ParentingSuccess Coaching - Helping you make sense of parenting
ParentingSuccess Coaching support you to become the best parent you can be. Through dynamic and non-judgmental workshop we offer easy to implement tools and strategies. We also offer private Parenting Coaching, Home Hosting and support to schools.
Social media has a huge impact on adolescents and their mental health. We have all heard it before, too much screen time is bad for our kids. Too much exposure to social media can damage adolescent relationships and negatively impact their mental health and overall wellbeing.
So while intellectually we know that we need to do something about it and stay on top of what they are on, how often they are on, at what time of the day etc., in reality it is not that easy. Once they are on their phone it can be really hard to control and monitor their activity without getting heavy handed with rules, or going “cold turkey”.
So What Can We Do?
First be clear about WHY we have to help our young people make healthy social media relationships. Teens are hardwired for socialisation, and social media makes socialising easy and immediate. This be of real benefit if the young person finds socialising hard as this is a place that they can ‘hang out’ and fit in. It can also be helpful if the young person suffers with any form of anxiety or has specific challenges because they can find support online. However, the downside is that too much time spent scrolling through social media sites can also create symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
Here are some of the ways in which social media can have a negative effect:
* We all want to be liked: but focusing too much on gaining ‘LIKES’ on social media can cause teens to do and say things to get likes that can be very damaging ‘in real life’. They might change their appearance, agree to and engage in negative behaviours, accept risky social media challenges or agree to meet up with someone they have connected with online.
* Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is associated with depression, anxiety, and an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts.
* Making comparisons: It’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons with what they see on social media where everyone only shares their highlights and ‘looking their best’. Seeing everyone else appearing SO happy, beautiful, popular, successful etc. can have a huge knock on effect on a teen’s self esteem and can lead to long lasting health issues.
* Lack of REAL friends, having too many virtual or “FAKE” friends: teens can connect with thousands of people on social media, but most of them are not REAL friends. This can be unsafe because suddenly they are exposed to a huge audience of strangers. At the same time the young person might get confused about what is actually REAL and what is not with regards to real friendships and end up missing out on some amazing real life connections. Additionally, there is no privacy on social media.
* Spending more time online than with real people: Social skills require daily practice, even for teens. We are not born with social interaction skills; they are something we learn by being with people in a social environment. It’s difficult to learn empathy and compassion (our best weapons in the war on bullying) when we spend more time “engaging” online than in person. Human connection is a powerful thing and builds social skills that last a lifetime.
But here is the good news, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere!
1. Keep communication channels open and TALK: The key to helping teens learn to balance social media with real life friendships is to have honest communications with them. You need to show your teen that you are there to support them, not to judge or lecture. It’s also important to walk the walk. Ask your teens to come up with their top 3 values and ask them how it matches up with their online behaviour. And ask yourself, does your daily behaviour match your own personal values?
2. Connect before Correct: tweens and teens can be so irritating (I have 3 myself so I know first-hand!) but try to set aside time EVERY DAY where you can be together, without battles or correcting. Just to BE, where you have a calm and relaxed time and connect with your teen. Maybe sit and chat, have a tea together, watch some TV, go for a walk etc.
3. Don’t tell or ask – but agree: no one likes to be told what to do or what NOT to do. If this is the way the conversation goes they are much more likely to go and do the opposite, or just do it anyway. Sit down with your teen, have an open conversation about your worries, discuss together what a plan might look like, what they think will work etc. And write it down!
4. Accept that it is part of their life and it will be hard to change habits: It can be hard for us to understand their ‘attachment’ relationship to their phones. But they have been brought up with tech and social media and it is a HUGE part of their lives. So come from a place of, ‘I understand that this is important for you’, and maybe try
to be part of it by asking them to teach you, connect with you, ask them questions about how it works etc.
5. Signs that your teen might be suffering from social media: Not all teens make unhealthy social media relationships but if you start seeing major changes in your teen it’s time to get active or ask for help. Look out for mood changes, changes to sleep and eating patterns, or if they become introvert, silent, or aggressive.
6. Role model: have a think about your own relationship to your phone, laptop, social media etc. Act and behave the way you want your teen to. It is so easy to be on the phone while chatting, during dinner, while watching a movie – but put it aside when your teen is with you! Why not try to take some ‘tech free’ days, or you might try a few hours in the day when as a family you all agree to be tech free.
7. Have a safe place to go to: as a teen, it can be really difficult to speak to Mum and Dad and fully open up, or even to take advice. Try to find someone they can go to if they feel they need some support or advice: mentors, counsellors, coaches, family friends, relatives. Agree who this person is in advance, otherwise in a moment of stress they might panic and end up making an unwise choice.
8. Control vs In Charge: A lot of parents say that they don’t want to put parenting controls on their teen’s phone, nor ban them from using social media, or take away their phones, know their passwords etc. as they feel it violates their freedom. But if something is wrong always go for SAFETY FIRST. You don’t want to look back and say, ‘I saw the signs and did nothing’. It is our job as parents to teach our kids and to keep them safe. This is you being IN CHARGE, not in control.
My last tip to you is to ‘parent from your long term goal’. Make sure you can look back and think. ‘yes I did the right thing, it was hard but I did it’.
As parents we are so often told to be a good role model where screen time is concerned and spend less time on our own phones and devices. We are our kids strongest role model plus we all know we ARE less available when we are glued to the phone!
We are also constantly reminded not to go on social media late at night, early in the morning or too much in general as it can have a negative effect on our emotional and physical well-being. Now we know this is good advice, but if we ARE always on our phones while we are with our kids it’s natural that they might start feeling second best, and also they will no doubt start modelling our behaviour!
But here’s the thing, as adults it is up to us to be responsible for what is right and wrong for us. It’s up to us to get the balance right. And sometimes it might not have a negative effect on us but be the exact opposite. Sometimes it is just what we need right now and that is OK. Of course it’s not great if we are glued to the phone at all hours and become less available for our family. But if we can monitor it in a healthy way, making meaningful connections, this can be a valuable part of looking after our own adult needs.
For instance, I support lots of separated parents and I know that many of them, especially those with younger children, find evenings particularly lonely. And I know for them it can really help to have some “outside contact” when they are feeling a bit low. It’s OK to reach out to a good friend and say ‘hi’ by text, chat over whatsapp and share your day, or connect with a Facebook group of like minded people.
But it’s NOT OK if it makes us sad, stressed and even more down if we get sucked into negative thoughts. If we start feeling like others are happier than us, or having so much more fun, that is usually a downward spiral! So be mindful where and how you connect, and check in with yourself regularly on how you are feeling as you interact with tech and social media.
Be careful who you share your private feelings with too, sometimes we do want to have a moan or a vent but this is best done with true close friends. While blurting over social media can be tempting at times it can backfire! Find a few core friends who you know are happy to offer you a safe space and a non judgemental ear if you do want to send a ranty text, or have a vent over email. This can save you from saying something publicly or to one specific person that you might later regret.
Another nice thing you can do is just send a positive message out to someone you know. Try sharing a fun image, a meaningful quote, a book or movie recommendation, or just send a “thinking of you” text if you find you are feeling a bit isolated or low. If you know local businesses give them a recommendation, share a nice experience or just send a thank you message! You may be surprised at the positives that come from that.
It’s great to get off the tech totally from time to time, but for most of us being connected online is a huge and normal part of daily life. So let’s just stay aware of our interactions and feelings and work on making healthy connections so we remain in a positive space in our virtual world as well as the “real world” (CLICK here to read more).
Everything always feels better with a hug, kiss or cuddle from Mum or Dad. But physical touch is not just for when times are rough or when our kids are hurt.
It can be a great way to show them that we love them unconditionally, that we value them for who they are, that they are OK for just being our child. When we are touched we relax, we connect to the person who offers us loving touch, and for a few minutes we forget about stress and tension.
Research indicates that children who receive tender touch are much healthier emotionally than children who receive little touch. For the ‘giver’ it has benefits too. We feel so much better when we have offered a kind touch or hug than a yell or commands.
I know this, because the other day I was standing in a queue with my son (now aged 17) and while we were waiting I gave him a little shoulder rub. His whole body posture changed and he leaned into me. He closed his eyes and I could see that he felt calmer and felt loved. I felt so connected to him and I know that in these small moments l am building on our relationship in a positive way. And a happy by product of these stronger connections is that things are easier when it comes to implementing rules and routines!
So have a think about what you can offer your child every day by way of physical touch:
a mini head massage
a gentle shoulder rub
if your child is OK with it, hold hands or walk arm in arm
stroke their arm slowly
rest your hand on their leg or around their shoulder while sat together
Even just touching shoulders while cosy on the sofa with the TV is a lovely non intrusive way of being close. One Mum I support tells me she always gives her young son a back tickle at bedtime. This has been a nightly ritual since he was a baby. And if she has to wake him up in the morning she always does so by gently stroking his temple and smoothing his hair off his face while softly saying, “good morning, time to be up” and allowing him to wake up slowly. She told me she always wants him to know loving touch and loves to think this gives him a gentle start to his day.
Loving touch can be given any time. At bedtime, before going to school (a lovely way to relax), after school (to de-stress), while watching television and so on. You can make it fun and playful too if your child is comfortable with a “Team Hug / Bring it In!” moment. Demonstrations of physical love do not need a reason, find what works for you and your kids and just do it as often as you can! You will feel your child’s self-esteem grow and your connection and relationship strengthened.
Q: My kids do not like physical touch from me, what should I do?
First of all be curious. Does your child have any special needs? Often kids with ASD don’t feel comfortable being touched. Or is it because they are not used to it, because we have not done it much in the past? Then try asking the child what they like, and ask if they can do it to you? Start small with maybe just a finger rub on the arm, stroking their hand softly etc. and see what they respond well to.
You can also use physical touch to stay connected during difficult times. If you are telling your child off (which we sometimes need to do), try putting your hand gently on his shoulder, or touching his arm. This shows that you are present and that you mean what you say. At the same time it sends a positive vibe when you touch them in a gentle and respectful way.
“A hug is the perfect gift; one size fits all, and nobody minds if you exchange it.” ~ unknown
I am sure we have all been there: where we would do ANYTHING to get our kids to do what we need them to do, i.e. revise for an exam, get those grades, do their homework, go to school without throwing a tantrum (for all ages!), eat their dinner, go to bed or maybe just be nice to their siblings!
But whatever it is that we want our kids to do we need to be very careful not to reward them from our ‘short term goals’; i.e. to get one thing done in the here and now, or just for peace and quiet. This can have a negative knock on effect, making things worse in the long run. Sweets, screen time and toys are the most common rewards because all kids love them.
Rewarding with sweets triggers the reward centre of the child’s brain, creating an emotional charge around unhealthy food, and spikes the blood sugar, leaving them with a sugar crash and craving more! So not good practice for the longer term.
We know that kids should not spend too much time on screens so why make it into a positive reward?
And don’t get me started on toys! This just gets them used to ‘getting something’ for just doing what is good for them or what needs to be done. They might then find it hard to motivate themselves in the future when they are not ‘getting something from someone’.
What about ‘getting something’ for good grades? Really the reward IS the good grade itself, which maybe means getting into their chosen university or getting closer to the job they want or simply feeling proud of themselves and gaining a sense of personal satisfaction. My son once asked me; ‘Mum if I get an A for my GCSEs, what do I get?’. I replied ‘An A!’. But during his revision period we spent time together; he could choose dinners he really liked and on the night of the exam he could choose a restaurant where we would go out to eat.
So here is the thing, why do we associate rewards with what is ‘bad for us’? Why not reward with a bowl of red berries (they are expensive so can be viewed as a treat). What about time together; reading a book together, playing a game, baking a cake as a reward (all kids really want is your attention). Or a big reward could be to treat your kids to a trip to the book shop to get a new book!
So have a think: how can I establish a reward system that is healthy for mind and body AND fits my long term goal of healthy, happy and self-motivated kids!
Allow us to tell you about what we do at ParentingSuccess!
…the weak usually do not ask for help, so they stay weak…asking for help is a sign of strength, growth and change… John Wooden
Most parents today are under more pressure than ever. Balancing the demands of busy careers, family life and the daily chores can mean that a lot of families merely survive, going from one conflict to another, constantly putting out fires and not living the family life they once dreamed of. All this can leave us feeling sad, frustrated, guilty and stressed!
This can obviously have a negative effect on how we parent and respond to daily challenges. And our children are also more likely to enter school in the morning with high stress levels themselves, tired and unhappy and unmotivated. A study shows that stressful mornings impair children’s ability to learn in the first 1.5 hours after school drop off. This in turn has a knock on effect on their academic, social and emotional well-being.
Feeling out of control can be one of the worst emotions to deal with but we are here to help you find better ways to handle situations in your home. This will help you to enjoy being a parent with a sense of self control, and feel in charge of your family life!
At ParentingSuccess we know that by working together with you and providing you with the right set of tools you CAN become a positive role model and nurture your children to become balanced, motivated and resilient, equipped to deal with the ups and downs of life.
How We Support Parents
With 10 years experience of supporting parents (in workshops, privately face to face or via skype, in corporates and in schools) and from our own experiences of family life we have developed a series of events and 1:1 programmes that help you overcome some of your biggest challenges in raising a family. ParentingSuccess takes a relationship based approach to everything we do. We put connection at the centre helping you first and foremost to strengthen the connection you have with yourself, your partner and your children. In other words we help you become more aware of the dynamics in your home and the way in which all family members interact. Awareness is the first step towards change; without it we stay the same!
Topics We Explore
We offer support around topics that are applicable to children at all ages and abilities. These include homework, mealtimes, pocket money, chores, boundaries, routines, bedtime and behavioural challenges of all kinds. We also understand that many parents are left confused and frustrated by their kids’ relationship with technology, so we also offer strategies that help you become aware of the screen habits that exist in your family and can support you with any changes that need to be made.
At our parenting events you will benefit from meeting like-minded parents who may be experiencing similar challenges. In a non-judgemental environment we explore tools and techniques you can implement at home straight away. In this safe space you will get an opportunity to participate in group activities and discussions where you can learn from other parents and share your own experiences. After an event (or 1:1 support) you will walk away with an action plan that is specific to your family and a renewed interest in positive parenting. All we ask from you is that you are open and honest and are willing to implement ideas that are relevant to your family.
We all want our children to reach their full potential, explore opportunities and try as many new things as possible. We all just want what is best for our kids. But even when intentions are good our kids can easily become over-scheduled.
And while it’s great to offer our kids these amazing opportunities sometimes our kids get stressed and tired, and the continuous round of hectic activities can leave them (and us) physically and emotionally drained! So does your child have too much on and not enough time to do it all? Are they actually able to enjoy life along the way?
Signs that my child is over-scheduled: Each child will react differently but the first step is awareness! Without it we cannot change anything and might be blind to the signs. Check in with your child as often as you can and maybe ask them how they feel about their various activities.
Look out for signs such as:
Sleeping patterns: feeling tired all the time. They might not be able to sleep (due to being over stimulated), or they might want to sleep ALL the time.
Mental state: anxious, depressed, crying a lot, quick to tears, seem to give up when meet any small challenges.
Physical symptoms: complaining of headaches, stomach pains etc.
Eating patterns: loss of appetite, over-eating etc.
Impact on school work: falling behind on their schoolwork, seeing their grades drop, maybe they don’t want to go to school, have melts down about exams or home work.
Their social life: Maybe they are so tired that they don’t want, or have time, to be with their friends. Or they don’t have time to just ‘be’ and ‘hang out’ without having to attend a class, perform etc.
Family life: Are you missing out on family meals due to driving to and from activities? Is there always one parent missing due to a child’s commitments? As a result the family is slowly growing apart.
And also be aware of how YOU are feeling: Are you spending too much time driving, complaining, criticising or feeling exhausted? This WILL have a negative effect on your child (and overall family) and something will have to give!
Keep in mind your child’s personality: If you have an introvert child he/she might have a huge need to be alone for part of the day and have some time to re-energise to avoid becoming overwhelmed, stressed and hyper. We might think that we are helping our introvert child to become more extrovert, but what is wrong with being an introvert? There is nothing wrong with wanting and needing time alone without always having to be around other people and be entertained. Work with your child to find the best solution for THEM
Some suggestions that might help:
First of all become aware of the above signs in you, your child and overall family life.
Agree what is enough for your child: discuss together how many activities and clubs your child can do to find a balance that sits well with you AND your child. Maybe it is one sport per season and one after-school club etc.Don’t just give them the answers and make a decision for them, try to problem solve together: ‘What do you think is enough’? ‘Can you manage it all’? Etc.#
Allow ‘downtime’ every day: make sure your child has some time every day where there is nothing on. Where he/she will have time to just be and open up imagination and creativity and new ideas. Your child will not be able to cope if it is always school, activity, homework then bed. They need some time to just BE.
Days with nothing on: make sure you have days where you don’t have to drive your child around and your child just comes straight home after school.
Keep a family calendar: this will help you all to see what is on and become aware if the diary becomes too full and leaves too little room for ‘empty space’.
It’s OK to miss out once in a while: if you feel that your child is not coping, too tired or you see any of the above signs then allow them to miss a session. Don’t push them to the limit. But also see it as time to connect, maybe you can enjoy a nice sunny day outside or just hang out at home together without an agenda.
Prioritise family and one2one time: keep an eye on balance, make sure that activities and clubs don’t sacrifice too much time as a family (meals etc.) or time for the child to connect. If this is the case, add to your calendar ‘family time’ or ‘special time with Lucy’ etc.
It is OK to say NO: if you feel that your child already has enough on but then asks to join another club or activity then trust that you know your child and say NO. It is great that they want to try new things but not if it sacrifices downtime and relaxation space.
Be a role model: are you always on the go, multi-tasking? Then lead by example and make sure that you have some time every day to sit and enjoy the silence, have a quiet cup of tea, take a walk in the garden etc. Summary: Take a moment to think about your child’s life. If it’s hectic and stressful with lots ‘on’ every day then sit down together and decide where you can cut back to create some balance.
Many of the parents we meet at ParentingSuccess feel that after school activities take up more time than they would like and is to blame for some of the unwanted behaviours in their children.
The offers from clubs start pouring in the moment our little ones return to school. And of course most of these activities sound both interesting and educational, and probably are! So the tough job we have as parents is to decide what and how much is right for our child. And also, just as importantly, For the family as a whole.
Here are 3 considerations that you might find useful in making your decision… Is it my need or my child’s need?
I loved playing the piano as a child – and always wish I’d also taken up the guitar, learned to dance and done performing arts. So when flyers for these types of clubs arrive home in my daughter’s school bag I feel a strong pull to enrol her immediately. I mean, these are awesome activities and skills that can add serious value to one’s life! But is it my daughter’s need? More often than not the answer is no. If you pay close attention you can tell the difference.
Can I be asked to chauffeur?
If you feel tired chauffeuring the kids around after school to various clubs – chances are they do too! This is worth considering before even asking our youngest children whether they are interested in clubs that take place at a car ride distance. Of course we want to support our children’s desires and it is a good idea to fully support whatever true passion and interests our children develop. And we are way more likely to – if we eliminate the superfluous after school activities that we feel end up tipping the balance.
Is there enough downtime in my child’s life?
Thankfully a lot of the after school actives on offer are run from school -and in some cases even during break time. But recess serves a purpose.. and for the youngest ones offer an important opportunity to PLAY – something there is increasingly less time to do as they progress through school. To children play and down time is serious business. This is when they consolidate their learning, when they regenerate and are allowed to be creative. And between homework duties and general family life – we can very easily end up with jam packed schedules that feel anything but invigorating.
The good news is – it is never too late to change what is not working.
Try to experiment. Life balance and a happy family life is always a work in progress. A family chat (CLICK here to read more) is a really useful way to have these kind of conversations as a family.
In our next blog we will cover some of the common signs that your child may be over subscribed – and potentially slightly stressed.
Holidays are not just rainbows & butterflies!
The summer holidays are nearing an end, the heatwave has given way for occasional torrential down pours and for most families around the UK this week marks the beginning of the end of what for some was;
-A fantastic summer
-A mediocre summer
-A hectic, stressful and demanding 6 weeks of constant togetherness.
-The summer that saw the kids getting the A level and GCSE results of their dreams. Or the summer where they learned that they didn’t get into their Uni of choice?
Because we spend more time together and with fewer distractions – the holidays are offer a good time to check the temperature of your family unit.
Despite what Instagram and Facebook would suggest – for most families, these past 6 weeks have not always been rainbows and butterflies.
If this is you, then you are not alone! A lot of parents come to us and say that they feel so guilty, since can’t wait till the holiday is over and for the kids can go back to school and give them a break!
But being a family – in a way that feels good for everyone (mum and dad included) takes practice. Obviously we all wish to create wonderful and memorable holidays for our children – but the expectation to have new and entertaining activities lined up every day for our kids throughout the holidays can make even the most devoted of parents secretly miss their office job or the daily chores while home alone!. It is all about getting the balance right.
Try to take some time out to ‘Get Curious’ about why your holiday might not have been so wonderful as you hoped for:
Maybe have a think about:
* what did not work so well and why?
* What could I or we as a family have done differently?
Self-care is not selfish – it’s a necessity!
Families are not thriving when mum and dad are stressed out and not enjoying themselves. And this is at the root of many undesirable family dynamics. Because our kids mirror in their behaviour how we feel on the inside. So one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves and our family is to put our own needs on the agenda as well and find ways to connect to ourselves on a daily basis.
TIP: what can you do everyday for yourself that gives you energy, space and a sense of fulfilment?
Maybe also ask yourself before the end of the holiday:
* What did I enjoy? Then keep it going
* When did our family thrive? Why? Then keep it going
Because it is a lot more effective to have a space to reflect, test out ideas and get advice than doing it yourself, let us support you to make some powerful changes to your family dynamic so you can fully enjoy your next holiday or weekend together as a family.
We are here to support you!
From the ParentingSuccess Team
More information click here http://www.parentingsuccesscoaching.com/individual-coaching/
It can’t be avoided; there will be times when your child feels sad, lonely, homesick or worried while away at boarding school (as you will too). The biggest fear for us boarding parents is that we will get a text, email or phone call from our child saying, ‘I’m sad, I’m lonely, I’m worried; I want to come home! I have no friends.’
And it hurts! It feels like our heart has been ripped out and stamped on and sometimes we can’t even breathe for a moment! When our kids are sad we are sad and then often we go into ‘fixing mode’ because all we want is for their hurt to go away so they can be happy again and we can stop feeling guilty. But when we go into ‘fixing mode’ we lose our ability to listen to understand, rather than to react or talk or fix and we can actually make the situation worse. So here are our 4 tips for how to deal with your child’s sadness:
Tip 1: Don’t cry with them: Yes we are sad too but this is not about our sadness so keep it to yourself. Try to show empathy instead of sympathy. Empathy is when we listen, understand and accept they way they feel. Sympathy is when we cry with them. This can reinforce the situation as they might think, ‘Well if mum/dad is so sad too then it must be a big deal!’. Furthermore they might start feeling guilty that they have caused you this sadness and might stop telling you how they feel. So acknowledge their feelings by all means but try to contain your own.
Tip 2: STOP and BREATHE: it really helps to use the 1 2 3 method: STOP what you are about to say, do or feel. Take a deep BREATH before you say anything. Then LISTEN to what your child is saying – still before you say or do anything! This gives you a few seconds to think about the situation and take control of your own feelings so they don’t take over and start controlling what you say or do.
Tip 3: Try some positive self talk: He/she will get over it – we are doing it for his/her best – it is a great school – we trust that the staff are professional and can deal with this – we will see him/her soon etc.
Tip 4: And know that they WILL get over it: Our kids get over things much quicker then we do. They might just need a little empathy and to be heard and the next day they are good again and are too busy to be even giving a thought to what they told us. But sometimes we cannot shake off the feeling of their sadness. Try to trust them (and the staff) that they will get through this and allow them to move on. If you are sending constant texts: ‘are you ok now’?, ‘do you have friends?’, ‘are you happy?’ this might just remind them about the sadness or they might feel they have to ‘play along’. My son sent me a text me on the second day of being at his new boarding school and said, ‘I have not made any friends, why did you do this to me?!’. It really hurt but then just 3 days later I got a text saying ‘I know it’s a free weekend but can I stay at school this weekend?’ Next time he came home he was SO happy and loves it. I never mentioned the ‘I have no friends’ text!
And last but not least: trust your child that he/she can cope!
This is a dreaded question for many of us parents. For two main reasons:
1. Running a family is not exactly easy and full of free moments to just wander off to play. We’ve got stuff to do, laundry to sort out, lawns to mow and dinner to prepare. Play is NOT high on that list. And sometimes, if we are brutally honest, we find their play a bit boring and feel it is a waste of our time!
2. Because this request, if we allow ourselves to feel it, can trigger a twinge of guilt and perhaps sadness at not feeling overly playful any more. But for kids play is serious business. It is what they are here to do.
So what is really at play and how do we play this one right?
Albert Einstein famously claimed; ‘Play is the highest form of research.’, and he could be right. Because of course the premise of all good research is that we don’t get invested in the outcome. We have to remain open to all possibilities and allow whatever is to come forth. And this is possibly one of the main reasons kids are so good at playing. To them, only this present moment matters. Blissfully unconcerned with time, logic, and responsibilities their world is rich and full of possibilities.
This is vastly different to how most of us experience life – and we can therefore forget that when we say yes to playing…
1. We are not responsible for the ‘outcome’ of the play – and don’t need to always take the lead.
2. We do not need to make our kids world more magical – it already is.
This may come as a relief for many as it is often the thought of having to somehow direct or invent the play, be the horse, be the baddie, be a dog, draw a picture or a superhero that makes us exhausted even thinking about it.
So what can we do to enjoy play: Some parents have just made peace with the fact that they are not the ‘playing’ type. This takes courage to admit. And it need not be a bad and shameful thing as you may already be aware that you have something else to offer. You might be the one who loves reading, drawing, taking them for walks, listening to music, cooking with them – or whatever it is that you find is meaningful for you. As long as you are both connecting and having a nice time together!
Let your child take the lead and allow yourself to be led. All your kids want is to be seen! So when they say, Will you play with me?’ what they often want is just to be seen by you. So it’s ok to sit next to them and just BE and SEE what they are doing. If you like you can ask, ‘What would you like me to do?’, ‘Can I join in?’, ‘What part do you want me to colour in and with what colour?’ etc. It can be very relaxing just to sit next to our child and SEE or BE with them when they play. My son LOVES it when I sit next to him and watch him build his Lego and sometimes he asks me, ‘Mum can you find all the red blocks?’.
Children, like adults, appreciate sincerity and honesty and if communicated with respect and appreciation for the fact that all the child wants is to connect with us this can give rise to other ways of being together.
For the vast majority of parents – there is – if we are to be honest with ourselves – a part of us that wishes to reconnect with a more playful side of ourselves. A part of us that knows that we too can have fun, become fully present and filled with joy by joining in.
The summer holiday offers a great opportunity to put on our ‘Yes Hat’. With more time on our hands we can allow ourselves to sometimes go with the wishes of our kids where we might normally say, ‘I’m too busy right now’. Remember that it need not be an hour long affair but a string of such moments makes a world of difference to the bond you share with your child.
And when we enter into our kids’ world like this they are much more likely to enter into ours when we want them to!
We stop playing when we grow old, we grow old when we stop playing.