Category Archives: Single parenting

Parenting on autopilot

Parenting is not something that anyone gets completely right. Like everything else, we learn how to do it by getting it wrong. (Just, hopefully, not too wrong). And there are some common traps that parents frequently fall into – I call these parenting holes. All parents fall into a parenting hole at some point or other.parenting on autopilot

One of these parenting holes is parenting on autopilot. When you are physically there but your mind is well and truly on other things. Present, but absent.

Maybe you are in the house but just too busy with other things to interact with your child. Maybe you are at the park, even pushing your child on a swing, but your head is in your phone and you’re not really listening to anything your child says. Or maybe you are just tired. Or locked inside your own head and worries. You are physically present, but you are not in any meaningful way available to your children. You are parenting on autopilot. Continue reading

Encouraging co-operation: how to get children to do what they’re asked!

encouraging co-operation in childrenHe just doesn’t listen! She just won’t do as she’s asked! Getting children to co-operate can be utterly infuriating. But when it comes to encouraging co-operation, there are some really simple things parents can do to get children to listen and do what they’re told (well, most of the time).

Here are my top tips.

Time your requests well

Young children have a strong inner urge to play. Play is their most important developmental task because play is how they learn and grow their brains. Play is serious business in a young child’s world! So asking them to stop playing and come and do something less interesting instead is always going to leave the odds stacked against you.

Try to time your requests so that they coincide with a lull in play or the end of a game. Signal in advance that there is only have a short time left for playing so that your child gets used to the idea. For example, give a five minute warning that after this game, we are going to the shops. It won’t work every time, but it does increase the chance of co-operation. Especially if you can present the new activity as something potentially fun! Continue reading

Building a family team spirit

There are lots of business theories about the science of team building. My favourite (mainly due to its simplicity) is the GRPI model. According to this model, in order for a team to be effective, it needs these four elements:

building a family team spirit

The GRPI Model of Team Effectiveness Rubin Plovnick Fry Model 1977

  1. Goals, priorities and expectations which are clearly communicated
  2. Roles and responsibilities for every team member
  3. Processes and procedures for making decisions and getting the work done
  4. Interpersonal relationships which are high quality, trusting and flexible

Families are a lot like teams. At their best, families have a unique team spirit which creates a sense of belonging and unity and shared goals.

At their worst, it feels like everybody is pulling in different directions, one person is doing all the work and everyone is arguing all the time….

Which got me thinking. What could we learn from business to help family team building in our own homes? Continue reading

Books to help children cope with change

Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be stressed by even minor changes to their routine (see Helping children cope with change). Reading story books to help children cope with change can offer reassurance that change is ok and help start conversations about how children are feeling.

Here are my recommendations for reassuring and conversation-starting books to help children cope with change:
Continue reading

Give presence (not just presents) this Christmas

Is it just me who finds the consumer-focused gifts galore side of Christmas a bit dispiriting? Maybe I’m a bit of a Grinch, but I don’t believe the magic of Christmas is bought with a credit card. In my experience, all that present-buying and over-consumption can actively get in the way of the Christmas spirit. So, this year, I challenge you to give your children presence (not just presents) for Christmas.presence not presents

What does that involve? It means not prioritising present sourcing, buying or wrapping over spending time with your children. It means not slaving in the kitchen for hours at the expense of relaxing with your children. It means slowing down and tuning in for some high quality family time.

Possessing an excessive quantity of toys and gadgets is not good for children. It isn’t number of toys that drives child development or wellbeing. Making up games from string and cardboard boxes is what’s good for children!

Being in a positive relationship with their parents in which they feel loved, wanted and valued is what’s good for children.

And stopping, chilling out and playing with children is good for parents too. Spending Christmas manically trying to meet unrealistic expectations is stressful. And stressed-out parents are less tolerant and more likely to snap – hardly conducive for the Christmas spirit!

So this year, take the easy route. Don’t compete for the best dressed Christmas award. Say no to that invitation. Buy the brussels sprouts precooked and just heat them up. Take short cuts that mean you can sit down with your children and play with them. Or snuggle up for a Christmas movie. Prioritise presence over presents. Spend time in the present moment with your children rather than fretting your time away buying stocking-fillers (and dreading the bill afterwards).

Here are a few ideas for how you can give the gift of time to your children this year. Continue reading

Why boredom is good for children

Boredom is good for children because it stimulates curiosity and fires the imagination. At its best, boredom is a creative state that leads to new ideas and new play. And we know that good quality play drives children’s development and builds intelligence.

But boredom is good for children only when it results in children using their imagination to rise to the challenge of boredom. If they always turn on the TV or reach for tech as an easy chewing-gum boredom filler, then that spark of imagination is lost.

Imagination is vital for children of all ages. It stimulates children to explore their environment in new ways, which in turn leads to learning and skills development. Imagination also enhances social skills – after all, empathy is really just the ability to imagine being in someone else’s shoes.

And, because imagination is an internal resource – a habit of mind – it is something that children need to develop through practice and repetition. Adults providing imaginative activities for children is never as effective as children inventing their own.

Here’s how parents can harness the power of boredom to support children’s development: Continue reading

Work-life balance: the importance of just stopping

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

The importance of good transition routines between work and home

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 work to home

Good transition routines help working parents to:

  1. let go of work stress
  2. park work worries and thoughts until the next day
  3. refocus on family issues
  4. 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

Why play is good for parents (as well as children)

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. play is good for parentsBeing 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

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 figures. 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

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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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

Time vs. Money: the modern family dilemma

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

New Year, New You? (by Louise Kelly)

Guest post by Louise Kelly

Bordighera by Louise Kelly

Bordighera (Breathe In, Breathe Out) by Louise Kelly

New Year, New You?

Or New Year, TRUE you?

At this time of year we are often encouraged by the media (and our most conscientious selves) to take steps to improve our lives in some way. We hear ‘DETOX!’ ‘GET FIT!’ ‘DECLUTTER!’ ‘GET RICH!’

The lure of the fresh start can be very appealing, that’s for sure, and I am all for learning strategies that bring greater freedom and happiness into our lives… But what if the answer to the question of our fulfilment is much simpler than this?

How would it be if the key to a happier life is just to be us? Continue reading