Getting teenagers into a routine

Getting teenagers into a routine is a topic that frequently comes up in my discussions with parents of teenagers. And especially so around exams and during the recent coronavirus homeschooling / lockdown periods. It can be hard to know when to just leave teenagers to it and when to be more directive. 'Getting teenagers into a routine' by parenting expert Anita Cleare - photo of a teenagers lying on the floor listening to music

The answer (as so often) is probably somewhere in the middle – exactly where in the middle will depend on your teenager’s maturity, temperament and motivation.

The great thing about routines is that they can help to establish positive habits. Things like getting up in the morning, getting homework done, exercising regularly and helping out around the house. When you are in a consistent routine, tasks become closer to a habit than a chore. For teenagers, routines help them to develop self-discipline and can help reduce repeated conflict around contentious issues.

So what’s the best way to get your teenager into a positive routine? Continue reading

Helping children set goals

Helping children set goals has huge benefits for their self-esteem. It also teaches them an essential life skill that underpins much academic and workplace success. And, at a time of huge uncertainties (like the current coronavirus pandemic), goal-setting can bolster mental health by giving children a much-needed sense of control and purpose.

Helping children set goals by parenting expert Anita Cleare - picture of toy astronautYou might be thinking, that parenting in a period of radical uncertainty is not the best time to be encouraging children to set goals. And when it comes to investing in ‘process’ goals around specific activities – such as “I will go to the gym three times a week” or “I will get an A in my exam” – we need to be careful. Because process goals depend on factors (like gyms and schools being open) that we can’t control and which are currently highly vulnerable to disruption.

But outcome goals are much more adjustable. Things like “I want to get fitter” or “I want learn more about modern history.” These can be refined and broken down into specifics that can be adjusted according to circumstances. So they are more empowering and flexible and resilient.

Today’s children have a lot of goals set for them by adults. School targets, targets attached to their hobbies and activities, targets dictated by parents. Encouraging children to set their own goals is a brilliant way of building children’s self-esteem. Setting their own goals (and achieving them) is empowering – whereas goals set for children by adults can be daunting (especially if your child lacks self-belief). When children achieve their own goals (no matter how small), they experience a sense of competence and are more likely to try again and to extend their goal.

Helping children set goals (and reach them) requires parents to use lots of coaching questions. It’s best to support the goal-setting process through facilitation rather than direction. Here’s a few key pointers that might help: Continue reading

Parenting in a time of uncertainty

I didn’t imagine myself writing this blog post. It wasn’t on my planner. I’ve spent the last few months writing about the various parenting challenges of Covid-19 (working from home, homeschooling, keeping children entertained and socially distanced etc). And I naively thought we were over it. It’s time to move on, to write about recovery and rebalancing. Time to return to those perennial topics in parenting like managing difficult behaviour and relationship-building.

Anita Cleare, parenting expert, @parenting in a time of uncertainty' photo of girl looking over balconyBut it’s not over, is it? We’ve had a little breathing space to catch up with friends and family (which has been great!). And now there’s a dawning realisation that our lives are still vulnerable and can be knocked off course with no warning whatsoever.

My personal trigger for this realisation has been supporting my son through the disappointment of his first mates-only holiday being threatened with cancellation. The trip had already been rearranged once – but the lifting of lockdown had given us false hope that plans could be relied upon again. To see yet another of his 2020 dreams being dashed has been really hard.

What has finally hit home for me is that we are now parenting in a time of radical uncertainty. And that our usual emotional props and habits are either unavailable or simply inadequate for meeting this challenge.

How do we parent in this chaos? In a way that protects our children’s wellbeing and futures?

I don’t claim to have the answers. But reflecting on this last year – on my own life, the parents I have worked with, the conversations I have had with colleagues – I think there are some key priorities that we – as parents – should be directing our energies towards. Continue reading

Helping children settle back into school post-lockdown

By the time schools reopen in the UK for the new academic year, many children will have been out of school for nearly six months. And many parents are worried about helping children settle back into school after such a long break. The coronavirus has had a huge impact on children’s daily lives. None of us are quite in the same place – practically or emotionally – as we were at the beginning of 2020. Anita Cleare parenting expert 'Helping children settle back into school' photo of boy at desk

Some children can’t wait to get back to school. Some children are excited about it but with a few nerves. And some children are struggling to process their emotions and thoughts after a long period dealing with the risks of a deadly virus. All of those reactions are perfectly normal. Parents also have mixed feelings about the return to school – it’s totally valid to be desperate to get the kids out of the house (so you can get some work done!) while at the same time being concerned about the impact of new rules and new systems on children’s wellbeing and safety.

Whatever your own state of mind, helping children settle back into school requires parents to be calm in our approach, reassuring with our messaging and optimistic about opportunities. Here are a few practical tips to help you put that into practice. Continue reading

How a snow globe can help children self soothe

Young children find abstract concepts difficult. So words like ‘anxiety’ or ’emotion’ can be a bit baffling to them. What do those words actually mean? And how do they help? If your little one is getting overwhelmed by emotions or worries, it’s a really good idea to find more concrete imagery and explanations for them to connect with. Something they can hold in their mind’s eye a little better. A snow globe is one way to do this – and it also helps them learn self soothe strategies to manage those feelings of overwhelm. Here’s how to do it.

Not sure this is the right idea for your child? Watch this free video tutorial for lots more ideas for self soothe strategies.

If your child is worried or anxious, or has trouble sleeping, you might want to consider a mindfulness app for children/teens as a self soothe tool. You will also find lots more strategies, ideas and resources (plus signposting to specialist agencies) in this Supporting children’s and teenager’s mental health resource list.

Follow Anita on Instagram for exclusive video parenting tips.

Mindfulness apps for children and teens

The lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions is positive news in terms of wider opportunities for children to play and reconnecting with friends and family. But many parents and professionals are deeply concerned about the impacts of a long period of social distancing on children and teenagers’ emotional wellbeing. Coming on top of an existing crisis in children’s mental health and already sky high levels of anxiety, emerging from lockdown poses many challenges. Especially for children and teens who were already struggling.mindfulness apps for children and teens picture of app

So what can parents do? One of the best things we can do is to equip children with an understanding of mental health (see Talking to children about mental health) and some concrete strategies for managing their thoughts and emotions in order to reduce stress and anxiety. Guided meditation and mindfulness apps for children and teens are a brilliant resource for helping them train their brains, learn to relax and manage any anxious thoughts. Many mindfulness apps are based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and there is extensive evidence that these strategies work.

Mindfulness apps can help with sleep issues, general worries and just for helping children to wind down at the end of the day, as well as for more entrenched mental or emotional health issues. There are lots of apps on the market – here’s my pick of the best guided meditation and mindfulness apps for children and teens of all ages. Continue reading

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 calm.

Here’s how to do it:

Not sure this is the right idea for your child? Watch this free video tutorial for lots more ideas for self soothe strategies. I also share 3-minute video tips on all sorts of parenting topics on Instagram (@anitacleare).

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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