Why Children are Never Naughty (and what really causes their problem behaviour)

Children (whatever age!) are never just “naughty”. There is ALWAYS a reason for their behaviour. Naughty is the tip of the iceberg, it is a wholly inadequate word to describe what the child is experiencing and it sets us on the wrong path of discipline.

This is why I always look for the underlying causes of their behaviour, because only then can you help them with their unmet needs and struggles – and it’s only when you investigate the reasons that you can expect to see a genuine, long-lasting, positive change.

Common discipline methods that focus on quick fixes through ignoring, rewarding, praising and punishing are always ineffective because they are naive to the underlying reasons, they gloss over them and focus superficially on creating fear and compliance. They’re like sticking a plaster on an infected wound and hoping it goes away because you can’t see it temporarily, but we all know that what’s happening under the surface gets bigger and deeper. This is why so many who use these techniques struggle so much as their children get older.

What’s the alternative? In my Gentle Discipline Book I talk about asking 3 questions every time you are struggling with a behaviour:

WHY
HOW
WHAT

Why is my child doing this? (look for the reason), How are they feeling (consider their emotions and empathise with them – leading to a more collaborative and connected solution) and What do I hope to gain from my discipline? (do you want to solve – or just palliate the problem). These questions are the answer to more holistic, mindful, long-term discipline solutions.

Of course, you also need to cope in the moment – what I call Emergency Discipline – this is about keeping people safe and stopping dangerous/harmful behaviours as they happen, but you must remember – this is NOT a complete discipline solution, so the behaviour will keep on happening, however well you handle it in the moment, until you work on the Why, the How and the What.

If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my new discipline book.  It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

The Bridge Between Two Worlds (a free excerpt from my new book BETWEEN – for parents of 8-13 year olds)

The following is an excerpt (the introduction) from my new book BETWEEN – a guide for parents of 8-13 year olds, which is out now!

‘We were still children, for all that we thought we weren’t. We were in that in- between place, the twilight between childish things and grown- up things.’ Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook , Christina Henry

Time passes in the blink of an eye. Surely it was only yesterday when that warm, mewing bundle was placed in your arms, eyes fixing on yours with all the intensity and knowing of an old soul who has lived many times before, yet in a tiny body, so fragile and new. Through sleepless nights and weary days, you came to know each other. Your world and your priorities shifted, and you slowly assumed a new identity that centred upon your child. A child who orbited you like a satellite, with you the safety of a home planet and the constant pull of gravity keeping you tied as one. Their dependence on you sometimes felt so very heavy, so all- consuming, and there were days (and many nights) when you reminisced and wished for your carefree past.

Oh, how appealing were thoughts of being able to sleep without little limbs starfishing next to yours, to visit the bathroom alone or eat in peace. As weeks became months and months rolled into years, the sweet, busy, joyous and sometimes claustrophobia-inducing toddler years, in which a little sticky hand permanently reached for yours, gave way to the early school years. Full of glitter, junk modelling, phonics books and a plea for one more bedtime story. Then bam, before you can take a breath, you catch a glimpse of your child as the teenager they soon will be. A certain way they hold their jaw, peer through their impossibly long eyelashes or throw their head back as they laugh. And all at once, you realise that baby is no more. That child is fast becoming grown. Yet, they are not quite there. Life is now a strange dichotomy of big parenting (my term for raising more mature, physically larger children with more complex problems and emotional needs) and little parenting (raising small children with physically exhausting, yet relatively simple needs). This is the world of the in between. The bridge between two worlds. Not yet a teen, but not completely a child either.

The between years are bittersweet: the loss of early childhood and yet the promise of such a bright and open future; mourning their baby days, while enjoying the thrill of looming independence. These times can be confusing, not only for your child but for you, too. The in- between – or ‘tween’, as many refer to them – years of childhood are a unique period of development often overlooked. Advice abounds from multiple sources for the first five years of parenting, the beginning of childhood, you may say, yet it starts to tail off when children start school. It is true that once they are well settled at school, you often have a smooth ride parenting-wise for a couple of years, with the challenges of toddlerhood well behind you and those of the teen years far in the future. While ages five to seven may lull you into a false sense of security, it soon becomes apparent that around the age of eight, new challenges start to appear, as the outside world increasingly influences children, their behaviour and their relationships with others and themselves. It is often at this point that parents reach out for help and advice as they struggle to understand their children.

A year or two later, as your child’s age reaches double digits, things change again as puberty really starts to kick in, with all the emotional and physical issues that accompany it. And once puberty is well established and the teen years are imminent, the challenges of parenthood change yet again, with a new quest for independence, changing schooling, friendships and peer interactions bringing fresh concerns. The tween years finish at age thirteen, when your child is officially a teenager, and help and advice for parents picks up once again. Despite the age demographic label changing on your child’s thirteenth birthday, however, not much changes emotionally or physically for at least the first couple of teenage years (something we will look at in more detail in Chapter 1). You could argue that there is little difference between an older tween and a teen, aside from the label.

The middle years of childhood tend to be overlooked entirely, with a black hole of information until the teenage years – thirteen plus, the last years of childhood. When I was a parent for the first time, I often wondered if people thought that these in- between years  – those between eight and thirteen  – were inconsequential and uneventful. Did the lack of age- specific advice mean that nothing much happened in these years? On the contrary  – the tween years are some of the busiest developmentally and often the most challenging for many parents. Raising a tween can often leave you feeling like a parenting beginner all over again. The child you knew so well seems to change so rapidly, fluctuating almost daily. This middle period of childhood can be difficult for both parent and child. New behaviours surface giving you the same worry and confusion you felt as a new parent all over again, only without the support that you had during the baby and toddler years. Even though we all went through this transition ourselves, it can be hard to access our memories and even trickier to recall information we may have learned in school biology lessons many years ago. Despite these new challenges and changes, there is so little information available to help you on this journey. This book is aimed specifically at filling this gap – your handbook as you cross the bridge from childhood into adolescence, together with your child. It is the book I wish I had read when I was in your position.

The problem with ‘the youth of today’

Have you ever noticed how our society is mostly kind and accepting towards younger children? So long as the child is small and cute, that is. When children approach adolescence (a term technically used to describe the period from the onset of puberty through to adulthood), acceptance and tolerance wane hugely. It is much harder to find a child cute if they are taller than you, I guess. And I think in many people’s minds, size correlates with cognitive ability and emotional development – the presumption being that if a child is beginning to resemble an adult physically, they should behave like one, too. Unfortunately, this is not the case (something we will explore at length in Chapter 1), and this common misconception can lead adults, particularly those from older generations, to frequently admonish ‘the youth of today’. Tweens and teens are often labelled as lacking respect, particularly for their elders, and as being unruly in their behaviour. But these views usually tell us more about the person holding them than they do about our children. Clearly, they represent some form of memory bias, with adults remembering their own qualities at that age with a more positive slant; and they may also tell us a lot about how these people were themselves parented.

Research has shown that adults who had a strict authoritarian upbringing are far more likely to find fault with today’s tweens and teens. 1 But the youth- of- today phenomenon is not new. Adults have been complaining about tweens and teens for cen – turies, and likely will do for many more to come. As it happens, the youth of today are no worse than their predecessors. In fact, there is evidence to show that adolescents today are considerably better in many ways than those from previous generations: rates of smoking, underage drinking, drug use, 2 antisocial behaviour and teen pregnancies 3 have fallen, while academic achievement, concern for the environment and acceptance of diversity have risen. Today’s youth are, in fact, something to celebrate, rather than lament. How exciting that we are the generation raising them!

Building a strong, secure and open bridge

My aim in writing this book is to provide you with the information you need to help your child traverse the bridge from childhood to adulthood, while being mindful of your own needs, too. Your child still needs you to help them to feel secure and to steer them on their journey. Your input will help to reinforce this bridge and to grow the independence and confidence needed for the future. Importantly, your relationship during this period will help to keep both the entrance and exit of this bridge open, allowing your child to cross back over to you when they most need you. All the backwards and forwards, toing and froing are characteristic of this stage: little parenting, blending with big parenting, dependence meeting independence, holding on and letting go. Your openness and support during these years are key to building the relationship that you will have with your child in the future.

Throughout this book, we will constantly examine your relationship with your child and why it matters so very much, especially in Chapters 2 and 3, where we will discuss common problematic tween behaviours and what tweens really want (and need) to grow into happy and secure teens and adults. The relationship you have with your tween also provides the foundation for their future relationships with others. However, as they grow, they will often encounter difficulties in these new relationships – Chapter 4 looks at friendships in the tween years and what you can do as a parent when they don’t run smoothly. Chapter 5 delves into your tween’s relationship with themselves and how to encourage good mental health, now and in years to come. Finally, on the relationship front, Chapter 6 looks at romantic associations, consent and diversity in sexuality  – subjects it’s never too early to discuss with your tween, yet which are often delayed and avoided by so many. Later in the book, we will move on to hot topics surrounding the tween years and issues commonly raised by parents. Chapter 7 considers personal hygiene and how to encourage tweens to understand and take care of their own bodies (including pre – paring for menarche – more commonly known as the onset of periods). Chapter 8 delves deeper into body image and why the tween years are key to helping your child grow into an adult with good body acceptance – one who is more likely to escape the seemingly ever- growing pressures of the diet and cosmetics industries. In Chapter 9, we focus on raising tweens who will advocate for others, and how to cultivate in them an empathy for the world around them and a willingness change the world that they live in for the better (rather than changing them to fit into our cur – rent world). Our tweens are our future, so we should raise them to know that they matter, and that they can make a difference to whatever cause they choose to devote themselves to. No book about tweens would be complete without a chapter on screen time, or ‘how to get your child off their games console’ and Chapter 10 is just that. This generation is growing up online more than any before. We can’t escape the lure of screens and their influence over almost every element of our lives. Raising tweens to be screen savvy  – to utilise the amazing possibilities that they present, while avoiding common pitfalls  – is so important. Chapter 11 looks at schools – at motivation, homework and academic and other achievements. The transition to secondary (or high) school is a huge milestone in the life of a tween and one worthy of some discussion. Chapter 12 is all about financial literacy, which I believe it is vitally important; yet it’s something that is just not discussed with tweens in our society. Classes about how money and debt work are completely absent from the school curriculum, but may be one of the most valuable life lessons you can give them.

Chapter 13 is the final chapter, which is no coincidence. It feels right to leave you at the age when your child becomes a true teenager – the official end of the tween years. Parting is the theme of this chapter: how to let go and give your child wings to fly (especially when you feel like holding on tight) is something many struggle with. How much independence is too much, or too little? And how do you cope with your own feelings as your child reaches towards looming adulthood. Although this book is about your tween, it is also about you as a parent, and it feels fitting to end with a chapter that concerns you as much as your child. After all, you will always be standing at one end of that bridge, watching with pride as your child continues their journey through the in between, but ready and waiting with open arms should they need to return to you again.

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then check out BETWEEN – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

10 Ways to be LGBTQ+ Supportive When Raising Children

The following is a short extract from my new book BETWEEN – the ultimate guide to raising children from 8 to 13 years:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

1.Check your own Biases

Most of us were raised in a heteronormative world, rife with homophobia and transphobia. Those in the UK who attended school between 1988 and 2003 would have been affected by Margaret Thatcher’s government’s Section 28. This was a clause prohibiting councils and, most importantly, schools from so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, with Thatcher famously saying: ‘Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life.’ This meant that sex education and related support in schools and from social-care services legally had to avoid all LGBTQ+ issues, resulting in widespread bullying and homophobia. The law was abolished in 2000 in Scotland and in 2003 in England and Wales, but those who grew up in the Section 28 era, could be – and were – affected, and it is very possible that you have some conscious or unconscious biases because of it. As with all aspects of parenting, you must confront these beliefs and how they may affect your child and your relationship with them.


2. Don’t Make Any Assumptions or Label Their Feelings  

Try not to make any assumptions about your tween, their sexuality or gender identity. Your assumption may be entirely incorrect, and regardless of what you believe, your tween may identify differently, or may not yet fully understand. Tweens can and do experiment with their gender identities and expressions of it, but never indicate to them that it is ‘just a phase’, no matter how positively you try to phrase it. This stage may pass, or it may not. And for those for whom it doesn’t pass, the labelling of their identity as a phase is extremely damaging.


3. Be Open and Encourage Conversation

Let your tween know that you are always happy to talk with them about anything, or just listen, but never pressure them into conversations, or try to encourage them to ‘out’ themselves. Even if you believe that your tween is LGBTQ+, wait for them to broach it with you in their own way and in their own time.

4. Demonstrate Unconditional Acceptance

Make sure your tween knows that you love them unconditionally, no matter who they are, or who they may be attracted to. Your love and support of them will never change. Also, don’t presume that they instinctively know this. Tell them often.


5. Celebrate Differences and Call out Bad Behaviour  

Be positive about differences and celebrate all sorts of families and couples. Let them know that you value love and identity in all its glorious differences. Actively search out television programmes, films and books featuring those from the LGBTQ+ community and make it a normal part of your family life to demonstrate acceptance. Call out friends and other family members for homophobia and transphobia and check yourself if you say something that could be offensive. Allowing negative talk from others can lead LGBTQ+ tweens to develop something known as internalised homophobia or transphobia (where they themselves believe it is wrong and hugely struggle with their feelings and identity).


6. Watch Your Language

Don’t talk with your tweens about when they grow up and ‘get a boyfriend’ or ‘get a girlfriend’. This language assumes that they are heterosexual and is part of our heteronormative culture. Instead, use inclusive language – ‘Whoever you may love when you are older’ or, ‘When you get a boyfriend or a girlfriend’. If and when your tween does ‘come out’ to you, don’t stop talking about potential romantic partners. Some parents can feel uncomfortable and so stop mentioning future loves altogether, but this lack of conversation can be keenly felt by LGBTQ+ tweens.


7. Keep Your Concerns to Yourself

Don’t mention any concern you may have for them as a LGBTQ+ tween. You wouldn’t mention concerns if they were heterosexual, so there is no need to mention it if they are LGBTQ+. If you do have worries, remember, they are yours, not those of your tween. Sharing with them will not help them but could hurt them. Similarly, don’t raise concerns that you won’t become a grandparent or similar. Once again, there is no guarantee of grandchildren if your children are heterosexual cisgendered and there are many ways for LGBTQ+ individuals to become parents.


8. Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Don’t presume friends of the opposite sex are always romantic or tease your tween about it. Similarly, if your tween does tell you that they are attracted to those of the same sex, don’t presume they are attracted to all their same-sex friends. If you are straight, you are not automatically attracted to everybody of the opposite sex and you have many platonic friendships; the same is true for those who identify as LGBTQ+.


9. Watch out for Gender Stereotypes

Be mindful of gender stereotypes in your home and family and try to avoid them as much as possible. This could be in what you say, phrases you use, toys you buy and so on. If friends or relatives keep sending highly gender-stereotyped cards or gifts, gently ask them to stop doing so and suggest what they may consider instead.


10. Encourage Autonomy

Allow and encourage your tween to have freedom over their own appearance. For instance, give them as much autonomy as possible with their hairstyle and their clothing, regardless of their sex.

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

13 Signs Your Child is Rapidly Becoming a Tween, or Teen

If you have a 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 year old, the chances are you’ll recognise most of this list. How many ring true for you?

  1. Their Birthday and Christmas lists start to feature less toys and more clothing, computer games and (expensive) tech. It’s goodbye to shopping in toyshops and hello to anything that requires a charger (and don’t under-estimate how often they will steal yours).

2. They spend longer and longer in their bedroom and less time with you. When they were little, you longed for these days when their ever-presence felt stifling, but now that they’re here, you look back wistfully and secretly hope that they will ask to spend the evening with you again.

3. Leaving their bedroom is like a trip to Ikea – you come out with unexpected armfuls of glasses, plates, bowls and towels.

4. Their trainers start to smell like those of an adult. One day you sniff and wonder what the awful smell is in your home and realise that the culprit is your child’s shoes. They smell like they belong to a 46 year old man who has run two marathons in a day. Gone are the days of kissing those sweet baby scented toes – now you’re frantically googling if odour-eaters are really effective.

5. You’re no longer mummy, or daddy, but mum/mom and dad, or – sometimes even just your first name; which isn’t all bad, as at least it reminds you of what you’re actually called, since everybody now refers to you as “XXXXX’s mum” or “XXXXX’s dad”.

6. They start to take an interest in your toiletries and make-up and spend more time in the bathroom. If you use hair gel, expect to buy twice the amount you used to and consider investing in shares of Lynx and Impulse.

7. You start to feel the urge to get a dog, to fulfil your need to nurture something as a baby once again and have at least one member of the family who still idolises you.

8. You still feel a twinge of broodiness when you walk past a newborn, but now you’re glad you’re out of the stage and have full nights of sleep and a house free of baby paraphernalia and loud toddler toys and the thought of going back fills you with a slight sense of dread.

9. They start to speak in weird code words (dench, peng, dead and allow anyone?) and anacronyms (LMHO – laughing my head off FYI) and cringe when you use words like ‘cool’ (or try to use the same words that they use).

10. They tease you about your taste in music and listen to music that you’ve never heard of (hello Marshmello – no, not the stay puft type, and BTS – of K-POP fame; yes, more anacronyms!).

11. They start to have a real opinion about what’s fashionable and what isn’t (all of the clothes you used to buy them) and shopping trips start to become fraught with tension when you both dislike each other’s choices.

12. You struggle to understand anything they are doing at school and secretly dread them asking you to help them with their homework, since you have no idea what a fronted adverbial or simultaneous equation are.

13. They pretend that they no longer care about Halloween and dressing up for World Book Day, however once you persuade them to join in, you catch a glimpse of the excited little kid that they once were (they’re still there, beneath the spots, grunts and backchat!).

p.s: you still love them like crazy though – tween oddities and all!

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

Preparing Tweens for the Transition to Secondary/High School

Did you know that the transition to secondary school is considered to be one of the most stressful life event for children? There are many things that you can do to help to prepare your tween though, so that they feel as calm and excited as possible about starting – and the earlier you start the better!

The following is a short extract from BETWEEN, my book for parents of 8-13 year olds:

“Whatever worries tweens may have about the transition to a new school, the two most important responses from parents and carers are, firstly, to listen and, secondly, to empower them to cope with their concerns. The following tips can help with the latter:


• Reassure your tween that all new starters will have worries, even those who look cool, calm and collected on the outside. Help them to understand that a degree of apprehension is totally normal with such a big transition ahead of them.
• Give your child a little notebook and suggest that they write down any concerns or questions they have. You can check on their questions every couple of days – or
daily, if you think that would be better – and if you don’t know the answers immediately, promise you will find out for them as soon as you can.
• Even if the school is running settling-in sessions, ask if you can have a video tour of the building, or at least some photos of your child’s new form room and form tutor. Familiarising themselves with these before the beginning of term can help them to feel more comfortable when they start.
• Do let your tween’s form tutor and whoever is responsible for student wellbeing know if they are feeling very anxious before starting. Often, schools have special settling-in procedures for tweens who they think will struggle.
• Try to buy any uniform needed several weeks before the start of term, so that your tween can wear it around the house, including new shoes (blisters in the first week aren’t fun). If they must wear a tie as part of their new uniform, keep practising at home until they are a pro at tying it.
• See if you can find other new starters and arrange a lunch date with them before term begins, as soon as Covid restrictions allow. Local social-media groups are good for linking up with other parents.
• Make sure your tween knows where to go and who to ask for help at school if they are lost or feeling out of their depth. Also, check that they know what to do if they feel ill or are in pain (including period pain) while at school. Usually, this will be a visit to the school nurse’s office.
• Try to focus on the positives. Ask your tween what they are most looking forward to about starting their new school. Speak about the new opportunities they will have and the activities they love. You could also find out what lunchtime and after-school clubs will be running and share the list with your tween, to build excitement.
• Try to get hold of a map of the school before they start, so they can familiarise themselves with the entrance, their form, the school hall, the canteen and the toilets.
• Do a couple of practice runs of their school journey, especially if your tween will be using public transport or walking.
• Try to get them as organised as possible before starting, checking that they have the right stationery and equipment packed in their bag, so that everything they need will be to hand.
• Give them some coping mechanisms for when things feel a little too much (the tips in Chapter 5 will help).”

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

This is the Hardest Age to Raise According to Research

There’s no denying that the early weeks and months of parenting are exhausting. Babies need constant attention around the clock. Until three months of age, a baby’s body clock is not fully functioning, meaning they have no concept of day and night. They need to feed frequently and need parental reassurance and contact as much as physical sustainance. Sleep becomes a thing of the past and something you wish for in wistful, shattered moments.

Time passes in the blink of an eye and before you know it, your non-sleeping baby has turned into a boddler, not quite a baby – not quite a toddler, zooming around your living room on all fours, putting anything not bolted down into their mouth, drooling and babbling away. Then the toddler years begin and your little one becomes a real person with a real personality. “No” and “mine” feature at the top of their vocabulary, it’s a good job they’re so cute, because the tantrums can be hard to cope with at times.

The toddler years give way to the relatively easier pre-school years. By now, you’ve found your footing as a parent and you’ve probably stopped googling quite so frantically (your search history full of “how do I get my child to sleep through the night in their own room?” and “how can I get my toddler to listen to me?”) and things feel far more settled. The early school years bring a sharp learning curve, along with oodles of junk modelling, glitter (so much glitter) and hastily arranged World Book Day costumes. Once you get over the after school restraint collapse and a few friendship teething issues you start to think that the most difficult years of parenting are well and truly behind you. Onwards and upwards from now on, revelling in a little more new-found independence each year.

……but then the tween years hit. Like a freight train.

The years between eight and thirteen can leave you feeling like a parenting beginner all over again. They bring backchat, rudeness, defiance, highly emotive responses (SO many big emotions!), selfishness, “I hate yous”, sulking and door slamming. The close relationship with your child, that once felt so stiffling in the toddler years, now seems to be slipping away and you begin to question what you did wrong, why does your child now prefer to spend their time shut away in their room rather than spending time with you? Why do they prefer to spend so much time online over family time? (and what if all their friends have phones or games consoles, but you’re not ready for your child to have one?). Then there’s the first time you find porn in the search history on your child’s electronic device, the time when you notice their body changing (a slight flash of hair, or whiff of body odour, or extra curve) but don’t know the best way to approach “the talk” with them, the time you catch them looking in the mirror and exclaiming that they’re “fat” or “not pretty”, the time when they say something racist or homophobic, or the time that their friendships turn sour and your heart could break for them (and that’s without dealing with their first relationship heart break).

Add to this, the transition to secondary, or high, school, finding their footing in an environment where they are the smallest and youngest, having come from a place where they were the biggest and oldest. All this combined with anxiety about Covid, climate change and their changing place in the world, and the tween years are a hotbed of anxiety, worry and stress – and that’s just for the children.

The tween years are as much a transition for parents as they are for tweens, just as we feel truly comfortable with our place as ‘mummy/mommy’ and ‘daddy’ they start to break away from us and their childhoods in general. The first birthday, or Christmas, that you realise you are no longer shopping in the local toy store is heartbreaking. Parents are so ill-prepared to give up the make-believe and wonder they spent a decade creating for their child.

It’s no wonder then that research finds that the hardest years of parenting are the tween, (or middle school if you’re in the USA) years. They may be less physically exhausting than the early years, but emotionally they are so much more exhausting. Arguably, they are also less fulfilling as a parent than the early years. Watching your baby and toddler grow and develop and reach new milestones with big teethy grins and giggles brings much needed affirmation and pride for tired new parents. The tween years are bereft of reward by comparison.

Neither your child, nor you, has or will undergo such a huge transition again. The transition from childhood to adolescence. This journey from one land to another brings so many new challenges for both parent and child. I often thought that there should be a second period of maternity, or parental, leave in the tween years, where it is arguably needed the most, but where most parents are now firmly entrenched back into full-time employment. The teen years in comparison are easier. Yes, there are still huge emotions and they present their own anxieties and challenges (the fear of your child driving their own car, alone, is top of my list!), but things level out somewhat. A teen’s brain is a little more organised than that of a tween and your relationship with them is usually far less up and down by then. Personally, I’ve found the teen years a sweet, welcome, relief from the tween ones with my own four children.

There is no easy answer for parents of tweens, except to understand that although this stage is indisputably difficult, it’s normal and importantly temporary. You WILL get through it – together, and there are easier days around the corner.

I never understood why there was so much help, support and advice available for those with bumps, babies and toddlers, but a sheer lack of any of these for the tween, or middle, years – a time when parents desperately need guidance and support. That’s why I wrote BETWEEN – it’s the book that I wish I had read when my own four children were tweenagers, packed full of information and tips, drawn from the latest biological and psychological research – and most importantly – real world experience, I wrote it to be a ‘hug in a book’ for parents of 8-13 year olds. A guide to hold your hand as you, in turn, hold your child’s hand (on the days they will let you that is!) as you cross over the bridge with them; the bridge between the land of childhood and adolescence. I hope it helps you on your journey!

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds, out March 11th ’21. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

What Your Tween Really Means When They Say “I HATE You!”

As soon as children learn to talk, they frequently profess their love for their parents. My own toddlers used to tell me they loved me at least ten times every day, often more. Although their love sometimes felt heavy, when accompanied by their all-consuming need for me, it was much needed validation for the long days and even longer nights. As those days rolled into weeks and months rolled into years, and I turned from ‘mummy’ to ‘mum’, the “I love yous” started to wane a little. Secure in my children’s love, and now my ability as a mother, I didn’t need to be reminded multiple times per day, once or twice was more than enough.

….and then the tween years hit, I can’t remember the first time it happened, or even what it was about, but I do remember the hurt I felt the first time my son shouted that he hated me, quickly followed by a declaration that he most certainly didn’t love me anymore. So became the pattern, anytime we had a disagreement, or I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, “I hate you” quickly followed.

The tween years make us question our parenting skills like no other, but the good thing is, your tween definitely still loves you, regardless of what they may say.

So, why is “I hate you” so common in the tween years? The answer is simple – brain development.

Tweens are ruled by big feelings, the emotional part of their brain leads the way, while the rational, thinking (and some may say more mature) part of the brain has a lot more connecting to do. What does this mean in reality? It means they open their mouths and their emotions come tumbling out, totally unfiltered. When they say they hate you, what they actually mean is that they hate what you are asking them to do, or they hate the situation they find themselves in. With your mature adult brain, you are adept at separating the emotions you are feeling because of a situation and the person you find yourself in the situation with, your tween can’t. What they really mean is “I hate how I feel when you say that”, but what comes out is “I hate you”.

What should you do about it? Well, really, the best answer here is to wait. Your tween’s brain will carry on developing and maturing for at least another 15 years. As it does, these emotional outbursts will naturally lessen and give way to logic, reason, empathy and self-control. For now, the best thing parents of tweens can do is to be the adult. Remind yourself that your tween struggles to control their emotions because they are a tween, with a tween brain. They don’t really hate you. You’re not a bad parent and importantly – they’re not a bad kid. Stay calm, say “I can hear you’re angry/upset, that’s OK, but I still need you to do XYZ, what can I do to help make it a bit easier for you?”. Respond to the emotions, not the words. Most importantly, don’t add to their immaturity with your own, by focusing on the hurtful words and repeating them back, as hard as it may feel sometimes. If you do struggle to control yourself and an immature response slips out, then be the adult, take a deep breath and apologise.

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UKAustraliaUSA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

5 Ways Covid and Lockdowns Can Cause Tricky Behaviour in Children

Covid and the current restrictions has had a big impact on all of us. Lockdown is likely to have had an influence on how you feel and behave as an adult, it can affect babies and children similarly. If babies and children are feeling anxious, confused, frustrated, bored, scared or disconnected from us (as often happens when we’re so busy trying to work from home and keep everything together) there are five distinct tricky behaviours that can surface:

1. Sleep Problems

One of the first things to change if we’re feeling big emotions is our sleep. We struggle to get to sleep at night and we wake more often in the night. Babies and children are no different. Bedtime refusal, naps all over the place and significantly more night waking are all very common and very normal reactions to the current situation. You may also find that your toddler or preschooler is ‘clingier’ when it comes to sleep – and that they only settle if they are back in your room, or bed, in the night. An understandable reaction to all the uncertainty of the moment, they are seeking the one thing that reassures them the most – you – at a time they feel most vulnerable. Now is not the time to sleep train!

2. Restricted Eating

If we are anxious, stressed or scared, our eating habits will often change. We’ll become pickier, our appetites will change (often lessening) and we will often turn to foods that provide an instant comfort hit – carbs and sweet things. All eating behaviours that are common in toddlers, preschoolers and older children at the moment. Not to mention the fact our – and their -normal eating routines and times have gone out the window, it’s no wonder their eating habits have changed!

3. More Tantrums and Whining

Tantrums and whining are both classic responses to a child struggling with a lack of control, big uncomfortable feelings, frustration and a lack of connection with their primary caregivers. They also pick up on your emotions and subconscious communication. Forget punishments (naughty steps, time out etc..) and rewards (stickers, bribes, loads of praise etc) – they could make things worse and instead focus on supporting, connecting, listening and empathising. Your adult brain is mature enough to process these big feelings and you’re struggling, imagine how difficult it is to not have that brain development!

4. Increased Sibling Bickering

Are you getting a little sick of spending all day every day with your family? Are you desperate for some socialising with those outside your own 4 walls? Your child is too! What happens when we’re stressed? We tend to take it out on those we love most, especially if they are irritating us. A lack of personal space and time compounds this, expect sibling issues to increase now – but trust that they are temporary and not an illustration of future relationships!

5. Regressions in Toileting

It’s quite likely your perfectly potty trained toddler has regressed over the past few weeks and months, why? Because difficult emotions and a struggle with autonomy often manifest as toileting regressions in toddlers. Have patience, stay calm, stay consistent and avoid ‘telling off’ and rewarding, instead focus on support, empathy and good role modelling.

If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my new discipline book.  It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

Toddler Tantrum 101 – How to Understand and Manage Tantrums

Tantrums are entirely normal and very common, all children will tantrum at some point, often regularly. In fact, many adults still tantrum. A tantrum is just simply dysregulated behaviour and difficulty controlling emotions. There is no difference between an adult losing their temper and a toddler struggling with their own emotions for whatever reason, however adults have much more mature brain development and so tantrum far less than children (most of the time!).

 Too many people believe that tantrums are a sign of bad parenting, but the truth is that young children tantrum because the area of their brain responsible for emotion regulation is very immature. It takes many years (in fact, until the late 20s!) for this area of the brain to finish wiring up, until this connection is complete children struggle very much to control their emotions, calm themselves down, resist impulses and understand and embrace societal norms. Tantrums are simply a sign of an underdeveloped brain, they have nothing to do with parenting.

Are Tantrums Unique to ‘The Terrible Twos’?
Firstly, we must look at the phrase “terrible twos”, it’s such a negative way to view things and it predisposes parents to view toddlers and their behaviour negatively and if you expect ‘naughty behaviour’ then you’re much more prone to see and unconsciously encourage it. I much prefer the term “terrific twos”, because such a lot is happening in the brain, with so much learning taking place it’s quite mind blowing. 
Actually children are prone to tantrums at any age, babies have tantrums, 6 year olds have tantrums and teenagers have tantrums. They are not unique to toddlerhood. If you think of tantrums as just difficulty managing big emotions because of underdeveloped brains then you can understand why they can happen at any age. There is plenty of neuroscience showing stages of brain development and how the areas of the brain responsible for emotion regulation and impulse control are underdeveloped until adulthood. Often parents associate tantrums with toddlerhood because babies, particularly non-mobile ones, can be quite placid and easy going, but as soon as they start to move and take more of an interest in the world around them and seek to try to assert some control over their lives the frustration and big feelings mount and tantrum ensue.

So, What is the Cause of Tantrums Then?
Tantrums are ultimately caused by a lack of connection in the neocortex, the sophisticated ‘thinking’ part of the brain, meaning that the child can’t control their impulses, struggle with empathy, don’t understand the repurcussions of their actions and can’t calm themselves down. There is usually a trigger too, ie something that causes this dysregulation and big feelings. This trigger could be as simple as being hungry or tired, feeling frustrated because they can’t complete a task, struggling with the lack of control they have over their lives, feeling disconnected from their main caregiver, anxiety, fear and worry and very often, because they are picking up on our own emotions and tantrums, by this I mean if you are feeling stressed and are very snappy and shouty at your child, it’s very likely they will mirror back your own feelings with a tantrum.

How Can Parents Avoid, or Stop, Tantrums?
You must understand that tantrums are a common and normal stage of development. You can’t stop them, because you can’t change your child’s brain. You can however understand and accept them. In much the same way you wouldn’t blame your child for having a physical disability, you should accept that tantrums happen because of a physical difference in your child’s brain. They can’t help it, in fact they would rather they didn’t tantrum either. No toddler (or any other age) tantrums on purpose, they can’t help it. They probably feel far worse than us when they tantrum. 
You can often avoid common triggers, particularly if you work out what these are for your child (they are different for all), for instance if your child always tantrums in the supermarket, the easiest solution is to avoid shopping with them and go when you can leave them with somebody else, or shop on the internet instead.

What’s the Best Way to Handle a Public Tantrum?
Handling a tantrum is the same wherever you are – at home or in public. It’s all about handling your own emotions and being a great role model. It starts with understanding that they are normal, your child is not being deliberately ‘naughty’ or manipulative, they are struggling with something. Repeat to yourself “my child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time”. Take a deep breath, pause and empathise with your child. Calm yourself down. Forget the disapproving looks you may be getting from onlookers and focus on your child. First you need to keep them safe (so move them away from anything that could harm them, or they may break), next you need to model the calm you want from your child. They look to you as a role model to know how to behave, if you lose control and start shouting or getting angry at them you won’t help them to calm down and you will very likely make things worse. Get down onto their level, be calm, offer to help them to calm down when they are ready and stand or sit close by. Wait for the ‘fight or flight’ response to pass and your child’s cortisol levels (stress hormones) to drop, when they start to to calm a little offer a hug or calming words. There is no point talking to them during a tantrum, they won’t be able to hear or focus on you when they are flooded with cortisol. When the tantrum passes move on with your day, do something fun and repair the connection. There is no point lecturing them, or dwelling on the tantrum, they are too young for lectures or lengthy explanations.

So, Telling Your Toddler Off, or Shouting At Them Doesn’t Work Then?
Shouting at children is not only counterproductive, it’s incredibly damaging and may actually cause far worse behaviour from your child in the future. Also, it’s likely to create a wedge in the connection with your child and you’ll find as they grow they won’t come to you when they’re struggling with their emotions. It’s no coincidence that so many have such a fraught relationship with their teenagers as children grow.

What Should Parents Say When Their Toddler is Having a Tantrum?
Never, ever try to start a conversation when your child is mid tantrum. You will likely make things worse, whatever you say. Imagine the last time you lose your temper and had your own tantrum, if your partner or friend told you to calm down it would make you worse! That’s what happens when we try to speak to toddlers and other ages during a tantrum. You should also avoid telling them to ‘be quiet’, ‘be good’ or the like, because you send a message that you only want to be around them when they are not struggling with their emotions. In time, as the child grows this will cause them to not come to you with their problems, because they learn that you don’t want to be near them when they’re struggling. When they have calmed down, it’s good to name the feelings they may have experienced. For instance “you were angry that that little boy took the ball away from you”. “you were sad it was time to leave the park” and so on. This helps to validate their emotions and let them know that you see them and will support them, whatever they are feeling. It also helps them to learn names of emotions so that in future they can come to you and say “I’m feeling really angry today”.

Is it Bad to Give in To Your Toddler’s Tantrum?
You must change your terminology. Too many refer to comforting a child and showing nurturance and empathy through a tantrum as “giving in”. This phrase comes from believing that tantrums are somehow manipulative and planned by children – something they can control. They can’t. By responding to your child with compassion when they tantrum you are showing them that you love them unconditionally, that you will always be there to support them and that they can trust you to help them. That’s not giving in, it’s great parenting! If your child has a tantrum because they want something that for whatever reason they can’t have, then you simply empathise with them and support them through the tantrum. You don’t have to give them the item because of the tantrum. You should still have boundaries too! Being responsive doesn’t mean being permissive.

What if Your Toddler is Hitting, Biting, or Acting Violently During a Tantrum?
Always focus on safety first. If your child is hurting themself, hurting you, or hurting another child then you need to stop the violent behaviour. In the case of hitting, hold the child’s hands/arms down and say “stop, I won’t let you hit” and then stay close by and support through the tantrum. Remember to stay calm, remind yourself they are not being deliberately naughty or nasty, they’re just a little child with a little child’s brain. They will learn that violence is inappropriate in time, but that time is not yet! You should also never, ever hit or bite back – this doesn’t teach them anything other than you, as an adult, think it’s an appropriate behaviour and a good way to handle problems. It’s incredibly poor role modelling.

How Can Parents Stay Calm During a Tantrum?
A lot of adults struggle with their child’s tantrums because of their own upbringing. If you were raised by authoritarian parents (those who would tell you off, punish you or send you away to your room, time out or the like when you struggled with your emotions), it’s very likely you will struggle with your child’s tantrums, because they will trigger you. You will have a subconscious response that is basically you reliving what your parents did to you, you may find yourself saying words your parents or carers said and you may feel irrationally angry too. Noticing this response is a huge step, because when you understand it you can improve it. This is all about being mindful of your own emotions and learning to control them, because you can’t raise a calm emotionally literate child if you’re still throwing your own temper tantrums! 
Deep breaths, mindfulness exercises, journalling, inner child therapy work and the like are all really helpful. Also, take some time for self- care. You need to find something that helps you to offload your own big feelings to make space to ‘hold’ your child’s feelings. If you’re full up with the stresses of everyday life, then your child’s tantrum will be the final nail in the coffin and you’ll add to their exploding emotions with your own dysregulated ones. So, whatever helps you to feel calm and offload will be a huge help. Also, do keep reminding yourself over and over again that your child is not doing this on purpose, they feel bad too, they’re just struggling with immature brain development. Be the adult!

If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my gentle discipline book.  It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.

Does Raising Children with Compassion make them Ill-Prepared for Living in the Real World?

I often hear the above question, it’s common that those wanting to choose a more empathic and nurturing parenting style are faced with doubt from those who believe that they are somehow doing their children a disservice by ‘pandering to them’ and not raising them to be tough enough to deal with the toughness that life will inevitably throw at them.

This is a concept I wanted to discuss more in BETWEEN, because I find that the older the child, the more many believe we should toughen them up. The following is an extract from chapter two, where I discuss how mistaken this belief is:

“There is a mistaken belief in our society that children need harsher parenting as they get older. I often read comments from those dismissing a respectful style of parenting saying but the world is tough, you don’t do children any favours by mollycoddling them. It’s better to prepare them for the real world”.

I think what they mean here is that we, as parents and carers, should treat our children harshly to prepare them for the big cruel world they will soon face alone. The presumption being that when they are babies and toddlers it’s OK to be kind to them, but as they get older, we should ready them for independence in the world by being less nurturing.

This is such a ridiculous concept, but a belief that seems to be widespread. The role of parents is to provide a safe harbour for their children, a place that they can be themselves without fear of retribution, in order that they feel confident enough to withstand any negative treatment they may receive from the world when they are older. You don’t make a child confident by trying to diminish their confidence at a young age, you make them insecure and uncertain of their own voice. The best way to prepare children for the reality of the world is to give them the skills and resilience that they need in the safety of their own homes, which comes only when they are raised with empathy and respect. Providing a place where they can share all their emotions, without fear of ridicule or punishment, and receive support for them is the best way to prime children to go into the world with self-control and resilience. Perhaps also, we can hope to raise them to better the world for others too.”

The sad reality, is that while so many believe that the answer to ‘prepare children for the real world’ is to toughen them up (aka treat them more harshly), we will continue to see rising levels of mental health issues, dysfunctional relationships and violence. We have such a tremendous chance to make a lasting difference, not only for our children’s generation, but those who follow, if we could only choose to follow a more nurturing, supportive style of parenting – the style most likely to produce confident, happy, well-adjusted and kind individuals.

If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds, out March 11th ’21. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.