How to build positive self-esteem



In my work roles I have often worked with children and young people who struggle with self-esteem.

This can happen for all sorts of reasons and is always a concern for the adults who are around them, whether that be parents, or other relatives, carers or staff in schools.

Of course it is easiest to ensure that children develop this right for the start but that isn’t always the case and I am not pretending that it easy to develop a positive self-esteem when a child or young person has a negative view of themselves BUT it is still important to do all we can to help children and young people develop a positive view of themselves. Having a positive self-esteem enables a person to

  • Be confident
  • Build relationships
  • Be prepared to try
  • Stand up for themselves
  • Cope with failure or disappointment
  • Feel happier

Developing a healthy self-esteem starts right from day one though the process of attachment. To develop well children need to have all their basic needs met, (food warmth safety etc) and they need to feel that they ‘belong’ that someone loves them and will care for them. When a baby cries, because they are hungry for example, and then someone picks them up and feeds them, hopefully in a repeated way, so that most times they are hungry they are fed, they are learning that the world is an okay place, that their needs will be met and that is the foundation of self-esteem, they are cared for, they are loved and someone has their back. If you’d like to read more about attachment click here.

I work often with children and young people who have been taken into care, because of abuse or neglect within the home and understandably they can often struggle with self-esteem – but lots of other children and young people can face problems with self-esteem as well.

Being bullied, feeling stressed, constantly comparing yourself, (or others comparing you) to others, feeling that you don’t measure up to people’s expectations can all impact self- esteem.  A massive 60% of people using social media reported that it had a negative impact on self esteem – you can read more here.

Behind every young child who believs in hmself is an parent who believed firfirst

The NSPCC reported that

“In 2014-15 there were 35,244 counselling sessions for low self-esteem, an increase of 9% from the previous year.”

The charity Young minds reports that 75% of young people have felt low self-esteem at some point.

What can be done to help?

As adults the guidelines below can help us all to help children and young people develop and maintain a positive self-esteem.

Ensure they feel valued

Tell children and young people that you care and that you value them. Make time for them that is a great way to demonstrate that you enjoy their company. Make sure that what you say as an adult to them will not cause them problems, our negativity about them can play like a record in their head.

The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice

Recognise strengths and weaknesses

Telling a child that they are great at everything won’t help develop a strong self-esteem because of course all humans have areas of strength and weakness. So recognise the strengths but also recognise and tell them explicitly that any areas of weakness, things they can’t do or find difficult can get better with practice and effort – that is the ‘growth’ mind-set.

Challenge lies

When children or young people say things about themselves that aren’t true it is important to challenge this with the truth – so if they say for example

“I’ll never be able to do this”  – reply that they can’t do it YET but with more practice they probably will be able to

“I always get things wrong” – tell them that making mistakes is part of learning

“Nobody likes me” – reassure them that you do and in fact lots of people do (usually this comes about because of a problem with one or a small group of peers).

“Everybody says I’m ……..” some people might say that but I think…..

Basically all these phrases above contact absolutes, always, never, nobody, everybody and are quite simply not true.

Acknowledge Feelings

Things happen which can make us sad – and that may not be pleasant but feelings are always valid and can’t be denied. BUt we can all make a choice about what we do with those feelings. Being ad has its place, there will be times when every child and adult may feel hurt or tearful, but there comes a time when we can choose to respond by picking ourselves up and moving forward

Be a role model

Think about your own self-esteem, we will all as adults have had times when our self-esteem has taken a battering, but we recovered from this and moved forward usually by concentrating on the positive and feeling supported by others. Talk about such times but more importantly let them see you respond to challenges by NOT being defeated.

Be appropriate with praise

When a child achieves something it is important to praise them but be careful not to just praise everything or the praise becomes meaningless.

Encourage them to see the positive side

When faced with difficulty we can all have times when we need support. But we also can make a choice about what we decide to focus upon.

Encourage Independence

Whatever age they are encourage them to be as independent as they can, that might be learning to feed themselves even though it creates a mess, or tie their own shoelaces even though it takes longer. Independence helps a child feel capable which helps promote a positive sense of self.

Let them make mistakes and take (calculated) risks

Living involves risk and making mistakes. Think about a chid learning to walk, they fall over – not once or twice but multiple times. BUT eventually they learn to walk. If we waited till they could walk without falling over they simply would never learn. So whatever stage they are at allow them the freedom to take a risk and make a mistake and be there to give them support and help, if the ‘fall’.

There will always be some children and young people who because of their personality or who they are as individuals, that will struggle more than others with self-esteem, a children with a physical limitation or learning need may be examples but we can as adults use the strategies above to help promote  positive self-esteem in all the children and young people we came into contact with.

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Managing Exam Stress

Illustration depicting a green chalk board with the words 'exam stress' written on it in white chalk.

We have now reached that time of year when children and young people in both primary and secondary schools are facing assessments and exams.

The hope is that in primary schools these remain fairly low key, though from what some teachers and parents report that is not always the case – with some being relentlessly drilled for tests and even perhaps pressured by well-meaning adults about the need to do well.

Schools week reported recently that a quarter of Year 6 pupils are stressed about SATs – you can read the article here

It seems only reasonable to suggest that with the perceived greater importance of GCSE exams than earlier tests that this gets worse as children progress through school, which is indeed what surveys have found.

“The ChildLine National Exam Stress Survey revealed that 96% of the 1300 who completed the survey felt anxious about exams and revision, with 59% feeling pressure from their parents to do well and 64% saying they have never received any support in dealing with exams”.

You can read more about what young people have said by following the link below.

Sad little boy sitting face down on knees on white background

What can we do as parents and teachers to help children and young people cope with the stress of exams and testing

The role of a parent and teacher is clearly different but every adult working with or parenting children and teenagers has a duty to promote positive mental health and therefor at the very least to do no harm – i.e. not to  levels of stress about exams even more. So of the tips below some will be more appropriate for teachers or adults working in schools and others are more for parents.

  1. Get the basics right

It doesn’t matter what the source of stress might be the experience of it is worse when out general health is not good.

Make sure they get

enough sleep, teenagers have a tendency to become a bit nocturnal but sleep will have an impact on performance. So they need to be in bed by a reasonable hour if they need to get up for exams or to revise. If they go to bed and have trouble sleeping then work with them to develop strategies to make sure they can get a good nights sleep – there are some useful tips here  

a balanced diet – we know that our diet has an impact on our physical and mental performance so make sure they get plenty of fresh foods, with protein and fresh fruit and vegetables and try to avoid the tendency many develop of snacking on sugar laden processed food and drinks. You can read more here 

 some exercise when the pressure is on it is easy to feel like there isn’t time for exercise but it is not only good for our bodies’ evidence suggests it helps our brains as well – read more by clickingon the link below

Exercise is also known to reduce stress. It doesn’t need to be competitive or formal but making sure that children and young people get some exercise will help reduce stress and help them study more efficiently so even if if’s just a brisk walk or a short bike ride, kicking a ball about or running around with mates it will help and is worth making time for.


  1. Encourage Relaxation

However much there is to do it is important to take regular breaks and to building some time for relaxing. In fact studying is often more effective in short bursts. We have all probably experienced working for hours and feeling ourselves become unproductive. A break away from it even for a short time can renew our concentration and we can sustain working for a bit longer. Remember too that Mindfulness can be very useful for both relaxation AND improving concentration- you can read the earlier blog post about Mindfulness here. You can find specific tips on helping teenagers revise here 

 Motivate without Threats

While some students may need hefty doses of motivation they, in fact few of us, are rarely motivated by threats. These may be specific – I’ve heard people say they won’t get to go on holiday unless they work/succeed or much more general, the ‘you’ll never get a good job’ ‘you won’t get to go to University’ or whatever. In my years of experience as a teacher and as a parent honestly I’ve never seen this work.

But many do need some motivation so encourage them to think of the positives, remind them that any ‘sacrifices’ they do make (not going out with mates for a few evening s etc) will only be for a short time.

Lots of people offer rewards for success and I think that is a personal decision but generally speaking intrinsic rewards – that is the student working hard because they want to and they see value in it tend to be more effective. You can read more here


  1. Be Available and involved

adult and teenager talking

It is said a lot but simply being around giving time, for a cuppa and chat or a bit of encouragement can be really helpful. It certainly isn’t possible in every situation but getting involved by offering to ‘test’ them on what they have been revising or asking them how it’s going and where they are up to – is likely to be more supportive than nagging. But it is important to give advice and offer suggestions when asked or when you can see it is needed. It is also really useful to know the specific times, dates and requirements for each exam.  Read here about how to help them be successful in exams  


  1. Encourage them to talk

They may not all want to, but if you think they are worried or stressed do encourage them to talk about it – and try to get them to be specific – worries are easier to handle when you know exactly what the actual worry is. It’s also a good time to discuss plans – a good plan B can mean the fear of not achieving what they want is greatly reduced. But talking doesn’t have to be about big worries it can be just about how they are getting on, what bits they are finding tough but also what are they finding ok.


  1. Build resilience


Life can be full of hard knocks and one of the important things that needs to happen for every adult is that they need to learn to be resilient, to cope with those knocks and be defeated by them. Now is a great time to start. Make sure they know that while they are being encouraged and exhorted to try their best to put in the effort and to do well, they are of value anyway. If you are a parent make sure they know they will be loved whatever happens and if you work  in schools make sure they know that there are always other options and there will be people who will care and support them though whatever happens.


We need to remember as well that it is not just the children and teenagers that get stressed during exam time- it can be a stressful time for parents, especially if there is more than one child in the house sitting exams, and the focus on results means it is also stressful for school staff. So it is important to learn effective ways to manage your own stress to make sure you can keep on supporting the children and teenagers who need to rely on YOU. Click here to read an article that might help  – its all about making sure you look after yourself.










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The ‘numbers’ of Reading

Positive quote lettering set. Calligraphy postcard or poster graphic design typography element. Hand written vector sign. Reading is dreaming with open eyes. We lose ourselves books We find there too

Recent estimates suggest that while there may be less than 1% of the adult population who are completely illiterate there are approximately 5.1 million people – about 16% who are what would be described as functionally illiterate with a reading age below that of an 11 year old. That means that while they may be able to read some words in text about familiar topics, unknown texts or forms would present huge difficulties – clearly this has an impact on their ability to find jobs, claim benefits and a huge number of other everyday tasks, including of course helping their children to read or supporting them with homework, or vene reading the letters sent home by school.

This affects about 1 in 5 adults. This ratio is higher among certain groups for example those in prison.

When it comes to reading among children there’s a few statistics below that don’t make for happy ‘reading’ – you can see them for yourself at


  • Statistics from 2014 show that one in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11.1
  • Research conducted in 2012 found that 17% of 15 year-olds in England do not have a minimum level of proficiency in literacy.2
  • Analysis conducted in 2013 found that in England 16 to 24 year-olds have lower levels of literacy than young people in 21 out of 24 countries in the OECD. Literacy levels are higher in Japan, Estonia, Czech Republic and the USA.3
  • England is the only country where 16-24 year olds have lower literacy and numeracy skills than 55-65 year-olds, out of 24 OECD countries.4


  1. [DfE (2015)Reading: the next stepsp.13]
    2. [DfE (2013) Achievement of 15-Year-Olds in England: PISA 2012 National Report, p.66]
  2. [OECD (2013)Skills Outlook: First results from the survey of adult skillsp.72]
    4. [OECD (2013) England & Northern Ireland (UK) – Country Note -Survey of Adult Skills first results p.4]

Yet in the UK our children start formal schooling earlier than in most other European countries (Cyprus and Malta being the only other countries in Europe where children start school at age 5). In some countries e.g. Sweden and Finland they don’t start till they are 7 years old. So it would be reasonable to expect good levels of literacy as children are at school longer but in fact Latvia Estonia and Belarus have the highest literacy levels in Europe

If you want to have a look at literacy levels across the world there are loads of statistics here

So many books, So little time - Isolated calligraphy on white background. Hand lettering art piece. Good for posters, t-shirts, prints, cards, banners for library. Modern brush lettering print.

So why do some children struggle to learn to read. One reason may be that the child themselves has a particular problem – I’m not going to address what those might be in this article. But the other reason might lie in the way we teach reading.


For a number of years schools used a whole language approach – where whole words were taught but research has now shown that actually we don’t ‘read’ whole words, effective readers de-code words but they do it with such speed that although it may look as if they are focussing on a whole word, actually their eyes scan forward and backward through the word.

There has been much research to show that phonics is the most effective method to teach reading.

Sounds-write is a linguistic phonic approach grounded thoroughly in research and explicitly teaches children the following



The 3 skills they need for effective reading,

 Blending – running individual sounds together to form a word – ‘c’ ‘a’ ‘t’  – ‘cat’

Segmenting – pulling apart the individual sounds in a word – when children can do this they will be able to successfully spell and write the word ‘cat’ – ‘c’ ‘a’ ‘t’

Phoneme manipulation  – the ability to pull sounds in and out of words  split without the ‘p’ = ‘slit’


The 4 concepts needed for effective reading

  • Letters are symbols of sounds
  • Sounds may be spelled by 1,2,3 or 4 letters
  • The same sound may be spelled in different ways ‘show’ ‘go’ toe’ ‘bone’ or ‘dough’ all have a similar sound but it is spelt in different ways
  •  The same letter(s) may represent different sounds – as in   cat and city or go and got

They also need to understand what we refer to as code knowledge – we have 144 sounds in our language but only 26 letters in the alphabet so developing readers need to taught the ‘code’ – the initial code where most sounds are represented by a single letter as in ‘dog’ but also the extended code where several letters may represent a single sound like ‘ough’ in dough and the different ways of spelling common sounds –  ‘n’ for example

  • no
  • knee
  • running
  • gnarl
  • pneumonia

There aren’t silent letters (no letters make any sounds it’s us the humans who do that) and there are no magic letters, even rules will usually have exceptions so the more helpful approach is simply to think of it as it is –  listed simply in the concepts above.

One of the things I particularly like about Sounds-write is that it  explicitly teaches  children how to handle polysyllabic words. Children who are taught using this method can confidently approach any word they may come across.

Individual children may for a variety of reasons struggle with particular aspects of learning to read but success is much more likely when teachers who teach them use a knowledge based phonic programme with proven efficacy which they have been trained to use and which they feel confident teaching.

Teachers and school staff, if you are teaching phonics and haven’t been trained – get in touch.

Parents, if your child is struggling with learning to read, you feel that you don’t understand phonics or you are worried about the approach used by your child’s school get in touch.

Problems with reading can impact every other aspect of the curriculum and have a detrimental impact on the child’s view of school, their own learning and their self-esteem.

Click on the link below for a PDF  that children can colour in – as it’s probably holidays now  you can talk about books and reading while they do then enjoy a story together!

books to colour





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Learning to Love a Good Laugh


My article on laughter was first published in Affinity magazine last May – but we could all do with a reminder of how good it is for us to laugh!!  so here it is again.

I must confess that in my opinion one of the best sounds on earth is that of children laughing. It is infectious and raises my spirits every time I hear it. It is hard to hear a person laughing without somehow ending up laughing yourself. Well the good news is that laughter actually does us a lot of good.

 “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”   Charlie Chaplin

 What Happens When We Laugh

Apparently there are 15 muscles in the face alone that contract when we laugh and as it spreads through the body many other muscles contract, but then relax  – some may become uncoordinated so a really good giggle can make you unable to walk straight for example. Our eyes water and in some ways our body becomes a bit out of control and of course we have all had the experience of irresistible giggles especially in situations where we feel we shouldn’t be laughing.  It also has an effect on our respiratory system and breathing becomes irregular but overall our oxygen intake increases.  So in many ways it is like a workout.

“Laughing is and always will be the best form of therapy ” Dau Voire

Impact on Mental Health

We probably all know that laughter improves our mood and that it can help if we feel anxious. I remember working in an Intensive Care Unit where there were times of massive tension and distress and yet it was probably one of the jobs in which I laughed the most. Not because we minimized the distress of our patients and family, quite the opposite, laughter was a release of the tension and anxiety that as staff we felt because it was a high pressure setting. Over time laughter can help us all to become more resilient, the impact of laughter doesn’t stop when we stop laughing – the positive impact on our mood can last for many more hours.

“Always laugh when you can. It’s cheap medicine.” Lord Byron

Impact on Physical Health

Laughing releases tension, in fact when we are laughing muscles relax and stay relaxed for some time after afterwards. But there is also evidence to suggest that laughter boosts our immune system and can even help improve heart health (the heart is after all a muscle) as it can increase blood flow. In addition when we laugh we release endorphins which are hormones that increase our sense of well-being – the feel good factor and because of this laughter can sometimes reduce pain. In his book The Master Key System Charles F Haanel makes the claim that people who have been ill have improved their health and condition simply through laughter.

“I have not seen anyone dying of laughter but I have seen millions who are dying because they are not laughing.” Dr Madan Kataria

Impact on Social Well being

Laughter is contagious and it is fun. You may have seen a very popular video on social media recently which starts simply with one man on a train laughing and ends with everyone on the train laughing. People who laugh together are likely to work well as a team – somehow laughter creates a bond. If you walk into a party or even a new office you are likely to be drawn to people who laugh or smile rather than the ones who look depressed or down. Many of us will have had times when things may have looked bleak and the response would be either to cry or conversely to laugh. Amazingly if we are able to choose the latter often things start to look a little better because we start to feel more positive.

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

Charles Dickens

Impact on stress

Unsurprisingly a good laugh helps reduce our levels of stress and in fact there is new branch of therapy called ‘laughter therapy’. Its aim is simple – to get you to laugh. Now cynics reading this will probably be thinking that it can’t be good for us if it is not genuine but apparently our brain finds it tricky to distinguish between real and ‘fake’ laughter so all the beneficial elements are there. And if we start out laughing in a slightly forced way in fact it quickly becomes real. A good burst of laughter will leave us feeling relaxed, buoyant and possibly exhausted – in effect it is like a good workout.

“Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Mark Twain.

Impact on Success

Success may well take hard work, dedication and commitment but success comes more easily when we enjoy what we do. We may still be working hard but if we love what we do and enjoy the process we are likely to stay motivated and work harder so enjoying a good laugh and spending time with people who make us laugh is even likely to help us to be more successful.

“There is little success where there is little laughter.” Andrew Carnegie

How can We Laugh More

So if it is that good for us we need to do it more! It can protect us against depression and stress and improve anxiety so let’s get laughing. We all have our own preferences, slapstick, a good stand up, a clever joke  or a funny film, but actually while we may laugh alone we are much more likely to laugh when we are with others. In fact often we choose our social groups to be with those who make us laugh – why because quite simply they make us feel better. The cycle often goes, less time for social activities, because of work or illness for example which leads to greater isolation, less opportunities to laugh and increased feelings of sadness. But that can be changed – if you want to get laughing listen to some laughter and join in – it will be hard not to!

“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age and dreams are forever.” Walt Disney

For more information or for help with any emotional issues contact Attuned Education on 07921193479 or via email

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4 Mindful Exercises To Try Today



Over recent years there has been a growing understanding of how damaging stress can be and mindfulness has become a tool of choice in terms of stress reduction for many people and organisations. So if you are new to mindfulness, or if you’ve heard about it but don’t know where to start here a few exercises that you might like to try.


For this first exercise just sit in a chair. Closing your eyes is often helpful especially at first. The purpose is just to BE – experience the present moment. For many of us we rarely experience the present, rather we are thinking about what has just happened or planning things for the future.

So a mindfulness teacher that I know recommends FOFBOC to begin with! Simply allow yourself to be aware of your feet on the floor (FOF) and your bottom on the chair (BOC). Often it’s helpful at first to begin by concentrating for just a few moments on your breath. Take a slow breath in through your nose and be aware of the feeling as the air passes through your nose, down your throat and then makes your chest expand. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth – being aware of the sensations as the breath leaves the body. The next step is FOFBOC – start to be aware of your Feet On Floor, this can be done with shoes off or on but allow yourself to be aware of the feeling, is the floor hard or soft, can you spread your toes, are our shoes tight, are your feet warm?  Try to remember we are talking awareness NOT thoughts. Then become aware of your bottom on the chair – is it comfortable, what is the sensation, are you holding yourself tensely or allowing yourself to sink into the chair. Your mind will wander, especially if this is new, but each time it does just bring it back to your feet on the floor!


When you have tried the above a couple of times then try eating in a mindful way. First think how many times you have eaten a snack and been surprised that it has gone? Particularly likely if you eat while working. So for this exercise have some food available often something like a cherry, grape or nut works well. Begin by taking a few breaths to focus then pick up the food. First regard it, notice it’s colour and shape, hold it in your hand and notice the texture, weight and how it feels in your hand. Try to use as many senses as you can – they are particularly important in eating. Then after a minute or so, either take a bite or put the item in your mouth. Try to stay in touch with your senses, what is the texture, is it juicy, or salty, how does it feel when you roll it on your tongue? Then bite it and again notice the feelings and sensations. As you chew then swallow.


By now you are no doubt beginning to see that mindfulness is all about experiencing the present. I love to walk, or run or ride my bike but I use the time usually to have some head space to think about ideas, events and plans. But for this exercise which could easily be done for part of a walk begin by taking a few breaths to focus your mind then begin to ‘be’ in the moment. Switch on your senses and notice the air on your face, is it cold or can you feel the warmth of the sun. What noises can you hear, what is the feeling of the ground under your feet, is it soft or firm? Your mind will drift but bring it back to the present each time.


Perhaps less ‘natural’ than the others but having worked with a lot of children who have been ‘troubled’ I know that simple colouring has an impact on the mood. It can calm those who feel angry and others seem much more relaxed and able to talk when they are engaged in colouring. Luckily now there are several mindfulness colouring books to choose from – but the ‘picture’ is less important than the process. The idea is to forget other things and still the mind. Concentrate on the pen on the paper, the colour and pattern that emerges.


Try a few different exercises and see which feels best for you. Let me know what you think and remember we can run a Mindfulness course for you or your organisation – just get in touch.


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Promoting Positive Mental Health

Mental Health is something that has been in the news quite a bit recently, and when it comes to the mental health of children and young people some of the statistics are indeed quite shocking.

The figures below are taken from

  • One in Four (26%) young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts
  • Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, particularly since the mid 1980’s.
  • The number of children and young people who have presented to A&E with a psychiatric condition have more than doubled since 2009. (8,358 in 10/11; 17,278 in 13/14)
  • 55% of children who have been bullied later developed depression as adults

Clearly this is a huge problem for the individuals and families concerned but it also a problem for us a society and we must ask ourselves what are we doing, or not doing that our children and young people are suffering in this way. Some children and young people may have certain pre-dispositions or medical problems which may mean mental health problems are more likely and of course others may experience things in their environment which may be more likely to make them depressed or suffer from poor mental health., but there is a collective responsibility for us to ensure as far as possible we all promote positive mental health.

Good, positive mental health is not about an absence of a problem but rather living in a state of well-being and being able to cope with the pressures of life. But what can we do to promote positive mental health?

Get the basics right – our bodies and mind are of course linked and when we look after ourselves physically this has a good impact on our minds and emotions. So ensuring children and young people get enough sleep, have good balanced diets and get regular exercise, hopefully with some time outdoors, will certainly help.

Safe and Secure – Clearly it is vital to mental health to be safe and secure and to feel safe and secure. As adults our job is to make sure that every environment a child or young person is in is one that safeguards their well-being. It is also important that all children and young people know who to talk to if at any time they do not feel safe.

Model good Habits – Children learn by watching adults, so it is important to show them how to say mentally healthy. What do you do when you are worried or stressed? How do you cope if you feel sad or uncertain? By showing children what you do, attaching importance to time with friends , time to relax, talking about problems or even doing some relaxation, they will learn some strategies to cope with their own challenge.

Teach them explicitly – as well as learning by watching, children also learn through being taught and instructed. Have dialogues about mental health, start by talking about emotions, label them, and frame them for children. For example it is fine to be sad when something upsetting happens. It’s also ok to be worried and talk about what they can do to help themselves if they feel those emotions. Talking to an adult or doing things they enjoy may help.

Create environments where it is ok to talk about emotions – this doesn’t come naturally to everyone but it is essential for children to know they can say what they feel and if adults do this they will quickly learn how helpful this can be not only for the children but for themselves.

Encourage gratitude and Kindness – it can sound trite but if we all develop a mind-set of focussing on what we have and on helping others we actually feel better for it. Teach children to be grateful – it lays a foundation for positive mental health in later life.

Value FUN and Relaxation – lives are busy and nowadays with often intense pressure at school and busy lives out of school – there can be little time for FUN. Make sure children have time to laugh and relax every day.

Encourage Creativity – there is considerable evidence that being creative relaxes us, at the same time as challenging us and that is good for our mental health, (for those who like to read the evidence there is plenty here It is no surprise that there a several creative approaches to therapy, Art or drama therapy for example. I doesn’t seem to matter what the creative pursuit it – the fact that it is creative is the point.

So whether you are a parent, step-parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, childminder or any adult coming into contact with children and young people we all have our part to play in promoting positive mental health and that may well start by looking after you own mental health. Click here  below for ways you can take care of yourself.






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Games to develop auditory discrimination

If Children are to learn to read they need to learn how we represent the words in our language in a printed or written form. For this to make sense they need first to ‘hear’ the sounds in our language. That is one of the reasons why the Sounds-write phonics programme is so effective – because it starts with the ‘sounds’ in the language.

Most adults will know that we have 26 ‘letters’ in our alphabet yet we have 44 common sounds. If you think of a letter as a picture of a sound then clearly children need to be able to identify sounds as they hear them – they need to develop auditory discrimination. Until they can identify the sounds they are hearing then then there is little point in trying to teach them to read.

So for pre-schoolers devote time to making sure they can ‘hear’ the sounds in the language – spelling or reading the word ‘cat’ becomes easier when you can identify that the sounds in the word are ‘c’ – ‘a – ‘t’, even if a child can’t write the letter, which is a representation or picture of the sound, if they can hear and say what the sound is that’s a great start.

Letter Names

Yes at some point children will need to know letter names but PLEASE don’t start with these-  it just confuses small children. Start simply with the sounds in words.

Initial Sounds

Start by identifying with children the first sound in a word. You can play loads of games that will help – but REMEMBER it’s the sound NOT the letter.

Find things that begin with the sound  ‘s’

snake, slipper, sausage, sand, summer, sun etc

Now lots of other words also begin with the sound ‘s’ like circle and city and cement so if they spot this they are right – the SOUND is ‘s’. You may be thinking in letters but with a small child we want them to listen for sounds – the pictures (letters) we use to spell a sound will be something they will learn later.

You can move onto games like having a tray with objects that begin with ‘s’ and perhaps one that doesn’t and saying the names together and spotting the odd one out.

You can do this with any sound just remember you are thinking about the sound so ‘e’ as in egg  and elephant is fine but not eel as that is a different sound – it’s ‘ee’. Try to listen yourself to the sounds you say.

End sounds

When a child becomes confident with the sounds at the start of a word you can start to identify the sounds at the ends of words. Words ending in a ‘l’ sound for example – try saying a few yourself doll, smell, tell but also apple,  table, and petal, as we have different ways of spelling the ‘l’ sound but the sound we SAY is the same.Many of the common sounds in our words have more than one spelling – but here the important thing is just to concentrate on the sounds.

Number of sounds in a word

As children get proficient at the above try seeing if they (with your help initially can hear how many sounds are in a word. They don’t actually need to count them – just identify the separate sounds.

cat, dog, bin, bag, are all 3 sounds but so too are boat, cake,  mouse and night,  sounds remember NOT letters listen to what you say.

Step, frog, pond and mask all have 4 sounds but so too do  please, treat, ghost and bottle.

And for 5 sounds words there are drink, crisp, plant and  Tesco but also straight, and scream

Also remember to sound out each sound – its important to identify every sound in the word. So identify each sound especially if there are  adjacent consonants, at the beginning or end of words where it can be easy to miss a sound –  drink (5 sounds) slump (5 sounds)  crisp (5 Sounds) and strict (6 sounds) for example. But don’t move onto these until children are pretty good at identifying the sounds in 3 or 4 sounds words.

Don’t panic

If you haven’t done phonics –  it can be confusing but try to forget the spellings and don’t visualize the word in your head just get used to hearing the sounds. That really will be a great start for your child and will help them enormously when they come to learn to read.

If you want a bit more to think about – count the number of sounds in ‘enormously’!!



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Ensuring Children are Reading Ready

Parents usually want to support their child(ren)’s learning and most parents are particularly keen to ensure their child(ren) become fluent, independent readers. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts any difficulties with reading will usually give rise to other problems as reading is fundamental to accessing other parts of the curriculum.

Often children won’t start formal reading instruction until they begin school when hopefully they will be taught using one of the recommended synthetic phonics programmes but in the years before they go to school there is a lot that can be done to make sure they are ready for reading.

Familiarity with the culture of books

Babies love the sound of a human voice and it is natural for a most parents to talk to or sing to babies and the next step is usually to have a book – a fabric or board book to start with – and share a story. Just talking about the pictures is a good start. As they grow make sure stories and books become part of each day – not just at bedtime. Ensure there is a good range of books of different types and encourage them to pick them up, you will probably notice that they copy what they have seen you do turning pages and talking. What they say may or may not be related to the book but they are still learning about the culture of books, and gradually they will learn that we read from left to right and top bottom – unlike some other languages.

Seeing Reading as something of value

It is good to just let toddlers investigate books themselves but it is also good sometimes to join in when you see them with a book – it’s a great way of showing that you think books and reading are important. It’s also a good message if they see you reading for yourself and often they will try and get involved and while they may not  be learning to read they will be learning that reading is something that you value which is an important message and motivator for them later on in their education.

Developing an awareness of sounds

Even when they are still in the womb babies hear sounds, and we live in a world where we are surrounded by sounds most of the day. Some babies get distressed by very loud or sudden sounds but many sounds can be fun. They enjoy noisy toys and ‘funny’ or unusual sounds will often make then laugh. Always explain what sounds are and identify different types of sounds with them, the bark of a dog, the beep of a timer, engine noises. It is good to get them to notice sounds. They will usually enjoy trying to copy sounds too, these are all useful skills for them learning to speak and listen to the speech of others. IT is important to have an environment when specific sounds can be heard so make sure they are not always surrounded by the background noise of a TV.

Identifying sounds in our spoken language

Before becoming readers most children are talkers. They learn to listen, understand and then speak which is essential before they try to understand how we read and write our language. You can help children start to identify the sounds in our speech by playing games, perhaps concentrating on words that begin with the same sound, spoon, sun, swan, star or boat, bat, ball brick etc but be sure to stick to sounds NOT letter names – it just confuses things for young children ………but more about that in the next post and there will be some games you can play that will help your children develop good auditory discrimination skills.



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How to Support your Child’s Learning

It’s the start of a new school year and many children and teenagers may have started a new school and almost all will be in a new class. with a different teacher. I am often asked by parents how they can support their child’s learning – so here are a few pointers.

See Education and Learning as Important

Children and young people are very good at picking up not just on what their parents say but also on their underlying attitudes. Your children need to know that you see their education as something that is important and of value, and that learning is given priority in the home. It’s sometimes hard after along day at work to then sacrifice half an hour watching TV so that you can help with the homework but apart form the practical support they receive from your input, your children are getting the message that YOU value education and you see their learning as something that is important. If time is set aside for them to get homework done, and be supported they get the idea that learning is a priority in the family. When children or young people watch you will they see that you like to learn, that you are interested in finding things our and learning new things? That too will help them see that learning is something that is of value.

Be Positive about their School

If we are honest no school is ever perfect all of the time. There are bound to be things that happen that you don’t agree with or situations that you think have not been handled well. Clearly there are times you may need to talk to the school about a particular issue. BUT if your child hears you complaining about their school or their teacher it will be  hard for them to feel positive about school and that will have a negative impact on their learning. It’s okay to express your feelings but don’t do it in front of your child. If there are conflicts with the school then make an appointment to talk to the staff, or phone or email but don’t do it in front of the child. If the child is reporting problems to you about school it is important to listen but also make sure that you get both sides of the story – which will mean a discussion with the school. If over a period of time you feel that you really have no confidence in your child’s school, even after trying to resolve difficulties, then think about moving schools – a child will learn best when YOU as a parent have confidence in the school.

Get Involved

It is almost impossible to support your child or teenagers learning if you don’t know what they are doing, the topics they are working on, or the course they are taking, and how and when they will be assessed. Most schools have this information available on their website – and all schools should now have a website. If it isn’t or if you can’t find the information you are looking for, then contact the school. Schools want parents to be involved because it makes a huge difference to how well a child learns. The other source of information is of course the child or teenager.  Have a dialogue every day about school – ask them what they have been doing – I know often they will shrug and say they don’t know or they can’t remember but it is important to ask anyway AND it is important that THEY know that YOU know what they are doing in school and when homework is due in and when tests will take place. It’s another way they see that you value education and that their learning is important. The same goes for attending events at school, information evenings, parents nights or other events – it can be difficult in busy times but we usually make time for the things we see as important so its another way your child sees that you think school and learning is important.

Support with Homework

It becomes much easier to support with homework when you know what they are studying and what their homework is, including when it should be handed in and how. Everyone has their own views about homework and the amount of homework students should be given but current guidelines are

Primary School

  • Year 1 & 2 : 60 minutes per week
  • Year 3 & 4 : 90 minutes per week
  • Year 5 & 6 : 30 minutes per day

Secondary School

  • Year 7 & 8 : 30 to 90 minutes per day
  • Year 9 : 60 to 120 minutes per day
  • Year 10 : 90 to 250 minutes per day

That is quite an chunk of the time each day (school day) – especially when most children and young people also take part in out of school activities, football, dance, craft clubs, or music lessons to mention just a few. Clearly these activities are important as well  AND children and young people need time to socialize with friends and to have some ‘downtime’.

As a parent if you value education- which is a broad term encompassing all different types of learning, make sure that children aren’t TOO busy. Within the home make sure there is a place where it is possible to do homework – their bedroom usually isn’t a good place until they are able to study independently and even then you need to check on what they actually doing. It can be the dining room or kitchen table but there needs to be some time when distractions stop so homework can start. Some homework could be done with the TV on BUT if homework is something that is seen as important in the house then turn it off to reduce distractions – it usually gets done much more quickly then anyway.

Another challenge for parents is being available to help but not taking over. Check that they understand what they have to do and let them get going but be available to answer questions. It’s a good idea to check it when its done and if they need to improve it a bit that’s the time to give a bit of input. We all like to achieve and it is really demoralizing for children an d teenagers if they have spent time doing homework not to get a good mark – it doesn’t mean doing it for them but giving suggestions is certainly okay.

Be Honest – Learn together

Schools and learning practices have changes a lot since many parents were themselves in school. If children, or more likely teenagers, ask things that you don’t know – be honest. You can’t know everything – if you pretend they will see straight through you and what message will you have given them then – that you shouldn’t admit what you don’t know? That simply isn’t helpful. Admit you don’t know but then find out – in fact researching it together can be good fun and again gives that message that learning is important.

Concentrate on the Basics

There is more about reading below but essentially children need to have a sound knowledge of the basics and be skilled in doing basic process so they can become confident learners. Things like being able to count well, knowing number bonds to 10 then 20, being comfortable with times tables – start with 2’s, 5’s and 10’s, – will help them feel confident as they go through school. So if it becomes apparent that they don’t know these and you can see they are meant to then give them help by doing extra practice at home. Other subjects are also important but making sure they grasp the basics of Maths and Reading will prevent them becoming discouraged.

Encourage Reading

Reading is central to many aspects of learning. Start reading to babies and toddlers then read with children as they learn to read BUT don’t stop, encourage older children to read by sharing stories or even reading the same book independently – i would recommend that every parent reads their teenagers GCSE texts. As a family have times when the TV is off and books or kindles are being read. IF at any point you notice your child is struggling with reading GET HELP. It usually doesn’t get better spontaneously and if they struggle with reading they will often struggle with many other aspects of school. Ask the school how they teach initial reading – if it is not a recognized synthetic phonics programme, like Sounds-Write find out why and and perhaps direct them to the confusion that can occur when mixed method teaching is used. If you wan to learn more yourself try following the links below.

For more info on the confusion teaching using different approaches can cause click here

For a good video explaining how confusing approaches other than a synthetic approach can be click here

And you can find out more about  Sounds-write  here

As a parent YOU will have a huge influence on how well your child does in school and on the attitude they have to learning and education so give them your best shot. Good Luck.




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Summer Fun

So once again the school holidays are upon us – for teachers that means a well earned rest, but for parents it can mean juggling work and child care and surviving holidays with children! For the children and young people it usually means a lot of freedom to do things they want and importantly have FUN.

Parents if you want to make sure that children keep learning while they are away from school click here for some ideas of holiday activities that will mean they will keep on learning.

However I know many parents can find holidays with children a stressful experience – so below are a few tips to help parents make sure the holidays are a relaxing and fun experience for them as well.


By this stage the holiday will be booked but you can still plan a few things to make sure both the travel and the holiday go smoothly. Whatever the mode of transport, planes, boats, trains or cars after the initial excitement children quickly become bored so make sure you pack some diversions. They don’t need to be expensive, comics, pens and notebooks, or  small pocket money style toys can all help to pass the time.  But make sure you keep them out of the way until they are needed so they are fresh and new when children need a diversion.

When you arrive at your destination the planning shouldn’t stop. Make sure each day you plan in some activities that will be particularly geared towards the children – as parents obviously you want to relax but it is much easier to do that when they have had some quality time with you and some child centred play. It is also worth doing some planning around meals out etc – tired children are never too happy and while late nights might be fun – it definitely doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to sleep later the next day as parents you know your children  so don’t put yourself in situations where you know they’ll struggle – it simply wont help you to relax at all.


We can’t guarantee that children or indeed any of us will stay healthy but it is worth making sure you prevent what you can – mothing stresses apparent out more than a child who is ill or in pain. So make sure you pack sun cream, a first aid kit which includes a painkiller and an antihistamine and if the weather is hot make sure children drink plenty, wear sun cream and reapply regularly (which can be a struggle) and have plenty of breaks in the shade.


As with so many things your state of mind plays a part. If you anticipate problems and worry about them – they probably will happen! Try to be positive in your thoughts and your words. Often I lie on the beach listening to some parents and it is a constant stream of negatives ‘don’t’, ‘stop’ and ‘no’ for example. It is much better to keep language positive – instead of saying stop doing something tell them what they should be doing – for more information on positive language click here.

The key is to have fun – let your hair down and enjoy spending some quality time with children – they grow up surprisingly quickly and think of your holiday as a time to make some precious memories!!





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