Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Developing social skills in children

For many children going to school will be their first taste of independence. The first opportunity for them to communicate with others outside of the safety of the family circle. This is how their personality is shaped and they learn how to interact with the world around them.

It is for many children, an exciting time of self-discovery. However, for others, social skills may be harder to develop than any academic subject.

There are many ways that we as parents can prepare our children for the social interactions they will encounter once at school.

Do as I say – and as I do


It may appear that our children don’t listen to us – however, they hear more than we realise and they see everything. The way we treat others serves as a role model for our children and reinforces the other cues and tips that we share with our children.

If you are sociable yourself, chances are your children will find it easier to interact with others. If manners are important in your home – it won’t come as a surprise to your child when they’re expected to display good manners out of the home environment.

Parents who are social themselves serve as positive reinforcement for their children. Children may be able to mimic their parents interactions with others when they attempt to make friends with other children, or when learning to cooperate and share with their peers.

Explaining to children why we act the way we do as adults helps them to understand social behaviour, which then helps them replicate it for themselves. Saying things like: “Ask nicely for things, rather than hurt your brother” or “Always say thank you when someone holds the door open for you” really helps to put social skills into context and help children understand.

It’s all a game


Of course, children all develop at their own pace but if you sense that your child could do with some extra support in developing their social skills, here are a number of simple games you can try:

  1. Have a staring contest: eye contact is really important, it’s how we judge non-verbal cues and conveys the emotion behind the words we hear. A staring competition is a quick and easy – not to mention very enjoyable – way of showing your child how to look others in the eye without feeling challenged or threatened. Bet you they’re better at it than you are!
  2. Play emotion charades: it’s important that our children understand how to process the emotions people display. Rather than act out books or movie titles, try and convey emotions – happy, sad, angry, embarrassed; helping your child to appreciate how people are feeling, helps them develop empathy and respect for others.
  3. Stick to the point: often it’s hard for children to keep to one topic. Holding a conversation is quite a skill and one that will set them in good stead for the future. A conversation is where two people talk about something, with each person building on what the other has said. The topic game is a great way of helping children stick to this. You pick a topic, and work through the alphabet with each player saying a different word relating to that topic e.g. fruit would be: A – apple; B – banana; C – carrot; countries would be A – America; B – Belgium; C – Canada; and so on…

If you have concerns…


Social skills take time to develop and school teachers are well equipped to help all children reach their full potential once they’re at school – both academically and socially. If there are any concerns as to your child’s development, chances are your school will be aware of them and will want to work with you to develop a plan to better support their needs.

However, as a parent, you know your child better than anyone and, if you have any concerns, there are three areas of difficulty that have been identified within the autism spectrum:

· difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people

· difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice

· difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively

More information about autism >


As with all other development milestones, we must give our children the time and space to develop, at their own pace. Social skills is something that we all have a role in shaping, but ultimately it is up to our children to find their own way, with our love, support and guidance.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Preparing your child for school

The start back to school comes around far too quickly after the summer holidays. For many children, going back to school – or starting school – is something they take in their stride; for others, it may be a source of anxiety or confusion, especially if they’ll be starting a new school or moving up from primary to secondary.

Unlike many anxieties our children experience, preparing for school is unique in that we know what they are going through. This can be a blessing; we are able to offer an understanding ear and some empathy for what our children are experiencing. However, in some cases, we as adults, pass on our own anxieties to our children, which can make it harder for them to navigate the changes they’re going through.

The good news is that there are a number of things we can do as parents to prepare our children for the return to school.

Talk to them


Chat with your child about starting school. What do they think it will be like? What are they most looking forward to? Is there anything they’re unsure or worried about? Look through the school website or the brochure together and talk about what that means to them.

Show them that we’ve all been there before


Dig out old photos of you when you were at school – the happy ones, of school plays and end of term discos. Talk to your child about all the happy memories you have from school and the friends you made along the way.

Take away any unknowns


Visit the school before your child is due to start and make sure the journey feels familiar to them, that will take away some of the anxiety on the first morning of the new term. Encourage your child to try on their new shoes, so they’re comfortable for the first day. Try and find some children that are already at the school and invite them over to play, that way your child can get answers to their questions from one of their peers.

Find similarities between school and home life


Fear of starting school is very often due to an unfamiliarity of something new. By creating positive associations with the start of the new term, we can reduce the anxiety our children feel. For younger children, this might be as simple as keeping exciting stuff like colouring pencils in a school bag and taking them out when we want to colour at home. That way, they can start to associate school with interesting activities that they enjoy.

Prepare them for routines


School is all about routines. The more familiar your child is with routines at home, the easier it will be for them to get used to how the school works.

Secondary school


The step up to secondary school brings additional challenges. Our children will be expected to take responsibility for themselves in a way they never have before at school – and probably at home. However big the desire to pander to them for one last summer, now’s the time to help them on their way by increasing their responsibilities at home too. Some simple ideas would be setting their alarm clock; packing their own bags for trips and outings; polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes. The more they can do for themselves before the new term starts, the better they’ll be able to cope.


Starting, or going back, to school is not the big unknown it used to be. The Internet helps us connect with each other and places in ways we couldn’t years ago. Of course it’s a nerve-racking time – for you and your child – but try and stay positive so they don’t pick up on your anxiety!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

De-clutter your life – focus your mind

We’re all guilty of keeping hold of things we really don’t need. We live in a consumerist world and often feel defined by what we have. A large number of us openly admit to having too much ‘clutter’ and will set certain time aside each year to have a good clear out – January, spring and the summer holidays are popular times for a sort out.

According to Roberta Lee’s book – the super stress solution – the practice of decluttering is as much about emotional cleansing as it is about becoming more organised. Just as our emotions change, so too does the need to keep certain items. A good example might be the box of art supplies you bought after making a New Year’s resolution – at the time, it was a box of excitement, a box of potential… If unused all year, however, it becomes a box of failure, of pressure, of a lack of time to fulfil your dreams. This shows it’s time to dispose of the box!

We’ve come up with six simple steps to help you declutter your closets and focus your mind.

1. A bit at a time


Decluttering can often feel like an onerous task – overwhelming even. This is easily solved by breaking the task down into bite sized chunks. Professional organiser Regina Leeds suggests setting a timer for 10-20 minutes at a time to spark a ‘speed elimination’. Start with smaller spaces – like a drawer or a cupboard. These simple successes will spur us on for the bigger areas to come.

2. Finish the job


If you’ve set time aside to declutter an area of your home, make sure you finish the job. The task is not complete until the rubbish bags have been disposed of, the unwanted items dropped off at the charity shop and any other items listed on eBay for sale. Sorting into piles is a great start, but if you break off the task, there’s a chance when you return, items you had deemed to be clutter will find their way back onto your ‘must keep’ pile again!

3. Clear before you buy


For some, the purpose of decluttering can sometimes be overshadowed by the need to find appropriate storage solutions. We think too much about how to organise things and get caught up in the best way to store and display our clutter, rather than really sorting it out. Our advice – clear first, then you know exactly how much stuff you have to find new homes for.

4. Makes rules and stick to them


If you have too many clothes and have made a deal with yourself to only go shopping once a month, or adopt a ‘new thing in / old thing out’ practice – stick to it. It sounds simple, but clutter is often born out of a desire to collect things we don’t need. Find diversionary activities that will help you stick to your rules and make it easier to keep clear of clutter.

5. Change your habits


Hands up – who has a stash of plastic carrier bags in a kitchen cupboard? The 5p government charge was introduced so people would use fewer bags, but it hasn’t changed our habits. Making real changes to your daily routine is difficult, but it can be done – you just need to convince yourself of the benefits it will bring to your life.

6. Technology is your friend


Create online photo albums of all your favourite pictures; subscribe to Netflix and rehome all your old DVDs; transfer CDs onto an MP3 player; there are even apps that can help you manage your important paperwork. Make technology work for you and your home.


Of course decluttering your home is only half of the battle. Make sure you use the new-found positivity your tidy home will bring to set the stall for the future. Commit to the positive changes you’ve made by asking yourself some simple questions before bringing anything new into the house: Why do I need this? Do I have anything like this already? Where will I keep it? Only you know the right answers!