Tag Archives: good parenting

The Perfectionist Child

9 Jul

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From the Parenting Place

Family coach Jenny Hale explains how to encourage a perfectionist to lower their expectations and simply have a go, rather than being so afraid of failure that they are afraid to even try.

One of the great dreams parents have for their children, is that they will reach their full potential and use their gifts, natural abilities and strengths. So when a child is afraid of taking a risk, uncertain about whether to give something a try, and is devastated when a mistake is made, parents naturally feel concerned because they know life is full of opportunities, and that progress is made when there is a willingness to give things a go.

I meet lots of parents who are concerned about their child’s perfectionist tendencies. These are some of the characteristics that worry them. The perfectionist child:

  • Doesn’t like trying new things
  • Watches on the sideline for ages before attempting to do something
  • Hates to be corrected
  • Is devastated when they get something wrong
  • Often screws up their work in frustration
  • Blames someone else for their mistakes
  • Has incredibly high standards that are self-imposed
  • Under-achieves for fear of failure
  • Is easily embarrassed if in the limelight
  • Puts themselves down unnecessarily
  • Is easily disappointed in life’s events
  • Is very competitive and hates to lose
  • Controls others so they can manage the outcome
  • Procrastinates and finds it difficult to make a decision
  • Is anxious about quite a few things

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The good news is that it is possible to live harmoniously with a perfectionist, and give them some tools for handling life with a different outlook.

Be understanding if you live with a perfectionist. They don’t get along too well with themselves so they really need someone who ‘gets them,’ and is gentle with them. They need you to be on their side. Talking to your child about their temperament helps clarify what is driving them. It also helps them understand what is going on inside their head when they feel cross or anxious.

Openly support the making of mistakes. A perfectionist child often has a perfectionist parent! Be prepared to share your mistakes and let children see that it is normal and acceptable to get things wrong, or do a job that is less than perfect. If you leave something out of a recipe and it’s a flop, let your children see that you are not beating yourself up. In fact, you can laugh at yourself! Celebrate mistakes with a family motto; ‘In our family we make mistakes because that is how you learn.’ It takes the sting out of a mistake if the whole family embraces it.

Children can be inspired by someone else’s story of challenge and triumph. It may be your next door neighbour who has been to nine job interviews without yet landing one, but is not giving up. Research a famous sportsperson or actor who encountered many failures and challenges on the way to success. Let them know that the reason behind the success had as much to do with perseverance and a tolerance for making mistakes, as it did natural talent.

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Encourage your children to see humility as a good attitude. Being able to accept their limitations and acknowledge another’s success, helps a child accommodate their own losses. Humility helps children to be supportive of others when they win or lose. Model phrases such as, “That was a great game of chess you played Thomas, thanks for playing with me.”

Perfectionists need to develop flexible, elastic thinking. You can give your child examples of this in a practical way. Show how a partly deflated ball hits the ground and stays there, but when it is full of air it hits the ground and bounces. This is just what is needed when life gets tough.

If your child gets a lower result on an assignment than was anticipated, explain that instead of losing hope and perspective, flexible thinkers say to themselves, “Not what I wanted, but I bet I can learn something from this and get up and go again”.

Be ready to brainstorm a problem with them so that they learn there is more than one way of doing something. Let’s say they are making a card for a friend’s birthday and you see them begin to ‘lock down’ for a perfect result. Talk them through their options. The focus could be on creating something ‘colourful and crazy’ rather than ‘perfect and neat.’

When perfectionist children learn not to blame themselves or others, it makes starting something a lot easier. Your child will need help to see that getting cross and full of regret for something they did or didn’t do, won’t help them. Instead, teach them to embrace a new thought pattern. Learning that ‘making a start is hard, but it gets easier along the way’ helps facilitate progress.

Perfectionists are often afraid to make a decision because they may regret it and wish they had done something better. Learning to live with our decisions and learn from the consequences is part of life. Nudge them towards making decisions over lots of little things so they get in the habit of living with their choices and dealing with small disappointments along the way.

The flipside of a perfectionist is that they are often very high achievers. They want to do well, and often have an outstanding ability to perform. They can stick at something relentlessly to improve themselves. These children often produce excellent results, and are successful without any need for motivation from parents. Some will be tidy, organised, gifted, disciplined, focused, deep thinkers and extraordinarily capable. Quite a few of them will have leadership qualities that mean they can organise, motivate and bring out the best in others.

The journey for them can be made simpler and kinder if we help them understand that perfectionists have both strengths and shortcomings, and help equip them with the skills and insights to live comfortably with themselves, their standards and their frailty.

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Holiday Fun! Indoor Cubby House

25 Jun

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School holidays: It’s the opportunity to think big about play. Play, not only in sessions, but over days and weeks. Creating play environments, like a cubby house, is a good example because it starts with the building phase, then comes the play phase, and the fun evolves as the children add their own ideas to the mix.

cardboard box cubby house

Now the colder months have set in and air is chilly, creating a play space in a nook in the house or other undercover area is a good idea.  I transformed an empty unused garage in our family home into a simple play space for the children this holidays using cardboard boxes.   The idea is to stimulate the imagination by creating an environment that inspires creativity.  The set-up is quick, cheap and easy and can be extended in many ways.

indoor cubbyhouse -- cardboard box craft

What you need

  • 1 to 5 Boxes (tea-chest size or larger works best)
    – Try asking a department store like Good Guys or Harvey Norman for empty boxes, or you can buy boxes starting from about $3 from self-storage places and stationery stores like Officeworks.  A small investment for many hours of play.
  • Masking or Packing tape
    – I used masking tape because it’s easy to work with and the children can draw/decorate over the top if they like.
  • Crepe Streamers

1. Assemble

To create the dollhouse style cubbyhouse (as pictured above), you will first need to make 2 boxes with pointed roofs.

how to make a cardboard box cubby house

  1. Put the box together and tape to secure
  2. Sit the box with the opening at the top (as you would if you were packing)
  3. Leave the fold-over tops upright for height and tape along the join for strength
  4. Cut out one side panel of the box with large scissors or a Stanley knife This will become the roof.
  5. Use the cut out panel of the box for the roof. Bend in half and tape to the top of the box. (If the box you’re using is smaller than tea-chest size, you may need to use an extra piece of cardboard and tape two even pieces of cardboard together before attaching the roof to the box).

For the reminder of the 3 boxes, repeat the above, however for the roof, cut the panel cardboard to the size of the top of the box, and tape to secure.

2. Decoration

Decorating the boxes is all part of the fun. I wanted to keep this activity relatively mess-free, so went with streamers to add that splash of colour.

1. Lay a section of tape (as long as the width of the box) on a flat surface with the sticky side up.  Rip off streamers (to the height of the box) and place one end of each streamer evenly spaced along the tape. Once full, press the tape into the top back corner of the inside of the box and reinforce with another layer of tape over the top.

how to make a cardboard box cubby house

2. Using another piece of tape, secure the streamers to the bottom corner inside the back of the box.  It doesn’t have to look perfect as you can add a cushion or small blanket to the bottom of the box.

cardboard box cubby

3. For the upper level boxes, I used the streamers in the opening between the roof and the box. To do this, simply tape sections of streamers from the roof to the back of the box.

cardboard box cubby

Other decoration ideas

Decorate the box however you like! Below are more ideas:

  • Coloured masking tape
  • Texters/drawings
  • Paint
  • Stickers
  • Stencils
  • Stick photos to make a collage wall inside the box
  • Cut outs from magazines
  • Washi tape
  • Cut out windows on either side of the box
  • Glue on gems or shells

3. Set up

Stack three flat-top boxes at the bottom and the two pointed boxes at the top.  This gives it a dollhouse look. The top section can be used for light objects like stuffed toys, dolls or Lego; it’s a lovely height for standing play too. The bottom section fits a sitting child.

dollhouse cardboard box

Tip: Placing the boxes up against a wall is a good idea so children can lean back and read a book.

read in a cardboard boxWearing: owl print tee, snuggly warm leggings, faux fur zip front sweat

Another set up idea: Beach hut style

Google ‘beach hut’ together before you start for inspiration. Create 5 pointed roof houses and line up in beach hut style. Lay a yellow sheet /blanket (you could look for one at a second-hand shop) or piece of material in front to mimic sand and then do the same with another layer of blue material for the sea.  Add a few towels, shells, buckets and sea inspired books.

4. Add

To make the area inviting and cosy, add:

  • Cushions or a small blanket to the bottom of each box
  • Books
  • A rug, floor cushions and a few throw blankets

5. Play & Create

The morning after creating this space, I woke to hear the kids happily playing. I found them, still in their flannelette PJs, sitting in the cubbyhouse, eating breakfast with tea towels on the ground and mini umbrellas in their cereal bowls.  I almost scolded them for not being at the table, then I saw how much effort they put into the set up and what fun they were having.  Since then, boxes have been moved, toys added, pillows stacked and picnics eaten.  All good stuff. And it all started with a few boxes.

cardboard box cubbyhouseWearing: long sleeve graphic batwing top, floral skinny leg jeans, bows and hearts necklace, tangerine double bow boots, mock leather button front jacket

pumpkin patch kidsWearing: stripe long sleeve top, skinny fit stretch cords, mock leather fur collar jacket

More indoor cubbyhouse ideas

  • Place a sheet over a table and cushions underneath
  • Put a sheet between two separated sofas
  • Tie even lengths of crepe streamers around a hula hoop and suspend from a hook in the ceiling to create a colour bubble
  • Stack pillows and cushions and create an indoor obstacle course
  • Hang streamers in a door way
  • Criss-cross red streamers along a hallway to create a spy lazer challenge
  • Create a comfy reading corner by scattering pillows and placing a box of books nearby

Another Cardboard Box Idea

Create a Cardboard Box Road and City

About Kelly

Kelly BurstowKelly loves life at both ends of the spectrum: wearing high heel shoes one day and hiking boots the next; sipping tea out of a pretty cup and slurping hot coffee from a camping mug. She enjoys stopping for a quiet moment to feel the wind on her face and adventuring at every opportunity with her family. Her blog, Be A Fun Mum, is all about loving the little moments in life and celebrating these. Kelly lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, four children and pet bird.

 

The Strong-willed Child

13 May

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Some children seem to be naturally compliant, while others fight every issue.

Jenny Hale explains what motivates your strong-willed child and how to make the most of their strength and potential.

If you are lucky enough to be a parent of a strong-willed child, at times you will feel blessed, because you love their decisiveness, their confidence, their sense of justice and their ability to stand alone and believe in themselves!

At other times you will feel exhausted, powerless, bullied, guilty and overwhelmed; in fact, you will probably feel that you are being punished for the hard time you gave your own parents! Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and you usually don’t have to look further than a mirror to find the source of your child’s iron will.

Welcome to the world of raising a child with strength, gutsiness and an exceptional amount of determination.

When the parents of a strong-willed child come for a coaching session with me, I tell them they will need to do an ‘advanced’ parenting course. I say this in fun, but the reality is that parents of such strong children need every tool in the box and the flexibility to choose which tool for which time.

Strong-willed children are not naturally compliant. They are not wired to blend in, to cooperate, to adjust or to see a situation from another angle. They want to win, they often seek out fights and they don’t know how to back down easily. They have an enormous need for respect. Sometimes they don’t even get on with themselves!

If parents take the child’s behaviour personally and decide that their child is out to make their life a misery, war will be declared and there won’t really be any winners. Understanding these children is the first step in working with them, and the key insight is that they are just ‘wired’ differently – they were born this way! Both parents will agree that it was evident very early on, and many mothers will say they even had an inkling when they were carrying this baby!

Strong-willed children learn where your ‘buttons’ are and will push them mercilessly. They will jump on the ‘tender spots’ so that parents end up doing and saying what they don’t want to do. For example: a five-year-old might discover that if she defies her mother and refuses to leave the playground, she gets a very interesting reaction. The mother feels powerless, ashamed, alone and bewildered, and those strong emotions prompt behaviour that matches the five-year-old’s. Lots of threats, warnings, shouting, bribing and emotion. The dance begins: children of this ilk dig their toes in and will match their parent, emotion for emotion.

Parenting a strong-willed child is the biggest invitation to grow that you will ever have. When parents learn how to disarm their strong feelings, take stock of the situation and calm down, parenting strongwilled children will be much easier.

Your style has got to be robust. Children respond to adults who have calmness and composure. If you remain pleasant and firm under fire, the messages you send are, “I am in the control seat. Everything is okay here. Your needs will be met but I will not be pushed or bullied”. This settles children down. They learn they are not so powerful that they can disconcert the big people in their world, and their world feels a lot safer because of that. For example, if mum refuses to give 7-year-old Bryce another round of ice-cream, he may try some other avenues to get her to change her mind. He may accuse her of being a mean and horrible mother, he may yell and cry, he may pursue her around the house – but if she is pleasant, resolute and calm, eventually he realises, “My Mum is firm, she is strong and she does what she says she will do.” Deep down, he appreciates that – but it is VERY deep down, so don’t expect him to express it!

Once children have settled the most important question – who is the leader in the family? – they can get on with being a child, and parents can get on with enjoying them.

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Positive action suggestions

Just remember: strong-willed children like to throw out regular tests to see if you will still remain calm and robust.

Let them learn by the mistakes they make. Strong-willed children don’t like being told what they should do and what they did wrong. It takes away some of their need for power and dignity. It may be tempting to over-explain all the instructions on how to make a cake to your ten-year-old, and to constantly check up on them and micromanage them each step of the way, but if we do they either lose interest or rebel. Wherever you can, let them run with their idea. If the cake does not turn out well, try very hard not to say, “Well I told you that would happen if you didn’t measure the flour properly!” These kids will learn a lesson all on their own from the consequences, and they will learn it well.

Invite them to solve problems. Strong-willed children thrive on exercising their brains with problem solving. They want a friend to come to play, but today won’t be convenient: invite them to work out a day that does work for everyone

Give them choices. They enjoy the dignity of being asked to choose which option they prefer.“Would you like the blue cup or the red cup?” “Would you like a ride to bed on my back or on my feet?” “Will you be sitting nicely with us at the table or are you going to choose to play on your own in your room?” Choices engage a child’s thinking and allows them some freedom which they need to thrive.

Rehearse areas that are difficult. Strong-willed children often have problems finishing an activity they have been enjoying. They can be overwhelmed with disappointment and upset at the sense of injustice that parents were stopping them before they felt they had finished.

Before they play at a friend’s house, or you take them to a favourite park, rehearse what they need to do and say when it is time to leave. It might sound like this: “Talia, when I say that it is time to leave the park, you need to say, “Yes, okay Dad. Thanks for the lovely time I have had.” These children need a script to replace their original one of, “I don’t want to leave! I haven’t finished yet!”

Use a rule as your reference point. Strong-willed children are very sensitive to discrimination. If you were to say, “James! Stop throwing the blocks around!” he may feel that you are saying that just to ‘get’ at him. However, if you said, “James, we use blocks for building with – that’s our rule,” James can separate himself from the command and see it as a stable family rule.

Maintain regular routines and rituals. These children absolutely need daily rituals like a bed time story, a back rub, a song you sing in the car and a special plate you use for their afternoon tea. These pleasant, positive interactions are the things that will shape their personality, and so they shouldn’t be withdrawn as a penalty for misbehaviour. These patterns of loving interaction are predictable, comforting and remind them that your love for them is unconditional: their behaviour cannot push you away. Strong-willed children do seem to sabotage the good times available to them and test parents’ resolve and unconditional love. Special events need to be maintained. Strong-willed children need to see that their parent will still take them out for a special one-on-one date on Saturday morning, regardless of whether they got a great report at school or a terrible one, behaved perfectly or was a perfect terror all week. Of course there will be other incentives and penalties, but they shouldn’t impinge on these regular interactions that are not given as rewards or taken away as punishments. That is because these children need to be loved unconditionally.

Reserve some energy to be playful. Ther is a trick with these children – they can be disarmed easily! They love us to be funny, to use a silly voice, to pretend we are them, to make inanimate objects like the toothbrush talk – anything that is not too serious or stern. Strong-willed children often seem to be simmering, building up steam for a fight; but when we hold the toothbrush and the toothbrush starts to talk – the fight goes out of them. They smile – and parents and children stay on the same team. Of course, this creative playfulness takes some energy – energy that is in short supply because strong-willed children are so exhausting – but fighting takes energy, too, and playing is much more fun!

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Potholes to avoid

There are some things parents do that can make things a whole lot harder. See if there are any of these that you can drop from your repertoire.

Stop the lectures. Strong-willed children never get lectures! When you go over the same ground and tell them one more time what you think, why you think it, how disappointed you are, what they should remember, what you did when you were their age – you are probably just adding fuel for some more drama. Lectures are not going to work. The only advantage is they might calm adults down, but a lecture is ineffective in teaching a child what to do next time.

Refrain from using ‘fighting words’. How dare you speak to me like that! There are no more treats for you until you learn some respect!” Fight invites fight. A strong-willed child hearing these words is likely to think, “I don’t care about the treats, I just must win!” Often, they can’t even remember what the fight is about, they just know there is one and they must not lose. By contrast, ‘Thinking-words’ create much more engagement. “As soon as you can speak respectfully to me, I will be happy to stay in the room and listen to you.”

Avoid the harsh, shrill tones! Our tone of voice communicates so much more than our words. When a parent’s voice is tense, high, loud or screechy – children react. The ‘stir’ in our voice creates stir in them! Whatever tone of voice parents use will be echoed back to us so it is worth speaking pleasantly as much as possible.

Avoid too much control. Strong-willed children need generous doses of the ‘hands off’ approach. They want to hear, “You will be fine. Just come and get me if you need some help.” Instead, they tend to get lots of organising, monitoring, judging, fixing, mentioning, improving and evaluating! They feel like they can’t breathe! Giving them morecontrol tells them they are capable and have got what it takes. Do try to step back: leave the bed they made bumpy because they are still learning, don’t speak for them when someone asks them a question, or let them choose something to wear that you may not like. A good place to start: ask their opinion and then listening to it without opposing it with your own ideas.

Do not threaten! Theats send a clear signal to a strong-willed child. The message is, “My parents are losing control! They feel powerless and are using threats of punishment as a last resort! They have run out of options and are hoping that the threat will frighten me… well, they have picked the wrong kid to try that on!” Kids need to know, up front, what consequences will happen if they do certain things. Then they need to be given the consequence with certainty and confidence, and without anger or fluster. They do not need to be harsh or cruel, just logical and consistent.

Be careful about what they hear you say! Speaking positively about your child works magnificently… but the opposite is also true: if they hear you express negative opinions of them, then that can have a devastating effect on their self esteem. Never underestimate how much your kids pick up from your conversations with other people, even if they seem to be attending to something else. They will hear and absorb. If the message they are hearing is that they are a nuisance, a bad child, wearing you down, difficult or unmanageable – they will feed off that and live up to the words.

Be wise with your use of “NO”. When strong-willed children hear the word ‘no’, they often interpret it as ‘NEVER!’ Maybe the parent has just said ‘no’ to having a friend around to play, and they wail “I NEVER get to have a friend to play!!” Be firm and remind them, “No for this time, but not for every time. Let’s plan a time when a friend can come.”

And now for a word of comfort

Strong-willed children bring delight to parents, family and teachers alike. Their strength is inspiring. They don’t need approval from others to make good decisions. They can become wonderful, contributing citizens. And if you are the parent of one, your journey will be easier if you work with the grain and let your strong-willed child regularly know you are very fond of them!

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Family Meal Times

25 Feb

from Parenting Magazine http://www.theparentingplace.com/

Eating together as a family has the potential to be one of your best activities and one that reaps some pretty good rewards.

Meal times have become harder to arrange and there are lots of other pressures competing for your time and focus. However, there really isn’t much else that can compete in terms of value and benefits.

Research from both nutritionists and family life professionals shows families who eat together more than four times a week, reap these benefits:
• More nutritious meals and knowledge of basic cooking skills
• Opportunities to practice social skills and table manners
• Improved family communication
• A greater sense of community and family values
• Stronger family traditions

Children who eat regularly at home:
• Are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol
• Perform better in school
• Have a lower rate of teen pregnancy
• Are less likely to develop weight problems

A University of Michigan study showed family meal time was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behaviour problems.
Some families would argue that having a meal together is not a lot of fun, but there are certain ingredients that foster fun and closeness. Create an atmosphere that is warm and friendly. Your family will test the value of the mealtime on how it ‘felt’ and how much it was enjoyed.

Keys to help make this time memorable;
• Create ‘buy in’ by sometimes letting the children help choose what to have for dinner, prepare part of the meal and set the table.gp_family_meal_times.pdf
• Set some easy to keep rules for mealtimes such as: the child who set the table gets to choose where to sit. Adopt Monday as the special day to focus on manners. Eg. We stay seated on our bottoms, we don’t talk with food in our mouths, and we ask before we get down from the table.
• Every meal needs a start. Some families take turns in who wants to say grace and other families begin the meal with a thank you to the cook. Everyone should be seated before you start.
• Each member should practice saying something positive about the meal. Children may naturally dislike some foods and they can learn to share this respectfully, not rudely.
• Opportunities to talk are essential. Some families play ‘The highs and lows of the day’ where each person talks about the best part and the worst part of the day. To keep this flowing – use the pepper shaker and move it around to each person. Another great way to create a fun atmosphere is to use ‘Talk Triggers’ and have a special box in the table that these unique questions can sit in. Everyone gets to pick one random trigger and answer the question.
• Have certain times when there are candles on the table, when you use the special dinner set, have menus made, put on a favourite CD, and a vase of flowers on the table.
• If someone cannot be present at the first course, wait and all eat dessert together. If it is difficult to arrange dinner time, make a special event out of morning tea, afternoon tea or supper.
• Have times of celebration. You might focus on a school achievement, sporting success, completion of a task, area of effort, or willingness to give something a go. The ‘Red Plate’ can be awarded at times like this and the recipient gets to eat off this plate. Some children find it hard to accept the disappointment of not getting the accolade. This is a wonderful opportunity to coach your children to remember, “When something good happens to someone else be glad for them, not sad for yourself”. Mums and Dads should also be awarded ‘The Red Plate’ when they have done well at something!

Studies show that one of the positives about eating with the television off is that children eat healthier meals.

If the television is off, and phones are not invited to the meal, you are more likely to reach a greater level of communication.

gp_family_meal_times.pdf

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The Boys’ Club

12 Dec

from Parenting Magazine www.theparentingplace.com

John Cowan on boys, what makes them tick, and what they need to learn and grow.

I have had very little experience of being a girl, but I have been a boy for a long time, and so I thought I would share a few scattered insights into what I have discovered to be particularly useful about myself and my fellow boys. By the way, don’t be deceived by the receding hairlines and business shirts: you don’t have to peel back many layers of your typical bloke before you discover there is still a boy inside. Things that peel back those layers include motorbikes, flames, sport and I’ll end the list here as my wife will be reading this.

pm51_BoysClubPages-1

I have already dropped into using stereotypes, and some stereotypes are just plain wrong, especially the ones based on Tom Sawyer and beer commercials. An article on boys has to deal with generalities and features common to many boys, but it may not describe your lad at all well. Boys are different from girls, definitely; but boys are also very different from each other, and should be encouraged to be. Sometimes parents (Dads especially?) see masculine stereotypes as being some sort of code for our boys, something they have to follow to be true men: don’t show emotion, winning fights proves your masculinity, work hard, protect women etc. etc. Not all negative, but probably not all that helpful. Stereotypes can be descriptive, but they shouldn’t be prescriptive.

.One of the stereotypes is that boys are basically cavemen. They may pong at times and have feral manners, they might fight and do reckless dangerous things, but don’t assume that boys are insensitive, empty headed and only have three basic emotions: mad, glad and sad. Parents sometimes confuse an inability to communicate with nothing to communicate. Girls are definitely streets ahead of boys, communication-wise: they acquire language earlier and maintain that advantage. They have a much better vocabulary whereas boys like me are just, yunno, thingy. There is a lot going on in their heads, but they have neither the words to describe it nor a repertoire of behaviours to express it appropriately. A boy might feel confused, alienated, conflicted, passionate … and yet it all might look like anger to an observer. A boy might appear distressed but be unable to tell you why – but there’s the clue right in front of you: he appears upset. Read your boy’s body language and demeanour. The way he walks, the set of shoulders, the clouds that cross his expression: these are seldom meaningless. He might not be able to make the right words, and he might not be ready to absorb many of your words yet either, so use the same non-verbal language he is using: use your closeness, your hugs and you accepting expression to communicate your care and concern.

There are other clues about his internal world as well. For example, you can deduce a lot about how he thinks about himself by the friends he chooses to hang out with. His self-esteem determines whom he gravitates towards. If your boy tends to hang out with confident boys who are full of drive, then that is how he sees himself; likewise, if he tends to associate more with boys who retire to the background, that could be an insight into his self-esteem as well.

Some lines of questioning may lock boys up even more. “Why?” questions are particularly useless. “Why did you go on the internet when I told you not to?” “Why did you hit your brother?” The right answer to questions like that is, of course, “Dunno”. Similarly, asking a boy how he feels is likely to be fruitless. Instead, parenting guru Michael Grose suggests asking them what they think instead. Ask a boy for his opinion about something and you will usually get some pretty clear insights into what he is feeling.

 pm51_BoysClubPages-text1What motivated me as a boy? The same thing as every other boy – a desperate desire to be liked and approved of. When a boy has a cheering team (even if it only has one person in it) he does so much better. He will notice that you came to his school concert, and even though he never seems to look at you from the stage, he will notice if you listened to every piece or got bored and read emails on your phone. It is an incredible tonic knowing that he matters to you and you take an interest in him, but don’t expect him to know how to express that. In fact he might even act embarrassed by you afterwards as you are exiting with all the other parents and kids, and tell you off for taking too many pictures or clapping too loudly. Many boys are conflicted: they love to be honoured by you but hate to stand out in any way as different from their mates. I remember at least two parents mentioning how their boys were doing really well at school, until they received some prize or recognition at an assembly. They were so embarrassed their performance fell right back. “It’s cool to be a fool” is still part of the culture for many boys.

 Boys love the respect and favour of older guys and men. This can be great: if they are good role models and mentors, your boys will ‘download the software’ to be a good man from them. I think that it is great that most boys stay in school until they are 18 to get a good education, but it does delay the time when they meet and work alongside older men until much later in their lives. Their world is full of similarly-aged peers and I think it is delaying the maturation and character development of our young men. My recommendation is that you engineer opportunities for your boys to interact with good men. As a young teenager, I can remember when my Dad took me away on a fishing trip with his mates. I thought they were a bit of a boring bunch of old guys, but I did feel so grown up going away with the men, and grateful that my Dad gave me that experience.  Involve them in the communities you interact with. Take them to your workplace. Get them involved in sports, social and hobby clubs. Have parties at your place and, instead of letting them hide on their Playstation, get them involved taking around refreshments and food. Draw them into conversations with your friends and ask their opinions.

Be clear on this, too: older males can have powerfully negative influence on your young boys as well. Older boys are a common feature in younger boys being introduced to drugs and alcohol, porn and other mischief. Sometimes the boys most vulnerable to negative influences are boys who have difficulty fitting in with their peers, and will do anything to be accepted. A huge part of parenting is shepherding the influences in our kids’ lives and keeping our supervision and instincts switched on.

That desire to be liked has been linked to why boys underperform at school. A simple and not surprising fact is that teachers prefer girls. Of course there are many teachers who love teaching boys but, on average, both male and female teachers would rather have girls in the class – neater work, quieter, more cooperative … who could blame them? Dr Bonny Hartley’s research in the UK showed that boys believed their teachers thought they were ‘dumber’ than girls, and came to believe it about themselves as well. If a boy picks up he is not liked by a teacher, the feeling is likely to be reciprocated. Australian educator Ian Lillicoe sees this as vital: “If a girl doesn’t like her teacher, she can still can get around her teacher to get to the subject; but for boys, if they hate the teacher, they’ll hate the subject.” As psychologist Steve Biddulph says, “Boys learn teachers and not subject.”

What kinds of teachers bring out the best in boys? According to Lillicoe:

  1. Boys love teachers with a sense of humour.
  2. They hate it when teachers aren’t fair, such as punishing a group for one child’s wrongdoing.
  3. They love it when teachers love their subject. Ian Lillicoe mentioned he had a maths teacher at high school who used to weep at a beautiful maths solution. They thought he was nuts, but five boys in his class became maths teachers, including himself.
  4. Boys love to hear stories.pm51_BoysClubPages-text2

I was one of four boys (and one girl), and my wife and I have two boys (and one girl). I’ve put both of those girls in parentheses because the boys feel safer that way. It is my opinion (unpolluted by anything like research evidence) that girls who grow up surrounded by boys seem to be remarkably resilient and somewhat daunting to their brothers. That’s a key point: boys are more comfortable with other boys. As a toddler, a boy is probably just as happy playing with girls as boys, but from about four years of age, when the testosterone really comes on stream, his preference is very clear. He will still play with girls, but only if there are no boys to play with. Both boys and girls form samesex gangs, but boys defend the boundaries of their gangs more ferociously. It has to be a remarkable girl who can join in with a boy gang, and a boy who defects to play with girls risks severe mocking. I remember in our primary school playground we would lock arms and walk around in a row recruiting other boys to play, singing “Who-wants-to-play, cowboys-and-Indians, but-no- girls.” I’m sure that type of chauvinism would be banned in the playground now (cowboys and Indians is probably too racist and violent by today’s standards as well), but the preference for same sex company remains, peaking at about eight years of age. At puberty, their attitude to girls changes; in fact, it is amazing how quickly they go from being afraid of girl germs, to actually being at risk of catching them. But even though they are now fascinated by and attracted to girls, most males will be at their most relaxed in the company of other blokes.

Boys definitely do better with male teachers. The reasons might be quite simple: as well as tolerating boy restlessness and noisiness better, male teachers speak more loudly, more slowly and with fewer words than their female colleagues, which suits the slower auditory processing of boys. Are single sex schools (or single sex-classrooms) better for boys? For some boys, they are undoubtedly better off.

pm51_BoysClubPages-4A four-year long Cambridge university study found that single-sex class-rooms (even with co-ed schools) were remarkably effective in boosting boys’ performance, particularly in English and foreign languages. “We don’t just do war poems and Macbeth, we do Wordsworth too. It’s a challenge, in a way, which Mr J sets us to show the girls we’re capable of doing it, but I couldn’t talk about these things if there were girls there!” (Interestingly, a same-sex scenario produced a similar improvement for girls studying maths and science). A case sometimes made against single sex schools is that the resulting ‘macho’ culture is very hard on boys who do not fit the normal ‘boy’ stereotype, for example, boys who are not keen on sport. If this still happens, I think it is more likely to be the result of the school culture rather than boy culture. The Cambridge study showed that gender-atypical boys actually fared better in a same sex class or school: “These ‘nonmacho’ boys told us – without exception – that they felt at ease and comfortable, that they did not experience bullying or aggressive behaviour from other boys, and that they were not intimidated by the atmosphere in all-boys’ classes.”

Maybe a single-sex school isn’t an option for you, or one you reject for the reasonable reason that you want your boy to learn how to interact with girls in a more normal context. But if your boy is struggling academically, do consider hiring a male (maybe a senior student) as coach in the subjects he is struggling in.

 

 

on boys, what makes them tick, and what they need to learn and grow.

7 reasons parents are doing better than ever – by John Cowan

12 Nov

from Parenting Magazine www.theparentingplace.com

Are parents doing a better job than they were a few years ago? Well EVERYONE KNOWS children today are spoilt, over fed, disobedient, dumbed down, spend too much time on the internet and not enough time doing home work… and of course they all take drugs. So it follows parents today are appalling, a fact quickly confirmed by the majority of in-laws. Actually, I would argue that there are good reasons to believe you are a better parent than many of the parents a generation ago. It’s not hard to find examples of parents doing an appalling job and too many struggle with poverty and other problems but, in general, I think the current crop of parents are great. Here are my reasons:

      1. For a start, you are reading this. Thousands of parents read this and other parenting magazines or browse parenting articles online. Chances are you own parenting books (selected from hundreds of titles available) and you have probably been toparenting courses. I would safely wager you consciously up-skill yourself as a parent far more than your parents’ generation, simply because they never had the opportunity. When I started with The Parenting Place (then called Parenting with Confidence) in the midnineties, we were practically the only parenting organisation on the block. Resources were scarce: we imported books, magazines and speakers from overseas. Parenting education was something a school might occasionally attempt to put on, and these events were usually attended by about three parents, usually the mothers of the best behaved kids in the school.

      2. The second thing I would say in defence of modern parents is that Dads are taking their role more seriously. “WHICH men!?” you might snort derisively. Okay, my gender has a long way to go – Mums are still shouldering the lioness’s share of the parenting burden – but at least we are now feeling guilty about it. They are less shackled by stale masculine stereotypes and are conscious that they need to be involved with their kids. I’ve often met new dads who are quick to show off their prowess at looking after their infant. As the years have gone on I am delighted to see the proportion of men attending our events increase, and our Fathers’ Breakfasts are full of men earnestly wanting to do better.

      3. When I was a kid we rode in the back of utes, never wore helmets on bikes, played unsupervised around creeks and railway lines and had a hearty disregard for hygiene and safety. It was a great childhood… at least for those of us who survived it. Of course, most of us survived just fine, but the statistics definitely show that some didn’t; it was a more dangerous world for children back then. Actually, there are still far too many accidents. Compared with Australian children, our kids are twice as likely to die from injuries and three times as likely as children in England and Wales. If today is an average day, ten kiwi kids will suffer moderate to severe injuries and one child dies from injuries every five days(1). But that rate is a half of what it was in the early nineties(2) and less than a quarter of the rate in my childhood. Well done parents! When it comes to child abuse, the rates are far higher than decades ago, but I think this might in part reflect that it is tolerated less and is reported more

      4. Parents today think more about parenting and have a more sophisticated approach to parenting problems. I cannot cite any research on this but I have had a ringside seat in observing family life over many years, and I am impressed by the competence and knowledge of modern parents. When I was young, there were only two types of bread – white and brown – and only two types of child behaviour – good and naughty. Many in my era were just labelled naughty or stupid, and were whacked and punished, when in fact they may well have had ADHD, learning problems or psychological issues. Parents are much more prepared to look for reasons for behaviour, and to seek solutions apart from punishment. And when they go looking, they can find all sorts of help: school counsellors, psychologists, support agencies and parenting courses. Parents today benefit from the input of hundreds of professionals and dozens of agencies, and I believe they are making a huge difference

     5. I think kids are getting a better education today and parents can take some of the credit. Parents get more involved in education, volunteering and taking an interest. Parents are prepared to support children in their education longer, provide more resources and access extra coaching. Some would say that modern education has been dumbed down, and find old exam papers to show how much more advanced students were in the past. But they are not comparing apples with apples. There were around 1000 pupils in my high school back in the seventies. About half of them left in the fifth form (Year 11); there were only 17 students in the whole seventh form (year 13). Yes, the average senior student was probably better educated and doing more advanced work in my day, simply because all but the most academic had already been weeded out

       6. Parents have always loved their kids – I don’t doubt that for a moment. But it is lovely seeing a generation of parents who don’t mind showing it. “I love you” was something we saw American parents saying to their kids on TV programmes; in good old New Zealand we were a little more reserved, and saved stuff like that for our death beds. As I say, I am not implying that modern parents love their kids more, but I think they are definitely better at showing it.

      7. Parents are older today. I know, we are all older than we were yesterday, but what I mean is that couples are often delaying having children. The median age of first-time mothers has risen from 23 years old in the seventies to nearly 31 in recent years. Compared with young couples who leap straight into procreation, older parents tend to have more money, a bit more maturity and a relationship that has already been road-tested for a few years before subjecting it to the stress of parenthood. Families are also smaller, and though I’m not convinced it makes a huge difference, it probably means there is more to go around.

Please don’t use this article as grounds to boast to your parents that you are a better parent than they were (even if it is true!), but I hope you feel encouraged.

1 Source ACC.
2 http://www.nzchildren.co.nz/hospital_admissions.16 Parenting Spring 2012 php#Footnote_1

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