Family Life


 
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Phone Girl

5 tips for staying engaged with your kids and social media this summer

Earlier last year we interviewed Joseph the Dreamer for our Courageous Parenting podcast. A creator and storyteller, he went viral on TikTok at the start of lockdown and has since spoken and helped others, particularly parents in understanding how to navigate their children engaging with an online world. He now finds himself brewing kombucha for his business holoskombucha.com whilst still creating on the side! 
 
I asked him to share five tips for keeping up with your kids on social media this summer. 

  1. Get yourself an account! If it’s TikTok your kids are on- sign up? Maybe it’s clubhouse or patreon. Sign up and have a play so you understand what they are dealing and connecting with- even if you delete it a few days/weeks later.
     

  2. Engage in conversation with your kids around TikTok (for example). I understand they might not want to, but go in curious. You could ask questions like, show me your favourite TikTokerrs- or show me some of your liked videos - this could open up all sorts of conversations. Don’t jump ahead - this is not to tell them what they shouldn’t be watching, it’s more about listening and meeting them where they are and building trust. 
     

  3. Take this a step further. Ask them if they make any, or ask them what they would make if they did? I’ve always wanted to be someone on social media who is influencing rather than being influenced. This could open up wider conversations on the purpose of social media. Why we’re on there, to give or to get etc. What can your child uniquely give to the platform? Before you know it you may be your child’s personal videographer. 
     

  4. Why not play a game with your kids. When everyone is together go onto your phones and open up settings, down the list will be a button called screen time. Once everyone has pressed it maybe you can all have a guess at whose screen time you think is the highest and for what apps. Do you know what…you may even be challenged about your own personal social media use. This could potentially lead on to a chat about family contracts (Dr Susie spoke on this in her podcast with the NPI) or leading to a challenge to put phones down on a weekend etc. But…I reckon change may start with you. 
     

  5. And finally, maybe it’s not even about keeping fully up to date with what they’re up to, maybe it is just showing your kids you are present and there and have some grid for what they are engaging in rather than fearing it or controlling them. It’s so easy to fear something we don’t know, ask them to help you understand it too - use it as a connection point. 

If you are genuinely worried about your kids online social media use there are lots of places that can help - Parenting for Faith have written a really helpful list. 
https://www.parentingforfaith.brf.org.uk/post/equipping-kids-to-live-well-with-social-media/
 
And of course pray- pray for bold children who know who they are in God and are unashamed for His gospel. 

By Megan Landreth-Smith, NPI’s Social Media Lead


 

Travel Tips

10 Travel Pack Tips For Days Out 

The school summer holiday is here! The opportunity to go for the day, perhaps to the beach or the countryside, maybe to a park or to a children’s farm, lots of places that we can take our children and young people with additional needs out to for them to enjoy. But for many of us, it might have been quite a while since we planned a day out like this, so here’s a reminder of some useful things to remember! 

  1. Plan your route and check your car
It seems obvious, but it’s worth checking the route that you are going to take. Is it one you are familiar with, or is it new? If you use SatNav then check that you’ve got the correct details. Might also be worth having a good old-fashioned map with you too, just in case of signal failure etc. Is your car ready for a longer journey? When was the last time you checked the tyres, oil etc. Have you filled up with petrol?
  1. Take some cash
We rely more and more on cards and our phones to pay for things these days, but there are still lots of places that only take cash. Make sure you have what you need for car parks, ice cream vendors, swimming pool lockers, amusement arcades, or anywhere else that you might need it.
  1. Snacks
Don’t assume that you can buy something to eat while you are out. If you get stuck in a good old British traffic jam, that will be the time that someone says that they are hungry. Pack some snacks for when you might need them.
  1. Drinks
Have some drinks with you, especially if it is a hot day. You may not be able to easily access drinks where you are going, so ensure that you have enough fluids to keep you all going.
  1. Medication
Remember to take any medication that you need with you. It is always worth taking some on the trip, even if you think you will be back in plenty of time. Delays can happen, time can slip by, and suddenly you’re late for some vital medication.
  1. Blanket
Useful in lots of ways. To sit on for a picnic, to wrap around someone if they are cold, to pull over someone if they are needing to shut the world out for a bit, to use for comfort if hurt.
  1. Suncream, sun hat etc.
Even the spring sunshine can be stronger that it looks, and a cloudy day can turn hot and sunny very quickly, so being prepared with sun protection is important.
  1. Waterproofs!
And, of course, we live in a country where we can have all four seasons in a day, so hope for the best, but plan for the worst by having waterproofs at the ready just in case!
 
   9. Favourite travel toys

What toys can your child not do without when you are out of the house? Make sure you have it with you, to play with, as a comfort, to be a part of the day out. If it’s a soft toy or similar then you could take photo’s of the toy at various places on your trip. And make sure you know where this precious toy is at all times!
  1. Camera/phone

And while we’re thinking of taking photo’s, make sure you capture the memories from the day by taking some photos and writing down some of the things that you did together. You could even scrapbook the day out together by adding some items from your trip so that you can look back on the day again.
 
There are lots of other things that you could add to this list, a simple first-aid kit for example, but I hope these reminders will help you to plan for, and have, some wonderful days out in the longer, lighter, sunnier, school summer holiday days ahead!

 
Shared with kind permission by Mark Arnold, The Additional Needs Blogfather.  Read more from Mark here.

Summer Holidays


10 Top Tips For A Successful Summer Holiday!

Whisper it very quietly, but maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to have a holiday this year! After over two long years of restrictions, lockdowns, red-lists, cancellations and reschedules, this summer might be the one where some sense of holiday ‘normality’ returns!
 
So, what do we need to do to prepare our additional needs children and young people for those holidays to come, whether they are overseas, UK based, or as remains the case for some of us, a staycation; here’s 10 top tips to help:

  1. Don’t leave it to the last minute – allow processing time
While the attraction of late holiday deals can be tempting, leaving deciding whether to go and where to go until the last minute can make it really difficult for children and young people who need processing time to prepare for a significant change. Plan as far in advance as you can.
  1. Take a mental ‘journey’ though the holiday – list the likely issues
Think about everything from the packing, the travelling, where you are going to stay and sleep, the things you are going to do on holiday, the people you might have with you and the people you might meet, the food you are going eat, everything. What are the likely issues going to be for your additional needs child or young person? List them, and then start to think about how to reduce the impact of each one. For example, if food is going to be an issue, could you contact the holiday provider and request a special menu? Or could you take some favourite food items with you?
  1. Create a ‘social story’ for the holiday
A ‘social story’ is a sheet that uses photo’s, symbols and words to explain a bit about something new or complex for a child or young person with additional needs. You could create one for the holiday to outline all of the different things that your child or young person needs to know, giving them the tools to understand what the holiday will be like.
You can find out more about social stories on the Reachout ASC website here: https://reachoutasc.com/resources/downloadable-resources/
  1. Create a ‘visual timetable’
Put together a plan for each day, using symbols or photo’s to represent each aspect of that day for your child or young person. If possible, have a photo of them on some Velcro that they can move along the timetable as you go through the day. It will help them to know what is happening now, next, after, etc. There is an example of a visual timetable template on the Reachout ASC website above, called ‘Our Day At Home’.
  1. Take favourite things
What favourite toys or items does your child or young person use to help them to feel safe and secure? Make sure these aren’t forgotten, but pack them in your hand baggage, you don’t want them getting lost! It may be that you could introduce a new item to take on holiday, something related to the place you are going; for example, if you are heading to Cornwall, you could get a toy seal to take with you for when you visit the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek. The toy seal could be your ‘holiday mascot’ and your child could have the job of looking after it.
  1. Having a ‘dry run’ and checking out special assistance
If you are going to fly, and if the airport you are going to isn’t too far away, you could take a journey just to see it, to have a look at where everything is. Most airports have special assistance for families travelling with a child or young person with additional needs, so it would be worth exploring what can be provided. Many airlines are supportive too, but it helps to ask for assistance well in advance.
  1. Have things to do
Whether you are flying, going by train, or travelling by car, there will be long periods with nothing to do. Take a pack of activities that can be brought out to fill these gaps. Depending on your child, this could be some colouring, a book to look at, some fidget toys to use, some Lego, or something on their tablet to watch or listen to, whatever helps them fill the time and not get bored.
  1. Remember snacks, drinks, medication, essential equipment…
We usually remember important things like tickets, passport, money, phones etc. but make a list of what else you will need. Do you need to take medication with you? Have you got enough, or do you need to request a repeat prescription well in advance? Have you got some snacks and drinks for the journey; don’t rely on being able to stop somewhere on the way, you might be stuck in a huge traffic jam just at the time someone communicates that they are thirsty or hungry.
  1. Work with your child or young person, ask them
Don’t do all of these things on your own; if possible, involve your child or young person. Seek their input, what are the things that they are worried about? What do they want to have with them to help them feel safe? What resources will help them feel in control of what’s going on? The more you talk about the holiday and work together through any fears, the more likely you are to have a successful trip. It’s back to that ‘processing time’ that I mentioned in Tip 1.
  1. And finally… it’s OK to have a staycation instead!

If it all seems too daunting, too much to manage for you and your additional needs child or young person, if the complexities of trying to have a holiday somewhere else are just too great, don’t put yourselves through a nightmare, have a staycation!

Some of the tips above will still work if you are staying at home but having trips out, and you can all have a wonderful time staying local and exploring what’s on offer there. And everyone gets to sleep in their own beds each night!

Whatever you are hoping to do this summer, I hope these 10 tips will be a helpful reminder of some things that we can all do to make summer holidays a little less stressful and a little more fun. Have a great time!

 
Shared with kind permission by Mark Arnold, The Additional Needs Blogfather.  Read more from Mark here.

School 1
New School?

How do we help our children with change, whether that's leaving home, a new school, new house or new member of the family?Growing up inevitably involves change but sometimes we don’t find it easy to manage. Here are some ideas to help you and your child journey through a transition together, whether that’s starting work, moving schools, moving house or another change of circumstances. 

1. Prepare yourself

Even if the change or transition primarily affects the child, you need to prepare yourself that there may be some unusual or more challenging behaviour as they work through it and that can be tough on you. They might sail through it, which is wonderful but if they don’t that’s very normal too and you need to make sure you’re getting the support you need. You could try:

  • Chatting to God about how you’re doing. Whether that’s just in your head or by scribbling or typing something in a journal. If they’re off to uni or leaving home, you’ll need to make the transition of not being able to see for yourself how they’re doing. This is a great time to really pray and learn to trust God that He’s looking after them.

  • Getting some friends lined up to pray. Let them know if there are key dates that might be tricky or send a quick text if there’s a particular struggle they can pray into. If it’s your child’s first day at a new school you might want to arrange to meet up with a friend or other parents after drop off.

2. Prepare your child

Let them know in advance that it is okay to find transition difficult. Be open and start the conversation early if you can. You could create a window into your life by sharing about a transition you’ve experienced, how you felt and how you managed it. You could also use examples of friends and family or Biblical characters who experienced change. What about reading the story of Abraham moving to a different country? You could wonder together about how he felt and how he kept trusting that God was with him even when everything was unfamiliar.

Make sure they know what is going to happen. Younger children or those with additional needs might benefit from a visual timetable or pictures or steps that they can look at. For teens leaving home, you might want to decide together in advance how long you’ll stay when you drop them off or how long it’ll be before they make a trip home.

3. Reassure them of what is the same

In the midst of change, it can be really comforting to remember what isn’t changing. This can be the big things, like how much you love them and also the smaller practical details, like that someone will still always be there to collect them or that they can call home whenever they need to.

Don’t forget to share that God is with them always and that He never changes. You could listen to or learn a memory verse song or catch together and ask God to give them a picture, word or Bible verse to remind them that He’s there. For my daughter starting preschool, God showed her a picture of my parents’ cat. When we asked God why, she said it was because he went off and had amazing adventures but always came back to his safe home and grown ups afterwards. We were able to remind her of that picture when she was feeling wobbly about being away from us. 

Also, for the things that you have control over, try to keep to the usual routine as much as possible. So if school’s all new, now probably isn’t a great time to swap bedrooms and push their dinner an hour later.

4. Stay connected

Keep them connected to you, to God and to home. Whether that’s allowing them to take a comfort blanket, photo or favourite teddy in their bag, a post it in their lunchbox or a quick midday text. If they’ve left home, pop a card in the post and arrange a visit or a set time that you’ll call. Remind them that you’re there and that you care.

Give them plenty of opportunities to tell you how they’re feeling. You might need to name the feelings they don’t have words for, you could try saying something like ‘I wonder if moving up day feels a bit scary’. You can use chat and catch to help them share with God how they’re doing too. You could use prompts like:

  • Tell God what you’ll miss most about your old school.

  • Share with Him what you’re most excited and most worried about for your first day at your new school

  • Ask him for an idea of what to do if you’re feeling alone or not sure what to do

  • Ask him if there’s anyone he wants you to especially look out for

If they’re having a particularly rough day or struggling to connect with God, you can use the steps from Session 7: Prayer ministry with children to help them reconnect with Him. Don’t forget you can do this over Skype or a phone call, prayer doesn’t have to be in person.

And remember, change is inevitable… except from a vending machine! As you walk through this transition with them, you’re not only helping them with what they’re facing right now but you’re giving them tools and skills for tackling other changes and transitions that’ll happen throughout their life.

Shared with permission by Parenting for Faith

 

Road
Navigating Separation or Divorce

The breakdown of a significant relationship can be one of the most difficult experiences you can face. It often comes with a succession of related losses… perhaps the loss of financial stability, the loss of a cherished family home, the loss of friends and extended family and the loss of time with your children. It’s a metaphorical category 5 hurricane hitting your life. It can be incredibly difficult to process your own feelings, deal with all the practical fall out of a breakup and work out how to parent well with your ex. BUT there is hope.

Restored Lives provides support and practical resources

You are not alone and you don’t have to struggle through without support. Restored Lives is a charity dedicated to helping people recover from relationship breakdown.

By supporting people through separation or divorce, when a relationship is beyond repair, Restored Lives helps to reduce the negative effects on individuals, children and communities. It has created resources to support anyone going through the breakup of a significant relationship including an eight-session course for adults, a five-session workshop for teenagers and young adults whose parents have separated, a book, workbooks and how-to guides.

The Adult Course

The adult course welcomes guests into small groups of people who are all facing separation or divorce. Together they explore the challenges commonly faced when a relationship breaks down, from the emotional struggles to the practical issues including parenting, legal and financial matters. Each session is a mixture of video content and small group discussion. It runs online three times a year as well as in person in various locations across the UK (see the website for details).

The course is for everyone whether you have just ended your relationship or if it ended some time ago. Restored Lives originated in HTB, a London church, and the course is based on Christian values and is usually run by Christian volunteers who have experienced divorce themselves however it is designed for all faiths and none. We are passionate to love and support everyone, regardless of their beliefs, and as a result the main course content is not religious but we run additional optional sessions that explore faith related issues as for some Christians this is a key part of their recovery.

The small groups are arranged so that parents are with other parents whose children are broadly similar ages because the challenges of parenting children when you are no longer with your ex, change as children grow older. We discuss communication skills and the issues around shared parenting, co-parenting as well as single parenting providing resources parents can use to navigate all the issues that can arise around parenting as well as giving the children’s perspective on issues.

Restored Lives has consolidated expertise from professional counsellors, family law solicitors, mediators and parenting specialists to create a course that is stuffed with practical tips that will help you navigate your separation or divorce and reduce the harm of the process as much as possible.

Here’s what one participant had to say about the course: "The best thing about the course is being connected to a group of people who were in a similar position as I am and hearing how they were handling their situation."

Restored Lives also supports teenagers and young adults.

The charity has also launched a new workshop series for teenagers and young adults called Your Direction. This has been developed in collaboration with childrens’ charity Fegans (now part of Spurgeons). In a series of 5 workshops, Your Direction provides support and life skills to make sure teenagers and young adults are supported if their parents’ relationship ends. You can watch the trailer here.
 
Your Direction is an ideal complement to counselling but is also helpful even when teenagers or young adults are coping well.  It is an open, non-judgmental forum where they can meet others in their peer group who are facing similar situations. It gives them skills for life including communication, managing emotions, setting healthy boundaries, coping with change and letting go.
 
Here’s what a recent participant has to say about Your Direction: “I feel empowered to live my own life and feel that my parent’s divorce is an event and not a defining feature of my life. I also feel equipped to set boundaries and express my feelings comfortably.”
  
If you would like to find out more about Your Direction or the work that Restored Lives does please visit www.restoredlives.org.
 
 Restored Lives Logo
 

ChristmasAdvent Activity Ideas

It feels like 5 minutes ago I wrote a list of summer activity suggestions, and now here we are with Christmas on the horizon – how?!

With cold days and dark evenings, there’s more time spent indoors and sometimes it can be difficult to think of ideas of things to do with little ones (particularly that don’t cost the earth).  

Here are some of the pooled ideas of the NPI team, do let us know what you’d add!

  • Read, watch or act out the Christmas story
  • Bake/buy and take Christmas biscuits to someone on their own
  • Donate to a Foodbank
  • Get cosy and watch a Christmas film together
  • Make ‘fat cakes’ for birds for the garden – simple recipe here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/how-to-make-fat-cakes-for-birds
  • Attend a Carol Service
  • Visit the local library and borrow Christmas books
  • Build a Gingerbread House
  • Go on a welly walk, bring home any interesting leaves or branches and make a picture
  • Christmas music dance party
  • Hot Chocolate and all the trimmings!
  • Go on an evening drive and look for houses dressed up in lights
  • Make mince pies
  • Make reindeer ‘food’! Recipe ideas here:  https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/seasonal/christmas/reindeer
  • Homemade decorations for the tree
  • Make gingerbread and save some for a friend
  • Make homemade wrapping paper
  • Put an encouraging letter through someones door
  • Put on a homemade Christmas puppet show
  • Make a door wreath
  • Make Christmas gifts for your postal worker, milkman or refuse collectors
  • Make a den for late night Christmas stories
  • Christmas Scavenger Hunt (Hide pictures of something festive all around the house/garden and encourage the kids to track them down)
  • Christmas carols over Zoom with family or friends
  • Late night walk with torches
  • Build a nativity scene out of Lego
  • Hide Christmas jumpers around your home - see who can find theirs the quickest!
  • Christmas PJs and making cinnamon rolls for Jesus’ birthday (an every year tradition for a member of our team!)
  • CELEBRATE… Happy Birthday Jesus!
By Kayte Potter, NPI Team

 


 

Halloween
Hallowe'en

Witch costumes, sculpted pumpkins and trick or treating.  Yes, Hallowe'en is on the horizon... If you are a parent, carer or children's worker wondering about how/whether to mark it, then we've put a few links below to Christian resources on all things Hallowe'en - we really hope it's useful.

Halloween - How do we do Halloween well? Hear lots of stories from families about how they parent for faith at Halloween as well as articles helping us think this season through.  Resources from Parenting for Faith

Messy Church - Holy Halloween -  A practical plan for having fun as a family ... exploring the scariness and safe-home-ness of Psalm 23.

GodVenture - Alternative pumpkin carving and reflections.

Christians and Halloween - Thoughts, reflections and ideas from Lucy at Hope Filled Family.

 


 

Coffee Cake
Parenting Course - Why Bother?

The longer I work for the NPI, the more I see a hesitation around parenting courses – both running one (will anyone commit to it when life’s so busy?) as well as attending (why would I go on a parenting course!?)

While I can appreciate that the format of a traditional course might not suit everyone, and that there are many places to find good parenting tips and advice - extended family, books and podcasts to name but three, there are some great reasons to attend a parenting course and here are just a few we’ve come up with:

  1.  Chat.  Coffee.  Cake.  Repeat. Since starting work here, I’ve yet to come across an in-person parenting course that doesn’t feature a cuppa and cake.  Isn’t the table central to the ebb and flow of life?  When people gather around food and kind hospitality, conversation happens, connections are made and in time, trust grows.  An in-person parenting course invites conversation, questions and discussion and when this is centred around a particular aspect of parenting, it allows people the opportunity to grow, consider and reflect in a safe environment.
 
  1. Get specific.  Did you know that there are some parenting courses focused on particular areas?  For example, ADHD, ASD or handling anger in the family.  Some churches even run one off sessions on specific topics.  Hearing from trained facilitators and meeting with other parents facing the same issues can be both encouraging and empowering.
 
  1. One thing.  Obviously, parenting courses aren’t a magic wand to wave over your relationship with your child, but what if along the way you learn one thing that helps improve a tricky dynamic or a difficult issue?  Whether it be from something another parent says in passing (happened to me) or a PowerPoint slide from a facilitator, couldn’t we all do with a little help?
 
  1. Why not?  As the old adage goes, knowledge is power.  Just as we might attend a course to learn any new skill, how much more so when we find ourselves responsible for nurturing young life?  Often course facilitators are further on in the journey and have the skills and experience to impart wise teaching for the years ahead.  I guess what I’m saying is, well, why not?
 
  1. Research.  Back in 2019 a study by Kings College London concluded that there was a case for “considerable investment” in parenting programmes.  Prof Stephen Scott from Kings told BBC News that, "Parenting classes should be offered on a much larger scale, recognising that the quality of parent-child relationship is not just about individual psychological wellbeing but also has greater social and financial implications."*  Perhaps attending a course could be impactful for your family not just in the present, but could build a great foundation for the future too.

 
* https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49879677

Summer Nature
Summer Ideas

Well, the holidays are here (along with the sun!  For now, at least…) and with them an easing of restrictions.  We know that the prospect of the long stretch of the summer holiday can be overwhelming, so we’ve listed 24 simple (and mostly free) ideas for spending time as a family this summer break.  So, without further ado…

  1. Hold a water fight in the garden
  2. Organise a board game contest
  3. Host a family Olympics
  4. Plan a shopping challenge, e.g. See what you can make for dinner with £5.
  5. Explore a local woodland – play games, climb trees and take hot chocolate in a flask
  6. Go paddling in the sea
  7. Have a sleepover in the lounge
  8. Camp in the garden
  9. Go on a nature scavenger hunt (for more ideas on the great outdoors, The Woodland Trust is a great resource)
  10. Organise a face painting extravaganza
  11. Plan a bike/scooter ride
  12. Have a picnic
  13. Make ice cream sundaes
  14. Get creative with pavement chalking
  15. Go on a late-night family walk.
  16. Have a family film night
  17. Organise a kite flying contest
  18. Splash in the paddling pool
  19. Pick some summer reading books at the library
  20. Visit all your local parks and rank them
  21. Send postcards from home
  22. Make your own pizzas
  23. Play with a frisbee
  24. Visit GodVenture for some faith-based summer activity ideas

We hope these ideas have provided some inspiration – you can find lots more here, on the Care for the Family website.

We know that for many parents, between the childcare and work juggle, there isn’t much rest time during the holidays.  Fegans have some great resources on self care, which are worth exploring for some inspiration on this important area of wellbeing.  If you are in a couple, why not take a look at these summertime date ideas from Care for the Family, which are inexpensive and sure to create memories.

We hope you have a happy and peaceful summer!

 

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I don't know what I'm doing

By Annie Willmot of Honest Conversation  

Before I became a mum I had all these visions of transitioning seamlessly into the role. I imagined myself responding to my son’s gentle cries, settling him into his basket for the night, and just generally glowing as I went about my days, drinking hot cups of tea and enjoying his peaceful gurgling.

In reality, it was a little less smooth than that. And when I say ‘less smooth’, I mean rather than the gentle cruise I had perhaps pictured it was a bit more like trying to cycle down a cobbled street while wearing flip-flops and trying to carry a very full bag of shopping.

 
You can read all the books (there are a lot), browse all the internet forums, and be given all the advice but ultimately nothing will ever fully prepare you for the moment you’re left alone with your new tiny human. I vividly remember walking across the hospital carpark with our eldest son wondering, ‘Why on earth have they let us take him? No one has checked whether we’re equipped or qualified for this!’

Parenthood is wonderful and it is hard. You will feel both full of joy and completely and utterly exhausted all in the very same moment. And not matter how much you think you’ve prepared yourself, you won’t always have all the answers. Just when you think you’ve sussed one challenge there’s a new one thrown at you. One day something works, the next it doesn’t. 

 
I am someone who always struggled with the unknown. I like to know the right answer. I like to be in control. It’s not always possible to do that with parenting. I have so may unanswered questions everyday:

  • Why are they crying?
  • Is he actually scared or does he just not want to go to bed?
  • Would it have been better if I’d chosen a different nursery/school?
  • Did I even brush my teeth today?

The weight of unanswerable questions can be paralysing, preventing me from confidently moving forward for fear of not having the right answer. 
 
And I think the thing that makes it even harder is that it looks like everyone else has got all the answers. On social media we scroll through beautiful photos of other mum’s tidy houses and well-presented children. At toddler groups or church we sit amongst friends and hear how their babies are sleeping through or absolutely loving solid food. And older friends and relatives, clearly thinking we’re doing something wrong, tell us how they used do it ‘in their day’.
 
A few months after Id had my first baby, I was chatting with a friend who was also a new mum. I asked her, How are you finding it?’ She paused before replying, Can I be honest? Im not enjoying it.’ 
 
She was struggling. She loved her child but was finding being a mum hard and wondered whether it was allowed to feel this way. When she had tried to talk to her health visitor, rather than receive support or understanding, shed received unhelpful criticism that made her feel judged. Shed been made to feel that she should be loving every moment – or at least acting like it. 
 
When we choose not to pretend that everything is fine but instead say, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’, or ‘I’m really not having a good day’ it creates space for others to do the same. Our vulnerability allows others to join us in open, honest and vulnerable conversation.
 
Sometimes we can feel that talking about the hard bits of parenthood some how takes away from the good bits. As if by saying we’re having a bad day that we’re somehow discounting all the good days. But those things can exist together. And it’s good to talk about it all. Every last grubby, sticky and chaotic detail.
 
We will never have all the answers and there is so much power in acknowledging that. When we do we allow others to do the same and we’re able to build deeper connection and community with one another. 

What would it look like today if you chose to be completely and utterly honest about parenthood with your friends, your family, with God? 

Annie Willmot is passionate about community and connection. She is mum to two boys, and works as a funeral pastor, writer, speaker and for a local charity. She has written a book about parenting called Cold Cups of Tea and Hiding in the Loo and blogs over at honestconversation.co.uk

 

1034015

Supporting Additional Needs Families


The road to acceptance can be a long one for families of children with additional/special needs or disabilities. Some can reach it more quickly than others, some struggle to get there at all. There are many stops along the way where parents and other family members can get ‘stuck’.

 
To help us understand a little of what these families can experience, as well as maybe how we can help, here’s a quick guide to ‘the road to acceptance’ written from my own experience as an additional needs parent. Everyone’s experience is different, just as all of our children are different, but perhaps my family’s story will give you enough of an insight into our world to help you to help others…
 
Pre-diagnosis – worry
Is there something wrong? Those nagging doubts that families start to get; are they just being paranoid? What might be wrong? Is it serious? How do they find out? Who do they ask? Are they really ready to know? Secretly, are they avoiding this? Eventually, they ask, or someone else asks, and they start to find out… and it can often take ages!
 
In our case, we noticed that James was not developing as fast as his older sister, Phoebe, had. At first, we put it down to boys not always developing at the same speed as girls. Then we had some hearing tests done (which James initially failed spectacularly… until we realised he had an ear infection at the time!) Bit by bit things got ruled out until we finally got a diagnosis.

Don't:
Make comparisons with other children.  Make negative comment about their child's development.  Criticise their parenting.  Make unqualified 'diagnoses'.


Do:
Say encouraging things about what their child can do.  If tests or medical appointments are arranged, offer support if appropriate to do so.  Be willing to listen to their concerns.

 
   

Diagnosis – shock
What does this mean? They may not understand… so many questions… how did this happen? Was this their fault… are they to blame… did they do something wrong? Why did this happen… why them… why not somebody else?
 
Suddenly they are faced with the loss of the future plans and dreams they had for their child, for their family, for themselves… it all lies in tatters… it can be devastating. They grieve for what is lost.
 
When we received James’ diagnosis, he was only 2½ years old. It was a hammer blow to us all as we tried to understand what we had just been told; that James is Autistic and has Learning Disability (he has since added Epilepsy to his collection). Looking back now, we realise that we were experiencing grief.
 
Parents of children with additional/special needs or disabilities will experience this grief too, going through the various stages, maybe getting stuck at one of them (‘denial’ for example). Sometimes, just when they think they have made it to ‘acceptance’, something happens that spins them back to the beginning all over again. It’s like a perverse, never-ending, game of ‘snakes and ladders’.

Don't:
Say that they must be 'special' parents to receive a 'special' child.  Blame the family for their child's disability.  Compare their child to someone else's you know.  Avoid them.
 
Do:
Offer practical help e.g. meals.  Sometimes there are no words, but just being there can be a huge help.  Introduce them to other families at church who have children with a similar diagnosis. 


Five stages of grief
Denial/isolation – overwhelming emotions, inability to control them, fight or flight instinct kicks in… denial of the situation, blocking it out, hiding from it and hoping it just goes away.
 
Anger – reality and the pain of the diagnosis breaks through their denial; it can burn deep and cause them to lash out at those trying to help. It can be terribly destructive and can and does cause relationships to fail… 56% of families with a disabled child have major or significant relationship difficulties or breakups.
 
Bargaining - “If only we had…” trying to rationalise it, trying to regain some control of the helplessness and vulnerability they feel. If they have a faith, they might try doing a deal with God “If you make this go away I’ll…” trying anything to protect themselves from the painful reality.
 
Depression – sadness and regret about the lost dreams, a deep sense of mourning for what is lost… coupled with a gradual and profound realisation that this isn’t going away.
 
Acceptance – not a gift received by everyone. It’s not about being brave, but a gradual sense of understanding the emotions that they are going through, of the changes that the diagnosis will bring for them, for their child, for the rest of the family, and a growing desire to move forward and make the best of things. Things will be different, but they can still be OK… They are ready to embrace not what might have been… but what is…

Don't:
Say they are 'brave', or an 'inspiration' (they won't feel like it).  Tell them to move on or 'pull themselves together' (they can't).  Try to answer their questions about why God has let their child be disabled (we don't know).


Do:
Be there for them.  Listen to what they have to say.  Pray for/with them for God's presence to be with them.  Cry with them and let them know that God cried with them too.  Give them information about Care for the Family's befriending service, which links families to others nearby who are on a similar journey, as well as information about the 'Additional Needs Alliance' Facebook group and other similar support networks we might know.


What else can we do?
I have found ‘Welcome to Holland’, the story by Emily Perl Kingsley, a real help and have often passed it on to other families as well as children’s and youth workers. Families have experienced a change of destination; they have ended up somewhere they didn’t expect or initially want to go… how will they respond? How will it affect them?
 
Will they let this diagnosis be a negative drain on their lives? Stuck at ‘Denial’? ‘Anger’? ‘Bargaining’? ‘Depression’? So many are still there… where are the families that you are alongside? Or will they be able to use this diagnosis as a positive turning point for their lives? Having reached ‘Acceptance’, embracing what is, rather than what might have been, and if so to think about what they are going to do. How will this define them, and how can we support them going forward.
 
Encourage them that they do not go through this alone; we are with them and God stands with us. As he said to Joshua, he says to us Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6. And as he says to all of us; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
 
So, let’s all go on the journey to discover that hope and future together shall we?

Mark Arnold (The Additional Needs Blogfather) is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints’, Co-Founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, contributor to a range of publications, and dad to James a 17 year-old Autistic, with Epilepsy and Learning Disability.  

 

1056225


Parenthood & Self-Care

As we look to the remainder of the year and ongoing restrictions and limitations, it continues to be unclear what life will look like a few months from now.  With schools now returned, but with bubbles and distancing in place, and the possibility of whole classes being sent home, for parents, walking through the uncertainty can feel overwhelming. And this is without potentially simultaneously navigating; redundancy, co-parenting, vulnerable health, a demanding career…

Maybe you’ve seen some of the blog posts and resources we’ve been sharing on social media and here on our website, but perhaps – if you’re a parent like me, – you’ve also felt inundated with articles and information over the past few months on a whole range of topics, to name a few; how to homeschool, top tips on working from home, how to survive video conferencing, doing church at home, the list goes on…

While this undoubtedly all has its place and use, as restrictions continue, I wonder how, as parents, we can best care for ourselves during this time. 

I was interested recently to hear someone reflect that when an airplane is experiencing turbulence, passengers look instinctively to the flight attendant for reassurance, and how similarly, in times of difficulty and stress, children look to parents to gauge the ‘temperature’ of the situation. 

While there is great privilege in setting an atmosphere in our homes, it isn’t always easy, and is near impossible to sustain without authenticity, just like there is only so long a flight attendant can fake a reassuring smile before leaving passengers unconvinced. 

For anything we would wish to model for our children, for it to be authentic for them, it needs to be authentic for us.  For example, do I feel self-acceptance or is it easier to just talk about it?

According to an article on self-love and acceptance on the Fegans website, “Self-neglect seems to be among the few universal trappings of modern-day living. But the foundation of a strong relationship begins with self-love.”

I wonder how self-love and acceptance feels for you at this time? 

If it feels like a struggle, I hope these final words from the Fegans article encourage you to begin the journey to self-care:

“When you feel good about who you are and you feel worthy, you naturally take better care of yourself and self-nurturing is the biggest part of self-care.  Take a close look at how you’re living. Are you taking time for the things that bring you joy? Are you eating and moving and feeling healthy and energetic? Are you sleeping enough?  If not, it’s time to make some serious life changes.  Finally, repeat the following statement out loud: “I am enough. I have enough. I am worthy.”
 
Kayte Potter is a part-time Administrator at the NPI, and a mother of three. 
 

1059670      
Talking to kids about race and protesting

Talking about race with your children may feel strange or daunting or perhaps you’ve just never thought about it. Or maybe you talk about it all the time!
 
If we hope to build an anti racist, not just a passive, society we have a responsibility to begin with our own minds and those of our offspring.  In the early years it’s a great  idea to focus on simply modelling love, tolerance and a desire to understand others. Children are naturally curious, they will observe difference and may say things like “that man has brown skin”, our responses to these questions and observations should be open and age appropriately informative without any judgement or (subconscious) bias.
 
This challenges us to evaluate our own perceptions of others and to face and eradicate any bias, prejudice or discrimination we find within ourselves. We all have some.
 
As our children grow we can be led by their questions but it’s helpful to make race a regular topic of conversation. Have a think about what you watch on television? Are there many BAME lead characters? How about the books on your bookshelves, do they represent other cultures and races? If not, you could visit your library and maybe explore other cultures together, watch movies from other cultures too. How are various races represented in media? What is your phone/social media telling you about people of colour, what’s the truth?
 
We can dive much deeper with our teens, looking at the history of various other people groups. In the UK, why not learn about Black British history and Indian British history as a family. Explore institutional racism, if you are a white family, imagine how it would feel to be a black person in Britain today, seek to understand black British history as if it was your own story-how would that make you feel today?
 
Do you think it would make you want to protest against inequality? If you knew that your great grandfather had been born into slavery and had no rights as a human being do you think you would feel a strong sense of injustice?
 
Let’s try to raise curious, freedom fighting children. Children who are ready to stand up to racism and prejudice wherever they see it. Ready to protest for the rights of others and who see equality as a human right.
 
I’d like to raise children who are ready to protest and fight for what they believe to be right, recognising that sometimes we have to push against the authorities to fight injustice. We shouldn’t break laws for the sake of breaking them but we ought to break what binds others and robs them of their freedoms.
 
There is a place for protesting, and it is vital to seek to understand why protests become violent when a people group has been systematically oppressed and unheard for generations. Many have tried to fight for equality through education and peace, but the deeply institutional racism has remained in many countries all over the globe, leaving various people groups still experiencing a life of oppression, discrimination and injustice-and so we may see a different fight for freedom.
 
Educating ourselves, our children and our communities about the experiences of others is vital in the efforts to eradicate oppression and inequality.

By Hannah Blaize, mother of three curious cuties 
 

1071827

Giving Ourselves Grace for the Holidays

 

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." -Galatians 5:25

 

As I sip a cup of late afternoon coffee, I am happily looking at my Charlie Brown Christmas tree. We had to buy it--it was only 25 pounds. But it will fit in with all of my other pieces of home art that are a little bit worn, a tiny bit awkward. 

 

My home is eclectic. Some things are old, scarred but still lovely. I put a colorful cloth over them and call them classics. Some of my things are like the Velveteen Rabbit, worn but well loved. 

 

And that is how my very good life has been--beautiful and wonderful amidst many mistakes, many flaws, many immature moments. Yet, God's grace is like a beautiful cloth that covers the scars on my well- beloved old tables. His love and grace cover my imperfections. Now, as I visit with my adult children, they never say, "Remember the times our house was a mess." or "Mom, I remember a day when you did not have perfect behavior." 

 

Instead they say, "We belonged to one another in our home. We celebrated life. We ate a lot, enjoyed Christmas cakes and cookies and had endless movies, cups of tea and hikes. What a precious life we had together with all the love we needed."

 

As you enter a new holiday season, decide ahead of time that there will be disappointing moments, not all things will go as planned and someone might even get sick or a favorite activity you hoped to attend may be cancelled. A year of Covid has certainly stretched all of us in learning to deal with disappointed expectations. 

 

Determine that the most important gift to give this season is a heart determined to cultivate joy, and words of life that encourage.  If you can prepare your heart for this commitment ahead of time,  and decide to cultivate joy every day, messes and mess-ups will not cause you as much anxiety. Decide ahead of time to celebrate the moments as they come, to love generously and give forgiveness always,  and you will enjoy the days God provides. 

 

The grace of God is given in spite of our circumstances. His peace comes when our difficulties would suggest otherwise. 

 

While it is incredibly wonderful to set our standards high and live out great ideals, we must hold ourselves to a standard of grace, not perfection. We won't be able to have grace for our children if we do not have grace ourselves.

At advent, we remember He came with grace and truth to bring life and wholeness into our hearts, because his heart was filled with compassion for us. He still has that same care for us today. We strive to follow His example in the lives of our children. We do not have to live by the expectations of culture, but we are led by God. We walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and rest in His abundant grace and love. This is the way our celebration of advent will be remembered  by our children as the best time of the year.

Sally Clarkson is an author and speaker who has shared for many years about the value of motherhood and the potential for the home to cultivate life, love and faith. Find her at www.sallyclarkson.com

1087778

Supporting Bereaved Children

Although it is not something we like to talk about, a child is bereaved of a parent every 22 minutes in the UK. It happens more than you might think, and that will be especially true during this pandemic.

As parents there are some conversations we can dread having with our kids as they grow up – from the constant “why?” questions to the science homework questions to which we don’t know the answer to.

One of the conversations we probably don’t ever think of having is the one where we explain to our child that someone they are close to has died, especially if that person is a parent, a sibling or much loved grandparent.

Pete English leads the ListeningPeople Project for AtaLoss.org which specialises in training anyone who engages with bereaved young people. With over 25 years’ experience Pete knows how bereavement affects children and young people. He says,

Children grieve very differently to us adults – for us it can feel like we’re in the sea with waves of grief constantly crashing around us, for children it’s often like jumping in and out of puddles. They can be inconsolable one minute and running off to play the next; incredibly angry to laughing and joking in an instant. It’s unpredictable and can be difficult to understand.

As they process their loss, out come the questions – often asked at the most inopportune moments. Pete says,

We might think we are protecting our children and young people by not explaining or avoiding talking about death. But it is incredibly important for them to know they can ask about the subject and trust the adults around them. It is the only way to avoid confusion and unprocessed grief building up in their young lives.

Teenagers may find it difficult to talk about their feelings or ask for help. They may seek and find support through social media, their behaviour may change, they could become withdrawn or feel angry and get involved in anti-social behaviour.

So how do we support our children and young people so that they cope with their grief in a healthy way?

Be honest with your child.  Avoid confusion and teach our kids they can trust the adults around them to tell the truth.

Use the right words. It can feel harsh using words like ‘dead’ and ‘died’, but terms like ‘passed away’ or ‘gone to sleep’ can cause fear and anxiety to children.

Understand your bereaved teenage child isn’t being difficult. Unlike younger children, young people understand that death is permanent, and even though they may be unable to share their feelings, they will suffer similar feelings of loss and grief to an adult. Include them in the conversation, give them information and the choice to be involved when someone close has died.

Be kind to yourself. There are no ‘rules’ when it comes to grief, but it’s exhausting being bereaved yourself and supporting a bereaved child!
With this support, children will experience their grief with a new level of understanding as they get older and reach a new stage of maturity and emotional intelligence beyond their years - something positive that can emerge from all the sadness.

Where to go for help:
Go to www.ataloss.org to search for information and support for you or your child - whether that be specific to your loss, or maybe just to meet others in a similar situation. We have over 900 organisations listed and a library of helpful resources and books for bereaved children.

To help a young person cope with a funeral we have a really helpful film you can watch together. CLICK HERE
Pete English’s ‘Tough Stuff Journal: Someone has died’ is a fantastic resource for parents to work through with a bereaved child. To read more and buy a copy CLICK HERE

By Jane Woodward, who is the Executive Director of At A Loss.org
 

1094045

Nurturing Sporting Potential

 
“Your dad, he’ll be looking down on you with such pride today, won’t he?” 
“No, he will not.” Kitrina Douglas answered the reporter’s question after she won the British Golf Open.
Her dad, who had been a major inspirer of her faith and golf, had sadly died a few months before.
Kitrina went on to say: “My dad’s pride was never affected by what I did with a little white ball on freshly cut grass, my dad was always proud of me.”
 
I don’t know about you but that is some high bar parenting there! Do my own three children think my pride in them is affected by their sport, school, or faith achievements? 
Sport plays a unique role in our society and offers the parent many opportunities, but also a number of challenges. 
 
At its best, sport offers our children fun, a team to be part of and an opportunity to grow in character as they experience the highs and lows which sport at all levels brings, alongside some wonderful experiences. For those of us with the Christian faith, I remain fully convinced that sport also makes a great partner in disciplining our children. 
 
At its worst, sport offers an all-consuming win-at-all-costs culture where failure, loss and mistakes are all seen as weaknesses and met with disappointment. In this culture, our children’s intrinsic value lies in their “trophies” of success, rather than being loved for who they are. 
 
The challenge for us as parents is that two children on the same team can have such a diverse experience of their time participating in sport. It is parents who are key to shaping their sporting experience. Obviously good coaching matters, but the research says again and again that the way parents interact with their children around sport has a massive impact. Now we all have a caricature of the ‘bad’ sports parent yelling from the sidelines, but it is the well-meaning sports parent who often stumbles in a number of areas that lead to the biggest impact on a young person’s sporting experience. I have the joy of working with coaches, parents and children in premiership football clubs and national teams as well as watching my own children take part at grassroots levels. The impact that well-meaning parents are making on their children in all of these settings is powerful and lasting for their child’s sporting experience and potential. 
 
So how do we as parents best support our children in getting the most from their sporting experience?
 
  1. Love them. Simple, hey! I think loving our children in a sporting context means that we express our pride and joy in who they are as they get out of the car to go play sport. Not as they get back in the car. Tell them you love watching them play. This is important because so often our children misread what we focus on. If they win, we tend to have a really excitable conversation with them, and if they lose we tend to change the conversations ASAP! Home is a harbour for our child’s sport experiences. Having a good, safe harbour enables them to have the joy and confidence to explore the waters beyond the harbour wall. 
  2. Ask them. Andy Stanley once said, “Our questions reveal our values.” Ask them this: “What’s the best thing I can do for you on game day or before/after training?” Then listen and take action. Sport is their journey. However, when they feel unhelpful but well-meaning pressure from us, that can start to derail that journey. As parents, there are times we will want to set out a child’s direction, but it is better for them to set their own as they participle in sport.  To provide a home that nurtures potential we need to support our children’s growth through being open and honest. Asking what they need from us regularly will are helping this nurturing. I ask all three of mine this once a term, as they grow and age the answers change, sometimes there is a difficult conversation, but always there is growing closer together as we learn to be open and honest about our feelings and needs. 
  3. Let them stuff it up. It’s never easy to see your child make a mistake in the sports arena, especially one you know they didn’t need to make. Homes that nurture sporting potential make mistakes. There is the grace to learn, the grace to forgive yourself. There is a love that doesn’t define a child by a missed opportunity. There is also deeper learning, around how we handle mistakes being made. In my experience, kids know about these mistakes and often are harder on themselves than we are. Making mistakes is part of life and so what a gift to help our children process the emotions, frustration and disappointment which comes from perceived failure. There are those parents who try to airbrush the error out. Saying things like “it doesn’t matter” or “it was the coaches/ref/other teams’ fault”. Such attempts sanitise the child’s experience to help them avoid the pain of experiencing a mistake, but this is not helpful. I don’t like seeing my children in pain, but helping them express that and process their mistakes is an essential skill in all areas of life. 
  4. Help them make headway. Yes, home is a harbour, but home also prepares children for the open seas of sporting life. We are open and honest and real about our mistakes so that our children can once again return to the sports arena and go again. We don’t just keep them in the harbour, we support them in having the courage and joy to continue the adventure. We listen, ask questions and tell stories that support them using our family values and character to enable them to thrive wherever sport or life takes them. A home that nurtures potential expects progress. 
 
I don’t want my pride in my children to be affected by what they do with a little white ball, a hockey stick or tennis racquet, but I do believe that the way I provide a home that nurtures potential will give them the skills and character to thrive in success and failure at work, home, church and on the sports field.
 
Richard Shorter is a Baptist minister and parenting coach. His business “non-perfect dad” works with some of the country’s top elite sports teams and schools. He supports coaches, parents and athletes to have quality conversations for better outcomes for young people. Visit www.non-perfectdad.co.uk to find out more about his work.
 

1108705

Resilience

 

Five-year-old Tom has had a new bike for his birthday and can’t wait to try it out. In the park with his mother, he zooms off along the path, not really looking where he’s going despite her warning to watch out for potholes. Fifteen minutes later they are back at home; Tom is sitting on the kitchen table, tears streaming down his face as she applies copious amounts of kitchen roll to his grazed knees.
 

What happens the next day is an important test for them both. His mum can see he’s in two minds about going on his bike again, and the thought of him hurting himself further means she is sorely tempted to simply put a stop – at least for the time being – to any further attempt. But even as they both hesitate, she knows that what Tom does next is important in building his emotional resilience. He needs to learn from the experience – in other words, get back on his bike.
 

In an attempt to make their lives as stress-free as possible we try and fill in the pot holes and control their circumstances. But if living through a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the realisation that we aren’t in control. The reality is that our children will experience knocks and setbacks every day. They are unlikely to pass every test, win every match, succeed in every job interview, or never have a broken romance.
 

The old saying advises us to “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child”. As parents, we can’t, and shouldn’t, remove negative events, but we can help our children see them as part of everyday life. And we can pass on skills to help them cope. The truth is that an appropriate level of pain and difficulty can be a catalyst for building emotional resilience.
 

A definition of emotional resilience is the ability not only to ‘bounce back’ and recover from setbacks, but to ‘bounce forward’. In other words, it’s not just about getting back to normal after a difficult experience, but about learning things from it that helps us deal with future challenges.
 

Resilience is key to our children’s wellbeing. Resilient children tend to be more optimistic and motivated, think more creatively, develop strategies for problem-solving, enjoy good friendships, communicate well and have higher self-esteem. It used to be thought of as a characteristic more or less set in stone, but while some children will be more naturally resilient than others, professionals now view it as a skill that can be learnt.
 

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay likes to describe resilience as a heroic struggle: ‘It’s really a battle, not a bounce – an ongoing process that can last for years … [it’s] not a trait. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s not something you just have.’
 

Whether it’s a 7-year-old dealing with the frustration of a difficult Lego project, a 12 -year-old whose guinea pig has died, or a 15-year-old who has just lost out on the lead part in the school play, it is the lessons our children learn through struggle and disappointment that will be the seedbed for growing that important quality in their lives – emotional resilience.

 

Katharine Hill is UK Director of Care for the Family her latest book, 'A Mind of Their Own' (a great read!) can be purchased here.