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Day 12 of self-isolation – still unwell with 4 kids. What are the positives?

For the past 12 days, I have been living in a complete fog. I have had no energy, high fever on and off, a head that feels like it is stuffed with cotton wool and totally lost all sense of taste and smell, which is surprisingly unnerving.  Thankfully I have no breathing difficulties and my husband and children are feeling well at the moment.

A substantial number of people I know have the virus and sadly some people in my community have already died from it or are in critical condition.  I have tried to only listen to the news in the morning and evening and have barely looked at social media.

I have spent 25 years teaching children and guiding and supporting parents. Families are going to need this support more than ever and when my head is clearer I will try to effectively provide that support.

I am a very positive person by nature.  Despite this being the most challenging time our generation has faced (both health wise and ultimately economically), I wanted to share my personal reflections on the positive aspects of this situation for parents with children at home.

Resilience

Children are certainly learning a lot about how to cope with setbacks and when things don’t go their way.  Mine have lots of disappointments that they need to accept such as: A levels being cancelled, no opportunity to celebrate their 17th birthday with friends or have that first driving lesson, 2 years of complex orthodontic treatment will completely regress. Yet this is nothing compared to the difficulties some are facing and every day we focus on what we can be grateful for.

Independence

There is so much time to work on being independent and developing important, practical, everyday life skills like: cooking, washing, cleaning the home, sensible food shopping & decluttering. Genuinely contributing to the running of the home has always been important for children but now they have more time available to do so and can begin to truly appreciate everything involved in running a household

FOMO

There isn’t anything happening anywhere, so nothing to be missing out on!

(I think this is the best bit – no chauffeuring the kids around).

Entitlement

Parents often complain about their children being entitled (mine included at times).  Now the children would massively appreciate even the most simple of things like being able to go outside for a walk or see their extended family and friends face to face.  Absolutely everything they took for granted has new significance.

Study skills

My children have been sent a mountain of work by their schools and so far I have felt too unwell to help them set any structure to their day or ensure it gets done. Nevertheless they are working on vital life skills such as: time management, perseverance, procrastination, organisation, self-discipline, adaptability, focus and staying motivated. These skills are way more important in the long run than learning content from the school curriculum.

Passion for learning

Finally children have the time, space and opportunity to follow their passions and develop an interest in learning for the sake of learning, not because it’s part of the national curriculum or exam syllabus.

Creativity

There is more opportunity to develop skills in areas such as art, dance or music.

Boredom

After this I don’t think children will ever complain they are bored.  Ordinarily for many children, if they aren’t at school, out doing an activity, on a play date or in front of a screen, they are at a loss as to how to keep occupied.  Many parents are working from home without childcare, so kids have to come up with creative ways to keep busy without relying on adults.

Emotional intelligence

This is an opportune time for emotional meltdowns; both parents and children.  We will all gain lots of practice at managing and articulating difficult emotions such as fear, anxiety, frustration, boredom & overwhelm.

Family time

What an absolute blessing to have so much time enjoying our children.  Full time working parents can be there for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never need to miss putting their child to bed.  In fact spending time at home with your family is the recipe to reducing the number of deaths.

Connection

Myself and my children have spent way more time calling relatives and friends. I have spoken to my own parents and siblings for much longer and more regularly than I ever normally have time to.

Simplicity

Absolutely no need to waste time worrying about what we look like, where to go or what to buy. The only think we shop for is basic food, stationary, household and cleaning products.

 Community

There have been so many great initiatives to support the wider community. As I’m ill, we have been in total self-isolation so as to protect others. If it turns out that my family is immune, we can work on ensuring the elderly and those who are particularly vulnerable with underlying health conditions can be supported.

Conversation  

To be honest, I am being far more permissive than usual with screen time restrictions.  I’ve noticed that my children are choosing to have real conversations through a great array of apps such as Zoom, FaceTime & Houseparty rather than just using Snapchat and WhatsApp messages.

Spring

The situation we are in is crazy and at times it feels like the world is falling apart but somehow it really helps that for the last few days the sky in London is consistently blue, the trees are flowering and the birds are tweeting.  Rather than looking out on grey skies and rain, even if we can’t yet go for walks outside.  Nature is helping to lift my mood and the environment is certainly less polluted.

Siblings

Siblings will have ample opportunity to spend time together to practise managing conflict, sharing, respecting each other’s privacy and boundaries, handling teasing etc.  They may even begin to appreciate they have someone at home to play with and are actually lucky to have siblings.

Health

Life is so precious and we all now truly understand how important good health is.  It should never be taken for granted.

Technology

I have often wished we could go back to the days pre -technology but now I appreciate how fortunate we are to have it on so many levels. To be able to connect, stay informed, learn, shop remotely & protect ourselves.

Values

This is a perfect opportunity to role model, emphasize and talk about the values that are most important to us as a family such as: kindness, empathy, honesty, work ethic, self-discipline & independence.  The number one way to get through this period is through kindness, compassion and supporting others.

Unity

What else has ever united the entire world in quite the same way? This virus crosses borders, religion, ethnicity and culture.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do.  Every country is working together to collate information and support each other.  Every single one of us has had to make adjustments to our lives.

Sleep

For as long as I can remember and even before having children, I haven’t been able to sleep past 6am!!!  My body seems to know there is no rush to get up, or perhaps it’s just the virus wearing me out.  My kids are catching up on so much sleep by not having to wake up early for school.

Hobbies

There is time to work on any hobby that can be conducted at home. You can teach yourself almost anything online.  (Between feeling ill, managing work the kids and the house, I’ve had no time for hobbies or reading but my kids have!)

This exercise of looking for the positives and what I can be grateful for has actually made me feel so much better.  It’s worth brainstorming with your kids.

What positive outcomes have I left out that you could share?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Talking to Kids about CoronaVirus

Coronavirus is becoming a reality that we as a society are needing to prepare for and cope with.  Every newspaper has a headline warning of the danger.  The news is spending the majority of the airtime covering it.  We talk about it with partners and friends.  It is easy to forget that our children are also processing this medical crisis.

Parents and carers need to take the lead by managing this conversation and the information our children are trying to sort through.  Here are some important criteria to remember when talking to our children about Coronavirus.

What Do They Know Already?

Children’s minds are like sponges.  They are absorbing information from the media, the school and their friends and trying to process reality.  Assumptions will be made on their part based on half- truths and reality.  My own child came home very upset because he knew that he would never be able to fly on an airplane again due to coronavirus. Start the conversation by asking them what they think they know already.  This way, you know where to fill in the gaps.

Keep Calm and Be Appropriately Honest

It can be very easy for children to jump to catastrophizing.  For adults, we can often go there as well when nothing seems confirmed.  Your children are looking to you as the example for how to react.  This is a time when we need to hold our own emotions, to be there as a conduit for emotional regulation for our children.  When children ask about the illness and whether people die, it is important that we are honest.  However, for the younger ones, less can be more.  Let them know that most people who get the virus feel ill and then recover.  Let them air their fears and use your emotion coaching skills to share information at an age appropriate level.

Implement Prevention Measures Together

Health authorities are giving information regarding hygiene and hand washing.  Take some time to practice this together.  Review hand washing technique.  Wash hands together whilst singing before mealtimes.  Remind them to sneeze and cough into a tissue and make sure the tissue makes it into the bin.  Teach the “cough like a vampire” technique by making sure they cough into their elbow (it looks like a vampire holding up his cape over his face).   Your children learn how important this is by watching how often you implement these techniques yourself.

Manage Media at Home

I start every day with the news.  However, this has started to build anxiety in my daughter.  Just this morning, she panicked over whether or not we have enough toilet paper to get through the next month.  For now, starting her day with the news is not providing her with the best start to the day.  For now, I’m reading the news on my phone and putting on an audiobook whist we get ready.  This is not a permanent intervention.  However, until her anxiety is managed, I am reducing the stimuli which allows her to focus on learning and being a kid.  It does not mean that we avoid the subject.  It means that I am controlling the amount of exposure from outside sources until we get back to feeling safe and confident.

Keep Communication Open

As with most areas of parenting, this is not a one- time conversation.  This is especially true in the case of coronavirus as the story is unfolding before us and guidelines are changing.  Let your children know that you are keeping up with what is going on and that you will update them with the practicalities.  Also, let them know that if they learn new information, you would like them to share it with you.  This way, you can add truth to rumor.  You may also learn something new.  Anxieties will change with the news.  Have a check in every few days to see how things are sitting with them. This way, you can catch a worry before it turns into an anxiety.

Educating Matters are offering a webinar for corporates to help parents prepare for what may come as the impact of the Corona Virus grows.  Here is the outline of our webinar. 

Get in touch for more information, should your company want to offer this valuable information to parents and carers.

 

Recognising the signs of Mental Health in Children

No parent, teacher or carer wants to bear witness to a child suffering for any reason. Mental illness is exceptionally difficult to watch because you can’t see or comprehend the source and it can be so incredibly painful.  We know that presently 1 in 10 children in every primary and secondary school is experiencing some form of mental  disorder. 13% of children aged 8 and up will experience a severe mental disorder before they are old enough to drive; sobering statistics.

Mental disorders among teens and young adults have been rising steadily for the past decade. The reasons could be environmental (i.e. family, school & social media), situational (i.e. a traumatic event), physical (i.e. hormones & genetics), or indeed a combination of these. But we also know that we as a society are slowly becoming more willing to open up about our needs and thus the recognition of the complexity in young people’s lives is increasing. I also believe that social media has played its part in the ongoing impact of mental health needs.

In 2017, according to a study from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 13% of people between ages 12 and 25 had symptoms akin to major depression (they may not have been diagnosed) within the previous year—a 57% increase from 2008.

Now more than ever, opening up the conversation means so much and continues to make a positive difference to children’s lives.

 Does your child need support?

One of the biggest challenges for parents and carers is recognizing and identifying the difference between a psychological issue and the normal developmental changes that happen during these formative years. Adolescence involves the very greatest brain changes for a person. It is very much a rollercoaster, both positive and negative; mood swings, disinhibition and dysregulation are to be anticipated and expected. Ultimately it means that adolescents are also vulnerable to mental health difficulties too.

If you suspect that something is not going well for your child and are concerned about their mental health needs it is important to look at their behaviour at home, school and within their social groups.

Family functioning.

It’s normal for family members to squabble and have disagreements, as well as for kids to push back against parental rules and boundaries. However if your child is suddenly getting into frequent or escalating conflicts with family members that don’t get resolved, that’s a warning sign of a potential problem.

Academic functioning.

School is a major portion of any child’s life, so significant changes in results or attitude and application about school or schoolwork that are out of the ordinary could be an indicator of a potential difficulty. Teacher input is often a helpful first step.

Social functioning.

Is your child struggling to get along with friends and classmates? Has she withdrawn from or become reluctant to participate in social activities? If yes, these are all warning signs and it is important to gently notice and identify these feelings for your child.

Common Symptoms of Mental Illness in Children

Psychological problems can largely be divided into two areas; externalizing or internalizing.

As you might guess, externalized behaviour problems are easier to spot, because signs include things you can see: behavioural changes, fighting, hyperactivity and destructive behaviour. Internalized problems are often emotional (such as depression) and thus much more difficult to spot.

Here are six symptoms to watch out for:

Mood changes.

All children (and adults) are prone to mood swings. But pay attention to the point where children are very sad for extended periods of time or become lethargic and withdrawn, not enjoying or engaging in previously exciting activities. 

Intense feelings of anxiety.

Be alert for a child who’s overly anxious, especially if it leads to physical symptoms like a racing heart. While a little bit of anxiety is normal and can be a good thing—if it motivates your child to study or practice, for instance—“too much impairs performance, and children really suffer.” Two easily overlooked physical signs are: unexplained headaches or stomach-aches.

Difficulty concentrating.

A teacher might report that your child is having unusual trouble sitting still or paying attention, or you may notice this problem at home.

Changes in eating or sleeping habits.

If your child is suddenly suffering from insomnia—or, conversely, tries to sleep all day—it could be a signal to seek psychological support.

Quick weight loss.

A noticeable lack of appetite or quick weight loss could indicate developing issues with concern to a possible eating disorder, especially in adolescents.

Experimentation with illicit substances.

Many adolescents try cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. If this behaviour coincides with declining grades or a change in peer group it is again an area of concern and it is vital that the channels of communication remain open with the young person.

As a Chartered Educational and Child Psychologist of 15 years, Hannah Abrahams specialises in working with Children, Young People, Parents and Carers in supporting the development of their emotional, cognitive and learning needs as well as their mental health. She is highly experienced and has worked in many challenging settings including running a team of Psychologists working with the survivors of the Grenfell Tower. As well as being a lead in Trauma and Bereavement she specialises in working with Children diagnosed with Autism and communication difficulties. Hannah regularly talks as an expert on BBC Radio and TV.  She would be delighted to open up further conversation and supportive, nurturing and creative advice about mental health issues facing young people and how in today’s busy world you are best equipped to navigate and best support children’s wellbeing.

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.