Tag Archives: parenting

Start of a new academic year

 

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The bulk of my work is as a nurture consultant, supporting 4 yr olds in their reception year. Starting school is a major transition and can be so overwhelming for children and parents. The children I and my colleagues support have been identified as needing some extra nurture and extra support. However, in the first few days and weeks, all the new children ( and many of the parents ) need that extra nurture and support. The move to school is such a big change, even for those children who have been in early years settings full time. They are taking on so much new information, new experiences, there are not as many staff as there were in the nursery, the school is often louder, bigger, lots of children. There are many new noises, sights, sounds, smells, everything is often different, that can be so overwhelming even for the most confident and able child.

With all these new changes children will often be exhausted, I often hear parents who have had children in full-time nursery say that school shouldn’t be any different. It is important to understand that change is tiring, change makes us as adults feel exhausted. Think about when you started a new job; I bet you were exhausted at the end of the week; it is just the same with our children. The brain is taking on so much new information, it is working so hard, and this is tiring. So my tip is whether your child is starting infant school, junior school or senior school expect them to be very tired at the end of the week. Acknowledge this and support them with these feelings, they may well be more snappy, emotional, irritable, be there for them in these feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and validate those feelings for them. It is ok to be tired and to feel overwhelmed and to feel a bit scared at the start of something new. Be kind and gentle to them; this is a time of big change, they need to be supported and nurtured.

Also as parents, this can be a hard time for us, many of us cried when our child started school or senior school ( or university!), we can feel worried about how they will survive, overwhelmed by the change that is happening. Be kind to yourself, offer yourself kind words, do something that makes you feel happy, that might be eating cake or going for a run or a swim, speak to someone you know and trust about your feelings.

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How to nurture your teenager

 

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This is an article I co-wrote with my 17 yr old daughter for the Church times for mental health week.

Recognise and use emotion language with your teenager. Acknowledge how they are feeling. You could use words such as ‘I know you are feeling upset about falling out with your friend, it’s ok to feel cross and upset. When you are ready I am here to help you think about a way forward’. Make sure you don’t belittle their feelings or come up with immediate solutions for them, be there to hear them and listen to them. Help your teenager to use emotion language with themselves; many people learn at a young age to self-criticise, the words we say to ourselves can often be harsher than the words you would say to a friend, children and young people learn to do this at a young age. Help them to use kind words to themselves e.g. ‘I know I am feeling scared, that is ok and normal, it’s an exam, every 16 yr taking exams is feeling scared right now.’

Teach your teenager to be kind to themselves. If we can teach our teenagers to be self-compassionate, we are offering them a great life skill. Learning to be self-compassionate starts with having a good emotional vocabulary as mentioned above. Being kind to themselves is particularly important for girls and boys who are high achievers and have high expectations. Encourage them to recognise when they need to take a break from working hard, e.g. go outside, listen to their favourite music, read a book, have a drink or eat some food that makes them feel good. During exam time or when they are feeling very stressed, ask them each day, ‘what will you do today that makes you happy?’ Encourage them to think about things that are life giving to them e.g. seeing friends, going for a walk, doing some art, doing yoga, going for a run.
Help your teenager to navigate between being independent and having support. Summer Mainstone-Cotton (age 17) says ‘As teens, we think independence is expected of us from ourselves and society, however as teenagers, we are not fully grown yet, we experience so much turmoil during our lives during this stage. Yes, we are independent young adults, but we are still partly children. We need parents to support us emotionally through this, without being patronising, we need parents to empathise with our struggles instead of being judgmental, e.g. a 6th form student may not have enough time in their lives to balance school work, social life and earning money and they should not be pressured to. A teenager might feel overwhelmed with school or home, to nurture themselves they need social time outside the home/school with friends, they need to be supported in this.’

co-written with Summer Mainstone-Cotton. Photo by Summer.

How do we help children have a good wellbeing?

 

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Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off on a great start in life. To help children have a good wellbeing we need to be intentional about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved, they are loved for the unique and precious individual that they are. Parents and Grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that Key workers, Ta’s, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use, the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day, I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together.

If you work with children, think about how you welcome them each day. By showing warmth in your smile and your words, through noticing how they look; maybe they have a spiderman hat on or a new hair band in their hair. Through seeing things that are important to the children and telling them how delighted you are to see them, this helps a child to arrive feeling wanted and loved.

In my new book Promoting Young Children’s emotional wellbeing, I explore a few essential ways we can further help to embed this. Below are a few examples:
Playing outside– there is so much research showing the need for children to spend quality time being outside. Giving children opportunities to explore, discover, climb, run. As parents we can do this by taking walks each day, going to the park, going to a field. Playing bubbles outside is a joyful and cheap activity to do with children outside.

Sensory play– giving children the chance to explore with all their senses, children learn through exploring and using all their senses. A very simple example of sensory play is play dough; you can buy this very cheaply or make your own ( there are many recipes on Pinterest)

Using emotional language– We need to help children understand their feelings and emotions, by using emotion language and giving them an emotional vocabulary we are enabling them to understand their feelings and also other peoples. From babies we can start to talk about their feelings e.g when a baby is crying to be fed we can respond with gently saying ‘ it’s ok I know you are feeling hungry, I am going to feed you now’. With a toddler who is crying because their parent has left them at nursery we can say ‘ I can see you are really sad that Mummy has gone, she will be back later I am here for you now” .
Un-rushing & stillness– Our lives are often very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy too. We need to help children to find times to rest, to experience moments of stillness. Are there spaces in your setting or your home where your child can lay back and relax or daydream?. You can also use Yoga and Mindfulness with young children both of these practices help children to find stillness. CBeebies have a children’s program called Waybuloo which teaches different yoga poses.

Being creative– creativity is an essential part of wellbeing.We need to give children the space to be creative and to be creative with them. Find times to sing and dance with your children, dancing and singing together with your toddler can be a joyful experience. Giving children the opportunity to experiment with paint, chalks, making things with cardboard boxes, these will all help your child’s wellbeing.

Be co-explorers – Children have a passion for learning and discovering, they need adults around them who want to learn and explore with them. I believe one of our roles as adults is to be a co-explorer and adventure with our children. Children are great at becoming fascinated in something, this might be the snail and sticks on the road as you are walking to the shops, or it may be a fascination with dinosaurs. As adults, we can show interest and delight with children and learn alongside them.

Our wellbeing -And finally, if we are going to help children to have a good wellbeing we need to pay attention to our wellbeing. We need to take care of ourselves; we need to ensure we are eating well, exercising, having rest and doing things which make us happy.
I explore all these themes more fully in my book, this is available from Tuesday 21st March, it can be ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I am also discussing these in a workshop in Bath at Castle Farm Cafe on Thursday 6th April at 7pm,  book tickets on their website.

Teaching children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness now affects 1 in 4 people, during this week there has been more alarming figures and information about how mental health services in the UK are not adequately helping individuals who need it. Many of the children we work with will have family members who have a mental illness but do we talk to children about this?. In my experience we don’t, as professionals we feel awkward, uncomfortable, we often can’t find the words to explain to children about mental illness. Families also can find this hard; it is difficult to explain mental illness to a child. But if we don’t explain things to children, they will make up their stories, fill in the gaps, and the stories they use to fill in the gaps can often be worse than the real story.

Bipolar is one of those mental illnesses that can be hard to explain, I know this from my experience, as I grew up with a mum who had Bipolar, I knew she was ill, but I didn’t know what her illness was until I was 14 and sat in an assembly run by Mind. The story I told myself was that she was dying and then later I heard of cancer and presumed she must have that. Realising through the assembly that she was mentally ill and that she wasn’t dying, was a lightbulb moment.

I work with young children, and I knew there were no books available, for young children, explaining Bipolar, so from my experience of my mum, from working with families and many children, I decided to write a book.The book has been illustrated by a very talented illustrator Jon Birch.

Bipolar disorder affects thousands of people in the UK, and many of them are parents. Sophie and Katie’s Mummy is one of them. The story describes some of the highs and lows of having a Mummy with Bipolar from a child’s perspective, it is a gentle and thought provoking story of family life.

The book is for families, schools, children centres, nurseries, libraries, mental health units and GP practices to use as a resource to support children and families affected by Bipolar. For children and parents to be able to sit together and read the storybook and then be able to talk about the subject.

To order a copy go to my website

The nurturing role of Dad’s

 

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Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the role of Dad’s. Our daughters are 17 and 19, even before I was pregnant with our first baby we had conversations about our thoughts on the role of being a parent and the importance of both parents being nurturing,caring and engaged as parents. From my own experience, my Dad did a lot of the nurturing, caring, personal care when I was young, as my Mum was very ill for large amounts of my childhood. Also, I had been influenced and inspired by the way friends of ours, Jonny and Jenny Baker parented their boys, they shared a job between them and shared the childcare equally between them. From these experiences I knew that Dad’s have an important role to play in nurturing, caring, actively parenting their children.
When our own children arrived we decided to share the childcare between us, our girls had each of us caring for them 2.5 days a week. Nineteen years ago this was still fairly uncommon, sometimes people would question me if I trusted Iain to look after the girls, this always really annoyed me. In my parent’s generation nurturing parenting was often seen as a female role, the male role in parenting was often seen as either discipline or boisterous playing. I wanted my children to see that a Dad can be loving, caring, gentle, in touch with feelings and emotions as well as fun, playful with clear boundaries.

We both feel the decision we made to actively share the parenting role from the beginning and to intentionally both be nurturing, was the best decision we made for our family. I love seeing the relationship our girls have with their Dad, it is beautiful, rich and very loving. We are now in a new stage where our eldest daughter is about to leave home for university, often you hear of Mothers talking about their feeling of loss when children leave home, this is often attributed to them being the main carer or the main nurturer. We have recently realised you don’t hear Dad’s talking about their sense of loss, you rarely hear Dad’s express their sadness. I have had many intentional conversations with male friends recently, to hear their experiences and feelings around their children growing up. It is no surprise to hear men tell me how they felt deeply sad, anxious, worried, when their child started school, moved to secondary school or left home. When we are parenting in a nurturing, emotional way we will be effected with strong feelings when our children grow and develop, we will at times have moments of feeling a sense of loss and sadness. Of course, this is not unique to Mums, but to Dad’s as well and this is OK, we need to recognise it and acknowledge our feelings.