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:
down with your partner or whoever shares responsibility for caring for your
child and discuss screen use.
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.
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
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
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.
only communicate with someone they have met in person and no sharing of
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.
“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
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.
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”.
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.”
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
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
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.
As we do the childcare ourselves, we do
not need to employ a nanny which is expensive.
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
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.
‘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.
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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:
needs to get done (homework or revision)
would like to get done (less urgent)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
your time to minimise constant multitasking and create periods of uninterrupted time
to be with friends, family
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the heart of all eating disorders is an unhealthy
attitude to food. The most common eating
Anorexia Nervosa – characterised by not eating
enough and often excessive exercising
Bulimia Nervosa – overeating followed by
vomiting and laxatives in order not to gain weight
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.
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.
can parents do?
Parents’ main role is to create a positive home environment
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Sometimes, Things Get Missed
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.
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
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.
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
We Need to Talk About the Good Parts of
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.