Following the recent parliamentary inquiry into the role of schools in children’s mental health was a pretty grim experience. Just when I thought the stats couldn’t get any worse, a new clutch of horrific numbers would appear. Anyone who claims there isn’t a crisis in children’s mental health just isn’t looking at the numbers. And although the final committee report is full of good intentions, the lack of hard cash to back it up (and the demographic bulge which is about to create a surge in teenage numbers) leaves me unconvinced that change is about to happen.
For those of you who missed it, some of the key statistics are below. Be warned, they are scary and I wouldn’t blame you if you chose to skip them…
Calls to ChildLine reporting suicidal thoughts are up by 33%
Self-harm hospital admissions are up by more than 50%
79% of children say they experienced emotional distress after starting secondary school
In a school class of 30 children, on average, three will suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder
1 in 3 young people do not know where to get help if they feel depressed or anxious
Children’s mental health services (CAMHS) are experiencing unprecedented demand. Waiting times have doubled since 2010/11. 23% of referrals are turned away completely.
During one week in March 2017 there was not a single bed available in the whole country for an inpatient admission for a child/teenager in mental health crisis
Only 40% of parents are confident they could identify mental health problems in their child
One of the key principles of positive parenting is looking after yourself. Being a parent is not all about the kids. Creating a family that you enjoy being a member of means balancing everyone’s needs. And nurturing your own wellbeing as well as your children’s. Stressed-out parents find it much harder to be calm and consistent or to provide the loving warmth and boundaries that children need to thrive.
The problem with stress is that it tends to create a short-circuit in our brains. This means we bypass the thoughtful front regions of the brain and fall back on the more instinctive visceral brain regions that trigger our defensive fight-or-flight reaction. Those fight-or-flight instincts have a very important role in keeping us safe from danger. But, in the face of a screaming toddler or tantruming teen, a fight-or-flight response (though understandable) is not especially helpful. Continue reading →
If I had a penny for every time I have been asked about teaching children to share, I would be a very rich parenting expert indeed! It is one of the first post-babyhood problems that parents of toddlers bump up against. Teaching children to share is linked to teaching kindness and to the personal values that we strive to develop in our children. And it can feel like a daily battleground if you have more than one child! Sharing-phobia can also rear its head again during the self-obsessed teenage years.
So, teaching children to share definitely isn’t a one-off activity.
Here’s a quick summary of my most frequently asked questions about teaching children to share and a few tips to help you set off on the right track. Continue reading →
Family meetings are a fantastic positive parenting tool for involving children in decision-making and talking through issues. They work especially well with older children and teenagers but can also be started when kids are very young. My youngest son was just three when we had our first “serious” family meeting in an attempt to tackle our fractious morning routine.
In the short term, family meetings are great at involving children in making decisions that require their co-operation and effort – that might be simple logistical issues about who is going where when or trickier discussions about family rules and behaviour. Those sorts of meetings are great for setting up reward charts and behaviour contracts.
But family meetings also help children in the longer term by giving them opportunities to practise decision-making and problem-solving and preparing them for adult life and for the workplace. We can’t expect teenagers to be able to make good independent decisions without some hands-on practice. Continue reading →
There is no magic spell that can change your child’s behaviour. Ultimately, we can only change our own behaviour. Which of these common parenting traps do you find yourself falling into (and what might happen if you did things differently?).
Take a look at any school playground and you will see that often boys and girls play differently. How do they differ? What are the implications for their child development? What does it mean for how parents raise girls and boys?
Of late, my most important conversations happen in the bath. Sometimes I find a magic window in my busy household and enjoy 20 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, immersed in Epsom salts, lavender oil and bicarbonate of soda. This combination is supposed to release toxins. I have no idea if this actually works. I emerge from the water, wrinkled as a prune. Happy as clam. Totally reinvigorated.
On other occasions, my ‘alone time’ seems to attract more company than one would think possible. My daughters, if not otherwise distracted, will seek me out and share my bath time in more ways than one. My youngest can disrobe startlingly quickly (this is in amusing contrast to the sloth-like pace at which she gets dressed in school uniform every week day morning, especially when we are running disastrously late). She is so silent and adept at this practise that the first I am aware of my bath time interruptus is her ninja like descent. Tom Daly would be stunned at the lack of splash. A sudden slippery seal pup squealing her delight at surprising mummy. I love these times. Top and tailed in our too small tub, and fashioning foamy hairstyles with gravity defying aplomb. We also have some very serious chats.
Today’s discussion was all about Daddy. And competition. And how much it sucks to lose. Continue reading →
Time and money are the two major currencies in modern life. Balancing our need to earn money to support our lives with our need for time to live our lives is our holy grail.
Once you have children, that can become even harder. Expenses go up (more people to house, clothe and feed) but we also want more time to be able to enjoy our families and nurture our children’s development.
So it’s not really surprising that according to the Modern Families Index 2017 only one in five UK parents say they have got the balance right between time and money for their families to thrive.
Supporting working parents (both in and outside the workplace), I witness daily the heavy demands work makes and how hard parents strive to carve out and protect family time. But attending the Westminster launch of new research by Working Families last week, even I was surprised by the stats on how far work now encroaches.
Heavy workloads mean that nearly three-quarters of parents say they take work home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% of them saying this happens ‘often or all of the time’. Only a third of parents leave work on time every day. 3 in 10 fathers regularly work over 48 hours a week. And that is not to mention the long commutes for parents who are priced out of living in the place they work. Continue reading →
Regular readers will know that I am passionate about play. Play helps children organise their brains and wire up their neurons. Children need room to roam, physically and imaginatively, so their opportunities for play are as wide and as varied as possible. That’s how they develop flexible and adaptive brains that can rise to challenges and solve problems. Good quality play builds intelligence.
If children’s play is confined to a particular type or activity or location then they can miss out on that full range of developmental opportunities.
Parents’ desire to keep children safe is natural and right. But, in the modern world, keeping children safe often equates to keeping children indoors. That increased time indoors (in often sedentary or low-movement activities) is having a direct impact on children’s physical development and future health. But it also impacts on their brains. Continue reading →
“Is it a boy or a girl?” is one of the first questions we ask about a new baby. But is there a hardwired biological difference between boys’ and girls’ behaviour or is it all a question of how society pigeonholes them? How important is gender in child development? How do parents’ attitudes towards gender affect children?
Little girls often have a bit of a thing about princesses. Which can be a problem if your aim is to raise your daughter to believe she can be anything she wants to be (rather than encouraging her to sit around looking pretty and helpless until rescued by a handsome prince). But fairy tale princesses don’t have to be pathetic, it all depends on the story.
Here is my selection of books for 2-6 year olds that feature sassy princesses, with attitude and intelligence, perfect for empowering your little girls.
Is it possible to raise girls and boys in a gender neutral way without the influence of gender stereotypes? What can parents do to counter gender bias in children’s lives? Here are a few thoughts on why gender neutral parenting is doomed to fail but why we should all be trying to do it anyway.
Self-esteem comes from children feeling accepted, competent and effective. Parents cannot directly create those feelings in children – feelings are subjective and everyone is different. But what parents can do is to provide experiences and feedback that make it likely that their children will draw the conclusion from their experiences that they are accepted, competent and effective. Building children’s self-esteem is about creating the right conditions for children to feel good about themselves and helping them interpret their experiences positively.
Feeling accepted is about children feeling loved and wanted and valued unconditionally for who they are. Feeling competent is about children believing they can do things for themselves and are good at stuff. Feeling effective comes about when children see the connection between effort and progress and how their actions make a difference.
So what can parents do to help children have those feelings? Here are some simple ideas for building children’s self-esteem. Continue reading →
Lots of parenting websites assume – either explicitly or implicitly – that their readers are women. There are some really good websites (such as Family Lives) that strive to be gender-neutral and offer advice that all parents will find helpful. But there is definitely a really important place for parenting advice written by dads, for dads.
The best dad sites build a sense of community without dumbing down or stereotyping. Some offer concrete, practical advice, whilst others offer a humorous perspective to help get you through tough times. Here is my round up of the best parenting websites for dads. Continue reading →
Lots of parents find talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships difficult. But not talking about those topics can send out a powerful message. Feeling that certain bits of their body are taboo can leave children unable to negotiate issues around intimacy – or even just seek medical help – when they are adults. More than half of young women in the UK avoid seeing their GP about sexual or gynaecological concerns and two-thirds of 18-24 year olds say they would be too embarrassed to use the word ‘vagina’ when talking to a doctor.
For young people, being able to talk about their bodies and express their wishes around intimacy is a key component in staying healthy and safe. It is essential for avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy – both of which have lifelong and potentially life-limiting consequences. In the worst case scenario, it is the difference between life and death. Diseases such as cervical cancer and testicular cancer strike young and have a much higher survival rate if they are caught early. Half of the young women who say they are reluctant to visit a doctor about intimate issues say it is because of fear of a physical examination. But a quarter of them say it is simply because they would not know which words to use. Continue reading →