Category Archives: Parents

How to choose books for your child

Instilling in children a love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child and will impact on so many areas of a child’s life.  Not just academically but their social and emotional development and imagination.

How can parents encourage children to read when there are so many other things kids enjoy doing, most of which involve a some sort of screen? I believe the key for any age is about finding the ‘right book’.

Every time your child experiences reading something boring, too challenging or too easy they will be put off. I have witnessed children’s attitude to reading simply transformed by the experience of reading one book they really enjoy. They need that feeling of not being able to put a book down and once they have found one, they may get into a whole series or genre and then the habit of reading becomes established.  Finding that right book takes time.  It may involve going to a specialist bookshop, speaking to the class teacher or your child’s peers, reading online reviews etc.

What are the main factors to think about when choosing books?

 

1. Is the book appealing and eye-catching, front cover bright, interesting illustrations?  The length of words, sentences and vocabulary gives a good guide to the level of difficulty.  If you are expecting your child to read the book on their own, it needs to be pitched at the right level.

2. Is the story worth telling? Does it read well aloud?
Entertaining? Challenging? Imaginative? Exciting?
Suspense? Humour? Clear Sequence?

3. Is the language appropriate, natural and meaningful?
Does it encourage prediction and anticipation?
Richness in expression and imaginative use of words?
Rhythm, rhyme & repetition help young children to predict the text.

4. Is the subject appropriate to the child in terms of age and maturity?
Books should be linked to a child’s own interests and experience.

5. The ‘look of a book’ is important – psychological and social factors. If it seems too difficult or too easy, they may not want to try.

6. Are the characters convincing? Can children identify with
them? Dialogue between characters should be clear,
understandable and capture the rhythms of real speech.

7. Is the print clear, well-spaced and appropriately sized?
Can be small as long as words clearly separate. A few
sentences on each page are less daunting.  Explore different
styles – comic strip, puzzle-solving, variety of typefaces.

8. Does the story give opportunities for further discussion?

9. Does your child have a favourite author, series or genre of
books? Teach children how to make their own choices. Respect their opinion and taste.

10. Encourage re-reading of familiar books. Children need the
experience of effortlessly breezing through books. Easy and absorbing books treat the child as a reading expert.

Encourage your children as much as possible to make their own choices without disapproval or enforcing your own views.    It is also fine for them to dislike a book and be critical, as long as they can explain why.  As they get older, they are far more likely to want to read something recommended by their peers than their parents.

They just need to get into the habit of reading something even if it’s simply the back of a cereal packet or instructions to a game.

What to do when your kids push your buttons

Every parent knows what it feels like to have their buttons pushed!!  It doesn’t matter how many articles you have read, how many parenting books you have gathered or talks you have heard.  In the moment if your child is behaving in a way that really winds you up, it is almost impossible to access any parenting skills or strategies.
What can parents do in the moment to respond in a calmer, more considered manner?

I was very fortunate a few years ago to have attended a 5 day course led by Bonnie Harris when she came to London. I highly recommend her book ‘What to do when your kids push your buttons’. In a nutshell, when a child behave sin a certain way, our expectations and assumptions drive our emotions which in turn influences our reaction. It’s all about going deep inside and reframing your assumptions and expectations so they are more realistic.

Admittedly this is much easier said than done but it makes a huge difference.

Top 10 Parenting Tips

There is no such thing as ‘perfect parents’ but with the right tools, parents who understand their children better can raise much happier, more resilient, motivated, independent adults. Being a parent is the most rewarding but difficult job one can ever have, yet it comes with no training.
I am passionate about enabling parents to get the very best out of their children. In 2001 I founded ‘Educating Matters’, (drawing on my extensive experiences as a teacher and being a mother of 4 children) to provide practical support to parents though multiple mediums on a wide range of topics. During this time I have spoken to tens of thousands of parents and discussed most issues and concerns.
It is hard to narrow down but I will attempt to summarise my 10 top parenting tips to help nurture a strong, connected relationship between parent and child. Relationship, communication and connection is the key to ‘Positive Parenting’.

1. Values

To parent in a more purposeful way, it really helps to take the time to create a clear, compelling vision of what you and your family are all about and what your end goal is. The first step is to sit down with your partner and ask some key questions. What is important to you in your life? What are the key qualities or characteristics you would like to see in your children as adults? What will enable “success” for your child? Every family will of course have different views as to what these key values may be.

Then, with your children, create a ‘Family Mission Statement’, outlining what you really want to do and be as a family. Having a well-considered, mindful mission about your parenting philosophy and what you hope to achieve is very powerful.

Every time you notice your child or someone else displaying values you admire, talk about it in a positive context. Whether that’s people you know or a story you read about in the news.

It is not always easy to parent in this way with long term goals. You can plant the seeds but it may take many years for your child to blossom. However, one of the greatest thrills as a parent is witnessing your child behaving according to the values you most treasure.

2. Modelling

About 80% of parenting is modelling. Quite a scary thought I know but how you behave bears far more weight than what you say. Be conscious of how you react when you are angry, upset or tired; how you treat others and how honest you are. Your kids will notice and absorb most things, positive and negative. For instance, if you have a family rule of no screens during a meal, you can’t surreptitiously send a quick email for work and then admonish your child for being on Snapchat. You are unquestionably your child’s first and most important teacher and they will learn more from you than anyone else.

‘The power of influence is greater than the influence of power.’

3. Descriptive Praise

This is hands down the most powerful motivator I know. All parents want their children to be co-operative and listen the first time. Adults are hard wired to notice when children do something wrong. However, if most of our interactions are telling children off or giving instructions, it’s not very surprising that they aren’t motivated to listen. Focus your mindset on catching them doing something right and noticing every tiny step in the right direction. Avoid evaluative praise ‘”That’s amazing” or ‘”You’re so clever” rather focus on simply describing what you see, including the effort, attitude, strategies employed and the qualities displayed. e.g. “Thanks for putting your cereal bowl in the dishwasher, really helpful”, “You got out your homework without being reminded and that shows real maturity”.

This is hard and feels a bit like using a foreign language at first but the results are so worthwhile! The magic ratio to encourage more co-operation, motivation and enhanced self-esteem is 5 positive comments to every negative. It will relieve a lot of tension and stress and help you to feel more positively about your child. In turn they will become more appreciative of you.

4. Emotion coaching

Helping children to become ‘emotionally intelligent’ by recognising, expressing and managing their feelings is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. I believe EQ is more important to succeed in life than IQ.

When a child of any age is experiencing a difficult emotion, consider their perspective and empathise. You don’t have to agree or give in! What children need first is acceptance and empathy: acknowledge their upset so they feel heard and understood. When your child is having a meltdown, stay calm, stop what you are doing, really listen and observe. Imagine how your child is feeling and reflect that back to them in words. You can take an educated guess and even if you are wrong, your child will still feel respected, validated and heard.

All behaviour has a cause and it is usually an emotion at the root of it. Parents mainly want to fix the problem and make it quickly go away. However, it is better to listen first and talk through the emotion. You can address the unwanted behaviour and problem solve later.

5. United front

Both parents need to agree on the best approach together. If you have a conflicting, inconsistent approach to parenting, children may become confused or take advantage, playing one parent off against the other. Never criticise or argue with your partner in front of your children. Speak positively about each other in front of your children and portray a harmonious, united front. If you’re not sure on your partner’s view, check in first before responding to your child. Schedule time together to discuss any areas of conflict, compromise and acknowledge each other’s strengths.

(This is all obviously extremely hard if you are separated yet children can cope with different rules in different environments as long as you maintain consistency).
6. Rules and boundaries
It is essential to establish clear routines, structure, rules and boundaries so children know exactly where they stand, what to expect and to keep them safe. You don’t need written rules for every element of their life but focus on clarifying the difficult areas which are causing conflict such as bedtime, homework, screens or eating. The trick is to involve your child in creating the rules so that they have some ownership and vested interest in following them.

Write the most fundamental rules down so it’s easy to remember and so there is less need for nagging, repeating, justifying and reminding. Always be specific and frame rules in the positive so it’s clear what they should do rather than what they shouldn’t. Rules also clearly need to state what happens when they do or don’t follow the rule.

Of course rules don’t work in isolation without a trusting and respectful relationship.

7. Consequences

The old fashioned, authoritarian style of parenting using fear, punishment, threats, bribery or shouting doesn’t actually help parents to be in control. It mainly leads to the child feeling angry, rebellious, resentful and focused on not getting caught doing wrong. Children will undoubtedly make mistakes and misbehave but use this as a learning opportunity; after all the word ‘discipline’ actually means to teach. Punishments don’t usually help to change or improve a child’s behaviour.

Consequences should have a teaching function and not be made up on the spur of the moment out of anger or desperation. Allow children to experience the natural consequences of their actions e.g. If you don’t wear a coat you will feel cold, or if you don’t complete your homework you will get a detention. Fixing consequences encourage the child to put things right e.g. If they make a mess they have to clear it up, if they upset their sibling they have to find a wat to show they are sorry and make it up to them.

What parents really want is to have a child who is morally responsible and on the whole wants to do the ‘right thing’. Not because they fear their parent or teacher’s reaction or they are trying to avoid getting into trouble but because they feel responsible and accountable for their actions. Natural and teaching consequences help to achieve this.

8. Independence

Your main role as a parent, apart from providing a calm, secure, loving haven is to prepare your child up for adult life. Children need to develop the habit of bring self-reliant, thinking for themselves, taking responsibility and developing resilience. When parents do too much for their children, they become reliant, entitled, don’t learn how to do practical things like cook, wash clothes, manage money and most importantly independently resolve problems they face. A parent’s job is to train and empower our children so they feel like a valued and needed member of the house.

Every time you do something for your child, ask yourself are they now capable (time permitting) of doing this for themselves? It takes energy, consistency and effort to help children establish independence and good habits but so worth it in the long run.

9. Special Time

Special Time is when each parent spends one on one time with each child. It is short, frequent, predictable and uninterrupted time to do something that your child really enjoys that is not of material value. It’s mainly about ‘being’ together. Follow your child’s lead and let them choose what to do some days, whilst other times make suggestions. It only needs to be 10-15 minutes but should be scheduled and routine. This will help build a bond and connection between parent and child, giving a child the attention they often crave and will seek in other ways if they don’t get enough.

For children love =time. Setting aside this time is a way of communicating to your child that you love them and enjoy being with them. It is a way to value your child for who they are aside from worrying or talking about completing tasks, academic ability and discipline. Consider it to be vitamins for your child’s soul. We focus so much on making sure children eat and sleep but this is equally essential for healthy living and your relationship.

10. Take care of yourself

You are obviously an essential resource for your family and you need to take care of yourself to be able to care for your children. How you are feeling emotionally and physically will directly impact on your family. In order to be fully equipped to support anyone else, you need to make sure that your own needs are being met and that you are not running on empty. This is not being self-indulgent but will enable you to be a better, more effective parent. In an emergency, we are always told by airlines that when travelling with children you need to fit your oxygen mask before your child’s.

Establish what you require to keep yourself happy and healthy. It may be something physical, mental, spiritual, social or emotional. Once you have worked out what you think you need to stay sane and balanced, then start by choosing a small area to commit to and work out how to make it a reality.

Take small steps at a time and focus on today, right now.

Taking Care of Yourself

Self care is not selfish

Obviously the start of the year is a time that many people choose to make new resolutions.  If you are a parent, some of those resolutions may be related to trying to improve your parenting.  Whether that be shouting less, being more patient, improving your work-life balance, having more quality time with each child etc etc.

The problem with many New Year resolutions is they are often unrealistic and after a few weeks or even days of making a big effort, it’s easy to slip back into old habits.  Last Friday my usual spinning class was absolutely packed and I’m pretty sure that by February I probably won’t have to rush to get there early to secure a bike!

As a parent it is particularly difficult to change if you don’t have some good skills/techniques up your sleeve or if you don’t taketime to step back or find out about simple changes you can make that will have a huge impact on family life.  It is for that reason I find my work as a parent educator so incredibly rewarding as just helping parents to tweak their approach in a few ways can make a tremendous difference.

In line with the idea of New Year resolutions relating to parenting, the first thing I would suggest is that you resolve to take care of yourself before you worry about how to take care of your children. In order to be fully equipped to support anyone else, you need to make sure that your own needs are being met and that you are not running on empty.  This is not being self-indulgent but will enable you to be a better, more effective parent.  In an emergency, we are always told by airlines that when travelling with children you need to fit your air mask before your child’s.  It’s difficult to imagine actually having the head to do that but it is what is required.

I once heard a really dynamic chief executive speaking about the challenges of raising 6 children and having an incredibly demanding career.   Of course she was not raising the children without help and a very supportive and involved husband but one thing she said always sticks in my mind.    “Self-care is not sel-fish”.

When thinking about how to take care of yourself, take some time to establish what is required to keep yourself happy and healthy.  This will differ enormously for each person and may fall under different categories:

Physical well-being:

e.g. healthy balanced diet, enough sleep and exercise

Mental/Intellectual well-being:

e.g. reading, lectures, courses, museum visits etc

Spiritual well-being:

e.g. meditation, yoga, religion

Emotional/Social:

e.g. seeing or speaking to friends, time out without the children, focusing on what you have to be grateful/thankful for

Once you have worked out what you think you need to stay sane and balanced, then start by choosing a small area to commit to and work out how to make it a reality.  You may need to make a concrete plan, adjust your schedule, allocate money, enlist the help of friends or family.

Take small steps at a time and focus on today, right now.  How you respond to your children is based on your needs and feelings.  If you don’t take care for those it will be very hard to be a positive parent.

Wishing you all the best of luck for a happy, fulfilling 2017

United Front

United Front

 

What is a United Front?

This is about both parents being consistent and adopting the same approach to parenting.  Even if your values or views in a specific situation differ, try not to  contradict each other or argue in front of your children.  Both mothers and fathers play an essential role in bringing up their children and may have different views but compromise is essential.  If there are grey areas or children sense their parents are in disagreement, they will usually take advantage and play one parent off against the other.

How to create a United Front

  • Set aside time for a ‘solution talk’ between you and your partner.  If you are in disagreement about something, state simply without judgement what the problem/issue is and work out how to compromise on a solution you are both happy with.  Take turns making suggestions and don’t bring up old arguments.
  • Speak positively about your partner in front of the children.
  • If you are not sure how to respond in the moment,  say “I need to discuss that with daddy/mummy and I will get back to you”.’
  • Be consistent and open to compromise when necessary.
  • Recognise each other’s strengths and delegate tasks accordingly.

 

 

Handling Exam Stress

Managing stress around exam time

It is perfectly normal for students to feel a bit nervous during the revision period and particularly in the run up to exams.  That adrenalin rush can even help motivate and focus students.  However too much panicking leads to under-performance from a child who may be perfectly capable and know their subject well.  In recent years, there is more and more written in the media about the state of children’s mental health and the stress they are under.  This  won’t be helped by the changes coming in for GCSE’s and A’ Levels.  Exam periods are also worrying for parents as you think is my child working enough or too much, are they looking after themselves, will they achieve good grades?

Common signs of stress

Parents should look out for children getting:

  • Headaches
  • Back aches
  • Stomach pains
  • Muscular tension
  • Not sleeping as well
  • Moody, irritable
  • Loss of appetite
  • Crying fits
  • Loss of temper
  • General disengagement and lack of energy

These symptons may describe most teenagers most of the time but look out if there is any noticeable increase or change in these behaviours!  It is also important to try and understand what is causing the stress.  Is it low motivation, lack of preparation, unrealistic expectations, competition from peers, pressure from parents or the school?   Encourage your children to set their own goals of what they want to achieve.

How can parents help their children manage stress?

Diet

  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
  • Drink lots of water
  • All food should be low in sugar, salt, fat, caffeine and refined carbs
  • Regular light meals

Sleep

  • Improves thinking and concentration
  • Around 9 hours a night

 Exercise

  • Boosts energy levels, clears the mind, alleviates stress
  • Timetable in physical activities, going outside

 Revision techniques

  • ‘Learning how to learn’ – revision needs to be active
  • Help teach child revision techniques e.g. mind maps, note taking, post it notes, practice papers. See Blog – learning how to learn
  • Help them construct revision timetable, broken down into small tasks
  • Help them prioritise and divide up their time spent on each subject

Talking

  • Set realistic expectations – can only try your hardest
  • Keep things in perspective
  • Be supportive and encouraging rather than policing them
  • Reflective listening/ emotion coaching
  • Be flexible around chores, normal routines and responsibilities

 Rewards

  • Not to be used as bribes but to encourage
  • Frequent little breaks/treats to look forward to during revision period
  • Down time to unwind
  • Descriptive praise

 Relaxation techniques

  • Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe out more slowly than you breathe in. Locate any areas of tension and try to relax those muscles –imagine the tension disappearing. Relax each part of the body – from your feet to the head. As you focus on each part of your body, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation.
  • Yoga
  • Mediation/mindfulness
  • Massage
  • EFT tapping
  • Visualisation helps with self-confidence. The best athletes use this

Further support for children’s mental health

Also take a look at ADT Healthcare who offer a free helpline dedicated to assisting families suffering from drug, alcohol and mental health issues.

 

A guide to ADHD and addiction

David Cameron’s announcement that parenting classes become ‘aspirational’ for all families.

David Cameron’s initiative of  parenting classes for all.  

Why is this a good idea?

Before having my own children I worked full time as a primary school teacher and trained student teachers.  Despite really thinking I understood children, that didn’t prepare me for the experience of being a parent and having my own.  I realise now in retrospect that quite a lot of the advice I gave to parents when I was just a teacher was a bit unrealistic!!!

I had all the patience in the world for other people’s children but my own somehow pushed my buttons in ways I never imagined.  I started reading extensively, trying out new skills on my own children before sharing them with other parents and evaluating whether or not they worked.

I believe being a parent is the most rewarding and most difficult job you can ever have. What could possibly be more important than your own child and raising the future generation? Parents obviously have a huge impact on how their children turn out so it’s a job that comes with tremendous responsibility.  Why is there no training for this?  It is for these reasons I believe all parents can benefit greatly  from parenting classes.

In the news:

Telegraph reporting Cameron’s plans   

Sky News reporting the story

parenting-classes-david-cameron

 

david-cameron-parenting-classes

 

 

 

 

Changes in today’s society

The issue is compounded in today’s society.  Parents are increasingly less likely to live close to their own parents or extended family and therefore don’t have the same support network or pool of advice that previous generations had.  It has become increasingly common for both parents to work full time, which can increase the amount of guilt parents feel.

Technology is a wonderful source of information but the amount of advice available can be overwhelming and often conflicting.  Social media has given parents a wider network to share issues and concerns but again reading about what everyone else is doing can cause confusion and result in parents having less confidence.  Mediums such as Facebook/Instagram appear to provide images of the perfect family.  Not to mention the way screens have impacted on family life.  Even when parents are with their children both the parent and child may interact and communicate less because screens are so addictive and engaging.

Parenting styles have changed dramatically in recent years, encouraging more empathy and positivity.  90% of what we know in brain science has only been discovered in the last fifteen years. I heard a wonderful expression: ‘parents are brain architects’.  Every positive interaction between parent and child aids brain development.

Signing up to a parenting course or seminar does not mean you have failed as a parent.  I tell parents they are the greatest ‘expert’ on their child since they know them best. Many parents who come don’t necessarily have any major issue or concern.  They just want to be armed with a set of skills and knowledge that enable them to be the most effective parents they can be. Being in a group as opposed to reading books or searching online allows you to share thoughts and ‘normalises’ many of the common issues parents face.  If all parents did that I passionately believe it would have the power to change the fabric of society.