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No stage of parenting is easy. Each age brings its unique challenges. Parenting is a journey packed with torrential emotions, sudden surprises, gnawing worries, and lashings of daily self-doubt. We never really know if we’ve got it right. There is simply no single ‘right’ to be ‘got’.
If we are lucky, we are surrounded by people we can turn to for reassurance. And safe people to lean on when the burden is getting us down.
When children are very little, that community often helps carry us through. There are the NCT chums and the pre-children friends who have grown families at the same time. And the Nursery or school gate pals that you are thrown together with at all those birthday parties. Not to mention the Facebook groups of other local mums and dads ready to give advice or point you in the right direction.
But when the teenage years arrive – at exactly the point where the challenges of parenting can really shift gear – a lot of that support falls away.
The teenage years are a time when parental focus shifts away from creating a happy childhood towards ensuring our children have the skills and knowledge they need to become happy and successful young adults. An essential part of this process is equipping young people to thrive outside the protection and comforts of our family. And that means actively preparing teenagers for leaving home.
Every teen matures at a slightly different rate. But promoting independence isn’t just about our teenager’s maturity. Parents have a huge role to play. Preparing teenagers for leaving home requires us as parents to actively change our expectations of our children and start treating them as the young adults we want them to become. And that means doing less for them and expecting more from them. We do our children no favours if we send them out into the adult world unable to manage for themselves!
Teaching new skills to children of any age requires parents to:
Model the skill (show them how it’s done)
Aid supported practice (do it alongside them)
Facilitate independent production (step back and give them opportunities to do it alone).
When it comes to teenagers, that means:
Having appropriate expectations as to what they are capable of (not under-expecting or doing everything for them)
Allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them (not rescuing them from every risk of failure)
Understanding what might motivate them to take on new responsibilities (standing in their shoes).
Preparing teenagers for leaving home involves building their practical skills, their thinking skills, their organisational skills and their knowledge of the world and the way it works. Here are a few tips for how you can best prepare teens for independence in the big wide world. Continue reading →
I have had absolutely no time to write this week, so here’s a quick video blog instead on how to maintain a good relationship with your teenager. If you are interested in this topic, you might also like to read my top tips on communicating with teenagers.
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 can be a real challenge. Reading children’s books about divorce and separation can really help by introducing new ideas to little ones and normalising new living arrangements.
Snuggling up with a book is a good way to broach the difficult emotions that can come with family changes. It gives children a chance to ask questions and raise issues indirectly using the book’s characters. And it can reinforce key messages about children still being loved and not being at fault despite any big changes.
There are lots of children’s books about divorce and separation out there, so do have a good browse to find ones that will suit your family best. Here are a few of my favourites for children aged 2-7 years. Continue reading →
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 →
At some point or other, your child is going to come across illegal recreational drugs. And probably earlier than you think. All parents hope their child will do the right thing when faced with difficult choices. But we also understand that sometimes good kids make bad decisions. A better strategy is to arm teens and tweens with relevant knowledge and aim for an open and strong relationship in which teens will be honest and come to you if they need help.
Talking to children about drugs can feel scary. Parents often worry that by talking about drugs they will be encouraging children to try them. That’s not true. The more we equip children with the tools and information to keep themselves safe, the more likely they are to stay safe. Here are a few tips on how to talk to teens and tweens about drugs effectively. Continue reading →
The article provoked a level of engagement I had never previously experienced. The comments on Facebook ran into the hundreds as it went viral through parents’ networks. It clearly hit a nerve. Complete strangers emailed me to reassure me that they had been through the same thing and that it would all be ok, eventually. Scores of people told me that reading it had made them cry, for their own losses as well as mine.
It was such a genuine and painful post that I avoided reading it for a long time. Those teenage years go on for quite a while and the hurt I had written from was just too raw. Not just the loss of closeness but the conflict and anger and fear for their futures and wanting to shake them to get them to see sense. Continue reading →
Being a step-parent means occupying a unique place in a child’s life. Every step-parenting situation is different and there are no exact rules on how to get it right. Lots of step-parents experience contradictory emotions about their role, and that’s ok. There will be times when things go well and times when things go badly. Here are a few step-parenting tips to keep you going forward, no matter what.
Have realistic expectations
Step-parenting and blended families can be very messy. There are lots of people involved, all with their own needs and sensitivities and all carrying their own hurts and trigger points. So expect lots of bumps. Forget about the fairy tales and be pragmatic. Nothing about parenting is ever perfect, and for step-parenting that’s one hundred times more true!
Take it slowly. Allow the relationships to develop slowly. Don’t expect your step-children to love you (or even like you!) to start with. Keep trying to find ways to connect but understand that those bonds will take time to grow. You can’t make them happen. Continue reading →
Change can be difficult for children. Children’s life experiences are much more limited than ours so they may not have learnt strategies for facing change confidently. And they often don’t have the reassurance of remembering previous occasions when they have faced big changes and adapted successfully. Young children, especially, thrive on predictability so can be stressed by even minor changes to their routine (see Helping children cope with change). Reading story books to help children cope with change can offer reassurance that change is ok and help start conversations about how children are feeling.
Here are my recommendations for reassuring and conversation-starting books to help children cope with change: 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 →
When children’s mental or emotional health is challenged, parents are usually the first responders. And long waits for specialist services mean parents can sometimes be left providing support for considerable periods of time. Faced with a distressed child or a depressed teenager, it isn’t always easy to know what to do. Self-help books for supporting children’s mental health can be really useful – both as a tool for working through issues together with your child and just for helping parents to be better informed.
So, whether you are intervening early to prevent ill-health or coping with more serious problems, here are my recommendations of the best books for supporting children’s mental health. Specifically for parents tackling issues like anxiety, low mood and self-harming behaviours. Continue reading →
Some of the hardest decisions parents of teenagers face are around how much freedom to give at what age. What is the correct curfew time for a 14 year old? At what age is it ok for them to go to the shopping arcade with their friends? Take a train by themselves? Have a girlfriend/boyfriend over? And what about parties? And alcohol?
The problem is that different parents make different decisions. It would be really handy if there was a universal consensus that all parents of teens would stick to, but there isn’t. There will always be teens who are allowed to stay out later or walk home in the dark (or do whatever it is you are telling your teen they can’t do) and that can make it really tricky to feel secure in your decision-making and stick to your guns in the face of a protesting teenager. Continue reading →
Lots of parents find talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships difficult. But not talking about those topics can send out a powerful message. Feeling that certain bits of their body are taboo can leave children unable to negotiate issues around intimacy – or even just seek medical help – when they are adults. More than half of young women in the UK avoid seeing their GP about sexual or gynaecological concerns and two-thirds of 18-24 year olds say they would be too embarrassed to use the word ‘vagina’ when talking to a doctor.
For young people, being able to talk about their bodies and express their wishes around intimacy is a key component in staying healthy and safe. It is essential for avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy – both of which have lifelong and potentially life-limiting consequences. In the worst case scenario, it is the difference between life and death. Diseases such as cervical cancer and testicular cancer strike young and have a much higher survival rate if they are caught early. Half of the young women who say they are reluctant to visit a doctor about intimate issues say it is because of fear of a physical examination. But a quarter of them say it is simply because they would not know which words to use. Continue reading →
Contrary to popular belief, being able to read, write or do arithmetic are the least important skills that a pre-schooler needs in order to be ready to start school. In fact, only 4% of teachers rate these as important factors in ‘school readiness’.
So what is school readiness, why is it important and what can parents do to ensure their pre-schoolers get off to a flying start at school?
The most important factors that determine whether a preschooIer is ready for learning have nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with attitude. The best learners (whether they are four or eighty-four) are independent, confident to try things out and, above all, curious. For a four-year-old, that means being able to manage their own bodies and interact competently with their environment, being able to recognise similarities/differences, trying different solutions to solve problems and using words to ask questions. Continue reading →
Books are a great tool for preparing toddlers for new babies. There is so much about babies that toddlers can’t anticipate and sustaining a sensible focused conversation with a toddler is never easy. So that precious time when you are snuggling up for a good story is a wonderful opportunity to introduce new ideas and prompt conversations about feelings and upcoming changes (see tips on Preparing your child for a new baby).
Whether you are just about to tell your toddler there is a baby on the way or have already welcomed your new bundle of joy, these are my personal recommendations of books that help young children cope with the arrival of a sibling. But be warned, talking to toddlers about new babies can throw up some probing questions about how the baby got into Mummy’s tummy in the first place – so you might also want to check out these Top 10 Books for talking to children about sex too! Continue reading →