Friday 17 August 2018


 What is your child’s next step after this lovely summer? Back to the safe, predictable and familiar routines of their old school? Or are they facing a change of school, a GAP year, starting university, no university or their first job? 

Whatever the transition, when familiar structures disappear this can bring about mixed feelings of excitement, fear or worry, not only for them, but also for us as parents. When our child behaves slightly differently, or is unwilling to talk to you, this is a sign that they are under pressure. They may not be aware of their uncertainty - possibly about fitting in socially, doing well or making their mark - but heightened anxiety leaves them vulnerable to turning to unhelpful things in order to cope.  

This is where you can help.  But as every parent knows, as they get older, they’re more prone to feeling they can handle everything and want to do it their way, so it’s a fine line for us to steer conversations which get them to think realistically, recognise potential pitfalls, make sensible choices and form their own plans/views.  It is important that we don’t tread on eggshells around minefields, or give them a lecture on do’s and don’ts or rescue them and do their thinking for them.  


1.     CHALLENGES– You know your child best.  Think about the areas they may struggle with. Are they flexible and throw themselves into new situations, or do they struggle with change/social change and getting involved?  Open up discussion around areas of potential difficulty to help spark awareness and responsibility “What are your thoughts about….?”  “What might you do when…..?” “Talk me through….” “Tell me how you normally….”
2.     ACKNOWLEDGE STRENGTHS & INTERESTS – when a child is enjoying itself and they feel they have something to offer they will feel more confident. Remind them of their character strengths.  Ask them which interests/hobbies they might like to continue – sport, exercise, music, art. Now it’s optional, it’s up to them, but not doing these things may take its toll. 
3.     ROUTINE/STRUCTURE - Having a structure will balance out angst and provide motivation/energy.  Talking through what has worked in the past reminds them what they need to do moving forward.  Do they enjoy physical activity and outdoor time? Or do they need space and quiet to avoid stress?  One area of focus in our new book is “Having a lifestyle approach that works to trigger the release of good chemicals into the system which helps keep mental and emotional states in balance”.  By this we meanexercise, downtime, screen-free time, regular bedtimes, a balanced diet – all potential casualties of change/transitions and growing up.  
4.     EXPECTATIONS– can cause huge stress so working out what they (and you) are hoping for long-term will help. Most teens put unreasonable pressure on themselves by having unrealistic hopes and adults can sometimes inadvertently fuel these with over optimism “Senior school will be amazing” or “the first year at uni will be the best of your life” “you’ll love your new job”.  We don’t want to be a killjoy, but we can help realign aspirations to an achievable level 
5.     DISAPPOINTMENTS – Don’t ignore moments when they look disappointed, frustrated, they’ve done something wrong, they lost/failed or they made a mistake.  Avoiding facing up to reality now means they will find it hard to accept that things will not always go their way.   Sharing some of your failures helps to normalise this as part of their journey. 
6.     CHOICES/RISK TAKING – With more freedom comes more choice and helping your child think through where they stand on various issues will help them become more anchored when facing peer/social pressure. Have spontaneous conversations about inevitable temptations – pushing the boundaries, smoking, gambling, gaming, viewing pornography, drugs, alcohol.  Ask them their view on these topics. How far would they go to maintain popularity? What are the implications of crossing the line?  Taking risks is enticing for teens and part of the healthy process of independence, but which risks they choose becomes crucial. 
7.     SLEEP - More independence brings more distractions eg. gaming/tech, drinking/clubbing, and bedtime becomes their responsibility.  Erratic sleep patterns disrupt normal physical and mental functioning, (eg memory), and depresses feelings of wellbeing.  Another theme in our new book is about ”when things are out of kilter, teens are especially vulnerable to trying negative strategies to regulate their feelings and biochemicals. Trying to get themselves back on an even keel is what is likely to lead them down what we call ‘Temptation Alley’ (the wrong crowd, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sex, gaming)”
8.     HELP  - Get them to think about and identify who they would turn to and when they would know they need to ask for help/support.  Knowing this, plus pursuing interests (which calm or boost flagging spirits) and having some structure in their life (2&3 above) will go a long way towards building resilience.  What we want to avoid is zero self-awareness so they ignore all the signs and soldier on (eg. struggling academically/emotionally/psychologically) until they end up with adrenal fatigue.  
9.    CHECK IN REGULARLY - You can continue to be a vital source of reassurance, but as they head off onto the next stage, with all the pressures of trying to find their place, this can be hard to find time.  Use any opportunity to assess how they are coping. Don’t wait for the wheels to come off before stepping in. 

10.  PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE – no parent today can avoid reading about the mental health decline of our pre-teen and teenage children.  But many parents are not aware that 1:5 young adults have diagnosable mental health issues too, so it doesn’t all miraculously sort itself out once they are in full-time employment.  An unhealthy lifestyle during adolescence will trigger poor mental/psychological/emotional/health and will require professional help.  Getting them mentally in the driving seat through discussion and encouraging them to think about lifestyle choices should go a long way to keeping things on an even keel.  

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Helping parents juggle Easter holidays, revision and technology use

We teach in a number of leading schools and our March sessions focus on helping students to approach revision and exam time armed with a clear plan, plenty of grit, a positive mindset, a tank of self motivation and resilience as a back-up. 
These skills or aptitudes can be developed through self-awareness and an understanding of how to do it. 
We speak to 100s of parents and students whilst delivering our workshops.  What we have noticed in recent years is the dramatic rise in anxiety, coupled with an inability to regulate it in functional ways.  Anxiety lies at the core of any adverse behaviours, and parents need to remember that it is also the precursor to serious mental health decline.   So if you are witnessing lethargy, indifference, panic, rudeness, conflict or withdrawal and you are dreading how to balance family time, revision and technology use, here are some pointers for you:   

1  Let them have a rest from any discussion about revision at the beginning of the holiday. 
However, do ask them to get their workstation set up, BUT ideally, not in their bedroom (this needs to be a place for rest, sleep and relaxation).  Ask them to locate a place, which is quiet with no distractions and has enough space to organize their files into piles.  This place is then associated only with revision.
2  Get them to draw up a timetable, including holidays and other days off. 
Having looked at each subject or topic, they need to jot down how many hours they need to devote to each area and then allocate a spot on their timetable for each one.   They will feel more optimistic about the marathon once they have a clear path laid out.
3  Encourage them to be realistic.
Setting achievable daily work goals trains the brain to focus on what they ARE going to do, and not on worrying or ruminating on what they haven’t or cant do.  Achieving what you set out to achieve boosts levels of motivation and reduces anxiety and makes the brain focused and engaged for the next day.
4  Ask them to highlight tricky areas before they struggle. 
Rather than spending hours staring at a topic, stressing out, having a blank distracted mind and achieving nothing, ask them if they have any trouble spots and discuss an action plan early on in order to prevent the “I cant do this” from casting a black cloud over every subject.
5  Intersperse study with plenty of breaks. 
Ideally encourage revision slots in the morning when the brain is rested and fresh and encourage short work bursts (30 mins – 1 hour) and plenty of breaks.  Physical/outdoor activities boost mental acumen, focus, retention & motivation levels (get running, walking, biking, playing with the dog, cooking, drawing – even if it is short 15 minute bursts).  End each study session with subjects they are confident in.  And above all have FUN with family and friends as this boosts happy chemicals, vital for learning.  Get playing games together and enjoy mealtimes chatting and relaxing.  
6  Food/Drink – get the fridge and cupboards stocked with good brain food 
You are what you eat/drink.  Encourage them to look after their brain from now to exams, it does not need much sugar, caffeine or alcohol, but it does need lots of calories, protein and healthy food and water to maintain peak performance.         
7  Avoid ANY screen-based distractions during working slots  
Encourage them to park their phone/devices in another room and use them as a reward once they have completed revision for the day.  If wifi is on, and revision slots are interrupted by: You Tube, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, short excursions to Xbox, Minecraft and Gaming or background TV or music, their brain will be distracted and less captivated by revision. Work first, Play later.  Remind them that over use (gaming/social media) will leave the brain dull and bored by work, plus your child will be cross with themselves and take it out on the family.
8  Sleep 
They need at least 9 uninterrupted hours before and after a revision session for the memory to function and retain information learnt for the day.  If they are going to a party, they should plan to have a break the day after, particularly if alcohol will be involved. 
Leaving devices outside their room whilst they sleep will boost the brain’s effectiveness. 
Ideally they should give themselves an hour of no screen (inc TV) before they need to be asleep:  use the time to Bath, Read, sort out their washing (yes – they can still remove dirty clothes from the carpet), listen to music, chat to family in order to wind down
9  End each day with a positive. 
Ask them every night what they feel they have accomplished and don’t let them dwell on what they have not.  Acknowledge their effort or their persistence.  Remind them that they are developing effective work habits and self-discipline for life.  If they continue to feel worried, have a look at the Headspace App and make sure they know how to Breathe properly – this is the most effective strategy to balance levels of cortisol and reduce anxiety in the moment.   
10           Your unconditional love and calm presence counts for more than you will know. 

Having a secure sense that you are there and gunning for them goes a long way to anchor and motivate them.  Try and keep your own stress levels down by taking care of yourself and not getting hooked into their stress.  Calmness is contagious, so is confrontation and anxiety