The Mother & Teenager C25K Challenge

One thing I never thought I would be taking up again at 50 is running!  I did all that and got the t-shirt way back in my 20's and 30's. Keeping fit and healthy is of course a priority, but over the last decade it has been of a more conservative nature than returning to pounding the streets and parks of South London.  So what happened?

Well with a a staycation planned for our summer and lazy days stretching ahead with just the youngest teen for company, it struck me that we could both benefit from something to focus on and as I wrote only a short while ago having a shared interest with your child or teens is so valuable.  It gives us a common purpose, keeps us talking and keeps our relationship alive and as any parent with teenagers will realise that is not a bad thing.

There are some seriously accomplished running mumbloggers out there, Sarah at Mum of Three World for one and some like the fabulous Prabs at Absolutely Prabulous who like me is pushing back against midlife in style.  There have also been many wonderful and inspirational pieces written by other bloggers about their own Couch to 5K (C25K) journey including Charlie over at Mess & Merlot, who not content with reaching the 5K milestone, pushed herself onto 10K.  Aspirational indeed but for now we like all newcomers are just focusing on the first steps to 5K.

The C25K programme is not new, it has actually been around since 1996 and ironically was actually devised by a young man called Josh Clark with his 50 year old mother in mind, to encourage her to address her health.

When I hit 50 earlier this year I reviewed my midlife exercise regime with its focus heavily towards Pilates and Barre work outs and booked sessions with personal trainer Clare at Live In Fitness Retreat.  A 56 year old whose mantra is that "50 doesn't define us anymore", Clare took me outside of my comfort zone and introduced me to HIIT, a way of exercising that can be done in just 12 minutes a day.  It was a real eye opener for me in terms of my cardio-vascular health, I managed the sessions and still do some at home, but it was evident that it was something I had neglected in recent years.

Following in the footsteps of Josh Clark's mother and all the other 50 year olds like her I hope that apart from binding me in a shared agony with my daughter, running again will address that area of weakness for me.  But this experience is not just about me, the other half of the "us" is my daughter who is keen to return to school in September fit and ready for the hockey season ahead, with its gruelling training schedule of early mornings and late afternoons.  For her it is all about improving her stamina and of course hanging out with me!

So how has it been so far?  Well we are almost at the end of the third week of the nine week programme and I think I can safely say we both feel quite smug.  Firstly, because we have proved to the doubting boys in the house that the girls in the house can do "sweaty, heart pumping" exercise if we put our minds to it and secondly because quite frankly not every day has been easy!

There have been days when we have been too hot, too cold or soaked to the skin by archetypal English downpours.  Some mornings we have just been dog tired.  We have also been embarrassed as we pass people we know with the dulcet tones of Michael Jordan booming from our phones encouraging us to start, to stop, to run, to walk but most importantly to keep a steady pace and just keep going.

This aside, however, we have enjoyed the warm up walk and the chance to chat about "stuff"; the way we feel at the end of each session; the fact we keep on doing it not because we have to but because we want to and that as each run passes we have ticked another box, plus we are getting close to noticing a real difference.  Of course we have exchanged a few cross words along the way but we don't pant now, we breathe and not just in time with our own footsteps but with each other. We are in sync on our runs, supporting and coaxing each other along the way.

Josh Clark said that he wanted the programme to be easy and rewarding, recognising that we are creatures of inertia and need carrots to get moving and to continue.  In that regard, it is working for us thus far.  As beginners the schedule is sustainable.  I don't know how far we will go with it and whether once we reach the end and tick off our first 5K we will then join the masses running several times a week.  I do, however, hope that we will both reap the rewards of improved fitness and at the very least we will get together once a week for some more "us" time.  Watch this space!

 

Have you embarked on the C25K challenge or something like it?  If so I would love to hear how you coped.

 

Mummy Times TwoThat Friday Linky

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The Value Of A Shared Interest Between Parent & Child

What makes you tick?  Do you share any passions with your children? One of the many things I love about being a mother of teenagers is discovering shared interests that help to cement our relationship as adults and as a family.

As parents we are all guilty of enrolling our children from an early age in a multitude of clubs under the guise that it will be "good for them", whilst waiting quietly in the wings to see which ones stick and if we have a child prodigy on our hands - oh if only!

Those early day activities do have a role to play but the real moment of discovery comes with the secondary parenting stage when our children cast off the shackles of stage one parenting and start to own and nurture their own interests in a grab for independence of mind and spirit.   It is a moment of childhood metamorphosis.

It is wonderful to see them hit on something that ignites a spark and for which they truly develop not just a liking but a passion.  It is even better, however, if that something also interests you and will therefore connect you as individuals with a shared interest, rather than simply as a parent and child.

Of course with a boy and a girl in the house it is natural to assume the father will do all the boy stuff and the mother all the girl stuff, but that is an outdated viewpoint and certainly not the case in our house. I would be lying, however, if I said my eldest teenager's passions for rugby and cricket ignite a spark in me, but nevertheless I am genuinely interested in what it means to him.  So over the years that has meant standing in the back garden and helping out whilst he practises his passing (rugby) or bowling (cricket), turning up to support him when he is playing, trying to understand the rules and taking an interest in the detailed match analysis that always follows every game. Sport excites him and is a big part of him I cannot ignore if I am to understand and connect with him, although sports trivia and inside sporting jokes are clearly the preserve of my husband as are trips to watch live games or to play a round of golf.

Sport aside, on a more frivolous level  we also love shopping together (yah!) a male in the house that loves to look good after a wasted decade spent trying to persuade my husband that clothes maketh the man and are not just a necessity for covering nudity, is a relief I cannot quite describe.   My son has helped me to decide on many an outfit over the years and was my chosen shopping companion when buying my all important shoes for my 50th this year.  My husband would say it is a shallow shared interest of course but I beg to differ.

Sadly my eldest does not share my passion for reading, the theatre or art.   Over the years we have forced books upon both our teens but with our eldest it has been clear since primary that reading would always be a means to an end for him and not a pleasure.  A Freddie Flintoff biography remains to this day his favourite read of all time - as an English graduate I have despaired!  Similarly, with the theatre whilst we have enjoyed many a family excursion to national and local theatre, aside from a pantomine featuring the dance group Diversity after their success on Britain's Got Talent, it really hasn't flicked his switch but it doesn't mean we have given up - it is just a case of finding a compromise sometimes and we have had a few wins amidst the fails War Horse, Le Cirque du Soleil to name a few.

These passions of mine are all the reserve of my shared interests with my youngest teen who devours books by the truckload, adores drama from the perspective of a spectator, performer and director and is very happy to wile away several hours with me at the RA , the Tate or our local art galleries and has even started her own mini art collection as a result.

Similarly with my daughter, however, despite our female connection she shares a fistful of interests with her father I can't get close to.  Sci-Fi for one, YouTubers with extraordinary names, the Marvel Universe and Gaming and as she reminded me only this morning, it was as a result of my husband spending hours at a time making up stories with her toys and shooting videos that ignited her love of filming.

It is impossible for everyone in a family to like all of the same things but to survive the next phase of parenting and beyond it is essential to have some areas of common ground.  It is our areas of shared interest that give not only our family our identity but the relationships within it too.  If I think about my relationship with my parents now in their 70's, my mother's absolute love is gardening and it is through her that I have developed my own interest.  Growing up in Norfolk, outdoor coastal walks were a regular occurence and gave us the chance to come together as a family and this is something I still enjoy not only with my parents when I visit, but also in London with my own family, even if the views don't involve the sea.

As a family we have clocked up some fabulous experiences together including our Super Saturday experience at the 2012 Olympics and an array of moments from travelling and exploring different countries and cultures, something again that my own parents engendered in me during my childhood.   Comedy is also a shared passion and we all relish a night being entertained either from the comfort of our sofa or live at comedy clubs or the big venues with the likes of Michael McIntrye and Jack Whitehall - a new introduction for me by my teens in fact.

The truth is, however, it doesn't even need to be complicated, some of our best moments together have been enjoying a wet and windy walk around the common or sitting around a table playing a card or board game (Scrabble brings out the worst in all of us) and binge watching on Eastenders or Come Dine With Me whilst waiting for my own culinary masterpiece to materialise (think Wendy of Butterflies fame - if you are old enough of course!)

Parenting teenagers is a distinctive journey and the value of shared interests is nowhere more apparent than at this stage - they will provide a multitude of unforgettable experiences and are ultimately the glue that will bind you together for the stage beyond.

 

What interests do you share with your children and as a family?  I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

Tammymum Cuddle Fairy

 

 

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Enough Is Enough.  Standing Up To The Frenemy At Last

Friendship upsets are all part of growing up but some can be more damaging than others.  Youngsters of all ages have minor disagreements, but the world of our tweens and teens is made more complex by the added dimension of controlling and manipulative behaviour, characteristic of the frenemy.

"How is it possible for someone you regard as a friend to simultaneously be your enemy?" My daughter has asked me this question on numerous occasions over the last year as she has continued to try and navigate a rather toxic friendship.

The behaviour of a frenemy is deceptive.  Driven by a need for control the frenemy is good at making you believe that you are friends but in actual fact mutual respect is absent and their acts of friendship superficial, as they mask their real intention which is to exert power over you.  Their game is played on a different level to the playground bully.  For them it is all about domination.

My daughter suffered at the hands of playground bullies during her final year at primary school.

She is by her own admittance "quriky".  Typical "girly" stuff has never been top of her agenda.  Of course she cares about her appearance and rejoices in a girly shopping trip but not as much as she enjoys conversations about SIMS, Pokemon or Marvel.    Sci-Fi movies win over Disney any day of the week.  Jack Whitehall is her idol not Justin Bieber.

As a 10 year old girl these differences were regarded as odd by some other girls but the boys of course loved her for it.  Faced with a table of girls at lunch talking about the latest nail polish colour or a group of boys discussing the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe the boys won every time, satisfying her inquiring mind.   As a result she had a lot of what we refer to as "friend boys".

Unfortunately, there were some girls who spurred on by jealousy or confusion about their own identity, delighted in drawing attention to her differences, making catty comments and generally making her miserable.  It was a testing time.

Schools of course insist that they have a zero tolerance policy toward bullying.  But how easy  is it for them to pick up and what does zero tolerance mean exactly?  A watchful eye?  A warning?  How much do our children have to suffer until someone intervenes and says "Enough is Enough!"

During my parenting years I have learnt that there is an unspoken rule amongst children in the playground that you don't snake, ie snitch.  To complain to a teacher about the way you are being treated by someone else is deemed weak, unacceptable and a sure fire guarantee that your life at school will be beyond miserable until the day you leave.

We considered talking to the parents outside of school, after all the primary school world is a small one, but we didn't because both our son and our daughter insisted it would make the situation worse, so we bit our tongues and encouraged our daughter to turn the other cheek and rise above it, whilst her "real" friends built a protective wall around her.

With the advent of secondary school, we rejoiced, glad all that could be put behind us and she and we could move on.

The first year was bliss.  She moved to an all girl environment.  Admittedly we were unsure initially how this would work but it did.  We had never seen her so happy "at school".  Then unfortunately along came the frenemy.

My daughter's character shifted a gear. Naturally outgoing and vivacious she became more withdrawn and reclusive.  Her love of drama and hockey diminished.  Her interests changed.  She was at this girl's beck and call, shunning her other friends to spend time with this girl who would then always let her down at the last moment.  She lost her joie de vivre.  It was quite simply soul destroying to watch and we felt powerless to stop it.

Then out of the blue there was a pivotal moment.  The frenemy called time on their friendship.  My daughter fell apart and we picked up the pieces whilst praying that would be it.  Then just as quickly the frenemy apologised but in such a way as to suggest my daughter was to blame.  Cautious now my daughter thankfully didn't jump straight back in but some contact was resumed.   Frustrated perhaps by my daughter's reluctance, a period of cyber bullying followed.  My daughter adhered to all the recommended guidelines and blocked her online but not before I had taken screen shots of the messages.   My patience had worn thin. I didn't give a damn about the rules of the playground anymore.  Her welfare was my priority and I wanted my daughter back how she used to be.  I insisted she keep away from this girl or I would have to escalate the issue at school.

Of course to someone like the frenemy, being shunned was a dent to her ego and whilst my daughter has followed my advice and remained courteous whilst keeping her at arms length the frenemy has continued wherever possible to make hurtful comments, intimidate my daughter during class by sitting and just staring at her, or even interrupting her conversations.  Individually these are all little actions but collaboratively they are very undermining.

Then last week happened.  My daughter stood up to her.

The frenemy confronted my daughter accusing her of being immature for ignoring her.

"Do I need to remind you how you treated me last year? Do I? What is wrong with you? Your behaviour was not normal.  The way you treated me was wrong. Now leave me alone!"

I listened quietly when my daughter relayed the story of her response.  "Mum, I have never felt such rage.  I was so angry.  It came from the pit of my stomach.  I was shaking so much afterwards.  I am sorry."

Sometimes, just sometimes, sitting quietly, turning the other cheek and saying nothing is not enough.  My daughter has endured more than her fair share of upset at the hands of others and this time she had had enough.  She fought back all by herself and I am proud of her for that.  There was  no need for her to apologise to me.  There is a time in everyone's life when it is time to stand up to your enemies and last week was the right time for my daughter to do just that too.

As a parent would I do things differently if I had the time again?  Probably not. I am pleased that my teens discuss issues openly with us otherwise I think this scenario could have been so much worse, but in terms of stepping in I had to respect my daughter's wishes.  She was the one dealing with the situation day in, day out and it had to be her call. In the end though the frenemy was shown up for what she really was, as are all bullies.  As for our tweens and teens they need to be encouraged to speak up and put a stop to bullying once and for all.

 

Have you had any similar experiences as a parent?  How did you cope with them?  If you are a teacher I would love to hear your perspective.

 

 

Mummy Times Two diaryofanimperfectmum Motherhood: The Real Deal

 

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Essential Festival Tips For Teenagers & Their Parents

The festival season is upon us again and for many teenagers attending their first festival is an undisputed rite of passage, as they celebrate the end of exams and enjoy some quasi adult independence.

As a parent it can be a testing time but it can be made easier.  The first time my eldest teen went I spent days, (maybe weeks) talking to not only parents of teenagers that had already been, but also young twenty somethings full of festival "know-how".Image result for festivals

Now it is me that friends are contacting for advice so for those who maybe in a similar situation this year with their own teenager here are my top tips for reducing your stress and making their experience a lot easier.

  • Ticket PDF: we learnt the hard way!  Make sure they download a PDF of their ticket onto their phone in case they forget the paper version!
  • Tent: Don't send them with your best "family" tent, as it will smell like an underground toilet as people stumble past and pee at will in the middle of the night.  Buy a cheap pop up festival tent from Argos which they can just leave behind. It is also a good idea to buy one slightly bigger than they need so there is room for them to store their kit and still have room to collapse after a day's partying.
  • Tent Finder App: Gone are the days of attaching a flag to your tent to help you locate it amidst the sea of tents, now finding your tent in the middle of the night has just been made easier with the launch of a new app from Boutique Camping that lets you mark where you pitch your tent using GPS and then is saved as a pin on your phone map - genius!
  • Phone+Portable Charger: They will get separated from their friends and will regret it if they don't take their phones. Most festivals have lockers for hire and come with charging sockets which are worth hiring otherwise get a portable charger such as iMuto which they can use to charge their phone several times over.
  • Bum-Bag: To store their valuables when they are partying.
  • Wellies: They are ubiquitous with festivals but there are 2 important things to bear in mind, firstly don't send them with cheap ones or they will return with blisters aplenty after days of sweaty dancing and secondly they will want a change of footwear at some point - wellies 24/7 is really only for the foolhardy or for those that just don't dance!
  • Mac-In-A-Sac: Even if the forecast is non-stop sunshine, remember this is England after-all.
  • Headtorch: For those moments when they may need to find the loo in the middle of the night and want their hands free.
  • Bin-bags: To store dirty clothes, rubbish and stick over any holes that may appear in their tent.
  • Giant Wet Wipes: These are a shower in a bag essentially and as the novelty of being dirty wears off after 36 hours, they will thank you for forcing that extra packet in their rucksack as they head out of the door.
  • Deodorant/Toothpaste: No explanation needed, but make sure it is a roll-on deodorant, our teenager had his spray can confiscated in a bag search at his last festival.
  • Plastic Bottles:  Some festivals are more rigorous than others, but glass bottles are a no-go so decant liquids into plastic bottles to ensure they can keep hold of it.
  • Food: Festival food is expensive and even teenagers have a limit on how many buns they can eat containing a variety of meat.  Fruit in a tin is perfect for those mornings when they wake up wanting something resembling fresh and juicy, plus it will help to get their blood sugar up.  Beyond The Beaten Track is also a good range of hot meal kits recommended by DoE, but they will need a stove.
  • Hand Sanitizer: Festivals are germ farms and anti-bacterial gel is a necessity before they tuck into their festival grub, to avoid spending days huddled in a tent with food poisoning.
  • Loo Roll: They can never have too much!
  • Medical Kit: Neurofen (because they will get a headache!) and blister plasters!
  • Berocca: A high dose of vitamins and energy in a tablet for the days when they are wilting and need a pick-me-up.
  • Sunscreen: All teenagers dismiss it, but sunstroke is not a good look when you are trying to be festival cool.
  • First Aid by British Red Cross: Medical assistance is widely available at festivals but sometimes problems arise that need immediate attention.  When my teenager choked it was the fast reaction of a friend that saved him.  This app from the British Red Cross is full of practical tips on handling everyday scenarios.
  • Water: For re-hydrating and cleaning.

A final word of warning goes to the parents....Teenagers like to think they are invincible but humans were not designed to withstand 3-5 days of continuous drinking, eating rubbish food, jumping and sleep deprivation, they will return smelly, grumpy and exhausted and totally disinclined to answer any questions.  Expect grunting of a disproportionate nature from anything you may have experienced before and for them to sleep for close to 24 hours - yes seeing is believing!

Do you have any top tips to share?  Please let me know in the comments.

Editor's note:  This post was first published last year and has been recently updated with some new tips. 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Do We Prepare Our Children For Failure?

Our house is a hotbed of exam anxiety at the moment as our eldest is in the final throes of preparing for his A'levels.  I have followed all my own advice and even that of others about managing his stress but it is tough - he is worried.

This is it, the culmination of years of hard work and as he sees it the end of the road if he gets it all wrong.

"Is this what panic feels like?" " I am not going to get those three A's." "Who was I trying to kid applying for the Russell Group Universities?  I am just not clever enough. "  "I am going to defer and do it next year."

As the days pass  this is the conversation that repeats on loop at varying intervals from morning until night.  There is no respite.  True to his revision timetable he appears like a parrot on my shoulder at 40 minute intervals to either discuss what he has learnt, what he is about to learn or his heightened anxiety.

There is nowhere to hide.  I am hunted from dawn until dusk.  Such is the plight of the SAHM of a teenager taking exams.

My youngest teenager meanwhile sits in the neighbouring room diligently preparing for her own Year 9 exams and living in constant fear of being shot down in flames if she so much as mentions one syllable of the stress word in his presence.

It is no surprise that our teens are susceptible to moments of self-doubt and anxiety when under so much pressure to succeed. As parents we evidently adopt all the strategies of reassurance at our disposal in the hope that we can allay their fears long enough to get them to walk through the door of the exam room and turn over the paper.  I have dug deep this week to placate and reassure him not only of his own ability but of our confidence in his ability. He was worked tirelessly and deserves to be rewarded.

The truth, however, is there are no guarantees.  Despite thorough revision, every year some pupils do fall short of what they need to go to University and the scramble for clearing places through UCAS commences.

What's not often talked about, however, is that upwards of 60,000 students use the system every year to find a place at university, and for many of these, it's a positive experience and out of initial failure comes success.

More than 30 years ago I was one of those students.  I can still remember the moment like it was yesterday.  Waiting patiently for the postman to deliver the scrap of paper that would deliver the verdict on which course my life would take next. The shock.  The disappointment of my parents.  The "oh shit" moment, followed swiftly by "what next?"

I phoned my first choice university, they agreed to defer my place if I boosted one of my grades.  I did that in the next academic term and then secured various work placements and went travelling.  My academic journey took a different pathway but it wasn't a bad one.  It was the best time of my life and benefited me in so many ways.

Personally I don't want that for our son.  I want him to succeed first time around.  I was studying humanities.  It could be picked up at any point.  He on the other hand is a mathematics whizz and in the debate over the gap year option, he was advised to keep at it and surge ahead on the crest of his wave.  If, however, like me he doesn't deliver what he needs we will obviously turn to Plan B and make it work.

In the meantime, the message is clear.  "You can only do your best."  

Underlying this however is the fact that he isn't prepared for disappointment or failure.

"I haven't failed at anything yet.  I wouldn't know what to do."  These were his words yesterday.  I reminded him of my own plight at his age.   I wasn't ready for it either.  Nobody is.

So how do we prepare our children, our teenagers for disappointment and for failure?

Simply, you can't.  I certainly wasn't prepared.  I knew after my exams that my chances of achieving what was necessary were slim but I hoped I was wrong.  Isn't that what we all do? Hold on to hope.  Even if our son messes it up, he will rage for a bit, get hysterical but until the verdict is delivered on the morning of 17th August he will still hold onto hope.

Nothing can prepare you for that punch to the stomach that says "You fell short this time."

Three years ago our daughter faced disappointment when she didn't secure a place at her first choice secondary school.  In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise but at the time she was beside herself.  She has come out a stronger person and unlike her brother is far more balanced in her approach to stress and the possibility of failure.

My mantra in being a mother of teenagers is communication, honesty and sharing.  There will be some things that as maturing teenagers they don't want to disclose but I hope that over the years I have developed a level of trust that guarantees them the assurity of at least one thing and that is my support, our support - that regardless of the outcome we will be there for them in the same way my parents were there for me and still are.

The world may feel like it is ending but it won't and they will survive.

The truth behind all of this is that you can't be prepared for failure until  it happens.  Failure itself is the only thing that teaches you how to cope with it.  It doesn't matter how much we say as parents to reassure our children the harsh cold reality of failure is the only teacher but it doesn't make them a failure.

An exchange with Alison at Unique Minds Counselling reminded me that persuading our teenagers to "Believe" in themselves is paramount. I know that as a parent I am not alone in that quest and Alison was spot on in her advice "The stress they put themselves under often engulfs them and they can only see life in one direction.  I try to encourage them to see that life has many pathways and whatever the outcome of exams - doesn't define them as a person." 

 

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Exam and Revision Tips For Parents On How To Help Their Teenagers

As a parent of teenagers, going away over the Easter Holiday or the May Half Term for any substantial period of time is simply not an option as these are the key revision periods for the exam season, which is now just around the corner.

Five to six hours a day is the recommended amount of revision for GCSE's and A'levels and that requires incredible discipline on the part of the teenagers and patience and support from the parents.

Here are some tried and tested ways on how you can help your teens survive those long days of revision and ensure they approach their exams not only well-prepared but with confidence.

  • Revision Timetable

A thorough revision timetable gives teens a structure for their exam preparation and means they won't waste precious revision time, flicking through text books deciding what to do on an ad hoc basis and most importantly that they won't miss anything out.

Research shows that short periods of learning interspersed with regular breaks is the most effective approach to revision.  Ensure your teen writes down all the topics within each subject that they need to revise before preparing the timetable.  The general advice is to allocate 30-40 minute revision sessions to each topic with a 10 minute break between each and to vary the subjects, rather than sticking to topics all from one subject.

  • Breaks

Incorporating breaks within the timetable is essential.  A 5-10 minute break between each revision session is sufficient with an hour for lunch.  The important thing is that they take advantage of the breaks and are not tempted to just carry on through.  The brain can only absorb so much information at once.

  • Stationery

Writing  notes and learning them is one thing, but it is a good idea for teens to test their knowledge before exam day and practice papers are a good way to do that.  Be prepared and stock up on lots of paper and printer ink cartridges in advance, as well as post it notes and blank post cards - you can never have too much of any of these during the exam period.

  • Brain Food 

Revising uses up a lot of energy, so their body and brain needs good nourishment.  A nutritious breakfast to kick start the day is important, as is a well stocked fridge of healthy snacks and food they can prepare themselves for lunch if you are out, to ensure they are not just grazing on rubbish all day.  This is also true of sugary drinks, which while tempting when they are feeling tired will only cause a crash in their energy levels.  Drinking plenty of water will keep their brain well hydrated and make sure your teen is performing at their best.

 

  • Regular Exercise

With such an intensive revision timetable it can be difficult to find time for much else during the day, but sitting at a desk all day is not healthy.  It is absolutely vital they get out and take regular exercise, even if it is just a quick walk around the block to clear their head; it will enable them to put a fresh perspective on what they have learnt that day.

  • Sleep

The importance of sleep during exams cannot be emphasised enough.  It is restorative and will enhance their exam performance.  Encourage your teen to stick to a firm bedtime and not to be tempted to stay up late in the lead up to exams and particularly the night before an exam.  Cramming all night is futile as there is only so much their brain can absorb in one day.

  • Digital Detox

Effective revision and quality sleep can only be achieved without distraction.  Encourage your teenager to turn off their phone or any other electronic device while revising so that their concentration is not broken by text or facebook messages from friends.  Similarly when they go to bed persuade them to turn their phones and tablets off or put them away as the blue light they emit is particularly disruptive to a good night's sleep.

  • Revision Help

Apart from ensuring your teen has a quiet area to do their work and revise, be prepared to test them on what they have learnt or to sit and listen as they talk you through a topic - even if you have heard it a hundred times before - you never know you might learn something new!  Challenge them on what they have learnt and get them to think outside the box.  Encouraging them to develop an inquiring mind will ensure they are prepared for the unexpected.

  • Stress-Free

Normal routines maybe disturbed during the exam time, try not to stress about it and keep home life as calm as possible for them.   Teenagers taking exams are stressed enough so any additional nagging about the state of their room is unnecessary. The long term gain of their hard work will alleviate the short term inconvenience. Remember to just keep calm.

  • Positive Support

Relentless revision is physically and emotionally draining and your teenager will at some point during their revision feel the pressure and question their ability.  Don't dismiss their concerns out of turn.  Listen to what they have to say and try to alleviate their fears with gentle words of reassurance, congratulate them on the work they have put in, tell them you are proud of what they are doing and no matter how old or cool they are a hug works every time.

Do you have any revising teens in your house?  How do you help them through the exam period?

 

 

 

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My teenagers are growing up but does this mean we have to grow apart?  Growing up generally involves a defining moment in everyone's life.  For my daughter, this was not when she hit puberty, but when she turned 13.  This was the magical number to her.  It signified her official exit from one world into another and the start of my mine as the mother of two teens.

Growing up and becoming an adult meant many things for her, primarily though it meant us acknowledging that she was "one of us".  This was no ordinary milestone to her, this was THE time that everything would start to change. It was a fanfare occasion and she was going to make sure we didn't forget it.

In the days approaching her birthday last year, she reminded us how she had asked us to take her shopping for her brother when he turned 13.  Then only 8, she had decided that to mark the occasion he needed a skateboard.  Of course we went along with her plan and bought the skateboard on her behalf, which she then duly presented to him with great aplomb on the morning of his birthday saying "Now that you are growing up, you need one of these!"

The skateboard was a symbol of this important moment, no matter whether he agreed or not.   Quite frankly this milestone didn't mean as much to him as to her, but if  he wasn't going to make a fuss of his growing up she was.  We should have realised back then, that when it was her turn, she was not going to go quietly into this "grown up" world.

For her the single most important move to becoming "one of us", was to be instantly recognised as being "responsible".  This translated itself in a number of ways which had been clearly explained to us in advance. Top of the list was her own house key and alarm code.  Her friends had asked to get their ears pierced, but this was too frivolous in her opinion.  She wanted to be able to let herself in the front door of her house, by herself and  if we weren't there, that would be even better so she could "do" the alarm too.

There was also a request to allow her to take the public bus home from school, to take trips to the local shopping centre to meet friends and see a movie without one of us shadowing her.  She also requested that we assigned her a regular household job that was her sole responsibility.  Independence, was the name of the game for her.

This is of course all very endearing, yet the flip side of this quest for independence is that there is an element of pulling away from us and this is the bit, which although inevitable, every parent dreads.  As adolescents their friends take centre stage and we start to take a back row seat, learning to satisfy ourselves with the remnants of their time.

In her post "A note from a needy mum" Kelly at Daydreams Of A Mum, appreciates the independence enjoyed by her teens and relishes those times they "choose" to be with her and seek her out in their busy world. Those moments are treasured and indeed precious.

Equally, I know that my teens have to spread their wings and develop as individuals and I want them to grow up safely and move on with confidence, just not to the detriment of our relationship as a family.  I want to make sure we have those building blocks firmly in place that will ensure my teens, like Kelly's, will always seek us out, not because they have to but because they want to and that is a fundamental difference.
Ultimately, as they grow up I don't want us to grow apart and as my eldest looks ahead to University this year and my youngest prepares to turn 14, this is particularly pertinent for me right now. I love that my teens come to me and say "Mum can I talk to you?  I need your advice," I don't want that to stop, wherever they are in the world or if we have to resort to electronic communication.

To this end we always come together during the week to sit down to an evening meal to catch up and set the world to rights, sometimes more effectively than others. The weekends are more challenging as their extra curricular interests mean we are often running on different timetables but invariably it's the family meal that pulls us together again and sometimes we might strike gold with a movie that ticks all our boxes.

Friends who have been through this already have told me there is a moment when your children don't want to go on family outings or holidays anymore and this year Teen 1 will strike out alone on his own adventures, but we will still find some time to have that family holiday together.   It is difficult sometimes to get the balance right in finding something we will all enjoy but we do manage it and last year our Californian Road Trip was a huge success delivering something for everyone.

On top of this, I also don't want my teens to grow apart.  They are half brother and sister and are like chalk and cheese in many respects but we are lucky that they click.  Teen 1 always spends time with Teen 2 chatting on her bed at the end of each day and binge watching on Netflix together is commonplace.

Of course it's not all perfect.  They argue just like any other siblings but there is a bond between them.  They confide in each other and look out for each other.  Last year during my daughter's friendship crisis Teen 1 stepped up to the mark and really helped with some wise "teen on teen" advice.  I want that to continue beyond the teen years and throughout their lives, wherever they may end up.

We all revel in moving on to the next best thing in our lives and I know there is a point when we have to remove the safety net and let our children go so they can become more autonomous and thus ready for the full responsibilities of adulthood, but I am keen, to make this journey of them separating from us one which does not result in a gulf growing between us.

How do you feel about your children growing up and how are you coping with it?  I would be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences.

 

Editor's Note : This post was first published last year when I started my blog to chart my parenting journey through the teenage years.  The content has been refreshed but a year on the message remains the same, if somewhat more pertinent as I prepare for one teen to leave home.    

 

 

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Teaching Our Children The Value of An Inquiring Mind

"Why?"  is a question commonly associated with the toddler years.  Most parents tire very easily of this period and the endless "why" questions, particularly as each answer is quickly met by yet another "why" question, but as our children progress to adulthood that is exactly what we want them to start asking again.

Why?  Because quite simply it is a sign of an inquiring mind and that is in turn symbolic of an individual capable of independent learning. So why is that important?

Well it demonstrates a natural curiosity, a passion for learning, a tendency for self-motivation and examination as well as an ability for critical thinking. All of which are valuable commodities to have in the work environment to which our children will strive to place themselves.

By asking "why", life becomes a journey of exploration and adventure and not one of passive acceptance.

My husband is a huge advocate of an inquiring mind and regularly bandies it around the house when referring to interns or junior employees who have impressed him at work.  He cares not for qualifications without an inquiring mind and is constantly reminding our teens of its added value.

It is fair to say the inquiring mind divides our household.  Our son is all about numbers, not for him the world of  "whys and what ifs", to him that hints at a world of unknown and unproven theories, which goes against the certainity of the numerical calculations he loves.

Our daughter on the other hand is cut from her father's cloth and questions everything.  No stone is left unturned in her quest to know more than there is to know and to think outside the box.

The value of an inquiring mind was never more apparent for us than last week.  It was a week of parents' evenings.  The first for our daughter, was focused on her making her GCSE choices and many of her teachers applauded her passion for inquiry and debate which according to them, ensures she always brings something else to the table other than text book learning.

The second for our son, was the last prior to his A'levels this summer.  Whilst his mock results showed his prowess in Maths and Economics, he is languishing slightly with Geography, his lack of natural inquiry held up by his teachers as the Achilles heal of his learning.  He, however, would argue that inquiring mind aside, his dexterity with statistics represents the ultimate in critical thinking, as it teaches how to criticize the way we habitually think.

So how can we help our youngsters to develop an inquiring mind?  Well encouraging a love of reading is the most obvious go to solution, as well as encouraging healthy discussion of subjects at home.  But that aside, there are those that argue teaching philosophy is the answer to ensuring our youngsters respond to life and its problems with an inquisitive mind, but how?

Well philosophy is by definition the love of wisdom which through its teaching of analysis and debate teaches children how to think,  which in turn creates and nurtures thoughtful minds.

Ireland is leading the way in this regard.  Its president Michael D Higgins has previously said that ‘The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children’ and  as a nation is already exploring reforms to establish philosophy for children as a subject within primary schools.

Meantime, in the UK, a network of philosophers and teachers is still lobbying hard for a GCSE equivalent and this was the subject of a conference earlier last week

In an interview with Professor Angie Hobbs. Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, on the Today programme, John Humphries challenged the current teaching method with emphasis on A'levels, which in his opinion do little more than "teach to the test" with students simply learning bits of things and regurgitating them rather than actually thinking for themselves.

This is exacerbated by the fact that our children inhabit an age where googling questions is commonplace.  The obvious problem with all of this is that it encourages an environment of laziness and acceptance, whereas we need young people prepared to buck the trend of acceptance and ask questions, to discuss possibilities and make informed choices as a result.

Learning and regurgitating information is the polar opposite to thinking and will soon be a thing of the past as academics lobby to force our youngsters down a road of valuable inquiry.

Everyone has an opinion on something but very few people can effectively explain or defend their opinion without resorting to what they "feel" and this is the territory of emotions and irrational rather than rational thought.

Thus, by using the disciplines of philosophy and  encouraging our youngsters to push the boundaries of natural thought and to question the status quo without resorting to the comfort of the online search engine or how they "feel", the aim is that we will raise a generation of young people for the future with the capacity to respond to problems with inquisitive minds.

Philosophy is not a universal interest and "thinking" and the desire to understand beyond the obvious don't come naturally to everyone. Whether philosophy is the tool that will facilitate this process is yet to be seen, in the meantime it makes for an interesting debate.

 

 

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