Books for Helping Children Deal With Big Emotions

I’m often asked to recommend books to use with children to help them to understand and process emotions. Here are my top recommendations:

For General Emotions
For Under 7s
Children have strong feeling and they can’t always handle them very well. Perfect for sharing, How Are You Feeling Today? is packed with fun, imaginative ways to help children understand and cope with a whole range of different emotions. This delightful book gives parents the tools they need to help their child deal with those feelings – without it all ending in tears!

For Over 7s
Sometimes, emotions like anger or jealousy or excitement can seem too big to keep inside. Me and My Feelings is here to tell you: It’s okay to have big feelings. And the good news is, you can calm down those strong emotions-so you won’t feel like you’re going to explode!

 

 

 
For Anxiety
For Under 7s
A perceptive and poignant story that is a must-have for all children’s bookshelves. From Tom Percival’s bestselling Big Bright Feelings series, this is the perfect book for discussing childhood worries and anxieties, no matter how big or small they may be.

 

For Over 7s
This practical guide combines proven cognitive-behavioural therapy methods used by child psychologists in schools with simple activities to help your child to overcome anxiety. It’s aimed at children aged 7–11 because a lot happens in these years that can impact a child’s emotional well-being, not just now but for years to come.

 

 
For Anger
For Under 7s:

A CUTE STORY WITH A GREAT AND IMPORTANT MESSAGE

  • Explains that angry feelings come and go
  • Doing bad things doesn’t make you bad
  • A story is a good way to help children first recognize feelings
  • Learn to treat each other better as well as be more tolerating
  • Teaches us all that love and understanding make the difference
  • AND showers the power of a mother’s love

For Over 7s:
A Volcano in My Tummy: Helping Children to Handle Anger presents a clear and effective approach to helping children and adults alike understand and deal constructively with children’s anger. Using easy to understand yet rarely taught skills for anger management, including how to teach communication of emotions, A Volcano in My Tummy offers engaging, well-organized activities which help to overcome the fear of children’s anger which many adult care-givers experience.

 
For Self Esteem
For Under 7s
Even though Gilly the Giraffe has many wonderful things in her life, she sometimes lacks confidence. Why does she have to stand out so much with her long neck, her long black tongue and her mosaic patches? Why do some of the other animals point and laugh at her? Can it be possible to be different and to be cool? This activity book developed by expert child psychologist Dr Karen Treisman combines a colourfully illustrated therapeutic story about Gilly the Giraffe to help start conversations, which is followed by a wealth of creative activities for children to explore and build upon some of the ideas raised in the story, and beyond!

For Over 7s
This practical guide combines proven cognitive-behavioural therapy methods used by child psychologists in schools with simple activities to help your child grow their self-esteem. It’s aimed at children aged 7–11 because a lot happens in these years that can impact a child’s sense of self-worth, not just now but for years to come.

 

 
For Grief
For Under 7s
Badger is so old that he knows he must soon die, so he does his best to prepare his friends. When he finally passes away, they are grief-stricken, but one by one they remember the special things he taught them during his life. By sharing their memories, they realise that although Badger is no longer with them physically, he lives on through his friends. Celebrating the 35th anniversary of this quintessential and multi award-winning picture book about losing a loved one.

For Over 7s
The encouraging and simple activities and exercises tackle the feelings associated with grief, bereavement and family separation; children will enjoy using their creativity to combat negative feelings and work out how to cope with these emotions through writing, colouring, doodling and drawing.

 

 

For Separation Anxiety
For Under 7s
Parents, educators, therapists, and social workers alike have declared The Invisible String the perfect tool for coping with all kinds of separation anxiety, loss, and grief. In this relatable and reassuring contemporary classic, a mother tells her two children that they’re all connected by an invisible string.

For Over 7s
Hot air balloon pilots have wonderful adventures, where they get to see things they have never seen before and learn all about the world outside. Flying a hot air balloon sounds like a lot of fun to some kids. But for other kids, the idea of flying off on their own, away from their parents or homes, doesn’t sound like fun at all. If you feel scared when you do something alone or away from your parents, this book is for you! The latest addition to the popluar What-to-Do Guides for Kids series addresses separation anxiety

 

For Being Kind to Others 
For Under  7s
It’s never too soon for children to learn that violence is never okay, hands can do many good things, and everyone is capable of positive, loving actions.

In this bright, inviting, durable board book, simple words and full-color illustrations teach these important concepts in ways even very young children can understand.

For Over 7s

The Sunday Times Bestseller and New York Times Bestseller. A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons.

 

 

For Parents Separating
For Under 7s
A little boy tries to find a pot of parent glue to stick his mum and dad back together. His parents have come undone and he wants to mend their marriage, stick their smiles back on and make them better.

But, as he learns, even though his parents’ relationship may be broken, their love for him is not.

For Over 7s
Zoe and Evan Stern know firsthand how it feels when your parents divorce. When their parents split they knew their lives would change but they didn’t know how. A few years later, when they were 15 and 13 years old, they decided to share their experience in this positive and practical guide for kids. With some help from their mom, Zoe and Evan write about topics like guilt, anger, fear, adjusting to different rules in different houses, dealing with special occasions like birthdays, adapting to stepparents and blended families, and much more.

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Preparing Children for a House Move

I’m often asked for my top tips to help children with upcoming, or recent, house moves. Moving house is a major – stressful – life event for adults and is huge for children too. As with any big transition, you can expect a little unavoidable turmoil while your child gets used to the move, however there are plenty of things you can to do help prepare them and make the move go as smoothly as possible. Here are my ten top tips:
move
1. Get them involved right from the start
As soon as you start thinking about moving, discuss the idea with your child. Visit estate and letting agents/realtors with them, involve them with online house browsing and take them along to viewings. This all helps to normalise what will be happening and gives them a sense of ownership, long before the actual move is finalised.

2. Encourage them to sort through belongings long before move day
This is especially important if you’re hoping to de-clutter. Very often parents leave the sorting, selling, donating and trashing until the last few days before the move. However this loss of belongings can add to the trauma for some children. If you are going to get rid of some of their belonging, try to do so well in advance of the move.

3. Resist redecorating and new purchases
A lot of children are promised new bedroom furniture, curtains, bedding and decorations for their new rooms. This complete change is actually counter-productive for a lot of children. Having known, reassuring belongings in the new home can really help children to settle quicker. If you do want to buy new items for your child for the new house, try to buy them well before you move, so that they settle in with them in their current home. These can provide some security when moved to the new room. Even better, if the new room has the same paint colour or wallpaper.

4. Visiting and normalising
Make sure to visit your new home at least once (on the inside) with your child, but visit the outside as often as you can with them. When you do visit, have conversations about where things will go when you do live there and what their everyday life will be like in the new home. If you are moving to a new area, try to get your child used to it as much as possible in advance, visiting lots and getting to know local parks, coffee shops and so on. If it’s not possible to do this in person, then familiarise them as much as possible online, with pictures, virtual tours and google streetview.

5. Read books about moving and TV shows featuring house moves.
For younger children, sharing books about house moves can help them to understand the process more, as can TV shows. Some books suggestions are HERE and HERE and HERE. Videos that can help HERE  and HERE.

6. Fully explain the process of moving day
Moving day itself can be a scary experience for children. If possible, have them with you on the move day (it can be incredibly disorientating for them if they don’t get to see you leave the old house and move into the new one), but preferably with another adult on hand so that you can focus on the move knowing they are being cared for. Demystifying the process in advance is really helpful here – for instance, talk about people coming to help you to pack boxes and putting them in a removal van. Showing pictures of the removal van (perhaps on the website of the hire/removal company) is a great idea, as is pointing out any you see on your everyday travels. It can help to make a visual timetable of the day and what is likely to happen when, so that there are no unexpected surprises.

7. Take photos of your current/old home and add them to a special book
Children like to reminisce about their old homes for many years after moving (my eldest still talks about his old bedroom that we left 15 years ago!). Very often though we don’t take photographs of the rooms of the house before we move out. Taking photos of your current home, with all rooms and a garden if you have one, as well as photos of the outside can really help your child to settle. Store them in a special album and look through them together if they miss their old home. They make wonderful memories in the years to come too. Who wouldn’t love a photo of their childhood bedroom?

8. Encourage them to share their feelings and go easy on them
You can expect some tricky behaviour for several months after moving home. It is a huge unsettling event for many children. Try to remember this when your child won’t sleep, misbehaves or is difficult a month or two after the move. It takes them longer to transition than us. Encouraging your child to share their feelings about the move, before, during and after, can really help. Let them know you miss the old house too, but that you are looking forward to creating new happy memories with them in the new home.

9. Keep special toys and comfort items separately in a clearly marked box
The room your child sleeps in should be the first room you unpack in your new home. You need to fill this with as many familiar things as possible. For this reason, pack a couple of boxes with anything your child needs to sleep and feel calm and keep them with you – not in the removal truck – you will need to access this box first. It’s so important it doesn’t get mixed up with anything else. Similarly, if your child needs certain plates, cups and bowls etc.. to eat, make sure you keep these somewhere to hand.

10. It’s all about you
Moving house and the events leading up to it can be incredibly stressful for us as adults. This stress can – and often does – have a big impact on our own patience and tolerance levels. While a lot of this stress is unavoidable, perhaps one of the most powerful things you can do for your child when it comes to a house move is try to keep your own emotions in check. Be mindful of how you’re feeling and work to reduce as much stress as possible, so that you can be calm for your child. After all, it doesn’t matter how great your preparation has been if they are catching stress from you!

 

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What Does ‘School Readiness’ Really Look Like?

The following is a short excerpt from my  ‘The Starting School Book‘:

startingsc
A question that seems to crop up again and again among discussion groups is “what do I need to teach my child so that they are ready for school?”, this is commonly followed by questions such as “do they need to know their ABCs?”, “do I need to teach them to read?”, “should we practice phonics?” and “should they be able to write simple sentences?”. I’ve even started to see advertisements for ‘pre-school coaching’, private tutoring sessions to get children up to speed with English and Maths skills before they start school. The good news is, your child doesn’t need to be able to do any of these things. Preparation for schooling is much more about the everyday practicalities; skills that will enable your child to cope independently in the school environment and help them to feel happy and relaxed.

So, what should you be focusing on doing with and teaching your child over the next month?

  • Read to them lots. Get them to love books, by allowing them free choice and making story time a fun, interactive and enjoyable experience. Don’t stress about teaching them letter recognition, just read, read and read to them some more.
  • Talk with them lots. Encourage them to have conversations with you about things that interest them and how the world works. The thousand “why?” questions they seem to ask every day can be exceptionally annoying, however this is a great example of their natural curiosity, which in turn is a great learning attribute. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, then say “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together! Maybe we can find a film, book or website about it”. This natural learning that happens every day, purely organically, is much more powerful than trying to teach them formally.
  • Get out into nature with them. Enjoy these last few weeks of being able to spontaneously get outside for the day and plan trips away. Whether this is enjoying time in your garden, or that of a friend or family member, visiting local forests, woods, fields or nature reserves; the time spent outside is a great primer for school.
  • Prepare food with them. Cooking together can help to foster a love of good food, but it’s also a great way to teach maths and science skills organically (what temperature is the oven? Why do you add baking powder? What happens when you whisk or sieve something? Encourage them to weigh items in your kitchen scales and so on). Cooking also encourages fine motor skills and tool control.
  • Messy play and painting. Messy play is important to encourage creativity and sensory experiences, whereas painting is a great way to express emotions, to learn about colours and shapes and again to encourage them to hold the paintbrush, pens and pencils correctly.
  • Work on their fine motor skills. This follows on from the previous point. Children don’t need to start school knowing how to write, but they do need to know how to hold a pen and pencil. With less focus on arts and crafts and nature play, children are frequently starting school lacking in motor control skills, this in turn inhibits their ability to write.
  • Teach them to recognise their name when written. Don’t worry about teaching them to write their own name, teaching them to recognise their name written is important though – so that they can pick their name out of different labels, for instance on their coat peg, or draw. If you do teach them to write their own name, however, make sure it is not all in capital letters. Instead teach them to use a capital letter for their first initial and the rest in lower case, writing everything in capitals is a tricky habit for teachers to break.

Physical Skills Needed for School
There are quite a few specific physical skills that new school starters would ideally possess, each of these skills helps children with their independence and helps teachers and teaching assistants by reducing the amount of time they need to do tasks for children. This is a big list, please don’t be alarmed if your child can’t do all these things by the time they start school. It’s more a list to work towards, rather than a ‘tick every box’ list.

  • Teach them how to put on a cardigan/jumper (whatever they will be wearing school uniform wise) and coat and take it off again.
  • Teach them how to do shirt buttons up, or the few top buttons on a polo shirt if they will not be wearing a traditional collared school shirt.
  • Teach them how-to put-on gloves and put them into their coat pockets when they go in at the end of break time.
  • Teach them how to sit on the floor with their legs crossed and hands in their laps.
  • For children with long hair, teach them how to put a hair tie and/or clips in and take them out (so that they can fix their own hair before and after PE lessons).
  • Teach them how to undress, change into their PE kit, and then put their uniform on again afterwards. Plus collecting their kit and putting it back into their PE bag.
  • Teach them how to blow their nose and what to do with the tissue or handkerchief afterwards.
  • Teach them how to hold a pencil.
  • Teach them how to put up their hand if they want to ask a question.
  • Teach them their teacher’s name (when you know it) and the names of any teaching assistants (TAs).
  • Teach them to go to the toilet independently (including wiping, flushing and washing hands afterwards).
  • Teach them how to use a lock on a public toilet door (especially if you can find out what style of lock the school toilets have and find one like them to practice with).
  • Teach them how to put on and take off shoes (on the correct feet – use the heart trick to identify left and right feet, see illustration at the end of this list)
  • Teach them how to identify their lunchbox and how to open and close it.
  • Teach them to recognise their own belongings (e.g. their coat, bag, water bottle and so on, this includes recognising their name on any name labels you use).
  • Encourage them to drink water at home (as squash and milk won’t be available during the day at school) and make sure they know how to open, close and refill their own water bottle.
  • Teach them to peel satsumas and bananas if you will be putting them in their school lunch.
  • Make sure they can take the top off any yoghurt pots or pouches you will be giving them to take for school lunch.
  • Teach them how to use a pair of scissors.
  • Teach them how to spread glue with a spatula and use a glue stick.
  • Teach them how to eat with a knife and fork and carry a tray with a plate of food on it.

 

schoolbook

The Starting School Book is published in paperback, e-book and audiobook. You can order now HERE in the UK and HERE for the rest of the world (with free delivery!).

The book is a comprehensive look at how to choose the best school for your child, how to prepare them (emotionally and physically to start), how to prepare yourself, how to settle them in and deal with common issues that arise over their first year.

Posted in Education, Preschoolers | Tagged , ,

Why Children Misbehave at Home After a Day at School

I am often contacted by desperate parents in September or October who say “Help! My child has turned into a demon at home, but school say they are brilliant all day and behave really well, what have I done wrong?”.

coll

The presumption here is that the parents must have done something wrong to cause the poor behaviour, because school aren’t having the same issue. In a sense they’re correct, the behaviour is because of something they’ve done, but not in the negative way they expect. This happens because parents have done everything right! When you make your child feel loved, safe, supported and respect with you, they feel comfortable enough to be their authentic selves with you, or in other words, they don’t have to pretend or ‘be good’ anymore. They have spent all day, at school, holding in frustration, fear, anxiety, anger and other uncomfortable emotions, because they know that it is “naughty” to let them out at school. When they get home to you however things are entirely different. There’s a massive release. Imagine your child at school and everything they have to deal with as being a bottle of fizzy drink. They have spent all day being shaken, building pressure, but have ‘been good’ and managed to keep their lid screwed on tightly. When they see you, the need to release is huge, pop, off comes the lid and the ensuing spray of all that has been bottled up inside. The technical term for this is restraint collapse, but I much prefer to think of that bottle finally releasing its pressure.

This is all a wonderful compliment of your parenting skills. If you hadn’t made your child feel secure enough to be authentic with you, when they were feeling happy and otherwise, then they would continue to bottle up the feelings and the release (and subsequent mess) would likely happen at school. Causing far more problems. Many children sadly get into the cycle of not being able to release to their parents, perhaps because their parents have raised them to not share how they feel with them through constant punishments and exclusions, or perhaps because the parents have been too busy, or absent, to listen. The result then is constant difficulty and poor behaviour at school, as they struggle to keep a lid on things and erratically explode, without the safe release of home.

What can you do about restraint collapse? Really, the best thing is to understand and accept it for what it is, a great testament to the hard work you have put into raising a child with good emotional intelligence and a strong bond with them. The effects wear off as children settle into school and things become easier for them, however you will see it time and again throughout the school years. When it happens again (after initially ceasing) you will know that they are struggling with something at school. Don’t take any explosions personally, they are definitely not acting this way because they hate you, it’s actually a bizarre way of them saying that they love you, lots. Instead, let your child know that it’s OK, you’re here for them and you’re big enough and mature enough to hold their difficult feelings as well as their happy ones.

This is a small excerpt from my  ‘The Starting School Book’ . You can order HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world

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How to Help Children Settle into School

Has your child started preschool or school (pre-k or kindergarten for those reading in the US!) recently? Or are they about to start?

start

Some children take the transition in their stride and settle in with very few bumps, others do better than you would ever have expected. Some children however really struggle with the transition. Anxiety, sadness, reluctance to leave you, angry behaviour and other other regressions are very common. More than many parents realise I think. These difficult reactions sometimes pass quickly, but often they can remain for several weeks and months after the initial start.

It is one of the most heart-breaking things in the world to watch your child struggling with their new place in the world. If you are certain that the school route is for you, here are ten tips that can help:

1. Allow Their Emotions
Perhaps the most important thing you can do if your child is struggling is to allow them to feel what they are feeling. Don’t try to tell them to “stop crying”, say “you’re OK, you don’t need to be upset” or “you will be fine, don’t worry!”. These don’t help to reduce anxiety, but they do dismiss the child’s feelings, which can add to their upset. Instead say “you’re feeling really sad, would you like to talk about it?”, or “I can see you had a hard day at school, would you like a hug to help you to calm down?”. Allowing your child to express their emotions (which may also manifest as anger, whining and shouting, as well as sadness) is the healthiest response here. Make sure you don’t add to their feelings though. There is a difference between empathising and projecting your feelings onto the child!

2. Ease the Drop-Off
School drop off can be incredibly stressful for new starters. The hustle and bustle, lots of bigger children, younger siblings and hundreds of parents can be overwhelming. Arranging with the school for your child to enter the classroom before the main rush begins, or arriving 10 minutes after everybody has left can make a huge difference. Similarly, sometimes drop-off is better if somebody else does it, allowing your child to say goodbye to you in the safety of home. They may be calmer when dropped off at school by a partner or friend.

3. Keep Your Own Anxieties in Check
The time when your child starts school is a highly emotional stage for any parent. Try to not add to what your child is feeling by keeping your own nerves and sadness at bay. Anxiety is catching. If you’re really worried about your child, there is a high chance they will sense this and it will undermine their confidence. Try your hardest to stay calm and collected. Lots of deep breaths, positive affirmations and working through your own feelings, so that you can be a pillar of strength and confidence in your child.

4. Take off the Pressure at Home
Now isn’t the time to push your child to tidy their room or their toys, or to pick up on every little misdemeanour. Cut them some slack. I’m not suggesting you become permissive, but relax your boundaries a little and let things slip for a couple of weeks while they settle in. Turn a blind eye to rudeness for a little while and allow home to be a place where your child is safe to relax. For the first couple of months after starting (or returning) to school, it’s common for behaviour at home to be tricky. This is your child’s way of discharging after a day of holding everything in at school. It’s a great compliment to your parenting skills! It means they feel totally safe to be authentic with you!

5. Be Their Champion
Starting school can push many parents out of their comfort zones, because it often means you have to initiate conversations that you’d rather not have. This can be even harder for introverted parents. If your child is not being treated fairly, be that by staff or other children, they need you to stand up for them and be their champion. They need to know that you *always* have their back, however uncomfortable the conversation or meeting you may have to have is.

6. Give Them Practical Tools
Separation can be really hard for some children. Giving them a tangible, physical, way to connect with you throughout the day can be really helpful. For instance, you could create matching friendship bracelets, or even just coloured wool/yarn tied simply. When you tie them on yourself and your child say “this bracelet connects us. Throughout the day when you are sad and miss me, you can touch it and know that a little piece of me is with you and I will do the same”. Another good idea is to create a little “magic spray” bottle. Using mini travel spray bottles filled with water, a drop or two of lavender and some edible glitter. Make up the bottle and tell your child that when they are feeling sad, or scared, they can spray a little bit of the liquid onto them and it will help them to calm down (obviously the teacher needs to be aware and may need to monitor usage!).

7. Watch Eating and Sleeping
Starting school is a huge activity for little children. Making sure that they get enough sleep and enough food is so important. For some, this may mean that they need a little emergency nap when they get home from school (which may mean they need a slightly later bedtime to compensate), others may need their bedtime brought forward for a bit (which is a handy way to cope with the clock changes next month, when it ‘falls back’ to its regular time!). School also means the end to intuitive eating throughout the day, which many children struggle with. Snacks on the way home from school (not even waiting until you get home) can help, as can a snack after dinner, just as bedtime starts.

8. Meet With the School
If things are still tricky after a few days, then ask to have a meeting with your child’s teacher. Explain what is happening and ask if they have any suggestions to help. Remember, teachers have dealt with this many times before and may have some ideas you haven’t thought of. They may also have a different view to you, for instance, some children are find once they are in the classroom, out of the sight of parents.

9. Consider Flexi Schooling
Starting school full-time can be too much for some children, particularly those who are ‘summer-born’. Some schools will be happy to allow children to attend on a part-time basis for some time. My firstborn didn’t start full-time at school until the summer term. He went for mornings only until just before his fifth birthday, at my request.

10. Give it Time
School starts can be tricky for several weeks. It’s a big transition for little people. Think back to when you started college, university or a new job. I doubt you felt totally calm, confident and settled for several weeks, if not months. The same is true for children starting school. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong if it takes 2, 3, 4, 5 or more weeks for your child to settle in. They all do things at different paces. In the interim, all of these points still apply. Usually it’s not until the October half-term that most children become more settled.

This is an extract from my ‘The Starting School Book’  – it’s for those starting to think about education choices for their children, applying for a place, and preparing children for starting school (and beyond). You can order a copy HERE in the UK and HERE for the rest of the world. 

schoolbook

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Baby & Child Sleep During Lockdown – Q&A

I thought I would run a little Q&A answering some of the most common sleep questions that have been posed to me over the last couple of weeks while the world is in lockdown, due to Covid-19.

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Q: My baby will only nap if we are out walking
A: I think the answer to this depends on how old your baby is and how many times per day they need to nap. If you have an older baby who only naps once a day, then I would combine naptime with your one daily exercise (providing you live in a country that allows this). Getting out once a day is so important if you can, the exercise and break from your home can really help you and if it helps your baby to nap then it’s really not something I would be aiming to stop! If you have a younger baby and they need to nap more than once per day, then obviously you are not going to be able to go outside 2 or 3 times per day. Here, I would focus on moving as much as possible in your home. If you usually use a sling/carrier, put it on and walk, or preferably dance around your home to your baby’s favourite music (I always found something with a strong beat – particularly rock music – helped my babies the most!). If you usually use a buggy/stroller/pram for naps, then I would put your baby in it as usual and walk around your home as much as possible. Try to find an area that is a little bumpy to wheel over (as it’s usually the jiggling motion that helps). If you don’t have anything (ie door thresholds) you could make a little series of bumps to go over with rolled up towels, broom or mop handles laid out horizontally. I am usually not one for recommending baby gadgets and I wouldn’t usually recommend this, but THIS gadget that fits on to any pram/buggy and simulates a rocking motion can really help in the current situation. Whatever you end up doing, do make sure you’re not trying to get your baby to take too many naps, or nap before they are ready. It will be much easier to get them to nap if they are tired and ready to sleep. I really do not recommend the current trend of aiming for maximum awake times between sleeps, there is no evidence to support this and I find it makes parents unnecessarily worried about their baby’s sleep and a tendency to try to get them to take more naps than they really need..

Q: My baby will only go to sleep for me again, we had worked hard for dad to do bedtime and this feels like such a step back – help?
A: Don’t see this as a step back, but rather a little fork in your journey. These are uncertain times and our children will pick up on this. At times of high anxiety and uncertainty it’s only natural that our children will be a little clingier and need their primary attachment figure in order to help them to feel safe and relaxed enough to sleep. I know a lot of mums who tell me they have worked hard to get their partners involved in bedtime, so they are not so mum centric, and they are scared to take over again, but please don’t be scared. Focus on getting through each day, in the moment, as easily as possible for you all. That most likely means mum centric bedtimes again for a while. Get through the lockdown and then work on getting your partner involved in bedtime again, this really isn’t the time to be trying to promote more separation at the moment.

Q: My toddler will only go to sleep at night if we are driving in the car, obviously now we can’t do this, what should we do instead?
A: Sadly this is not considered essential travel. I know for many of you it feels essential, because bedtime is such a nightmare otherwise, but the advice is clear that we should stay home unless it is essential to get groceries (as infrequently as possible), one daily exercise, medical and essential work reasons. Roads need to be kept as clear as possible in order to try to prevent any accidents that could place more stress on our emergency and medical services. So – what do you do? Here, it’s SO important to make sure that bedtime is at the ‘right’ time. What do I mean by this? I would say that 90% of people with this issue are trying to get their toddler to sleep too early. I would not try to get them to sleep before 8pm. Next, a good bedtime routine is vital. If we’re aiming for sleep onset at 8pm, we need to work back two hours to create a really sleep inducing bedtime routine. I recommend the following:

6pm – All screens off! (even if the toddler is not looking at them!), no artificial lights on in the same room as the child unless they are red (see HERE for more). One hour of active play (remember no screens!) – imagine you’re exercising a puppy before being crated at night – see more HERE.
7pm – offer a bedtime snack (I favour toast with nut butter, or porridge/oatmeal with diced banana)
7:20pm – warm bath – NO bath toys! (keep it boring, this is bedtime, you don’t want to stimulate!) and don’t use the bathroom light – it’s terrible for sleep!
7:30pm – Straight through to the bedroom they sleep in (don’t go anywhere else!), into PJs, no toys and remember no lights aside from red. Make sure the curtains/blinds are closed when you enter, consider using an aromatherapy diffuser and some alpha music (see tips HERE)
7:40pm – Read one book (the same each night and no lift the flap/noisy books, they’re too stimulating!). Milk and cuddles until they are asleep around 8pm (or at least that’s the goal).

At this point if they aren’t sleepy (it’s OK for them to cry a little  – or a lot – by the way, don’t be scared of tears, so long as you are providing comfort see HERE for more), then I would consider walking around your home with a buggy/stroller/pram or carrier and you could even utilise videos of road noise for an authentic sound! See HERE for just one example!

Q: I really need my toddler to nap now we’re all at home together, but it’s so hard!
A:  I hear you! Sadly, if your toddler doesn’t need to nap then this is going to be a nightmare. I understand completely the need to have a break when you’re all stuck inside together 24/7, however trying to force a nap that a toddler doesn’t need is a recipe for disaster. I also understand that when toddlers are in the process of dropping a nap that things get much harder initially. They don’t want to nap, yet their behaviour indicates they NEED to nap. It’s common for them to misbehave, tantrum and generally be hideously overtired. This doesn’t mean that dropping the nap is the wrong thing to do, it just means it takes time for their body clock to reset. A nap drop takes at least a month for them to get used to – in that month it’s common for behaviour and sleep to get worse. Don’t be duped into thinking it means the nap needs to stay. Instead of trying to force a nap, I’d recommend trying to have some calm time each day instead. Maybe watching a movie together snuggled with a blanket on the sofa, listening to a children’s meditation together or similar. More HERE on nap drops.

Q: My preschooler’s sleep is a nightmare since the lockdown started – help!
A: Can you remember a time when you were feeling anxious and unsettled and your sleep really suffered? Perhaps you found it hard to get to sleep, or you kept waking in the night? It is common and normal for sleep (and any other behaviour) to regress during times of stress. Your child may not fully understand what is happening, but they understand something is happening! I know most parents are tempted to try to work out what is wrong and ‘fix’ their child’s wakings, or need to bedshare again, however – really the best answer is to roll with it and provide the comfort they need during these uncertain times. Their sleep won’t be like this forever, it will get better when the current craziness is all over, please don’t be worried about creating bad habits during these uncertain times.

Q: Should I keep the same bedtime for my child now they are not at school?
A: Oh, this is a tricky one! Children thrive on routines and one of the keys for good sleep is regular wake and bedtimes. So, as a ‘sleep consultant’ (I hate that terminology!) I would say “yes – keep the same bedtime, waketime and bedtime routine”. As a mum however, I’d be tempted to say “just do whatever you need to do to all survive and get through this!”. You can get back on track with timings once schools start again (I personally don’t think that will happen until September), I’d recommend getting back to normal around a month before school starts, so August time. Until then, just roll with it. If you wanted to keep something familiar, I’d recommend sticking with your regular bedtime routine, but being flexible with timings. Remember routines are what you do, not when you do them! See HERE for more.

 

Do you have a lockdown related sleep question? Pop over to my Instagram to take part in my Q&As! 

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What To Do When You Disagree with School Discipline Policies

Many parents (particularly those who follow gentle parenting principles) struggle with the discipline policies at their child’s school, but what should you do if you find yourself in this position? The following is an excerpt from a section of my ‘The Starting School Book’ concerning this issue.

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Some of my top tips include:

1. You have to come from a position of understanding the limitations faced by the school and the teachers. Remember to approach any discussions with them with the mutual respect, understanding, empathy, collaboration and open and honest communication we mentioned at the start of this chapter, however, keep your goals realistic. The school are not going to change their whole approach to discipline based on your discussion, but they may agree to look at one very small aspect of it. Here, pick your battles, go for the smallest section that bothers you the most, rather than trying to change the world.

2. Be your child’s advocate. Be prepared to stand up for your child and their rights, even when you feel uncomfortable doing do. Your child needs you to be their voice and in their corner. Always approach discussions with the school as a team with your child.

3. Your child’s class teacher should always be your first port of call. If you still have concerns after speaking with them the next step is to request a meeting with the deputy or head teacher. Of, if your concerns are about SEND (or potential ones), ask to meet with the schools SENCo. Make sure you write down your concerns before heading into the meeting and take notes while you are in there. You could also follow this meeting up with an email detailing the key points discussed, ask them to place a printout in your child’s file. Emails create paper trails that are much harder to ignore.

4. Consider joining your school’s board of governors. Sometimes it is easier to petition for change from the inside.

5. Consider how you can ameliorate any negative impact at home. Remember right at the start of this book, we discussed that you were and always will be, the most important influence on your child? Children are resilient and we can make them more so. If you focus on unconditional support at home and you act as your child’s sounding board and champion, then a few days on a sad cloud or red traffic light, and a handful of superficial certificates really will have a negligible effect. Discuss how a certificate made a child feel, ask if they felt proud and say “ah, we don’t need certificates to show that do we? It’s what we feel inside that matters the most and I’m *always* proud of you”. Teach them to feel pride in their efforts as well as their accomplishments and help them to realise that they are always safe to discharge their difficult emotions with you at home. You can also discuss why schools need to use behavioural control you don’t use at home, explaining to your child that because schools have so many children to care for they have to do things you don’t use or agree with at home.

Ultimately, you have very little control over how schools do things, but you have total control over how you do things at home and that is always far more important.

While I am happy to compromise on most school discipline, there are two forms that I cannot ever support. Attendance Awards and Clean Plate Certificates. Awarding children for having a high attendance at school (usually in the region of ninety-eight to one hundred percent) and thus punishing those children who do not have good attendance for whatever reason is a ludicrous and wicked scheme. Children have no control over whether they are sick, they have no control over whether their parents struggle for whatever reason to get them into school and they have no control over other issues that may prevent them attending. Effectively punishing a child who has a chronic health condition, requiring multiple medical appointments, one who has been unlucky enough to contract several infectious illnesses in a term, or one whose parents are separating, experiencing financial problems or health problems of there is mean and short-sighted. These schemes do far more harm than good and they should be stopped immediately. My firstborn has an autoimmune disorder meaning he regularly missed school for consultant appointments and because he was too sick to attend, thankfully these attendance schemes didn’t exist when he had just started school (though he was unfortunate enough to run into them as he progressed through school). If they had this would have been an issue that I would have raised immediately and taken as far as I needed to take it to be heard. It is discriminatory and highly damaging.

My other non-compromised form of school reward was stickers or certificates given for ‘eating well’ or clearing dinner plates. These awards encourage over-eating and non-mindful eating, which as children grow, can turn into severe eating disorders. My daughter once left school with an “I ate all my lunch up today” sticker and I immediately asked the school to never reward (or punish or chastise) her for her eating again. I don’t think they realised just how damaging one little sticker could be, because from that day onwards I didn’t see any other eating related stickers or certificates again.

My Starting School Book can be ordered HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

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Why You Should Change The Way You Think, To Change the Way Your Child Behaves!

Expectations are the Enemy of Parents.

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I would say over 90% of the parenting dilemmas posed to me daily have one very simple answer; “you’re expecting too much of them”.

Our expectations of child behaviour are totally warped in society today. We just expect too much of kids (and no age or behaviour is immune). We expect them to sleep like adults. We expect them to control their impulses like adults, regulate their emotions like adults, manage their time like adults, observe social rules and niceties like adults and eat like adults (and as adults – our eating is totally screwed and unnatural, check out my ‘Gentle Eating Book’ for more). We expect them to consider the consequences of their actions like adults, communicate like adults and plan for the future like adults. If they can’t do these things we desperately try to ‘fix them’ and train and discipline them to do them (and frequently get frustrated when our efforts fail).

The thing is babies can’t do these things. Toddlers can’t do these things. School aged children can’t do these things. Teenagers can’t do these things – heck, even adults struggle to do these things a lot of the time! .

If you take just one piece of advice from me – please make it be to drop your expectations. Stop expecting mature adult behaviour from a child (and teens are still children!) who has a totally different brain structure to you. It’s a recipe for stress and disaster. You can’t teach a baby to drive a car. You wouldn’t even try……but that’s what happens when you try to teach or discipline children to do something that is beyond their development and age ability. Understanding and accepting normal, natural child development is the way forward. Reset those expectations and if you can, adapt life around them for a while. This is the key to calmer, happier family life.

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How to Encourage Reluctant Children to Brush Their Teeth

Do you have a reluctant tooth-brusher? There are several reasons why young children don’t like having their teeth brushed, but the top three in my opinion are:

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1. Because it makes them feel completely out of control (imagine how you would feel if somebody brushed your teeth for you?)
2. Because it disrupts what they would rather be doing/something that is way more fun
3. Because there is something about the sensation of it they dislike.

The answer then is to come up with a solution that mixes up all three. First reluctant children should always brush their own teeth, even if that only involves chewing on a toothbrush for a minute. The alternative here is to allow them to brush your teeth while you brush theirs. Taking turns to brush for 10 seconds or so.

Second don’t aim for a specific tooth brushing time and think outside of the bathroom. Tooth brushing while in the bath often works well, as does tooth brushing while watching a favourite video clip or reading a book. There are several great apps and youtube videos that encourage tooth brushing that work really well (I turn a blind-eye to the close the bed screen time this requires, it’s only for a couple of minutes and the positive for teeth outweigh the negative for melatonin inhibition). You can also turn it into a game and pretend you’re hunting for dinosaur bones or hidden treasure in their mouth.

Third investigate different types of toothbrushes, chewable rubber ones are often more successful, as are dental wipes. Some children are thrilled with an electric toothbrushtoo. Lastly swap out mint toothpaste for fruit ones, or other alternatives. As a grown adult I still HATE mint flavoured toothpaste with a passion, it’s a very strong flavour and knowing that young children have more sensitive taste buds than us, it makes sense to avoid anything very strong flavoured (Punch and Judy make a great strawberry flavoured toothpaste).

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Talking to Children About ‘Stranger Danger’

I’m often asked my opinion of talking to children about interactions with strangers and how I would best approach the topic. It may surprise you that I am really not a fan of the idea. Why?

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* Most child abductions and abuse occur from somebody known to the child (family members, family friends or professionals known to the child). Warning children about ‘Stranger Danger’ somehow implies that they can implicitly trust all those close to them, when actually these people pose far more risk to the child.

* Strangers can play an important part in keeping a child safe. For instance, if they get lost in a shop, or run into trouble when they venture out alone for the first time.

* Following from the above point, those who children really need to trust to help them keep them safe are technically strangers – here, the most pertinent being Police Officers.

* Warning children of the danger of all strangers can cause unnecessary anxiety when children meet new adults.

Instead, I far prefer the terms “funny tummy people” or “tricky people”. Of these two terms “funny tummy people” is my favourite. While a young child could struggle to grasp the idea of a ‘tricky person’, most will understand the concept of something not feeling right and giving them a funny feeling in their tummy. Most importantly, these terms include ALL adults (and older children), not just strangers.

What should children know?:

* Who they can trust in an emergency (e.g: the emergency services, store security guards, a mother with young children etc..)
* What to do if somebody makes them feel a funny tummy (how to say “stop!” and find and tell a trusted adult)
* That they should never be made to have physical contact with somebody they don’t want – this also includes visits to Santa, never force a child to cuddle him for a photo opportunity if they are uncomfortable! (more HERE on respecting body autonomy in childhood)
* The pants rule (click HERE)
* When it is appropriate to speak with strangers (eg if they are in danger, or if you are with them) and when it is not.
* How to call the emergency services
* Teach them a password, in case you ever need somebody to collect them in an emergency. Make it short and easily memorable and tell them to never go with anybody (whoever they are, even if the child knows them well) unless they know the password.
* That they can tell you ANYTHING that is worrying them, without fear of repercussion or ridicule (this is where Gentle Discipline is so important – if children are used to your support when they are experiencing tricky times, rather than being excluded from you as punishment – they may be more likely to confide in you).

I don’t think it’s ever too early to start these discussions with children. Particularly if you use age-appropriate props, such as cartoons and books to aid the discussions.

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