person feels wrong a lot of the time their self esteem is not going to be strong.
By Melissa Hood, Child of London, July 2008
Starting a new school can be traumatic. Here are some ideas from The Parent Practice to help children to be happy, cooperative and confident.
Help children settle in well at school by:
- Preparing children in advance
- Encouraging confidence and cooperation
- Empathising with and validating their feelings
Prepare your child for school by:
Build confidence and cooperation by noticing and describing what the child has done right.
Help children cope with feelings
If children can say how they feel parents need to listen and not deny the child’s feelings.
Eg, Child: I don’t like school. Parent: Don’t say: “You’ll love it, you’ll see.” Do say: “There are probably a lot of things that are quite confusing right now since school is so new to you.”
Some children don’t speak about their feelings but parents can guess something is amiss and need to address the underlying feelings.
By Melissa hood
What can go wrong with holidays?
On the other hand holidays do have some advantages:
The Parent Practice’s Ten Top Tips:
Contact The ParentPractice - Offers parenting helps, advices and 10 hot tips for the holidays.
By a Parent attending Parenting Skills Classes
It used to seem to me that I was the only parent around experiencing the acute horrors of bedtime until I started attending courses with The Parent Practice. In fact it was a huge relief to meet people who were either going through the same thing or had used the skills taught there to transform the bedtime nightmare.
The first thing I realised that I was being very inconsistent. Some nights I would let the children come downstairs if they said they couldn’t sleep, other nights I’d let them come into my bed in the night as I was simply too dog-tired to take them back. Other times I’d “clamp down” get very cross and stern and often loose my temper at the end of it.
The solution started with me making the decision that the bedtime horrors were bad enough for me to committing to trying some of the Parent Practice suggestions. If I had been unresolved in my own mind or hadn’t had the support of my partner I wouldn’t have seen it through.
Here are the steps:
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By Melissa Hood, Sting magazine, March 2008.
Parents are very mindful of the dangers posed by unsupervised access to the internet. It can seem to bring the dangers parents are most fearful of right into your own home. Children on the other hand are captivated by what it offers in terms of communicating with others, information and games. They may well argue that all their friends are allowed to do just what you don’t want them to do.
The most effective thing parents can do before they attempt any conversation about their child’s use of the internet and the dangers therein or to lay down any rules about their child’s access to the net is to acknowledge these differences in perspective. Let your child know that you understand that he would like to spend as much time as possible in front of a screen; that he feels you’re being unfair or unreasonable in depriving him of what all his friends have; and that maybe he feels you don’t trust him. Acknowledging these feelings helps your child feel heard and lessens his resistance a little. It doesn’t mean that you have to give in to what he wants. It’s very important to acknowledge your child’s feelings before talking about why you think it’s important to have restrictions on access. Otherwise he will just tune out what he hears as nagging and lecturing.
To ensure your children are listening first appreciate them for any aspect of good behaviour, especially to do with responsibility around screens (TV, computer, playstation etc). If they turn off the TV or computer when you ask them to, then praise them for that. If not, look for any other aspect of cooperation or self control to praise them for, for example, if they do their homework before turning on a screen or if they stop playing a (electronic or non-electronic) game and come when you call them for dinner or bath. Tell them that those behaviours show self control and cooperation and that is what will be needed around use of the internet. Acknowledge that it won’t always be easy because the internet is very alluring and use of any screen can be terribly addictive. That is one of the reasons it is important to limit its use.
If a child feels appreciated for their efforts and you acknowledge their feelings or point of view they are much more likely to be listening when you open up a conversation about the pitfalls of internet use. Sometimes it can help if the dangers are pointed out by someone other than a parent. You could perhaps look at sites such as www.childnet-int.org together.
Before parents discuss the dangers of internet use with their children they need to be clear in their own minds how they feel about their children using the net. It can be a valuable resource but has dangers which parents may not be aware of, such as the scope for bullying on networking sites such as Facebook. Parents need to inform themselves through sites such as Childnet International (above),www.getnetwise.org and www.getsafeonline.org and then decide how much access to allow and under what conditions, for example where and when can children use the net and what sites can they access. This will depend on the age of your children and your own views and values.
Apart from the dangers inherent in use of the internet there also the considerations of what children are not doing that they could otherwise be doing if they weren’t glued to a screen. Children today are not being as active as they should, they are not getting enough fresh air, they don’t use their imaginations, there is not as much creative play or reading. In addition they are not interacting with other people and developing communication and other social skills.
Once you’ve decided how you feel about these things write down what you want to happen around use of the internet. This will help you to remember, it will help you and your partner to present a united front (very important) and it will depersonalise the rules. You can refer to the piece of paper whenever issues come up rather than repeating yourself which children experience as nagging. When they say “can I go on the computer?” you can point to the list and say “what’s our rule about that?”
Once the rules are in place it is essential that the children get acknowledged for following them. Eg “You turned the computer off when I asked you to and hardly complained at all.” “You’ve only been going on the sites Mummy and Daddy said you could. That’s very responsible.” “I noticed that as soon as the egg timer went off you saved what you had done and closed the computer. It’s so nice to be able to trust you to do the right thing.” When children follow the rules they are rewarded with praise and they earn the right to use the internet at the next appropriate time. If they do not follow the rules they don’t get to go on it next time or their time on it is reduced. Expect a child to be disappointed or even angry if they lose their time on the computer and acknowledge that they are upset, but resist the urge to lecture!
By Melissa Hood, Families Magazine Jan 2008
The teenage years can be a difficult time. Many parents dread them! There are many changes for both parent and child and both parties need to make adjustments.
The teenager takes steps towards independence and begins to separate from his family, emerging as a separate individual with his own identity and values who thinks for himself. In adolescence there are changes not just in hormones but also in the brain.
The teenage years can be a difficult time for parents too. Teens are often quite cutting in pointing out their middle aged parents’ deficiencies. It often appears that teenagers are rejecting their parents and their values which can be quite hurtful. Adolescence may take parents by surprise and they may not be ready for the change in their child. They may feel a sense of loss for the child that was and for their old role. It can be hard to adjust to a new style of parenting. Parents may be fearful in this period as their child becomes more independent as they lose the control they used to have and they worry about keeping their child safe and protecting her from danger and from making big mistakes.
Parents often respond to their worries by getting tough and laying down the law or by giving up and hoping for the best. A middle ground is possible and it depends on good communication. Communication is vital between parents and teenagers. Without it parents will have a hard time making boundaries stick. But the onus is on the parents to lead the way in opening communication. It is important to lay the foundations now before children hit the teens.
Adults usually criticise their teenagers in the mistaken belief that this is the way they learn. In fact when we tell them what they’re doing wrong they stop listening. Parents’ efforts to help a child improve are often interpreted by the child as attacks and criticisms. If he feels attacked a teenager will withdraw or counter attack and become defensive. When parents criticise, a teenager stops listening and his self esteem is reduced. When he is reprimanded he feels disapproved of. When parents threaten and order their children they may be met with defiance or sullen compliance. Parents often find themselves nagging, lecturing and moralising and find their teenager has tuned them out.
Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
“they criticise everything, and I mean everything about me: my behaviour, my personality, my manners; every inch of me, from head to toe and back again…”
Teenagers need to be appreciated because this is a time of great self-doubt for them. They need to know that they are valued if they are to value themselves and others. Descriptive praise is a more effective, more believable kind of praise than the evaluative praise (good girl, well done, fantastic, brilliant, clever boy, you’re pretty/smart/artistic) that most parents are familiar with. Descriptive praise is about noticing and mentioning specifically what they’ve done right.
1. Use descriptive praise and avoid criticising, nagging, lecturing, blaming, accusing, threatening etc.
Ways of descriptively praising your teen:
2. Have conversations with your teens – show an interest in them, what’s going on in their lives, what their opinions are, what they believe in, what they hold important. Even listen to their music sometimes!
3. Minimise instructions to avoid nagging. Having routines means you don’t need to tell your teens what to do so often so they don’t hear your voice as a nag. Ask questions rather than give instructions where possible.
4. Use ‘I’ statements eg “I get worried when you’re late and haven’t phoned” rather than “Where have you been? You didn’t ring me as you promised. You’re so irresponsible. You’re grounded”
5. Point out the impact of their behaviour without criticising eg what they did cost money, created extra work, interfered with someone’s right to privacy or hurt someone’s feelings. Remember that every problem does not need to be solved instantaneously. When parent and teen are both calmer progress is more likely.
6. Use problem solving “I need to know that you’re safe when you’re out and about but I appreciate that you want to be independent too. How can we make sure that both our needs get met?” The key is to get your teen to suggest solutions and then to follow through on them. He will be much more committed and will be learning invaluable lessons if he is doing the thinking.
Why is it important to be able to listen to our teens?
Impact on self-esteem. When parents recognise and respect their teens’ feelings and listen to their opinions they validate their teens.
Facilitates problem-solving. Parents want their teens to seek help when they need it. Teens won’t come to their parents when they’re in trouble if they anticipate anger, disapproval or criticism. Adults can help them when they know what’s going on.
Help develop critical thinking and judgment. Parents should encourage teens to say no when appropriate and stand up for themselves. When teens question boundaries or argue parents should welcome it as a sign of increasing exercise of judgment and development of opinions rather than just an example of them testing or being bloody-minded. That doesn’t mean parents should necessarily give in to what the teenager wants.
Avoids battles A common complaint of teens is that their parents don’t understand them. When we understand our children it leads to shifts in our attitude and behaviour which makes for more positive relationships with our kids. Eg actually trying to really understand why it is so important that they dress the way they do, want to pierce their bodies, dye their hair etc as expression of independence and control over their bodies and finding their identity.
When we listen to teens’ feelings and opinions and consider their point of view they are more likely to consider our perspective and accept our rules and values.
To get along with others Children growing up in a culture where feelings are respected learn to consider others’ feelings and to form loving relationships.
Contact The ParentPractice, we offer professional parent education courses for your parenting issues.
By Melissa Hood, SE Parenting, Nov 2007
Holidays can be bliss but sometimes they can bring out the worst in your kids too. Prolonged exposure to each other can result in siblings fighting so much that parents long for school to resume!
Rather than asking what should I do when my children fight, the question to ask is what can I do so they are less likely to fight?
6 Point Plan for fostering harmony between siblings
By Melissa Hood, Sept 2007
When your child starts big school for the first time everything may go very smoothly or there may be teething problems. You might be taken by surprise by upsets if your child settled happily at nursery school. Here are some tips for helping your child settle in well at school:
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