Mental ill health can strike anyone. At any time of life. But, just as with physical health, there are definitely things we can do to promote good mental and emotional health. There is lots of research linking lifestyle and mindset factors to positive mental wellbeing – so if you want to foster a mentally healthy family life, think about including these factors:
Sometimes it can feel like a lot of parenting is about trying to change our children. To change their behaviour, change their habits, change their attitudes. Having just come out of a rocky set of Year 11 GCSE mock exams, believe me, I have a long list of things I would like my teenage son to stop doing – and plenty I would like him to start doing instead!
But, to be fair, I am sure he could say the same of me. In fact, I know he could. He has told me often enough over the last few weeks to get off his back. And, it being New Year and a time for reflection and resolutions, that got me thinking, What would my kids change about me if they could?
So, I asked my children to write five New Year’s Resolutions. But for me, not for them. What did they think I should do differently next year?
The results were really surprising. Continue reading
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!
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
As events remind us all too often, we live in a world in which bad things happen. And in this digital era of rolling news, graphic details about terrorist attacks, accidents and other tragic events can spread far and fast.
Wrapping our children up in cotton wool and protecting them from everything bad in the world isn’t really an option. Teenagers learn about catastrophes via social media news feeds alongside their friends’ latest selfies. Even if we prevent younger children hearing about tragic events directly, the playground grapevine can throw up a frightening and distorted version. Something as simple as a train station announcement about unaccompanied baggage can spark difficult questions from little ones about terrorism and who would want to kill them and why.
The best that parents can do is to ensure that distressing information is filtered in an age-appropriate way and help children develop the resilience and coping skills to bounce back quickly from difficult thoughts and feelings. Here are a few tips: Continue reading
The problem with parents is that they think they know best. To be fair, they often do. But when we are convinced of our own inevitable rightness, it’s tempting not to spend enough time understanding the problem and just jump in with a solution. Especially when we are stressed or pushed for time, we often underestimate the importance of process over outcome in children’s development and we forget the importance of listening to children.
I mean really listening to them. Buttoning up our own mouths and paying full attention to what our child is saying and how they are saying it. Listening not just to understand the words but also the emotions and intentions.
When we don’t listen in that active way, we tend to jump in with a solution that doesn’t necessarily fit. Or, we offer a good solution but our child is unable to connect with it because they haven’t gone through the process of being understood and calming themselves in order to reach that solution for themselves.
Close your mouth and open your ears
(As my gran used to say). When your child is talking to you about something difficult, or they are emotional, be quiet. Zip your mouth shut and listen not just to the words and their literal meanings but also to the way your child is speaking and what that tells you about how they feel. When there is a pause, briefly summarise back to them what you have heard (“I can tell you are really upset. You’re upset because Ellie called you fat.”). That will help your child feel heard. And if you haven’t understood correctly, it gives them a chance to keep trying to explain. Continue reading
You might not want to hear this. If you have a child aged 11-16 years, it is highly likely they have already viewed pornography online. The majority of that age group have watched porn. Almost all of them saw it before their 14th birthday. We’re not talking about soft-focus, women in provocative lingerie poses. It’s likely to have been graphic and possibly aggressive. Talking to teenagers about porn might be awkward, but it is essential for their wellbeing that parents do it.
The average age that boys first see porn is 11 years old. And with children spending more and more time unsupervised online, that’s getting younger each year. Many 8-year-olds report having seen explicit imagery online (accidentally or otherwise). Children can be shocked and confused by what they see but often won’t tell an adult about it for fear of reprisals.
In the face of patchy sex education provision, many teens turn to porn to learn about sex and explore their sexuality. Problems can arise if they think what they are seeing online is realistic or that they should be copying that behaviour. Pornography gives a very distorted view of sex, bodies and relationships and often depicts apparently non-consensual or aggressive acts. Parents talking to teenagers about porn can help them put it in perspective. Continue reading
Managing children’s online activities and digital experiences is a huge part of modern parenting. There are lots of positive parenting strategies that can help you set time limits around your children’s screen time (see Positive Parenting in the Digital Age). But when it comes to technical knowhow for keeping children safe online, these are the websites I go to for unbiased, easy-to-understand information. Continue reading
Concerns about managing children’s screen time and the impacts of technology on children’s wellbeing are high on the worry list for modern parents. But most advice on positive parenting seems to have been written in a golden age when wrestling iPads off children just wasn’t an issue. So how can modern parents adapt positive parenting techniques to help manage children’s tech time?
The problem with children using technology is that tech use tends to expand to fill all available time. That can displace many other valuable activities that are vital for children’s healthy development. Like running around. And face-to-face communication. And physical play.
Tech is an easy boredom-filler. But boredom is an essential driver in children’s development through which they learn creativity and self-sufficiency and new ways of interacting with their environment.
And it’s not just children’s use of technology that’s at issue. Digitally-distracted adults are less able to provide the connection, attention and eye contact that help children develop healthy brains and essential life-skills. Parents and children are now spending more time in each other’s physical proximity but we are talking to each other less. Continue reading
I’ll get the Mum gloat out there straight away: this year, my son qualified to row at Henley Royal Regatta. For those of you who aren’t rowing parents, this is a really Big Deal. It was the culmination of a hard year of training.
Or, as my self-congratulatory Facebook post put it:
120 6am omelettes cooked; 200 rower’s lunch boxes packed; 300 bowls of pasta made; 450 homemade protein flapjacks baked; 100 dashes to the supermarket because “we’ve got no food!”…. One day in a silly hat at Henley. Very proud
I can’t take all the credit, of course. In addition to the sheer number of hours, sweat and tears my son put into it, he also had access to a brilliant Junior Rowing Coach. And his coach’s mantra for success is to focus on processes not outcomes.
‘Process not outcome’ is an idea that you see everywhere in elite sport. Sprinters on the start line train their minds to focus not on what it will feel like to win (which is a distraction) but on each sequential movement they need to make between the start and finish lines.
And remember Johanna Konta’s eerie calm under pressure at Wimbledon this year? She bounced that ball so carefully and rhythmically before every serve, bringing her mind fully onto the shot she was about to play.
Which got me thinking about parenting and about how often we tie ourselves in knots focussing on the outcomes we want for our children rather than the actual moment we are in. Read more…
[This week’s blog post was published on The Huffington Post, just for a change!]
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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
School holidays can be a nightmare for parents of teenagers. Teens are too old to be parked in childcare but they can’t always be trusted to make great decisions about how they spend their days. Boxset binge-watching and Xbox marathons are fine every now and then but for six whole weeks?! So prepare yourself for the school holidays with these great ideas for tempting teens off tech. (And they might even learn some non-digital skills while they’re at it…) Continue reading
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
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 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
It’s not pretty reading, is it? Continue reading