Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Importance of Physical Affection

The Importance of Showing Physical Affection with Older Children

Showing affection comes easily with small children. We smother our babies in kisses and hugs but once children reach the age where they are always on the go, parents can find themselves going whole days without touching their kids. Indeed, research shows that while 90% of parents hug their small children (under 3 years) every day, this drops to as low as 50% for older children.1 Yet older children need affection just as much as small children.

“If I try to hug my 12 year old daughter, she pulls away.” Complains Barb, a mother of 4. This is a common complaint of parents with older children. This resistance can lead to parents feeling rejected by their child and not offering any further physical affection. This, in turn, makes the child feel unloved.

Yet this resistance to affection is often nothing more than self-consciousness and a sensitivity to anything that might be embarrassing. Older kids still need the reassurance and affirmation that comes from receiving affection. The trick is to show affection in ways that won’t trigger their ‘mushiness’ radar. So, while one child might accept a hug from dad at home, he would be horrified if Dad attempted it at the soccer field! Another child might reject kisses altogether but still enjoy the rough and tumble affection that comes with a wrestle or game of footy. My older children, for instance, don’t like to be cuddled but they can’t resist the offer of a back tickle or having their hair stroked. So don’t give up on trying to show affection – just change your tactics.

Strategies for Increasing Affection in the Home

  1. Implement affectionate daily rituals of affection. By introducing rituals like good morning and goodnight kisses or hugs, you immediately increase opportunities for displaying affection.
  2. Have a weekly family games night. A regular games night is a ritual that allows the family to have fun together and connect emotionally. There are games that even the smallest child can participate in (which are often a secret pleasure for the whole family). Twister, for instance, gives you a chance to connect physically and laugh.
  3. Implement a family hour every night. This is a time when the family comes together, preferably with the TV off. This creates a sense of family unity as well as providing opportunities to be physically close. Listen to music, play backgammon, give foot rubs – there are many things you can do to connect when you are all together in the same room.
  4. Eat at the table every night. This important family ritual creates opportunities for laughter, affectionate teasing and connection. Don’t be afraid to tease your children – if it is done in a loving and affectionate way, it is a great way of showing affection. I know my kids love to give as good as they get over dinner. Dinner usually goes for twice as long as it needs to, just because we are having so much fun.
  5. Allocate one day of the weekend for family outings. Family outings provide many opportunities for physical affection and fun as everyone is more relaxed and enjoying themselves. Plan your weekends in advance. The weekend can go by in a flash without any time spent together, if you do not plan ahead. Once a month, get the whole family together to toss around ideas about what you want to do on the weekends.
  6. Take a child or the whole family for neighbourhood walks regularly. This ritual of walking the dog or just exploring the neighbourhood allows opportunities for personal conversation and intimacy which often leads naturally to physical affection. While my 13 year old usually resists my hugs, I find she is happy to let me drape my arm around her shoulders while we are walking the dog and talking.
  7. Have family sports time. Games like soccer or tennis and bowling provide opportunities for physical affection and bonding without the mushiness that older children tend to dread. Even Wii Sports can be a chance to connect and laugh with your kids. The sight of their parents trying to ‘snowboard’ down a virtual hill usually reduces my kids to hysterics.
  8. Build night-time routines. Read a book together in a chair, sit on their bed for a few minutes at bedtime, tickle their backs – there are many routines you can create which only take a few minutes but allow you to connect physically and emotionally.
  9. Develop a secret code that only the two of you know. With my children, I share a special gesture which they know means ‘I Love You’. I use it when I am dropping them off at school so that I don’t embarrass them with an affectionate display. They roll their eyes but it also makes them grin, so I know they secretly like it!
  10. Come home early at least once a week just to have fun with your kids. Take them swimming, play a game of ball – develop a regular weekly routine which they can look forward to. Looking back, I can remember our excitement at seeing Dad arrive home from work every day. My brother and I knew that the fun part of the afternoon was starting. He would take us for a swim or a walk, or invent games to play – all of which gave us many opportunities for physical contact and affection. It is a shame that today’s long workdays have made this a thing of the past, but if you can do it once a week, it will give your children something to look forward to.
  11. Cook in bulk so you don’t have to cook every night. Instead, relax for a while when you get home and then spend some time with your kids.
  12. Put a reminder up on the fridge - ‘Have I hugged my kids today?’ Don’t let the hectic daily schedule make you overlook physically connecting with your kids. Show affection whenever there is an opportunity. Squeeze their shoulder as you go past, ruffle their hair, tickle them, challenge them to a finger wrestle...there are many ways to show your child affection without embarrassing them.
  13. Set time aside each month to have an outing or activity with just one of your kids. You need to develop a special relationship with each child individually. The one on one time creates the opportunity to be close, whether it is a walk, sharing a milkshake or going on a shopping expedition.

By continuing to show affection as children grow up, you make it more likely that they will grow into adults who can show affection easily. So hang in there and one day you will be pleasantly surprised when your child turns around and give YOU a hug! Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Raising Our Boys to be Gentlemen

Boys are magical creatures. Their energy, way of looking at the world, enthusiasm for life and physicality are a joy to behold. Watching my son as he grows up is a constant source of delight and surprise to me. Yet I know his rambunctious energy needs direction to ensure that he grows up to be the best man he can be. One of the most important ways we can do that, as parents, is to raise our boys to be gentlemen.

Why Should We Teach Our Sons to be Gentlemen?
When we raise our sons as gentlemen, we are giving them a powerful rulebook to guide them through life. Being a gentleman teaches a boy three important lessons in life:
• How to honour their masculinity and manliness
• How to treat other people with respect and courtesy
• How to be build a character to be proud of

It may seem an old fashioned concept, yet raising our sons to be gentlemen is as important a part of being a parent as teaching them right from wrong. It means teaching our sons to be courageous and considerate; to protect, not abuse; and to choose solid values to live by, rather than the poor values promoted in the media.

How Do We Teach Our Sons to be Gentlemen?
As parents, we need to both model and teach our boys how to be gentlemen. It won’t happen accidentally – we need to deliberately teach the qualities we want our boys to display.

1. The first step is to realise that our sons are watching the way we treat each other, so be kind and respectful towards each other. Manners are both "caught" and "taught" as children observe their parents showing courtesy and kindness to each other. So, mums, let your husband open the car door for you!

2. Teach boys to have a respectful attitude towards others. The rule you are teaching them is to ‘treat others as they would like to be treated’. Encourage them to greet people with a handshake and a smile; to always say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ instead of ‘huh?’; to not use words that could offend the listener, such as swear words (I tell my son that swear words were invented for times of extreme pain or emotion – if he chops off his finger with an axe, then he can swear all he likes!). Gentlemen are also courageous enough to apologise when they have hurt someone so teach them to say ‘I’m sorry’.

3. Teach boys the many little gestures of respect and courtesy that they can show towards women, such as opening doors and pulling out chairs at the dinner table. Although there was a period where women felt it was condescending, today most women recognise that it is just a way of showing respect and kindness. By teaching our boys these little gestures from an early age, we are inculcating an attitude of respect towards women which will last a lifetime. Here is a list of courtesies we can start teaching our boys:
• Always open car doors for your mum
• Always pull out a chair for your mother before sitting at the table
• Always stand up and offer your seat to women or old people, whether in a waiting room or on a bus
• Always offer to carry packages for your mum
• If a lady drops something, pick it up for her
• Always stand up when a lady enters the room, when she leaves the table or when you are introduced to her.

4. Limit the media that your son is exposed to, as many of the messages objectify women or encourage bad behaviour. Teach your son to be critical instead of blindly accepting the media messages being given. Talk with them about the scenes in TV shows, commercials and music that depict males as crass and women as deserving of disrespect.

5. Teach our boys to have the courage to accept responsibility for their actions, good or bad. A boy can learn to be proud of himself, even when he has done something wrong, if he has learned that you will respect him for owning up to his mistake.

6. Give boys a code of conduct. Teach them that real men don’t lie, steal, cheat or bully their way through life. Show them that real men act with dignity and respect – for themselves and others.

7. Teach boys to honour their masculinity and manliness. Teach them that their strength and courage is to be used to protect women and the weak. Teach them that boys NEVER hit or hurt a girl, but instead always protect them from harm. Teach them to look out for the weaker child in the class, to speak out when someone is being bullied, and to have the courage to say no when they are being pressured into doing something they know is wrong.

8. Develop a habit of reading stories of brave, kind men so they can imagine themselves becoming that way too.

Little boys become teens and teens turn into men. By teaching our sons to be gentlemen from an early age, we are arming them with the skills and knowledge they need to confident, good men that they – and we- can be proud of. Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lords of the Dance

Introducing Boys to Dancing

While girls today continue to gravitate to dance from a young age, many boys avoid dance because of the modern perception that it is a feminine activity. Boys are instead encouraged to focus on sports as an outlet for their energies. The irony is that dancing can be even more physically and mentally demanding than football or basketball!

The Benefits of Dance for Boys
It is important to change this perception as boys are missing out on valuable skills.
1) Dance allows boys an important outlet for expressing their emotions in a safe way. Just watch Billy Elliott to see how dancing allows boys to express their emotions in a constructive way!

2) It teaches them control of their body. Dancing teaches boys to be aware of their bodies and how it moves. “Dancers learn to use their brains as well as their feet,” Says Owen Oxley, local dance instructor and owner of Oxley Dance Studios. “which is something a lot of boys can’t do, because multi-skilling is not a skill that comes naturally to them.”

3) It increases their self esteem and confidence. Mastering increasingly complicated dance steps boosts their belief in themselves, and they become more confident in their ability to master any new skill. “Their self confidence increases because they learn to know their own body and start to feel good about themselves.” Says Warren Jerome, President of the Cairns Rock ‘n’ Roll Club.

4) It teaches boys respect for other people. Dancing requires a person to show courtesy and consideration towards other people, or they won’t want to dance with them again!

5) Studies show it has many health benefits, such as improving body image, attentiveness, and communication skills. Dancing also reduces stress, fear and anxiety.

6) For older boys, dance is a wonderful way for to connect with girls in a safe and unthreatening way. This is an opportunity often missed today because boys are afraid of looking ridiculous in front of girls. This could be eliminated with a few simple dance lessons.

7) A teen boy who is a confident dancer has a social advantage over his less confident and able peers. While young boys may not appreciate dance in quite the same way as girls, the advantages of being able to dance will suddenly become clear when they are teenagers! Girls of all ages love to dance and appreciate a boy who is at least confident enough to get on the dance floor. This is a skill which will stand him in good stead for the rest of his life. “Boys quickly learn that a lad who knows how to dance can get any girl in the room onto the dance floor!” Says Mr Oxley.

Dance Opportunities for Boys
There are many different forms of dance available to interest boys, such as Funk, Hip Hop, Rock ‘n Roll and Ballroom. The energetic kicks, flips and spins of the Dance-Rock-n-Roll-Boogie Club (DRRB) appeal to a lot of boys, with at least 50% of the classes being made up by boys. “It is such an energetic activity that boys who are sporting often make the best dancers!” Laughs Mr Jerome of the DRRB Club. Ballroom dancing has also proved to be a perennial favourite. The owner of Oxley Dance Studios, Owen Oxley, notes that his ballroom dancing classes have enjoyed a 50/50 mix of boys and girls for over 15 years. “While boys often get self conscious about dance at some stage during their teen years and leave for a while, they invariably come back within a year!”

While sport will always be a major part of our boys’ lives, we should also encourage them to enjoy the many creative, social and emotional joys of dance. Giving our sons a love of dance –and the confidence to enjoy it- is a gift that will last them a lifetime. Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Keeping Our Kids Safe

How to Empower Children to Stay Safe

There are many things we, as parents, can do to enable our child to feel - and be - safe. Most parents don’t want to even think about the possibility of violence against their children and, fortunately, such instances are rare. However, violent situations may still occur, so all parents should be prepared. As the top U.S. security expert, Gavin De Becker, points out, "Of all the strategies you might bring to protecting your children, could ignorance about violence possibly be an effective one?"

Teaching Kids How To Avoid Violence

1. From a young age, teach children the power of intuition. Remember, we trust far more people than we distrust, so if your child feels uncomfortable around someone, it is significant. We must teach our children to honour the gut instinct that says something's not right. This takes practice. On outings, ask your children to tell you how they reacted to someone you both just met. Get them to notice their first instinctual reaction - was it trust, shyness, distaste?

2. Children must be taught to react to early signals, as this is when they can turn away most predators. Teach your child to be wary of strangers who try to be charming, offer unsolicited help and promises, and especially, ignores your child's refusal of help. According to De Becker, this is the most universally significant signal of danger as it is a sign that the predator is seeking to control them. Teach your child that it is okay to be blunt and even rude in this situation. Explain to them that you (and other adults) will understand their rudeness if they turn out to be mistaken. If children don't make the mistake of waiting for very clear signals, then they can defeat most predators.

3. Teach your children how to communicate clearly that they are not a target. This includes glaring, holding the stare, walking away immediately and raising their voice. Most predators will get the message and look for an easier target. Although a placid person, I once used this technique to scare away a man who was hovering over my children in a way that made me very uncomfortable. My heart was pounding like a drum but he backed right off!

4. Your children need to practise being aware of their surroundings. Predators look for victims who are going to be easy targets - the ones on their phones, looking at the ground, day dreaming, listening to music…Teach your child to always take note of who is around him or her and what is going on. If they notice someone approaching them, they can usually deter them with step 3, communicating that they will not be an easy target.

5. Teach your teenage child about PC, that is, privacy and control. Sexual predators are not dangerous to your child if they don't have privacy and control. Therefore, if your daughter learns to recognise PC situations early, she can take steps to change the situation before it becomes dangerous. For example, if a girl notices that her driving instructor's directions are taking her out of populated areas, she can clearly say "I wish to stay in familiar areas." This clearly says to the predator that she is not going to be easily controlled, and in the majority of cases, the predator will abandon his plan.

Teaching Kids How To React When Faced With Violence

1. Teach your child to do the opposite of whatever he or she is told to do, as that is what the attacker is most afraid that your child will do. If they say 'don't yell', train your child to do exactly that!

2. Enrol your child in martial arts or self-defence class. This is important because the reaction of most people when faced with an aggressive, loud in-your-face person is to freeze. Their mind goes blank which allows the attacker time to get in close and take control. Martial arts will teach your child to react automatically in crises. Those precious first few minutes often make all the difference in an attack, as most attackers will retreat in the face of a serious defence. If you can't afford classes, you can make a game of surprising your child at home, and practising quick responses.

Mother of 3, Karen McIlveen, enrolled her three daughters in martial arts classes from an early age. “I think the discipline and the awareness that there is something they can do to defend themselves have made them stronger in their minds, not just their bodies. Even though they may be smaller than their opponent, they may be able to use that window of opportunity and give themselves at least 3-5 seconds to run away. I feel more confident knowing that my 3 daughters have some techniques in which to rely upon in a difficult situation”

3. Teach your child to breathe out in crises. Most people forget to breathe which means their brain's ability to think through the crises disappears. Breathing out forces the body to start breathing again, which in turn allows a person to react quicker.

Constable Russell Parker from the Crime Prevention Office, emphasises the importance of empowering children to know that they have a right to say ‘No’ and that there are always people they can talk to, no matter what the problem. “Talk to kids about who they can turn to if they are feeling afraid or if someone is threatening them. Get them to list at least 5 people that they trust completely. It might be a parent, their grandma, or a teacher. These are the people they can then turn to when they don’t feel safe. Predators often use threats of harm to the child or their family to ensure silence. Kids need to know that there is no secret so bad that they can’t talk to someone about it.”

Preparing your children to be safe doesn't mean making them fearful of the world. It means teaching them that there are techniques they need to master to stay safe, in much the same way we teach our children how to deal with fire. I recommend reading Gavin De Becker’s excellent book on preventing violence to kids, ‘Protecting the Gift’. Our children are, indeed, our most precious gift. Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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Monday, August 3, 2009

Signs that you need to adapt your parenting style

Signs that you are struggling as a modern parent:

1. You use phrases like these:

• “This is your last chance/warning”
• “I’m warning you…”
• “How many times have I told you…”
• “Don’t make me repeat myself”
• “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you ten times”
• “I’m not telling you again…”
• “If I have to ask you one more time…”
• “Don’t make me come over there…”
• “Jamie, sweetie. Don’t do that, Jamie, dear! Look at me, Jamie! I’m
warning you, Jamie…!”

2. You feel like this often when you are with your kids:

• Frustrated
• Exasperated
• Irritated
• Angry
• Depressed

3. You have scenes like these:

• Children arguing with you or whining because you told them to do a chore
• Children having temper tantrums more than once
• Children sulking because they didn’t get their way
• You trying to reason with your children
• You allowing yourself to be drawn into arguments with your children
• You talking to your children in a ridiculing/condescending or harsh way
• Your children rolling their eyes at you or talking contemptuously back at you
• You hear ‘why?’ every time you ask the kids to do something
• Your children waiting till you’ve asked them to do something 3 times (and
finally threatening them) before doing it
• Your child is the one running around the restaurant, jumping on the
furniture, pulling on your arm/interrupting while you’re talking to another
• Other parents saying things like “My, he’s high spirited, isn’t he?”
(Translation: why don’t you control your child and stop him jumping on my
• The thought of ‘quality time’ with your kids fills you with dread
• You do something yourself rather than face the complaints you’d get if you
ask the kids to do it
• You can’t wait till your kids go back to school!

A lot of parents will recognise these behaviours as most of them are natural consequences of the modern parenting advice given to parents today.

Our children are now less confident and certainly less charming than any previous generation. Many children today have few manners, poor social skills and little self discipline. Yet they are trying to cope with a world far more stressful and complex than the one we were raised in.

Modern parents, on the other hand, are by and large, exhausted and frustrated. If you look around, you see stressed parents struggling to control their temper in the face of disrespectful, argumentative and rebellious children.

I believe that we need to take the best of modern parenting and meld it back into the traditional methods of parenting. There are aspects of traditional parenting that wouldn’t work today, such as the emphasis on much more severe discipline. This does not mean that we should throw out the baby with the bath water! The traditional philosophy was one of training a child to be a pleasant and productive member of the family, community and ultimately, society. The modern focus, however, is solely on the child and his/her happiness. This has, ironically, resulted in more stress on the family and child as it has encouraged more arguments and less respect in the home.

A return to traditional methods of parenting would mean once again teaching children respect, boundaries, manners and values; it would mean teaching with calmness and affection, not being afraid to discipline and being consistent in how and when we applied discipline. Parenting was pretty straightforward 40 years ago - it can be again. We just need to update it a little to take into account the modern way of living. Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: Scream Free Parenting

"ScreamFree Parenting is not just about lowering your voice. It’s about learning to calm your emotional reactions and learning to focus on your own behavior more than your kids’ behavior . . . for their benefit. Our biggest enemy as parents is not the TV, the Internet, or even drugs. Our biggest enemy is our own emotional reactivity. When we say we “lost it” with our kids, the “it” in that sentence is our own adulthood. And then we wonder why our kids have so little respect for us, why our kids seem to have all the power in the family.

It’s time to do it differently. And you can. You can start to create and enjoy the types of calm, mutually respectful, and loving relationships with your kids that you’ve always craved. You can begin to revolutionize your family, starting tonight.

Parenting is not about kids, it’s about parents.
If you’re not in control, then you cannot be in charge.
What every kid really needs are parents who are able to keep their cool no matter what."

To see book go to Scream Free Parenting

I grew up in such a household where my father was always composed and cool. We knew we could get to our mother on certain matters but nothing seemed to throw my father. Break an arm, start to drown, destroy his precious possessions...he always reacted in exactly the same way. In retrospective, I can see what a wonderful parenting plan that was! We kids were in awe of his knowledge, self control and seeming omniscience, and the result was that we always treated him with respect and obedience. I am not quite as successful with my own kids but I'm still working on it! Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reasoning With Children:Why Being A Reasonable Parent Can Backfire

Modern parenting experts advise parents to explain their decisions to children on the basis that this will make it easier for them to follow the rules. This simple and seemingly innocuous parenting myth has caused more disharmony, frustration and anger in families than any other advice. Why? Because the long term consequences of this approach are children who grow up expecting their parents to explain why they are being asked to do something. Having to explain a rule or decision to a two year old is one thing - having to rationalise with 3 teens or pre-teens about every request you make or discipline you impose becomes a source of frustration and contention in the home.

There is new evidence that family arguing affects children throughout their lives. A recent report by the long running Simmon Longitudinal Study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, focused on family arguments. It looked at the effects of parents fighting with each other, and with their children. It found that 15-year-olds involved in family arguments, were more likely to be functioning poorly at age 30 than other people in the study who did not live in argumentative homes. The children exposed to family fighting were two to three times more likely to be unemployed, suffer from major depression, or abuse alcohol or other drugs by age 30. They also were more likely to struggle in personal relationships, but that was evident to a somewhat lesser degree.

I would argue that parents need to avoid modern parenting styles that could lead to households where children feel entitled to challenge their parents on any and every decision. How many parents today can give an instruction to a child and have it followed out immediately and politely? I imagine, few. This is a direct consequence of this myth. Parents got into the habit of explaining things to their children and their children got into the habit of saying 'why?' and getting a reply.

What Makes A Family Work Well
For a house to work well, there must be a clear leader (or leaders) and the other members of the family must be willing to accept the decisions of these leaders. There can't be constant arguments and negotiations about chores, bath times, homework, computer time, tv watching, phone calls, friends coming over, bed time, sleepovers - the list is endless.

I always say a happy family works like an army unit - the officers make the rules and the privates follow those rules. As long as the parents are firm, fair, consistent and perceived to be in charge, then children are content to give over the reins to them. A family without clear leaders is a chaotic family unit.

Good communication is very important in a family but so is harmony and the smooth running of the home. Maybe it comes from having a father in the Jungle Patrol of Borneo, but we grew up respecting our parents' decisions (however much we didn't like them!) and even with a family of 7, our home was harmonious and loving. We communicated well on almost any subject - indeed, we were encouraged to debate any topic - but we understood that the time and place for questioning our parents was not when they were making decisions.

I believe that growing up in a home where children were required to respect their parents' decisions did not damage my confidence or ability to express myself. Other people would argue that I express myself too readily, lol! I still go toe to toe with my dad on every topic under the sun. Instead, growing up in a home where family relations were peaceful and warm allowed us to flourish as well as enjoy each others companies. This has to be better than the many families I observe where bickering and tantrums seem to be a norm.

Strategy For Reducing Arguments In The Home
Parents need to be clear in their own mind and with their children about when it is okay to discuss matters and when it is not. The weekly family meeting might be a good time to discuss issues; when parents are disciplining or giving chores is not. Kids are bound to resist at first; I find that giving out chores anytime one of them responds to a parent's request or decision with "why?" (or variations thereof) fixes the problem real quick!

In addition, parents need to stay in control of their temper. This isn't about being abusive or angry - that is clearly a sign that you are not in charge. It is about expecting children to recognise you as the leader of your family unit and accept your instructions as such. Parents who are used to losing their cool must practise staying calm, no matter what the provocation. Any time parents lose their temper is a time when they have shown their children that they are not in charge, and are, therefore, open to challenges. More information on how to be effective parents is available at How To Raise A Child.

There is a place for explanations and being 'reasonable' in a family. Indeed, talking to children and teaching them about the world provides many wonderful opportunities for bonding and laughter. However, that time is not when parents are giving instructions or making decisions. Need parenting advice? Read How to Raise a Child
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