What is Childism? and why should we all be talking about it?

Photo by Alexander Grey on Pexels.com

What exactly is Childism?

In short it’s about the discrimination of children in our society. It’s about the fact that child rights should be human rights, and yet children are treated in ways we would never imagine treating an adult.

  • Why is it still legal in England to hit children in the name of discipline, when if you hit an adult you could be arrested?
  • Why is it OK to place children in solitary confinement at school if they misbehave, when the only adults who receive the same treatment are in prison?
  • Why is it OK to make holes in children’s bodies, without their consent because adults find it cosmetically pleasing?
  • Why is it OK to leave vulnerable babies crying alone at night, when if vulnerable adults were treated the same way there would be uproar?
  • Why is it OK to share photos of children in dysregulated and vulnerable emotional states online in the name of adult entertainment?
  • Why can’t children vote at the same age they are allowed to gain legal employment and pay income tax? (Especially when voting decisions will affect them for far longer than the adults who choose for them?)
  • Why are the childcare and education systems so chronically underfunded? When the economic decisions made by our politicians have a direct, negative, impact on children’s lives?

These are just a tiny handful of questions illustrating examples of childism in our society today. Childism runs deep through every single element of our lives, yet it is rarely spoken about.

Childism is also a feminist issue. Why? Because the bulk of childcare traditionally defaults to women, whether that’s mothers or childcare workers. It is women who are judged for their motherhood skills (how many articles have you read about ‘dad guilt’?) and women whose identity is divided into mother V not a mother as soon as they hit their thirties. Dads who work are simply called ‘dads’. Mums who work are called ‘working mums’, as if the default for women SHOULD be to stay at home with their children.

Care of all types is heavily staffed by women. Similarly Care of all types is chronically underfunded and under appreciated. It is considered a ‘lesser’ occupation by society, one for those who are unable to achieve more and thus do not make an informed choice to BE a carer. Childcare in particular is full of discrimination, stereotyping and a clear disregard for the importance of the job (what could be more important than raising children?!). Childcare practitioners are highly qualified and yet paid minimum wage.

Childcare workers are one of the most underpaid and under appreciated of all professions, with governments giving them lemonade funding and expecting champagne care. There is no coincidence here. A role that is heavily staffed by women, providing care to children is open to discrimination of both women AND children. Frankly, we need to appreciate our care workers more, pay them more and fund them more and change the narrative from unskilled, to highly educated. It’s time to break the cycle of childism and the discrimination it inserts its murky tendrils into.

Childism is also about adult mental health. Why? Because it is the very root of most adult mental health issues today, because it has affected every single adult. Childism must become a central core of all discussions about mental health. We must recognise the discrimination we have ALL faced as children and how this shapes us. As children we all suffered a lack of dignity, a lack of autonomy, a lack of trust and a lack of respect, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The actions and beliefs of a childist society have direct implications on our health and well-being throughout childhood and beyond. Many of the emotional and relational struggles we experience as adults can be traced back to Childist roots. Becoming anti-childist is not just about making a change to improve the lives of children, it is about changing the lives of every single person on this planet. Breaking the cycle of discrimination of children will have a HUGE impact on adult mental health, so why is it not spoken about by all mental health charities, politicians and health professionals?

Childism needs to be the next big ‘ism’ we speak about in society, because it is the key to making our world a more equitable, healthy, understanding and accepting place.

My new book ‘Because I Said So – Why society is childist and how breaking the cycle of discrimination of children can change the world’ publishes soon. It’s a call to arms, for people to understand themselves, their parents, the society in which we live and the impact we all have on children. The book is a rallying cry to stand together to fight for our children today, and a gentle support to help you to understand how your past has impacted you. It will help to heal family disagreements and break generational cycles of trauma.

It will make you angry (especially the chapter about politics).

It will make you sad…

….but it will also open your eyes and fill you with the knowledge and passion needed to draw a line under the childism that affects every element of a child’s life; from their schooling, privacy, SEND and mental health support to considerations of their privacy, issues of consent and the plans of world governments to change the structure of society, with children and families (and those who support them) as the biggest losers.

‘Because I Said So!’ is my fourteenth book and I feel like all books I’ve written have brought me to this point. this is the WHY behind gentle parenting. Child rights are human rights, but until now I don’t believe they have been adequately discussed in a way that is accessible to the general public. It’s time to change that.

‘Because I Said So” is out in September. Click HERE to preorder a copy and come and join the anti-childist revolution!

The top 12 Myths about Gentle Parenting

The following is a short extract from the brand new, fully revised and updated, second edition of ‘The Gentle Parenting Book‘:

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

While there are many mistaken beliefs surrounding gentle parenting, the following twelve are by far the most common and it is incredibly likely you will run into them frequently if you share your plans to parent gently with others. Let’s do some myth-busting!

Myth 1: Gentle Parents Don’t Say ‘No’ to Their Children
Truth: The word ‘no’ is an incredibly important one when it comes to safety. Its use is also necessary to uphold boundaries and limits. For these reasons, ‘no’ definitely has a place in the vocabulary of those practising gentle parenting. The word ‘no’ very clearly tells a child that what they’re about to do (or have just done) is categorically not acceptable. It is short, brief and to the point and absolutely cannot be misunderstood. In a heated, or dangerous moment, you don’t want to confuse the children with a lengthy sentence. Above anything else, the safety of your child, other children, animals, and precious objects, are vitally important. Gentle parents are, however, mindful about how and when they say ‘no’, trying to not use it unnecessarily. Unfortunately, we are quite conditioned to say ‘no’ to children a lot, but the subconscious response of ‘no’ is often totally unnecessary. Using the word mindfully means asking yourself ‘why am I saying no?’ If there is a legitimate reason and you believe that it is the right thing to say, then go ahead and say it. Importantly, alongside saying ‘no’, gentle parents also support and explain and make sure they redirect their children, showing and telling them what they want them to do instead. Gentle parents will also try to set up environments where the need to say ‘no’ is lessened naturally, for instance with age-appropriate child proofing. The word ‘no’ is everywhere in life though. A little learning in a safe and supportive environment is great preparation for that, so don’t be afraid to say it to your children.

Myth 2: Gentle Parents Don’t Discipline
Truth: The top myth surrounding gentle parenting is that those who follow it don’t discipline their children. Gentle parenting and discipline are perceived to be at odds with each other; however, this myth is rooted in a misunderstanding of what discipline actually is. In short, discipline, which stems from the Latin word discere meaning ‘learning’. Discipline therefore means teaching children more appropriate and socially acceptable behaviours. Modern western society believes discipline and punishment are the same. They are not. There are many ways to teach children that don’t involve punishing them or making them feel bad. In fact, the most effective discipline makes children feel good. It inspires them to do better, rather than shaming them. The best teaching methods are inspirational and uplifting: ask any teacher. Why would we ignore decades of research on how children learn best? The discipline of gentle parenting focuses on exactly this – teaching children why certain behaviours are not appropriate and teaching them how to do better. How do we do this? By first keeping everybody safe, being a great role model and explaining to children how to resolve problems in more peaceful ways. I would actually say gentle parents discipline more than any other parents.

Myth 3: Gentle Parents Have No Control Over Their Children

Truth: In gentle parenting the children are commonly perceived to ‘run rings around their parents’. The parents are seen as passive and permissive, letting their little darlings do anything they want. This is not true. Gentle parenting is a dance of control. It is a partnership that changes fluidly, sometimes one partner (the parent) leads, sometimes the other (the child). When it is appropriate, gentle parents like to give their children control. Giving control as much as possible allows children to fulfil their need for autonomy and independence and stops unwanted behaviour that commonly occurs when a child is desperate for more control over their lives. Things that gentle parents may give control over include allowing the child to choose their own clothing (after ensuring that it is weather-appropriate), regulating their own eating (after first providing nutritious food), controlling their own pocket money and how it is spent and taking control of their own play. Things that gentle parents don’t give children control over include crossing roads, touching objects that don’t belong to them (particularly if they are fragile) and complete free range over how they spend their day, especially if there are important appointments to attend.

Myth 4: Gentle Parents Are Too Indulgent
Truth: Gentle parents are often believed to allow their child to have and do whatever they want. This is not true. Illinformed critics say that they ‘indulge their children too much’. Mainstream parents commonly believe that children are out to bleed their parents dry emotionally, energetically, and financially. Right from the off they believe that babies are manipulative, crying to get their parents ‘at their beck and call’, they believe toddlers are ‘showing off to get what they want’ and believe that teenagers only sulk ‘because they want attention’. Common discipline methods here all involve ignoring the child. This is mistakenly believed to create a less demanding individual. In truth, all ignoring does is make the child keep their feelings to themselves, they don’t go away, they just stop displaying them. Gentle parents simply allow their children to always show their needs and when possible, they respond to them. A crying baby, a tantruming toddler and a sulking teenager are perceived to all be showing one thing: a need for connection. Gentle parents would try to support their children and their needs. They would try to help their children to feel better by not ignoring them. If this is deemed indulgent, then so be it, but what a callous world we now live in if that is true. Gentle parents just try to remove a little of that callousness in their own family.

Myth 5: Gentle Parents Are All Stay at Home Parents with One Young Child
Truth: Gentle parenting is demanding work; throw in a job, a handful of young children and a teenager and it gets hard, really hard. In fact, there are days when we all think ‘I just can’t do this any more’, but we get back up and we keep on going. Gentle parents seek to better themselves but aren’t martyrs. They know when they need a break, and they allow themselves to be ‘good enough’. Many gentle parents have full-time jobs and multiple children, including teenagers. It may be easier to parent when you don’t work and have only one child, particularly if that child is only a baby or a toddler, but at the time it doesn’t feel easy. As your children grow, so do you. You learn together.

Myth 6: Gentle Parents Are All Alternative Liberal Hippies
Truth: There are hundreds of thousands of gentle parents, from all walks of life, all with different beliefs. There is no special ‘person specification’. You can have rainbow dyed shaved hair or spend thousands per year on the perfect balayage and hair extensions. You can be vegan or eat steak every day. You can home-educate or use mainstream school, breastfeed or formulafeed, you can wear tie-dye, vintage, Primark or designer clothing. Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Pagan – religion is irrelevant. So is age, sexuality, gender identity, and political leaning. That said, there does tend to be far more diversity (and acceptance of it) amongst gentle parents and surely that is an amazing thing to teach our children?

Myth 7: Gentle Parents Inhibit Their Children’s Independence

Truth: Gentle parents are commonly perceived to ‘stifle independence’. For instance, they don’t leave their babies to cry at night, so some believe they are ‘not teaching them to self-settle’ or somehow causing an unhealthy attachment and need for their parents at night, resulting in a sleep problem and bad habits. The key with gentle parenting, however, is that the attachment always occurs because of the child’s cues and parents responding to the child’s needs. When the children are ready to detach, gentle parents open their arms and watch them fly. Independence always starts with dependence; you can’t force it to happen. It happens when children have had their needs met, and as a result feel confident enough to go out into the big wide world alone, knowing that if they need them, their parents are there for them. Gentle parenting creates, not stifles, independence!

Myth 8: Gentle Parents Create Snowflakes, Ill Prepared for Real Life
Truth: If you read an article on gentle parenting online, there will inevitably be a comment saying something like ‘but real life isn’t all hearts and flowers. Real life is full of disappointments and demands, rules and regulations.’ The mistaken belief here is that gentle parenting ill-prepares children for life. A life where they will have to follow rules, not bend them. A life where they will have to endure harsh discipline. The argument – from those who don’t believe in gentle parenting – is children should be raised harshly, so they are better equipped to cope with our harsh world. The argument – from those who follow gentle parenting – is why not raise children to make the world a better place? Gentle parenting also means raising children with better self-esteem and self-confidence; those who are therefore more resilient and able to cope better with the demands of adulthood. Does this mean gentle parenting encourages raising rebels? No, it means raising empathetic thinkers. Thinkers know when questioning is appropriate, and they know when to keep their head down. Thinkers understand respect; respect for others and themselves. They know when to respect boundaries and rules (after all, they have respected their family’s rules for years). Gently parented children are empathic, they understand how others feel and when certain behaviour would be inappropriate. They know when they can rock the boat a little and when they
should leave it be.

Myth 9: Gentle Parents Are Raising a Generation of Spoilt Brats
Truth: This is one of the saddest criticisms and one of the most common. It mistakenly presumes you can spoil a child with love. You cannot, however, love a child too much. Ever. If you love a child as much as they need, you allow them to flourish. They become more empathic and more secure. Security and empathy are the keystones of respect and understanding. They create kind, confident, and compassionate individuals, the very
opposite of the shallow, self-absorbed spoilt individuals created by mainstream parenting. Why? Because when the child’s needs for love and emotional support aren’t met, they spend their life trying to fulfil them, some through constant unhealthy relationships, some with food, some with alcohol, some with drugs. Science is quite clear – the parenting style most responsible for raising anti-social individuals is authoritarian, or in other words one full of punishments and strict control over children.

Myth 10: Gentle Parents Are Scared of Making Their Children Cry
Truth: Gentle parents probably allow their children to cry far more than mainstream parents. Crying is normal, it is a healthy way to release difficult emotions. As parents, allowing your child to cry and supporting them when they do is the healthiest response. Our society is too full of dismissing tears. We say, ‘stop crying, don’t be a baby’, ‘big girls don’t cry’, ‘crying is for sissies’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man up’ far too much. We try to distract children from feeling and dealing with their own emotions and we wonder why they grow up to struggle with them as adults. Crying is not the problem here. When we discipline, gentle parents will often make children cry and that’s OK, because when they do we support them. Do we always revel in tears? Absolutely not, tears from a baby or young child always need a response, whether it is day or night.

Myth 11: Gentle Parenting is Toxic; It Isn’t Gentle on Parents
Truth: This goes back to the mistaken belief that gentle parents are all perfect martyrs. They’re not. They make mistakes, they yell, they get things wrong, they sometimes need to prioritise their own needs over those of their children and all of this is OK. Gentle parents mess up, they’re not perfect, they’re real, they’re ‘good enough’. They understand their limits and they accept their mistakes with grace, viewing them as a learning opportunity. Gentle parents practise self-kindness and although they set the bar high when it comes to expectations of themselves, they know that they aren’t superhuman and that messing up is a natural part of life. Most importantly, gentle parents know how important it is to ‘rupture and repair’ when they get something wrong, and the fact that they know how to do this means they carry a lot less guilt than others who may mistakenly believe that not being perfect is highly damaging to children. To practise gentle parenting, it is vitally important that you are
gentle to yourself.

Myth 12: Gentle Parents All Have ‘Issues’ They Are Trying to Solve Through Their Children
Truth: There is a grain of truth in this. Those who practise gentle parenting understand that the key to how they behave with their own children is understanding their own childhoods, and the subconscious beliefs and behaviours that stem from them. Most of us are a little bit messed up and have issues from ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago. The difference between gentle parents and others is that a gentle parent will take time
to try to uncover their triggers and understand any destructive behaviours, so they don’t continue the cycle and pass them on to their own children. Where this belief is wrong, however, is in presuming that gentle parents are trying to solve their own issues through their children; the reality is actually that they are trying to solve their own issues for their children.

Do you want to learn more about Gentle Parenting and how to apply the techniques with your children? Check out the brand new, fully revised and updated, edition of The Gentle Parenting Book.

The Gentle Parenting Stance on Santa/Father Christmas

“What’s the Gentle Parenting stance on Santa (or Father Christmas if you’re in the UK)?”

“I’ve heard you’re not allowed to do Santa if you follow Gentle Parenting – is that true?”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I think many are confused about Gentle Parenting. It is simply a belief system that children deserve to be treated with respect and that any discipline used should be mindful of their neurological development. There is no ‘gentle parenting stance’ on Santa. Those who follow gentle parenting come from all walks of life and hold different beliefs. Some will fully embrace the Santa myth, others won’t. 

TLDR: There is no Gentle Parenting stance on Santa!

One thing gentle parenting does shun is the idea of punishments and rewards. Research shows us that neither are effective discipline methods, because they both focus on extrinsically manipulating behaviour, rather than working to find the root cause of the problem and solving it. This means that, at best, rewards and bribes can only produce a temporary positive effect, but in the long run their usage can actually make behaviour worse. The same is true of punishments and threats. They presume the child is choosing to misbehave and can change their behaviour, but in most cases the child would rather they didn’t behave in such a disregulated way too. Punishments simply punish children for having a problem and don’t do anything to solve them.

Constant monitoring of behaviour and threats to tell Santa that children have been naughty/not getting any gifts is a sure fire way to lose the festive spirit and cause stress in both parents and children. What is won’t do however is improve behaviour, parents find themselves in a cycle of increasing threats and worsening behaviour, then comes the question – do they follow through with their threats and ruin Christmas for everyone? Or do they go back on them and lose what little authority they had over their children, who will quickly learn that they don’t follow through on their threats.

In addition, the idea of an ‘all seeing’ judgemental mythical being spying on children is quite trauma inducing. There’s no surprise that so many children break down in tears when they meet Santa and why so many have nightmares about ghosts, monsters and the like. How can we pretend that big brother Santa is real, while on the other hand reassuring that other creatures of the night are not?

However you try to spin it, when we lie about Santa to our children we ARE lying. It’s tricky, I understand wanting to spread joy and magic, but do we need to lie to do that? What about when our children realise we were lying? When they find out Santa isn’t real and Christmas all of a sudden loses its magic?

This is why I embraced the story of Santa and St Nicholas with my own children, we still visited Santas Grottos, we still left out mince pies and a carrot for Rudolph, we still wrote letters to Santa, we still watched all the Santa movies, the only difference is that my children knew he was just a story and they knew that we were pretending, it didn’t make it any less magical. They also knew Harry Potter, Unicorns, The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairies were stories, but the wonder of childhood imagination meant that they still embraced the stories with joy.

To this day, my children (15, 17, 19 and 20) still indulge in the story of Santa. We still leave out a mince pie and a carrot, whoever remembers is the one to take charge and nibble them for others to find, we still visit Santa’s grottos (they were the oldest children at the one we visited last year by a good 10 years!). This isn’t a gentle parenting stance though, just my own individual belief of what’s right for my family.

p.s: For lots of Gentle Parenting mythbusting and Q&As, check out the brand new updated and revised (with two brand new chapters!) edition of ‘The Gentle Parenting Book’. Out April 23.

Read the introduction to ‘Beginnings’ for free

I’m delighted to share with you the introduction to my new book ‘Beginnings: A Guide to child psychology and development for parents of 0-5 yr olds’. If it piques your interest in the book, you can find order information at the end.

The first five years of a child’s life underpin their future personality, health and relationships. In that time – just under two thousand days – a child’s body and brain will grow and change far quicker than at any other time in their life. The way that parents and carers respond to them during these years has more of an impact on their development than anything else.

We are the architects of their lives. An exciting yet terrifying thought, isn’t it? Surprisingly, many parents and carers are unaware of what is happening in their child’s brain and how they are developing, perhaps because the relevant information is so often written in dull medical jargon, or only found in weighty textbooks.

Over the last two decades, I have been asked thousands of times if I can recommend a book about child development – one that covers the common queries about physical development, such as, ‘How does a baby learn to walk?’ as well as, ‘How do children learn to talk?’ and questions about brain development. Parents and carers want to understand what neurological stages their children are going through and how this affects their behaviour. They want to be better informed so they can help their children to blossom into confident and happy individuals who will meet their full potential. But they just don’t have the time to trawl through a three-hundred page textbook to do so. And rightly so – they have other things to do!

Beginnings was born out of a desire to fill this gap and provide parents and carers with the information that they’re desperate for, in a way that is not too technical, but not patronising either. It’s the book I wish I had read when my own four children were small – and the one I hope they will read in the future, when they have children of their own.

So what will you find in this book? We start with a chapter on life in utero, providing descriptions of how a foetus develops and grows, with an emphasis on the astounding brain development that occurs during this period. Chapters 2 to 5 divide the first year of life up into blocks of three months. There are so many incredible changes in the first year that to do justice to them, we need to break the chapters down into smaller age periods. Chapters 6 and 7 look at life from the first to the second birthday, as babyhood comes to an end and the beginnings of toddlerhood emerge. Chapter 8 considers the fascinating world of two-year-olds, while Chapter 9 deals with the development that takes place once a child turns three. Finally, Chapter 10 is a study of four-year-olds, right up to their fifth birthdays.

As you move through this book, you will notice that each chapter is broken down into the following:
• Brain development – changes that take place in the brain and neurological growth
• Physical development – what happens to your child’s body, including physical milestones
• Feeding and eating development – your child’s relationship with food at the various stages and physical changes in their body that affect eating
• Sleep development – how sleep varies at different ages, including sleep milestones and how these are affected by physical, neurological and psychological development
• Social and psychological development – how your child experiences and interacts with the world around them, and their relationships with yourself and others close to them
• Language development – how your child learns to communicate, including the emergence of talking and elements that influence it
• Play ideas – to help your child to develop, bond with you and, most importantly, keep them entertained.

These sections will make it easier for you to skip straight to any areas of special interest or find answers to any pressing questions you may have when you don’t have time to read the whole chapter.

As well as longer descriptions of physiological and psychological development, you will also find the following throughout the book:
• Neuroscience Nuggets – small, easily digestible, bites of brain science
• Fun Facts – interesting and entertaining facts and figures
• Anthropology Titbits – beliefs and behaviours concerning childhood from different cultures around the world and from different periods of history
• Parenting Q&As – common questions that parents ask me (and my answers)
• Parent Observations – real-life experience from other parents
• Quotes – child-development-related quotes from wellknown figures, past and present

There is arguably nothing quite so astounding as the beginnings of a new life. If you’re interested in reading ‘Beginnings’ you can grab a copy HERE.

The Curse of Growing up a ‘Good Girl’

(and how it affects us when we become a mother)

I was a ‘good girl’ growing up.

I was a typical sulky and moody teen, but I never did anything that caused my parents too much heartache. I never got into trouble at school, I was always home before my curfews and I was generally compliant and obedient. My mother struggled with her health throughout my childhood and I regularly assumed a caretaker role; I cooked meals and cleaned the house and usually did what was asked of me without too much fuss.

I grew up learning to hide my feelings, so as not to be a bother. I learned (incorrectly as it turns out) that through my behaviour I was directly responsible for my parents emotions. If I was ‘naughty’ they got angry – and so therefore, their happiness centred on my behaviour. When they were stressed, I learned to not add to their burden any more with my own worries. I kept my emotions to myself and I learned to be resilient, I learned that I was the only person I could trust with my feelings and I learned to not rely on others when I needed help.

Fast forward to adulthood and I fully embodied ‘The Good Girl Caretaker’ role. My whole career has centred on helping others and allowing them to unburden their feelings onto me. I became a chronic people pleaser, scared to have boundaries, taking on more and more and not stopping to consider my own needs.

Then I became a mother and the caretaking ramped up a gear. Everything I did – physically and mentally – was about caring for others. I was constantly reliving my childhood – being good and reliable and caring for others, pushing my own needs aside to do so, getting on with it and not asking for – or accepting – help.

We often mistake being ‘a good girl’ as a positive thing. So many want their daughters to be ‘good’. But it’s not positive – it is toxic. The pressure and weight of constantly burying your feelings and needs in the pursuit of caring for others eats away at you. It gets so very heavy.

What happens when you can no longer carry that weight? You explode. I would shout (and shout and shout and shout). Others get physically ill, or their mental health takes a toll.

Now – if you’re a mother too, your emotional displacement is often directed at your children (or your partner). You become a seriously uncalm mother – and because you’re a ‘good girl’ who doesn’t like upsetting others, you take your apparent failure to be a calm parent to heart – you enter a cycle of blaming yourself and believing you’re not good enough.

But here’s the thing – you ARE good enough, you always were. You just didn’t realise it because your whole life has been about how others feel. Maybe now it’s finally time to take care of yourself?

Recognising that you were (and still are) a ‘good girl’ is a powerful first step to becoming a calmer, happier, parent and, if this post speaks to you then you’re exactly the person I wrote ‘How to be a Calm Parent’ for – it’s out now. Find a local stockist HERE

Maybe see this as a sign that you deserve to be calmer and happier – not for your children, or your partner – but (finally) yourself.

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How to be a Calm Parent is out now – Your guide to lose the guilt, control your anger and tame the stress – for more peaceful and enjoyable parenting and calmer, happier children too

Coping with Parental Burn Out

This is an extract from my new book ‘How to be a Calm Parent‘:

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

“I just can’t take any more!”, “I’ve had it up to here with being a parent!”, “I literally don’t have the capacity to handle this”, how many times have you said something similar? 

Every parent knows how it feels to be emotionally and physically wrung out, exhausted and unable to handle their children. We all know how it feels to be desperate for a break, and by a break I don’t just mean a brief week or two in the sun, but real, tangible time away from the demands of everyday life (including our children!).

I genuinely believe that parenting would be a whole lot easier if we could only admit how bloody hard it is, and how desperate we are to have some respite now and again. 

Just because we may struggle with our lives and the demands placed upon us, it doesn’t mean we hate our children though and it definitely doesn’t make us a horrible person. It makes us a real person, with real needs and real limits to what we can handle at any one time. 

Parenting is tough and with everything else life throws at us it can sometimes feel impossible. We must acknowledge this fact, before we can attempt make things easier.

While the physical toll of parenting is no-doubt exhausting, personally I find the mental load far more of a drain. We get to switch our bodies off for several hours at night, when we lay still in bed, or collapse on the sofa once all the children are asleep, but our minds continue whirring. Whether we’re dreaming about next week’s dinner menu, or frantically planning a last-minute World Book Day costume, once we become a parent it becomes harder and harder to switch off our thoughts.

The cruel dichotomy of Mother Nature is that the more time we allow our bodies to be still and rest, the more space we give our minds to run marathons around our head. As we grow, the free and fanciful daydreams of childhood become quickly replaced by the responsibility and demands of adulting. Parenting is adulting and then some though, because now we’re not only thinking for ourselves, but we also have the mental burden of thinking for our children – and often our partners, too.

What happens to us when we carry too much of this mental burden, alongside the very real physical demands of parenting, particularly younger children? We break. We snap. We scream, we shout, we cry. We become the antithesis of a calm parent.

The irony here is that usually it is our very attempts to be such a good parent, to ‘do it all’ for our families, that lead to our demise. Therein lies the problem, to be a calmer parent, we must learn to share the load and to carry less. To entrust some of these all-important parenting jobs to others and, sometimes, to ask for help if it is not offered. Doing everything alone, or rather attempting to, doesn’t make us a better parent, but it certainly makes us a far less calm one.

Although physical burn out, the deep-seated exhaustion that accompanies sleepless nights and the relentless physical toil of parenting, particularly in the early months, can be highly damaging, particularly when it comes to the physical toll on the body and relationship to illness and immunity, emotional burn out, can be even more damaging when it results in cynicism and connection problems with our children. Mostly importantly however, the emotional exhaustion is a major culprit behind the inability for parents to control their tempers and emotions around their children. 

If we are at rock bottom emotionally, it takes very little to trigger an explosion in us. Emotional burn out is the dark side of the selflessness, self-sacrifice, and devotion to their children so common amongst parents, particularly those inspired by a more gentle, respectful style.

What is the answer to parental burn-out? Let’s start with what isn’t. Relaxation techniques are not going to resolve it, as the common stressors still remain and therefore so does the stress response. While job related burn-out can sometimes be resolved simply by leaving the role, this is clearly not an option in parenting. This is why I didn’t ‘How to be a Calm Parent’ with a focus on mindfulness, self-care and breathing techniques, as so many parenting, or self-help related books do. These can all be helpful tools, but often they are superficial, if the deeper issues are not discovered and ultimately resolved. To reduce burnout, we must work with the root cause and learn to lighten the load a little.

Want to learn more? How to be a Calm Parent is out now – Order your copy HERE

The 7 Golden Rules of Calmer Parenting

The 7 Golden Rules of Calmer Parenting

This article is a little excerpt from my latest book ‘How to be a Calm Parent’:

The older I’ve become, the less keen I am on the use of rules, but I think it’s important to set the scene and simplify a little here. Throughout this book I will discuss many things that impact on our state of mind and actions as parents. I think it’s important to take a holistic view and to ask WHY we struggle to be calm before we even begin to think about what we can do to be calmer. The answer to the ‘why am I like this?’ question is anything but simple and straightforward. I do however believe that having a few, simple, guidelines to start with makes the process to becoming calm easier, hence here are my top seven rules:

  • 1. Everybody can be a calmer parent. It doesn’t take any special personality traits. Privilege does inevitably mean that life is sadly infinitely easier for some, but we can all do some work and make some changes, regardless of our life situations, that will have a positive impact (although I do accept that lack of privileges can and will limit the changes possible)
  • 2. Everybody loses it at times. Nobody is calm 100% of the time – nobody should aim to be. We must lower the bar when it comes to expectations of what we can achieve, and we must not compare our ‘inner selves’ (our inner most thoughts and feelings) with the ‘outer selves’ (the carefully curated illusion) of others. You’re not alone. All parents act in ways they’re ashamed of. Everybody has to try hard to hold it together. Losing your temper doesn’t mean you’re not good enough or are lacking willpower and it definitely doesn’t make you a worse parent than somebody else.
  • 3. It is not your fault that you aren’t a calm parent. Read that again and stop blaming yourself. Parents carry such a burden of guilt and instantly blame themselves when they get angry and short-tempered with their children. But it isn’t your fault, we are who we are due to the way we were raised as children, due to the situations we find ourselves in, and the relationships we have with others. Don’t think “what’s wrong with me?”. Instead see yourself as a combination of things that have happened to you and the environment you are in – you are not flawed. The good news is you can assert some control over how you process these experiences and the hold they have on you in the future.
  • 4. You are still going to have lots of big feelings. You are not aiming to get rid of the big feelings, just to cope with them in a healthier way. You will still feel anger, frustration, worry and disappointment, in both yourself and your children and that’s OK. All feelings are OK.  In short, the key to being calmer is allowing and accepting these big feelings and turning reactivity into responsivity. Putting a space between your child’s actions, your feelings, and your response. Becoming calmer is about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness, not trying to turn yourself into some sort of emotionally devoid robot.
  • 5. Messing up doesn’t undo all the good you’ve done before. A bad day is simply that, a bad day. It does not make you a bad person, or a failure. Even if that day stretches into weeks, months, or years. It doesn’t undo the work you have previously put in to becoming calmer or cancel out the good days. It also doesn’t have any impact on what you can achieve in the future. The road to calmer parenting is full of ups and downs, you will mess up, you will feel like you’ve taken a million steps back some days, but you just need to keep going and accept the topsy turvy progress route. Real life is messy and so is real change.
  • 6. The journey to becoming calmer takes time. Make sure your goals are realistic, you’re not going to change overnight, or even in a month or two. You are going to be a work in progress for pretty much the rest of your life and that’s OK, because even a tiny change is still a change! Although it may sound terribly cliched to say, a thousand tiny steps will get you further than one giant leap. Commitment and consistency are key; repeated small changes are better than one-off attempts at enormous change.
  • 7. You will not screw up your child when you ‘lose it’. This is maybe the most important rule to really and truly assimilate because the guilt we carry with us when we screw up, can have such a damaging effect on our future attempts. Children are resilient, our mistakes as parents actually help them to grow. What matters more, is how you heal any rift that happens afterwards. Later in this book I will talk about the ‘rupture and repair’ cycle, or as I prefer to call it ‘holler and heal’. Knowing how to heal any hurt caused during our inevitable ‘uncalm’ moments is part of the foundation of calmer parenting. So too is learning to palliate any feelings of inadequacy and guilt that accompany them, to turn them into something productive instead.

Did you enjoy this excerpt?
How to Be a Calm Parent is part self-help book, part parenting book; aimed at parents who know that they need to be calmer to raise well adjusted, happy children, but who struggle with their own emotions and stress levels.

‘How to be a Calm Parent’ is out now.

You can order HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

Why Perfectionism is the Enemy of Parents (and why ‘good enough’ is better).

This article is a little excerpt from my book: ‘How to be a Calm Parent’:

Time and time again I come across parents who feel that they are failing their children because they have flaws. They believe that if they are not always ready and able to meet their child’s needs, then they are not good enough. Each failure, whether small or large and however frequent or infrequent, is deemed an indication that they can never meet up to the high expectations they hold for themselves. Many parents live in a perpetual and tortuous cycle of shame, guilt, and regret, all because they uphold the unobtainable goal of parenting perfection. If there is one trait that holds us back from becoming calmer parents, it is surely perfectionism.

The sad reality is that those who focus on perfectionism are undoubtedly good parents, because they are so desperate to better themselves for the sake of their children, but that same perfectionism can also be their undoing. Perfection is nothing but an illusion, but when it comes to parenting, perfect seems to be the goal to aim for. If what we are aiming for is an illusion, we are all doomed to fail, yet the quest for perfection is rooted in the desperate desire to avoid failure. Thus, we enter a vicious circle of expectations and aims set too high, leading to unavoidable failure, leading to guilt, depression and dented self-esteem and confidence, causing us to once again assess our parenting skills and aim for the fallacy of perfect, each time driving our psyche down a little more, that nagging voice in our head whispering, “you’re just not good enough”. It is a toxic, debilitating, cycle that we must break if we hope to be calmer.

What underlies perfectionism?

A large majority of our behaviour as parents is rooted in our own childhood and the way we ourselves were raised, as well as the relationships and interactions we had with our parents and caregivers. The origins of perfectionism are no exception to the rule here and it is highly likely that your perfectionist behaviour is rooted in your past. 

It isn’t just our upbringing that leaves us vulnerable to perfectionism though, we live in a consumerist society that preys on our, perceived or real, imperfections and insecurities to sell things. If we all accepted our unique flaws and had confidence in our abilities, looks and lives in general, we would be much harder to sell to, in fact we would be a marketer’s nightmare. It is much easier to sell a product, or an idea, to an audience who feel insecure, who are constantly looking for that holy grail to reach the pinnacle of perfection. For this reason, then, most advertising is designed to undermine our self-esteem and contentment and we voluntarily surround ourselves with these toxic messages constantly.

What else feeds into our desire to be perfect parents?

Here we only must look at the value, or rather lack of it, attached to child raising today. Childcare isn’t valued, by society and especially not by our Governments. Those who work in the childcare industry are sorely underpaid and their choice of career is often deemed one for those who are unable to achieve higher paid, more intellectual, or qualified work. If you choose to be a stay-at-home parent, the media considers you to be lazy and a leech on society if you accept any state financial help. I can’t tell you how many stay-at-home parents I have met who have introduced themselves as “just a mum”, or “just a dad”, if asked what their job is. It’s almost as if we feel that we must apologise for not contributing to national productivity and the public purse. Raising a tiny human, although possibly the hardest and most complex job there is in the world, is considered as an easy, work-shy, choice. This lack of societal value attached to child-rearing, leaves us with the subconscious belief that we must somehow be perfect at it, to prove to the naysayers wrong and prove to ourselves that we are ‘worth it’.

As parents, it is imperative that we learn to fail with grace. We must learn that our failures are not just OK, but debatably more valuable than our parenting successes, because it is failure that is ultimately the precursor to learning and achievement, for both parent and child.

Why ‘Good Enough’ Should be Your New Goal

Sadly, the idea of ‘good enough’ is often associated with subpar parenting in our culture today. For some it is used as an excuse for repeatedly prioritising their own needs over those of their children, rather than a more balanced approach where both needs are equally considered. However, ‘good enough’ is not the same as ‘poor parenting’, it is not subpar, indeed it carries benefits that – if it were a real thing – ‘perfect parenting’ doesn’t have. We must let go of the fallacy of the perfect parent, or ‘the Nirvana parent’. Instead, we must be prepared to welcome failure, to make peace with it and to view it as a learning and grounding opportunity, because failure is unavoidable in parenting. We must raise our children to be ‘good enough’, so that they don’t carry with them our perfectionism.

Did you enjoy this excerpt?
How to Be a Calm Parent is part self-help book, part parenting book; aimed at parents who know that they need to be calmer to raise well adjusted, happy children, but who struggle with their own emotions and stress levels.

‘How to be a Calm Parent’ is out now

You can order HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

Helping Children with Nighttime Anxiety and Fear

From an evolutionary perspective, fears and anxieties surrounding being left alone at night are entirely normal and actually important. This innate fear would have kept our offspring safe, at a time when they would have been most at risk if left alone. While life has changed immeasurably as our species has evolved, this natural fear has not moved with the times. We know our children are safe from predators, warm, dry and comfortable tucked up in their beds at night and so do our children, when you hold a rational conversation with them that is. Their instincts and psyche often says otherwise though. 

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Fear of the dark is perhaps the most common fear in childhood (and a fear that many adults still possess – it’s estimated that around 10% of adults suffer from Nyctophobia – fear of the dark), it’s believed that the fear stems not from imagining monsters lurking in the dark – but from the fear of not being able to see what is around you, i.e: a lack of sensory input, which can leave children (and adults) struggling with the lack of awareness of their environment. Once again, this makes huge sense if you think of the fear in evolutionary terms. If you have a child who is anxious about going to bed, or being left alone overnight, my top recommendation is to always add a nightlight to their bedroom, to be left on all night (do make sure it gives off red light though – see HERE for why). I would also recommend adding plug in red nightlights in any hallways outside of their bedroom too, even if their bedroom door is closed, the thought of a dark hallway lurking the other side of the door can be problematic.

If the cause of your child’s nighttime anxiety seems less obvious, my recommendation would always be to look to the daytimes for the cause. This may seem illogical, after all – if the anxiety only presents, or is much stronger, at night – why would you look to the daytime as the source of anxiety? Quite simply, nights allow children to ponder more on their fears and worries, without the hustle and bustle and busyness of the day and daytime anxiety often manifests the most at night. If you think of a time when you yourself have been incredibly anxious about something, I would wager that the anxiety seems stronger at night, when you get into bed and have nothing else to focus on but the thoughts in your head. If the daytime anxiety is also linked to separation from you in some way (perhaps starting daycare or school, a new sibling arriving, or a divorce or separation where the child is physically separated from you while with their other parent for example), then the impact at night is likely to be stronger, not just because of the above reason – but it is also amplified because a further separation from you is enforced at night, when you sleep in separate rooms. The best way forward here is to focus on the underlying anxiety and ways to help your child to be calmer and more confident in the daytime (if you have a 7 year old or older, this is covered lots in my new BETWEEN book), the happier and more relaxed they feel in the day, the more likely they are to relax at night. 

If your child is scared of being separated from you at night for whatever reason, the simplest and most effective solution here is not to try to encourage the separation through a convoluted series of rewards, praise, leaving them alone for increasing amounts of time, or moving chairs away from their bed and the like, but to embrace their need for you and allow them the connection with you that they so desperately need. If it’s possible space wise, move them into your room temporarily, or move into theirs for a while. Stay with them while they fall asleep and if you do need to leave, reassure them you will be back as soon as they need you. Meeting a child’s need for connection is really the best way to help them to feel confident alone, you don’t make separation anxiety worse by staying with the child, on the contrary, you make them feel more confident when the separation is reduced. If you do want to slowly move towards your child settling more independently at bedtime (or overnight), then trying my pop in, pop out, or bedtime buddy idea in THIS article can help. I would also make sure that bedtime is not too early for the child. Very often parents try to get their children to go to sleep at a time that is not suited to their chronotype – simply, if you’re trying to get your child to sleep before their body is ready, then they are going to struggle to not only get to sleep, but stay asleep, too. If your child is three years or older, then I would aim for sleep onset to be between 8 and 9pm at night (with their bedtime routine starting around 45 minutes earlier). 

Finally, make sure your child has tools to help them with their anxiety, the bedtime buddy idea I mentioned previously helps here, but also look into using audiobooks, sleep relaxation recordings (you can find mine on Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify) and relaxing sleep inducing music. Teaching children some simple breathing techniques (e,g: imagine their belly as a big colourful balloon filling up with air as they slowly inhale to a count of 4, and then slowly deflating as they exhale to a count of 8) and some grounding techniques (such as ‘I Spy Senses’ – where they play a game with themselves focusing on one thing they can hear, one thing they can smell, one thing they can touch/feel and one thing they can see) can really help too. It also helps here to have a conversation about anything that may be worrying or scaring them, such as something they have seen on TV, or heard other children talking about and helping them to differentiate between fantasy and reality and knowing what things exist and what things only exist in our minds and imaginations. Above all though, make sure your child knows that they can always talk to you about their fears, safe in the knowledge that you won’t ever belittle or ridicule them. 

Ultimately, the biggest solution to nighttime anxiety is time, fears, nightmares and separation anxiety are all outgrown as children get older (well – aside from the 10% of adults still scared of the dark that is!). Rest safe in the knowledge that, like most other parenting dilemmas, this is something that will pass given time.


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