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Blogs on parenting during Covid-19

The SFSC team have been producing regular blog posts that have been published in our SFSC Covid 19 newsletter which is going out every other week during the period we are socially distancing. We know from our work with families that the current context is a hard one to parent in and provides many stresses and challenges for all. It is in the light of this that we draw on the SFSC curriculum and the expertise of our team to provide support at this time.

SFSC programme

A social conscience

Covid-19 hit more than our health at the beginning of 2020. It changed how we live and highlighted that we are social animals who crave human contact; contact that can affect us in positive and negative ways.

Many of us have been living and working from home, keeping socially distant from everyone but members of our own households, for 18 of the first 32 weeks of 2020- that is more than 50% of the time we have lived through this year so far. As lockdown measures are lifted, both old and young are responding to the need to be with others- to resume our social lives. But as the media frenzy surrounding the actions of Dominic Cummings (during lockdown) have shown, the fear of spreading a deadly virus has brought out a sense of ‘social conscience’: an understanding that what we do as individuals can and does have an effect on our family, our friends and the wider community. 

The idea that we work together and for each other is not a new one. About 400 years ago, the English poet, John Donne, wrote:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,…..

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind

Compare this to the African proverb of ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and the universal way humans have always lived together in families, in tribes, in villages and in modern cities. We are animals who need each other, who can achieve more together than alone, who need relationships, who may look different and have different cultures, but are all of one human kind.

The SFSC parenting programme helps parents support their children in finding their way as social beings in the social rite of passage. As our children grow, their community widens around them. From their primary carers, they begin to recognise other family members and friends from playgroups, nursery and primary school. Children start to learn to recognise more faces and work out their place in these settings. They are part of a bigger world than just their family. From learning to take turns and share their toys, children are learning how to form wider friendships based on kindness and equality, and manage feelings of frustration (I want to play now!!) and anger (that’s my toy!!) through patience. By donating unwanted clothes and toys to those in need, they begin to learn the role they can play in helping those who are less fortunate and, by sharing household chores, they learn that in any community, responsibilities need to be shared to give everyone a level of spare time and freedom. Through ‘School Council’ or sporting and social club roles, children can develop leadership, organisation and public speaking skills. Older children can be encouraged to develop debating skills and campaign for a cause they really believe in: many of us have heard of the 17 year old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, but fewer have heard of Saihan Islam, a 15 year old autistic boy from the East End of London, who recently won an award from the disability charity, Sense, for raising awareness of mental health issues in the community, so improving the lives of many others, as well as his own. 

And this is exactly the point of having a social conscience: if our children can understand from an early age that their actions affect others – positively and negatively- then this may help them do the ‘right thing’, be it small like helping an elderly neighbour with her shopping, or larger, by understanding how best to challenge and bring to account those in power, end prejudice and injustice and, ultimately become good leaders.

Back to school after lockdown

Children are back to school after what must seem like the longest summer holiday ever.  The Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities Programme components can support parents and their children as they return to a new term with new conditions. Nervous or concerned parents can think about their cultural values and beliefs and examine how this influences their behaviour and parenting choices. Adopting a process for connecting to positive aspects of the past to strengthen motivation towards achieving a violence free healthy lifestyle may help overcome the tricky hurdle of returning to school after so long: consider if there was anything you enjoyed about school, or useful advice given by your parents/carers.

Pivotal to success will be parents’ relationship with their children, their children’s teachers, and other important adults in their children’s lives. Special Time is a must for children going through huge transitional change including those away from home at Uni or on apprenticeships.  Parents should try to understand developmentally where each child is at and meter their expectations accordingly, especially for those children transitioning between stages. The stresses of lockdown may have caused some children to regress and behave inappropriately in their new setting, some may simply need additional patience and understanding due to their temperament.

Important to all encounters are the SFSC violence prevention strategies for enhancing our relationships with others which we have covered in earlier editions of this newsletter; Solution Building, Developing Empathy, Managing Conflict, Managing Anger, and Relaxation.  These strategies provide tools for managing difficult people and situations.  The start of term creates much to do but there is no need for parents to feel overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, step back, consider what might be in everyone’s best interest in the short and long term and act interdependently.  If you’re feeling stuck, haven’t got answers to important questions, or simply can’t think what to do, do you know someone who does?  By utilising a Circle of Support parents and their children’s needs can be better met.

What about the thorny subject of discipline, how easily will families be able to switch their morning lockdown routines to be up, dressed, and ready for school on time.  Are families ready to adhere to new timetables that might be subject to sudden change, will children sit in classrooms and observe social distancing rules throughout the school day? It’s starting to sound stressful, but if parents commit to increasing the behaviours that they want to see by giving affirmative attention for cooperation, effort and any positive shift in behaviour however minor as opposed to constantly trying to decrease inappropriate behaviour, parents and their children have a better chance of thriving and surviving the term.

The use of Clear Instructions, Praise, and other positive discipline strategies to support an increase in behaviours parents want to see is certainly a more nurturing way to develop children holistically. However, parents should not be afraid or lack confidence in the limited and occasional use of corrective strategies such as Confrontation or Time Out to address certain defiant and disrespectful behaviours as part of a process of discipline always remembering to reconnect positively by praising their child’s next respectful behaviour.

The ten Rites of Passage provide so many activities to develop social competencies as children transition from nursery to primary, primary to junior, junior to high school, and high school to college/university. What new skills did children and young people learn during lockdown?  A new term provides an opportunity to do an audit and think about the skills they will need, or areas to focus on with the end of term as a target.

Returning to school is an important part of re-engaging with the community.  Parents should be encouraged to see how far this could be extended. Schools may need help like never before, perhaps the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) could use a hand, other voluntary groups may have suffered during lockdown and need support getting back on track.  Covid19 and Lockdown may have identified gaps in care that require the birth of new initiatives.  Small children attending nursery for the first time, older children spending more time with their peers or off to Uni etc may create some ‘spare’ time/opportunities for parents to become involved in community prevention efforts, or, at the very least to create a vision for a violence free healthy year ahead.

Children are back to school after what must seem like the longest summer holiday ever.  The Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities Programme components can support parents and their children as they return to a new term with new conditions. Nervous or concerned parents can think about their cultural values and beliefs and examine how this influences their behaviour and parenting choices. Adopting a process for connecting to positive aspects of the past to strengthen motivation towards achieving a violence free healthy lifestyle may help overcome the tricky hurdle of returning to school after so long: consider if there was anything you enjoyed about school, or useful advice given by your parents/carers.

Pivotal to success will be parents’ relationship with their children, their children’s teachers, and other important adults in their children’s lives. Special Time is a must for children going through huge transitional change including those away from home at Uni or on apprenticeships.  Parents should try to understand developmentally where each child is at and meter their expectations accordingly, especially for those children transitioning between stages. The stresses of lockdown may have caused some children to regress and behave inappropriately in their new setting, some may simply need additional patience and understanding due to their temperament.

Important to all encounters are the SFSC violence prevention strategies for enhancing our relationships with others which we have covered in earlier editions of this newsletter; Solution Building, Developing Empathy, Managing Conflict, Managing Anger, and Relaxation.  These strategies provide tools for managing difficult people and situations.  The start of term creates much to do but there is no need for parents to feel overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, step back, consider what might be in everyone’s best interest in the short and long term and act interdependently.  If you’re feeling stuck, haven’t got answers to important questions, or simply can’t think what to do, do you know someone who does?  By utilising a Circle of Support parents and their children’s needs can be better met.

What about the thorny subject of discipline, how easily will families be able to switch their morning lockdown routines to be up, dressed, and ready for school on time.  Are families ready to adhere to new timetables that might be subject to sudden change, will children sit in classrooms and observe social distancing rules throughout the school day? It’s starting to sound stressful, but if parents commit to increasing the behaviours that they want to see by giving affirmative attention for cooperation, effort and any positive shift in behaviour however minor as opposed to constantly trying to decrease inappropriate behaviour, parents and their children have a better chance of thriving and surviving the term.

The use of Clear Instructions, Praise, and other positive discipline strategies to support an increase in behaviours parents want to see is certainly a more nurturing way to develop children holistically. However, parents should not be afraid or lack confidence in the limited and occasional use of corrective strategies such as Confrontation or Time Out to address certain defiant and disrespectful behaviours as part of a process of discipline always remembering to reconnect positively by praising their child’s next respectful behaviour.

The ten Rites of Passage provide so many activities to develop social competencies as children transition from nursery to primary, primary to junior, junior to high school, and high school to college/university. What new skills did children and young people learn during lockdown?  A new term provides an opportunity to do an audit and think about the skills they will need, or areas to focus on with the end of term as a target.

Returning to school is an important part of re-engaging with the community.  Parents should be encouraged to see how far this could be extended. Schools may need help like never before, perhaps the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) could use a hand, other voluntary groups may have suffered during lockdown and need support getting back on track.  Covid19 and Lockdown may have identified gaps in care that require the birth of new initiatives.  Small children attending nursery for the first time, older children spending more time with their peers or off to Uni etc may create some ‘spare’ time/opportunities for parents to become involved in community prevention efforts, or, at the very least to create a vision for a violence free healthy year ahead.

Managing anger in lockdown

The loss of freedom due to Covid 19 has resulted in many feeling fed up or angry at some point most days.  Some claim that people around them or in the media make them angry; others who profess to have no idea why they’re enraged; and also those who, claiming they never get angry, worryingly suppress their anger.

Whether anger has become a default position or a series of sporadic explosions, if unchecked or out of control, it can have devasting immediate and long-term consequences for families and communities.  Think of something you may have said or done that you would not have considered if the proverbial red mist had not clouded your judgement. Out of control, anger can be divisive, will fuel conflict and turn crowds of well-behaved people into mobs.  Anger can inhibit the ability to reason, understand, or learn, it can destroy relationships and isolate us from others.  A hothead can get a young person kicked out of education, work, friendship groups and not least, in serious trouble with the law. 

For this reason anger management is an integral part of the Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities violence prevention curriculum, but it is important for Facilitators to help parents make the connection between controlling the emotion that is anger, enhancing relationships and achieving a violence free healthy lifestyle.

SFSC identifies anger as a perfectly valid emotion, that can be useful to motivate positive change.  Managing this emotion does not mean suppressing it, which can be dangerous but rather to find positive ways of channeling the energy.

Like other emotions, anger is experienced in our bodies as well as our minds.  To manage anger you must be self-aware and notice internal and external triggers i.e. the situation and circumstances that start to change how you think and feel; worrying inner thoughts, being taken for granted, when people are unfair or violate your personal space, privacy, rights etc. the list is endless as the sensitivities are personal to each. Notice how physiological discomfort can worsen a situation, i.e. too hot or cold, tired, hungry, or in pain.

When anger starts, several hormones including testosterone, cortisol and adrenalin play havoc with our body resulting in a noticeable change in our internal feelings and external appearance i.e. heart rate, knotted stomach, temperature, breathing, clenched teeth/fists, speech pattern etc. If this continues, your ability to think clearly becomes impaired: in the heat of the moment you do/say something you later regret.

Good self-awareness coupled with self-control (the ability to think before you act) enables better reasoning before anger becomes rage. There are several measures we can learn to interrupt the automatic changes that occur and return our bodies and mind to a state of calm; if possible put some distance between you and the trigger, deep breathing, counting, or positive self-talk can be useful.  A drink of water or cup of tea may help, but avoid drugs and alcohol which may worsen the experience. 

The ability to manage anger is an important social competence, a skill which can be learnt and improved upon with time, effort, and practice.  Childrens’ ability to manage anger will depend on their developmental age.  Note the tantrums of the two-four year-old, and the quick-tempered hormone induced hysteria of an adolescent.  Parents should also note how temperament and personality make a difference to the triggers and intensity displayed, and consider the influence of modelling – do the adults around routinely blow a fuse when they’re angry?

Facilitators should enable parental use of SFSC’s managing anger strategy to support their children’s behaviour but endorse the most powerful effective way of parents teaching this life saving skill is through modelling.

The final point to consider is the impact of stress which can act as a touch paper for rage.  Families genuinely committed to managing anger must pay attention to their lifestyle and incorporate a variety of relaxation strategies to reduce everyday tensions and lessen the likelihood of explosive episodes. Exercise, meditation, listening to music, journaling thoughts and emotions, creative drawing or other expressive art forms, talking to trusted friends and ensuring physiological needs are met can prevent angry feelings from building up inside.

Anger is a strong emotion that can feel overwhelming at times.  Learning how to deal with it, without losing control is an important emotional rite of passage to maturity. It supports the ability to empathise with others, enables solution building and capacity to deal assertively with conflict. This array of skills can keep children safe as they enhance their relationships with others, increase their self-esteem, self-discipline, and social competence in relation to a violence free healthy lifestyle.

Solution building in lockdown

Every facet of our lives involves making decisions. How and why we make the decisions we make is very much tied up with our self-esteem, self-discipline, developmental age, skills, and experience.  We can see obvious negative outcomes from decisions relating to the misuse of drugs and alcohol or in perpetrating violence against others. Less obvious is the impact of our everyday decisions like what to eat, whether to exercise, how we spend our time and money and importantly parenting choices which we often decide unconsciously.

Even when we believe others have made decisions for us including the law, we must still decide whether to agree or co-operate with the decision made.  Will you, or won’t you; wear a face mask in public, use public transport or send your children to school if you’re unsure it’s safe, are just a few decisions we are compelled to make at the moment. How we deal with making decisions will often determine our success and happiness, but what is the process for deciding? 

In promoting a violence free healthy lifestyle, Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities supports parents in understanding the value of being solution focused and the process for making decisions through the practical application of a tool to support children in developing what appears to be an all-encompassing skill.   

Solution building is a powerful technique for managing anger. It can minimise or eliminate problems that create angry feelings.  Since parents cannot prepare children for every situation they may face, it is important that children learn how to ‘think’. When parents use solution-building tools to work through their own problems/situations and to guide their children to think in a solution-building manner, children have fewer aggressive/violence behaviour problems at home and at school.

Being solution focused is a mindset, as well as a skill which means it can be learnt and improved upon. Notably, the process for making decisions is similar whether we see a problem, a challenge, an idea, or opportunity before us.  In brief, this involves identifying a goal and alternatives to meet the goal which is a skill in itself.  This is followed by a process of elimination using analytical skills to compare the potential outcome of various alternatives in the short and long term before making a choice and evaluating the result.  It is important to recognise that, ‘no decision’ is a decision not to act and to accept the consequences of doing nothing. 

Solution building skills improve with age and the curriculum provides parents with information to understand developmentally how children might approach solutions depending on whether they are infants, preschoolers, primary, juniors, early or late teens. Effective problem solving which is the ability to break issues down into manageable chucks and find a pathway through is part of the mental rite of passage and supports other important social competence including, entrepreneurial and leadership skills. 

In relation to keeping ourselves and others safe – something we have seen to a greater or lesser extent regarding the nation’s health during this period of lockdown – effective problem solving skills is also useful for our mental wellbeing, reducing stress, and the risk of anxiety or depression. Solution focused people can respond rationally, be more empathetic, resilient, creative/flexible in their thinking and generally more optimistic.  Teamwork and influencing others are also amongst the excellent qualities being solution focused engenders, essential for parenting and valuable in keeping people safe. 

Like all SFSC Strategies, the most powerful way to teach this skill is through modelling.  Facilitators must support parents’ understanding and command of the solution building process/tool so they can assist their children in thinking through their choices, solving problems, and achieving goals. The more competent our children are in solving problems, the better they will feel about themselves (self-esteem) and the more prepared they will be (self-discipline) to achieve goals.

The nature of humans

As humans, we are capable of incredible acts of love, generosity, and kindness but we also have capacity for unspeakable violence, ferocity, and destruction, but why is this?  Human nature includes core characteristics feelings, psychology and behaviour, however the family and culture we are born into also shape and pass on its ideas about being human.

Session two of the Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities curriculum presents the Nature of Humans as an important concept in developing ourselves and our children. The Nature of Humans represents one of the three foundational circles which underpin the programme and its impact on parenting should not be underestimated.

The Nature of Human’s schematic describes human beings as four dimensional; physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual, and that when we develop, take care of, and utilise all four dimensions in unison we become more rounded, flexible and willing to learn new ways to live in an ever-changing world.  This allows us to embrace different cultures and value systems with greater compassion.  Greater understanding of ourselves and others promotes harmony within, plus values and behaviours in keeping with a violence free healthy lifestyle.

Important to the process is supporting parents to consider practical ways of developing balance across the four dimensions so children can transition holistically from early to late childhood, and young people from late childhood into adulthood.

  • Physical considers our growth, size, movement, aesthetics etc. To develop healthy bodies, we need to eat a balanced diet, take regular exercise, get enough sleep, and learn to manage stress.
  • Emotional considers how something, someone or situations makes you feel, and covers feelings both positive and painful. Our emotional lives are based on our relationships and to be effective we should spend time with others, spend time alone and manage/communicate feelings experienced.
  • Mental considers cognitive functioning, acquisition of knowledge, creative skills, solution building skills, common sense etc. (not mental health and well-being which overlaps all four dimensions).  We should feed our minds with stimulating ideas, balance time spent learning, analysing, being artistic, and learn to think both logically and creatively.
  • Spiritual is based on our values/purpose and considers whatever generates a positive feeling of contentment and peace within. To flourish here, we need to develop love for self, others and for some families, a higher being; take time out to perhaps meditate, pray, find solace in nature, and adopt activities which promote a sense of security within.

Notably, at various stages of the cycle of life we are inclined in one dimension versus another; Broadly speaking, early childhood is very physical: rapid growth, movement. In late childhood we see greater emphasis on emotions and outcomes based on feelings/hormone driven.  In the adult part of the life cycle mental/cognitive reasoning is driven by responsibility for others and finally in elderhood we tend to see more spiritual focus and thoughts of afterlife. 

We also recognise that some have a greater emphasis in one or two dimensions based on their value system, traditions, and customs. Some families/cultures in parts of the world are all about ‘the stuff’ i.e. the physical dimension– how much can I acquire and what does it look like, and names/brands may be important. What something or someone looks like may well be important, however, If we compound this with the emotional tendency of young people, we can see the challenge this might present. 

Similarly, we can identify families/cultures who priorities the spiritual dimension and as such may demonstrate greater faith in positive outcomes in the absence of physical evidence including medical advice

The nature of humans is saying we achieve better functioning for ourselves and others when we develop/balance across the four areas

Example.  If you were buying a car, what might influence your decision?

The physical aspects of the car – colour, shape, the look of the interior etc.  An emotional pull –  you might have a particular penchant for a style of car based on nostalgia, or perhaps it’s the same car someone you care about has or had. Mental reasoning – you might consider the cost of buying and running the car, insurance, safety or reliability etc. And not least Spiritual sway – which might include an internal assurance that the car you’ve selected is the right one, a gut feeling, the belief or sense of knowing this is the one.

A decision based on just one dimension may have limitations, but two or more considerations make for better outcomes.  In developing children holistically parents need to compensate for children and young people with a predilection to the physical and emotional dimensions and adjust for their own cultural bias.

“when we grow, our children grow: when they grow we also grow”

Taking a look at bullying

Bullying is a worry for many parents.  But, bullying extends beyond the school playground and into adulthood: on social media, in the workplace and to institutions like the police. 

If somebody hurts you physically or emotionally, by what they do or say, then this can be bullying. Bullying is also about perception – how the bully sees the victim and, how the victim feels about the bully’s behaviour or language. Bullies will choose as a victim someone who they consider ‘inferior’ or weaker. This might be because the bully needs to feel a sense of power and control to feel better about themselves. Victims are also targeted for whatever makes them different or unique: race, religion, disability, culture (the way they speak or dress for example), sexual or gender identity, line of work, fashion sense, age or weight. As bullying targets our unique identity in this way, it can make us feel isolated and worthless, anxious, angry and depressed. When bullying becomes a crime or runs through institutions, it is something that can make families and whole communities miserable and angry.

What can we do?

Bullying exists and we should always deal with it, but how can we ensure that it affects our children as little as possible? 

Whether bullying is happening in person or online, Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities parenting programme gives parents much insight into how to protect children from becoming bullies or victims of bullying. 

Modelling

We should all be mindful of our own behaviour and language. Are we modelling  bullying behaviour to our children? Are we sharing apparently harmless messages, through social media or otherwise, that suggest our approval of themes around aggression towards or the belittling of certain groups: identified by gender, age, sexuality, faith, culture or ethnicity?

Our roots

Bullying attacks our identity, and our self esteem- our feeling of self worth. It follows that if we have a strong sense of pride in who we are, where we come from and what we stand for, that we will have a high level of self esteem; an ‘invisible shield’ of dignity which verbal bullying will be unable to penetrate This is where history can be used to teach children about the struggles and achievements of their ancestors or people of their gender, ethnicity and age. This will give them a sense of belonging, perspective, strength and hope.

Being unique

We are unique in so many ways and this can be celebrated with children from an early age, again increasing their self esteem. What does their name mean? Why was it chosen? What are their special gifts or talents. Do they have a special interest? Parents can even turn ‘negative’ characteristics around with some positive ‘spin’. So, a child who never takes no for an answer becomes a  girl ‘who can do anything she puts her mind to’ and, one who never sits still, a boy who is ‘brilliant at getting things done’. Showing attention and giving praise to these unique qualities gives children a strong sense of self and true pride that will carry them safely through life with a feeling of ‘I can cope’. 

Solution Building

Ultimately, bullying needs to stop to help the bully as well as the victim. Decisions must be taken on whether to report a bully to a teacher, an employer, social media company or the police. By helping children develop pride in who they are and what they are capable of, we should ensure that they have the strength to withstand bullying in the short term. With a strong parent/child relationship, children will share their worries with a parent, who will listen and help them come up with a long term solution.

More help

Bullying information and help

https://www.nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/

Types of bullying information for children

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/bullying-and-cyberbullying/

Support for younger victims of bullying

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/bullying/

Information and reporting online bullying

https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/

Information and reporting hate crime

https://www.report-it.org.uk/your_police_force

Managing conflict in lockdown

The quiet eerie calm on the streets at the start of lockdown has been replaced by the tension of those trying to resume their pre-lockdown lives; and others protesting for a positive change in their lives post lockdown following the slaying of George Floyd in Houston USA by law enforcement officers.

In response we can see conflict between those sticking to the rules no matter what, and others adopting their own interpretation of what the rules mean… but what about those choosing to defy the rules if they feel the ends justify the means? 

The SFSC curriculum provides that feelings of anger and dissatisfaction do not create problems, as if we did not feel these things – either as individuals in our personal lives or as members of a particular ethnic or cultural group positive – change would not take place.  It is how we use these feelings to create change that is important. 

Conflict exists when a person or group feels that their personal rights have been violated.  When our children learn to manage conflict effectively, they learn important social skills to enhance their relationship with others, and learn they can address injustice in a non-aggressive manor.

At the core of managing conflict is the ability to respond assertively; to stand up for personal rights expressing thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a direct honest and appropriate way which does not violate another person’s rights.  An important facet includes showing respect for yourself as well as the other person’s needs and rights, asking for fair play and enabling others to stand up for themselves, and or to take responsibility for their share in the conflict. 

When individuals, families and groups who are either in the midst or importantly aware of conflict adopt a passive stance they infringe their own or the victims’ entitlements by failing to stand up for what is right.  But what happens if you have tried to be assertive and nothing changes? Issues like racism prevail.

Is violence or an aggressive response the solution? In any conflict situation is it ever appropriate to use physical force, bullying, nasty words, lies and underhanded tricks to overpower another because you believe that you and or your personal rights are more important than theirs?  If someone has violated you, and you violate them back how does this resolve the situation?

Perhaps the age-old adage is true, that in any conflict situation ‘two wrongs do not make a right’.  Parents may want to consider inner thoughts or actions used to justify harming others in response to their own hurt or unfair treatment towards themselves and others, and how this is interpreted by their children in dealing with the conflict they will inevitably encounter throughout life. 

If we recognise how violence begets violence and that family and community violence are inextricably linked, parents could choose instead to model and teach children and young people to; identify and accept their own personal rights as well as the rights of others.  To know the difference between aggressive, passive, and assertive behaviour and to communicate positively with dignity, respect, trust, and love in responding to conflict within the family or community.  

The challenges of homeschooling

We know from the parents we are in contact with, that many have struggled with creating the right atmosphere and routine for children to learn at home during the last two months. Indeed, as soon as lockdown was announced, both mainstream and social media were flooded with resources to help parents become home teachers.

But, as many soon discovered, it was difficult for them and their children to switch roles, even for part of the day, from parent/child to teacher/pupil. Children have found it hard to be motivated and as the weeks have turned into months, a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ has been growing, leaving children and parents feeling stressed.

The SFSC parenting programme considers the topic of gaining knowledge from a different angle in its mental rite of passage. The idea is to help children understand why education and hard work are necessary: to answer the ‘what’s the point?’ question, so that children themselves want to learn, understand, solve problems, experience, grow and achieve. In the words of Aristotle (384 BCE-322BCE), the ancient Greek philosopher, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” 

With younger children, parents can ‘teach’ the importance of reading and maths with a virtual or real online shopping ‘trip’. Children will need to be able to read to find the things they want to buy and they can use simple maths in adding and subtracting. They will also be learning to use a computer and work through a search engine and different websites at the same time.

With older children, time at home may be a real opportunity to consider their future. What sort of temperament do they have? Are they more logical and analytical, using the left side of their brain or, creative and emotional, using the right side of their brain? (Are we giving them enough ‘free’ time to explore this creative side?). What sort of future working life do they imagine? Will it be indoors or outdoors? In an office? Working for themselves or someone else? How will they achieve their ambition? This exercise will in itself require some research and solution building, which are very real life skills. They can look at further education and subject choices and research career descriptions and opportunities.

One of the positives of the pandemic might perhaps be the opportunity for all of us to take a step back and look at the wider view for our futures; education or retraining may be the answer for better, healthier and happier lives.

Rites of Passage in Lockdown

Week eleven in lockdown, parents may be restless, running out of new activities to develop themselves and their children.  However, the ten rites of passage within the Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities curriculum contain over 101 things to do. 

Rites of passage is a weird concept for many, various literal and cultural meanings have been adopted worldwide, but our use of the term simply describes developing skills or competences to transition from one stage of life to another.  Importantly the transition from childhood to adulthood is the main focus and may include events such as; Completing school, learning to drive, 18th or 21st Birthday, first date, first interview or first job and so on.  These may be cause for celebration but in between there will be hundreds of new skills and achievements worthy of developing with or without the celebration, all of which contribute to the main transition. 

Of the many aims in SFSC, the programme seeks to provide information and activities that will help parents to support children develop knowledge and skills necessary to make the transition through childhood to adulthood.  Clearly, parents cannot stop children moving through these stages, but they can influence how they do this and ultimately their success.  Children and young people therefore need adults who understand and can manage the tasks, difficulties, and opportunities to mentor their transition in a meaningful way – SFSC groups support parents in so doing.

There is no one size fits all to the coming of age process, even the law provides different age parameter for being an adult or at least attributing adult responsibility.  The ten rites of passage and associated activities give parents a chance to customize the skills and various social competencies they deem important. This allows them to meet the unique needs of each young person and their family and communities’ culture, to bridge childhood and adulthood successfully.

Going through each rite of passage it can be gratifying to see the number of areas that have already been addressed. Perhaps these were instinctive, natural and easier to develop; or a child may have been supported in achieving some of the skills and competences through their circle of support. This may allow them to identify good personal hygiene (physical rite), love of reading (mental rite), the value of money (economic rite) and so on.  However, it’s important to review areas deliberately neglected; perhaps a parent sees less value in developing a skill, and or, may not have the skill or confidence themselves to pass on to their child.

If there are areas parents have deliberately or otherwise overlooked, lockdown provides time galore to address this. However, if there’s another more complex concern i.e. an important personal or family value in conflict with modern expectation or competence; take for example some element of the political or emotional rite of passage, lockdown might provide the time and space to decide whether or not this skill or competence should be developed, and if so, how and by whom.  Some activities may have proved challenging during the height of lockdown, but thankfully as measures lift parents can explore new areas.

Left unchecked, we can imagine the various negative activities young people may adopt in transitioning themselves and determining their status as adult.  Parents may not always be able to convey a particular rite of passage, but they are responsible for putting their child in the path of another who might be better suited to develop the desired skill or competence. If we recognise the value of investing our children with such competencies, we give them the opportunity to achieve adulthood well-armed and prepared for the journey ahead.  

Children and household tasks

“I am going around in circles picking up after everyone” “no one does anything to help” “it is an impossible task”.  These are a few of the common statements we hear when running parenting programmes when talking about household chores. And certainly parents are talking about this now when everyone is home needing to eat, work, study and play in the same place.

Parents often share that they carry out the majority of the chores at home often because they ‘want things done properly and promptly’. This statement is true to the person, it’s ‘the way they do it’ and ‘they way they like it’.  

As adults we are often able to carry out house chores efficiently which is why we usually just do it, but this was not always the case; as children we weren’t so skilled. We learnt through watching those around us, play, trial and error. 

When we look at temperament in SFSC we explore that what is the right way for one person may not be right for another, and this need to be considered when we are looking at household tasks too. 

So if, for example, a young person hangs out the wet washing it might not be straight or as orderly as you would hope but we want to focus on the effort put in. So, they did the task, that’s a great thing, they felt proud that they did the task, they might check on the clothes a day later and see that they are still wet. We could talk to them about what factors make clothes dry more quickly. They will possibly learn from that first time and, if so do it differently next time. They may also start to see that task as ‘their job’ and it could become part of a routine which will raise primarily their self esteem and self discipline but also their social competence. 

SFSC tells us to say “yes if you can, and no if you must” and this can be applied to housework too, especially during lockdown when we are all home together. If your child can help you with something or do a task, let them have a go. If they are not keen to help, encourage them to do so, these are vital skills they will need to learn if they are able to function as adults. And remember, if it is a job that is not appropriate to their age or stage, it is still the case that you can model what to do and make sure they are still learning from you. 

Circles of Support

Modern Western culture places considerable pressure on us to be ‘more independent’.  But, as the weeks in lockdown roll on, the reality and negativity of independence is being felt as isolation and loneliness;  we are cut off from members of our family, friends, work, school and life itself. This is not a ‘new normal’ any of us would have chosen, but it is one we are having to face.

The SFSC parenting programme explains that our need to be together is part of the very foundation of human life, forming and informing our ‘roots’, giving us a sense of identity, belonging and pride. Throughout the world and, throughout time, people have traditionally gathered together in what the programme calls circles of support to show their kinship and love, to mark an event, celebrate, support, empathise, commiserate, acknowledge and show solidarity. There are many examples:

We mark our beginnings and endings with the welcoming of a new baby, the celebration of a new job or by gathering to grieve for the loss of a loved one who has died.  When we face tragedy and distress, like a terrorist attack, the Grenfell disaster and now,  a worldwide pandemic, communities come together to understand and deal with a situation, care for the vulnerable and recognise the work of those supporting others : our Thursday evening ‘clap for carers’ being an example of this.  There are many customs and traditions to mark our transition from one stage of life to another.  These rites of passage include things like weddings, school proms and assemblies, graduations and award ceremonies, a house warming party and ‘special birthdays’ like an 18th to mark the age of ‘legal adulthood’.  Finally, celebrations and acknowledgements are times when families, communities (schools, sports, social and faith groups, for example) and, even entire nations come together to remember all that brings them together: their history, ancestry and purpose. 

Gatherings offer everyone a feeling of belonging, a sense of identity, and a sense of being with people who share a common aim: friends and family are an antidote to loneliness. Memories are created, our ‘history’ is lived. Most importantly for families, communities can pass on their values, traditions and customs to the younger generations. The message of gatherings around birth and death are clear: life is precious. We should never underestimate the importance of these circles of support in enhancing our relationships and educating our children. So, whilst we have been unable to celebrate (outside our homes) the festivals of Passover, Easter and Vaisakhi or the breaking of our fast during Ramadan this year, we can all find ways to gather and share, especially with the use of technology.

With some thought and creativity, families can still pass on the values which are important to them, even though our traditional gatherings are on hold for now. Children themselves can be encouraged to be creative, so that they are not just meeting with their peers through social media, but sharing virtual hugs with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents with drawings, poems, pictures and stories.  They may even find ways to sign each other’s shirts or have an end of year prom. Until we can all meet again.

Supporting Teenagers

With current lockdown measures still firmly in place supporting older children can be difficult. You’re up against social-media, Netflix and Whatsapp, nevermind the absence of them being able to see their friends. For those teenagers that may have just started to date or to have a part time job, these rites of passage have been dramatically taken away while families are on lockdown. During lockdown, teenagers may swing from boredom and frustration to nervous and angry, and a load of other emotions on the way. And because of their teen brains feel invincible in the face of the virus, making it harder to enforce distancing. with potential challenges for parents.

So what can we do during such a time to steer our teenagers away from too much digital display and ensure they follow social distancing guidelines?

Validate their feelings/concerns: Older children are far more exposed to the ever growing information on Covid-19, with social media spreading news by the minute. It is important to be open, have discussions and address any questions or concerns they may have. With social distancing being the rule, the absence of socialising will undoubtedly be a challenge for older children. Validate their feelings and acknowledge that you know how frustrating it must be. To compensate for the absence of face to face social networks, perhaps try to be a little more relaxed on the time they’re spending socialising with friends online.  

Mental health / wellness: The current situation causes worry for many, so it is important to ensure your teenager’s mental health is looked after. Encourage conversation around concerns and direct older children to the many organisations providing great tips and resources.Take a look at this.

Encourage a time-table/daily plan: Older children are used to the responsibility of routine at school/college, so try to support them in doing the same at home. Give them the responsibility of planning their day ensuring they’re getting a good balance between work, ‘”socialising” and exercising. Encourage a good night’s sleep, rest and healthy habits. 

Enhance your relationship: Whether you are working or not, now is the best time to enhance your relationship with your child(ren). Try the SFSC model of Special Time that was featured in issue 1 of this newsletter.

Make use of technology: For children addicted to their screens BT have created “Code a Cake” which uses baking as an analogy for coding, providing online experience for the wannabe gamers out there. It is aimed at 6-11 year olds but provides great introduction and insight into the world of coding, so older children may find it interesting too 

For the avid gamers, if feasible, invest in a new game that requires movement e.g. dance or sport games; this way you’re not restricting the game console, rather, you’re encouraging exercising / burning energy – win:win. 

Allow them to be creative: Now is the perfect time for our children to be creative. Got spare paint in the cupboard? Maybe let them redecorate their room or move their furniture around – this will allow them to create a personal safe space when they want to be alone. Encourage aspirations by allowing older children to research, plan and be creative. Sit down with your child and encourage them to develop goals for their future. 

Be patient: We are all in this together, so remember that there is no right or wrong way during this difficult time. Whilst older children may have a better understanding of the current pandemic than younger ones, it is still important not to forget they are experiencing big changes and are having to adjust to new circumstances. Be patient and understand that emotions might get frayed.

Modelling in Lockdown

With families spending so much time at home without the usual routines of school and work, the word ‘discipline’ has become a very one important for us all. When parents discipline children, they may often be ‘reacting’ in the moment to a particular behaviour with the belief that children need a ‘negative’ consequence or punishment to control/change that behaviour.

The SFSC parenting programme provides a process of positive and corrective discipline which is intended to teach rather than control children.This empowers parents to ‘respond’ to a child’s behaviour rather than ‘react’ and helps children choose to do the ‘right thing’. Positive discipline works by increasing children’s respectful behaviours, leaving less room for negative ones. Children who behave well, feel good about themselves and when we feel good about ourselves, we behave more positively. This positive cycle works for all members of the family, increasing self esteem: our ability to cope with whatever life throws at us- more important now than ever. 

The most powerful discipline tool parents have is: themselves. From birth, children learn by watching what their parents do.This is called ‘modeling’.From how to speak and walk as toddlers to core values like fairness, respect, honesty, responsibility and accountability; children learn by watching their parents. The SFSC parenting programme puts modeling as its number 1 step in the ‘process of discipline’. The impact of modeling is so important that it is considered repeatedly throughout the curriculum and parents are encouraged from the outset to understand its power by looking at their children to see how their behaviour is mirrored. This self reflection by parents asks them first to consider, ‘Is my child’s negative behaviour resulting from him copying my behaviour?’ This is not about parents blaming themselves (as children grow, they are not the only influencers in their lives), but parental modeling can teach or remind children how to do things in the ‘right’ way.

Parents who are mindful of what they are modeling can offer subtle teaching to their children on all behaviours. This really is about ‘actions being louder than words’.

Parents might want to model clearer ‘schedules’  at home of learning/working, playing, exercising, relaxing, praying, chores, family time. This is a time when parents really can lead by example. Modeling can bring about positive changes without punishment, lecturing and stress and calmer, happier parents will model  calmer, happier children.

Thinking about our roots

Time. Never enough? We finally have time. Families at home. Schools closed. Too much time?

When schools were first closed, many parents’ first concern was how to homeschool their children in maths, science and all the other academic subjects. As the days and weeks have passed, we have all fallen into some sort of ‘new normal’ routine, trying to keep the mind, body and soul nourished. But are we missing an opportunity?

Our education system is intended to take our children forwards with the knowledge they will need in later life to live as productive members of society. But, how do our children decide upon their futures without a better understanding of who they are, and what values they have: where they have come from?  Their roots.

We are all unique. We all grew up in different families. Many of us came from different countries, speak a second or more languages, have different faiths. Our roots will be made up of our ethnicity, our culture, our family and spiritual history. Our culture is how we do things, our traditions and customs, the food we eat, the way we dress, our expectations for our children, our choice of entertainment and so on. Educating our children about their roots will give them a strong sense of identity, and the high self esteem they will need to face the challenges of life. 

We can educate our children about their roots with lots of fun and free activities. For parents who have already attended the SFSC parenting programme, they can revisit the cultural and historical rites of passage activities which include:

  • Children can talk with parents and grandparents who will be able to pass on stories about parents’ countries of origin. 
  • Children can be encouraged to learn to cook and eat traditional foods, listen to music important to previous generations and learn a traditional dance. 
  • Families can work together to create a ‘family tree’, and then ‘study’ countries of origin, Older children can consider cultural values and can research cultural heroes and heroines.

Families with children of all ages may want to think about the creation of new traditions based on old values – we may not be able to see our friends and family at weekends for example, but perhaps we can arrange a game to play with these people online or on the telephone until we can meet face to face again one day.

Temperament in lockdown

We’re a few weeks into lockdown now and everyone’s adapting to the new normal but some individuals and families maybe finding it easier than others to make the shift regardless of situational factors like finance, adequate space, access to a garden etc. Some of us simply cope better with change, perhaps having less sensitivity to being cooped up in a space, or to someone else’s noise or mood. The imposed confinement might suit the temperament of some.

Temperament is an innate quality we are born with which dictates how we approach the world and interact with others and can include how active we are, how we react to new things, adjust to change and how easily we are distracted.  It is so fundamental to our uniqueness, who we are and how we behave and so is presented towards the start of the SFSC curriculum.

Our unique temperamental patterns may remain relatively consistent over time or may appear to change when we feel compelled to mask our natural feelings or behaviours in order to fit in. Temperament which colours our personality and character is an important internal factor influencing behaviour.  As such, when a child’s personality or temperament doesn’t quite fit or match other family members it can be a real challenge for everyone especially during this period of lockdown or at other difficult times. 

There is no right or wrong, better or worse temperament; neither can a parent choose or create their child’s temperament. Therefore, it is essential that children be accepted for who they are. Parents may well find some personalities easier to handle than others based on their own temperament; unsurprisingly, compatibility between a parent and a child’s temperament can affect the quality of their relationship. Compatibility does not mean that temperaments have to match, as a match in one area may cause as much conflict for one family as a mismatch in the same area for another (imagine if every person in the same family has lots of energy).  Parents are not expected to change their temperament either, but may need to alter or adjust their caregiving to better meet the needs of their child – understanding your own as well as your child’s temperament is key to developing harmonious relationships.

The reflective tool provided in SFSC enables parents to discover and compare their temperament traits with each child.  By being aware of temperament a parent can better understand themselves and their child, appreciate their child’s uniqueness, and deal with problems that may lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.  Remember, the goal is not to change the child, but to help them to do well by nurturing their strengths and providing support for their struggles so they can be, and feel, more comfortable and competent at home and in the world. 

Thinking about structure

At a time when things are very uncertain we should consider how we might make things feel secure for the children/young people around us. Evidence shows that structure helps people feel safe, secure and comfortable. Knowing what to expect helps people to feel they are in control of their world and in turn happier in themselves (high self-esteem). This applies to adults as well as children!

Now might be a time to create what is familiar for a child, so if they had very structured time before the lockdown and responded well to that it could be worth creating structured time throughout the day. And even if structure and routine was not so important, it might be that adding a little more to our day during this difficult time may help us get through it. Evidence shows that creating structure for children can be a very effective way of managing what can be a challenging environment – it helps make expectations clear – think clear instructions – if we know what we are aiming for we are more likely to achieve it! 

What do we mean by structure and routine? You might want to think about

  • Having a consistent time to get up and go to bed, eat our meals and relax
  • Breaking up our day so that we include fresh air and exercise where possible
  • Everyone participating in some activities like household chores or family time
  • Dividing up activities into book time, tv time, game time, cooking and so on

The amount of structure we might want or find helpful varies. So consider what will work for each person.  This is a chance to revisit temperament and to look again at development stages. 

The next stage is how we implement the new structure. Sharing information about what is happening and discussing why change is necessary may help. Being clear about the change and what is expected will also help the process of change (clear instructions) and how we communicate that to all involved (family meeting). 

There is an element of trial and reflection required when attempting new things (solution building). So ask yourself: does it work, are they happier in themselves? And this is a chance to find out what our children think about how things are going, so remember to ask them too. If there are elements of our routines that are not working, then revisit the structures we have created and change them!  Remember everyone else is going through this too, so use your networks and share what has worked for you and ask others to tell you their solutions and ideas.

Special time in lockdown

If we’re all in it together, healthy relationships will get us through in the best shape and leave lasting positive legacies.  SFSC’s parenting strategy Special Time builds a child’s self-esteem and enhances the parent-child relationship. However, children in early childhood and family pets might be thrilled at having parents around full time during the imposed lockdown but teenagers and young adults in late childhood less so, nonetheless they will benefit from Special time just as much.

Teenagers natural inclination to spend time with their peers, to seek out pleasure, new frontiers and generally challenge authority may cause angst and frustration for all the family.  Young children’s demands on your time, keeping them positively engaged maybe exhausting.  Special Time may not have been a priority for some families, or simply too difficult to previously accommodate with other life stresses, but fortuitously, the order to stay at home presents an invaluable opportunity to embed/continue Special Time as a measure to manage behaviour, get through difficult times and build positive relationships now and for the future. 

Special Time is beneficial to the overall wellbeing of parents and children of all ages.  Our new normal during the coronavirus pandemic should incorporate Special Time with each child on a daily or weekly basis as we create schedules, build and stick to routines which all the evidence supports as beneficial to overall wellbeing too. Parents can use this time to allay concerns, answer direct questions about what is happing or may happen in the future.  Parents can use this time to give positive attention which may create more freedom for other day to day tasks outside Special Time including working from home as children become more self-disciplined and self-reliant.  This window of time will give room to listen and share feelings without judgement, express confidence in children’s ability to cope and bounce back from adversity, support older children in complying with guidelines to keep themselves and other people safe while they may not understand the ramifications of their actions or simply feel invisible. 

Children and their parent’s wellbeing is very much interdependent, new and challenging behaviours are natural responses to trying situations we find ourselves in. Investment in Special Time promotes the wellbeing of both children and their parents during difficult times and in the future.

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