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helping children manage emotions, mindfulness

Helping Our Children Manage Their Emotions

My oldest daughter can cry. When she starts, my husband and I brace ourselves that she may cry for another half hour if we let her.

I have to be honest. My patience for it wears thin. I've read everything under the sun and do consider myself a good parent when it comes to being understanding and acknowledging feelings.

But sometimes it's hard. It's bloody hard because it doesn't work like the 'guru nannies' describe it. "If your child is sulking or having a hard time with something, acknowledge why she might be upset and validate her feelings on the subject- that, yes, it might be unfair. Then, offer her an alternative."

Sounds easy, right? Well, here's how mine went down.

Daughter finishes gymnastics. Comes outside, plays awhile in the playground, never mentioning anything is amiss. I say it's time to go. Five minutes into walk home, whining starts: "I'm thirsty", she says. I say, "wait ten minutes, we'll be home soon".

Whining gets louder and more insistent. Now turns to cries. We're literally seven minutes from home. "I'm thirsty!," she cries.

I say, "I know, I'm sorry, I should have brought water. You must be thirsty after gym. Can you wait?" "NOOOOOOOO!"

Sobbing starts. Real tears. I try to reason. I acknowledge her frustration, her thirst, I encourage her to hurry and it will take less time. I tell her her crying is probably making her more thirsty. It goes on... and eventually, I get angry and threaten her with all sorts of punishments/consequences if she  just doesn't stop.

Not my greatest mum moment. I get it. It's tough when you feel "h-angry"- as we like to call it- a combination of hunger and anger. But this was long. So hunger is a trigger. Now so is thirst. What about when she got home and had some water?

My daughter later confesses she couldn't stop crying. She just didn't know how. Heart brakes. I know she's a good kid. Though I tried to get her to calm down, she just didn't have the tools to manage her emotions.

It got me thinking, what can we as parents do to encourage our children to manage their emotions and calm down in those moments? Just like adults, kids get overwhelmed and don't have the tools or understanding to know that the moment will pass or to put it into perspective. In reality, I've been known to have a tantrum or lose it because I just needed to let it out.

So how can we allow kids to do the same without it getting out of control?

Here are a few tips..

  1. First step is realising that getting kids to calm down with words or distraction is not always possible. I was on my way home for example and I was doing everything I could to just speed through and try to talk her down. But I've found it goes a long way if I can just stop what I'm doing and hold her. Creating a space where she can feel safe and calm almost immediately helps her to calm down, stop crying and move on.  At least until we can sort out the matter that's upsetting her. The sobbing stops and she lets her body fall (literally) into me.
  2. Listening and responding. If I could, I would have gotten her that water. But I couldn't at that moment and I didn't have access to any. If she had said she wanted it ten minutes earlier, I would have needed to run back inside the gymnasium to get some. Because at that point, I would be able to see it coming. So the earliest signs should have been there to alert me to sort it out before it erupts. We talk about that later, knowing her body and when she might need to drink before it gets that bad.
  3. That's where the third tip comes in. Recognise and anticipate trigger points. By tracking her meltdowns, we've understood that my daughter gets 'unreasonable' (i.e. not herself) when her blood sugar is low. Carrying around extra snacks or recognising hunger or thirst before it happens is one more way to limit these episodes. Tiredness, attachment to certain things or people can also be triggers that you may wish to avoid if you know your child is triggered. I now make it a point to always have water and a snack.  She in turn, is more aware of her hunger or thirst when the crying begins.
  4. Safe words. When my daughter told me that she couldn't calm down because she didn't know how, it made me realise she needed to tell me something but couldn't. We've since developed 'safe words'. A word she can say to me to let me know she just needs me to hold her, no questions, no debate, even if she's in trouble. It's been mind blowing how much effect it's had in calming us both down when we're worked up.
  5. Talking about it and discussing it after it happens when the child is calm. We've joked about how, when we're about 50 metres from home, she begins to whine and sometimes cry about being tired or hungry. It's always in the same spot so we joked that it's like the switch has been pushed. It makes her more aware of how she's reacting, what her body is saying to her in that moment and how she can control it knowing it's coming.
  6. Breathe. I try to remind my daughter to become aware of her breathing, to take in deep breaths. It's a distraction but it's also effective in calming her down. She focuses on breathing in through her nose, out through her mouth and eventually, it works. Mindfulness.
  7. Let go of expectations. It's not going to sort out every tantrum but it goes a long way in her understanding her emotions. I don't force it, if she needs to cry, I let her cry but she does tend to calm down sooner than she might have before because she is more aware.
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choosing state school

Choosing State School over Private, Why Would You Do it?

We all face the dilemma whether to send our kids to private or state school.  However, for most people it’s not a dilemma. Paying out on average £6-8k a term- perhaps triple that if you have more than one child- is simply a privilege reserved for the better off.

And yet, there are people surprisingly, for whom funds are not an issue and yet they still choose state school over private. This surprised me, I have to admit.

When most independent schools boast better facilities, smaller class sizes, extensive extra-curricular activities…  Who would really risk their children’s success knowing all of that? Whereas less than ten per cent of our population actually attends private school, the stats show a disproportionate percentage represented in top positions. 71 per cent of senior judges attended private school, 50 per cent of the House of Lords and 44 per cent of The Sunday Times Rich List. I always thought if the funds were there, it would hardly be a question.

And yet, here are five successful families who can arguably afford the fees, the lifestyle and whose social network perhaps has more in common with most private school parents than at our school which has a high proportion of Free School Meals pupils. I’d never heard of this phenomenon before but it got me thinking…

If money was not an issue and setting an individual’s politics aside, why would you choose state school over private?

Their answers surprised me.

  1. “Because it gives our children a false sense of reality”. Number one on parents’ list. One set of parents I spoke to (both of whom went to private school themselves) claimed "ps offers a mind-numbing environment and a false sense of security that children are ‘entitled’ and ‘deserving’ of all their privilege". It fails to equip their children for the realities of the world, which they subsequently will have to learn at University. I don't want my children to be surrounded by people who are only like them and have lots of money”, said one parent. “Not sure it makes them a nicer person.”
  2. Ethnic diversity. A no brainer I suppose. Most people know private schools are not as ethnically diverse as state schools though some are better than others. Outside London it is possible to have a diverse intake - in London it seems more polarised. For children who come from non-white backgrounds, this can be an important factor that is overlooked for the sake of achievement but confidence and identity can suffer. On the other hand, even children who are not from an ethnically diverse background, surrounding them with children and families who are ethnically similar gives a false sense of reality for when they enter the working world. The world is a melting pot and (think Made in Chelsea), having friends of different backgrounds can show children different ways of working and compromise.
  3. It can give kids a false sense of entitlement and achievement. Knowing that your parents paid for your education and that you got to where you are because of help can also affect confidence. Many parents don’t want their children to feel that they’re entitled to a ‘leg up’ and feel that they should work hard to get to where they want to be.
  4. “I can think of better ways to spend £350k (a lifetime of school fees)”. Well, so could I when you put it that way. Parents I spoke to said it's important for them to give their children experiences outside of school which will enrich their learning. For example, they took them on holiday to Kenya where they got to see animals in the wild and visited a local village and an orphanage. Still a privileged lifestyle but they argued they may not have been able to afford those trips if the children were in private school.
  5. Higher expectations. It never occurred to me that there was more pressure from universities if your child attended private school. Some universities will ask for higher exam results from certain private schools than from some state secondary schools.
  6. Private schools in the area only offer single sex education. Many private schools are single sex but state primaries and secondary’s are co-ed. Depending on the child, this can be a big factor for parents making that decision.
  7. No need. Many parents look for private schools to fill in the gaps of parenting,  But if you are hands on and  supportive of your children's schooling, it is possible to make up the difference. It can be expensive but less so than private school if you enrol your children in music/sport/drama/languages and tutoring in areas of weakness. And still have plenty left over to help them through university and setting up a home or career.
  8. Life is not purely about academic achievement. Yes, private schools can guarantee better results and they will challenge your children to do their very best but for some parents, it’s about providing a happy home, making sure they get jobs they enjoy and are good at but which they can leave behind at the end of the working day. Achievement and results are part and parcel of most academic private schools. And that’s not a bad thing but perhaps not what’s right for all children or all parents. “I want to support my children in their ambitions”, said one parent. “That’s more important than an Oxbridge degree or friends in high places.”
  9. Depends on the child. Some children need that extra push that a private school can give- they’re much more hands on. Some children will get lost in the academic pressure that governs many independent schools. So it really can be about what would suit your child best.
  10. The state school down the road is simply better than the private ones. Like state schools, there are good independent schools and poor ones. Given how much is at stake, choosing your local state school is not necessarily about choosing the lesser school. Both can vary and it’s important to do your research about whether your local state school can do just as good a job if not better.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama @Huffington Post, read on....

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birthday party invite

When is it okay to turn down a birthday party invite?

 

It’s birthday party season again. That time when kids (and their parents) are invited to countless parties eating into every weekend and spare minute of family time you have.

I shouldn’t say that. Parties are wonderful for the kids. A time to get together with their friends outside of school, where they can play, eat and generally be on a two hour sugar high. Great, huh?

It’s just that the beginning of September somehow warrants those born in both August and September to schedule their parties just at the point where life is beginning its frenzied scheduled chaos. So, for some reason, it feels like a lot after a summer that was relatively party-free.

But seeing as the kids look forward to it and many of the kids are my daughters’ good friends, when is it okay to turn down a party invitation?

  1. First, ask yourself how close are they really? If dd1 was invited because the whole class was invited and you know your kids don’t really hang out, take that as a free pass to turn it down.
  1. How busy are you? If it means you’ll have to go from dance class to picking up dd2 from football to your hair appointment and then to the party, I think it’s safe to say that you’re busy. Don’t stress yourself to the point that you’ll resent being there the whole time.
  1. Check if you can share the pick up/drop off with another Mum/parent. Even better, if your kids are at the age when you can just drop them off, this is definitely the best option. It gets more complicated when you’re expected to stay and help supervise but still worth a shot to take it in turns.
  1. Family time always trumps birthday parties. If weekends are your only days to spend as a family and this is at a premium, it’s okay to turn it down. Spending time as a family is important and children crave that time (more than time with their friends-despite what they might say). Otherwise the weekend can just fly by. Alternatively, make it a family event. Enquire whether siblings are welcome and come with your whole brood!
  1. What’s the activity and is it difficult to get there? Again, check how convenient it is for you and whether your child will actually enjoy it. If your child hates heights and they’re headed to GoApe!, it’s probably a miss for her.
  1. Make it enjoyable for you! Yes it’s a party for the kids but heck, you’ve given up your afternoon as well so if beer or alcohol is on offer, take it! You deserve it!

Hopefully this list helps to reassure you there are legit excuses to turning down a party invitation… Send me your ideas and what's worked for you! Good luck!

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asking questions about school

Asking the Right Questions When Your Kids Are Back at School

How do you get your child to talk? What are the right questions to ask about school?

For millions of kids around the world, it’s the start of the school year.

And for just as many mums used to knowing every detail of our children’s lives, we are now left standing at the entrance of the school gate wondering just what the heck they get up to for those 8 hours away from us.

It’s a new year, a new class and for some, even a new school so it’s normal for parents to worry about how their child is faring and what the teacher is like?

The transition from reception to Year 1 for us has been especially challenging as the kids have reported feeling like there are more rules and definitely less playtime.

It’s been hard knowing we’re entrusting our kids with teachers whom we know very little about and how they interact with our children. Hence the end of the day debrief is so important.

If your kids are anything like mine, getting them to tell you about their day is exhausting. I’ve tried everything- from bribery to punishment (yes, consider me a bad mum!) just to get some answers!

But I’ve found that if you ask the right questions, you can get something… Just don’t make the rookie mistake and ask them about their day. Even I can answer that one. “Fine, Mum. Can I go play now? Stop asking questions about school.”

So I thought I’d share a few of my favourite questions which have actually gotten somewhere with my daughters.

What was your favourite part of your day?

What didn’t you like about today?

Did you get into any trouble? What did the teacher do?

Was anybody mean? What did you do?

Did you do anything extra nice today?

Was anybody else extra nice to you today?

Who did you play with at lunchtime? And what did you play?

Did anybody else get in trouble today? What did the teacher say?

What was the funniest thing that happened today?

What did you have for lunch? And who did you sit beside?

For me, I love to hear about the social dynamics at school as well as what they learned. I want to know that my child didn’t feel bullied, what the teacher’s approach to bad behaviour might be, who she plays with and how she relates to others…

If there is something you want to know about such as how the phonics lesson was taught, think of a way to ask it that isn’t, “what was your phonics lesson like?”

Just remember, keep it short because your kids will lose interest pretty fast so get the key questions in there fast and save the rest for later. Vary it up each day if you can and add your own!

I’m trusting you, my faithful readers to come up with much more ingenious ways to ask your kids about their day. Please share them here in the comments and I might even write a follow up later in the year!

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Life after Brexit: Mum's Prespective

Life after Brexit: Let's do this for our Children

Since the Brexit referendum, I’ve not written much, choosing instead to sit back and understand how the results will play out.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity. Almost comical at times watching politicians one after the other, most of whom supported leave, back out of the deal they so vehemently supported. Unfortunately, however, the results have not been so funny.

I voted remain. I made no secret of this fact.

And for the first time, my 5 year old was watching.

I explained to her, in the simplest of terms what we were voting for, making sure I played it as neutrally as possible knowing full well there were people she knew and loved who sided with the leave campaign.

I explained to her that our country was deciding whether it was better to be in a team or to play on our own. That some people thought the team made decisions that may not always be best for our country but that we were united in our end goal to fight for what’s best for all of us.

She understood. And she came with me to the polling station, as did my two younger girls. I showed her the ballot paper. I made her read the question. (I didn’t go so far as to let her do the X fearing perhaps she’d ruin my ballot paper=). And she carefully folded the paper and inserted it into the ballot box. With me all the while, explaining that although it seems simple, this is an important decision that many people around the country will be deciding on.

We woke up the next morning and heard the news. The same news that shocked a Nation. I knew very few people who had voted leave. And so, living within my bubble, I had thought it was in the bag. How I react from this point onward is exactly what my children are now watching.

Never before (at least in my lifetime) has a nation been so deeply divided. Never before, have so many people been so politically engaged. Never before has politics drawn so much discussion, heartache and emotion.

And yet, the divisions run deep- perpetuated perhaps by the relative ease at which we all have access to a keyboard and the internet to jot down random thoughts and dig at others without any thought to consequence. It’s highlighted the deep divides between class, London vs. the rest, England and Wales vs Scotland and Northern Ireland, young and old and immigrant vs native.

I didn’t like the outcome, I still don’t. But this was and is the ultimate show of democracy. A result where there are winners and losers and where division of opinion exists in its extreme.

So isn’t this exactly how we show our children that there will be setbacks? That we may not like the outcome of certain things that happen?

We have a choice here. We can choose to be one of the sore losers who are still angry and calling for a second referendum despite the millions- 52% of the country- who clearly said they wanted change. We can direct our anger toward the racists that choose to lash out at hardworking migrants and immigrants and we can live in denial, supporting politicians who are looking for a sneaky way out.

Or, we can choose to get on with it. This is a lesson in life. An opportunity to show how we can take lemons and make lemonade. Particularly where difference of opinion divides families, couples and friends right down the middle. I was raised to understand that healthy debate and difference of opinion challenges you. I want that for my daughters as well. I choose to react differently. I choose to move on. I choose to abandon my hope for another referendum and understand the protest that the have-nots have stood for.

Our nation will be great. And it’s those who called on all of us, just hours after the results came in, with tears in their eyes to work together and make this work for all of us- that’s what I have admiration for.
With all that is happening across the globe, our world is divided like never before. With a new PM about to take charge and a woman at that, we have an opportunity to start over.

So let’s do this Britain. For our children.

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