It is aptly named the 'silly season' for a reason; all routine and rationale goes out the window, as we travel huge distances to spend time with people we don't often see, smiling inanely, and telling everyone what a wonderful time we're having! Not to mention the whopping £26 billion we spend on food, drink, gifts, and decorations. Add to this the enormous sense of pressure we feel, as mothers, to make the day perfect and extra special for everyone. It's no surprise to hear the Samaritans report a 28% increase in phone calls to them in January and divorce lawyers experience their busiest day on 8th January. So how can we manage this crazy time, without being sucked in to the madness? By taking it one day at a time and sticking to these 5 simple principles, which I have followed since having children of my own. I can honestly say they have made the festive season stay that way, festive. Consider them my early Christmas present to you. Enjoy.
1. Plan ahead
I've never been a great one for writing detailed 'to-do' lists but when it comes to organising my children, and now my dogs as we travel, I am all over it! Now I don't mean lists of what needs to be packed, purchased, or taken. I'm talking about the more important issues of meal times, and ways of keeping them occupied in their down time, or when they inevitably become bored. Being someone who plans their whole day around where they'll get their next meal I am painfully aware of the need to have food readily available on all trips, and even when we are at home too! So I keep an assortment of snacks in the car and plan our departure times a short time after a main meal, to avoid having to stop too many times for more food. I always talk to the children in advance about our plans, particularly points in the day where they might have to be on their best behaviour or there may be a danger of boredom. We discuss ways they could keep themselves occupied, and what is allowed, so they can pack accordingly. In my experience the whole issue and battles around technology use over Christmas comes from a failure to plan in advance and agree what will and will not be permitted.
2. Be realistic
Christmas is all about a break with routine, so be realistic in your expectations of your children. You should not expect an 8 year old child, for example, to sit through an entire 4-course meal, so save yourself the inevitable stresses enforcing their 'sitting nicely' and agree in advance when they are allowed to get down. More importantly, remember to praise them for the courses they were able to sit through. Equally, do not force your children to make 'small-talk', shake hands, and look people in the eye when they talk, if they don't see your visitors that often, or they are shy. There are other more important battles which you should focus on, such as manners, kindness, and being inclusive to younger visitors, who they might not ordinarily choose to play with. This rule applies to adults also!
Also be realistic about what you can manage to do in one day; don't bite off more than you can chew and become resentful with others for not reading your mind and knowing what they could or should have done to help. Most of the arguments and stresses throughout Christmas are around the issue of unrealistic expectations.
3. Have a back-up plan
Always always have a back up plan and exit strategy should things go wrong. Sometimes it's better to admit it's not going to be your day than it is to battle on regardless just because it's Christmas and Great Aunt Mabel has flown over from the other side of the world to see you and your children! The back up plan should be agreed with your other half and also your host, should you be visiting others. If it all goes horribly wrong at home then there's no shame in getting your children to don their pyjamas and watch a movie upstairs, or have an early night if necessary. It's about agreeing which battles are worth having and which you will choose to fight another day, when it matters more. Parenting is about making the best decisions in any given situation. Drop the illusion of perfect-parenting, always, and especially at Christmas!
4. Try not to take things too seriously
I know this is easier said than done but the festive period is a series of days, like any other, with enormous amounts of self-imposed pressure, if we allow it. So choose to remember that being nice to Great Uncle Digby, despite his crabbiness, is only for a few days, your house doesn't; need to look magazine picture-perfect; it's just not how people live, and children are children. They are meant to be loud, messy, and overexcited because it's their school holidays, they've been plied them with all sorts of sugary foods, and they want to play obsessively with all their new toys and games.
Be kind to yourself by scheduling in some downtime each day; whether you sit quietly and read a book, go for a run, take out your yoga mat, soak in the bath, or just zone out in front of your favourite film. You can't keep everyone and everything together if you are not prioritising your needs too.
5. Have those difficult conversations in advance
This is the most important of all my five principles, but it is often the one parents forget or avoid. This is all about being honest with yourself first and foremost about what the festive period is going to entail for you and your family. Are you spending the holiday with people you want to be with, or people you feel duty-bound to spend time with? Are you battling with one of your children over their excessive use of technology, their management of their emotions, pushing boundaries, going to bed when you ask them? Are you trying to please everyone by travelling the depth and breadth of the country, when all you really want to do is be at home? Now this principle begins early, when the invitations for the festive period arrive, but there's no time like the present, so look to see what can be done with this year's plans. Start by deciding, which commitments you genuinely want or need to honour, and then politely apologise for having to cancel the others. Then take a cold hard look at the commitments you plan to fulfil; are there some conversations, which need to be had about your hosts treatment of your children? Do they expect them to be little angels or do they ply them with copious amounts of sugar then complain about their behaviour? The only way to avoid issues is to have those conversations in advance. For the high-expection hosts explain what is reasonable to expect from your children and how you will need to modify the plans to make it fun for everyone. For the overindulgent host you might explain you have noticed your child isn't always on their best behaviour with too many sweet foods, so you would appreciate their help in moderating their consumption, so everyone can enjoy the day. It'll feel awkward at first but it will avoid the inevitable resentment and make the day so much easier for everyone.
I could offer you a whole host of additional principles but these really have been my life-savers over the years and I sincerely hope they serve you well over the festive season also. Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year.
I like to think of confidence and anxiety as both existing on the same continuum. At one end you have the confident child who understands their strengths and limitations but feels comfortable in their own skin. This does not mean they are extroverts; extroverts don’t have the monopoly on confidence. They do however value themselves and the unique contribution they bring to their family and wider friendship groups, and as a result they are often more resilient to the day to day stresses which life’s challenges bring. At the other end of the continuum you have the child who has little confidence in their ability to succeed at almost everything, they feel of little value, cannot articulate why friends like them, and as a result are more likely to worry about ordinary day to day challenges, which others handle with relative ease, and have a tendency to become anxious. Needless to say children, and adults too, can move along this continuum depending on the day, activity, and the situation they find themselves in.
One of the the distinguishing features of a confident, resilient child, is their ability to regularly use their voice to express their thoughts, feelings, and frustration; something which anxious children or those lacking confidence really struggle with. Yet this is something which can be easily taught at home, therefore moving your child along the continuum to the more confident end. Here are my top three strategies to help your child find their voice:
1. Wherever possible give your child choices
This can be as simple as whether they have peas and sweetcorn with their evening meal or peas and carrots. Encouraging your children to express their views creates independence of mind and thought, which promotes and accountability Emphasise also that with choices come responsibilies
2. Encourage meal time discussions
Use opportunities when everyone is seated around the table to talk about topics which promote individual views. This can be as simple as posing a question, where they have to express an opinion and put together a coherent argument. Don’t make it overly complicated, make it fun, for example “should chocolate be eaten for breakfast, or should parents be made to go to school to learn how to play Minecraft?”
3. Set regular goals
Make it a family habit to set yourselves small manageable goals to achieve each month, or quarter. Encourage everyone to sit down together to discuss goals which aim to get your child, and you as their parent, that little bit closer to the person they want to become. For example if your child wants to be in the school football team they might give themselves a target of practicing goal kicking every day for 10 minutes for one month. If you, as their parent, want to be fitter, you might set a target of going for a run or walk 3 times a week for 30 minutes. What your child learns about themselves is given double weight by them observing you setting yourself goals, which you pursue with determination. So it’s a win win situatn
Remembering confidence is a way of thinking and behaving which isn’t permanent is key to moving up the continuum
How to help your anxious child without having to read every self-help book there is, even if you feel you've tried everything already
Parenting an anxious child can feel overwhelming as you watch your child struggle with everyday activities which other children manage, with what appears, relative ease. As a parent you can often feel isolated, embarrassed, and guilty; no-one else's child gets upset about going into school every day, or attending after school activities, or making friends, or getting to sleep at night, or going on a school trip, or sitting a test, or managing their emotions, or (insert as appropriate).........
However anxiety is the most common mental health issue children will experience, affecting 1 in 4 before they reach the age of 16 years. It's the quiet struggle which so many parents live with but never talk about for fear of being judged, misunderstood, or given well meaning advice on why ‘tough-love’ is required. Given these stark numbers your child is likely to be in a class of between 4-8 children who worry too. As a parent with an anxious child you are therefore not alone; other parents are simply choosing not to publicly talk about it.
If you are a struggling to support your anxious child, feel you’ve read every book, tried every technique, and still feel overwhelmed, here are my top three tips to get you started. They are not a cure but they are where I would start with any child, or adult, who is anxious. They are the foundations upon which all my strategies dovetail onto. Without these foundations you are unlikely to make any real lasting progress.
1. Explain the physiology of stress
Children need to understand what is happening in their bodies when they worry about a given situation. They are probably telling you they feel sick, have butterflies, or an icky feeling in their tummy, a headache, feel dizzy, or a racing heart, sweaty hands, etc. Once you explain that their body is just doing its job and responding to what it thinks is a danger, by getting them ready to fight or run away, you begin to normalise their experience. I use the analogy of a smoke alarm, which goes off when it shouldn’t – it’s simply trying to alert you to a possible fire, and it’s your choice whether to act on this alarm or switch it off.
2. Problem solve strategies to reduce the physiological response
Your role as a parent is to help your child trouble shoot the most effective ways to switch off / silence the alarm. Understanding your child’s unique physiological response to stress is the best place to start. If they tend to start breathing very quickly, then focus on ways to slow their breathing down, if they feel sick then you are best helping them find a ‘happy place’ to take themselves off to, which doesn’t have to be a physical place (see next tip). I have found encouraging children to count their in and out breath in rounds of ten works far more effectively than simply asking them to take a few deep breathes. Ask your child to count in their heads, an in-breath is one, an out-breath is two, next in-breath is three, next out-breath is four, and so on until they get to 10, then they can start again from 1, until they feel an easing in their stress.
3. Harness your child’s imagination
Children have the most vivid imaginations; in some ways their anxiety is born out of this as they picture all sorts of negative outcomes for their particular worries. This strategy harnesses their imagination to create a ‘safe-place’ they can mentally retreat to, or interact with when they are feeling anxious. Practice makes perfect with this strategy so introduce this concept to your child when they are in a good mood, and help them make the imagery as vivid as possible. If your child is into unicorns have them create a land where unicorns live with vibrant colours, sparkles and their worries are taken away into the beautiful blue sky, if they are into space and rockets have them jet off to the moon and jettison their worries out of the rocket into space. Whatever works for your child help them make the image as vivid and real as possible.
In over ten years experience working with children these have been the most effective strategies I have found, but they won’t work instantly. As is the case when learning anything new, they require practice.
If you’d like to know more about how to help your child then why not tune into my first ever children’s Facebook live session on Wednesday 27th September at 6pm, where I will cover these three strategies and more. Go to my Facebook page on the day or start following me now to get notified once the session starts www.facebook.com/drmaryhan
I am a staunchly private person but there's something very public about going through a divorce, which has left me at least, more prepared than ever to expose my vulnerability. I think of it very much in the same way as gynaecological examinations during pregnancy and labour; your most intimate parts are laid bare for everyone to look at, and you no longer feel embarrassed by it. You have elevated yourself to a whole new level of vulnerability, with no shame.
Actually, that's not entirely correct. The shame of divorce is intense at the beginning, almost paralysing in fact. I didn't tell anyone, except my sister, for the first 3 months. How insane is that?!
Yet the painful truth about a divorce or any other significant life event is the surfacing of all your deeply held beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviours, laid bare to the spotlight for examination. For me, it was my need to feel and appear totally in control of everything and stoically coping with whatever life threw at me. Something which I know comes from experiencing the loss of my father at a young age. Whilst this might have helped me cope at the time of his death it isn't something which serves me now. I've had my self-sabotaging behaviour described most eloquently using the analogy of a duck, who appears on the surface to be gliding effortlessly through the water, and yet underneath the surface their legs are going ten to the dozen.
Being afraid to bare your true self, for fear you may appear incapable leaves you operating behind a fragile facade, which is likely to come crumbling down around you at any point. It's hard work being perfectly capable and totally in control all the time. I've learnt the hard way to accept my own vulnerability and be more open when things have become too much. There's truly no shame in people who love you seeing you at your most frail, open, raw, and exposed. They'll love you all the more for it.
I honestly believe half the battle is being able to identify and accept your own self-sabotaging behaviours for what they are; learnt patterns of behaviour which have protected and served you in the past, but are no longer healthy for you. Being vigilant and kind to yourself when you notice yourself caught up in autopilot is the next step. You're not going to change deeply rooted patterns of behaviour overnight.
I see these patterns of self-sabotaging behaviours each and every day in my work. It's something I think we as mothers have cornered the market on! Yet it really doesn't have to be this way. Our children will cope just as well in life, more so I would argue, if they saw the more vulnerable, as well as the organised women we are. We owe it to ourselves, first and foremost, to put an end to perfection and move ourselves towards a more conscious way of parenting; one where we acknowledge and accept ourselves for who we really are; amazing women in our own right.
I don't recall being an early riser when I was younger but I remember all too vividly not enjoying those exhausting bleary-eyes mornings sat, or in my case laid down, on the sofa watching children's television with my son, who had a habit of woking up the wrong side of 6am! So, why would I inflict such an early start on myself now I have teens, who barely see the mornings in their school holidays; I could easily linger for a little longer in bed and no-one would notice?
I realised quite early on in my journey as a parent that I don't function particularly well when I haven't had some time to reflect. Whilst I love the hustle and bustle of family life, and relish the time I have with friends, I need at least an hour each and every day to just be on my own to ponder life, the universe, and everything.
So waking up early was a conscious decision, a way to create some much needed 'me-time', which I lost as the children grew up. Those of you who have older children will appreciate the days of having the evenings to yourself disappear once your children hit senior school and in the case of older teens, they are often still awake when you go off to bed! I found myself faced with a dilemma; do I become a serious night-owl, and stay up obscenely late to get 'me-time' or do I become a lark and wake at the crack of dawn. I chose Lark.
Whilst it was difficult at first when the alarm went off at 5am, and all I wanted to do was press snooze a million times, the early mornings have very quickly become my daily saviours. I've been walking at 5am now for over 4 years and I find it gives me a sense of peace and tranquility amongst the chaos that can be parenting some days. As a result I find myself handling challenging situations in a much more measured way, and I pause longer before becoming exasperated at saying the same thing over and over again before being heard!! On the rare occasions that I lie-in, or the children wake up early and disturb my morning paradise, I am noticeably more crabby and irritable. I believe it's as much in what I do during those precious 2 hours before everyone wakes up, as the alone time, which keeps me sane. Here is what I do each and every day:
1. Drink a large glass of water and follow it up with a cup of tea
2. Write a daily journal about the previous day, which I always end with three things I'm grateful for
3. Read one chapter of a book; I am currently re-reading 'We' by Gillian Anderson and Jennifer Nadel
4. Ten minutes of meditation
5. Write down my goals for the day, both work and 'mummy', along with my 'to-do' list
It might not be your thing but if you need to claim some much needed 'you' time and don't quite know how you'll find the time amongst all your other demands, I can highly recommend waking up early, even 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the house, for some much needed quiet time.
It's been a difficult year for me personally, caring for my mother who has dementia whilst going through a difficult divorce, and all the while parenting two teens, with their own unique challenges. What this time has taught me more than anything else is my ability to be a good parent, whatever that might be, hasn't depended on the number of educational trips I've organised, the homework I've supervised, the number of University Open days I've attended, or the number of home made desserts I've made. What's been critical has been the amount of time I've committed to my own self-care.
Some might say that's incredibly selfish; "surely at this difficult time your children need you more than ever" or "you should be devoting every waking moment to your children". To be honest if you'd have asked me last year I would have agreed. However, what I've learnt is self-sacrifice serves no one, least of all your children. It chips away at you, builds up resentment and comes out in an anger fuelled terade at your children for leaving their dishes by the sink, rather than placing them in the dishwasher!
Whilst I wouldn't wish my difficult year on anyone else, it has taught me the importance of placing my own care at the top of my 'to-do list', for the benefit of everyone. I am the glue which holds my family together, as so many mothers are, and we cannot continue to do this if we feel tired, resentful, put upon, and stressed out. We have to find our own daily sanctuaries in the small things which keep us sane. For me, it's waking up early to enjoy my coffee in peace and quiet whilst I write my diary, read, and then take my two dogs for their morning walk. When things get too much during the day I try, wherever possible, to take myself off somewhere for some quiet head-space, and once a month I treat myself to a one to one yoga session. You don't need to spend a fortune on spa days, if you don't want to, or set up elaborate shifts of child care so you can leave the house, you just need to find small windows of time during the day where you can simply be you. I find I often lose sight of who I really am as I become engulfed in the role which is 'mother' often doings things I feel I ought to do, to be a good mother, rather than what feels instinctively right for me and my family. We have to stop beating ourselves over the head with what we think makes a perfect mother and instead focus on what makes US the best mother we can be, one which stays true to our real and authentic selves, rather than who we think we ought to be.
What I'd like to think I'm teaching my children is not only how to deal with difficult situations with dignity and good grace, but also how important and valuable they are as individuals. In the same way they nurture their friendships, they must also nurture their own relationship with themselves; as the saying goes, you cannot put on another's oxygen mask until you have first put on your own. Dedicating time to yourself each and every day keeps you connected to who you really are, and teaches your children to value and cherish themselves for who they really are too. It's a win win for everyone.
We all have our own ways of wanting things done; I'm obsessed with symmetry and no-one is allowed to pack the dishwasher but me! However, if your child is showing patterns of obsessive behaviour which seem to dictate their day, take a great deal of time, or cause them to feel excessively anxious, then it's time to talk to them. It may be part of a wider issue, which needs addressing or it could be a phase your child is going through. Either way the advice and strategies outlined here will help you give your child the support they need to work through their challenges.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder, which is characterised by intrusive and obsessional thoughts, which can be followed by repetitive compulsions, impulses or urges.
An important first step is to explain to your child experiencing stress / anxiety is normal. It is adaptive and it is our body’s way of alerting us to possible danger, so we can keep ourselves safe. The activation of our alarm system sets off a physiological chain reaction which prepares our body to fight or ran away from the danger. Stress / anxiety becomes an issue when our body’s internal alarm system is triggered and there is no real danger.
Keeping this in mind at all times is key, as all the strategies outlined either focus on ‘standing down’ the false alarm and reducing the body’s heightened physiological response, or they focus on changing your child’s perception of the threat and their ability to cope with it.
1. Name the ‘alarm’ system
I often make the analogy that our body’s alarm system is an ancient warrior which is woken to fight on our behalf and our job is to tell it to ‘stand down’ as it’s a false alarm. Another analogy, which, works particularly well for OCD is to think of it is as a bully, which is trying to control you. Giving the warrior or bully a name takes the perceived shame away from your child and gives them the vocabulary to have an open dialogue with you dialogue wth you about keeping the warrior or bully in check.
2. Press ‘pause’
Encouraging your child to delay their rituals or ‘press pause’, even if it’s for 1 minute helps them regain control of the warrior or bully. Your child is likely to find this particularly difficult at first so it’s a case of short pauses in the beginning and then make them lengthier as they grow in confidence. Also encourage your child to ‘play around’ with the ritual, for example if they typically have to do something with their right then left hand, ask them to do it the other way around sometimes.
Pausing, and playing around with the ritual not only gives back control to your child but it also serves as evidence that bad things do not happen when the rituals are not performed.
Encouraging your child to practice taking three deep breathes as soon as they notice their warrior or bully has started. This serves as another way to pause and reflect before acting. To help your child make the take-three a habit it is best to encourage your child to do this regularly throughout the day, whether they are feeling anxious or not.
The idea is to take a deep breath in through the nose, expanding your diaphragm, rather than puffing out your chest, and to then take a longer slower outbreath through the mouth. I have found visualising a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream on top can really help. The deep in-breath is to smell the deliciously sweet marshmallow and cream, and the out-breath is to slowing blow and cool the hot chocolate so it can be drunk.
4. Challenging their negative thoughts
It is really important to start by explaining to your child the thoughts we have are not always true or that they will happen, for example we might think a dog will bite us because they are growling as we walk past but this might not actually happen. It is therefore important to teach your child to challenge their thoughts to make sure they are not falling into a ‘thought trap’.
They might ask themselves these questions:
5. Changing their internal dialogue
Sit down with your child and create a number of positive / coping statements which your child can use when they find themselves thinking negative thoughts. Encourage the words to come from your child, not you. If the statements make use of their own language they are much more likely to be effective.
Here are some possible examples:
6. Daily practice of gratitude
Whilst this strategy doesn’t directly target the anxiety associated with OCD it has been shown to improve mental health, which is turn is likely to reduce your child’s anxiety and increase their perceived ability to cope.
I find it is best to use a diary or notebook, as it formalises the process, and allows your child to reflect back on their gratitude when things become challenging. I also find it best to do this in the morning as it sets a more positive intention for the day than doing it at night. However, it can be helpful for your child to reflect on what they have been grateful for in the evening also.
The practice asks your child to write down three things each day, which they are grateful for. This doesn’t necessarily have to be anything substantive, just something impactful. For example, they may be grateful for the sunshine as they had a games lesson outside, their friend sat next to them in a lesson, and so on.
7. Daily mindfulness
Encourage your child to take 5-10 minutes each day to practice mindfulness. There is a very useful app called HeadSpace, which is free for the first 10 sessions, allowing your child to trial it and experience the benefits. The key benefit of mindfulness for OCD is that it teaches children that thoughts come and go all the time and to sit back and observe, rather than chase after them. This can help the ‘pressing pause’ strategy work more effectively and give back control of the warrior / bully to your child.
There has been a great deal of focus on children’s mental health in recent years with statistics now showing one in four children will experience a significant mental health challenge before the age of sixteen years. With these stark statistics as a background it can be very difficult as a parent to establish whether your child is experiencing any difficulties and how to help them if they are. Whilst there are no specific hard and fast rules, there are some clear warning signs, which might indicate your child is less than psychologically fit, and some simple activities you can do to help.
Establishing whether there’s a problem
These are the five main warning signs, which might indicate your child has a mental health issue. These are not exhaustive but the most common indicators:
Strategies to help
1. Believe in your child's ability to overcome
Your child might be scared of sleeping alone right now, but if you show him you believe it is something which they an overcome, you create a more empowering sauce. It is perfectly normal to experience stress and anxiety in life, by normalizing it and letting your child know it won’t last forever you take away any isolation they may feel.
2. Acknowledge the emotion behind the behaviour
This helps all children but is particularly important for anxious children who need to know that their feelings are valid. You might not be able to understand or relate to your child's anxiety around friendships, for example, but your empathy validates your child's feelings which is an important first step. Dismissing a child's feelings by telling them there's nothing to worry about only leads to more anxiety and a feeling that their emotions are somehow abnormal or wrong.
3. Discuss the physical side of anxiety
Explain to your child how anxiety is our bodies alarm system, dating back to the time of sabre tooth tigers. We needed a way of being alerted to danger quickly so we could run away and avoid being eaten. Although the sabre tooth tigers are now gone the alarm system is still there and it sometimes goes off when there is no real danger.
4. Problem solve bespoke solutions
Each child needs their own set of tools and strategies for dealing with their unique anxiety. Talking to your child about what they could do to help themselves when they experience anxiety is key to helping them cope in the future. Encourage them to come up with their own solutions, rather than you imposing your ideas on them.
5. Learn to recognise the difference between behaviour and anxiety
All our behaviour is driven by our emotions and with anxiety this can be significantly heightened. The key differences which differentiate anxiety driven behaviour from behaviour which pushes boundaries is the motive behind anxious behaviour is protection rather than a deliberate disregard of rules.
It's the season of exam results and my son will be amongst the thousands of students who will be receiving their GCSE results tomorrow. Talk about pressure! There is nothing more testing of a teen's resilience than receiving a set of exam results which aren't up to the exacting A* grades everyone is talking about.
Yet tomorrow there will be a significant number of teens feeling as though they've failed. The question is, what can we as parents do to help support them? Here are my top tips:
1. Acknowledge their feelings
Whether you think your teen's grades are amazing or not you need to acknowledge how the results make them feel, and encourage them to talk about it. A simple "I can see you are really disappointed with your grades; you had hoped for at least 3 A's", followed by "want to talk about it?" or "I'm here when you are ready to talk"
2. Set aside your own feelings
Sometimes as parents we can feel our children's exam results in some way reflect how good our parenting is, or we get sucked into the whole comparison game. Try and remember it doesn't matter how your teens results make you feel. You need to set aside your personal anger or disappointment if you are to help them move on constructively.
3. Don't lecture
Now is not the time to give your teen a pep-talk on how they might have done better had they studied more, gone out less, spent less time with their friends etc. Trust me, your teen is already having those conversations with themselves and you will only alienate them if you go down this route.
4. Help them make a plan
If things have really gone totally pear-shaped then when the dust has well and truly settled, sit down with them and help them come up with a plan. You need to act as a coach here rather than a dictator; ask lots of questions, actively listen to their answers, and ask questions again. Your teen is much more likely to act on a plan they have made than one they have simply been told to follow.
Helping our teens cope constructively with disappointment, in my mind, is the most important skill we can pass down to our children.
Good luck and let me know how you get on.
At my parenting seminars I am often asked about how much time school-aged children should have to play each day. The common issue seems to be afterschool activities and homework leave very little time for anything else. My answer is always the same…
I believe play is the single most important activity for children to engage in, each and every day, for at least one hour. The research evidence is overwhelming in documenting the power of play for children’s emotional wellbeing, social development and academic achievement.
Here are my five top reasons why you should be scheduling play into your child’s day, before anything else.
Allows children to wind down and recharge
Children, like adults, need to be given time to unwind after their ‘work day’. At school they spend at least six hours paying attention to their teachers instructions, concentrating on completing tasks, problem solving to complete their work, holding back natural impulses to play, and communicating their intentions to both adults and peers. It is no wonder they come home exhausted, hungry, uncommunicative, and reluctant to start their homework the moment they have walked through the door.
Providing some unstructured time where they can play independently with their toys ensures children get their much-needed ‘wind-down’ time, equivalent to our ‘cup of tea and take the weight off our feet’ time. This allows them to recharge their batteries, leaving them ready to tackle anything.
Work through any unresolved issues of the day
Children ‘bring their work home’ from school in the form of unresolved friendship issues, and play helps them to work through these issues. Have you ever witnessed your child using their toys to act out an argument they had with a friend, role-play a classroom scene, use their super powers to defeat baddies, or take their frustrations out on their sibling’s building blocks, jigsaw or anything else to hand?
Play opens up so many opportunities for us to connect with our children and talk through their anxieties in ways, which feel more natural than a formal sit down and chat about their day. Children also feel much less under the glare of a spotlight when we talk to them whilst playing, making them much more open. Together you can work through issues and discuss possible solutions, leaving your child feeling more confident; knowing you are there for them when they need you.
Teaches social skills
When playing alongside others children learn valuable social skills first hand, which would be much more difficult to teach in isolation. Deciding on what to play requires negotiation skills, board games promote turn taking, role-playing games need cooperation, and sharing your favourite toys encourages compromise.
Play teaches children to be mindful of the feelings of others, which fosters emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent children have better peer relationships and fair better academically, which is what we all want isn’t it?
Enables children to experience risk and develop resilience
Through imaginative play children lose themselves in their fantasy characters. An anxious child loses all inhibitions when they are slaying dragons, teaching their pupils, caring for poorly animals, or saving the universe with their super powers. Encouraging children to climb trees, build dens, and put on shows for their friends and family all provide children with much needed opportunities to take risks and work outside their comfort zones. Kitchen discos are also a great place to lose all self-consciousness and get active.
Play is a child’s work and their way of trying out new skills, whilst perfecting others. Providing props and unstructured time is essential to ignite their imagination and develop their creativity. A packaging box is so exciting because it can be a pirate ship, a space rocket, a magical kingdom or the entrance to another world.
Provides an opportunity to try new skills without fear of failure
When children play they are constantly learning new skills, which can then be generalised to other areas of their life. Playing with building blocks provides an understanding of spatial awareness, promotes a sense of creativity, and teaches mathematical concepts of symmetry, shape and geometry. Kicking a ball around in the garden teaches coordination and balance skills, promotes muscle strength, and the use of their senses to orient themselves around their world.
Children learn so much more through play because there is no fear of failure, blocks fall down when you stack them too high, not all kicks of the football result in a goal, we don’t always win the game of snakes and ladders, and so on. Structured play can also be used to help children who are struggling in specific areas at school. Word puzzles are much more fun than spellings, dot to dot games are much more engaging than times-tables, making a scrapbook builds on literacy skills without the essay writing. The possibilities are endless.
So why not have another look at your child’s schedule this week and block out their one-hour playtime. With all these benefits you won’t regret it.
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