Category

Mental health

How to handle criticism of your parenting

By | Education, family, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments

Every parent has the right to raise their child in a way that they best see fit. Experts recognise many different, yet successful, forms of parenting and the fact that there is no one right way to support the well-being of our children.

It’s not only important to acknowledge various parenting methods, but also for parents to be aware that it’s okay to take time to work out what is right for you and your family. This is especially important as what might work for one parent might not work for you with your children. However, the various parenting techniques out there can lead parents to compare themselves to others or feel that they must try out the latest parenting trend, whether that suits their child’s unique needs or not. Parenting is also challenging to keep up with, you might have finally found what works with your child and the next thing you know, they’ve outgrown that stage and you need to try something else.

We are bound to make mistakes as parents, no one is perfect. With each day comes new hurdles and developmental milestones. Raising your children into well-rounded individuals won’t happen overnight, it’s a work in progress, a beautiful one, but work all the same. Unfortunately, with parenting also comes unnecessary criticism, whether this be from other family members, friends, or chatty mums at the school gates. Hearing negative comments about your parenting style can certainly hit a nerve and knock our confidence.

Ben Edwards, a self-confidence expert and relationship coach, has some excellent pieces of advice for handing criticism over your parenting.

Ask why they are criticising you.
If your own parents, for example, appear to be criticising you, it might only be because they feel close enough to you that they can comment on your family.

However, it’s important to ask why they are doing this and what they want to achieve from it. If they can see something you are doing isn’t working or can offer you a solution, ask them if that’s the case. Your parents are likely to want to help and guide you as you parent your child – letting them know how it’s coming across can be an easy way to change the tone.

Differentiate between criticism and advice
Quite often, especially with new parents, when someone offers you parenting advice it’s easy to assume they are criticising what you are currently doing or suggesting that you are getting something wrong. Sometimes, people really do just want to help. Differentiating between useful advice that you can take onboard and unhelpful criticism will help you to see who is worth talking to about parenting and asking for tips and who it’s best to ignore.

Listen to the experts
While it’s true that the only real expert about a child is their parents, if you are really unsure about what’s best, speak to a professional. A health visitor is there to help you ease into life with a baby, so if you are feeling overwhelmed about all the advice and/or criticism you seem to be receiving, ask someone who is specifically trained in the field.

Accept that everyone parents differently
You and your best friend might have done everything together and been very similar for years, but this can all change when you have children. If you and your best friend parent your children differently, accept that everyone is different and remind yourself that you parent in a certain way because it’s right for your children; everybody is unique and what works for one child may not work for another. This will help you to feel secure about the way you are doing things; just because your methods differ does not mean they are any less justified or productive. If you feel your friend is being critical, discuss this openly and be honest about your feelings.

Be confident
When people see you parenting your child in a way that they think is different or don’t agree with, they’ll often feel like they need to comment on it. Sounding confident and certain that that’s the way you do things, with phrases such as “it works for us so we don’t plan to change that until we have to” or “thank you for your ideas but I’ve decided to do this” will clearly show people, in a polite way, that you are secure in your parenting style and this will make it less likely for people to offer unwanted advice.

For more self-confidence and relationship advice, visit www.benedwards.com

The benefits of yoga for children

By | children's health, fun for children, Health, Mental health, Sport, Uncategorized | No Comments

by Charlie Nash
YogaFrogs

We potentially think of yoga as something for adults, yet yoga has so much to offer everyone beyond the adult learners. It’s no wonder then that a growing number of children and families are opting to participate in yoga classes tailored for children. With many yoga teachers now offering yoga for both children and their families, there’s plenty of opportunity around Sussex to experience this, whether it might be in your local community hall, yoga studio, festival, after-school club or a 1:1 session in the comfort of your own home.

Yoga was developed up to 5,000 years ago in India as a comprehensive system for well-being on all levels; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. In the West we often focus on the physical aspect of yoga. The other elements, which go hand-in-hand with the physical, are starting to be recognised and shared with students both young and old alike.

These benefits are being recognised by educational authorities across the country with more primary and secondary schools acknowledging the benefits yoga has on their students’ mental and physical health, particularly around SATS and other public exams.

In an age where technology has taken over our lives, the benefits of yoga couldn’t be in greater need. Whether we like it or not, children and adults are bombarded with information overload from television, the Internet and smartphones. It’s said that in the course of a day, the average person in a western city is exposed to as much data as someone in the 15th century would encounter in their entire lifetime.

Yoga allows children to take time out from all of the above. With continued practice there’s a wealth of benefits that can enrich their entire lives all the way through to adulthood. Yoga is not only fun, it encourages children to think freely and let their imaginations go wild, as they explore the many asanas (postures) that link to nature and animals. Children thoroughly enjoy the connections with their bodies, with movement helping to promote self-awareness of their limbs, joints and muscles from a young age. Yoga subtly teaches us about the interconnectedness of our bodies. From toes and jaws, to heart and lungs. This allows us to keep every part of our body alive and supple, no matter how small.

With regular practice children can find deeper concentration, which may have positive effects in both school and family life. This is achieved through the opportunity and encouragement to clear the mind and to focus single-handedly on each asana at a time. Beyond the physical, yoga teaches children to quiet the mind through different relaxation and breathing techniques. This can help with anxiety and stress, being a skill the children can practise anytime and anywhere.

Children learn to be non-competitive and non-judgemental of themselves and others. They learn to share and take turns with other children in the class, promoting kindness and gratitude from a young age. They learn, through yoga, that they are OK just the way they are and don’t need to compare themselves to others. This allows them to become more accepting and understanding of not only themselves, but also everybody else around them.

The Dalai Lama said “If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation”. With a rapidly expanding and growing world, this quote could not be more relevant. Allowing children to be grounded and centred in their thoughts is one of the greatest gifts we can give. Making sure their true nature is made up of compassion, love, and wisdom, which can then be shared with the world.

YogaFrogs – bringing weekly yoga, mindfulness, meditation and creativity to children, teens and families across East and West Sussex,
www.yogafrogs.co.uk

Discover how to be a better parent and not feel guilty

By | dance & Art, Education, family, fun for children, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments
Top tips from Justine van de Weg,
The Arts College Worthing

As parents it is very easy to feel that we are not doing it right and we are often asked the same questions; How do I become a better parent? What am I doing wrong? I just want my child to be happy, why can’t I understand them? How do I deal with their outbursts, anger and anxiety? Why are they OK at school all day and then difficult at home? How do I say ‘no’ to my child without feeling guilty?

Here are five top tips to help you keep the balance of parenting (without feeling guilty).

1. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can
It is very easy for us as parents to compare ourselves to others and feel that we are in some way failing. The world bombards us 24/7 via social media with unrealistic images. This can make you feel that you should be able to achieve more. Life is often very hectic and many of us are faced with work and home life balance battles every day.

Ask yourself these questions:
• Do I feel guilty and upset after an argument?
• Do I sometimes feel out of control?
• Do I feel like a broken record; constantly repeating the same instruction?
• Do I feel burnt out and tired?
• Do I feel whatever I try is just not working?

All these questions that you ask yourself reveal the following:
• You care – that is why you often worry
• You are prepared to learn new parenting skills when you don’t feel judged or criticised
• You will naturally look at other parents and compare yourself forgetting they are doing the same with you!

Remember, when you compare yourself to other parents you are only witnessing them with their children on their good day. If you really think about it, you have some good days and some bad days but when you are tired the bad days can feel overwhelming and out
of control.

2. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries
What is a boundary? Factually saying aloud what you do not like somebody to say or do to you without becoming personal. Many parents become confused with the word boundary as they assume they are destructively disciplining. You can set the boundary with a calm approach, whilst being open to listening to your child without taking it personally.

Boundaries are healthy actions that allow you to:
• Say what you do or don’t like
• Explain how an action or situation makes you feel
• Want to resolve, instead of win an argument.

Boundary setting can become unclear when you ask your child to do something and threaten them with a consequence but do not follow it through. This is where the repeating of the instruction can feel like listening to a broken record.

Examples; “Can you please wash the dishes.” “This is the second time I’ve asked you to wash the dishes.” “By the time I ask you for the third time to wash the dishes, there will be a consequence of
not watching the movie with
us tonight.”

How many of you stick to the third request and follow through with the clear consequence?

When you are tired you feel yourself giving in and once again the feeling of being ‘a broken record’ arises. Simple, clear boundary setting helps your child understand what you expect from them and what you want them to do.

3. When you ask, give in return
If you want your child to work with you, help with chores and to work together as a team, show them their effort pays off. We all love to feel appreciated and if they are rewarded with a thank you or praise it will make for a happier household (this reward does not always have to be financial, you will mostly find your child just wants to do an activity with you).

4. Giving the special one hour
Every day switch off your phone and enjoy fully engaging without any interruptions and doing activities led by your child. It sounds obvious but how many times do you reach for the phone whilst your child is talking to you or wants your attention?

5. Have a clear routine or schedule
A routine schedule clearly defines to your child when they are spending time with you. Having a monthly calendar on the wall helps them to understand when you ask them to do chores, they will feel they are being rewarded and appreciated by spending quality time with you. If you have more than one child, they can see when it is their turn to do something special with Mum
or Dad.

In conclusion, start being kind to yourself and realise when you are tired, you can ask for help (this is not a sign of weakness) and don’t be afraid to delegate. Trying to do it all by yourself is something that you will never be able to achieve!

Justine van de Weg is the Founder of The Arts College in Worthing.
Art Psychology is a new area of study – a tool for parents to learn how their children’s brain grows as well as develops emotionally and socially in their home.
Call 01903 529 633
www.justine86.wixsite.com/kidsartclasses

“I can’t do it – yet!” Growth mindset and the teenage brain

By | children's health, Health, Mental health | No Comments
by Nick Forsyth
Head of Wellbeing, Kingston Grammar School

The teenage brain is a truly remarkable thing. In recent years, researchers have revealed far more of its secrets and, in particular, how it differs fundamentally from the adult brain. While it has a greater capacity to learn and create, we now know that areas of the brain that control behaviour, judgement and emotional control are the last to mature. This partly explains why adolescents are more prone to risk-taking behaviour, more susceptible to stress and mental illness and why they have an increased risk of developing an addiction.

Research into brain development has also given us new insights into how children actually think and learn. The terms ‘fixed’ and ‘growth mindset’ were first used by the world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck. The idea is very simple but has huge implications for the way we teach our children and how they see themselves.

The basic idea is this: children with a fixed mindset believe that being ‘good’ at a particular activity is something that they cannot control. Talent and even intelligence are fixed traits that you either have or don’t have. These children also tend to believe that talent alone can lead to success. Such a view is reinforced in a world where instant gratification is increasingly seen as the norm and where a toxic mix of social media, celebrity culture and rampant commercialism can lead to impossible expectations and an unrealistic sense of entitlement. Overnight success? Sign up for X Factor. Fame and fortune? No problem; become an Internet blogger or You Tuber.

Of course, the converse effect is that when things do get hard, as they inevitably will, children with a fixed mindset will show a lack of resilience or will simply give up. “I can’t do it, there’s no point.”

In comparison, children with a growth mindset understand that intelligence or being good at something is not a fixed characteristic but can be increased through effort, determination and sheer hard work. Mistakes and setbacks are seen as learning opportunities while success is rightly framed in the context of perseverance and trial and error. Now “I can’t do it” becomes “I can’t do it yet”.

There is now compelling evidence that teaching children about the power of growth mindset can dramatically improve a child’s academic performance and motivation to learn. In particular, when children understand that at this age their brains are highly malleable and grow stronger with effort and practice, they are far more willing to stick to a task or activity.

Over the last few years the idea of fixed verses growth mindset has gained considerable traction in education and teachers are now increasingly aware that their actions and, in particular, their feedback can subtly influence how their children perform. So praising innate ability – “you’re so talented at maths” – is likely to reinforce a fixed mindset while praising effort and hard work, “well done so far, now let’s see how we can improve” helps to develop a growth mindset.

The concept can also be taught to children in the context of success in sport or music or indeed any field. When asked about his success, Ed Sheeran said, “When people say you are so talented and you’ve been born with natural talent, I say ‘no’. You have to really learn and really practice.” Or Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, talking about his attitude to failure: “I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Growth mindset teaches children that their brains are not hard-wired but can grow and develop in the same way that their muscles get stronger as a result of training and exercise. This not only leads to higher academic attainment but it has dramatic effects on how children perceive themselves. Once they know that it’s normal to fail and get things wrong, we see improvements in self-esteem, resilience, having the confidence to try new things and less stress about exams and the need to be perfect. In short, happier, healthier children.

Kingston Grammar School is hosting a national conference on Growth Mindset, “I can’t do it – yet” on Wednesday 7th November 2018.

Kingston Grammar School, founded in 1561, is a leading co-educational independent day school for boys and girls aged 11-18 years. Kgs.org.uk

Balancing praise

By | children's health, Health, Mental health | No Comments

As a nursery owner, manager, Early Years Teacher and MA student I review research, reflecting on current practice and make judgements on how we can best support children’s emotional, social, physical and education needs. Recently, a couple came to me with an alternative approach to how they offered their child praise. It made me think more carefully about how praise is offered in my setting.

by Deborah Tidey, The Nest, Brighton

Like anything in child rearing there is no one sure fire approach that is going to guarantee a desired outcome. For each child comes with their own complex set of ever changing needs and personality traits. How we praise our children and its effects on the child’s natural enjoyment and appreciation in favour of being driven by pressure to perform or constraints is no exception to this rule.

Praise is the positive evaluation that one makes. It is different to feedback and acknowledgement such as “that’s right” or “you scored 80%”. When we offer praise, we are making a judgement.

On a whole, it is generally accepted by society that praise only has positive effects on children. We make a point to praise children for their accomplishments, and we expect our praise to enhance their motivation and boost their self-esteem. Parents are actively encouraged to be positive and praise their children to demonstrate their approval and encourage desirable behaviours.

In reality you may have observed a child who has given up on an activity when praise has been offered or a child who finds praise uncomfortable, particularly in social situations, or even a child who will deliberately misbehave to prove you wrong. In fact, you may be familiar with some of these feelings in your own exchanges as adults too, along with the pressure of needing to perform to the same standard next time or not taking a risk just in case you fail.

There is no questioning that praise does have beneficial affects too but praise cannot be administered haphazardly. Careful consideration should be given to sincerity of praise offered, what is being praised, whether it promotes autonomy, social comparisons and if realistic standards and expectations
are conveyed.

The process through which praise can reduce autonomy and serve as a controlling reward was described by Gordon (1989): “Praise especially acts as an extrinsic reward, and its effect on children is quite predictable. Children who are subjected to frequent praise learn to select only those things they think will please their parents and avoid doing those things that may not. While to some parents, this may seem very desirable, we know that such children are much less apt to become innovative, creative, self-directing. They learn to conform rather than innovate, and to follow a pattern known to bring praise rather than to experiment with something new.”

Only individuals who believe their actions have been autonomous are likely to continue performing that behaviour. So how can we continue to offer praise where praise is due and how can we avoid offering praise that may hinder a child’s autonomy?

It is well documented that praising the process rather than praising the product or person is beneficial to children’s outcomes. This will help the child to identify what they did that helped them to accomplish the result, thus highlighting their autonomous steps. For example, your child may have drawn a picture, instead of saying “it’s beautiful” or “you’re so clever” you may consider saying “I can tell that you have really focused on staying inside the lines” or “I can tell that you put lots of effort into that picture” or even “you could tell your friend really wanted to have a turn.”

Process praise focuses on the enthusiasm, effort, ideas, persistence or a specific problem solving approach. Process praise does not focus on a fixed quality of the child, such as being smart. By saying to a child “you are really smart” we are suggesting that they must be smart in order to qualify for praise, or that being smart is a fixed quality that cannot be changed. After receiving praise that focuses on the product or the person, children may later conclude, “My successes made me clever, therefore my difficulties make me dumb”. Children who receive process praise are more likely to rise after setbacks, try harder and are less likely to give up. Process praise also demonstrates a deeper sincerity by focusing on steps specific to the goal the child is trying to reach. Always saying “It’s beautiful,” “well done,” or “clever girl” seems to carry less meaning when we have said it 100 times.

So continue praising your children, giving careful thought to how your words may be interpreted by them. Try using process praise to help your children develop a more resilient approach to learning and to become more autonomous learners.

Deborah Tidey is an Early Years Teacher, Director and Manager at The Nest, Brighton. We have spaces in our brand new nursery and preschool in Queens Park, Brighton and limited spaces at our Outstanding nursery in Hove.
www.thenestnurseryschool.co.uk

Slime time!

By | Education, fun for children, Mental health, Uncategorized | No Comments
by Sharon Me
Creator and Director of Artpod Ltd

Are your children obsessed with Slime? Have they taken over the kitchen with home-made recipes from YouTube, only for you to hear the cries of it didn’t work! Like all good recipes and experiments the devil is in the detail and with a few kitchen ingredients you can have some great fun with your children.

There are several different ways to make Slime, and you can, of course, experiment with using different ingredient sand different amounts to produce varying textures, colours and consistencies.

Here is my favourite Slime to make at home – corn flour Slime also known as Oobleck. This recipe is brilliant for all ages and abilities and is the easiest to make and play with.

Ingredients:
• 1 cup of corn flour
• Up to a quarter cup of water
• Plastic sheet to keep your kitchen table free of mess!

Instructions:
Mix the ingredients together adding a small amount of water at a time in a bowl and you’re done! Yes, that’s it! The more water you add the more dribbles you will get and the more corn flour, the thicker the Slime.

This Slime is, in fact, a non newtonian fluid, which means it simply cannot make up its mind as to whether it is a liquid or a solid! A good way to explain this is by showing how different forces work.

Ask your children to try and pick up the Slime in a ball and they will find it is quite tricky to pick up and that it runs through their fingers.

Next, ask them to pick some Slime up and quickly roll it into a ball in their hands really, really fast. The motion and force of the movement will keep it in a ball until they stop rolling, at which point it will trickle through your fingers again. All very messy but great fun!

Experiment with making more Slime by increasing the quantities and your little scientists could even try walking on Oobleck! This time, make the Slime in a large washing up bowl so that it is ankle deep. Use at least two packets of 400g corn flour, add water and mix to the same consistency as before.

Then ask your little scientists to try the following experiment.

Take their shoes
and socks off, roll up trousers or skirts and then challenge them to jump up and down on the Oobleck and see what happens.

It is a good idea to hold their hands at this point as they can get very excited (also put some old towels down in advance to soak up the splashes!)

Your little scientist will find that the force of jumping up and down causes the Slime to become temporarily solid – however, the second they stop jumping they will start to slowly sink into the Oobleck, which usually creates giggles galore!

To escape from the Oobleck, lift one foot up at a time and let the Slime dribble into the bowl before stepping on to the towel and then repeat with the second foot. Again, hold their hands to help them keep their balance.

Glow-in-the-dark Oobleck
If you want to take the science a bit further you may want to try to make glow-in-the-dark Slime – all you need is cheap indian tonic water to replace the regular water in exactly the
same quantities.

Tonic water will fluoresce under ultraviolet light, owing to the presence of quinine. In fact, the sensitivity of quinine to ultraviolet light is such that it will appear visibly fluorescent
in direct sunlight. You can also try making a mini darkroom with a regular pop up tent and a small black light torch or UV torch. This will make your Slime really glow!

Cleaning up afterwards
Remove any large quantities of Slime and put it in the bin.
Any additional splashes on clothes or carpets are best left to dry as the corn flour dries back into a powder and can then be vacuumed up. Then wipe over the surface with cold soapy water.

Sharon Mee is Creator and Director of Artpod Ltd who design and deliver parties, workshops and events for all ages and abilities. Creativity and fun are at the heart of what we do!
We believe in the power of the imagination and experimentation and that through the process of creating something, magical things can happen!

A guide to spotting loneliness in children

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health, Relationships | No Comments
by Karen Dolva
CEO and co-founder of
No Isolation

Loneliness, like many psychological distresses, is difficult to spot. Recently, it has been extremely present in the national news and has been labelled an epidemic. The fact that loneliness has been increasing as a topic of discussion is very important, as one of the biggest issues is the taboo that surrounds it.

Loneliness is difficult to describe and verbalise, and children especially can struggle with this. They may understand that something is wrong, but not grasp how to verbalise their feelings, or even if they should. Spotting ‘symptoms’ of loneliness is difficult, as loneliness is a very subjective feeling. It is not possible to give a ‘one size fits all’ diagnosis. To give one could mean that some lonely children are overlooked, or children experiencing depression or anxiety are misdiagnosed.

Parents may often sense that something is wrong, but spotting and understanding the exact trigger can be difficult. Having spent the last two years researching and trying to fully comprehend the depth of the problem, I share below my best suggestions to spotting loneliness in children:

Normalise loneliness
For adults, loneliness is a stigma, which means that often we are not open enough about it with each other, let alone with our children. Creating a taboo around loneliness makes it a subject people can be very self-conscious or shy about.

As a consequence of this taboo, many people are not educated on what loneliness actually is, or what it feels like. In the British news, several people in different newspaper articles admit that they either did not recognise the feeling of loneliness or did not understand that they were lonely. They thought it was something typically experienced by older people, and that they were too young.

In truth, loneliness is a normal, but also very subjective, feeling. Typically, when simplified, the feeling is best described as a discrepancy between desired and actual social contact. Loneliness does not discriminate on age or borders, and at some point in life we all experience it. Big changes in our lives make us particularly vulnerable. Despite loneliness being something many experience, the magnitude varies from person to person.
To understand this, we have to start making loneliness a topic that we feel comfortable discussing.

Big changes make children vulnerable
As children grow older, they become more aware of big changes, and are more acutely aware of the impact that these changes can, and do, have on their environment.

This shift makes them more vulnerable to feeling lonely. This is especially common in children moving from primary to secondary school, or to a different city or country as they experience changes in their environment, their routines and their peer groups. Because this, to an adult, is ‘normal’, it can mean that those suffering from chronic loneliness and isolation during this period of childhood can be overlooked.

When talking with Dr Gerine Lodder, who researches loneliness amongst young people, she shared that “80% of parents underestimate or overestimate the level of loneliness of their child”. This could be for a number of reasons, and could include overlooking a chronically lonely child, or assuming loneliness and social isolation when the problem is quite different. To avoid this, parents should be open with their children about what these changes might mean for them, and receptive to their concerns, apprehensions or fears.

What to do when loneliness has been spotted?
Parents have the role of spotting loneliness, and discussing it
with their child. However, some cases of loneliness and social isolation are chronic, and once this is identified further help should be sought.

3-10% of children experience chronic loneliness, that cannot simply be cured by meeting new people, and may need the help of a professional. It is important that parents try to understand if the feeling is from internal or external factors, if it is new and if it is solvable. That way they can start to work on a solution.

Social isolation can be obvious in some circumstances, for example a child who has no friends or social contact and struggles to fit into their environment. Yet, as mentioned above, many can feel lonely without recognising the emotion or without actually being socially isolated.

My best tip: To spot if your child is lonely, you need to explain the emotion and normalise it. Distinguish the difference between this and other emotions, and figure out the magnitude of your child’s experience. The stigma around loneliness needs to be broken. If children learn that being lonely is a failure by them socially, then they are less likely to admit it is something they are feeling.

Being lonely is a very normal feeling that we all experience from time to time, and opening up the discussion around loneliness will help children verbalise their feeling and, in turn, allow parents to give them the help that they need.

(www.noisolation.com) an Oslo-based start-up founded in 2015, with the goal of reducing involuntary social solitude.

Dealing with our children’s stress

By | children's health, Health, Mental health, Uncategorized | No Comments
by Antonia Beary
Headmistress, Mayfield School

Every other news headline seems to be telling us that our children are stressed and miserable. How can this be when, arguably, there has never been a better time to be alive (at least in the First World)? Our standard of living is higher than ever: what used to be considered luxuries like central heating or television, are now basic necessities. There are many exciting opportunities available for all of us to travel, learn and communicate. But perhaps too much choice is not always a good thing. Perhaps, in working so hard to offer our children the things that we didn’t have, in making things easier for them, we are actually depriving them of more formative experiences.

Now don’t misunderstand me. Undoubtedly there is an ever-increasing range of pressures on young people. Clearly there is pressure to perform in school from an early age and testing is taking an increasingly high profile in a young person’s life. 11+ exams have much to answer for in this respect. They face unrealistically and consistently high expectations of academic achievement, with consequential loss of all sense of perspective. This is exacerbated by relentless, unfiltered exposure to social media and explicit advertising, not to mention – albeit more insidiously – the implicit assumption that any view, and increasingly all choices, are equally valid; resulting in an inevitable undermining or at least confusion over moral values. How can we help them?

Well, don’t expect them to be perfect. Certainly don’t wrap them in cotton wool and try to solve all their problems for them, although conversely don’t entirely cast them off to fend for themselves. Taking responsibility is difficult enough for adults, let alone children, so allowing boys and girls to make potentially life-changing decisions for themselves can be immensely stressful. As parents, our job is to guide and to step in to make those difficult decisions, while teenage brains (let alone their hormones) are in a state of flux. We are able to see the bigger picture. Sometimes we have to be unpopular, but this setting of boundaries is a crucial part of being a parent. While there may be some similarities, the role of parent is far more important than the role of friend.

It’s a difficult line to walk and one that all parents have to accept that they won’t always navigate as effectively as they might hope! Individuals have to make their own mistakes, but they need to be well supported by appropriate pastoral care and firm boundaries. In this respect it is key that schools and parents work together and league tables don’t give you any indication of how well this is done! At our school, we encourage our girls to be independent and to be aspirational, albeit to expect to achieve their goals through hard work. However, managing expectations is important. Mistakes are a vital part of their journey. You can’t always do your best (if you could, it would just become average). Sometimes being just good enough will get you through.

Retaining a sense of perspective is key. A certain amount of stress is normal and, dare I say it, healthy. While undoubtedly the number of individuals coping with mental illness is growing, now that we have a generation which is increasingly confident in talking about mental health issues, the term is being used increasingly loosely. What does “issues with mental health”mean? We are told that most teenage girls are miserable most of the time. That’s certainly not what I see on a daily basis.

We need to realise that not every emotional issue is a threat to mental health. Young people, in particular, get stressed and have periods when they feel low; when they feel overwhelmed by everything from the pressure of school work (yes, A Levels are harder than GCSEs, and rightly so), to the state of the world we live in. Feeling emotional does not mean necessarily that you are struggling with mental health issues – it suggests you are a normal human being in a difficult world. Each individual’s malaise will a take different form. This too is normal: we are not all the same. In fact it’s quite important that children learn how to deal with pressure and manage situations not working out quite as they (or you as parents) might have hoped. What is important is that they develop strategies to cope and do not always feel they have to manage on their own: teachers, family and friends are there to support and help them discern a way through.

This is not to say that individuals don’t suffer serious mental health issues: clinical depression is a serious medical condition which needs to be supported professionally. But we need to have a sense of proportion. There is a difference between bruising your knee and amputation – one is irreparable, but a bruise (much as it may hurt at the time) is part of everyday life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that cuts and bruises cannot be avoided if you are living life to the full and being fully human. We don’t want our young people to be reckless, but we do need them to be able to take risks and even get bored occasionally. Being creative means that they will get things wrong and this can be stressful, but it is not life-threatening. If necessity is the mother of invention, fewer choices and less sense of entitlement might just be the best way to help your children achieve the success they deserve.

Antonia Beary is Headmistress at Mayfield School, a leading Catholic independent boarding and dayschool for girls aged 11 to 18.
She is also currently Chair of CISCand Hon Treasurer of GSA.

Are children being over-protected in the digital age?

By | Education, Health, Mental health | No Comments

Heavy-handed approaches to issues around social media and digital communication such as ‘sexting’, may be damaging to children’s emotional development, according to research on childhood in the digital age, by academics at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and Plymouth University.

 

 

The researchers interviewed children who told them most of their online activities were relatively harmless. The children said they were aware of explicit images being passed around but had rarely been personally involved – however, parents and teachers were often unnecessarily anxious.

Some children described how their parents would monitor their phones and emails, doing regular spot-checks or even receiving copies of all their texts or online messages. In some cases, the youngsters were even tracked using GPS. Teachers, too, would examine the contents of pupils’ phones.

“There is a serious risk that the next generation of our society develops in a way that makes them think they have no right to privacy,” said Dr Leaton-Gray and Professor Phippen in their book ‘Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood’.

The researchers argue such heavy-handed approaches can often be counterproductive, and that teenagers who do transgress online are behaving rather like those who, in the past, might have made rude gestures from the back seat of a school coach on the motorway.

Dr Leaton-Gray said: “Something that was a 10 second thing on the school bus now becomes a permanent feature of your life. We need to be a bit more laid back about the fact that it’s happening, and spend more time and energy on educating children about their privacy rights instead. To put it simply, it’s almost always
wrong to pass on images and personal data without permission, and victim blaming is not the answer.”

Punitive approaches can be unnecessary and even damaging. For example, the response to incidents of ‘sexting’ has often been to threaten to involve the police. This contradicts police guidance, which suggests those who send offensive ‘sexts’ rarely pose an ongoing threat, and that prosecution is therefore not usually the best approach. The authors argue that laws, which were designed to protect vulnerable young people from abusive adults, are actually being used against them.

Similarly, schools have often misused the Data Protection Act in defence of decisions not to allow parents to take photographs events such as plays – which are not covered by the Act – while breaching it themselves by using pupil photographs without explicit consent in their own prospectuses and on their own websites.

The authors say that schools need to face the demands of living in a digital world and that we need policy, practice and national coordination, which acknowledge, rather than shies away from, the challenges that arise from growing up in the 21st century.

Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood’ by Sandra Leaton-Gray and Andy Phippen is published by UCL IOE Press.

Understanding childhood and separation anxiety as a parent

By | Mental health, Relationships | No Comments
by Stacey Turner
author of I’m Going To Nursery

As a professional I have helped many children to overcome separation fears and settle at nursery and during the early years of primary school. It’s much more common than people think, and even in those children who don’t usually suffer; all children have the wobbles at some time! I have undertaken a lot of research and I’ve been through an extreme situation of separation anxiety that was borderline separation anxiety disorder, experiencing first-hand what it is like with my eldest daughter. Having experienced the situation on both sides, as a parent and a teacher, I can offer you the reassurance that we can support our little ones through this difficult time.
I can promise you, it’s not naughty behaviour! Anxiety is an emotion. It’s anxious thoughts creeping in – usually in the expectation that something bad is going to happen – and the anxiety takes over. They manifest in how your child’s body reacts to these anxious thoughts in a fight or flight way. While every child and family are different, the basic patterns of anxious thinking, physical and behavioural symptoms appear in a similar way.

The crux of it is, we want to alleviate and overcome anxiety. It’s not only traumatic for the child, it is for the parent/s and can be for the whole family. It’s like a domino effect that impacts people along a chain, as the family group tries to handle the distress. If we don’t try and overcome anxiety, it can end up having greater effects on children and their families as they get older.

How do we tackle anxiety and stop it becoming all encompassing or a problem in the future?
• By acknowledging this emotion and working to break the thought pattern and/or learning to manage thoughts.
• By offering lots and lots of reassurance and showing our little ones that it’s okay to feel this way, but it doesn’t have to be like this!
• By facing fears and becoming ‘brave’, we teach our children confidence, resilience and to be problem solvers, which is an incredible achievement.

What is separation anxiety?
Anxiety is provoked in a young child by separation, or the threat of separation, from the child’s mother, father, or primary carer. Separation anxiety is often a normal stage of childhood development from approximately eight months (sometimes younger, as was our case for little Molly) to five years, sometimes older. It can reappear at times of change
and stress.

Separation anxiety disorder:
Children with separation anxiety disorder feel constantly worried or fearful about separation. You may be dealing with a child who is constantly refusing to be separated from you, displaying panicked reactions and complaining of physical symptoms that can’t
be soothed.

How do I know if my child has anxiety issues?
Crying, screaming, shouting, throwing a tantrum and clinging to the main carer are healthy and normal reactions and vary in length and intensity between each child. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits. With the right support, children can usually overcome separation in time. Each child is different and this needs to be taken into consideration.

If your child has separation anxiety they may:
• Be very clingy.
• Retreat to a corner or hide under furniture.
• Have difficulty settling back to a calm state.
• Be reluctant to go to sleep. When a child closes their eyes, you disappear and this can stimulate nightmares, sometimes they are very scary.
• Wetting or soiling the bed.
• Experience lots of toileting accidents.
• Refuse to go to nursery, preschool or school, even if your child likes it there usually and enjoys being with their friends.
• Complain of physical sickness such as a headache or stomach ache just before/at the time of separation.

• Fear something will happen to a loved one.
• Worry that they may be permanently separated from you.
• Have little appetite or pick at and complain about food.

If your child’s separation anxiety seems to appear overnight, there is the possibility it could stem from a traumatic experience and is not separation anxiety. The symptoms may appear the same, but are treated differently.

According to the website
www.mentalhealth.org.uk, anxiety disorders are estimated to affect 3.3% of children and young adults in the UK. Other websites indicate this percentage to be higher.

To stop anxiety manifesting, it is important we face and overcome it together.

Stacey Turner, is a mum, teacher and author of ‘I’m Going To Nursery’ and other books in the My Tiny Book series.
For further information go to
www.mytinybook.com.