Active Dads: Parents Article on Dads & Exercise

Fathers play an important role in the lives of their children. Children who have supportive, close and positive relationships with their fathers do better mentally, academically and physically in life. In addition, studies have shown that children whose fathers embrace being a parent confidently have lower levels of behavioural issues as teenagers. Despite this, many fathers struggle with practical actions that they can take to have a constructive impact on their children.

One key area that fathers have been shown to have a particular role to play is physical activity. Parental levels of activity in general and supportive attitudes are important indicators of how active a child is. The most important single factor, however, is paternal activity levels. In other words, having a physically active father makes kids more likely to be active too.

Research has found:

  • a consistent relationship between the child’s activity level and the father’s activity level
  • results were the same irrespective of age or weight
  • children are twice as likely to be active if their mother was, but three and a half times more likely if their father is
  • dad’s physical activity had a bigger impact on girls than boys
  • children who have one parent who is supportive of physical activity are more likely to continue being active, and even more likely if both parents are

How do I do it?

The easiest and potentially most rewarding way to encourage physical activity in your children as a father is to include them where possible in the activities you do. The NHS has a helpful guide for how much physical activity is suitable for children of various ages:

  • Babies should be encouraged to active throughout the day e.g. When they begin to crawl, stimulating play is good;
  • Toddlers who are able to walk unaided should be active for around 3 hours a day. Active play, such as at a play park, ball games or skipping is suitable;
  • As children get older, from age 5 until 18, it is recommended that they are active for at least 60 minutes a day. This should be moderate to vigorous activity such as sports, running or other exercise.

Click here to read the full report. 

Dads ‘Take the Time’ for Wellbeing at Derry Residential


A group of 21 dads attended the Dads Project residential, with speakers Conor McCafferty and Glenn Hinds. 

The Dads Project hosted a residential for separated fathers in St Columb’s Park House, Derry over the weekend.

A group of over 20 dads from across Northern Ireland attended a weekend of activities which focused on father’s wellbeing ahead of Men’s Health Week. Men’s Health Week runs from 10th June to 16th June with the theme ‘Make the Time. Take the Time.’

The Dads Project, which local charity Parenting NI lead with thanks to funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, organised the event to offer men an opportunity to not only access emotional support but also to get together and enjoy a range of talks and activities.

The dads were actively involved in planning and putting on activities across the weekend, with Cuthy Diamond leading some exercise between sessions and Gary Nash performing music in the evening.

Cahir Murray, the Dads Project Coordinator, said,

“It was wonderful to be able to gather together over the weekend and give the men space to explore the positives of being a dad in Northern Ireland’s society. We wanted to help dads build up their understanding of their value and the important role they have as fathers.

Over the course of the weekend we also took time to reflect on our wellbeing which many men struggle with. I hope that the dads have come away from the experience feeling better equipped to cope with the many challenges life throws at them whether they live with their children or not.”

In an effort to further highlight positive images of fathers, the Dads Project also have a photo exhibition titled ‘Men as Dads’ in the Verbal Arts Centre. Local photographer Mura McKinney took on the project to help celebrate dads as positive role models and the unique contribution they make to their children’s lives. The exhibition runs from Monday 10th June until Wednesday 19th June.

Parenting NI would like to thank People Plus and SDC Contractors for their support in making the weekend possible. To find out more about the Dads Project and how to get involved visit the webpage

World Children’s Day Celebration

On World Children’s Day – Wednesday 20th November – the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, will host a day of celebration at W5 Belfast to mark the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

NICCY aims to bring 1,500 children and young people of ALL ages together for a CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG PEOPLE’S SUMMIT on this important day. It will be a mixture of child rights focussed activities and fun, with participants being able to explore the 250 interactive exhibits in W5’s four exhibition areas, including the:

  • Spacebase;
  • Climbit;
  • Go;
  • See/Do; and
  • MED-Lab exhibits.

For administrative and registration purposes, groups will be allocated an arrival time during the morning (from 9.30am) of 20th November and will be assigned specific times for specific activities.  Beyond these, groups are free to stay and experience W5 until closing time at 5pm. It is envisaged that each group could have a minimum stay of at least 4 hours at W5.

Entrance to the event is FREE!   NICCY also aim to make available a number travel bursaries.

Formal registration for the day will follow at later date along with further details on activities but please feel free to confirm an expression of interest by emailing participation@niccy.org with the following details:

  1. Group name:
  2. Group address:
  3. Contact name:
  4. Contact email address:
  5. Contact telephone number:
  6. Potential numbers and age group(s):

Confirming an expression of interest will ensure early notice of the formal registration process.

Parents and Exercise

Obesity and generally poor levels of physical fitness have been described as an “epidemic”. These can have severe, life limiting individual impacts. Unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS around £5.1bn a year. Levels of obesity in children have been highlighted as a particular concern. Around 4.2% of children aged 10 to 11 in the UK are classified as obese. In Northern Ireland, as many as 40% of teens are overweight. We know that this is something that also worries parents – in the 2018 Big Parenting Survey, health was the second most important hope parents had for their children. Only happiness was more important, and they were often interlinked.

There are two major components to maintaining a healthy weight and fitness level. The first is diet, which is a complicated issue that presents a number of unique challenges. The second, is physical activity. Most parents understand that physical activity is important – but levels are reducing in young people. Less than two fifths of primary school children took part in an hour of daily physical activity, which is the level recommended by health professionals. Part of this decline is related to an increased use of technology, but it is not solely because of TV, phones and computers. Physical activity levels in children are linked to several influencing factors. 

Read the full article on the link below.

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Reading with your Children

Reading to your children, particularly in the form of a bed-time story is one of the great joys of parenthood. 

Reading brings parents and children closer together, gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with your child and can also be beneficial for your own mental wellbeing.

Finding time to read with your children can often be a challenge, as well as how to get the most out of reading. Parents often put pressure on themselves to spend long periods of time reading with their child. However, research suggests that even 10 minutes of reading a day can have a dramatic impact (BBC, 2013).

BookTrust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity notes that it is never too early to start reading with your children. Even an unborn child can hear you after 18 weeks – and will recognise your voice. Reading to your infant in the early stages can help to build a strong, loving relationship with your child.

In addition, some parents are unsure if it is valuable to continue to read to children once they reach young primary age – around 7 years old. However, children themselves suggest that they would like reading to continue. A report in February 2018 found that only half of pre-school children were read to daily. Parents gave a range of reasons why this was the case – around a fifth said that they struggled to find the energy at the end of the day. Only 16% said that their children preferred to do other things (Flood, 2018).

A key question is, does it help them to learn? Does reading to your child help them to develop reading and language comprehension skills? A series of studies have been done with parents and children across the world to help determine what (if any) affect reading to your child has on their learning. The good news is, research which examined programmes to help promote books and reading to babies and young children demonstrate positive long-term effects on their development (Vanobbergen, 2009). In particular, children who are more familiar with books show improvements in reading, social skills, language development and other areas.

Another benefit of reading with your children is that it can reduce behavioural problems. A study by the New York University School of Medicine found that reading with children can reduce aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention (Mendelsohn, 2018). One theory suggests that the reason for this is that children who are read to and engaged with are happier, and parents who read to their children enjoy this time. This helps to foster a positive relationship which has positive outcomes for mental health and behaviour.

Some studies have found that if parents are trying to improve their child’s own reading ability it may not be enough to just read to a child. Instead, a form of interaction that involves dialogue – children asking and being asked questions – has a more dramatic effect on their learning. It is important when reading to your child to name letters, make the sounds and otherwise encourage them to interact with the book or story. (Phillips et al. 2008). When reading to your child, answer the questions that they pose about the book. By doing so, you can help to teach them that print conveys information. Providing them with experiences of story-books helps to build a foundation that translates directly into a more formal reading situation (Saracho & Spodek, 2010).

These advantages can be particularly important for children who have reading difficulties, or who are behind in their learning. Children who had poor vocabulary in preschool showed improvement when they were introduced to new words and expressions via print and illustrations (Hargrave & Sénéchal, 2000). As with all reading, these improvements were reliant on active participation by the child in reading.

Some parents struggle because their children do not seek out, or do not seem to enjoy reading. Only about 55% of children said that they enjoy reading by age 15 (Clark, 2016). However, it is possible that at least part of the reason that some children do not enjoy reading because they find it difficult. Much higher percentages of children who are high-achieving at school say that they enjoy reading. Previous studies have outlined that early reading experiences, including shared reading with parents help promote stronger reading skills later in life.

PBS, the US public service broadcaster, gives three tips for parents seeking to encourage a reluctant reader:

* Hone in on your child’s interests. If you have an interest in sport, or a particular genre of material, choose reading experiences centred on those;

* Start small – pick easier to read, shorter reading experiences at first and build up to more substantial books;

* Practice “shared” reading. Make sure that you child is engaged and interested in the books you read together. Ask questions, and encourage them to ask about anything they do not understand.

It can be difficult to find the time and energy to read with your children. Especially if you are seeking to read in an engaged manner. However, the experts are clear that the benefits are dramatic. As with most parenting support, communication can be key to success. Talking to your children about the importance of reading, taking time to ensure that you are reading what they are interested in and modelling good behaviour by reading yourself are all useful in encouraging your child’s literary curiosity.

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Working Mums: Balancing Being a Mother and Employee

65% of the working age population in Northern Ireland are women, with 39% of those employed part time. Almost an equal amount are economically “inactive” due to family/home commitments.

Some mothers choose not to work, or to work less hours while they are raising children. However, for many other women, they effectively have little or no choice. If they did not work, they would not be able to bring enough income to support their families.

Despite these realities, the truth is that many mothers worry about the impact of their employment on their children. They are concerned that they might miss out on important developmental milestones or feel guilty that they are “putting work ahead of family”.

In 1984, 49% agreed with the statement: “A man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family”. In 2017, just 8% of respondents agreed.

Although this suggests that society has begun to see working mothers as "the norm", many of the structural barriers continue to exist. Mums have the double pressure of managing a career and the home and family. Research shows that the majority of childcare and housework is still undertaken by women. 

Is it good for me?

Mothers will naturally worry most about the effects their work will have on their children first. However, it is important that they also consider the impact of going back to work will have on themselves. Parents who are stressed often find it more difficult to parent effectively, and being a working mother is likely to cause stress.

Some women will be very keen to return to a career they are passionate about. Others will be less enthusiastic about going back to full time work. A study in the United States looked at the impact on mood and happiness working had on mothers. It found that both positive and negative impacts are possible. Women who went back to work often felt more accomplished and self-confident, but also more stressed. The source of this stress was found to be juggling being a mother and an employee. Additionally, the researchers suggested that these stresses may be more heightened for mothers than for fathers, because they found women were more likely to process their role as a mother and an employee at the same time. Fathers on the other hand tended to deal with these roles one at a time. This is at least partially because mothers are more likely to be called in the event of a family problem – such as a sick child.

The Working Mother Research Institute conducted a survey in 2015 of working mothers asking how they felt. They found some unsurprising findings – that mothers that make less money are less satisfied for example. They also found that mothers tend to de-prioritise self-care when there are high levels of stress between work and home life. The biggest single contributing factor to satisfaction for working mothers was flexible working.

This conclusion was supported by a survey of mid-career working mothers in Ireland. They found that family structure and parenting responsibilities were central to predicting levels of stress. The more support working mothers had, the less likely it was for them to experience burnout. They also described the centrality of flexible working, and divided it into two forms:

Is it good for children to have a working mum?

Some older studies note there may be negative impacts. A 2010 Australian study noted that there was a link between mothers working longer hours and children watching more television. In turn, this led to increased weight gain in children and decreased exercise. The study found that women working longer hours had less direct supervision of their children and therefore often felt uncomfortable letting their children play outdoors, leading to more time watching TV.  Additionally, less time to cook meals caused an increase in the amount of “junk” food consumed.

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) in 2001 found that when mothers returned to full-time work before their child was 5 years old, risks of lower outcomes for their children increased. They suggested such children had lower educational attainment and more unemployment. The reason suggested in this report for these outcomes was that mothers would have less time for direct interaction with their children during these crucial periods.

However, the report also notes that there significantly less negative outcomes for mothers who work part time as opposed to full-time. Additionally, it suggested that when women work, it increases the household income which is likely to have positive impacts on children that were not measured in the report. Given the deleterious effects poverty has on families and children, it was proposed that any negative impacts of working could be outweighed by a mother’s work avoiding financial strain in later life.

The positives...

A 2016 LSA and the University of Oxford study found that children whose mothers worked had better social and “everyday” skills. These results included children who were considered to be “very young”. They found that where mothers (and fathers) were active and engaged in their parenting, children’s outcomes improved. Therefore, it can be suggested that a mother working is not necessarily negative for even young children. Rather, it can be positive provided that mothers are careful not to allow work to interfere with having an engaged parenting style.

A more recent study, conducted in 2018 looked at the positives for children of having a working mother. This extensive report looked at the impacts across a very large number of countries including the UK, France, Finland and the USA. Overall, it found a positive link particularly between daughters of mothers who worked and:

Higher levels of employment

Higher pay in employment

More supervisory
roles

They also found that sons of working mothers had significantly more egalitarian gender attitudes, and were more supportive of women’s engagement in the labour market. They also shared responsibilities better in household work. While girls were more likely to benefit, boys did not experience any negative impact from having a working mother.

Many mothers are concerned not only about the later outcomes of their children, but their emotional wellbeing as well. The feeling of guilt associated with working and missing time with children, particularly younger children is a major motivating factor of many mothers seeking to leave employment. However, a report by Harvard Business school found that children of working mothers are just as happy as adults as those whose mothers did not work.

A study in 2014 by the University of Wollongong in Australia found that children whose mothers worked more than 35 hours a week were more likely to pursue higher education as well. Unlike the earlier report by the JRF, this report focused on teenage children. It found that teens whose mothers worked full time were also less likely to leave school at 16.

“Formal” flexibility

E.g. flexi-time, part time working or contractual arrangements allowing mothers to predict when they would be able to take more/less parental responsibilities.

“Informal” flexibility

This referred to employers being more or less willing to allow for sudden changes in circumstances (like a child needing to come home early from school).

Both types of flexibility were considered helpful, but whereas mothers felt they should be entitled to formal flexibility, they felt they needed to earn informal flexibility. Either way, it is clear that the more flexible the working pattern, the better outcomes for working mothers would be. As such, when a mother is considering returning to work, she should seek out flexible working patterns if at all possible. The good news is that the law in the UK provides the right to ask for flexible working as long as you:

Are an employee, but not an agency worker (other than those returning from a period of parental leave) or in the armed forces;

Have worked for your employer for 26 weeks continuously before applying;

Have not made another application to work flexibly under the right during the past 12 months.

If you meet their criteria, your employer must legally consider your request seriously, and only reject it if there are good business reasons for doing so.

Striking a balance

It is clear that there are potential negatives and positives relating to being a working mother. It is inevitable that lower levels of supervision provide more opportunities for undesirable behaviour. However, the positives are significant – especially for daughters and for women themselves. Mothers who are already working should not feel guilty, and can reduce stress on themselves by considering any possibilities for flexible working. The best way to safeguard against any negative outcomes, will still enjoying the benefits of the positive aspects is to ensure that your parenting is not affected. If a working mother is careful to continue to parent in an engaged and active manner, there are few meaningful negative consequences to working.

The good news for mothers is that the evidence suggests that working or not working is not determinative. Research suggests that both can have positives or negatives, and that those negatives are not set in stone. Therefore, women should feel empowered to do what they feel is right for their children, their families and themselves. If they choose to stay at home, or to return to work, they should not feel guilt or fear about the impact it will have on their children. Instead, they should simply be aware of the realities and adjust their choices accordingly.

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Parenting NI Statement Regarding the Regional Parenting Helpline

Earlier in the year, Parenting NI was extremely saddened to learn that we would lose the funding for the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) Regional Parenting Helpline contract (which includes Face to Face Support). Parenting NI identified the need for a parents helpline in 1979 and have been providing the service ever since. Now in our 40th year of delivering the service this news was devastating.

The good news for parents is however that the service is being continued. Children in Northern Ireland, the regional umbrella organisation for the children’s sector will be delivering the Regional Parenting Support Helpline from 1st April onwards.

Whilst the loss of funding to provide this service is extremely disappointing, it is by no means the end for Parenting NI. We are passionate about supporting parents and will continue on our mission to provide a range of accessible services and support to meet the needs of those in a parenting role across Northern Ireland.

We are pleased to confirm that from 1st April we will continue to provide a freephone support service for parents (on the same number 0808 8010 722) as an access point to our range of services. We will also continue to deliver our range of parenting programmes, family support services and regional projects including the Dads Project and Families Together. Parenting NI also continues to lead the way in consulting with parents to ensure their parents’ voices are heard at every level in order to influence policy, planning and service delivery. We are also very excited about expanding our range of resources for parents, particularly in terms of online and digital platforms as we continue to develop of Parenting Support App.

Parenting NI will continue to work with partners in order to deliver real diversity and choice for parents when it comes to what support they need. We will also continue to work in partnership with statutory and other sectors to promote engagement with parents and build on our range of accredited and non-accredited training and workshops for professionals working with parents. 

We hope to make this transition as smooth as possible for service users. From the 1st April freephone support will be available on 0808 8010 722 Monday to Thursday 9:30 am – 3:30 pm and Friday 9:30 am – 12:30 pm.

We would like to thank you all for your continued support of the work of Parenting NI. We look forward to continuing to support parents and making our vision of a future where parenting is highly valued a reality in Northern Ireland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parents have little hope for Children’s future in Northern Ireland

Leading parenting support charity have launched the findings from a first of its kind study, revealing the realities of parenting in Northern Ireland.

A survey carried out with 1,192 parents across Northern Ireland in the latter part of 2018 has found that parents are worried about their children’s future. 66% of parents said they were more worried than hopeful about parenting in the future. Parents overwhelmingly identified more challenges than opportunities for their children, with their main concerns being the impact of technology and social media on young people, mental health and the cost of childcare.

Many parents also expressed frustration at the current political uncertainty; they conveyed concern that important decisions are not being made which is having a deleterious impact on health and education budgets. This in turn is putting more pressure on families, with long waiting lists for services and parents being asked to plug the funding gap in schools.

Another worrying figure is that 82% of survey participants said they do not feel parents get enough support. Parents’ answers indicated that they felt that society was not very supportive of those in a parenting role and that more could be done to make parents aware of the services that are available to them.

Jenny Smithson, a mother to 3 daughters, spoke of her parenting experiences,

“I am generally an optimist, but even the most optimistic parent has concerns. And even the most confident parent has moments when they think - I’m nowhere near up to this task.

I have concerns about keeping my children safe online and worry about the impact that social media might have. I hope that it won’t shape my girls identity - that the number of likes/followers or whatever else won’t become more important to them than life outside the screen. I also worry about the impact this has on young people’s mental health and trying to teach my children how to deal with their emotions is something that I have found really challenging.

So much of the concerns of a parent are navigating new fears, things that didn’t exist when we were kids, or maybe even the same things, that now seem very different when it is our children facing them.  The world may in many ways seem more daunting, and unstable than it has been, and in general it seems as though hope is at a low ebb. We must not put our heads in the sand.”

Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive at Parenting NI said,

“The findings from this report are deeply concerning. Parents are telling us that they have serious concerns about their children’s future in Northern Ireland and have little hope that it will get better any time soon. We are calling on those in policy making / commissioning roles to give parents a reason to be hopeful again. A lot of the issues parents are concerned about cannot be addressed without a government; we need to have decisions made on policies and strategies that will work to the benefit of families in Northern Ireland.”

Full Report

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Executive Summary

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For media enquiries contact Parenting NI Marketing and Communications Officer Emma Lyttle on 028 9031 0891.

Sibling Rivalry – How much is too much?

Best friends one moment, mortal enemies the next. The relationship between children in families can be complicated at the best of times. Despite a parent’s wishes, it is very common for brothers and sisters to argue, fight and annoy each other.  Most of the time, parents know that these childish disputes will solve themselves and are perfectly normal.

But what if it seems like your children are constantly in conflict? Where is the line between “normal sibling rivalry” and cause of genuine concern? This article will help to explain the causes of sibling rivalry and give advice to parents about when to intervene.

Getting along, rather than getting upset

Almost all siblings will fight at some point. These can take the form of verbal, physical or psychological clashes.

A definition of sibling rivalry comes from Taylor EJ. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary:

“Sibling rivalry is defined as competition between siblings for the love, affection, and attention of one or both parents or for other recognition or gain.’

The University of Michigan’s children’s health department lists some of the following causes of sibling rivalries:

     -   Attempts by children to define themselves as individuals
     -   Struggles over attention
     -   Boredom, hunger or tiredness
     -   Stress, both in themselves and in the family
     -   Mimicry of problem-solving by parent

Often more than one of these factors are at play at any one time. In addition to this, the family’s composition or dynamic may contribute to or lessen the likelihood of siblings coming into conflict with each other. Experts note for example that birth order can have an influence on sibling relationships. First born children more commonly take part in sibling rivalry, because they had a period where they were likely to the sole recipient of parental love and attention. A sibling is thus an “intruder” who changes the character of the family, often in a manner that is unsatisfactory for the child.

There tends to be more sibling rivalry between children of the same gender. The issue comes from the fact that researchers have found that siblings of the same gender tend to have closer relationships and more communication. This same high level of contact can cause friction. Girls are also slightly more likely to have a rivalry compared to boys.

Negative feelings about siblings can be magnified if there are physical changes. If a child is moved to another room, for example or when grandparents or if other relatives visit and they interact less with the older child. These events can cause a build-up of resentment, anger or fear that leads to sibling rivalry.

Sibling rivalry affects almost all families – one study suggested that it can occur as often as 8 times an hour. However, it has also been noted that it tends to be less intense in larger families than small ones. This is because in larger families, power (and parental attention) is more evenly distributed.

This means that in such large families, each individual may feel that they have a particular – and unique – role to play in the family. In a smaller family, the oldest might have more power (and responsibility), leading to the young children feeling it is “unfair” that they get to be “in charge”. Conversely, younger children may be seen to be more “babied” and “get away” with more than the oldest. However, there is a natural limit to the extent of these benefits, as large families may struggle with providing enough resources, and even where there these are sufficient, a mother can only read so many bedtime stories or a father attend so many football games in a single day. This can result in more fighting to get a share of limited parental attention.

What is important to remember is that even experts find it difficult to determine what the “true” cause of any given rivalry is. This is because there are too many other factors that can differ significantly between families, like economic situation, parental behaviour, the society they grow up in and school achievement. The impact these can have on children makes it difficult to determine what triggers quarrels.

Blended families – the issues of step-siblings

Another situation that is more likely to breed argument is a blended family. Families where step-siblings interact regularly can have rivalry for all of the same reasons as non-blended families. However, they have the added stresses of children not welcoming the “new” children into their families. Adding step-children can disrupt delicate balances of role and power in siblings, for example, and a child who is used to being the oldest and most responsible may suddenly have a brother or sister older than them. The child who is used to being closest to one parent may suddenly have steep competition from a new child.

There is no easy way to prevent these issues. Unlike you and your new partner, your children did not choose to include these new people in their lives. They may not have positive feelings, or see the new siblings as “real” family.

The Parental Stress Centre of Australia suggests taking a calm and measured approach to blending families. Having family meetings, explaining the new situation to all children in an age-appropriate way. Parents should aim to retain an authoritative parenting style, with clear rules and boundaries. They should be careful to provide each child with one-on-one time and regularly have family time if at all possible. Bonds may take some time to form, or may never form between step-siblings. However, parents can make clear that there are limits to acceptable arguments. This can limit stress in the household, and parents should listen to their children but maintain control. Children will look to parents to set out what is allowed and what is not.

What does sibling rivalry look like? What is “normal” behaviour, and what is abnormal?

While all conflict between their children is likely to be either annoying or concerning for parents, it is important to recognise when simple rivalry has become bullying or abuse. Firstly, if you have more than two children, and find that all of your other children consistently gang up against one of the others, this should be addressed.

It is common for some siblings, particularly in very large families, to have better or worse relationships with particular siblings. However, if you find that one of your children is always the target of mockery or physical conflict, it is important that you intervene. A study by the University of Warwick found that siblings that are bullied by their brother or sisters excessively are more likely to develop mental health problems as adults.

A number of warning signs can help a parent identify if competitiveness is getting too intense.

1.Do they show love as well as fight? If they are close sometimes, and fight at other times this is more suggestive of a normal relationship.

2.Is it escalating? Did your son slap his brother last week, and this week did his brother react with a higher level of violence? Children may struggle with overreaction and knowing what is proportionate. Parents should intervene if there seems to be a consistently rising level of conflict.

3.What are the causes of the fights? Can you reduce these without needing to get involved every time? Are they spending too much time physically close, or are they arguing over a particular toy? If it seems that there is no good cause, but the fighting always seems to get worse that may be a warning sign. They may therefore need more alone time or distractions.

4.Talk. This is the most common and useful tactic in a parent’s tool kit. It is tempting (and very understandable) to demand that all children “Stop fighting, I don’t want to hear who started it, you are all in trouble!”. However, if there is something more serious in play, doing this means you may miss out on important context. If there is a particularly serious incident, take the time to talk to all children involved, separately. You may wish to wait for the initial emotions to cool before doing this. Listen to what your children tell you, and use that to determine your next moves.

How do I stop it?

Regardless of the reasons for squabbles between siblings, most parents just want it to stop. Often coming at the worst possible moments – in public places, when parents are tired or at moments of high stress – a sudden and seemingly inexplicable argument is the last thing a parent needs. As such, it is often the first reaction of a parent to intervene and stop it.

Sometimes this is the right thing to do. For example, if you are somewhere you cannot leave easily and where a continued fight would be inappropriate or distracting. The doctor’s surgery, on public transport or a wedding are places where swift, decisive involvement from a parent is required. Parents should establish “ground rules”, and parent in an authoritative manner, where their children understand what is and is not acceptable. Having clear rules as well as consistent (and proportionate) consequences for breaking them can help avoid the most serious conflict. Apply these rules to all children as equally as you can, as having “one rule for me, another for my sister” is an attitude likely to lead to more conflict.

However, it is also the case that often parents should not get involved in putting a stop to a conflict. If it is relatively low-level and there is no suggestion of escalation, allow your children to sort it out themselves. Experts suggest that dealing these sorts of disputes help children to develop negotiation and problem-solving skills later in life. Your children should know that mum or dad is always there to help if things get too heated, but that they should try and resolve it themselves if they can.

In addition to direct intervention, another key way to reduce the amount of arguments is to ensure that the family atmosphere is calm. Children mimic parental problem solving strategies, so if they see you resolve conflict by yelling, getting physical or arguing, they will do the same. On the other hand, if they see you coolly deal with issues by talking, reasoning and cooperating, they will attempt to do that too.  Experts suggest that parents be careful in the way in which they deal with their own issues, as well as taking a balanced approach to dealing with children’s fights.

Younger children, particularly primary-school aged children have a strong sense of what they feel is “fair”, and react strongly when they feel treatment is “unfair”.  Parents should help their children understand that “fair” and “equal” are different. They should explain that sometimes one child needs more – attention, food or support for instance. This can reduce feelings of jealousy and subsequent arguments. Be sure to balance this extra attention with time spent with other children later if you can.

Finally, parents can encourage siblings to see themselves as part of a team, rather than as competitors. Give children compliments or guidance as a group – “you are both such great help to mum!” or “you are all playing so well today” as opposed to comparisons. This allows siblings to see each other as sources of help and support, rather than opposition. Make sure that your attention, love and interest is split well between your children. If a recent event – like an exam, or a play for example – has meant you spent a lot of time with one child, take care to give dedicated time to their siblings, one on one. Additionally, spend time as a family as often as you can, linking positive experiences to being “one team” can help foster positive relationships.

Conclusion

It is almost certain that siblings will argue and fight. It is annoying, but usually nothing to worry about if your children have disputes about toys, personal space or other little issues. In fact, these can be helpful learning experiences for them.

However, children rely on their parents to set the rules of engagement. You must set out what can and cannot be argued about, used in an argument or fought over. Parents must also pay attention to patterns of sibling rivalry and ensure that it is not escalating and intervene if needs be.

Need help? Call the parent's helpline on 0808 8010 722

How to help your child with their body image

Everyone, regardless of age or gender, has days when they don’t feel they look their best. Even models, actors and athletes can and have suffered with body image issues. For example, singer Lady Gaga noted that she had struggled with anorexia and bulimia in the past, and said in 2012:

“[I am] not conventionally beautiful. If there was some sort of mathematical equation for beauty, I don’t know if I would be the algorithm.”

While the stereotype suggests that women – in particular, young women worry most about their body image, this is an issue that affects men too. Actor Chris Pratt spoke in 2014 saying:

“I do know what it feels like to eat emotionally, and… to be sad and make yourself happy with food. And then to be almost immediately sad again and now ashamed and then to try to hide those feelings with more food.”

There is an extraordinary pressure on young people to “look right”.  A survey by Girlguiding UK found 25% of girls aged 7-10 felt the need to be “perfect”.

Parents recognise that their children are struggling with unrealistic standards and problems with their body images. In 2017, the NSPCC said that it had delivered more than 2,500 counselling sessions about negative body image issues across the UK. Worryingly, these issues also affected younger children, with more than 100 of those sessions being for girls aged 11 or younger.

This article will talk about what is meant by the term “Body Image”, identify where the pressures on children and young people are and what parents can do to help.

Body Image - A Definition

The term “Body image” was first defined by neurologist and psychoanalyst Paul Schilder in 1935. He described it as:

'The picture of our own body, which we form in our own mind, that is to say the way the body appears to ourselves’

Body image isn’t necessarily about how we actually are –it might have nothing to do with reflect actual things like weight or height. It is based on their own ideas about hard to define things like descriptions like “attractiveness” or “coolness” which vary greatly from person to person. Everyone has a different body image, academics suggest that being able to evaluate your body means you need to be able to do two things:

     -  Assess yourself – to determine what you look like and how you might change
     -  Have something or someone to compare yourself to

Thus, a child or young person (or an adult, for that matter) has a body image that is connected to the place and society they grow up and live in. The standards to which they compare themselves change from place to place and from time to time. Body image is not fixed, and often change as they age. Women, in particular can face body image issues as they grow older, Ferraro et al. (2008) noted that “older women evidence greater concerns regarding body shape than do older men”. It is therefore clearly important to develop a healthy and realistic body image as early as possible.

However, studies suggest that puberty is the crunch point for both boys and girls. While girls often develop body image issues earlier than boys, teenage years offer a unique mix of challenges. Firstly, hormonal and growth changes begin to happen with puberty. Secondly, romantic relationships become a more regular feature of day to day life, making “looking good” a more urgent need.

Body image is always going to be based on a person’s own ideas about what looks good, and how they want to look. This is the reason that many people who could be considered very attractive or physically fit may struggle with body issues.

While this obviously presents some challenges for parents seeking to improve their child’s body image, in some ways this can be a comfort too. Because any child or young person can have good body image, regardless of height, weight or other physical characteristics.

What are the Pressures?

Before we can suggest what is having a negative impact on young people’s body image, we need to consider the major factors that help them form it.

Academics found that children begin to develop body image awareness from as early as 3 months. At this age, an infant will look longer at an image of their own legs taken from an observer’s perspective than their own point of view. This suggests that the view of “another” holds more interest than their own. However, the idea that “beauty is good” and general comparisons begin at around 3-4 years old. Around this time, children begin to desire to look “good”, and to have a general idea of what that might mean.

Definitions of what “good” is, in terms of attractiveness obviously vary. However, a significant source of ideals about what is or is not attractive comes from popular media. Children watch or view around 40,000 adverts per year and many of these either subtly or explicitly contain images meant to be seen as “attractive” or “not attractive”. The media that a child observes plays a significant role in their own development of positive or unhealthy body images.

It is important to remember that while there are general factors that help to determine body image, what is considered “beautiful” can be totally different from one group to the next. Studies found that for people with equal levels of unhappiness with their bodies, men and women who prioritise their physical appearance will experience more frequent and intense body-image issues. Thus, if your child or young person highly values their physical appearance, they will likely struggle more with body image issues. It is important that body image is supported by a lot of other roles, achievements and ideas that help to form your young person’s self-identity.

Family and social interactions can affect body image in three ways:

     -  Perceptions of family relations
     -  The behaviour and attitudes of mothers (particularly for women)
     -  Direct communication

This means that the way in which your family behaves (in terms of warmth, levels of conflict etc.) can impact both positively and negatively on your child’s body image.

Your own actions as parents can also be a significant factor in your child’s body image. Research suggests that girls whose mothers were critical of their eating habits or appearance were more likely to have body image issues.  On the other hand, giving your children sincere compliments can help to build a good body image. The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute notes that it can help to talk about what bodies can do, and how to stay healthy rather than a narrow focus on weight or beauty.

Outside of the home, there are a number of societal stressors on body image. A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image found that the most important societal influences on body image were the media (43.5%), advertising (16.8%) and celebrity culture (12.5%). Peers, parents and specific sectors such as the fashion industry were also identified.

Social media, which ties into both the media and peer groups is also a significant factor in body image development. The fact that pictures and images can be measured against each other via “likes”, “comments” and other interactions value “beauty” in a way unlike pre-social media circumstances. Children can now directly compare how popular their images are to their friends, and the fickle and imperfect nature of such a comparison can lead to difficulties in having realistic views about their own body image. A poll by Royal Society for Public Health (2017) found that social media may be fuelling a mental health crisis. In particular, the social media platforms “Instagram” and “Snapchat” was singled out as particularly damaging to young people.

What can parents do about it?

There are immense pressures on young people that can negatively impact their own body image. So, what can parents do to help? Gail Saltz, the editor of the Child Mind Institute notes that there are two important aspects of body image parents should help their child with.

“They need to feel okay about how they look, and not let their looks dominate their sense of self-worth.”

She gives a number of steps that parents can make use of to help promote a healthy body image. Some of these are:

1.  Sympathise with their concerns and validate the pressures they feel.

2.  Be positive about your own body, or at least not obviously negative.

3.  Both parents should be involved in promoting body image if possible – fathers play a             particular role in supporting positive body image in girls.

Another important aspect is communication. Talking to your children – even relatively young children about issues around body image, in an age appropriate way can help. Family Lives (England) suggests that parents have a relaxed conversation with their young people to find out their thoughts, concerns and insecurities about their own bodies. It is important for young people to know that their parents care about how they feel. Even if you strongly disagree with their views or think their concerns are unreasonable, parents should be careful not to invalidate their young person’s feelings. If they want to change the way they look, support them to do so in a realistic and healthy manner. This might mean exercise or healthier diets, and may help to steer young people away from unhealthy habits later.

Stanford Children’s Health suggests that parents and young people should eat together. This can help to promote healthy eating and body image. Additionally, parents should take the time to praise and instil confidence in their children. Being active in other areas – such as clubs, sports or hobbies – where your young person can excel is a good way to ensure that their body image is not so central to their identity. This reduces the likelihood of obsession with body image, and subsequent negative behaviours.

The best way to understand why body image can be so important for young people is to explore how they define themselves. If a very significant part of who they see themselves as relates to how they look – their hair colour, their weight or how attractive they feel they are – then any negative comments or experiences relating to that will naturally have a massive impact. In order to have a strong self-image, parents should encourage young people to recognize strengths and the feelings of confidence they build, especially in times of doubt.

Every parent and child is different. Even the most confident, happy and healthy families may struggle with body image issues. Parents should be aware of warning signs that body image issues may be occurring – such as deep concern about appearance, unusual eating habits – and seek help if needed. If you, or someone close to you is in need of support you can phone the Parenting NI helpline for free on 0808 8010 722.

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