Have you heard about National Citizen Service (NCS)?

NCSFinding ways to keep teens occupied in the summer holidays isn’t easy. Too old for holiday clubs but not always mature enough to be left to their own devices, I have often found myself scrabbling around for ideas to tear teens off tech that will also positively support their transition into young adulthood.

This summer, I am facing the additional challenge of an extra long post-GCSE summer break. My Year 11 will have nearly three and a half months off this summer. And so far he’s showing no signs of wanting to do anything productive with one of the longest holidays of his life!

Which is where National Citizen Service (NCS) comes in. NCS is a government backed scheme established in 2011 which is open to 16 and 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland. It’s a two to four week summer programme which includes outdoor team-building exercises, a residential and a community-based social action project. The idea is to challenge teens and develop their life skills and leadership potential. Continue reading

Why consistency in parenting is so important

I can’t imagine there is a parent out there who hasn’t heard that consistency in parenting is important. But why is consistency so important? How can we achieve it? And how do we know when to stick to our word and when to be flexible?

Because, let’s face it, some days consistent parenting is easier than others. When you are well rested, unstressed and have had a good day, sticking to your plan in the face of a protesting child is achievable. But what are the chances of you being well rested and unstressed as a parent of a young child? (Or indeed of a partying teenager!)

And what about consistency between parents? How am I supposed to make consistent parenting decisions with a partner who is so clearly wrong?! Not to mention Grandparents who ignore your rules and feed the children sweets on demand. Or those hours that they spend in childcare.

Consistency in parenting is important but it isn’t always easy. Here’s why you should be aiming for it and how to make it happen. Continue reading

Encouraging co-operation: how to get children to do what they’re asked!

encouraging co-operation in childrenHe 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

Talking to children about mental health

All children need to know about mental health. They need to know how to look after their minds as well as their bodies. They need to know that it is possible to feel mentally unwell as well as physically unwell. And what to do if that happens. They need to know that people can and do recover from mental illnesses. Talking to children about mental healthAnd they need strategies for supporting their friends to stay emotionally healthy and to be alert to others’ signs and needs. Talking to children about mental health gives a strong signal that mental health matters.

Many mental health issues first emerge in the teenage years. Half of adults with mental health conditions experienced their first symptoms before the age of 15. Approximately 10% of young people will experience a mental or emotional health issue each year – that’s three teenagers in every class. A teenage boy is more likely to die by suicide than to die in a road traffic accident. Talking to children about mental health from an early age makes it more likely they will talk to you if things get tough. Continue reading

Building a family team spirit

There are lots of business theories about the science of team building. My favourite (mainly due to its simplicity) is the GRPI model. According to this model, in order for a team to be effective, it needs these four elements:

building a family team spirit

The GRPI Model of Team Effectiveness Rubin Plovnick Fry Model 1977

  1. Goals, priorities and expectations which are clearly communicated
  2. Roles and responsibilities for every team member
  3. Processes and procedures for making decisions and getting the work done
  4. Interpersonal relationships which are high quality, trusting and flexible

Families are a lot like teams. At their best, families have a unique team spirit which creates a sense of belonging and unity and shared goals.

At their worst, it feels like everybody is pulling in different directions, one person is doing all the work and everyone is arguing all the time….

Which got me thinking. What could we learn from business to help family team building in our own homes? Continue reading

Creating a mentally healthy family life

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:

mentally healthy family life

www.actionforhappiness.org

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What is free play and why is it important?

There has been a lot in the press recently about the role of digital technology in children’s lives and whether kids are becoming addicted to screens and smart phones. There is no doubt that children are spending more time on digital devices and from a much younger age.importance of free play Exactly what the impact of that will be on children’s brains is still not fully understood. But what worries me most is not what the screens are doing to our children but what our children aren’t doing because they are on screens. And the biggest loser is free play.

Free play is a special type of play that is child-led and child-driven. During free play, children (not adults) choose what they want to do, how they want to do it and when they want to stop. It’s not an organised activity – think bored Sunday afternoons building dens out of sofa cushions rather than tennis lessons. Free play has no externally set learning goals, it is self-directed learning fuelled by fun and curiosity.

Why is free play important?

Play is the most important thing a child can do. Play builds children’s brains. Babies are born with a brain full of cells called neurons which look a bit like pieces of string. By interacting with their environment and having experiences, these neurons become associated together and link up into pathways which store knowledge and skills. Through repeated experimentation, children learn the fundamental principles of the universe – that water flows and objects fall to the ground, that some things fit inside other things and that pebbles sink. No matter how many times a child sees a plane on the TV (or travels in one), she will really learn how air holds up flying objects by tying her dolls to makeshift plastic bag parachutes and throwing them down the stairs… Continue reading

Book review: Delusions of Gender (by Cordelia Fine)

Cordelia Fine Delusions of GenderWhen it comes to gender, science has got a poor track record. Across the centuries there has been a consistent tendency for scientists to come to big conclusions about the differences between men and women, boys and girls, based on pretty flimsy evidence. And usually these have been conclusions which conveniently justify existing inequalities and the power status quo.

Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: the real science behind sex differences sets out to systematically challenge and dismantle this neuroscientific sexism that uses skewed science to prove that women are inherently more suited to caring roles and men to action and objective decision-making. But the brilliance of the book is that she does it, not through ideology but by unpicking centuries of flawed scientific methods and unconscious bias. Taking on the scientists at their own game. Continue reading

Top tips for stress-free play dates

Lots of parents find hosting play dates stressful. Especially when you don’t know the other parent/child well. Or when there is a risk of behaviour getting out of hand. Is it ok to step in and discipline someone else’s child? At what age can I expect the other parent to stay or just to drop off? What if there are tears or tantrums? Hosting play dates is, frankly, a bit of a minefield!stress-free play dates

But play dates are really important for helping children develop social skills. Children only learn to share and play co-operatively and resolve disputes if they are given opportunities to practise. Learning how to be a good friend is essential for children’s social and emotional development. Friendships promote empathy and form a template for future relationships. Play dates provide a really important framework for children to socialise and build friendships outside school/nursery. And they can also be a great opportunity for parents to build friendships too.

Here are my top tips for hosting stress-free play dates and avoiding pitfalls: Continue reading

What would your children change about you?

Sometimes it can feel like a lot of parenting is about trying to change our children. To change their behaviour, change their habits, change their attitudes. Having just come out of a rocky set of Year 11 GCSE mock exams, believe me, I have a long list of things I would like my teenage son to stop doing – and plenty I would like him to start doing instead!

But, to be fair, I am sure he could say the same of me. In fact, I know he could. He has told me often enough over the last few weeks to get off his back. And, it being New Year and a time for reflection and resolutions, that got me thinking, What would my kids change about me if they could?

So, I asked my children to write five New Year’s Resolutions. But for me, not for them. What did they think I should do differently next year?

The results were really surprising.  Continue reading

Books to help children cope with change

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:
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Children’s books about shyness

Reading books with children is a great way to start conversations about topics they might find difficult. Whether you have a shy child or just want to help your confident child develop empathy, reading children’s books about shyness helps children to reflect on big themes like courage, friendship and kindness.

Parents often worry about shy children missing out on friendships and opportunities. The best children’s books about shyness give the clear message that there is nothing wrong with being shy. But that sometimes shyness can get in the way of enjoyable or important things. And that sometimes, we all have to do something a little difficult in order to open the door to a new and wonderful experience.

Here are five sympathetic children’s books about shyness that tell stories about overcoming social anxieties to achieve something special. Continue reading

A positive parenting approach to Christmas

positive parenting ChristmasChristmas 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

Give presence (not just presents) this Christmas

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.presence not presents

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

Parents: how not to shout

As parents, we all know that shouting isn’t a great idea. None of us embarked on parenting with ‘Shouty Mum/Dad’ as our ideal destination. But somewhere along the way, we get sucked into it. Especially when nothing else seems to work and the kids just won’t do as they are told. Most of us shout because we don’t know how not to shout.how not to shout

Shouting simply models to children that raising your voice is an appropriate way to get what you want. Usually, it starts off as a last resort – we ask calmly, we ask calmly, we ask calmly again. And when we still get ignored after all that asking, we end up shouting.

But shouting can quickly become a habitual dynamic. The children learn that Mum/Dad doesn’t really mean it until they start shouting. And Mum/Dad learns that they might as well just go straight to shouting because that’s the only thing that ever works.

Whether you’re stuck in the shouty parenting trap or just keen to avoid it, here are some simple tips on how not to shout. Continue reading