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 Lucy Etherington, Rise Magazine, July 2007
I’m in a rather splendid drawing room in south Clapham watching a grown woman pretend to be a petulant seven-year-old.
The woman is called Sarah and she’s one of the helpers in tonight’s Parent Practice parenting workshops in the UK. Although the mere phrase ‘role play’ is usually enough to send me screaming to the nearest pub, this isn’t so bad because I’m not being asked to participate.
The dad next to me also seems to have lightened up, although this could be because Sarah, has started kicking her legs (as petulant seven-year-old). Another woman with nice hair wearing a pair of sparkly L K Bennet slingbacks is playing the mum, and is demonstrating how to get your child out of bed and dressed and ready for school without resorting to threats, bribery or shouting. As cringeworthy as it sounds, this simple little demo is gold dust to any of us parents who weren’t born saints.
“When I first came to The Parent Practice, I thought it was awful,” admits Elaine Halligan, who did a course when her son, Sam, was thrown out of three schools for difficult behaviour. “But by the time I completed the first course, the effects were so dramatic, I was converted.”
Not only did Elaine’s relationship with her son, now 10, improve vastly and to the benefit of his education; she also ended up jacking in her job as a chartered accountant and training as a ‘facilitator’ (that’s non-aggressive lingo for teacher) for The Parent Practice.
She’s the one in the sparkly slingbacks. “I think I used to be a horrible person,” she whispers to me, during the break for tea and biscuits. “Now I’m so calm. My son even tells his friends he thinks I’m the greatest mum!”
The Parent Practice runs several long-term and short-term courses aimed at arming new parents with all the tools to produce healthy, well rounded children.
It is based on the very simple and obvious idea that we’re trained to do virtually everything else in life – from cooking to driving to being successful in our careers. But when it comes to babies, we’re supposed to know instinctually what to do, and are left to get on with it. Many of us muddle through and end up making the mistakes we swore we never would.
My daily sins include begging, making physical threats to beloved soft toys (“If you don’t clear your room, Teddy gets it!”), sweets and even cash bribes (through which my daughter has learned the valuable skill of bartering, while unfortunately for her, clearing out her own school fund).
Like the other 15 or so parents in the very lovely house – which also happens to be the home of Melissa Hood, who runs The Parent Practice – I admit to having resorted to shouting and saying the things I swore I never would, only to be totally ignored.
Which is why I have chosen to attend the Positive Discipline workshop. Through it, I’m hoping to establish a few basic household rules without coming on like the strict disciplinarian against whom my kids will invariably rebel. Like most parents, I’d like to earn my children’s trust and respect.
A parenting workshops is a good way of getting a feel for how the Parent Practice works before signing up for one of four 10 week intensive courses, their personal consultations, or even the a shorter four week course.
It also offers some ingeniously simple tips on how to communicate with – and, let’s be honest, control – toddlers. And if three hours seems like a long time, they pack a lot in. I didn’t particularly warm to the presentation charts and slightly patronising lingo, like positive praise, pendulum parenting and ‘rules are your friends’. But the core clients – lawyers and management and city types – are clearly more used to this style of delivery. Even Elaine admitted to me that she found it all a bit “Californian and contrived” when she attended her first workshop five years ago.
Yet beyond my deeply ingrained scepticism (essential as a journalist, you understand) I must admit that I came away with some invaluable tips, and more importantly, a new way of seeing my role as a parent that was really rather refreshing.
My particular epiphany was when Elaine said: “What makes you think your agenda is more important than your child’s? Your child isn’t starving, so why do they want to stop playing with their cars or dolls and sit at the dinner table? That’s boring.”
The trick, therefore, is to convince the child that eating dinner is a brilliant idea, and that it’s their brilliant idea. I tried it, and it works – and it’s so much more fun and less exhausting than nagging, yelling and being ignored. Or indeed holding a spud gun to Teddy’s knees!
Contact The ParentPractice, we offer parent education courses for your parenting issues.
By Gail Macfarlane, Families SW, June 2007
A (Families SW) Readers Review on The Parent Practice's 10 week Parenting Skills Course
When I cradled my newborn (now 10 years ago) in my arms I never thought about ‘parenting’. I expected it would be quite straightforward, and that I would be a relaxed, carefree, fun-loving, easy going mum. I thought that just the sleepless nights and endless nappies in the early months was the hard bit. I had, after all, done my NCT course - surely the only course I would ever need? I didn’t reckon on the temperament of my son, who by 2 was strong willed, oppositional and defiant, and seemed to want to cross every boundary I was trying desperately to set.
My Health Visitor told me that he needed more praise, so, for the next 2 years I told him he was a ‘good boy’ 100 times a day. Amazingly this seemed to make no difference, and by 4, and one little sister later, the family was out of control. I spent too much of my parenting life shouting, repeating, nagging, crying (me and him!) and bribing for cooperation.
I think life would have continued along those miserable lines, had it not been for The Parent Practice. I attended their 10 week Parenting Course in Putney and realised very quickly that my son was the one in charge at home (and if I’m honest, I would do anything to avoid one of his frequent tantrums), that I didn’t really follow through on my threats, that he probably didn’t believe that he was a ‘good boy’ and that we, as a family had to make some adjustments to regain control and learn some new skills.
Having read more ‘Parenting Self Help’ books than I’d like to admit to, I wasn’t sure what a course could offer, that the books or ‘Super Nanny’ hadn’t already covered.
The first thing we were encouraged to do, as a family, was to write down some rules, and include the children in this process. The second thing, and this bit was a challenge, was to stick to them. Sounds simple. Where The Parent Practice helped here, was in preparing me for what to do when the melt downs started because ‘mummy wasn’t giving in like she used to’. They gave me the strength and support, that you don’t get from a book, and coached me through a very different type of praise which was detailed and descriptive, but more importantly, they made me realise that there were many more smaller, less obvious things to praise for than I had realised. I learnt how to stay calm in the face of provocation, praising tiny little steps in the direction of better behaviour. I had to really work hard to see them, and when I did, this had the most startling effect!
Within days, he was learning that his exhausting tantrums weren’t working for him, and that his parents stayed calm(er!). He drank up the new style of praise like a thirsty plant and seemed happier and more willing to comply.
I learnt how to listen to him, whereas I’d never really made time for that, or perhaps I had always been too exhausted and fed up to even consider how he felt. The older my children get, the more I use this skill. It is like a key that can unlock a bolted door, and the feelings that can tumble out have often left me not only moved, and closer to my children, but that I have been given an amazing gift and I’d hate to think where I’d be without it.
The class attracted a mix of parents with tots and teens, and the facilitator skilfully adapted the class to address the needs of each different scenario and age group. I went because my family was in chaos, but many others were there for very different reasons; to boost their children’s self-esteem, to encourage self-reliance, to deal with sibling squabbling etc. I think we all came away with more enthusiasm for being a parent and definitely better behaved children.
None of us would dare say we had become perfect parents, or had perfect children (or, that it was easy) but we all had more confidence to deal with whatever challenges our children presented to us! They also have 2 brilliant CDs (Positive Discipline and Harmony At Home) which are great for sharing with reluctant partners and/or for listening to when you start to fall back into old habits when the course is over!)
Now, when I see a parent being challenged by their child, I want to rush up to them and tell them about The Parent Practice, and promise them that it will make such a difference. This method could make me unpopular, or at least a bit ‘born again-ish’ so writing this is my way of sharing what I (and my family) have got from this amazing course. Anyone reading this, who is unsure, can attend a free ‘taster’ class with no obligation to sign up for the full course. At first glance, it may seem expensive, but I see it now as an investment in my relationship with my children, the benefits of which, hopefully, will last for many years to come.
Contact The ParentPractice, UK based providers of positive parenting courses to improve your parenting skills.
By Caroline Haigh, Families Magazine, Nov 2006
How hard can it be to get a couple of kids up and ready for school by 8.30am? Surely it’s just a question of waking them up, getting them dressed and then having a harmonious breakfast together before donning coats and shoes and skipping out the door? I wish this were the case. The usual scenario is not so serene – most kids like to play the second they open their eyes so even getting clothes on can feel like a hour in the gym after you’ve chased them up and down the corridor socks in hand. Then of course encouraging kids to eat breakfast can be like negotiating a peace deal. Most mums have probably shouted, threatened and punished the kids before feeling exhausted and wracked with guilt and its only 8am.
There are certain moments in daily family life that are far more stressful then others – these are known as Family Hotspots. Mornings tend to be chief culprits but bedtimes and mealtimes can cause similar angst when children just seem to know exactly what to do to get a reaction from mum and dad. In the evenings, kids seem turn into the Duracell bunny at exactly the moment when mum is longing for a bath and a glass of wine. Mealtimes, on the other hand, can disintegrate into complete chaos as one child throws food, the other won’t sit still and another thinks he’s superman and informs you that superheroes don’t eat chicken!
So, what is the solution? How can you ensure that you have fun family meals without tempers fraying or leave the house on time with no arguments? Well, help is at hand from the team at The Parent Practice where I recently attended a workshop. Based in Clapham, this excellent company runs informative and friendly courses that teach parents practical and usable skills to transform family life. Mums and dads can learn how to be in charge and help their kids be more cooperative, confident and motivated.
When dealing with Family Hotspots The Parent Practice urge mums and dads to be very clear about what behaviour they want to see from their children and then ask them to ensure the expectations are realistic for their ages. There is no point expecting a two-year-old to be able to eat with a knife and fork without making a mess, for example. Once standards are established then parents must put up a united front and be consistent with any new rules set in place.
One of the best ways to ensure your children accept any new rules is to get them involved in the process. Sit them down and ask them what they think the rules are at mealtimes, bedtimes or when you have most problems. Depending on their age, you could get them to write the list – this can be as detailed as you like including such things as ‘sit facing forwards at meals, use a fork, ask to get down when finished’ and so on. This method makes the kids feel involved (rather than just informed) and means the new rules have more clarity and consistency and the kids are more committed to them. It also reminds parents of the huge number of small things for which a child can be praised. Once the list is drawn up, get the kids to decorate it and then pop it on the fridge – like a star or tick chart. Here everyone can see it and it can become something positive (won’t always seem fun )– Daddy can come home and say “lets see how many ticks / stars we have all got today”. If you make the list very detailed including simple things such as sitting on your chair, kids can rack up a lot of ticks in one go. This is turn will make children feel pleased with themselves and more motivated to improve. So, even if the meal has seemed chaotic you will still be able to notice the good things: “well done for sitting so straight and still on your chair today” for example even if there is food is on the floor!
This kind of praise is known as ‘descriptive praise’ and it is an extremely effective way to motivate your kids to do the right thing. It is based around the idea that when parents notice and mention any small improvement in their kids’ behaviour rather than always focusing on the negative or what the child didn’t do children behave better. How often do you find yourself saying ‘don’t throw food’ or ‘stop tipping your chair’ or ‘you never go to bed on time’ – all maybe true, but won’t motivate a child to improve. The other day, my little one suddenly threw all her pudding on the floor and I of course immediately shouted and said what a mess she’d made which then made her shout and cry and made me feel guilty. In fact, while I was gossiping to my friend she had been sitting quietly for a good 20 minutes eating up her main course without a fuss but the only thing I reacted too was the bad behaviour. Using descriptive praise I could have said something like “you have been such a good girl sitting quietly and eating up your meal, If you have had enough just ask mummy if you can get down”.
If you have a child that just will not go to bed at night despite endless pleas and bribes try setting up some new rules. Ask them what it is they need to do before bedtime – they will probably list such things as cleaning their teeth, going to the loo, getting into bed and so on. You can then add such things as just one book and then being quiet or staying in bed. If the child calls out after five minutes, rather than getting annoyed that they have disregarded one of the rules focus on what they are doing right – for example, “well done for staying in bed and not complaining when we had just one story, that is very grown up of you. I know you want mummy to stay longer”. To reinforce the bedtime rule you will probably need to go back in frequently for the first few nights but focus on the positive things and the progress they are making.
Star charts can also be fantastic and kids tend to love them especially if covered in colourful stickers. Stars can be sufficient reward in themselves especially if accompanied by lots of praise or you might establish how many stars makes a reward – for example six stars in a day results in a story read by torchlight or 15 stars over the week means a trip to the café for breakfast. (Younger children can’t wait too long for a reward.)Try to make the rewards simple and non-material such as cooking some biscuits, an extra book at bedtime or lots of bubbles at bathtime.
In order to have the desired effect, descriptive praise really needs to be used liberally and consistently. It can often feel like you are being a bit over the top, but it does work and children respond fabulously well – they often can’t understand why mummy is being so nice and not shouting so much!
Another simple factor to bear in mind when dealing with hotspots is the time factor. Firstly ensure you have allowed enough time to get everything ready because kids hate being rushed and often go into reverse if sergeant major mummy is constantly commanding “come on, come on”!
Also, remember that kids have very different agendas to you. You may have a detailed minute-by-minute schedule planned but they are unaware of it, so when you announce supper is ready this minute they will know doubt protest. It helps if you talk through in advance what needs to happen. For example, go through the morning routine, “once we get up and have said good morning, what do you need to do?”Ask questions to prompt the answers ‘wash my face, get dressed, make bed and come down to breakfast’. This way you are involving them in the process. For example, “after breakfast what do we need to get ready for school?” More often than not, when kids say what they have to do they are more likely to do it.
If your little one wants to play with soldiers rather than get dressed it is not because he is trying to make your life difficult. He would just rather play soldiers. He is having a problem with having to stop playing; he is not being a problem specifically to annoy you. Wouldn’t you rather read your magazine than cook supper? And if someone suddenly grabbed your magazine and demanded “I want supper now” would that motivate you to actually get to the cooker? I doubt it and I certainly hope not!
So, if you have had enough of the morning mayhem, stress-filled suppers and nocturnal kids at bedtime, just give these ideas from The Parent Practice a go… I will be amazed if they don’t work.
The Parent Practice’s Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Family Hot Spots Allow more time – saves you being stressed by the clock.
Contact The ParentPractice, UK based providers of positive parenting courses to improve your parenting skills.
By Melissa Hood, Sunday Express, Mar 2005. (Response to readers question)
You’ve probably noticed that what doesn’t work is to criticise, nag and lecture and then threaten and/or bribe. Parents generally point out what’s wrong with their children’s behaviour in the hope that they will change and do the right thing. Unfortunately nobody is motivated by criticism and this thirteen year old needs to be motivated. Parents can help a teenager feel more motivated by noticing and pointing out anything he is doing which is a step in the right direction and empathising with him for not wanting to do his homework. Eg “You really hate doing your homework and would much rather be on your new computer game. I really appreciate that you’ve remembered your homework diary and you’ve recorded your homework in it. Those are good organisational skills.” Parents also need to have a rule that homework gets done and the reward will be the computer game. Until the homework is done there is no computer game. Sometimes this may involve removing the computer (or at least the fuse) for a while.
Contact The ParentPractice, UK based providers of positive parenting courses to improve your parenting skills.
By T&L Magazine, Jan 2005
Camilla McGill & Melissa Hood who run The Parent Practice give advice on getting children into good study habits.
Children generally don’t want to do homework for a reason; they’d rather be doing something else that’s more fun or they may find the work is difficult for or unchallenging. Imagine how your child is feeling and put it into words so that they feel heard and are less likely to be resistant. Follow the steps below o help your children get into good study habits.
Remember study can be incorporated into everyday life. When you read to your child at bedtime ask them comprehension and vocabulary questions about the story. Practice mental arithmetic when out shopping or cooking together. Talk about the things they’re learning so they can see you are interested – it will encourage their interest.
Contact The ParentPractice - parenting advice on getting children into good study habits.
By Melissa Hood, SW Magazine Jan 2005
If we want to improve our fitness, we go to the gym and get a personal trainer. If we are suffering with back problems we might take a course in Pilates. Golf coaches are available for those who want to improve their technique… so why not go to parenting skills classes? The Parent Practice “calmer, easier, happier parenting” courses are a practical way to improve the atmosphere at home and help children become more cooperative and confident. They have a number of courses on offer to suit parents, teachers and nannies.
Parents’ frustrations often revolve around “morning mayhem”, “homework horrors” or “bedtime battles”. Emma, who came to parenting skills classes at the centre in Thurleigh Road, said that she had decided that mornings were so gruesome that it was time to do things more positively. She frequently found herself losing her temper in the morning, shouting, nagging and threatening her two children (4 and 6 years) and felt awful about it once she dropped them at school. Emma said it was a huge relief during the classes to hear from other parents the stresses they experienced as well. She was advised to draw up a detailed chart listing all the jobs that the children needed to do in the mornings and each task completed earned a tick or a star. Her class leader encouraged focus on praising the children specifically for what they had achieved rather than criticising them for being slow or forgetful. The changes Emma put in place made a huge difference in the atmosphere at home. The children became happier and more motivated, they had more time to eat breakfast calmly and Emma continued to praise them on the way to school, leaving them at the school gate feeling happy and good about themselves. Her daughter Charlotte said one day “Mummy, you are much nicer these days because you went to school to learn how to shout less!”
Claire first came to a workshop run at a local school (Honeywell School) called “Positive Discipline, what to do when your child says ‘No’”. Claire was sceptical at first that the positive approach discussed during the workshop could work with her son (7 years old) who was demanding, defiant, and prone to temper tantrums. She decided to try something new the next evening, “Joe, thank you for coming to the table when I called you and sitting down straight away”. Joe looked at her suspiciously… “I also noticed that you remembered to bring home your reading book, that’s great”. Instead of encountering whining and demanding Claire noticed Joe’s mood was noticeably improved. He even asked if she would play a game with him rather than skulking off to watch TV!
The Parent Practice’s top ten parenting tips for improving relationships with your children:
By Melissa Hood, Familes SW Oct 2004
Choosing a secondary school for your child is especially difficult since the entry is almost invariably selective and sometimes very oversubscribed.
Parents will look at many factors in determining whether a particular school is right for their child including how academic the school is and whether or not their child will be able to manage what’s expected of the pupils. There is little point in cramming for entrance exams if the child is then going to be struggling to keep up once in the school.
Assuming the ‘fit’ of the child with the school is right how can parents prepare their kids for entrance exams without adding to the pressure the process inevitably carries?
Parents can be helping their children get into good study habits long before the exams are imminent and they can also help build up their children’s confidence which is just as important to success in exams.
Getting children into good study habits
What doesn’t work is to lecture, nag or criticise children about doing their homework or revision. This is a trap that is very easy to fall into as parents are usually anxious about their children doing well. To help children do their homework or revision follow these steps:
Some revision can be incorporated into everyday life. When you read to your child at bedtime ask them comprehension and vocabulary questions about the story. Get him to practice mental arithmetic when out shopping or cooking. Talk about the things he’s learning about so he can see you are interested – it will encourage his interest.
By a Mother at Honeywell School, Sting Magazine, July 2004.
Last spring Honeywell Infants school hosted two parenting workshops. They were organised by Jane Neal and run by The Parent Practice. We thought it would be interesting to hear from a family who has attended not only the workshops but also the parenting classes.
To say it was illuminating was an understatement. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the infants hall. There were about 60 or 70- parents already there, no doubt as curious as me. Using a mixture of lecture-style teaching and interactive discussion Camilla McGill and Melissa Hood explained their approach to parenting and how easy it is to unintentionally make life harder for oneself as a parent. They described the sort of relationships within the family that I wanted but felt only existed some of the time.
But surely, I hear you say incredulously, you don’t learn how to parent – it’s something you know how to do instinctively. Most of what they raised is not rocket science or revelatory, but common sense and practical. I was so taken by the prospect of turning my relationships with my children around that I virtually signed up for a course of evening classes there and then.
Some weeks later my husband and I attended our first class. The classes varied – not all other parents were present at the same sessions and everyone has different issues that they were facing. They were challenging – changing one’s behaviours is never easy – but also immensely supportive and instructive. Whilst before I felt my relationships with my children were becoming increasingly negative and more about discipline (which was becoming less and less effective), both my husband and I now feel we are on a positive, upward spiral. Each week we were given a particular task, specific to each family – which we then were asked to report back on. This had the effect of making us take time to apply what we had discussed before we forgot it. I can’t deny it was hard work!
We still have friction points, and no doubt will continue to face new issues. We sometimes slip back into old ways but now have much more open, positive relationships with all our children. We both feel much more confident in our ability to deal with the challenges that face us as parents.
Child’s view: At first it was awful. There was too much change. I found it really difficult. Things were worse and I was battling against myself. After a few months things settled down and I found myself much closer to, and having less arguments with, my parents. They still have their moments, but generally we get on fine. Though I feel it is not all due to the parenting classes, as I have grown older and more mature.