Winning Parenting

Three amazing teenagers. How did that happen?!? Parenting tips from the pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

An Imagination Rich Life

A healthy mind is an actively creative one. The ability to create something new takes a wide collection of experiences. Whether we are creating a new dish in the kitchen, writing a new story, building a tree fort, creating a presentation, or telling a joke – we are only as creative as the combined total of our previous experiences and learning.

Our brain takes everything we have done, heard, read, learned and experienced and creates new things from the montage of our past. So, the best thing to do with your holiday time, for the mental, social and spiritual development of your children, is to engage in a wide spectrum of activities. Go to new places, old favourites, visit friends, meet new people, participate in traditions, gather with family, spend time learning about new things – reading, watching, listening – and then talk about it!

Talking about our experiences locks them into our memory. Ask your kids to ‘tell the story of your day’ each night as you tuck them into bed. Ask questions to help them go into detail. As they tell the story, they reframe it in a way that gives it meaning to them. At the end of the week, ask them to tell the story of their week. You’ll be surprised at the editing that has taken place, making it more meaningful. Don’t correct their story. Just listen and ask more questions. At the end of the school holidays, ask to hear ‘the story of your holiday’. It will help them make meaning of it all by choosing favourites, exploring difficulties and making sense of the various events.

A creative person is a successful person. Creativity comes from an active imagination. Each time we tell our story, we create something new by connecting new material with old memories. The human brain remembers by reconstructing, which means that each time we ‘remember’ something we are rebuilding it from what we knew and what we know now. The creative retellings of the past that come from our children (and ourselves!) prove that the imaginative parts of our brain are working.

While it is important to tell the truth, it is also very important, for our emotional wellbeing, to be able to reframe things that happen to us. This skill, learned by ‘telling your story’ in childhood will benefit your children for a lifetime.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Learning Stories

 Today was a good day for stories.

My favourite thing about life is stories. I love to tell stories. I love to listen to stories. There is no greater teacher than stories. They get in our heads and change our hearts.


Story 1: As I returned to school today with my Monday cornucopia from Second Bite I was told the same story by at least five different kids. “We heard about what happened to you in the Staff Carpark!” I asked each one to tell me what they had heard (repeating a story is the best way to learn it!) and they told me about the toddler that had run behind my car as I was backing out after school one-day last week. They told me I was scared. I nodded agreeing with them. They told me that I slammed the brake and no one was hurt. No one except my racing heart! Then they told me during assembly the deputy principal had told the story of “normally happy Dave” and how he was “very scared” last week. Yes, I was!

Now, every student in the school knows they should walk on the footpath not in the carpark behind the cars. And every parent also knows because kids are great tellers of stories they know to be true!


Story 2: Occasionally, as a professional storyteller, I get the chance to tell stories to children in schools around Australia. This afternoon, I shared 45 minutes of stories with kids in a Kindergarten in Melbourne. When I am presenting a story set, I like to start with a dreamtime story to honour Australia’s aboriginal ancestors. The book bag that holds all my storybooks has a lovely piece of Aboriginal Art covering it which I show to the kids and ask, “Who knows what kind of art this is?” Today I got the best answer, ever. A boy no more than four years old shouted, “Australian Art!”

I stopped, humbled. I was looking for another word and yet this one was better. The boy was right. This is the way children today see Australia. “Yes!” I said, “I like that! You are right. This is Australian Art and I would like to start today with a story about the first Australians – a story from the time before time when Australia was just beginning. A story from the dreamtime!”


There’s power in stories. They show us who we are and who we are becoming.

And when kids tell them to us we know we are learning!


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Creativity: Imagination and Invention

Eight-year-old me had a BMX bike named Herby. We were best friends and I talked to Herby non-stop. My family thought I was a bit strange.

Now-a-days, I love to ask P-2 kids if they have a friend only they can see. The younger the group, the more hands that go up. Kids have excellent imaginations!

I remember feeling silly for using my imagination too much. “Davy, you need to stop day dreaming and pay attention!” I never really grew out of it. On the drive home after work, in the shower, or while I’m sitting at my desk – I often ‘wake-up’ and realise I was just in some far off place or lost in conversation with someone who wasn’t there.

Brain scientists are telling us how important it is to keep our imagination alive. They say our brains grow stronger when we use them in new ways – and there is no way to use your brain in a new way without creativity.

Imagination is, simply, the repetition of known thoughts or actions. And invention – the product of imagination – happens when old knowledge and relationships interact in new ways. Imagine me riding my bike Herby over the same muddy path each day. The first day the track is fresh, the second day I try to ride along yesterday’s track, the third day there is a deepening grove for me to follow. Until, after a few repetitions, I am almost forced to ride in the rut because riding outside of it takes effort. Then comes invention – creativity in the rut – I lift up the front wheel while my back wheel is guided by the rut, holding the wheelie, showing off for friends – real or imaginary – my creativity and riding skills on show.

Repetition provides us with skills and experience – even if that repetition was ‘just in our head.’ That’s how the brain works. Every trip down a familiar path – playing a guitar chord, swimming a lap, writing our name, opening a lock, smiling at a friend – causes us to become better at doing that thing – even when we are just imagining it! That’s what the brain doctors say.

An activity in your brain is like a crease in a piece of paper. Every time you fold it on that crease the paper folds easier and easier until just a gentle breath can cause the page to fold along the crease. Practice becomes skill. People begin to call you ‘a natural’ because your talent looks effortless.

Learning is the process of coupling imaginary play with reality – that’s what kids do all day long. A stick becomes a horse, a doll becomes a baby, a playground at recess becomes a world of adventure – pirates, jungle-explorers and superheroes abound. By trying reality on for size, we make sense of the world. And this requires imagination!

At home, children try out the things they see and hear. Their play workshop, kitchen, house or car is them becoming something new. It’s been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery but with children it’s more. Imitation is life in the making.

Encourage your children when they engage in imaginary play. Let them know you love it when they imagine, invent and create things. Set aside space and time for them to be creative. ‘Free time’ for the brain is like meal time for the body – it’s that important. Take joy (pride even!) in the things they make believe into reality. And protect their ‘free time’ like a lioness protects her cubs.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Icy Pole Parenting

Kids love icy poles. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hot or cold day, if the canteen has icy poles, kids buy them. Have you ever wondered why? I have a theory.

Yes, they are cold and get sweeter as they melt. But they are also messy.

My theory is this: Kids love icy poles because they last so long. A tiny icy pole can last most of recess, if managed correctly. Other snacks are gone in a couple of seconds.

We all get angry. When we are ignored or disobeyed by our kids, we feel under-appreciated and over-worked and it begins to wear on us. And then we get angry. We become ‘mad as a hornet’, ‘barking mad’, ‘hopping mad’, ‘boiling mad’… Nobody ever says, “I’m as mad as an icy pole.” Why? Because icy poles are cool, long-lasting and sweet.

Before it entered a child’s grasp, every icy pole spent a long time in the freezer. Likewise, if we want to be icy pole parents, we need to spend some time – before the fact – getting ready for the angry times that will inevitably come our way.

Here are some tips for being an icy pole parent.

Get off the Maddercycle – I get mad at my child. That makes me mad at myself. Now I’m madder at my child for making me mad at myself. I hate being mad. So, now I’m madder because I got mad. I don’t want to ride this beast anymore! Break the cycle by recognising it and getting off.

Embrace your Emotions – When you feel something, you can change it. Emotion creates desire. That’s its purpose. Listen to your emotions and ask yourself, “What do I want to change?” Then create a strategy to make the change.

Give ME a Break – Two meanings here: First, stop picking on yourself. We all make mistakes. Leave them in the past and move forward away from them. Second, go do something you love. Go for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, create something. Take a break just for ME.

Heal your Hurts – We all have unresolved anger from our present and past. Parenting will bring these things up and out. When they emerge, don’t push them back under. Face and fix them.

Prepare and Prevent – There are some situations that always make you boil. If you cannot send someone else, plan some strategies. Change the situation by mixing things up: What will you add or subtract? Create an exit strategy: How can you cut it short? Have a support person: Who can you ask for support? If you must go in, go in prepared.

Communicate – We are not meant to do life alone. We are born into community and we get stronger as our communities grow. Without communication there is no community. Using our words to share our emotions builds relationships and resilience. The best way to teach this to our children is to model it. Talk about everything. Talk about feelings. Talk about joys and hardships. Talking makes us human.

So, before you get angry, choose a new metaphor – “I’m as mad as an icy pole.” You might always be a bit messy, but with preparation, you’ll stay cool no matter how hot the day gets and grow sweeter with time.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Safe Environments for Success

A father was out bike riding with his son when they came to a branch blocking the path. The father said to the boy, “This looks like a job for you! Move the branch.”

The boy tried but was unable to budge the branch. He returned to his father and said, “It’s too heavy. I can’t do it.”

His father encouraged him, “Try again and this time, use all of your strength!”

The boy went back to the branch and after pushing and pulling for all he was worth, he said, “Dad, I can’t do it. I need your help.”

“Ah,” said the father, “Now you are using all of your strength!”

Every step along the parenting journey, we want to develop resilient kids who are able to see and succeed at the challenges in front of them. Sometimes the struggle is what teaches the greatest lesson. Other times, a helping hand from a nearby parent makes all the difference. So, how do we know the right time to help and the right time to stand back and give encouragement?

When our children are learning to walk and they fall, we don’t yell, “Stop falling, you quitter!” Instead, we cheer and say, “WOW! Great job! You took THREE STEPS!” At the same time, we move stuff out of their way – to open a clear path for greater achievement. Living in a safe place makes conquering life’s challenges possible. Creating safe places isn’t just about keeping plastic stoppers in power-points and gates at the top of stairs. Safe places are environments where learning is the default because challenges are available and reasonable to the level of the learner.

Now that our kids are in school, we still need to be creating safe environments for success. Some obstacles are part of the challenge, others need to be moved. Nobody knows your child and their capabilities like you do. You spend more hours with them than anyone. To build resilience, kids need to know they can face challenges and conquer the next level of difficulty. Like learning to walk; learning maths, reading, writing and any other subject requires failure and success. Resilient kids have the try-try-again mentality developed through repeated learning experiences of various kinds with one constant – your presence.

Sometimes you cheer. Sometimes you reach out your hand. Other times you do both. These interactions build resilience, stick-to-it-iveness, bravery and confidence in your child. They know you are there for them – and together, anything is possible!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Family

We humans care about those we love. We give our time, energy and resources to help make life better for those whom we consider family. As the social structure of the world has changed over the past, we have regularly redefined family.

A few thousand years ago, my family was my blood. I cared about you if I had the same parents as you. From this time in history we get the saying, “Blood is thicker than water.”

A few thousand months ago, my family was my people. We believed the same thing. We lived the same way. We were a tribe. We looked, acted and thought in similar ways.

A few thousand weeks ago, my family was my country. We had national pride. We ate the same food. We spoke the same language. We shaped our family borders through war and law.

A few thousand days from now – sooner, I hope – we will realise we all come from the same planet. Killing them is killing us. Hating you is hating me. We need each other because we are each other.

We are family.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Teaching Self-Control

If you are anything like me, you’ve had moments with your kids when frustration turns anger and words fly out of your mouth that you never meant to say. I’ve spent a bit of time (they are teenagers now) observing myself and researching what causes such outbursts.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about being a good parent. Let me warn you, it isn’t comfortable to hear. But, knowing these things and taking them seriously has helped me heaps!

In order to raise great kids, they need a solid foundation of self-control. Here are four facts to help build a self-control centre in ourselves and our children:

1. Parents, we are in charge.
2. When we ‘loose it,’ the thing we have lost is self-control.
3. Like us, our kids shine when they take charge of themselves.
4. Ultimately, the mature person has consistent self-control.

When we get angry with the kids, it is because we feel we have lost control of them. Little Lady throws a tantrum in the shops. Sir Serious asks “Why?” for the 150th time in three minutes. Mr Muscles tries to rip his sister’s hair out, again. The three angels leave a trail of madness and mayhem through the house. Before flipping your lid, pause and review the ‘self-control’ centre. When the kids are out of control, they are not out of OUR control, they are out of THEIR OWN control. Getting that clear in your mind releases you from taking offence.

They are acting ‘against’ who they are; not who you are!

As a parent, whether you realise it or not, you are on a different level to the kids. Not only are you bigger and older, you are the boss. The kids are the followers. They know you are in charge of what happens at home. Until they understand the boundaries, they will test them. We teach our kids (and learn along the way, ourselves) that “The only person who can control you is YOU!”

The best way to teach this is to model it. By taking ownership of our emotions we can realise, “Wow, I’m really upset about this!” Then we can choose to direct the fight/flight reaction caused by the stress into positive action – doing dishes, mowing the lawn, going for a walk. As we get better at moving from reaction into action, our kids will too. They learn from watching us.

Then we can talk about it; teaching our kids to ask, “What name does this feeling have?” “Why am I feeling it?” “What can I do instead?” “What can I do to make things right?” and finally, “What can I do next time this feeling comes?”

We learn the most difficult skills in life by watching others and then practicing it on our own. Self-control is one of these skills. To master it, it helps to see it mastered by someone around us. As adults, we need to model it. Stop blaming others for our loss of self-control and start taking charge of ourselves. The better we get at self-control, the better start in life we give our kids!