What are the best toys to buy for children?

I recently took part in some research on what adults think are the best toys to buy for children. best toys to buy for childrenUnsurprisingly, 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

Books for boys who dare to be different

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.

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Best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughter

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

How to help kids become independent: the principle of minimal assistance

If you want to help kids become independent, the principle of minimal assistance is a great motto to parent by. It’s a neat way of ensuring your child gets as little or as much help as they need to learn a new skill. When kids learn to do things for themselves, they feel good about themselves (and you have one less thing to do!). principle of minimal assistance

On the scale of parental assistance, doing a task for your child counts as maximum assistance. Leaving them to get on with it unaided is zero assistance (or full independence). So far, so simple.

The difficulties arise when faced with a task that your child hasn’t yet mastered. Or a complex task that has lots of stages. Like washing your own hair, for example. If your daughter can’t yet wash her hair but you just leave her to get on with it, there is a good chance of an unsuccessful (or uncomfortable) outcome. Shampoo in her eyes, knots and tangles, water on the floor or still dirty hair, to name a few! But take over and do it for her and she will never learn to do it for herself. This is where the principle of minimal assistance comes in.

The principle of minimal assistance is a way to help kids become independent by giving them only the amount of help they actually need in order to learn a new or complex task. Here’s how to do it: Continue reading

Parenting is a two-way relationship

One of the things I encourage parents to do is to see parenting as a relationship between a parent and a child rather than as a one-way activity. That means focusing on building a good relationship with your child and tuning in to how they communicate. Seeing parenting as a two-way relationship not only enriches family life, it opens us up to understanding the influence of children’s innate personalities.parenting as a two way relationship

Modern parents like to think we’re very important. The fashion for blaming parents for how children turn out – or indeed giving credit to parents when kids do well – leads us to believe that we really matter in our children’s lives. That we are the deciding factor. That if we parent ‘right’ then our kids will turn out great. That way of thinking supposes that 1) we can choose how we parent and 2) our kids are totally shaped by their environment. It tends to forget that there is a child in the mix with their own unique fixed set of variables.

Now, there is most definitely evidence from quality research that certain parenting styles and strategies are associated with good outcomes for children. But, equally, there is clear evidence that the genetic factors that predispose children to certain personality traits are also influential on kids’ long term outcomes. Both nature and nurture are at play and parents are only part of the picture. Continue reading

What can sport teach children? (by Eira Parry)

Guest post by Eira Parry

What parents ultimately want for their children is a long and happy life.  We want our young teens to sail into adulthood feeling confident and acquiring all the necessary skills they need before they fly the nest to chase their dreams.  But the reality of this aim, as a parent, can be something quite different. “Easier said than done”, doesn’t really cover it!  It’s so common for life to get in the way, and to suddenly realise that all those things that you meant to accomplish with your 10, 11, 12-year-old are still pending – but they are now 17, 18, 19 and literally about to leave home.

Eira Parry HPPThere are lots of life lessons that we as parents really want to be responsible for teaching children.  You want to impart the benefits of your experience and your core family values to them so that they really know the difference between right and wrong, and the wisest choices to make within the context of your lives.  However, there are also myriad life lessons and skills that you can leave to someone or something else.

Working with sporting parents has shown me what a valuable experience an involvement in sport can offer young people.  There are so many skills that can be gleaned on the field of play which need just a small amount of parental guidance to make them real life-shaping attributes. Continue reading

Storybooks for children about working mums

A client recently asked me to recommend books she could read with her little one about going back to work. But I could only think of one book. I can recommend lots of books for helping children cope with change in general, and lots of books about issues in children’s lives (like starting school and making friends) but I couldn’t think of any storybooks for children about working mums. So I decided to do some research.

It didn’t take long to work out that a) there are not many books out there on this topic and b) that’s probably because it’s a complete minefield. After all, merely the act of writing a storybook about mums going to work presupposes that this is unusual or problematic, that it will cause issues for children that need to be dealt with. There are no books about dads going to work so why should there be storybooks for children about working mums? Mums work, end of story.

Indeed, the one book that does jump out on this topic (My Working Mom by Peter Glassman)has been widely vilified as insulting and offensive. The working mum character in this book is a witch who is either never there or turns up late and generally fails in all her child’s wishes and expectations (though the moral of the story is that her daughter loves her anyway). Do check out the reviews on Amazon if you fancy a bile fest!

But, having said that, the fact that a client had asked me to recommend something suggests that there is a need for storybooks that will prompt conversations with young children about the world of work and why adults go to work. Children are often baffled about what we do all day! And when things aren’t going well, due to separation anxiety or childcare issues for example, it’s easy to turn on the guilt and get trapped into emotional messages. Having a storybook to frame some blame-free conversations might really help sometimes. Continue reading

Why we need to let teens do stuff for themselves (aka the case of the teenager and the birthday cheque)

It’s easy to forget how little teenagers know about the world. Partly because they look so grown up and partly because they have that know-it-all attitude. But, in reality, they are only half emerged from the cocoon of childhood where parents did everything for them.let ttens do things for themselves

I was reminded of this remarkable lack of real-world knowledge a few weeks back when my teenager got a cheque from his Grandmother. When the cheque fell out of the birthday card, he picked it up and looked at me with that “I have no idea what this is” look on his face.

It wasn’t the first time he’d received a cheque. When they were younger, Grandma used to send cheques addressed to me and I would deposit them in my account and give the kids cash in return. Last year, Grandma had a bit of a senior moment and forgot to post a card in time. So I texted her my son’s newly opened bank account details and she did a quick bank transfer instead.

This year, she wrote the cheque out directly to my son. And he looked at it, completely blankly. “What do I do with this?” he asked. Continue reading

Positive parenting: using consequences for misbehaviour

One of the key ways that children learn is through cause and effect. “I do X and Y happens – I like Y so I will do X again. I do W and Z happens – I don’t like Z therefore I won’t do W again.” Positive parents use consequences for misbehaviour to discourage children from unacceptable behaviour. consequences for misbehaviour

The purpose of a consequence is not to punish a child or to make them feel bad. The purpose of a consequence is to provide an outcome that is less desirable than if your child had chosen a different course of action. As parents, we are structuring children’s choices so that next time they are more likely to choose the right path.

Using consequences for misbehaviour helps children learn to stick to essential boundaries such as not hitting or shouting or lying. But don’t overdo it and slip into ‘policeman’ parenting. Positive parents impose consequences when needed but aim to spend as much time as possible using reinforcing strategies (such as praise and attention) to encourage the right behaviour.

Consequences for misbehaviour work best when they are: Continue reading

Parents and the zone of proximal development (ZPD)

The Zone of Proximal Development – it’s a bit of a mouthful but, bear with me, this is something all parents need to know about. The ZPD is a grand term for a simple idea that can really help parents to support children’s learning.zone of proximal development

The zone of proximal development is the difference between a child’s current level of competence (unaided) and their potential level of competence if supported by an adult or by a more expert child. It’s the difference between what they can do now and what they would be able to do with a little assistance.

Children develop their skills most when they are working within their zone of proximal development. If a task is too easy, it won’t stretch them. But if it is too difficult, they experience too much failure and they can’t learn. Kids need to experience a certain level of success or progress to keep them motivated and engaged.

For parents, understanding ZPD is all about providing the right level of challenge and giving support that will help children move beyond their current developmental level. But not making things so difficult that a task is completely beyond them. Continue reading

What to do if a child has an allergic reaction (by Ashley Mills)

Guest post by Ashley Mills

There have been lots of stories in the news recently about children suffering from allergic reactions.  These are predominantly about kids who know they are allergic to certain things. However, it’s equally important to know what to do if a child has a reaction to something when they haven’t yet been diagnosed.

Allergic reactions can vary greatly in severity. They can be scary both for the child and the parent. The fear factor is high because something is happening to the child’s body that neither they nor their parent can control. So knowing what to do is crucial.

Allergic reactions can develop at any age, not just in early childhood.  Allergies can be triggered by skin or airborne contact, injection (e.g. medication or insect/sting) or swallowing. Allergic reactions can develop within seconds or minutes of contact with the trigger factor, so recognising that someone is having a reaction and helping to alleviate the symptoms can be vital. Continue reading

Book Review: How the child’s mind develops (by David Cohen)

David Cohen’s How the Child’s Mind Develops is quite an academic read so probably best for parents who have a very keen interest in children’s cognitive development. But if you are that way inclined, this book gives a really good overview of key issues and ideas in developmental psychology. It covers huge ground in a level of detail ideal for those without a deep knowledge of cognitive development theories but with an interest in children and/or psychology.

Cohen kicks off with a summary of the methodological difficulties in studying developmental psychology. How we can research babies’ brains when they have no language for expressing their thoughts or preferences? Given the over-interpretation of much psychological research in the popular media, this is a great antidote to our tendency to jump to big conclusions from methodologically dodgy ground. Continue reading

Positive parenting: ignoring children’s misbehaviour

As parents, the most powerful tool we have in our parenting toolbox is our attention. Children tend to repeat behaviour that gets our attention. So, logically, doing the opposite and ignoring children’s misbehaviour ought to mean that they are less likely to repeat that behaviour.

Ignoring children’s misbehaviour is certainly a powerful positive parenting strategy. But it needs to be used wisely. Here’s a quick guide to when ignoring misbehaviour works best and when not to do it.

Ignoring misbehaviour works really well when children are young

ignoring children's misbehaviourVery young children don’t have the language skills to understand complex explanations as to why they should/shouldn’t do something. But they are particularly prone to repeating behaviour that gets their parents’ attention. Just think of the toddler who keeps going back to press their nose against the television (with a big grin on their face) no matter how many times they are told “No!”. Ignoring a toddler’s or pre-schooler’s minor misdemeanours can be a very effective way to discourage them. It can also work well with older children who are behaving just like toddlers! Continue reading

Book review: Calm Parents, Happy Kids (Dr Laura Markham)

There are things I love about Calm Parents, Happy Kids by Dr Laura Markham. And things that wind me up enormously. The key messages are mainly sound (with a few exceptions) but the US style of delivery horribly grates on my British nerves. I suspect it’s a bit of a Marmite book – which side you end up on will probably depend on how you feel about self-help books in general.

The things that wind me up? Mainly, it’s the constant repetition. In the style of many self-help books, the text follows the pattern of 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them. 2. Tell them. 3. Tell them what you have just told them. Messages are heralded, summarised and repeated again and again. (Have you got it yet? Yes, I got it the first time!). You are certainly not going to finish this book without understanding what it’s saying! Continue reading

Step-by-step guide to choosing school holiday childcare (by Lynne Newman)

Continuing a series of posts by guest experts, I asked holiday club expert Lynne Newman to give her advice on how parents can go about choosing school holiday childcare and the factors they should consider.choosing school holiday childcare

The long summer holidays are so exciting for children. But for many working parents, juggling 6 weeks of childcare makes this a really stressful time of year. How do working parents go about choosing school holiday childcare? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

If you are lucky you might have an employer who will consider a flexible working arrangement. Or, even luckier, very obliging Grandparents nearby. If not, then the first step is to do your research to find out what is available. Here are the main options (cheapest first): Continue reading