Book Review: The Incredible Teenage Brain

It’s not often that I wholeheartedly recommend a parenting book. I can usually find something I disagree with… Or that I think could have been clearer/included/left out. But, parents of teenagers, this is actually a really good book! The Incredible Teenage Brain by Bettina Hohnen, Jane Gilmour and Tara Murphy is perfectly pitched. It’s an easy-to-read neuroscientific guide to teenagers with practical tips that parents and teachers can take away and apply. Will it make parenting your teenager easy? No. But it might help you understand him/her a little more and see how you can best be supportive.

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the physical side of the book – its size, font, spacing etc. The font is large and friendly, there are lots of spaces and subtitles, plus Q&As, illustrations and tables. All of which make it very easy to follow, despite the in depth neuroscience. The text is accessible without dumbing down the issues. Continue reading

The importance of making memories

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of making memories. What with the end of the decade and the departure of my eldest son for university, I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with holding onto memories of my kids as little ones. And also, if I’m honest, a little fearful about how many more opportunities there will be (or won’t be) to make new family memories.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year Resolutions as I’m not convinced they lead to real change. But I do like to set my kids a bit of a challenge to mark the New Year. You might remember, a couple of years ago I asked them to write my New Year Resolutions for me with interesting results! This year, I asked them to come up with their five favourite family moments from last year.

As usual, what I thought was a bright and clever idea taught me a salutary lesson in teenage priorities. “Five?!” they said. And scratched their heads. I could see them wracking their memory banks for a single important event last year at which I was present. They could remember lots of great times, but none of them included family! In the end, the eldest came up with four rather vague memories (one of which actually happened in 2018 and the other was being dropped off at university – a double-edged sword of a family memory for sure!). The youngest cribbed two memories from his brother, made one up that I know he hated and concluded “We need to do more 🙁 .”

Aaagh! As if I hadn’t been desperately trying to get him to join in with family life for the whole year!

Continue reading

Preparing teenagers for leaving home: checklist

The teenage years are a time when parental focus shifts away from creating a happy childhood towards ensuring our children have the skills and knowledge they need to become happy and successful young adults. An essential part of this process is equipping young people to thrive outside the protection and comforts of our family. And that means actively preparing teenagers for leaving home.ideas for boosting children's resilience teenager in a big box

Every teen matures at a slightly different rate. But promoting independence isn’t just about our teenager’s maturity. Parents have a huge role to play. Preparing teenagers for leaving home requires us as parents to actively change our expectations of our children and start treating them as the young adults we want them to become. And that means doing less for them and expecting more from them. We do our children no favours if we send them out into the adult world unable to manage for themselves!

Teaching new skills to children of any age requires parents to:

  1. Model the skill (show them how it’s done)
  2. Aid supported practice (do it alongside them)
  3. Facilitate independent production (step back and give them opportunities to do it alone).

When it comes to teenagers, that means:

  1. Having appropriate expectations as to what they are capable of (not under-expecting or doing everything for them)
  2. Allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them (not rescuing them from every risk of failure)
  3. Understanding what might motivate them to take on new responsibilities (standing in their shoes).

Preparing teenagers for leaving home involves building their practical skills, their thinking skills, their organisational skills and their knowledge of the world and the way it works. Here are a few tips for how you can best prepare teens for independence in the big wide world. Continue reading

12 ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet

Getting outside is great for everyone’s well-being. And children love the outdoors because it’s always changing – every time you step outside your front door is a little different from the last. outdoor play when it's cold or wet: picture of mushrooms in the woodsMaybe there are fallen leaves where there weren’t any before? Or perhaps there’s a wind blowing into your face? Or puddles where before it was dry? Children love novelty. But sometimes adults can lack a little imagination when it comes to ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet….

The great thing about outdoor play is that it doesn’t matter if you make a mess. So, avoid tidy up time by investing in waterproofs and a warm hat. Then head outside and take the opportunity to get stuck into nature no matter what the weather throws at you. Here are 12 top ideas for outdoor play when it’s cold or wet that children of all ages (and their parents) can enjoy. Continue reading

5 tips for maintaining a good relationship with your teenager

I have had absolutely no time to write this week, so here’s a quick video blog instead on how to maintain a good relationship with your teenager. If you are interested in this topic, you might also like to read my top tips on communicating with teenagers.

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©Anita Cleare 2019

The Ultimate Christmas Booklist

As regular readers will know, I review lots of books for children and parents on this blog. Which means I read a lot of books too! So, in my continual efforts to make your busy lives just that little bit easier, I have done all the hard work for you and come up with a Christmas list of the best books to buy for all the children and parents in your life. Think of it as my Christmas gift to you 🙂

For teenage girls

It has to be Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It’s just brilliant, trust me. And while you’re at it, buy a copy for your sister and best friend too. It’s technically a ‘Young Adult’ book, but it was the best book I’d read all year when I discovered it. (See Best brave novels to inspire your teenage daughter for more suggestions). Continue reading

Book Review: The Board Game Family, by Ellie Dix

If you are looking for a way to tear your kids away from their tablets and consoles in order to have some quality family time, then board games are a great option. But where do you start? And how do you go about engaging your kids in a board game when the lure of computer games is so powerful? The Board Game Family by Ellie Dix has all the answers.

Ellie Dix is clearly a big fan of board games and her enthusiasm is infectious. But she is also a realist. There are no illusions here that your children will skip happily to the kitchen table for a three-hour Sunday afternoon board game just because Mum or Dad thinks it’s a good idea! There a some brilliant stealth tactics for how you can subtly get your kids interested by leaving games lying around (pretend you are having a clear out!). Or by solo playing to tempt their interest. These are ideas that might just work, too. Continue reading

Raising Kind Kids

When I ask parents what their parenting goals are, raising kind kids is usually somewhere near the top of the list. raising kind kids - picture of stick man holding a heartYoung children are capable of wonderful acts of compassion. But it takes time for them to develop social skills and to learn to step into someone else’s shoes. Raising kind kids is not a quick-fix project – and all kids will make mistakes along the way.

In order to learn kindness, children need an understanding of what kindness looks like. They need to see it in action and to have it pointed out to them (both in real life and in books or stories). They need opportunities to practise being kind and lots of positive reinforcement for doing kind things. Parents can really help in this process by modelling kind behaviour, praising children for their kind acts, talking about kindness and providing lots of opportunities for children to practise getting it right. Here are a few specific ideas that can really help. Continue reading

Children’s books about divorce and separation (2-7yrs)

Helping children through divorce and separation isn’t easy and there are no pain-free solutions. Being strong and calm and rational at a time when emotions are running away from you can be a real challenge. Reading children’s books about divorce and separation can really help by introducing new ideas to little ones and normalising new living arrangements.

Snuggling up with a book is a good way to broach the difficult emotions that can come with family changes. It gives children a chance to ask questions and raise issues indirectly using the book’s characters. And it can reinforce key messages about children still being loved and not being at fault despite any big changes.

There are lots of children’s books about divorce and separation out there, so do have a good browse to find ones that will suit your family best. Here are a few of my favourites for children aged 2-7 years. Continue reading

Should I use Time Out?

There is a lot of contradictory advice out there about Time Out as a parenting strategy. upside down cartoon figure: should I use time out?Should parents use it? Does it work? Is it harmful? At what age should I use Time Out? Time Out has certainly had a bad press recently, but what does the evidence actually say? And what are the alternatives? (You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet!). So, to help you cut through the opinions and make an informed decision, I have pulled together the research and arguments, alongside some links to trustworthy explanations. Here’s what you need to think about:

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When teenagers do stupid things? Don’t panic!

Upside down car (when teenagers do stupid things)People assume that because I advise parents on parenting, I must be a fantastic parent myself – which I’m not. I’m just like you. I get some things right, I get some things wrong. I have inspirational days and some real howlers. I’m always trying to do my best but only sometimes succeeding.

And nor do I have perfect children. My teenagers are just like everyone else’s (and uncomfortably similar to me as a teenager!). They face the same challenges and struggle with the same demons. They have fallen at some hurdles, and risen to others. And they don’t like to listen to their mother.

Like most parents, I judge myself harshly when my not-perfect teens don’t listen to their not-perfect mother and do not-perfect things. But then I heap on an extra spoonful of guilt because I am a parenting coach and somehow that means I ought to get everything right…

One of the problems with modern parenting is that we tend to believe that good kid = good parent and that bad kid = bad parent. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have read the words “I blame the parents” in comments about teenage antisocial behaviour on social media. But bad kid = bad parent is a simplification beyond the point of usefulness. Worse, when it comes to teenagers, it’s potentially harmful.

Because bad kid = bad parent is the kind of thinking that makes parents of teenagers panic. And when we panic, we usually overreact. And we forget that teenagers have a tendency to make big stupid mistakes even when they’ve had good parenting. Continue reading

Children’s books that celebrate diversity

Differences really matter to children. Young children have to make sense of the world in a very short space of time. To do that, they use a lot of categorical thinking in which they allocate people or things into groups. This has huge advantages in terms of being able to organise information efficiently in their brains but it can throw up some very direct questions (“What’s wrong with that boy’s hand?“) and some incorrect assumptions (“Amrita’s skin is brown because her mummy stayed out in the sun too long.“) while they try to work through it all.

Children’s books that celebrate diversity in an active and warm way are hugely helpful for An example of children's books that celebrate diversity: Different is Awesometalking to children about diversity issues and for promoting an inclusive mindset. Not only can these messages help children value the people around them, they also send a strong signal about their own personal value as uniquely different individuals, helping to build self-esteem and confidence as well as friendship and emotional skills.

Here are my personal favourite children’s books that celebrate diversity. (If I have left your favourite off the list, please do comment below and share it with us all!). Continue reading

Book Review: He’s Not Lazy (by Adam Price)

If you have a teenage son who is not doing as well as you think he should be at school, you must read He’s Not Lazy: Empowering your son to believe in himself by Adam Price. If you have one, you’ll know the type of boy I mean. The boy who doesn’t bother with homework or just dashes it off at the last minute. Who refuses to take responsibility for his schoolwork unless you trawl through his bag to make sure it gets done. The boy languishing in a lower set than his ability. The ‘could-try-harder’ boy who is too cool, too busy, or too engrossed in his Xbox to put in the hours on his academics.

If this is your son, then this is the book to help you step back, figure out what’s going on, and get yourself off the treadmill that is sustaining his behaviour. Continue reading

3 Study Skills to Develop in Your Child This Year (by James Davey)

James Davey the Exam Coach logoThis is a guest post by James Davey.

As school starts up again it’s important to mention the key study skills which will put your child in the best position to succeed this academic year. For the past 5 years, I’ve worked with students in all types of schools helping them to improve their study techniques and smartphone management in order to achieve exam success. Here are three study skills I’ve learned often pay off the most when it comes to exam day.

1. Deliberate Goal Setting

The best students I’ve worked with are goal setters. Though they may not say so themselves. To them, it might just be simple list making or consciously directing oneself what to do on a day to day basis. Either way, they are thinking through deliberate choices and taking action on them. It starts with deciding what grades they want to achieve at the very beginning of the year and writing them down in places they will see them often. For example, the inside covers of textbooks, in their smartphone notes and on post-it notes which are then stuck on places such as the bedroom door and bathroom mirror. Continue reading

Talking PANTS with your children

NSPCC PANTS activity packLots of parents worry about stranger danger. We are bombarded by media stories about sex offenders and it can feel like the danger of abuse is lurking around every corner. But keeping our children locked up at home isn’t an option and it wouldn’t be good for them if we could. Children need free play and room to roam to build their brains and become independent. The absolute best we can do for our children is to give them the knowledge to keep themselves safe.

Talking to young children about issues like sexual abuse without frightening them is a daunting task. (Talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships in general can make many of us squirm!). Luckily, the NSPCC have come up with the absolutely fantastic PANTS campaign which has been specifically developed to help parents talk to young children about keeping themselves safe. There is an activity pack including tips and advice on the kinds of questions children might ask. And a song you can teach your children to gently introduce the idea that the parts of their bodies covered by their pants are private (and what they should do if anyone ever asks to see or touch them). Continue reading