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 →
If you have ever tried to tell a young child who is in the grip of a big emotion to “Calm down,” you will know that often doesn’t work. Children need much more concrete strategies to help them cope when they are feeling overwhelmed. Like finger breathing. This is a great way for children to calm themselves down and manage anxiety and overwhelm. Teach them how to do it when they are in a calm moment (when they are overwrought is never a good time to get them to engage their learning brains!). And then prompt them to do their finger breathing when they need to reduce their fight-or-flight and find calm.
Here’s how to do it:
Not sure this is the right idea for your child? Watch this free video tutorial for lots more ideas for self soothe strategies. I also share 3-minute video tips on all sorts of parenting topics on Instagram (@anitacleare).
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 →
Today’s video post is all about managing children’s emotional behaviour – both little ones and teens. Often, when children are emotional, that comes out as difficult behaviour – behaviour that parents find challenging. And it can be difficult to know what to do. Should you respond to the behaviour? Or to the emotion?
The trick for managing children’s emotional behaviour is actually to do both. Here are a few tips on how you can use reflective and empathetic listening whilst also drawing boundaries around unacceptable actions.
Want to help your child manage their emotions a little better? Watch this free video tutorial for lots of ideas for self soothe strategies for children.
There is a lot of contradictory advice out there about Time Out as a parenting strategy. Should parents use it? Does it work? Is it harmful? At what age should I use Time Out? Time Out has certainly had a bad press recently, but what does the evidence actually say? And what are the alternatives? (You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet!). So, to help you cut through the opinions and make an informed decision, I have pulled together the research and arguments, alongside some links to trustworthy explanations. Here’s what you need to think about:
The summer holidays are approaching and I know how busy you are. There’s work to finish, childcare to organise, paddling pools to buy, packing lists to write, school uniform to order and have you remembered to source a goldfish-sitter? Not yet? Well, I thought I’d help you save time on your holiday prep and bring together in one place all the positive parenting strategies you’ll need for enjoying some family time these holidays. Here is your essential positive parenting toolkit for surviving the summer holidays. You’re welcome! Continue reading →
I found myself crying in the car last night. Truly blubbering. I had just dropped my teenage son off at his girlfriend’s house – well, around the corner from her house. I’d pulled over a few hundred yards early to give us a moment to finish our conversation and he’d got out and stormed off. (And, when I say ‘conversation’, you know what I really mean is argument…)
I calmed myself down, drove home and accepted his conciliatory hug this morning. But why was I so very upset? It was a stupid argument about tidying his bedroom, one we’ve had a hundred times before with much less drama. But as I sat crying in the car, I was really hurting. My brain was quick-firing with all the things my son had done that had hurt me – a litany of blatant unkindnesses all the more outrageous and undeserved given the hours of love, thought and lift-giving that I plough into his life. Continue reading →
A key principle of positive parenting is noticing the good stuff and trying to make a bit more of it happen. For children, this can have a truly transformative effect. When parents notice what their children are getting right (rather than focusing just on what they are getting wrong), children tend to do more of that good behaviour. They get more stuff right, a virtuous circle. But focusing on the positives also has a powerful effect on parents too. When we look for what our children are doing well, we notice more and more of what they are doing well. Our viewpoint becomes a little rosier and we become more content and satisfied with our children and ourselves. Practising positive parenting makes you happier.
Positive psychology is all about understanding what makes life feel worthwhile so that we can do more of it. It focuses on positive experiences, states and traits and asks how we can create more of these in our lives to optimise our wellbeing and happiness. Sounds simple, doesn’t it! But positive psychology becomes a bit trickier when it comes to parenting. Because parenting is not just about the feelgood factor. Parents have a responsibility to help children learn the skills they need to be successful adults. And that inevitably involves setting boundaries and responding when children get it wrong. Parents can easily get sucked into focusing too much on children’s misbehaviour. And that’s when parenting slips into a negative rut of constant battling, shouting and cajoling. Which is a very miserable place to be. Continue reading →
One of the key ways that children learn is through cause and effect. “I do X and Y happens –I like Y so I will do X again. I do W and Z happens – I don’t like Z therefore I won’t do W again.” Positive parents use consequences for misbehaviour to discourage children from unacceptable behaviour.
The purpose of a consequence is not to punish a child or to make them feel bad. The purpose of a consequence is to provide an outcome that is less desirable than if your child had chosen a different course of action. As parents, we are structuring children’s choices so that next time they are more likely to choose the right path.
Using consequences for misbehaviour helps children learn to stick to essential boundaries such as not hitting or shouting or lying. But don’t overdo it and slip into ‘policeman’ parenting. Positive parents impose consequences when needed but aim to spend as much time as possible using reinforcing strategies (such as praise and attention) to encourage the right behaviour.
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 →
There are things I love about Calm Parents, Happy Kids by Dr Laura Markham. And things that wind me up enormously. The key messages are mainly sound (with a few exceptions) but the US style of delivery horribly grates on my British nerves. I suspect it’s a bit of a Marmite book – which side you end up on will probably depend on how you feel about self-help books in general.
The things that wind me up? Mainly, it’s the constant repetition. In the style of many self-help books, the text follows the pattern of 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them. 2. Tell them. 3. Tell them what you have just told them. Messages are heralded, summarised and repeated again and again. (Have you got it yet? Yes, I got it the first time!). You are certainly not going to finish this book without understanding what it’s saying! 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 →
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.
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. Continue reading →
Very few working parents use the same skills set at work as they need at home. Work skills tend to be task-focused and efficiency-driven. Whereas children need emotionally attuned parents who are curious and playful and empathetic. Developing good transition routines between work and home and learning how to switch successfully from ‘work mode’ to ‘parent mode’ is essential.
Good transition routines help working parents to:
let go of work stress
park work worries and thoughts until the next day
refocus on family issues
arrive home ready for the joys and challenges of a family evening
Being a calm consistent parent after a long day at work isn’t easy. Good parenting means standing your ground when children push at boundaries, firm but fair. It involves tuning in to your child, making decisions they don’t like, and managing your own emotions in the face of a child who has not yet mastered theirs. That is a big ask at the end of a long working day when you only have an hour to spend with your child and school has already filled that hour with homework.
Good transition routines between work and home can be the difference between starting the evening ready to snap and walking into the house relaxed and resourced for the family evening ahead.
Here are my top tips for developing good transition routines that work for you: Continue reading →