I was recently asked to contribute insights for some research on modern family dynamics. I concluded that the modern parenting experience can be summed up by a simple equation:
Lack of time and energy + wanting to be a good parent = stress.
Modern parents are labouring under a double whammy. We are working more and parenting more. We are desperate to be good parents but with so many demands on our time and energy, many of us feel like we are running just to stand still.
The fact is that most parents in the UK now work. Our working days have got longer and we commute further to work. That is a huge demand on parents’ energy and mental resources and most of us are stressed and exhausted before we start the evening parenting shift.
Yet we are a generation of parents who believe that being a good parent really matters. We want to get it right. We want to be hands-on and engaged. And we want to be seen to be succeeding at parenting (even if we don’t feel that we are). In the past, being a good parent felt simpler. It meant giving basic things like love and shelter and food and warmth, making sure the kids went to school and telling them right from wrong.
Looking after yourself is one of the key principles of positive parenting. But it’s also often the first thing that falls off the radar when things get hectic. Being a working parent requires an endless supply of energy, so (as my gift to you!) I asked nutritional therapist Liz Driver for her tips on where we can all find a bit of extra energy to get us through the day.
It’s that time of year when everything feels a bit, well, grey. Christmas is long gone, the weather is cold and spring still feels like a dot on the horizon. Add in the challenges of work and parenting and it’s no surprise that a lot of us are suffering from a lack of energy and feeling tired all the time!
We’re currently going through a bit of an energy crisis in the UK. More and more of us are juggling conflicting priorities, the lines between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred and whilst technology can be a great enabler, it can also form a source of distraction and angst. No wonder a recent survey showed that only 56% of UK employees feel energised at work.
When we’re busy, it can be much harder to prioritise focussing on our own health. However, small changes can make a huge difference overall. Here are some simple strategies you can introduce to help improve your energy levels. Continue reading →
Grandparents can play a wonderful role in children’s lives and they make a unique contribution to families. They can bring love, support, perspective, fun, free time and an extra pair of hands or listening ear. But relationships between parents and grandparents can also be fraught. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel judged, undermined or intruded upon by grandparents’ family interactions. And if you are lucky enough to have them close by, managing grandparents can become an ongoing challenge.
Here’s my quick guide to managing grandparents, common conflicts and how to resolve them.
Being a step-parent means occupying a unique place in a child’s life. Every step-parenting situation is different and there are no exact rules on how to get it right. Lots of step-parents experience contradictory emotions about their role, and that’s ok. There will be times when things go well and times when things go badly. Here are a few step-parenting tips to keep you going forward, no matter what.
Have realistic expectations
Step-parenting and blended families can be very messy. There are lots of people involved, all with their own needs and sensitivities and all carrying their own hurts and trigger points. So expect lots of bumps. Forget about the fairy tales and be pragmatic. Nothing about parenting is ever perfect, and for step-parenting that’s one hundred times more true!
Take it slowly. Allow the relationships to develop slowly. Don’t expect your step-children to love you (or even like you!) to start with. Keep trying to find ways to connect but understand that those bonds will take time to grow. You can’t make them happen. Continue reading →
I woke up this morning with a hideous cold so today feels like exactly the right day to be writing about self-care ideas for busy parents. When you are a parent (especially a working parent), it’s easy for stress to get the better of you. We often deprioritise our own relaxation and wellbeing because there is simply so much to do and so little time. We can feel guilty taking time out for ourselves. And the people around us forget to help because they get used to us always helping them.
But, ultimately, neglecting self-care is self-defeating. Because that ‘To Do’ list really is neverending (there will always be something left on it). And when we don’t look after ourselves, we quickly deplete our resources for looking after others and for being the calm consistent parent we aspire to be. Stress negatively impacts parenting and by deprioritising ourselves, we make everything harder not easier.
I’m not suggesting that you take a whole weekend off or head off for a spa day (though that would definitely be nice!). Even just tiny bits of self-care time can make a big difference. Looking after yourself is about small daily choices and little snippets of time rather than just occasional big breaks. Here’s a selection of 5-60 minute simple self-care ideas for busy parents. Continue reading →
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.
If you want to help kids become independent, the principle of minimal assistance is a great motto to parent by. It’s a neat way of ensuring your child gets as little or as much help as they need to learn a new skill. When kids learn to do things for themselves, they feel good about themselves (and you have one less thing to do!).
On the scale of parental assistance, doing a task for your child counts as maximum assistance. Leaving them to get on with it unaided is zero assistance (or full independence). So far, so simple.
The difficulties arise when faced with a task that your child hasn’t yet mastered. Or a complex task that has lots of stages. Like washing your own hair, for example. If your daughter can’t yet wash her hair but you just leave her to get on with it, there is a good chance of an unsuccessful (or uncomfortable) outcome. Shampoo in her eyes, knots and tangles, water on the floor or still dirty hair, to name a few! But take over and do it for her and she will never learn to do it for herself. This is where the principle of minimal assistance comes in.
The principle of minimal assistance is a way to help kids become independent by giving them only the amount of help they actually need in order to learn a new or complex task. Here’s how to do it: 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 →
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.
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 →