Books for supporting children’s mental health

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

Weird and wonderful facts about teenagers

teenagersAs the parent of teenagers, I have found that knowing a little bit about their internal mechanisms really helps me keep some of their less desirable behaviour in perspective. So, for your amusement and edification, here are a few weird and wonderful facts about teenagers that might explain why they do the things they do….

Teenagers can’t remember future tasks

Teenagers have poor prospective memories which means they are not very good at holding things in their heads to remember to do later. When you nag them, it really does go in one ear and out the other. Teaching teens to use props like timetables, planners and checklists can help get them organised (see Teaching teens self-organisation skills). Continue reading

Crisis in children’s mental health: what can parents do?

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. children's mental healthAnd 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

It’s not pretty reading, is it? Continue reading

Stressed-out parents: how stress impacts parenting (and what to do about it)

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.stressed-out parents

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

Teaching children to share: FAQs

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 shareTeaching 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

What’s the difference between rewards and bribes?

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. 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

Top tips for successful family meetings

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. family meetingsMy 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

Do you recognise these common parenting traps?

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?).

(This is an excerpt from a 60-minute seminar on Making the most of time with your children)

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How to support teens and tweens to become better students (by Lucy Parsons)

Guest post by Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons: tips for parentsWe all want our children to make the most of their education. However, when you watch a teenager diligently putting hours into their revision only to be rewarded with less than remarkable grades or you get increasingly frustrated as you watch your teen fritter away hours on their phone whilst only putting minimal effort into their studies, it’s not easy knowing what to do.

As a parent you feel helpless, frustrated and at a loss about how to help. You know you should be taking a leadership role, showing them how to study effectively so that their education opens doors for them for the rest of their lives. But how do you do it? Continue reading

Book review: Brain-based parenting

Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.

This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship. Continue reading

What are the most important life skills children should learn?

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.

life skills children should learnI managed to come up with 15 (the Mirror added five more to fit their format) and my ’20 vital skills you should teach your kids to ensure they have a happy and healthy life’ duly appeared in the paper the next morning.

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

When homework threatens self-esteem, it’s time to take stock

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.self-esteem vs. homework

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

How boys and girls play differently (and why it matters)

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?

(This is an excerpt from a 60-minute seminar on Raising Girls/Raising Boys).

You might also like my posts on Differences between boys and girls, Best books for raising empathetic boys and Books for raising confident girls.

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Lessons in losing: slippery adventures in parenting (by Martine Lambourne)

Guest post by Martine Lambourne

Martine LambourneOf 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

You can lead a teen to learning but you can’t make him think

Like most parents, I am very keen to support my children to do as well as they can at school. And now that my two boys are in their GCSE years, the pressure is really on. It’s time to translate potential into the kind of results that will open doors to the next stage of their lives.Audiopi

Now, much as I love him and am blinded to his faults, it’s very apparent that one of my lovely boys could never be accused of being overly engaged with his schoolwork. ‘Do enough to get by’ is usually his motto. Don’t get me wrong, he has a phenomenal ability to focus and stay on task when he is interested. I have no doubt that when he finds his niche he will fly with it. It’s just that his passion and self-motivation seldom seems to coincide with what he is studying at school.

Not ideal for upcoming GCSE examinations.

So when I was contacted by Audiopi to do a review of their GCSE/A Level audio tutorials, I spotted an opportunity. Audiopi offered me free access to all their revision tutorials in return for an honest review. Quick to spot the faintest chance to ignite an interest in actual school topics, I readily agreed.

Predictably, the boy was less keen and not the least bit enticed by the offer of a treasure trove of learning – so I resorted to bribery and offered to pay him a fiver out of my own pocket to do a review for me. Anything to get him at least looking at the website. (Don’t judge me you parents of tweens – just wait till you are staring down the barrel of GCSEs and then we’ll see how many are left on the moral high ground!). Continue reading