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:
People assume that because I advise parents on parenting, I must be a fantastic parent myself – which I’m not. I’m just like you. I get some things right, I get some things wrong. I have inspirational days and some real howlers. I’m always trying to do my best but only sometimes succeeding.
And nor do I have perfect children. My teenagers are just like everyone else’s (and uncomfortably similar to me as a teenager!). They face the same challenges and struggle with the same demons. They have fallen at some hurdles, and risen to others. And they don’t like to listen to their mother.
Like most parents, I judge myself harshly when my not-perfect teens don’t listen to their not-perfect mother and do not-perfect things. But then I heap on an extra spoonful of guilt because I am a parenting coach and somehow that means I ought to get everything right…
One of the problems with modern parenting is that we tend to believe that good kid = good parent and that bad kid = bad parent. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have read the words “I blame the parents” in comments about teenage antisocial behaviour on social media. But bad kid = bad parent is a simplification beyond the point of usefulness. Worse, when it comes to teenagers, it’s potentially harmful.
Because bad kid = bad parent is the kind of thinking that makes parents of teenagers panic. And when we panic, we usually overreact. And we forget that teenagers have a tendency to make big stupid mistakes even when they’ve had good parenting. Continue reading
If you have a teenage son who is not doing as well as you think he should be at school, you must read He’s Not Lazy: Empowering your son to believe in himself by Adam Price. If you have one, you’ll know the type of boy I mean. The boy who doesn’t bother with homework or just dashes it off at the last minute. Who refuses to take responsibility for his schoolwork unless you trawl through his bag to make sure it gets done. The boy languishing in a lower set than his ability. The ‘could-try-harder’ boy who is too cool, too busy, or too engrossed in his Xbox to put in the hours on his academics.
If this is your son, then this is the book to help you step back, figure out what’s going on, and get yourself off the treadmill that is sustaining his behaviour. 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 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
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.
Consequences for misbehaviour work best when they are: Continue reading
Children and young people’s mental health is hardly out of the news these days (see Crisis in children’s mental health). But often parents are at a loss how best to help and support a child/teenager who is struggling. So I have brought together all in one place this resource list of websites, apps, books and other sources of support for parents/carers of children and young people who are struggling with their mental health. I hope you find it useful. 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
Whenever I run parenting seminars, there are always some parents attending who are there for ‘prevention’ purposes. By that I mean that they don’t have problems with their child’s behaviour (other than the general run-of-the-mill stuff we all encounter) but they are keen to get parenting right. They want to get tooled up with as much information as possible to make sure they are doing all the right things to make their children happy and successful.
On the one hand, this is great. Being passionate about child development myself, I want all parents to know about the forces that drive their children’s behaviour. When we understand where our children are coming from, it makes it much easier to respond to their behaviour in a thoughtful and intentioned way.
But sometimes, wanting to get parenting right can tip over into anxiety or perfection-seeking or neuroticism. I worry that some parents come to my seminars because they believe it is possible to do everything right in parenting. (It isn’t.) Or, that if they get their parenting right then that will guarantee their child’s success and happiness. (It won’t.) Continue reading
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
Being a parent of teenagers, I know there are fewer choices out there when you are looking for parenting advice on teenage issues. Whether it’s professional help you are seeking or peer group camaraderie, it’s hard to find quality trustworthy parenting websites for teenagers and not-yet-teens (but-already-acting-like-ones).
We all need a bit of advice every now and then to dig ourselves out of a parenting hole – especially when our children are going through the rapid and sometimes tumultuous changes of the teenage years. For first timers, The Beginner’s Guide to Parenting Teenagers is a good starting point!
When the tricky issues strike, you need to be sure your information is accurate, reliable and practical. Here is my round up of the very best parenting websites for teenagers and tweenagers – I hope you find it useful. (And if I have left any out – please let me know!) 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.
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
Reward charts are a fantastic positive parenting tool for encouraging the behaviour you want from your children. Whether it’s helping out around the house, being polite or using the potty, a reward chart is a great option for focusing your child’s mind on the right behaviour and motivating them to do it.
Reward charts work best when the target behaviour is clearly defined, when the rewards are achievable and when your child actually wants the rewards. Breaking habits takes effort – from both you and your child – and reward charts work best when both of you are fully on board.
Here’s a few tips to help you get the maximum effect out of using a reward chart. Continue reading