Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.
This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship. Continue reading →
Of late, my most important conversations happen in the bath. Sometimes I find a magic window in my busy household and enjoy 20 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, immersed in Epsom salts, lavender oil and bicarbonate of soda. This combination is supposed to release toxins. I have no idea if this actually works. I emerge from the water, wrinkled as a prune. Happy as clam. Totally reinvigorated.
On other occasions, my ‘alone time’ seems to attract more company than one would think possible. My daughters, if not otherwise distracted, will seek me out and share my bath time in more ways than one. My youngest can disrobe startlingly quickly (this is in amusing contrast to the sloth-like pace at which she gets dressed in school uniform every week day morning, especially when we are running disastrously late). She is so silent and adept at this practise that the first I am aware of my bath time interruptus is her ninja like descent. Tom Daly would be stunned at the lack of splash. A sudden slippery seal pup squealing her delight at surprising mummy. I love these times. Top and tailed in our too small tub, and fashioning foamy hairstyles with gravity defying aplomb. We also have some very serious chats.
Today’s discussion was all about Daddy. And competition. And how much it sucks to lose. Continue reading →
How you think about parenting makes a difference. Too often we can fall into the trap of seeing parenting as a type of ‘correction’ role – pointing out to our children what they should have done differently, directing their attention and learning, tackling their undesirable behaviour and inducting them into correct behaviour. What we are really communicating to our children through this relationship dynamic is that Mum/Dad knows best.
Which is perfectly understandable given that parents have so much more experience of the world than children – but the result can be a lot of conflict and negativity and not a lot of fun.
If we reframe that thinking and envisage our job as parents in terms of building a good relationship with our children then that opens the door to a different dynamic and to our children learning from us in a different way. Good relationships are mutual and respecting, built on communication and enjoying each other’s company. Continue reading →
There is so much parenting advice out there and so little time to sift through it. So I thought I’d come up with a handy summary to help you out. If you’ve only got five minutes and are going to read just one thing about parenting this month, then here’s my pick of the best advice for you!
Give me a baby and I can’t help experimenting on her. Sticking out my tongue to see if she will copy, striking up a ‘making-faces’ conversation, looking at an object to see if she will follow my gaze, playing peekaboo. Now that my children are older, I don’t get much baby time but The Psychology of Babies by Lynne Murray makes a great substitute.
This fabulous book recreates classic developmental psychology experiments in an easy-to-follow photo format specifically designed to support parents and practitioners in decoding babies’ behaviour and understanding why babies do the things they do.
A quick glance through the shelves of the children’s section in the library is enough to know that the majority of male figures in children’s stories adhere firmly to gender stereotypes: dads work, boys are brave and none of them do the housework. Not much help if one of your parenting aims is rebalancing gender bias and raising empathetic boys!
So I set out to find some picture books that might provide younger children with a few counter-cultural images of men as caring, emotional, gentle and patient.
This is my selection – I can’t guarantee that you will succeed in raising empathetic boys just by reading these books together (that’s a lifelong endeavour) but at least you will be exposing your young boys to the idea that there is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to being male. (Got a girl? Try these Books for raising confident girls!) Continue reading →
It takes time for children to learn to recognise and manage their feelings. Talking to children about emotions can help this process. Talking is usually best done when everyone is calm and no-one is overly emotional. Reading a book together can help young children to reflect on feelings (their own and other people’s) and can prompt conversations about how emotions are expressed.
Here are my favourite books for talking to children about emotions – I hope you find them useful. Continue reading →
In most parenting dilemmas, we have a choice about how to respond. Often, the decision boils down to a choice between being a policeman or a coach.
Put crudely, the job of a policemen is to catch people doing things wrong and punish them for it. Whereas a coach is someone who helps you to develop better ways of doing things.
For me, positive parenting is all about spending as much time wearing the coach’s hat as possible. That means catching children being good and encouraging them to do it more often.
Ground rules are a brilliant way of helping children focus on what good looks like and helping them do it more often. If there is a particular behaviour that you want to change, rather than focusing on using consequences to minimise that behaviour, think about introducing a ground rule to maximise the right behaviour. Continue reading →
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of reward charts. They help children to focus on the behaviour that is expected from them and they remind parents to catch their children being good and pay attention to it.
But when it comes to teenagers, a sticker chart is not going to do the trick. A slightly more grown up approach is required. One version of this is a ‘behaviour contract’.
The idea of a behaviour contract is that, just like a reward chart for younger children, it sets out clearly what behaviour is expected, what rewards or privileges will be earned by doing that behaviour but also what the consequences will be for misbehaviour.
A behaviour contract works best when the target (good) behaviour is clearly defined, when the rewards are achievable and when your teenager cares about the rewards and the consequences. Breaking habits takes effort – from both you and your teen – and behaviour contracts only succeed when both of you are on board. Continue reading →
Why do children lie? Let’s be honest, all children experiment with lying. It is normal and – although it can be quite shocking for parents – it is not necessarily the start of a slippery slope to immorality and delinquency. Apparently, the average 6 year old lies about once an hour!
But why do children lie?
Although we might feel that we are setting a clear moral example, society’s attitudes towards lying can be a bit confusing for young children. Sometimes lying is ok. In those circumstances we urge our children not to tell the truth – e.g. not saying that someone has a fat bottom (when they have) or not telling someone about a surprise or a present. Continue reading →
Setting a few clear ground rules for children puts you in a really positive place as a parent because it lets children know exactly what behaviour is expected from them. It also helps make sure that both parents are on the same page when it comes to the big issues. The best ground rules are simple and positively stated (i.e. they tell children what they should do rather than what they shouldn’t do). Here’s a few examples of how ground rules work:
(This is an excerpt from a 60 minute workplace parenting seminar delivered for Cityparents at Mayer Brown LLP)
How are we going to tell the children? What are we going to tell the children? When are we going to tell the children? Believe me, I wish I had a script I could give you that answered those questions. 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 is a real challenge.
Having been on both sides of that conversation – as both a child and an adult – I do know that in the grand scheme of things there isn’t usually one conversation that makes the difference. Parents often focus on the initial ‘breaking the news’ moment but, in reality, it takes time for news to sink in and questions to rise and helping children through divorce or separation usually involves returning again and again to the same themes and issues and repeating the same messages until a new consistency is gradually established. Continue reading →
Now, I don’t want to stereotype (other versions of Good Cop Bad Cop parenting are available!) but in my experience the ‘good cop’ in this particular parenting pattern is often the parent who spends the least time with the children.
It’s not hard to see why. When we feel like time with our children is limited, it can create pressure for that time to be 100% enjoyable and conflict-free. After all, who wants to spend precious family time battling with children, especially after a long stressful day at work or a whole week waiting to see them….
As a division of parenting labour, Good Cop Bad Cop parenting might be understandable but it’s not very helpful. Giving in to avoid conflict (and leaving someone else to pick up the pieces) tends to cause more conflict in the long term. Continue reading →
When it comes to children, no two parents in the history of this planet have ever had exactly the same approach to parenting. This is hardly surprising since co-parents have (by law!) grown up in different families and have had different experiences of being parented. Parenting style is seldom the critical factor in deciding who we fall in love with – and many of us are attracted to our opposites. So when parents disagree about parenting (to some degree or another), it’s just par for the course.
Having delivered parenting courses for many years now, it is a rare workshop where I don’t hear the words “The problem is my husband/wife/ex-partner/mother-in-law. How can I get him/her to parent differently?” When parents disagree about the right way to bring up children, it is invariably the other person who is doing it wrong!
Telling someone they are parenting all wrong is a conversation that is unlikely to go well. And since there isn’t only one correct way to parent, it will invariably provoke confrontation and negative emotions rather than constructive problem solving. But when parents disagree about parenting, there are ways to talk about the issues in a more helpful way. Here are a few tips to help keep parenting discussions child-centred and positive. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago I attended a refresher course on safeguarding children and sexual exploitation. As a professional working in children’s services, I have attended dozens of these courses over the years and dealt with many child protection cases so I have become inevitably a little hardened to the topic. I am no longer the rookie who cried all the way home after her very first child protection workshop.
But, as a parent, I find it impossible to remain unmoved by a whole day thinking and talking about child abuse.
Of course my thoughts fly automatically to my own children. Then fly away again just as quickly. Because thinking about my children coming to harm in that way is just unthinkable… My instinct is to push it all away and seek refuge in denial. Continue reading →