Helping children set goals has huge benefits for their self-esteem. It also teaches them an essential life skill that underpins much academic and workplace success. And, at a time of huge uncertainties (like the current coronavirus pandemic), goal-setting can bolster mental health by giving children a much-needed sense of control and purpose.
You might be thinking, that parenting in a period of radical uncertainty is not the best time to be encouraging children to set goals. And when it comes to investing in ‘process’ goals around specific activities – such as “I will go to the gym three times a week” or “I will get an A in my exam” – we need to be careful. Because process goals depend on factors (like gyms and schools being open) that we can’t control and which are currently highly vulnerable to disruption.
But outcome goals are much more adjustable. Things like “I want to get fitter” or “I want learn more about modern history.” These can be refined and broken down into specifics that can be adjusted according to circumstances. So they are more empowering and flexible and resilient.
Today’s children have a lot of goals set for them by adults. School targets, targets attached to their hobbies and activities, targets dictated by parents. Encouraging children to set their own goals is a brilliant way of building children’s self-esteem. Setting their own goals (and achieving them) is empowering – whereas goals set for children by adults can be daunting (especially if your child lacks self-belief). When children achieve their own goals (no matter how small), they experience a sense of competence and are more likely to try again and to extend their goal.
Helping children set goals (and reach them) requires parents to use lots of coaching questions. It’s best to support the goal-setting process through facilitation rather than direction. Here’s a few key pointers that might help: Continue reading →
Not being able to play with friends has been tough for children during the coronavirus lockdown. Young children are programmed to play. Play fuels their development and it is through play that they learn the social skills to take turns, work in teams and build relationships. However, with social distancing here to stay for a while, there’s unlikely to be a sudden return to traditional play dates or playground games. We are all going to have to learn new ways of playing together in socially distanced games.
Children are naturally inventive so I am absolutely sure they will have no problem adapting and will come up with brilliant ideas for games (much better than mine!). But it might help them get started if you set them up with a few ideas. So, here are 16 ideas for socially distanced games to get them playing safely.
Whether you are meeting up with family in your garden, doing play dates in the park or even hosting a socially distanced birthday party, there are some great games that children can enjoy and still stay at least 1 or 2 metres apart. You’ll probably remember most of them from your own childhood! And this list is also a great starting point for children who are heading back to school and wondering what they can do in the playground. All these games can be played without the need to pass any objects between each other. And all of them are screen-free – which is a great rebalancer after the digital overdose in lockdown. Enjoy! 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 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 →
‘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 →
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 →
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 →
David Cohen’s How the Child’s Mind Develops is quite an academic read so probably best for parents who have a very keen interest in children’s cognitive development. But if you are that way inclined, this book gives a really good overview of key issues and ideas in developmental psychology. It covers huge ground in a level of detail ideal for those without a deep knowledge of cognitive development theories but with an interest in children and/or psychology.
Cohen kicks off with a summary of the methodological difficulties in studying developmental psychology. How we can research babies’ brains when they have no language for expressing their thoughts or preferences? Given the over-interpretation of much psychological research in the popular media, this is a great antidote to our tendency to jump to big conclusions from methodologically dodgy ground. 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.
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 →
When it comes to gender, science has got a poor track record. Across the centuries there has been a consistent tendency for scientists to come to big conclusions about the differences between men and women, boys and girls, based on pretty flimsy evidence. And usually these have been conclusions which conveniently justify existing inequalities and the power status quo.
Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: the real science behind sex differences sets out to systematically challenge and dismantle this neuroscientific sexism that uses skewed science to prove that women are inherently more suited to caring roles and men to action and objective decision-making. But the brilliance of the book is that she does it, not through ideology but by unpicking centuries of flawed scientific methods and unconscious bias. Taking on the scientists at their own game. Continue reading →