• Don't Pick Your Parenting Battles

    Don't Pick your Battles

    Don’t pick battles with your children. Battles are between enemies and result in a win/lose situation. If you win, your child loses. We often forget this when we talk about not letting our children ‘get away with things’ and not letting them win.

    Parents do need to provide discipline for children because their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed (and won’t be until their 20s). So we have to lend them our higher brains with their greater capacity for rational thought and impulse control. We are not our children’s enemy –we are their teacher. The purpose of discipline is not to win, or to get revenge, but to teach. Effective discipline comes from influence over time rather than the exercise of power in the moment.

    We need to make sure we avoid the terminology of battles even in our own minds because language shapes our experience and the more we talk or even think about battling with our kids the more that will happen. That’s how our brains work.

    What makes you want to go into battle with your child? Is it when you’ve asked them nicely to do something several times and they ignore you? And then you calmly and reasonably give them a gentle warning that they won’t get their TV time or stories… and they ignore you. And then you shout… but they still ignore you. And then you take away the TV or story… and then they react. They act as if that came straight out of the blue and is the most unreasonable thing ever and you are the meanest mummy/daddy in the world.

    Generally when people suggest picking your battles it means choosing which things you’re going to get into a lather about and ignoring the rest. At The Parent Practice we say don’t ignore behaviours that you’re not happy about and don’t battle over them. Don’t ignore but take small actions before the behaviour escalates too far and while you’re still calm enough to deal with it.

    Take action sooner with take 2s –Get your child to do it again correctly. This works well for little things like saying please and thank you or speaking in a polite tone of voice or asking to get down from the table.

    Here’s how you can teach rather than engaging in battles:

    • Understand your child. Is what you’re asking them to do reasonable given his temperament and stage of development? Does he need time to transition from what he’s doing to what you’re asking him to do? As soon as parents start thinking about why kids aren’t cooperating and what their needs are then they can be more compassionate and more effective.
    • Don’t give too many instructions. Young children are likely to forget parts of what you’ve asked them to do and they may feel nagged and tune you out. Reduce the number of instructions you give by having some written rules and routines and by asking the children what they need to do. They usually know.
    • Children have their own set of priorities and their agenda is just as important to them as ours is to us. They will give up on what they’re doing and submit to your control when there is the greater priority of pleasing you. That means they have to know that they can earn your approval.
    • Give lots of approval with descriptive praise. This means that kids want to cooperate. And spend time with them doing fun things.
    • Connect with your child. Acknowledge that he doesn’t want to do his homework, have a bath or stop playing and come to dinner. When we recognise how they feel about the situation children feel understood and are more likely to comply. Once feelings are heard much resistance disappears.

    If something has gone wrong and you’re heading into battle mode:

    1. Take time to cool down - essential to avoid saying or doing something you’ll later regret.
    2. Connect –acknowledge the feelings driving the behaviour.
    3. Take constructive steps –have a problem-solving conversation without anger, blame or judgment (hence the need for the cool down) to help your child see why their actions were a mistake and what they can do about it. Use natural consequences (if they don’t get out of the bath promptly there’s no time for the story) or fixing consequences (clean up a mess or mend someone’s hurt feelings). Teach your child what to do differently next time –practice it.

    Kids will get things wrong because they’re learning but the way we teach them how to behave will have long term ramifications for how they deal with disagreements in their lives. Instead of teaching them to get into battles don’t we want to teach them to try to understand, use words to negotiate and compromise?

    For more on Positive discipline techniques see www.theparentpractice.com

  • My Top 5 Sleep Tips



    Sleep tips have to be one of the most written about subjects when it comes to babies and children, so I will do my very best to not bore you with stuff you have already read. Now, health warning on this, I’m not a doctor and claim no expertise other than having dealt with the problem – a lot. So here are my top 5.

    1.Starting with the most bizarre, I was very lucky to have had a lovely Ecuadorian nanny for the girls. One evening, when they were a bit older, she announced she was going to give them lettuce milk. Now, I was incredibly sceptical but also incredibly desperate for a good night sleep, so the lettuce experiment commenced. All she did was put a lettuce leaf to soak in their warm milk at bed and to my surprise I genuinely believe it helped. Now it appears I may not be alone in this, as shortly after I was reading Beatrix Potter: The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and came across this: …. the little bunnies ‘did not awake because the lettuces had been so soporific’. So maybe lettuce milk isn’t so mad after all?



    baby_sleep_pillow_spray_princess_final2.My next tip actually started off as something I use; insomnia appears to run in the family. For sometime now I have been addicted to ‘This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray’ and during one of her midnight missions, Lady Iz told me she preferred my bed as it smelt so nice and calm. Now, I was obviously being played but then I thought about my pillow spray. Next time I was out I discovered they did one for kids – ‘Sleep Like a Prince/Princess – Baby Sleep Pillow Spray. It contains lavender, vetivert and camomile and she genuinely believes it helps her sleep – which to be honest, is good enough for me.


    3.There aren’t many kids who like the dark and we went through all the night light phase and the lights on in the hall etc. etc. but over time we found that light just made it worse. The science is that exposure to darkness triggers the production of melatonin, which among other things makes us sleepy and exposure to light does the reverse. So for us putting those night-lights in the bin, investing in black out blinds and dimming every other light possible was yet another steps forward.

    4.Something for the older ones, I am pretty relentless in my search for ways to get my kids to sleep and this one I found online. It is called the 4-7-8 breathing technique and promises to help you nod off in 60 seconds – had to be worth a try. It was developed by Harvard trained Dr. Andrew Weil and basically all you need to do is exhale completely through your mouth while making a 'whoosh' sound.

    Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Now hold your breath for a count of seven. Then exhale completely through your mouth, making another whoosh sound for eight second in one large breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three times.

    Clearly the whoosh sound provokes great hilarity but for us, even if it didn’t result in sleep 60 seconds later, it definitely beat counting sheep. If you are interested, head to YouTube.

    5. The last tip is something we try to enforce each night - no fights or negotiations before bedtime. This is almost impossible and still something we are working on but getting rid of any drama definitely makes settling to sleep easier. One thing that weirdly helps is that my girls are obsessed with stop watches and egg timers – they like knowing how fast, how long, how much quicker or slower? So when I know bedtime is going to be tricky, out it comes and rather than me being the bad guy saying ‘bed’ or there being any ambiguity about what 5 minutes actually means – we use the timer. What I have found is that they seem to accept its judgment and whilst they might not be happy about going to bed, they are definitely more compliant - after all it really isn’t much fun trying to argue with a clock.

    Sweet Dreams (hopefully....)

  • The Ultimate Guide To Winter Coats

    0-Amori prix littéraire-023The winter coat should be the one big investment piece you buy for winter – all kids spend a lot of time out doors, so you need a coat that not only you both love but is warm and practical too. So what do you need to know?

    The Classic Puffer

    This is a great staple, buy the right one and it will keep them warm and dry throughout winter. The main decision you need to make is whether to opt for down or synthetic. As ever there is a debate about which is better, but for kids our preference is down as they are much warmer for their weight and they compress better. Their biggest disadvantage is they are more expensive. If your preference remains synthetic, then the good news is that the technology is improving all the time (thinsulate and thermolite). Pick the right one and the difference between down and synthetic is less significant than it used to be. Their biggest drawback, is that they are much heavier for the same warmth and they don’t compress as well. So, whilst for adults, weight might not be an issue for little ones they definitely feel it more.








    The Posh Puffer

    If you love the warmth puffa coats offer but also need something smarter then opt for one with a fur trim or hood. Often these trims are detachable so you can add it or take it away at will. Think also about colours, as more tonal colours will work better than brights if you want to ‘posh up’ at puffer.paradise_aqua_01






    The Classic Wool Coat

    Few things look smarter than a well cut wool coat and they are definitely more practical for kids than you might at first think. Wool is actually water resistant, due to the lanolin in the sheep wool, so it will keep them dry throughout our British Winter. Wool is also a brilliant insulator and is great for keeping the cold out. The other big advantage of wool is that it doesn’t wrinkle or crease so always looks lovely and smart. As parents however, the one big drawback is how to keep a wool coat clean. The majority require dry cleaning, so if this is a concern check the label. Also make sure it is fully lined, otherwise it can be scratchy on young skins.capuce








    Not strictly a coat, but we promise once you buy one of these you won’t ever look back. The gilet is the perfect transitional piece making it perfect for early autumn and again early Spring. So whilst it might seem like a bit of an extravagance, in reality you will get plenty of wear from it. As it isn’t a full on coat it is perfect for our unreliable climate, when there is a nip in the air but its not quite full on coat weather. They are also great for kids who are always saying ‘I don’t want to wear a coat’ – as technically they aren’t but they will do the same job.









    For the Smallest Ones

    For babies make sure whatever you buy you can wash easily. Also check all the fastenings, as trying to put a small baby into a coat or snowsuit can be a real challenge.

    Our preference is definitely the snowsuits as they are effectively like wearing a duvet outdoors. Good snowsuits also come with hoods and occasionally mittens making them a really practical, easy solution. As with babygrows, if your child is tall, opt for one either without feet or with detachable feet so you can extend its wear. If you are thinking a full on snowsuit is a bit too much for early autumn opt for a fleece one, they are an incredibly versatile layer as they will work for early spring as well.
















    Long versus Short

    This is definitely more than just a style issue; with kids it is fundamentally a practical one. The longer length obviously gives you more warmth but if your kid loves to tear around, kick balls and climb whatever is available, then shorter is definitely a better option. Toddlers also struggle more with longer length coats as they do restrict their movement. So whilst as parents we want them to be as warm as possible, for many kids shorter coats are a better option.

    In a nutshell

    This is one item not to impulse buy. Think about what will work best for your child and read the label so you know what you are getting; as tempting as it is don’t buy it just because you like the look of it. It is also definitely worth spending the money and economizing on other wardrobe elements - good coats are expensive to manufacture but worth their weight in gold.

  • Back To School Tips

    44322145_sBack to School for parents invariably means getting their 'stuff' ready - be it uniform, stationary or endless name tagging. However, whilst this is essential, having been on holiday for so long, children also need some emotional preparation that sometimes gets lost in all the chaos. This week Melissa from the Parent Practice offers some top tips on how best to get them emotionally prepared for the year ahead.

    Emotional Preparation

    Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together.

    Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

    Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the good stuff they do.


    If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.


    For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you can do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”


    Helping them cope with their feelings

    There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.


    When we accept and validate negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately.


    For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”


    Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.


    Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.


    Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.


    Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. Did you love every single day of school?! It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going.


    For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

    “You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools. You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly. You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”

    Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation.


    And two last tips!


    First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages. It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school. Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.


    And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up. So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.



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  • Getting boys to talk

    Some kids talk more than others.

    If you’ve got more than one child chances are you’ve noticed this. Some of that is down to temperament and some may be attributable to gender. I have a daughter who is very extroverted. She used to come home from school and tell me everything that had gone on in her day in the first 2 minutes. I had to gear myself up for the onslaught the minute she got home.

    I became really grateful when the kids got home at different times so I could focus on all their different needs. With Gemma my challenge was just to listen, not to jump in with advice. When I buttoned my lip and let her know I was listening the storm would blow itself out and often she would find her own solutions. She would talk in order to work out what she thought about things.

    She just needed to be heard.

    I also have two sons who happen to both be introverts. They like to think through things before speaking. When they got home from school they liked to chill out and wouldn’t offer anything about their day until the evening. I had a friend with a son with a similar disposition and she used to say she only found out what was going on in her son’s life through what I told her I’d heard from my boy.

    Many boys don’t talk about their feelings. Traditionally men weren’t encouraged to and perhaps unwittingly we still give boys messages that in order to be a man they need to manage alone. Sometimes parents still say “big boys don’t cry” or we tell them not to make such a fuss or to be a big boy. If we tell our children to ‘man up’ what do we mean?

    If dads model talking about how they feel about stuff then boys learn that it’s ok for men to do so.

    The best way to get a boy to talk is not to sit down for an eyeball to eyeball conversation but to do an activity together. This is what Steve Biddulph calls ‘sideways talk’. Some of my best conversations with my sons have been while we’ve been walking or even doing the washing up together.

    When I picked them up from school we were more likely to get a conversation going if we were walking home. Usually pumping them for information about their day didn’t work. We all know that the answer to the question “How was your day?” is “fine”, with all the information that doesn’t convey. Young children live in the moment and often can’t be bothered to dredge up what happened earlier in their day.

    Some will actually want to keep their school world separate from home. They certainly won’t tell us anything if they think we’re going to judge, criticise, or perhaps even advise them.

    You start the conversation. Tell him about your day. Tell him about age-appropriate things that you care about. Thank him for listening and maybe tell him you feel good talking to him. If you think he has something on his mind tell him you think he might be a bit worried about something. You can tell because of his body language or facial expressions or because of what he has said or done. Try to put yourself in his shoes. If you think you know what he’s feeling describe what that might be like for him. He might not talk now but you’ve opened the door for a conversation. If he does talk don’t say much, just nod a lot. Don’t judge and DON’T offer advice.

    I remember when my older son was preparing (or not) for exams he started being mean to his younger brother. He used to do that a lot when he was younger and I was afraid we were slipping back into old patterns. In my anxiety and frustration I was tempted to tell him off or punish him but I realised in time that it might be connected to the exams that he showed no signs of caring about.

    I talked with him about how he might be feeling, detailing his anxiety, wondering whether he was afraid of letting us down, speculating that it might be difficult to follow in his academically able sister’s footsteps, even that he might be cross with himself for not having worked harder earlier. He didn’t say much…but his body language changed –his shoulders were less slumped and he made more eye contact. And his behaviour toward his brother changed.

    I’d like to say he aced those exams but that would be fiction. But he developed better habits for the next set and, more to the point, he learnt to process his feelings well and find appropriate outlets for his frustrations and fears. This son still doesn’t talk a lot about his emotions but he is a great conversationalist and has good emotional awareness - he knows how to manage his feelings.

  • Improving your child’s attention span

    Does the fruit of your loins whom you love to death sometimes seem to have the attention span of a gnat? Does your darling child forget what you’ve asked him to do on the way to do it? Are you worried about their future at school?
    My boys used to fidget, get up and down, need the loo, stare out the window or chase imaginary rubbers around the floor rather than focus on homework.

    Instead of concluding that lack of focus is hereditary (as you get distracted by incoming emails and Face book messages) consider first what is realistic to expect for your child’s age (and gender). Under 8s generally fidget and wriggle around a lot and it isn’t always an indicator that they’re not paying attention. Boys generally move around a lot more than girls do. They are impulsive and they forget things. All of this is normal. Research gives us a rough rule of thumb for how long children should be able to focus on a learning task.

    Attention span for learning = chronological age + 1

    This means that a 4 year old should be able to focus for about 5 minutes on a task that is a learning activity. He can focus for a lot longer on a game that he’s engaged in. So motivation is a key factor. This is a clue for adults trying to get kids to focus –try to make the task interesting or fun!

    Other things that will help expand on your child’s ability to focus that you might like to try in the holidays:

    1. Limit time spent on electronic games and TV

    Most children’s games and TV are designed to be very fast-moving –they flick from one image and idea to the next very quickly, discouraging sustained thought and puzzling out solutions. Several US studies have found that too much time in front of a screen can affect development of the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning, attention and self-control.

    2. Encourage activities involving sustained thought and listening

    Get children interested in construction toys, craft and jigsaw puzzles and give them mysteries to solve such as on http://kids.mysterynet.com/ Play games that involve careful listening like Simple Simon.

    3. Provide opportunities for physical release of energy and enough sleep

    4. Make sure kids are getting enough ‘down time’

    Kids need down time to just think and be creative. Make sure they have some non-scheduled time where they can just gaze out the window and come up with some brilliant scheme.

    5. Use descriptive praise

    When we praise our children descriptively and specifically it really focuses their attention on what they’re doing in a much more effective way than by pointing out what they get wrong. Comment when they’re focused on a task and they’ll do it more.

    6. Build your child's emotional intelligence

    Research shows that parents can influence the development of the pre-frontal cortex and encourage emotional intelligence in their children by recognising and validating their children’s feelings. When they do this children can process their feelings and move on. This greatly assists focus. Kids can’t pay attention to learning tasks when they’re consumed by emotions.

    When you ask them to do something just get them to do one thing

    Children under 8 can’t retain more than 2-3 pieces of information at one time.

    If you use these 7 fun, easy ideas your child’s ability to focus will definitely improve. If you found this useful please share it, and look for more interesting tips on www.theparentpractice.com. We’d love to hear from you –what can your child spend hours on?

  • Little Wedding Guest

    Whilst the main preoccupation most of us Mum’s have on receipt of a wedding invitation is what shall I wear. When the little ones are invited too, the questions invariable multiply – with the most pressing two often being: what do they wear and how am I going to keep them on their best behaviour for an entire day?

    The Outfit: Boys

    Even for us grown ups, we want to know what type of wedding its going to be so we can dress appropriately. This isn’t however just about fashion, there is nothing worse than spending the entire day trying to pull your 6” heels out of slightly soggy garden turf. The same goes for kids of both sexes. So firstly work out if its going to be more ‘city chic’ or ‘classic country’. With that ticked, finding the right shoes and outfit will become a lot easier.

    Country weddings are great for kids as invariably there is loads of space for them to run and play, so bear this in mind when selecting an outfit. For boys, unless it is very formal, for a country wedding, we would avoid suits, as chances are your boys will be want to charge about and get hot and sweaty, making a suit both impractical and impossible to keep smart. Instead why not try accessorizing a plain trouser and shirt combination with a cute bowtie or tie. Not only does this look adorable but it keeps them looking smart without them feeling constrained. We’d then add either a blazer or sleeveless tank top, as both look super smart but are easily taken on and off.

    For a city wedding suits are fabulous – they look stylish and even after a long day he will still be looking cute. When buying a suit as tempting as it is to buy large so it lasts, don’t overdo it as little ones quickly look swamped in suits and you will have real problems with the fit, so it is rarely worth it. If suits are too formal, then a classic pair of linen trousers and a shirt with a subtle print. We’d avoid anything too bold, unless it is a solid colour. Another alternative that we love, are French shorts (think long ¾ length shorts). These can look both adorable and very smart and only need to be paired with a plain shirt or you can add a bit of extra flourish with a bowtie. Just make sure you have the right shoes as they will be on show!

    The Outfit: Girls

    The options for girls are endless. For country we’d choose something with a pretty print that is loose fitting so she can run and play as much as the boys. Light colours are great for summer but with all the canapés and cake you may want a print that doesn’t show every tiny mark. You will also be asking her to sit still for quite a while during the ceremony so if there is anything vaguely itchy or tight you’ll regret it. For the same reason we’d steer clear of bows and details she can fiddle with – its inevitable, they will break or fall off and there will be tears! The same goes for accessories, if she loves them great, if she doesn’t like her shoes or her hair band hurts her ears, it won’t last the day, so just leave it at home.

    For city weddings we love dresses with a simple silhouette, so think block colours and clean lines. Girls also love long dresses so these are perfect for weddings as it definitely makes them feel very special. If you are moving between venues don’t forget she may need a smart little coat or jacket so plan ahead, a scruffy cardigan or raincoat won’t quite cut it. Kids are often put at the front in the photos, so you need to make sure they great outfit isn’t ruined by an ill-matched coat or shoes. If you have gone simple on the dress you can go to town a bit with the hair, but keep it soft and pretty. Braids are big this season so are a good place to start.

    As Good as Gold

    Now it might be a little old fashioned to want your children to be ‘seen and not heard’ but as much as most people love to have them there and want them involved, it really isn’t their day and you have to be more than mindful about how the bridal couple might feel about children running riot on their big day. So as tempting as it is to let them entertain themselves whilst you knock back the champagne, even with all the grandparents, aunts and uncles there, as we all know, this is still very much your watch.

    The trickiest part is always going to be getting through the wedding ceremony itself. As with everything, prepare them for what is about to unfold, if you aren’t regular church-goers, talk to them about the ceremony, the hymns, readings and sermon - that way they know what to expect. If you have a baby, it goes without saying, if you can, sit at the back and next to the aisle. If they start grizzling get up and go, don’t just hope it will stop – if they sense you starting to get stressed then things will only escalate. With older ones when the fidgeting strikes, it is very tempting to offer up your phone – this definitely works, but all too often at some point they manage to accidentally switch the sound, drop it or start to ask you loud questions about the game they are playing with. If you can and they are old enough, as an alternative approach, try and engage them in the ceremony – give them a little pop quiz to fill in – how many bridesmaids are there? How many hymns did we sing?

    Not only will this help keep their attention but it may help them enjoy the ceremony rather than feel its simply to be endured. If they are too small - bribery is also a very useful tactic that we certainly wouldn’t frown on. Packets of raisin or Haribo for extreme situations, do keep them quiet, so keep them handy.

    The reception itself is generally much easier to manage as more often than not, there are other kids to play with or doting relatives to help occupy them. Do bring snacks as it’s a long day and the canapés are probably not going to be to their liking. In a similar way, the wedding breakfast might not be suited to little ones so be prepared as the chef and waiting staff might not be able to quickly rustle up some fishfingers and peas. Our other top tip is to make sure they know when to expect bedtime. With the party in full swing, they aren’t going to want to leave and this could lead to a full on meltdown after a wonderful but exhausting day.

    However the day goes, weddings are such special days that you are building memories as a family, both good and bad, that will last well beyond the day itself. So keep a sense of humour, a smile and a great pair of heels always helps.

  • Can boys play with dolls?

    I think parents these days are often mindful about stereotyping on the basis of gender and try to avoid it by not dressing their children in ‘gendered’ colours (but did you know that up until the early 20th century pink was thought of as a strong boys’ colour?), providing them with opportunities to play with toys and to take part in sports or activities generally associated with the opposite sex, exposing them to different role models (in literature and in reality) and speaking to them in gender neutral terms.

    But it’s actually really easy to get caught out by little gendered remarks that slip out unnoticed. For instance have you told either your sons or daughters to ‘man up’? What does that mean? If it means to toughen up and be strong is that an attribute just for men? If it means don’t give in to your feelings or don’t talk about your feelings or, worse, don’t have those feelings, what are we saying about men and emotions? The answer to that last question was made abundantly clear to me once when I was giving a workshop on Raising Boys. I was talking about encouraging boys to identify and manage their feelings when one father said “I would question my son’s masculinity if he was talking about his feelings”!

    Sometimes with the best of intentions we’ll say things like “big boys don’t cry.” In hundreds of little ways we give our sons the message that it is weak and unmanly to express emotion and to be a man is to cope on your own. Statistics show what terrible repercussions this has for adult men not seeking help when they need it –men don’t even go to the doctor let alone ask directions! More seriously the suicide rate is much higher in men than women.

    It’s just as problematic if we’re giving limiting messages to our daughters. Have we fallen into the trap of calling our daughters ‘bossy’ for behaviour that we would find acceptably assertive in our sons? I hope you’ve seen the wonderful you tube video ‘Run like a girl’ by Proctor & Gamble which aims to celebrate the phrase rather than allowing it to be derisory.

    And of course there is still much stereotyping in music, the media, video games and in film through images and the behaviours portrayed by men and women despite recent efforts by children’s programme makers. Certain ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ qualities are ascribed to men and women. And children will be exposed to a lot of gendered stereotypes in shops with pink and blue aisles and packaging as well as boy toys and girl toys.

    There is much that parents can do to avoid these stereotypes and to offer contrary images and messages to those absorbed through the media etc. But what if, in spite of your best efforts, your child is the one coming up with stereotypes for boys’ and girls’ behaviour?

    One parent told us that her three and a half year old son had been making comments like "only boys can play with this…" to which the mum responded that "Actually boys AND girls can play with the same toys!" she was curious as to where this fixed attitude came from as neither she or her husband had ever consciously stereotyped boys vs girls. She said she always tried to use gender-neutral words such as ‘firefighter’ instead of ‘fireman’ etc.

    It is perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate behaviour for a young child to explore his or her identity including gender roles. Research has shown that children may be born with gendered tastes in toys, in that girls prefer dolls over cars and nothing we do or say can change this! However up until the age of 12 months boys are equally interested in dolls. It is only after this age that boys show a preference for toys with wheels, whereas girls continue to prefer dolls. This suggests that this is attributable to social factors rather than genetics. By the age of 3 or 4 children have surprisingly definite ideas about what behaviour and dress is appropriate for boys and girls.

    By this age most children when interviewed give stereotypical answers about behaviours appropriate for male and female dolls -100% of the children interviewed in one study said the female doll liked to clean the house and took care of the babies while the male doll went out to work!

    These perceptions of ‘boys’ toys’ or ‘girls’ toys’ and dress and behaviour show a normal, healthy development of gender identity and a natural inclination to want to fit in with their sex. This adapting to belong is a sign of good social skills but parents are wise to offer contrary messages as well. The strongest message we can give our children is through what we model so if boys see their dad sewing on a button or cooking a meal they will think that is an appropriate activity for a male. Likewise if mum mends the fuses or changes a tyre then obviously women can do those things. Children will model themselves on the same gender parent so dads please let your sons know its ok to talk about your feelings.

    Children this age are very black and white –it’s only as they get older that they can understand the grey areas of life, including the idea that boys and girls can do things beyond the stereotypes.

    What do you do to discourage stereotyping? Does it work?

    If you found these ideas useful check out lots more of our resources on www.theparentpractice.com including our online course.

  • Best Present Ever for a Mum

    How would it be if your child turned around to you one morning and said “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..” and you knew that was because of what you had just done? You. Super mum. Deserving of the highest accolades on Mothering Sunday.

    A parent in one of our classes told us this is what her son said to her recently and it brought a tear to our collective eye.

    By way of background this mum told us that their usual experience of morning getaways was the all too familiar horror story of rushing, nagging, dawdling, nagging, feet-digging in, nagging, cheekiness, telling-off, daydreaming, SHOUTING, crying, threatening, more crying (this time mum) and pulling out of hair. We all know how it goes. She would wake the kids up in plenty of time and get herself dressed so that she’d be available to marshall everybody. She’d go into their rooms and no progress would have been made. At all.


    Nobody would have even started on getting dressed. And by now 20 minutes would have elapsed and the timetable would be seriously jeopardised. So she would berate them for not doing anything. They would look at her puzzled and she would wonder how she’d spawned such half-wits, and realise it must be her husband’s genes. Well when you’re working with poor material you have to be creative. So she’d try again. “If you get dressed and come downstairs quickly I’ll let you have Nutella on your toast.” She’d go downstairs thinking she’d provided the necessary incentive and get going on the lunch boxes.

    15 minutes later there would be no sign of anyone so she’d go back up again to find two half-dressed children playing with the Sylvanian families. More shouting and children wrangling ushering and they were downstairs but she felt like a worn our dish-cloth and it was nearly 8am.

    Well our mum had just done our class on Descriptive praise so she decided to try it. You know descriptive praise. You don’t? You don’t know about the magic key that unlocks cooperation? The secret formula to motivate your child? The thing that is guaranteed to bring a smile to a little face (and your child’s too) and that leads to “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..?” If you don’t know about descriptive praise you must be new to our blogs. If we didn’t tell you about it at every opportunity we would be derelict in our duty. We would be failing in our mission to bring happiness to the families of the world.

    So let us tell you now. It’s not rocket science. It does what it says on the tin. You just describe what they’re doing ….positively. You notice something small (and we mean small) that they’re doing that is good, or possibly that is not bad. And you mention it to them. Sometimes you’ll add what positive quality that behaviour shows.

    So you might say: “I see you two have got out of bed. That’s a good start to our day. That’s a lovely smile to get us off to a good beginning Jacob. Pause. Ella, you put out your clothes last night which will make things quicker this morning. That was really sensible, wasn’t it? You prepared for success! And you are getting really good at getting your dress on yourself. Would you like me to help with your tights? …Jacob I see you’ve got your pyjamas off now….Oh Ella, thank you for helping him with his shirt. What a kind sister. I love it when you two are being so helpful. I need to put lots of pasta pieces in the jar so Daddy can see what a great morning we had when he comes home.”

    And if you think nobody talks to their children like that, we concede it is different from the norm. But the norm is as described above. And the norm doesn’t lead to “Mummy, I think this is the best morning I have ever had…..”

    So what would you like? Would you like to talk a bit weirdly to your kids and watch them beam at you and each other, stand a bit taller in front of your eyes, feel more confident and be more cooperative? Would you like them to start their day feeling happy and thinking you’re the best mum in the world?

    We thought so. You are the best mum in the world, especially with descriptive praise in your toolkit.

    Start using descriptive praise today. It’s free and the results are miraculous. If you want to know more about it check out our face to face courses and our online courses here. Tell us how descriptive praise worked for you at admin@theparentpractice.com.

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