Happy New Year to one and all! I hope you had a great Christmas and are now looking forward to 2017 with any resolutions going well if you have any.
I thought I’d start the New Year by looking at how as a parent we can make changes that are going to be beneficial not only for ourselves but also our children. Firstly and foremostly, children need good role models. If we as parents choose to sit around on our phones and moan about the negative parts of our lives all the time, children will too follow our example. If, however, we can acknowledge that improvements or changes need to be made and we can turn it around and use it as a tool for motivation, then we can show children that a little bit of hard work goes a long way. With nearly everything in life you need to be seen as working hard or at least trying your best to stand out from the crowd, and especially for children, they need help to steer them in the right direction.
Both my children will be sitting exams this year. One her GCSEs and the other her end of Year 6 SATS. Is it something they are looking forward to? No, but as a parent I know they need to prepare themselves for this time. Does this make me popular? No, but it’s something they need to do. Practise really does mean perfect- well, maybe not perfect but the more they practise their spellings, time tables, or revise whatever they find difficult it gives them a better shot at getting the results they deserve. This means coming home from school, having some ‘downtime’, which usually consists of watching TV or on their phones, but also doing some homework, even if it hasn’t been set from school. One of my daughters chooses to play the guitar. In making this choice she also needs to find time every night to practise. My older daughter has already made a choice for her future career path, which although she knows she is able to change at any point, to succeed in that future career, she needs at least Bs in many of her GCSEs. This means putting in a lot of hard work.
I read a book, a long time ago now, called ‘Punished by Rewards’ by Alfie Kohn. In a nutshell it makes you look at how as a society we are set up to keep expecting children to do things for a reward, for example a certificate or a gold star. It points out that this is not always a good idea, and how many children do better once they are able to achieve for their own self-worth rather than for a desired reward. Before reading this book, I have to admit I used a lot of reward charts in my teaching and also in my parenting. ‘If you do this, or if you impress me enough you may get …..’. In the short term the rewards work, but as the children get older, the shine wears off or the prizes have to get even bigger for some children. Where do you then end up going? I’m not saying you should never use rewards, but as with everything don’t overdo it. They have a time and a place. I have not put any rewards as a prize for my oldest daughter to achieve the required grades she needs from her GCSEs. To achieve those grades will be reward enough – or not - if she hasn’t made the grade for something she is working so hard for. I’ll be proud of her no matter what, and that is more important for her to know, alongside knowing she has done her best whatever results she achieves.
When I think of adults and our strive for change, for example, an alcoholic who is viewed by others as needing to change, unless that person wants to stop for him/herself or realise that he/she has a problem, there is nothing anyone can do to help them. From my own personal experience of helping someone through their own alcohol and drug addictions until he/she can start taking responsibility for their own actions, he/she cannot be helped. Once he/she can see that he/she has their own part to play in the problem, change can begin to slowly be made. We all have positives and negatives in our personalities and until we recognise what they are we cannot strive to change. If we always blame someone else for our problems, without identifying our own role of responsibility within that how can we ever change? I for one know that one of my biggest down falls is healthy eating. Up until 1st January this year you would never find me drinking a glass of water. It would always have to be squash or a fruit juice. Why? Because I don't particularly like it. This year, I am trying very hard to be mentally strong enough to drink more plain water. Now for some people that might seem a small thing, but for me this is hard. When I think about the amount of sugar in my diet and the risk of developing diabetes in the long run I want to make some small changes to help myself and this is my starting point. So far, not a sip of squash has passed my lips these last few days – that doesn’t mean I won’t have the odd glass in the future, but at the moment I am proud of what I have achieved.
Whenever I meet with parents who want to make changes in their parenting for their children I always say it is small steps that will make a difference. You cannot suddenly run a marathon without building yourself up for it. The most important thing you need to know is that it will be hard work, for both you and all your family, but the hard work will pay off in the long run if you can keep focused and keep identifying the changes that need to be made. Some changes work, others won’t and also you may slip back into old habits. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay for children to see these mistakes. These mistakes should be used as a learning point – whether it’s working out what caused the mistake and stopped it all going according to plan, or simply taking a step back and ‘tweaking’ something that was working well to a certain degree but needs an improvement. The most important thing to remember is it’s never too late to make a change and it really can be the beginning of something fantastic.