Article by Justin Coulson.
See his Happy families blog here or follow Justin’s twitter.
If your children could see themselves through your eyes, what would they see?
In a local park I recently overheard a conversation between two parents. “He’s such a terror!” “She’s a totally spoiled little brat.” “This child is driving me crazy.”
It was an eye-opening moment, because when I looked at their children I saw a helpful girl playing with a younger sibling, an energetic boy laughing and running and climbing with excitement, and a child who wanted to share his playtime with his mum.
The way we ‘frame’ a situation, or a person, heavily influences our interactions. If we consistently see our children as frustrating impediments in what would otherwise be a well-ordered life, then every interaction with our children will be marred by that default view. Such a view promotes a deficit-orientation towards a family. It reduces motivation on the part of parents to help their ‘good-for-nothing’ ‘bratty’ ‘ungrateful’ children. And unsurprisingly, such an approach is hardly inspiring for children. They feed off the negativity of parental perception and typically live up to precisely what is expected of them… which is not much.
Conversely, seeing our children as people – real people – who we value, and who bring positives to our family and our lives ensures that our interactions with them can be far more positive. We take a strengths approach, stating what we value and appreciate in them, and sharing those positives. We consider things that they are good at and invite them to develop those attributes. We give them opportunities and acknowledge their contribution.
We decide whether the glass is half full or half empty. This is not to be naive or ignorant of shortcomings and concerns. When we see a half-full glass, we can still recognise that it is not completely full, and we can help to remedy that in appropriate ways. But it does make a big difference.
If you see your child as talented, helpful, and willing to think of others, you’ll see those traits exhibited more. If you see your child as selfish, a non-contributor, and rude, it’s amazing how often those attributes will be evident – often prompted by the expectations of those around her.
Are your children angels, or terrorists? Are they a delight, or delinquent? Are they a pain or a pleasure? They can be either, but if we choose to see them as angels, as a delight, and as a pleasure, then they most likely will be.
Your children can see themselves the way that you see them. What are they seeing?
Article by Justin Coulson.
See his Happy families blog here or follow Justin’s twitter.
I’m a father of daughters… five precious girls.
Being a parenting researcher and writer gives me a lot of confidence in the way I raise my girls. But there is one thing that causes me more worry than anything else. It’s the way society tells girls how they should ‘look’.
There has been some recent noise made in the media recently about a book titled Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The author, Peggy Orenstein, argues that the ‘Disney-fication’ of what little girls are supposed to be (i.e. princesses) is leading to social norms that are unhealthy.
Orenstein doesn’t just blame Disney. She argues that the media, in a general sense, turns women’s bodies into objects to satisfy men, and that the media portrays imperfect women unkindly. This in turn is influencing our expectations of what women should be and look like, and is driving women, mums, and daughters to dissatisfaction with themselves.
The media is powerful. There is no doubt that it can be influential. And the influence is intentional – and biased towards an idealised beauty that is impossible to achieve.
A fascinating interview with Hollywood actor, mover and shaker, Geena Davis sheds more light on the issue. From the interview:
We raised some money, and we ended up doing the largest research study ever done on G-rated movies and television shows made for kids 11 and under. And the results were stunning. What we found was that in G-rated movies, for every one female character, there were three male characters. If it was a group scene, it would change to five to one, male to female.
Of the female characters that existed, the majority are highly stereotyped and/or hypersexualized. To me, the most disturbing thing was that the female characters in G-rated movies wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as the female characters in R-rated movies.
And then we looked at aspirations and occupations and things like that. Pretty much the only aspiration for female characters was finding romance, whereas there are practically no male characters whose ultimate goal is finding romance. The No. 1 occupation was royalty. Nice gig, if you can get it. And we found that the majority of female characters in animated movies have a body type that can’t exist in real life. So, the question you can think of from all this is: What message are we sending to kids?
The messages the media is sending to women – even young girls – are powerful, pervasive, and barely even noticed. And they are all the wrong messages!
A recent study of 320 women aged between 18 and 65 years (average age= 24.49 years) from 20 UK universities found that in order to achieve their ideal body weight and shape:
- 16% would trade 1 year of their life
- 10% would trade 2-5 years of their life
- 2% would trade 6-10 years of their life
- 1% would trade 21 years or more of their life
To me, such a survey is not particularly valid. The hypothetical nature of the question, combined with the absolute lack of reality associated with it makes it inaccurate at best, and foolish at worst. It does, however, point to one important fact regardless of the nonsense question that it is:
A substantial number of women experience genuine body dissatisfaction.
The crunch though, is that 79% of the women surveyed reported that they would like to lose weight, despite the fact that the majority of the women sampled (78.37%) were actually within the underweight or ‘normal’ weight ranges.
A few other findings from the study that may be of interest:
- 46% of the women surveyed have been ridiculed or bullied because of their appearance.
- 39% of the women surveyed reported that if money wasn’t a concern they would have cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance.
Of the 39% who said they would have cosmetic surgery, 76% desired multiple surgical procedures. 5% of the women surveyed have already had cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance.
- 93% of the women surveyed reported that they had had negative thoughts about their appearance during the past week. 31% had negative thoughts several times a day.
We live in a crazy, superficial world where all that seems to matter to a woman is what she looks like. It’s as if her appearance is her contribution to society and humanity. And if she doesn’t measure up, she feels inadequate, gets bullied, and will go to extreme lengths to try to achieve the IMPOSSIBLE!
We need to teach our girls that NOBODY looks like the girls in the magazines!
How do we do this, sensitively, as parents?
First, consider your child’s development. For girls in particular, it is normal for them to gain weight at certain times of their lives. Sometimes this can happen rapidly, such as at the onset of puberty. While your child may not look like the media’s popular portrayals, remember that your child is not receiving hours of time in the ‘makeup’ room each day, and airbrushing only works in photos – not real life.
Explain this kind of thing to your child. Let them know that they are normal, and that the people in the media are anything but normal.
Second, be positive about your child’s changing body. Discuss the positives related to how they are growing up. Puberty is an exciting time, and this can be shared in meaningful ways between parent and child. Don’t talk negatively as it will increase self-consciousness. If there are reasons to be concerned, subtly change your family eating and exercise habits rather than telling your child negative things about her appearance.
Third, NEVER EVER let your children hear you complain about your own body. You own your body and it’s up to you to be comfortable in it. If you’re not, keep it to yourself and work to improve your health. If your child hears you complaining about how you look and feel she will learn that this is how women behave. Similarly, if your child sees you going for a walk every night after dinner (or swimming early each morning) then your example will make a difference. Your example of how you feel about yourself may well be the biggest influence on your child’s sense of satisfaction with herself.
Fourth, teach your children that health, fitness, and wellbeing matter in terms of body satisfaction. And invite them to consider all of the ways that they can make a contribution to their family, classroom, and community… ways that have nothing to do with how they look. Help them to know that the media’s obsession with appearance doesn’t have to carry across into a personal obsession with personal appearance.
Fifth, education matters. Show you children how magazines and media change women with advertisements like this… (and no I’m not endorsing the brand or their work – it’s simply a superb illustration)
In recent months my 11 year-old daughter has been endlessly begging, pleading, ‘dying’ to let me set her up with a facebook account.
“Everyone has got one dad.”
“They’re calling me names because you won’t let me have one.”
Children should NOT be on facebook. In fact, children should NOT even have telephones that are more computer than phone!
Here are 5 BIG reasons why your child should stay off facebook:
Like it or not, cyberbullying is real and it affects most children in some way. This staggering example of bullying via the phone is becoming all too common. And it happens online in ways that are just as vicious and frightening.
2. Content that’s not for kids.
I have been ‘friended’ on facebook by several of my friends’ children. While I know that they will not see content on my page or in my updates that is inappropriate, I can’t help but be almost certain that some of their other adult ‘friends’ may not be so mindful of what is posted. To add insult to this statement, one of my ‘friends’ under the age of 13 (and therefore too young for facebook according to facebook) posted material that I was stunned to see! Facebook provides too many opportunities for kids to be exposed to things they really should not see.
3. Facebook and the ‘under 13’ rule.
The only reason that facebook has a rule that children under the age of 13 cannot use it is related to USA laws related to the collection of personal information on young people. It has NOTHING to do with the best interests of your child! Nothing at all. Facebook does not care how old your child is, or the extent to which exposure to inappropriate material may occur. Of course they do respond to complaints about inappropriate material, but by then it’s often too late – especially if it is your child.
4. Do you ‘really’ know your friends?
Several of the kids that have friended me on facebook, because their parents are my friends, have as many as 40 other friends in common with me. I suspect that they’re friends with many, many of their parents’ friends. But how well do you really know all your friends? While it’s unlikely, it is not impossible that your child could become friends with one of your friends, or even your friends’ friends (privacy settings can allow friends of friends to get access to your lists at times). Issues to do with keeping your child safe are magnified substantially under such circumstances. Private messages can be sent by strangers to your child. Attachments can be added to those messages and sent to your child – by those strangers who are friends, or friends of friends. Personal information can be obtained from your child, and so on.
5. Social and Developmental Psychology
Our children are simply not developed sufficiently to deal with the immediacy of facebook and all that electronic media entails. Simple face-to-face squabbles are challenging enough. When we incorporate the ‘nowness’ of the virtual world with the distance (perceived) and even a sense of anonymity (which can be easily manufactured) children struggle to inhibit anti-social impulses, and get easily swept up in whatever issues are present before them. Our young children, perhaps even under 18 – but at least 16 – are simply not sufficiently developed and mature to deal with what the electronic media offer them.
While this article is principally about facebook, the concerns extend to other media including email, mobile phones (watch this amazing video and follow the story), and the Internet more generally.
I suggest the following to keep your children safe:
First, keep them off facebook as long as you can… even beyond 13 if possible.
Second, keep communication open. If something bad happens, don’t threaten to remove technology privileges. This will only push the behaviour underground, making it deeper and harder to observe. Instead, talk, talk, talk, and listen! Lots!
Third, show your children just how fast these problems can escalate. The links, youtubes, and stories in this post can be used as helpful educational tools. Educate, educate, educate.
Fourth, keep computers in open, public areas of the house. Never allow computers (including laptops and mobile phones with connectivity) into the bedroom.
Five, be a helicopter parent… hover, hover, hover. Be over their shoulder and know what they’re doing. (And get used to seeing POS written in their chat – it means Parent Over Shoulder).
We can’t bubble-wrap our kids, but we can protect them from the negative effects that the cyberworld throws in their direction by being aware, and following the guidelines outlined here
Article by Justin Coulson.
See his Happy families blog here or follow Justin’s twitter.
Overheard at a mother’s group earlier this week:
“I keep putting my four year-old son in time out, but it doesn’t seem to work. Nothing changes!”
One of the most popular “discipline” (that is, teaching) methods parents employ is the “time-out”. This typically consists of responding to a child’s challenging behaviour with the direction that he or she should sit somewhere boring and free of distractions for a set amount of time to “think” about what was wrong with said behaviour. After that period of time, the child will supposedly be remorseful and will also have learned his or her lesson. But does it really “discipline” (teach)?
Because most of us, if not all, have actually used this technique in various ways, I thought I’d make some points concerning the usefulness of it for “teaching” our children the best way to act.
Time out is really a politically correct euphemism for something I’m more inclined to call forcible isolation.
In real terms, time out involves a person of higher power using that power to hand down a sentence of solitary confinement to an essentially powerless child. Time-out is love withdrawal. Can you see your child sitting in the bedroom (or on the “naughty mat”) thinking “Gee mum, I see that I behaved foolishly and appreciate your wisdom in placing me here to reflect on my actions. I won’t behave in such a disappointing fashion again.”
It’s not likely. Instead she is likely to sit and stew. “I hate this. I hate my parents. They don’t understand. It’s not fair.” And if another sibling was involved they may also be thinking, “Just wait until mum’s not looking! I’m going to make my brother pay for this!”
Here’s a snapshot of what researchers have discovered about children who experience love withdrawal via the experience of time-out:
• Children become distressed when their parents threaten to leave them, particularly when the threat is associated with a child’s challenging behaviour
• Children will become highly compliant with a parent’s requests at the threat of love withdrawal.
• Time-out may be worse than other punishments despite there being no physical threat (or even any material threat). Thus, time-out is more devastating emotionally than other parental power assertions because time-out poses the ultimate threat of abandonment or separation. The parent may know when it will end but the very young child is totally dependent.
• The child who is repeatedly given time-out is far more likely to experience anxiety about love from parents. Time-out leaves kids in greater emotional distress for longer periods than does smacking!
• Kids who experience love withdrawal through the use of time-out and/or threats of abandonment (even for short periods) also typically have lower self-esteem, poorer emotional health, and are prone to increased challenging behaviour.
Of course a multitude of parenting experts (including many with PhD’s in the parenting arena) claim that time-out is the most effective way to teach our kids. But does it really teach? And if so, what does it teach?
Time-out is a power-based discipline. The power we have as parents is used to make a child suffer to change behaviour. So time-out certainly teaches that the big person is always right, and even if the big person isn’t right, he or she can make the smaller person do unpleasant things. Power is powerful.
Time-out teaches kids that their emotions and behaviours aren’t acceptable. Sometimes this may be true as it pertains to behaviour, but emotions are real and need to be respected. They also need to be regulated! Forced time-out is not an effective way to help a child regulate his or her emotion.
Time-out creates anxiety, so therefore teaches children that a parent’s love is conditional. Of course this is bound to have bad outcomes for the relationship between parent and child, and also for the feelings of worth the child experiences personally.
Time-out has some merit when used in one of the two following ways:
First, by giving myself time-out when I become frustrated I am better able to control my own responses to my children’s challenging behaviour. They also get the message that I’m upset when I remove myself and often remedy their behaviour without my intervention.
Second, when we give our children the option to go someplace of their choosing so they can work through their emotions we respect their autonomy. The time-out is chosen, rather than being a banishment.
So what do we do instead of using time-out?
Research has shown, again and again, that love-based discipline using reason, empathy, induction, and education, has far more positive effects on changing behaviour in the long-term (though not always in the short-term). Rather than creating a viscious circle where our withdrawal creates emotional distress which then prolongs our withdrawal, which then escalates our child’s emotional state there are other ways.
Cuddling a child who is distressed will typically calm him or her quickly. Children cannot be “taught” (truly disciplined) when their emotional levels are high. But when calm, they soon become rational – and teachable.
When a child refuses cuddles we can offer options, but never make threats. As the child sees that we will try to help rather than hurt, emotions can be regulated faster, and soothing occurs.
If more than one child is involved in a challenging situation, it is often best to go straight to the “victim” and offer soothing and “emotional first-aid”. This will help the aggressor to see that challenging behaviour will not get him lots of attention. It also teaches empathy and kindness. Once the child who is the injured party is treated, then attention can be turned to the offender. Using perspective taking and induction, the child can be taught what is appropriate behaviour.
The move from a power-based disciplinary focus to one of love is a challenge. But our efforts will be worth it – in the long run. The only thing that should be made to sit on the naughty mat is time-out.
It has been said by many people for many years that being a parent is the most difficult job a person could ever have. Although it is true in some respects, there are certainly areas of the parent-child relationship that can be eased through a common-sense approach to parenting. One of the most integral aspects of any relationship is communication. If a parent cannot engage their child in conversation or honestly discuss issues that arise, there is no foundation upon which a meaningful relationship can be built.
From the first day of a child’s life, it is important to include children in family discussions. Obviously, the conversations within which a child is involved should be age-appropriate and non-threatening. But, even at a young age, children can contribute to the decisions being made and the problems being solved within a home, thus sending the message that they are an instrumental part of the family system. As such, they are more likely to consult with the family before making major life decisions of their own. More importantly for their overall development, this early involvement provides them with a feeling of connectedness and makes a child more likely to consider the impact of their decisions on their family.
Also conducive to open family communication is creating opportunities for discussion on a regular basis. The oldest and most practical way of doing this is to have at least one meal as a family each day. Even the busiest of parents have to eat, so this can be fit into almost anyone’s schedule, whether the meal is breakfast, lunch or dinner. Another strategy is to schedule an entertainment night once a week for the family. From playing board games to watching a movie, conversation is naturally stimulated.
There seems to be a consensus that the teenager years are the most difficult times on the parent-child relationship. Admittedly, teenagers are sometimes unpredictable and it is often a problem for parents to decide how to relate to them. This is where a parent must transform their communication to fit the situation and the child. It is important to remember that a parent is always a parent, but that does not mean that a parent cannot take on a variety of roles in guiding a child. For example, when a teen has a problem and needs a sympathetic ear, the parent needs to be more of a friend. This requires the parent to stifle their desire to take on the child’s problem, but allow the child to solve the problem themselves with a little friendly advice. It is situations like these that, again, reinforce the value of talking to our children.
Article by Justin Coulson. See his Happy families blog here or follow Justin’s twitter.
In preparation for an interview with a newspaper, I have been reviewing some research about children’s involvement in sports, and how competition can affect their interest.
Is competition bad for children? Should kids be fighting it out for competition points? And is it ok for there to be winners and losers on the sports field?
One of the key reasons this has become an issue is because some sports clubs are now changing their emphasis away from competition for younger children. The argument goes that when young children are exposed to competition and the prospect of losing, their interest in sports will diminish. When the competition is not emphasised, the sport is played for fun, skill development, and social support.
Studies indicate that the main reason children play sports is for ‘fun’. This is good news. They’re involved for intrinsic motivations. All of the best research confirms that when we are motivated for internal reasons, we’ll stick at something longer, and enjoy it more, than if we are motivated for external reasons.
Evidence suggests that by the age of 15, up to 80-90% of children will have given up competitive sports. It’s particularly common in adolescence, and especially in girls. So perhaps moving away from competitive focus is useful.
I have written previously about why competition can be bad for kids.
However, should we stop exposing our kids to competitive sports?
Sports, by its very nature, is competitive.
A more detailed look at studies in this field suggests that playing competitive sports can be good or bad depending on a couple of important factors. First, the focus and motivation, and second, the feedback. In BOTH cases, the parents are ultimately responsible for whether a child’s experience will be positive.
Focus and Motivation
Children who are focused on participating for challenge, fun, competence, and social support enjoy their sport and are not negatively affected by the competitive element.
Children who are focused on winning are most likely to be negatively affected by competition.
The main reason for this is the emphasis on mastery and learning in comparison to what I call ‘ego’ involvement. When our motives are based on success, a setback or failure can be demoralising and saps a sense of competence. Conversely, when our kids are in it for what they can learn, and to be with other people who also love the sport, winning and losing become less relevant.
Parents and coaches who emphasise doing your best, winning, and other competitive elements may be doing their kids a disservice in their efforts to promote good outcomes.
Parents and coaches who emphasise trying new things, practicing a new skill, working together, or enjoying the experience and more likely to promote a long-term commitment to, and passion for, sport.
When feedback is negative, sense of competence and autonomy is reduced and children like the sport less.
When feedback is positive, or at least encouraging, children like the sport.
So, is competition good or bad?
It depends. But since sport and exercise are good for us physically and emotionally, and we can gain great social support from them, participation should be generally encouraged. What matters is that our focus is on learning and development rather than on winning, and that our feedback and conversation is less about criticism and more about encouragement.