How playing can reduce anxiety in children

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child-playing

Research suggests that children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their anxiety levels on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the view that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety.

The case of Dibs, a 5-year old boy who showed very disturbed behaviour shows the importance of play for dealing with issues (Axline, 1947). Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy, for very disturbed behaviour. His parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.

Sloan (1999) examined whether play therapy could be used to reduce aggressive behaviour in children in New York. The study found that play therapy is effective for reducing aggressive behaviour.

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How can a parent use play at home to deal with anxiety?

Parents can use toy figures and role play to work through fears and other issues with their children. For example, if your child is worried about going to the doctors, you can role play doctors with them or encourage them to play doctors with their dolls or teddies. If your child is frightened of the dark, you can pretend that a toy figure is being put to bed in the dark and your child can talk about their fears. Another toy figure can be used to dispel fears. Any monsters or ghosts that turn up in the role play can be changed into something non-threatening. You can get your child to imagine what the toy figures/dolls would do if they were very brave (Jay et al., 1987).

 

Want to read more about parenting? Download my free parenting ebook at http://www.fayecarlisle.com

Want your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy  adventure story aimed at 7- to 10-year-olds.

What type of parent are you? Take the Quiz

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parent-child

Find out what type of parent you are by taking the quiz.

  1. You go to parents’ evening and the teacher complains about your child’s behaviour. What do you do?

a) You ask the teacher what they’re doing wrong.

b) As soon as you get home, you shout at your child and take away TV privileges for a month

c) When you get home, you talk to your child about their behaviour, plan with them how to change it and take away TV privileges for the weekend.

 

lazy-child

2. The living room is a mess after your child has had their friend round. What do you do?

a) Tidy up yourself.

b) Shout at them and make them tidy up.

c) Ask them to tidy up with you helping.

toys

3. Your child hits another child in the playground. What do you do?

a) Ignore it and let them sort it out themselves.

b) Shout at your child and drag them home immediately.

c) Make your child say sorry and take away a privilege when you get home.

 

4. You go to the toy shop to buy a birthday present for a friend’s child and your child says that they want one too. What would you do?

a) Buy it to keep the peace.

b) Lecture them about not expecting things every time you go shopping.

c) Tell them no but say that can save up for the toy with their pocket money or say they can put it on their birthday or Christmas list.

toy-shop

5. The main job of a parent is to do what?

a) Make your child feel happy.

b) Teach them to have manners and behave well.

c) Teach them to manage their emotions and make good choices.

 

If you chose mainly As, then you are a permissive parent.

If you chose mainly Bs, then you are an authoritarian parent.

If you chose mainly Cs, then you are an authoritative parent.

There are three main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.

Authoritarian parents expect their instructions and orders to be obeyed without question. They are more likely to punish their children for misdemeanours than other parents and offer fewer explanations. Children whose parents adopt an authoritarian approach are more likely to rebel or distance themselves from their parents as they grow older (Thomson et al. 2003).

Authoritative parents set clear boundaries for their children but are less likely to use punishment as a form of discipline. They are also more likely to use praise and rewards. They are responsive to their children but also have high expectations for behaviour. This type of parenting is related to children feeling a sense of responsibility for their actions and the children are less likely to rebel when they are older (Baumrind, 1971).

Permissive parents find it difficult to say no to their children and do not reprimand their children for inappropriate behaviour. Children of permissive parents are more likely to engage in risky behaviours that put themselves in danger and are more likely to take illegal drugs or drink heavily and behave badly a school (Lamborn et al., 1991). Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between being understanding and kind and setting clear boundaries.

The key characteristics of an effective parent are: warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, allowing your child to voice their opinion and general pleasantness (Robinson et al., 1995). Some parents can be too controlling, critical, restrictive or punitive. At the other extreme, parents can be too relaxed and ignore their child’s misbehaviour (Robinson et al. 1995).

Research suggests that taking the middle ground in terms of discipline is best.

Want to get a free parenting ebook? Go to www.fayecarlisle.com

Want your child to read more? Read the Fortress, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 7-10 year olds.

 

 

 

 

How do you deal with a competitive child?

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boy-football

My 8-year-old son is naturally competitive. I can relate to this as I’ve always been pretty competitive myself although I try to hide it!

I have often told my son that it doesn’t matter whether he wins or loses and that it’s the taking part that counts but I know that this statement goes in one ear and out the other.

Recently, he said to me that he didn’t want to go to a football party because he was afraid how he would react if he was on the losing team. He said that some of the other boys taunt him when they win and he finds this difficult to handle. When he told me this, we talked about strategies to deal with his emotions.

football-team

Rather than tell him what to do, I asked him to think about ways he could deal with the situation himself. He said that he had tried in the past to say that it didn’t matter when he was being taunted but it hadn’t helped. We went through a few scenarios, which involved more conflict so in the end, I suggested that he make an excuse to go to the toilet if he started feeling angry.

One of the things I do with my son when he gets worked up is practise mindfulness. Here are a few techniques I have used:

  • Lie down and imagine all the things you are happy about. Now imagine them coming down on you like a shower of happiness.
  • Visualisation: Softly close your eyes. Allow the picture in your mind to become blank. You are going to imagine a place that feels comfortable, safe, and relaxing. Think of your place. It might be the beach, a lake, or even your own bed. Imagine it slowly appearing before you, becoming more and more clear. Look to your left. What do you see? Look to your right. What is over there? Look closer. Breathe in. What do you smell? Walk around your place. Look closer at certain things. Stay focused on your place. How are you feeling? If you find your thoughts wandering, observe them, and then focus on bringing the image of your place back into focus in front of you. (Allow some time.) When you are ready, put your hand in front of your eyes. Open your eyes. Slowly spread your fingers to allow light in. When you are ready, slowly remove your hand.
  • Bubble meditation: Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Imagine bubbles slowly rising up in front of you. Each bubble contains a thought, feeling, or perception.See the first bubble rise up. What is inside? See the thought, observe it, and watch it slowly float away. Try not to judge, evaluate, or think about it more deeply. Once it has floated out of sight, watch the next bubble appear. What is inside? Observe it, and watch it slowly float away. If your mind goes blank, then watch the bubble rise up with “blank” inside and slowly float away.

child-and-bubble

Another technique I try at bedtime when he finds it difficult to sleep is a body scan. This involves asking him to focus us on different parts of his body at a time starting at the feet and working up the body to the head.

I’m pleased to say that my son enjoyed the football party he went to and there were no arguments.

In addition to teaching my son relaxation techniques, I make sure that I don’t ask him about the outcome of any football, rugby or chess game too much. He recently went to a chess tournament and instead of asking him whether he won or lost the game after each match, I asked him whether he enjoyed it and whether it was a good game. The focus on the process of the game rather than winning or losing hopefully takes the pressure off him.

 

Want to get a free parenting ebook? Subscribe to www.fayecarlisle.com

Want to get your child to read more? Read ‘The Fortress’, a fantasy adventure story aimed at 7-10 year olds.

How do you deal with a difficult child?

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defiant-child

So your child is being difficult? You’ve tried everything but their behaviour just seems to be getting worse. You’ve banned computer games, you’ve taken away prized possessions, you’ve lectured them, you’ve shouted at them, you’ve offered rewards but still your child isn’t doing what you want. You’re at the end of your tether and you just don’t know what to do.

Sometimes just connecting with a difficult child can improve things.  So how do you connect with your child if their defiant, aggressive and uncooperative?

Instead of seeing yourself as a parent that needs to control your child’s behaviour, see yourself as person who is helping your child to manage their emotions. Shifting your mindset to see yourself as an emotion coach rather than a disciplinarian can change the dynamic.

When children are being defiant, aggressive and uncooperative, it’s probably because they’re feeling angry and unloved. You might say, ‘How can my child possibly feel unloved? I adore them.’ However, if you’re not connecting with your child, they may certainly feel misunderstood.

Mirroring your child’s emotions can help you feel connected. This means that when they’re angry, happy or sad about something, you show understanding and empathy.

connected-mother-and-child

Recently, my son seemed angrier and more defiant than usual. It was the end of the half-term at his new school and he was tired. I had also started a new job and was stressed. I decided I needed to spend more time connecting with him. So when he said he was angry that his friends had messed up the Minecraft Lego models that he built, instead of playing it down, I showed him that I understood his feelings. The conversation went like this:

‘Last time my friends came round, they messed up my Minecraft Lego.’

‘That’s really annoying.’

‘Yes, and they took this bit off and I can’t find the piece to it back together again.’

‘How annoying is that.’

‘And now some of my Lego is mixed up,’

‘They mixed your Lego up.’

‘Yes, it was the worst day of my life.’

‘It must have felt like the worst day of your life if all your Lego got messed up.’

‘Yes, I never want my friends to do that again.’

‘Next time your friends come, we’ll have to put any  Lego sets away that you don’t want them to touch.’

‘Yes, we could do that.’

lego

At the end of the conversation, my son seemed satisfied that he’d been understood. Sometimes, when I have tried to minimise any anger or upset he feels, it has fueled his negative feelings rather than diminishing them. Mirroring his feelings helped him to reflect on what he was actually saying and showed him that I understood how he felt.

It is also important to mirror positive feelings. For example, when he said he was excited about going to a restaurant, I showed that I felt excited too. When he talked to me about a computer game, I listened to what he felt about the different characters and tried to connect with what he was saying.

After just a few days, I noticed that he seems more cooperative and happy.

Subscribe to my new website http://www.fayecarlisle.com and get a free parenting ebook.

 

 

 

 

 

Labelling Children’s Abilities and a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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Secondary schools are under pressure from Ofsted to let children know what grades or levels they are aiming to achieve at GCSE based on Year 6 SAT results or CAT tests taken in Year 7 or 8. They argue that it helps children understand what progression they can make.

exam-hall

 

So what is the problem with labelling children?

Psychological research shows that when both children and adults are labelled, it can become part of their self-concept and this in turn affects their performance.

 

Steele (1997) wanted  to see if  negative stereotypes could affect test performance. In one part of their study they selected women and men who had excellent mathematical abilities to complete a maths tests. Half the participants were told that the maths tests would be better suited to males while the other half were told that the tests would be just as hard for both genders. Unsurprisingly, women performed much worse on the maths tests when they were told it was better suited to males. There was very little difference in performance when they were told that the maths tests would be difficult for both genders. This study shows that negative stereotypes and labels can affect performance. In this study, adult women were affected by the stereotypes but imagine how much more children might be affected by labels telling them they are intelligent or not intelligent.

 

females-and-maths black-professor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In another part of their study, Steele investigated whether self-labelling the ethnicity of the black students would have an effect on their performance i.e. would reminding someone of their ethnicity (being black) before a test reduce their performance? They found that when people were asked to write down that they were Black African American before the test, this reduced their performance on the test. While White Americans performance increased after writing down their race.

In secondary schools, children are constantly reminded about what grade they are aiming for often with a sticker inside the front cover of their books. Unfortunately, if the grade is low, this could reduce their performance on tests.

So far, we have talked about how labels can affect a child’s own self-concept but labels can also affect how teachers and parents respond to children.

teacher-and-pupil

Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) carried out an experiment to investigate whether labels could affect the way teachers responded to children.  As part of the experiment, teachers were told that certain students in their class had high IQs and should show good progress in the year ahead. The children were chosen randomly from the class and they did not have any higher IQs than average. At the end of the year, the children who had been labelled as more intelligent, showed greater increases in their IQ on tests than the children in the class not labelled as having a high IQ. Rosenthal said that this was because teachers had higher expectations for the children labelled as more intelligent and that they created a warmer climate for those children. For example, the teachers may have asked higher level questions of the children they thought were more intelligent.

Unfortunately, teachers are only human and they will be affected by labels given to children. Therefore, if children have high target grades/levels at GCSE, they will expect more of those children than those will lower target grades/levels.

Parents can counter the labels their children are given by explaining to them that IQ is not fixed and can change. Children who believe that the brain can grow are far less likely to be affected by labels and stereotypes.

At the end of the day, research shows that IQ can jump during the teenage years significantly. Ramsden and colleagues (2011) found that IQ can change in the teenage years as much as 20 IQ points. This suggests that the labels children are given based on early tests may not reflect the child’s actual IQ anyway.

 

label-jars-not-people

 

Developing children’s social skills and empathy

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children playing together

Developing social skills and empathy

Parents can improve their child’s peer relationships by teaching them basic social skills. One study found that children who had more conversations with their parents about friendships were better liked by other children (Laird, Pettit, Mize and Lindsey, 1994).

The following techniques can be used to develop social skills:

1) Teach your child to recognise facial expressions. Use the internet to find images of facial expressions or cut out old pictures from magazines and ask your child what expression the person is showing.

facial expressions 3

2) Ask your child to use people’s names to get their attention but explain to them that they should to wait until the person has finished their conversation with another person before interrupting.

3) Explain to them that sometimes people want things at the same time but it is important to take turns. Next time your child is fighting with another child over a toy, use the opportunity to explain to them that they can take turns. Tell them that they can each have the toy for 2 minutes and ask them to decide who should have the toy next.

4) Organise cooperative activities for children such as a building a space station out of Lego or painting a wall mural on a long roll of paper.

5) Teach your child how to be a good winner and loser in a game. Explain to your child that they should not boast when they win a game or taunt people when they are losing as this can make other people feel bad. They also need to know how to lose gracefully without getting angry or upset. Young children find it very hard to lose a game but if parents give their children rewards for good sportsmanship then this takes the emphasis away from winning or losing the game. One study found that children who were taught about good sportsmanship before their PE classes and whose teachers gave them a score for it, were able to resolve disagreements in lessons more easily than children not taught these skills explicitly (Sharpe et al. 1995).

6) Explain to your child about compromise. Ask your child to consider what they would do if they wanted to go to the swimming pool but their friend wanted to go to the cinema or if they wanted to make a banana cake but their sister wanted to make a chocolate cake. Help your child to think about the different possibilities. Children who are able to negotiate and compromise are more popular with peers (Crick and Grotepeter, 1995).

7) Teach your child how to really listen to other people and how to show an interest in other people. Explain to them that they should listen to other people without interrupting them and to try and talk about what the other person is interested in.

8) Get your child to imagine things from a different perspective. Next time they say they are annoyed with a teacher or a friend; ask them to imagine what the other person is thinking. Slaughter and colleagues (2002) suggest that children who are able to recognise other children’s mental states are better liked by peers.

9) Tell your child not to annoy or disrupt other children playing even if they have been told to go way as this will stop the other children wanting to play with them next time. Children are less likely to play with another child if they aggressive or disruptive (Coie, 1990).

10) Explain that people’s thoughts affect their actions. Use scenarios to demonstrate that sometimes people’s thoughts can be wrong. For example, a boy may think his friend doesn’t like him anymore because he does not want to play with him that day but actually his friend just wants to play something different.

11) Whenever your child is unhappy about something, ask them to imagine what other people in similar situations might feel as this is often when empathy is at its greatest. For example, if your child is unhappy about not be chosen for the football team, ask them to imagine what it is like for someone who is not able to play sport at all or who is chosen to play for England but has to sit on the bench the entire season.

12) Ask your child to empathise with others. You can start by asking your child to imagine what the characters on TV or in books might be feeling. If your child talks about a bullying incident at school, ask them to imagine how the different children involved might be feeling.

13) Encourage your child to connect with other children and to look for things they have in common rather than emphasizing differences.

14) Teach your child to say ‘no’ to other children if they don’t like what they are being asked to do and discuss peer pressure with them.

children playing in playground

Parents should be aware that friendships change with age: 2-year-old children tend to play on their own although they will observe and copy adults and other children; 3-year-old children play alongside each other and are beginning to share and take turns; 4- to 5-year-old children can play cooperatively with other children, can play games with rules and can form ‘special’ friendships; 6- to 8-year-old children have better conversational skills and are able to negotiate and empathise with their friends; 9- to 12-year-old children have friends with shared interests and are able to respect the opinions of their friends; teenagers tend to have very close friendships based on shared values and appearance (O’Brien and Bierman, 1988).

‘My 5-year-old daughter says that the other children won’t let her play with them at school’

You can teach your daughter the skills to join a group. Use dolls to role play a situation with her. For example, you can represent your daughter’s friends with two dolls and your daughter can be represented by a third doll. Ask your daughter what kind of games they play at school or suggest that the dolls are pretending to be princesses, a popular theme. You can then say that two girls are playing a game together and really enjoying being princesses when a third girl comes along who is not part of their game. Explain to your daughter that the third girl asks to join the game but the other two girls say ‘No, you can’t play.’ Now talk to your daughter about what the third girl could do at this point. The third girl could either walk away and try and play with some other children or she could say ‘I could be a princess too’ as this is what the two girls are already playing. However, the other two girls might say ‘No, you can’t be a princess’. The third girl then has the option to walk away again but she could offer to add to the game by saying ‘I can be the fairy godmother’ or ‘I can be a wicked queen’. Explain to your daughter that it can be easier to join in with other children by adding something different to their game. However, if the two girls still do not want play with the third girl at this point, then the third girl could try playing with a different group of children. In the next part of the role play, you could get the third girl to start taking things away from the other two girls. Ask your daughter to imagine what the two girls might feel if the third girl starts being annoying and disrupting their play. Explain to your daughter that children who are annoying to other children are generally ignored or disliked. Sometimes children try to argue with other children when they are rejected or demand that the children play a different game. Role-play this scenario with your daughter and ask your daughter to imagine how the other two girls might feel.

Playing with your daughter at home will also develop your daughter’s social skills. Try to allow your daughter to direct the play and be positive about her ideas. Only offer new play ideas if the play becomes repetitive. Your daughter will learn how to positively interact with other children by the way you play with her. Children who adapt to other children’s ideas during play are better liked and your daughter can learn how to get along with others by the way you adapt to her.

There are books that teach social skills such as the ‘Friends’ series by Janine Amos and the ‘Help me be good’ series by Joy Berry, which you can read to your daughter.

‘My 8-year-old son says that one of the girls at his school won’t let him join in with any games in the playground.’

Ask your son to think about why the girl won’t let him join in on the games at school. Try to think about lots of different reasons for her behaviour. Spend time with him working out what his different options are in this situation. You could ask him whether his other friends were playing the game and explain to him that the girl cannot control who he plays with. For example, he could say ‘I am not here to play with you; I’m here to play with my friends, William and Oliver.’ If you think your son is being bullied, then speak to the school about what they can do to deal with the situation.

‘My 11-year-old son is having problems making friends at his new school.’

Encourage your son to get involved in extra-curricular group activities at the school such as drama, sport, music or chess. Being involved in organised activities outside the classroom, allows more time for him to get to know other children who have similar interests. Explain to your son that joining established groups can be difficult even for adults. Buy a book on social skills and body language and teach him how to join a group successfully. For example, amongst adults, a new member to a group is usually expected to listen more than they speak.

Suggested Links:

The importance of family meals http://wp.me/p29Oas-nG

Teaching children to be financially savvy http://wp.me/p29Oas-n6

Hothousing and competitive parenting http://wp.me/p29Oas-kK

How to deal with tantrums https://psychologymum.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/how-to-deal-with-tantrums/

Choosing a nursery http://wp.me/p29Oas-mF

 

 

Talking to children about the EU Referendum

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My friend told me today that her son had been called a racist at school because he’d told his school friends that his father had voted leave in the EU referendum. Unbelievably, this is at a primary school. Perhaps we should be happy that primary school children are getting political but it is also worrying that children are expressing intolerant views to those who express a different opinion to what they believe.

 

At another local primary school, the mums have been arguing heatedly on Facebook about the EU referendum to the extent that it has got into a slanging match. In some ways it’s great that people are so involved in political debate but if it gets out of hand, children pick up on it. We all know children will repeat what their parents say.

It isn’t always easy to express strong feelings in a respectful way and that’s probably why they say you should never talk about politics with friends. However, when we talk about politics in front of our children, we should try to be respectful. If we are nasty about people that don’t share our views then children will think they can be like that too. Children need to learn to voice their differences of opinion in a pleasant way without being hurtful.

The EU referendum has sparked passionate differences of opinion and there has been a lot of scaremongering. Our children need to be reassured that whatever problems arise that they can be handled.

It is a good idea to talk about what different people think in a balanced way so that it doesn’t cause divisions.

Top tips for political discussion

  1. Be respectful
  2. Present a balanced view
  3. Encourage your children to do some research
  4. Talk about the importance of voting
  5. Be positive and reassuring

 

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