When you watch children playing, it is impossible not to be struck by how completely engaged and absorbed they are by what they are doing. Play is the epitome of mindfulness – being 100% in the moment and just going with the flow. Being truly present, without reservation, both in our actions and in our emotions. Children do it all the time.
When was the last time you felt truly in the present moment like that?
There has been a lot of theorising about how mindfulness can improve mental health and emotional wellbeing. Typical mindfulness activities include breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. But, as parents, one of the most valuable ways we can enter an engaged and relaxing flow is through playing with our children.
Now, I don’t mean the type of playing where parents are in charge. Not the type of play where you tell your child what to do or control the activity. I mean joint and reciprocal play where you are both equal and feed off each other’s ideas and signals. Like children do together.
The type of play where you tune into each other, suspend your typical roles and have real fun. Continue reading →
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 →
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?).
One of the things I find hard as a parent is balancing the desire for my children to fulfil their potential academically with looking after their wider needs such as wellbeing and emotional health. The two don’t always sit easily together. Supporting children to do well at school inevitably involves a certain amount of pushing – few children engage gleefully with every piece of homework they are set on the exact day when it needs to be done. But pushing too hard risks negative impacts on children’s self-esteem and mental health.
Homework often needs doing at exactly the wrong time for working parents. Adults and children’s needs tend to collide in the evenings – the children want a piece of their parents, parents want to enjoy their children, everyone is a bit tired and looking for some downtime, but there is a meal to make and eat, bags to pack for the next day, clothes to wash, hair to wash, PE kit to find, phone calls to make… And slap bang in the middle of that is homework that we know we have to do but nobody actually wants to do.
As a result, homework (reading and spellings for younger children) has become a battle in many houses. It is a chore that parents and children dread. Despite our best intentions, there is often very little joy in those home learning tasks. And joy in learning ought to be a key ingredient in children’s education. 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 →
Bordighera (Breathe In, Breathe Out) by Louise Kelly
New Year, New You?
Or New Year, TRUE you?
At this time of year we are often encouraged by the media (and our most conscientious selves) to take steps to improve our lives in some way. We hear ‘DETOX!’ ‘GET FIT!’ ‘DECLUTTER!’ ‘GET RICH!’
The lure of the fresh start can be very appealing, that’s for sure, and I am all for learning strategies that bring greater freedom and happiness into our lives… But what if the answer to the question of our fulfilment is much simpler than this?
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 →
The school holidays can be a logistical nightmare for working parents. What to do with the kids if you can’t take time off?! Younger children are usually well catered for through holiday clubs – as long as your budget can stretch that far. But once they reach secondary school, children aren’t so keen on playing dodge ball with six-year-olds and often there isn’t much on offer that appeals to their interests. So is it ok to leave them home alone?
The decision on when your child is ready to be left home alone is not always straightforward. The law is not much help as it doesn’t specify an age (though leaving a young child home alone unsupervised for even a short period of time is likely to constitute neglect). The NSPCC has some great advice but ultimately it is left to parents to decide when your unique teen/tween is mature enough.
The most important thing is to sit down together and go through the risks. What could go wrong? What would they do about it? This will help you to gauge their level of readiness but also to set some ground rules and give guidance on what to do in different circumstances. Here are a few ideas for the questions and issues you might want to cover. Continue reading →
How you think about parenting makes a difference. Too often we can fall into the trap of seeing parenting as a type of ‘correction’ role – pointing out to our children what they should have done differently, directing their attention and learning, tackling their undesirable behaviour and inducting them into correct behaviour. What we are really communicating to our children through this relationship dynamic is that Mum/Dad knows best.
Which is perfectly understandable given that parents have so much more experience of the world than children – but the result can be a lot of conflict and negativity and not a lot of fun.
If we reframe that thinking and envisage our job as parents in terms of building a good relationship with our children then that opens the door to a different dynamic and to our children learning from us in a different way. Good relationships are mutual and respecting, built on communication and enjoying each other’s company. Continue reading →
The day my mother left us, my father decided to get a dog. It seemed like a straightforward swap to me. We went out to buy a border collie and when we came back my mother was gone. I was ten years old.
Swapping my mother for a puppy had many advantages. In one stroke I was liberated from all the petty restrictions of supervised domestic order. Bedtimes and hygiene went out of the window, replaced by endless summer days topped with coke and crisps in pub gardens. And without a live-in mother our family activities could no longer be divided along gender lines – no more being left behind to dig a stupid fish pond while the men went off to watch the Test Match! My world shifted shape. Continue reading →
There is so much parenting advice out there and so little time to sift through it. So I thought I’d come up with a handy summary to help you out. If you’ve only got five minutes and are going to read just one thing about parenting this month, then here’s my pick of the best advice for you!
In most parenting dilemmas, we have a choice about how to respond. Often, the decision boils down to a choice between being a policeman or a coach.
Put crudely, the job of a policemen is to catch people doing things wrong and punish them for it. Whereas a coach is someone who helps you to develop better ways of doing things.
For me, positive parenting is all about spending as much time wearing the coach’s hat as possible. That means catching children being good and encouraging them to do it more often.
Ground rules are a brilliant way of helping children focus on what good looks like and helping them do it more often. If there is a particular behaviour that you want to change, rather than focusing on using consequences to minimise that behaviour, think about introducing a ground rule to maximise the right behaviour. Continue reading →
They say it is the most important job in the world. But being a parent is not a job (though there are times when it can feel like a never ending set of tasks). Being a parent means having many different roles. And knowing which one is required when. And seamlessly slipping between them all. This is what being a parent means to me….
Like many people, I worry about my teens spending too much time staring at a screen. As a family, we are all pretty active but we tend to do our sports separately rather than together. We usually have active holidays (such as trekking in Nepal) and we can be quite adventurous with fun family activities in warmer weather.
But in the winter our family time tends to be indoors and/or sedentary (Sunday lunches, lots of cinema, a bit of theatre and the occasional museum trip).