You may have noticed that your once super-helpful little one has become a self-centred person that fails to consider other people’s feelings and needs. If it is any consolation, you are not alone in having this feeling. Many parents feel the same.  

Are teenagers really more selfish? 

Well…. yes. Research shows that teenagers are much more likely to behave in a selfish (1) way than adults. This is because the teenage years are all about individuation. Adolescence is a very self-absorbed period during which teenagers work on separating from their parents to become their own person. Because they are working on themselves so much, teenagers have little headspace to think about those around them. They spend a lot of thinking about themselves, talking about themselves, and probably taking many selfies! 

When they do notice those around them, teenagers tend to notice their peers (2) over their parents. The truth is that in this process of individuation friends tend to matter for teenagers more than parents. For teenagers, their peers matter above anything else. Consider that they are preparing to leave their birth family to find their tribe. This does not mean that they do not love you anymore. They need you and they love you, only in a different role.  

Do not despair just yet because there is hope at the end of the tunnel. Research (3) shows that teenagers are likely to become less selfish by the time they become young adults. 

To understand teenagers’ behaviour, we must understand how their brain works 

The brain continues to develop until we are about 25 years old. So, a lot of how your teen’s behaviour has to do with their brain not being fully developed. The ability to take others’ perspective and the understanding of other people’s minds is amongst the parts of the brain (4) that undergo most change during adolescence.  

I understand that it is normal for teenagers to be selfish, but I really resent my child. What can I do? 

It is very easy to become resentful towards a very self-centred teenager. “I do everything for him, and he does nothing for me or anyone else!” Sound familiar? 

However, consider that when we say this, we are putting all the responsibility on the child, but the responsibility is on both the parent and the child. When a child is young, we do everything for them, and we do not ask for anything in return. We don’t, because usually younger children return the love we give them, and that is enough for us. Instead, when our child reaches adolescence, they push for independence and as parents, we may not feel their love so clearly. And we are more likely to resent them.  

At the same time, when the child reaches adolescence, we automatically expect them to behave in a more responsible way. We expect them to chip in and do things for us and for others. Our expectations (5) of help from our children when they become teenagers change because they are more able to do things. As such, we believe that older teens are more obligated to help than younger children, because they are more competent.  

The problem is that teenagers do not always agree with us. Whether adolescents believe that they are obligated to help depends on what we are asking them to do, how much effort it requires for them to help, and what other things need their attention in that particular moment. Because of the nature of being a teenager, they are usually more inclined to satisfy their own needs than their parents’. Particularly when they think that their parents’ needs are not that important.  

So, if it is normal for teenagers to behave selfishly: Shall I let them get away with it? 

No, this does not mean that we should let them do whatever they want. We must encourage our teens to understand that it is important to help others and to participate in family life. We must make them understand that they need to think about others’ needs and wishes. It is impossible to have successful relationships if we only think about ourselves. Societies and families do not work when people only care about themselves. 

Here are ten tips to encourage your teen not to behave selfishly without the house becoming a battlefield: 

  1. Have a talk with your teenager about expectations. Sometimes disagreements appear because we have not set up clear ground rules. Discuss what you expect of them and understand if they think it is fair. Teenagers are always more likely to get on board if they think that what they are being asked is fair and they understand why they are being expected to do certain things.   
  1. If you are resenting your teen, explain to them that you feel that you are living in a one-way relationship with them and that you both need to make adjustments. Tell them that you expect them to do their chores, and to be nice and respectful to everyone in the family.  
  1. Talk to your teen about the importance of practicing mutuality. This means that relationships are not one sided. They are about giving and taking. This will help your relationship with them but also it will serve as a model for future relationships. It will not do them any good in their future relationships if they think that they are all about them.  
  1. Do not label your teen. Saying things like” You are so selfish!” or “You never think of anyone but yourself” will not help your relationship. Do not tease them or shame them for being self-absorbed. It is just a phase in their development.  
  1. Model empathy and prosocial behaviour: show that you care for others outside your immediate family. Donate to the food bank, help at the kids’ school, help fundraise for a charity, or keep an eye on your elderly neighbour. When you do this, you show your kids that it is important to care about others. 
  1. Create natural consequences rather than punishments. If for example, your rule is that your teenager must put their laundry in the hamper, and they always leave it on the bedroom’s floor. Explain them that only clothes in the hamper will be washed. The next time they have nothing to wear, they will remember the rule! 
  1. Remind your teenager to stop and think before they make a decision, especially if it will affect others. Teenagers tend to rush when making decisions, failing to take others’ perspectives into account.  
  1. Consider how much you are doing for your teen. If you feel that you are doing too much, you may end up resenting them. Sometimes it’s ok to say ‘no’ to your child. 
  1. Whenever possible, use humour to lighten things up. 
  1. Keep on repeating the message. Eventually, they will internalize it. Consistency is key. 

To learn more about how to raise a teenager, have a look at Dr Bettina Hohnen’s masterclass on “Understanding the Teenage Brain” and Dr Tara Porter’s “How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Teenager”.   

If you would like a 1-2-1 session to discuss specific difficulties you are experiencing with your child, do get in touch here. We are here for you.  

I hope you found this article helpful! Please feel free to share with anyone you think may find it helpful. 

Love,  

Ana 

Dr Ana Aznar 

References  

  1. Carlson, R. W., Adkins, C., Crockett, M. J., & Clark, M. S. (2022). Psychological selfishness. Perspectives on Psychological Science17(5), 1359-1380. https://doi.org/10.1177/17456916211045692 
  1. Lam, C. B., McHale, S. M., & Crouter, A. C. (2014). Time with peers from middle childhood to late adolescence: developmental course and adjustment correlates. Child Development, 85, 1677–1693. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12235
  1. Sullivan, N. J., Li, R., & Huettel, S. A. (2022). Peer presence increases the prosocial behavior of adolescents by speeding the evaluation of outcomes for others. Scientific Reports12(1), 6477. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-10115-0 
  1. Blakemore, S. J. (2012). Development of the social brain in adolescence. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine105(3), 111-116. 
  1. Smetana, J. G., Tasopoulos‐Chan, M., Gettman, D. C., Villalobos, M., Campione‐Barr, N., & Metzger, A. (2009). Adolescents’ and parents’ evaluations of helping versus fulfilling personal desires in family situations. Child Development80(1), 280-294.  

Photo credits:

Zachary Nelson via Unsplash

Elliot Reyna via Unsplash

Should children keep on doing schoolwork during the summer holidays or should they be given a break? This is not an easy question to answer and depending on who you ask, you will most likely get different answers.  

Educators who advocate for children doing work during the summer do so based on research showing that when children do nothing at all in maths and reading, they lose two to three months of learning. So, it is basically as if they ended the school year in March. This is a reasonably well-documented phenomenon called summer learning loss or summer slide.  

It is important to consider that summer learning loss does not impact all children equally. It seems to be worse for neurodivergent children as well as for children who don’t speak the same language at home and at school (e.g., in our case, we speak Spanish at home but my children attend a school in English). Not only may these children forget the academic material, but they may also need to refresh the language in which they are taught. Summer learning loss has also been shown to be worse for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  

Before you rush to buy workbooks for your child to do at the beach, however, it is important to note that other educators are not sure that summer learning loss is really a thing. This is because researchers have recently tried and failed to replicate past studies on this topic and therefore, the guidelines are not entirely clear.  

So, what to do? We have carefully examined the research and our conclusion is that doing some work on maths and reading during the summer is positive for children’s learning. The key is how you approach it.  

Consider that work does not have to be formal, especially in the case of the little ones. Support your child’s reading skills by taking them to the local library or bookshop and getting books, comics, or magazines they enjoy. Remember that the aim is not to learn new content but to keep up their reading skills. So, if your child wants to read about a topic that you don’t consider important or ‘serious’, let them!  And even better, discuss their reading with them to show you care and that you value their interests. At the same time, you will be supporting their reading comprehension.  

You may also support your child’s reading skills by reading signs when in the bus or the car, cooking together and asking them to read the recipes, or asking them to look for certain items in the supermarket.  

To support your child’s maths, you can add car number plates when out and about, cook together asking them to calculate quantities, give them pocket money so they need to count coins, and play board games together that involve counting.  

Other educators advocate that children should not do any work and just rest and have fun over the summer. We totally agree that the summer is the time for children to relax, have fun, and engage in activities they enjoy. However, there are plenty of hours in the day to allow for some reading or some of the maths activities we have mentioned. Having said this, summer work fails its purpose if it causes stress on kids and families. Resentment will most certainly not help your child’s learning. If engaging your child in any kind of schoolwork is damaging your relationship, it is probably best to leave it.  

Whereas academic skills are very important, children’s socioemotional skills are also incredibly important, and the summer is an ideal period to practice them. Make the most of their free time by seeing friends and family, have conversations with them, and do things together. Allow your child to have free time when they can choose what to do. And remember that being bored sometimes is not a bad thing. Indeed, it can help develop their creativity! 

Finally, the summer can be the perfect time to strengthen the relationship with your child without having to worry about schedules, music practice, or homework. Whatever you do this summer, have a great one! We hope that by the end of the summer you and your children feel refreshed and ready to start the new academic year. 

I hope you find this article helpful. For any comments or questions, drop us an email. We are here for you!

Love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar 

This is the time of the year when many families, be it for work or personal reasons, are preparing to move abroad. Let’s explore common issues faced by families when they move and strategies to deal with them. 

Leaving Right Is the Key to Entering Right

When preparing your move, it is important for children to be allowed to say goodbye: to their friends, their school, their house, the city, their routine… They must be allowed to grieve. 

Remember that although as parents, we hate to see our child suffer, grief is not a problem. At a time of loss and change, grief is an adaptive emotion. It’s what children are meant to be experiencing. We must allow them to deal with their grief.

Strategies:

1. Explain well in time that you are leaving and the reasons why. Even if they don’t agree with the move, feeling that they are part of the process will help them. 

2. Let them participate in the process: Let them have a say when choosing the new house, the school, how to decorate their bedrooms. This is important because most kids feel that they have lost control over their life when they have to move. Allowing them to make some decisions (even if small) will help them regain some sense of control. 

3. Don’t dismiss their grief as something unimportant. Make them feel heard and understood. 

4. Don’t lie to them. Don’t promise that you will go back often to visit their friends if you know that it’s never going to happen. 

5. Give them the chance to hold a good-bye party or gathering with their friends. 

Once We Leave Right, How Do We Enter Right?

Strategies:

1. Move to your new destination before school starts. Use this time to organize the new house, explore the neighbourhood, or practice going to and from school. 

2. If you have the chance, organize a few playdates with classmates so when the first day of school arrives, your child sees some familiar faces.

3. Make sure that you buy the right kit for school and if you can find out the unspoken rules (e.g., what kind of shoes kids wear, what kind of school material they use…). The more your child fits in the first few days of school, the easier it will for them to adapt. I still remember when my mum sent me to a new school aged 9, with the school uniform on but with red socks instead of green. I was mortified! 

4. Keep your old routines and traditions. At a time of change, children need more than ever to have a consistent routine and structure. It gives them a sense of security and stability. Your location has changed but your family stays the same. So, if you used to have movie night on Fridays and birthday cake and candles at breakfast, keep doing it! 

Next Step: Focus on Your Child’s Socioemotional Wellbeing and then on Academics

When a child moves schools, and even more, when they change cities or countries, their academic achievement may be disrupted. This is especially the case for children who move on a regular (1) basis. 

Whereas this is a concern for parents, it is very important to remember that children must feel settled before they are able to focus on academics. So, focus first on your child’s emotional wellbeing and then on academics. 

Strategies:

1. Consider that your child will probably be tired and even overwhelmed during the first few weeks of nursery or school. Think of everything they must take in and get used to: a new school, friends, teachers, social norms, routine, maybe a new language and a new education system. It’s a lot! Allow them to rest and decompress. Don’t pack too much in those first few months. Unless your child asks to do them, it may be a good idea to wait a bit before enrolling them in any extracurricular activities and clubs. 

2. Talk to your child’s teacher on a regular basis until they are settled. The more aligned the family and the school are, the better for the child. 

3. If you child attends an international school, it’s worth asking if they have a transition program. The whole family may find it useful. 

Moving Will Be Tough for my Child but What About Me?

1. Very often when a move happens, parents (especially mothers) make sure that everyone is organized and settled to then take care of themselves. Although this is “normal”, try to get yourself sorted as well. Otherwise, you may start to struggle. Whether you enjoy going to the gym, reading, visiting museums, or whatever it is you enjoy doing, try to find time for yourself even if the situation at home is a not 100% under control. 

2. Making connections is also so very important. Try to meet people at the nursery or school gates, playgroups, the school’s PTA, get involved in volunteer work, be active at your place of worship, local Facebook groups, or meet people through work. If you struggle making new friends, I highly recommend this book“Platonic: How Understanding Your Attachment Style can Help You Make and Keep Friends” by Marisa G. Franco, PhD. It will help you understand the science behind friendship and is full of practical tips. 

3. You play a key role in how your child manages the move. If you have a negative view of the move and of your new country, that will influence your child. I am not saying that you must be always happy and say that you love everything about the move. On the contrary, it is good for your child to see that you are finding some aspects of the move tough. But one thing is to find some aspects tough and something different is to constantly complain about it and have a very negative view about it. Remember that you set the emotional tone of the family. 

I Know that Moving Is Difficult, But We Are Coming Home: It Should Be Easy, Right?

Moving back (2) ‘home’ (also known as re-entering) is considered a non-issue but very often it’s the move that families find harder. Why is it hard? Aren’t you coming home? Consider that for expat children, and especially for Third Culture Kids (3) (TCK; children who spent a significant part of their childhood in a country other than their passport country), what is considered ‘home’ is not ‘home’ for them. For TCKs, their passport country is just that, the country where they are legally from, but it’s not their home. This can make re-entry difficult. 

Re-entering can also be difficult for adults. They usually go through a process that contains three steps:

1. Beginning: this is the exciting part. Everyone is excited about you being back and they make an effort to be around you and your family.

2. Novelty wears off: This is when the reverse cultural shock usually takes place. The excitement begins to wear off, you start to realise all the things you may not like about your country or city. Everyone goes back to their routine, and you may feel left out. Also, everyone expects you to settle back in just fine. There is not much room for you to say that you are struggling. Why would you struggle if you are finally where you belong?  In general, people report that the second and third months are the toughest. 

3. Stabilization: this usually happens six months after the move. 

Becoming an expat with kids is challenging but it has also plenty of benefits. Your children may learn different languages, gain a very good understanding of the world, learn that we are all different, and have different perspectives. They will develop their resilience, their social skills, and they will learn to adapt and be flexible. 

Expat families, especially those with TCKs often worry about their children not having a sense of belonging and struggling to develop a sense of identity (4). This is true for many TCKs. Just a note about TCKs. The term ‘third culture’ is often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean the combination of two cultures (the passport culture and the culture of residence to form a third). The term ‘third culture’ refers to the culture that is shared by all children who have lived a significant part of their lives outside their passport country. 

If you worry about your child’s sense of belonging and identity, remember that home is wherever the family is. Family is what gives us our sense of belonging. 

If you want to learn more about this topic, we have a masterclass in our website. Also, if you are in the process of moving, about to come back ‘home’, or a long-time expat, in need of 1-2-1 support, get in touch with me. We are here to support you. 

Love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

References

(1) Temple, J. A., & Reynolds, A. J. (1999). School mobility and achievement: Longitudinal findings from an urban cohort. Journal of School Psychology37(4), 355-377. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-4405(99)00026-6

(2) Pollock, D. C., Van Reken, R. E., & Pollock, M. V. (2010). Third Culture Kids: The experience of growing up among worlds: The original, classic book on TCKs. Hachette UK.

(3) Tan, E. C., Wang, K. T., & Cottrell, A. B. (2021). A systematic review of third culture kids empirical research. International Journal of Intercultural Relations82, 81-98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijintrel.2021.03.002

(4) Gilbert, K. R. (2008). Loss and grief between and among cultures: The experience of third culture kids. Illness, crisis & loss16(2), 93-109. https://doi.org/10.2190/IL.16.2.a

June is Pride month. We would like to take the opportunity to talk about the development of children living in LGBTQ+ families.   

To do this, we are lucky to have Professor Susan Golombok as a REC Parenting expert. A pioneer in the subject, Professor Golombok has been studying same-sex families since the 1970s. More recently, she has also been studying children living in trans families.   

 Let’s have a look at what the research says.   

 Children of Lesbian Mother Families  

Lesbian mother families are created in two ways:   

  • Women who have a child with a heterosexual partner and start a lesbian relationship later on.  

  • Lesbian couples who have a child by donor insemination or adoption.   

 Forty years of research (1) have compared children of lesbian mother families, children of gay fathers, and children of heterosexual couples. Findings suggest that children raised by lesbian mothers are as well-adjusted as children of heterosexual families and gay father families.   

 Children of Gay Father Families  

There has been little research on gay male parents.  

Gay father families are created through adoption or surrogacy.   

When a gay couple has a child with the help of a surrogate, the child is conceived through IVF using one father’s sperm and a donor’s egg. The resulting embryo is implanted in a surrogate woman, who carries the pregnancy but has no genetic connection to the baby. In some cases, the same woman provides the egg and carries the pregnancy to avoid the use of IVF. This is less common because the use of different women is usually encouraged. Therefore, children have two fathers (a non-genetic and a genetic) and two biological ‘mothers’ (a gestational and a genetic).   

Research (2) examining children born through surrogacy to gay fathers shows that: 

  •  Gay fathers tend to be very  positive in their parenting. 

  • Children born through surrogacy to gay fathers do as well, and sometimes better, than children of lesbian and heterosexual couples.   

Another option for gay father couples is to create a family through adoption. Adopted children of gay couples (3) tend to be as well adjusted as children of lesbian couples and children of heterosexual families.  

When examining adopted children is important to keep in mind that factors such as their age when they were adopted and their living conditions before the adoption, may influence their development. In general, the sooner a child is adopted, the better. The harsher their living conditions before being adopted, the more issues they may face growing up (4).  

Children of Transgender Families  

This is a very new area of research and we need to be careful when interpreting the findings. The main issue is children’s experience of their parent’s transition. It is not the same for a child if their parent transitions when they are a few months old than when they are a teenager.   

A study (5) conducted in the UK in 2017 asked 35 children to talk about their parents’ transition. What did the study show?  

  • Some children were OK with the situation, whereas for others it was challenging.   

  • Some children found difficult getting used to their parent’s new name and pronoun.   

  • Children did not like having to explain their new situation to their friends.  

  • Some children experienced bullying and teasing. They found tricky being out in public with their parent after they have transitioned.   

  • Other children were rejected by their extended family because they did not accept their parent’s transition.   

The study also examined children’s development. They were no more likely than other children to show behavioural or emotional problems. Children who experienced issues were those whose parents were depressed, stressed, or lacked support.   

 

Do Children in Same-Sex Families Grow Up to be Gay?  

A question that often arises is whether children living in same-sex families will grow up to be gay or lesbian because they will identify with their parents. Evidence (6) shows that children growing up in same-sex families are not more likely to be gay than children living in heterosexual families or those living in single-parent households.  

 Is There Any Disadvantage to Living in a Same-Sex Family?  

Yes. There is one important risk for children living in a gay family: social stigmatisation (7). Although in the Western world bullying towards children of gay couples has decreased, low-level stigmatisation is still quite common. For example, using the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory way can be upsetting and harm children.  

Stigmatisation is also negative for gay parents’ parenting skills. Gay fathers who suffered more antigay prejudice had less positive parenting (8).  

It is important to keep in mind that the research we have discussed has been conducted in countries where attitudes towards gay couples and same-sex marriage are more positive. The experience of children growing up in a LGBTQ+ family in countries where attitudes are still  negative is likely to be more difficult. For example, the experience of a child growing up with gay fathers in Sweden cannot be compared with the experience of a child growing up with gay fathers in Abu Dhabi. Research in this area may not be universally applicable. 

What is the message to take home?  

Children living in same-sex families do as well (and sometimes even better) than children living in different-sex families on a wide range of health, social, emotional, and academic outcomes. Children living in trans families tend to show the same outcomes, although there is still not much research on these families.  

Why might children living in same-sex families sometimes do better than children living in heterosexual families? The path to become a parent is usually more difficult for gay parents because they often must go through IVF, surrogacy, or adoption. The process is long and hard, and couples must be very determined to have a child to persevere. Consequently, researchers believe that these parents tend to be very invested in their children. They give them a lot of time, dedication, and love. These are the ingredients necessary for a child to thrive.   

 It seems that a child’s development has little to do with family type, parents’ gender identity or sexual orientation. What matters then? What matters is what happens within the family: Children need stable, loving, and harmonious families. Whether they are gay, transgender, or heterosexual.   

 If you are interested in this topic, have a look at Professor Susan Golombok’s REC Parenting Masterclass, which gives lots of useful tips and information. If you have any comments, do not hesitate to drop me an email. I love hearing from you!   

Love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

References  

(1)Stevens, M., Perry, B., Burston, A., Golombok, S., & Golding, J. (2003). Openness in lesbian-mother families regarding mother’s sexual orientation and child’s conception by donor insemination. Journal of reproductive and infant psychology, 21(4), 347-362. https://doi.org/10.1080/02646830310001622141  

(2)Golombok, S., Blake, L., Slutsky, J., Raffanello, E., Roman, G. D., & Ehrhardt, A. (2018). Parenting and the adjustment of children born to gay fathers through surrogacy. Child Development, 89(4), 1223-1233. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12728  

(3)Golombok, S., Mellish, L., Jennings, S., Casey, P., Tasker, F., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Adoptive gay father families: Parent–child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment. Child development, 85(2), 456-468. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12155  

(4)Farr, R. H., Bruun, S. T., & Patterson, C. J. (2019). Longitudinal associations between coparenting and child adjustment among lesbian, gay, and heterosexual adoptive parent families. Developmental psychology, 55(12), 2547. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000828  

(5)Imrie, S., Zadeh, S., Wylie, K., & Golombok, S. (2020). Children with Trans Parents: Parent–Child Relationship Quality and Psychological Well-being. Parenting, 21(3), 185–215. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295192.2020.1792194  

(6)Patterson, C. J. (2017). Parents’ sexual orientation and children’s development. Child Development Perspectives, 11(1), 45-49. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12207  

(7)Imrie, S., & Golombok, S. (2020). Impact of new family forms on parenting and child development. Annual Review of Developmental Psychology, 2, 295-316. https://doi.o 

(8)Green, R. J., Rubio, R. J., Rothblum, E. D., Bergman, K., & Katuzny, K. E. (2019). Gay fathers by surrogacy: Prejudice, parenting, and well-being of female and male children. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 6(3), 269. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000325

Photo credit: Vanessa Nunes via Istock

Tradition says that when children lose a baby tooth, they must place it underneath their pillow at bedtime. During the night, the Tooth Fairy will make an appearance, taking the tooth and replacing it with a small amount of money (1). 

Where does this tradition come from? 

It seems that the tooth fairy tradition originated in the 10th century amongst the Norse people in Northern Europe. Parents going on expeditions or war used to take their kids’ baby teeth for protection and blessing. 

Should you encourage your child to believe in the Tooth Fairy? 

Over the past few years, some practitioners and academics have raised concern about the fact that encouraging your child to believe in fantasy characters like Santa or the Tooth Fairy may bring mistrust to the parent- child relationship. However, there is no evidence (2) to support this claim. 

Magical thinking is part of children’s development, especially between the ages of 3 and 8. During this period, many children have an imaginary friend and believe in monsters, unicorns and flying carpets. Children use magic to explain events that they may not understand, and many believe that simply wishing may cause supernatural events to happen. They believe in the existence of popular fantasy figures like the Easter Bunny, Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Blurring the lines between reality (3) and fantasy is part of childhood.  

It is not only that children believe in these magical things and events, but our culture encourages their fantastic thinking. Parents encourage their children’s beliefs when they leave carrots for Santa’s reindeers, make a wish when blowing birthday candles, or leave a light on to scare monsters away.  

Is it good or bad for my child to believe in the Tooth Fairy? 

It is neither good nor bad. If it is a tradition that you and your family enjoy, go for it! 

Some parents use the Tooth Fairy to promote dental hygiene. They tell their children that the cleaner and healthier the tooth, the more money they will receive. Or that if the tooth is not clean and healthy, the Tooth Fairy may not come.  

Other parents use the tale of the Tooth Fairy to help their child understand physical changes and overcome the fear of losing a tooth.  

When and how do children discover the truth? 

Children usually discover the truth between the ages of 7 or 8. It’s around this time that they will also realize the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny.  

There is not much research examining children’s beliefs around the Tooth Fairy, but we can rely on the research on Santa (4). This research tells us that children usually learn the truth on their own, from their parents, or from a combination of both. Children usually suspect the truth before they start to ask questions about it. So, if your child starts asking about the Tooth Fairy, find out what they know exactly, before telling them the truth straight away.  

How much does the Tooth Fairy pay? 

Children get different amounts depending on the country they live in, their family’s socio-economic status, and how much money their friends receive. The Tooth Fairy tends to be more generous (5) with the first tooth than with any future teeth.  

The amount that children get has increased over the years, in line with inflation. However, it seems that the Tooth Fairy also feels our pain (6) and she paid less per teeth in 2023 than in 2018. In 2024 American (7) children are receiving $5.84 per milk tooth. In 2023, children in the UK (8) received £1.80 per milk tooth. The Tooth Fairy is clearly on top of things, as she knows that life in London is more expensive, and so is a bit more generous with London children, giving them £2.30 per tooth.  

Considering that children have 20 baby teeth, you can calculate how much it is going to cost you depending on where you live!  

What if the Tooth Fairy forgets to pay a visit? 

If this has happened to you, don’t feel bad, you are not alone! According to a recent survey (9), this has happened to more than 56% of parents in the US. 

What to do? Blame your child: “I don’t think you’ve looked hard enough” while at the same time, throwing some coins under the bed, in the pillowcase, or wherever you manage! 

Does the Tooth Fairy exist in all cultures? 

In Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, instead of the Tooth Fairy, they have a mouse called Perez (el Ratoncito Pérez). The Perez Mouse first appeared in Spain in 1894 in a tale written for King Alfonso XIII (10), when he lost a milk tooth at the age of eight. His mother, Queen María Cristina commissioned this tale to help him endure losing his first tooth.  

The idea of the mouse is quite popular. In Italy, they also have a mouse called Toppolino whereas in France, the mouse is called La Petite Souris.   

In some Asian countries, the tradition involves children throwing the tooth into the air. In Japan, they throw the upper teeth down to the ground and the lower tooth up into the air. The idea is that the new teeth will grow straight.  

In Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Sudan, the tradition is to throw the baby tooth up unto the sky to Allah or the sun. It is thought that this tradition (11) dates back to the 13th century.  

Five Fun Facts About the Tooth Fairy 

  1. It is estimated that she collects around 300,000 teeth every night.  
  1. Most people (75%) believe that the Tooth Fairy is a female, while the rest believe is a male or an animal. 
  1. In the US Tooth Fairy Day is celebrated twice every year, on the 28th February and the 22nd August. This is because the American Dental Association recommends that people get their teeth cleaned every six months.  
  1. The Tooth Fairy has her own movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  
  1. There are a few Tooth Fairy apps. One allows your child can now make unlimited phone calls to the Tooth Fairy. Another one helps you to show proof that the Tooth Fairy was really in your child’s bedroom.  

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

References

  1. Toumba, K.J. The legend of the “tooth fairy”. Eur Arch Paediatr Dent 14, 277–278 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40368-013-0093-9 
  1. Mills, C. M., Goldstein, T. R., Kanumuru, P., Monroe, A. J., & Quintero, N. B. (2024). Debunking the Santa myth: The process and aftermath of becoming skeptical about Santa.Developmental Psychology, 60(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0001662 
  1. Principe, G. F., & Smith, E. (2008). The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth: How belief in the tooth fairy can engender false memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 22(5), 625-642. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1402 
  1. Goldstein, T. R., & Woolley, J. (2016). Ho! Ho! Who? Parent promotion of belief in and live encounters with Santa Claus. Cognitive Development, 39, 113-127 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2016.04.002 
  1. https://www.deltadental.com/us/en/tooth-fairy/press-release.html#2023 
  1. Krebs A, Thomas RM. Tooth Fairy keeping up with inflation. New York Times, 23 June 1981. http://www.nytimes.com/1981/06/23/nyregion/notes-on-people-tooth-fairy- keeping-up-with-inflation.html 
  1. Visa Inc. Survey: tooth fairy fluttering down to earth. Tooth Fairy leaving $3.19, down 24 cents per tooth [webpage]. Visa. July 2015. http://investor.visa.com/news/news-details/2015/Visa- Inc-Survey-Tooth-Fairy-Fluttering-Down-To-Earth/default.aspx 
  1. https://www.bupa.co.uk/dental/dental-care/news/how-much-does-the-tooth-fairy-pay-2023 
  1. https://www.deltadental.com/us/en/tooth-fairy/press-release.html#2023 
  1. Sadurní, J. M. (7 May 2019). “Luis Coloma and Ratoncito Pérez, the tale that born as a gift for a Queen”. National Geographic 
  1.  Al Hamdani, Muwaffak; Wenzel, Marian (1966). “The Worm in the Tooth”. Folklore. 77 (1): 60–64. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1966.9717030. JSTOR 1258921

Leaving babies to cry it out has been a controversial topic amongst researchers, practitioners, and parents for a very long time. 

I know that this is a very emotive topic. Before we continue, let me tell you that my goal here is to explain the scientific evidence on the “Cry It Out” method so you can decide what to do. I am not addressing personal experiences or judging anyone. 

What is the Cry It Out Method?

The Cry It Out Method (CIO) is a sleep training technique (1) (also known as sleep learning or sleep teaching). The reason to sleep train is to teach babies to fall sleep on their own and stay asleep. 

The Cry It Out method refers to any type of technique that involves leaving a baby to cry until they fall sleep on their own. If the baby wakes during the night parents leave them to cry as well. 

There are three variations of the Cry It Out method:

  • The Extinction method (also known as Unmodified Extinction): The parent leaves the room and does not come back, no matter how long the baby cries for. This method assumes that parents reinforce their child’s crying during the night by responding to it. Parents are required to put their child to sleep and leave them until a pre-determined time in the morning (e.g., 7 am), no matter how much they cry. Many parents (especially those doing it alone) report finding this method extremely stressful (2) therefore gentler methods of extinction have been developed. 

  • The Graduated Extinction method (also known as Controlled Crying, Check and Console, or the Ferber Method): The parent leaves the room and comes in to check on the baby at increasingly pre-determined lengthy intervals (e.g., 1 min, then 2 min, then 3 min, then 15 minutes up to a maximum number of minutes). Visits are short and aimed to encourage the baby to self-soothe. This strategy is usually more acceptable to parents. It has been linked with mothers (3) reporting lower levels of stress and better mood. 

  • The Extinction with Parental Presence method (also known as Camping Out, the Chair Method, or the Fading Method): This is similar to Graduated Extinction, but the parent stays in the room instead of leaving. This method assumes that the presence (4) of the parent helps the baby to self-soothe. Each night the parents moves further away from the baby until they can leave the room leaving the baby settled. 

A very important note: Babies should not be sleep trained, using the Cry It Out Method or any other methods before the age of 6 months (5). Prior to 6 months, babies are not prepared to sleep for long stretches and therefore it doesn’t make sense to sleep train them. For sleep training to work, the baby must be able to self-soothe. 

You may have to wait longer if your baby was born prematurely, with low weight, or with health issues. It is always recommended to talk to your doctor before trying any type of sleep training method.  

Sleep training also implies that the baby is sleeping on their own, which ideally, they shouldn’t do before 6 months because it increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (6).

This doesn’t mean that you must sleep train at 6 months. You can start later, or never!

Does the Cry It Out method work?

Evidence suggests that all three variations of the Cry It Out method work. Babies who have been sleep trained tend to sleep better than babies who have not been trained this way. These effects are still evident six months later (7).

It is, however, important to keep one thing in mind. The aim of the Cry It Out method is to teach the baby to self-soothe. While research shows that babies who are slept trained tend to sleep better, there is no way of knowing if the baby stops crying because they have learnt to self-soothe, they have learnt that no one will come to console them, or because they get tired of crying. 

Will the Cry It Out method hurt my baby? 

Many parents and some researchers worry about the potential damage that letting a baby cry may create. Some researchers (8) are concerned that letting babies cry may cause stress in the infant, be negative for the parent-child attachment, and have a negative effect on the infant’s emotional and mental health. 

To date studies have not found that crying increases infants’ cortisol (9) levels, creates emotional or behavioural issues (10), damages the parent-child attachment (11), nor that it has any short-term or long-term negative effects for the baby (12).

Some studies suggest that the Cry It Out method does not decrease baby crying, or prevent sleep problems in later childhood. It is not entirely clear whether it protects mothers against depression (13). Although it makes sense to assume that when a baby sleeps well, the mother will feel better. 

It is important to note that there are not that many high-quality studies examining the impact of the Cry It Out Method on children. While it’s true that no study has found that letting a baby cry it out has negative effects, at the same time we cannot 100% say that leaving a baby to cry it out is entirely safe for every single child. 

How long does the Cry It Out method take?

It depends. Some children may take a couple of days and others may take weeks. Most strategies take a week or longer to work. They key to make it work is consistency. 

Do I need to sleep train my baby?

Not at all! There are many babies that are not sleep trained and that learn to sleep fine. There is not right way to get your baby to sleep. Do whatever works for your family. Some families choose to co-sleep, others choose to keep the baby in another room and go to them whenever they cry, and others choose to sleep train. There is no right or wrong answer.

The most important thing when considering baby sleep is safety. As parents it’s crucial that we are aware of the guidelines to reduce the risk of accidents and of SIDS. The main guidelines for babies under the age of 6 months are: 

  • Babies must always sleep on their backs, on a flat surface with no soft items around them. 

  • If you choose to co-sleep, make sure the baby cannot fall or suffocate and don’t allow other children or pets in the bed.

  • Do not share a bed if you have been smoking, taken drugs or consumed alcohol. 

  • Never sleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair. 

Are there any other sleep training techniques?

Yes. They all have pros and cons. Some of these techniques are the No Tears method, the Fading Method, or the Pick-up/Put-down method. These methods are considered gentler than then Cry it Out methods. 

All sleep training techniques have something in common…

  • A structured and consistent bedtime routine: no matter if you sleep train your baby or not, a clear bedtime routine is key to help your baby sleep. Everyday your baby should go through the same routine. A good routine looks like this (or similar): bath, dinner, brushing their teeth, relaxing time, and bed. 

  • This bedtime routine must happen every day at the same time. 

My baby does not sleep no matter what I do. Should I hire a sleep consultant?

This is entirely up to you. One important thing to consider is that in many countries (such as the UK), sleep experts or consultants are not regulated. Basically, anyone can consider themselves a sleep expert and provide advice to families. Before you hire anyone, check their credentials, ask about their ethical guidelines, ask to see previous clients’ opinions, and make sure their working style match with your needs and beliefs. For example, don’t hire anyone who will let your baby cry if you don’t want any crying.  

When we consider baby sleep, it’s important to consider cultural influences

There are important cultural differences regarding baby sleep. In some cultures, babies always co-sleep with their parents and even with their siblings, whereas others encourage independent sleep. In general, parents resort to sleep training when they consider that their child has a sleep problem. The most common problems are bedtime resistance, co-sleeping, and night-time awakenings. However, these behaviours are only considered problematic in the Western world (12).

What is the take-home message?

In this article we have explained the latest scientific evidence on the cry it out method. Now that you have the information, it is up to you to decide what you want to do. Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty and ignore other people’s judgments. You are not a better or worse parent whether you co-sleep with your baby or sleep train them.

If you want to learn more about baby sleep, we have three REC Parenting masterclasses discussing: 

Join REC Parenting today to get access to these masterclasses! 

If you are considering hiring a sleep coach, get in touch so we can recommend the one that will suit best your family’s needs. 

If you have any specific questions on baby sleep, drop them here and I will answer it in the REC Parenting weekly Q&A email. 

I hope you have found this information useful.

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

References

(1) Rosier, J. G., & Cassels, T. (2021). From “Crying Expands the Lungs” to “You’re Going to Spoil That Baby”: How the Cry-It-Out Method Became Authoritative Knowledge. Journal of Family Issues, 42(7), 1516-1535. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X20949891

(2) Etherton, H., Blunden, S., & Hauck, Y. (2016). Discussion of extinction-based behavioral sleep interventions for young children and reasons why parents may find them difficult. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine12(11), 1535-1543. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.6284

(3) Hall, W.A., Hutton, E., Brant, R.F. et al. (2015). A randomised controlled trial of an intervention for infants’ behavioural sleep problems. BMC Pediatr 15, 181. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12887-015-0492-7

(4) Michal Kahn, Michal Juda-Hanael, Efrat Livne-Karp, Liat Tikotzky, Thomas F Anders, Avi Sadeh, Behavioral interventions for pediatric insomnia: one treatment may not fit all, Sleep, Volume 43, Issue 4, April 2020, zsz268, https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsz268

(5) Whittall, H., Kahn, M., Pillion, M., & Gradisar, M. (2021). Parents matter:  barriers and solutions when implementing behavioural sleep interventions for infant sleep problems. Sleep Medicine, 84, 244-252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2021.05.042

(6) Ball, H. L., & Volpe, L. E. (2013). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) risk reduction and infant sleep location–Moving the discussion forward. Social science & medicine79, 84-91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.03.025

(7) Bilgin, A., & Wolke, D. (2020). Parental use of ‘cry it out’in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry61(11), 1184-1193. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13223

(8) Blunden, S. L., Thompson, K. R., & Dawson, D. (2011). Behavioural sleep treatments and nighttime crying in infants: challenging the status quo. Sleep medicine reviews15(5), 327-334.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2010.11.002

(9) Gradisar, M., Jackson, K., Spurrier, N. J., Gibson, J., Whitham, J., Williams, A. S., … & Kennaway, D. J. (2016). Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics137(6). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2015-1486

(10) Price, A. M., Wake, M., Ukoumunne, O. C., & Hiscock, H. (2012). Five-year follow-up of harms and benefits of behavioral infant sleep intervention: randomized trial. Pediatrics130(4), 643-651.https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-3467

(11) Akdoğan, G. Y. (2018). To intervene or not to intervene: effects of behavioural sleep interventions on infant attachment quality. 

(12) Jenni, O. G., & Werner, H. (2011). Cultural issues in children’s sleep: a model for clinical practice. Pediatric Clinics58(3), 755-763. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2011.03.008

Rewards systems are used to encourage good behaviour in toddlers, children, and teenagers, or to help them acquire a new skill (e.g., using the potty). Ultimately, rewards systems aim to boost children’s motivation. The question is: Do they work? 

Google “sticker chart” and you will find yourself looking at over 148,000,000 hits. The market for this rewards-based training system is huge. Using a reward system for kids has become the go-to for many parents and teachers. However, research is not entirely clear on whether using reward systems is a good idea. Even more, there is some research suggesting that using rewards may be detrimental because it does not promote intrinsic motivation (1).  

There are two types of motivation (2). Intrinsic motivation is doing an activity because of the satisfaction it brings you, rather than for an external reward. For example, reading a book because you are interested in its story, or learning to ride a bike because of the sense of achievement.  

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is pursuing an activity for an external reward, such as a material item or someone’s praise. For example, sharing with friends in exchange for more screen time or sweets.  

Ideally, we want our children to be intrinsically motivated. 

Why do parents use reward charts?

The most common reason that parents turn to rewards charts is to encourage good behavior or when they are in the throes of skill acquisition, such as potty learning. The problem is that while a sticker may work initially, at some point a child may say “I don’t care about a sticker”. This leaves parents with two choices: abandon and face the possibility of regression or offer bigger and better rewards. With something like toileting, the reward is not sitting in a wet or dirty nappy, the reward is learning to listen to your body and become autonomous and independent.

As a parent, I absolutely wanted to blow a trumpet when my son successfully used a potty but instead forced myself to simply say “What do you think?” “Good!” he replied to which I said something like “I always feel better when I’ve been to the loo too.” My desire for him to be intrinsically motivated underpins many of my parenting choices. 

The issue with reward systems is that they only motivate children to get rewards. This may result in a reward culture that may lead children to respond to any request with “What’s in it for me?” If we zoom forward to having teenagers, how are we going to motivate them not to smoke? Buy them a car?  

Why do schools use rewards systems?

Many schools use these systems. Stickers, point systems, stars of the day, or a rather sinister system or moving children from clouds up over rainbows or down into dark clouds, are common in many schools.   

The problem with these systems is that they deal with the symptoms, but not the cause. If a child is not able to sit still because they are inmature, neurodivergent, or undiagnosed, they are never going to reach their teacher’s goal. No matter what reward is offered.   

These children’s behaviour may become worse if they realise “If I can’t ever move over the rainbow, I may as well just sit in my dark cloud.” They may end up suppressing their inherent traits or feelings because they are not reward-worthy behaviors. 

When we look to motivate our children to learn, some research shows that if an initial interest is there, adding external rewards reduces motivation. This is called the overjustification phenomenon (3).  

In contrast, verbal feedback (4) increases motivation, but it must go beyond simply saying “Good job!”. Being specific in praising the effort and not the outcome or abilities leads to more resilient children who are better able to overcome obstacles. For example, saying “You’re so clever!” implies it is an inherent trait. Children labelled as clever tend to give up more easily when they inevitably face a challenge. However praising efforts with detail like “You concentrated so hard on that picture, look how carefully you chose your colours!” makes children feel seen and validated for their effort, motivating them to persist.  

If using rewards charts is not ideal, what do we do instead? Here are seven strategies to promote your child’s intrinsic motivation and good behaviour.  

  1. Support autonomy  

When we have a relationship based on “If you do x, I’ll give you y” we are creating a hierarchy which disempowers your child. Instead encourage their curiosity and exploration so that they have a sense of agency (5). We have moved beyond the time of “Because I said so” being a good enough response. It’s time now to explain why with respect. 

2. Encourage a positive mindset 

We have a negativity bias (6) which means we need to hear 5 good things to counterbalance every 1 negative thing we hear. If your child is calamitous in their outlook, start a practice of ending negative sentences with “But luckily…”. For example, if your child complains that “I didn’t have enough time to finish playing”, you can add “But luckily you have lovely friends who you’ll see again tomorrow!”  

3. Encourage a growth mindset 

Children find learning frustrating, when we jump in to save them, we send the message that they should avoid these feelings instead of accepting that they are part of the human experience (7). If your child gets frustrated trying to draw a circle, don’t jump in and draw it for them. Instead, say “What you’re feeling is exactly right, it is frustrating. Just because you can’t do it YET, doesn’t mean you won’t ever get it. You can do hard things.” 

4. Be specific with praise 

Focus on praising (8) the effort and not the outcome. Children feel seen when we acknowledge their journey and reflect on the details. Instead of “Wow, well done!” try “You have been concentrating for ages and even when it didn’t go as you’d expected, you kept trying.” 

5. Avoid labels 

Labelling (9) a child as artistic may prevent them exploring their sporty side. Labelling a child as lazy may mean you will do more for them and inhibit their acquisition of new skills. Labelling a child as smart may mean they will not realise that at some point they will have to work to achieve a goal. Nothing about your child is fixed: Stay open, and curious to see how they develop in the future.  

6. Set small goals 

We are all guilty of failing to notice our small successes. If your child is trying to master something, share your observations of the progress they are making. Encourage them to notice by asking what they think of their achievements.  

7. Mental time travel 

When things get tough it can help to travel into the future (10). If your child can’t ride their bike yet, ask them if they think they still won’t be able to, when they’re two years older, a teenager or grown-up. Time + practice = success. Children don’t naturally think far ahead so you may need to remind them that you have decades of practice under your belt! 

Final message  

I hope you’re not disappointed that these suggestions aren’t a quick fix. Parenting is a long-term investment and that means planting seeds and laying foundations. Children’s brains are immature and no matter how many stickers you offer, they may not be able to do what you’re asking. So, who’s binning the sticker chart? 

Zara Kadir

About the author

Zara Kadir is a child, adolescent, adult and family psychotherapist specialising in pre-school to primary aged children. She works 1-2-1 with clients using art and play therapy. Additionally, she supports and guides parents through the most common behavioural issues faced with an intentional parenting model at its core. She focuses on the idea that if you change your behaviour towards your child, your child’s behaviour will change. Her hope is to empower parents with the information they need to make considered decisions in how they respond and nurture their children.

Zara holds a MA in Counselling & Psychotherapy and MA in Child, Adolescent & Family Psychotherapy

She is registered and accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

You can find Zara in her super popular IG account @the.therapy.shed

References

(1) Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M., & Koestner, R. (2001). The Pervasive Negative Effects of Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation: Response to. Review of Educational Research, 71(1), 43-51. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543071001043 

(2) Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25 (1), 54-67. 

(3) Deci, E.L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journl of Personality and Social Psychology, 18(1), 105-115. 

(4) Henderlong, J., & Lepper, M. R. (2002). The effects of praise on children’s intrinsic motivation: A review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 774–795. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.128.5.774 

(5) Joussemet, M., Koestner, R., Lekes, N., & Houlfort, N. (2003). Introducing uninteresting tasks to children: A comparison of tge effects oif rewards and autonomy and support. Journal of Personality, 72(1), 139-166. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-3506.2004.00259.x 

(6) Kiken, L. G., & Shook, N. J. (2011). Looking up: Mindfulness increases positive judgments and reduces negativity bias. Social Psychological and Personality Science2(4), 425-431. 

(7) Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2020). What can be learned from growth mindset controversies?. American psychologist75(9), 1269. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000794 

(8) Senn, L. P., Bayles, M. W., & Bruzek, J. L. (2020). An evaluation of praise as a reinforcer for preschoolers’ behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis53(1), 315-330. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.591 

(9) Taylor, L. M., Hume, I. R., & Welsh, N. (2010). Labelling and self‐esteem: the impact of using specific vs. generic labels. Educational Psychology30(2), 191-202. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410903494478 

(10) Payne, G., Taylor, R., Hayne, H., & Scarf, D. (2015). Mental time travel for self and other in three- and four-year-old children. Memory23(5), 675–682. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2014.921310 

Psychologists Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin quoted the four main parenting styles based on the degree to which parents are responsive and set limits to their children.  

These four parenting styles(1) are: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Neglectful.  

Authoritative parenting is the gold standard of parenting. In contrast, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parenting are not that good for children. 

In this article we are going to explore permissive parenting and how it relates to children’s development.  

What is permissive parenting? 

Permissive parenting(2) (also known as indulgent parenting) refers to those parents who are affectionate, warm, and responsive towards their children but do not demand much of them.  

Permissive parents want to be their children’s friends. They avoid conflict. They do not monitor their children, nor they provide guidance and structure.  

They are very responsive to their children’s needs, to the point that they are considered to be at their children’s beck and call.  

Their discipline style is inconsistent. One day they may punish their children for misbehaving at school, whereas another day the same behaviour may go unpunished.  

Children raised by permissive parents are more likely to: 

  • Be impulsive.  

  • Not have a good academic achievement.  

  • Have lower levels of emotional competence.  

  • Show higher rates of school misconduct. 

  • Show delinquent behaviour during adolescence. 

  • Show deviant peer relations during adolescence. 

  • Show internalizing (e.g., anxiety) and externalizing behaviours (e.g., aggression). 

  • However, not everything is negative for children of permissive parents. They tend to have good self-esteem and good social skills(3)

How to know if you are a permissive parent? 

You are permissive if you tend to: 

  • Let your child figure things out by themselves. 

  • Let your child do chores whenever they feel like it.  

  • Not know where your child is or who they are out with. 

  • Let your child decide when to go to bed, how much screen time to have, or eat snacks whenever they want.  

  • Do whatever your child asks you to do. From driving them to places even if it is inconvenient for you to buying them whatever they ask for.   

  • Give in so they stop crying or complaining.  

Why do children of permissive parents struggle to regulate themselves? 

Permissive parents do not tend to set clear rules and expectations, nor do they discipline their children consistently. This means that children have fewer opportunities to practice their regulation skills(4) because they rarely experience frustration, disappointment, or anger.   

As parents, it is normal that we want to protect our children from experiencing negative events. But we must remember that they need to have opportunities to experience frustration, stress, and failure so they can learn to deal with them.   

Why is permissive parenting linked with delinquent behaviour? 

Permissive parents do not monitor their children well or not at all. Monitoring means to watch, supervise and be aware of our children’s activities. Children whose parents fail to monitor them are more likely to engage with the ‘wrong’ crowd and to engage in delinquent behaviour. Monitoring our children well is important, particularly during the teenage years(5)

The goal is to know what is going in your child’s life. If you are unsure about what monitoring your child means, think of it as: “Ask who, ask where, ask when.”  

Is it true that when parents are stressed, they become more permissive?  

Parents’ stress(6) influences their parenting. Stressed parents are more likely to become authoritarian or permissive. When you are juggling many balls, sometimes something has got to give. That may mean relaxing your parenting and becoming more permissive. For other parents, stress means that they have a shorter ‘leash’ and they become more authoritarian. 

Parents who can regulate their emotions when feeling stressed, are more likely to stay authoritative. In contrast, those parents who cannot regulate their emotions well, are more likely to become authoritarian or permissive when feeling stressed. 

This means that it is especially important for parents to be aware of their own emotional state and reflect on how it may be influencing their parenting, and their children.  

Does permissive parenting work in some cultures? 

Extensive research shows that across cultures, the style that works best is authoritative. However, it is important to remember that there are cultural differences in parenting. There is some research suggesting that in Spain(7), permissive parenting may be as good as authoritative parenting. However, it is not clear if these findings reflect real differences or if they are due to methodological differences in the research.  

I am a permissive parent: How can I become more authoritative? 

The good news for permissive parents is that you are already warm and caring, you just need to work on learning to set and keep rules and expectations. 

Here are four tips: 

  • Create a set of rules: Think of the three rules that you consider most important. Explain them to your children and establish what the consequences are if they don’t follow them. 

  • Set expectations: What are the values that you would like your children to have? Tell them what you expect of them and set expectations. 

  • Let go of fear: Sometimes parents don’t want to set rules or high expectations because they are afraid that their children will stop loving them or that they won’t like them. Children need limits.

  • Your child will never stop loving you because you set some limits and rules. They may not like you for a bit, but they will love you. We need to be our children’s parents as opposed to their friends. Our role is to guide our children and monitor them until they are ready to fly the nest.  

  • Do not try to change everything at the same time: You do not need to set up a hundred strict rules overnight. Make realistic and attainable adjustments and keep going.  

  • Seeking professional may be advisable. Our REC Parenting therapists are ready to support you in this journey. Get in touch here. It’s never too late to become the parent you want to be.  

What about parents of neurodivergent kids? 

Unsurprisingly, parenting neurodiverse children is more stressful(8) than parenting typically developing children. Parents of neurodivergent children are more likely to face extra challenges, such as financial pressure, difficult child behaviour, health problems, and unpredictable schedules (Neece & Chan, 2017). As a result, parents of neurodiverse children find it more difficult to be authoritative(9). They are more likely to become permissive or authoritarian (Woolfson & Grant, 2006). 

What is the take-home message? 

Permissive parenting is not the best way to parent our children. Instead, try to be authoritative as much as you can. You are already a warm and caring parent. Focus on providing more guidance and structure to your child. At REC Parenting we are here to help with a wealth of resources and one-to-one support.   

Finally, remember that the perfect parent doesn’t exist! We need to try to get it right as often as we can. 

I hope you find this useful. If you have any queries or comments, drop me an email or leave a comment below. We love hearing from you! 

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

References

(1) Kuppens, S., Ceulemans, E. Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. J Child Fam Stud 28, 168–181 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x 

(2)Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(5), 185–189. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221325.2016.1224223 

(3) Rose, J., Roman, N., Mwaba, K., & Ismail, K. (2018). The relationship between parenting and internalizing behaviours of children: A systematic review. Early Child Development and Care, 188(10), 1468-1486. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2016.1269762 

(4)Wischerth, G. A., Mulvaney, M. K., Brackett, M. A., & Perkins, D. (2016). The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 177(5), 185–189. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221325.2016.1224223 

(5)Hinnant, J.B., Erath, S.A., Tu, K.M. et al. Permissive Parenting, Deviant Peer Affiliations, and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence: the Moderating Role of Sympathetic Nervous System Reactivity. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 1071–1081 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-015-0114-8 

(6)Aznar, A., Sowden, P., Bayless, S., Ross, K., Warhurst, A., & Pachi, D. (2021). Home-schooling during COVID-19 lockdown: Effects of coping style, home space, and everyday creativity on stress and home-schooling outcomes. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 10(4), 294–312. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000182 

(7)Garcia, F., & Gracia, E. (2009). Is always authoritative the optimum parenting style? Evidence from Spanish families. Adolescence, 44(173), 101-131. 

(8)Neece, C.L., Chan, N. (2017). The Stress of Parenting Children with Developmental Disabilities. In: Deater-Deckard, K., Panneton, R. (eds) Parental Stress and Early Child Development. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-55376-4_5 

(9)Woolfson, L., & Grant, E. (2006). Authoritative parenting and parental stress in parents of pre‐school and older children with developmental disabilities. Child: care, health and development, 32(2), 177-184. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2214.2006.00603.x 

Authoritarian parenting style is, with authoritative, permissive, and neglectful, one of the four traditional parenting styles. These four parenting styles were first quoted by psychologists Baumrid, Maccoby, and Martin, after observing thousands of parents and children.  

Authoritative parenting is the gold standard of parenting. In contrast, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful parenting are not that good for children.  

Let’s have a look at authoritarian parenting and how it relates to children’s development.  

Authoritarian parenting  

Authoritarian (1) parents are cold and demanding. Parents expect their children to do as they are told. Good behavior is always expected. Rules are strict, non-negotiable, and not clearly explained. They do not encourage intimacy nor trust. Children’s opinions and desires are not considered.  

When authoritarian parents discipline (2) their children, they don’t explain to their child why their behaviour was wrong. They use punishments and may get physical. They tend to be harsh and coercive. Parents may tell their children that they won’t love then anymore if they misbehave.  

Children raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to: 

  • Have mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 

  • Have low self-esteem. 

  • Have poor social skills. 

  • Show behavioral problems. 

  • Do poorly at school. 

  • Be hostile and rebellious towards their parents. (3) 

How to know if you are an authoritarian parent? 

You are authoritarian if you tend to: 

  • Yell at your child when they misbehave.  

  • Grab your child when they are being disobedient. 

  • Scold and critize your child when their behavior doesn’t meet your expectations. 

  • Say something like “because I say so” or “I am your parent and I want you to”, when your child challenges a rule. 

  • Punish your child by taking privileges away (e.g., “You can’t have your phone for a week!”) with little or no explanation. 

  • Not allow your child to have a say about family rules. 

I recognize myself in many of the things you have just mentioned. What’s the problem? 

If you are cold towards your child, they won’t feel loved. They may even feel rejected. It is important that children feel loved by their parents. This helps them develop a sense of self-worth, belonging, and safety. (4) 

Many parents say: “It’s my job to be tough with my child, but they know I love them.” There is no doubt that authoritarian parents love their children. But as parents we must realize that it is not enough that we love them. They must feel our love. It doesn’t matter that you see yourself as a loving parent if your child doesn’t feel the same.  

The second issue with authoritarian parents is that they don’t listen to their children. They don’t take their feelings and opinions into account. Therefore, children do not feel heard. They feel ignored. Their self-esteem may struggle because the message they are getting is that they are not worthy of being heard.  

I am not saying that you must always follow your children’s opinions. Families are a hierarchy, where parents are in charge. But it is important that our children feel valued and heard.   

I am an authoritarian parent but would like to become more authoritative. What can I do? 

The good news is that we can change and improve the way we parent. It is not easy, but it can be done.  Here are some tips: 

  • Try to be more authoritative:  The more authoritative you can be, the better for your child. Authoritative parents are warm and responsive. They encourage trust and intimacy. They set high expectations and clear rules. They take into consideration their children’s opinions and feelings. In turn, children tend to do well across all aspects of life (5).  

  • Change your discipline style: Instead of yelling and using harsh punishments, try using logical consequences (6). These are consequences that directly address the behavior that the child should change or stop doing. For example, if your child leaves their bike in the middle of the driveway, the bike gets put away for an hour. If your child never puts their laundry in their basket, their clothes won’t be washed unless in the basket. This approach works much better than enforcing random, unrelated punishments.  

  • Be mindful of your emotions: Very often when we become angry with our children is because we have lost our temper. Understand what your triggers are, so you can control how you respond to your child. Feeling angry towards your child is not a problem. The problem may be what we do with that anger.  

  • Reflect on how you were raised: Were your parents very harsh with you? Did they use corporal punishment? Did you feel heard? Consider how it made you feel as a child and whether you want to raise your child in a similar environment, or whether you want to change. 

  • Rather than trying to change everything at the same time, focus on changing specific behaviours 

  • Seeking professional advice may be a good idea. At REC Parenting we have a team of parenting experts, ready to support you and your family. Get in touch here! It’s never too late to become the parent you want to be.  

However, be mindful that the term ‘authoritarian’ doesn’t mean the same across all cultures. 

Parenting is influenced by the culture we live in. Authoritarian parenting is more common in non-Western cultures, and in ethnic minorities living in Western countries.  

Why? Because some non-Wester countries are collectivistic. Collectivistic cultures consider that the group is more important than the individual. An authoritarian parenting style seems to work better to get children to conform to values such as conformity, self-control, and humility, which are very important in collectivistic countries.  

Parents in these cultures may use guilt, shame and scolding to discipline their children. But contrary to what happens in the Western world, these practices are not linked with negative outcomes for children (7).  

Finally…. 

Authoritarian parenting is not the best for our children. If this is your style, don’t despair. It is never too late to become more authoritative. You can achieve it with the proper guidance, work, and persistence. At REC Parenting we are here to help you. 

And remember, the perfect parent does not exist. As parents we need to get it right more often than not.

I hope you have find this article helpful. As always, do get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

Much love,

Ana  

Dr Ana Aznar

References

  1. Camisasca, E., Miragoli, S., Di Blasio, P., & Feinberg, M. (2022). Pathways among negative co-parenting, parenting stress, authoritarian parenting style, and child adjustment: The Emotional Dysregulation Driven Model. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 31(11), 3085–3096. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02408-9 
  1. Carroll, P. (2021). Effectiveness of positive discipline parenting program on parenting style, and child adaptive behavior. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 53(6), 1349–1358. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10578-021-01201-x 
  1. Smetana, J. G. (2017a). Current research on parenting styles, dimensions, and beliefs. Current Opinion in Psychology, 15, 19–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.02.012 
  1. Smetana, J. G. (1994). Parenting styles and beliefs about Parental Authority. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 1994(66), 21–36. https://doi.org/10.1002/cd.23219946604 
  1. Lavrič, M., & Naterer, A. (2020). The power of authoritative parenting: A cross-national study of effects of exposure to different parenting styles on Life Satisfaction. Children and Youth Services Review, 116, 105274. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105274 
  1. Robichaud, J.-M., Mageau, G. A., Soenens, B., Mabbe, E., Kil, H., Frenette, J., & Roy, M. (2024). Should parents combine reasoning with firm control to nurture adolescent socialization? comparing logical consequences with mild punishments. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Comportement. https://doi.org/10.1037/cbs0000409 
  1. Chao, R. K. (1994). Beyond Parental Control and authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development, 65(4), 1111–1119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00806.x 

Parental burnout is not the ‘typical’ parenting stress. Feeling stress is ‘normal’, common and even necessary. 

Parental burnout is something else. It happens when parenting stress impedes parents to cope. When parents lack the resources needed to handle their parenting demands, they may develop parental burnout.

It is characterized by three main features: 

  • Intense exhaustion: physical, emotional, or both.

  • Feeling emotionally distant from one’s child.

  • Feeling doubtful of one’ capacity to be a good parent 

Parents feel exhausted just by thinking about their role as parents. As a result, parents gradually detach from their children. They become less and less involved and in the end their interactions are limited to logistics and functional. Consequently, parents begin to feel that they are not good parents, and their relationship with their children is damaged. 

We can all experience these symptoms at some time. But when a parent is burnout, they experience them frequently and strongly. 

What’s the difference between parental burnout and depression?

Parental burnout and depression can look quite similar, but they are different. 

Parental burnout is specific to the parenting domain. You feel exhausted when being with your kids. You don’t enjoy being with the kids. You find tough dealing with everything to do with the kids. In contrast, you are totally fine at work, you enjoy spending time with your friends, and you enjoy any hobbies you may have. 

Depression is more global. It’s all encompassing. You feel low. You feel tired. You feel uninterested across all aspects of your life.  

How many parents experience parental burnout?

The research on parental burnout is quite new. 

Studies in 42 countries show that around 5% of parents experience parental burnout. In the Western world, this figure goes up to 8%. This is about 1 parent in every classroom.

Parental burnout is more common in Europe and the US. This is probably because these countries are very individualistic and because parenting has become increasingly demanding over the last 50 years. 

Parents of neurodivergent children are more likely to experience parental burnout. 

Both mothers and fathers can experience parental burnout. 

Who is more likely to experience parental burnout?

These are the parents who are more at risk:

  • Those who aim to be perfect parents.

  • Those who have difficulties regulating their emotions and their stress.

  • Don’t have emotional or practical support from their coparent or who don’t have a tribe.

  • Those who don’t have much knowledge about how to raise their kids.

  • Those who have children with special needs.

  • Those who work part-time or are stay-at-home parents

Why does parental burnout matter? 

Parental burnout has been linked with: 

  • Depression, addiction, and sleep problems.

  • Thoughts of running away and committing suicide.

  • Child neglect and child maltreatment.

  • High levels of job turnover intention, and a decrease in job satisfaction.

  • Conflict within the couple.

  • A reduction of the quality of life and life satisfaction of the family members. 

I think I am experiencing parental burnout. What do I do?

If you are struggling, and you suspect that you may be experiencing parental burnout, I highly recommend that you see a specialist. Our REC Parenting therapists are here to support you. You just need to get in touch with me here and we will organize the support your need.  Remember that taking care of yourself is taking care of your family.

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

The four main parenting styles: Authoritative, Authoritarian, Permissive, and Neglectful. Which one is yours?

Psychologists Baumrid, Maccoby, and Martin rated thousands of parents and children along two dimensions: warmth and demandingness. Based on those two dimensions they concluded that each parent falls into one of the four main parenting styles. Why are parenting styles important? Because they play a role in children’s development. 

Let’s have a look at them so you can decide the type of parent you are. 

Authoritative Parenting

These parents are loving, caring, and warm. They encourage trust and intimacy. They set high expectations and clear rules. Children understand those rules and what the consequences are when they break them. Parents take into consideration their children’s opinions and feelings. Children feel safe and secure because their parents are consistent and establish clear routines. 

How does authoritative parenting influence children?

Children of authoritative parents are the ones who do best. These children tend to:

  • Be well adjusted 
  • Have good social skills
  • Do well in school
  • Have high self-esteem

Hundreds of studies show that authoritative parenting can be considered the gold standard of parenting. 

Authoritarian Parenting

These parents are demanding and cold. They expect their children to do as they are told. They set strict rules, and they tend be inflexible and rigid. They do not encourage intimacy nor trust. Parents expect children to do as they are told. 

When they discipline their children, they are harsh, use punishments and may get physical. They do not explain to the child why their behaviour was wrong. 

How does Authoritarian Parenting influence children? These children are more likely to:

  • Have poor social relations
  • Have mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Do poorly at school
  • Have lower self-esteem

Permissive Parenting

These parents are warm and responsive, but they don’t expect much from their children. They provide little guidance and direction. They want to be liked by their children, so they avoid conflict.  

 They do no set clear limits. They are not consistent in their discipline.  One day they may punish their child for not making the bed and the next day, the same behaviour may go unnoticed. 

How do permissive parents influence their children? These children are:

  • More likely to have emotional and behavioural problems
  • Less likely to do well at school
  • More likely to have self-regulation issues

Neglectful Parenting (also called uninvolved parenting): 

These parents are not demanding nor responsive towards their children’s needs. They are simply not interested in their children’s lives. They don’t set expectations, nor they offer guidance, support, or supervision.  They offer shelter and food but that’s about it. 

They don’t discipline their children. 

How do neglectful parenting influence children? These children are more likely to:

  • Struggle at school
  • Lack self-regulation 
  • Use drugs and alcohol
  • Engage in delinquency and antisocial behaviour 

Children of neglectful parents are the worst off. 

Let me say something before we continue. You may have noticed that I use the words ‘tend to’ or ‘are likely’ quite a lot. This is because developmental psychology research cannot say 100% that something will happen, it can say that something is likely to happen. Let’s take the example of neglectful parenting. Studies show that children of neglectful parents are very likely to do poorly in life. Does this mean that all neglected children will do badly? No. There are neglected children who do well. We cannot categorically say that all neglected children will struggle, we can only say that neglected children are more likely to struggle. 

Let’s now answer some questions that parents often ask about this topic. 

What about other parenting styles I have heard of?

You may have heard about gentle parenting, helicopter parenting, attachment parenting, laid back parenting, reflective parenting, natural parenting, and so many others! 

The reality is that most of these parenting styles do the rounds in social media and the press but there is not much (or any) scientific research backing them. 

There is some research on intensive parenting (or helicopter parenting) suggesting that it is linked with negative outcomes for children.

Do I always have the same parenting style?

No. Your parenting style may change depending on what is happening in your life. For example, when parents are stressed maybe because they are going through a divorce or have been laid off at work, they are usually harsher with their children. So, a parent that is usually authoritative may become authoritarian. Be mindful of what is happening in your life to understand how you are behaving towards your children.

Many parents do not fit nicely into one category. They may be for example, mostly permissive with a bit of neglect. Like in everything in life, there are many shades of grey in parenting!

Do I have the same parenting style with all my children?

No. You may have different parenting styles with each of your children. This happens because parents influence their children, but children also influence their parents. Parenting is a way two-street. Imagine that you have a child that is always happy, loving, and easy. It is likely that you will be authoritative with them. Now, imagine that your other child has always been difficult, is moody, and aloof. It is likely that you will be more authoritarian with them. 

This doesn’t mean that we love one child more than the other. It means that they are different people, and we react differently to them. 

Can I change my parenting style?

Yes. Parenting styles can be changed. There are studies called ‘parenting interventions’ where parents are taught to become ‘better’ parents. I have good news: 

  •  Parents can and do change the way the parent
  • When parents become ‘better’ at parenting, their children do better 

With the right support and commitment, we can become the parent we want to be more often than not. Remember that the perfect parent doesn’t exist, and our children don’t need a perfect parent. What they need is that we get it right most of the time. 

If you want to change aspects of your parenting that you are not happy with, our REC Parenting therapists are here to support you. 

What if my partner has one parenting style and I have another?

This is a common issue but there is not a lot of research about it. The ideal situation is one where both parents (or at least one) are authoritative.

If you have two different parenting styles, remember that you and your partner want what is best for your child, even if you disagree about what the ‘best thing’ looks like. Try to find some common ground. 

Does culture influence parenting styles?

Very much so! We raise our children to fit in the society that we live in. Different societies have different values, beliefs, and traditions, so, parenting is not the same across all cultures. 

Authoritative parenting is more common in Western countries. In contrast, in collectivist countries parents tend to be more authoritarian. 

What about parenting styles for parents of neurodivergent children?

Like all children, neurodivergent children, benefit from authoritative parents. However, these parents may find more difficult to be warm and responsive towards their children because raising neurodivergent children brings its own challenges. 

It is particularly important for parents raising neurodivergent children to take care of themselves and find a support system. 

My final message?

As parents we are inundated with tips and advice. Just remember one thing: Try to be an authoritative parent as often as you can. You won’t get it always right, and that’s OK. Our children don’t need us to get it right all the time. They need us to get it right more often than not. That’s… about it. 

I hope you find this article helpful. As always, if you have any questions or comments, drop me an email.

Much love

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Typically, women receive all the attention and medical care while pregnant. But once the baby is born…. All the attention and medical care goes to the baby, leaving the new mother more or less ignored.

Indeed, a new report just published shows that only 23% of mothers said they felt very supported by their healthcare provided during the postpartum phase. 

This is a big mistake! Women need attention during the postpartum period, also known as the fourth trimester. This 12-week period after birth brings great joy, but it’s also a very vulnerable time. 

Why? Because new mothers experience so many changes: their body changes, their emotions may be overwhelming, their relationship with their partner changes, they are not “free” anymore, they may be sleep deprived, they may feel isolated…. Basically, a new mom’s whole universe shifts. New mums need support.

It’s no wonder that 1 in 5 new mums are affected by mental health issues. The most common ones are postpartum depression and anxiety. Other women experience more severe conditions such as perinatal psychosis, PTSD, and mood disorders. 

Many women do not experience any mental health issues but need support getting used to their new reality. Having a child is a deeply transformative experience. 

One common issue that new mothers experience are infant-harm related thoughts. What are these? They are thoughts of unintentionally or intentionally harming the baby. They may come in form of:

  • thoughts (e.g., “My baby might die”)

  • impulses (e.g., having the urge to shake or throw the baby”)

  • images (e.g., a mental picture of the baby’s head hitting the wall)

These thoughts are incredibly common among new mothers. It is estimated that nearly all new mothers have them! Yet, we don’t discuss them even though they make us feel horribly uncomfortable, guilty, and ashamed. 

Newborn in mothers' hands. Baby care. Mother and baby

Fathers can also have these thoughts. There is not a lot of research on this, but it is estimated that 2/3 of dads experience them. 

It is very important to note that having these thoughts does not usually mean that these mothers or fathers represent a risk to the baby. The fact that they feel horrified when having these thoughts, is a strong sign that they are not going to hurt their baby. 

However, the emotions that these thoughts provoke can be very powerful and disturbing and therefore getting support is advisable. For some people, it may be enough to discuss it with a close friend or relative. Others may need professional support. 

One of our goals at REC Parenting is to support mothers’ mental health during the fourth trimester. This is why we have a masterclass (you can also listen as a podcast) with Dr Caroline Boyd talking about infant-harm related thoughts. Caroline is a renowned clinical psychologist, and the leading expert in this field. Her masterclass is incredibly informative, empathetic, and full of applicable tips.

If you are expecting a baby or recently had a baby, I really encourage you to watch or listen to this masterclass. If you know anyone in this situation, do let them know about it. I promise that you won’t regret it.

To get access to this masterclass, you need to subscribe to REC Parenting. Your subscription will gives you access to our:

  • 1-2-1 support 

  • library of masterclasses 

  • blog and toolkits

  • special events

The good news is that to celebrate our partnership with Family Education, we are offering a 20% discount on our Crawling, Walking, and Running Plans. The discount code is: FAMILY EDUCATION.  

Come and join us! Parenting is the most important job you will ever do, why not do it from a place of research and support?

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with me: ana@recparenting.com

I would love to hear from you. And remember to submit here any questions you may have about anything parenting. We will reply to them in next week’s Q&A email. 

Love, 

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Screens and children’s mental health have been on the news a lot these past few days. Partly because of a few parent-led initiatives calling for smartphone-free childhood, and partly because of psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s new book: “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness”. There is a lot of contradictory information on this issue and at the same time it is an issue that deeply worries parents, so I thought we could dedicate this week’s blog to clearly explain what we know so far about it. 

Are smartphones to blame for children’s mental health problems?

Since the early 2010s children’s mental health has sharply declined. Data from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and other industrialized countries show how rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm are higher than in any other generation for which we have data. 

The decline in children’s mental health coincided roughly with the arrival of smartphones and so it is easy to assume that one causes the other. However, the research doesn’t paint such a clear picture: 

  • Most research finds a relation between smartphone use and children’ mental health but most of it is correlational. What does this mean? It means that a relation is found between smartphone use and children’s mental health, but we cannot assume that smartphones are the cause for children’s poor mental health. Remember: correlation doesn’t mean causation. 

  • This relationship tends to be weak.

  • Not all studies find a relation between smartphone use and children’s mental health.
Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

What other factors may be influencing the decline of children’s mental health?

  • Intensive parenting: In the last few decades, parenting has become much more labour-intensive. This way of parenting requires parents to spend a great deal of energy, money, and time on their children’s well-being. Yet, research suggests that intensive parenting is not beneficial for children. It may lead to children feeling less competent, feel more depressed and more anxious. 

  • An increasing competitive society: children and teenagers report how academic pressure is worsening their mental health. 

  • Less outdoor, unsupervised play: Children are spending less time than ever before engaging in unsupervised, outdoor play. Outdoor play is especially beneficial for children because it allows them to experience challenges, understand risk, build confidence, resilience, and independence. 

How worried should I be about how smartphones and social media will impact my child? 

There are three factors that we should consider: How children use the phone; the things children stop doing because they are using their smartphone; and who your child is.

Let’s have a look at each one of them. 

  • How children use the phone: For many years, researchers and parents have been more focused on how much children use their phones than on how they use their phones. We should really focus on how they use their phones. It is not the same if your child spends two hours chatting or playing a video game with their friends than if they spend the same two hours watching porn or engaging with content that may be harmful. 

  • What your child’s screen time is preventing them from doing: If your child is not exercising, going out with friends, spending time with their family or studying because they are with the phone, we may have a problem in our hands. As with most things in life, moderation is key. 

  • Who your child is: It is difficult to know how each child will respond to using a phone or social media. In general, we can say that children who struggle offline are more likely to struggle online. To give you an example, children who engage in more risky behaviour offline, like drinking alcohol or having sex, are more likely to engage in more risky behaviours online, like watching porn or sexting. 

We tend to focus on the dangers that being online may bring to our kids, but for many kids it may be a lifeline. Think of children who may be marginalized in their ‘real life’ because of their sexual orientation, political beliefs, or maybe for being neurodivergent. There is evidence that these children may find a community online and that can be immensely beneficial for them. 

What is the bottom line?

Smartphones and social media have risks as well as benefits. From the research available, we can’t blame the decline of children’s mental health solely on smartphone use. Doing this is too simplistic and puts a lot of fear and pressure on already pressured and scared parents.

Screen use (as long as the content is age-appropriate) is not inherently bad. Ideally, we want to find a balance where our children can use their screens, play indoors and outdoors, do their homework, and spend time with friends and relatives. Like everything in life, moderation is key. 

In summary, keep screen time in moderation and select content wisely. Be aware of your child’s ‘online life’ so you can help them to deal with the risks that it brings. Let’s be involved in our children’s lives: whether it is online or offline. 

I hope you find this information useful. As always, if you need more support, please contact your REC Parenting therapist. Email us if you have any questions or comments.

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Is anxiety always bad?

No! We are going through a period where we think that we should never feel anxious, or angry, or sad. Moreover, we want to protect our children, so they never feel anxious, angry, or sad. The problem is that by doing this we are pathologizing normal human experience. There are situations, such as when we have an exam, that feeling some degree of anxiety is good because it motivates us to revise. There is such a thing as healthy anxiety. We must not avoid feeling negative emotions because sometimes it is what we are meant to be feeling. Negative emotions are adaptive. 

Because they are growing up with this mindset, many children and teenagers assume that all anxiety is bad, so it is a good idea to have a chat with your child about what healthy and unhealthy anxiety look like. Feeling anxious when you have a test tomorrow is healthy.  However, it is true that sometimes we may experience too much anxiety.

How do we know when a child is too anxious? At what point does anxiety become unhealthy?

Anxiety appears when we worry about something that is going to happen, such as an exam, a presentation, a visit to the doctor… It is totally fine to feel some anxiety when faced with those situations. However, there are two situations that should worry us if they are happening to our child. One, your child is constantly feeling anxious even when there is no apparent reason for it. Two, when faced with a challenging situation, such as an exam, the level of anxiety that your child is experiencing is paralyzing them and they cannot function well. In both cases, it is a good idea to explore what is going on and to consider seeking professional advice. 

My child is feeling very anxious because of the exams, what can I do to support them?

  • Have a chat to make clear that they understand that anxiety is a healthy emotion and that there is nothing wrong with feeling anxious as long as they can manage it. 

  • Help your child develop a growth mindset. Often we say things like: “I am an anxious person and that’s it” and while it is true that we may have a tendency to anxiety, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything we can do to fix it. So, it is important to tell your child: “Yes you are anxious, but you can work on it. There are ways to deal with the anxiety”. On this note, have a chat about which influencers they are following on TikTok.  For some their anxiety diagnosis (or their self-proclaimed diagnosis) has become part of their identity. Your child may be imitating them even without realizing they are doing it. 

  • Consider the message you are giving when discussing exams. Research shows that children react badly when the message is focused on the potential negative outcomes. For example, when we say things like: “If you don’t work hard, you will not get into a good university”, children feel threatened, and this increases their exam anxiety. It is better to point out the benefits of hard work rather than the outcomes of failure. 

  • Create a new habit: Encourage your child to write down their emotions before each exam. I know this sounds silly but there is research showing that by doing this, children get their worrying thoughts out of their system, and they do better in the exam.

  • If your child is feeling very anxious, help them to shift their focus: encourage them to think about something else. Ideally, something that they find comforting. It might be something they like doing, a place they love, a pet, or someone they like. Encourage them to think about this, whenever they feel panicky. 

  • If your child has a moment when he is feeling very, very anxious, create a sensory experience to help them snap out of it. Give them ice cubes to hold, ask them to rub an ice cube against their face or arms, or tell them to have a cold shower. When a child does these, they get distracted from the anxious feelings and thoughts they were experiencing. 

  • Finally, the old ones: Encourage exercise, a healthy diet, enough sleep, and less screen time. I know, I know, that you have heard these a thousand times and so has your child but there is a reason why all experts keep on repeating them: They work. If your child is not impressed nor amused, why don’t you act in all or some of them, as a family? You may even create a family challenge with fun rewards. 
Close Up Of Female Pupil Taking Multiple Choice Examination Paper

These all makes sense but can you please explain why even though my child feels very anxious about his upcoming exams, he doesn’t revise! 

Sometimes when we feel anxious about something, we avoid it altogether! And we end up making it worse, which only makes our anxiety go through the roof. In the case of the exams, this may lead to procrastination, they revise less, and this increases their fear of failing and of the exam itself. 

If this is happening, your child may need some support to organize themselves. Help them to do a realistic timetable, create a revision strategy, and help them to stick with it.  

My child says that no matter how hard he tries, he will fail.  

When children have the idea that they will fail no matter how hard they try, rather than telling them that everything will be OK (because it may not), tell them that you will love them no matter what and that if things go wrong, they will be able to cope, and you will be there for them. 

Also, challenge these negative self-beliefs. Why do they think they would fail no matter what? What evidence is there? Have they always failed? When we use all-or-nothing statements such as ‘never’, ‘no one’, ‘a 100%’, ‘always’, we are referring to a fantasy, a familiar belief that needs to be challenged and changed.  Encourage them to change these beliefs with positive ones: “If I work hard, I have more chances of doing well than of failing”. 

Finally, consider that like viruses our emotions are socially transmitted

Social emotional contagion is a well-known phenomenon by which emotions spread from person to person within a peer group. Anxiety is contagious. So, if your child’s friends’ group is feeling very anxious, it is likely your child will also be anxious. This is especially relevant for teenagers, because they are very sensitive to peer influence and they find it especially hard to regulate their emotions. If your child thinks that their friends are making them feel more anxious, suggest that during the exam period, they reduce the time they spend together. You may also discuss it with their tutor to see if they are willing to do some group techniques to help deal with anxiety. 

OK, you have talked about my child’s anxiety but what about my own anxiety?

It is totally normal for you to feel anxious before the kids have their exams. Indeed, research shows that we are feeling more anxious as a society. As a parent, it is important to bear in mind that we pass on our anxiety to our kids, and this is one of the reasons why anxiety is also more common now in kids. The issue is that a lot of what we pass on to our children, we do so without even noticing. Even if we don’t explicitly tell our children how anxious we are feeling, they notice because they pick up on the way we talk, our behaviour, facial expressions and so on. If you are feeling anxious use the same techniques that we have just explained. 

One last thought. We live in a society where intensive parenting is the norm. Very often, parents rate their own level of self-worth by their kids’ academic achievement. Let’s remember that this is not the case: however incredibly, OKish, or poorly your child does in their exams, it does not define who you are as a parent or as a person. Exam results are only a snapshot of your child’s knowledge and understanding of specific topics at a certain point in time. Just that. 

I hope you find this article useful. We are running workshops on this topic across schools and companies. If you are interested in booking one, please email me at ana@recparenting.com If your school or workplace won’t do it, email me anyway and we can run it for a group of your friends (maybe with a glass of wine?). We wish your child all the best of luck in the exams! 

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

I am having my first baby in a few months. Do you recommend having a doula?

Let’s explain first what doulas do in case you are not familiar with them. A doula provides physical and emotional support before, during and shortly after childbirth. It is important to know that although most doulas have completed some training, there are no specific qualifications needed to work as a doula. It is an unregulated profession. 

Doulas are (usually) experienced mothers who have some training and experience with birth. The doula is not there to advise the family medically but to help the mother prepare for labour, during labour, and shortly after the birth. They are there to ‘mother’ the mother, to take care of the mother. 

There is a strong body of research showing that having a doula is good for the wellbeing of the mother and the baby. A recent review including 16 studies found that mothers who had a doula were less likely to have a C-section, less likely to have premature babies and more likely to have shorter deliveries. Mothers who have the support of a doula have also been found to have less anxiety and stress.  

If you decide to have a doula, it is a good idea to ask friends for recommendations. You can also ask your midwife or doctor in case they know a good doula. You will find more information about doulas and other professionals that can help you during birth in our masterclass delivered by midwife, Dee Bell.

My son will be two in September and I am considering sending him to nursery. A friend told me that sending him that young may be negative for him, and it may damage our attachment. What is the data on this?

The only consistent finding is that what matter when deciding whether and which nursery or daycare to choose is its quality. A good quality setting is one that is safe with responsive and highly engaged staff. 

In terms of attachment, do not worry.  Children can get attached to more than one person. They are usually attached to those adults with whom they usually interact. The fact that your son goes to nursery will not influence his attachment with you or other caregivers. 

We have a fantastic masterclass on how to choose the right  nursery in case you want to find our more on this topic, You can watch it here but only if you are a REC Parenting member! If you want to become part of our community, you can do it here.

I have intense feelings of guilt whenever I am not with my child. How do I deal with it?

I think that we need to change the narrative about mom guilt. Guilt implies that we have done something wrong but when we feel bad because we are at work and not with the kids, or with the kids and not at work, or at the gym and not with the kids, and on and on it goes, we haven’t done anything wrong! I think we need to talk about tension but not guilt. Tension because we have many different things that we need to tend to and sometimes we feel that we are failing at all of them. It is important to remember that there is not a right amount of time or a right number of things that you should do with the kids. You can only do what you can with the resources you have and do what feels good for your family, 

Here are three tips to deal with mom guilt: 

  • Let’s change the narrative: stop thinking about guilt and think about tension. You haven’t done anything wrong, you are simply juggling all the balls, the best you can.
  • Do not look at social media: those perfectly curated feeds of the perfect families are a lie and looking at them leads us to compare ourselves with others. Unfollow all those accounts.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people: We all have the judgy colleague, the sister-in-law that thinks you are a bad mother, and the friend who makes you feel inadequate because they seem to be super woman. Ditch them and favour spending time with people that is supportive, that understand what you are going through, who share your values. Find your tribe and spend time with them. 
  • Let go of the Super Mum Myth: This is the idea that all mothers should be constantly loving, ever-attentive and never angry. That we should be fun, patient, always interested and always available to our children. Motherhood is a very ambivalent experience. Not enjoying every single moment of parenting doesn’t make you a bad parent. 

“My three year-old daughter won’t sleep unless I leave a light on but I am worried that she won’t rest as well. Do you have any tips?”

Light can affect children’ sleep. In the evening when it’s dark we produce melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel sleepy. If children have bright light in the evening (including screens), the release of melatonin will be inhibited, so they won’t feel sleepy when it’s time to go to bed. Having a bright light on during the night also inhibits melatonin, but if they are scared of the dark it is ok to have a dim light. If possible, get the ones that are red or amber. It is not that red light improves sleep, but it doesn’t inhibit sleep and it doesn’t interfere with melatonin production. 

“My 12-year-old grinds his teeth in his sleep. Do I need to take him to the dentist?”

Teeth grinding is very common. Your child won’t be aware that he is doing it and there isn’t anything you can do to stop the habit. Remember to mention it at his next dental check. Sometimes they may grind their teeth so much that they can damage the enamel, when this happens try to reduce the amount of fizzy drinks they have, as a combination of the tooth ware and the acid can speed up the damage to the teeth. Your dentist will advise you on whether a night guard will be a good idea to protect the teeth. 

I caught my 16-year-old smoking cannabis. I am freaking out. What do I do?”

I understand why you are freaking out and I am sorry you are going through this. I know that it is easier said than done, but it is important to remain calm and come out with a plan of action. 
What does a good plan look like? You need to open up a conversation with him. First, think about practicalities, choose a time that works for you both, that you won’t be distracted and you are prepared to listen. It may be a good idea to have this conversation in a public space so there is no risk of the conversation ending up in a screaming fight. It may also be a good idea to have the conversation while you are not making direct eye contact (e.g., driving, cooking, walking) because he may feel less intimidated and it may be easier for him to open up. 
Second, you need to understand why your child is smoking pot. What is driving his behaviour? What does smoking do for him? Do they have issues going on at school or in their lives that you are not aware of? Let your child talk so you can figure out what is going on. 
Third, what do you want to achieve? Do you want your child to stop smoking pot or do you assume that he is going to do it no matter what and you want for him to do it safely? This is a very personal decision that only you can make but in any case, it is a good idea to discuss with him the risks that smoking pot entails in terms of mental health, wellbeing, and legally as well.  

It is definitely a good idea to talk to someone before you have this conversation. Our REC Parenting therapists can help you with this. Not only will they help you to decide how to approach the conversation but also they will you support to deal with your own emotions and wellbeing. 

If you are worried that the smoking goes on after the initial conversation, seek treatment for your child. Once a professional evaluates your child, they may recommend to set some boundaries and a ‘watch and wait’ approach or they may recommend treatment. We recommend that you look for a professional that specialises in teenagers because working with teenagers and adults is very different. 

You may be thinking that this all sounds great but there is no way your teenager will open up to you. Would he talk to someone else? Maybe he has a grandfather, family friend, aunt or trusted teacher that he would open up to?

However you decide to tackle this issue, as parents it is important to remember that sadly our children live in a world where they will encounter drugs and our role is to give them the tools to navigate them wisely and safely. If you want to know more about this topic, watch the masterclass by Dr Paula Corcoran. 

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Smacking children: what the research says.

The topic of whether it is OK or not to smack children is highly controversial. Some people think that it is totally unacceptable, whereas others see it as a perfectly acceptable discipline technique. So, today I want to look at the data on this topic with the aim of opening up a conversation on this highly divisive subject. Rest assured that I am not trying to shame anyone. Stick with me! 

Before we move on, let’s clarify what we mean by ‘smacking’: Hitting a child with an open hand on the buttocks, legs or arms with the intention of modifying their behaviour.

First things first: How many parents actually smack their children? 

As usual, most of the data available comes from the US.  Eighty per cent of parents in the US report smacking their children, although this number is in decline. Nearly 1/3 of parents in the US who report spanking their child, do so every week. Around the world it is estimated that 63% of children aged 2-4 (this is 250 million children) experience corporal punishment on a regular basis. 

When asked about attitudes towards smacking a You Gov poll conducted in the UK in 2022 showed that of 3,000 adults asked, 68% said that physically disciplining a child is not acceptable and 64% backed that England should illegalize it.  As you can tell, attitudes are still pretty divided. 

Why do parents smack their children? 

Many parents still think of smacking as a useful parenting tool, maybe that is how they were raised, and they don’t know any other way to discipline their children. Other parents use the argument of I was hit as a child and I’m fine!” (sounds familiar?).   Child therapist Justin Coulson wrote a great piece in the New York Times where he outlined the errors of this argument. To me the most compelling is that when we use this argument, we are supporting it on our experience alone and ignoring everyone else’s experience. It is similar to saying “I got totally wasted last night, walked half-naked around the city, and I am fine!” Do we think it is safe or wise to get wasted and walk around half-naked? Would you recommend it to others? Just because I was not negatively affected (as far as I can tell), it doesn’t mean that it will be fine for everyone else.  Also, how do we determine being “fine”? We are in a relationship? We have a job? Just because we cannot recognize the harm in something does not mean harm is not present. 

Andre Hunter via Unsplash

OK, so what does the research say? How bad is it really to smack a child?

There are over five decades of research on this topic with over 160,000 children. The bottom line is this: there is not ONE SINGLE study that has found that smacking children is good for them. Most studies find that smacking is negative for children and a few studies found no negative consequences for children. So, at worst smacking has negative effects and at best it has no effects but what is clear is that it does not have any positive effects. 

The negative effects found on children who are smacked are quite a few:  they are more likely to be aggressive, develop behaviour problems (e.g., bullying), show mental health problems (e.g., depression), get on worse with their parents, are more rebellious, and have a higher risk of being physically injured and of being abused. 

Yes, but… Do all researchers agree with the summary you have just given? 

Most researchers in this field agree with what I have just explained, but a very small minority are not that convinced. Why? The truth is that examining smacking is not that easy. The best way to examine the effects of any parenting behaviour on children’s development is to do experimental studies. How would this look in the case of smacking? We would take two groups of parents and children: over a period of time, one group will smack their children and the other one will not. We would then measure children’s outcomes. As you have guessed, this kind of experimental research is totally unethical and it’s never going to happen (thankfully). Therefore, we need to rely on correlational and intervention studies that use observations and parents’ and children’s reports. 

Critics also say that smacking has been analysed together with more extreme types of physical punishment (e.g., kicking or hitting) and that it is very different to smack a child than to kick them or seriously hurt them. It is true that early researchers did analyse together many different forms of physical punishment but more recent research has analysed smacking on its own, and the findings still stand: Smacking is bad for children although not as bad as other more severe types of physical punishment.

This type of research is not perfect, but it is the best we have. And when decades of research with a sizable number of parents and children consistently show that it is bad to smack children, we can say pretty confidently that we should not smack children. 

I buy your argument but sometimes it seems that smacking is the only way my children will listen. If I don’t smack, how do I discipline my children?

The aim of discipline is to make our children understand why what they did was bad. Smacking our child does not achieve this, instead we are scaring our children. When we smack our children, they may stop doing what they are doing but not because they understand that what they are doing is wrong but because they are afraid of us, and they want us to stop. 

Rather than smacking your children, try explaining why their behaviour was wrong. And be consistent, try to explain it every time they behave that way. After many repetitions, they will get the message. Punish your children but try using “connected consequences”. What does this mean? If the rule in your house is that your child has to place the dirty clothes in the hamper but instead they leave them on the bathroom floor, rather than telling them that they cannot play video games for a month, use a connected consequence. Tell them that clothes that are not in the hamper, will not be washed and therefore they won’t have clothes to play sports or go out with their friends. By doing this, they are getting a negative consequence for their actions and at the same time you are directly addressing the issue. 

Finally, remember that when we smack a child it is usually because we have lost our patience. So, if we want to use better discipline techniques, we need to work on ourselves. Learn what your triggers are and the techniques we can use to stop us from losing our patience. Remember that feeling anger towards our children is not a problem, what may be a problem is what we do with this anger. If you feel that you lose your temper more often that you would like, do get in touch with your REC Parenting therapist, this is definitely something they can help you with. Does this mean that we will always get it right? No, we are human, and we will lose it sometimes, the important thing is that we get it right more often than not. 

We hope that you have this information useful. Do get in touch at hello@recparenting.com if you have any questions or comments. 

Much love, 

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

I have been meaning to write about sharenting for a while because it has become more relevant over the past few years. It will continue to do so as we live more and more of our lives online. 

Sharenting refers to the practice of a parent to regularly use social media to communicate detailed information about their child on social networks like Instagram, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and WhatsApp.  This can include photos, videos, personal stories, and other updates about the child’s life. The term ‘sharenting’ was coined by Wall Street Journal writer Steven Leckart in the early 2010s. It was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2022. 

Let me give you some figures to understand how prevalent sharenting is:

  • According to the UK communications regulator, 56% of parents have shared information online about their children. Half say they share photos of their children at least once a month. It takes just 57.9 minutes after birth for parents to share their newborn’s first photo. 
  • Parents share an average of 300 pictures of their child online every year. The average parent will post 1,500 pictures of their child online before the age of 5. 
  • 80% of children have an online presence by the age of two but in many cases the sharing starts even before the baby is born with expectant parents sharing images of their unborn children (AVG Technologies, 2010). 

Parents share information online about their children with good intentions. They mostly want to keep their family and friends well informed while others report using social media as memory storage. Unfortunately, sharenting has a dark side that parents should be aware of.

These are the main points that you should consider before sharing information online about your child: 

Your child has a right to privacy. What content are you sharing? Sharing embarrassing, traumatic, or intimate information about your child may mean that you are breaching your child’s right to privacy. Your child may still be little but they will grow pretty quickly, and they may be shocked and resent you for having shared intimate information about them. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that 56% of parents shared (potentially) embarrassing information about their children online. 

Have you heard about digital kidnapping or baby role-play? It is when strangers steal images of your baby or child, give them a new name, and claim them as their own. They create fake families and storylines. Some of these fake accounts are run by teenagers and tend to be quite harmless. However other accounts use them to create sexual or abusive storylines. Instagram’s policy is to remove those accounts as soon as they know about them, but it is still happening.

Be careful about online child predators. Any photo that you post of your child may be manipulated and end up on paedophile websites. Even the ones you think are very ‘innocent’. Think that not everyone is looking at a picture of your child through the same lens. According to the FBI, there are 500,000 online predators active each day and they all have multiple profiles. It is estimated that police forces find thousands of indecent images of children online every day. Your child could also fall victim of ‘sextortion’: predators manipulate photos, for example, making a photo of a child in a bathing suit appear nude. The predator then shows the photo to the child threatening to release it, if the child doesn’t send them more photos of graphic nature or give them money.

You are affecting your child’s digital identity. Your child may not be able to erase the information you have posted about them. Consider that any content you post online no longer belongs to you. That information is no longer confidential and can be used by anyone. It has the potential to be accessible forever. Whatever you disclose about your child online will follow them into adulthood and they may not be able to delete it even if they want to. This information may influence how others perceive your child and affect their future employment prospects or their social standing. Essentially, you are not allowing your child to narrate their life as they want. 

Sharenting may affect your child’s current and future sense of self and well-being. There is not a lot of research about this but posting content that is humiliating or embarrassing for your kids may be negative for their self-esteem and self-image. Some psychologists and educators are even considering it a form of child abuse, especially in the case of influencers who use their kids as content on social media. Part of growing up, is to understand that there are aspects of our lives that are private and others that are OK to share with others. When parents share a lot of intimate details about their child, that child’s perception of boundaries can become blurred. Growing up thinking that nothing is private may have negative consequences for your child.

 

Consider the effect that sharing private information could have on the relationship with your child. Will your child trust you if they think you may share whatever they tell you? This is what happened to Gwyneth Paltrow when her then fourteen-year-old daughter publicly criticized her for oversharing. 

Adem Ay via Unsplash

Here are ten tips to consider before posting about your kid:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the Privacy Policies of the sites where you share. For example, Facebook and Instagram reserve the right to use your photos. Always use the strictest privacy setting the platform allows.

  2. Set up notifications to alert you when your kids’ names appear in a Google search result.

  3. Curate your follower list. Ideally, you should only allow people you know and trust.

  4. If you are going to share, consider doing it anonymously.

  5. Be mindful when sharing your child’s location and ideally don’t do it. When you share their location, the risk of your child being targeted by online predators increases. 

  6. Once your child is old enough, allow them to veto and have a say in what you can and cannot post.

  7. Do not share pictures showing your child in any state of undress, with their mouths open, in their underwear or a swimsuit. Do not post photos of your child in a suggestive position, even if you think it’s cute or funny. 

  8. Consider that anything you share has the potential to go viral and affect your child and your whole family. 

  9. Be careful when posting pictures or information about other children. It may be considered a violation of their privacy unless you ask their parents for permission. 

  10. Always pause and think before you post. Ask yourself whether you would share that information with a random stranger, whether your child would be OK with it when they read it in years to come, if you are protecting their privacy, and whether it can be used by predators. 

I hope you have found this article useful. Let me finish by saying that the aim of this article is not to make you feel bad in case you usually share information about your kids. My only aim is to give you the latest research on this topic so that if you decide to post pictures of your child online, you do it safely. 

If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch at ana@recparenting.com

Much love, 

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

A very common question that parents ask is how bad divorce really is for their kids and whether it would be better to stay together for their sake. Let’s explain what the research says on this topic so that you feel more confident if faced with this situation. 

  • How bad is divorce for children?

In general, research finds that children of divorced parents are more likely to experience short- and long-term problems than children who don’t experience divorce. Some of these problems include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and poor social relationships. Children of divorce are also more likely to experience a decline in their academic achievement and are at higher risk of dropping out of school, engaging in delinquent behaviours, using drugs, and ending up getting divorced themselves.

However, if you are divorced or are about to get divorced, please do not freak out! Yes, children of divorce are more likely to experience some of these issues, but the reality is that the differences between children of divorce and children whose parents are together are very small. It is estimated that only around 10% of adults with divorced parents are negatively affected by the divorce. Most children of divorce do not suffer significant issues.  

  • Why do some children cope better with divorce than others?

There are a variety of factors, such as children’s personality, age, the family situation prior to the divorce, and how the divorce is handled that influence how children cope with divorce. 

If we consider personality, some children may experience negative effects for a short period of time, for others those negative effects may last longer, whereas other children are more resilient and do not struggle much. 

Children’s age also matters when considering the effects of divorce. Younger children may not grasp what is happening. Some of them may experience separation anxiety when going between one parent and the other. Others may show regressive behaviours and go back to wetting the bed, throwing tantrums, or sucking their thumbs. Tweens and teens are more likely to understand what is happening but may have difficulties regulating the strong emotions that the news of the divorce and adjusting to a new routine will likely bring. 

The level of conflict within the family prior to the divorce is a factor that seems to be highly influential in determining how children will be affected by divorce. For children living in high-conflict families, divorce may not be negative but it may even be positive. For these children, divorce may come as a relief. In contrast, divorce for children living in low-conflict families tends to be more negative because children may perceive that they have lost the benefits of a stable family structure. 

The factor that seems to be more important in determining how children cope with divorce is how parents manage the divorce process. 

  • The way parents manage the divorce is more important than the actual divorce. 

For many years it was believed that divorce itself had a very negative effect on children, but more developed and nuanced research methods show that the biggest impact on children is not the divorce itself but how it is handled. 

Indeed, the children that usually do better when their parents divorce, are those whose parents do not have a conflictual relationship. 

So, if you are divorced or in the process of being divorced, rest assured: The experience of divorce doesn’t automatically mean that children will struggle. What makes the biggest difference is how you handle the divorce. This leads us to the very important question of what parents can do to support their children to cope with divorce.

cdc via Unsplash
  • How to support my child through a divorce process 
    • Start by having a conversation with your child explaining that you are getting a divorce, the reasons why (in an age-appropriate way), and what will happen next. Ideally both parents should be present in this conversation. Children are concrete thinkers, so try to explain the future living arrangements in detail, doing so will give them some sense of security. Always allow your child to ask questions and make it clear that the divorce is not the child’s fault, that both of you love them and will always love them. Reiterate that you are still a family even ift from now on, life will be different. 

    • Try to keep the routine as stable as possible. Children need to feel safe and secure to be able to thrive. This is most likely to happen if they don’t have to worry about who is picking them up at school or where they are spending the night. 

    • Be consistent with your limits and boundaries. Sometimes when our children are going through a rough patch, we overcompensate by being too permissive or too lenient. Always remember that children need clear limits and boundaries. 

    • Research clearly shows that children do better if both parents communicate and cooperate with one another. Keep a united front. You are not together but you should try to remain a team for your child. Your child is likely to do better if both parents stick to the same rules and routines. 

    • Children do better when they keep regular contact with both parents. Indeed, research shows that children in joint physical or legal custody tend to do better than children in sole-custody settings. Children who lose contact with one parent are more likely to experience depression, low self-esteem, anger, and distress. However, in cases where one parent is abusive, neglectful, suffers from serious mental health or adjustment difficulties, limited contact may be recommended. 

    • Be respectful towards your ex-partner. Refer to them in a nice way and try to appreciate their good points. This may sound difficult (especially at the beginning) but consider it from your child’s point of view: They see themselves as being a part of each one of you, so if you are constantly trashing their other parent, think how this will make them feel about themselves.  

    • It is very likely that during the divorce process, your stress levels will rise, and the quality of your parenting will decline. When faced with this situation, parents tend to either become harsher with their children or they may become more permissive. Try to be mindful of how you are coping and how this may be influencing your children. The better you cope, the better your children are likely to cope. Be mindful also if you are engaging in negative coping mechanisms, such as drinking too much. Seek professional advice if you struggle and lean on your support system.  

    • Finally, consider that it is impossible to shield your child from the pain that divorce will bring. The important thing is to show them that you are there for them in this process. That you walk the walk with them. Be there for them, listen to them, and make them feel heard. 
  • Give me the take-home message, please!

As it often happens in psychology, the question of whether divorce is good or bad is not a simple one. Yes, all children would prefer that their parents stay together but the reality is that divorce is part of human relationships. Research tells us that rather than focusing on whether divorce itself is good or bad, we need to focus on how we handle the divorce process so we make it as conflict-free as possible so that our children struggle as little as possible. Although some children may do worse after a divorce, this decline tends to be small and short-lived. In contrast, for children living in very conflictive families, divorce may even be beneficial. Remember that it’s not the family structure that matters, what matters is how the family members get on. The aim is that however your family looks like, your child feels safe and loved in a stable environment. 

I hope you have find this article useful. As always, please send us comments and questions to ana@recparenting.com It is always great hearing from you! 

Much love, 

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

You had your baby, you got into the breastfeeding swing, you have the routine mastered (or almost!) and before you know it, it’s time to go back to work. If you decide to keep on breastfeeding (no judgement here, whatever you decide is great), there are quite a few things for you to consider and to discuss with your employer. Don’t forget that to make breastfeeding at work a success, there needs to be communication and commitment between your employer, your line manager, and yourself (if your baby cooperates it will be a big bonus!). Let’s explore actions that all three parties involved should consider taking.

The employer should:

  • Create an environment that supports working parents. Send a clear message that senior leadership supports breast-feeding employees. 
  • Issue a written lactation policy.
  • Offer a break allowance for mothers to express milk or feed their baby. 
  • Offer flexible working hours for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Offer a warm, clean, and private room for expressing (not a toilet, please!) and a fridge (a separate one, if possible) to store the milk.
  • Offer training to line managers so they know how to deal with this issue.
  • Hire a lactation consultant to give extra support to employees, whenever feasible. 

The line manager should: 

  • Have a conversation early on with the working parent so they know what to expect when she comes back and necessary arrangements can be made (e.g., flexible working, arranging breaks…). Do not assume that the employee will breastfeed (or not). 
  • Check-in every once in a while, to see how things are going.
  • Be supportive and empathetic. Staff may feel self-conscious discussing this issue.

The working parent should:

  • Think early about what they want to do regarding breastfeeding (or not) and discuss it with the line manager or HR. 
  • Ask colleagues who have been in the same situation for advice.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Balancing work and breastfeeding can feel like a real struggle, don’t feel bad if things don’t go as planned, and remember that you are doing the best you can. Try to eat well and get some rest (easier said than done, we know) because working and breastfeeding can be really tiring, especially during the first weeks. 
  • Consider the logistics: Practice giving your baby expressed milk before you start working again so they get used to it, try to build an ‘expressed milk bank’, and decide how you will store and transport the milk safely. 
  • Ask for help when you need it, don’t struggle in silence!

Some employers must be thinking, why should I support breastfeeding mothers in my workforce? Why is it my concern? 

Dave Clubb via Unsplash

Employers should support working breastfeeding mothers because:

  • It is an excellent way of retaining and attracting talent. Remember that 1 in 4 working new mothers do not return to work. According to The Telegraph losing staff costs British business approximately £4 billion each year. 
  • Being family friendly also extends to your customers. 83% of millennials only want to deal with companies that share their values.
  • It reduces absenteeism. Breastfeeding has positive health effects (e.g., lower chances of developing some types of cancer) and for babies (e.g., protects them against infections). 
  • It improves your employees’ work-life balance. Make their life easier! 

To support mums who are considering breastfeeding or who are currently breastfeeding, we have a new masterclass by Dee Bell RM, IBCLC, Specialist Tongue-tie Practitioner and founder of the Infant Feeding Academy. You can watch it here. It provides all the information needed about breastfeeding positions, foods to have or not to have, sore nipples, or expressing milk manually. 

If you are an employer who would like to improve the support you offer to your working parents or an employee who would like their employer to get better at it, email me to have a chat! As always, we are here to support you, whatever the issues are. 

Regards,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Did you yell at your kids over the holidays? Who didn’t??? If you are one of those parents (I am with you), you may feel awful reading recent news headlines such as: ‘Adults shouting at children can be as harmful to a child’s development as sexual or physical abuse” (CNN);  ‘Shouting at children may be as damaging as physical or sexual abuse’ (The Guardian). These headlines are two examples of many articles that came out recently based on a new study considering verbal abuse a form of child abuse. 

Let me be clear: I totally think that verbal abuse is a form of child abuse. But what I don’t agree with is with those headlines. In my opinion, this is an example of scientific research being misinterpreted and parenting advice missing important nuance, not only failing to help parents but provoking parental shame and guilt. What this study really found is that HOW we speak to our children matters. The tone of voice we use is important but WHAT we say is more important. There is a big difference between occasionally yelling at your child: “BRUSH YOUR TEETH, NOW!!!” and “YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT!!!”. Not all yelling is equally negative. There is no scientific evidence supporting that occasional yelling is negative for children. 

Am I advocating that it’s good to yell at our children? Not at all, it is clearly much better to talk to our children in a calm manner. But let’s be honest: who hasn’t yelled at their kids? Unless you have nerves of steel, it is almost impossible to raise a kid without at least yelling occasionally at them. So, let’s be realistic and instead of aiming to never yell, let’s try to do it as rarely as we can, and when we do it, not to say things that we will regret. 

Let’s consider some relevant aspects of yelling. 

The content of the yelling is more important than the volume. Yelling is always wrong when we insult, belittle, demean, degrade, shame, ridicule, threaten or name-call our child. We should never use our words to cause distress to our child, no matter the volume of our voice. 

Frequency matters. If the family’s ‘normal’ is yelling, chances are that the household is probably not a warm and caring environment. There are families when parents are ‘always yelling’. If this is your case, it would be a good idea to address this issue.  

Watch your child. If your child looks scared when you yell at him, you need to stop. You never want to scare your child. When that happens, your child cannot really process what you are saying, and it is negative for their development. 

Why may yelling be negative for our children?

Children are predisposed to believe the important adults in their life. So, when we say things to our child such as “you can’t do anything right”, “you’re useless”, or “you’re stupid”, they are likely to believe us and to internalize those messages. A recent survey in the UK found that children aged 11-17 considered these three messages the most upsetting they hear from their parents and carers. Worryingly, 51% of children reported hearing at least one of these messages weekly and 1 in 10 said they heard such messages daily. Children who are treated this way have more chances to experience low self-esteem, and are at higher risk of experiencing anxiety, depression and substance and alcohol abuse. 

Julien L via Unsplash

Why do we yell? 

Often yelling is not a discipline strategy but an emotional response. We feel overwhelmed, frustrated, impatient, tired and we may end up saying things that we regret. 

To stop yelling it is important to know your triggers. It could be a messy room (definitely mine), having said the same thing over and over, being slow at getting ready, not listening, or picky eating. 

Your yelling might also be influenced by how you were raised. Was yelling the norm for your parents? If that is the case, think how it made you feel and consider whether you want it to be the norm for you children. 

So, if you never yell at your children: amazing! But as a parent and a psychologist I would say that it is almost impossible to never yell at your child. It will happen. The important thing is that it doesn’t become the norm. Let’s try not to, but if on occasions we do yell, let’s not blame ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we are bad parents, and it won’t harm your child irreparably and forever. And remember, you can apologize to your child. Saying “I am sorry, I’m very stressed tonight and I lost my temper” goes a long way. 

If you want to learn more about this topic, watch the recording of a webinar we held in early 2024. Note that you have to be a REC Parenting member to access it. Join our community now!

I hope you have found this article useful. As always, do get in touch at hello@recparenting.com if you have any queries or comments. And remember that our parenting experts are available to support you. 

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Believing in Santa is a great part of being a child. It brings families together and so much excitement, fun, and enjoyment to children (and many adults). 

However, in the past few years some psychologists have voiced their concerns against Santa. Why? They don’t have anything personal against him but they are against parents lying to their children because they believe that it may create mistrust between parents and children.

What is my take? This is it: “Oh come on!!!!!!!!!!!” Can’t we allow our children to be kids, and let them believe for a while in a world where everything is possible? I am all for honesty but isn’t this taking it too far? 

Let’s have a look at the research on this topic (which you hopefully will trust more than my opinion).

Will telling my child that Santa exists bring mistrust to our relationship?

NO. There is no evidence supporting that belief and later disbelief in Santa will create any mistrust between you and your child.  

Is it negative for children to believe in Santa?

NO. Magical thinking is part of children’s development specially between the ages of 5 and 8. During these ages, many children have an imaginary friend and believe in monsters and flying carpets. They believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy (in Spain instead of the Tooth Fairy we have a mouse called Perez- go figure!). Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy is part of childhood. 

Ilona Frey via Unsplash

Children don’t believe everything they are told or see. Why do they believe in Santa?

There are many reasons for this. First, they really want to believe! It is wonderful!

Second, everyone around them (including their parents who they trust the most) tell them that he is real and even more they leave evidence around the house to support the story. And contrary to what one may believe, the more men dressed as Santa children see, the more they believe he is real.

What’s the typical age for children to find out the (sad) truth?

Most research shows that around age 8, children start to figure out that the story of Santa doesn’t add up. Most children come to this conclusion on their own when they realize that the story is physically impossible (“So Santa is coming through the chimney with the reindeers?”).

How do children react?

There is no evidence to support that finding out the truth causes any distress or that children will mistrust their parents. And even when it comes as a disappointment, it does not last long. Even more, a recent study shows that some children report feeling relieved once they know the truth and others felt pride to be in the ‘inner circle’ of those in the know. 

Is it better to tell children the truth or to let them be?

Importantly, children report feeling better when they managed to find the truth by themselves. So, even if you think your child is too old not to know the truth, let them be! 

Sometimes your child may know but they choose not to tell you because they want to keep the magic going or because they think you will be sad once you know they know. 

By the time your child comes to you to discuss it, they usually have given it plenty of thought and are ready to face reality. With Santa (as with everything else), follow your child’s lead. Use their questions to assess where to take the conversation and what they are ready to discuss and understand. 

One important thing to tell them once they find out is not to spoil the fun for other kids: “Once you know, your job is to keep the magic going for other kids”

And from REC Parenting that is what we wish for your family this Christmas: a very magical time for you all. You can get in touch with us at: hello@recparenting.com

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Being a parent carries a lot of mental load: “I must remember to make an appointment at the dentist for Joe”“Mel needs to wear red socks to school tomorrow”, “It is Sophie’s birthday next week, I need to organize the balloons”, “ I need to leave work early on Thursday because it is Peter’s parents’ evening” and on and on it goes. The to-do list is never ending! This is the mental load of being a parent. It is described as the thinking, planning, scheduling, and organizing of family members, and the emotional labour associated with this work. 

I am talking about the mental load of parents but to be fair, in most households this mental load is carried by mothers. It is not me saying this (don’t shoot the messenger), research shows that even when women work similar hours and earn the same or even more than their male partners, they still have a second shift taking care of the house and the children. Because usually when fathers help, they are doing just that: Helping. The woman is still the one that needs to keep all the balls in the air and ask for help. 

I don’t want to sound like the grinch, but the reality is that during Christmas our mental load increases. And depending on how ‘seriously’ you take Christmas it can increase by a lot! Decorations, visiting family (and negotiating family politics and dynamics), organizing (and cooking) meals (considering dietary requirements of half the family), present-buying (don’t forget the wrapping), attending school nativities (for which you have hand-made the perfect shepherd’s costume all on your own and from scratch), organizing Christmassy plans, card-writing, and volunteering at the school’s Christmas fair … And you must do all these while juggling work, taking care of the kids (while they are on holidays), and don’t forget to enjoy yourself and be utterly happy and charming! For many families, financial issues can be an extra concern. It can be a lot, right?

If this is how you feel every single Christmas, my proposal to you for this year is to stop and think about your priorities. It is great that you want to create a special holiday for everyone around you, but you also need to enjoy yourself and if possible, get some rest. How do we do this?

  • Learn to say NO. And say no without feeling guilty or bad. If you are asked to take things on that you simply don’t have the time for or don’t want to do, say so. Learning to say no is a skill that we all need to develop. The more you say it, the better you become at it!
  • Think what is important for you and what is not. Ditch things that are not important. In my case, I totally refuse to write Christmas cards. Have never done it. I don’t want to spend hours on end writing, sticking, asking for addresses … 
  • Share the load with the rest of the family. And I mean sharing the load, not just simply asking them to help. Delegate tasks to other members of the family. However, this means that if you don’t like how they do it, you need to keep quiet!
  • Stay away from social media. If you are feeling stressed those impeccably curated images of Christmas perfection will only make you feel worse. They are part of what makes us feel overwhelmed in the first place. 
  • Finally, the most important one: your children don’t need the perfect Christmas organized by the perfect but tired and stressed mum. Your children want to spend time with you, they want to laugh and play and chat. They don’t care if the decorations are absolutely perfect or how many Christmas cards you wrote. They won’t remember that. They will remember the good times they had with you during Christmas and that you made them feel loved and special. That is the meaning of Christmas. 

Whatever you are doing over Christmas, we wish you and your family a wonderful time. At REC Parenting we will be here to support you, should you need it. You can always get in touch with us at hello@recparenting.com

Much love, 

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

All families face struggles, but families formed through adoption often face challenges of their own. In this article we are going to focus on children who are adopted and some common struggles they may face. 

Adoption is a lifelong journey. All adopted children will think at some point about their birth parents: “Why did they give me up for adoption?”, “What kind of people were they?”, “Would I have been happier with them?”, and “Do I have siblings?” are frequent questions. However, it is important that we do not generalise and think that all adopted children are the same. Some may have hardly any issues whereas others may find it more difficult. Adoption issues can affect adoptees at any age and at any point in their lives. It depends on their circumstances before adoption, their genetics, the age of adoption, the circumstances of their adoptive family… However, it is important to remember that all adopted children have experienced trauma or at least serious challenges, and these won’t go away just by being adopted.

Here are some common issues faced by adopted children: 

  1. Loss: Whatever the reason explaining why a child ends up being adopted, that child has been separated from their birth parents. Some children may have lived with many foster families and so have lost multiple families. 
  2. Rejection: Adopted children may feel rejected by their birth parents as they did not want them or could not take care of them. 
  3. Guilt or shame: Some children may feel that there is something wrong with them that explains why their birth parents didn’t keep them. 
  4. Grief: Adopted children may grieve over their lost parents and family.
  5. Identity and Self-esteem: We all develop a narrative of our life. We start to create our narrative based on the stories that our carers tell us (e.g., the story of your birth, your first day of school…). As we grow up, we continue developing our personal narrative adding our own experiences. Adopted children may have issues developing an identity because they are likely to have gaps in their narrative that they cannot fill. Questions about identity are particularly important during adolescence.
  6. Intimacy: Adopted children may find difficult to establish intimate relationships with family members, especially if they have lived with a few different families or if they have been victim of abuse.
  7. Mastery and control: Depending on the age of the adoption and on the circumstances leading to it, some children may feel that they have lost all control over their lives. 

Here are seven tips to deal with these issues for parents of adopted children:

Be honest and open

Adopted children may have identity issues, so it is very important that you help them create a solid identity and personal narrative. Make adoption a normal topic of conversation. If they have questions that you don’t have the answers to, just say so. When possible, have as much information about their birth family as you can. Don’t lie to your child about the fact that they are adopted or the circumstances of the adoption. Amanda Baden who has been examining adoption for 25 years, published a study a few years ago suggesting that it is best to disclose the information before the child is three. Baden found that those children who could remember being told (aged 3 and older) reported higher levels of distress than those children who did not remember ever having ‘the conversation’. One of the hardest things about being told later in life is realising that everyone else (grandparents, uncles, friends) knew the truth and didn’t tell you. 

Some people may argue that it is best to wait until the child is old enough so they can really understand the ins and outs of the adoption process, but the reality is that we talk all the time with young children about things they cannot fully understand (e.g., space, the extinction of the dinosaurs). When they are little, they understand the basics of the adoption and as they grow, they will understand it fully, while knowing all the way that they were never lied to. If you lie to your child and they find out, say when they are 14, they will have to rebuild their own identity, which will damage their self-esteem and their relationship with you. If they find out that you lied to them about something so important, they will find it difficult to trust you again and they will question everything they have ever been told. 

Consider keeping in touch with the birth family

A growing body of research shows that having some contact with the birth family can help children deal with the feelings of loss and grief associated with leaving them, as well as to develop their sense of identity. In addition, being in touch may help your child access important medical information, have more supportive adults in their lives, understand their cultural and ethnic heritage, and relate to the birth family as real people rather than denigrating or idealising them. Of course, each family is different, and you need to consider what works best for your child. This can range from talking about their birth parents to spending time with them. 

Provide a loving home with a consistent routine and positive discipline

Research shows that all children do better in warm, affectionate, and stable households. This does not mean being lax or not having rules. The idea is to be very loving and caring but at the same time establishing clear limits. This will provide the child with a sense of safety. 

Having a consistent routine is key for all children but even more for adopted children who have often experienced unstable and unsafe environments. Depending on the child’s age, they may have experienced a loss of control, so allowing them to make some decisions (e.g., which extracurricular activities to take, how to decorate their bedroom) will help them to build confidence and gain some sense of control. 

Being too punitive in how you discipline your child may not be a good idea because it may deepen their low self-esteem. Instead, try to use praise (e.g., ‘You have tidied up so well!”) and rewards (e.g., “If you have a bath now, you can watch some tv later”) rather than punishments. 

Photo credit: MT Elgassier on Unsplash

Work hand-in-hand with your child’s school

Children spend around 15,000 hours at school, so it is so very important that your school knows the circumstances of your child otherwise they won’t be able to support them effectively. Adopted children are more likely to experience school exclusions and leave school with lower-than-average educational attainment. However, provided children are well supported by their adoptive families and their schools, there is no reason why they cannot thrive academically. It is important that school staff undergo specific training, so they can support adopted children effectively.

Be careful with praise and avoid comparing your child to others

Some adopted children have low self-esteem and a deep sense of shame. If your praise is too exaggerated (e.g., “You are the cleverest boy ever!”), they may not believe you. Further, it is always better to praise their behaviours (e.g., “Look at how much effort you put in that test, you got an A!”) rather than their personality (e.g., “You got an A, how clever are you!”). In addition, try not to compare your child with their biological siblings or other family members as it can make them feel out of place. 

Focus on your child’s mental health

Adopted children are more likely to experience significant emotional, social, and mental health difficulties than children who are not adopted. Most adopted children have experienced trauma, and they need time and support to work on it. Early negative experiences such as neglect and abuse alter the child’s brain structure and functioning, as well as the systems that deal with responses to stress. You can help your child by providing them with a stable and predictable environment both at home and school, so they start seeing the world as a safe place. Some children may need professional support at some points in their life. 

Know what support is available to you

Some families may need a lot of support whereas others need little. Or they may need different support at particular life stages. Whatever your case, it is good to know what support is available out there in case you need it. Services like one-to-one support, mental health services, support groups, parenting classes, and mentoring can be helpful. 

We hope you find this article useful. If you have any questions or would like to suggest topics for us to write about, please email us at hello@recparenting.com

If you need one-to-one support, do not forget to contact your REC Parenting therapist. They are waiting for you!

Much love, 

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

With the start of the academic year, new friendships are formed, others are left behind, social groups reshuffle and sadly, bullying may happen. Because let’s be honest, bullying happens in most schools. I am very weary when schools say that it doesn’t happen in their establishments. It does happen, the important thing is how the school community tackles it. 

What is bullying?

Bullying happens when a child hurts another on purpose. The bully has more power than the victim, they may be stronger, bigger, or more popular.

Bullying is not a one-off quarrel. It happens repeatedly over a period of time. It is more frequent between the ages of 10-13 but it can happen at any age. 

Types of bullying

  • Emotional: Socially isolating the child, calling them names, laughing at them… 

  • Physical: Kicking, punching the child, damaging their property…

  • Cyberbullying: It is a form of emotional bulling using electronic devices. The issue with cyberbullying is that the victim cannot escape their attackers. They get no rest from the bullying. Not even when they are home and are meant to be safe. 

Who is at risk of being bullied? 

Everyone is at risk, but the reality is that some children are more likely to be bullied than others. Children that are perceived to be different in any way, for example, because they are new to the school, are from a different country or a different religion are more likely to be bullied. Children with low self-esteem, those with disabilities or special needs are also at a higher risk. In general, children who are thought to be “weaker” or “different” are more likely to be bullied. 

How to know if my child is being bullied?

  • A sudden loss of confidence, the child becoming very withdrawn, moody, aggressive, throwing tantrums, being angry

  • School achievement falling

  • Not wanting to go to school: Finding excuses in the morning, complaining of feeling unwell in the morning

  • Coming back home without their materials or broken materials

  • Saying that they did not have lunch because maybe the bully took their lunch or took their lunch money

  • Having bruises or cuts 

What to do if my child is being bullied?

  • Explain what bullying is and focus on behaviour rather than labelling other children (“They are mean”) or your child (“You are weak”).

  • Make it very clear that it is not their fault in any way. 

  • Reassure your child that action can be taken.

  • Encourage them to be assertive. This doesn’t mean that they must be aggressive but calm and firm about their feelings. Practice role play at home so that when they face the bully, they have the tools to respond to them.  

  • NEVER tell your child to sort it out by hitting the bully back. It rarely works and it can get your child into deeper trouble. 

  • Explore ways to extend their friendship groups, for example by joining new clubs.

  • Encourage activities that encourage self-esteem such as drama or sports.

  • Explore ways with them to approach the school even if they don’t want to. You can maybe propose that you talk together with their favourite teacher. 

  • DO NOT dismiss it as banter. If your child comes to you because they are being hurt or threatened, try not to say things like “Oh toughen up, it is just a bit of banter” or “Don’t be overdramatic, that has always happened and here we are”. Bullying can have dramatic consequences especially when the victim thinks there is no way out. 

  • Keep a bullying diary in case you need it in the future.

Why do some children bully others?

The answer to this question is a rather complicated one. There is not one simple factor that explains a child becoming a bully. Bullying behaviour is influenced by a wide range of home, individual, school, neighbourhood, and societal factors. 

Children bully others to gain status in their peer group. They seek out approval from their peers by being tough, cruel and powerful or by gaining reputation. Bullies often lack empathy, and their need to belong to the group overrides any other feelings they may experience.

It is important to remember that bullies themselves tend not to do well across many aspects of life. They tend to have problems at school, and show high levels of aggression, depression, and anxiety. They also have difficulties managing their emotions, particularly their anger. 

Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

What if my child is the bully? 

No parent wants to think that our child is a bully but when bullying happens someone is doing it! Let’s start by saying that is it NOT your fault if the child is the bully. 

If your child is indeed the bully, you need a plan of action with the school. Together you need to find the motivation for your child’s behaviour. Why are they doing it? Professional support may be a good idea in these cases.  Consider that many bullies continue to behave that way all their lives, so it is very important that you tackle the issue as soon as possible. 

Finally, it is important to consider that bullying rarely happens in isolation. Usually, the whole class or the whole peer group know about it. Some children may encourage it, others may think it’s wrong but they may be afraid of saying something and risking being next, whereas others may defend the victim. It is really important that all parents have a chat with our kids about this issue, encouraging them to confide in us or other adults around them if them or others are being bullied. Stopping bullying is not only the responsibility of schools or of those directly involved in it, but of all of us. 

This article is based on Professor Helen Cowie’s masterclass: The complete guide to bullying. Do watch it to find out many more resources and information. If your child is struggling with bullying do not hesitate to get in touch with your REC Parenting therapist. Do also drop us an email at hello@recparenting.com for any comment or question. We are here to support you! 

Much love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

Registered in England & Wales. Company No.13460950. Registered office Salatin House, 19 Cedar Road, Sutton, SM2 5DA, United Kingdom

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