I am writing this blog post to let you know that I won’t be writing a blog post this week. The summer holidays have started and it is time to chill out with my family. Well, I say with my family but since the kids turned into teenagers it has been increasingly difficult to get everyone together in the same place at the same time.
We have no family holiday booked. My eldest has already headed off on a charity expedition to Peru for four weeks (yikes!). And the youngest is vehement that hanging out with his Mum is not on his wish list. Begrudgingly, he has agreed to come on a short break to Berlin with me. (GCSE History parents will spot my not-so-hidden educational agenda there…)
But taking time off work isn’t just about family. It isn’t just about childcare. It’s about rest and recuperation.
Those of you with toddlers are probably scoffing and thinking “If only!” But actually, the bigger the demands placed on you (by family or by work), the more important it is to just stop sometimes. Get off the hamster wheel for an hour, for a day, for a week and truly rejuvenate. Continue reading →
Very few working parents use the same skills set at work as they need at home. Work skills tend to be task-focused and efficiency-driven. Whereas children need emotionally attuned parents who are curious and playful and empathetic. Developing good transition routines between work and home and learning how to switch successfully from ‘work mode’ to ‘parent mode’ is essential.
Good transition routines help working parents to:
let go of work stress
park work worries and thoughts until the next day
refocus on family issues
arrive home ready for the joys and challenges of a family evening
Being a calm consistent parent after a long day at work isn’t easy. Good parenting means standing your ground when children push at boundaries, firm but fair. It involves tuning in to your child, making decisions they don’t like, and managing your own emotions in the face of a child who has not yet mastered theirs. That is a big ask at the end of a long working day when you only have an hour to spend with your child and school has already filled that hour with homework.
Good transition routines between work and home can be the difference between starting the evening ready to snap and walking into the house relaxed and resourced for the family evening ahead.
Here are my top tips for developing good transition routines that work for you: Continue reading →
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 →
Last week I had a frantic call from The Daily Mirror. They had picked up some research on 50 ‘lost’ skills that today’s children are not learning and wanted commentary from a parenting expert. As usual, when it comes to journalism, they needed a response URGENTLY. Please could I come up with a list of the 20 most important life skills children should learn. I had 30 minutes.
The original research had been sponsored by Addis Housewares so was predictably full of domestic tasks such as darning socks and making jam. In my list, I tried to widen this (and make it a bit less gender stereotyped) to include financial management and car/bike maintenance and communication skills. I can’t say it was my most inspired 30 minutes ever but it did get me thinking.
Mulling it over afterwards, what intrigued me was not so much which exact life skills children should learn but how children learn practical life skills and why it is/isn’t happening.
Looking at my own family and friends, it does seem that children are not picking up the same practical skills they would have been equipped with 30 years ago. By the time I was twelve, I could definitely change a plug, make a cup of tea, repair a bike puncture, sew, knit, dust, hoover, grow plants, make an apple crumble and light a fire. I am not sure I could say the same for many of the kids I know (and certainly not for my own). 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 →
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 →
Mornings can be hellish for parents with young children. Tantrums, lost shoes, last minute costume requests – getting everyone out of the house on time can feel like herding uncooperative cats. There is so much to do and so little time and being late is not an option. And parenting strategies that work at other times of the day can be useless when there is a deadline. So can anything be done to avoid morning meltdowns?!
Avoid them 100%? No, probably not. Avoid them most of the time? Yes. As long as you are prepared to step back, reflect on what is currently going on and try something different.
Parents, like children, are creatures of habit and we tend to revert to the same behaviour every day (despite lots of evidence telling us it isn’t working). And then resort to nagging, yelling and emotional blackmail when it doesn’t work (again). Even minor misbehaviour is more difficult to handle when you are stressed and irritable and worried about being late.
So if you are feeling the need to rethink your morning routine, here’s a few thoughts to get you started. Continue reading →
There is nothing like a long Back to School ‘To Do’ list for bringing you down to earth after a relaxing summer holiday. Clunk!
But is it just me or is the back to school prep starting earlier and earlier? (I’m sure those discount emails for new school uniform started arriving at the beginning of June this year!) This summer I teamed up with children’s haircare brand Vosene Kids to find out exactly how many hours parents are spending on back to school preparations.
It turns out that UK parents spend a staggering 10 days preparing for a new school year – that’s 10 days of shopping for school shoes and book bags, sewing name labels into uniform (in the vain hope that new jumper might get returned when it’s abandoned in the school field….), arranging back to school haircuts and those expensive trips to the stationer’s for a new pencil case, pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, glue stick and a maths kit that will never get used.
And the work doesn’t stop once the children are back at school. Parents estimate they spend 2 hours 53 minutes every day on home-related tasks (that’s 14 hours per week!) with most parents completing 10 jobs before they even leave the house in the mornings!
These days we place a lot of emphasis on reading with our children, and rightly so. But I can’t help feeling that the art of telling stories to our children (as opposed to reading stories to them) has been a little bit pushed aside. Making up stories – whether we are reworking an old classic or inventing a quirky tale of our own – is a wonderful way to help our children experience the magic and immediacy of imagination in action. It also gives parents the chance to adapt stories to the themes and issues most relevant to our own children.
When we read a story to children, our eyes are on the book and we are bound to the words on the page. When we tell a story to children, we can make eye contact with them, our hands and faces are free to be much more expressive and there is a wonderful sense of suspense: “Where will this story go? How will it end?” Usually nobody knows! As a result, children who might squirm and get distracted when you read a book to them often listen with rapt attention to an unknown unfolding story. 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 →
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!
Over the years, I have come across some absolutely brilliant time- and face-saving parenting hacks for working parents (not all of which I could repeat or recommend).
When it comes to working parents, one of the key issues is always going to be time – lack of it, how to spend it wisely and trying to be in the right place at the right time. Often it can feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the things you want to fit in. So ideas that help working parents save time and achieve their goals (have their cake and eat it!) are always worth sharing.
Here is a selection of top parenting hacks for working parents (by working parents!) to help you maximise quality family time, keep up appearances (without putting in the hours), and maintain good relationships but still get to work on time…. Continue reading →
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of reward charts. They help children to focus on the behaviour that is expected from them and they remind parents to catch their children being good and pay attention to it.
But when it comes to teenagers, a sticker chart is not going to do the trick. A slightly more grown up approach is required. One version of this is a ‘behaviour contract’.
The idea of a behaviour contract is that, just like a reward chart for younger children, it sets out clearly what behaviour is expected, what rewards or privileges will be earned by doing that behaviour but also what the consequences will be for misbehaviour.
A behaviour contract works best when the target (good) behaviour is clearly defined, when the rewards are achievable and when your teenager cares about the rewards and the consequences. Breaking habits takes effort – from both you and your teen – and behaviour contracts only succeed when both of you are on board. Continue reading →
Now look, I’m not, I repeat, I’m not, lazy (at least I don’t think I am) and this never, ever, happens. Well almost never….
“Daddy….”, “Daddy….”. A faint voice echoes in the distance of my second or third dream. Only it’s not a dream I soon realise and, as it’s my turn to get up, rub my eyes, grab a t-shirt (you never know when and where you’ll bump into the Supernanny) and head into my daughter’s room. Unlike me first thing in the morning, she’s all smiles.
After grabbing her beloved rag doll named “Danna” (her version of Rag Dolly Anna) and “Cloudy”, who’s a soft grey rabbit, we head downstairs. We chill out for a bit, have a drink, and I put on the Saturday morning cartoons.
My son wakes up and starts to plod down the stairs a little like Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss. We all take it easy with a glass of milk and a bit of Peppa and Curious George (a programme that seems to teach my son as much as or more than his previous school!). Continue reading →
Many working parents find that they have less time with their children than they would like. So how can working parents invest their time and energy smartly to make the most of family time and ensure everyone’s needs are met?
When we feel like time with our children is limited, it can create pressure for that time to be 100% fun and enjoyable. Parents who feel guilty about spending time apart from their children can be tempted to give in to whining or complaining (after all, who wants to spend precious family time battling behaviour!). Or, faced with a whirlwind of children’s demands, the accumulated stresses of work can lead us to overreact.
The key to success for time-poor parents is to encourage good behaviour and maintain boundaries using positive strategies that build strong family relationships and help children (and parents) feel good about themselves. Continue reading →