Thursday 6 August 2015

Exam results - what if your child fails to make the grade?

 August 13th & 20th are emotional dates in the calendar – often depicted by jubilant smiling children waving glittering results.  But what about those children whose results are not up to scratch and their future looks less secure? How bad might it feel for a child who has been both protected from failure and from being objectively judged before now?  Children today face the additional emotional burden of public shame at the hands of social media.   Can parents help (or make things worse)?

The answer is Yes.  We now know, thanks to neurologial research, that the way parents (or primary carers) react, in this case to their child’s emotional meltdown, is crucially important.  Adult responses determine how quickly their child gets (emotionally) back on track, and it influences the way their child goes on to deal (psychologically) with future challenges and disappointments, in essence adults can subliminally support resilience & self worth. 
The ages between 10-25 are a period of massive brain change, where neurological pathways adapt and mould to fit day-to-day experiences (both situations and people).  The brain learns via mirror neurons, so what a parent says and what they do helps to establish behaviour patterns, which, if well trodden, like sheep tracks ultimately define (future) adult character. 
Parents with children about to open their results may want to know this so they can choose to have a clear plan, rather than leaving their reactions to chance. 

Things to bear in mind

·      When the limbic brain is in meltdown, the pre-frontal cortex shuts – so rational, logical discussion and reflection is not on the agenda.  At this age and stage, the ability to control subcortical feelings of rage, frustration, fear or anxiety is still Work In Progress in the teenage brain too.
·      On results day, Parents ideally should rein in either their frustrated, sympathetic or well-meaning cheerleader comments like: “Failing is good for you”  “So…what now?”  “I told you (subtext when you were glued to those screens) that you should be working!”  “There’s more to life than stupid A’Levels!”  “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine!” Because the teenage brain is black & white and self centred (for good reasons), criticism or brushing it off is likely to be heard as “I’m not important/I don’t matter”.
·      A proactive and effective adult response needs to acknowledge the sadness or frustration and wait for the right moment to have a “what would you like to do next” solution-focused discussion. 
·      This is a period of natural Separation & independence.  Parents can help by not becoming enmeshed in “the problem” and instead be an anchor & a safe haven whilst their child owns their disappointment & sadness.  This is a period of child development where the parent/child dynamic needs to undergo a power shift, moving from being The Manager (You do as I say) to The Consultant (I am here if you need my help/wisdom/counsel)
·      Peer Pressure is a natural biological imperative.  Survival mechanisms, under the control of primitive areas of the brain, drive adolescents to need to be part of a group.  Social media and on-line communicating exacerbates the sense of “You’re in” or “You’re excluded” leaving many children suffering from high levels of anxiety, in this case if they are excluded from exam celebrations & university plans.  Take care that their phone is not exacerbating feelings of low self-worth

According to research, the quality and style of parenting received by a child is a better predictor of success than anything else.  There is no perfect parenting approach, but there are certain qualities, which if evident in family life, can provide the ideal growing conditions for a child, stability being one of them.  As parents ourselves, we know that being a parent today has its challenges.  Information and practical strategies can be supportive and helpful.  We are holding a Day Course for parents of children aged 10-24 in London on 28th September where parents can learn how to develop positive skills, self worth, resilience and confidence in their child.  We are pleased to be working in collaboration with Maudsley Learning, innovative leaders in accessible learning in mental health and wellbeing.  Help is at hand!     

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Getting Parents in the right mindset for the summer holidays

(This article appeared in The Weekend Telegraph 11 June 2015)

The long summer vacation is often greeted with mixed feelings. Whilst we love having our children home, months of unstructured and unproductive free time can be a frustrating spectacle for parents often resulting in bad behaviour and high stress levels. Children are demob happy at the end of exam season but it can feel as though the pressure and anxiety a child has been under shifts on to parents.
Finding a way to use the holidays so that children can relax but also learn some important life skills, will ease the tension at home.

Here are 10 ways to not only survive the next 3 months but also to have a positive influence on the adult your child will become:

1.    Aim for a ‘Holiday Plan’: How parents approach incendiary topics like bedtime, getting up, helping around the house & screen usage is key.  We learnt to Do As You Are Told, but our children have been taught to have opinions/views, argue/debate, weigh up & decide, so its best to tackle The Plan with a “Can we talk through how things are going to work this holidays?” approach.  Not only does this encourage collaboration, decision making and team playing, but once you have got your mutually agreed plan in place (which may include “No lectures or nagging please Mum”), it is easier to stick to it. Being irritated by a child’s lack of helpfulness is contagious and damages the home atmosphere.    If you’ve made a plan you can say “I’m cross because it is lunchtime, you’re still in bed and we agreed…..” “You & I had an agreement about computer time…” “I thought you said 3 beers….”
2.    Get a structure in place: After they have had an appropriate, well deserved rest and some post exam lie ins, aim to get a framework in place before the holiday kicks off. Some structure to the routine at home and some mutually agreed rules will improve the emotional climate and everyone’s behaviour.  Whatever you agree (Breakfast done & dusted by midday? Help yourself to lunch but clear & wash up? Family supper, everyone helps + no screens?) - get everyone to stick to it.
3.   Encourage healthy sleep patterns: 10 hours sleep is ample and it is advisable to help establish good habits.  Late night horror movies or on-line activities under the duvet until 3am, will result in late starts and persistent lethargy.  Daytime TV/screen time will zap motivation & enthusiasm because it interferes with dopamine in the brain.  Help your child to organise their day with screen-based activities as a reward after they have accomplished other things.
4.    Create a focus: During the weeks when children are on holiday, but parents are still working, help children to have a focus/purpose.  This could be volunteering or finding a couple of weeks paid work - a local farm/garden, shop/cafe, doing some bar work/waitressing, youth club, pony club, activity centre, cleaning holiday cottages, nannying, babysitting, looking after Granny, domestic chores – what about cooking the family dinner?
5.   Choices and Responsibility: Long holidays are an ideal time to get your child to take responsibility - social life, travel plans, bookings, arrangements and their own washing/ironing/packing. Thinking, weighing up choices & making decisions encourages future independence, problem solving and develops an “I can” attitude. Tempting as it is to micro manage/help/advise/do it for them, try and rein yourself in.  Remind yourself that without practice, children can’t learn how to make their own decisions. If they have always looked to adults for guidance, they become helpless passengers in their metaphorical car.   Easygoing compliance from your child is nice whilst you are behind the wheel, but when someone undesirable hops in, your eager-to-please-child will be easily led astray because they have no inner compass to guide them.
6.   Expect some mishaps: Letting go and allowing some (safe) risk taking gives children a chance to learn (from any mistakes).  The brain is gradually wiring itself up to have self-control but it is work in progress and can only develop via experience. How parents manage mishaps (at the pub, a party, festival or excursion) can offer vital learning - about accountability, establishing limits (alcohol, sex, drugs) & developing an emotional gauge, a conscience and a brake pedal.
7.   Keep talking: Keeping lines of communication open is vital, so your relationship and how you talk to your child needs to be as good as it can be.
a.    Try not to harbor resentments, a “I am still furious about what you did last week” may drive them underground and they will not confess when they next mess up.
b.    Limit the lectures and instead have balanced discussions.
c.     If they are off to a festival, a holiday with another family or off travelling with a group of friends, ask them where they stand on key issues before they head off.  The aim is to encourage an independent mind by getting them to articulate their values & views on what you would like them to think about.
d.    If you want to steer the chat to meaty topics like sex, porn, legal highs or marijuana arm yourself with facts and plan what you are going to ask – approach with caution, opportunities don’t come by that often. 
         8.    Encourage a new skill/experience:  The long summer holidays are a chance for your    child to develop a skill, an interest or pursue a hobby.  Many young people thrive on competition, being part of a team, getting physically fit or getting better at something – sport, music, art, riding, cooking.  This boosts confidence, self-esteem and self-worth in a way that Gaming, TV reality shows or Facebook does not. 
                      9.         Do something together: try and find an activity or sport that you manage to do regularly with your child over the holidays (camping, tennis, chess, golf, cycling, cooking, fishing, walking). Being together is important bonding time that is difficult to find during the busy school terms.
            10.   Make time for yourself: The holiday period is a long haul for parents so use teenage late starts to read, meet a friend for a cup of coffee, go for a walk.  Prioritise family mealtimes as a time you can enjoy being with your children.   It is a chance for them to engage and interact with all ages, be interesting and look interested in what others have to say, listen and be able to accept other viewpoints.  The best way these skills are imbibed is via experience and what is role modeled to them.  

                        In Brief…..
1.    Get a framework in place so the whole family knows the routine
2.    Agree screen rules & establish self-policing so you don’t have to micromanage
3.    Get your child inspired to roll their sleeves up & earn some money or volunteer
4.    Encourage them to take responsibility for all their plans
5.    Accept mistakes and see these as a chance to develop and learn
6.    Keep lines of communication open and don’t shy away from the difficult conversations (about alcohol, porn & drugs)
7.    Get them to give things a go & try new things
8.    Encourage them to spend time developing a skill, hobby or interest away from screens
9.    Find an activity that you can regularly do together with your child (tennis, camping etc)
10. Make time for yourself – parents set the emotional climate at home.  Enjoy family time & wind down on occasions

Top Tips for Teenagers

1.    If you want something from your parent (friends to yours, a lift to a party, money, stuff for school/uni) offer to do jobs at home and THEN ask for what you want (parents tend to co-operate reasonably well if handled correctly)
2.    Don’t allow yourself to be dependent on parents to do stuff you are capable of doing yourself (travel plans, finding a job, pursuing hobby, making arrangements).  Being independent feels really good
3.    Earn some money and reward yourself with something you really want to do (this also helps you to manage your own money and live within your means)
4.    Balance your downtime (gaming, social media, partying, hanging out) with doing something meaningful and worthwhile (learn to play a musical instrument, practice a sport, get fit, learn a skill like how to cook, help an elderly neighbor or relative, get a job).
5.    Gaming and on-line stuff is as addictive as alcohol/drugs – so balance screen time with getting out and about.  As with alcohol, you need to find your limit and know when enough’s enough (red flags are when you are feeling tired, irritable, lethargic, moody?).  Don’t become one of the millions of addicted gamers & alcoholics. Google the brain research and find out for yourself: your vulnerable brain wires itself up depending on what it experiences – and you wont know it is too late until it is too late. 
6.    On-line porn affects your ability to have a proper sexual relationship long-term because it kills your libido.   Suffering from erectile dysfunction in your 20s is not normal and should ring alarm bells.
7.    Your on-line activities and social media are hackable so if you are moving to a new school, off to uni or a new job, think carefully about your on-line persona.  Your parent should be able to see what you are doing, posting & saying on-line, and if that fills you with horror, it may be time to do some tidying up this summer. 

8.    Marijuana & Legal Highs are risky & may cause permanent damage (eg. irreversible incontinence or psychosis).  “Legal” does NOT mean safe and it does NOT mean that the drugs are tested or regulated.  Get on-line and do your research also be mindful that the government is proposing to ban all “substances with a psychoactive effect” – there must be a reason why?

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Help for parents during exam time

If anybody, like us, has children doing serious exams, the word "stress" might make you want to reach for a glass of wine to calm your nerves, let alone your poor child. Teenagers are programmed to overreact and respond in an overly sensitive way to pressure, and challenging situations which they may face.  This is all normal and to do with their brain undergoing a complete overhaul in preparation for adulthood. It's a vulnerable time developmentally and parents need to remain tuned in to how their child is coping generally, and not fan the flames.

Teenagers face more pressure and competition today than ever before and developing self-control is a vital tool for tolerating life's ups and downs. A simple lesson in brain science for anyone who is involved with teenagers is invaluable.   In order for your child to be focused, alert and rational with full access to their memory banks (crammed with revised data) - they need to be feeling calm. Facing exams for most children alerts their Fight, Flight or Freeze setting dial, none of which leave them in an appropriate mindset for exams.   An over reactive emotional stress response literally hijacks the rational thinking bit of their brain.   Here is how you can help your child:
  1. Showing them how to breathe (from the diaphragm like a set of bellows) is the quickest way for the floodgates in the emotional brain to re-open so they have access to all that "revision" carefully housed in their rational brain. 
  2. Help your child is to stop the negative chattering in their head ("I'm going to fail, I haven't learnt enough...") - this just escalates their panic setting.   Tell your child to use the time from waiting outside the examination hall until the exam starts to breathe deeply, as above, but count in for 3 and out for 4.  This will help get their mind in gear.
  3. In the words of Henry Ford, whether "you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right".  Develop a positive mental attitude.  
  4. Make sure your child has set achievable and realistic goals and is not setting themselves up for self-fulfilling failure.  Check what grades/results they believe they are going to achieve.  It is likely, at this stage, to be (pessimistically) low, remind them on results day that they (hopefully) achieved more than they had hoped.  
  5. Be prepared to let them rant to you and try and soak up some of their angst - if they can let off steam with you, it may save them from depositing their angst in unacceptable ways elsewhere.  (they can always be encouraged to apologise to you later
  6. Avoid fuelling each others anxieties, emotions are contagious and you can help keep them on:
Lots of sleep, good food, and above all reassurance, will all help to soothe frazzled nerves

Saturday 18 April 2015

A Day Course Translating Teenagers - London 13th May 2015

 The teen and pre-teen years can be testing for a parent, when previously easy children can transform into demanding, monosyllabic or unmotivated teenagers.  Home can become a stamping ground for confrontation, apathy or stress whilst teenagers push the boundaries, indulge in risky behaviours or withdraw to their rooms as they face the challenges of making their way in a competitive, materialistic and screen based world.  Why do certain behaviours creep in from around the age of 10 and what purpose do they serve?  Can parents do anything to alleviate them and have a positive influence on their child’s developing personality & habits?
Janey and Naella have combined a wealth of information on teenagers, along with practical skills, which aim to help parents to have a positive influence on how their child develops.  Simple up to the minute brain science reveals fascinating insights into teenage behaviour. Baffling negative behaviour patterns can change, and parents can learn how to use the relationships they have with their child, and home life itself, to help influence and create a confident, resilient adult who is ready to face their pressures and challenges, without falling prey to the all too accessible, negative default strategies available today:  from binge drinking, legal highs, self-harming, disordered eating, through to on-line gaming & pornography. This course is suitable for mothers & fathers 

At The Tabernacle, 35 Powis Square, London W11
On May 13th from 9.15 – 4pm (tea, coffee, snacks provided) £99
Click here to Book LN21 
CONTACT DETAILS:  07808 144535