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

What’s in your Kids Boredom Kit?

When my children were little I didn’t have a mobile phone. Smartphones hadn’t been invented. (Wow that makes me feel old!). When we were out and about, there wasn’t the option to reach for an i-Phone to keep the children occupied. I had to carry a Kids Boredom Kit.

kids boredom kit dice Alongside snacks for staving off hunger and underpants in case of accidents, my bag always contained bits and pieces to keep the kids engaged in case of down moments or unforeseen delays.

I quickly learned that it’s no good keeping the same old things in a kids boredom kit (or the kids will get bored of it!). Young children love novelty so regularly refreshing the kit with surprises is essential. And, of course, any object in the kit has to be small and multi-functional so it can fit into a bag or pocket and adapt to a variety of uses.

So, for those of you who are a bit younger than me but keen to minimise children’s tech time, here are the secret ingredients of a great boredom kit! Continue reading

Books on parenting teenagers

The teenage years can be a bit of a shock. Logically, of course, you know they are coming. But it’s impossible to predict exactly how your lovely, loving child will change when they hit the teenage years. Or how you will react as a parent when they do.

Parenting teenagers requires us to adapt our parenting style. Some of us come into our element in the teenage years – this period fits well with our natural parenting style. Things that we were doing ‘wrong’ in earlier years become ‘right’ in the teenage years. Others of us get pulled completely out of our comfort zone and everything we have learnt as parents in the preceding decade no longer seems to work.

Whatever your experience, it’s a good time to reach for a book or two to help you understand what’s going on in your teenager’s brain and reflect on your new family dynamics. To help you choose, here’s my take on a selection of the bestselling books on parenting teenagers. Continue reading

How to feed your child to support their learning (by Jo Travers)

Guest post by Jo Travers BSc RD

Supporting children’s learning is a key concern for modern parents. But developing good homework habits and helping children learn their spellings and times tables is not all there is to it. Healthy habits such as exercise, sleep and good nutrition are essential ingredients in academic success. I asked The London Nutritionist Jo Travers to give her top nutrition tips for supporting children’s learning and wellbeing.

Jo Travers: How to feed you child to support their learning

When we look at all the processes involved in learning, brain function and brain development, many of them are reliant on nutrients that we get from our diet. Although the brain is very resilient and can survive if we don’t get everything that we need, for children’s brains to thrive they need to be fed well. Here are my top ‘eating smart’ nutrition tips to support children’s learning:

 

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How to survive long journeys with young children

With school holidays fast approaching, this is the time that parents start to dread the annual holiday exodus. That long haul flight seemed such a good idea when you booked it! (And the 5.30am take off time made it so much cheaper!). Or perhaps you’ve decided to drive to France this year because Granny doesn’t like planes? Long journeys with young children start to look a lot scarier the closer they get. Even a short hop by train to the seaside can seem like a round the world trip when you have a toddler in tow.

Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you long journeys with young children are a breeze if you just follow my advice. But there are definitely a few basic steps you can take that will optimise your chances of surviving the journey with stress levels (largely) below explosion point. Here are my top tips: Continue reading

Parenting on autopilot

Parenting is not something that anyone gets completely right. Like everything else, we learn how to do it by getting it wrong. (Just, hopefully, not too wrong). And there are some common traps that parents frequently fall into – I call these parenting holes. All parents fall into a parenting hole at some point or other.parenting on autopilot

One of these parenting holes is parenting on autopilot. When you are physically there but your mind is well and truly on other things. Present, but absent.

Maybe you are in the house but just too busy with other things to interact with your child. Maybe you are at the park, even pushing your child on a swing, but your head is in your phone and you’re not really listening to anything your child says. Or maybe you are just tired. Or locked inside your own head and worries. You are physically present, but you are not in any meaningful way available to your children. You are parenting on autopilot. Continue reading

Supporting children’s and teenagers’ mental health: resource list

Children and young people’s mental health is hardly out of the news these days (see Crisis in children’s mental health). But often parents are at a loss how best to help and support a child/teenager who is struggling. So I have brought together all in one place this resource list of websites, apps, books and other sources of support for parents/carers of children and young people who are struggling with their mental health. I hope you find it useful. Continue reading

Tips for teaching young children a second language (by Josefina Garcia)

I get asked lots of questions by parents who are either raising their children to be bilingual or teaching them a second language. Since it’s not an area of my expertise, I asked Josefina Garcia to write a guest post with some top tips for parents on teaching a second language to young children.

In our multicultural society, lots of parents are keen for their children to learn a second language. Teaching a second language to your baby, toddler or pre-schooler is easy and it can be an especially rewarding activity if you embark on learning a new language together.

The benefits of learning a second language are well-researched, in early childhood as well as in adulthood. We all want the best for our children, but is trying to introduce a second language at an early age a step too far?

“Science indicates that babies’ brains are the best learning machines ever created, and that infants’ learning is time-sensitive. Their brains will never be better at learning a second language than they are between 0 and 3 years of age,” says co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS (University of Washington Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences) and a UW professor of speech and hearing sciences.

Therefore, yes, babies can learn a second language, even when they aren’t getting the same language exposure at home from bilingual parents.

So how can we best teach a second language to babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers? Here are some tips on what parents can do to help introduce a second language. Continue reading

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