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.
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.
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.’
– 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
US television channel HBO interviewed children of divorcing couples and invited them to make up the rules for how their parents should behave.
See a trailer of what they had to say here:
Helping Children Cope with Separation and Divorce
When adult relationships break down it is the children who suffer most. They often feel that what has happened is their fault in some way. They may feel powerless. Here are some suggestions to help them.
Let children know the divorce or separation is not their fault
Allow them to express their feelings and acknowledge and accept those feelings
Give them the information they need about practical arrangements
Let them know it’s okay for them to love their mother and father equally, just as they did before the separation
Support their relationship with the other parent
Let them know they have two homes and are equally welcome in both – don’t make them choose
Give them discipline and boundaries as well as love
Reassure them you still love them and always will.
If you do not have contact then keep in touch by phone or skype, send them letters, emails, texts, facebook, myspace, twitter – this gets much easier as children get older and have independent access to technology.
Criticise the other parent
Use your children as messengers and spies
Use them to retaliate against the other parent
Make them responsible for adult decisions
Make them your best friend or confidante
Undermine the other parent’s routine (bedtime, sweets, homework)
Place blame about why the divorce happened
Try to win their love by ‘outbuying’ the other parent
Discuss the details of the divorce or separation
Stop contact or child support to punish the other parent
Whatever has happened between you and the other parent, your child’s welfare must come first.