Whether your child is 8 or 18, tests and exams can be a stressful time. Supporting children through exams is all about reducing stress, optimising well-being and putting good study processes in place. Parents have a key role to play in creating the right environment for learning and helping children to structure their revision time productively.
We all want our children to do well but there is a difference between support and pressure. Parents need to support children to develop good study habits but avoid pressurising them into a state of heightened anxiety in which learning just flies out of your brain. For some children, exam periods will involve a lot of parental nudging to galvanise them into action. For others, it means helping them stay calm with reassurance, distraction and relaxation strategies. Or perhaps, a combination of both approaches!
Here are my top tips for supporting children through exams. Continue reading
Learning how to recognise a good friend (and to be one) is an important part of childhood. All children experience some ups and downs in friendships. Parents can play an important role in helping children manage friendship problems by helping them think about why their friends might be behaving in a particular way and discussing what qualities and actions show that someone is a good friend.
Snuggling up with a storybook can be a great way to talk through friendship issues sensitively with young children and introduce new ideas. And for older children, who want to think about issues for themselves, books can be a safe space to work through thoughts, scenarios and emotions. Here are my recommendations for really good books for helping children manage friendship problems. Continue reading
Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post call ‘Grieving The Loss Of Childhood: Hurtful Teenage Years‘. It was a deeply personal outpouring of grief about the enormous sense of loss and heartbreak that come when teenagers push you away.
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
I found myself crying in the car last night. Truly blubbering. I had just dropped my teenage son off at his girlfriend’s house – well, around the corner from her house. I’d pulled over a few hundred yards early to give us a moment to finish our conversation and he’d got out and stormed off. (And, when I say ‘conversation’, you know what I really mean is argument…)
I calmed myself down, drove home and accepted his conciliatory hug this morning. But why was I so very upset? It was a stupid argument about tidying his bedroom, one we’ve had a hundred times before with much less drama. But as I sat crying in the car, I was really hurting. My brain was quick-firing with all the things my son had done that had hurt me – a litany of blatant unkindnesses all the more outrageous and undeserved given the hours of love, thought and lift-giving that I plough into his life.
The Mother of All Jobs: how to have children and a career and stay sane(ish) by Christine Armstrong is either a hotchpotch of a book or a treasure trove, I’m still not sure which. It ranges from social campaigning to baby-planning to marital advice to childcare options with a single thread pulling it all together: how to combine children and a career with some semblance of sanity for all involved.
It’s easy to read and digest, and the breadth of topics kept me interested. Christine Armstrong’s dispassionate and unflinching honesty about the challenges in combining a career and motherhood quickly strips away all illusions about how easy it is to ‘have it all’. I imagine it would be a real wake-up call to anyone planning a baby or heading back to work after maternity leave. If you are struggling to combine work and parenting, this book will reassure you that you are not alone and not at fault. Continue reading
I was recently asked to contribute insights for some research on modern family dynamics. I concluded that the modern parenting experience can be summed up by a simple equation:
Lack of time and energy + wanting to be a good parents = stress.
Modern parents are labouring under a double whammy. We are working more and parenting more. We are desperate to be good parents but with so many demands on our time and energy, many of us feel like we are running just to stand still.
The fact is that most parents in the UK now work. Our working days have got longer and we commute further to work. That is a huge demand on parents’ energy and mental resources and most of us are stressed and exhausted before we start the evening parenting shift.
Yet we are a generation of parents who believe that being a good parent really matters. We want to get it right. We want to be hands-on and engaged. And we want to be seen to be succeeding at parenting (even if we don’t feel that we are). In the past, being a good parent felt simpler. It meant giving basic things like love and shelter and food and warmth, making sure the kids went to school and telling them right from wrong.
Being a good parent doesn’t feel so simple these days. Continue reading
Guest post by Liz Driver
Looking after yourself is one of the key principles of positive parenting. But it’s also often the first thing that falls off the radar when things get hectic. Being a working parent requires an endless supply of energy, so (as my gift to you!) I asked nutritional therapist Liz Driver for her tips on where we can all find a bit of extra energy to get us through the day.
It’s that time of year when everything feels a bit, well, grey. Christmas is long gone, the weather is cold and spring still feels like a dot on the horizon. Add in the challenges of work and parenting and it’s no surprise that a lot of us are suffering from a lack of energy and feeling tired all the time!
We’re currently going through a bit of an energy crisis in the UK. More and more of us are juggling conflicting priorities, the lines between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred and whilst technology can be a great enabler, it can also form a source of distraction and angst. No wonder a recent survey showed that only 56% of UK employees feel energised at work.
When we’re busy, it can be much harder to prioritise focussing on our own health. However, small changes can make a huge difference overall. Here are some simple strategies you can introduce to help improve your energy levels. Continue reading
Grandparents can play a wonderful role in children’s lives and they make a unique contribution to families. They can bring love, support, perspective, fun, free time and an extra pair of hands or listening ear. But relationships between parents and grandparents can also be fraught. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel judged, undermined or intruded upon by grandparents’ family interactions. And if you are lucky enough to have them close by, managing grandparents can become an ongoing challenge.
Here’s my quick guide to managing grandparents, common conflicts and how to resolve them.
Sibling conflict can really spoil family time. Constant bickering or relentless competitiveness can really wear on parents’ nerves. Yes, there are parenting strategies you can use to tackle rivalry between siblings (see Sibling conflict: a survival guide for parents), but sometimes a more subtle approach is useful too. Like snuggling up with story books about sibling rivalry and seeing where the conversation leads you. Using children’s books to tackle sibling rivalry helps children think more deeply and independently about relationships, about how other people feel and how to manage their emotions. Here’s my list of the best children’s books about sibling rivalry.
(These are books for siblings who are already here. If you want to prepare your child for the arrival of a new baby, check out these Books for preparing toddlers for new babies.) 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
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
I woke up this morning with a hideous cold so today feels like exactly the right day to be writing about self-care ideas for busy parents. When you are a parent (especially a working parent), it’s easy for stress to get the better of you. We often deprioritise our own relaxation and wellbeing because there is simply so much to do and so little time. We can feel guilty taking time out for ourselves. And the people around us forget to help because they get used to us always helping them.
But, ultimately, neglecting self-care is self-defeating. Because that ‘To Do’ list really is neverending (there will always be something left on it). And when we don’t look after ourselves, we quickly deplete our resources for looking after others and for being the calm consistent parent we aspire to be. Stress negatively impacts parenting and by deprioritising ourselves, we make everything harder not easier.
I’m not suggesting that you take a whole weekend off or head off for a spa day (though that would definitely be nice!). Even just tiny bits of self-care time can a big difference. Looking after yourself is about small daily choices and little snippets of time rather than just occasional big breaks. Here’s a selection of 5-60 minute simple self-care ideas for busy parents. Continue reading
I recently took part in some research on what adults think are the best toys to buy for children. Unsurprisingly, Lego was considered the top ‘classic toy’ that all children should have. Play Doh came out second highest (which was a bit of a shocker as so many parents curse it for getting into the carpet!). In general, bikes, puzzles, board games and balls were considered the top types of toys that all children should have. Which is not a bad list.
But it got me thinking. I am absolutely passionate about the role of play in child development (see What is free play and why is it important?) and the role of play in building family relationships (see Why play is good for parents as well as children). And I also love a list challenge! So, here is my guide to the best toys to buy for children. Continue reading
Children’s books are jam-packed with gender stereotypes. Boys play football, fight dragons, get into trouble and marry princesses. If you want to offer the boys in your life a slightly wider choice of role models, it’s a good idea to seek out books which go against the grain. Especially if they are feeling a bit of an odd-one-out.
Here’s my selection of brilliant books that offer diverse male role models and emphasise the positives in taking a different route from everyone else.
Have you read any Young Adult fiction recently? Because, seriously, YA fiction is where it’s all happening. Strong characters, gripping plots, imaginative worldscapes – the best YA books are packed with all the juiciest elements of fiction. Perfect for inspiring teenage daughters to take on life at full tilt. Here’s my pick of the best!
(Obviously, all these books can be read by boys too. I just think that these particular books have strong female characters with the kind of bravery and resourcefulness that I would wish for every teenage girl to carry her through to adulthood and beyond.) Continue reading