Behaviour is a form of communication. Someone slams a door – you know they are angry (unless there was a gust of wind!), if someone is tearful you infer they are upset. Of course behaviour isn’t just those big gestures lots can be conveyed by the way a person stands, their tone of voice, their demeanour and facial expressions.
Yet when we come to think about behaviour, especially behaviour in children and teenagers we so often seem to concentrate on what they do, rather than why they do it.
Clearly whatever age a child is, part of social learning is developing an understanding that particular behaviours lead to particular consequences, as adults we are well aware of that and we know they are not always pleasant, if we drive too fast, and get caught, we’ll pay a fine, if we display anger in certain ways at work, we may lose our jobs and I’m sure you can think of plenty of other examples. But simply responding to behaviour by imposing sanctions or consequences doesn’t teach a child an alternative way of behaving and does nothing to get behind the behaviour and understand why a child or young person is behaving in a particular way. So next time the behaviour is proving to be a challenge try asking these questions.
Can they behave in a different way?
In many ways as parents we accept the ‘toddler tantrums’ – the behaviour can be hard to manage and embarrassing when you are in the supermarket but often it is accepted, or perhaps tolerated is a better word, because we know it is a normal phase of development for many toddlers. Often it comes about when they are not able to express verbally how they feel, they don’t have the reasoning skills and they express their frustrations or distress in the only way they know how.
With older children or teenagers behaving in ways which are unacceptable, ask yourself if they can, as in are capable of behaving differently. Have you seen them handle a situation and not behave in this way? If the behaviour you see is always the behaviour you see in that situation then maybe they lack the maturity, or skills, to behave differently. It doesn’t mean the behaviour is acceptable but unless they are taught different ways of handing the situation or emotions then it seems a bit unfair to impose sanctions. You wouldn’t punish a child for not being able to feed themselves if they’d never had the opportunity to learn.
What skills do they need to learn?
The next stage is to identify the skills they need. Maybe they need help in identifying appropriate ways of expressing their emotions, anger, sadness, or frustration etc. It’s not easy even as an adult sometimes, so much less so for a child or teenager. They need to understand and be able to identify what they are feeling and then learn ways of expressing those feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt themselves or others. It is important to express the emotion not just suppress it or squash it down – that almost always leads to other problems in the future.
How do YOU manage that emotion?
As adults, especially as parents and teachers or school staff it is our role to give children the strategies they need to not just survive but thrive in the world. So as adults faced with a child who is displaying challenging behaviour we need to teach them some alternative strategies for dealing with those emotions. In the way we do with small children when we encourage them not to shout or cry but explain what the problem is (not in a whiny voice!!) we are saying ‘instead of doing what you are doing, try this.’ So if the behaviour appears to be in response to an emotion identify the emotion and then try to give them an alternative way of managing. What do you do when you are angry or upset, probably you don’t hit people or throw things, but you may leave the room for a while, go for a walk or explain why you are angry with a person or situation and being listened to will often help. Perhaps you use mindfulness, or exercise or offloading to a friend – think about what you do and try to think of a way that a child or young person could use a similar strategy.
Is the trigger really the trigger?
When we stop to consider why a behaviour is happening it can also be helpful to think what triggered it. But I also think we have all had situations when we have responded, apparently TO a particular trigger but actually the cause was really something else. Many people reading this will have experienced a bad day at work then, when they go home, they find something that would usually be mildly irritating but instead find themselves getting really cross over it. We have probably all taken things out on people that weren’t actually part of the problem. Sometimes it is a ‘last straw’ situation or sometime it’s because we feel safe with that person. Beware of identifying triggers though without observations over a period of time. Often what appears to be the trigger may almost incidental- a child who reacts negatively to losing a game may do so out of the frustration of the moment but may also do so because of some slightly bigger issue, the older sibling always winning, a sense of unfairness or because they feel useless at a particular thing, or even fearful of something.
Are they really choosing to behave that way?
Think again about yourself as a responsible, socially well-functioning adult. If you are put in a situation where you feel uncomfortable does that ‘make’ you do things you wouldn’t normally. You are at a party and hating it, do maybe tell a fib to give a reason to escape? Someone cuts you up when you are driving do you shout or gesticulate? You are faced with something you fear, a spider for example do you scream and demand that someone else deals with it? Someone says something to you that touches a nerve or raw spot and you react in an over the top way?
These are all examples of times when we maybe don’t use our usual, rational approach but rather we are ‘driven’ by the emotions the circumstances generate for us, or even other emotions we are experiencing at the time which cause us to behave in ways that are maybe not our usual, characteristic way of behaving. Probably we have all had incidents like this. We are not alone. A child who feels physically, but more usually emotionally, unsafe may react in extreme ways. They aren’t necesarily ‘choosing’ they are responding to the fear – a child refusing to try something because they are afraid they might fail then if pushed will behave angrily for example.
Children and young people won’t always behave the way we’d like them to but trying to get behind the behaviour will help you help them to develop new strategies. Asking yourself the questions above can help in that process.
So this is an unusual blog post for me but it has been an eventful few weeks so I thought I’d give a bit of an update and also a reminder about a few upcoming courses.
I was delighted to have an article published in the TES as I do feel very strongly that excluding children from school is never going to solve the problems with behaviour – yes it might get troublesome students out of the classroom, or even school, for a while but unless there is some ‘input’ or some attempt to work out why they behave the way they do the chances are they will come back into school and behave exaclty as they did before. Have a read and I wouldl love to know your views
Many of you will know that I have worked a lot with vunerable children, those who are in care, have suffered trauma, attachment issues or other ‘vulnerabilities’ so I was very pleased that my article for the Guardian about ways schools can support such students was published recently.
Particulalry when I have read other artices like one on in the Guardian Saturday by Deborah Orr explaining how it’s children who suffer during austerity or indeed another one earlier in the week blaming austerity for record numbers of children and young people being taken into care.
I then had the privilege (costly) of exhibiting and presenting at the TES SEN show – first time doing this and you can read a bit on my linked in post about it. I really enjoyed delivering my workshop on ‘behaviour management strategies that work’ and also chatting to all the teachers, school staff and parents who visited my rather humble stand and a thank you to those who bought my book!! If you haven’t yet you can get it from Worth Publishers
But in fact soon you’ll be able to get it from my very own on line shop along with various other items – exciting I know!!!
As some of you know i have also started to blog for Huffpost and my first blog was about how parents can help their child excel at school you can read it here. and my next one explains why hiring a private tutor for your child can be a good idea I’ll let you know when it is published so keep an eye on twitter, facebook, and instagram
I enjoyed running a Sounds-Write Course for teachers and school satff recenlty at KingsOak Primary School in Bedford. Sounds-Write is an evidence based, highly effective, linguistic phonics programme. Quite simply in 4 days it not only gives a thorough theoretical background to the teaching of reading but with lots of practical activities shows adults exaclty how to go about teaching reading to a class, small group or individual child.
The next one is scheduled to begin on Wednesday 1st November (then Wednesdays 8th, 22nd and 29th Nov)at Weatherfield Academy in Dunstable.
If you’d like to book a place either visit Sounds-Write
or email me.
In addition to courses for schools and you can see a complete list of these by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post, please also take a look at our Attuned Success site as we have 2 one day courses in November
Mind design on Novemebr the 11th and a
Business Builder workshop on 25th Novemebr
Both take place in the delightful surroundings of Woodlands Manor and include lunch and refreshments.
You can book places here or by emailing me.
Mental health has been in the news a lot lately and particualrly mental health among children.
I’ve written posts before about mental health or aspects related to it and links are at the bottom of this post if you’d like to read them.
But this week a couple of powerful new resources have become available which I thought it would be good to draw attention to.
The first is from Times Education Supplement (TES) and it’s called ‘I have a Volcano inside me’
It’s a short animated film which simply explains the struggles of one child and has messages about how the other children can offer support. It is very starightforward and begins wit some year 6 children explaining what they do to cope with their worries, their minor worries and I think is important to understand that everyone has minor worries and it is good to identify what we do to help us cope but also that for some people the woriies are more intense or their situations much more difficult.
The second is from the BBC and can be found here
and contains short animnated videos that tell the stories of different children that have struggled with aspects of mental health. It includes a story about a bully, and someone being bullied, someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, someone with Anorexia and two children talk about panic attacks.
What we here often hear from parents is that when faced with their child or children having a problem that they dont know how to talk about it with them and what we hear from children and young people is that they find it hard to talk about how they feel.
I’m sure it must be really helpful to hear in the voices of the children themselves how they struggled and how they got help, and that must go some way to reducing the isolation they may feel.
The number of children and young people with mental health problems appears to be growing and while there are no easy answers, as adults whether teachers, parents, relatives or family friends the hope is we can all play a part by being there to help or support any child or young person experiencing difficulties and learn a little more ourselves about the struggles they face.
or see below for a post about emotions.
I have met plenty of children and young people who love reading and I have also met children who don’t love reading. Often, but certainly not always this dislike of reading has stemmed from early difficulties with reading. The difficulties may have been resolved but for some children who struggled when they were learning it may take a long time before they actually enjoy reading.
However I don’t think I have met a child, or even adult for that matter who doesnt love a good story.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts reading is an essential skill for children to learn AND it is not a natural or innate skill. Unlike speaking, which children in every human society learn, the skill of reading is an additional skill and therefore needs to be taught explicitly. We also know that English can present some complexities when it comes to learning to read, there being 26 letters but 44 commonly used sounds, unlike other languages where there is a much more consistent sound spelling correlation.
But as parents we want our children to develop this vital skill and to do that they need access to three different types of texts which all serve slightly different purposes when children are learning to read and progressing towards being fluent independent readers.
Stories for Fun
Hopefully even as babies and toddlers picture books and stories are read to and with children and they can be a great source of learning. Learning may come from the content of the stories themselves and the discussion that may follow the story but in addition children learn the pattern of stories, they learn that books can be fun and as they grow they learn that the text is related to the pictures, regardless of whether they can decode the text. It’s a great idea to get children to talk about the story, what might happen next, point to the pictures or detail within the pictures. This all aids their understanding of stories. New vocabulary will be learned from books and stories as well. In fact children over the age of 7 learn most new vocabulary from books rather than from speech so it is vital that children learn to read effectively. English is a rich language with a very large number of words relative to some other languages, think about the number of words we have that mean feeling or showing pleasure –
Contented, Content, Cheerful, Cheery, Joyful, Jovial, Gleeful, Carefree, Untroubled, Delighted, Smiling, Glowing, Satisfied, Radiant, Sunny, Blithe, Good humoured, Blissful, Euphoric…..and you could probably think of a few more.
If we were writing we’d chose which particular word to use depending on the context and personal preference and while we’d all be able to read and understand the words if we read them in a book, many are words that we wouldnt use often in everyday speech.
When children are learning to read themselves it is vitally important that they continue to enjoy stories with adults that are beyond what they themselves could read. When a child is first learning to read they need to decode each word so the books are simple and ideally should use only the sounds/spelling correspondences that the child has learned – see section below on coded stories. In fact until the child is a fluent reader their reading development will be enriched by having stories read to them that they will be able to comprehend but would not necessarily be able to read. Experiencing challenging texts with support may be good for the developing reader but being expected to read books or words that they haven’t the skills or knowledge to do effectively is likely to put them off, or force them into a position where they are guessing which in many ways undermines their learning as they may guess correctly sometimes but not others and that can never be a foundation for good reading.
A mistake that many parents make is to stop reading to children too early. They may be able to read the individual words but imagine if you were reading a complicated text where you were having to really concentrate to get the thread of the argument, often I imagine you’d read a sentence more than once to be sure you’d got it right. It is hard for a child to follow the plot of a story when they need to decode some of the words but you want them to enjoy the story so a mix of books is essential. Stories they can enjoy listening to and stories they can read themselves.
It is also useful to share reading stories with children who are learning to read so they read a page or even a sentence or two but an adult reads the rest.
The message is to keep reading to children even when they are starting to read themselves. Different books serve different purposes but reading to children will almost always be of benefit.
Books for Information
I have used the word books but really I mean text and this may be in a book or a magazine or indeed on the internet. It is all reading. A child may be willing to put in considerable effort to read some information on a computer game. The important thing is that they can see text as a source of information. There are some great non-fiction books and one of the advantages is that often the text is in short chunks like in example below which is form the Natural History Museum website. Again they may need help with some of the words if they are still learning to read but in a short piece of text when they are wanting to find something out it is great to let them read the words they can.
“Diplodocus had a long neck that it would have used to reach high and low vegetation, and to drink water. There has been some debate over how such a long neck would have been held.”
Coded Phonic Books
These have improved dramatically over recent years and there are now an ever increasing number of coded stories with great illuatrations, attractivley designed and with specific information for parents about the sounds/spellings that are being focussed upon. But I have heard people criticise them – often for the very thing they are intended to do.
The nature of a coded book is to use restricted text – that is only words the child has been taught how to decode, using sounds spelling correspondences they have been introduced to. So in the early days of learning to read they will be repetitive as there are only a restricted set of words that can be used. Even as they progress the purpose is usually is for them to practice reading a particular spelling or spellings for a sound. So a child who has learned some of the different ways we spell the sound /oe/ the sound as in the word ‘so’ might well read words like go, boat, show, note, and though, which all spell the sound in a different way.
Using coded phonic books is essential to support reading development, if your child is bringing home books to read themsleves (as distinct from stories to have read to them or share with an adult) that are not coded I would advise talking to the teacher about why coded phonic books arent being used.
Sounds-Write have now produced a brilliant free course for parents which is available on Udemy. If your child is in school and learning to read or about to start school this a great resource of parents – you can complete it at a time to suit yourself but it will definitely help you to understand what your child isbeing taught in phonics at school and why. It will also enable youto offer them great support with their reading and writing. You can have a look by clicking here.
Thoughts about Thoughts
Thoughts are important, I think we’d probably all agree with that. It is our thoughts that in time give rise to our feelings and our actions. Everything that happens begins with a thought whether it is something simple like standing up, lifting a cup or planning a holiday, deciding to move house even having a brilliant idea. Everything for the Taj Mahal to the light bulb began with a thought. So thoughts are powerful and thoughts have a creative energy.
They are also under our control. It doesn’t always feel like that as sometimes our brains can get into ever decreasing circles with anxious or worried thoughts, or negative spirals where we berate ourselves and beat ourselves up, or angry or resentful thought patterns that feel hard to escape but with practice we can learn to control them. That is not to say it is easy but it is possible and it is something we need to learn if we are to see changes in our lives.
We certainly can’t control what happens in our lives but we can control how we respond to what happens in our lives and part of that response is to do with our thoughts. Imagine you hear that you hear something that upsets you – often what is the cause of greatest distress is not the news though that may be distressing but our thoughts about that news. Let’s have a concrete example to explain this. You hear of a terrorist attack, upsetting on every level but if you let your thoughts run away in a short time you can be reviewing decisions to travel or even seeing certain groups of people as dangerous. Our thoughts can change our response to the event. If on the other hand we think that while it was a distressing it is only a very small percentage of people who would behave in such ways and that generally the world is a safe place for most people we probably wouldn’t radically alter our plans. So it is our thoughts ABOUT the event or situation that shape our response.
Our thoughts also impact our feelings. Imagine a relationship break up – almost always upsetting to some degree. But if we let ourselves think that it was all our fault that we are unlovable that we’ll never be happy in our relationships then we are almost guaranteed to feel worse than we would if we think that there will be others that we deserve and can find fulfilling relationships. It might not take away the pain but out thoughts can either make that pain worse or a little better.
Conscious and Subconscious thoughts
I can’t do this justice in one simple blog post but we all know that our brains. Like icebergs have a huge subconscious which is pretty busy all the time. The conscious thoughts are really only the tiny tip of that iceberg. So let’s start by managing our conscious thoughts, literally one thought at a time. A negative or worrying thought happens and we just have to learn to bat it away and change it for a more positive one. Literally thought by thought. If you start doing that you will notice the difference very quickly, not just to the amount of negative thoughts you have which will almost certainly reduce but also to your feelings and when your thoughts and feelings become more positive you actions will as well. Some thoughts may stem from unhelpful mind sets and limiting beliefs that we might have, even if we don’t realise it but by dealing with each thought these will lessen.
When it comes to subconscious thoughts there are also things we can do – click here to read more about how we can harness the power of our subconscious.
One of the most important choices we make is with our thoughts. It is in our power to choose one thought instead of another. I’m not saying it is easy BUT it definitely is possible and if you change your thoughts quite literally you can change your life.
Whatever day of the week it is when you read this just start to notice your conscious thoughts about the things that happen. Every time you are aware of being negative then try to change that into a positive thought or if that feels too tough at least a neutral thought. So instead of, for example feeling angry because you are thinking that the car in front of you is driving really slowly – change that thought. Remind yourself that actually it will probably make very little difference to your arrival time. Or be grateful that you have a car that it is working well. Or think about the destination, that you are going somewhere because you have a purpose. It might sound trite at first but it honestly does make a difference
I have often written blog posts before about reading, teaching reading and helping children to become effective readers. That is simply because, like others I think reading is a fundamental skill that children need to learn and they deserve to be taught in ways that will help them achieve that, by people who have the right skills and knowledge.
So I’m not going to repeat those blogs in this post – but you can find them on the website under blogs and on the side bar there are links to other articles about reading.
There are however a couple of things I want to highlight and the first is very exciting.
As parents most people want to help their child learn to read and write and here is a FREE course from Sounds-write for parents which will show them exactly how to do that. You can access it by following the link below.
It only takes an hour or so to complete – but of course you can go back and repeat any sections that you want to, it gives really clear explanations and demonstrates exactly how to explain things to your child. There is a really helpful demonstration of the correct pronunciation of each of the sounds of the alphabet and it evens details how you can help when children make mistakes – which is where some really effective learning can take place.
When it comes to teaching reading not all approaches are equal! Have a read of this – written in 2004 about ‘what experts should know and be able to do’ It is well worth a read
I would draw your attention to the following paragraph
What Does the Research Say About Effective Reading Instruction?
Well-designed, controlled comparisons of instructional approaches have consistently supported these components and practices in reading instruction:
 Direct teaching of decoding, comprehension, and literature appreciation;
 Phoneme awareness instruction;
 Systematic and explicit instruction in the code system of written English;
 Daily exposure to a variety of texts, as well as incentives for children to read independently and with others.
That is exactly what Sounds-Write does yet many schools insist on using mixed methods which include some phonics instruction but watered down with other approaches OR not used with fidelity. Other school use aphonic approach but while they may spend considerable sums of money on phonic resources they do no spend the money on training staff who use them. Other schools adopt a phonic approach but continue to send children home with books that are not decodable which can have a detrimental effect on the child developing the necessary skills then being put in a position where they are asked to access texts they aren’t ready for.
So teachers, school staff and parents I’ll be running a 4 day Sounds-Write courses in Bedfordshire in the autumn term. In September at Kings Oak School in Bedford and in November at Weatherfield Academy in Dunstable (dates for this still being confirmed).
As well as teaching children to read and spell from the moment they enter school in Key Stage 1, the Sounds-write programme also covers Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 and is suitable for catching-up those pupils who have fallen behind in their reading and spelling.
The course provides a detailed understanding of how the English writing system works and how to teach it. Each participant will receive a comprehensive manual containing all the lesson plans and materials needed to teach children at all levels how to read and spell.
I am sure you are aware that the national percentage last year (2016) for passing the phonics screening test was 81% but many school using Sounds-write achieved higher percentages Potton in Bedfordshire 96% for example.
A recent Ofsted evaluation of the Sounds-Course by an expert from the DfE attests to just how well Sounds-Write meets the DfE’s requirements for a quality phonics programme – for a full copy of the DfE report, see the link on the home page of the Sounds-Write website
“I recommend Sounds-Write to every teacher and school leader I meet. At St. George’s, where deprivation levels are extremely high, we achieve consistently outstanding results in all phases. Our Phonics Screening Check has been 96%+ every year. Sounds-Write is a brilliant phonics programme for all pupils from Nursery but it also enables us to teach pupils with no English, or with specific learning difficulties so that no gaps exist in performance within year groups. It is a superb scheme for teaching polysyllabic spelling right through to Year 6. The training is top quality and all staff use consistent methods to teach phonics, reading and spelling effectively. Skills are taught explicitly and pupils demonstrate confidence and success from the outset. Progress is rapid and the quality of writing from Reception onwards astonishes visitors from other schools.”
Janet Hilary, Headteacher and National Leader of Education
If the school you work in or the school your child attends does nto achieve good phonics results contact us today to see how we can help.
The course is designed for teachers and school staff
but parents are welcome to attend as well.
The cost of the 4 day course is in Bedfordshire is £425 per delegate so if you’d like to book a place on either of these courses just get in touch.
Help Its School Holidays!
They have arrived for almost all of the UK now and for many parents it means six weeks of somehow juggling even more than usual. In the UK, according to the Modern Families Index (https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Modern-Families-Index_Full-Report.pdf) 48% of couple families said they worked full time and 57% of single parents reported working full time.
In addition to that there are hundreds of parents who work part time so managing to juggle work with school holidays is a challenge for many parents. But of course it’s not just about surviving the summer holidays – what we want as parents is to provide for our children, be good employees, but also enjoy time with our little ones who will grow up all too soon – so making happy memories and having fun together is important as well. And as conscientious parent we want to provide opportunities for them to keep learning- so not a tall order at all!!
But don’t panic – here’s some tips that will help to make it achievable and get it all in perspective
Hopefully most of this will have been done by now – if not this is a priority so stop reading and get going on this right now! For most though there will be some sort of plan about who was caring for the children when and where. I used to find it helpful to have a weekly planner so we could all see the childcare arrangements at a glance and I always found it easy to ‘muddle up’ weeks – but maybe that was just me!
The priority here is to make sure everyone involved is clear about the childcare – and working pattern of the adults. Everything else can be built around that.
On the days you are not working you can hopefully relax and enjoy time with your children but for the times you are working holidays often mean longer journeys to get your offspring to whoever is looking after them, and while uniform isn’t a hassle they may need different stuff for holiday clubs and believe me you don’t want to be unearthing the under stairs cupboard looking for swimming goggles or whatever at 6am.
If others are coming to your house to care for them that can reduce a lot of the hassle but I always felt sort of duty bound to make sure that there was food in the fridge and that they knew where the garage keys were, for the bikes and scooters and where the crayons, dinosaur stencils or favourite cups were too, so that you can avoid the phone calls when you are trying to get on with your work.
Don’t aim for Perfect
You are a great parent! Start to believe that and during holidays don’t aim for perfect. For example we all know it is important for children to have a healthy nutritious diet but during school holidays it might be simple fare for a few nights, or treats that they wouldn’t usually have – it doesn’t make you a bad parent – the more relaxed you can be the easier it is for everyone. When you do come home during the holidays what your children want is your time and attention not Cordon Bleu Cookery or a spotlessly clean and tidy house!! (As if this was ever a possibility anyway!) So just let the guilt go and do what you need to so you get through.
Family, Friends and Favours
This is the season to call in any all favours you have and if you are lucky enough to live in a supportive community there can be some great economies of scale. If I was taking a day off to look after my own I’d quite happily look after some of their friends too so that we could pool resources and each do a day then have a day that another parent had our children. It was a lifesaver. Family members can also be great at providing care though of course with raised pension ages I think we will be looking at lots of grand parents also juggling work and school holidays when it comes to grandparent childcare. Many families don’t live near extended family members so while they can be a help it might take quite a bit of organisation.
Just like in term time, but possibly without all the after school activities that many children are involved in, when you do get home children will want to spend time with you and show you what they made, tell you what they did, or what their brother/sister did and all you want is five minutes alone to put your feet up with a cup of tea or glass of wine. Well hold that thought because it’s usually easier to devote 30 minutes to those little ones and hear their tales, ahh over their drawings or look shocked at the big brother escapades they tell tales about THEN assert you right to a few minutes of peace.
Of course it might not be the best time for you but whenever you choose to do it give some quality time to you little ones, turn off your phone, leave the endless list of chores for a an hour or two and just revel in their company for a while.
Relax some Rules
Holidays are meant to be relaxing! I know I hear you! As a parent there is never a holiday BUT holidays are also about your mind set – think of it as a holiday in that it is different from the routine of school and think about relaxing a few ‘rules’. Bedtime could be a bit later, or maybe it’s time for ‘teas on knees’ or a movie on a midweek evening. Children do need routine and consistency but within that there is also scope to relax a few rules, especially if that makes things easier for you as a working parent.
With some of the constraints of school out of the way for a while, like homework, then it is also a good time to work on a few different skills – the ones they need in life! So maybe encourage them to get involved in some of the chores, put things in the dishwasher, help with the cooking, setting the table or clearing up or for older ones maybe doing the laundry. Getting themselves organised for the next day in terms of what they might want to take with them is also a useful transferable skill and who hasn’t had a child who has forgotten essential items for school! So it’s a good time to practise those skills.
Remember to keep it simple
When you do get to have some time off with the children remember that while all children enjoy trips to expensive places they also enjoy lots of simple things, that don’t cost much at all.
We are lucky in the UK to have lots of parks, great countryside and free entry museums and places of interest. So think about things like a picnic by a river – or even in the garden – cooking or creative activities using household stuff, camping in the garden, or even in the lounge! They can all feel like adventures for children but don’t have to break the bank – for a few more ideas click here.
Children love Learning
Children love learning – in our culture we often think of learning as always being very formal but children learn anywhere and time away from school is a great time for them to learn in a less formal way – click here for ideas on how you can do can keep them learning on holiday
Sometimes parents find school holidays a great stress but remember that every summer holiday your children will be one year older so it really is important to enjoy them when you can. For anyone who shares children with a partner they don’t live with then holidays are a great time to share the burden and joy of the children and have quality time with a parent they may not see so much of at other times – but this needs planning in advance. The same goes for the extended family – grandparents aunts uncles would all probably love to have time with your children so don’t be afraid to ask.
As this week has shown in a shocking and tragic way we live in a world where awful things happen. Yes, it is also a wonderful world but there are times when either at a personal and individual level, through illness bereavement or numerous other traumas or at a wider societal level (within which there is of course individual trauma and loss) through brutal attacks or violence or at other times through natural disasters like floods we need to ‘manage’ our emotions. Like any other personal skill we can only become adept at doing this if we have learned how to and had the opportunity to practice, though hopefully not through situations as extreme as we’ve seen this week.
But what do we mean by managing emotions? Sadly I think for many this has come to mean simply denying them. Being aware that we feel them then drawing on our stiff upper lip and squashing them right down inside. In my experience that is like trying to keep the lid down on a pan of boiling water. It might work for a while but the likelihood is it will ‘boil over’ sometimes when we least expect it. Managing emotions is a process. One that involves acknowledging and expressing the emotions, then developing and learning to use strategies that help us process the emotions in a helpful way. By this I mean not suppressing them or dwelling on them but being able to move forward at the right time. This can go on throughout our lives and as we mature we may refine the strategies we have for managing our emotions, things that might have caused great consternation to us as youths may not have the same impact when we older, for all sorts of reasons, but in part probably because we become more adept at dealing with ourselves.
Obviously it is important that children and young people learn these skills too and parents, carers and teachers all have a role to play in imparting and re-enforcing the essential messages. Below are the steps which I think are essential for adults to take to help children to learn about emotions and effectively deal with them. It is important as in all areas of learning that information and support is given that is appropriate to the age, stage and personality of the individual child or young person. It is perfectly possible for most of the steps below to be delivered in a formal class or small group based way by a teacher. But it is also possible for parents or carers to have these conversations either individually with a child, or with a sibling or friendship group.
1 Develop a shared language
This can start very early by identifying emotions, ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ might be the first and as children grow we can identify others, anger, disappointment, frustration, fear, or excitement etc. Knowing the word to describe an emotion or feeling is key BUT there also needs to be a shared understanding of what we mean by the words and this also need to be linked to what we might feel in these different states, butterflies in our tummy, or our heart racing. It is a body of knowledge that can grow and an understanding that can deepen as the child grows. It can be taught explicitly but it can simply be conversations between individual, a parent and a child for example, a teaching assistant and student who they are working with.
2 Use this to have dialogues about emotions
When the above has started to happen, and remember that no two children will be the same in their understanding, parents are individuals as are children so each situation will be different. Also we all know that being presented with a learning opportunity does not mean that learning has taken place. But when there is a shared language, however limited, then meaningful dialogue about emotions can begin. This is where the adult can lead, often by asking a question, ‘I wonder if you are feeling sad about …..’(or angry or disappointed or whatever your best guess is). Or perhaps when it is more obvious ‘I can see you are angry about…. So maybe it would be good for us to go for a walk?’ Similar dialogues can be initiated in response to stories, poems or the experiences of others.
3 Note how you manage your own emotions and in particular the strategies you use
The way you can suggest things to do is by first being clear about how you manage your own emotions. What do you do to calm down if you feel angry? Or if you are worried? Do you go outdoors for a walk or a run, have a rant while someone listens, try a few deep breaths, spend time listening to music, go and kick a ball, or do some mindful colouring. Clearly as an adult there are some things you might do – going out alone for a run, or even having a stiff drink, that you couldn’t suggest to a child but as long as it is appropriate it is easy to suggest things. if they work for you there is a chance that same strategy, or a version of it could work for the child.
4 Be appropriately open about your own emotions and strategies you use
‘When I’m disappointed I find it helps to ……’. Whether or not they use the strategy at the time, you are still planting an idea and acknowledging the validity of what they are feeling. Working in schools with students with social emotional and mental health needs I would always have colouring and drawing available – I wouldn’t always suggest it, I’d just acknowledge that they needed space to calm down and say I’d just sit with them. Then I’d start to colour myself and on many (but not every) occasion after a short time they’d come over and join in. At other times I might explain that I find music helps me and offer this or when the situation made it possible that a walk outside could help me calm down and offer it to them. reading aloud can also be a good strategy with a child, I’d say don’t worry about listening I’m just going to read because it helps me – but very often they would end up listening.
5 Seize opportunities for teaching and learning as they arise
In most schools this topic comes up on the curriculum, the physical changes in science and others in different curriculum areas but there is nothing quite so effective as seizing the moment something distressing on the news, or maybe something that has caused concern locally or for younger children perhaps the death of a pet. Any situation where emotions are heightened can be used to have guided conversations about the ways we manage our emotions. As parents the same applies – maybe after watching a movie there can be times to talk about the ‘emotional’ issues it may have raised.
6 Create opportunities when in the right environment
Seizing opportunities as they arise is good practice but of course it isn’t always possible or appropriate to do that so at other times you need to hold the ideas until the environment is right. But what is the right environment? Often it is one that is not too intense but affords some privacy, perhaps a walk, or even a journey in the car. Some children find it much easier to talk about things that matter when they are not sitting face to face and when there can easily be a distraction if they need one. Easy to create for parents not always so easy for staff in schools but there are always those times when children or young people end up being supervised out of class, often as a result of something that will give us the chance to introduce conversations about emotions. As adults we need to be sensitive but also prepared to initiate those conversations either in response to real situations, maybe they’ve just been hurt by another child who was angry, or in response to stories, drama, topics in class, films or other media.
7 Model the desired behaviour
We all know that children learn by watching us. As an adult we will be watched and what we do as well as what we say will be noted. Do we get angry and shout? They will notice this. Do we get quiet and grumpy but tell everyone we are fine, they will notice this too? Providing a commentary, sensitively and appropriately can help children and young people – it gives them a framework. It doesn’t mean we need to bare our souls but we can explain that we felt cross about something but told someone else, had a coffee, went for a walk and feel better now. It is also good to apologise when we haven’t got it right, by saying for example that we are sorry if we shouted, (or whatever) but we were feeling frustrated by something, and explain that the shouting wasn’t right or fair and next time we’ll try and remember to use a better strategy, what this is can then be discussed.
8 Repeat all the steps above
Learning takes practice and let’s be honest we get plenty of practice with emotions as we can be faced with a whole barrage of different emotions every day. By having conversations about emotions we are acknowledging them and validating them for the child. That doesn’t mean we will agree with the way they express them and we may teach them other means of expression, and we may give context to their feelings, some things are not as important as others even though they cause strong feelings at the time, for example. Whether as parents or staff in school, carers or grandparents even older siblings, thankfully there will be plenty of opportunities to have those learning conversations about emotions and how we can learn, and go on learning how to manage them in ways that are helpful and healthy. Over time this is one of the many ways we can play our part in promoting positive mental health.
We hear a lot about safeguarding, health and safety, risk assessments, and duty of care. These are all very important, especially for anyone involved in the care of children or young people. But as a society it seems we could be in danger of becoming very ‘risk averse’.
In terms of academic learning we encourage children to ‘take risks’ – intellectual ones. Trying new things and risking failure is better than playing it safe when it comes to learning. Indeed if children never tried new things and risked some sort of failure then development in every area will be restricted.
Yet as parents it can be tough to let children take risks. Taking a risk in a Math problem is entirely different from a physical or social risk.
As parents we accept that when children learn to walk they will fall -so we may make sure at first that their landing is reasonably soft and be on hand to pick them up but we certainly let them take the risk – or they would never learn the skill. The same is true of lots of other physical skills, learning to ride a bike, or skate or swim or climb. As parents our job is to manage the risk rather than remove it.
But it seems to get tougher for us as parents as they get older. As a parent there are so many decisions we have to make about letting them become more independent. Going out alone even short distance away alone for example – I remember my children first going to a friend’s home about 200 yards away and watching until they went in the door – then when they’d done that safely they’d go to one a bit further away but I’d want to know they had got there, so parents we’d phone each other. All sensible precautions but all a huge area of potential worry for parents but that is part of parenting.. Somehow parents have to take what they know of the child, their understanding of the risks of the surroundings and potential risks, taking into account their own personality, some people are simply less prepared to allow any sort of risk than others, and make a decision we feel comfortable with.
Nowadays of course there is also the whole ‘online’ world which can be full of potential risks. But the internet isn’t going to disappear so we need to help them manage those risks rather than not let them any where near it.
So as a parent how do you manage risk? Well it certainly isn’t an exact science but here area few pointers.
Know your child
Every child is individual – some have a temperament that means they will often do the ‘risky’ thing and as a parent they need to be encouraged when they are old enough to take stock of things and consider potential consequences before taking a risk. Other children who are naturally more cautious may need to be encouraged to take a risk, even a small one, perhaps doing something that the adult knows they will manage fine, like a new taller slide or swimming with supervision in a deeper part of a pool.
Acknowledge that risk is inevitable
Children cannot and should not grow up in a bubble and as parents we need to acknowledge that risk is inevitable and as that as our children go through life there will be bumps and bruises, or disappointments or rejection.But experience is what can help us develop resilience. As parents we can offer comfort when things go wrong but use those times to build resilience and help with the learning that can come from a situation that didn’t work out so well.
Help children and young people to assess risk
If there is something that might present a risk think through it with the child or young person. What could the unhelpful consequences be, what would be the danger signs. What could be done to make it safer. This could be as simple as changing to different footwear before clambering about on play equipment or knowing that it is ok to ask for help or call home if they feel unsafe when they are out. As a parent being honest about why you are reticent can help them to consider potential risks.
Help them to develop protective behaviours
This is worthy of a whole blog post in itself but for now protective behaviours are all those skills that keep us safe. From having a positive self esteem, to knowing what our personal space is and what to do when we don’t feel safe. Some parents assume children just somehow ‘get this’ but in my experience it is safer to ensure they are explicitly taught what do in different scenarios and sometimes we need to be explicit about risks that they may well not be aware of – that the girl on the internet they’ve been talking to may be anyone of any age etc. You can find out a bit more here. If we take the example of crossing the road we a;; teach our children to stop at a kerb and a first we usually tell them to make sure there isn’t a car coming at all before they cross – as they get older they may learn as we do to make a judgement about how far away the car is and perhaps the width f the road before making a decision.
For other issues like talking to strangers, we need as parents to be sure not that we tell them, but that they understand. What is a stranger, when does someone stop being a stranger, what to they do if a stranger approaches them etc. Often we want, naturally, to ensure their safety by eliminating risks but in many ways it is better to equip them to deal with potentially risky scenarios and know how to listen to their intuition, which will often give indications that we are not feeling safe, than it is to mistakenly feel that we can rap them in cotton wool and that will keep them safe.
Well we never thought parenting would be easy did we?