Should I let my child bring his teddy to school?


My friend’s 4-year-old son had his first induction day at his new school recently. He was reluctant to go into the classroom and things seemed to get worse from there. The teacher told him that he was not allowed to bring his beloved teddy ‘Mr. Snuggles’ into the classroom. My friend felt that this would only make things more difficult as she was struggling already to get him used to the idea of starting school in September. When she relayed the story over coffee to me, I felt that the teacher was probably misguided. Many people believe that when children start school, they need to leave their teddies at home as this is part of growing up. However, starting school is an important transition for children and teddies and security blankets can help children manage that transition more easily.

Parents may worry that if they allow their child to bring their teddy or other favourite toy to school in the first few weeks that their child will never be able to leave it at home. However, your child will realise at some point that they don’t need their special comforter with them at school anymore. On the other hand, in the early days of settling into a new school, comforters are useful items to help your child deal with the changes and increasing independence. Litt (1986) found that children who used security blankets or teddies were more independent and more self-confident. Children use these objects to soothe themselves when they are feeling anxious and upset, which can only be a good thing. Security blankets and teddies also allow children to comfort themselves when separated from their parents.
I am pleased that the new school my son is going to go to in September is having a ‘bring your teddy day’ at the beginning of the year. They obviously don’t feel that it is a problem for children to bring their teddies to school when they start. Another friend of mine said that they even have a special teddy corner at her daughter’s new school. So it seems that some schools do recognise the importance of transition objects but unfortunately not every school.


Should drugs be the first line of treatment for ADHD?


English: A child not paying attention in class.

English: A child not paying attention in class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a mother was questioning whether drugs should be the first line of treatment for her daughter who had been diagnosed as having severe ADHD. The mother was reluctant to give her daughter drugs and was also surprised by the ‘severe’ diagnosis.
Many doctors can be too quick to give out drugs for disorders despite their side effects and it is important for parents to discuss alternative treatments.
Drugs can reduce the symptoms of ADHD such as impulsiveness and distractibility but they can’t cure it. Side effects include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and stomach upsets and not much is known about the long-term impact of the drugs on the developing brain. ADHD drugs can also make children listless and withdrawn.
Parents can ask their doctor whether it is possible for their child to have cognitive behavioural therapy instead. This works by getting the child to understanding how their thoughts and feelings are linked to their behaviour. They are also taught how to change their thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
It can be difficult to manage the behaviour of a child with ADHD so parents often benefit from attending a course that teaches discipline techniques. Some parents may feel reluctant to attend a parenting course but it is worth trying first before giving a child drugs. Such courses can really improve communication and relationships within the family.
Other treatments for ADHD include social skills training and family therapy. Social skills training works by teaching children appropriate responses to different social situations. They are also taught how to deal with their thoughts and emotions so that they can modify their responses to other people. Family therapy involves looking at whether communication patterns and relationships within the family are contributing to a child’s ADHD symptoms. Parents have to be willing to accept that their behaviour might be affecting their child’s behaviour for the therapy to work.

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Is ADHD really on the rise?

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,, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

How can I get my baby or child to sleep well?


A sleeping male baby with his arm extended

A sleeping male baby with his arm extended (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a ongoing debate between parents and psychologists about whether crying down is harmful method for getting babies to sleep and whether it has long-term harmful psychological effects on the child. Before I discuss the research, I want to clarify what crying down means. Some people refer to crying down as just shutting the door and allowing your baby to fall asleep by itself. However, many people prefer a more gentle method of sleep-training nowadays . The term ‘crying down’ is now often used to refer to a method introduced by Dr. Ferber, where parents leave their child for increasing amounts of time e.g. 2 minutes, 4 minutes building up to 15 minutes, before going back to reassure them. This method is also referred to as extinction and controlled crying. I have to say that I used the Dr. Ferber method of controlled crying with my son when he reached 3 months old and I know that some people will disagree with my decision. However, it is important to look at the evidence when making a judgement and to understand why good sleep patterns are so important.

Touchette and colleagues (2005) found that many children who did not sleep six consecutive hours at 5 months old, still had problems at 29 months old sleeping six consecutive hours. They concluded that the ability to sleep through the night was learnt very early on and that parental behaviours could have a negative impact on a child’s ability to sleep. Some of you may argue that it is normal for babies and toddlers to have difficulties sleeping through the night.  However, other research suggests that children who have problems sleeping early on are more likely to have behavioural difficulties later. Other studies show that sleep problems affect performance at school.

The way parents deal with their children’s night-time wakings is important. Simard and colleagues (2008) found that parents who comforted their toddlers out of bed at night-time or who gave their young children (not babies) food in the middle of the night were more likely to have children with sleep problems and behavioural difficulties later on. They also concluded that co-sleeping had a negative impact on the future sleep patterns of children.

Mindell and colleagues in a study for the  National Sleep Foundation (2004) found that a late bedtime and a child falling asleep with their parent present had the most significant negative effects on sleep. A late bedtime led to children taking longer to fall asleep and sleeping for a shorter period of time. Parental presence led to children having more night wakings. Having a poor bedtime routine and having a television in the bedroom was also found to cause sleep problems.

Some of you may argue that good sleep patterns are all very well but not important relative to the possible psychological harm caused by leaving a baby to cry. Hiscock and colleagues (2008) looked at the long-term effects on both mother and child mental health of using Ferber’s graduated crying down method. They study recruited 328 mothers of 7 month old babies who reported that their child had a sleep problem. Half of the mothers were taught a sleep training method (with more mothers choosing Ferber’s controlled crying method than other sleep training methods). The other half of the mothers were placed in a control group and not taught any method. The key findings were that the mothers who had been taught a sleep training method were less likely to have depressive symptoms and by the time their children were two years  old, there were no differences in behaviour between the sleep-trained children and the non-sleep-trained children. This study suggests there are no long-term consequence of sleep-training your child. France (1992) studied the behaviour characteristics of babies who had been sleep-trained using Ferber’s extinction method. She found that the sleep-trained babies were just as secure as the control group babies at 24 months old and their tension levels and likeability scores improved.

More research still needs to be done on the subject of sleep-training and the long-term impacts. However, I would recommend looking at the ample research carried out by Mindell if you are sceptical about sleep-training.


My husband and I both read Ferber’s book on sleep-training before I had my son. At 4 months old, I decided to sleep-train my son to go to sleep and it worked reasonably well. I used a softer method than Ferber suggests and I would stay in the same room as him, patting him a few times every few minutes before sitting on a chair nearby. I also tried to reduce breast-feeding at night-time by a couple of minutes every night. In retrospect, I think my son was probably too young for sleep-training and I would probably wait until 6-months-old before starting. However, my son is a good sleeper and I think this is related to following some form of sleep-training with him. In addition, I made sure I had a Velcro black-out blind in his room that attached to the window frame to stop any light coming through at all. I would also comfort him in the morning in the dark and repeatedly put him back in his cot until 7am. Unlike many of my friends’ children, my son almost always sleeps through the night and wakes late in the morning. By 3-years-old, he would regularly wake up as late as 8 am.

I am a strong advocate of being sensitive and responsive to you child but I also think it is important to teach your child to sleep well. Winnicott said that a good-enough mother is one that  gives their child the attention they need but also allows their child to experience some frustrations. Sleep-training is hard to do as a parent and tugs at your heart-strings but I believe it has long-term benefits.


Want to read more about parenting? Download my free parenting ebook at

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

Identifying dyslexia in children and getting help



Visual-dyslexia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Studies suggest that identifying dyslexia early and getting help is important as 95% of children can benefit from intervention programmes. The British Dyslexia Association ( recommends that if you think your child had dyslexia then it is better to get them assessed as soon as possible by an Educational Psychologist or a Specialist Dyslexia Teacher qualified to carry out the assessments. Some schools may be resistant to getting a diagnosis as it costs money. However, as a diagnosis will allow your child to get the support needed, it is probably best to go ahead with the assessments. Allowing the problem to continue may harm your child’s self-esteem as they continue having problems with reading and writing. Also research suggests that children who are poor readers at 6 years old find it difficult to catch up with other children (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). So what are the signs of dyslexia and what can a parent do?

If there is a history of dyslexia in your family then there is an increased risk that your child will develop it. Early signs of dyslexia are: problems speaking clearly, no interest in letters or words, difficulty with motor tasks such as getting dressed, catching a ball or fastening buttons and confusing directional words such as left/right and up/down.

The most effective intervention programmes in schools seems to focus on phonological awareness. Children with poor phonological awareness may not understand that if you change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘h’, the word would become ‘hat’.

Parents can teach letter sounds at home. For example, they can teach that the letter ‘c’ is pronounced as it sounds at the beginning of the word ‘cat’ rather than ‘see’ and that ‘k’ and ‘ck’ have the same sound. There is an excellent DVD made by the BBC, where all the different synthetic phonics sounds are presented. I bought the DVD on Amazon very cheaply for my son and it came with a workbook and poster of the different sounds.

You can also practice phoneme deletion with your children using word and picture cards. For example, you might have two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. You could then ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning. Another technique is phoneme identification. You might say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’. Phoneme discrimination helps your child to really listen to speech sounds. This is where you present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.

Parents can also play word games such as ‘I spy’ to focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words or rhyming games such as how many words rhyme with ‘fox’. Getting children to clap out the syllables in a word also helps children to recognise how words are made up of different sounds so for example you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.

One study used a 14 week home- and computer-based training in phonemic awareness and letter-sound relationships with children who were genetically at risk of dyslexia.  Initially, the trained at-risk children kept up with untrained not-at-risk controls in reading ability. However, once the children started school, the trained at-risk children had delayed reading relative to the not-at-risk control children. This study shows the importance of support at school as well as at home and how the advantages of early intervention can be undone unless on-going help is provided. Therefore, it is important that parents push for support at school whilst continuing their efforts at home.

The good news is that schools are becoming more aware about how to support children with dyslexia and so if your child is identified as having dyslexia, they should get the help necessary.

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


Can music lessons improve your child’s intelligence?


Music lesson in Glanerbrug  (Home)

Music lesson in Glanerbrug (Home) (Photo credit: Johan Koolwaaij)

I have an amazing tutor group, who are intelligent, work hard in their lessons and contribute a great deal to the school. Many of these children are musical and the music teacher suggested jokingly that music was the reason for their achievements. At the time, I scoffed at the suggestion and argued that being involved in any extra-curricular activity at school probably benefits children. However, since making these comments I decided to do a bit of research to see whether there really is a link between music lessons and intelligence. So what does the evidence show?

Schellenberg (2006) found a correlation between IQ, academic ability and how long 6- to 11-year-olds had been having music lessons, even when family income, parents’ education and involvement in non-musical activities were taken into account.

Schlaug and colleagues (2005) found that giving children music lessons can lead to improve visual-spatial, verbal, and mathematical abilities.

A study by Wong and colleagues (2007) suggests that musical training can help children to recognise different sounds and so help with reading and learning a second language.

Forgeard and colleagues (2008) compared children who had at least three years of instrumental music training with a control group and found that the musically trained children performed better on verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.

You may argue that children who have music lessons may come from better off families with greater aspirations. You may also argue that children who have the motivation to learn a musical instrument may also have better attention spans and be more cooperative and so do better on tests. This is a problem with many of the studies looking at the effects of music lessons on intelligence. It is difficult to establish how music lessons actually help children.

Interestingly, research shows that music training improves academic achievement even when IQ remains constant. Learning a musical instrument may only improve children’s concentration and persistence rather than IQ. However, from my own perspective, I will be encouraging my son to learn a musical instrument as soon as he is old enough. I want him to have the enjoyment of music and the benefits.

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


What are the signs that your child might have autism?


Subject: Quinn, an ~18 month old boy with auti...

Children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty expressing their emotions or understanding other people’s emotions. They find it hard to make friends and to communicate with others and they have problems reading people’s facial expressions. They are also less likely to engage in imaginative play, for example, they would find it hard to pretend that a wooden block is a train or a rocket. They can also be quite sensitive to stimuli in their environment such as loud noises.

There can be speech and language difficulties in children with ASD but not always. Examples of speech and language difficulties are: not speaking by 16 months, repeating words and phrases over and over again, repeating questions rather than answering them, not being able to communicate their desires and not understanding humour.

Children with ASD can be quite inflexible, for example, they do not cope well with changes in routine. Other signs of ASD are: attachments to strange objects such as wires or keys, lining up toys or spending long periods of time staring at moving objects such as a wheel spinning on a car. Some children with ASD can also show an amazing memory for facts such as train schedules.

ASD may lead a child to feel anxious. Many autistic people have certain routines that help them deal with their anxieties e.g. wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods and repeating the same movements (hand flapping, finger flicking).

So what are the signs of ASD in babies? One of the major signs of ASD in babies is lack of eye contact. Babies with ASD often do not babble or mimic facial expressions. Very young babies cannot smile but if babies are not smiling by six months, it can be a sign of ASD. Another sign of ASD is when older babies do not use gestures to communicate such as pointing or waving goodbye.

Some babies will develop normally but then regress between 12 and 24 months. A toddler who stops using words or stops playing social games such as peek-a-boo could have ASD. If your child regresses, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor or health visitor as this is an indicator of ASD.

Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that children with ASD have problems understanding that other people have different thoughts to them. He developed the Sally-Anne task to test for ASD. It is possible to use an adaptation of this task at home with children over 4 years old, although a diagnosis should always be done by professionals. You can put two puppets together and say that both puppets are watching whilst a toy is placed in a basket or container. You then tell your child that one of the puppets is going out of the room. The next step is to explain to your child that the second puppet is going to hide the toy in a different place. You bring the first puppet back into the room and ask your child, where the first puppet thinks the toy is. Children over 4 years older who do not have autism should be able to understand that the first puppet thinks the toy is still in the original place. However, children with ASD tend to think that the first puppet will know the new hiding place for the toy. This is because children with ASD have difficulty understanding that others do not always know what they do. They have trouble comprehending that other people can have different thoughts and feelings to them.

So what can parents do if they think their child has ASD? First of all, you need to get a diagnosis of ASD. The Peach Charity recommends early diagnosis and intervention to improve communication skills. Parents may be told not to worry by GPs and health visitors but if you suspect your child has ASD, it is a good idea to push for diagnosis. Your child may then be assessed by a range of professionals including a paediatrician, a child psychiatrist, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist and an educational expert such as a specialist teacher or educational psychologist.

One intervention programme that has been found to be effective is ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis). ABA involves teaching children with ASD the skills to communication effectively and interact with others. The programme also involves rewarding children for appropriate behaviours such as waiting for their turn in a game.

So what does the research say about parental involvement? McConachie and Diggle (2007) argue that parents should be given training in how to help their children with ASD. They say that parents can benefit from the increased skills especially as children with ASD can be difficult to manage. They also point to research that says that training parents in groups can help them to form a support network with other parents (Baxendale, Frankham, & Hesketh, 2001; Symon, 2001). They reviewed a number of studies and concluded that training parents in how to use ABA at home helped children’s communication skills and behaviour. They also point to studies that suggest that parental training can reduce parental stress levels and even lower the incidence of mothers developing depression. Some parents report that being trained in how to deal with ASD also helped them with their other children (Laski et al. 1988).

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

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