Enjoy Your Children

Miriam Chachamu

May 3, 2011

How old are you?

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 8:02 pm

Lots of kids ask me this question while we are working together. They also want to know whether I have children, how old they are, and whether they have a Wii. And do I have pets?

Their parents squirm. Sometimes they ask their child to stop, explaining that these questions are rude. But some kids insist – they argue, or try the same questions again at a later time. After all, only moments earlier I asked them similar questions and they replied politely. So why can I ask whatever I like and they cannot? It’s not fair! Parents look at me sheepishly. You see what I mean? He just doesn’t understand.

Navigating the social maze can be daunting for some kids. We know that children and adults have different obligations and entitlements, and these are not just about driving, voting or paying taxes. A teacher can ask a child about his age, but it is not acceptable for a child to ask his teacher the same question. Having said that, it is OK for a child to ask another child for his age. To add to the confusion, it can be acceptable for a child to ask close relatives personal questions.

Some children absorb social norms intuitively, and seem to follow them with little prompting from us. Around the age of six, most kids do not ask these kinds of questions any more. Unfortunately other children find all this confusing. How can we help?

If your child keeps embarrassing you, it is best to keep your feelings aside and treat this as a practical, rather than a moral issue. It is not bad or wrong for a child to ask these questions. They are just unsuitable in certain circumstances. There is no point in debating whether this is fair or not – instead, we can accept that this does not seem fair to the child. We can even offer our sympathy about how unfair this may feel.

You can explain that this is just the way the world works – when a child asks an adult a personal question, other people may think he is being rude. Tell your child that you know he does not mean to be rude – he is just interested and curious. But asking adults about their looks, age or money is not allowed. People will think he is odd, or impolite, when he doesn’t mean to be.

You can then invite your child to ask you any questions whatsoever – in private.

April 17, 2011

Parent question: How do I get my 11-year-old daughter to participate in valuable school activities such as music (she plays the violin), rather than just hanging out with her friends?

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 9:24 am

First, I would like to congratulate your daughter for having good friends! Many don’t, and this makes them very miserable indeed.

What may seem to us like a useless waste of time is often far from it. By spending time together, children and teens learn and practise many valuable social skills – how to have a conversation, how to negotiate and compromise, how to win and lose graciously, how to share and be kind, what kind of jokes make people laugh, what behaviours get on people’s nerves, etc. Their happiness and success in the future will be directly linked to their ability get on with people – bosses, colleagues, friends and future partners. And hanging out with their friends in their tweens is their practice ground.

Furthermore, your daughter is busy with the developmental challenge of establishing her identity and her place in the world. Pre-teen children constantly ask themselves: Who am I? Am I normal? Do I belong? And they are more ilkely to answer these questions positively if they have at least one good friend who accepts them and likes them for who they are – and preferably more than just the one friend. So being with friends is much more important than many of us parents realise.

Show your daughter that you appreciate her popularity, so that she doesn’t think you disapprove of such an important part of her life. This will create good will, and help her be more open to listening to the other things you have to say.

All that said, activities such as sports or music are indeed very valuable. I can give you some ideas about encouraging your daughter to take part, although none is guaranteed to work. All of us parents need to accept that we can influence and direct our children, but ultimately we have no control over what they choose to do. We can motivate them, but we can’t force them, without damaging our relationships with them.

The best way to motivate someone is to link whatever it is that you wish them to do to their own wants and needs. And, since your daughter is so sociable, your way to influence her may be to get her to meet new friends through musical activities.

First, you need to get some information from her. Are any of her friends already taking part in the school orchestra or band? Maybe you can encourage her to go along with one of them? Even if none does, there may be other ‘cool’ kids already there. Perhaps your daughter would like the opportunity to meet them? Or maybe another one of her friends is thinking of joining, and they could do this together. It can be much more fun to join a new activity if you are not alone.

Are there other young people in your social circle that are taking part in musical activity? A recommendation from a slightly older cousin or the son of a family friend can do wonders. Children of this age are much more likely to get inspired by their peers than by us.

Are there any celebrities that your daughter admires, such as favourite actors or singers? They might well have studied music in their youth, which helped them to become who they are today. Will your daughter be willing to make an effort too?

You could also help her see that musical activities will help her make friends easily wherever she goes, as a teenager, student and even as adult. If you play the violin to a reasonable standard, you can always find an orchestra or a band to join. It is almost guaranteed that you will easily be able to meet people who have similar interests to yours. So you do something fun and get new friends at the same time.

Does your daughter have any dreams or goals? Maybe she wants to be a teacher, an actor, TV presenter or just be an interesting person? You can easily show her how music can help. However, it is important that you talk about her dreams, not your own expectations of her. Otherwise this may be perceived as pressure, and she may be tempted to rebel.

Lastly – most children who play instruments love taking part in musical activities. Could there have been any reason for her not to? Perhaps she doesn’t like the teacher, or she fell out with one of the children who participates? It is worth checking with her.

And of course – I’m sure you are doing this anyway – show interest in the activities you value, attend any concerts, listen to her practise and compliment her for effort and participation as well as for achievements.

Good luck!

November 24, 2010

I want one of Those!!! Dealing with kids’ material demands

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 3:51 pm

As parents, we would like our children to appreciate what they already have. Unfortunately, many kids seem to constantly demand more and more. Why do they always ask for new stuff? And how can we best deal with it?

Just a few ideas for you to consider together with some practical tips:

· When your children ask you to buy them things, they are usually trying to fulfil valid emotional needs. For example, they may believe that owning a particular monster-shooting game will make them happy or popular, or that a new shiny pair of shoes will give them confidence. Of course, this does not mean that you should get them whatever they want – but you can help them find alternative ways to feel happy, popular or confident. Knowing there is a need behind their wants will also help you to keep your cool!

· When we reward our children with presents for good behaviour, we unwittingly teach them to associate presents with being loved or being approved of. Once this association is established, our kids are likely to ask us to buy them even more stuff, so that they can experience this warm feeling of approval again. It is much wiser to reward children by noticing and mentioning what they do well, and by spending special fun time with them.

· Advertisers deliberately connect between their products and our emotional needs. They promote the illusion that once our kids own their products, they will instantly become cool. Companies spend a fortune on advertising because it works! The less your children are exposed to advertising in the media, and the more you educate them about the motives of advertisers, the less material demands you will get.

· Educate children about money. Play ‘money’ games with younger kids, and when they are older give them pocket money so that they can learn to save towards a goal. Take your kids shopping with you and model comparing prices and showing restraint! They will learn a lot about money and possessions from observing your own behaviour and attitude.

· Before going shopping with your children, have a preparation conversation. Instead of telling them what they will get and what they will not, ask them leading questions. ‘We are going to the shops tomorrow. What do you think we will get?’ ‘Yes, you would like another game for the DS. Why do you think we are we not going to buy you one?’ Praise any sensible answer and ignore provocations!

· Limit your explanations to the information your children do not already have. Explaining the obvious is called nagging! If you are not sure what your child knows, ask ‘Would you like me to explain to you why we will not buy a new fire engine tomorrow, or do you already know?’

· Give your kids lots of sympathy – after all it is hard for them to see this new and shiny stuff on the shelves and not be tempted. Say: ‘I wish I could buy it for you, wouldn’t it be great if everything in the shops was free?’ or, ‘I know you want it, it can be hard to see things you want and not be able to get them’. Your aim is to show to your children that you understand how they feel, whilst keeping your boundaries at the same time.

· Most importantly- do not give in to pester power! When you give in, you teach your children to harass you even more next time.

Good luck with it, and enjoy your children

August 1, 2010

Parent question – how do I help my daughter with her friendships?

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 12:40 pm

 My eight year old daughter experiences frequent friendship fall outs at school, and from what I have observed I feel that she struggles with putting her point across sensitively and assertively with her friends and tends to try and rail road them into what she wants to do. When they don’t want to do what she wants she resorts to being a bit mean. In fact her school report says that she needs to develop ways to deal with friendship issues kindly and maturely. I don’t think she is solely to blame for the fall outs however it is impacting on her and we notice a change in her behaviour at home. Any ideas for helping her to develop a more kind and mature behaviour with her friends?


There are quite a few things that parents can do to help children make friends and keep friends.

First, children who are used to getting their own way at home often find it more difficult to compromise with their friends at school. This is because they haven’t learned to easily accept that sometimes things do not go their way. In other words, some of these kids haven’t developed enough resilience. I don’t know your daughter but is it possible that she learned that kicking a fuss can get her what she wants at home, and she is carrying this behaviour to school? If you think this may be the case, then you could help her with her social difficulties by helping her become more flexible and tolerant generally. You can start by praising her whenever she deals well with everyday frustrations- be specific and describe what she did to show you that she is becoming more mature, flexible and tolerant.

It can also be useful to discuss friendship issues with her. When doing this you need to be careful not to turn it into a lecture, which your daughter is likely to tune-out. Our instinct is to preach: we want to say something like ‘If you always insist that your friends do what you ask they will not want to play with you’ or ‘That was rude. If you keep going like that you will lose all your friends’. Such words, however well intentioned, are likely to be perceived as criticism and your daughter will be busy defending herself rather than considering your advice.

Instead, it is wiser to wait for a time when your daughter is in a good mood, and explore the issue indirectly. You can do this by discussing books or films together. Almost all stories include the theme of friendship, and you can start by asking her questions about the characters, how she thinks they may feel and why. This will also give you a chance to see how much she already understands about social interactions and whether she is able to see that different characters have different perspectives about almost every situation.

It will also be useful to discuss what friends are, and what helps keep friends. A simple way to present this to your daughter is to say that her friends are other children who make her feel good. To have a friends we must be a friend, therefore we need to make our friends feel good too. Ask, rather than suggest, how we can make our friends feel good. What may help them want to stay around and play a bit more? On the other hand, what may make them feel bad and want to go away? And what could be a good way out of a situation where two friends want to do different things? Ask for her ideas about how one can say no without causing offence. During these conversations, it is important to praise any sensible answer even if it is not what you had in mind.

It is also important to limit our discussion to one or two questions at a time. When a conversation is going well we usually tend to keep going and often we stop only when something goes wrong. Instead we need to see this as a long-term project. No one conversation, however brilliant, is likely to sort things out once and for all. Aim for progressing one step at a time, and praise any improvement.

Another good thing to do would be to ask the school to let you know of any positive change, however small, and celebrate it with enthusiasm and praise. You want to change your daughter’s self-image, so that she can gradually begin to see herself as a girl who gets on well with people and can cope when things are not going her way.

Good luck!

June 16, 2010

Three-and-a-half-year-old Emily says …

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 7:08 pm


Emily’s parents came to see me a few months ago, worried that their daughter was temperamental, clingy, demanding and generally difficult. Having visited them at home, I could testify that their description was accurate!

We worked together to better understand Emily’s emotional needs and perspective, and of course, to put some practical skills into place.

The skill that was most useful for Emily and her family is called Descriptive Praise. It is about noticing and mentioning little positive changes in a child’s behaviour, using clear and specific language. For three year olds, it is best to describe at least 20 different positive facts every day. When children are so young, descriptive praise is sometime all you need to transform the atmosphere at home from anger and criticism to harmony and cooperation.

On the way to nursery this morning, Mum said to little Emily:

‘You were a fantastic eater today and chose a great choice of different foods. You will grow big and healthy!  And you were so kind to spend time with your baby sister, reading her a lovely story and helping teach her story listening.’

 to which Emily replied in a tiny yet confident voice:

‘I’m trying my best’

April 11, 2010

How to get your way with little kids without raising your voice

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 3:54 pm


I now see lots of families who have children under five years old.

They come to see me in a room full of exciting toys: a Lego farm, a garage with colourful cars, a real doll house with tiny furniture… We sit and chat and play until it is time for the family to leave.  And then the problems start.

If I leave the parents to their own devices, I usually hear something like this:

Parent: We need to tidy up now. We must put all the toys back in the boxes.

Child continues to play, not even looking in the parent’s direction.

Parent repeats in a more assertive tone of voice: It’s tidy-up time, come, help me put this in the box.

Child: NO!!!

Parent: We have to go, we need to tidy-up for the other children. They are going to be really upset if we leave the room in a mess. Come on! Help me!

The child, who couldn’t care less about these hypothetical children who dare play with HIS toys, now shouts:  NO! NO!

And then: I want this car/brick/horse/goat!

Parent:  No, you can’t have it, it belongs to MIRIAM.

Now I am the bad guy.

The child grabs the car/brick/horse/goat and wouldn’t let go. The parent looks at me in desperation. You see? He doesn’t listen.

If you look at all this from the child’s point of view, why on earth would he want to leave the room? He put a lot of effort into his game or construction, and we were all happy with it, giving him lots of praise. Suddenly he must destroy it all! And why would he not want to take with him whatever he fancies? He had so much fun with it.

So what is the alternative?

In a similar situation, you can…

Say: You are welcome to play with this but we will need to back home go in a while, and we’ll put everything back in the box before we go.

Before the child starts playing, ask: Will you help me tidy up before we leave?

It is important to not let children start before they agree.

If your child is too young for this conversation, just say a few times in a pleasant voice: We play, and then we go. And everything stays here.

Then, from time to time say: You are playing beautifully. And in 20 minutes/10 minutes/2 minutes we will take a picture of what you made and we’ll put everything back in the box.

We all have mobile phones with cameras these days. It only takes a few seconds to take a picture of what your child made, and it costs nothing. It shows your child that you appreciate his effort. It also makes it easier for him to let go.

If you do enough of this talking and after your child sees the picture, getting him to tidy up becomes really easy. Of course, you will be wise to use descriptive praise as you go along:

You put the red brick in the box, and now the blue one. You are so quick, this is so helpful, I’m really proud…

And if your child wants to take stuff home with him, instead of just saying no you can say: Oh, the goat is so lovely, I wish I could give it to you. Of course you want it. I wish it was mine to give. What a shame that we must leave it here…

Try this. It works for me day after day.


January 20, 2010

Preventing sobbing, tantrums and other dramas

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 7:20 am

Some months ago I was interviewed for BBC York Radio. The presenter, Russell Walker, wanted to know How to Calm a Challenging Child!

I got a bit cheeky and asked him to pretend he was seven so that I could demonstrate how to prevent supermarket tantrums with him. The secret, which I learned from Noel Janis-Norton, is to prepare the child in advance in a very particular way.

However daring I was on live radio, it took me a while to overcome my inhibitions and share this clip with you… It is only five-minute long and is very useful indeed. To listen, click here: avoiding supermarket tantrums



December 6, 2009

Parent question: Should we let our daughter swap musical instruments?

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 8:19 pm

My 10 year old daughter has been playing the piano for nearly four years and a few months ago, passed her grade 2 exam.  For most of these years she enjoyed playing but getting her to practice is becoming more and more difficult. I constantly nag her and she only does as little as she can get away with.  She says she wants to change to the clarinet because her best friend plays it.  Should we let her?

The piano is a deceivingly complex instrument. It is easy to start with – the sound is already there and kids can play simple tunes quite quickly. However, the more one progress on the piano the more challenging it becomes. In order to be able to get to a reasonable playing standard, piano students will need many years of sitting down and practicing on their own, deciphering complex notation and mastering difficult coordination.  To be able to progress well with classical training children need to have good eye-sight, be naturally good readers, and have the temperament and personality that will enable them to sit still and spend hours by themselves.

Once piano players achieve a reasonably good standard of they can accompany other musicians, or perhaps move on to play jazz or join a rock band. Playing the piano well is immensely satisfying. But it is difficult to play together with others when you are a beginner.

Orchestral instruments such as the clarinet or violin are more difficult to start with. Initial attempts on the clarinet produce ear-piercing squeaks and a violin in the hands of a beginner wails like a starving cat. But once the initial hurdles are overcome, the music is simpler. Very soon the child can join their school orchestra and find friends with similar interest. And when kids practice, they can stand and move about, so there is no need to sit still!

Choosing an instrument is a bit like choosing a partner- if all goes well it becomes a life-long relationship. No one would dream of committing to a partner at the age of six, but we do expect our kids to stick with their first choice of instrument, which may not be right for them…

Before ditching the piano it would be worthwhile to discuss the situation with the teacher. Perhaps the teacher is not right for your daughter? Maybe the material that she is expected to play is too difficult? Perhaps your daughter needs a more intuitive approach to music, based on ear training and improvisation where reading music is secondary?

In any case, I would recommend that you let your daughter try the clarinet – perhaps borrow or rent an instrument and commit for to a few terms of lessons. Before taking on the clarinet permanently, your daughter needs to feel comfortable with the it and the only way to test this is to have some time to get used to it. Choose a good teacher (who may not necessary be a great player!) and give your daughter your blessings.  Her years on the piano will not be lost- she already learned to read music and has developed her coordination and sense of rhythm.  Pretty soon she will be able to join an orchestra and make new like-minded friends. This will serve her well in her teenage years. And who knows, if she ends up leaving the piano she may wish to come back to it later on.

Good luck! 



October 14, 2009

The secret nasty reward of feeling guilty

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 8:11 am

What on earth can be rewarding about feeling guilty? You must be asking yourself. Guilt is a terrible feeling. How can it possibly be rewarding?

Once upon a time I used to feel guilty most of the time. Guilty for spending too much time at work. Guilty for being with my kids instead of working. Guilty for spending time with the kids while wishing I could be at work, and guilty for working while missing my kids. There was no escape.

Guilt is a funny emotion. On the one hand, it makes you feel bad about yourself. It saps your energy and spoils your fun by filling your brain with repeated, useless thoughts about how you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing, or how terrible you are for having made that awful mistake a few days ago. It’s not a fun feeling to have around.

But it also has a nasty little psychological reward to offer. It goes like this:

I have done, or am still doing, something that is against my values – something which is WRONG. Therefore I am a BAD PERSON.

But I’m feeling guilty about it. Extremely guilty. So guilty that I can’t enjoy my life. I can’t even sleep properly at night. I feel sooo very guilty.

But hey, suffering so much makes me a better person after all! Bad, awful people – they don’t feel guilty! They have no conscience. When they do something bad, they don’t care. But me – I feel guilty about things I do. This makes me a GOOD PERSON after all!

So guilt rewards us by allowing us to feel OK about ourselves, while we continue to do things that are against our values.

Back to my own example – I could be at work but still feel I was a good mum because I was suffering with guilt for not being with my kids. And I could spend time with my kids while feeling I was a good enough employee – after all, I felt really guilty about having completed only half of my office ‘to do’ list.

A little bit of guilt makes us better people – it motivates us to do the right thing. But guilt that stays for a long time without us taking steps towards resolving the guilt-inducing issue is usually a sign that we are getting some psychological reward out of it.

Thankfully, once you recognise how guilt works, it suddenly loses its charm. Next time your guilt overstays its welcome, ask yourself what you are getting out of maintaining is. In which way does it allow you to think of yourself as a better person than you really are? Once you expose the hidden reward that guilt gives you, you can’t enjoy it anymore. Then think of the price that guilt makes you pay – your happiness and the happiness of people around you.  Is it worth it? If your answer is no, you can either take action to improve the situation, or just accept that life isn’t perfect and you are fallible like everyone else. And by doing this you can break yourself free.   

August 15, 2009

Ten apologies too far

Categories: Uncategorized — . Posted by Miriam at 5:13 pm


Last week my man and I found ourselves in North Yorkshire, visiting a beautiful medieval castle.

We entered the little shop in order to pay for our entry. A six-year old girl and a slightly older boy were standing there, holding their loot.

‘Move aside!’ Mum said to the boy hurriedly, leading him with her arm. ‘The lady and gentleman need to get in.’

‘That’s very kind’, I replied with a smile. ‘We are just queuing here to pay, there is plenty of room.’

‘Oh sorry,’ She smiled apologetically ‘My kids are spending their pocket money. Sorry’

‘Your kids look lovely and we have time.’ I replied. ‘No need to apologise.’

 ‘I’d like one of these bags Mummy, please, pleasssssse, I have enough money!’ pleaded the boy, pointing to a canvas bag behind the till.

‘That’s fine, you can have it’ said Mum. ‘It’s a nice bag.’

Turning towards us again she added ‘I’m really sorry to keep you waiting.’

‘Actually, we are enjoying watching your kids’ I said with a smile. ‘They are so lovely’.

‘Can I have a bag too?’ joined the girl. ‘Please?’

‘Oh’, Said Mum, looking back at us. ‘Would you like to go ahead before us? We are taking so much of your time’

‘No need, thanks, we’re not in a hurry’ I replied, getting secretly more and more annoyed.

Two minutes and ten apologies later, they were on their way out. ‘You have great kids’, I reassured Mum. ‘You must be so proud’.

It was clear that Mum had the very best intentions, but I was still left wondering- what kind of message are these two children getting? That they are in the way? That they shouldn’t take anyone’s time or space? That they need to be excused for existing?

And why did Mum feel such a need to apologise? Perhaps it is because many of us expect children to behave like mini-adults, having a quiet voice and perfect manners, getting on with things quickly and effectively, being barely seen and certainly not heard? I haven’t seen parents apologising for their children in this way in any other culture.  It seems to me that here in the UK, children are expected to conform to adult behaviour standards very early in their lives. Surely, children and families pay an emotional price for this?

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Copyright 2008 Miriam Chachamu