Parenting Tips from the Professionals

Parenting Tips from the Professionals

In the often stressful and distracted world that we currently live in, it can be hard for parents to find simple, fun, practical things to do on a day-to-day basis to help develop their children's emotional awareness and build the resilience to thrive. 

Avril McDonald, Author of the ‘Feel Brave Series of Books’ (little stories about big feelings), gives us 5 ways to do this along with some recommendations of great children’s picture books with self-help messages.  

  1. Teach children how their brains work so that they can start to understand their emotions:

At a basic level, we have 2 brains; The ‘Old Brain’ (responsible for basic physical desires, motives and emotions such as the fight, flight or freeze responses) and the ‘New Brain’ that sets us apart from animals, enables us to think, imagine and reason and gives us our sense of self. Our new brain capabilities can easily be hijacked by our old brain feelings, emotions or desires. The old brain is most useful to us if we can train it using our rational new brain.

Children can be introduced to this concept by referring to their old brain as their ‘Cheeky Monkey’ and their new brain as their ‘Wise Owl’.  (e.g. “was that your cheeky monkey that just did that?”), and how beneficial it can be if their Cheeky Monkey starts to listen to their Wise Owl (e.g. “what would your Wise Owl do instead?”).  Dr Hazel Harrison also suggests another great way of explaining the brain to young children in an article she wrote on the wonderfully helpful ‘Hey Sigmund’ website. 

  1. Help children to build resilience and a ‘growth mind-set

Our world is filled with instant gratification, so children can lose sight of the fact that a lot of good things take time and hard work.  It’s also easy for children to have the perception that talent or success is something that you either have or don’t have instead of believing that it’s something that you can acquire through passion and determination. 

To help build (what Carol Dweck coined as) a ‘growth mindset’, encourage statements like ‘Mistakes mean I’m learning’ or ‘It’s not that you can’t do it, you just can’t do it yet’ and praise and reward the ‘process’ of learning rather than just the end results.  Some great picture books to help build a growth mindset are:  The Dot by Peter H Reynolds, Flight School by Lita Judge, and The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

  1. Practice calming down

Mindful breathing techniques’ or ‘Gratitude exercises’ are a great way to help calm children down and can be easily accessed on the internet.  They release happy hormones (e.g. Dopamine) and reduce stress hormones (e.g. Cortisol).  An easy way to practise gratitude daily is to think of all of the people who love us and who we love, mix them all together in a cup and drink them like a hot chocolate so that they feel all warm in our hearts.   The more we practise calming down, the easier it is to then use these techniques to bring ourselves out of overwhelming emotions in the moment.  

  1. Practice empathy

Empathy plays a vital role in preventing bullying and building social tolerance but you can’t just ‘teach’ empathy, you have to ‘practise’ empathy.  A good way to practise empathy is to ask children at the end of each day what they did to make someone else feel good or ‘what did you see someone else do today to help someone?’ Introduce ‘random acts of kindness’ and make it a fun game to try and carry some out then share them.  Some great picture books to help with empathy and building social tolerance are: Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Dragon Island by Martin Baynton and the classic Dr Seuss Book ‘The Sneeches’

  1. Play with stories

A great way to help children deal with things that scare them is to make up new stories where their scary things become small or cute or funny.  This simple cognitive behavioural technique called ‘re-framing’ is an effective way to show children the power that their feelings can have over their bodies and how easily they can change those feelings.  Role playing out scary situations (where you play the part of your child) is also a fun and effective way to help children practise scenarios and strategies to cope with anything bothering them in a safe environment. 

Avril McDonald is the Author of the Feel Brave Series of books (little stories about big feelings for 4-7 year olds) and founder of   She set up the charitable arm with the vision to give all children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their potential.  Avril is an ex-primary school teacher, business woman and a mum.  She is also a fellow of the RSA which has a mission to enrich society through ideas and action.  

Avril is offering Cityparents members a special offer during February to purchase personally dedicated/signed ‘Feel Brave’ books at a discounted rate.  Click here to order.

You can find out more about mental health problems in children at the mind-ed website. Some other good parent and resilience organisations are:

Released On 26th Jan 2017

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