How to support your child’s learning, no the answer isn’t supervising homework.

Do you want to spend your time standing over your child to check homework or would you rather help your child develop the values, skills and knowledge to be independent and self reliant. Some children are born with powerful drive and determination but many more learn how to learn through everyday experiences which shape their thinking and behaviour. Children need key skills to settle well into school and to flourish. These skills can be developed through play and everyday life. Once you know what you are aiming to do it becomes a natural part of life. You don’t need expensive equipment, just a few minutes every day will be enough to create real results. Here are some practical ways to guide your child to do their best at school, without turning your home into a classroom.

Encourage creative and imaginary play: 
Make sure your child has some time every day to do their own thing. Encourage your child to choose what to do. The ability to concentrate is strongest when children choose something that interests and excites them, where they lead the game rather than follow passively. Watching T.V or playing on games consoles may be absorbing but it isn’t developing an active mind. Play allows children to become totally absorbed, this is called ‘flow’. When a child is in flow they lose track of time and can carry on with what they are doing without adult help. Children need to develop this ability to manage their own time and be independent. This also helps at school because they will have learnt how to settle to work and focus their concentration. Successful learning is self managed, and although teachers can inspire and inform, they cannot not supervise each learning step. Play is therefore important as the foundation for work. It’s also fun and it does you good.

Work to your child’s strengths and abilities: Every child has a unique combination of abilities and it is rare to be good at everything.  Notice what your child enjoys doing.

  • Do they love numbers?
  • Are they good at putting things together?
  • Maybe conversation and stories excites them
  • Perhaps movement and sport.
  • Do they love music?
  • Or maybe nature fascinates them.
  • Perhaps they are good at sensing other people’s feelings
  • Or at managing to keep themselves calm in a crisis.

It is useful to look at learning ability not as a single intelligence or IQ but as multiple abilities  These may be:

  • linguistic-verbal (spoken and written words)
  • logical-mathematical (reasoning and problem solving)
  • visual/spatial (seeing and imagining)
  • bodily-kinesthetic (body awareness and movement)
  • musical-rhythmic (sound and patterning
  • interpersonal (interaction with others)
  • intrapersonal (feeling, values and attitudes)
  • naturalistic (classifications, categories, and hierarchies)

Children enjoy having the time to use their strengths regularly. Don’t be tempted to spend more time improving skills that are weaker than is spent on using and enjoying achievements. Your child will gain energy and excitement from using their natural capabilities. Motivation and persistence grow from those experiences of doing the things we love.

Be confident that ability grows from learning and practice: Don’t think about learning ability as being fixed.  Children who believe talent is fixed, “you have either got it or haven’t” tend to see challenges and mistakes as threats to their self image.  This sets off a stress reaction making them angry, anxious or likely to freeze in panic.

The secret of success is to see learning as a form of growth.  The more you do the better you get.  Celebrate each step on the road to success.  This is an optimistic view which creates confidence.

Choose realistic goals: Learning is more like a series of small stepping stones to cross a river than a steep hill to climb.  Be realistic about what your child can do, based on their age and interests. Think stretch not strain.

Let your child’s skills and interests set the pace: Notice what they do and what excites them and use that as a launch pad into other interesting experiences. If you take too much control, your child may become stressed or switched off from learning. Use the 3W’s: wait, watch and wonder which will help you become attuned to your child’s natural skills and interests.

See mistakes as challenges not problems: Errors show us how we are doing so far. Seeing mistakes as short term setbacks can be helpful.  Mistakes provide information on where to go next.  They are sign posts for learning not roadblocks.  Children with a growth mindset can learn to welcome them as challenges.  Children with a fixed ability mindset see them as proof that they have reached their limits. One view creates energy, the other is draining.

Praise effort not achievements: The driving force for success is effort and persistence.  Praise your child for their commitment and for the approach they have taken.  Notice how they go about a task.

  •  Have they planned it?
  • Are they well organized?
  • Do they find ways around a problem?

This can be useful everyday, when doing ordinary tasks at home, like tidying the bedroom or packing a school bag. Praise your child for getting involved and trying to do things for themselves.

Turn negatives into positives: Sooner or later all children get discouraged and need help to get re-started. If for example, your child says ‘it’s no good I can’t remember’ you could take time together to find out what will improve their memory.  You can have fun experimenting with different approaches.

  • Do pictures and mind maps create connections to help them remember.
  • Maybe they learn through listening and talking – rhythm can help, try putting something to music or into a rhyme.
  • Are they practical and do they like to experience something first hand to help them learn? Could they make a model or imagine walking through a house with different parts of what they want to remember in each room?

The biggest secret of all is discovering that learning can be fun.  Once your child believes that they can be successful, they will continue to try, whatever the setback. They will enjoy exploring and using interesting ways to learn and practice. They will want to learn and will appreciate encouragement from teachers, friends and family.  They will feel confident about themselves and the future.

Yes you have guessed it; the real secret of successful learning is finding a positive attitude which helps you to keep going and not to give up.





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The Power of Play: 10 reasons why children play to learn

Children at play are not playing about. Their games should be seen as their most serious minded activity” Michel de Montaigne 16th century writer

Children learn through play, but equally importantly, play teaches children how to learn. Psychologists from the early days of infant watching have been in no doubt that play drives development in the early years. The inner life of small children is considered fascinating by most of us, nature’s natural parents, but sadly there are others who are impatient with child logic and flights of imaginative fantasy. These adults in a hurry prefer the fast pace of modern life and see value in finding short cuts to speed up everything they do. They are easily convinced that childhood is a candidate for a makeover to ensure more happens in less time. Recent government reviews of child care have taken this stance encouraging structured, adult-led groups to start teaching maths and literacy early. This appeals to those who believe play is a poor use of a child’s time.

We need to speak up for small children who can’t speak out for themselves. When we look at the early years carefully we see that children make an amazing journey from helpless baby to capable and confident young child. The combination of play and high quality relationships at home and in pre-school creates this transformation. It is a miracle but it is also one we can understand and explain.

What does play contribute to a child’s development? How does playing help a child to build their skills, step by tiny step? Why does play act as such a powerful motivator to ensure the child is avidly curious to learn about the world? Play is not just a way of passing time; it is the engine and power house of child development which is special for 10 important reasons.

  1. The brain thrives on gaining knowledge. A child has a mind of their own from the beginning and sets out to learn more about themselves and the world around them. Play is what happens when a child follows their own line of reasoning to see where it takes them.  Small children are mini scientists exploring and testing out what they find. They ask questions and make judgments. “What is this?” “What can it do?|” “How is it like other objects I know about?” “How is it different?” If we look at the lives of scientists, inventors, and artists we see that playful experimentation is what “creates” their major breakthroughs.
  2. Play develops language and communication. Children learn the language they need. A busy child at play will share what they are doing with an adult by commenting and asking questions which have a powerful relevance to what they are doing. The concept of sustained shared thinking acknowledges the importance of starting from the child and allowing their needs and their world view to shape the dialogue between adult and child. This builds the child’s confidence as well as developing knowledge. When adults ask questions or attempt to teach new concepts a child soon loses interest if it doesn’t resonate with what they are doing. When you observe this you can see the child’s unease and anxiety at being taken out of their comfort zone.  
  3. Play is fun and makes us happy: when you think back to your early childhood what are your treasured memories?  Maybe you remember a special toy fondly or the time you went on an adventure in the woods or built a den.  Children value their achievements. What makes a child feel competent is what they learn to do for themselves.  That’s why children want to keep models they’ve made or have their art displayed at home.
  4. Play reduces stress by helping children feel comfortable and in control.  “I can do what I want and need to do” Children typically have much less freedom than a generation ago which makes them tense.  I believe that some of the rise in behaviour problems is linked to this limited opportunity to gain satisfaction and achievement through play.
  5. Play helps children discover their strengths: children are attracted to activities they can soon learn to do successfully. Once one level is mastered they move onto the next challenge. Play gives a child the freedom to experiment and discover what works well for them, what skills they have and what they can make happen. Playing to your strengths not only builds a child’s competence but creates confidence and excitement at the prospect of learning something new.
  6. Play makes practice fun: if you have something to learn you need to rehearse it and repeat important steps many, many times for the skill to develop.  Play is the perfect system for practicing developing skills whether it is learning to climb or becoming a more skillful communicator. Watch how happy children are to repeat things which interest them.  This experience of playful practice helps children to recognise and accept the importance of practice in other areas of learning once they get to school.
  7. Play builds a child’s ability to concentrate. Play is exciting and absorbing and results in deep concentration for the young child. Learning to concentrate emerges from play as a pleasant side effect. Young children are designed to concentrate on what interests them and find it more difficult to concentrate on something led by an adult. A child’s concentration span increases the more experience they have of deeply absorbing play. Learning to shut out distractions is an important part of this. When a child has restricted opportunities for uninterrupted play this has a direct effect on their ability to control their attention.
  8. Play teaches organisation skills. Play may start with a spontaneous idea, but it quickly becomes planned and self-managing.  “What shall I do now?”  “Where shall I take this next?”  Psychologists call this ability to plan and oversee a work in progress Executive Function. As a child’s brain develops, this skill becomes more established. This vital cognitive skill is the foundation for effective learning. Children who have well developed executive function will be successful in education. The Plan, Do, Review process is designed to reinforce this developing skill.
  9. Play helps a child become self-motivated which is vitally important as children make their way through school. Teachers can’t oversee every detail of a child’s work. Children who have experience of successful learning through play will become more active learners who are not passively dependent on adults overseeing every learning moment. This belief in their competence to learn will transfer to classroom learning.
  10. Play nurtures creativity – the ability to use what is available in the room or in your head to make something new out of the familiar requires a powerful imagination. The imagination is not just a pleasant place to visit; it is where all discoveries, inventions and new ideas are incubated. Creativity is seeing the world in a new and different way.  Play is the ideal apprenticeship for creativity. The danger for children who are over scheduled with little free time is that it saps creativity. The areas of the brain which manages reflection and imagination are switched off when we are engaged with a demanding task.  The imagination needs space to work its magic.  That’s why our best ideas pop into our heads on a walk or in the bath.  If we over schedule children they don’t have time to dream.


Jeni Hooper is an Educational and Child Psychologist. She is the author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful.



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What works to support children’s wellbeing and resilience.

Wellbeing and resilience are not skills you are born with, nor can they be handed on by wise advice, they are skills which have to be learned. Developing the skills which create wellbeing puts a young person in control of their own destiny. They will know how to make good choices, avoid temptations and create a life that brings them happiness and fulfillment. The path to maturity and independence is long and has twists and turns along the way. Over protection may avoid hazards but leaves young adults vulnerable when they need to make decisions. It is better to be prepared through independence gained slowly and carefully. Until a child feels secure and competent in what they are doing they will need the people in their life to offer support and guidance in making choices. Here are 10 strategies which will help to build the competence and self-knowledge to maintain their wellbeing.

  1. Look at the world through the child’s eyes to be aware of both how they feel and what practical skills and thinking strategies are needed to manage a situation successfully. What will work best for them?
  2. Set realistic expectations based on both what suits the child and what their age and stage of development will allow. Children can be ahead in some areas and less so in others. Aim not to set expectations which are possible but not too big a stretch.
  3. Warmth and rapport are the top qualities which influence others and sustain relationships. Advice falls on stony ground when someone instructs rather than supports. Think Connect rather than Correct. A child looks for positive and constructive feedback to let them know how they are progressing. Adults however are only human and we need to ensure our own needs and feelings do not get in the way.
  4. Circles of support. There is a saying that it a takes a village to raise a child. This is true not only for the child but also for adults who are responsible for the child’s welfare. You need others to turn to who can step in at a practical level or just listen and let you let off steam. Sometimes that support network is within your local community but for many people now online social support has become increasingly important.
  5. Focus on building strengths. People who feel competent are more likely to be confident. The greater the child’s competence the more likely they are to cope with what they find challenging. What strengths can be used to make any changes needed? .
  6. Create strong boundaries which keep a child within their zone of competence. Firm boundaries are like scaffolding, providing support until a child demonstrates sufficient knowledge, skills and maturity to handle that situation independently.
  7. Provide lots of supported practice. Most children now grow up in small families and spend their days in school with others the same age. The opportunities for learning by observation and example can be narrower now than in previous generations when children played outside in mixed age groups. Think about what might broaden their experience and provide good role models.
  8. Accept mistakes. Progress rarely goes in a straight line. When things don’t go according to plan we can either become frustrated and demotivated or we can explore what this tells us to inform what we do next. A growth mindset helps a child live with mistakes and profit from them.
  9. Be aware of other influences. Role models shape children’s thinking and aspirations. They can either inspire and inform or make a child feel dissatisfied with themselves. The child’s peer group is hugely important as a source of belonging and building identity but can also play up a child’s vulnerabilities. Similarly the media offers images which attract a young person but if they are too far out of reach they cause deep dissatisfaction. You can help them consider and make sense of these influences for themselves. Equally you can draw attention to role models who are resilient, or very optimistic or passionate about doing something well.
  10. Celebrate success. When you focus on what is happening right now rather than any lengthy “to do list” you start to notice what is going well and what you can savour and feel grateful for. Young people need to develop the habit of being in the moment and appreciating what is happening around them and what they are capable of contributing, too much negativity is draining.



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Emotion Coaching: helping children to understand and manage powerful feelings

Children’s behaviour is often problematic because they are trying to solve a problem of their own. Learning to understand your emotions and identify your needs takes time and often a child’s solution is both impulsive and centered on their own needs.

A child is not trying to create a problem for others but often this is just what happens. To learn understand themselves and others better, children need sensitive guidance which helps them to look at every aspect of their behaviour to find a better solution. I call this Emotion Coaching, because it is designed to work from the outside in, teaching a child to recognize the thoughts and feelings which contribute to their behaviour. This is based on the groundbreaking work of John Gottman in his book The heart of Parenting.

Emotion Coaching may take longer than offering a quick solution of your own, but it is more effective in calming the situation. It also gradually teaches the child how to find their own solutions. Empathy is at the heart of this approach. When you acknowledge, and try to understand your child’s feelings, you will help them to make sense of their own emotions. It will then be easier to find solutions which work for them.

There are 5 stages to take you from acknowledging the problem to finding a solution. The Emotion Coaching process is the key to helping a child learn how to integrate the emotional brain with rational thought. Emotion Coaching is designed to identify and acknowledge the child’s feelings and how they impact on behaviour. Only when this has been successful will you be able to identify what new behaviours and skills need to be learnt and practiced.

Your empathy provides a close connection with the child, and improves communication so that you can explore together what has happened to them and why they are feeling this way. It helps the child to feel less stressed, and more supported, so that they can consider what has happened and plan what to do next. It is a vital principle of all coaching that the coach does not advise or direct. You may see a solution, but what you are aiming for is to help the child understand themselves better. Then they can make informed choices and plan genuine change.

When you talk to a child about their feelings you need to keep your views private, to avoid inhibiting the child from finding what works for them. While being given a solution may be a quick fix, it doesn’t teach the child how to think through and solve problems for themselves.

Monitor your own feelings: it is also important to be aware of how you feel about powerful emotions. Your empathy and connection with your child will be affected by your own values and beliefs about strong feelings. Do you avoid sadness or perhaps you fear anger? It is not unusual to “catch an emotion” when someone is upset so that you also feel something of the same strong emotions that the child is feeling. If you are uncomfortable with any of these feelings, you are more likely to try to resolve things quickly to restore your own peace of mind.

Equally, barriers to communication can be created when you are inclined to pile on the guilt or create shame in the hope this will prevent repeats of the behaviour. When over used, these strategies can create secondary emotions which make it hard for a child to be open and honest with you about what they are feeling.

For many people, their own upbringing may have been tough-minded, demanding that emotions were managed quickly and effectively as a sign of self discipline. While self discipline is the ultimate long term aim of behaviour coaching, the route to this goal has to be taken slowly. First the emotional brain needs to be calmed, not suppressed, to allow rational problem solving to take place.

If a child gets the message that strong feelings are unwelcome, they may try to hide them. This is rarely a successful strategy. It will lead the child to swing between the extremes of trying to keep feelings hidden and then swinging back into melt down when they can no longer manage the swirl of emotions. Often, it can be small things which cause the final melt down, which leaves the adult both surprised and vaguely irritated. “What a lot of fuss over nothing” Emotions are powerful and do not go away satisfactorily unless addressed.

The best way to help a child learn self discipline is this gradual process of sharing and guiding. Emotion Coaching works with the child’s level of understanding to help them resolve any strong feelings which are causing them distress. The process adapts as the child matures and strengthens their ability to make good choices.

Step 1 Tune into the child’s feelings. This is straight forward if the child’s feelings are acted out, as younger children often do, but can be harder when the signs are less direct like withdrawing or not joining in. You may need to observe what themes come out in a child’s imaginary play or their comments about stories or DVD’s

Step 2 Make it clear you can resolve this together. Creating closeness and a willingness to share the child’s feelings will establish the right environment to teach new skills. Unresolved emotions rarely dissipate and the child’s body chemistry is likely to remain in “flight or fight” mode so getting in early will also avoid the situation escalating.

Step 3 Listen and validate the child’s feelings.  Aim to enter the child’s world so you can reflect back their feelings and help the child accept and understand what they feel. This also allows the child a safe space to step back and see what you see. It breaks the powerful hold that emotion has over the child when it absorbs all their attention to focus on the object of distress. Encouraging the child to talk helps them to understand themselves, as well as be understood. “You are feeling angry” is a statement of fact necessary to begin unraveling what is going on.

Step 4 Label the feelings for young children especially, emotions are experienced as unpleasant but indefinable. Children gradually learn to identify what they are feeling through experience and through being given support and the vocabulary to describe what they feel. Children often use words like hate to cover aspects of anger shading from frustration, annoyance and irritability through to dislike and anger. I hate you can mean a variety of things. This can be uncomfortable to hear but by talking together gradually shades of meaning are identified.

Let’s listen in on an emotion coaching session between Tom and his father. Tom is 8 years old, and has a younger sister, Lara aged 4. She hero-worships her big brother but her following him around is unwelcome. Lara has just come into his room and has started playing with a Lego model he is very proud of. He shouts at her to leave it alone, which she ignores, leading to a scuffle as he tries to push her out of the room.

Here are the stages Tom’s father followed to help him decide how to get along better with his sister. Let’s assume dad has gone through steps 1 to 4 above to let Tom know he understands he is angry and that he wants to help him. They have got to the Step 5 where they are ready to problem solve.

Step 5 Problem solving this is a guided approach which begins by dealing with the immediate situation caused by Tom kicking his sister. The inappropriate behaviour has to be acknowledged before focusing on the future. It is important that Tom understands that his feelings are not the problem, it is his behaviour towards his sister which is unacceptable.

  •  Set limits for behaviour: Dad has to make it clear to Tom that although he understands why he felt frustrated with his sister it was not, and never would be, OK to push her or hurt her in any way.  Dad says: I know you are angry but it was not OK to push your sister” “it is never acceptable to hurt people when we are angry with them” We need to find a way for you to work things out with Lara when you disagree.
  • Identify goals: Now Dad and Tom will be looking for ways of expressing anger and managing disputes between the siblings. “How can you get along better with your sister”
  • Explore options: If Dad were to give Tom a set of rules it might work but it is likely to crack under pressure. It is better to help Tom come up with a range of options. Dad is aiming for win/win for both children but initially Tom only sees the solution only from his own perspective. “I think she should be banned from coming in my room or playing with my toys.” Dad knows this isn’t ideal but decides not to reject this option out of hand. Instead he asks further questions to explore how well it might work in practice. “When will Lara get to play with you? Is it fair for only you to decide? What else might help you to get on better?” This questioning helps Tom to think of things from his sister’s perspective and develop some empathy with her.
  • Weigh up their merits: they end up with 2 options: either asking Lara to knock to see if Tom is busy or agreeing that bedrooms are private spaces but offering to play together downstairs or in the garden instead.
  • Making the choice: Tom decides that he could make it work best if he asked Lara to knock to ask if he was available and if he was busy he could agree a time to come and play a game later. They decide that the next step is to say sorry to Lara and to ask her what she thinks of the plan. Fortunately she is happy with this and can see the advantage of not having her big brother come into her own room either unless she agrees.

It can work to use this approach with both children particularly when it is not clear what happened.

It may not always be possible to use emotion coaching close to an event. If the child is very unsettled, they might need to be offered some quiet time doing something distracting. “I realize you are feeling very angry and I do want to help you, but first I think you need some quiet time to help you settle”

Find something calming and repetitive to help them take their mind off what has happened. Young children are often willing to do a helping task but with an older child who remains volatile may need a planned strategy of activities which will engage them successfully until they are in a calmer and more receptive state to begin emotion coaching.

Once the child’s rate of breathing and heart rate has settled, you can begin the behaviour coaching cycle acknowledging how they are feeling and working towards a possible solution. You should also look for other signs that the stress response is diminishing like skin being less flushed.

There is a more in depth look at emotional wellbeing on pages 65 to 97 of my book What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful.




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Building Better Behaviour Through Positive Play

A child’s play can be something of a mystery to parents. What helps? Should I get involved or keep out of the way? What role does play have in my child’s progress and how can I help not hinder? If any of these questions have puzzled you read on.

How to help your child be happy and cooperative is also a matter of trial and error for many parents. When we are busy it is just so easy to carry on while your child is occupied and then jump in when things are going pear shaped.

  • Do you feel that that your child doesn’t listen when you ask them to do something?
  • Does it take ages sometimes to get anything done?
  • Do you feel your attempts to guide your child is taking all the fun out of being a parent?

Let’s explore how positive play can be a great way to connect and also result in a happier more cooperative child.

Guilt Warning: Promise yourself you won’t dwell on past disappointments.

Building better behaviour is a chance for a fresh start. You will discover how the 7 secrets of success are the opposite of what we do instinctively when things go pear shaped. Negativity creates stress and can accelerate conflict. Just the opposite of what we do naturally when things are going well. Your child’s behaviour will turn around when you “act as if” things are great. Start to get things back on track from today.

Building better behaviour through positive play is an approach which will make a huge difference to you and your child. Find out how to

  • Gain your child’s attention without raising your voice
  • Reduce the time spent trying to get things done
  • Know what motivates your child without using sticker charts
  • Have more fun and less fuss when you spend time together

Building better behaviour through positive play gives you 7 powerful parent strategies which will help your child become calmer and more open to your influence. You will learn effective ways to meet your child’s emotional needs and create a positive experience when spend time together which leads to better behaviour. Soon your child will become calmer, and more cooperative.

Seven Ways to be Powerful Parent

1)  Imagine yourself in your child’s shoes:  Find a time when you can fully focus your attention on your child. What are they doing and what must it feel like? Let your child know they have your attention by making a positive comment about what they are doing. What do you remember about your own childhood? Does your child like the same things that you did or are you very different?

2)  Be generous with praise: be specific, comment on what your child is doing. Aim to give praise 5 times more often than requests. This may take time to achieve but does work wonders if you persevere. Praise for effort and engagement rather than achievement so your child feels empowered to be active and curious about the world around them.

3) Have a few clear rules for positive behaviour: Let your child know the boundaries but don’t overload on detail. “Be kind to people”. “Take care of your toys”. Focus on showing your child how to have fun and how to handle frustration. “When you are sad Mummy will help you feel better”.

4) Give positive messages with smiling and relaxed body language: Children read body language very astutely, even before they can talk. Our tension is often read by them as disapproval. Positive body language works like a magnet to catch your child’s attention.

5) Keep your child’s attention by imitating words or actions to signal that you are tuned in to their activity and that you are interested in what they do.

Have you ever tried mirroring? This subtle copying of actions and posture helps people feel on the same wavelength. You may have read about it in magazine articles about dating or getting on better with your boss but it works with children too.

If your child is playing on the floor, sit down too and copy some of their posture or actions. Don’t do too much or it becomes noticeable. People often comment that successful mirroring makes them feel more in tune with the other person.

6) Ask to play: Most children love to have a playmate but young children especially can’t cope if adults take over. Why not ask “What game would you like me to play with you now? Or “what would you like me to do next?” Being available and following the child’s lead and interest is what is important.

7) Ignore minor naughtiness by turning away and becoming neutrally unavailable. This might seem like asking for trouble, but once your child has become more used to you having fun together they will respond differently. Behaviour will stop to regain your attention because being with you makes your child feel good.

 8) Positive touches are signs of closeness that can get lost when you are constantly battling to gain your child’s attention. Building on the warmth and affection between you will further strengthen your relationship. Positive touch releases oxytocin, a calming body chemical which makes us feel great. Cuddles will give you both a buzz, older children may prefer something lighter than a great big hug but the contact is still important. Displays of warmth and affection need to be attuned to your child’s mood and appropriate to their age/stage of development

Getting Started

Take a little time to imagine exactly what things will be like once you have put these 7 steps into practice. Read each of the seven steps again and visualise the best possible outcome for you and your child. It may take time to over ride the panic reaction of jumping in to sort out problems with a “no stop that” but it will soon become second nature to work with your child to encourage positive play.



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7 myths about the advantages of starting school at 4 years old

Children in the UK start school in the September of the year in which they turn 5. Most children, except those with a very early September birthdate, will be just 4 years old. The legal requirement is actually to begin education in the term after their 5th birthday so most children now start school a year early.

Getting a place at a school of your choice is a competitive business. It is a high risk not to take up a place even though your child could stay at nursery until they are 5. The DfE makes a distinction between Year R which is part of the Early Years Foundation Stage and Year 1 which is when the National Curriculum begins at Key Stage 1. You would hope that the transition to school from nursery would be smooth as the Reception Year is a continuation of the Early Years Foundation Stage. It is a change of place but should be offering a broadly similar experience.  However in practice this is not what is happening and the push to introduce literacy and maths through teacher led instruction rather than play based learning is gaining momentum in schools.

The Summerborn campaign articulates concern at this shift in emphasis for young learners. Summerborn campaigners are parents who know that school is not what their child needs now. Early years groups and nurseries have better staffing levels and more flexible play based learning that suits their child. They have also seen the evidence that not only are summerborn children 90% more likely to be designated as having SEN but this label tends to stick around and lower expectations rather than lead to effective support. I wholeheartedly support these parents in taking a stand but I think it is not only the youngest children who are disadvantaged by this early start in school. The problems in education go beyond this.

Here in the UK we make the assumption that starting school at 4 years old is a good thing and that children will benefit. How true is this? Here are some myths that need to be dispelled.

Myth 1: Starting school is the beginning of education.

Early Years provision is now widespread and all children have an entitlement to 15 hours free provision. The two largest political parties’ manifestos plan to increase entitlement to 25 and 30 hours. If this does happen, children can be in developmentally appropriate education up to the age of 5 without going into school early. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.  What they offer is a more generous staffing level and a curriculum that works with the child’s needs rather than setting unrealistic goals. School is not the only way to learn.

Myth 2: Education is what happens when teachers teach

Education has become synonymous with teaching but teaching doesn’t guarantee effective learning. Young children need a wide experience to build their skills and don’t work well in groups. Direct teaching of a whole class is rare with young children because the focused attention and self-regulation required is a challenge for the young learner. Carpet time is a challenge with lots of fidgeting and wriggling which indicates a child is struggling to remain focused. When teacher do introduce earlier formal teaching especially of literacy and maths there is a risk it will back fire creating frustration, anxiety and disruption. I’ve met so many little ones over the years where their teachers assumed a behaviour problem or learning need was behind their slow progress and were looking to Educational Psychology expertise to confirm their view. For many young children creating more flexibility and supporting the child to succeed was often the only change required. Not being able to sit quietly on the carpet should be a clue for the teacher to do things differently.

Myth 3: The UK’s early school start gives us an international advantage

Doing things earlier to get ahead is another widespread myth in education. Most countries do not have children start school before 6 or 7 years. Before they start school children attend kindergarten or nursery where the emphasis is on providing children with the right environment for healthy, happy development. When children get to school later with good communication and social skills they make rapid progress. So rather than British children heading international league tables in literacy and maths we lag well behind. The PISA results which explore the attainments of 15 year olds around the world put the UK at 23rd for literacy and 26th for maths. Something is not going well and starting formal learning before many children are developmentally ready is not the answer.

Myth 4: Children learn best when they work in teacher led groups.

The lag in attainment for British students has been explained by some commentators as due to a lack of rigorous focus on building children’s knowledge. They criticise allowing children too much time for discovery learning and play. The traditionalists call this child centred learning which they deride as a scourge of modern times. They assume that if academic rigour could start early it would raise the attainments of 3 and 4 year olds. Politicians keen to make childcare reforms seized on this to justify creating larger adult led groups which would cut staff ratios and reduce costs. Neither parents nor early year’s practitioners were impressed and this idea now seems to have been dropped.

Myth 5: Play is not essential

Play has made human beings the clever, adaptable and inventive people we are.  Education is the new kid on the block – universal education is less than 150 years old. The drive to play pre-dates education by a mile, it has an evolutionary purpose which ensures young children and animals engage productively in experiences which offer maximum potential for learning and growth. Just imagine if a child had to learn everything they need to know in the first 5 years of life by being directly taught. Think of the 1000s of hours adults would have to dedicate to bringing up their children. Instead children are primed to play and imitate what they see around them incorporating things into fun and games until they have had sufficient practice. It is so clever but so subtle we risk taking play for granted and seeing it as unimportant. It is a serious mistake to cut the time available for play short before children have finished developing all the skills they need to benefit from what is on offer in the classroom. As a result we have children in school too early to benefit from what is on offer.

Myth 6: Parents are to blame when children don’t succeed 

A child’s pace of development can be affected by many things including family environment and their own natural ability. However while some families may need support to offer their child the best start it can also be the timing of starting in school which is the issue. Last October I offered an on line advice day via NetMums for parents with concerns about their child’s start at school. We were kept busy all day by deeply worried parents. The greatest concern was anxiety, children who had thrived at Nursery but no longer felt confident and secure. Many were overwhelmed, worried about the skills required of them and lost without the additional support that had been available at better staffed nurseries. These articulate, concerned and capable parents were deeply unhappy that their child was having a hard time. There was no advanced warning as almost all said nursery had gone well. Despite this evidence that the partnership between nurseries and parents pays dividends schools are still too ready to blame parents.

Myth 7: Teachers don’t need training in child development

Early Years Practitioners who lead our nurseries and early year’s settings have a thorough understanding of child development. This knowledge allows them to see where the child is up to in acquiring skills and knowledge and to anticipate next steps which will support and enrich their learning. They know when to help a child accelerate their knowledge and when to slow down. They don’t make the mistake of jumping too far ahead and missing out a vital stage of development. Ironically they are paid less than a primary trained teacher. Teachers in primary schools are likely to meet children who have unfinished developmental business, either because they have SEND or because at 4 years old there is still lots to pull together and coordinate before the steep learning curve of early development begins to level off. If schools are to continue to take in 4 year olds they need to ensure that each teacher has the knowledge and skills they need to help children learn in the best way possible for them.

I am an optimist. I think things will improve but only when the message is widely shared that school is not always the best place for a 4 year old to spend their precious time.

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Let Child Development and Not Child Care Guide What We Offer Young Children

Childhood is amazing, so much miraculous growth and development over the first few years of a child’s life. It’s so important that we give children what they need for a happy, healthy childhood.

Children enter the world as helpless babies and in a matter of a few short years become walking, talking bundles of energy, full of questions and curiousity. The impetus to gain skills and knowledge comes from within the child who is not an empty vessel or blank slate to be filled by an adult blueprint. Nature has ensured that little humans have all the drive they need not just to survive, but to thrive. All children ask is to be given love and support and a stimulating environment. We do not teach child development step by step, it seems to happen miraculously when a child is ready. Of course the more attentive and attuned to a child we are the more able we are to create the opportunities for each skill to emerge when the time comes. There is a strong parallel with gardening where the knowledgeable gardener creates the right conditions and protects the plants in their care.  Personalised, child centred care is crucial in those formative years, there is no need for formal educational tuition, indeed it can be counterproductive. Small children value their independence: “me do it” is said with great determination.

In recent years more and more children in the UK are at the mercy of adults in a hurry. They want to steal a march on education, send children to school already able to read write and count. If we start early they say we will give children a head start. Politicians have taken up this rallying cry talking about the global educational race, though no self-respecting early year’s advisor or child psychologist would ever have recommended it to them. Politicians home in on parental anxiety about an uncertain future and assume they have a vote winner. Now we have the major parties upping the hours of free entitlement to the average length of a school day. It is likely the pressure to focus on literacy and maths and to reduce independent, creative play will accelerate.

There is no evidence that earlier introduction of academics is effective. There is substantial comparative evidence from other countries that a later start to formal education does no harm. The UK are part of a small group of nations which start school before 6 and in the UK most children entering a Reception Class are only 4 years old. The Summerborn Campaign gains its urgency from this early start which makes the youngest in the cohort even more vulnerable. What we risk by introducing formal academics too early is that children’s development is compromised by this ill-advised rush to get children sitting down and doing work at a table like the bigger children. At age 4 most children have not got the skills in place they need for formal learning so progress is likely to be frustratingly slow. More haste less speed as my grandmother used to say. Whereas when we let children develop the skills they need through independent play and practice then later on things will fall into place.

Most people including Primary School teachers have limited knowledge of the stages of child development. This is rather surprising given that we have small children starting school who have unfinished business in that department. If you are interested to know more there are links below to useful guides where you can explore the stages of skill development in detail.

So what do we mean by child development and what are the key skills which emerge gradually over the first 6 years? Before you look up the guides below you may find these short summaries useful. Each section starts with baby skills and overviews what most children can do by 5 or 6 years old. As you can see when 4 year olds start school they are unlikely to have all the skills in place which help with formal learning. They remain better suited to play based learning which draws on their preference to follow what satisfies their developmental priorities. By age 6 or 7 the corner stones of mental and physical development are established and this firm foundation enables a child to work more collaboratively with both peers and adults.  At 4 years old a child is still flexing their physical and mental developmental muscles and need a wide range of experiences to meet their physical and cognitive needs.

The Early Years Foundation Stage which finishes at the end of the Reception Year is designed to be holistic and developmentally appropriate to each child’s needs. It is designed to give children the support they need to be ready for statutory education at age 5.  Sadly the hurry towards formal schooling risks cutting this short.

The developmental milestones mentioned below are based on typical development (what is average for the majority) but do be aware that individuals will differ whether or not there is a special need.

Physical mobility

Babies can move their arms and legs but do not have the core strength to sit or roll over. By the age of 6 a child is likely to be able to hop, skip, jump, climb and catch a ball. These skills require fine-tuned movement which takes time to master. Most 4 year olds have mastered the gross motor skills like running and climbing but may find the more finely tuned movements challenging.

The early years require a lot of freedom for the child to use their body and test out what skills are now open to them as their physiology matures making finely coordinated movements more accessible. This is not a time for extended activities seated at a table. Children through their behaviour show us what they need and sitting still is not what they are after. Children who have had restricted opportunities for active play are also likely to be slower to achieve developmental milestones.

Hand control

A baby can grasp a finger but cannot pick up or put objects down voluntarily. By the age of 6 a child can make finely tuned movements to pick up small objects between the fingers and place them exactly as planned. The early years is a time when children need lots of opportunity to explore and handle materials, to gain sensory experience and test out what their maturing arms and hands are now capable of doing. I watched a child roll up and unrolling a poster repeatedly recently as he delighted in his ability to make this happen. When we have children in a formal classroom by the age of 4 many of them won’t have the dexterity needed to draw and write successfully and they will experience unnecessary frustration. This could be avoided if children were allowed to handle arts and crafts material in free play for longer before formal literacy is introduced.

Language and Listening 

The vital element for sparking language development is having a quality 1 to 1 relationship with an attuned and responsive adult. This is certainly the primary need in the first 3 years of life as communication skills emerge. The child’s ability to be part of a group listening and talking to each other comes later and emerges slowly. The pinnacle of achievement for the young child is the ability to restrain what you want to do and tune into an adult who is talking to the group. Most children are still learning to do this in their 6th year. Children’s language is a key skill needed for successful play with friends and shared play is rather fragile right through this whole period. From the age of 3 children play together more often and more complex and sustained play develops as 4 and then 5 year olds mature. It is tough work to manage your own enthusiasms and accommodate the needs of others and most children can only do this briefly at first. Play is a highly successful medium for using and developing language as children learn to listen, share and make themselves understood while having fun. There are considerable disadvantages in cutting the opportunities for imaginative play short just as children are getting up ahead of steam at the age of 4.

Thinking and reasoning

The ability to acquire knowledge (known as cognitive skills) develops in parallel with language. Children need the vocabulary to name objects and the reasoning skills to think about their characteristics. “What is this?” “What can it do?” The ability to question and be curious is an important aspect of the early years and a skilled adult works with what engages a child. Older children from around age 6 can shift their attention to something an adult introduces and sustain attention to a teacher’s agenda. Younger children may start by showing interest but can become distracted and loose attention. This is why a more instructional approach is traditionally not introduced until Junior School at age 7

Personal, social and emotional skills

The child’s understanding of the world and what is possible is a slow steady process of growth determined by experience. A baby lives mainly in the moment and any unmet need feels like a permanent loss. As the child’s memory develops so their ability to predict what will happen increases, assuming of course that they experience predictable and attentive care. By the age of 2 the increasingly physically capable child has a sense that they can make things happen but find the times when this isn’t possible devastating. They dissolve into overwhelming grief. We should never underestimate the real distress children experience as toddlers.

As language and thought matures then a child’s ability to manage their emotions also matures alongside. However because children have so little control over their world the frustrations continue. Sand timers are often used in nurseries to help develop turn taking and waiting. Children love the sense of both fairness and predictability and will often go to fetch a timer to help in negotiations over a toy. Handing over your control of what you do to a teacher within a large group of child has huge potential for frustration when children are still learning to self-regulate. I put the increase in challenging behaviour in 4 year olds in school down to this mismatch between development and what is expected of them.

Attention control and concentration

A baby’s focus is immediate and anything that drops out of sight is soon forgotten. The child’s ability to focus remains stronger for activities they have chosen throughout childhood and certainly under 6s struggle to stay with a task which has been set for them. Concentrating on what the teacher is saying is challenging for 4 year olds and anyone who has spent time in a Reception Class will know of the seemingly endless non- sequiturs as children pursue their own line of thought despite the adult’s best attempts to keep everyone on track. This is the danger of introducing formal teaching too early, visit a year 2 class of 6 and 7 year olds and you will see lively engagement between the children and their teacher which is a joy to see.  

So let’s treat childhood as the tender and precious time when children find out all about themselves and the world around them in a way which is determined by what they are ready and able to do. Too much too soon will only lead to frustration and disappointment

Further reading

 Development Matters – in the Early Years Foundation Stage

The role of toys and Play in Child Development by Jeni Hooper

What to expect when- a parent’s guide


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Happy holiday checklist

Let’s be positive, although it hasn’t been the greatest start to the Easter break weather-wise there is still something special about having a 2 week break. This is a time away from formal learning to let children relax and try something a bit different from their term time routine. It doesn’t have to cost anything or be exotic to make a positive difference to a child’s wellbeing. Here’s my happy holidays checklist for free activities which are not only fun but good for you. All are informed by research into wellbeing. So have not just a happy holiday but a flourishing one too.

file000370629124Laugh – life can get too serious at times and we all need to reconnect with the lighter side of life. Tell jokes, watch a comedy or have a silly walk competition. When we get too busy or absorbed in doing our own thing the chance to connect and share laughter can take a back seat.

Get physical – a walk in green space lifts the spirits but if you can’t get out today put on some music and dance. A kick about in some open space needn’t take up too much of the day but raising the heart rate is so good for you.

stained-glass-hand-prints (2)Use your hands – there’s something deeply satisfying about making things. It doesn’t have to be artsy or messy play (both of which are fun) but could be cooking or planting something to create something useful or beautiful.

Use your head – enter imaginary worlds with a book or a listen to an audio book. Building up pictures in your mind of characters and places is deeply satisfying but also a skill which needs to be nurtured. Schools rarely have time to let children settle into something and stay with it. Watching TV or a DVD or using video games doesn’t count here because the images are ready made.

Take turns to choose – children value their independence and having some responsibility. The fast paced adult world risks sweeping children along with a well-intentioned “it’s good for you to do this now don’t argue”. Holidays are a great time for choosing and learning from that decision.

Learn to manage boredom – the ability to manage yourself effectively, known as self-regulation, won’t develop adequately unless there is the time and space to make decisions. Sometimes when nothing immediately comes to mind boredom creeps into the gap. Don’t be tempted to jump in with suggestions, equally do expect your child to make a decision and act on it.

Ignore the weather get outside – there’s no such thing as bad weather only the wrong clothing. Not sure who said this but children don’t care as long as they are somewhere they can get busy. The National Trust’s 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4 is a good source of ideas.

Share chores – use the time saved by speedy completion of life’s necessities to do something together. Little ones probably need the reward of getting together straight after to play a game but older ones appreciate that working together all week can make more time for weekend fun.

Contact a friend – term time is very sociable but families can become a bit isolated in the holidays especially if you assume that everyone else is doing something out of the ordinary. Meet at the park or invite someone to play round at your home.

Give something to others– taking care of others outside the family can be linked to organised charities or be local support of an elderly neighbour. Children learn empathy, kindness and gratitude from regular small acts of kindness.

file0001179129151Boost your positivity ratio – we all need to experience life through a positive lens. A ratio of 3 things we value positively to 1 event which challenged us a little is the tipping point. More is better but 3 to 1 is a realistic goal. You may have noticed that I emphasised how we see life as the key, optimism or pessimism alters our interpretation of events. We all know someone whose glass is always half full and they are neither happy nor easy company. For more on positivity and building optimism this earlier post explores this in more detail

Try something new – holidays are about a break in routine and broadening horizons. It needn’t be a big event or cost money – walk a different way to the park, try a new food, play a new game or make one up. Novelty is stimulating and fun and encourages to think along different lines.

Revisit old memories – sometimes the new and the busy keep our eyes fixed forward to the horizon. Take time to share memories. Look through those family photos. What have we done that was fun? Where did we go that was special? Who did we meet? What made us laugh?

Savour what you do and take time to make new memories. Being mindful of experience makes it more likely we will appreciate what happens and that it will find a treasured space in our memory banks.

Happy holidays everyone


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Why I don’t believe that motivation is irrelevant to success

Research has been published recently which claims that motivation is irrelevant to results in schools. They even suggest that as motivation goes down in high performing countries like Korea then results go up. The danger here is the failure to look for the emotional fallout which may affect young people who are under high pressure and who work because of fear of failure. Shame is not a good substitute for engagement and motivation.  One young person writes here about his experience of high pressure schooling in the UK. We should beware of these single factor studies being over interpreted to explain a broader picture. developing life long learners is not driven by fear or peer pressure.


Motivated people get results there’s no doubt about that.   Motivation counts for more than ability because persistence,  effort and problem solving are key skills to overcome challenge and stay focused on your goals.  Angela Duckworth’s research into grit and success shows us that this counts for more than school grades or IQ

So where does motivation come from and can you help children to become motivated?  The short answer is yes you can help children become self starters and here are 7 strategies to help  fire up your child’s enthusiasm.  While schools  are closed and children are on holiday is a great time to reflect on and review how you can help your child become self motivated.

1. Don’t rely on rewards if you want to encourage self motivated behaviour. Use rewards sparingly and only for dull tasks which have no intrinsic merit but which are essential to hone useful skills.  Multiplication tables, music scales that sort of thing.  If you can find a fun way to do something instead, then that will work better.  There is evidence that rewards can impair performance, where skill and creativity are required, because it makes the race to the finish more important than the process involved.  So although rewards seem a good idea and useful when strong enticement is needed they can be counter productive.

Message Stones2. Encourage free play. Not just for young children but for teenagers too. Playfulness is exploratory and experimental and encourages independent thinking. A lot is happening when children are playing spontaneously and creatively with no rules and no pressure.  Useful skills are developed and refined like planning, organisation, concentration, creativity and problem solving.  Play which is free of rules and has no imposed structure encourages self reliance and the opportunity to become totally immersed in the task.  This gives a child the experience of flow.  Flow is the result of being totally focused and in control with the knowledge that you have the skills you need to make something happen.  Power, competence and the experience of success is a heady mixture which makes self motivation an exciting experience. The child is learning and making things happen.  Free play develops a child’s confidence and their competence at the same time.  So play is a vital and powerful experience which really can’t be replaced by television or electronic games.  I recommend that children have at least an hour a day to call their own.

3. Praise effort not results.  If you want children to appreciate the importance of being focused and determined then don’t put the emphasis on results alone.  When something is a little bit difficult but acknowledged for effort then the chances are that it will hold a child’s attention while they search for a solution.

file91212832565174. Work with a child’s strengths.  Encouraging children to use skills which are naturally interesting to them helps children to learn about themselves and their unique strengths.  Young children learn a great deal about themselves through their creative strengths whether this is art, music, or dance.  A child who is musical will naturally find time and opportunities to listen, sing or play. The experience of learn to organise and manage an activity you are passionate about teaches skills which can then transfer to other areas.

5. Encourage a growth mindset when children believe that learning is like a muscle which strengthens with practice they are more likely to experiment and take risks with learning.  Mistakes are accepted as part of the process not feared as a sign that you have reached the limits of your ability.

file0008868110576. Plant golden seeds a motivated child needs to be free to explore and experiment,  some things will capture their imagination and attention while other experiences are no more than a passing phase.  Being a Helicopter or Tiger parent will over power your child and leave them little room to learn about themselves.  Of course you do want your child to know that you are interested and are appreciative of what they are doing.  The balance is to offer observations positively but not intrusively.  Think of yourself as holding a mirror up to your child so they gain self knowledge from your comments.

7. Be mindful and focus on the present.  Children change and grow and their interests come and go too.  It is tempting to let your mind wander about whether they will become a great scientist and what would help them do that so and before you know what has happened you are distracted from the present experience.  Self motivated people do not always have a grand design or a 5 year plan,  they do something because they love it and want to see where it takes them.  Let your child set out on that journey.

Self motivation is a delicate process which starts with using your strengths and can grow and expand as your sense of competence becomes broader. As the saying goes: “If you think you can do it you probably will”  Encourage positive thinking and nurture self belief in as many small ways as you can.

In my latest book What Children need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish  you can find out more about how to help children become confident and self motivated.

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Let’s Stop the Race through Childhood: We Can’t Live their Lives for them.

“Too many parents try to live their child’s life for them” was a recent quote from Eton’s Head teacher Tony Little, this comment really resonated with me for many children not privileged to attend this well-known school. I suspect what parents do reflects what our society in general is doing, which is overthinking and controlling things in a desperate bid to manage uncertain times.  We see this in our schools, less from class teachers but more from Heads and those in government and Ofsted who are tasked with raising standards. This creates an image in my mind of lots of big and powerful people leaning on the less powerful people below them, down and down until you reach the child who is struggling to find the room to grow and be themselves.

file1331246481918Maybe this is fear, in times of austerity it is hard to hang onto hope and optimism.

As a Child Psychologist I have always been concerned with how we find a good balance between the nurturing and supportive adult who wants to protect and the child who needs space and freedom to grow and discover who they are. Children are not blank slates who will bear the imprint of whoever is involved in their upbringing. I do not subscribe to the belief

“Give me a child before they are 7 and I will give you the man”

Medieval religion was rather preoccupied with saving souls by controlling and constraining people into narrow paths in life. Having come from generations of people whose menfolk toiled on the land while the women were servants, I’m not a fan of the old order. Social mobility we call it today, freedom to choose is how I like to think of it.

So how can we pull back and start to let the inner child emerge so that we support and nurture a happy, confident and successful child. We want children to flourish which can be defined as

Flourish:  grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly congenial environment.

file000642981570Starting from the child is the way forward

Children naturally gravitate towards what they need. Childhood is the last area of human life where the people concerned often have little say in what happens to them. When we do too much for children and base our decisions on our own thoughts and beliefs we miss an opportunity. There is a danger we will miss important evidence that is right in front of us. When we follow any set of established rules, whether it is personal or based on a well-regarded parenting theory we risk missing that guidance which comes from being totally attuned to the individual child. Equally at school a fixed educational methodology may suit some children and not others.

Here are 10 steps you can take to give each child a voice and to help you create “the particularly congenial environment” needed to flourish.

Help a child discover things they enjoy. Be detectives together to discover what they find exciting and interesting. Notice the choices a child makes and help them to do more of what works for them. What a child finds interesting may be a sign of a personal strength which needs encouraging and nurturing.

Leave time free every day for independence which is entirely under the child’s control. Children who regularly plan and organise their time are more confident than children who depend on adult organised activities. They are more likely to discover and develop their interests which give them a range of possible future projects. Younger or less confident children may need to start small with 5 or 10 minutes and build the time up slowly from there.

Praise for effort and ingenuity rather than for results. Too much preoccupation with outcomes feeds anxiety and undermines confidence. “Will I succeed next time?” Doubt is toxic whereas optimism is energizing. “I can do it if I try hard” is a better basis for learning than worrying about whether you have the ability to succeed.

Tell a child what you think is great about them. Praise character, actions and values rather than achievements. Positive feedback about character is sustainable praise which is building a child’s self-knowledge and ability to continue to make good decisions. Young children learn about themselves slowly because it requires mature cognitive skills to analyse situations closely. Children are overly dependent on other people’s opinion which is why bullying has such an impact. Children who are regularly reminded about their personal strengths are likely to be both more confident and more resilient to negative experiences.

Use WWW- what went well– to discuss the highlights of the day, this reflects on the positives which can be informative and allows privacy for a child to mull over what was less successful without unasked for adult scrutiny. Make sure that someone is available should they wish to talk about the disappointments of the day but remove the pressure to offer them for forensic examination.

Develop a playlist of favourite things to do. Include quick and easy as well as big events to provide a menu for free half hours, sunny days out and rainy days at home. Children spend much more time than adults engaged in things they are learning and consequently struggling with, the effort required is draining and rebalancing is important. Having time to use the skills you have and to do things which are satisfying is enormously important. I meet families where the entire day is lost to travelling to and from school and extracurricular activities followed by homework and little else.

Capture the happy times to be revisited and enjoyed all over again. Make a scrapbook of pictures and drawings if you like to handle things or use photos on your computer. Make a treasure box with tickets, found objects and souvenirs to remind you of days out.

Focus on the present we don’t know what tomorrow will hold and this is particularly true of children whose development is not predictable. By staying mindful we can focus on what is needed now and appreciate life in its fullest detail. When we rush headlong into the future we are following a fantasy which can delude us and cause us to miss out on a real understanding of the child in front of us.

Keep the future in context there is a danger in over thinking about the future because it is often driven by fear. When we share those anxieties with children they are likely to assume we have prior knowledge and that this will happen. This is a ticking, mental health time bomb which creates the climate for anxiety and depression. We get things off our chests at the cost of passing on a heavy burden to the next generation. We need to gain a more realistic perspective.

Make gratitude part of your life.  A friend of mine spent a year working in orphanages in Zimbabwe. She met children and workers who were surviving in a very harsh political and economic climate but were grateful for what they had. They were focusing on the positives and that gave them the energy and optimism to work hard to improve life as far as they were able. Gratitude plays a major role in wellbeing and is a habit that has to a large extent been lost in recent years. It is confused with complacency and acceptance which it is not. You can be grateful for what you have while working flat out for a better world. The opposite is rarely true, those who ruminate on the negatives find their energy drains away and they are less able to make useful changes.

When a child is confident that things are going well; when they know that their family, friends and teachers support them then they are set on a path to flourish.


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