Mental ill health can strike anyone. At any time of life. But, just as with physical health, there are definitely things we can do to promote good mental and emotional health. There is lots of research linking lifestyle and mindset factors to positive mental wellbeing – so if you want to foster a mentally healthy family life, think about including these factors:
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 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. Continue reading
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.
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. Continue reading
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.
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. Continue reading
I’ll get the Mum gloat out there straight away: this year, my son qualified to row at Henley Royal Regatta. For those of you who aren’t rowing parents, this is a really Big Deal. It was the culmination of a hard year of training.
Or, as my self-congratulatory Facebook post put it:
120 6am omelettes cooked; 200 rower’s lunch boxes packed; 300 bowls of pasta made; 450 homemade protein flapjacks baked; 100 dashes to the supermarket because “we’ve got no food!”…. One day in a silly hat at Henley. Very proud
I can’t take all the credit, of course. In addition to the sheer number of hours, sweat and tears my son put into it, he also had access to a brilliant Junior Rowing Coach. And his coach’s mantra for success is to focus on processes not outcomes.
‘Process not outcome’ is an idea that you see everywhere in elite sport. Sprinters on the start line train their minds to focus not on what it will feel like to win (which is a distraction) but on each sequential movement they need to make between the start and finish lines.
And remember Johanna Konta’s eerie calm under pressure at Wimbledon this year? She bounced that ball so carefully and rhythmically before every serve, bringing her mind fully onto the shot she was about to play.
Which got me thinking about parenting and about how often we tie ourselves in knots focussing on the outcomes we want for our children rather than the actual moment we are in. Read more…
[This week’s blog post was published on The Huffington Post, just for a change!]
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I am writing this blog post to let you know that I won’t be writing a blog post this week. The summer holidays have started and it is time to chill out with my family. Well, I say with my family but since the kids turned into teenagers it has been increasingly difficult to get everyone together in the same place at the same time.
We have no family holiday booked. My eldest has already headed off on a charity expedition to Peru for four weeks (yikes!). And the youngest is vehement that hanging out with his Mum is not on his wish list. Begrudgingly, he has agreed to come on a short break to Berlin with me. (GCSE History parents will spot my not-so-hidden educational agenda there…)
But taking time off work isn’t just about family. It isn’t just about childcare. It’s about rest and recuperation.
Those of you with toddlers are probably scoffing and thinking “If only!” But actually, the bigger the demands placed on you (by family or by work), the more important it is to just stop sometimes. Get off the hamster wheel for an hour, for a day, for a week and truly rejuvenate. 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
One of the key principles of positive parenting is looking after yourself. Being a parent is not all about the kids. Creating a family that you enjoy being a member of means balancing everyone’s needs. And nurturing your own wellbeing as well as your children’s. Stressed-out parents find it much harder to be calm and consistent or to provide the loving warmth and boundaries that children need to thrive.
The problem with stress is that it tends to create a short-circuit in our brains. This means we bypass the thoughtful front regions of the brain and fall back on the more instinctive visceral brain regions that trigger our defensive fight-or-flight reaction. Those fight-or-flight instincts have a very important role in keeping us safe from danger. But, in the face of a screaming toddler or tantruming teen, a fight-or-flight response (though understandable) is not especially helpful. Continue reading
Last week I had a frantic call from The Daily Mirror. They had picked up some research on 50 ‘lost’ skills that today’s children are not learning and wanted commentary from a parenting expert. As usual, when it comes to journalism, they needed a response URGENTLY. Please could I come up with a list of the 20 most important life skills children should learn. I had 30 minutes.
I managed to come up with 15 (the Mirror added five more to fit their format) and my ’20 vital skills you should teach your kids to ensure they have a happy and healthy life’ duly appeared in the paper the next morning.
The original research had been sponsored by Addis Housewares so was predictably full of domestic tasks such as darning socks and making jam. In my list, I tried to widen this (and make it a bit less gender stereotyped) to include financial management and car/bike maintenance and communication skills. I can’t say it was my most inspired 30 minutes ever but it did get me thinking.
Mulling it over afterwards, what intrigued me was not so much which exact life skills children should learn but how children learn practical life skills and why it is/isn’t happening.
Looking at my own family and friends, it does seem that children are not picking up the same practical skills they would have been equipped with 30 years ago. By the time I was twelve, I could definitely change a plug, make a cup of tea, repair a bike puncture, sew, knit, dust, hoover, grow plants, make an apple crumble and light a fire. I am not sure I could say the same for many of the kids I know (and certainly not for my own). Continue reading
One of the things I find hard as a parent is balancing the desire for my children to fulfil their potential academically with looking after their wider needs such as wellbeing and emotional health. The two don’t always sit easily together. Supporting children to do well at school inevitably involves a certain amount of pushing – few children engage gleefully with every piece of homework they are set on the exact day when it needs to be done. But pushing too hard risks negative impacts on children’s self-esteem and mental health.
Homework often needs doing at exactly the wrong time for working parents. Adults and children’s needs tend to collide in the evenings – the children want a piece of their parents, parents want to enjoy their children, everyone is a bit tired and looking for some downtime, but there is a meal to make and eat, bags to pack for the next day, clothes to wash, hair to wash, PE kit to find, phone calls to make… And slap bang in the middle of that is homework that we know we have to do but nobody actually wants to do.
As a result, homework (reading and spellings for younger children) has become a battle in many houses. It is a chore that parents and children dread. Despite our best intentions, there is often very little joy in those home learning tasks. And joy in learning ought to be a key ingredient in children’s education. Continue reading
Once you have children, that can become even harder. Expenses go up (more people to house, clothe and feed) but we also want more time to be able to enjoy our families and nurture our children’s development.
So it’s not really surprising that according to the Modern Families Index 2017 only one in five UK parents say they have got the balance right between time and money for their families to thrive.
Supporting working parents (both in and outside the workplace), I witness daily the heavy demands work makes and how hard parents strive to carve out and protect family time. But attending the Westminster launch of new research by Working Families last week, even I was surprised by the stats on how far work now encroaches.
Heavy workloads mean that nearly three-quarters of parents say they take work home in the evenings and at weekends, with 41% of them saying this happens ‘often or all of the time’. Only a third of parents leave work on time every day. 3 in 10 fathers regularly work over 48 hours a week. And that is not to mention the long commutes for parents who are priced out of living in the place they work. Continue reading
Mornings can be hellish for parents with young children. Tantrums, lost shoes, last minute costume requests – getting everyone out of the house on time can feel like herding uncooperative cats. There is so much to do and so little time and being late is not an option. And parenting strategies that work at other times of the day can be useless when there is a deadline. So can anything be done to avoid morning meltdowns?!
Avoid them 100%? No, probably not. Avoid them most of the time? Yes. As long as you are prepared to step back, reflect on what is currently going on and try something different.
Parents, like children, are creatures of habit and we tend to revert to the same behaviour every day (despite lots of evidence telling us it isn’t working). And then resort to nagging, yelling and emotional blackmail when it doesn’t work (again). Even minor misbehaviour is more difficult to handle when you are stressed and irritable and worried about being late.
So if you are feeling the need to rethink your morning routine, here’s a few thoughts to get you started. Continue reading
There is nothing like a long Back to School ‘To Do’ list for bringing you down to earth after a relaxing summer holiday. Clunk!
But is it just me or is the back to school prep starting earlier and earlier? (I’m sure those discount emails for new school uniform started arriving at the beginning of June this year!) This summer I teamed up with children’s haircare brand Vosene Kids to find out exactly how many hours parents are spending on back to school preparations.
It turns out that UK parents spend a staggering 10 days preparing for a new school year – that’s 10 days of shopping for school shoes and book bags, sewing name labels into uniform (in the vain hope that new jumper might get returned when it’s abandoned in the school field….), arranging back to school haircuts and those expensive trips to the stationer’s for a new pencil case, pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, glue stick and a maths kit that will never get used.
And the work doesn’t stop once the children are back at school. Parents estimate they spend 2 hours 53 minutes every day on home-related tasks (that’s 14 hours per week!) with most parents completing 10 jobs before they even leave the house in the mornings!
These days we place a lot of emphasis on reading with our children, and rightly so. But I can’t help feeling that the art of telling stories to our children (as opposed to reading stories to them) has been a little bit pushed aside. Making up stories – whether we are reworking an old classic or inventing a quirky tale of our own – is a wonderful way to help our children experience the magic and immediacy of imagination in action. It also gives parents the chance to adapt stories to the themes and issues most relevant to our own children.
When we read a story to children, our eyes are on the book and we are bound to the words on the page. When we tell a story to children, we can make eye contact with them, our hands and faces are free to be much more expressive and there is a wonderful sense of suspense: “Where will this story go? How will it end?” Usually nobody knows! As a result, children who might squirm and get distracted when you read a book to them often listen with rapt attention to an unknown unfolding story. 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