Thinking Parenting https://www.anitacleare.co.uk Anita Cleare Thu, 18 Jan 2018 12:26:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 122133521 Top tips for stress-free play dates https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/top-tips-stress-free-play-dates/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/top-tips-stress-free-play-dates/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 05:05:25 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2773 Lots of parents find hosting play dates stressful. Especially when you don’t know the other parent/child well. Or when there is a risk of behaviour getting out of hand. Is it ok to step in and discipline someone else’s child? At what age can I expect the other parent to stay or just to drop […]

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Lots of parents find hosting play dates stressful. Especially when you don’t know the other parent/child well. Or when there is a risk of behaviour getting out of hand. Is it ok to step in and discipline someone else’s child? At what age can I expect the other parent to stay or just to drop off? What if there are tears or tantrums? Hosting play dates is, frankly, a bit of a minefield!stress-free play dates

But play dates are really important for helping children develop social skills. Children only learn to share and play co-operatively and resolve disputes if they are given opportunities to practise. Learning how to be a good friend is essential for children’s social and emotional development. Friendships promote empathy and form a template for future relationships. Play dates provide a really important framework for children to socialise and build friendships outside school/nursery. And they can also be a great opportunity for parents to build friendships too.

Here are my top tips for hosting stress-free play dates and avoiding pitfalls:

Ten tips for stress-free play dates

  1. Be realistic. Children are still learning social skills and there are bound to be a few bumps. Be prepared to step in and help young children manage their emotions if necessary.
  2. Make sure the environment is safe and remove precious or breakable items in advance. If there are parts of your home where the children are not allowed to go, make that clear to them at the beginning.
  3. Set some ground rules at the start. Make it clear what behaviour is expected. For younger children, you could even spell out a reward at the end of the play date if they stick to the rules. Explain that if they break the rules, they will have to put away some of the toys/activities.
  4. Remember to praise the kids when they are sticking to the rules and co-operating well to encourage them to do more of it.
  5. There might be things that are not ok in your house that a visiting child is allowed to do at home. If the visitor gets it wrong, step in quickly and calmly tell them to stop. Simply explain that isn’t allowed in your house.
  6. Have some ideas for games/activities up your sleeve in case the kids need distracting from a less desirable activity.
  7. Provide drinks and snacks to keep them going and/or to change the focus if things are getting cranky.
  8. Don’t let it go on for too long! Long enough for a good play but no so long that the kids (or you!) get overtired.
  9. As a general rule, unless you have agreed otherwise, you can expect parents to stay with their child up to about age five. But different parents make different decisions so, if it’s important, clarify in advance if the other parent is dropping off or staying.
  10. Don’t get side-tracked into worrying about what the other parent thinks. This is your home, they are your guests. As long as your rules and expectations are reasonable, be comfortable sticking to them. If a visiting child is consistently breaking the rules (despite your prompts) and the other parent is not stepping in, just ask them politely if they could tell their child to stop doing whatever they are doing and explain why it matters.

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What would your children change about you? https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/what-would-your-children-change-about-you/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/what-would-your-children-change-about-you/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 05:05:42 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2785 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 […]

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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. 

I had assumed that my GCES-bothered teenager would say that I needed to trust him more and hassle him less. Here’s what he actually came up with:

  1. Let me do my own thing a little bit more
  2. Don’t hassle me about the little things I know
  3. Do hassle me if I’m being lazy
  4. Pressure me to revise more
  5. Make me go to the gym more

Interesting! It turns out that (despite his often rude response), he actually values and wants an interventionist parent. He just wants me to hassle him about slightly different things!

Now maybe he came up with that list to please me. And maybe he is trying to get me to take responsibility for making him do the hard stuff rather than rising to that challenge himself. And when we talked it through, he wasn’t very clear about exactly how I am supposed to make him revise/go to the gym/stop being lazy. But it was a great conversation to have. I really learned something from it and felt, at least for a moment, that we were on the same team rather than opposing sides.

As a rower who is up at dawn and training ten times a week, my eldest teen is a lot more self-disciplined. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from his list. I did wonder if, being that bit older, he would try and step inside my shoes and come up with resolutions that would be good for me (rather than him). Here’s his list:

  1. Continue making me nice meals
  2. Continue supporting my rowing
  3. Don’t worry so much when I go out to parties
  4. Go out for dinner more
  5. Force me to make more of my own meals

As you can see, all that rowing makes him obsessed with food!

To be fair, there is a little bit of empathy here (wanting me to worry less and go out and enjoy myself more). And there is some business as usual – good to know I am doing some things right. But, again, a plea for me to hassle him more but about different things.

I guess what I learnt from this comes down to collaborative goal-setting. Both my teens are really clear that part of my job as their parent is to push them to do difficult things. Perhaps what I hadn’t yet understood well enough was the need to agree with them which areas of their lives needed that approach.

The teenage revolution is not quite yet complete, so I shan’t be doing everything they say. I will still hassle my youngest son to tidy his room. And I will still worry when they are at parties. But I feel a lot more confident heading towards the summer exams that making him switch off his Xbox and revise is what he really wants. Despite all the words and demeanour to the contrary!

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Books to help children cope with change https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/books-to-help-children-cope-with-change/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/books-to-help-children-cope-with-change/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 05:05:10 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2765 Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be […]

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Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be stressed by even minor changes to their routine (see Helping children cope with change). Reading story books to help children cope with change can offer reassurance that change is ok and help start conversations about how children are feeling.

Here are my recommendations for reassuring and conversation-starting books to help children cope with change:

No Matter What

No Matter What (by Debi Gliori) is a beautiful book about unconditional love. It resonates with a simple message that no matter what happens (or whatever he does), Large will always love Small. It’s a beautiful snuggly bedtime book to reassure an anxious little one. A real classic.

 

The Invisible String

The Invisible String (by Patricia Karst) is a great book for any change that involves separation from a parent or loved one. It describes the invisible string that binds people together even when they aren’t there. It’s very warm and reassuring and the strong visual image of a string gives young children a concrete way to help them understand love and attachment.

The Koala Who Could

The Koala Who Could (by Rachel Bright) is a new book from the creators of The Lion Inside. So it’s a bit more modern than many of the classics on this list. It’s about a Koala who likes everything to stay exactly the same and doesn’t like any change. In the course of the story, Koala discovers that change is not so bad and can lead to new and wonderful experiences. The rhymes are a real treat, bringing a light touch to a serious topic. Perfect for helping worried children feel brave about change.

The Complete Book of First Experiences

What I like about this book is that it collects together lots of separate stories about first experiences. Even if you aren’t currently facing that new experience, if you read the stories one by one, it gives a great sense that new things happening is ok. That the first time we do things, it’s natural to feel nervous – but that’s ok. All the stories in the Complete Book of First Experiences (Usborne Books) are also available separately (e.g. Going on a Plane and Moving House) so do check out the series.

Mummy Goes to Work

Mummy Goes to Work (by Kes Gray) is not so much a story book as a collection of reassuring statements. A sweet and simple book, ideal for toddlers. And for mums. A simple message that might be useful for preparing toddlers for mum going back to work.

 

Those are my recommendations for general books to help children cope with change. For books on other change-related topics, you might also find these booklists useful:

 

This is not a sponsored post, these are my own recommendations. However, this post does contain affiliate links – which means that if you click through and purchase, I will receive a small fee. See Disclosure Notice for more details.

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Children’s books about shyness https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/childrens-books-about-shyness/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/childrens-books-about-shyness/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 05:05:15 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2749 Reading books with children is a great way to start conversations about topics they might find difficult. Whether you have a shy child or just want to help your confident child develop empathy, reading children’s books about shyness helps children to reflect on big themes like courage, friendship and kindness. Parents often worry about shy […]

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Reading books with children is a great way to start conversations about topics they might find difficult. Whether you have a shy child or just want to help your confident child develop empathy, reading children’s books about shyness helps children to reflect on big themes like courage, friendship and kindness.

Parents often worry about shy children missing out on friendships and opportunities. The best children’s books about shyness give the clear message that there is nothing wrong with being shy. But that sometimes shyness can get in the way of enjoyable or important things. And that sometimes, we all have to do something a little difficult in order to open the door to a new and wonderful experience.

Here are five sympathetic children’s books about shyness that tell stories about overcoming social anxieties to achieve something special.

Buster: the Very Shy Dog

Buster: the Very Shy Dog (by Lisze Bechtold) is a collection of three charming stories with cute illustrations. It’s designed for young readers to read themselves so each story is short with simple language. But it’s also a good book to read out loud to younger children. It’s a light-touch book to make kids think. And, being about a puppy, it’s very indirect and non-threatening. A good general introduction to ideas about shyness and overcoming social anxieties. (3-7yrs)

Halibut Jackson

Halibut Jackson does not like to be the centre of attention. He wears specially camouflaged outfits to blend into the background – so the first pleasure of this book is to try and find him hiding in each of the illustrations! This is the story of how Halibut finds his special talent and learns to be comfortable with being shy. Halibut Jackson (by David Lucas) is a really reassuring read for a socially anxious child that cleverly transforms the fear of standing out into acceptance of being unique. (age 2+)

Little Miss Shy

You can’t beat the Mr Men series when it comes to talking about personality traits and emotions. Little Miss Shy is painfully shy – to the point of absolute social phobia and panic attacks! The real talent of this book is its gentle humour which encourages the reader to laugh at Little Miss Shy and sympathise with her at the same time. Little Miss Shy (by Roger Hargreaves) is a great book for helping children of all ages step outside their social fears and get a little distance on them. (all ages)

Maya’s Voice

Maya’s Voice (by Wen-Wen Cheng) is a story about a girl who finds it hard to speak when she starts school. If your child suffers from selective mutism (or just finds it hard to speak in certain situations), this wonderfully gentle book is a great way to reach out to them and help them see that it is possible to find your voice when the time is right. Also good for children who have a friend who finds it hard to speak out. (ages 3-7)

Shybug

Shybug (by Kevin Ann Planchet) deals specifically with the problem of overcoming shyness in order to make friends. It tells a simple story about how two girls manage to reach out to each other despite their differences and fears and become friends. There are some tips at the end for parents on helping shy children to make friends. Gentle, accessible story with pretty illustrations. (age 3+)

 

You’ll find lots more useful recommendations in:

This is not a sponsored post, I wrote it in response to questions I am frequently asked during my parenting seminars and clinics. However, it does contain affiliate links which means if you click through from this post and make a purchase, I receive a small fee. For more info, see my Disclosure Notice.

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A positive parenting approach to Christmas https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/positive-parenting-approach-christmas/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/positive-parenting-approach-christmas/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 05:05:03 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2737 Christmas is a special time to share with children. But it also brings lots of challenges. Children can find it hard to cope with all that anticipation and excitement. And big emotions can lead to big meltdowns. Desperate for everything to be nice, parents often feel wary of disciplining children in case it ruins the […]

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positive parenting ChristmasChristmas is a special time to share with children. But it also brings lots of challenges. Children can find it hard to cope with all that anticipation and excitement. And big emotions can lead to big meltdowns. Desperate for everything to be nice, parents often feel wary of disciplining children in case it ruins the Christmas spirit (especially in front of the in-laws). Add in lack of sleep, too much sugar and disrupted routines and, unsurprisingly, the results can be a bit fractious!

Here are my top five positive parenting tips to help you enjoy Christmas with children and manage any sticky bits.

Remember to relax

Christmas is all about spending time with family. And it’s hard to spend quality time with your children when you are in the kitchen peeling endless potatoes. If the trimmings are overtaking Christmas, it’s time to rebalance and prioritise presence not presents. Spend as much time as possible playing, snuggling, laughing, relaxing, de-stressing and building relationships.

Have realistic expectations

Your children are not going to morph into angels just because it’s Christmas Day. You might wish to present a neat, well-behaved and best version of your kids to your wider family but that’s not really fair and just sets them (and you) up to fail. Young children thrive on routine. Early waking, a late unfamiliar lunch and no nap will put the sweetest three-year-old out of kilter. The excitement of Christmas can be overwhelming for small children who are not yet able to manage big feelings. So have realistic expectations and remember that “special” does not equal “perfect”.

Plan ahead

Spend a bit of time before the festive period thinking through how things will go and identifying those high risk sticky moments. Plan travel and festivities to avoid disrupting sleep and mealtimes. Prepare some engaging activities to entice reluctant teens to participate and to keep younger ones busy.  Make sure you have to hand all the props that will help the day run smoothly (don’t forget the batteries!). And try not to wind the kids up to a fever pitch of excitement in the run up to Christmas.

Set some ground rules

Once you have anticipated the pitfalls, set some ground rules so the kids know what behaviour is expected from them. They might be general ground rules for being at Grandma’s house (eg “walk in the house don’t run“) or more specific ones about sitting up for lunch (“keep your bottom on the chair“) or snacking (“ask before you eat“). Remind them about the rules at timely intervals. And use praise and rewards for sticking to the rules.

Think through in advance what your options are for discipline strategies if there is any difficult behaviour. (Especially if you will be away from home). Is there a quiet room you can take your child to for a few minutes if they are getting over-excited? Plan ahead and agree the response with your partner. The last thing you want is for one of you to get wound up and threaten something daft (like taking away a gift) in the heat of the moment. Step in early before things get out of hand with a reminder about the rules.

Manage the wider family

Often the hardest thing about Christmas is managing the adults. Grandparents who give your two-year-old chocolate for breakfast. Aunts who tut when you tell your child off. Feeling watched while your little one has a tantrum. If you have set any rules, then make these clear to everyone. Try to be on the same page with your partner if you can. You will have had different Christmas traditions as children and probably have different approaches to the festivities. So talk through what matters to you as a family and resolve any differences using problem-solving. And divide the workload fairly so everyone gets a break.

Just like families, Christmas is never ideal. But with a good dose of realism, laughter and planning, it will have moments to make it special.

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Give presence (not just presents) this Christmas https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/give-presence-not-just-presents-christmas/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/give-presence-not-just-presents-christmas/#comments Wed, 22 Nov 2017 05:05:43 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2721 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. […]

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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.presence not presents

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.

Mummy/Daddy Cheques

Rather than another plasic toy or even more chocolate, why not fill their stockings with promises. Write them a dummy cheque or an I.O.U for activities you know they love – a kiss, an extra bedtime story, a bike ride, cookie-making, a trip to the swings. You can design a mummy/daddy cheque yourself or download a template.

Camp out next to the tree

There is something truly special about Christmas tree lights in a darkened room. And if you happen to have a real tree, this smells wonderful too! Roll out the sleeping bags, snuggle up with storybooks and have a Christmas family camp out.

Have a homemade Christmas

Now, I don’t mean the sort of Kirsty Allsop crafty Christmas where everything looks amazing. I mean, spend time with your kids making things instead of spending time away from them buying or ordering things. You can make the cake together, the decorations, the cards, the presents – no, your house won’t look like the John Lewis window display but making all or just one of those things will mean spending time together. And that’s the point.

Make a Yearbook

Create a memory book with your children of family-related things that have happened that year. You can use photos, postcards, drawings, newspaper clippings… It’s a wonderful way to look back over the year, create memories and tune into the things that really matter to your children. (And you can look back at it year after year). No perfectionism allowed – this is a child-led activity!

Be charitable together

Whether it’s formal volunteering or just de-icing a neighbour’s drive, refocus away from having too much onto helping those who don’t have enough. Helping out at a homeless shelter is a great way to give back whilst also dragging the teens from their bedrooms. Let them research the activity and chose the cause. Then commit as a family to making a difference (while also doing something together).

There are so many ways you can give the gift of time to your children. If you have a story to tell or an idea to share, please comment below so we can spread the magic.

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Parents: how not to shout https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/how-not-to-shout/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/how-not-to-shout/#respond Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:05:32 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2705 As parents, we all know that shouting isn’t a great idea. None of us embarked on parenting with ‘Shouty Mum/Dad’ as our ideal destination. But somewhere along the way, we get sucked into it. Especially when nothing else seems to work and the kids just won’t do as they are told. Most of us shout […]

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As parents, we all know that shouting isn’t a great idea. None of us embarked on parenting with ‘Shouty Mum/Dad’ as our ideal destination. But somewhere along the way, we get sucked into it. Especially when nothing else seems to work and the kids just won’t do as they are told. Most of us shout because we don’t know how not to shout.how not to shout

Shouting simply models to children that raising your voice is an appropriate way to get what you want. Usually, it starts off as a last resort – we ask calmly, we ask calmly, we ask calmly again. And when we still get ignored after all that asking, we end up shouting.

But shouting can quickly become a habitual dynamic. The children learn that Mum/Dad doesn’t really mean it until they start shouting. And Mum/Dad learns that they might as well just go straight to shouting because that’s the only thing that ever works.

Whether you’re stuck in the shouty parenting trap or just keen to avoid it, here are some simple tips on how not to shout.

Try whispering if you want attention

If you feel like you have to shout to be heard over the children’s noise, try whispering. I know it is counter-intuitive but if you have ever lost your voice as a parent you will know that everyone’s volume in the house goes down when you can only whisper.

Shouting is fundamentally competitive. Everyone tends to join in and get louder and louder in their quest to be heard. Whisper, and the people around you lower their volume too. The best teachers are those who know how not to shout. I’ve watched great teachers use quiet almost-whispering voices to bring a noisy class of 30 infants to attention just by counting backwards from five. Try it.

Don’t give instructions from another room

If you yell instructions to your children from another room, you are easy to ignore. Especially if you are asking your child to stop doing something they like (e.g. watching TV) and come and do something they are not so keen on (e.g. get ready for bed). They will just pretend they didn’t hear you and you’ll end up shouting even louder!

And if you start an interaction with your voice raised, you are already half way to losing your cool. It might all start off calmly – but after you have shouted that instruction louder and louder several times you will definitely start to feel annoyed. And once you are shouting and annoyed, things are likely to go downhill. That’s because our minds and bodies are very closely linked. If we raise our voices, our emotions will soon follow.

Get up close

If you need to speak to your child – either to give an instruction or in response to poor behaviour, get up close to them. We instinctively don’t shout in people’s faces. So if you are up close – about an arm’s length away – and addressing your child face-to-face, your voice is likely to drop in volume automatically. And when our volume goes down, our emotions will follow. (And if you do find yourself in a state where you could shout in your child’s face, you need to remove yourself from the situation and find somewhere to calm down.)

Don’t keep asking

If we are up close to our child asking them calmly to do something and they ignore us or don’t do what we ask, they are making a conscious choice not to co-operate. If you keep repeating the instruction, the only thing that’s going to change is that you are going to get cross. And you’ll probably end up shouting. So only ask twice and then follow through calmly with an appropriate action or consequence. Draw the line before anyone starts raising their voice, not after. (See The secret of calm parenting.)

There are other factors that will help too – building a good relationship with your child, setting ground rules, having reasonable expectations and dealing with your own stress will all make a positive difference. But this is a great place to start.

Found this helpful? Why not book one of my workplace parenting seminars for lots more tips on positive parenting. Or sign up for monthly newsletters.

 

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Talking to children about tragic events https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/talking-children-tragic-events/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/talking-children-tragic-events/#respond Wed, 01 Nov 2017 05:00:22 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2673 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 […]

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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.thinking parenting

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:

Talk about the issues

Take an interest in what children are reading, watching and listening to. Don’t give children unfettered access to the digital world (see Positive parenting in the digital age). Make sure you know the age guidelines for websites and social media and stick to them. Direct teenagers to quality news sites such as BBC Newsbeat and protect younger children from news bulletins that are aimed at adults.

If something big happens, it’s much better that children hear about it in an age-appropriate way from a trusted adult. Keep it simple. Say something like “I’m feeling a bit sad because I just heard about a bomb that exploded in such-and-such a place and lots of people died. I wanted to tell you about it in case you hear about it too.” They might ask lots of questions or they might not be interested. But they will know they can talk to you about it.

Always answer children’s questions. Questions tell you what your child is concerned about and help you gauge their level of understanding. With younger children, stick to short simple answers and then see what happens next. If they change the subject, you have answered their question. If they ask the same question again, they haven’t understood your answer (or maybe you haven’t understood their question). If they ask a follow up question, they want to know more so keep talking.

If you are knocked off balance by an unexpected question then you could gain some thinking time by asking a question back to see what they already know or where they heard about that issue.

Balance honesty with reassurance

When children hear about tragic events, they often immediately link these events to their own lives and worry that something similar will happen to them or their family. Do reassure them that they are safe. Emphasise that these kinds of events are rare, that they don’t happen very often and that the vast majority of people never experience them. But don’t resort to outright lies. Telling children that something could never happen (when they can work out for themselves that’s not true) can result in them not trusting you or your reassurances. Instead, talk about all the reasons why it is very unlikely to happen and emphasise all the positive actions that are being taken to tackle the issue and to prevent it happening again.

Sometimes children like to talk about what they would do if they were in that situation – my own children did that when we had a narrow escape from the terrible earthquake in Nepal. You might not like to think that way but for some children that’s a coping strategy, a way of turning their difficult thoughts into a problem to be solved and gaining a sense of control. Allow them to do that but don’t dwell on it, just get them involved in a distracting activity as soon as possible.

When children are upset

When children are distressed by news of a major event, it is important to help them work through their feelings. Don’t avoid talking about it and don’t dismiss their feelings as silly. Use empathetic listening: ask why they are upset, listen to their concerns and let them know that their feelings are ok. Then prompt them towards an activity that might make them feel better. Say something like, “I can see you are really sad. It’s natural to feel sad when bad things happen. Is there something you could do that might cheer you up?” Younger children can be guided into play, whereas older children might want to get involved in charities or fundraising as a way of making a difference.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Mumsnet website.

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Best Parent Insight Blog Award https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/best-parental-insight-blog-award/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/best-parental-insight-blog-award/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:05:40 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2688 Thinking Parenting has been shortlisted in the Tutora Best Parent Insight Blog Award. If you enjoy reading Thinking Parenting, please take a moment to click through and VOTE HERE (you’ll need to scroll down to the bottom and fill out the form to vote). We all love a bit of acknowledgement when we are doing […]

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Thinking Parenting has been shortlisted in the Tutora Best Parent Insight Blog Award. If you enjoy reading Thinking Parenting, please take a moment to click through and VOTE HERE (you’ll need to scroll down to the bottom and fill out the form to vote). We all love a bit of acknowledgement when we are doing something well!!

Voting closes at 4pm on 30th November 2017. Thank you!

 

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Parents, Be Quiet! The importance of listening to children https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/importance-of-listening-to-children/ https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/importance-of-listening-to-children/#respond Wed, 18 Oct 2017 05:03:44 +0000 https://www.anitacleare.co.uk/?p=2663 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 […]

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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. 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.

Listening to children helps them calm down

When we don’t feel listened to, we often start escalating our behaviour in frustration to communicate our emotions. Crying turns into shouting. In contrast, when we feel heard and understood, heightened emotions often start to subside. Teenagers’ outbursts, for example, often escalate when parents fail to validate their teens’ emotion (perhaps because the emotion seems ridiculously overblown or misplaced or because it is directed at the parent). Simply acknowledging that you recognise how a child feels can help them start to process that emotion and calm down.

Don’t offer solutions

The aim of listening to children is firstly to make your child feel understood. The goal is not to try and fix the situation or change their feelings. Holding back your suggestions can be really hard to do when your child is distressed or the issue is very emotive like bullying. Obviously, parents want to fix it, to stop the bullying or make our child feel better. But save the problem-solving until after the emotion has been processed – your child can’t engage effectively in solutions immediately. Don’t use the words “should” or “shouldn’t” (eg “You shouldn’t feel that way“). You child feels the way they feel and your job is to connect with that real feeling. Don’t jump to conclusions and don’t try to solve the problem until you are sure you have understood it completely.

Listening to children empowers them

In fact, the ideal is that you don’t try to solve the problem at all. Your child will learn so much more from the experience if you support them to solve the problem themselves. Take your lead from your child and support them to find their way through their feelings towards a solution rather than removing the problem for them. Ask questions rather than giving suggestions. (“Why do you think Ellie said those mean things?” “What do you think you could do about that?“). Finding their own solutions helps children learn problem-solving skills. It also makes them feel valued and empowered to have their opinions listened to (especially important in a situation like bullying). And it helps build their self-esteem.

Listening to children leads to more talking

Feeling understood provides connection and makes it much more likely your child will talk to you again in the future. If they don’t feel that talking to you met their emotional needs, they are less likely to do it again. Keeping those communication channels open is essential, especially for parents of teenagers, and helps to protect children’s emotional and mental health.

Stress gets in the way of listening

When we’re stressed, it’s much harder to listen well. Stress impacts on parenting in lots of ways that damage connection. Stressed-out parents often feel short of time or patience and are much more likely to overreact. Listening to children  well means controlling our own emotions in order to tune in to our children’s.

So the next time your child gets emotional or presents you with a problem, just remember: if you’re the one doing the talking, you aren’t doing the listening.

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