Why it’s time to reconsider getting that family pet

As a parent, you will be accustomed to listening to your children ask, perhaps even beg for things that take their fancy such as the latest toy, trainers, or naughty sweet treat they are rarely allowed. Amongst this list, cries of ‘can we have a dog/cat/hamster/rabbit’ can feature very prominently for many parents, especially if your child has recently come home from visiting an animal-friendly pal. However, although it is a big commitment to get a pet, recent studies have shown that it might be time to think seriously re-think your stance about adopting a furry friend.

Relationship research

Pet food manufacturer, Mars Petcare and Cambridge University conducted research into the special relationship between children and pets, also comparing this to companionship between siblings. Children aged 12 from 77 families which had either one or more pets at home, or one or more children at home were questioned. Surprisingly, the research found that children felt their relationships with their pets were closer and sparked less conflict than between siblings.

As well as providing a heart-warming account into the fond friendship that can form between children and their animal companions, this news has sparked debate once more, adding to the evidence that shows the benefits that having pets can bring to the emotional and social development of children.

Positive benefits?

With a pet in the home, children can turn to them for disclosure, offering a ‘shoulder to cry on’. And although they cannot talk back, this could even have further benefits, helping kids to open up without the fear of judgement.

A researcher at the centre and co-author of the study, Nancy Gee, commented more about the positive effect that having a family pet could have on young children: “Evidence continues to grow showing that pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion.

“The social support that adolescents receive from pets may well support psychological well-being later in life but there is still more to learn about the long term impact of pets on children’s development.”

Although, as Nancy suggests, we are still waiting to learn more about the long-term benefits, the unrivalled relationship between children and their fluffy friends cannot be argued and adopting a pet could give your kids and you, the parent, a faithful friend to add warmth and companionship around the home.

Do you have pets? What effect does it have on children? Do you think that having pets could actually be detrimental to a child’s development? Let us know via social media, in the comments below or in our online parent’s forum!

Are your children over timetabled?

Every parent wants to do what’s best for their children and give them access to opportunities that they enjoy and benefit from. But a new study suggests that the average child is being ‘over timetabled’ leaving them with little time to relax, play, and explore their imagination, all activities that can not only improve mental wellbeing but have a positive impact on development too.

According to a study, the average child spends 30 hours and 50 minutes at school every week. Over the course of a week children typically spend almost 8 hours at clubs and doing homework, 5 hours and 49 minutes actively reading with a parent, and over an hour and a half doing chores like washing the pots. In total children spend 46 hours and 7 minutes ‘working’ – more than the average working week for many of their parents.

While many parents plan after school activities to help children stay fit, socialise, and gain extra skills, the findings suggest that some ambitious timetables could be putting too much pressure on children. Following the research, child psychologist Dr Sam Wass recommended that children have 3 hours during a week day and 6 hours on the weekend that was considered ‘free time’. She explained that down time isn’t just important to adults but children too and can in fact be a time when a lot of learning occurs, stimulating creativity and independence.

Of course, there’s still a place for structured activities in the family schedule but creating a balance could benefit children of all ages. Every child is different and while some will prefer lots of free time others thrive on structure, understanding what approach best suits your child will help you strike the right balance with them in mind.

Among the benefits of free time for children are:

  • Exploring their imagination – Imaginative play has been linked to emotional development, social skills, and is a way that many children learn to identify and understand the world around them.
  • Find their interests – If your child is often in structured activities it leaves little time for discover new interests that could become lifelong passions.
  • Promote self-sufficiency – Being stimulated all the time means children can begin to lack the ability to entertain themselves. Having free time can help promote independence, problem solving, and creativity that can be useful both now and in the future.
  • It’s fun – Free time to do what they love is simply fun for children too, giving them a chance unwind and relax.

How can you help your child open up?

A report from Youth Index released last week revealed that 48 percent of young people have so many emotional issues that they struggle to concentrate at school. And perhaps more worryingly, 46 percent of these do not talk to anyone about their problems because they did not want anyone else to know they were struggling.

With such startling figures highlighting issues in children today, we’ve put together a guide to help your children open up about their problems and ensure they are healthy and happy both at home and at school.

Ask questions

This may seem simple, but with such busy lives, it can be easy to forget to ask simple questions, such as “How was your day?” or “Did anything happen at school today?” Make sure you make a note to ask questions and monitor responses so you can notice any changes in replies or attitude.

Use feeling words

As well as asking generic questions, it’s important to delve deeper. And one of the best ways to gauge how a child feels is to use feeling words. Asking questions about how they feel or felt at a particular time by using the words “happy”, “sad”, “angry” and “upset” can really help them to open up more accurately.

Give them time to talk

If you ask a question – whether it be something important or a passing question –make sure you give them time to answer before pressuring them for an answer. If children have something on their mind, they will need time to gather their thoughts before they answer.

Use subtle and nonverbal communication when listening

If you manage to get your child talking about things, make sure you give them the opportunity to tell the whole story. In order to do this, use positive nonverbal communication techniques such as smiling and nodding to make sure they know you are listening and understand their issues.

Talk about your own experiences

Sometimes, it can feel like you’re the only person feeling a certain way. And when you’re a child, those feelings are heightened. If you suspect something is playing on your child’s mind, it can be beneficial to talk about your experiences when you were younger. If you experienced a bit of bullying or you were struggling with school work when you were young, letting them now will help them to realise they’re not alone.

Don’t judge

Even with the best intentions, we can give children the feeling of not being important with our responses. Responding to statements with phrases such as “I’m sure that’s not what they meant,” and “I bet it wasn’t that bad,” can make a child feel even more isolated and result in the closing up completely.

Have you struggled to get your child to open up about their feelings? Share your experiences and tips with us!

Low sugar breakfast ideas to start school days better

Weekday mornings are a hectic time for parents. As well as getting ready for their own working day, children must be washed, dressed and ready for school. In some households this is also juggled with feeding pets, meaning that it is all too common for balanced eating to be forgotten about when it comes to feeding kids in favour of quick, argument free and often sugar-packed breakfasts. However, health officials have recently warned that children are consuming half of their daily sugar allowance at breakfast alone – a worrying statistic for health conscious parents.

To help mornings run smoother, we’ve pulled together some tasty, low fuss and low sugar breakfast ideas to start each school day better.

Eggs on toast

Eggs are packed with protein, keeping tummies full until lunchtime and when placed on toast they make for a scrummy meal that kids will look forward to every morning! Eggs can be scrambled in a pan in a matter of minutes, while boiled eggs and soldiers can be reserved for those days when you have a few more moments to spare!

Low sugar cereal

Kid’s favourite cereals may contain huge amounts of sugar, but this doesn’t mean you have to rule out cereal altogether. Weetabix is a great choice, working equally as well with warm milk on those colder days. To cater to a sweet tooth add a small portion of toppings such as bananas, strawberries or even a small amount of honey, which is incredibly tasty but is slightly better than sugar itself!

Whole grain toast and low sugar peanut butter

Peanut butter can be seen as a forbidden treat but without added sugar only the nutrients are left, without ever sacrificing the incredible taste. Many independent health food stores will make their own ‘raw’ peanut butter to buy, but many ‘off the shelf’ brands also offer the same, healthy peanut butter to make every breakfast delicious!

Porridge oats

Your kids may already be enjoying pre-packaged and pre-flavoured porridge type brands, but switching to buying just the raw oats can instantly make the meal much healthier, saving you money too. Add a few splashes of milk or water to a scoop of oats to make a hearty breakfast bowl, adding fruit for further flavour.

Have you tried any of these meals? What are your favourite low-sugar breakfast ideas? Let us know in the comments below, or in our parent’s forum!

How to get your kids to turn off the screen

We’re all guilty of looking at a screen a bit too much every now and again, whether it’s a phone, tablet, or TV. And despite even the best intentions it’s easy for children to slip into a routine of always being plugged in but there are ways you can encourage your child to switch off devices and get creative, outdoors, or active instead.

Previous surveys have found that almost a quarter of parents find it difficult to control their child’s screen use – even more than the number that find it hard to encourage them to do their homework. There’s no denying that tech gadgets are a convenient way to entertain children of all ages and there are plenty of games and apps on the market to encourage new skills, development, and education. But too much screen time can be harmful, leading to a sedentary lifestyle and can even harm some areas of development, such as social skills. While debated, some experts recommend that children should be plugged in to gadgets for no more than 2 hours each day.

If you want to break the current habits of your children using electronics and encourage them to get involved in other activities too there are some steps you can take

  • Plan activities – If your child is used to using tech a lot they can become ‘bored’ when you restrict the use. But by planning lots of different activities you can create a diversion and keep them occupied. Think of things they’ll enjoy doing, whether it’s joining a sports club, having a family game night, or getting crafty.
  • Create long-term projects – By creating a project that the children can do over weeks or even months can give them something to look forward to and create some structure.
  • Get outdoors – It may take a bit of encouragement but many children loving being outside once they get out there, plus it’s great for their health too.
  • Lead by example – Tech has become such an important part of our daily lives but if your children see that your constantly plugged in too it can harm your efforts. Try to have time when you’re completely free from gadgets, such as when you sit down for a family meal.
  • Set restrictions – If you need to you can set a limit on the amount of time your children spend on gadgets. While it can be difficult to monitor, you are often able to set restrictions on devices with passwords or set them to disconnect after a certain period of time.

Fun, free activities for kids this January

The festivities may seem like a lifetime ago, but for many parents the finical hangover can last much longer. January is a disreputably tough month for people all over the world, but for families, the managing finances can be a struggle. And keeping kids entertained and occupied in the cold, dark winter, can be difficult when you’re keeping a tight hold of the pennies. But there are things you can do to with children this winter that won’t cost the earth. Here’s just five of the best:

Have a family film day

Although we are all for keeping children entertained away from the screen, getting the family together for a lazy family film day is one of the nicest ways to spend a cold, dark Sunday. Although you may think you’ll have seen each other enough this Christmas, the likelihood is you’ll have all been too busy cooking, planning, travelling and seeing other family members, that you may struggle to think of a time it was just you. So grab your favourite films, put the popcorn in the microwave and get that hot chocolate ready for a day on the sofa together under a blanket.

Get crafty

Just because its winter, it doesn’t mean that creativity can go out the window. Swing open the art cupboard, dig out the paint, caulks, PVA glue and paper and get making something. And don’t just stop at paintings and pictures. Why not take it to the next level and create a papier-mâché plant pot, a pom pom garland or even channel the 70s and get tie-dyeing a t-shirt?

Cook a hearty meal

Teaching children to cook can either be easy or difficult, depending on the child. But there’s no better time to get them interested in the kitchen than in winter. Winter demands warm, scrumptious meals with a lot of simple ingredients that kids can easily get their heads around. If you want to really get them involved, decide together what you’ll all eat for dinner then get chopping and cooking in preparation.

Get active outside

Just because it’s cold, it doesn’t mean you can’t get out and about. Kids love getting out and going somewhere new, so go for a walk or a bike ride in the unexplored countryside or even visit an outdoor play centre. As long as it’s not frosty, kids will love to play on slides and swings just as much as in the summer. And what’s more, it won’t be too crowded either. If you’re looking to get your family moving, check out our blog for keeping active this winter.

Bring the outdoors in with a sleepover

Socialising is one of the most important parts when it comes to growing new skills. So why not invite a few friends over for a sleepover with a difference? Set up tents and sleeping bags in the living room and let them enjoy bringing the outdoors in for the night.

Do you have any tips for keeping kids occupied on a budget this winter? Let us know!

How to get kids back into learning mode

The Christmas holidays may only just seem like they’ve started, but before you know it, children will be heading back to school ready to start a whole new year.

There’s no denying Christmas is an exciting time for kids (and even the big kids), but when the time comes to get back to reality, it can be difficult to get back into the swing of it. So how can you ensure your kids are ready for the new year and the new term?

Set goals to achieve

Before the new term starts, reflect on the last one with your child. Talk through the ups and downs, the subjects they like, the ones they don’t like as much, and what they feel they’re good at and have developed. Then look at the coming term and set small, achievable goals for them to work to. Whether it be getting five marks more on a numeracy test, learning to spell ten new words or even something away from academia, such as making a new friend. This will refocus and motivate them, and put them in the right frame of mind before they start school again.

Invite friends over before term starts

Christmas is one of the best holidays for accumulating things to talk about, and when children head back to school, often you’ll find they’re chattier than ever, swapping stories about new toys, adventures and festive cheer. Although you won’t be able to stop this completely, inviting your child’s friends round before they head back to school will help to get some of this out of the way before they start back at school and ensure they are more focussed on schooling when they get back.

Take an active interest in schoolwork

It can be difficult with such busy lives to sit down every day and go through your child’s day, but making sure your child knows you are interested in their day will help to encourage them to do well, while helping them remember what they’ve done.

Track progress

This can be a new start for the whole family, but one that can focus around your child and their development. Invest in a chalkboard, write out their targets and track how they are progressing. This will give them something to visually aim for and help them to stay on track – while giving them structure early in the term.

Do you have any tips for keeping on top of children’s studies in the new year?

Five ways to keep the family active this winter

Although winter is already in full freeze, it is often after Christmas that families find it difficult to motivate themselves. In January, many often find that although the excitement of Christmas still lingers, the nights – and days – are still dark and cold, meaning it can be harder than ever to get out and get some exercise during this long month. Instead it is often much easier to slow down and watch TV than to even consider getting heart rates up with exercise. But hitting activities head on and as part of a family can really help you to keep going, while also making it fun.

So how can you make sure you keep your family moving when the cold lingers but motivation is at an all-time low?

Embrace the snow

It’s not unusual for us in the UK to get snow in January, and although seen as a hindrance by some, most children love the white stuff. Encourage kids to get outside and undertake a snowy adventure once it’s safe. Whether it be for a fun-filled afternoon sledging, a short half an hour to build a snowman or a quick 10 minute run around in the garden, your kids will be out of breath in no time.

Go on an adventure

There’s seldom anything prettier than a crisp landscape laying almost untouched by frost, so why not make the most of it? Get out of your comfort zone and go on a family adventure to somewhere new. Whether it be a long afternoon stroll around a large park, a hike in the countryside or even a day trip to a new city, a change of scenery can make a big difference to the whole family – and rack up those steps!

Make the most of the winter sports

Outdoor ice-skating rinks have become inherently popular over the last few years, and for good reason. Kids and adults alike love skating round in the open and showing off their finest moves. So why not take advantage of these while they’re still around and get your skates on?

Move activities indoors

When the extreme cold sets in, it’s time to move indoors. But there are plenty of ways to keep kids active inside. Swimming is a popular choice for cold, winter days, and you can make it as fun or competitive as you wish. But kicking against the water is one of the most effective ways to build up stamina and get kids moving – without them realising. Likewise, indoor football, badminton, tennis and even activities such as trampolining are ideal for kids of all ages and all abilities.

What activities do you swear by during the winter months?

Fun festive crafts for kids

Filled with fun, festivities and lots of indulgence, Christmas is a magical time of year for all ages that is all about spending time with loved ones. However, once the mince pies have all been demolished and the presents have been wrapped and placed under the tree, children may find themselves with time on their hands which, if left unattended, can cause even more chaos and mayhem during this already hectic season! Keep idle fingers busy this Christmas period with one of our fun festive crafts for kids!

Glass jar decorations

The Mason jar is having a moment on the internet right now and this simple food container can be turned into many wonderful ornaments for around the home! This Christmas, take an empty jar of pasta sauce and turn it into a glistening candle holder in just a few simple steps. For this, you will need pots of red, green, gold or silver glitter (or whichever shades make up the festive colour scheme around your home) and something to use as a stencil. This could be some shaped stickers found in a craft store, or you could create your own using masking tape. If making your own, cut out your stencil into a festive shape such as a star, snowflake or Christmas tree, making sure it is big enough to let light from the candle through, and place it on the jar. Then, cover the jar in glue and sprinkle with glitter to create your own sparkling decoration!

Fingerprint Christmas tree

Fingerprint Christmas trees make fabulous home decorations, as well as the perfect gift for family members! Many art shops will sell pre-made oven bake clay, making this craft very simple to create. Roll out the clay and cut it out into the shape of a Christmas tree either using a cookie cutter, or if supervised by an adult with a steady hand, free-style the shape using a knife. Be sure to make a small hole at the top of the tree to place string through to hang it on a real tree or around the home once complete! Finally, add baubles onto the decoration using your fingerprints to create a customised ornament.

Clothes peg snowman

Most busy households will have many wooden clothes pegs lying around and if not, these can be picked up in any craft or DIY shop. Paint the pegs white and let your children give their snowmen faces with a black marker pen. Glue small pom poms for the nose and complete these characters with a woollen scarf. Once done, these can be placed around the home by simply clipping the peg to anywhere it will fit!

How much pressure do you place on your child – and where?

It can be hard to get the parenting balance right, after all – there is no guidebook or training offered for new mums and dads when their new bundle of joy is born! That being said, most of us know that it’s our job to prepare our loved ones for a happy and successful life, and sometimes this can involve being slightly ‘pushy’, encouraging them towards doing things that you know will stand them in good stead for the future, even if they don’t see the benefits in their younger age. However, new research may cause many parents to re-consider their guiding approach.

Success over smiles?

Researchers from the Arizona State University conducted a study, comparing where a child’s parents placed their emphasis and how this reflected on them. They investigated 506 11-12 year olds, from high income families. With three statements based around kindness and compassion and the other three about personal success, they were asked to rank what they think their parents valued them at.  Surprisingly, those whose parents valued things such as grades or achievement in extra-curricular activities or hobbies were actually showing signs of more stress, anxiety and overall distress than those who encouraged decency towards others and social interaction at school. What’s more, they found that those whose parent’s pushed them towards doing better at school were more likely to achieve lower grades and display disruptive behaviour.

The key is balance

While the researchers from Arizona State University stress that they are not suggesting that encouraging your child to achieve is a bad thing, they highlight that the damage is caused when there is too much of a strong focus towards only on achievement, without any value placed on social interaction and community spirit.

It is natural to want your child to do well at school and to succeed in their dancing, music, sports class or more, but if they believe that only this achievement is critical to them and you, then there could be repercussions in the future.

As a parent, where do you place your values? Do you encourage your children to always be kind to others, or is grades are exams the main topic of conversation in your household? Let us know how you get the parenting balance right and share your thoughts on this new research at our online parent forum.