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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
It is very normal for young children to experience separation anxiety when being left by a parent. Separation anxiety tends to emerge at about 8-12 months old and can be very intense (especially between the ages of 18 months and 3 years).
Typical behaviour includes crying and clinging and signs of distress when a parent moves out of sight or just too far away. Sometimes children cling to just one parent – this can be exhausting and emotionally draining for that parent and feel like a rejection for the excluded parent.
Here are a few tips that might help if your little one is experiencing separation anxiety. 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!
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →