Wednesday, 20 June 2018

From Xbox to exercise – how to encourage your children to be more active

There are many blogs that outline the virtues of spending more time outside, indeed we have written some ourselves – take this one, for example:

Given the ever increasing pull of electrical devices, it’s even more important to do all we can to get our children outside whenever we can. It won’t be easy, but with a bit of effort it can be done – and the kids will really thank us for it! And with National guidelines suggesting 30 minutes exercise, five days a week, the sooner we start, the better.

Do as I do – and as I say

We're all guilty of staring at our phones a little bit longer than we should – is it any wonder that our children follow suit? The key to unplugging our kids and getting them outside is to provide a positive role model for them to replicate. Set yourself certain screen times during the day when you can check your own devices – and make sure you dedicate some time to exercise too, preferably when your children can see. Perhaps there are exercises or activities that you and your kids could do together?

Find me in the club

There are an array of organised clubs and exercise groups for kids, many of which offer free trial sessions before you have to sign up. As much as time allows it, encourage your children to try as many different activities as they can until they find something that they really enjoy. If your children like football, rugby and cricket, it will be easy to find something that peaks their interest. But it doesn’t have to be traditional sports clubs, there are lots of activities that will get your child moving – try street dance, cheerleading or children's yoga and see what they think.

Take advantage of the great outdoors

Exercise classes and teams can take a lot of time and money. If both of these are against you, then it’s time to look closer to home for your kids’ daily exercise fix. It could be that your work means attending groups at the same time every week is difficult, or maybe the equipment needed and class fees make joining an organised group difficult, however there are plenty of way of building exercise into your child’s daily routine, it just takes a bit of creativity and effort. Here are some suggestions:

· Play in the park – most are free to visit and you can usually find one within a reasonable distance of home. If you have to walk there, why not consider either walking with a purpose or organising a nature treasure trail en-route. Find out how here:

· Choose some chores – you’re never too young to do chores and most provide excellent exercise too. What’s better is that you can use the chores to reward your children with appropriate, time-limited screen time once they’re complete. We’ve outlined some child-friendly activity chores here:

· Step back in time – set some simple equipment aside (like a tennis ball, some hoops and some chalk, for example) and encourage your kids to play outside, like children used to way-back-when. Don’t tell them what the equipment is for – leave it to them to decide what to play and how to organise themselves. You can find some ideas and inspiration here:

We hope these ideas will help you to not only set aside some electronic-free time for you and your children, but also discover some fun and frivolous activities that will get your heart rate going and put a big smile on everyone’s face!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The benefits of getting closer to nature

With World Environment Day earlier this week the theme for this year’s campaign is to beat plastic pollution. It’s all about how we can join together to make a stand against plastic that can’t be reused.

There are a growing number of community groups and individuals who are going a step further and doing their bit to tidy up the space around them, so that there’s an outside environment for future generations to enjoy. It’s a great concept that got us thinking about the things we could all do to gain a deeper appreciation of nature, without impacting on the environment.

Walk with a purpose

Make a pledge to take a short walk every day – and make sure you grab a bag before you set off. While on your walk make it your mission to fill the bag with as much recyclable rubbish you can find. You’ll be surprised how quickly the bag will fill up and you can return home knowing that not only have you made yourself a little fitter, you have also done your bit for the environment too.

Try to find treasure

It can be too easy to focus on what’s wrong with our immediate environment, to the point that we lose sight of the beauty that surrounds us. When you’re outside, set yourself a challenge to find items of natural ‘treasure’ like feathers, bones or a four-leaf clover. It might seem a silly exercise, but what you’re actually doing is focusing on what’s around you, which promotes a mindful outlook.

Sow some seeds

Sometimes we can feel as though our outside space is getting smaller, as the need to house a growing population puts pressure on our green spaces. However, size doesn’t matter when it comes to nature, so if you feel you don’t have any green space to enjoy – why not create one? A mini meadow outside your back door, a few hanging baskets to attract the bees or a window box filled with flowers that butterflies love are all simple ways of bringing nature to your door when space is an issue.

Get closer to nature – literally!

What better way to be more grateful for the outside environment that surrounds us than by literally getting closer to nature. What do we mean? Take off your shoes and socks to walk barefoot around the garden or in the park, roll up your trousers and walk through a stream. Just the very act of experiencing nature helps us appreciate what we have.

We're sure we don’t need to tell you about the health benefits associated with being outdoors – but if you do need convincing, this article does a really good job. Not only could you see an improvement in your short term memory, it could also help to lift any mild depression and feelings of anxiety you could be experiencing.

We also wrote this blog a while ago about the benefits that being outside can have on your mental health and productivity at work but the principles apply to your personal life too. Even when the very thought of exercise overwhelms you, the best thing you can do for your mental wellbeing is to get outside. Even just ten minutes appreciating nature – a walk around the garden, a few minutes weeding or watering the plants – can go a long way to resetting your spirits and clearing your mind.

And at a time when many of us are doing all we can to protect the environment around us for our children – and our children’s children – the very least we can do is to make the extra effort to enjoy it whenever we can!

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

How to get over a relationship breakup

We'll soon be into June and prime wedding season, but sadly not every relationship has a happy ending. Sometimes people grow apart by mutual consent, sometimes it is one party that chooses to move on while the other would happily stay together.

When a relationship ends, there are a number of emotions that we go through – especially if the break-up was unexpected / unwanted. This article from Psychology Today suggests there are seven stages to getting over a relationship which includes the grieving process, so it’s little surprise that most of us could do with extra support when a valued relationship comes to an end.

We've pulled together some things to remember if you’re going through a break-up:

It’s OK to not be OK (for a while)

Relationships take time and effort and chances are you will have invested a lot of energy and emotion into your partnership. When someone you love is no longer around – for whatever reason – even if you are the one that finished things, it’s only human to feel sad for what you have lost and for what you hoped would be in the future. Give yourself time to grieve the end of your relationship and to properly process the emotions that the breakup brings to the fore.

Being busy helps

Chances are that your relationship had resulted in some routines and that many memories will have been created as a result of the time you spent with your partner. After a breakup, there is a need to replace these memories with new ones and to try and form new routines that don’t remind you of what you have lost. Post breakup there is always an urge to wallow in self-pity, which often only serves to make us feel worse about ourselves. Our advice: go to the gym, take a walk, start a new hobby. Keeping yourself occupied helps both physically and mentally.

Clear your mind – and your space

Memories… Everywhere you look after a breakup you’ll see things that spark memories of the happy times you spent together. While in time, you’ll be able to value and treasure these memories, in the raw, emotional state that you will find yourself in after a relationship ends, such memories only serve to reinforce your sadness. Take some time to have a spring clean. Sort stuff away, change your furniture around – you’ll be surprised how much clearer your mind will become.

Beware the rebound

Sometimes we think the best way to get over someone is by getting back out there. Not only does this prove we’re still attractive to others, it also takes our mind off the breakup, right? Wrong! While dating again might seem like a positive move to make, resist. Until you’ve worked through your emotions you’ll not be sharing your best self with others. Give yourself the time you need to heal alone; it will make your future relationships more positive and productive.

Realise it’s not all about you

Breakups are hard. They call us to question ourselves and often result in us taking a long, hard look within so that we can prevent things going wrong in future relationships. While a bit of inward reflection can be a positive thing, to make sure that we offer the very best version of ourselves to future partners, we also have to appreciate that it takes two people to form a relationship – only one of which you have no control over. Keep focussed on yourself but don’t take the full burden of the breakup on your shoulders.

Remember, recovery takes time. In much the same way as it took time and effort to develop your relationship, the same is true when it ends. Don’t rush the time it takes for you to become an emotionally healthy person again. Every journey of self-discovery and self-improvement is built one step at a time but by being kind to yourself you’ll come out the other side a better person.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The benefits of walking to school

The sun is shining and the mornings are bright - it's a great excuse to try and encourage our kids to get more active. We know how difficult it is to get organised in the morning and that the school run is often the most stressful time of the day for most parents, however, with a few small tweaks to your schedule we hope you’ll soon see the benefits that a simple walk to school can bring to your kids – and your family.

Walking makes you smarter

Evidence suggests that children who have done some exercise earlier in the day arrive at school brighter and more alert. Walking gets the blood flowing round the body and our brains working, which increases the creativity they need to help them once they’re in the classroom. Park a little distance away from school – even if it’s just around the corner. It's enough to kick-start our bodies and get us ready for the day ahead.

Walking encourages independence

While we’re not suggesting that all children should walk to school by themselves, there is a lot to be said for allowing our children a little more independence. It enables them to think responsibly and helps them to make decisions for themselves. Maybe this week you could arrange for them to meet you at a set location a little distance away from the school gate? This has the added bonus of avoiding the pick up traffic too. As well as the exercise, the skills your children will learn will also help them be more independent at home.

Walking lifts the mood

Walking (and other forms of exercise) help release feel good chemicals into the body, which has a calming effect on the mind and an energising effect on the body. Whatever the age of your child, walking will be beneficial on their mood. And if they're doing exams, walking is a great way to manage exam stress. 

Walking helps you appreciate nature

We all know that our children are not spending as much time outside as we used to when we were kids – there are far too many distractions inside for them to venture far. But it’s not just fresh air and exercise they miss out on by being inside the house or travelling by car, they’re missing out on the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful nature around them. By carving out the time to walk to / from school every day, we are providing our children with the chance to see how things grow, learn about life cycles and appreciate the seasons. Perhaps if there really isn’t time for you to do the walk with your children yourself, you could enquire about any ‘walking school bus’’ schemes that may have been set up or develop a walking syndicate with other parents to share the time burden?

Walking rocks

Once you’ve started to encourage your children to walk more, chances are it’ll be something you want to continue. It’s a cheap and simple way for them to get the exercise they need to keep mentally and physically alert and healthy. The key to an ongoing love of walking is to make the walk interesting. You may have seen the growing trend of rock painting? Like a low tech version of ‘Pok√©mon Go’, rock painting ingeniously encourages children to be more creative and more active.

There’s no denying that walking to school – even part of the way – requires you to be super organised in the morning. Here are some tips for keeping your morning routine on track:
  • Make sure bags are packed and uniform sorted the night before
  • Prepare breakfasts and lunchboxes in advance, 
  • Help children take responsibility for their own morning routine

With childhood obesity on the rise, the temptation to stay inside with electronic devices ever growing and an increasing pressure on parents to do more in less time, we can’t promise you that getting your children to walk more will be easy – but it will certainly be worth it!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Why it’s good to cry

The British are said to have a stiff upper lip. We are conditioned from a young age – boys especially – that maintaining an emotional balance is the key to a happy, healthy life and that even the most trying of situations can be addressed with a cup of tea!

While culturally, this may be the way to do things, keeping our emotions bottled up can actually cause more issues than it solves. And sometimes the best way to deal with a negative or upsetting situation is to ‘let it all out’ and have a good cry.

According to this article in Psychology Today, crying helps us communicate how we’re feeling at times when language fails us – it’s a way of soliciting help and comfort from others to help us process and make sense of things that are happening to us.

There are a few reasons why we cry – it’s a natural reflex that keeps our eyes healthy by flushing out irritants, for example, or a natural response to physical pain – but what we’re looking at in this blog though are emotional tears, caused by sad or stressful situations.

So, what are the benefits of a good cry?

  • First and foremost, crying has a soothing effect on the body and calms us down so that we are better able to regulate our emotions and think about things more rationally. After a cry, we can physically feel our body relax – this is because our parasympathetic nervous system has been triggered. So, it makes sense that if you find yourself in a particularly stressful situation, a bit of a sob will do you good. It will help you relax and reduce the physical effects that exposure to stress can have on your body – such as tension headaches, high blood pressure and perhaps even digestive issues. Have you heard the saying ‘Cry it Out’? You’re literally flushing the negative emotions out of your body, which can only be a good thing.
  • As well as activating the nervous system, the act of crying releases oxytocin and endorphins, both hormones that help us manage our physical and emotional pain, which release feelings of general well-being. It also helps us break down the buildup of manganese in our body, which can lead to stress and anxiety if we have too much of it. After we’ve had a cry, we are often better able to find the clarity of thought we need to navigate through stressful situations. This is because we are not dealing with the situation emotionally, only with the facts. This leads us to make better choices and makes it easier for us to make decisions.
  • Some people may choose to cry in private, but for those of us whose emotions may get the better of them in front of others, crying also rallies support and emotional care from the people around us. We are conditioned to reach out to people when we see them crying – it’s an interpersonal cue that helps us get the personal interaction we need from others in order to feel better. It helps us find the support we need, but often don't seek – due to a fear of showing weakness, or not wanting to bother others with our own problems and issues.

So next time you’re faced with a difficult situation, don’t keep your emotions suppressed. Grab some tissues, find a quiet place and let it all out – you may be surprised by how much better you feel afterwards.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Keeping your children safe online

Encouraging our children to be independent is one of our primary tasks as parents and there is no escaping the fact that the internet is part and parcel of how the children and young people of today communicate and connect with each other. However, increasing use of the internet does not come without its pitfalls. It's our job to keep our children safe. When they're online we need to ensure they get the most out of the tools that are available to them while also helping prevent any negative impact on their lives.

Online safety is a common concern among parents, this article from Psychology Today outlines  the top 5 tips for keeping online safety – it’s a good starting point but there is more that we can do as parents without it taking too much time and effort.

The best way to approach online safety is through having a series of conversations with your kids. The purpose of these talks is to learn from each other and help your kids to understand the internet – and its potential dangers – better, from your perspective as a parent. Take some time to scope out what you’re going to say beforehand and try and cover the following areas:

  1. Internet safety 101 is to teach your children that they should not share identifying information such as their name, location, age or school and help them make sure that their user names are not identifying. Help them understand the importance of not sharing photographs and the permanence of any online activity.
  2. Help your children understand the potential online dangers. There’s no need to scare them, but they do have to be aware that not everyone is who they seem online. Reassure them that you are a safe haven and they will not be in trouble even if they tell you something that you don’t approve of. Keep the lines of communication open.
  3. Set the expectation from the outset that you must know all your children’s passwords. Reserve the right to check their texts, browser history and social media accounts periodically or whenever you feel that something is up. It’s easier to set this rule upfront than try and establish this practice some time later.
  4. Night-time is for sleeping so make the bedrooms a no device zone overnight. Have your kids return their phones and devices to a common area before they retire for the night. This helps to instil healthy sleeping habits and also makes sure that they are not exposed to any unnecessary dangers while you are not around to monitor the situation.

We’ve drafted up seven golden rules for staying safe online for you to share with your children – discuss them and make them your own…

  1. Immediately tell your parents or another adult you can trust if you feel uncomfortable or worried while you’re online. 
  2. Be prepared to keep your computer in a common area of the house, use your headphones if necessary but try not to hide away from everyone else while you are on your devices.
  3. Let your parents know where you go online, just as you would in real life. Sit down with them and show them the sites you like, this will help them understand what you are doing when you have your screen time.
  4. Never ever – ever - share any personal details with anyone online – this includes things like your full name, your address or home town or school, your date of birth and your telephone numbers.
  5. Realise that an ‘online friend’ that you don’t know in real life is a stranger. We don’t like that it happens but not everyone is who they say they are. It’s fine to have friends but accept that you’ll never really know them.
  6. Remember never to share passwords with anyone, no matter how many times they ask. Some of your family accounts might be linked to your parent’s bank accounts so don’t tell anyone.
  7. Understand that your parents need to check your email and social networking lists from time to time – it’s not to check up on you, but to make sure you’re safe.

And while we’re on the subject of keeping our kids safe online, there are some things we can do as parents to make sure that we’re setting a good example:

  • When responding to posts and comments, only use those words that you would use when responding face to face. The internet is a permanent depository, don’t use words that can come back to bite you later – and remember not to respond to nasty or rude comments made by others, and they’re not worth it so rise above it.
  • Review all your user names and logins to make sure that they can’t be misinterpreted or have double meanings. Lots of words which were fine when we were younger could now be construed as suggestive or flirty, so just double check.
  • Spend time together with your kids online together. Learn and explore together – the internet is part and parcel of their childhood so showing an interest and getting to understand more about how it all works and why our kids are so engaged with it will also help to strengthen your relationship too.

You’ll find lots of additional resources to help you navigate your way round this tricky subject:

Resource about online safety on th NSPCC's website >

Resources on Kidsmart website >

Resources on the BBC website >

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

How to be happy with what you have

It’s an old adage that money can’t buy you happiness, but how true is this? Money worries are often cited as one of the major driving factors in couples experiencing relationship difficulties, however an article in the Financial Times found that the ‘happiest’ occupations were florists and gardeners – hardly the highest paid of professions.

We all need a certain amount of money to meet our basic needs, but the truth is that money above and beyond this amount doesn’t necessarily make us happier. Often, it is the sad fact that we compare ourselves to other people and their standards of living that makes us dissatisfied with what we have. This is not helpful, as we all have different levels of aspiration, ability and outgoings.

If we're working in a low-paid job or surviving on benefits, the challenge of paying bills and putting food on the table is enough to cause significant stress. In this case, an increase in income would reduce the stress, which would leave you feeling happier. Getting a better paid job could mean you were able to afford to buy nicer things, but that in itself wouldn’t necessarily make you any happier. Plus, we’ve got to remember that as income increases, so too do our outgoings which might only serve to add to the stress of maintaining your lifestyle. It’s a double-edged sword.

When we talk about happiness, often we're really talking about pleasure. We can ‘buy’ lots of activities that cause us momentary pleasure – but what impact do they really have on our underlying happiness and sense of wellbeing? True happiness comes from those things we cannot buy: helping others, the relationships we build with family and friends, having a job that gives us a sense of achievement and purpose.

We’ve developed some ideas to help you live within your means and manage your money without feeling as though you're missing out on the small pleasures in life that will contribute towards your happiness.

Rethink your personal reward systems

Often we incentivise our performance or progress with treats, e.g. a shopping spree when we’ve completed a difficult task at work; a meal out for good behaviour at school; a trip to the hairdresser after a tough week. Often, these treats become more frequent than we realise and this can have an impact on our finances. There are two ways of addressing this: reduce the frequency of these rewards, or swap out the rewards that cost money for those experiences which are free – like a long bath or some family time together.

Change your finance focus

Often when faced with financial stresses, we talk about the need to ‘cut back’ or ‘trim the budget’. This automatically puts us in the mindset that we are losing something or missing out on things that we had before. We’re challenging you to change your focus and look at your finances from the bottom up. Take some time to work out a budget, starting from a zero base. Think about what you really need – like a place to live, food to eat, heating - and those items that are non-essential, like mobile phones and TV subscriptions. By looking at things differently, we can start to appreciate the real difference between want and need.

Be thankful

Whatever our income, there are often things we can be thankful for, even though they can sometimes be forgotten in our aspirations for ‘more’. Recognising and giving thanks for every expense you can already afford is a habit that should extend far beyond your monthly budgeting. And recognising the enormous value of everything you already enjoy – experiences, relationships, opportunities – can go a long way in combating feelings of limitation, even when your means are limited.

If you’re interested in finding out more about happiness and what we can do to be happier, why not read our previous blog posts: