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How to Choose a Tutor: Do your homework to help with your child’s homework

Since so many parents ask me how to go about finding a tutor for their child, I invited the founder of a tutoring agency I know well to share her thoughts.

The start of the Autumn term is always a time for change and often, with change, comes panic. With your children starting new school years, schools and subjects, the September thrills of reuniting with friends, buying new school bags and showing off new hair cuts can quickly give way to feelings of uncertainty and trepidation. Worries about school work and progress are common. Tutors can address your anxieties about your child’s target grades, their new teachers,  new subjects or sometimes children simply benefit from learning in a one to one environment for a confidence boost or a reminder of their ambitions to do well. Calling on the help and support of a tutor is many parents’ first port of call in the Autumn term and we have had a very busy start to September as we help parents and children recalibrate and acclimatise to new challenges.

The right tutor can support school work, guide a student through homework and coursework and also boost confidence, morale and foster a “can do” attitude. But with more tutoring agencies and individual tutors around than ever, the choice can be overwhelming and also intimidating. Where to look? Who to trust? What criteria should you use when selecting the right person with whom to entrust your precious child’s precious education? The below tips should help guide your choices:

1. Qualifications

Many tutors will claim to be “qualified tutors”. This is a contradiction in terms- there is no qualification required to be a tutor. This means that tutors might have no formal teaching experience and other than attending school themselves as a student, may have little idea of how school life and pressures actually operate. But why does this matter? Schools, subjects and exams change all the time. Usually at least every 5 years to be precise, especially at GCSE and A Level, although this year one of the Independent Girls’ Consortiums have totally revamped their entrance exam system and format. Therefore, if tutors are not in the system themselves as teachers, they will usually not have much more of an idea than you have of exam expectations. Ideally, you should look for a teacher with current or recent school teaching experience and or examining experience – a great perk for GCSE and A Level tutors. These qualified teachers will be far more au fait with current syllabi, exam requirements, school work loads and marking criteria. While your next door neighbour might have a very helpful daughter/ nephew or friend to offer you who charges less, you will get far more value per lesson from a professional teacher who can guide your child with expertise and certainty. At Strive Tutors, all of our tutors and admin staff are qualified, experienced teachers and many of us are also 11 plus assessors and GCSE and A Level examiners so really know what is required and how to teach it. Do your homework on your tutors’ teaching backgrounds.

2. The Chemistry

The dynamic between a tutor and student has to be right. You cannot expect your child to enjoy or benefit from spending an hour a week with someone who they do not like or feel comfortable with. I would always recommend speaking to a tutor on the phone to see how you like the sound of them and how they respond to your queries. Agencies can be useful here as good ones will be able to brief you in on a tutor’s background, success rates and approaches and guide you to the very “fit” for your child. Scheduling a trial lesson to see how your child and the tutor click should be the next step and assuming all goes well the rest should be straightforward. Do not expect rapid leaps to be made after the first hour – progress is not always linear- but over time you should see your child’s confidence, attitude and grades improve.

3. Reliability

Always secure a regular slot with the tutor to make sure that everyone knows where they need to be when. While life changes for everyone from time to time, make sure that the tutor gives you notice and is also willing to accommodate your schedule changes. It is a two way street and respect for their time means that they will respect yours.

4. Cost

Frank Sinatra might have claimed that the best things in life are free but this is certainly not the case with private tutoring. However, it is not always the case that the most expensive tutors are the best and the line between being ripped off and underpaying must be navigated carefully. Tutors in London can command anything up to £250 per hour depending on exactly what is being taught but the average range seems to sit between £40-70 per hour for students in Key Stage 1-5 and you usually get what you pay for. All of my team will come to your home for lessons but it is worth asking a tutor if their hourly rate includes travel and if they offer any discounts. We know that often families with multiple children might need multiple tutors and we offer quantity led discounts on monthly spends to ease the financial burden.

5. Extras

Tutors might also be able to offer specific targeted support and it is worth checking their Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) training and experience. If your child has a learning need that requires a specific and  targeted approach, ask tutors about their relevant experience and of course, for examples of when they have worked with similar needs with success. All teachers with QTS will have SEND training and most will have relevant experience. My team of teachers at Strive can all work with SEND in a targeted, paedagially sound and sensitive manner and we would always encourage parents to share Ed Psych and other reports to ensure that the tutor is fully briefed on the student’s learning history. Equally, it is important to ask tutors if they can collaborate with school teachers as and when needed. Sometimes children benefit from tuition more when their tutor and school teacher are working in tandem to support their learning and progress. We often work with schools, subject teachers and Heads of Year to support individual students and find that this can really benefit the student as well as the teacher. Remote tutoring has also become increasingly popular and many opt for tuition via video call with on screen back up to make notes and write essays and answers. Again, check with the tutor that they can accommodate your child this way and ask what technology they use. A taster session can usually make your child feel more at ease and this method of teaching has become increasingly popular with parents all over London, the UK and the rest of the world.

I hope these 5 tips will help you pick the best tutor for your child and should you need any more guidance or help please contact or look us up at We work with some of the best teachers in the UK and cover all key stages and subjects. Good luck with the start of term!

Screen time rules for the Summer hols

It’s not the first time I’ve addressed this topic or mentioned it in my blog but in case you haven’t heard it before or if you never got around to it, here is a gentle reminder to create a screen time contract with your child.

The long summer holidays are creeping up fast. With less structured activity and routine, no homework or extra- curricular activities, there is a strong chance that children will resort to spending rather more time in front of a screen.  How can parents teach their children self-regulation and ensure they have a healthy balance of activities without resorting to nagging, repeating, justifying, reminding, threatening or shouting about screen use?  

There is only one method I know that works. I’ve used it with my own 4 children and suggested it to thousands of parents.

Make a screen time contract with each child, no matter what their age from the moment they can understand the concept of boundaries.

Parents need to set appropriate limits according to a child’s age, stage of development and temperament.  Studies clearly show that in homes with clear rules and limits around the use of technology, children perform better in school, are healthier, happier and have better relationships with both family and friends. There is no perfect set of rules. They must work for your child, your circumstances and reflect your family values. Parents need to put in some hard work to make this a reality but it’s so worthwhile.

How to create a screen time contract:

  • Sit down with your partner or whoever shares responsibility for caring for your child and discuss screen use.
  • Have an open conversation with your child to understand what they enjoy about screens and what they like to use them for.  These conversations need to happen frequently. You have a fundamental responsibility to understand and monitor your child’s behaviour online, just as you do in the physical world.
  • Explain that you are going to create a screen time contract and agree the rules together. Children must be part of the discussion and allowed to make suggestions. This is an opportunity for parents to both listen and consider their child’s perspective, be open and express any concerns.  The idea of this written, visible contract is to give children clarity and as much room as possible to be responsible so you don’t need to monitor or control their every move.  This of course is impossible to do anyway, whether you work from home or are in an office all day.
  • Rules must be framed in the positive.  Effective rules are about empowering your child so they know what to do and ultimately develop effective habits.

Core areas to address in the screen contract:

When:  e.g. after chores, homework or physical exercise.

Where: have screen free zones such as in the car, bedroom or meal times.

How long for: use timers or if necessary apps that shut down devices after allocated times up.

What: for younger children be very specific about which websites, apps, games, social media platforms & TV programmes etc.

Who: only communicate with someone they have met in person and no sharing of personal information.

How much: agreed budget to spend online.

Values: e.g. treat others as you wish to be treated.

Rules are worthless if at the same time you don’t agree in advance,  the rewards for keeping to them and the consequences for not.

Once the contract is written and signed, the last and most difficult part for parents, is to be consistent and follow through.  It can take a good few weeks to firmly establish these rules and get your child into good habits.

If the rule is no phones at the table, that applies to parents too!

Remember that around 80% of parenting is modelling.

Would love to hear how you get on. 

Read original article here

Gender Bias Parenting Does Not Only Affect Girls

“Don’t be such a girl.”  “That is not how a young lady behaves.”  Comments like these are more common than we realise in a child’s world today.  The words we use have so much power over our children.  They set boundaries and limitations that children take on as truths and, more often than not, limiting beliefs. 

Women have been battling labels like “bossy” for years.  As a society, we have been course correcting this type of negative labeling.  The awareness brought about by political movements has helped us notice it, name it and do better by the aspiring young female minds of the future.  But, does this mean that it is only a feminist issue?

Poor mental health in men and boys is on the rise.  Being male makes you much more likely to be identified with ADHD and Learning Disabilities.  It also means that, as an adult, you are much more likely to suffer from substance abuse and suicidal ideation.  Why is this?

Boys often hear language that encourages them to stifle any emotion other than anger and joy.  Their emotional vocabulary becomes limited and often riddled with sexist metaphors.  It is no wonder that men have such a difficult time dealing with stress and anxiety when as boys they were not allowed to learn it.

Gender Bias is not always as overt as “You throw like a girl” or “Good Girls don’t get mad”.  Subtle gendered undertones and overtones exist in the toys they play with, the media they consume and the clothes we offer them.  For example:

It’s clean up time in a year 1 classroom.  The teacher comes in and says, “Can I please have some strong boys help put away the chairs and some helpful girls put the paper away?”  These are reasonable requests for any child to do.  At the age of 5, there is no difference in strength between boys and girls.  Likewise, there is no inherent “helpfulness” in girls that is somehow lacking in boys. 

How could this teacher do better?  Simply change the language.  “Can I please have some helpful students carry the chairs and put away the paper?”  In this language, there is no implicit bias to one gender or another.  Also, the teacher is instilling the value of being helpful in all of her students.

Removing gender bias does not mean pretending that gender does not exist.  It simply means removing the unnecessary limitations based only on gender that we put on bio-psycho-social development of our children.  Both sides of the binary benefit from allowing their innate and learned characteristics to be freed from arbitrary restrictions.

How can we allow girls to be girls and boys to be boys without limiting them with gender stereotypes?  How can we provide them with opportunity to succeed and the tools to cope with emotions at the same time?  These are the issues that the 21st century parent needs to tackle in order to help their children be their best selves as children and most successful as adults.

Recently the male allies network for one of our banking clients asked us to create a session geared towards  parents of young children covering this topic of unconscious gender bias and it was extremely well received.

View the course outline here

Fathers’ Day; The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Having just had Father’s Day, it’s worth reflecting on what dads really want. We know a lie in would be good, socks even better and maybe a novelty selection of real ales. But in terms of the workplace, dads just want to have options. Options about how to organise their working lives, without being told that they can’t raise their children or that being a committed dad means you can’t be committed to work.

A New Generation of Dads

A whole new generation of men want to be much more actively involved in raising their children. They expect equality in the workplace and at home and they are frustrated when their needs and the needs of their families can’t be met.

In short they want to be great dads and have great careers.

GQ magazine found that the number 1 aspect of modern masculinity, identified by 66% of Men was “being a present father”.

 Source: GQ Magazine

But it can be tough when this desire to be an active present father is dismissed or not taken seriously…

Dads are changing jobs to get what they want.


Daddilife and Deliotte Report – THE MILLENNIAL DAD AT WORK

Not all men or families are the same.

Income and childcare priorities change and for many heterosexual couples the certainty of a man being fully committed to his career, while a female partner takes on the majority of the childcare can give great comfort and certainty.

However we do an enormous disservice to society, the workplace and individuals when we assume that men don’t want to be fully involved as parents. That attitude is no more valid or helpful than assuming that women only want to stay at home and look after children.


We need to allow couples to make genuine choices – both for their own benefit and for benefits of building gender diverse workplaces.

When we cannot tell whether a man or a woman is more likely to take parental leave or seek flexible working, gender ceases to be an issue in hiring and promotion decisions.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

As a man access to flexible work can be difficult to achieve. It can be seen as a perk of seniority or as something that solves a female childcare ‘issue’.

72% feared their employer’s reaction if they asked for flexible working.


But when it works well the benefits to the man, the family and their partner are clear to see as the ‘Good’ storyof Susha and Magnus and will show. The example of the ‘Bad’ show how a lack of flexibility for Dads will cost businesses their talent and the motivation and good will of their staff. Finally the ‘Ugly’ shines a light on the type of casual dismissive bias that one man faced trying to access part time work. It shows how attitudes towards men’s flexible and part time working desires can directly and negatively effect women’s aspirations.

Things will change but this Father’s Day we need to think about the next generation of Father’s Day.

“The current crop of male, mid-fifties business leaders are completely out of touch in respect to the changes to the role of the father that have taken place in the two decades since they were young dads.”

Source: Evening Standard Colo

The Good

Susha Chandrasekhar is a Senior Lawyer at the Department for Business.

Her husband is Dr Magnus Ryner, Professor of International Political Economy and Head of the Department of European & International Studies at Kings College, London

Their son is called Axel.

Susha kindly shared their story…

“I am a lawyer working part-time which is demanding since my responsibilities include EU issues. Fortunately, my husband’s (more than) full-time work can be carried out flexibly. He comes into and leaves the office at different times, works from home, and catches up on things in the evenings on the days he does the school pick-up. My husband is an academic which helps but professors have to teach, attend meetings, supervise students, undertake research etc. which require a physical presence in the office or a library. It’s still a juggling act.”

Here are the top 7 ways in which my husband’s flexible pattern improves my life.

1. Morning mayhem

My husband does the morning shift and the school run. That pressure is off me as soon as I wake up which is always a good start. I do the evening routine of bath-book-bed.

2. School pick-up

My husband does two school pick-ups a week so there are least two days on which:

·         I do not have to rush home and can deal with last minute work emergencies;

·         My husband helps our son with his reading and maths homework; and

·         There is dinner on the table for me when I come through the front door.

The other 3 weekdays on which I do the pick-ups, my husband gets these benefits in return.

3. Dealing with illness

It is not the default position that I drop everything and deal with a sick child. We see whose schedule is the more flexible. Sometimes it’s his.

4. Caring for Grandparents

There comes a time when our own parents need care. I value the chance to do this.

5. Finances

As we do the childcare ourselves, we do not need to employ a nanny which is expensive.

6. Reliability

If my husband says he will do something, he has the flexibility to do it. I feel assured it will be done without having to check up on it.

7. Frazzle factor

I can deal with the organisation of raising a child e.g. costumes, presents, dental appointments without too much stress. I also enjoy time with my family and friends instead of fretting non-stop about everything that needs to be done.

“No system is perfect and ours breaks down once in a while when the adventures of life are thrown at it. But one thing makes us truly happy. When our son cries out when he has a nightmare or has fallen over, he doesn’t just call for “Mummy, Mummy”, he calls for “Mummy-Daddy, Mummy-Daddy.” To him, we’re equally present, equally important. To us, his opinion is the most important one.”

The Bad – Losing Talented Staff

James wanted flexible working after the birth of his baby

He worked long hours for a private jet firm, but wanted more flexibility after his baby was born. While the official office hours were 9am to 6pm, in reality everyone was in the office until 8.30pm.

“If you didn’t do that it was frowned upon. I was struggling,” he says. He had been at the firm for four years and was one of its top sellers, so he asked for flexible working and expecting a positive response.

“I tried to talk to them several times, but it was always a blanket ‘no’ because they said others would want to do it too.”

In the end, he quit, and now the 28-year-old works for his father’s firm Bloomsbury Estates where he says he’s happy to work at home on weekends to catch up from when he leaves early in the week.

Source: BBC website

The Ugly – Trying to Get Part Time Work

‘Phil’ tried to get part time work in SW England so that he could support his partner’s work expansion plans by taking on more of the childcare responsibilities, including looking after a boy on the autism spectrum.

He struggled badly in the recruitment process and ended up having to take a full-time role.

Overqualified and bored?

Farcical the amount of times I have heard “overqualified” or “you would be bored” or “your skills wouldnt be used” in spite of yelling into peoples faces that I only wanted part time and 2 days a week would not be boring.

Could it be because you are a man?

It definitely is. One of the interviews I had I actually was told that I would probably be embarrassed being shown the systems by a 20 year old girl. “Considering my experience.”Ironically, i would say the most dismissive were female HR professionals, which makes it even more of a joke.ICasual sexism?

I think more unconscious bias as the notion that a white middle aged straight male with no disability under the Equality Act could feel discriminated against is laughable. I flip it round as well…  are we saying that part time ‘easy’ office work is the only thing young women or mums can do?

Unconscious Bias

As a footnote, the role I secured is the 1st full time role I applied for. But that was secured through a friend in recruitment who could see off the bias before it was made…

What do we need to do

Let’s forget the socks and real ale gift sets this year…

✅ Encourage and support dads to talk about the pressures they face.

✅ Normalise flexible and part time work for men.

✅ Senior men to lead by example – embracing flexible working opportunities – making it ok for men in the workplace to spend time with their kids.

✅ Change the working culture so that raising happy, successful children isn’t just a female thing.

Dads will be happier and more fulfilled and the opportunities for families to choose how best to arrange their working lives will increase.

Guest post by Ian Dinwiddy of Inspiring Dads

Healthy work-life balance for teens

My thoughts published in my quarterly advice column for a community magazine.

My mum says it’s important to eat healthily and to exercise and to keep a healthy work/life balance so I don’t get stressed. I however find this very challenging as there never seem to be enough time in the day to get it all in. Can you please give me some tools to help me with managing my time better so that my life will be more balanced and I can live in a healthier way.

The life of a teenager is very busy and can feel stressful.  In this case your mum is 100% right.  Eating healthily and learning how to manage your time so that you get enough sleep and exercise are life skills that you will benefit from throughout adulthood.  It is far easier to establish good habits and routines when you are young. Good time management can help you find extra time for the things that really matter.

Firstly let me explain why sleep, diet and exercise are so important for your physical and mental health. These 3 factors keep your operating system on top form.


There is a very clear link between feeling stressed and lack of sleep. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is the seat of emotions and anxiety.  When it senses a threat it goes into fight, flight or freeze mode and when it’s tired the brain struggles to tell the difference between threat and non-threat.

During adolescence the natural sleep hormone (melatonin) is released later than in children or adults, which is why teenagers often struggle to fall asleep. Ideally you should be getting 9 hours a night.  School starts early so you really need to force yourself to get into bed at a decent time. This can be hard when there’s lots of homework and other activities happening.

Be aware that the light from screens delays the release of melatonin, so try switching to a book, music or mindfulness at least an hour before bedtime.


The gut and the brain are very closely connected and the gut is like our ‘second brain’. When the gut is unbalanced it affects your mood and stress levels. Teenagers tend to prefer fast foods but eating healthily (fruit, vegetables and less processed food) will lower stress levels.  Don’t forget that drinking water also improves your memory and helps you to think clearly. Try to avoid caffeine after 2pm.


Any form of physical activity helps you rest and de-stress. It gives you more energy but at the same time improves the quality of your sleep.  Even 20 minutes of walking can have a real impact on your well-being, so try to incorporate extra walking into your daily routine, such as getting off 1 bus stop earlier than usual or always committing to walking up escalators and not using lifts.

How can you manage time better?

  • We often start with very good intentions but after a few days lose momentum. Positive habits are how you create real change, so start small with tiny changes and targets.  Getting into the daily routine of doing things in a certain way or order helps you work on auto pilot so you don’t have to waste time thinking what to do next.
  • Take some time (Sundays are usually best) to think about the coming week and make a list of your goals. 

Put these goals into 3 categories:

What really needs to get done (homework or revision)

What you would like to get done (less urgent)

What you want to do (perhaps exercise or seeing friends)

Try to have a real sense of how long each task takes and be a time realist as opposed to time optimist. Your overall productivity will really improve when you begin to understand how long things really take rather than how long you think they will take.

  • Use a planner, wall calendar or app to map out your weekly schedule of what you are doing when and how long for. There are so many available but it’s about finding one that works for you. Set aside time after school for homework, extracurricular activities, exercise and unstructured down time. Being organised saves a lot of time and stress. 
  • Set limits on your screen for things like social media or playing games as these activities can steal huge amounts of time without you realising it. Constant screen interruptions strain your brain and contaminate your time.  Use a timer in 30 minute intervals for any task, which prevents time passing away without too much thought.
  • It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Break large tasks down into manageable chunks with deadlines and they won’t feel as daunting. Small steps make something big seem possible to get the ball rolling and help with procrastination.
  • Know yourself and which times of the day you function best.  Everyone goes through phases and there are times when you are really in flow and fully focused, times when attention is quite active and times when you are feeling tired. Think about all the tasks you have to do which require full focus and what you can do that’s quite easy and repetitive to complete in the time when your attention is flagging, so you can switch tasks and make use of all the different times.
  • Chunk your time to minimise constant multitasking and create periods of uninterrupted time to be with friends, family or exercise.

Time management is something that many adults struggle with and needs to be learnt. The best time to start is right now.

It’s hard but so valuable to try to spend more time on things that are not urgent but still very important. What matters more than what we are doing is how we feel about it.

Our perception of time is our reality. cked0

Parents don’t overstress about exams

Link to original article here

I am seriously not enjoying myself. I’ve had sleepless nights for at least two months and feel stressed. I’m finding the experience of having my children sitting exams far worse than doing them myself.  

I’m truly not a hovering, helicopter parent and have always encouraged my kids to be independent, take responsibility for their learning and make their own mistakes. However, it is so hard just to stand back.  

I asked one of my children when could I expect to see some sense of urgency. Surely a bit of an adrenalin rush is good to focus the mind. The response was: “You should be so grateful I’m chilled and not suffering from anxiety or mental health issues.” A valid point I can’t argue with.

The irony is over the last few months I have delivered many talks to parents in corporates on how to support children through exams, revision technique, managing stress. However now that my kids have reached this stage, I’m asking myself how much does traditional education really matter?

I’m not telling them but we all know that grades are only really relevant in the short term. They don’t define you. They are a stepping-stone to get into university and help secure your first job, but after that no one really cares.  When was the last time someone asked you your grades? Do your own parents even remember them?

I have met many academic, straight-A* graduates who still struggle to find a job or work out what they want to do with their life. Real “success” in life is so much more than good grades in school. If the world has moved on so rapidly since we were children and technology is so advanced, why is it that the school system hasn’t evolved? A-levels might require some higher-order thinking, forming opinions and analysis but GCSEs are essentially an exercise in memory retention.  

What’s the point of the new revised GCSES that make kids learn maths formulas off by heart? Why not just give them the formula in the exam? Surely the maths part is about testing whether they can apply it?  

Some time ago IBM conducted the largest study of over 1,500 corporate heads across sixty nations and found that creativity is the most important leadership quality for success in business. Yet all this focus on testing feels like the education system is crushing creativity and any encouragement to think outside the box.

I recently went to a parents’ evening for one of my younger children and she received glowing reports about her positive energy, leadership and communication skills, being proactive, conscientious, creative and sociable. One teacher remarked her qualities are something money can’t buy and no one can teach. 

That gave me so much more joy than if they’d reported she was in top sets for every subject. I know these are the characteristics that will enable her to do anything she sets hers her mind to. I genuinely believe solid EQ (level of emotional intelligence) will determine the quality of a person’s life in a much more fundamental way than IQ.

Parenting has become a bit of a competitive sport and I wish I could step out of this pressure cooker and not care so much. It’s crazy that even students in top private schools are having loads of tutoring — a security blanket to guarantee outstanding grades. Yet are they independent learners or heavily reliant on being spoon fed? What happens when they get to university and then have to study on their own?  

Far more important than the content children learn at school are the non-cognitive skills that significantly contribute to their performance.  Things like grit, self-belief, resilience, growth mindset (the belief it’s always possible to develop) and work ethic. These life skills are the most beneficial thing about exams: developing discipline, learning how to plan, prioritise and cope with stress and pressure, the attributes they need to succeed in life.

The best books I have read on exams were published onlyfairly recently: The A level Mindset and The GCSE Mindset by Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin. With decades of experience teaching years 10-13, they have tried to analyse what successful students do.

They have nailed it down to what they call VESPA:

Vision — setting clear goals and targets;


Systems — organising their learning and time;

Practice —the way students learn;

and Attitude — being confident, emotionally in control, responding positively to feedback and adopting a growth mindset.

Studying is as much about mastering and understanding yourself as it is about mastering the subject. That’s the true benefit of watching our kids go through this torturous period.

I simply can’t wait until the end of next week. I think I’m more excited about it all being over than my kids are. Maybe then I can go back to sleeping peacefully right through the night.  

Rachel Vecht is director of the educational consultancy Educating Matters,www.educating  

Helping children manage stress during exam season

The summer term has started, and so has exam time so we are looking at helping children manage exam season stress.  Children in years 2 and 6 are taking the controversial SATs, secondary-aged children are sitting life-changing GCSEs and of course those older children whose future education is hanging on their A-Level performances.  The effect of these tests and exams can resonate through whole families.

Let’s get down to how parents can actually support and help their children deal with stress during the exam period. It’s totally normal to feel some nerves before exams and this can be motivating and help zone in on the task in hand.  However too much anxiety means one can’t think clearly, reason, plan well and make good decisions which impacts on studying and exam performance.

When anyone is stressed the amygdala kicks in. We tend to become emotional, angry, fearful or frustrated.  The pre- frontal cortex is the part of the brain that distinguishes humans from animals.  It’s what tells the amygdala to calm down so we can cope with stress.  It helps to regulate blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels which all influence how we feel about a situation.

Here are some very practical tips to quieten down the amygdala and enable the pre-frontal cortex to function: 
  • Talk to your child regularly and try to understand the cause of their anxiety so they feel heard and understood. Is it feeling unprepared, pressure from parents, teachers or peers, unrealistic expectations, overwhelm with too much to do and not enough time? Don’t dismiss them or try to just make the feeling go away.
  • Ask your child to spend 5 minutes listing all the things that take up their mental space and energy. Look at every item and place them into two categories: control and concern. Control are things you can actively do something about and concern are things you have no influence over.  People who handle stress well, minimise stuff in the concern circle and spend energy on addressing the things they can control.
  • Have a longer term study timetable but then focus on one day at a time. Help them prioritise, break tasks down into manageable chunks and set small, realistic, achievable goals.
  • Engage in physical activity which helps to boost energy levels, clear the mind and work off excess adrenalin so they can feel calmer.
  • Eat little and often, avoid too much caffeine or sugar which affects concentration. Keep hydrated as water helps the electromagnetic activity in the brain.
  • Get enough sleep which can still be regarded as study time as the brain processes information taken in during the day.
  • Learn, model and share stress management skills such as relaxation, breathing techniques, mediation mindfulness, massage, yoga, EFT and  visualisation
  • Schedule in some unstructured downtime, ideally with a social component.
  • Remember your child’s strengths and passions – encourage some activities that they are good at which involve laughing.
  • Limit screens and access to social media as this swallows up hours of precious time. Also steer clear of peers who make them feel more stressed.
  • Having a positive attitude and the right mind set will determine how motivated they feel, how much they learn and ultimately how well they do. Athletes, for example work on their mental state as well as physical and use psychologists to ensure peak performance.

Now I’m going to go away and follow this advice for myself between now and mid -June.

Just “chill out mum” as my kids tell me!!!

How to reduce the chance of children developing eating disorders

How to reduce the chance of children developing eating disorders

The very word ‘eating disorder’ is enough to strike fear in most parents.  Latest estimates suggest that 1.25 million people have an eating disorder and that adolescence is the most likely time for this to develop.   

What is an eating disorder?

At the heart of all eating disorders is an unhealthy attitude to food.  The most common eating disorders are:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa – characterised by not eating enough and often excessive exercising
  2. Bulimia Nervosa – overeating followed by vomiting and laxatives in order not to gain weight
  3. Binge Eating Disorder – compulsive overeating that feels out of control

There are varying degrees of gravity for all of these and it is not always easy to determine when your child ‘tips over’ from healthy eating to problem eating, and then into a full- blown eating disorder.  The bottom line is, if you feel that food is dominating your child’s life, your best action is to seek treatment, as early intervention gives the best chance of recovery.

Why does someone get an eating disorder?

There is no one over-riding cause to why someone develops an eating disorder; there is a combination of influences such as genetics, family experiences and culture.  Parents don’t give their children an eating disorder, but there is much they can do to help reduce the chances of their children developing one.  

What can parents do? 

Parents’ main role is to create a positive home environment by:

  • Setting the right goals – ensure that the aspirations that you have for your child are not based on appearance and that you do not give the impression that you will love them more if ‘only they ate less’.  This includes paying more attention to what they say and do rather than what they look like.
  • Speaking your mind – we are all exposed to some pretty toxic ideas about body image.  This particularly applies to social media which bombards us with images that can distort our children’s attitude to body size.  We need to educate our children that there is no such thing as the perfect body and that prejudice against people who are overweight is wrong.  Too much time spent trying to achieve unattainable beauty is only going to lead to feelings of failure and is limiting your child’s development in more meaningful areas.  Recent research showed that an intervention for women with eating disorders, that encouraged them to criticise negative media images that associated appearance with self-worth, significantly reduced their negative feelings about themselves. 
  • Being comfortable with your own body shape – the more complete you are as parents with your own body, irrespective of size – the less likely you are to imply that having a less than ideal body shape is something to feel ashamed about.
  • Talking about feelings – eating disorders are a way of coping with difficult feelings, so encourage children to understand and express their emotions rather than placate them with food.  This will give you an opportunity to teach them strategies to use when they are feeling frustrated, angry or sad.  For example, taking a deep breath, talking the issue through with an adult, or even asking for a hug.
  • Being a good role model – you are their biggest influence.  If you pick at your food, criticise your own body and are constantly on a diet, your children will copy these unhelpful behaviours.
  • Not putting them on a diet – dieting rarely works and often affects self-esteem.  Most eating disorders start with a diet.  There can also be loads of other health implications such as stunted growth, osteoporosis and delayed puberty. 
  • Keeping children a healthy weight – overweight teenagers have a much higher risk of developing an eating disorder, but often its symptoms go unnoticed because they are masked by being overweight. 
  • Exercising for the right reasons – exercise is an important part of good health, but if you are spending hours in the gym each day trying to get the ‘perfect’ body then this will give children the wrong messages.
  • Boosting their self-esteem – this is probably the most important factor that protects children from developing an eating disorder.  One of the best ways to do this is by offering children choices, particularly as eating disorders often develop as a way of trying to take control of their lives.  Try offering them an array of healthy foods and let them serve themselves.  Even better get them involved in cooking healthy food.

Not only will these behaviours help to reduce the chances of your children developing an eating disorder but they are also great ways for maintaining a healthy attitude to weight and food for all the family.

Article by Tracey Bennett, specialist in Obesity & Weight Management

Autism & being a working parent


It’s World Autism Month.  This is a time for bringing awareness to many around the neuro-divergence, Autism.  Employers around the world are holding seminars and collecting for charity and discovering what support can be put in place for their employees whose lives are affected by Autism.  As a parent of an Autistic child, it has been amazing to see so many in the corporate world understand that they need to offer support to these families.

We often joke at our house that every month is Autism Awareness month as the needs of my child change as he grows to become a young man.  The support I need changes with his needs as well.  As working parents, my partner and I have had to navigate our careers whilst requiring that bit of extra support from our employers.  It isn’t daily support, but surgical support.

In the spirit of this, here are a few points we and our employers have learned over the years about supporting working parents of children with Autism.

We Work Hard

When things are difficult at home, going to work can be an escape from the chaos.  I say this with all the guilt and none of the guilt of a working parent at the same time.  Work provides a space where we need not be reactive and vigilant at all times.  It is a place where we can feel successful.  It is a place where we can finish a thought and remind ourselves that we are intelligent.  As such, we want to succeed in the one space in the world that feels like our own. 

We know that a time will come when we get a call from school or a child minder that says we need to come and care for our child who is struggling.  Because of this, we do our best to stay ahead of the game so that when we return, our employers often comment on our ability to compartmentalize and prioritize.  This has become a survival skill for us.

Sometimes We Need to Be Told to Take a Break

Parents of neuro-divergent children can run like a machine.  However, sometimes, the machine needs oil.  The “I can do this” attitude is a blessing and a curse.  One employer used to joke that he could always tell when my partner was stressed because he turned into a hyper-focused, head down automaton.  This seems great on the surface, but can lead to burnout very quickly.  At home, we don’t have the luxury of scheduled breaks and corporate retreats.  We know that at any moment, we will need to be an emotional regulator for a child that is under-resourced.  We are always on call.

The best supervisors know how to spot the difference between productivity and overloaded panic working.  They remind us of our lunch breaks and ask us into their offices for a chat.  They remind us to recharge our batteries and breathe.

Sometimes, Things Get Missed

Things are not always difficult to manage.  However, when we are in the middle of the storm, something gets dropped…every time.  It is usually a doctor’s appointment or a playdate for one of our neurotypical children or my poor mother’s birthday (it’s happened three times….sorry Mom).  However, sometimes it is something at work.  A meeting is missed or a deadline or component of a project.  I’ve missed incredibly important meetings due to just once thinking I could remember to write it down later because my brain is so full.  It’s embarrassing and horrible and, most importantly, not a reflection of my true ability to achieve.

The best supervisors and employers have been able to develop open lines of communication with us.  We have been able to trust them enough to tell them when we may need extra gentle reminders.  They do this without shaming us and in the spirit of support rather than a teacher telling off a naughty child.  They never shame or humiliate.  This is not to say that there are no consequences.  Rather, preventative measures are taken to ensure our success and natural consequences are fair and lacking of judgement.

Support Resources are Always Welcome

My partner likes to say that he is an expert on our child, not Autism.  As one profile does not look like any other, he is constantly looking for new and better information.  In each seminar he attends, he learns a new nugget of information or is reminded of something.  Every article, book and documentary helps to solidify his knowledge base and plant the seeds of new skillsets.

The best employers have provided support through seminars, parenting networks and private consultations so that he may access information and support from someone other than me.  They also provide an avenue to allow him to be an informed parent.  One supervisor used to send articles every now and again that he thought would be interesting.  As home can be so intense, we do not always have the time to find these resources ourselves.  Help and support in locating advice is always appreciated.

We Need to Talk About the Good Parts of Parenting

One thing any parent of a child with Autism will tell you is that the lows can be quite low.  However, the highs are even higher!  So much of talking about our child is around what he finds difficult.  Professionals offer support in the deficits, but often forget that there is a whole person there.  When my son makes a new friend, my heart leaps for joy.  His dry sense of humour can come out at the most inappropriate times and those stories are hilarious!  He also is so incredibly loyal to his siblings and takes the banner of being a big brother very seriously.  I want to share those stories…. not the stories of the meltdowns or the inability to see the point of poetry or the fact that he has to be reminded to wear deodorant.

The best employers and supervisors ask how our kids are doing without a look of pity.  There is no expectation of distress.  They are willing to listen if we need to speak about needing support, but they also provide a space for us to be proud parents of our amazing boy.  They know, just as we do, that there is a whole person there with a unique perspective on life that can be valued and celebrated.

If you would like to support employees with Autistic children, get in touch to find out about our session on this topic.