Category Archives: Blog

Parents Guide: Children, Sugar and Snacking

Having a small snack between meals is a regular occurrence for children. But do you know how much sugar content is in the snacks you give your children?

The issue of children's sugar intake is one that is well publicised. This year has already seen many calls for reducing the amount of sugar children consume in the media; including a campaign from celebrity chef and father of five, Jamie Oliver, on banning sales of energy drinks to children. 

In this special feature, we explore the state of snacking and the challenges parents face in providing healthy snacks for their children.

A staggering 25% of children aged 2-15 are classified as overweight or obese. This is a serious and growing problem, which the World Health Organisation notes is a "double burden" due to health issues and obesity in childhood increasing the same risks in adulthood.

However it can be difficult to provide children, particularly young children, with snacks between meals that are both palatable and healthy.  A recent study by Public Health England found that primary-aged children have up to 3 sugary snacks per day.

It goes without saying, that most parents are aware of the risks that being overweight or obese give their children. No parent seeks to let their children become overweight or are apathetic to it. The difficulty for parents lies in finding healthy alternatives to snacks, particularly for younger children or fussy eaters.

"Snacks are important for young children since they can only eat small amounts of food at a time, and can’t wait many hours between meals."

The problem is not with snacking itself but rather with the content of those snacks. Fat and sugar content of foods consumed at snack times are a serious cause of concern for children and parents.

The State of Snacking

Current World Health Organisation advice suggests that around 5% of our daily calories should come from sugars. For a boy aged 10, that works out to about 100 calories a day and slightly less for a girl of the same age. 1g of sugar has about 4 calories, so children of this age should have no more than 25g of sugar per day. One can of Coca-Cola has about 10.6g/42kCal (sugar calories only), or almost half the total a child should have per day. When you add in a fun-size Mars bar at 8.g/32kCal you are rapidly approaching the daily total with just a small snack.

Additionally, many children start their day off with a sharp intake of sugar from popular breakfast cereals.

- Frosties (11g/44kCal per bowl from sugar only)
- Coco Pops (10.5g/42kCal from sugar only)
- Cheerios (6.2g/24.8kCal from sugar only)

This takes up a significant chunk of a child’s daily sugar amount. It quickly adds up when combined with a mid-morning and after school snack. That's without including any sugars in their lunch of dinner. It is easy to see how parents can accidentally allow children to go over their daily limits in this way.

The most deceptive are those snacks that seem to be marketed as healthy. Such as yogurts, fruit juices and cereal bars. At first glance seem like easy and healthy alternatives to candy or fizzy drinks. In reality, these snacks can be just as full of sugar.

- One pot of Original Strawberry flavour Yoplait, contains 18g of sugar (72kCal)
- A 156g Tracker Peanut bar, there is 7.3g (29.2kCal)
- A 200ml carton of Apple Juice has 20.7g (82.8kCal)

Ironically, this can mean that a well-intentioned parent could swap their child’s Coke and Mars bar with a yogurt and apple juice and increase their sugar intake.

These figures are not as simple as they initially seem. There are many types of sugar, broadly categorised into Brown, White and Liquid. There is also a difference between naturally occurring sugars (such as Fructose in fruit) and added sugar. Additionally, there is a massive range of words, phrases and terms associated with sugar in food. Even the most conscientious and health-conscious parents can struggle telling dextrose for lactose, or simple and complex carbohydrates.

Different types of sugar affect bodies differently. For example, glucose is the most basic form of sugar, is essential for energy in the body. All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body to provide energy to cells. It is therefore the epitome of “simple” sugars. Beyond this, there are natural sugars and added sugars. While too much of either can bring problems, the primary concern for parents should be the amount of added sugars, such as sucrose.

“Check for ingredients ending in "ose" — that's the chemical name for many types of sugar, such as fructose, glucose, maltose and dextrose.”

The good news is that levels of sugar consumption per capita in the UK are falling.  In 2014 the Institute of Economic Affairs noted that per capita consumption had fallen by 16% between 1992 and 2014. Additionally, some companies have begun to reduce the total amount of sugars they add to their products. For example Kellogg’s announced in November of 2017 that it would cut the sugar added to Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, and Rice Krispies Multi-Grain Shapes by up to 40%.

Despite this, levels of obesity and childhood obesity have been rising. Dealing with weight issues in children is not a one-step solution – it involves increasing exercise, education and diet. Parents can help their children by choosing healthy and less sugary snacks for them. Snacks are not necessarily getting more sugary, but increasingly parents feel unable to determine what foods have “the right amount” of sugar.

"Our child just doesn't like healthy food."
"We're tired of fighting with the kids at meal times about eating their vegetables."
"I want to make sure they eat something!"
"Just let them have sweets, you have to let them enjoy their childhood."
"I like making my children happy with treats."
"I've tried to try and get my child to eat fruit and veg, I don't know what else to do."

Whilst somewhat flippant, these are some common reasons why parents give their children snacks. It is not that parents think they are healthier; it is that they struggle to find a compromise solution that works for them. It isn’t that they think it is good to give children excessive amount of sugary snacks; it is that some snacks that are marketed as “healthy” contain excessive sugars.

Research conducted on behalf of Yazoo in 2017 found that while 77% of parents felt guilty about the amount of sugary snacks they provided to their children, British parents give their children unhealthy snacks 21 times a week on average. So-called “pester power”, or children asking for such items can have a dramatic impact on parents. This is particularly true for parents who are stressed or time-limited in other ways, such as long working hours or during times of emotional distress such as parental separation.

Other factors include parents having less time to prepare or cook healthy snacks. In addition, the range of snacks available and children's desire for them creates an attractive solution. It can also be difficult for parents to seek support with healthy alternatives due to being fearful of being judged for the food choices they make.

31% of parents underestimate their child's weight

In a 2008 study, 75% of parents underestimated the size of an overweight child, while 50% underestimated the size of an obese child. Even more surprising is that a similar study found that healthcare professionals had nearly the same difficulty. Parents therefore should not feel shame for not recognising the issue sooner; instead, they should be more aware that of the issue, its causes and most crucially of support that is available to counteract it.


What to do

The issue of helping your children to snack healthier, and to reduce sugar intake can be confronting. However, there are a few suggestions that parents can implement in order to make a start towards improving the quality of the snacks they provide.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that parents simply do not keep unhealthy snacks in the house. Children as less likely to ask for such items if they are not freely available – and via this solution, snacks and desserts that are unhealthy become special treats rather than daily food.

The NHS’s Change4life campaign notes that sugary drinks are often the biggest individual source of added sugars to children’s diets. As such, they suggest a swap to diet versions, no added-sugars versions (such as dilutes), low-fat milk or water.

New South Wales in Australia’s government makes the suggestion that parents ought to set limits on the number of sugary snacks for children. They also state that parents should explain why these limits are being imposed, and Parenting NI always suggests communication is important.

Any changes, particularly if they are significant or if your children are older should involve the children. Such strategies, where the parent involves the child and explains the reasons why they are doing what they are doing are more likely to succeed.

It is never too early or too late to improve the nutritional value of the snacks provided to your children. If you need help or support, or want further information regarding how to improve, reach out to one of the many organisations below who can assist you.

 

 

 

 

 
 

Parent’s Guide: Children & Video Games

Is Santa bringing a new games console this Christmas? Or do you have some video games wrapped under the tree for your children?

With Christmas now fast approaching we explore some of parents concerns when it comes to their children gaming. In this special feature, we look at the research and offer some guidance on things to be aware of when it comes to your children’s gaming.

Playing video games has been a popular form of entertainment since the 1970’s. However, has technology has developed and advanced so too has the impact and influence of video games.

Video games can address and explore a wide range of issues just as other forms of media like books, television and films do. But parents are rightly concerned when the content of games like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto include theft, terrorism and murder. Additionally, there are new and emergent problems such as simulated and real gambling and online gaming with strangers.

“Do video games have a negative impact and should I stop my child from playing them?”

There have been a wide range of studies on video game content, however as technology moves at breakneck speed it is easy to get left behind when it comes to advice and guidance. This puts parents in a difficult situation when weighing up protecting their children from potentially harmful content or inhibiting on their children’s social life. 

The Facts… 

Violence
There is no absolute consensus regarding the impact of video games on children’s health and development. Some studies suggest that children who are exposed to violence in media may become numb to it and show more aggressive behaviour. They also say that younger children and those with emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties may be more influenced by violent images.

On the other hand, many researchers dispute this idea that there is a link between violence in video games and violent behaviour in children. Instead, they suggest that the link between violent content and aggressive behaviour is reliant upon the child’s character. Author and clinical psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore noted:

“People with a personality constellation of being 1) easily upset (high neuroticism), 2) showing little concern for other people’s feelings (low agreeableness), and 3) having a tendency to break rules or act without thinking (low conscientiousness) are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of violent video games”

Additionally, a 2017 study in the Netherlands found that:

“Exposure to ‘violent’ video games at age 9 was not predictive of aggression or reduced prosocial behaviors one year later. Overall gaming, likewise, was unrelated to most mental health issues including attention problems or reduced social functioning, or total mental health difficulties”

It is difficult for parents who are not gamers or have little understanding of it to know whether the games their children ask for are age appropriate from the titles alone. With names that only make sens in context, such as “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” or “Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle”, it is unreasonable to expect parents to know if the content contained in these titles would be suitable for a 7, 10 or 15 year old child. Additionally, every child is different which therefore makes it even more challenging to decide on suitability. Just as with films, what one 12 year old might find exciting or funny may make another anxious or frightened. Truthfully, with regards to violent content in video games only the parent themselves knows their child well enough to make a choice.

Spending

While the majority of concern regarding video games relates to violent imagery, as games have matured the problems they present have developed as well. Recently, there has been a great deal of concern regarding the use of real money in video games to simulate gambling. The most recent example of this was exhibited in “Star Wars Battlefront II”, while Star Wars has a PEGI rating of 16, the use of Star Wars characters makes it popular and much desired by very young children. While the content of the game is fairly tame (mild fantasy violence), worries have been raised regarding “lootboxes” in game.

The concept of “lootboxes”, or extra paid content in games is a difficult subject for parents to understand, even when they have some experience of video games themselves. Lootboxes are a form of “Downloadable Content”, or “DLC”. DLC can take the form of major changes or additions to games, or minor cosmetic upgrades, and is released separately from the core game. It must be paid for separately, and is designed to prolong the life cycle of the game.

The issue with DLC like lootboxes is the manner in which it simulates gambling, in particular slot machines. A player pays real-money for a lootbox (in the case of children, this is typically parents money) and receives a number of randomised items. The issue is that the item which the player wishes to get – a character or weapon, for example – is not guaranteed to be in the box. An example is shown below:

The problems with this system can be seen for adults, but the effect of promoting such pseudo-gambling behaviour to children is potentially dangerous. The addition of popular children’s characters such as Luke Skywalker or Yoda to the mix only increases the issue. The game’s publisher, Electronic Arts has vigorously denied that these mechanics are gambling, stating:

“Creating a fair and fun game experience is of critical importance to EA. The crate mechanics of Star Wars Battlefront 2 are not gambling”

However, this has been contested by a number of jurisdictions. In Belgium, The Netherlands and the US State of Hawaii, formal investigations have opened into whether these mechanics are gambling.

Regardless of the exact legal nature of specific mechanics, the simple existence of the potential to spend vast sums of money (Star Wars Battlefront II, for example, could potential cost a whopping £1,600 to unlock every aspect of the game) is deeply worrying for parents. Whereas in the 80’s and 90’s, a child might at worst ask for a £60 or £70 game, today’s children potentially could end up spending much larger sums. This concern is particularly acute for children or young people who have their own money (such as teenagers).

Strangers

Much like the internet at large, video games which are played online offer a number of exciting opportunities. Children could benefit from playing with friends, especially when they are far away geographically. Team-building and co-working can help to foster good behaviours and strategies in children. A report by RMIT University in Australia found that children who played online games every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science.

Nonetheless, there is danger of so-called “grooming” by adults of children playing online games. This process operates similar to groom on social media platforms. Children are connected to strangers and adults online via video games, and this allows a potential for abuse. In January 2017, Adam Isaac was convicted of a range of criminal activities involving children he met through popular online game “Minecraft”.

The Good News…

Despite the concerns regarding video games, it is important for parents to recognise that there are distinct and unique benefits for children of playing video games. These are especially pronounced in games that have an educational aspect to them. Research professor Peter Gray Ph.D wrote that:

“Repeated experiments have shown that playing fast-paced action video games can quite markedly increase players’ scores on tests of visuospatial ability, including tests that are used as components of standard IQ tests. Other studies suggest that, depending on the type of game, video games can also increase scores on measures of working memory (the ability to hold several items of information in mind at once), critical thinking, and problem solving. In addition, there is growing evidence that kids who previously showed little interest in reading and writing are now acquiring advanced literacy skills through the text-based communication in on-line video games.”

The American Psychological Association published an extensive report in 2013 which identified a litany of potential benefits for children associated with the playing of video games. Video games were linked to improvements in spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception in children.

Additionally, video games can help children socially, as up to 70% of gamers play with friends in the same room and this co-play activity helps to improve prosocial activities that help with social development. In an increasingly isolated and anti-social environment that children operate in, video gaming often provides an outlet for social play.

Help is at hand

Ratings
Thankfully, parents are not alone in this. In addition to voluntary services (such as the Parenting NI helpline), video games in Europe are rated by PEGI. This rating, which must be listed on the box of a game, or on the store page if the game is listed online, gives an idea of what sort of content is included. The criteria are listed below:


PEGI 3: The content of games given this rating is considered suitable for all age groups. Some violence in a comical context (typically Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoon-like forms of violence) is acceptable. The child should not be able to associate the character on the screen with real life characters, they should be totally fantasy. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to scare or frighten young children. No bad language should be heard.

PEGI 7: Any game that would normally be rated at 3 but contains some possibly frightening scenes or sounds may be considered suitable in this category.

PEGI 12: Videogames that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy character and/or non graphic violence towards human-looking characters or recognisable animals, as well as videogames that show nudity of a slightly more graphic nature would fall in this age category. Any bad language in this category must be mild and fall short of sexual expletives.

PEGI 16: This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. More extreme bad language, the concept of the use of tobacco and drugs and the depiction of criminal activities can be content of games that are rated 16.

PEGI 18: The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence and/or includes elements of specific types of violence. Gross violence is the most difficult to define since it can be very subjective in many cases, but in general terms it can be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.

PEGI also lists a number of reasons for their rating, including drug use, discrimination or violence. Reading and understanding the ratings for the games your children are playing is highly recommended. PEGI is a legal mechanism, which is backed up by the government. This means that retailers must make every attempt to prevent children under the suggested age from buying the games – however, it is not illegal for children to play a game they are underage for.

Parental Settings
In addition to regulation and ratings, many game companies and publishers have installed parental settings and controls built into games consoles or games themselves. The best example recently is the parental control on the Nintendo Switch. The Switch has a sophisticated array of controls, including:

  • Control of total play times;
  • Deciding which games to allow, and which are blocked entirely;
  • Which online features are allowed

You can control this via an app installed on a tablet or phone. While Nintendo has been particularly proactive in this regard, most games consoles have at least some level of parental controls.

However, these features are almost never on by default. As such, it is essential that parents seek advice and familiarise themselves with parental controls before giving the console to the child.

Talk
As with almost every parenting issue, the single most effective tool to combat the negatives of video games is good parent to child communication. Particularly with older children, it is important that parents take the time to talk about the games their children are playing. Talking to your child about games can help you understand more about their content and voicing your concerns ensures that your child understands the risks. 

It is important that your child feels that they can come to you if something happens that worries or frightens them. They are less likely to do so if they think that you will not “get it”. By chatting about what they are doing before something happens a parent can build their child’s resilience and ensure that they talk to you when things go wrong.

In conclusion, there is no settled opinion regarding the risks versus benefits of children playing games. There are certainly issues, relating to the appropriateness of content for children, potential spending of money and online activity. However, there are equal and opposite suggestions that playing of video games can be highly beneficial for children.

Like many parenting problems, there is no simple one-size fits all solution to video games. The best and only manner in which parents can take a level of control is by taking a proactive interest in the games that their children play. While the world of video games can be particularly opaque and difficult for parents to access, particularly if they are not tech-savvy themselves, taking a level of interest is the best way to protect children.

Managing Christmas Stress

 

Christmas can be a wonderful time of year filled with lots of celebrations and fun for families, but it can also be very stressful for many parents. Parents can feel the pressure of managing their children’s expectations alongside managing the financial stresses that the time of year brings.

Local parenting support charity Parenting NI say that the pressures of meeting children’s expectations, managing children’s behaviour and dealing with separation make this time of year really difficult for a lot of families in Northern Ireland. The charity is encouraging parents to seek support if they are finding they are struggling to cope over the festive period.

Chief Executive at Parenting NI, Charlene Brooks said,

“There are a number of things Parenting NI would encourage parents to do to try and limit the stresses and expense of the holiday period. Expectations around Christmas are often high with so many putting an emphasis on the ‘perfect’ family Christmas. We would suggest to parents, as difficult as this can be, to not to get drawn into what others are spending or doing and do what is right for your family. Try to plan by writing a list of everything you need and setting a budget, most importantly, try and stick to your budget.

“Talk to your children about the value of things and explain that it’s not all about getting presents, that Christmas time is a good time to spend together and make memories. Good communication is so important within a family, if you are feeling the pressure don’t be afraid to ask for help. The less stressed you are as a parent, the less stressed your children will feel.

Separation is another big issue for a lot of families Parenting NI support, for parents who don’t have access to their children over the festive period it is particularly distressing and isolating. Parents who are struggling in general and / or want support with managing separation over Christmas please get in touch with Parenting NI on freephone 0808 8010 722.”


Separation at Christmas

Family breakdown is never easy, but for parents who are separated or separating Christmas can be a particularly difficult time. It can also be a very sad and frustrating time for parents who may not have access to their children. 

Communication is key when it comes to managing separation at any time but particularly at Christmas, and hopefully you will or have been able to come to an informal arrangement with your ex partner to enable you to see your children and spend time with them over the holidays.

Parenting NI understand that it can cause parents a lot of distress, so here are a few tips on coping with separation at Christmas:

Try not to worry about the “Perfect Family Christmas”
At Christmas we are bombarded with imagery which depicts what media portrays to be the ideal Christmas. It helps to remind yourself that there isn’t a perfect way to celebrate Christmas and try not to put any unrealistic expectations on yourself.

Make the most of the time you do have together
Any time that you do spend with your children over the holidays is special. Christmas shouldn’t be a competition between you and your ex where you try to outdo each other with presents for the children. Of course you will want to give your children gifts at Christmas but spending quality time together and having fun is just as important. This doesn’t have to mean expensive trips out either, doing crafts or playing games together at home is also great fun.

Put your children first
Regardless of your feelings towards your ex, try to think of what is best for your children. Research from family law organisation Resolution, found that 88% of children said it was important to them that their parents did not make them feel like they had to choose between their mum and dad. Whilst it is heartbreaking to not be seeing your child on Christmas Day try not to criticise the other parent too much in front of the children, no matter how angry you feel.

Don’t bottle up your feelings
Although it is important to remain positive for your children it is important for your own emotional wellbeing to have someone to talk to. If you are feeling upset and alone try talking to a family member or friend about how you feel. The Parents Regional Helpline will be available for periods during the holidays as well so if you would like a bit of support you can give us a call or chat to us on Web Chat. Details of opening hours can be found here.

If you don’t have access to your children over Christmas…
Make arrangements with your family or friends.  If anyone close to you is in the same situation, why not organise to see them; volunteer or invite them round for lunch so that you will not be by yourself. 

The Importance of Spending Time Together

The fast pace of modern day family life can make it easy to forget that simply just spending time with our children is really important. Our time is one of the greatest things we can give them. Summer time offers lots of opportunities to spend time together and some good old family bonding! Here’s why you should make quality time a priority:

It builds children’s self-esteem

Children who spend time with their parents participating in activities together build a positive sense of self-worth. When children feel that they are valued by their parents, they feel more positive about themselves. Family activities don’t have to be expensive trips out to be meaningful, the important part is just being together. You could go for a bike ride or play a game together.

It strengthens family bonds

Families who share everyday activities together form strong, emotional ties. Studies have found that families who enjoy group activities together share a stronger emotional bond as well as an ability to adapt well to situations as a family. Share your favorite hobbies, sports, books, movies or other favorite activities.

It develops positive behaviours

Children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behaviour. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.

Children who frequently eat with their families also usually have improved dietary intake compared to those who don’t eat as often with family members.

It encourages communication

When you spend time with your children you are fostering an environment for open communication. Good communication is important for your children to feel comfortable with talking to about anything. Simply asking your child how their day ask gone can make a big difference.

It can help your child’s academic performance

Spending time helping your children with schoolwork or reading together, especially in their early years, will foster an environment that values academics. If your child feels comfortable coming to you with schoolwork, they are more likely to perform better academically.

It can help your children be a good friend

Children learn by example. If you are setting a good example for them by spending quality time together, they are more likely to adopt those behaviours in other relationships in their lives. Simple things like playing games together will help them understand more about interacting with others as well as teach them things like sharing and kindness.

Most importantly, family time means you can just have fun and enjoy each others company! You’ve still got a little bit of time left before the children go back to school so make the most of it this weekend and do something together.

Book Lovers Day: The Benefits of Reading with Your Child

The 9th August is National Book Lovers Day and bibliophiles all over the world are sharing their adoration online for all things books.

So, to mark the occasion we thought it might be a nice time to remind you all of the benefits of reading with your child.

It is never too early to start reading to your child.  Even very young babies enjoy the sound of their parents / carers voice when being spoken to, sang to or read to. Talking to, singing / nursery rhymes and reading to your child are all important factors in helping children become more aware of sounds and words than in learning to read.

Did you know?

Reading to your child can help them develop:

  • good language skills
  • a love of books
  • skills to communicate
  • listening skills
  • imagination
  • curiosity

Reading and sharing books with your child:

  • enhances relationships and bonding between parent and child.
  • promotes interaction and special time between parent and child.
  • establishes a good foundation for your child in learning to read and write.

Tips while reading to your child:

  • Be familiar with the story
  • Sit comfortably so both can see the book
  • Make it sound interesting
  • Encourage child to turn the pages
  • Point and Talk about the pictures
  • Use this time for a cuddle
  • Use props
  • Children love to hear and look at books over and over again

Remember, you’re your child’s favourite story teller! Reading together is fun so let your child pick the book and enjoy a bedtime story together tonight.

It’s National Play Day!

Playday is the national day for play in the UK. The campaign is a celebration of children’s right to play and highlights the importance of play in children’s lives.

Over the summer months there is loads of opportunities for children which allows children to have fun and is important for enjoyment of childhood.

Play is also very important for children’s development, as well as you an opportunity to bond and connect with your children. Research shows that play has many benefits for children, families and the wider community, as well as improving health and quality of life. Recent research suggests that children’s access to good play provision can:

  • increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect
  • improve and maintain their physical and mental health
  • give them the opportunity to mix with other children
  • allow them to increase their confidence through developing new skills
  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity
  • offer opportunities for children of all abilities and backgrounds to play together
  • provide opportunities for developing social skills and learning
  • build resilience through risk taking and challenge, problem solving, and dealing with new and novel situations
  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

Although play is important for children of all ages it is especially meaningful and important for young children. Children don’t have to be taught how to play but you should make time to engage in it with your child, as interaction is critical for learning. Research shows that 75 percent of brain development occurs after birth. Play helps with that development by stimulating the brain through the formation of connections between nerve cells. This process helps with the development of fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are actions such as being able to hold a crayon or pencil. Gross motor skills are actions such as jumping or running.

As well as helping children to develop motor skills and cognitive thinking, play is key to helping children develop social skills. Playing with children will teach them how to get along with others, communicate emotions, be creative, solve problems and introduces concepts such as sharing and kindness.

Types of Play

As your child grows and develops, play evolves. Certain types of play are associated with, but not restricted to, specific age groups.

Associative Play

When your children are around three to four years of age, they become more interested in other children than the toys. Your child has started to socialize with other children. This play is sometimes referred to as “loosely organized play.” Associative play helps your preschooler learn the do’s and don’ts of getting along with others. Associative play teaches the art of sharing, encourages language development, problem-solving skills and cooperation. In associative play, groups of children have similar goals. They do not set rules, although they all want to be playing with the same types of toys and may even trade toys. There is no formal organization.

Social Play

Children around the age of three are beginning to socialize with other children. By interacting with other children in play settings, your child learns social rules such as give and take and cooperation. Children are able to share toys and ideas. They are beginning to learn to use moral reasoning to develop a sense of values. To be prepared to function in the adult world, children need to experience a variety of social situations.

Motor – Physical Play

When children run, jump, and play games such as hide and seek and tag they engage in physical play. Physical play offers a chance for children to exercise and develop muscle strength. Physically playing with your child teaches social skills while enjoying exercise. Your child will learn to take turns and to accept winning or losing.

Constructive Play

In this type of play, children create things. Constructive play starts in infancy and becomes more complex as your child grows. This type of play starts with your baby putting things in his/her mouth to see how they feel and taste. As a toddler, children begin building with blocks, playing in sand, water and drawing. Constructive play allows children to explore objects and discover patterns to find what works and what does not work. Children gain pride when accomplishing a task during constructive play. Children who gain confidence manipulating objects become good at creating ideas and working with numbers and concepts.

Expressive Play

Some types of play help children learn to express feelings. Parents can use many different materials. Materials may include paints, crayons, coloured pencils and markers for drawing pictures or writing. It can also include such items as clay, water, and sponges to experience different textures. Beanbags, pounding benches, and rhythm instruments are other sources of toys for expressive play. You can take an active role in expressive play by using the materials alongside your child.

Fantasy Play

Children learn to try new roles and situations, experiment with languages and emotions with fantasy play. Children learn to think and create beyond their world. They assume adult roles and learn to think in abstract methods. Children stretch their imaginations and use new words and numbers to express concepts, dreams and history.

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play begins in the late preschool period. The play is organized by group goals. There is at least one leader, and children are definitely in or out of the group. When children move from a self-centred world to an understanding of the importance of social contracts and rules, they begin to play games with rules. Part of this development occurs when they learn games such as Follow the Leader, Simon Says, and team sports. Games with rules teach children the concept that life has rules that everyone must follow.

 

Getting to Know our Interim CEO

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Back in July Charlene Brooks took up the post of Interim CEO at Parenting NI. Whilst Charlene as been with the organisation for many years, we asked her a few questions to help you get to know our Interim CEO.

How long have you been with Parenting NI?
I’ve been working with Parenting NI for almost 10 years in total, and in various different roles. I have been fortunate to be directly involved in overseeing the work of the Parents Helpline and Face to Face service for almost 7 years  as well as lead the Parenting Education Team for a number of years before most recently taking on the role of managing the Parental Participation and Engagement Work prior to being appointed as the Interim Chief Executive in July.

Have you always worked in Family Support?
My background is in community work and I have worked in the voluntary sector my entire working career. I have worked in a number of organisations delivering high quality services which aim to improve outcomes for children, young people and their families.

Why do you think it’s important to support parents?
Parents are uniquely placed in that they are the single most important influence on a child’s life. However parenting is not straight forward – there is no rule book to follow and quite often there are no right or wrong answers. There will be many challenges that face parents as their child/children grow up and there will undoubtedly be some decisions taken along the way which are regretted. However, it is our mission in Parenting NI to support all parents. We provide a non judgmental service to enable parents look forward, consider the options and provide the skills, knowledge and resources needed to help parents to make more informed choices which will benefit them and their children.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
I look forward to continuing to work with an excellent team of staff who are focused on helping parents feel more confident in their abilities and, as a result, enjoy better relationships with their children. As a parent of 3 young children myself I am well versed on the challenges of juggling the many tasks which modern day parenthood presents us with. But I feel so encouraged that with support from organisations such as Parenting NI that we parents know we are not alone and that there are many resources available to help us.

I am also delighted to have been shortlisted for the CO3 Leadership Awards 2017. I have been nominated for the Leading Forward on Health and Social Care Reform and will look forward to attending the ceremony on 23rd February.

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Parenting Your Teen: A Parent’s Journey

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When we first started developing the Parenting Your Teen programme back in 2008 we realised that there was very little support available to help parents who were coping with the stresses of parenting teenagers. Based on what we were hearing from parents, we felt that a parenting programme specifically designed to support parents with the challenges of parenting teenagers was very much needed.

From this The Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme was born. ‘Odyssey’ was chosen as the overacrching title as ‘Odyssey’ means a journey of many changes which reflects the ups and downs of parenting.

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In 2009, the Institute of Childcare Research at Queen’s University Belfast commenced a three year evaluation of the programme. The results showed that relationships and communication between the parents and young person improved, stress levels decreased and there was greater family harmony. The Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme is considered to be one of the few programmes for parents of teenagers globally, which has been proven by research, to be extremely effective.

We are very proud to say that the programme has made a positive impact on many families across Northern Ireland and we are constantly blown away by the stories that you share with us. Your stories are very special and important not only to us, but to other parents who might need a bit of support and encouragement themselves and that reaching out for that help might not be as scary as they thought.

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After recently completing the Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen a parent took the time to send us a message and share their experience:

‘I would just like to thank your organisation for their help, I have utilised the helpline in times of difficulty even if I needed a bit of reassurance I was ‘doing the right thing’. Your call handlers are such a calming influence, giving an outside perspective to seemingly desperate situations, along with hope that change can happen.

I have also attended a Parenting your teen course, another wonderful advert for your services. The facilitator has been fantastic, I was slightly dreading attending the course as it felt I was somehow admitting to failure; however I have been shown that actually it’s a sign of strength to seek help and with your guidance, the relationship with my son has vastly improved. I am so grateful that this resource is available to parents struggling with modern day challenges; it has also shown me that our teens are crying out for help and guidance in a scary world.

Facilities are first class, the atmosphere is relaxed, where participation in discussion is optional, no judgments are made and when it’s studied in depth it all makes so much sense. Thank you Parenting NI for guiding us through troubled waters.’

It’s stories like this that reaffirm to us that support for parents is so vitally important and worthwhile. We want to encourage parents who may be struggling with any issue in their parenting regardless of the child/young person age to have a chat with us. We are here to listen and can help support you in a way which is suitable and comfortable for you and your family needs.

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The Odyssey, Parenting Your Teen programme will be running again in January 2018 in Belfast, Coleraine, Derry~Londonderry and Maghera.

   Find out more about available programmes

If you are interested in telling us your story which we could share with our services users and media, get in touch by clicking the button below.

Drop us a line

Parents’ Week. What’s the Point?

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This week we’ve been celebrating Parents’ Week. This is an important week in the Parenting NI calendar every October as it gives us the opportunity to highlight the important roles parents play in their children’s lives.

The week also focuses on the need for support for parents. We know that when parents are supported, outcomes for children and young people improve. At a time when pressures and challenges for families are ever increasing, we feel it’s important to ensure parents know there is support available to them and that it is ok to ask for help.

As you all know, this year our focus for Parents’ Week has been ‘Parenting in the Digital Age’. The reason we chose this issue as our theme is because we have been hearing from parents that use of digital technology has posed unique challenges when it comes to parenting.

As part of the week we wanted to give you idea of the types of cases Parenting NI hear from parents regarding digital technology through our Helpline, Counselling and Parenting Programmes.

Sharing Images
A 15 year old girl sent a revealing photo of herself to her boyfriend, innocently thinking that this would be an image that would be kept between them. When the relationship broke down, as teenage romances often do, the boy decided to circulate the image round the classroom. The image then started appearing on various social media accounts, some accounts where even set up pretending to be the girl.

This caused the teenage girl great distress. Feeling alone and that her friends had even turned on her, she finally got the courage to tell her mum what had happened.

At this point mum contacted Parenting NI really concerned about the impact it was having on her daughter and their relationship. As the girl was under 18 the PSNI had to be contacted and the images were eventually removed and those involved were cautioned.

This is something which is happening regularly for young people and so it is important for us to remind our children that sharing images of children under 18, even if it’s you, is illegal and could have serious consequences.

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Mental Health
A dad contacted Parenting NI worried about how his 13 year old daughter had become depressed. He explained that any time he and his partner had tried to talk to her about what was wrong she became really withdrawn and didn’t want to talk about it, usually ending up with the daughter locking herself in her room.

After coming to some Face2Face sessions at Parenting NI with her dad, the young girl revealed that she had been supporting a friend online who was expressing mental health difficulties. This friend had been self harming, and using a pro-self harm social media page to post images of what she was doing. The 13 year old had not known where to turn, so decided she would do her best to encourage her friend not to harm herself. In her desire to try and support her friend this was having a knock on effect on the girls own mental health, causing her to be withdrawn from her family, friends and things she used to like doing.

The girl and her dad are now communicating better and her friend has been able to get the support she needs to get better.

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Grooming
The parents over a 14 year old boy were noticing that he was receiving post with random gifts which he was hiding in his bedroom. The gifts ranged from aftershave to video games, but when they found some designer underwear and other inappropriate gifts they became very suspicious and worried.

With some guidance from Parenting NI’s Helpline mum and dad sat their son down for a chat one evening to let him know they knew about the packages he was receiving. The boy eventually admitted that he had made a new “friend” on a gaming site he had been playing on in the evenings and that this friend had started sending him gifts because he had helped him complete some really difficult levels on the game and he wanted to say thank you. The boy’s parents were really concerned that he had given out their address to a stranger. After some further conversation, the boy revealed that his online friend started asking for pictures in return for the gifts, and wanted to video chat with him or maybe even meet in person.

Parenting NI was able to support the parents of the 14 year old boy to report the particular user that had been sending the gifts to their son and open up communication within the family.

These are all examples of scenarios which we help to support parents with through our services. The intention of sharing them with you isn’t to frighten you or cause you to disengage further from what your child is doing online, but rather to show that this is the reality. These are the sort of issues our young people are experiencing, and therefore the kinds of things we as parents, and as professionals working with families need to be aware of to be able to support them the best we can.

The message we want all parents to know is you are not alone, everyone struggles with parenting from time to time, support is available and it’s ok to reach out for help no matter what issue it is you may be facing.

Find out more about Parenting NI services:

Parents Helpline Face to Face Support Parenting Programmes Parental Participation Employee Wellbeing

You can also donate to Parenting NI to help us keep our services for parents going. Even a small amount can help us with providing counselling and parenting programmes across Northern Ireland which make a massive difference to families lives.

Donate Now

Professional Careers Support for Parents

As a parent or carer, you are likely to be the single biggest influence on your child’s thoughts and feelings about their future careers.

 In an ever changing economy, young people today face a number of challenges and decisions about their futures and it is more important than ever that they make their career choices wisely.

As a parent or carer there is plenty that you can do to support your child and help them make successful career choices.

Providing support and encouragement is immensely important, and the more you know about what Careers information, advice and guidance is available and where it can be accessed the better.

To assist parents, the Careers Service has made it easier than ever to access free, impartial, professional Careers Information advice and guidance. Using Careers Webchat, parents can now chat online with one of our professionally qualified careers advisers. Whether your child is at school, college, in training or looking for work, experts are on hand to help with their plans for the future.

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Careers Webchat is available Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 4.30pm on the nidirect website.

The Careers Service also has a number of online resources available for parents including:

  • Career matching tools to help young people match their interests and abilities with suitable jobs;
  • A Careers A-Z database containing information on over 1,500 jobs; and
  • An online CV Builder tool.

A Guide for Parents

The Careers Service has also produced a guide for parents – “How to help your child with their future career plans” 

Download the guide