Does mindfulness work with children and teenagers?

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Research shows that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can relieve stress, anxiety and depression in children (Saltzman and Goldin, 2008).

mindfulness teenagers 4

So how well does mindfulness work with healthy children and teenagers?

One study found that teenagers who had participated in a mindfulness training programme reported feeling more positive than a comparative group of teenagers who had not (Schonert-Reichel and Lawlor, 2010) . Wall (2005) taught 11-13 year olds over a 5-week period a combination of mindfulness techniques (sitting meditation and mindful eating) and Tai Chi. The children reported feeling calmer, less reactive, more relaxed and having better sleep. Another study followed 137 girls at a secondary school following a school-based mindfulness programme over six sessions. They found that the girls showed reductions in self-reported negative feelings, tiredness, aches and pains, and they were more likely to have feelings of calmness, relaxation, and self-acceptance.(Broderick and Metz, 2009).

Research also suggests that mindfulness training can improve attention and memory. When students practice mindfulness, they learn to focus, sustain and shift their attention, which has obvious benefits in terms of school work (Napoli et al, 2005; Zylowska et al. 2008).

So what does a good mindfulness programme for older children and teenagers involve?

A good mindfulness programme will teach the following:

-To recognise the signs and symptoms of stress.
-To understand the link between their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
-To be able to accept their emotions and thoughts without judgement.
-To be able to regulate their emotions.
-To be mindful when carrying out everyday tasks.
-To be mindful when interacting with others.

Teaching Children To Be Financially Savvy


pocket moeny

I was at the park the other day with my 6-year-old son. It was a sunny day and a perfect day for an icecream. My son asked me for an icecream but I hadn’t brought any money with me so I said no. A kind father of another child overheard my conversation and offered to buy the icecream for him. I refused his offer, not least because he was a stranger, and told him that I wanted my son to learn that he can’t always have what he wants. The man said, ‘Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.’ Part of me agreed with him.

icecream van

I think it is important for my son to learn that he can’t have everything he wants all the time. Being able to delay gratification and having self-control has been found to have positive outcomes for children in terms of performance at school and relationships. Recently, I went to a village fete and I decided to give my son an allowance of £5 to spend on food, drinks and games. I told him that any money he had left over, he could save towards a Minecraft toy that he really wants. When we got to the fete, he was quite careful about what he spent his money on. He did buy a drink, some popcorn and played two games but he decided that he would save £3 of his money towards his toy. I felt that he had learned a lesson about not spending money frivolously.

On the other hand, I want my son to understand the value of money without him be overly worried about it. Sometimes, as parents we might avoid buying something for our children by saying that we can’t afford it. This can give children the impression that we don’t have enough money or we don’t have control over our finances. Children need to understand that there is a difference between things that we want and need. For example, if a child wants a new Minecraft toy for £100 but they already have a lot of Minecraft toys, you might talk to them about how long it would take to save that amount of money if they were working as a shop assistant with other bills to pay. As a parent, we can say to our children ‘I don’t choose to spend my money on things that we don’t need unless it’s a special occasion.’

Research suggests that the more open we are about our finances, the more financially savvy our children will be. Many parents shy away from talking about their family income or debt with their children as they don’t want this information to be shared with others. However, communicating with our children about these topics can be useful in the long-term. Perhaps once we feel our children are old enough to keep these details private, we should talk about them. What do you think?

Does being the oldest, youngest or middle child affect personality?

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birth order

Parents often talk about the differences between their first-, middle- and last-born children and say these differences must be inbuilt as they treated their children the same. However, parents often forget that the experiences of being an older, middle or younger sibling can be quite different. Parents are often very attentive to their first-born child and follow rules such as being strict about how many sweets they allow their child to eat but by the time they have a second child they become more relaxed about the rules. When parents have a second child, they often expect their first-born to be more responsible and they often have to grow-up quicker than later-born children. The first-born child also has to deal with the shift from having their parents’ undivided attention to having to share it with a sibling. As a result, firstborns are viewed as responsible, conscientious, cautious and achievement-orientated. Parents tend to be more relaxed in their parenting style after their first-born child and later-born children are often more liberal and rebellious. Middle children suffer from being neither the oldest nor the youngest child in the family, which can lead to identity problems. They may wonder where they fit in and this can lead them to be sociable, people-pleasers with a tendency to rebelliousness. The last-born child is often babied as parents are less keen for them to grow up quickly. This may lead the youngest child to be less responsible, rebellious and sociable.

What does the research say about birth order effects?

Sulloway (1996) in the book ‘Born to Rebel’ discussed the findings of numerous studies, which show that first-borns are more conscientious but less agreeable and less open to new experiences than later-borns. However, when spouses are asked to rate their partners on personality characteristics, birth order seems to have no significant impact (Jefferson et al. 1998). On the other hand, there is clear evidence that first-born children achieve more both in terms of grades at school and long-term financial success (Paulhus et al. 1999, Zajonc and Markus, 1975).

Sulloway (1996) found that later-born children are more agreeable, liberal and rebellious than first-borns.  However, birth order effects seem to have a greater impact on intellectual development than personality. Parents tend to be less attentive to later-born children as they have to divide their attention and this may make them less achievement-orientated (Paulhus et al. 1999).

Unlike children with siblings, only children do not have to compete for their parents’ attention. This has its benefits and downsides. Parents have the time to invest all their resources in one child; however, there can be a burden of expectation on an only child. As a result, only children are often viewed as conscientious and mature for their age. They often have close relationships with their parents and are keen not to disappoint, which can lead to perfectionist tendencies.

When children have to live with step-siblings as a result of separation, divorce and remarriage, children have to adapt their behaviour. For example a first-born child may end up having an older step-sibling in a blended family and cannot maintain their position as the leader. However, children do not tend to change their personality after 5-years-old so they will usually keep the personality characteristics related to their birth order even if they have to change their behaviour. On the other hand, a 3-year-old first-born child may adopt some personality characteristics of a later-born child if they start living with older step-siblings.

Should I let my child cheat at boardgames?

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Between the ages of 4- and 5-years-old, children should be able to abide by the rules of a game but it is not until 6- to 8-years-old that they learn how to be good winners and losers. Therefore, parents need to handle playing games with young children carefully.


‘Should I let my 4-year-old daughter win when we play snakes and ladders?’

4-year-old children are able to understand and abide by the rules of a game such as snakes and ladders but they are going to have trouble losing. Therefore, there are different strategies that parents can use to keep games fun. One strategy is to offer your child an advantage such as being allowed to throw the dice twice rather than once or being allowed extra throws of the dice if you are ahead. Another way is to change sides or counters during the game every three moves. Alternatively, you can play until everyone gets to the end and everyone wins the game. As your child gets older, they will want to play by stricter rules to make the game more challenging but while they are young, it is a good idea to remove the competitive element of the game.

However, if your daughter tries to cheat during the game such as changing the number on the dice or moving their counter ahead, then stop the game as it is important that they learn not to cheat. Explain to her that cheating is not okay and that it stops the game being fun. You can reward your daughter with a sticker or some other kind of token at the end of the game for playing fairly.

Should summer-born premature children be allowed to stay back a year?

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premature babyA friend of mine has an August-born daughter who was born two months premature. Her daughter should have been born mid-October but was instead born mid-August. However, her daughter had to start school in the academic year in which she was born despite her corrected age being mid-October. My friend was unhappy about this from the start as she felt her daughter was emotionally unready to start school but the local authority said that there would have to be evidence of developmental delay from the GP, preschool and educational psychologist for there to be delayed entry. Therefore, my friend started her child in reception with reservations. Frustratingly, after the first term at school, my friend was told that her daughter might have to go down to half days as she was not coping very well. My friend fought this as she works so the school did not push it. Now her daughter is in her second year at school and the teacher is saying that her daughter is behind. Understandably, my friend is angry with the situation. She feels her daughter should not have been in that academic year at all and should be in the year below. Her daughter is actually reasonably high ability for a child who should have been born in October. Compared to other October-born children in reception, her daughter has good numeracy and literacy skills. It is important to highlight that my friend’s daughter spent the first couple of months in an incubator that simulated the womb so she was not experiencing the world like a full-term baby born in August.

Summer-born children are already at a disadvantage academically, so premature summer-born children are at even more of a disadvantage.

What seems to surprise many people is that month of birth affects children even when they are doing their A-levels.

Crawford, Deardon and Meghir (2010) examined the differences between the test scores of children at different ages by looking at their performance in national tests such as SATs, GCSEs and A-levels and university admissions. They found large differences in achievement at age 7 between children born in September and children born in August. This difference was also linear, which means that September born children performed on average better than children born just one month later in October. The difference between the oldest and youngest children in the year did reduce over time but it was still evident at 18-years-old and affected university admissions.

Therefore, imagine the greater problem for premature children like my friend’s child whose corrected age can make them 14 months younger than a full-term September-born child.

In my opinion, parents of premature summer-born children should be given the option of delaying them a year without question by the local authorities.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale on Amazon at £5.99 for the book and £2.49 for Kindle

Teaching children a second language

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Research suggests that bilingual children have improved thinking abilities, better attention spans and self-control. It appears that being able to switch from one language to another develops the part of the brain involved in controlling our attention and emotions.

Therefore, if you are a bilingual family, it is a good idea to start teaching your children a second language straight away.
The most common method is one Person, one Language (OPOL). For instance, the dad might speak his native Dutch, while the mum speaks English. However, there are other methods such as only speaking the minority language at home. The important thing is to be consistent.

Judith offers some tips for encouraging bilingualism in children on her blog:

So should we all be teaching our children a second language from a young age?

In my opinion, this is probably very difficult unless we are a bilingual family. There is a myth that younger children are more skilled at learning a second language. A study of 17,000 British children learning French at school, found that children who learnt French from 11-years-old performed better on tests that children who had begun at 8-years-old (Stern, Burstall and Harley, 1975). Another study looked at French immersion programmes in Canada found children who learnt French at 11-years-old performed just as well or better than those who began at 5-years-old (Genesee, 1981, 1987). The immersion programmes involved teaching English-speaking children lessons entirely in French.

This relates to the problem of children coming to England from other countries being immersed in an English education system when they hardly speak any English. Some teachers believe that these children will easily pick up English but as the research shows this is not the case. Children who do not speak English as their first language will need explicit instruction and their first language should be used as a bridge to support learning of English. (Barry McLaughling, 1992).

Choosing a nursery

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nurseryLooking for a nursery for your child is a highly emotional decision. Many mothers feel guilty about leaving their children at nursery to go back to work so they want the best possible childcare for their child when they are away. So does money buy the best childcare? Some parents may mistakenly believe that more expensive nurseries are better. However, research suggests this is not true. The FCCC study (Sylva et al. 2007) found that the cost of childcare was not necessarily associated with better quality care. Other parents may believe that having good nursery facilities is the most important factor. Children do need a stimulating environment and a good outdoor space to play in but there are other more important factors that will affect a child’s happiness in a nursery setting.

So what makes a good nursery?

Good quality childcare involves well-trained staff. Research shows that the more experienced the staff the better the quality of childcare given. When staff had high level qualifications such as NVQs in childcare, they provided better care.

Children also need stability. They need to be able to form strong emotional bonds to their carers and this is only possible if they have access to the same carer regularly and consistently. When choosing a nursery, it is important to find out how often the staff change, as if a member of staff leaves that your child has become attached to, it could be very difficult for them.

High staff-child ratios are important. Ask what happens if staff are off sick. When I was looking around nurseries, I noticed that some rooms only had one member of staff in and I made sure I asked questions about why this was the case. Nurseries have to follow government guidelines about staff-child ratios but they may not be strictly enforced. The government also recommends that children have a key worker and it is important to ask how this works. Staff and key workers should be able to spend enough time with each child so that the child can form a secure emotional bond to them.

Not surprisingly, adults who are sensitive, empathic and attuned to a child’s feelings have been found to be better carers. Good carers enable infants and young children to feel confident in themselves, encourage them to communicate and talk, to think and have ideas, and to learn and discover.

You might also want to look at how much stimulation the children are given. How much importance does the nursery place on educating and talking to a child? Stimulation is very important for children’s intellectual and language development. Nursery workers need to ask children questions and to respond to the children’s vocalisations or talk. You might want to observe how much the nursery workers are talking to the children they are caring for before choosing which nursery you prefer.

At the end of the day, you need to trust your instincts about whether the nursery will look after your child well. Try not to choose a nursery based on convenience alone.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale on Amazon at £5.68 for the book and £2.49 for Kindle.


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