Happy Mothers’ Day?

In the last couple of weeks email boxes everywhere have  been inundated with ideas for the perfect present for Mothers’ Day (which is celebrated this year on Sunday March 6 in Britain, in case you’ve been living in a cave).

Fitness equipment, (in her favourite colour – pink’), chocolates, jumpers, flowers, more chocolates, dresses, wine samplers (why not a full bottle?) bakeware, more chocolates…You get the picture, don’t you?

Weirdest of all was the restaurant promoting a special Mothers’ Day lunch with the words, ‘A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie and five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.’ Doesn’t really say much for their portion control, does it?  I’d prefer to think that a mother is a person who, with a sharp knife and a rudimentary grasp of mathematics, can divide four pieces of pie between five people so everyone is happy.

I’ve written in the past about  a pernicious Why I Love My Mum email that was doing the rounds, and the Asda Christmas TV advert (subsequently dropped after howls of protests that it portrayed mothers as smiling slaves and martyrs).

Perhaps every year you are delighted by a champagne breakfast in bed or a handmade card, or a bunch of wonky daffs nicked from the local park. If that’s the case then you can count your blessings that your family know how to make you happy.

On the other hand if there is a part of you that usually spends the day smiling through gritted teeth then it’s time to check that you don’t have a creeping case of passive aggression.

How will you know?

If you reject all offers of help with ‘No thank you  – I can manage – you just enjoy yourself,’ while the rest of your family sprawl on the sofa watching Frozen, there’s a good chance that you enjoy being a martyr and making other people feel guilty.

And of all the ways to be a parent, passive–aggression is probably one of the most damaging.

This Mother’s Day I suggest that every mother in the land sends her own email telling her family exactly how she would like to celebrate her special day. These are the people who love you most after all – isn’t it only fair to tell them how to make you happy? One of the nastiest little tricks that couples play on each other is, ‘If you really loved me, you’d know what I want.’ And the same applies in families.

Whatever it is that will make you really happy  (within the bounds of reason and available finance of course) let your family know. A lie-in? A bracing walk? An argument–free day? Just name it. (It doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it, but it sure has heck improves your chances.)

If not, you have no right to feel miffed if you end up with a pair of pink boxing gloves and your own weight in chocolate (unless that’s what you really want, of course).



Why no-one listens to ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’

When you are talking to your children do you ever find yourself saying:

‘Daddy will be cross if you do that. ’or ‘Mummy doesn’t like hitting.’

When what you really mean is…

‘I will be cross if you do that.’


‘I don’t like hitting.’

If so, consider for a minute how weird that sounds.

Imagine if one of your adult friends announced, ‘Bill wants to go to the pub’ when he was talking about himself. Doesn’t it sound just a bit … creepy?

And yet I know from conversations with my clients that many of us do it all the time when we are talking to our children. Talking about yourself as ‘Mummy’ or ‘Daddy’ when speaking to your children is a very easy habit to slip into and a very hard one to break. It’s important to try because it’s difficult to take anyone seriously when they don’t use ‘I’ to speak about themselves. Using the third person to talk about oneself is really only done in interviews by very egotistical actors or is a symptom of some kinds of mental health issues.

‘I’m cross’ is so much more powerful, clear and direct than ‘Mummy’s cross’

How can anyone take Mummy seriously if she can’t even talk for herself? No wonder our children don’t listen.

Of course, when our children are small it makes sense for us to say, ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ because we want them to learn those important words. Some couples get quite competitive about which word their baby says first. (It’s usually ‘Dada’ not necessarily because your child loves Daddy best but because D sounds are much easier for infant mouths to pronounce than M sounds.) Repeating the words ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ when talking about ourselves makes perfect sense with very young children – it’s all part of helping them acquire language, just like pointing at the cat and saying, ‘Cat.’

But once your child has got the hang of who is Mum and who is Dad (and that really doesn’t take long) it’s time for you to revert to ‘I’ when you are talking about yourself.

Children learn by example. They learn to walk and talk and use a spoon or a mobile phone because they see adults doing those things and imitate them. But how often do they hear adults talking about how they feel? And if they never hear people talking about their feelings how are they supposed to know that those powerful emotions they feel are okay?

When we say, ‘I’m cross (or happy, or hungry or sad)’ we are showing our children that it is okay to identify and talk about our own emotions and express them clearly and honestly – and that is one of the most powerful tools we can give them.





What parents can learn from the Savile scandal

For me, one of the most chilling images of 2012 was the toothy grin of a 9-year old cub scout, giggling into the camera as the ribbon of a giant Jim’ll Fix It medal is wound around him and his friends. It would be thirty-five years before he told anyone what happened next. On what had probably been one of the most exciting days of his life, he was led into the presenter’s dressing room at BBC Centre and told he could have a badge of his own if he did as he was told.
Today a joint NSPCC/police report says that Jimmy Savile was a ‘prolific, predatory sex offender’ who committed crimes over fifty years. There will, no doubt be enquiries in hospitals, schools, radio and TV stations into how he was able to get away with it for so long. But why were his victims unable to tell someone? A teacher, a nurse or a parent? Commander Peter Spindler of the Met police put it succinctly when he said that Savile ‘groomed the nation.’ The cub scout’s mother had sent her son off that day with a tie, as a present for Savile. How could that boy have gone home and told her what had been done to him by the apparently lovable presenter? It was only last year when the scale of Savile’s crimes became apparent that he was able to tell his wife.
It would be nice to think that Savile could not escape justice for so long nowadays. After all, aren’t our children aware of their right not to be touched or to be forced to touch others? Aren’t they so much better able to express their feelings? Perhaps.
Today’s report is called Giving Victims a Voice, but a voice is not enough if no-one is listening. Savile’s own great niece has described how his abuse was brushed off by colluding family members who had too much to lose. It was just how Great Uncle Jimmy was; as if sexually abusing children and young people was another harmless eccentricity along with cigars and shiny silver tracksuits.
 I’d never have spoken to my parents like that.’ I often hear those words from my clients, and while it’s true that a huge change has taken place in how children and adults communicate, is that such a bad thing? Parents can no longer silence a child with a look, and children are no longer seen and not heard. Commander Spindler says, ‘This whole sordid affair has demonstrated the tragic consequences of what happens when vulnerability collides with power.’ As adults we have power; our children may be vulnerable, but when we listen to them, and believe what they say, we give them power of their own.
Dorothy Boswell
January 2013

Who would be an ASDA mum at Christmas ( or any other time of the year for that matter)?

Family celebrations are rarely easy and getting together with our nearest and dearest often makes us revert to the roles we played in childhood. Suddenly adults start to behave like the children they once were, whether it’s bossy older sister or cute but helpless baby brother. If that is not hard enough we now have a leading supermarket promoting the idea that when the family celebrates there is just one person responsible for making it all happen.

If you haven’t seen the Asda Christmas ad yet, it shows a pretty young mother happily taking on every aspect of preparations for the festive season while her hopeless husband and family look on.

Choosing the perfect tree, decorating the house, buying gifts, writing cards, decorating the house, wrapping presents, pumping up the spare mattress, peeling potatoes, cooking lunch, (and not even being able to enjoy it because she is left with a pouffe to sit on). Only when she has finished clearing up afterwards, can she sit down and relax, rewarded by the sight of her beloved, ungrateful family slumped in front of the television, completely oblivious to all her hard work. Apparently this is what real mothers are supposed to do at Christmas, (and presumably Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Diwali and Eid, and any other family celebrations you can think of.)

The ad has already generated complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency, and thousands of tweets on twitter. (Hi @asda I’m worried, I’m considering getting a Chosen By You turkey, but I don’t have a mum to cook it. Should I go to Tesco instead?)

If this advert comes on when your children are on the room, please take the opportunity to have a chat about it. You owe it to yourself and your children to teach them how to look after themselves and other people. If you identify with the woman in the ad you might consider stopping being a martyr and learn to delegate. Even if you enjoy every moment of your hard work you aren’t doing your children any good and you may regret it.  You don’t want to  end up like a client I once worked with who came home from a hard day’s work every evening to find her teenage children lolling on the sofa asking, ‘What’s for tea, Mum?’



Encouraging Children to Assess Risks

It’s Health and Safety gone mad.
At least that was the predicable reaction in a recent magazine article to the news that pre-school children as young as three are being given clipboards, builders hats and hi-viz tabards, and encouraged to spot the dangers in and around their nursery.
On the contrary, I think it’s a brilliant idea (and a quick google showed that other nurseries are already doing it).
Giving children responsibility and encouraging them to problem-solve and think for themselves, rather than simply telling them what to do (often over and over again with no apparent result)  is always going to be a win-win situation for adults and children.
I recently worked with a parent whose family referred to her as ‘Heath and Safety Mum’ because, they thought she was obsessed with what might go wrong. In fact, she was simply taking responsibility for everyday risk assessment because no one else, including her husband, ever did. As a result she spent every day out and holiday nagging at her children, they stopped listening, and no-one enjoyed themselves, least of all her.
I suggested that perhaps she should tell her family how she felt, something like: “I don’t like nagging you but I’m frightened that you are going to get hurt.”  Then she could let them identify the possible dangers and come up with solutions that would reassure everyone.  She was a bit doubtful but prepared to give it a try.
At our next session she was thrilled. The day before a trip to a country park the children had identified that the appearance of occasional cars on the otherwise quiet road was the main problem and that when this happened they would all shout to warn each other and stand on the right.  As this didn’t happen very often, they were free to whizz down the road on a skate board which was such fun that before long their mother joined in too.
The result of such a simple action was nothing short of miraculous. The woman had stopped being an annoying nag who no-one listened to, and simply become what she had been all along – a caring mother who loved her children and didn’t want to see them get hurt. The children had taken responsibility, assessed the risks and come up with practical solutions. Everyone was happy. Most important of all their mother had shown that she trusted them.
When you think about it, risk assessment is what we all do, all the time in our daily lives (unless we are very stupid), and it’s something that children used to have far more experience of when they were allowed to play outside in the streets and parks.
And who doesn’t love a builder’s hat and a hi-viz tabard? Bring on those clipboards and let your children start learning about how to cope with the world around them.

Parenting Classes – Who needs them?

Parenting classes?

When someone asks me what I do for a living, I can sometimes see them bristle a little at my reply.

It’s not surprising really – until a few years ago the word ‘parent’ only existed as a noun. Parent was a person, a mother or father, not something you did. The use of parent as a verb – a doing word – has only appeared in the last 20 years or so (like google). Before that the closest was child-rearing, which sounds more like something that farmers do with chickens and cows.

‘Parenting classes? That’s just for people whose kids are really out of control, is it?’

Very occasionally. But more often, it’s  parents who simply want to get on a bit better with their children, to have more fun and less shouting in their family.

Parenting classes? But surely it’s just common sense?’

Ah yes, common sense. Less than 200 years ago, it was considered common sense that sending a 6-year old child up a chimney was by the far the best way to clean it. But, thankfully, times have changed and so has what we consider acceptable in how we treat our children.

It’s a cliché that babies don’t come with a manual – and if you look up ‘parenting’ on Amazon you’ll find that there are actually plenty of manuals to choose from. But by far the most influential parenting manual is the one that’s imprinted in our heads – what we learned, for good or bad, as we were growing up. I don’t believe any good parenting course can be effective without spending some time looking at what we experienced when we were young and the impact that has had on how we behave towards our own children.

And it’s not just how we were parented – working with couples the commonest cause of friction is people who have experienced completely different styles of parenting, both of which seem to them like ‘common sense’ or the only possible way to do things. Is it any wonder they find it hard to agree on how to raise their children?

So who needs parenting classes? In initial consultations with clients I frequently hear some variation on the phrase, ‘I’ve started to sound just like my mother (or father), and I always swore I’d never do that when I had children of my own.’

Parents often contact me because they want to consider different ways of doing things. The smart ones already know that parenting classes are about changing the way they react to their children’s behaviour (rather than trying to change their children). Simply doing that changes our relationships with everyone around us, not just our children. People enrol on a parenting course or have just a session or two of parenting coaching because it encourages them to look at different ways of approaches to what is the most important job they will ever do.

If that sounds interesting, then get in touch.


Helping Children Cope with Divorce and Separation

Putting Children First

When relationships split up it is often the children who suffer the most. Senior family court judge, Sir Nicholas Wall recently described how adults sometimes use their children as both ‘the battlefield and the ammunition’ in the divorce courts. You are probably aware of the negative impact that separation or divorce can have on your children but you may be unsure of how to help them deal with the changes that it will bring.

As an accredited parenting teacher and coach, I work with parents who are going through separation and divorce to help them to put their children’s feelings and needs at the very centre of the process.

After many years experience working with the national parenting charity Family Lives, I now offer parenting courses and coaching to individuals and couples. Sessions are conducted by telephone or Skype, so they are accessible to clients living both in the UK and abroad, and can be arranged at times to suit clients, including weekends and evenings. I am based in North London and can offer face-to-face sessions by arrangement.


The parenting course is based on a programme devised by Family Lives and includes:


o Supporting children through separation and divorce

o Giving them the information they need

o Reassuring children that they are not to blame for what has happened

o Dealing with anger

o Understanding children’s and parents’ needs and learning how to express them


The course is tailored to suit the needs of the individual client, which may include their own experiences as a child and specific issues, such as keeping in touch as a non-resident parent and making the most of contact sessions.


Parents who have worked with me have said:

‘After separating from my wife, I have had to battle in the family courts to get reasonable access to my children – an incredibly emotional and distressing time for all concerned, especially my kids. In Dorothy, I found someone who truly understands how to empathise and work with people in situations such as the one I was facing. Our sessions have been both enjoyable and educational. She tailored the course specifically to meet my situation and has also been incredibly supportive. I would recommend her to anyone without question.’
Adam, father of two.


‘My sessions with Dorothy helped me tremendously whilst I was going through a traumatic divorce and had very limited access to my children. She enabled me to see things from the children’s perspective and gave me hope where previously there had been none. The books she recommended were also a great support between sessions. The open letter she wrote to the court also helped everyone involved to see that I had been making every effort to improve my parenting skills. I cannot speak highly enough of her and am looking forward to working with her for my whole family’s benefit in the future.’

Jeremy, father of four


A parenting course of five 50-minute sessions costs £300. A letter for court costs an additional £50.

Emotional Intelligence

When educating your little one, it’s not all about teaching facts and figures. Learning about emotions is a vital element, too

You’re a model parent – from solving quadratic equations to researching Henry VIII’s wives, you’re always on hand to help your children with their homework. It’s giving them the edge over their classmates, right? Not necessarily. The latest research shows that if you really want your children to excel at school, you’ll be better off helping their emotional intelligence – or EI.

Psychologists at the University of Central Lancashire found that children with greater emotional intelligence did better in SATs and GCSEs, and that children with lower IQs often did better than those with higher ones as long as their EI was higher. ‘Faced with failure, a student low on IQ but who is emotionally intelligent will be able to manage their feelings about failure, reconcile poor performance and work to improve,’ says research leader Dr Pamela Qualter. They also tend to be better at setting goals and dealing with the stress of exams, she adds.

It’s not just academic performance that benefits either. According to John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child (available from www.amazon.co.uk), a child with high EI is more able to cope with everyday highs and lows, relates better to others and forms stronger friendships than one with lower EI.

Luckily, we’re not stuck with our emotional intelligence and there’s plenty we can do to improve it. ‘Emotional intelligence is laid down in childhood but you can still learn a lot of inter-personal skills in adulthood,’ says psychologist Dr Pat Spungin of www.raisingkids.co.uk. And working with your child’s emotions will help you look at your own emotional intelligence, says Dr Qualter. ‘It’s also a great excuse to have a lot of fun in the process.’

Talk about feelings
‘Children copy their parents, so, if you don’t talk about emotions, your children will be emotionally illiterate,’ says parenting coach Dorothy Boswell. Say things like ‘I feel sad that Granny is in hospital’ or ‘I feel nervous about this new job’. And don’t forget the positive emotions too, such as ‘I feel happy when we watch DVDs together’.

‘You should also ask your children about their emotions,’ says Boswell. ‘“How did you feel when your friends didn’t play with you?”, for instance.’ It can help to talk about your own childhood experiences and how you dealt with them.

And never belittle their feelings. If your child admits they’re scared to do something, don’t say, ‘I don’t know why you’re scared – there’s nothing to be scared of’. Say it can be scary to try new things. You may need to give very young children the words to describe their feelings – disappointed, frightened or excited, for instance.

Acknowledge their emotions
‘In everyday life, notice your child’s emotions,’ says Dr Spungin. ‘Say, “I can see from your face that something has upset you”.’ If a young child is angry or upset, show him that you’re taking his feelings seriously before trying to pacify or distract him. ‘With older children, let them know that it’s fine to feel angry – what’s important is what you do with it,’ says Boswell. ‘By asking the right questions, you encourage them to find their own solutions.’

Read and play together
Working out what other people think is a large part of EI. When you’re reading or watching TV, Dr Qualter suggests talking about the emotions of the characters in the stories and how these might affect the plot. Books also increase the number of feeling words your child knows – characters are not just excited, for instance, but can be elated, overjoyed or thrilled.

Young children can also learn the effects their feelings can have on their behaviour through pretend play. ‘It’s fun and teaches children how emotions affect the way other people feel and behave,’ says Dr Qualter.

Deal with conflict
‘Ideally, don’t get angry and lose your temper with your children,’ says Dr Qualter. ‘But it happens – and when it does, apologise and calm down to talk through the problem.’ If your children see you and your partner arguing, they should also see that, in the end, you work things out.

‘People with high EI learn to remove themselves from a conflict situation for a while, perhaps about 20 minutes, to let their emotions adjust,’ says Dr Qualter. ‘Then they come to the discussion again calmer and more composed.’ Seeing their parents do this could be a good lesson for children.

Be open with children
‘We often try to protect children from problems,’ says Dr Qualter, ‘but they are very perceptive so they will build up their own ideas of what is happening and why.’ She says it’s important for parents to talk to children about family decisions and problems – without frightening them. ‘It’s another chance to teach them about emotions and appropriate responses,’ she says.

Teach them it’s OK to fail
‘We all want our children to be successful at school,’ says Boswell. ‘In reality, children who have an easy ride and are unused to failing often don’t know how to bounce back the first time they encounter failure.’ She suggests allowing your child to fail from a young age. ‘Let your two-year-old hold a drink and spill it – and show them it doesn’t really matter,’ she says. This helps them realise it’s alright to fail sometimes.

‘And if your child has done badly in maths homework, for instance, encourage them to think back about how they could have done it differently or whether they could have asked the teacher for help earlier on,’ says Boswell. ‘In other words, help them work out their own solutions by asking them questions and listening.’

Mind your language
The language you use makes a big difference to the way your children perceive your emotions. The general rules of EI thinking are that you should label your feelings rather than label your children, take responsibility for your feelings rather than blaming your children, and suggest rather than tell your children what to do. So try our low to high EI swaps:

After a clash with your child

LOW EI: ‘You’re making me angry.’

HIGH EI: ‘I feel upset and angry when you don’t listen to me.’

Before leaving the house

LOW EI: ‘Get your hat and gloves.

’HIGH EI: ‘What do you need to be ready for school?’

When you’re tired

LOW EI: ‘Leave Mummy alone.

’HIGH EI: ‘I’m tired. What do you think will make me feel better?’

To your teenager

LOW EI: ‘You can’t go there or come back at that time.

’HIGH EI: ‘I don’t want you to go there because I worry about you. Sorry, but that’s how I feel.’

When talking about another child’s behaviour

LOW EI: ‘What an idiot!’

HIGH EI: ‘He seems like an angry boy.’

Further information
– For a consultation with Dorothy Boswell or for details of her courses and workshops, visit www.parenting-coaching.com.

– If you think your child needs some help, visit www.u-think.org.uk – a computer programme developed by Dr Pamela Qualter and her team to help children boost their EI.

Words: Karen Williamson