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 →
There is a lovely saying that I regularly repeat to my children: “Mistakes are proof that you have tried.” When we make mistakes, it is easy to give up and only see a failure. But it is so important to show resilience in the face of adversity and try again, and to start building these skills from childhood. So, how can we encourage our children to become more resilient and more independent? The answer, as always, can be found in play, especially for our younger children.
Whether post-lockdown, or perhaps during lockdown, the school summer holidays are on the horizon. Many parents are faced with even more time working from home with kids. Growing resilience is more important than ever. And helping children become independent will in turn help parents with the struggle-juggle.
To help build their resilience, your child needs to be given the opportunity to take chances, to make mistakes and to learn from them. They need to have opportunities to judge a situation and decide for themselves if their desired outcome is possible, and if so, how to achieve it. As parents, we are often very risk-adverse. We cherish our children and want no harm to come to them. But by doing this are we stifling them? Are we doing them a disservice by not allowing them to flex their risk-taking muscles? In short, yes.
There are various ways that parents can allow children to make these judgments without putting our children in any actual danger. How? We can allow them to experience learning through trial and error. The best way to support them in this is through play. Here are some great ideas for how parents can build resilience through outdoor play this summer: 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 →
I am delighted to introduce you to my new book The Work/Parent Switch: How to parent smarter not harder which is published by Vermilion. The aim of the book is to empower working parents to build a family life which is low on conflict, high in warmth and good for children’s development. So you can be the parent your child needs, and still do your job. It is the essential parenting book for every working parent who wants to enjoy their family life more, shout a little less and raise happy, successful children.
What is the book about?
Most working parents feel like we are running just to stand still. We want to be good parents. We want to get parenting ‘right’. We do everything we can to smooth our children’s paths and give them a good start in life. But we have limited time, limited energy and too much to do. Something has to give.
This book moves the goalposts. It’s about being a great parent by doing less, rather than always trying to do more. Parenting smarter rather than harder, by understanding what children really need from us. So we can use those bits of time left over when work is done to focus on the right things – connecting with our children and creating a happy family life.
The Work/Parent Switch outlines a totally practical way to parent actual children (not ideal ones!) in real families. It will give you strategies that fit into modern working patterns and which build happiness and well-being for the whole family – without stretching you to breaking point. So you can build a family life in which you and your children can truly thrive. Continue reading →
Getting outside with children is great for their development as well as for overall family well-being. But there are times when it just can’t be done. And, with the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, many parents face the prospect of spending a lot more time indoors with young children. So, before you start tearing your hair out and streaming Frozen 24-hours a day, here is a handy list of low cost and no-prep indoor play ideas to keep young children entertained when you can’t get outside.
But, before you start, I want you to hide some toys away. I know that sounds bonkers but bear with me. Children love novelty. That’s why they get bored even when there is a house full of toys. So, gather up at least half their toys into boxes and put them away where they can’t be seen. This is really important if you might be in for a long haul of indoor life. Every few days, collect up more toys and swap them with some of the hidden ones. If your kids haven’t seen them for a while, their toys will seem much more interesting.
And, rather than focusing on ready-made toys and games, think about re-purposing instead. There is no need to rush to order lots of new games or sign up to every educational website on the planet. Our homes are full of exciting things to play with that aren’t toys. All it takes is a bit of imagination. Children absolutely love getting their hands on adults’ things – especially if these are usually forbidden. (My two fondest memories as a child were being allowed to look through my mother’s jewellery box and playing with my Grandma’s enormous tin of buttons!)
These fun indoor play ideas require no preparation and use things you already have in your home. And, they will keep your little ones entertained! Continue reading →
Working from home sounds like a great idea. There’s no commute, no distractions, you can dress down and you’ll never miss the postman. But what if you have to work from home and look after children at the same time? With the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic now disrupting travel, childcare and schools, that’s the challenge facing huge numbers of working parents.
Hopefully, employers are going to be flexible and understanding. And, who knows, maybe this is is going to lead to a radical change in the way we all work. But if you are staring down the barrel of a long stretch of combining working from home with looking after children, here are a few ideas that might help: Continue reading →
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 →
Getting outside is great for everyone’s well-being. And children love the outdoors because it’s always changing – every time you step outside your front door is a little different from the last. Maybe there are fallen leaves where there weren’t any before? Or perhaps there’s a wind blowing into your face? Or puddles where before it was dry? Children love novelty. But sometimes adults can lack a little imagination when it comes to ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet….
The great thing about outdoor play is that it doesn’t matter if you make a mess. So, avoid tidy up time by investing in waterproofs and a warm hat. Then head outside and take the opportunity to get stuck into nature no matter what the weather throws at you. Here are 12 top ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet that children of all ages (and their parents) can enjoy. Continue reading →
When I ask parents what their parenting goals are, raising kind kids is usually somewhere near the top of the list. Young children are capable of wonderful acts of compassion. But it takes time for them to develop social skills and to learn to step into someone else’s shoes. Raising kind kids is not a quick-fix project – and all kids will make mistakes along the way.
In order to learn kindness, children need an understanding of what kindness looks like. They need to see it in action and to have it pointed out to them (both in real life and in books or stories). They need opportunities to practise being kind and lots of positive reinforcement for doing kind things. Parents can really help in this process by modelling kind behaviour, praising children for their kind acts, talking about kindness and providing lots of opportunities for children to practise getting it right. Here are a few specific ideas that can really help. Continue reading →
Helping children through divorce and separation isn’t easy and there are no pain-free solutions. Being strong and calm and rational at a time when emotions are running away from you can be a real challenge. Reading children’s books about divorce and separation can really help by introducing new ideas to little ones and normalising new living arrangements.
Snuggling up with a book is a good way to broach the difficult emotions that can come with family changes. It gives children a chance to ask questions and raise issues indirectly using the book’s characters. And it can reinforce key messages about children still being loved and not being at fault despite any big changes.
There are lots of children’s books about divorce and separation out there, so do have a good browse to find ones that will suit your family best. Here are a few of my favourites for children aged 2-7 years. Continue reading →
‘Theory of Mind’ is the label psychologists give to a young child’s growing awareness that other people have thoughts, feelings and intentions that might be different from their own. Having good theory of mind skills at age 4 has been linked to better social and emotional outcomes throughout childhood.
The development of a Theory of Mind starts with a baby learning to follow an adult’s gaze and culminates when a child is able to predict the thoughts of others based on their situation or perspective (even if these thoughts are different from what the child believes to be true). This occurs at around 4½-years-old. The classic test for Theory of Mind is a false belief experiment. Continue reading →
Modern fatherhood means being hands on in all aspects of practical childcare but also connecting emotionally with children. That’s the conclusion from the Modern Fatherhood Survey run by the Positive Parenting Project. The survey looked at the range of parenting tasks today’s dads undertake and how modern fatherhood differs from previous generations.
The key picture that emerged was a shift towards more equally shared parenting tasks and a breakdown of traditional divisions in Mum/Dad roles. “Dads are more involved than previous generations with more mothers returning to their careers. Dads have a clearer understanding on their role in the child’s emotional development as well as the physical side,” was how one dad summed up changes in modern fatherhood.
A recurring theme was how modern dads see practical childcare tasks and household chores as an integral part of their role as a fathers. But dads also aspire to a relationship with their children which involves playing and listening and which is loving and nurturing.
“fathers are much more involved in raising their children, more emotionally open and available for their children, less authoritarian and more aware that respect is earned not deserved… more willing to allow their children to be themselves… more willing to admit they’re wrong and to apologise”
I had really high hopes when I started Little Kids, Big Dilemmas by Sarah Kuppen. The book’s sub-title is ‘Your Parenting Problems Solved by Science’ and, as you know, countering fads and fashions with solid evidence-based child development understanding and proven parenting strategies is exactly what I do and what I care about. This, I thought, is the book for me.
And, on many levels, the book does exactly what it says on the tin. Sarah Kuppen is a university lecturer in Developmental Psychology. She sticks firmly to her brief, rolling out the evidence on a range of parenting issues, debunking a few myths and addressing common parental questions. There’s a Q&A format to help keep it real and not too theoretical and some of the issues addressed (like toddler tantrums and supporting children’s learning) are near-universal concerns for modern parents. Continue reading →
Learning how to recognise a good friend (and to be one) is an important part of childhood. All children experience some ups and downs in friendships. Parents can play an important role in helping children manage friendship problems by helping them think about why their friends might be behaving in a particular way and discussing what qualities and actions show that someone is a good friend.
Snuggling up with a storybook can be a great way to talk through friendship issues sensitively with young children and introduce new ideas. And for older children, who want to think about issues for themselves, books can be a safe space to work through thoughts, scenarios and emotions. Here are my recommendations for really good books for helping children manage friendship problems. Continue reading →