Getting teenagers into a routine is a topic that frequently comes up in my discussions with parents of teenagers. And especially so around exams and during the recent coronavirus homeschooling / lockdown periods. It can be hard to know when to just leave teenagers to it and when to be more directive.
The answer (as so often) is probably somewhere in the middle – exactly where in the middle will depend on your teenager’s maturity, temperament and motivation.
The great thing about routines is that they can help to establish positive habits. Things like getting up in the morning, getting homework done, exercising regularly and helping out around the house. When you are in a consistent routine, tasks become closer to a habit than a chore. For teenagers, routines help them to develop self-discipline and can help reduce repeated conflict around contentious issues.
Helping children set goals has huge benefits for their self-esteem. It also teaches them an essential life skill that underpins much academic and workplace success. And, at a time of huge uncertainties (like the current coronavirus pandemic), goal-setting can bolster mental health by giving children a much-needed sense of control and purpose.
You might be thinking, that parenting in a period of radical uncertainty is not the best time to be encouraging children to set goals. And when it comes to investing in ‘process’ goals around specific activities – such as “I will go to the gym three times a week” or “I will get an A in my exam” – we need to be careful. Because process goals depend on factors (like gyms and schools being open) that we can’t control and which are currently highly vulnerable to disruption.
But outcome goals are much more adjustable. Things like “I want to get fitter” or “I want learn more about modern history.” These can be refined and broken down into specifics that can be adjusted according to circumstances. So they are more empowering and flexible and resilient.
Today’s children have a lot of goals set for them by adults. School targets, targets attached to their hobbies and activities, targets dictated by parents. Encouraging children to set their own goals is a brilliant way of building children’s self-esteem. Setting their own goals (and achieving them) is empowering – whereas goals set for children by adults can be daunting (especially if your child lacks self-belief). When children achieve their own goals (no matter how small), they experience a sense of competence and are more likely to try again and to extend their goal.
Helping children set goals (and reach them) requires parents to use lots of coaching questions. It’s best to support the goal-setting process through facilitation rather than direction. Here’s a few key pointers that might help: Continue reading →
I didn’t imagine myself writing this blog post. It wasn’t on my planner. I’ve spent the last few months writing about the various parenting challenges of Covid-19 (working from home, homeschooling, keeping children entertained and socially distanced etc). And I naively thought we were over it. It’s time to move on, to write about recovery and rebalancing. Time to return to those perennial topics in parenting like managing difficult behaviour and relationship-building.
But it’s not over, is it? We’ve had a little breathing space to catch up with friends and family (which has been great!). And now there’s a dawning realisation that our lives are still vulnerable and can be knocked off course with no warning whatsoever.
My personal trigger for this realisation has been supporting my son through the disappointment of his first mates-only holiday being threatened with cancellation. The trip had already been rearranged once – but the lifting of lockdown had given us false hope that plans could be relied upon again. To see yet another of his 2020 dreams being dashed has been really hard.
What has finally hit home for me is that we are now parenting in a time of radical uncertainty. And that our usual emotional props and habits are either unavailable or simply inadequate for meeting this challenge.
How do we parent in this chaos? In a way that protects our children’s wellbeing and futures?
I don’t claim to have the answers. But reflecting on this last year – on my own life, the parents I have worked with, the conversations I have had with colleagues – I think there are some key priorities that we – as parents – should be directing our energies towards. Continue reading →
The lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions is positive news in terms of wider opportunities for children to play and reconnecting with friends and family. But many parents and professionals are deeply concerned about the impacts of a long period of social distancing on children and teenagers’ emotional wellbeing. Coming on top of an existing crisis in children’s mental health and already sky high levels of anxiety, emerging from lockdown poses many challenges. Especially for children and teens who were already struggling.
So what can parents do? One of the best things we can do is to equip children with an understanding of mental health (see Talking to children about mental health) and some concrete strategies for managing their thoughts and emotions in order to reduce stress and anxiety. Guided meditation and mindfulness apps for children and teens are a brilliant resource for helping them train their brains, learn to relax and manage any anxious thoughts. Many mindfulness apps are based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and there is extensive evidence that these strategies work.
Mindfulness apps can help with sleep issues, general worries and just for helping children to wind down at the end of the day, as well as for more entrenched mental or emotional health issues. There are lots of apps on the market – here’s my pick of the best guided meditation and mindfulness apps for children and teens of all ages. Continue reading →
Even before Covid-19, most working parents were already at full tilt trying to balance work and parenting – and not always feeling like we were succeeding. Being a full-time teacher on top of working from home (with kids, dog, distracting partner, one laptop between you and variable Wi-Fi) just isn’t realistic. For a while, it looked like homeschooling had become the latest arena for competitive parenting, with social media packed with complicated craft projects and 8-hour homeschooling schedules. But now the novelty has worn off and we’ve realised that we might be in this for the long haul and, for many of us, motivation is waning. So, I thought this might be a good time for some sensible homeschooling tips for parents working from home.
Whether your homeschooling attempts are going just fine, or you’ve given up completely, here are some ideas to help children learn that you can fit around the edges of working from home. Continue reading →
I have always been a radio lover so, for me, podcasts are a natural extension of that, but even better because you get to choose your own programme! Podcasts are brilliant for multi-tasking – you can listen while you are cooking dinner, or walking the dog or commuting. Perfect for time-poor parents. But podcasts are also a wonderful way to relax. To just sit and listen and do nothing else. Which is rather handy during the current high-stress low-options coronavirus lockdown…
The best podcasts give you fresh insights each time. They add real value and learning. But there is also the cosy familiarity of a regular host who you get to know (and bizarrely feel friends with) as time goes on.
Given my job and interests, I gravitate towards parenting podcasts. And, believe me, I have sampled a lot of them! So, to help you cut through the chaff and find the real gems, here is my recommended list of great podcasts for parents. Especially for you. Continue reading →
Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of a pack of playing cards as a screen-free pocket-sized boredom buster. And while the coronavirus is keeping us all cooped up indoors, I’m sure I’m not the only parent wracking my brains for games to play with the children. So, I challenged board game expert Ellie Dix to come up with a list of fun card games for children of all ages – and, wow, she came up trumps! Here’s her list:
Card games are a wonderful tool for bringing the family together. A deck of cards is one of the cheapest and most versatile methods of family entertainment available. Cards are quick to set up, portable, easy to store and full of endless possibilities.
Now we are in lockdown and spending far more time together as a family, there has never been a better time to learn some new games and extend the family repertoire. You could even structure an afternoon of home-schooling around playing card games and exploring the maths within them!
It’s easy to underestimate our children’s ability to play more complex games. Younger children may not be able to see all the possible outcomes of their decisions, but they can usually learn the mechanics of how to play and they’ll develop some tactics through playing. So the suggested ages for the card games below are only guidelines. Dexterity can be an issue, however, so when playing card games where you have to hold your own hand of cards, maybe invest in a card holder for little hands or make your own lego version at home! Continue reading →
I have been having a lot of Twitter chats this week about helping teenagers through social distancing. Firstly, how to convince teenagers to stay at home. Then, how to keep them entertained when they do stay at home. And now, how to manage the emotional fallout when teens are made to stay home.
The teenage years are all about breaking away from family and finding your feet in the social world. Mates, friends and peers (whether positive or negative) are at the centre a teen’s worldview. Many teenagers reject family activities and parental contact and withdraw to their own peer group or their own private space. Younger siblings are often rejected too (they symbolise the childishness that teenagers need to discard in order to become young adults). So having to stay cooped up inside with only their family to socialise with for an indefinite period of time goes against the grain of a teenager’s development. It’s a delicate situation for parents to manage.
When faced with any tricky parenting issue, it’s always a good idea to listen first and act second. When we stand in our children’s shoes and see the world from their point of view, it’s much easier to find a way to help them. Often, helping children isn’t about parents finding the ‘right’ solution. It’s about supporting children to find their own solution and solve their own problem. Helping teenagers through social distancing is no different.
But what if your teen won’t open up or engage in dialogue? Teenagers who are trying to break away from childhood will often aggressively shield their inner lives and thoughts from their parents as an assertion of independence and separateness. Luckily, I currently have a couple of teenagers in my house who have nowhere to run and not much to do. So I asked if they could give us some insights into being a teen during Covid-19 and some advice for parents helping teenagers through social distancing. Continue reading →
Risk-averse parenting is the modern norm. Children now spend more of their time being supervised, more time inside the house, less time in independent free play. And they are not allowed outside unaccompanied until a much later age. When it comes to children, we live in an Age of Fear. Not being an always-hovering helicopter parent is now a frowned-upon exception.
It is no coincidence that this reduction in tolerance for risk has been accompanied by a more judgmental attitude towards what constitutes good parenting. The list of must-do’s for overstretched parents (who are somehow working more and parenting more) is getting longer and longer. It used to be said that it takes a community to raise a child. Now, it seems, it takes a community to niggle in every parent’s ear about how they should/shouldn’t be raising their child.
In the UK, children’s room to roam has shrunk considerably. Keeping children safe has morphed into keeping them always in sight. The amount of time children now spend indoors and in sedentary activities is damaging their health. And, given that taking manageable risks is a key component in developing resilience, there are concerns that this is also impacting on children’s mental and emotional well-being.
But is it real justifiable threats to children’s safety that are driving this risk-averse-parenting? Or a parental fear of being judged and of coming up lacking? Continue reading →
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No stage of parenting is easy. Each age brings its unique challenges. Parenting is a journey packed with torrential emotions, sudden surprises, gnawing worries, and lashings of daily self-doubt. We never really know if we’ve got it right. There is simply no single ‘right’ to be ‘got’.
If we are lucky, we are surrounded by people we can turn to for reassurance. And safe people to lean on when the burden is getting us down.
When children are very little, that community often helps carry us through. There are the NCT chums and the pre-children friends who have grown families at the same time. And the Nursery or school gate pals that you are thrown together with at all those birthday parties. Not to mention the Facebook groups of other local mums and dads ready to give advice or point you in the right direction.
But when the teenage years arrive – at exactly the point where the challenges of parenting can really shift gear – a lot of that support falls away.
Today’s video post is all about managing children’s emotional behaviour – both little ones and teens. Often, when children are emotional, that comes out as difficult behaviour – behaviour that parents find challenging. And it can be difficult to know what to do. Should you respond to the behaviour? Or to the emotion?
The trick for managing children’s emotional behaviour is actually to do both. Here are a few tips on how you can use reflective and empathetic listening whilst also drawing boundaries around unacceptable actions.
Want to help your child manage their emotions a little better? Watch this free video tutorial for lots of ideas for self soothe strategies for children.
There is something about caring for children alongside someone else that really highlights your differences. Whether it’s friends, your mother-in-law or your partner, you never really know someone until you share the care of children. Sometimes it’s a good surprise, sometimes not. But we discover things we didn’t know (about others and ourselves) when we are parenting as a team.
It might be that you and your partner have radically different parenting styles. It might be that you are co-parenting across the divide of divorce or separation. Or you may be a single parent who relies on friends or family members for support. But understanding who is in your parenting team and finding ways to work with them is crucial.
It’s easy to see when other people are getting parenting ‘wrong’. Usually, this means that they are doing things differently from how you would do it. Or in a way that contradicts your personal values. But (extreme harm aside), there really is no single correct way to parent in any given parenting situation. Within that sweet zone of warmth + boundaries, there is a lot of wriggle room. And a lot of judgement calls to make. Continue reading →
It’s not often that I wholeheartedly recommend a parenting book. I can usually find something I disagree with… Or that I think could have been clearer/included/left out. But, parents of teenagers, this is actually a really good book! The Incredible Teenage Brain by Bettina Hohnen, Jane Gilmour and Tara Murphy is perfectly pitched. It’s an easy-to-read neuroscientific guide to teenagers with practical tips that parents and teachers can take away and apply. Will it make parenting your teenager easy? No. But it might help you understand him/her a little more and see how you can best be supportive.
Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the physical side of the book – its size, font, spacing etc. The font is large and friendly, there are lots of spaces and subtitles, plus Q&As, illustrations and tables. All of which make it very easy to follow, despite the in depth neuroscience. The text is accessible without dumbing down the issues. Continue reading →
I have been thinking a lot about the importance of making memories. What with the end of the decade and the departure of my eldest son for university, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with holding onto memories of my kids as little ones. And also, if I’m honest, a little fearful about how many more opportunities there will be (or won’t be) to make new family memories.
I’m not a huge fan of New Year Resolutions as I’m not convinced they lead to real change. But I do like to set my kids a bit of a challenge to mark the New Year. You might remember, a couple of years ago I asked them to write my New Year Resolutions for me with interesting results! This year, I asked them to come up with their five favourite family moments from last year.
As usual, what I thought was a bright and clever idea taught me a salutary lesson in teenage priorities. “Five?!” they said. And scratched their heads. I could see them wracking their memory banks for a single important event last year at which I was present. They could remember lots of great times, but none of them included family! In the end, the eldest came up with four rather vague memories (one of which actually happened in 2018 and the other was being dropped off at university – a double-edged sword of a family memory for sure!). The youngest cribbed two memories from his brother, made one up that I know he hated and concluded “We need to do more 🙁 .”
Aaagh! As if I hadn’t been desperately trying to get him to join in with family life for the whole year!
The teenage years are a time when parental focus shifts away from creating a happy childhood towards ensuring our children have the skills and knowledge they need to become happy and successful young adults. An essential part of this process is equipping young people to thrive outside the protection and comforts of our family. And that means actively preparing teenagers for leaving home.
Every teen matures at a slightly different rate. But promoting independence isn’t just about our teenager’s maturity. Parents have a huge role to play. Preparing teenagers for leaving home requires us as parents to actively change our expectations of our children and start treating them as the young adults we want them to become. And that means doing less for them and expecting more from them. We do our children no favours if we send them out into the adult world unable to manage for themselves!
Teaching new skills to children of any age requires parents to:
Model the skill (show them how it’s done)
Aid supported practice (do it alongside them)
Facilitate independent production (step back and give them opportunities to do it alone).
When it comes to teenagers, that means:
Having appropriate expectations as to what they are capable of (not under-expecting or doing everything for them)
Allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them (not rescuing them from every risk of failure)
Understanding what might motivate them to take on new responsibilities (standing in their shoes).
Preparing teenagers for leaving home involves building their practical skills, their thinking skills, their organisational skills and their knowledge of the world and the way it works. Here are a few tips for how you can best prepare teens for independence in the big wide world. Continue reading →