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Should all children get a prize on sports day?


egg and spoon race

egg and spoon race (Photo credit: shingleback)

The summer term is almost at an end and many schools are holding sports days. Traditional egg and spoon races, beanbag races and sack races are being held across the country all in the name of fun. However, sometimes what should be a fun competition can also bring tears and frustration to young children. Nowadays in some primary schools, all the children are given a prize for taking part and the emphasis has been taken away from winning and losing. Many parents say that it makes a mockery of a sports day for everyone to win. They argue that children need to learn that they can’t win all the time and to deal with failure.

So should schools being giving prizes, medals and certificates to all the children on sports day? Or is a little competition healthy for children?
Research shows that competition can cause arguments between children and lower self-esteem whereas cooperation tends to build relationships. So perhaps schools are right not to emphasise winning and losing. However, schools would benefit from introducing cooperative games on sports day where teams of children have to work together to achieve a task such as building a den. Team-building exercises build relationships, which is one of the reason why companies spend so much money on these kinds of days.
If traditional competitive races are to be used on Sports Day, teachers and parents should prepare children better for winning and losing. Even if the teachers give prizes to everyone, the children often know themselves whether they have won or lost, which can sometimes result in tears. Lessons can be given on how to be a good sport, for example, children should be taught not to boast when they win a game. Young children need to be taught that everyone wins and loses sometimes and that the most important thing is to be a good sport. If children are prepared in advance for what they might feel when they lose and how to manage those feelings then they are less likely to feel anger and resentment if they do lose a race.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

Evidence based parenting book


Diana MacNamara reads to children at Fort Brag...

In the past, mothers often lived near their own parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents who were readily available with parenting advice. Nowadays, people tend to live further away from where they grew up and may not have family around to help them make childcare decisions. Therefore, many parents turn to parenting books for guidance. However, as the number of parenting experts out there rises, so does the amount of conflicting advice, which creates confusion. Parents may worry whether they should or should not sleep train their baby or whether they should be following a strict routine or not. At one extreme there is the rise of attachment parenting books, which suggest that parents should carry their baby around at all times and sleep with their child. At the other extreme, there are books telling parents to get their baby into a routine straight away.

Psychology for Parent: Birth to teens’ tries to cut through the conflicting advice offered by parenting experts by presenting psychological research on parenting issues in an accessible way. It aims to plug the gap between child psychology textbooks and ‘how to’ parenting guides.

One controversy, I feel strongly about is whether breastfeeding affects the mother-baby bond. I know that breastfeeding has important health benefits for babies but some mothers are made to feel awful if they can’t breastfeed and that is wrong. Many of my friends had problems breastfeeding their first child for various reasons, having a premature baby, having a baby with tongue-tie (a condition where the underside of the tongue is too tightly bound to the floor of the mouth for the baby to breastfeed easily), getting mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue) or not producing enough milk. I heard many comments when my son was a baby about breastfeeding leading to a better bond with your child but I was pretty sceptical about them. ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ presents evidence, which shows that breastfeeding does not affect the mother-baby bond.’

Another topic that leads to heated debate is whether parents should smack their children or not. Gershoff (2002 ) examined 88 studies looking at the effects of physical punishment on children and found that it led to more immediate compliance but also more aggressive and anti-social behaviour later on. The children also had worse mental health and had an increased risk of being a perpetrator or victim of physical abuse. Another study found that children who had been physically punished by their parents were far more likely to be aggressive as adolescents (P. Cohen, Brook, Cohen, Velez, & Garcia, 1990). Therefore, the research suggests that smacking is not the most effective form of discipline. However, there are lots of other discipline techniques, which have been shown to be effective.

Have you asked yourself the questions: Is it better to be too strict or too lenient with my child? What should I do if my child is being bullied? How can I get my teenager to talk to me? What should I do if my child has dyslexia? If you want answers to these questions grounded in psychological research, then ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ may be the book for you.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

#Silent Sunday



Why we should focus on children’s emotional intelligence not IQ


English: freedom of expression, Expression of ...

Having a good set of exam results does open doors for many children but it is not the most important thing. Research shows that people high in emotional intelligence do better in the workplace and are happier in their romantic relationships. Some children are born better able to control their emotions than others but that does not mean that you can’t improve your child’s ability to manage their emotions.

So how can you teach your child emotional intelligence?

You can help your child to understand that the way they think about things can change the way they feel. For example, if your child comes home from school and says that George would not play with them today, you might ask them why they think this was. If they say, that they think it is because George doesn’t like them anymore, you can then ask them to think of other possible explanations for why George did not play with them. Parents who frequently ask children to think about what other people might be thinking are able to develop their children’s understanding of how thoughts affect emotions.

Teaching your child to recognise facial expressions and body language is also important so that they can work out what other people are feeling. You can show your child photos of people with different expressions and ask them to imagine what the people are thinking.

Children can also be taught relaxation techniques when they are feeling stressed or angry. You can teach them to lie down on their bed when they are angry and to count to ten or to take deep breaths and breathe out slowly. Another relaxation technique involves clenching all the muscles in the body and letting go. You can ask your child to focus on how their body feels after releasing their muscles.

As with most young children, my 4-year-old son can get quite agitated when he is tired. I have tried to get him to breathe in and out slowly to calm him down but he is not always willing to try this when he is in a bad mood. Taking him to his bed to lie down with his teddy for a few minutes seems to work best but this can only be done when we are at home. The best thing to do when we are out seem to be to get him to close his eyes and imagine he is lying down in bed with his teddy.  I have started to read him the books, which explain about different emotions.


Learn more about teaching your children emotional intelligence, self-control and social skills in ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ . The e-book is on sale at Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

Mindfulness techniques for children and teenagers


Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings. It has been found to reduce mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, reduce negative thoughts and increase emotional awareness and compassion. It can also improve self-esteem and attention span as well as reducing risky behaviour.
Mindfulness can be taught to children and teenagers using the following techniques:
1)Awareness of an Object: Ask your child to choose an object to draw such as a chair or a cup. Tell them that the aim of the activity is not about their ability to draw but about noticing details. Once they have drawn the object, ask them to draw it a second time and see whether they can identify any details missing from the first drawing that were in the second. Usually, the second drawing is more accurate. Ask them to consider what it was like to spend time really looking at an object that they wouldn’t usually take the time to notice.
2) Awareness of Self in the Environment: Ask your child to focus on a particular part of the day such as getting ready for school over a period of a week. At the beginning of the week, they might focus on what happens more generally in the morning but by the end of the week, they may notice other details such as what they feel and experience as they got dressed, ate their breakfast or walked down the hallway.
3)Paying attention to the senses: Kabat-Zinn who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed the raisin meditation as a way of getting people to pay attention to their senses. Give your child with three raisins/grapes/chocolate buttons and then read the following script to them in a slow, calm voice:
Bring your attention to the raisin, observing it carefully as if you had never
seen one before. Pick up one raisin and feel its texture between your fingers
and notice its colours. Be aware of any thoughts you might be having about
the raisin. Note any thoughts or feelings of liking or disliking raisins if they
come up while you are looking at it. Then lift the raisin to your nose and
smell it for a while and finally, with awareness, bring it to your lips, being
aware of the arm moving the hand to position it correctly and of your mouth
salivating as the mind and body anticipate eating. Take the raisin into your
mouth and chew it slowly, experiencing the actual taste of the raisin. Hold
it in your mouth. When you feel ready to swallow, watch the impulse to
swallow as it comes up, so that even that is experienced consciously. When
you are ready, pick up the second raisin and repeat this process, with a new
raisin, as if it is now the first raisin you have ever seen [Kabat-Zinn, 1990,
p. 27].

4)Awareness of Movement: Ask your child to move around the room as softly as they can as if walking on a delicate glass floor. Ask them to notice each movement, for example, their arms moving side to side or their legs moving upwards. Ask them to move faster and then slower and to notice whether it feels different. You can also get them to focus on their left leg for a few steps and then their right leg.
5)Breathing meditation: Ask your child to breathe normally but to notice how cool air enters the nose and warm air is exhaled. The aim of the breathing meditation is to get your child to focus on the present. Counting will help them to stay focused on the breathing. For example, your child could count to ‘one’ for the first inhale and ‘one’ for the first exhale, then ‘two’ inhale and ‘two’ exhale and so on up to five. Then they can start back at ‘one’. Explain to your child that different thoughts will come into their mind while they are breathing but that they should bring their attention back to breathing/counting starting with ‘one’. Tell them not to judge the thoughts that come into their mind while they are breathing but just mentally note them.
5)Thought meditation: After your child has learnt to be mindful of the present, the next step is to get them to realise how their thoughts affect their feelings and how they are in control of their thoughts. Ask your child to close their eyes and then to spot their next thought.
6)Meditation on the bubble: This involves getting your child to not only be aware of their thoughts but also to let thoughts go without judgement. This can stop them ruminating over certain thoughts or worrying unduly. Read the following script to your child in a slow, calm voice and then allow them to try it for a few minutes:
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.

7)Visualisation meditation: The aim of this meditation is to get your child to use visualisation as a relaxation technique.
Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and
shoulders relaxed. 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.

Your child can be asked to remember or draw the scene they have imagined and to use the visualisation whenever they feel anxious.

8) Encourage your child to practice mindfulness regularly to develop control over their thoughts and emotions. For example, you can ask them to really look at the trees, flowers, building etc. when they go for a walk or really think about the tastes, textures and smells of what they are eating.

(Techniques taken from Hooker and Fodor, 2008)

My book  ‘Psychology for Parents: Birth to teens’ is on sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, , Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore. It is a comprehensive reference guide for parents covering a wide range of topics including emotional intelligence and mindfulness.

More information about mindfulness can be found at www.bemindful.co.uk. A website run by the Mental Health Foundation. You can take a stress test by following the links on the website.


Why fathers are important role models for boys


Father/Son A and B

A recent Newsnight programme, highlighted that in some areas of the country some boys are growing up without a father around or a male teacher to act as a role model. The question discussed in the programme, was whether boys need more male role models.

Psychological research shows that same-sex role models are important.  Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961), found that when children observed an adult be physically and verbally aggressive to a plastic bobo doll, they were very likely to copy the behaviour. Boys were more physically aggressive than girls but there was little difference for verbal aggression. The children were also more likely to imitate same-sex models. This study showed the impact that same-sex role models can have on children and the importance of exposing boys to good male role models.

We cannot pretend that all fathers are good role models but many are. Fathers have different skills to mothers and it is important to value these differences. They are better able to engage in rough-and-tumble play and to show their sons how to manage aggression. Fathers are more likely than mothers to play football with their sons and during such play they show their sons how to be good sportsmen. Another difference is that fathers tend to expect their sons to become independent quicker than mothers and having this balance between a father and mother’s expectations helps boys to manage the transition from dependence to independence.

Without a father or a father figure, in form of a male teacher or uncle, young boys may turn to older boys for guidance. Older boys who are not men yet may not be quite ready for the responsibility of guiding a younger boy. After all, older boys may still be forming their own identity. Without fathers or father figures boys may be more likely to be led astray. For example, if a young boy sees an older boy rewarded with respect and status for being involved in a gang, he may be motivated to copy this undesirable behaviour.

Not every child has a father around so I believe the solution is to make sure we have enough male role models in our schools, youth centres and sport centres. If we can’t recruit male teachers in our primary schools, then we should make up for this by have male sports coaches or male activity leaders come into school.

The good news is that the government is not oblivious to the issue of male role models. A playbus comes regularly to my local park and I’ve noticed that the activity leaders are all male. They bring a different activity every week, which is great. Some weeks they make dens with the children, other weeks one does craft activities while the other one plays football and they have even set up science experiments. We just need to make sure that activities like these are offered everywhere.


Teaching self-control to children http://wp.me/p29Oas-kX

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


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