Finger breathing – how to calm anxious children

If you have ever tried to tell a young child who is in the grip of a big emotion to “Calm down,” you will know that often doesn’t work. Children need much more concrete strategies to help them cope when they are feeling overwhelmed. Like finger breathing. This is a great way for children to calm themselves down and manage anxiety and overwhelm. Teach them how to do it when they are in a calm moment (when they are overwrought is never a good time to get them to engage their learning brains!). And then prompt them to do their finger breathing when they need to reduce their fight-or-flight and find control.

Here’s how to do it:

You will find more strategies, ideas and resources (plus signposting to specialist agencies) in this Supporting children’s and teenager’s mental health resource list.

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Socially distanced games: ideas!

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

Growing resilience through play (by Susie Robbins)

This is a guest post by Susie Robbins

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.

Susie Robbins gives ideas for growing resilience through play (picture of kids climbing tree)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

Children’s books on lying

Lying is an issue that every parent comes up against at some time or other. All children experiment with lying (see Why do children lie?). That’s perfectly normal and – although it can be quite shocking for parents – it is seldom the start of a slippery slope to immorality and delinquency. Rather than overreacting or giving a long lecture (both of which might inadvertently encourage more lying), why not reach for some children’s books on lying to make your point in a more accessible way?

Reading stories together can be a wonderful way to prompt discussions about right and wrong and to talk though moral dilemmas. Whether you have a persistent fibber or just want to lay the groundwork for good decision-making, there are lots of good children’s books on lying to choose from. Here is my pick of the best.

Hippo Owns Up

Hippo Owns Up by Sue Graves is a gentle, light touch introduction to the topic that focuses on an issue all young children can relate to – chocolate cake! Hippo’s dilemma revolves around the importance of telling the truth and owning up when you have done something wrong. It’s a great storybook for prompting discussions about right, wrong, consequences and morals using a situation that children may well have found themselves in. Plus the illustrations (by Trevor Dunton) and are really funny! (2-6yrs) Continue reading

Homeschooling tips for weary parents working from home

Homeschooling tips for parents working at home picture of despairing DadEven before Covid-19, most working parents were already at full tilt trying to balance work and parenting – and not always feeling like we were succeeding. Being a full-time teacher on top of working from home (with kids, dog, distracting partner, one laptop between you and variable Wi-Fi) just isn’t realistic. For a while, it looked like homeschooling had become the latest arena for competitive parenting, with social media packed with complicated craft projects and 8-hour homeschooling schedules. But now the novelty has worn off and we’ve realised that we might be in this for the long haul and, for many of us, motivation is waning. So, I thought this might be a good time for some sensible homeschooling tips for parents working from home.

Whether your homeschooling attempts are going just fine, or you’ve given up completely, here are some ideas to help children learn that you can fit around the edges of working from home. Continue reading

Great parenting podcasts

picture of headphones illustration list of great parenting podcastsI have always been a radio lover so, for me, podcasts are a natural extension of that, but even better because you get to choose your own programme! Podcasts are brilliant for multi-tasking – you can listen while you are cooking dinner, or walking the dog or commuting. Perfect for time-poor parents. But podcasts are also a wonderful way to relax. To just sit and listen and do nothing else. Which is rather handy during the current high-stress low-options coronavirus lockdown…

The best podcasts give you fresh insights each time. They add real value and learning. But there is also the cosy familiarity of a regular host who you get to know (and bizarrely feel friends with) as time goes on.

Given my job and interests, I gravitate towards parenting podcasts. And, believe me, I have sampled a lot of them! So, to help you cut through the chaff and find the real gems, here is my recommended list of great podcasts for parents. Especially for you. Continue reading

The Work/Parent Switch by Anita Cleare

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?

Anita Cleare, parenting expert, holding a copy of her book The Work/Parent SwitchMost 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

Fun card games for children of all ages (by Ellie Dix)

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of a pack of playing cards as a screen-free pocket-sized boredom buster. And while the coronavirus is keeping us all cooped up indoors, I’m sure I’m not the only parent wracking my brains for games to play with the children. So, I challenged board game expert Ellie Dix to come up with a list of fun card games for children of all ages – and, wow, she came up trumps! Here’s her list:

fun card games for children of all ages picture of Rummy handCard games are a wonderful tool for bringing the family together. A deck of cards is one of the cheapest and most versatile methods of family entertainment available. Cards are quick to set up, portable, easy to store and full of endless possibilities.

Now we are in lockdown and spending far more time together as a family, there has never been a better time to learn some new games and extend the family repertoire. You could even structure an afternoon of home-schooling around playing card games and exploring the maths within them!

It’s easy to underestimate our children’s ability to play more complex games. Younger children may not be able to see all the possible outcomes of their decisions, but they can usually learn the mechanics of how to play and they’ll develop some tactics through playing. So the suggested ages for the card games below are only guidelines.  Dexterity can be an issue, however, so when playing card games where you have to hold your own hand of cards, maybe invest in a card holder for little hands or make your own lego version at home! Continue reading

Helping teenagers through social distancing

I have been having a lot of Twitter chats this week about helping teenagers through social distancing. Firstly, how to convince teenagers to stay at home. Then, how to keep them entertained when they do stay at home. And now, how to manage the emotional fallout when teens are made to stay home.advice for parents helping teenagers through social distancing

The teenage years are all about breaking away from family and finding your feet in the social world. Mates, friends and peers (whether positive or negative) are at the centre a teen’s worldview. Many teenagers reject family activities and parental contact and withdraw to their own peer group or their own private space. Younger siblings are often rejected too (they symbolise the childishness that teenagers need to discard in order to become young adults). So having to stay cooped up inside with only their family to socialise with for an indefinite period of time goes against the grain of a teenager’s development. It’s a delicate situation for parents to manage.

When faced with any tricky parenting issue, it’s always a good idea to listen first and act second. When we stand in our children’s shoes and see the world from their point of view, it’s much easier to find a way to help them. Often, helping children isn’t about parents finding the ‘right’ solution. It’s about supporting children to find their own solution and solve their own problem. Helping teenagers through social distancing is no different.

But what if your teen won’t open up or engage in dialogue? Teenagers who are trying to break away from childhood will often aggressively shield their inner lives and thoughts from their parents as an assertion of independence and separateness. Luckily, I currently have a couple of teenagers in my house who have nowhere to run and not much to do. So I asked if they could give us some insights into being a teen during Covid-19 and some advice for parents helping teenagers through social distancing. Continue reading

Low cost no-prep indoor play ideas for young children

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. indoor play ideas to keep young children entertained

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

How to work from home and look after children at the same time

Working from home sounds like a great idea. There’s no commute, no distractions, you can dress down and you’ll never miss the postman. But what if you have to work from home and look after children at the same time? how to work from home and look after children at the same time With the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic now disrupting travel, childcare and schools, that’s the challenge facing huge numbers of working parents.

Hopefully, employers are going to be flexible and understanding. And, who knows, maybe this is is going to lead to a radical change in the way we all work. But if you are staring down the barrel of a long stretch of combining working from home with looking after children, here are a few ideas that might help: Continue reading

Risk-averse parenting and the fear of being judged

Risk-averse parenting is the modern norm. Children now spend more of their time being supervised, more time inside the house, less time in independent free play. And they are not allowed outside unaccompanied until a much later age. When it comes to children, we live in an Age of Fear. Not being an always-hovering helicopter parent is now a frowned-upon exception.

It is no coincidence that this reduction in tolerance for risk has been accompanied by a more judgmental attitude towards what constitutes good parenting. The list of must-do’s for overstretched parents (who are somehow working more and parenting more) is getting longer and longer. It used to be said that it takes a community to raise a child. Now, it seems, it takes a community to niggle in every parent’s ear about how they should/shouldn’t be raising their child. Risk-averse parenting? Young child wearing a helmet on a bike

In the UK, children’s room to roam has shrunk considerably. Keeping children safe has morphed into keeping them always in sight. The amount of time children now spend indoors and in sedentary activities is damaging their health. And, given that taking manageable risks is a key component in developing resilience, there are concerns that this is also impacting on children’s mental and emotional well-being.

But is it real justifiable threats to children’s safety that are driving this risk-averse-parenting? Or a parental fear of being judged and of coming up lacking? Continue reading

Introducing ‘Whatever Together’

Our crowdfunding campaign has now closed. We raised an amazing £8,500! We are now busy setting up the project to launch as soon as possible. You can keep up to date by following Whatever Together on Twitter (@whatevertogeth1) or Instagram (@whatevertogeth1) or Facebook (@WhateverTogetherCommunity).

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.

Whatever Together from Little Fish Films on Vimeo.

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Managing children’s emotional behaviour

Today’s video post is all about managing children’s emotional behaviour – both little ones and teens. Often, when children are emotional, that comes out as difficult behaviour – behaviour that parents find challenging. And it can be difficult to know what to do. Should you respond to the behaviour? Or to the emotion?

The trick for managing children’s emotional behaviour is actually to do both. Here are a few tips on how you can use reflective and empathetic listening whilst also drawing boundaries around unacceptable actions.

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Parenting as a team (despite different parenting styles)

There is something about caring for children alongside someone else that really highlights your differences. Whether it’s friends, your mother-in-law or your partner, you never really know someone until you share the care of children. Sometimes it’s a good surprise, sometimes not. But we discover things we didn’t know (about others and ourselves) when we are parenting as a team.Parenting as a team - two people holding hands

It might be that you and your partner have radically different parenting styles. It might be that you are co-parenting across the divide of divorce or separation. Or you may be a single parent who relies on friends or family members for support. But understanding who is in your parenting team and finding ways to work with them is crucial.

It’s easy to see when other people are getting parenting ‘wrong’. Usually, this means that they are doing things differently from how you would do it. Or in a way that contradicts your personal values. But (extreme harm aside), there really is no single correct way to parent in any given parenting situation. Within that sweet zone of warmth + boundaries, there is a lot of wriggle room. And a lot of judgement calls to make. Continue reading