Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Tips to help kids focus on a task – why batman can help

Imagine the scene... The kids come home from school, dump their school bags and make a run for the TV / iPads. Meanwhile, you spend the next hour persuading them to complete the homework / tasks / chores that are expected of them – as well completing your own! Moreover, once assigned a task it takes only moments before the kids become distracted and eager to return to their preferred activities.

However tempting it is just to roll with it, as parents one of the most important jobs we have is to teach our kids about responsibility and a big part of that is completing the tasks they have been set, when they are asked.

A recent study found an innovative way of helping children get the job done – and it involves roleplay! They found that when children are primed to take on tasks as someone else – Batman, say, or their favourite TV star, for example – and given a prop appropriate to that role (think cape or wand, etc) they were more likely to stay engaged for longer and see the activity through to its conclusion. It’s a simple concept, yet surprisingly effective. They found that children in the ‘Batman’ role spent the most time on task (about 55 per cent for the six year olds; about 32 per cent for the four year olds), while the ‘control’ children spent the least time on task (about 35 per cent of the time for the six year olds; just over 20 per cent for the four year olds).

While this is a great life hack, parents still have a job to do in building up perseverance and increasing the capacity that our children have to concentrate and stay on task. Here are a few tips, for when Batman is not available or his cape loses its magic!

Involve children in the goal setting

It really helps when children know why we have asked them to do something. By taking the time to explain to our kids what they are contributing towards we can help them see the benefits of the task in hand and appreciate how what we ask them to do fits into our wider family goals.

Have clear instructions

It’s easy to get distracted – as adults we do it all the time, but we then have the self-control to rein ourselves in and get back on task. Once a child’s concentration is lost, however, all thoughts of the previous task is gone. It’s a fantastically marvellous skill that children have – it’s our job to help them to concentrate. That means giving clear instructions that are simple enough for them to understand and being realistic about the amount of time that we expect our kids to stay engaged for.

Build self-confidence

Kids thrive on praise, when we ‘big them up’ it builds their self-belief and this helps them to focus on the task we want them to do. When a child believes they have the skills and knows that we believe in their abilities, they often want to show themselves that they can do it and that’s motivating. When their confidence is wavering, support them through the task and share clear and specific actions they need to take to deliver.

Provide reminders 

Children have short memories. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Providing regular reminders about what they have been asked to do, and the great progress they’re making, helps to sustain the energy they need to stay on task or engage in longer-term projects.

Set up rewards

In much the same way as we reward ourselves when we complete a project, task or goal – with a cup of tea, hot bath, or other small treat – make sure that you have a clear reward system in place to motivate and encourage your kids to complete the tasks they have been set. The treats needn’t be expensive or elaborate, more a token gesture that demonstrates that when they work hard, they are rewarded for that effort. This could be as simple as allowing them to choose what they have for tea, to select a shared activity, or a movie / TV show to watch.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The benefits of team sport for men’s wellbeing

There’s a reason why men often hang up their football or rugby boots when they approach middle age – the toll of competitive sports on the body can be significant and often men feel the need to step aside in favour of their younger, more agile counterparts.

However, men the length and breadth of the UK – and further afield – are realising they needn’t be so hasty in giving up team sports altogether – it’s more a case of taking down the intensity a notch or two! Peter Reddy, a researcher and reader in psychology at Aston University has been studying the benefits of walking football on players aged 50 and over.

It seems that the latest sports craze – walking football –  is having a beneficial impact not just on men’s physical health, but their mental well-being too. Men who have played football all their lives reported higher levels of flow (a feeling of satisfaction) and lower levels of stress when playing.

There are a number of reasons why retrieving your footy boots is definitely a good idea – even if your pace and core strength isn’t what it once was. The benefits of team sports extend far beyond the exercise you’re getting. They include:

  • Building confidence. When playing a team sport, we are able to gain a greater self-awareness, and appreciate what it takes to work well within a group. Being part of an effective team helps develop our self-confidence and this translates into our working and personal lives too.
  • Developing relationships. The friendships we build within our teams – with our team mates and coaching staff - helps us create stronger relationships outside too. We learn how to give and take instruction, how to collaborate and how to work together towards a common goal. Team sports are a great way of expanding our social circle and nurturing positive friendships that extend beyond our chosen team sport. 
  • Better transferable skills. When we play sport, what we’re actually doing – as well as exercising – is following a precise set of rules and fulfilling a specific role. Through team sports, we learn the importance of time management and discipline, as well as appreciating what we have to do to win for the team - these skills can only help us in other areas of our lives too. 
  • Putting winning into perspective. Sometimes as adults we focus too much on achievement. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best we can be, but team sports help us be less selfish and enable us to focus on shared successes and failures. Losing as a team can still pack a punch, but somehow dealing with disappointment is less painful when shared with others. Team sports help us to enjoy winning and endure losing better than we could do alone.

In summary, team sports – whatever our age – can help us not only maintain our physical well-being but also develop more mental resilience, which can only be good news. So, if you feel like you’re living life on a treadmill or are doing the minimum needed to keep going, maybe it’s time to dig out your kit and get back to a team sport?

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Men and money – why not earning can take an extra toll on men

Losing your job or taking time out of a career to return to studies / undertake parental duties has massive financial implications for us all. However for men – who are still often perceived as the main breadwinner and provider – the stress can be considerable and really take its toll on an individual’s mental health.

A study in 2016 found that men are twice as likely to feel responsible for the finances in their family or relationship as women. Nearly a third of all men, feel the financial burden in a relationship and believe they are responsible for financial matters, compared to just 14% of women.

This could be for a number of reasons, not least the gender stereotypes we are all exposed to from childhood, or the fact that many of the highest earning jobs are traditionally regarded as being male roles. Either way, when a man is no longer able to bring money into his household for whatever reason, it can impact on his mental wellbeing to a greater extent than for his female counterparts. 

There are lots of practicalities that need to be addressed when you’re not earning, such as going back to basics. Most of us spend what we earn. We earn more, our standard of living increases. Conversely, when our earnings dip, a quick and simple review of our outgoings often shows us that we don’t actually need to maintain our former standard of living and that we can in fact, live well for less. This realisation in itself can help to relieve the financial burden of not earning.

As can reflecting on why you’re finding it so hard to accept yourself as a non-earner. It can be helpful to explore why not earning plays so heavily on your psyche. Often, even if their partner is earning, some men still feel bereft when unable to provide for their family. This points to other issues, not merely a financial difficulty. Working with a counsellor can help you scratch beneath the surface and uncover the true reasons behind your need to be the breadwinner.

This Huffington Post article contains more practical advice about reviewing your finances, it also highlights the importance of spousal support and encouraging men to explore new hobbies and interests when out of work.

Finding something productive to do when you’re out of work serves three purposes. Firstly, it keeps your mind active and provides a constructive distraction from the job hunting/studying or care giving. Secondly, it helps you to learn new skills – or keep the skills that you already have sharp. Finally – and perhaps most importantly – it enables you to add a value to the contribution you make to society that does not relate to money. Often we judge our own success by the amount of money we earn when we are really much more than that. Often it takes a period of non-earning to help us re-evaluate our own sense of self-worth.