Fear can be Catching!

Over the past few months I’ve noticed a real change in the issues that parents have been coming for support with, particularly those parents I see privately. There was a time when most of the issues I was asked to support centred around  kids who simply wouldn’t do what they were asked or told and kids who were rude or disruptive  with their parents or siblings at home. Whether these issues have lessened or whether people are more willing to just put up with it I cannot say but more and more I’m being asked for support for children and young people who are anxious and fearful, children and young people who are finding it difficult to cope with the world they live in from the rough-and-tumble of school to the demands of boisterous siblings or just fear of the outside world and all the people in it.

Parenting children is always a balancing act between encouraging them to be independent and self-reliant and instilling in them a healthy respect and appreciation for the risk. Get it wrong and you may end up with a young person who by the time they are 14 or 15 is sexually active, drinking, smoking and using drugs, has little interest or respect for school and what it might offer and who will fight physically or verbally with anyone who tries to restrict their freedoms.  These streetwise kids may feel that   managing the difficulties and dangers of their world is what makes them special, doing what other kids may not  be doing means they are braver and more grown-up, a leader not a follower in the world. How they got to be this way can be the result of many different experiences but the one thing they have in common is that they do not fully appreciate the potential consequences of the choices they’re making which is alas quite normal for a 14 or 15-year-old.

The other end of the continuum is a young person who finds it difficult to mix with others, shy and retiring or anxious about everybody and everything. A child or young person who constantly thinks about the negative potential consequences in anything, even a car journey can be full of danger as they visualise the car engulfed in flames and a walk to the shops is impossible when even their quiet neighbourhood hides knife wielding hoodies in every dark space.  By the time a child reaches 11 or 12 the things they are afraid of tend to alter from the physical to the emotional and social so it is not unusual for a child who was  overly afraid of traffic  to become terrified of criticism or teasing, or just of getting it wrong in front of others.  Fear of social inadequacy or mockery can take many different forms from school refusing to obsessive computer use or gaming, even obsessive study. The child who spends every lunchtime at school tucked away in the library working or researching may well be academically driven but they may also be avoiding as much social interaction as possible

It is not always easy to help a child or young person differentiate between risks that cause intensely painful feelings in the here and now and those that can impact on their life for ever. As I write I’m remembering a 14-year-old girl I met some time ago who was reflecting on why she had become pregnant after sex with a relative stranger whose name she did not even recall. When I asked her why she had not used a condom she looked at me open eyed and said “God that would have been so embarrassing!”

it is one of the key jobs of the parent to keep their child safe and this means keeping them close, restricting the choices and decisions they get to make for themselves until they can demonstrate the maturity of behaviour to be given more freedom. It also means teaching them how to manage the world they find themselves in and people they meet rather than trying to cushion them from all the blows and knocks that social interaction  involves.

It might be hard to convince the 12-year-old boy who is regularly eating his lunch locked in a toilet stall that it doesn’t matter what other people think of him when he sits down in the dining hall because to him it matters enormously and if there is a way that he has found to avoid that hurt then he will take it.

Part of the role of a parent is to take a child’s fears and anxieties as they grow and put them into perspective for their child. Not listening or ridiculing their worries can alienate them from you but dwelling on their anxieties and rushing to their aid can make small things take over the world. How many children learn that they get  the full attention of their parent/s  when they relate how unfair others have been to them today? Or how difficult they are finding life? It may be during adolescence that the difficulties materialise but the ground work is put in place from a very early age.  I’ve never met her parent yet who wants their child to be over anxious but I have seen first-hand how the parents fears get transferred to their child. Many years ago I had a friend who had experienced a violent attack which left her terrified of being out, even with others, after dark. At 5 her daughter was a confident child, bright and chirpy-the sort of little girl who chats about everything to everyone. By the time she was 7 she was terrified of  being out  of doors after dark which was difficult in the winter time when even a slight delay after school meant darkness, and by the time she was 8 she was terrified of anyone she did not know speaking to her or getting physically close to her. On a lesser note my sister has a phobia about wasps,  which has lessened considerably over the years as her children have grown up, but when they were small she was overwrought and unable to stay still in the presence of a wasp and her little daughters would tease her about her fear. Now my very sensible grown-up niece is unable to eat out of doors in summer because of her own terror (against all reason as she is well aware) of wasps whilst her mother is pretty much fine!


Inspiring Quotes for all Occasions

This week I was the guest of honour at a prize giving ceremony in a local secondary school, which was a first for me. To be fair their super famous ex-teacher turned comedian speaker let them down at the last minute so they came to me because I’m cheap (free) have time (free again) and am seldom fazed by large groups of mixed ages. I really enjoyed myself and anyone who knocks young people only has to see an event like this to realise how splendid they really are! I’m sure not one of them would have wanted anything much to do with me if I had met them at the same age but older and wiser we got along famously.

Sometimes we all need to inspire ourselves - this is my office wall which I painted over a few dark days last year because I needed to be reminded.

The Head teacher had instructed me to be funny, tell some personal anecdotes and be inspiring in my address so being willing to please I did just that and I think I can safely say I amused many, moved many and even inspired a few too if the comments from older and young alike are anything to go by. I chose to talk about 3 inspirational quotes that have had meaning for me in my life which were selected from a short list of ten as time was finite. Afterwards several people asked me what the full 10 were so I promised my top 10 list of inspirational quotes – and here they are.

This is for anyone who loves a good quote but in particular the parents, students, staff and Headteacher, Jo Longhurst of Orleans Park School in Twickenham.

The three already quoted were:

‘It’s not how long you live but how much you live that counts’ – Eric Ray Evans, actor and mentor

“Things you own end up owning you” Chuck Pahlaniuk, Fight Club

“Where you stumble, there your treasure lies’ Goethe

My other seven are as follows – and I’m more than happy to talk about any in detail should you wish!

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt

“There are two great ways of spreading light: To be the candle or to be the mirror that reflects it” Edith Wharton

“As soon as you trust yourself you will know how to live” Goethe again

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” Mahatma Gandhi

Security is mostly a superstition, it does not exist in nature …Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” Helen Keller (Who as I’m sure you know was born blind and deaf)

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes” Marcel Proust

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves” Carl Yung

Put all together like that they seem to lose a little power but each one of them could form an excellent basis for a family chat some meal time. As if. I’d love to hear your inspiring quotes.

Life on the Fringes

I was recently working with the parents of a 13-year-old girl who described their daughter as a ‘fringe dweller’ and I was immediately struck by the term,  I’d even go so far as to say I felt it a very accurate description of myself so I feel I know a little about fringe dwellers.

Over the years I have worked with many children and young adults who could be described as fringe dwellers by others for any number of reasons but the key characteristic is that they are individuals who don’t run with the pack either because they don’t want to or because the pack won’t have them, so we have fringe  dwellers who inhabit the margins because they choose it and we have others who are sadly  hanging about in the fringes wishing they knew how to be in the thick of it. Whether it matters or not depends on which of the two categories a child falls into – the self elected  FD all the outcast FD.

What is noticeable about all fringe dwelling children is that they probably lack the social skills to mix easily and well with their peers  but some feel themselves inadequate because of this and others think the peer group behaves in a ridiculous and pointless way-although both probably find the behaviour of their peers quite mystifying at times particularly their obsessions and rituals.

One of the hardest things about growing up is the conflict between wanting to fit in and wanting to be seen as an individual and this conflict still exists in the fringe dwelling teen but many will have already given up the  desire to fit in  because they have learnt that to do so they may have to sacrifice some of the elements of their individuality that they value.   There is often also an element of control in the fringe dweller,  if they can’t be the alpha of a group they have little interest in being part of the group. Being  easily recognized as an individual and being noticed and praised happens mostly  to those at the centre of a group or those on the outside.

The second group of  fringe dwellers  are the ones who are excluded from groups against their wishes and may suffer a great deal  by this exclusion. They may often be children who are on the receiving end of bullying or unkindness and may feel desperate to be part of the group that is dishing out their torture.  For parents of these children it must be heartbreaking to see their child trying again and again to make friends with the very people who are responsible for their unhappiness in the first place and all those conversations about ‘why would you want to be friends with this person anyway’ go nowhere.

So how can we help the fringe dweller? The self selected FD  can be integrated into a group of individuals rather like themselves  with some common interest. I remember joining a group of outcast hippy types when I was 14 who wrote and performed poetry, which was hardly mainstream for 14-year-olds  even in the late 60s. We were a group of odd bods but we found some enjoyment in being with other nonconformist people  and talking about goodness knows what but definitely not pop music or nail varnish. Mind you I didn’t last long, the idea of writing alternative poetry was more apealling than the actuality.

Poetry One - Circa 1968

The unwilling FD  also needs to find somewhere to belong and that may mean a whole new social scene away from their usual peer group as well as some help with how to get along with others rather than trying to constantly impress them with how wonderful or terrible their life is, their family is, their secrets are. The one thing that all fringe dwellers have in common is that they probably need some help with their social skills, simply understanding how to have conversations or how to meet new people can be completely beyond them although knowing doesn’t necessarily mean being able to put into action. I firmly believe that most of the exceptional people that we know or hear about are  fringe dwellers – but alas so are most of the infamous!

And in case you’re wondering – I’m the one on the floor.

Moving to Secondary School – Top Tips

The 10 top things children I have worked with about transition say they are most worried about when moving to Secondary School are:

  • Being bullied or picked on
  • Making new friends
  • Too much homework
  • Getting to school on time
  • Teachers that are too strict
  • Work that is too hard
  • Too many (new) subjects
  • Getting lost in the building
  • Losing things
  • Having to carry everything around all the time

You might ask your child to say which of these, if any, they have concerns about.

So to help them here are some suggestions

1. Encourage then to join (or start!) interest related clubs, teams and groups.

2. Encourage/help organise events where people can bring their own friends e.g. a visit to a concert or a football match.

3. Let them travel to school themselves – they’ll meet up with people in the area that way.

4. Encourage them to have friends – invite people over, allow friends to come on outings with you – friends stick up for each other.

5. Encourage your child to stick up for themselves – do it yourself and show them how.

6. If they don’t do something -don’t do it for them!

7. Provide an organiser or chart for them once they start their new school. Put it in a shared area of the house. Go over it with them daily – this helps to get them to talk about school too.

8. Practice the journey to school with them beforehand so they can accurately time it and feel confident in the journey. Don’t take them by car – they’ll make new friends on the journey.

9. Buy them a state of the art alarm clock!

10. Celebrate going to a new school with them – get friends and neighbours to send congratulations cards over the holidays.

Finally – collect bits and pieces from their Primary days, photos, work, certificates, fliers etc. and sit together with all the family to make a lovely album. Close it!
Remember they’ll always be your child

On their own Two Feet

Anyone who knows me knows that I am always banging on about resilience, aspiration, independence and self-esteem and how interlinked they are in creating confident,capable and self-reliant young people.  a couple of weeks back I had two great examples of all my beliefs made real-though nothing to do with me!

On a Sunday  afternoon when their door banged I almost didn’t answer it expecting it to be someone trying to convince me to share their beliefs but I like to be polite. When I opened the door there was a youngish  mum with her little 3-4 year old daughter beaming away at her side and clutching the handle of a big red plastic bucket. Mum asked if they could wash my car for me but unfortunately I don’t have one so I asked instead if they would wash my very dirty bike which only gets to see water when it rains. I wheeled it out into the  front garden  and filled up the bucket with hot soapy water and left them to it, though with the door ajar in case they needed anything. I could hear mum telling her daughter how to clean properly and they chattered away whilst they took their time and did a really good job. When I was called back I asked about payment and mum told me that it was entirely up to me as they were working for donations only as the little girl wanted a scooter and Mum was teaching her a lesson in how to get something you want! I was rather thrilled  to be part of the plan, even if unintentionally,  because it seemed to me a rather bold but exciting lesson to be teaching and learning although I can imagine many people would not approve. The mum said that she wanted her daughter to learn from the word go that getting the things you want is about the choices you make and the work you put in and not about getting someone else to do it for you or give it to you.

The second example from the same week is a bit of a cheat really as the young woman concerned is certainly no longer a child but I have known her since she was born so to me she will always be my friend’s daughter as well as a lovely young woman in her own right.  Alice studied music at university and though a talented musician  the work she really wants to do is to manage or produce  for a choir or similar. Such jobs are like gold dust and of course there are no real qualifications for them,  you simply have had to learn by doing and  there is the catch-any job that needs experience rather than qualifications takes time and opportunity and will almost certainly not pay very well even if you are lucky enough to get your toe in the door. So Alice has worked in any job she can find that provides her with experience in her chosen field coupled with enough money to live  but instead of ranting against the unfairness of the system that tends to keep out newcomers very effectively she  helped to create a small opera company with talented singers actors and musicians to bring unusual opera to unusual venues.  All the members of the group are professionals  working together to create something unique and I was really impressed by the performance, the full house and Alice’s wonderful production.  I have no doubt that both she and my little  bike cleaner will go on to have the lives they choose in their different ways  and they are both wonderful examples, at different ends of the  growing up process, of what happens when parents and other adults  support children  to become fully self actualised and independent.

Parent Workshops – Check out the ‘Workshops’ page

Finally I have booked some non school based workshops! I’ve been meaning to do it forever but it has been so much easier to let schools do the admin and recruitment.

I’ve put these on because so many people have asked me over the years for workshops when the schools their child attends is not willing or able to play host. If you are from a school interested in having your very own workshop go to my website http://www.gillhines.co.uk and have a look at all the titles on offer.

I have workshops for parents of children of all ages so please have a look at them on the workshops page – just click the tab above, or go to the info/booking page on my website by clicking here. It would be great to get some new faces along (not least because I’ve already paid for the hall) and I can promise you an entertaining and stimulating evening with the chance to meet some other parents and compare notes.


The Golden Bunny Massacre

While waiting at the check out at my local Asda store a couple of days ago I was quietly observing a huge pile of those beribboned golden bunnies that had been stacked at post Easter half price by each check out. On top of the neatly stacked boxes was a huge pile of broken, scratched,  dismembered  and disrobed bunnies looking every bit as if they were that swept up remains of a trolley accident.

I’m not an Asda fan myself, though it is my nearest big supermarket, and I found myself being quite critical of the management that they would leave this heap of broken debris where everyone could see it. In front of me at the checkout was a father with his two small children, a girl of about four and a boy of about two. He was valiantly struggling with two trolleys loaded with shopping and the children were being as helpful as a four year old and a two year old can be -until they spotted a pile of gold! Suddenly I was barrelled out the way as they grabbed  bunnies from the boxes without any regard for the structural integrity of the pile which began to list somewhat. Me being an interfering old boot immediately started to rearrange the rabbits so that they would not all come tumbling down whilst behind me the poor father had his work cut out. In the end we had a production line going with two small children dashing to the bunny pile, going back to their dad who then took the rabbits from them, handed them to me and I replaced them. Somewhere along the line I ended up with a few in my shopping pile which I also returned and it was then I realised where this huge pile of debris came from. Every rabbit in this pile told the story of a frustrated parent desperately trying to make no mean no when the Asda (or any other supermarket that stacks sweets by the checkout)  management were undermining them.

In the end the little girl got the point and after lots of praise she began returning rabbits as fast as her brother could liberate them from the boxes but in the end there were just too many things to do and while dad was paying his son managed to break open and consume a little bit of chocolate heaven, not helped by the man on the till  who was actively encouraging him.

So hard luck Asda,  they must have lost a lot of stock,  but well done to all the parents who managed to pry a golden bunny from a sticky fist and put it back in the pile!