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 →
When children’s mental or emotional health is challenged, parents are usually the first responders. And long waits for specialist services mean parents can sometimes be left providing support for considerable periods of time. Faced with a distressed child or a depressed teenager, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. Self-help books for supporting children’s mental health can be really useful – both as a tool for working through issues together with your child and just for helping parents to be better informed.
So, whether you are intervening early to prevent ill-health or coping with more serious problems, here are my recommendations of the best books for supporting children’s mental health. Specifically for parents tackling issues like anxiety, low mood and self-harming behaviours. 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
Parents often worry about offering children too many incentives. Will it turn my child into a reward-junkie? Will my children always need rewarding to do anything? Will I raise a child who only co-operates if there is something in it for them? The answer comes down to the difference between rewards and bribes.
In positive parenting terms, rewards can be good but bribes are almost always bad. Used well, a reward is a motivator that encourages desirable behaviour. It is a short term strategy that helps to set up a new habit or behaviour. Rewards are quickly phased out and replaced by verbal recognition that makes a child feel good about themselves and intrinsically motivated to keep repeating that desirable behaviour (see Making reward charts work).
When it comes to rewards, parents are in control. They decide what behaviour will earn a reward and whether the reward has been earned. Rewards make children feel proud of themselves for getting it right. Continue reading →
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 →
Sadly, more than half of UK children will experience bullying – either as victim, perpetrator or witness. Most bullying is quickly dealt with and most children bounce back from it. But for some children being bullied can have long term damaging consequences. And in this age of digital connectedness, there are fewer safe spaces: cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Finding out that your child is being bullied can provoke some very strong emotions in parents. But an emotional reaction is seldom helpful – either in supporting your child or in resolving the situation. Bullying is an issue that is always best dealt with calmly and in a considered way.
So, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself dealing with bullying, before you jump in with solutions take a step back and have a look at these expert websites for sound advice on the best ways forward. Continue reading →
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 →
Being a parent of teenagers, I know there are fewer choices out there when you are looking for parenting advice on teenage issues. Whether it’s professional help you are seeking or peer group camaraderie, it’s hard to find quality trustworthy parenting websites for teenagers and not-yet-teens (but-already-acting-like-ones).
We all need a bit of advice every now and then to dig ourselves out of a parenting hole – especially when our children are going through the rapid and sometimes tumultuous changes of the teenage years. For first timers, The Beginner’s Guide to Parenting Teenagers is a good starting point!
When the tricky issues strike, you need to be sure your information is accurate, reliable and practical. Here is my round up of the very best parenting websites for teenagers and tweenagers – I hope you find it useful. (And if I have left any out – please let me know!) Continue reading →
When it comes to thought processes, one of the most important habits of mind that children can develop is optimism. Children who practise optimistic thinking are more resilient, they are less likely to give up in the face of challenge and they tend to interpret experiences in a way that gives them a sense of control and confidence.
Pessimism, on the other hand, leads to helplessness and withdrawal – it doesn’t matter what I do, it won’t work, so there is no point in trying.
Optimism is not about temperament, it is a habit of thinking that relates to how we interpret events. And therefore it can be taught: teaching optimism is something all parents can do. Continue reading →
My mission to find new ways to entice my teenagers to make more time for family activities (and less time for tech) continues. Now that the weather is warming up, the options are widening – and our early successes with indoor caving and climbing and bouldering have predisposed the teens (just a little) to come along for the ride.
The trickiest bit is finding family activities that all of us will enjoy. Two of us like running: two don’t. I love high ropes: my husband thinks they are hell on earth. We all enjoy bowling – but I’m not convinced that bowling really counts as a high-energy family activity?
Recent research published in the New Scientist suggests that there is no such thing as ‘baby brain’. It seems that the muddled-headed forgetfulness that women often report during pregnancy and after having children has no foundation in neuroscience.
According to this latest research, there are some slight temporary effects on women’s brains during late pregnancy and in the immediate post-partum period. Lab tests (which I am hoping refers to questions and answers undertaken on appropriately comfy chairs with frequent loo breaks and not to rooms full of heavily pregnant women with wires coming out of their heads!) reveal a slight temporary dip in women’s verbal memory during the third trimester of pregnancy.
For a short time, this makes it just a little harder to recall lists or string complex sentences together. This might explain a woman at 8 months’ pregnant momentarily forgetting her own date of birth, for example (to use a personal experience).
Other than that, being pregnant or recently having given birth has no demonstrable impact – positive or negative – on a woman’s cognitive abilities.
So why do I find myself simultaneously annoyed and delighted by these new findings? Continue reading →
It can be uncomfortable talking to children about sex – it’s a topic that many parents avoid like the plague. “You don’t need to know about that.” “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” “Ask your father!”
There are lots of reasons for dodging the conversation. Many parents worry that talking to children about sex will encourage them to have sex. Actually, the research shows the opposite: talking to children about sex tends to delay first sexual activity. Other parents dismiss sex and relationships as something far off in children’s lives. But with puberty starting as young as 8-years-old in girls, the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe and pornographic images only ever a few clicks away, there are lots of reasons why delaying talking to children about sex, bodies and bits just isn’t an option.
So what should we be telling our children? Which words should we use? And how much information is enough information? Here are a few tips on teaching your children about the birds, the bees and the bits we don’t like talking about. Continue reading →
When I was twelve, for a brief time my career ambition was to walk the streets. Things weren’t exactly great at home and I didn’t place a lot of value on myself. Having gone through puberty early, I was receiving sexualised attention from older males that I simply wasn’t equipped to handle. In my mixed up teen mind, I mistook this attention for the love I was craving. I was ripe for sexual exploitation.
Now, when I look back on my teenage years, I feel lucky. Not about the hard stuff that happened – but that worse didn’t happen. Fortunately, my basket of risk and protective factors had a few positives in it too. I was intelligent enough to be in the top sets at my comprehensive school so my peer group were generally less screwed up than me. I had middle class parents who, for all their faults, practised a baseline of supervision that kept me largely in sight in my most vulnerable years. And, despite a self-destructive streak a mile wide, I had a belief in happiness that was rooted in a carefree early childhood playing make-believe in a quiet country lane. Take just one of those elements away and I don’t think I would have made it. Somewhere, in a parallel universe is a me who ran into the wrong person and mistook grooming for love. Continue reading →
Last week, one of the mums I was working with repeatedly burst into tears as she described her 8-year-old’s low self-esteem. He was reluctant to try anything new, gave up easily in the face of failure and struggled with friendships. She could already see him falling behind his potential and was scared for his future. As a mum, she felt utterly powerless in the face of his relentless negative thinking and no amount of praise or encouragement (or anything else) seemed to make any difference. It is an all too common story.
The Optimistic Child is a book which will give hope to parents of children with poor self-esteem.
Right from the start it makes crystal clear the links between pessimistic thinking and low self-esteem and it is packed with practical exercises for parents to use to recognise and tackle their child’s negative habits of mind. It is immensely readable, cogent, inspiring and practical. And most importantly, because it views pessimistic thinking as a ‘learned helplessness’ it offers the possibility that new ways of thinking can be taught. Continue reading →
Subconsciously, I equate food with love. As a result, I can take it too personally when my loved ones don’t want the food I provide, and I probably project that guilt onto them. I also sometimes use food for comfort, and I have been known to deny myself food as a form of self-harm. I once tried to set fire to a packet of biscuits to stop myself eating them all.
If you have a positive body image and an easy relationship with food then you are probably thinking that I’m a bit mental…
But in my experience, I’m pretty normal. Most of the mums I know or work with are at least a little bit screwy about food. And, hand on heart, the number of people I meet who are truly comfortable in their own bodies is a lot less than those who would rather their bodies were a bit (or a lot…) different.
Body image issues don’t only affect women and girls. Teenage boys are now under enormous pressure to conform to boy band ideals, and at a time when their bodies are in an awkward transitional phase. One third of men say they would give up a year of their lives to have the perfect body. Continue reading →