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.

Does the Moon Affect Baby and Toddler Sleep?

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.

  • 28th January
  • 27th February
  • 28th March
  • 27th April
  • 26th May
  • 24th June
  • 24th July
  • 22nd August
  • 21st September
  • 20th October
  • 19th November
  • 19th December

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!

sleepbook-1

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.

Ten Things Every Parent Should Know About Raising Tweens

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

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.

One Simple – Effective – Discipline Hack

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?

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.

Helping Children With Low Self-Confidence


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.
 

Intrinsic motivation

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 UKUSACanada and rest of 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.