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Managing Winter Blues in Children

The light is minimal.  The weather is uninviting.  We’ve had a let down from celebrations which involve gifts and food and a mild amount of gluttony.   As adults, we all feel it.  We even have an awareness day called ‘Blue Monday’ to remind us to watch out for ourselves and each other (This year it was 20/01/20).  However, it can be so easy to forget the unique way children experience this phenomenon.

Children have often just been through a very intense month.  Lessons are often jumbled.  They have had a break from school.  They have also (more often than not) had an increase in high sugar, high fat foods.  Also, January is notorious in education to be a “nose to the grindstone” kind of month.  This is quite the juxtaposition from a month of merriment coupled with down time.  Add to this the lack of light and the way the weather minimises their ability to go outside and you have the perfect recipe for moodiness and restlessness.

Luckily, armed with the right tools, parents and carers can make a huge difference to their child’s mood through the winter.  Here are a few key areas for helping children learn to regulate their mood even on the darkest, wettest days.

Know Your Child’s Mood

Just like adults, children manifest the blues in very personal ways.  Some children slow down and look melancholy.  Other children actually become hyper and non-compliant.  Others become incredibly sensitive and easy to offend.  Take a scientific observer approach and notice and name the way your child looks and behaves when they have the blues.  This way, you can help make them aware of what their body does so that they can notice the need for regulation in themselves.

Fight Boredom in Children with Preparation

Boredom is not the same thing as having nothing to do.  Boredom is actually a stress state.  It is the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to do with yourself.  Sit down with each child at a time when you are both feeling OK.  Brainstorm a list of things that your child can do when they are ‘bored’.  Then, refer to the list should your child be exhibiting boredom.  If the list is long, this might be overwhelming.  In this case, choose 3ish options from which your child can select for an activity.

Make Tech Time Rules Ahead of Time

Tech can be a very alluring alternative to being bored.  The flashy light and easy story that comes with TV shows and games keeps our lazy brains just busy enough to not be bored without allowing any real thought process to happen.  There is a time and place for tech in all of our lives.  However, it can easily become addictive and lead to a loss of interest in activities that require a bit more effort.  Decide how and when tech time should be a part of your child’s life and stick to it.  This way, you don’t create a rod for your own back once the sun starts to reappear.  Just like mood, children need to know how to regulate tech.  Teach them that it is not there as a time filler, but simply an activity for a small part of their day.

Emotion Coaching Is Key

We do all we can to provide a space that is engaging and minimises stress.  Sadly, there will still be times that your child will get the blues.  This is a time that provides a great opportunity to coach your child through noticing, naming and regulating their emotions.  We have to remember that it is not our job to fix things.  It is our job to provide the language and guidance for them to fix themselves.  Emotion Coaching skills are the best way to do this whilst at the same time providing a space for parent child bonding.

Check in with Yourself

When looking at things through the lens of parenting, it is very easy to forget about the parent.  I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this, but parents are…people.  That means that we also feel the winter blues, get low, get bored and become irritable.  It’s OK to be a person whilst being a parent.  Check in with yourself before engaging with your children and make sure that you are speaking from a calm and helpful place rather than one of frustration.  If you have an occasion where the blues spoke first and you engaged in a way you wish you hadn’t, let your kids know that you made a mistake and ask for their forgiveness.  This is a wonderful opportunity to model how to do this.  It lets your kids know that they can also make mistakes and be forgiven.  More importantly, forgive yourself and let it go.  We are running a marathon, not a sprint.  A little stumble is OK.

Educating Matters offers an amazing seminar on Emotion Coaching in corporate and educational settings.  For more information on this and all the other ways we offer support click here

Remember that winter is finite.  The sun will return. Before you know it, the park will be less muddy and the garden more appealing.   Implementing a few strategies will make the winter turn from bleak to cosy. 

Apps that Set Parents up for Success

Getting more organised is a common New Year’s resolution.  When you are managing your life and the lives of members of the family, the task can feel quite monumental.  Coordinating schedules, goals and needs can become so overwhelming that you feel like you are drowning in information that cannot possibly be kept in your head.  I like to refer to it as the ‘mental load’.  With four children in my own family, I have often felt consumed by trying to keep data and information in the right places.  (I have been known to forget a dentist appointment or lose a permission form in my time.)  But how do you go about making the information accessible to all?

Fear not!  At Educating Matters, we know more than most the importance of this task.  Below are some of the apps that we use or recommend to others to help systemise information and alleviate the stress of managing the lives of those in your family along with your own.

Calendar Apps for Parents & Families

Cozi

Cozi is an amazing app for households to organise their busy lives. Each family member is given a colour to provide a visual cue as to who needs to be where.  This app is shared across devices so that each member of the family (depending on age) can see what is going on.  In addition to calendars, you have shared to-do lists (great for chores), shopping lists and a place to store recipes.  My favourite part of the app is the family journal.  You can share pictures and videos so that no member of the family has to miss out on fun moments from baby’s first smile to a teenager’s awards ceremony.  There is a free version and a paid add free version of this app.

2 Houses

2houses is designed to help separated parents communicate and organise co-parenting  their children.  This app has helped reduce the need for uncomfortable conversations in person which can become heated.  The synchronized calendar allows parents to set custody schedules, input events such as school plays or doctor appointments and even request to swap time for special events.  There is a finance section that shows where a child’s additional financial needs are and who is responsible for paying and when.  The messaging section is especially good when there has been a break down in relationship between parents.  It has end to end encryption and can be shared with an attorney or mediator.  Keeping all communication contained in this space allows information to be shared and provides accountability which helps to keep the tone civil.  There are many other features that help make co-parenting efficient and inclusive.  There are monthly and yearly plans for this service.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is great because it is free and easy.  All you need is an email address and you are good to go.  Google’s colour coding options make it easy to identify tasks and activities.  You can also share calendars which makes life much easier for families with older children.  You can also set permissions for who is allowed to add or delete events.  One of the features I like about this calendar is that it automatically inputs directions to appointments when a location is entered.  Whilst it does not have all the bells and whistles of other apps, it is a fantastic tool for organising your family’s busy life.

Apps for Chores and Rewards

RoosterMoney

Rooster Money is my favourite app for managing pocket money. I also like this app best for teens and tweens chore rewards. This is an app that grows with your family.  It teaches your children the value of the effort they put into actions.  You can set their currency to either cash or stars.  Small children can use it as a reward chart for brushing teeth or even potty training.  As your child grows, you can choose to change the currency to GBP from the Bank of Parents.  As they become more responsible, there is even a debit card they can have that you control.  They see how much they earn and track their spending.  It helps them understand the value of money and to think before making purchases.  There are free and paid versions of this app.

ChorePad

For younger children, this is a fantastic app.  It takes the old time paper charts and digitises them to make them fun and exciting.  You set up daily and weekly chore charts that when completed, lead to stars and trophies.  Many parents like that the rewards are not monetary.  It is very visually appealing to children with many themes and the ability to choose a picture or an avatar for their screen.  The parental screen is kept separate which means that parents are in complete control.  There are free and paid versions of this app.

These apps are only a sample of many that can help with the organisational needs of your family.  Whatever app you choose, the most important factor is consistency.  Choose your apps based on what makes the most sense for your family’s particular needs AND what you feel you will remain consistent in your usage.  This will help you become successful and alleviate your stress from managing your busy family.

Educating Matters includes in their many corporate seminars “Organising Matters”.  This hour is jam packed with useful and achievable information to help working families organise the chaos which leaves more time for family bonding.  Please click here to find out how your workplace can take advantage of our expertise.

New Year = New Parenting Approach

At the start of a new year, people across the globe will be setting new resolutions and goals for 2020.  Whether that’s relating to areas such as work, family, friends, physical or mental health.

If you are a parent or responsible for caring for a child, you may be making similar resolutions year after year but nothing really changes. 

Here are some popular parenting resolutions……

  • Shout less
  • Remain calm
  • Be more empathetic
  • Spend more ‘quality time’ with your kids
  • Be on top of what’s going on at school
  • Reduce screen time for all
  • Teach your child to be more independent
  • Say yes more often
  • Be more patient
  • Be more loving and positive
  • Be more playful and fun
  • Take care of yourself
  • Improve the bedtime routine, morning routine, homework routine, mealtimes, teeth brushing etc

……BUT IT’S SO DAMM HARD & YOU HAVEN’T MET MY CHILDREN!!!!!!!

You may have read numerous books, online articles and blogs, chatted to friends but not found solutions to create real, long lasting change.

Being a parent is probably the hardest job you will ever have but no one really teaches you how to do it and just making resolutions certainly won’t help and can actually make you feel worse!!! 

Without real support and being fully conscious of your thoughts, approach and daily interactions, it can be hard to make effective change.  The vast majority of parents give up by February and go back to their old ways.

I don’t believe anyone gets it right all the time – (I certainly don’t, even with 25+ years of experience in the field of coaching parents and having 4 children of my own to practice on).

It’s far more realistic to aim for ‘good enough’ rather than perfect.

I do however know some brilliant, tried and tested, practical techniques that make a huge difference to family life and work most of the time.

Why not strive for real change and join our ‘Positive Parenting’ course?

If you are unsure, get in touch to ask more or attend a free trial taster session any Monday evening.

  • Help your child thrive
  • Improve your relationship and connection
  • Learn how to self-regulate and manage your own emotions
  • Parent with more empathy and understanding
  • Less shouting, repeating, nagging, justifying, reminding and bribing

Educating Matters are always here to help you reach your goals.

Wishing you a calmer, happier 2020 with your family.

Support Your Child Through Holiday Stress

It’s December. It’s time for holidays. No matter how or if you worship, or what you believe, this month is supposed to be a time for celebration and fun for children. As adults, we see their schedules change as they have activities and events that are designed to help them celebrate the festive nature of the season. Allow me to be clear here: This is not a bad thing. However, it does bring about a different type of stress that needs to be acknowledged and supported.

We know that children thrive with structure and consistency. Boundaries and predictability allow children to relax into a framework for learning by allowing them to find a rhythm for their day. This time of year provides a new learning opportunity for our children. How do we cope when the rhythm changes? How do we follow the rules in new environments? How do we feel joy and excitement without becoming disruptive or out of control?

Here are some tips for supporting children during December so that they can relax and enjoy all of the fun activities made available to them whilst continuing to abide by the rules and expectations they need to follow every day.

Prepare Them for Changes

One of the mantras of every parent should be “Preparation over Intervention”. Speak to your child every morning about what their day might look like. They will already be a bit anxious due to the lack of structure in their day. Anxious feelings can easily turn into actual anxiety or excitement. Remind them that anxiety is just excitement without the breath. Take deep breaths together and help them look forward to their day.

Children may have: extra winter parties for their clubs, the end of term for a club before the school term is over, baby sitters coming over so you can attend events, extra visits from family etc. Do your best to keep children informed. Children may find it difficult to let you leave for a party when they only have 5 minutes notice. However, they will find it easier to let you leave if they can get excited about who will be caring for them that evening.

Be Ready and Check the HEAT

I was once told to always check the HEAT before speaking with anyone. This means, never try to engage in meaningful conversation with someone who is Hungry, Emotional, Angry or Tired. These are under resourced states. Have healthy snacks available to help fuel your child. This time of year is often filled with lots of sugar. Keeping it as healthy as possible at home will counter balance the negative effects. If they are angry or emotional, take time to turn towards them and coach them through coping with these emotions. Finally, the days will be long with little sunlight. Make sure they are getting enough sleep. Our bodies naturally want to get more sleep in the winter. Work with this and encourage down time and bed times. This will make sure they have enough charge to run through busy days.

Be Ready for Feelings

You know how children always have the ability to clearly define that they are tired and need a break? Neither do I. Most children will assume that they are feeling something other than tired. This time of year, kids are exhausted and feelings are raw. Allow them to identify what they believe is bothering them. This is a great time to learn emotional vocabulary. As an outside observer, you may know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all your child needs is a good night’s sleep. However, if they need you to understand that the green jumper is the real reason they are angry and that they are definitely not tired, it’s ok. You can always process the next day if you feel the need. Again, use the emotion coaching skills to get through this. Feelings are temporary as are December stresses. 

Respect Your Child’s Boundaries

We know that our family love and cherish our children. Extended family that do not see them very often want to shower them with affection. This can be an amazing space for your child to start to learn about body boundaries. If a child does not like to be kissed or touched, respect this. My body, my rules is a value that cannot be learned soon enough. Give your child alternatives like high fives, fist bumps or side hugs. This way, they show affection without feeling like an adult has the right to make them feel uncomfortable in their body.

 Many of our children sing or dance. It can be very tempting to turn them into our exhibition to prove our family has talent. Encourage them to share this talent. If they are merely being a little shy, offer to sing or dance with them. However, if you hear an adamant no about singing or dancing in front of others, respect this. The fear of being judged has made too many children quit before discovering talents. Alternatively, they can practice a piece before hand to perform for eager grandparents. Preparation makes them feel less on the spot and more willing to share.

Watch Your Special Needs Children

Children with special needs often struggle with emotional regulation around change at the best of times. This can be a very difficult time for them. At home, be prepared for meltdowns and remember that they are not tantrums. It may be tough and that’s ok. Just remember that it is never personal. Take a step back and do your best to anticipate the needs of your child. Do your best to make home as regular and consistent as possible to have a place to alleviate the stress of the changes. Also, try to limit disruptions as much as possible by grouping family visits. Too many new environments may make your child over stimulated. Always provide a de-stimming space after any event. This will help both of you shake off the day and come back to centre.

This time of year is to be enjoyed and shared. There are some times when it is stressful as a parent to help regulate your child’s emotions. However, with the right preparation and interventions, you will be able to maximise the fun and minimise the stress for the entire family.

10 things I’ve learned in my decade as a ‘private equity parent’

Guest post from Gabrielle Joseph: Head of Due Diligence & Client Development at Rede Partners LLP

This month my oldest child, Nathan, turned 10. On 13th November 2009 we were handed a small, screaming person with bluish-tinged hands and surprisingly hairy ears. Ten years later, we’re grateful that his ears and hands look much more normal and even more grateful that he’s been joined by his three crazy sisters. And in spite of all the craziness, Adam and I are still hanging in there at work. So what have I learned in ten years of ‘the juggle’?

1. Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Nope, sorry. It’s not easy doing this and sometimes you’re going to have a bad day – or a few bad weeks. Compromises will need to be made, and some of them will make you wince. But the good days are more than worth it – both at work and at home.

2. There’s NEVER a right time to have a baby

Career-focused women often fixate on a specific level they want to have reached before starting a family – but often those sunlit uplands seem to remain just out of touching distance. A more senior role might mean more flexibility but it also often means more responsibility and higher expectations.

In my industry, private equity, it was and still is pretty unusual to have your first child while still a fairly junior Associate. But we still made it work, our way. Despite having my first child young and having never been in a straightforward 5-day-week contract ever since, I’ve managed to get promoted, move jobs and take on new professional challenges I hadn’t even imagined before my first pregnancy.

Looking back after a few years it can seem completely absurd to have worried so much about maternity leave interfering with a specific project or promotion cycle. Sometimes you just have to dive in and hope for the best.

3. Run your own race

There will always be other mums out there with a different approach to you, and inevitably some of them will make ‘helpful’ comments that slice like a poison-tipped dagger through your heart. Ultimately if you want to stay sane, the only standards you can measure yourself against are your own…

4. …and that includes making your own way if you were brought up in a family with more traditional parenting roles

This can be a source of real heartache, especially if like me you had a happy loving childhood that you would be proud to recreate for your own children. Michelle Obama says in her memoir, “I hoped to be exactly like my mother and at the same time, nothing like her at all.” Ultimately there are things that my Mum did for us that I just can’t do for my children. That makes me sad but if I don’t let that sadness go, I’ll miss out on all the other great stuff that I get to share with my kids.

5. It’s the childcare, stupid!

When it comes to ‘making it all work’ the elephant in the room is that you just can’t. YOU NEED QUALITY CHILDCARE and the inconvenient truth is that the more you invest in your childcare the more successful you can be at work and at home. We have to be honest about this for the sake of the women who look up to us as role models – that’s why I’m not shy about discussing our wonderful nanny and the help we receive from our children’s beloved grandparents.

That said, I’m in an extremely privileged position in that the economic equations of my work and childcare expenses make intuitive sense. Investing more in my childcare can be more than paid back in my career and pay progression. Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to everyone. In my experience, so much of the gender inequality we see at work stems from the problem of unaffordable, inflexible childcare. When it hardly pays for a mother to work, and when going the extra mile at work costs you money, energy and stress it’s more than understandable that many mothers choose to step back.

6. Bumps in the road may throw you off course for a bit but they also show you what really matters

Embarking on family life is a step into the unknown. On the whole we’ve been incredibly lucky. But every family hits a bump in the road at some point. In 2015 we lived through a roller coaster pregnancy and the premature birth of our twins with one of our twins becoming critically unwell. It was a tough time for all of us, especially for our older children. At times like these work can be the absolute furthest thing from your mind, and that’s ok – life, and work, doesn’t have to follow a linear progression. Taking a bit of a detour every now and again lets you explore the scenery and you come out the other end with new experiences and skills you’ll take with you when you hop back on the wagon.

6. Work / life balance only gets harder as children grow…

Small children might go to bed at 7pm leaving you to an adult dinner, household chores and catching up on unfinished work. But big children have a frustrating habit of being very much awake and interested in interacting with their parents until much later. Plus they have their reading diary; that piano exam to practice for; a much-needed de-brief about how to deal with the mean girls in the year above; a homework assignment to turn a shoebox into a biodiverse aquatic scene; the list goes on. I don’t have many words of wisdom here but as our children have entered the upper years of primary school we’ve found that this is where the rubber really hits the road in terms of time management, prioritisation and give-and-take between my husband and I.

7. …but making space for them in your worklife can help bridge the gap

My role at Rede Partners is fast paced and demanding, so it’s difficult to keep home life fully ring-fenced. Instead, as my children grow I try to make space for my children within my work life. We think of a parent at work as an absence from a child’s life – a time when there is no opportunity for interaction, closeness and shared discovery. But my experience is that, although it might not be the gold standard of ‘quality time’, having my children around me while I’m working can be an extremely positive experience for all of us. It can play to their individual interests – Nathan is a huge computer enthusiast and loves to help me with data entry tasks. He even got involved in the design and build of our recently launched new corporate website. Younger children can sit colouring on my lap while I take calls and have been known to photobomb our internal video conferences.

8. Take a parenting class – it might help you at work as well as at home!

Rachel Vecht is a renowned parenting expert and for 10 weeks I somehow managed to find the time to spend two hours a week at her Positive Parenting Course. Now, I can’t claim that it’s made me a perfect parent but it certainly gave me food for thought. Less intuitively, it also transformed the way that I gave feedback to co-workers. Parenting teaches us so many skills that are helpful in the workplace – not least the art of gracefully diffusing a temper tantrum!

9. Learning new skills isn’t just for kids

We all know children emulate their parents’ actions, not our words. If we want our children to be eager learners, the best way to motivate them is to show them that learning is something that you value and that you do. When my kids started learning the piano I decided to learn too – and I soon realised that what really enthused them to try new things was to see me doing something I found difficult, slowly and shakily but making steady progress.

The same goes for ‘soft skills’. When our children are finding something difficult at school or home, we often talk honestly about things that we’ve found hard at work, feedback we’ve received and how we’re trying to grow and improve. And guess what? having talked it through at home tends to mean we make greater progress at work.

10. Be in the room where it happens

This weekend to celebrate Nathan’s 10th birthday we went to watch Hamilton. It totally lived up to the hype and he loved every second of it. One of the refrains that really hit home with me was “I want to be in the room where it happens.” People who are ‘in the room’ make decisions that affect all of our lives. I believe very strongly that even intelligent, thoughful, good hearted people often lack insight into the lived experiences of others. For example, in her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes about how she had never understood the difficulties faced by pregnant employees until she herself was pregnant: “To this day, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize that pregnant women needed reserved parking until I experienced my own aching feet. As one of Google’s most senior women didn’t I have a special responsibility to think of this? But it had never occurred to me.” That’s why we need diverse experiences in those rooms – so that decisions can be made that are in the interests of all of us, not just an elite group of white men.

I have nothing but respect for women who make the decision to stay home to raise their children – and I was raised by a pretty awesome example of one. But ultimately, if we want there to be some women with children “in the rooms where it happens”, we need to ensure that there are enough of these women on upward trajectories at work so that a few of them will eventually have the experience and qualifications needed to break into those rooms. As a mother of three daughters, I feel like I owe it to them not to step off the treadmill just yet. Who knows, maybe when they grow up, they’ll step on that treadmill too – and when they get off, they’ll be right there in the room where it happens.

Baby steps towards parenting equality

When I was growing up in a market town in Somerset, dads went to work and provided, and mums looked after the house and made sure everyone was fed.  We didn’t know any gangsters, so my dad was the first person I knew who had a Carphone (back when The Carphone Warehouse seemed like the obvious name for a business).

He was a surveyor, out on the road in Somerset – calling in his reports over the phone to be typed up in the office. But despite the technology there never seemed any danger of being ‘always on’, technology was an enabler.

In fact, my dad even had flexible working – he scheduled his own diary of house surveyor visits and frequently made his schedule fit the away sports matches my brother and I were involved in on Wednesdays.

30 years on I can look back and appreciate that he had the type of hands on involved parenting opportunity that many men today are striving to achieve.

Flexible working and Paternity Leave initiatives are bound up together. They both represent potential opportunities to support the desire of a new generation of men to have greater involvement in raising their children and by doing so to move towards equality of opportunity in the home and the workplace for both genders.

There’s a long way to go to normalise equality of choice when it comes to parenting but on International Men’s Day it’s good to reflect on some of the key milestones towards parenting equality.

Key Milestones

  • 1999 Set up of the Fatherhood Institute – “a great dad for every child”
  • 2003 Statutory Paternity Leave

In 2001, Gordon Brown included men’s right to paternity leave in his Budget and, from 2003, male employees received paid statutory paternity leave for the first time.

  • 2011 Additional Paternity Leave

Fathers were given the right to take six months statutory paternity leave while their partners returned to work, in effect taking the place of the mother at home.

  • 2014 Flexible Working Rights

The right to request flexible working was extended to all UK employees with at least 26 weeks’ service with the same employer on 30 June 2014.

  • 2015 Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave allows you to share up to 50 weeks’ parental leave and 37 weeks’ pay with your partner. Each parent can take up to three blocks of leave, more if their employer allows, interspersed with periods of work.

  • 2017 Aviva set the bar high for parental leave

From November 2017 Aviva became the first UK firm to offer up to one year of leave, of which 26 weeks’ is at full basic pay for each parent employed by the company within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival.

  • 2018 NZ Prime Minister takes Maternity Leave

Jacinda Arden took 6 weeks of maternity leave while in office and then her partner, a TV presenter, became a stay-at-home dad to baby Neve, a great example of showing that no job is too big for spending time with your children.

When they became the first to offer 9 months full pay parental leave.

More to be done

I was amazed to discover that paid paternity leave has only been around since 2003 in the UK and even 15 years on, when a child is born the dad (or the other parent or partner) gets just two weeks statutory paternity leave paid at £148.68 per week, less than half of minimum wage. 

Shared parental leave uptake is very low:

Analysis by the University of Birmingham found only 9,200 new parents (just over 1% of those entitled) took shared parental leave in 2017-18. That increased to 10,700 in the financial year 2018-19.

Just as additional leave suffered too

“Just 1.4% of new fathers taking it in 2012-13. In 2011-12, the first year the scheme was in operation, just 0.8% of eligible dads took advantage of it.”

What can be done

Two things need to be addressed

  1. Financial constraints – Fathers are much more likely to already be earning more than their partners and therefore find it harder to take leave at statutory rates
  2. Cultural constraints – the question of where society, employers and men perceive they belong. Too often we casually default to assume men to be the main breadwinners and women as the primary carers.

The Labour party pledge in 2015 to double the length and pay of statutory paternity leave had potential to be a big step in the right direction https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31253409. but has sadly disappeared to be replaced by increased maternity leave – to find out why that is problematic you’ll need to read this https://www.daddilife.com/labour-maternity-and-men/

Moves around the fringes of government are important indications as to which way the wind is blowing – even if parliamentary time seems taken up with other activity…

October 2018

In October 2018 the government announced that it planned to consult on a bill that would require large employers to publish their parental leave package. Read more here

July 2019

Helen Whately, Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent a introduced the flexible working bill, to make all jobs flexible by default unless the employer has a sound business reason why particular hours in a particular place are required. Read more here about what this #FlexforAll bill is all about.

Some good moves but in the UK we remain a way away from the gold standard of well paid, protected parental leave for fathers.

Why does parental leave matter?

Men Gain Empathy & Awareness of Bias

“Would my job be safe? What would it mean for my career? How would it impact my team?” Then, he adds: “It hit me like a freight train. These are worries that women in the workplace have been facing for generations”.

Source: FT – Time off for new fathers raises bias awareness

Not only that, but dads accessing parental leave has significant and long-lasting benefits towards equality in the household.

In households where men were given the opportunity to use this benefit, fathers’ daily time in household work was 23 percent higher, long after the leave period ended. 

Source: Council on Contemporary Families

Well paid protected leave is a key part of breaking cultural assumptions which perceive childcare as a woman’s job, it supports equality of choice in families and is good for mental health, relationships and women’s income prospects.

On International Men’s Day we should be setting the bar much higher than 2 weeks of below minimum wage leave. It does nothing for families, for fathers or for mothers.

This is what society and business needs:

  1. Day one flexible working as a default position for all.
  2. Equalise parental leave provisions for new parents.
  3. Provide men with paternity coaching before and after their paternity leave.
  4. Identify and support senior fatherhood role models.
  5. Create, support and persevere with fatherhood community initiatives in the workplace.

guest post by Ian Dinwiddy founder of Inspiring Dads

Cyberbullying: How to protect your children

What is cyberbullying?

Bullying has always been a part of young people’s lives.  However cyberbullying can follow a child 24:7 wherever they go, so there is no escape. It is defined as using technology to embarrass, harass, threaten or target another person, making them feel uncomfortable, upset or unsafe.  It is usually deliberate and repetitive. Recent studies show at least 1 in 4 teens have been victims of cyberbullying.

The stereotypical playground bully does not necessarily fit the profile of an online bully.  The screen provides an anonymity which psychologists call ‘disinhibition’. People may say or do things they would never do in person if they were looking into the whites of their recipient’s eyes.

Typical signs of cyberbullying

  • Avoiding friends or school in general
  • Changes in mood, behaviour, loss of appetite, not sleeping
  • Being very secretive about their online life
  • Being nervous, moody or jumpy after looking at a screen
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and usual activities
  • Poor marks at school
  • Getting angry, irritable or upset very quickly (tricky as most teens do this anyway!)
  • Suddenly not wanting to use screens
  • Frequent headaches or stomach issues.

When your child is being bullied

  • The first step is to offer empathy and support. Just try to be a sounding board so your child feels comfortable to open up and talk.  Listen to your child about what has been going on and how it makes them feel. 
  • Praise and thank them for telling you, which takes a lot of courage. 
  • Explain that it’s not their fault and bullying always says more about the bully than the victim.
  • Stay calm.  Try not to over react, get upset, angry or take over the problem.  Agree with them what are the next steps they should take and what approach they would feel comfortable with.
  • Discourage your child from retaliating or reacting as this often fuels the bully’s behaviour.
  • Keep a detailed log of incidents and evidence, then report it to the school and use the ‘report abuse’ facility on social media.
  • Block the bully online and have strong passwords.
  • Encourage your child to engage in activities they enjoy to relax and boost their self-esteem and confidence.

When your child is the bully

  • Talk to your child firmly and explain why any form of bullying is wrong, the negative impact it has and how they can stop.
  • Restrict the use of devices, having a phone is a privilege.
  • Try to look under the surface to identify what led to the bullying.  It can be simply about feeling lonely or bored.
  • Perhaps engage a therapist to give your child tools to cope with their anger, upset, frustration etc

Preventative measures to keep your child safe online

The more time children spend online, the more likely they are to be bullied or be a bully.

  • Set clear rules about boundaries around the use of screens, particularly with regards to the use of social media.
  • Teach and model important values such as kindness, respect and empathy.  This applies online just as much as face to face in the ‘real world.’
  • Be involved and talk to them very regularly about what they are doing online, just as you are aware of what they do offline.  Sit with them and check their postings or messages every now and then.  Know which sites they like to use and how they function.
  • Keep screens in a central part of the home. No screens in bedrooms, particularly during the night.  You can turn off messages and apps during certain times.
  • Reassure your child that your job as a parent is to know what’s going and to keep them safe. 
  • Check out all your child’s privacy settings and parental controls.
  • For children under the age of 16 it is probably advisable to know their passwords.
  • Educate your child about not sharing passwords (other than with you) or any personal information. 
  • Be aware that a lot of bullying happens on sleepovers in a group, when kids feed off each other and may do things they would never do if they were alone.
  • Explain the importance of only connecting with people you have met in person and trust.  Once you have posted, you have no control over where the information goes or how it is used.
  • Discuss what they would do if they saw something that made them feel uncomfortable or upset or if they saw someone else being bullied.  How would they handle it? Who would they tell? What if they saw a friend being left out or nasty messages being posted?

It can be extremely upsetting for parents whether you find out your child is being bullied or if they are the actual bully.

Connect with your child regularly and show you listen and understand. You know your child better than anyone else.

Rachel Vecht……..

How can children make sure they are in control of screens rather than screens being in control of them?

I love my phone and laptop and I think I probably spend more time in the day using it than anything else. On the odd occasion when I don’t have my phone  with me or it’s run out of battery, I feel a bit lost as if I’m missing something.  How can I make sure as I get older that I control screens rather than them controlling me?

Extract from an ‘Ask Rachel’ article in a national publication.

You are not alone.  Most parents complain about how much time their kids spend in front of screens whether that’s gaming, scrolling through social media or aimlessly googling.  The truth is in many households, parents spend just as much time as their kids, if not more, glued to their phones.  So many of us get sucked in by that dopamine high that screens provide.  The software on screens is designed to be hard to ignore.  Just look around you on the tube or in Starbucks, where the vast majority of people whether they are alone or with others can’t resist the temptation to regularly glance at their phone, iPad or laptop.  I believe this is having a big impact on our relationships, be that with friends or family.  It can create considerable stress and tension.

There are so many wonderful benefits to online connectivity but getting a healthy balance and learning to be in the moment is a life skill.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Discuss openly with your family and friends, what you like about screens, what bothers you and how you would like things to be different.

  1. Build up a realistic picture of how much time you spend on screens and what for.  You could keep a diary for a week of screen use or just get an app on your phone that logs it for you and breaks usage down into categories.  It usually ends up being far more time than you anticipated.  Once you have done this, decide where you might need to cut back.  Are you getting enough sleep, time to complete school work, really connect face to face with family and friends, physical activity and time outdoors? What’s appropriate use also really depends on what else is going on in your life.  If you are in the midst of GCSEs and need to focus on revision, that’s quite different to the middle of the summer holidays when there is far more time available.
  2. Making small changes is so much easier when you enlist the help of others. Set some clear boundaries at home as a family.  You could potentially be a good role model to your parents!! For example, establish screen free zones: no phones during a family meal, in bedrooms at night or in the car.  Don’t be embarrassed to suggest the same thing to your friends. How often do you gather together at someone’s house or go out for a meal and spend time looking at your phones, as opposed to actually talking to each other?
  3. A recent study showed that teenagers who spend more than four hours a day on screens were 3.5 times more likely to get poor sleep.  It’s been well publicised that the blue back light interferes with the production of melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone. Agree as a family to switch off at least 1 hour before bedtime and leave phones outside the bedroom.  Just seeing it lying on the bedside table (even if it’s switched off), can induce anxiety or excitement.
  4. Be mindful and conscious about what you are using your screen for and for how long. Set yourself specific tasks and time slots. If it’s to write an essay or complete a homework assignment on ‘My Maths’ then just use it for that and don’t allow yourself to wander mindlessly over to YouTube.  If you are using Snapchat to arrange a time to meet your friend, then just do that and don’t start looking at all the other messages you haven’t read yet. If you are watching Netflix, decide before you start how much time you have available and how many episodes you are planning to watch.  Give yourself mindful, realistic boundaries and see if you can stick to them.  Constant multitasking, flicking from one thing to the next, can lead to brain overwhelm, distraction and stress.
  5. Pouring over screens can give you a headache, sore eyes, back ache, affect focus, concentration and give a feeling of tension and anxiety.  Be aware of this and schedule time for a range of other activities that don’t involve a screen such as going for a walk, going to the gym, talking to your family, meeting up with a friend, completing homework, playing an instrument, meditating or engaging in a hobby.
  6. Actually brainstorm what you can do that doesn’t involve a screen, if you are at home or on the bus and really have nothing to do.  Again discuss ideas with family and friends about what you could potentially do together. Perhaps get out some board games, make a cake or clear out your wardrobe.
  7. In our family we have one screen free day at the week-end to detox. It provides a genuine opportunity to deeply connect with friends and family. It’s amazing how when the option to use screens is not even there, we can find other fun things to keep us occupied.

It’s not easy to resist that urge to pick up a screen. Make small tiny changes to daily habits, one step at a time. I guarantee your physical and mental health and your relationships will benefit enormously in the long run.  It’s much easier to start establishing these good habits now when you’re young.

Life Satisfaction Wheel

An extremely simple yet effective, visual snapshot to plot what’s going well in your life and which areas you need to work on.

“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving”

Albert Einstein

What do you notice about your wheel?

Are there any surprises?

Which area are you motivated to work on?

What changes can you make today, next week, next month, in 3 months or even 6 months?

Boys Desperate for Emotional Vocabulary

It’s World Mental Health Day.  This year’s focus is on suicide prevention.  This is such an important issue to consider when working with our children as it is one of the leading causes of death for healthy teenagers. 

In today’s society, changes are happening for the better to promote positive mental health.  However, boys continue to suffer from the social pressure that defines them by their gender.  They are permitted to cry at the serious things like death and divorce.  However, they are continually encouraged to repress any emotion other than anger and happiness in their day to day lives.  Because of this assumption that boys do not have deep feelings, they are being exposed to far fewer ways to define their emotions than their female peers.  This leads to higher levels of depression and anxiety coupled with a useless shame for seeking help.  Can we really wonder why many of our boys are lacking coping skills for their emotions when they feel they don’t have permission to have those feelings to begin with?

Luckily, we are in a moment of awakening when it comes to resolving gender bias.  Society is realising that this is not a feminist issue, but a human issue.  We can do better for our children by providing them with an emotional vocabulary that is not coupled with shame and guilt for not “being a man”.  Here are some important facts to instill in all of our children to help them experience emotions without letting them cause poor mental health

All Emotions Are OK and Have Names

In the beginning of language development, we feel sad, mad or happy.  As we develop more language skills, we broaden our understanding of how our world works.  The earlier we can better define how we feel; the more awareness we develop of why we feel that way.  Let them learn the difference between hyper and energized, between ecstatic and joyful, between furious and frustrated.  The coping skills for all of those feelings are different as are the causes.  Definition provides insight which provides self-awareness.

Give the Gift of Because

Children often feel negative emotions as anger (adults do as well!).  Anger is a superficial emotion that we feel because we cannot define or cope with the underlying feeling.  Adding one simple word can help move through the anger to the real feeling that is causing pain.  So, “I’m angry”, the comment becomes “I’m angry because I lost the game.”  Then, we can help them define the real feeling of disappointment or embarrassment.  Finding their ‘because’ also provides a moment to bond with your child.  Who doesn’t want a few extra moments like that!

Vulnerability is NOT the Same as Weakness

This is a lesson that many guarded people struggle to learn.  There is a strength in being vulnerable.  There is courage in being vulnerable and showing up anyway.  Responding to vulnerability by offering a secure space for reflection teaches our children to be comfortable in their own skin at all times.  It teaches them grit and to be brave.

Asking for Help is an Essential Life Skill

Any teacher will tell you, one of the biggest challenges in a classroom comes from children being afraid to ask for help.  They fear exposing themselves as someone who does not know what to do.  This translates into a limiting belief that can be life threatening.  We need to change the narrative.  Those who ask for help, get what they need to be better.  Help may need to be academic, emotional, physical or in questioning identity.  There is nothing more isolating than being under resourced without a developed skill and ability to ask for help.  We need to teach our children the skill of asking for help now so that when they are older, that muscle is already developed. 

Mental Health is Equal in Value to Physical Health

We would not hesitate to go to the hospital for a broken arm.  We know that we do not have to suffer extreme pain without support and that healing can take time.  The same is true when suffering with poor mental health.  Exam stress will always be there.  However, it does not need to be so extreme that the emotional pain becomes unbearable.  Teach them that it is ok to find better resources for coping.  There are professionals who are educated and trained to help.  It only makes sense to rely on their expertise when under-resourced.

Many mental health conditions in adolescence and adulthood can be avoided if we educate our children now.  Gender should not define how broadly or how deeply we are allowed to feel.  It is time that we allow our boys and girls to define and cope with all feelings.  Emotions are not just for girls anymore.

Please see here for further articles and vlogs on the topic of ‘Emotion Coaching’.