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.
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!
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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. 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 →
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 →
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?
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 →
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 →
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 →
The day my mother left us, my father decided to get a dog. It seemed like a straightforward swap to me. We went out to buy a border collie and when we came back my mother was gone. I was ten years old.
Swapping my mother for a puppy had many advantages. In one stroke I was liberated from all the petty restrictions of supervised domestic order. Bedtimes and hygiene went out of the window, replaced by endless summer days topped with coke and crisps in pub gardens. And without a live-in mother our family activities could no longer be divided along gender lines – no more being left behind to dig a stupid fish pond while the men went off to watch the Test Match! My world shifted shape. Continue reading →