I recently took part in some research on what adults think are the best toys to buy for children. Unsurprisingly, Lego was considered the top ‘classic toy’ that all children should have. Play Doh came out second highest (which was a bit of a shocker as so many parents curse it for getting into the carpet!). In general, bikes, puzzles, board games and balls were considered the top types of toys that all children should have. Which is not a bad list.
But it got me thinking. I am absolutely passionate about the role of play in child development (see What is free play and why is it important?) and the role of play in building family relationships (see Why play is good for parents as well as children). And I also love a list challenge! So, here is my guide to the best toys to buy for children. Continue reading
One of the things I encourage parents to do is to see parenting as a relationship between a parent and a child rather than as a one-way activity. That means focusing on building a good relationship with your child and tuning in to how they communicate. Seeing parenting as a two-way relationship not only enriches family life, it opens us up to understanding the influence of children’s innate personalities.
Modern parents like to think we’re very important. The fashion for blaming parents for how children turn out – or indeed giving credit to parents when kids do well – leads us to believe that we really matter in our children’s lives. That we are the deciding factor. That if we parent ‘right’ then our kids will turn out great. That way of thinking supposes that 1) we can choose how we parent and 2) our kids are totally shaped by their environment. It tends to forget that there is a child in the mix with their own unique fixed set of variables.
Now, there is most definitely evidence from quality research that certain parenting styles and strategies are associated with good outcomes for children. But, equally, there is clear evidence that the genetic factors that predispose children to certain personality traits are also influential on kids’ long term outcomes. Both nature and nurture are at play and parents are only part of the picture. Continue reading
A client recently asked me to recommend books she could read with her little one about going back to work. But I could only think of one book. I can recommend lots of books for helping children cope with change in general, and lots of books about issues in children’s lives (like starting school and making friends) but I couldn’t think of any storybooks for children about working mums. So I decided to do some research.
It didn’t take long to work out that a) there are not many books out there on this topic and b) that’s probably because it’s a complete minefield. After all, merely the act of writing a storybook about mums going to work presupposes that this is unusual or problematic, that it will cause issues for children that need to be dealt with. There are no books about dads going to work so why should there be storybooks for children about working mums? Mums work, end of story.
Indeed, the one book that does jump out on this topic (My Working Mom by Peter Glassman)has been widely vilified as insulting and offensive. The working mum character in this book is a witch who is either never there or turns up late and generally fails in all her child’s wishes and expectations (though the moral of the story is that her daughter loves her anyway). Do check out the reviews on Amazon if you fancy a bile fest!
But, having said that, the fact that a client had asked me to recommend something suggests that there is a need for storybooks that will prompt conversations with young children about the world of work and why adults go to work. Children are often baffled about what we do all day! And when things aren’t going well, due to separation anxiety or childcare issues for example, it’s easy to turn on the guilt and get trapped into emotional messages. Having a storybook to frame some blame-free conversations might really help sometimes. Continue reading
The Zone of Proximal Development – it’s a bit of a mouthful but, bear with me, this is something all parents need to know about. The ZPD is a grand term for a simple idea that can really help parents to support children’s learning.
The zone of proximal development is the difference between a child’s current level of competence (unaided) and their potential level of competence if supported by an adult or by a more expert child. It’s the difference between what they can do now and what they would be able to do with a little assistance.
Children develop their skills most when they are working within their zone of proximal development. If a task is too easy, it won’t stretch them. But if it is too difficult, they experience too much failure and they can’t learn. Kids need to experience a certain level of success or progress to keep them motivated and engaged.
For parents, understanding ZPD is all about providing the right level of challenge and giving support that will help children move beyond their current developmental level. But not making things so difficult that a task is completely beyond them. Continue reading
Guest post by Ashley Mills
There have been lots of stories in the news recently about children suffering from allergic reactions. These are predominantly about kids who know they are allergic to certain things. However, it’s equally important to know what to do if a child has a reaction to something when they haven’t yet been diagnosed.
Allergic reactions can vary greatly in severity. They can be scary both for the child and the parent. The fear factor is high because something is happening to the child’s body that neither they nor their parent can control. So knowing what to do is crucial.
Allergic reactions can develop at any age, not just in early childhood. Allergies can be triggered by skin or airborne contact, injection (e.g. medication or insect/sting) or swallowing. Allergic reactions can develop within seconds or minutes of contact with the trigger factor, so recognising that someone is having a reaction and helping to alleviate the symptoms can be vital. Continue reading
As parents, the most powerful tool we have in our parenting toolbox is our attention. Children tend to repeat behaviour that gets our attention. So, logically, doing the opposite and ignoring children’s misbehaviour ought to mean that they are less likely to repeat that behaviour.
Ignoring children’s misbehaviour is certainly a powerful positive parenting strategy. But it needs to be used wisely. Here’s a quick guide to when ignoring misbehaviour works best and when not to do it.
Ignoring misbehaviour works really well when children are young
Very young children don’t have the language skills to understand complex explanations as to why they should/shouldn’t do something. But they are particularly prone to repeating behaviour that gets their parents’ attention. Just think of the toddler who keeps going back to press their nose against the television (with a big grin on their face) no matter how many times they are told “No!”. Ignoring a toddler’s or pre-schooler’s minor misdemeanours can be a very effective way to discourage them. It can also work well with older children who are behaving just like toddlers! Continue reading
When my children were little I didn’t have a mobile phone. Smartphones hadn’t been invented. (Wow that makes me feel old!). When we were out and about, there wasn’t the option to reach for an i-Phone to keep the children occupied. I had to carry a Kids Boredom Kit.
Alongside snacks for staving off hunger and underpants in case of accidents, my bag always contained bits and pieces to keep the kids engaged in case of down moments or unforeseen delays.
I quickly learned that it’s no good keeping the same old things in a kids boredom kit (or the kids will get bored of it!). Young children love novelty so regularly refreshing the kit with surprises is essential. And, of course, any object in the kit has to be small and multi-functional so it can fit into a bag or pocket and adapt to a variety of uses.
So, for those of you who are a bit younger than me but keen to minimise children’s tech time, here are the secret ingredients of a great boredom kit! Continue reading
Guest post by Jo Travers BSc RD
Supporting children’s learning is a key concern for modern parents. But developing good homework habits and helping children learn their spellings and times tables is not all there is to it. Healthy habits such as exercise, sleep and good nutrition are essential ingredients in academic success. I asked The London Nutritionist Jo Travers to give her top nutrition tips for supporting children’s learning and wellbeing.
When we look at all the processes involved in learning, brain function and brain development, many of them are reliant on nutrients that we get from our diet. Although the brain is very resilient and can survive if we don’t get everything that we need, for children’s brains to thrive they need to be fed well. Here are my top ‘eating smart’ nutrition tips to support children’s learning:
With school holidays fast approaching, this is the time that parents start to dread the annual holiday exodus. That long haul flight seemed such a good idea when you booked it! (And the 5.30am take off time made it so much cheaper!). Or perhaps you’ve decided to drive to France this year because Granny doesn’t like planes? Long journeys with young children start to look a lot scarier the closer they get. Even a short hop by train to the seaside can seem like a round the world trip when you have a toddler in tow.
Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you long journeys with young children are a breeze if you just follow my advice. But there are definitely a few basic steps you can take that will optimise your chances of surviving the journey with stress levels (largely) below explosion point. Here are my top tips: Continue reading
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.
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
I get asked lots of questions by parents who are either raising their children to be bilingual or teaching them a second language. Since it’s not an area of my expertise, I asked Josefina Garcia to write a guest post with some top tips for parents on teaching a second language to young children.
In our multicultural society, lots of parents are keen for their children to learn a second language. Teaching a second language to your baby, toddler or pre-schooler is easy and it can be an especially rewarding activity if you embark on learning a new language together.
The benefits of learning a second language are well-researched, in early childhood as well as in adulthood. We all want the best for our children, but is trying to introduce a second language at an early age a step too far?
“Science indicates that babies’ brains are the best learning machines ever created, and that infants’ learning is time-sensitive. Their brains will never be better at learning a second language than they are between 0 and 3 years of age,” says co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS (University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences) and a UW professor of speech and hearing sciences.
Therefore, yes, babies can learn a second language, even when they aren’t getting the same language exposure at home from bilingual parents.
So how can we best teach a second language to babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers? Here are some tips on what parents can do to help introduce a second language. Continue reading
I can’t imagine there is a parent out there who hasn’t heard that consistency in parenting is important. But why is consistency so important? How can we achieve it? And how do we know when to stick to our word and when to be flexible?
Because, let’s face it, some days consistent parenting is easier than others. When you are well rested, unstressed and have had a good day, sticking to your plan in the face of a protesting child is achievable. But what are the chances of you being well rested and unstressed as a parent of a young child? (Or indeed of a partying teenager!)
And what about consistency between parents? How am I supposed to make consistent parenting decisions with a partner who is so clearly wrong?! Not to mention Grandparents who ignore your rules and feed the children sweets on demand. Or those hours that they spend in childcare.
Consistency in parenting is important but it isn’t always easy. Here’s why you should be aiming for it and how to make it happen. Continue reading
He 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
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:
The GRPI Model of Team Effectiveness Rubin Plovnick Fry Model 1977
- Goals, priorities and expectations which are clearly communicated
- Roles and responsibilities for every team member
- Processes and procedures for making decisions and getting the work done
- 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
There has been a lot in the press recently about the role of digital technology in children’s lives and whether kids are becoming addicted to screens and smart phones. There is no doubt that children are spending more time on digital devices and from a much younger age. Exactly what the impact of that will be on children’s brains is still not fully understood. But what worries me most is not what the screens are doing to our children but what our children aren’t doing because they are on screens. And the biggest loser is free play.
Free play is a special type of play that is child-led and child-driven. During free play, children (not adults) choose what they want to do, how they want to do it and when they want to stop. It’s not an organised activity – think bored Sunday afternoons building dens out of sofa cushions rather than tennis lessons. Free play has no externally set learning goals, it is self-directed learning fuelled by fun and curiosity.
Why is free play important?
Play is the most important thing a child can do. Play builds children’s brains. Babies are born with a brain full of cells called neurons which look a bit like pieces of string. By interacting with their environment and having experiences, these neurons become associated together and link up into pathways which store knowledge and skills. Through repeated experimentation, children learn the fundamental principles of the universe – that water flows and objects fall to the ground, that some things fit inside other things and that pebbles sink. No matter how many times a child sees a plane on the TV (or travels in one), she will really learn how air holds up flying objects by tying her dolls to makeshift plastic bag parachutes and throwing them down the stairs… Continue reading