Have you noticed that your baby or toddler’s sleep is significantly worse during the full moon? Or perhaps you’ve noticed that your own sleep is disrupted? Maybe you’ve found it harder to get to sleep at night, or you’ve woken more than usual? If so, you’re not alone!
Recent research from the University of Washington has found that people get less sleep during a full moon period and the immediate run up to it. Speaking about the study results, the lead researcher professor of biology Horacio de la Iglesia commented “We see a clear lunar modulation of sleep, with sleep decreasing and a later onset of sleep in the days preceding a full moon”. This isn’t the only study to have found a relationship between moon phases and sleep, with others finding that we feel more tired in the mornings after a full moon.
Why does the moon impact sleep? The obvious answer would be the increased light levels present during a waxing moon (the phase just before a full moon), when the moon is higher in the sky. Plenty of research has shown the impact of light on sleep, with brighter, short wave length light (for instance bright white energy saving bulbs and blue light) negatively impacting the secretion of melatonin (the sleep hormone). However, this doesn’t fully explain why the moon impacts sleep when we can’t even see it (behind blackout blinds for instance).
When are the full moons in 2021?
While the following are dates of the full moon, remember that the impact is likely to be felt for a few days either side, particularly the two days leading up to the full moon.
How do you handle full moon sleep disturbances?
Much the same way as you would any other impacts on sleep, with a lot of understanding, patience and empathy. Thankfully, you’re only looking at a handful of days per month for the lunacy (see what I did there?!) to pass!
The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!
If you have a tweenager, the name given to children aged between 8 and 13 years of age, you will likely have experienced many new parenting dilemmas. These years bring unique challenges, not just limited to the rudeness, back chat, laziness and defiance that so many complain of. Parents of tweens also have to navigate puberty and all the physical and emotional changes that it brings, school transitions, screen-time usage, friendship issues and the tricky territory that is first love. While there are enough unique differences and questions about parenting this age range to write a whole manual (indeed, that is what ‘Between’ is!), there are ten points that all parents of tweens (or soon to be tweens) should know, to make tween parenting just that little bit easier:
1. They may be nearly as tall as us, but their brains are very different
When children grow almost as tall as adults, we begin to view them differently. Because they are physically like us, our subconscious expectations are that they should think – and thus behave – like us. It is what we can’t see however, that couldn’t be more different. A tween’s brain is more akin to that of a toddler than an adult. Just because your eleven year old is in size 8 adult shoes, don’t presume that their brain is similar to yours, it isn’t. It still has a huge amount of connecting and modifying to go through, in fact, at least another ten years development, if not more. A tween’s brain is just not capable of much of the adult thinking processes that we expect of them. They struggle particularly with impulse control, emotion regulation logical and hypothetical thought processes (the stopping and wondering “if I do xxxxx then xxxxx may happen” that is so important for making good choices) and risk assessment. Much of the behaviour parents of tweens struggle with (and try to change) is simply an illustration of a regular tween brain.
2. Hormones don’t have as much impact as we blame them for
How many times have you heard the sentence “it’s their hormones, they go haywire at this age” in response to a parent asking for advice about their tween’s behaviour? It’s the stock response in our society today – but it’s wrong. Yes, puberty does bring with it an increase in hormones and yes, hormones can impact behaviour, however their impact is minimal compared to what really causes the behaviour issues that so many tween parents and carers complain of. I refer you back to point 1 – the tween brain. Almost all of the tween behaviour we struggle with is a result of their immature brains, not their hormones. Blaming everything on hormones is not only naive and entirely incorrect, it causes parents and carers to miss the real issues and fail to make necessary changes (both physically and in terms of our own expectations and demands) to empower and help tweens.
3. They are naturally selfish – and for good reason
Tweens are commonly described as ‘selfish’, ‘self-centred’ and ‘lacking in empathy’ and actually, these are fairly accurate representations. The tween years bring with them a drop in empathy and an increase in egocentrism (not to be confused with egotism), while this can be exceptionally frustrating for parents and carers, this inwards focus is vital for the social develoment of our tweens. This is the age for a child to work out who they are and what their place in the world is, it’s time for them to look away from their parents and consider their own thoughts and feelings over and above those of others. In short, this drop in empathy is an important part of their personal development. This normal tween behaviour is transient you’ll be pleased to hear and absolutely isn’t an indication that your tween will remain this self-centred forever, however it often takes longer to pass through this phase than many parents expect – and hope for.
4. They are much more emotional than us in times of stress
As adults, when we are stressed we are able to engage the logical, rational thinking parts of our brain to aid us in problem-solving. Tweens on the other hand seem to get stuck in an overly emotional state, almost forgetting how to engage logic. Think of a school morning where you’re all running late. Your tween has lost their school bag. All too quickly this descends into hysterical crying, shouting and sulking. At this moment they are incapable of calming down and thinking logically about where they last had their bag. They need you – the adult – to step in with your more developed brain and talk them through logical solutions to the missing bag problem. This heightened emotional state isn’t due to hormones, or bad parenting, it’s an entirely normal part of the tween years and once again, grounded in their brain development.
5. Punishment doesn’t improve their behaviour
As a whole, we are far less tolerant of difficult behaviour in the tween years than we are of that from younger children. Discipline tends to become harsher and more combative, tweens are often sent to their rooms, stripped of their priviledges or belongings, excluded, chastised and shamed in an attempt to improve their behaviour. None of these are effective forms of discipline though, in fact, they often make behaviour worse. Punishment based discipline always presumes that tweens are in full control of their behaviour and could do better if they wanted to. The problem however, is that in most causes motivation is not the problem at all (the tween probably wishes they could do better too), it’s neurological ability and the situations they find themselves in and the expectations placed upon them. If the tween genuinely cannot behave better at any moment of time, punishing them is never going to work, but it can have a horrible impact on self-confidence, self-esteem and the parent-child relationship. Tweens need discipline that is mindful of their capabilities and neurological development and that works with them to help resolve problems and strengthens the relationship in order to make the approaching teen years as easy as possible, for the whole family.
6. They aren’t being lazy when they don’t want to get up in the morning
Do you remember when your toddler would wake up at 5am every, single, day – no matter what time they went to bed, what new gadget you bought, or whatever advice you followed? Go back to that place now. Remember the longing you had for your child to sleep in for just one morning. Now you have a tween, your wish has come true – and then some! Tweens become increasingly hard to get out of the bed (and motivated to get going) in the morning the older they get. This isn’t due to laziness (as it is often labelled), but once again, it is due to their brains. Tweens experience something known as a ‘circadian shift’. Simply put, their body clocks shift a few hours, a little like they are living in a different time zone to the rest of us. In reality this means that they start to resist going to bed in the evening (bedtime resistance in the tween years is almost always entirely cause by parents trying to get their tween to go to bed too early – 9-10pm is the most biologically appropriate bedtime for 8-13 year olds by the way) and they wake up later the next day (a waking time of around 9am is most appropriate). This all spells disaster when school starts too early, but this isn’t our tween’s problem, it’s ours as adults, for designing a system that is ignorant of their biology.
7. Trying to control their friendships is the worst thing you can do
The chances of you liking and approving of all your tween’s friends is minimal. In fact, it’s most likely your tween will have a friend you don’t like. Another child you believe is ‘a bad influence’ and somebody who always seems to bring out the worst in your child. The temptation to curtail the friendship will be strong, but try to resist. The more you try to steer your child away from certain friendships and influence who they spend their time with, the more your efforts will backfire. After raising four children through the tween years, I can say with confidence that you cannot choose their friends for them. They will learn to see what you see in their own time (or maybe not), but it’s important that this realisation occurs on their own terms in their own time. If you try to control friendships now, what you will actually do is to ensure that your child never talks to you about friendship (and potentially relationship) related issues as they grow. When they really need your help in the years to come, they will be far less likely to turn to you, especially if the problem is with another who you so desperately tried to turn them against in the tween years. This is something tweens must figure out themselves.
8. Letting them fail academically is perhaps the best gift you can give them
Yes, you did read that correctly. Supporting your child to fail is a gift that too many are deprived of. You can try to force, bribe, cajole or praise your child to complete their work on time and revise for tests and exams, but the more you try to extrinsically control their work ethic, the more likely you are to undermine it. There is one reason, and one reason only, why your tween should be motivated academically – and that’s intrinsically – or because they (and nobody else) want to. The best way to foster this intrinsic motivation is to allow your tween to experience the natural consequences of not working hard enough. That means allowing them to feel that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach when they sit a test they haven’t revised for, or the embarrassment of not having homework completed on time. The more you try to save your tween and spare them from these failures, the more likely they are to repeat them again and again unless you get more and more involved. Failure in the tween years, when it is safe to fail, is the best preparation for the more serious academic work of the upcoming teen years.
9. They may not be heterosexual/cisgender and presuming they are can be harmful
While sexuality and gender identity may be the furthest thing from your mind when you are hanging out with your 8 or 9 year old, the words that you use and the way you use them around your tween and others will have a lasting impact. We live in a hetero, cis normative culture, or one that presumes straight people who identify with their birth gender are the norm. This presumption is harmful for our tweens, whether they do – or go on to – identify as LGBTQ+ themselves, or from the perspective of raising them to be an ally. Saying “one day when you get a boyfriend” to your daughter, or “those are for girls” when your son picks up a pair of shoes in ‘the girls section’ of a store all perpetuate this mistaken and damaging norm. Being mindful of your language “one day when you meet somebody you love” and “shoes are for everybody” will help your tween to know that you accept them, whoever they do – or go on to – identify as and are attracted to.
10. If you don’t tell them about puberty and sex, they will learn about it from unreliable sources
Growing up with the world at their fingertips means that tweens no longer need to wait for “the birds and the bees” talk from their parents. A quick internet search brings them all the information they need (regardless of what parental control features you may employ at home). If they don’t find out information from the internet, they can find it in a book (remember reading Judy Blume’s ‘Forever’ at their age?), from a TV show, or from a friend in the playground. Don’t presume that because you haven’t had the conversation with your child yet that they are innocent and naive, it’s unlikely that they are. The earlier we are entirely open and honest with children about puberty and sex, the better. Because, if we don’t have those conversations with them they will have them with ill informed friends, or via information online that you can’t control. PSHE (sex education amongst other things) lessons at school can be of variable quality too – don’t leave it for your child’s formal education either.
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 now. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world
Have you ever heard of Occam’s Razor? It’s a philosophical principle that, very crudely, means that ‘the simplest explanation is usually the right one’ (read HERE for the full explanation). I don’t know about you, but I often over-complicate things in my life. I’m a pro at coming up with overly complex solutions, often missing the simplest solution that is invariably staring me right in the face (especially when I’m in an Escape Room!).
A good example of this is an ongoing problem I’ve been having with my rescue dog, Nala. Nala is 3 years old, we re-homed her 18 months ago. She is a sweetheart, but her previous owner lived in central London in a block of flats. She was left at home all day while he was at work and is very nervous as a result. She is particularly scared of lorries, buses and other big vehicles. When she’s nervous she barks aggressively. I’m guessing she spent most of her days at her previous home barking through the window at the busy London streets, in a constant state of anxiety. I live in a quiet little market town, but we have a lot of farm traffic, an odd stray lorry and several buses on our roads and I work from home, so Nala is rarely alone. Despite this, she still alert barks a lot. She favours sitting on the back of our sofa, staring out of our window (onto the road) and spending ALL day barking at *anything and everything* that goes past. This behaviour is positively conditioned the more she does it, as every time she barks, the people or vehicles move on. In her mind her barking has worked to scare them off – clever dog! Anyway, this behaviour has been driving me absolutely mad. I had to stop it. I have spent HOURS reading every single dog training website and book I can find, I’ve devoured YouTube videos and TV programmes. You name it – I’ve tried it. We’ve praised, rewarded, calmed, blocked, played, distracted and trained (paying for a professional dog trainer) and NOTHING worked.
A week ago, I found a new dog training blog that was like seeing the sun for the first time. The advice was SO simple, so groundbreaking, but so bloody obvious I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it before. What was the advice? MOVE THE SOFA. That was it. Of course it was! If the sofa was moved she wouldn’t be able to look out of the window (she’s a wire hair terrier/springer spaniel mix, so not particularly big – hence couldn’t see out of the window without the aid of the sofa). Of course, then I had doubts, was it really that simple? Surely not! Anyway, last weekend we rearranged our living room. The window is now well and truly clear of sofas and Nala can no longer see out of the window. SHE HAS NOT BARKED AT ANYTHING GOING PAST SINCE! Such a simple solution, such huge results. I cringe at the hours I put into all the training now. All I had to do was move the sofa, but it was so simple I didn’t even think of it – Occam’s Razor in action.
Why am I telling you this? Because it applies to parenting tiny humans, just as much as dogs! So often we over-complicate our discipline attempts. Remember this though – not everything has to be a teachable moment. Sometimes, making a small, simple change, is the best thing for your sanity and your child’s safety and happiness. Focus on something YOU can change, rather than expecting them to change. I always tell a story in my discipline workshops about a parent who asked me how they could stop their child from touching their TV all the time. I think they expected me to say something deep about teaching the child about safety, respect and the monetary value of things. My advice however was simply “move the TV”. Honestly, why spend time trying to change a little person with limited understanding and impulse control, when you can change what you do, with a much greater – and quicker – result?
So, the next time you need to discipline, remind yourself of Occam’s Razor, or ‘Nala’s Sofa’ as it will now be known in our house – is there a simple solution that you’re missing in your quest for a more complicated one?
A lack of confidence can manifest in many different – and often unexpected – ways in children. At one extreme there’s the quiet, shy child who doesn’t take risks; at the other, there’s the child with challenging behaviour who doesn’t listen, has no attention span and tends to sabotage activities. It’s fairly easy to spot the first and to identify underlying confidence issues, but it can be harder with the second. These disruptive children may be labelled as ‘naughty’, even though their behaviour is an act of bravado, often masking an underlying confidence deficit and a lack of self-worth.
Start as you mean to go on
The early months of life build the foundations on which confidence is built throughout the rest of the child’s life, and the foundations will be strong ones if the child is raised with secure attachments to her caregivers. When a child has a secure base to which she can return, she will tend to feel safe enough to explore the world increasingly independently.
There is only one person who can develop confidence – the child herself. All we can do is to provide an environment in which it can be nurtured. If a child is not confident in new situations, forcing her into more of them will only serve to undermine her confidence. If she is fearful of certain activities or environments, ‘throwing her in at the deep end’ will invariably lead to sinking and damage to her confidence, rather than swimming. A key role for parents is to provide an environment in which the child feels safe and secure, and to provide a relationship that fosters confidence by allowing as much of an attachment as the child needs. Allow yourself to be led by your child. If you watch and listen closely, she will show the pace at which she is able to work. Progress can be slow initially, and you may question whether your child-led pace is actually hindering the child rather than helping. The child may appear to regress and seemingly lose confidence. This is in fact a good sign, as it’s showing that she’s trying to fulfil any unmet needs in order to be able to move forwards. Keep reminding yourself that she is behaving this way for a reason, and never be tempted to force her to do anything that she isn’t ready for.
Mistakes are good
When the child is ready to try something new, or perhaps re-try something she has not yet mastered, it’s important to allow her to make mistakes. It might be tempting to help the child by instructing her, or finishing tasks that are frustrating her, but these can both serve to undermine confidence. Here, the role of the parent is to sit with the child’s frustration and provide her with a sense of self-belief. If she is struggling to complete a jigsaw puzzle, then the best way to foster her confidence is to contain her frustration by telling her that jigsaws can be hard, but if she keeps trying, you are sure she’ll do it in time. It’s important that children are allowed to make mistakes, from falling over when learning to walk, to not being able to fit a shape in the shape sorter. These mistakes are inevitable and an important lesson for children to learn in their urge for mastery. It is when they successfully navigate these problems without our input that their confidence in themselves will start to build.
What should you do, then, when the child achieves something she has previously found difficult? Conventional wisdom would be to reward her handsomely, with verbal praise and ‘well done’ stickers. Rewards such as these, however, can, ironically undermine confidence. If the child is intrinsically motivated to do something – that is, if she is internally driven to do something for no reason other than because she wants to – research shows that she is more likely to be successful. Psychologists have shown if she is rewarded for the completed task, she will actually be less likely to complete it in the future. Praise and stickers foster extrinsic motivation – they encourage the child to do something to get a reward, meaning that the child feels good because of the reward, not because of herself. If we want to encourage confidence, the rewards should always be internal ones. See HERE for more on the problems with stickers and rewards. A sense of mastery, pride, achievement and a sense of self-worth. Instead of ‘Good girl’ or ‘Well done’, it’s better to ask the child “You did it – how do you feel?” or “Do you feel proud of yourself now?” See HERE for more on effective praise.
Don’t focus on the results
On a similar note, it’s also important to not be results-focused. A child who has unsuccessfully tried to do her coat buttons up every day for three months is, in many ways, more of an achiever than the child who learnt to do it after only two days. The first child has been dedicated to the task at hand, which is deserving of recognition. Praising children for something they find easy can actually undermine their confidence, especially when they eventually try something more difficult and find that the praise does not flow as it did before. Focusing on their efforts is much more productive. “I can see you’re working so hard on those buttons – they are tricky aren’t they? You’re so determined though, I know you’ll do it soon.”
As a parent, you are a role model for your children. They will look to you to decide how to behave and react in certain situations. It is therefore important that you keep confidence in yourself. If you fail at something, don’t say, “Oh, I’m so stupid”. Instead, say “I’ve tried so hard to do this. I’m sure I’ll do it one day soon, but today isn’t the day.” Your children need to see you try and fail as much as they need to see you succeed. They need to know that you make mistakes, just like them, and they need to see you be easy on yourself when you do. In many ways, working to raise children’s confidence is as much about raising your own as it is theirs!
Lay the foundations
10 ways to boost a child’s confidence…
1. Allow them to make mistakes Don’t complete a task they are finding hard for them
2. Avoid rewarding achievements Instead, focus on how the child feels about them
3. Focus on the effort – not the achievement
4. Allow them to initiate and lead play The sense of control will boost their confidence
5. Give as much one-to-one time as possible Building attachments is vital
6. Help them to realise that nobody is perfect Making mistakes is part of everyday life.
7. Recognise all personalities are different Introverts can often be mistaken as having low self-confidence.
8. Lose the labels There is no such thing as ‘clumsy, ‘naughty’, ‘clever’ or ‘good’.
9. Be careful about self-image – yours and theirs.
10. Be a good role model
Get confident yourself!
For more on children with low self-confidence and low self-esteem and how this effects their behaviour (and how you can help) see my Gentle Discipline Book (available in the UK, USA, Canada and rest of the world).
Working with baby and child sleep is like doing a jigsaw puzzle that has some missing pieces, some placed in the wrong position and a handful of extra pieces from another puzzle that don’t belong thrown in for good measure. Some children need all seven steps to be implemented consistently for them to sleep as soundly as possible, while others require only one or two smaller changes. Irrespective of how many you use, it is important that you give each one time to work. I always ask parents I work with to allow at least six, preferably eight, weeks of doing something consistently before they try to assess progress. When you start to work with sleep it’s common for it to regress initially, all that change often means it gets worse temporarily, sometimes quite considerably so. Add to this life happens; babies teethe, toddlers catch colds, you move house, go on holiday, new babies arrive and so on. Every time something changes in a child’s life their sleep inevitably nose dives. Then you can have a long slog with no results and too many parents give up too soon, thinking that their efforts aren’t working and rush onto the next option. It is so important to be consistent, stick at what you’re doing and try to think of progress as a long-term thing.
If I could draw you a chart showing what to expect when you start to work with sleep, it would look a little like this:
The same up and down timeframe is true of nap drops. Many parents mistakenly think their child isn’t ready to drop a nap, because when they try, the child becomes very upset, overtired, grouchy and struggles to get to bedtime. Often nap drops result in difficult nights too, with more waking than usual, or much earlier morning waking. These are all normal and not signs that dropping a nap is a bad idea. Nap drops create temporary sleep deprivation while the child’s body clock takes time to reset and get used to running on te new timings, until this point their sleep and behaviour will likely be very tricky. Don’t be confused that this indicates dropping a nap is a bad idea, it will take at least a month until you will be able to analyse the impact of the nap drop and your child’s sleep will ultimately improve.
Gentle techniques take time to work. Please don’t try something once or twice (or in isolation) and think ‘Oh, that doesn’t work’, before giving up on it. expect your efforts to take a minimum of six to eight weeks to see good results. Expect it to get worse (or at least no better) initially and expect to feel like giving up when you don’t see quick results. You are working for a long-term positive change to your child’s sleep, not just to improve it in the short term, but to set them up with good sleep habits for life. That all takes time and a lot of consistency on your part.
For more ways to improve your baby, toddler or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT conventional cry based sleep training, check out the brand new updated edition of The Gentle Sleep Book.
As the new year brings further Covid restrictions, the following 8 tips may help a little if you’re currently struggling:
1. Lower your Expectations of Yourself Forget the new year resolutions, forget elaborate home schooling plans, craft projects, diet overhauls and new exercise plans. It’s OK to just survive right now. You don’t need to do more than that. If you’ve read any of my books you’ll know I love Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (I think it’s in at least 3 of my books).
This sets out what we need, as humans, to survive and thrive. With the most basic (but important) needs sitting at the base of the pyramid. If these most basic needs are not met, then it’s impossible to move on to the next stage. Right now we are ALL in survival mode. The current pandemic means we’re all sitting in the bottom two layers – those of meeting our basic physiological and survival needs. It means we’ve likely all taken a knock to our self esteem and we’re probably all struggling with our feelings, relationships with others and motivation and drive – and that’s OK! We’re doing exactly what we should be doing. You really don’t need to be super Insta mum. It’s OK that you’re not producing innovative messy play ideas everyday. It’s OK to lose your temper (just apologise to your child after!) and it’s OK to be thoroughly sick of the current situation.
2. Lower your Expectations of your Child Adults are struggling right now – but so are children. Things have changed immensely for them and no two months are the same – parents are at home who are usually at work, some keyworkers are working more, others are trying to focus on home working *and* parenting at the same time. Old routines have gone out of the window. The world is a scary place to children right now (and that’s without them overhearing Coronavirus talk, from you or the TV). What happens when children are so unsettled? Their behaviour regresses. The most common regressions are those in sleep (expect more bedtime resistance and night waking, plus refusing to sleep independently), toileting (expect big regressions in potty training, more accidents and poo withholding – this is both a brilliant and terrible time to potty train!) and eating (expect more picky eating, obsessions of certain foods, refusal of meals and trickier table manners). Behaviour becomes unpredictable, with lots of big feelings and tantrums (and more violent behaviour – e.g kicking/hitting/throwing/biting). Some children will start to speak in a baby voice, others will become incredibly clingy and may favour one parent to the almost total exclusion of the other. This is all NORMAL given the current situation. It’s transient too…..what your children need right now is buckets of understanding and empathy, not strict discipline or sleep training. It’s really hard for us, but it’s so much harder for them!
3. Understand that Everyone is Struggling I will admit I quite enjoyed the first lockdown. I’m an introvert, so happy to not be around others. It was lovely to have my teens all home (it’s rare we’re all in one place) and my husband off work. We pottered around the garden and fixed things in our home that had been on our ‘to do’ list for ages. Slowly though my family started to really irritate me, I got cabin fever, the gloss wore off of the new normal. Now (like everybody else) I’m thoroughly sick of the whole situation. Of course, it’s not just me feeling like this – the rest of my family are too and that results in some major bickering. Even if it feels like you’re the only one struggling at the moment, I can guarantee you that you’re not. Everybody is in some way or another. We really need to talk about our feelings more, especially during a global pandemic!.
4. Keep a Routine I refer you to point 2. Perhaps the most important thing you can do parenting wise, after empathising and easing up on yourself, is to keep to a routine, especially if your children are having to miss school or nursery. Covid has meant a huge relaxation in routines, particularly at bedtime. The more of a routine you can keep the better. Don’t let bedtime slide and don’t let the bedtime routine be replaced by screens – however shattered you feel (this time with your child at bedtime is so important), keep to a regular wake time. Get up and get everyone dressed. Have a routine for meals that you stick to. Consider creating a rough plan for the day – e.g: a walk before lunch, TV after lunch (before school work if your child is school age) and games after dinner. This predictability really helps children to feel more settled (and will ultimately help you to). These aren’t strict routines I’m talking about, no timetabling the day (unless that helps you), just rhythm and flow.
5. Find a Way to Offload Your Feelings I’m not going to suggest self-care here (though it would be great wouldn’t it?), as I think it’s pretty unrealistic right now. Self-care to me right now just looks like being kind to myself. What you do really need though is a way to offload. When I run workshops I always talk about containment – the idea that as a parent you need to ‘hold’ your emotions and your child’s and you need enough empty space in your emotional container to be able to do this. If your container is full with stress, worry and big feelings then you simply won’t have space to contain your child’s emotions too and you (and they) will explode. You must make space, let those feelings out – have a good moan – to clear a gap. This could be a long phone call or video call (is anyone else THOROUGHLY sick of Zoom?) to a friend or family member who ‘gets it’, you could write your thoughts down in a journal, or you’re welcome to come and moan in my Facebook discussion groups (UK one HERE, Rest of World HERE – just say “Sarah sent me” as a reply to all questions).
6. Embrace Screen Time Yes, seriously – don’t be afraid of it. Remember, we’re in the bottom 2 layers of Maslow’s pyramid at the moment, anything that helps you to survive is good in my book. Of course, it would be better if the screen time had some restrictions, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. If that’s a whole day of the TV on, so that you don’t end up screaming at your children, that’s OK! Read more of my thoughts on screen time HERE
7. Don’t Worry Too Much About Your Child’s Education It’s OK if you take a break from the worksheets if your child is struggling. You don’t have to turn into a teacher overnight. Learning doesn’t just look like formal books and lessons. Learning happens when you go on your walk and find a snail and talk about the shape of its shell. Learning happens when you bake a brownie and your child helps to weight the ingredients. Learning happens when you watch trains, or planes, or elephants, or the Titanic programmes on TV. Learning happens with Lego and cardboard box dens. Learning happens in everyday conversations with you. Don’t underestimate your impact. Teachers will know how to help children when they go back to school and they will work hard to plug any gaps and online learning has hugely improved since the first lockdown. I personally would not be stressing about my child’s education right now.
8. Try to Consume Important Nutrients I’m not talking about trying to revolutionise your diet, or lose weight (ignore those new year diet adverts!) or anything else that really irritates me about the current crisis. I’m talking about basic nutrients that can really impact on how you feel. The biggies here (when it comes to mental health) are Magnesium, Omega 3 and the B vitamins. Look at your microbiome too, a good probiotic may be in order. Vitamin D is also really important, especially if you’re not getting much sun. Aiming to get all your nutrients from food is the best approach, but if not – then look for a good quality supplement (I personally use Solgar, Better You and BioKult – note: I have no relationship with any of these companies, they are genuinely what I use, I’m only mentioning brands here because I’ll have people contacting me asking what I use if I don’t!).
What’s the problem with calling children “naughty”?
Labelling children helps nobody, least of all the child. The words we use about children can and do change the way we think about them. If we call a child, or their behaviour, naughty enough we will start to see them that way, which changes the way we subconsciously treat them. The result? We can encourage more of the undesired behaviour, because we are constantly on alert for it.
What effect does this labeling have on a child? Do you remember when you were a child and somebody called you something derogatory? Perhaps they called you clumsy, said you had two left feet, told you that you were slow, or implied you weren’t clever. Did it have an impact on your self esteem and confidence? Perhaps you avoided sport, or dancing, or perhaps you believed that you weren’t good at something so didn’t try. The words we use about (and to) our children underline their self-belief system. If they believe they are naughty you create a nocebo effect. They start to behave in naughty ways simply because that’s what they believe is expected of them.
The biggest problem with the term though, is that it does children a huge disservice by not uncovering the real cause of the difficult behaviour. No child *wants* to ‘be naughty’. They are ‘naughty’ because they are struggling with something and can’t behave any better at that moment in time. Motivation isn’t a problem, so punishing them when they’re ‘naughty’, or rewarding them when they’re ‘good’ won’t help, but it could make behaviour worse by treating it so superficially.
So, what is underlying ‘naughty’ behaviour? Fear, anxiety, anger, grief, trauma, confusion, frustration, needing connection, tiredness, hunger, neurological capabilities….so many big feelings and needs that are missed when we write a behaviour off as ‘naughty’. Try to drop the word ‘naughty’ from your vocab and instead, ask yourself “what does my child need? what is causing them to behave this way?” – I promise it will revolutionise your parenting and your connection with your child (and in turn – their behaviour!).
For more on understanding – and changing – child behaviour, check out my ‘Gentle Discipline Book’ available in the UK and the USA
September to December usually brings lots of hustle and bustle with open days and evenings held at schools for potential new students. Applications for new places are due within the next few weeks and months (depending on where you live in the world and whether you are using state or private education). Regardless of where you are however, one thing is the same: The likelihood that these important visits to potential schools have been curtailed because of Covid 19. How do you choose the right setting then, if you haven’t ever set foot in it? This article gives some tips on how to know what school is right for your child despite the current circumstances and includes a list of suggested questions you may want to ask the staff, taken from my ‘The Starting School Book’.
How to choose a school without visiting:
1. Responses are Revealing The school’s response to the current circumstances is incredibly revealing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s even more reflective of the school than visiting. School visits can often give a superficial feel of a school. You’re seeing them at their polished best, which is not always a good indicator of what they are really like. Check out the offerings from the school, are they embracing new technology? Are they innovating? Are they putting time into making the experience as user friendly as possible for you? Are they flexible with contact? A school’s willingness to adapt to the situation and to meet the needs of potential new school starter’s parents is a good indicator of the relationship they will have with you in the future.
2. Videos and Lives Without the ability to visit in person, a video tour of the school is definitely second best. I wouldn’t judge the quality of the video, a shaky one taken on a hand-held smart phone is fine, schools aren’t better if they’ve hired a professional videographer! (I’d rather see that money spent on the children!). What you’re looking for is passion and enthusiasm for sharing the school. I would give brownie points for a live tour over a recorded video too, especially a live that enabled parents to ask questions. Video is a must in my opinion, as in one where you can ask to be shown certain areas of the school that are usually missed out of video tours – for instance changing rooms and toilets (watch for how these are decorated and how child friendly they appear).
3. Email or Telephone Access to Staff and Governors In a normal year, you can probably ask most of your questions during an open day or evening. This year that’s obviously not possible. Look for schools who encourage you to contact the school leadership team and ask questions, by telephone or email. Do bear in mind that this needs to be balanced with the school day and the workload that brings, so don’t judge on their response time, but rather their willingness to answer your questions (even if it takes two weeks).
4. Real Parent Feedback If you’re not already a member of a local discussion group, join one now and ask if parents would be happy to share their experience of the schools with you (virtually). Do keep in mind that you will get a lot of extreme viewpoints here – those who rave about the school and those who rubbish it. I tend to ignore the extreme opinions and look for those in the middle.
5. Look at Official Scores and Rankings (with a pinch of salt). Yes, these inspections, ranks and scores quantify schools a little, but they are so limited in what they cover. They can’t tell you how passionate staff are, how happy children are, how well YOUR child will do there and what the sense of community is like. For school in the early years these things matter FAR FAR more than official inspection scores, rankings and so on. I personally ignored these when choosing school for my own children. Don’t let your choice be led by these alone. Points 1-4 are so much more important.
Questions to Ask Potential Schools:
*Do you enjoy working here? *What are you most proud of about your school? *What do you think the school could be better at? *Do you have any plans to improve certain things in the future? *What is the biggest challenge your school is facing at the moment? *How do you cope with difficult, or unwanted, behaviour from children? *What is your view on rewarding children for good behaviour, or for attendance? *What is your view on starting age for summer born children? *How do you help settle an anxious starter? *What do you do if a child is very upset at school? *How do you deal with friendship issues and bullying? *Do you have a peer mentor, or buddy scheme? (pairing older children with new starters) *What sport and physical activity do children do? *What are your school lunches like? Can I see a typical week’s menu? *How much time do children spend outside every day? How does this change as they get older? *How much time do children spend sitting still and learning? (e.g. at a table, or at a computer) *What is the school library like? *What does an average school day look like? *What opportunities are there for children who like art, music and drama? *What is your SEND and pastoral care provision like? *What do you offer for ‘gifted’ children, or high achievers? *What support do you provide for children who struggle academically? *What is your view on standard assessments? *What are the school values, or ethos? *What is the school’s opinion of homework? When does it get set, how much and what sort of thing? *What is your teacher retention rate like? How long have your current staff been here for? *Do you have an ‘open door policy’ if parents have any concerns? *Do you know how many siblings of current pupils will be applying this year? *How many children are in an average class? If this is a larger number, how do you make sure they each get the individual attention they need? *What clubs and extra-curricular activities do you run? *What do you think parents would say about the school? *What do you think pupils would say about the school? *Do you think your current official rating is a good reflection of the school? If not, why? *Does your school have an active PTA? *What opportunities do you have for parents to get involved with the school? *Do you offer school trips and visits? If so, can you let me know what they have been in the past?
Questions Specific to Covid: * How are you keeping children safe at the moment? * How are you ensuring that children’s mental health is not damaged by the current restrictions? * If Covid restrictions are still in place next Summer (or Winter if you’re in Australia/NZ), how do you plan to run settling in sessions and the transition for new starters?
Don’t feel embarrassed by asking too many questions, but do bear in mind that most are incredibly stretched and although they may want to spare you the time to answer all of your questions as thoroughly as possible, it may just not be possible and certainly not within a very quick time frame.
If your child is starting school soon and you would like to learn how to choose the best school, how to prepare them (and you), or know how to settle your child into their school, then my new ‘The Starting School’ book will be perfect for you! You can learn more and order HERE in the UK or HERE in the rest of the world.
Have you been questioning your parenting style recently? I think lockdown has resulted in a lot of navel gazing for many of us. The combination of more free time (for some – I know not all, thank you to those of you working hard through this!) and more time spent at home with our children means 1. a lot more difficult behaviour and 2. a lot more time to spend second-guessing ourselves and our choices parenting wise. I bet many who try to follow a more gentle and mindful style of parenting are thinking “this just isn’t working” right now and are thinking of introducing more authoritarian methods of behaviour control (such as time out, naughty steps, sleep training and stickers/bribery).
The thing is – they won’t work either. At least not for long. Mainstream methods can produce quick fix results, but they create many problems in the long run. Sleep training without taking time to make the child feel secure and working to optimise their life with sleep in mind (diet, environment, routines and timings – as is my approach) may get you a few nights of ‘sleeping through’ (note – they aren’t really sleeping through, just no longer signalling wakes), however because sleep training is naive to the causes of the waking/need for you, in the long term it actually makes sleep worse (I can’t tell you the amount of people I work with in private consults who come to me with a toddler who was sleep trained as a baby who now has serious sleep issues!). Similarly, bribing a child with stickers/sweets/toys etc.. may get you temporary compliance, but you’ll need to keep going with those rewards (and increase their value), otherwise when you stop, so will your child’s compliance. Finally, ignoring/shouting/chastising/excluding may temporarily shock a child into compliance, it does nothing to consider the causes of their behaviour (often, just immature neural development – ie age appropriate!) and therefore nothing to resolve it. That ‘bad behaviour’ is going to keep coming back and back again and it often escalates. What I’m saying is, when you’re at rock bottom and questioning your gentle methods, I know how tempting it is to slip into a mainstream authoritarian style with its alluring quick fixes, but those quick fixes come at a price. The trouble with mindful and gentle parenting is the price comes at the beginning (and it’s you that pays it – with your time and patience and often exhaustion), but the results – when they come – are long lasting (positively so!) and wonderful.
Right now, I know it’s tough and many are questioning their choices, but if there’s one biggest mistake I find parents make again and again with gentle parenting, it’s that they expect too much, too quickly. It takes time for results and by ‘time’ I mean months and years, categorically not days and weeks! All your effort isn’t in vain, but it works in baby steps, not giant leaps. You are putting in so much groundwork even when you think your efforts are having no impact. What you do matters, even when your child still wakes just as much, still tantrums just as much, still refuses to eat anything but beige food or still hits just as much. Expect positive change, but don’t expect it tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. I love the picture I’ve used to illustrate this article, as I think it describes the journey of gentle parenting so well.
So, how do you get through the days if you don’t see change in them? Look for the glimmers. Those tiny sparks of hope – and tiny they may well be! Tiny glimpses into the future. That one night when your child slept 4hours in a row. That day when your son stroked his baby sister on the head when she cried. That day your daughter ate a whole piece of broccoli. That day your eight year old volunteered to help you set the table for dinner. The day your teen gave you a hug after you lost your temper at them, but then apologised. These glimmers give us hope. Grasp them and keep them safe in your memory, so that you can use them to reassure you the next time you question what you’re doing. Remember – your baby is still going to act like a baby, your toddler is still going to act like a toddler, your preschooler is still going to act like a preschooler, your pre-teen is still going to act like a pre-teen and your teen is still going to act like a teen WHATEVER you do, because that’s all their physiology and psychological development allows. Your efforts aren’t wasted, they are working – but you need to adjust your expectations for what ‘working’ means. Until then, look for the glimmers……
Do you struggle with controlling your own emotions when your child is struggling to control theirs?
The next time your child behaves in an undesirable way, some of the very best advice I can give you is to pause, put a space between your child’s behaviour and your response to them. Take time to think about your goals and respond in a mindful way.
The acronym SPACE denotes five steps toward effective, gentle discipline:
Affinity with your child
Connect and contain emotions
Explain and set a good example
Let’s look at each of the steps in turn:
When your child pushes your buttons and you feel yourself getting stressed or angry, you should absolutely not discipline him until you are calm. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and slowly exhale. Repeat as often as necessary until you can think more clearly. Sometimes you have to give yourself a ‘time out’. That is, move away from your child temporarily, so that you can think more clearly.
You wouldn’t punish a fish for not being able to walk or a cat for not being able to talk. Yet many authoritarian discipline methods punish kids simply for being kids, without an acknowledgment of their age-appropriate level of brain development. Before you respond to your child’s actions, ask yourself, “Does she understand what she has done? Could she have controlled it? Does she have the brain development to do better?” If the answer is no, your response is likely to be very different.
Affinity with Your Child
Gentle discipline requires you to separate your dislike of your child’s behavior from your feelings toward the child him- or herself. Too many parents mix up the behavior and the child. Your child remains the same one whom you love dearly, no matter what he has done. Having an affinity with someone means that you have an essential connection and an understanding of each other. It is this understanding, this empathy, that will aid you in disciplining your child gently. Hold on to it, whatever your child has done. Remind yourself of how much you love him, and try to view his actions from his perspective. Ask yourself why he did what he did. And how is he feeling right now? This will not only help you to understand his actions but also to solve the problem and discipline appropriately, as well as to stay calm.
Connect and Contain Emotions
At all ages, children need their parents to guide them and help them to manage their feelings. We have a level of brain development that they simply don’t have, even as teenagers and early twentysomethings. We are mature enough to “hold” some of our child’s big feelings as well as our own, to help them to calm down. Of course, in order to do this, we have to look after ourselves too. The secret to emotional intelligence is knowing that all emotions are OK; it’s how we manage them that matters. Until your child learns how to manage her emotions, it is your role to externally manage them, while leading him or her in the direction of self-control.To contain your child’s feelings, you must connect with her.Your compassion and support will guide her toward becoming the person you hope she will be. The best discipline happens when you work as a team.
Explain and Set a Good Example
This stage can happen only when both you and your child are calm and well connected. One of the main reasons that discipline fails is because of a lack of one of these, or sometimes both.
Explaining should be age appropriate. Your communication with your child needs to be at a level that he can understand, and often discipline falls short here too. Think carefully about how you will communicate. It isn’t just your words that matter, but how you say them too. Your child is watching you just as much as he’s listening to you. If you shout, you indicate to him that not only is shouting OK but it’s what he should do when he’s angry with someone or when somebody does something that he doesn’t like. If your child hits someone, the very last thing you should do is hit him in the name of discipline. If you do, your example shows him that hitting is OK, and that it’s a good way to resolve differences and conflict. Your explanation and example should show your child, clearly, how to handle situations. After all, as we’ve said, the best teachers lead by example. The same is true for discipline.
Putting SPACE between your child’s actions and your discipline allows you to focus on your true goal—that of teaching her to do and be better. Of course, your teachings need to be flexible. All children are unique and all situations, even with the same child, are unique. Working with SPACE should put you on the right track.
This is a small excerpt from my Gentle Discipline Book. Available in paperback, e-book and audio download from the following retailers: