What to Do When Your Child Prefers to Play Alone

I’m often asked how to encourage introverted children to be more sociable and to join in with other children when it comes to play. However,  I believe that this common worry is usually unfounded. In my experience, this anxiety tends to highlight more about the parent’s concerns and feelings, than those belonging to the child. Most often, this question comes from parents who are naturally extroverted, who are flummoxed by raising an introverted child.

Parents should try really hard not to transpose their own fears and feelings onto their children. I tend to find those who struggle the most are parents who are naturally very extroverted, the life and soul of the party with a wide circle of friends, who are raising naturally introverted children who prefer to play alone, or with just one close friend. This is especially true if your child has not yet started school.

Parallel Play

Kids under the age of four will often engage in parallel play. That’s when two kids may be in the same room playing in proximity to each other, but really playing alone—like two adults sitting at the same table, but each staring at their phones, engaged in their own thoughts and activities. Parallel play is crucial, because it’s how children socialise before their sense of social etiquette kicks in. Children begin to understand that not everybody thinks and feels the same way, but before that, when they are incredibly egocentric, a young child will believe that the toy they are playing with is theirs—even if it isn’t and others want to play with it too. This is why some toddlers can seem so antisocial. It isn’t a problem though, it’s just normal development!

Some children genuinely prefer to play alone. I was one of these children. I’m naturally very introverted. My mother was a natural extrovert and I don’t think she every really understood me in that sense. She needed to be around people. I needed to be alone sometimes. I was happy to spend hours amusing myself, which I think my mother saw as a character flaw that needed to be ‘fixed’. She often spoke with me about being more sociable, joining in more and making more friends. I didn’t feel the need to do any of these things, but, in time, I did start to wonder if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t. As a teen, I questioned if my introversion (or what was labelled as me being ‘shy’) was a problem and something that I needed to change. This made a huge dent in my self esteem. As an adult, I’m still happiest in my own company, but now I’m fully at ease with being an introvert too. I enjoy socialising with others, but I love to get back home and be alone after and that’s OK, because we’re all different. Introversion isn’t a flaw. Extroversion shouldn’t be the goal, at any age.

Ultimately I think the key is in making sure your child is happy. If they are distressed at not joining in with others, then absolutely it’s time to do something (but forcing the issues is never the solution). In this instance I’d find some social groups, with activities the child enjoys, and invite a child they seem to favour a little more than others around for a no-fuss playdate, with the child’s carer. Here, it can be good to do an activity together, like visit a soft-play park, so that the emphasis is not on the child needing to initiate play. Sometimes children need work on their self-confidence too (something I’ve discussed lots in my ‘Gentle Discipline’ book).

Is Being a Loner a Sign of Other Problems?

Difficulty with social relationships can be an indicator of an Autism Spectrum Disorder and children with other special education needs, such as ADHD, may struggle to form relationships with their peers. If you feel that your child may potentially have a special educational need, then a visit with your family doctor is a good idea. In most cases though, in my experience, the issue is more adults expecting children to behave like adults. Or more specifically, like them!

Posted in Preschoolers, Toddlers, Tweens | Tagged , , , , , , ,

What to Do When Children Bite, Push, Shove, Hit and Throw

Show me a young child that doesn’t ever bite, push, shove, hit or throw and I’ll show you a pig that flies. These behaviours are just part of the territory that comes with being little. They don’t mean that the child is ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ and in most cases are not a reflection of ‘bad parenting’ either.  For most children they are simply down to biology. Biting, pushing, shoving, hitting and throwing are usually due to one or more of the following:

  • Frustration (that they can’t have something or do something, or perhaps because they are being made to do something they don’t want to do).
  • Feeling unhappy, sad or insecure (perhaps after the arrival of a new sibling, a house move or starting preschool).
  • Brain immaturity and a lack of impulse control.
  • Brain immaturity and the inability to regular their big emotions.
  • Brain immaturity and the inability to understand the consequences of their behaviour.
  • Brain immaturity and the lack of developed empathy.
  • They can’t cope with an invasion of their personal space.
  • They are not getting enough exercise, physical or messy play.
  • Tiredness or over-stimulation.
  • A need for adult attention and connection.
  • They simply enjoy the physical sensations, particularly true of biting.
  • Their parenting is too strict, authoritarian and controlling.
  • They are modelling the behaviour of their parent, or that of another adult or child, close to them.

The easiest way to deal with hitting, biting, shoving and throwing is to look for the cause of the behaviour. Once you identify triggers, a good first step is to try to avoid these as much as possible. Importantly consider any emotional cues. By re-connecting with your child and spending more time playing, rough-housing and enjoying fun ‘special time’, these unwanted behaviours usually dramatically lessen. Giving your child more control over their daily activities, choices and self care also helps hugely too. Come up with a strategy to help ‘in the moment’. The first step, and indeed the key here, is you.

Your reactions and your behaviour when your child is behaving violently are perhaps the most important predictors of whether you will be able to extinguish the behaviour. Remember you are modelling to your child the behaviour you want to see from them, which means you need to be calm, kind and respectful at all times. If you yell, spank, put the child in time out or on the naughty step you run the risk of perpetuating this cycle of behaviour for years to come. The key is to put a big space between your child’s action and your reaction.

Once you have taken time to calm yourself, it is time to respond to your child with your full attention.  Put the phone down, abandon your conversation or shopping temporarily and focus on your child and nothing else. At this point it’s also time to keep them, you and anybody else in the situation safe too by moving away from roads and dangerous objects. Calmly and simply tell your child what they have done wrong and why. You could say “You mustn’t hit Johnny, it hurts him and now he’s crying”, “Owwww, you bit me, that really hurts, we don’t bite people” or “Stop – you mustn’t throw toy cars in the house, they will break something”. Next, help your child to understand and name their feelings. “I can see you didn’t like it when he hugged you and it’s OK to be angry, but you mustn’t hit people”, “Did it feel good to bite me? Are your teeth hurting?” or  “Are you bored with being in here?”. After this, help your child to find an alternative, more acceptable solution. You could say “you can come and hit this cushion if you want to?”, “How about I give you an apple to bite into?” or “”Shall we go in the garden so you can throw your ball around?”.

It is important to realise however that responding gently won’t elicit a magic response or prevent your child from acting in the same way the very next day. Until their brain matures you can expect lots more similar behaviour. In time, with consistent (and I cannot emphasise how important that consistency is) responses your child will learn and in time the behaviour will cease. This could take weeks, months or even years. There are really only three things that really eliminate these totally normal behaviours once and for all: time, patience and understanding. The last two you need by the bucket load.
If this has piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about gentle, but effective, discipline; check out my Gentle Discipline Book – available HERE in the UK, HERE in the USA, HERE in Canada, HERE in Australia/New Zealand and HERE in the rest of the world.


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“It’s too slimey!” – Why Children Struggle to Eat Foods with Certain Textures.

When we think about toddlers and pre-schoolers refusing certain foods, we generally think about them not eating them because they don’t like the taste. While this is undoubtedly true, particularly for bitter tasting foods, it isn’t the only reason. Sometimes children may not like the smell of a certain food, or they may not like how something looks, how something feels though is often a stumbling block at this age. It is not uncommon for young children to refuse foods that are wet, or slimy in some way.

My firstborn refused any food in a sauce as soon as he hit toddlerhood, eschewing wet food for the accompanying dry breadsticks, crackers and toast at all opportunities. To this day, only one out of four of my children will eat mushrooms, not because of the taste of them, but the texture. Apparently, they are “all squidgy” and make their teeth feel funny. I initially thought this was a strange quirk of my family until I realised how many others, not just children but adults too, shared their mushroom disdain. Research into the eating habits of toddlers and pre-schoolers has found that the texture of food affects picky eating significantly more than colour or taste. Further research has found a strong link between the sensory processing characteristics of children and the food that they eat, or rather don’t eat. For those children who do not have specific Sensory Processing Disorder, I wonder if this shunning of wet, slimy and squelchy foods in favour of their ‘safe’ dry counterparts is because of the way we speak about different textures as adults.

The very words slimy and squelchy conjure images of smelly green goo, snail trails, dirty mud and so on. They are words used to describe monsters and aliens and other unpleasant creatures. We often warn our children not to touch something because it is ‘yucky’, when in fact we are referring to slimy, sticky, gooey textures. Many parents can unconsciously pass on a fear of dirt to their children by constantly wiping their faces, or hands, whether it is to clean them of snot, ketchup, chocolate or mud. Our dislike of certain textures and the dirtiness and negativity associated with them must surely rub off on our children. Is this perhaps why so many avoid similar textures when it comes to eating?

How to Help?
For children who struggle with the sensory aspects of eating, especially foods that are slimy, mushy and gooey, incorporating more messy play into their days, focussing on the sensations that they struggle with, can have a positive effect on their food acceptance. Research  has shown that sensory play with real fruits and vegetables can have a positive impact on the fruit and vegetable consumption of children. The experiment, conducted with three and four year olds, found that children who played with fruit and vegetables in a messy play session tried significantly more fruit and vegetables than children in the experiment who had not played with any. This finding did not only prove true for the specific fruit and vegetables that they had played with in the messy play session, but also those that they hadn’t.

For children who struggle with getting messy, and often avoid ‘messy foods’ as a result, parents should also focus on their own actions. Parents who are overly clean can unconsciously pass on a fear of ‘mess’ to their children. If you make a dash for the baby wipes as soon as your toddler puts their hands in their food, or manages to get as much of what they are eating on their face as in their mouth, then there is a chance that you are causing your child to become anxious about making a mess with food. In turn, this may cause picky eating, especially surrounding food with messier textures. If you can identify yourself in this, try to find a way to keep the baby wipes in the packet and postpone the handwashing. When you do clean up your child, be careful to not use words like messy, or mucky, instead you could say something like “wow, you look like you enjoyed that!”.

For more on coping with tricky eating in childhood, from birth to 18yrs, and how to raise a child with a healthy relationship with food – and their body – check out my Gentle Eating Book in the UK and rest of the world.


Posted in Babies, Preschoolers, Toddlers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Saying “Good Boy” or “Good Girl” Is Not a Good Thing!

How many times have you told your child “well done”, “good boy” or “good girl”? Have you ever said it without being fully present and focusing solely on your child?

A good way to imagine how this feels for a child is to think about a work appraisal. Imagine that you are having your annual appraisal at work and in the run up to it you have been working as hard as you can on a project, giving it your all. You have sacrificed personal time and have put in over and above your contracted hours. You are really proud of the results that you have achieved and even prouder that you stuck it out and didn’t give up when the going was really tough and you questioned your abilities. Now think about that appraisal again and imagine your boss nods and says “well done, good girl” while looking at a computer screen. How would you feel? Valued? Respected? Noticed?

Imagine the same appraisal and this time your boss says “I must admit I was really proud of all of the work you put into that project. Your extra time and efforts really didn’t go unnoticed. I noticed that you took work home with you and noticed that you came in early. I also noticed that you stuck it out when things got tough”. How would that make you feel?

What does it mean to a child when we say “good boy”? Do they know what ‘good’ means? Do they know what they did to make you happy? What about when we say “well done”? Well done for what? What about if they haven’t done something, but have persevered for hours, ‘failing’ each time at the task in hand, be that tying a shoelace, putting a shape in a shape sorter or building a tower of blocks. Is there effort not worth anything?

Most praise used by parents is incredibly shallow and superficial. It focuses on outcomes and not efforts and doesn’t tell the child anything about what they have done, what they should do or how they have made others feel. Praise needs to be specific. Instead of “well done” say “I noticed that you’ve been building that tower for ages. It took you a long time to finally be able to make the blocks stay upright didn’t it?”. Praise needs to show your child that you’re interested in what they do. “Tell me about the picture that you’ve just painted. What made you paint the cat orange?” instead of “That’s a lovely picture darling”. Praise needs to be effort, not outcome focussed. “Tying shoelaces is hard isn’t it? You’re working so hard to learn how to do it, you’ll get there in time” rather than “well done, you did it” finally when the outcome is achieved.

Think too about the amount you praise your child. What might happen if you over praise them? Many people think that you can’t praise too much, if it makes the child happy then how can you possibly do too much of it? Research has shown that praising can actually inhibit the child’s intrinsic motivation. Ultimately you want them to do things because they want to. If you constantly praise their actions you run the risk of them only doing things to please you in order to be praised. Remove the praise and the behaviour disappears too. In a sense praise is a form of compliance, in much the same way as peer pressure. Older children often do things in order to fit in with their peers and get their regard. Younger children can fall into this trap and be more likely to bow to peer pressure if they grow needing constant praise and assurance for everything they do

If this has piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more about the impact of praise on children, or what to say to raise them with intrinsic motivation and self-esteem, check out my Gentle Discipline Book – available HERE in the UK, HERE in the USA, HERE in Canada, HERE in Australia/New Zealand and HERE in the rest of the world.


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Raising Girls With A Positive Body Image

A large percentage of girls, as young as six years old, worry about their weight, especially believing that they are too fat. This is a worrying new trend, largely sparked by social media, magazines, television and film characters, tiny pop stars and increasingly skinny dolls. Our girls today are bombarded with unrealistic and unhealthy images.

There are things you can do to help your daughter to feel more accepting of herself and reduce the likelihood of unhealthy dieting behaviour. As a parent, your goal is to try to increase your daughter’s body image and self-confidence and the most important place to start here is yourself.

As a parent, a mother in particular, you must be very careful that your daughter does not pick up on any insecurities that you may have. Ban all talk of dieting in your house and avoid dieting yourself. You must try very hard to speak positively about your own body always and never say anything negative about the way you look in your daughter’s presence. Similarly avoid talking about anybody else’s body – whether positively or negatively. Make sure that you never comment on your daughter’s appearance, this includes never praising her for her looks in any way. Instead focus on paying her compliments for what she does, the actions she takes, things she says and things she achieves. This avoids her developing self-worth based upon her looks and instead helps her to feel about who she really is, looks aside.

Next, you must be very careful about outside influences on your daughter. Keep a close eye on her internet activity, including any videos she may watch online, and make sure that you filter any television she is exposed to, to remove any programmes or adverts which focus on ‘looking good’, sexualising girls or showing them achieving anything – including happiness, based on their looks. Be careful about magazines or books that she reads, I don’t recommend any magazines specifically aimed at girls, as these all tend to focus heavily on appearances and being ‘pretty’. With books, try to choose some that have a strong heroine who is popular and happy for being kind, brave, sporty or funny. Remove any that focus on the characters being attractive. You should also be careful about the toys your daughter plays with, especially dolls which have a very unrealistic, skinny, body. You can get dolls which have more realistic and childlike bodies.

Try to encourage your daughter to find a hobby that she enjoys and can meet regularly with like-minded peers. In addition, I would encourage her to find a sporting activity that she enjoys, perhaps cycling, climbing, tennis, swimming or a team sport. Make sure that you do not place any emphasis on the sport helping to keep her slim. Instead focus on the sport being fun and helping her body to be strong.

When it comes to your daughter’s eating, do be careful to not try to assert control. Her eating should always be under her control, free of pressure from you to eat more, or eat more healthily. Again, don’t praise her for eating ‘well’, or reward her for clearing her plate, as this is likely to backfire, causing her to have more anxiety about eating.
For more tips on raising children with a healthy relationship with food – and their bodies – check out my Gentle Eating Book – in the UK and Rest of the World.

Posted in Teens, Tweens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Why Potty Training Accidents are a GOOD Thing!

Are you potty training at the moment and despairing of your child’s accidents? Relax! They’re actually a great sign!

No – I haven’t gone insane. Yes, I have got children and yes, I do remember what it’s like to clear up umpteen accidents. Here’s the thing though….accidents are an important part of potty training. In fact, I’d argue, that it’s better for children to have lots of accidents while training, than to sail through the process without any.

potSo, why are accidents important? Because they are an important learning opportunity. They help kids to learn how long they can hold on V when they MUST go to the potty. They help kids to learn to notice their body’s cues – and act on them and they help to motivate them.

There is no denying that children today potty train later than ever before. In my Gentle Potty Training Book/Ready Set Go, I talk about a lot of this delayed age of dryness being due to better knowledge and understanding of the physiology and psychology around potty training, plus the convenience of modern nappies/diapers and more parents in full time employment. They’re not the only reasons though. Nappies/Diapers today are just too damn good! Children rarely feel wetness in them. They don’t know what it feels like to have sopping wet clothes, or see puddles on the floor and they have less of a motivation to stop wearing them because the moisture absorbing abilities of today’s modern inventions are so good.

Potty training accidents are probably the first time that kids today understand what it’s like to be truly wet and the first time that they actually see their pee (and poo in its natural form). How can children really learn to potty train without these experiences?

pottyPotty training is probably the only stage in child development where parents are uncomfortable with accidents and near misses. The only stage of child development where we expect near perfection from the offset. The only stage of development where we quickly proclaim “he obviously isn’t ready, if he was, he wouldn’t be having all these accidents”. We’re far too quick to whip out the diapers/nappies again and put off potty training for another time, further in the future. Imagine if we did the same when children were learning to ride a bike. After two or three falls and scuffed knees, we wipe off the dirt, mop up the tears and say “she’s clearly not ready for this yet, perhaps we’ll try again in six months time”, packing up the bike for another day. Imagine if we took the same approach when weaning onto solids. “he’s smooshed the banana all over the plate and thrown the carrot on the floor, barely anything made it into his mouth. He obviously isn’t ready. We’ll try again in another couple of months”. Or what if we took the same approach when our children were learning to walk “she’s fallen over so many times and made her clothes all dirty. She clearly isn’t ready to walk, we’ll keep her crawling instead for now”. Why the impatience and intolerance for the learning process with potty training?

Our expectations of potty training are unrealistic. We must understand that children are learning and when children learn they make a mess, they test their own abilities, they get the timing wrong and they make mistakes, but these things are all part of the process. Learning means getting things wrong as well as getting things right. That accident your daughter had because she was engrossed in play; it helped her to learn to listen to her body’s cues and go to the potty quicker next time. That accident your son had when he peed in his pants; it helped him to learn that he needs to tell you when he needs to go, before he needs to go next time. This doesn’t mean that they won’t have accidents again, each accident presents its own learning opportunity – and it takes time to learn. When it comes to potty training – think months and years, not days and weeks!

Along with plenty of patience and time, kids need parents who are confident in them, trust in them and give them the opportunity to learn. Kids need parents who accept their accidents, if not welcome them, and most importantly of all – stay consistent with the decision that now is the right time, even if it’s not accident free!

If you want a helping hand with the physiology, psychology and practicalities of potty training, check out my Gentle Potty Training Book in the UK and Australia/NZ, also known as Ready, Set, Go in the USA and Canada (they’re the same book – just different title/cover depending on where you live!).

pottybookGentle Potty CTPB v6b


Posted in Preschoolers, Toddlers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Not Lose Your Temper As A Parent

Stressed mother with childDo You Struggle with Controlling Your Temper?

In gentle parenting circles, talk of parents getting angry and ‘losing their cool’ is often spoken of in hushed tones and largely frowned upon. I am convinced that many people who say they never lose their temper with their children are either lying, delusional or asimply haven’t been a parent for very long. All parents ‘lose it’ at some point and I’m right up there with the best of them!

Personally I have found it harder to keep my cool the older my children get. My first real ‘red mist’ moment didn’t happen until towards the end of the toddler years. Since then they have been more regular than I would care to admit. You know what though? That’s life. Nobody is perfect. There is nothing wrong with anger, it’s a normal human emotion and actually a very useful one (more on this later). The problem is in the way we deal with it, especially in front of our children.

Why we get angry as parents
I think it’s important to start by saying that even the most placid person will have something that triggers them at some point in their life. In many cases though anger, or particularly the type of anger that makes us act in ways we would never normally would, can be avoided if we understand our triggers. The following all play a role in our levels of anger, some can be avoided and others can be worked on, whether by ourselves or with the help of a professional.

  • Growing up in a home where verbal or physical violence was the norm
  • Physical exhaustion (including improper nourishment and deficiencies)
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Lack of support from family, especially partners
  • Financial worries
  • Stress from looking after elderly or sick relatives
  • Work worries
  • A lack of time to ourself, particularly time to unwind and ‘breathe’.
  • Friendship or relationship problems.

I know in my own case that anger is my default setting because of my own upbringing. My parents were wonderful and I loved them very dearly, but my mum was ‘a shouter’. Understandably I grew up to be a shouter too and I have to really work to stop that being my initial response to any issues with my own children. My other big triggers for anger are work stress (either from working too much or absorbing too many emotions from my clients) and a lack of looking after myself properly in terms of nourishment and relaxation time.

As with all things, prevention is better than cure with anger. I know now (after many years of observing my own feelings and parenting) when I need to take ‘time out’. I know what my early warning signs are. I know when I’ve neglected self care (from what I eat, to a lack of exercise, fun and relaxation) and I can usually schedule in an emergency top up before I lose my cool. I budget £100 per month of self care for me (this covers a weekly Pilates class and a monthly massage and reflexology session). I know that’s a lot of money and out of many people’s reach, but I see this as a household expense, it keeps me running well and I can take care of the house and the kids as a result. Yes, it means I forfeit new clothes and much of a social life, but I cannot parent without it.

Coping ‘In the Moment’.
Practising mindfulness is my saving grace here. I don’t mean mindfulness in terms of listening to relaxation CDs everyday (although that certainly is great!). I mean living ‘in the moment’, being aware of what is happening inside me and really observing my feelings. This helps me to pause before responding. Often anger as a response to our children’s actions is unjust or unwarranted in the degree we release. My friend PETER helps me out when I’m really struggling to help me in these scenarios:

P = Pause. Don’t react immediately.
E = Empathise. Try to understand how your child is, or was, feeling and their point of view.
T = Think. Think about different ways you could respond and the learning that would happen as a result.
E = Exhale. Take a deep breath, breathe out, relax your shoulders and picture your anger leaving.
R = Respond. Now is the time to respond to your child, not before.

Other Coping Tips:
These are some of my favourites, but the list here is infinite!

  • Wear five red bands on your right wrist. Each time you overide your anger when responding to your child move a band to your left hand. You goal is to have all five bands on your left wrist by the end of the day.
  • Close your eyes and picture yourself in your favourite place: A beach, a forest, a mountain. Take yourself off there for a minute or two when you’re most in need or peace.
  • Picture somebody who always seems calm and cool. Imagine stepping inside their body and wearing it as a suit. Feel how calm they are and let the peace soak into your body. Think about how they might respond to situations that trigger your anger.
  • Call a friend, or have a good rant on an internet discussion group. My gentle parenting group on Facebook is full of kind and non-judgemental parents who will listen to you!.
  • Take a parental ‘time out’. If all else fails make sure your child is safe in a child proofed room and take yourself off to another room to calm down for a couple of minutes.
What Should you Do if you Lose your Cool?
Accept it, forgive yourself and move on. Everybody has bad days. Learn from what happened, don’t let it go to waste. Identify your triggers and what you could have done differently at each point. Don’t give up, you’re not a bad parent – even if it lasted all day. Giving up on gentle parenting because of a bad day is like getting your new shoes dirty in a muddy puddle and then rolling in it and covering yourself in mud because you ‘failed’. You didn’t. You can wash the shoes off and keep them clean tomorrow.Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – apologise to your child. Children are more resilient than we think. If you lose your temper take time to calm down and then apologise to your child. If they are older, this is a good time to discuss with them that feeling anger is OK, but being violent in voice or body is not. Tell them that you made a mistake, that you will do better next time. If you’re feeling run down and short of patience ask your children to help you. Tell them you feel highly strung today and would really appreciate their help to keep things calm. You’ll be surprised at their response!
For much more information on keeping calm, controlling your temper, slaying your parenting demons and how to be a great role model for your children, check out my Gentle Discipline Book (UK), known as Gentle Discipline (in the USA & Canada).
Posted in Mothering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

When and How Should You Handle Pocket Money?

If you have read my Gentle Parenting Book you’ll know I’m really pro giving children pocket money. I believe pocket money is important to allow them the freedom and control to be able to buy what they want, rather than have to ask you for everything. This control can have a very positive ‘knock on’ effect on the rest of their behaviour (that is often totally unrelated to money and purchases). Pocket money also teaches children economics from a very early age, so important considering finance management is not a part of core schooling curriculum (why?!). It can teach children about saving and donating, about foreign currency exchange and the value of buying good quality products.

I believe that a good age to start giving pocket money is 3 or 4 years of age. I think it is absolutely vital however that children have pocket money as they enter their tween years (8 years and up). The amount that I give is fairly age dependent. From 3-7 the child’s ‘needs’ are minimal and the pocket money is likely to be spent on toys, candy, magazines and the like. At this age my children received £10 (GBP) each per month (which is roughly $14 USD), this increases to £20 (GBP) per month from age 8 onwards (so circa $28 USD). It doesn’t increase beyond this point as I encourage them to work for any extra money they want. My 14 year old has a weekly paper round which he does part of with his 13 year old brother. The 14 year old keeps 75% of his pay and pays his brother 25% for helping each week (a deal they came up with themselves). My 9 and 11 year olds frequently sort through their belongings and ask me to sell any that they don’t want if they are trying to raise money for something and we often have a car boot sale/yard sale. In addition to this I do encourage them to donate unused/outgrown items to charity too, especially if they aren’t saving for something.
There are a few important caveats I believe that should apply to the giving of pocket money:

1. Once you have given your child their pocket money that money is no longer yours. That means you don’t get a say in how they spend it. If they want to blow all of it on a magazine that they cannot read yet, or a poorly made plastic toy that you just know will break quickly then that is their prerogative. It is important that they learn about value through their own experiences and natural consequences. Try as hard as you can to not interfere with their choices.

2. Pocket money should not be based on their behaviour. Whether your child is an angel or a terror just before pocket money time should not affect how much they receive from you. The giving of pocket money is unconditional. It is given to improve their feelings of autonomy (something that is often undermined when bad behaviour happens and is often the cause). You should not limit it and neither should you add an ‘extra little reward’ if they have been very good. They get the same every month on the same date (mine get theirs on the 1st of the month).

3. Don’t tie pocket money to chores – ever. Once again the pocket money is unconditional. Paying children for helping around the house is a recipe for disaster. It may seem a great idea initially, but the novelty will soon wane and you are likely to create a “what will you give me if I do it”? child, who is reluctant to help unless they get paid. Chores are a part of everyday life, a part of living in a family. Everybody should be expected to chip in and nobody should get rewarded for them financially. The minute you reward them you damage the chance of the child helping altruistically (unpaid). There is a slight “but if” here though. If there is a very unusual job that is not an everyday chore and your child is looking to earn extra pocket money, then I see no harm in a one off fee now and again. For instance my family keep chickens and ducks and we sell surplus eggs from our driveway. Collecting eggs in the rain and mud is not fun, so occasionally one of my sons collects the eggs, cleans them up, boxes them and puts them out on our selling table. He also has to collect the money once they are sold. For doing this he is allowed to keep a quarter of the profit. He gets paid nothing for cleaning/tidying up in the house though – ever.

4. You must have clear boundaries. What is the pocket money to cover and what will you cover? This needs to be made very clear as soon as possible. Pocket money in my house is to cover any items the children want outside of Christmas and birthdays. It is also to cover drinks/food if they go into town with a friend, or buy something on the walk home from school. Lastly it also needs to cover holiday spending money. I pay for their clothes, a monthly phone top up, any food we eat out when I’m with them and all of their clubs.

5. I don’t lend money. If they see something they want for £30, I won’t lend them the extra £10 until next month. They have to wait until next month and save. The same is true of holiday spending money. We have discussions about how many months until holiday and how much they would like to take with them, they save (well two out of the four save!) and then go into the bank to change their own money up into foreign currency. I don’t expressly make them save if they don’t want to, because I believe it is best if they experience the natural consequences of not saving. I don’t expect them to save ‘for their future’ either, that’s my job.

6. I don’t expressly make them give to charity. I do love charity shops and jumble sales so this has become a way of life for them – the charity shop is always the place they head for first at the start of the month as a result. If we see a busker in the street and they ask for money I will ask them if they have any of their own to use, the same goes for charity collection boxes. They all now spontaneously donate to what they deem a good cause (different to my good causes – my daughter for instance will give to anything animal related).

7. As soon as possible we open a bank account with a debit card. We have conversations about the difference between debit and credit, balancing their account and debt. Something I didn’t know about until my late teens.

8. We have a household saving pot (we use the sealed pots that you smash to open). This pot usually goes towards our holiday spending each year. I have never encouraged the children to add money to it, but seeing me regularly emptying out my change into it has obviously had an effect on them as they regularly do the same with their pocket money. I have never encouraged or discouraged this, but I love the fact that they want to add to it.

I think the hardest part of giving pocket money though is definitely the standing back and letting them ‘waste’ their (your) money. Remember though what you deem a huge waste may be an absolute treasure to your child! Pocket money is all about them having control, don’t undermine it by trying to control what they spend it on!


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Why You Should NEVER Praise or Reward A Child for Eating!

If you have a ‘poor eater’ you may be tempted to praise your child when they finally eat something new, or green. Perhaps you clap, or cheer “well done, good boy for trying!”, perhaps others praise your child for eating all of their food, saying “good girl for eating up!” Or perhaps your child has come home from school with an award or a sticker saying “I ate all my lunch today”. Or perhaps you have just purchased a ‘healthy eating’ sticker reward chart for your toddler or preschooler.


All of these practices however can be highly damaging to a child’s relationship with food and can also cause more eating problems in the long-term.

Praising a child for eating can be incredibly counter-productive. While the child may initially try to eat the food on offer, in exchange for lots of praise from their parents, the effect is unlikely to be long-lasting. The most worrying outcome of praise however is not the temporary effect it has, but how it encourages children to override their innate satiety cues in favour of pleasing their parent. Research has shown that children who are regularly praised for eating are statistically more likely to grow to be overweight in later life. Being raised with praise for eating encourages the child to associate eating with feeling good, there is no surprise then that this emotional eating leads to disordered eating as the child grows and seeks to eat to make themselves feel better.


eatIn a similar vein, rewarding for ‘good eating’ is also best avoided. Rewards may temporarily make a child eat more, however they can have a negative effect on whether the child actually likes the food and can cause an aversion to previously liked foods. This unintended negative outcome is even more likely if the reward on offer is another food, for instance if the child is rewarded with some ice cream if they eat their broccoli.

Praise and reward for eating is rife in many schools. Children are told “well done!” for trying something new, or eating all their lunch. When they were younger, my children often came home from school with stickers or certificates given for ‘good eating’. While some school staff may realise that rewarding a child for clearing their plate may not be such a good idea, the same people would often think that rewarding or praising a child for trying something new is sensible. The simple fact is, rewards and praise of any form surrounding eating is a bad idea. School staff should try as hard as possible to remain neutral and not comment on what children are, or are not eating. Most importantly, the stickers and certificates with smiley faces and stars proclaiming “I ate all my lunch today” really need to go.

Eating really should be emotion free. That means no praise and no rewards on offer. The true goal of Gentle Eating is to raise a child who has a healthy relationship with food, one who eats when they are hungry and stops when they are full and considers all food as fuel, not ‘naughty’ or ‘good’. When we reward, or praise a child for ‘eating up’, clearing their plate, or even trying something, we encourage them to override their own bodily cues. They may temporarily eat a little more, or try something green, however you are not instilling good eating habits. As a parent, your role is to stay neutral about the food the child eats, that means you don’t reward or praise when they eat ‘well’ and you don’t admonish them if they don’t eat something either.


eatingbookquotesIf you would like to learn more about Gentle Eating – and how to raise a child with a healthy relationship with food (who also eats vegetables!) check out my Gentle Eating Book. Available HERE in the UK , HERE in Australia and New Zealand and HERE elsewhere in the world.


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The Secret Way to Achieve a Calmer and Easier Toddler Bedtime

todbedAre you struggling with getting your toddler or preschooler to bed? Bedtime resistance is common in the toddler and preschooler years and what was once an easy bedtime can often stretch out to hours. Similarly night waking may resurface (or not improve as expected). There are many reasons for disturbed bedtimes and waking (see HERE for more), however the bedtime routine and what happens immediately before it is key in my opinion.

Toddlerhood and the preschool years often mean that children are more likely to be separated from their parents in the daytime. Even if one or both parents stay home from work, children often attend nursery/kindergarten. Similarly, the arrival of a new sibling often means that older children don’t get to spend the 1-2-1 time with their parents that they need during the daytime. This separation, lack of 1-2-1 and need to reconnect in the evenings can – and often does – play havoc with bedtime. It’s not just bedtime that can be negatively affected though, night waking may increase (because the child needs the parent more in the night when they wake).

So, what can you do to help?

My answer is to schedule in re-connection playtime every evening, between dinner and bedtime. I know many working parents will read that sentence and say “but I don’t have time for that, it’s too late – and I need adult time!”. The thing is, if what you’re doing now isn’t working then you need to make a change. A delayed bedtime allows time for re-connection which means an easier, quicker bedtime and often less night-waking. A trade-off you may consider worth it. Ideally this re-connection time lasts for an hour and that hour is spent fully engaged playing with the child. For the first forty-five minutes of the re-connection time, make play as loud, crazy and busy as possible. Lots of running around, lots of rough-housing, lots of being really silly. In the summer, this is great spent outside, in the garden/yard or park. Think of it as having a puppy who needs to get their energy out ready to be crated for the night. A toddler and preschooler is no different, except that to them play spells connection too. The only proviso here is that the child needs to lead the play as much as possible and that screens don’t feature at all (so no TV, tablets or smart phones). After 45 minutes, slow the play down and come inside, into your main living area. Now it’s time for 15 minutes of quiet time. Reading books, drawing, puzzles and so on – once again, no screens. This is time that needs to ideally be spent sitting and as still as possible, because it’s preparing the child for bedtime. Once the final 15 minutes of calm play is up, it signals that bedtime is shortly about to begin. Just before bedtime begins though, I recommend a quick bedtime snack. My snack of choice is wholewheat (brown) toast with almond butter, or porridge/oatmeal with sliced bananas (these snacks contain good levels of tryptophan and magnesium, needed for sleep).

Once snack time is over, it’s time for bedtime to begin. Here, my only proviso is that once bedtime starts, you don’t go back to the main living area again, you only go to the bathroom and the room your child sleeps in. Nowhere else. This is a firm boundary (see HERE for setting and upholding boundaries in a gentle but effective way).

Let’s look at a quick run-down of what a typical evening might look like. I’ve based this on a bedtime (sleep onset) of 8:15pm, which research shows is a good physiological match for toddlers and preschoolers. Obviously timings won’t be as exact as they are here, and you may need to juggle times to work for you, especially if you work, so this is just a rough idea:

  • 5:30-6:00pm: Dinner/tea time
  • 6:00-6:45pm: Crazy and loud active play (no screens)
  • 6:45-7:00pm: Calmer, quiet play (no screens)
  • 7:00-7:25pm; Bedtime snack
  • 7:25pm: Prepare bedroom for sleep
  • 7:30-7:40pm: Bathtime
  • 7:40-7:50pm: Into PJs etc..
  • 7:50pm: Story, milk, cuddles
  • 8:00-8:15pm: Sleep onset
The combination of re-connection time, a physiologically appropriate bedtime, bedtime snack and consistent bedtime routine can really help sleep, not just in terms of taking the stress out of bedtime, but also in reducing night waking too.


For more on toddler and preschooler sleep, see my Gentle Sleep Book and Gentle Sleep Book Facebook page.

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