Whenever I run parenting seminars, there are always some parents attending who are there for ‘prevention’ purposes. By that I mean that they don’t have problems with their child’s behaviour (other than the general run-of-the-mill stuff we all encounter) but they are keen to get parenting right. They want to get tooled up with as much information as possible to make sure they are doing all the right things to make their children happy and successful.
On the one hand, this is great. Being passionate about child development myself, I want all parents to know about the forces that drive their children’s behaviour. When we understand where our children are coming from, it makes it much easier to respond to their behaviour in a thoughtful and intentioned way.
But sometimes, wanting to get parenting right can tip over into anxiety or perfection-seeking or neuroticism. I worry that some parents come to my seminars because they believe it is possible to do everything right in parenting. (It isn’t.) Or, that if they get their parenting right then that will guarantee their child’s success and happiness. (It won’t.) Continue reading →
The absolute best way for children to learn social skills is through practice. Young children needs lots of opportunities to play with other kids – older, younger and the same age. There will be some bumps as children make mistakes and refine their social strategies but, in general, the more opportunities children have to practise social skills, the more quickly they learn them.
Sometimes, children need a little bit of adult intervention to help them on their way. Snuggling up with a story can be a great way to talk through issues sensitively with young children and introduce new ideas. When it comes to social skills, there are some great books out there to help you raise your little one’s awareness of key issues like sharing, empathy, friendship and patience. Here are my recommendations for the best books to teach children social skills (for children aged 2-7yrs). Continue reading →
Babies are born with almost all the neurons in their brains that they will need as adults. Their first developmental task is to start linking those neurons together to form the neural circuits that govern knowledge and skills. Growing babies’ brains is serious work!
In the first year of life, a baby’s brain develops these neural networks very rapidly. That development is driven partly by genes but also by the baby’s experiences and environment. So it is vital that babies get a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment.
Here are my top tips for how parents can help grow their babies’ brains: Continue reading →
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 →
As 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 →
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 →
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 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 →
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 →
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. My 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 →
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?).
We 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 →
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 →
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 →