Healing and sparking

Lessons from Froglets!
Securing success in the summer holidays…

Welcome to my pre-summer newsletter – coming to you at peak heatwave!
Ok – so we’ve got through the hardest term in history…nearly…only between 1-3 weeks left…How has it been? Have your children gone back to school? Or have you continued at home with supporting the online schooling and multi-tasking between childcare, education, work and family-life? 
What have the gains been? What have been the losses? And what’s the learning? Now is a good point at which to kick start some reflections in preparation for planning out a summer break that will meet your needs, and the needs of your family.  
If you’re not coming to this from a parenting point of view – as an educator, you might take this article as a stimulus to take stock, reflect on what has nurtured and depleted your spirit over the past few months and thing about what your needs are for this truly most important of summer breaks – and plan out how you can get those needs met…

Restrictions are lifting, more change is afoot – and we are on the cusp of returning to what I am sure Rishi Sunak is hoping will be ‘business as normal’…
Thinking ahead to summer – and life beyond, what are the features of life that have been nurturing, creative, low cost aspects I want to hold onto before getting back on that hamster wheel again and opening my wallet (sorry Rishi)!

What is it you want to take away from the benefits of lockdown…for me it has been:

  1. Going on daily walks with our daughter to break up the day, and to reduce the inevitable cabin fever… We live in central London and so have needed to avoid the main thoroughfares because of difficulties with social distancing – even though the air quality has improved…so we would make routes joining as many green spaces as possible – park hopping. SO being outdoors – despite being in an urban setting, and noticing nature.
  2. Making the time to ‘stand and stare’… it took parenthood to make me face up to the fact that no one in this life is ever going to give you time. Time is not a blank cheque, and we have to make time for what’s important. Making time on these walks to be mindful of nature – to notice the changing of the seasons, from budding leaves, early blossom-time, the miraculous emergence of magnolia flowers, to the dropping petals from cherry trees, the drifting snowstorms of pollen from cottonwood trees in June…
  3. Extending from this is where the FROGLETS come in!!  As a child I was an avid collector of frogspawn…and over the years have traced the stages to tadpole…to tadpole with legs…and a great big riveting frog…but rather like baby pigeons – I had never seen a baby frog. It took lockdown and daily visits to a little nature-pond in the neighbourhood to fill in the missing stage. How incredible to see these tiny creatures take such huge leaps! To share that discovery with our daughter. We also visited the newts emerging from the muddy weeds, who apparently love bread left by other visitors enough to risk being touched by the curious fingers of little amateur naturalists. And found out about the toads camouflaging themselves in a hatch under the bandstand. A daily practice, seeing the water, the weeds, and the inhabitants grow and change was profoundly touching – not to mention exciting for both of us.
  4. That kids can socially distance and have endless fun with travel hammocks…(You can swing in them, be swung, play pirates, make dens, hang upside-down like bats)…
  5. The power of silly games to de-stress…Snack-fishing. What a revelation. Who knew that garden canes, string, hooks, and packs of Hula-hoops or Monster Munch could yield such fun!!! Thanks Miranda!!
  6. Discovering that I can run in the mornings when I think no one is watching. 12 times around the square, half walking, half running, is manageable, gets my heart pumping, and secures a good 2.5km base for my step count before I have even had my coffee. 

    1. That time on my own, in a room of my own, to concentrate – even if it is in fragmentary bursts – is more than a luxury, it’s a need. In a small flat it’s taken a game of apartment rubic’s cube to create the space for desks. Now I’m rocking Virginia Woolf – a desk of one’s own…in a room of one’s own – by day at least.

      1. That walking and talking on the phone – having phone meetings in quiet spaces outdoors, the garden, the park, makes a small but important change of pace and scene.
  7. That combining my slow, steady breathing practice with a hand on my solar plexus is deeply relaxing and very quick in helping me down-regulate when getting ‘agitato’ with the multi-faceted frustrations of life’s lockdown restrictions. Where my short bursts of steady breathing practice have wired in a really positive calming and stilling response, this is enhanced by the further layering of the tactile stimulation of the vagus nerve – the parasympathetic or calming part of our nervous system. Whether it’s a minute of this mind-body gym exercise, or just 3 breaths, it really works. What can you do in an instant  – and without any extra resources to calm or still your mind?
    So what can we take away from the tiny frogs who leap in big bounds…Perhaps that keeping things small and real can be very powerful in itself in our lifestyles – as opposed to throwing cash to craft ‘big moments’ – expensive meals, outings etc. That real learning and growth is not necessarily all benchmarked by the normal ‘levels’…grades, school reports, bursts of focus rather than drags of semi-focus…? That retaining time to ‘stand and stare’ might give us unexpected bounds of discovery. 
    And now to the Summer holidays…Summer where uncertainties with work might mean we’re less able to break away for extended time…Summer where grandparents and relatives may not be able to step in…Summer where camps might not run…
    A summer where teachers desperately need to re-charge – but are still in anticipation of the detail of what the return to school will look like and how they can plan for perhaps a blended curriculum of on-line and in-person teaching…
    How might we make sure we look ahead to make sure our needs are met – and where family life is concerned- how we can ensure a healthy and happy routine which will also set our children up for the transition back into a more familiar routine in September?

Some ideas for summer success…
Vitamin C for Connection.
There may be reduced opportunities for enrichment. Think about how this can be structured in to family rituals – or with meet-ups with friendship groups (no we can have modest and sensible gatherings!).   
In a family context this might look like:
  – Family sharing – where everyone takes turns to speak and listen to                     each other. There could be different points of focus to this eg:
• Gratitude (3 good things)
• Kindness (what did you do today that was kind?)
• Proper Pride (what have you done today to make you feel proud…aka Heather Small via Miranda and Stevie) 
• Highs and lows, Curiousity – question of the day…
For quality connection with family and friends, we need to bring our non-reactive presence. Our honesty when stressed, or sad or scared – us or them. And our playful spirit. Laughter, releases serotonin and is hugely bonding and stress reducing. We need to be able to show the children in our lives that we enjoy them and their silliness.
Connection – Ideas for families

  • Golden time – one-on-one special time with each child eg bed time
     – Check-ins
     – Share the load and Have a blast – make jobs like cleaning the dishwasher or dusting fun – blast some crazy music and move! 
  • Practice friendship and communication skills with children – asking questions, listening, problem solving
  • Push my comfort-zone time – trying new skills
    Working parents – and the childcare relay race…
    Plan and negotiate how the batons of parenting responsibility are being passed around the work that needs to be done. This is so that it is clear when you are unavailable due to a work commitment, and clear to the kids who is ‘on call’. Meet and plot it out on the calendar. Also think about plotting in your own special time to rest and refresh or exercise. The time you need to clear some head-space. 
    Family summits – collaborative creation…
    Once the working / parent on-call schedule is sorted, have a family meeting to look ahead and clarify expectations – eg that they have an input about how the holiday flow should go when they’re on vacation and at home. 
    Use appreciative enquiry frameworks…DISCOVER – what everyone has liked the best about life together in lockdown…DREAM – now building on the ‘discover’ element – what everyone would love to have as a feature of their summer, as their ideal ingredients… DESIGN – now collaborate into shaping it all into something that can become possible. AND have a framework to DEBRIEF and review. Through all these family meeting structures, everyone gets to speak and be listened to without argument or judgment. 
    Developing responsibility – independent play…gives them autonomy…and time for you…
    There should be an expectation for children to develop and extend their independent play – and NOT all of it should involve screens. Collaborate with them, what low cost supplies and activities could they have? Get them to make a series of cards with activities ideas on them and put them in a jar or a box so that when the ideas run thin, they can pull out a card and do that activity – without needing parent intervention. 
    Projects – creativity, planning and delivery
    Brilliant for developing EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING…the wiring of the pre-frontal cortex…incorporating delayed gratification elements (because it’s not an insta-project), planning skills, negotiation and collaboration, ingenuity, problem solving. 
    Eg each year we run a 3 day ‘Camp Fire Cook-off’ where each of us competes to produce the best 3 course meal cooked on a camp fire. This involves designing the menu and how it will be adapted to have camp fire authenticity. (My favourite…chocolate fondant baked inside a hollowed out orange). We’ve even had people showing off (AKA my better half) by creating bacon flavoured popcorn in the Dutch oven…as a canapé! The person who is in charge of each day, has the others on their cooking team – but they are responsible as Head chef for directing tasks and timings…We’ve done this 3 years in a row since our daughter was 7…and I have never won the cup…(robbed!). It’s joyous. A hard day’s work, a hard day’s thinking from shopping for it in the morning to enjoying eating it at night and the scoring and appreciative debriefing at the end…
    What sort of projects could your children / your family enjoy…? Let me know!! I will share ideas…
    Themes – brand Summer to make it feel different to home/school/ work of the previous months..
    Other aspects of the summer plan: choose a summer theme – eg each week of the long break…brainstorm family fun ideas for everyone to do together – and enlist them in jobs that will help the fun flow for everyone. In the planning meeting, set intentions – what is it we all want to be able to look back on with enjoyment and remember? And for once these are going to be borne of the ingenuity required by the remaining restrictions – ie NOT high-cost trophy activities like going to the Harry Potter Studios for example…
    Dial up the fun
    Plan in ideas of what would dial up the fun – music play lists to perk everyone up, make you all laugh, dance-offs, silly dancing styles eg ‘Dad’ dances…Find ways of making the mundane fun – especially with small children – eg ‘sunscreen party-time’. Use timers, have competitions…eg get a ‘blue light’ UV torch or app. And be a dust detective…(hey, that’s one thing that’s quite obvious in our house…no need for the tech!!)…Do race-track style or football-style commentary on dishwasher emptying…sweeping the patio…etc.
    Eyes on the prize
    Don’t stress over the summer brain drain. Set realistic goals for this summer. It’s great to have high aims  – but concentrate on what the bare minimum parenting goals you’d like to set yourself. OK in some Shanghai-La of parenting, little Giles might well have mastered Calculus with your home tutoring through ‘all that time’ of Summer…Don’t set up your expectations to be resentments-in-waiting.
    Brain storm what the basics are that you want to nail to set your family up for being well rested and ready to start a new school year in uncertain and different circumstances. The sorts of basics I’d have in mind are 
  1. Good and sustainable sleep habits in terms of quality and quantity. 
  2. Improved self-regulation and balance around screen-time (no arguments when boundaries (which have been collaboratively arrived at and agreed) are up.
  3. Reading – 20-30 minutes every day. 
  4. Outdoors time, fresh air, togetherness. 
  5. Activities that involve some creativity and planning – from cooking to den-making, these will enhance the executive functioning of your child. 
  6. Connection time
  7. Wellbeing practice.
  8. Reflecting on values. Modelling courageous leadership in our families. Using teachable moments to talk about what’s important, what we stand for etc.
    If our kids return in September grounded in a bedrock of a reasonable routine, in tune with themselves, with boosted communication and connection skills, with wellbeing and self-regulation skills topped up, then they are going to be that bit more adaptable and available to learn. 
    In fact – especially as we emerge from this time of disruption, threat, change, and uncertainty – focusing more on developing our children’s executive functioning through playful activities and connection, is going to do more for them in the long run. Multi layered strands of research converge around this notion…that strong executive functioning skills are better predictors of success in life and life satisfaction than grades in Maths and English.

Harvard Centre on the Developing Child

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.
When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits. These skills are crucial for learning and development. They also enable positive behavior and allow us to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families.
Executive function and self-regulation skills depend on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. These functions are highly interrelated, and the successful application of executive function skills requires them to operate in coordination with each other.

Keeping your tank filled…sustainability…Imagine you are like a water tank. There’s a tap flowing in at the top. And at the bottom, there’s a tap for the outflow. Near the bottom, in fact scattered all the way up the sides of you, the water tank, are little holes. These are both internal and external stressors – which are always going to be there. They are a natural part of what it is to be human. Some of those holes are bigger than others. So the water is always leaking out. And sometimes when we’re pressured or super-depleted, the water spills out extra fast….
Your job – all of our jobs – is to learn more and more effective ways of making sure our tank doesn’t run dry. 
And that it doesn’t overflow.  both are damaging and disappointing both for ourselves and those we are close to, and those who depend upon us. 
What strategies do you use when those holes are flowing strongly to top yourself up? What strategies can you use to decant some of what’s in your tank to prevent it overflowing?
Last looks…When it comes to courageous leadership in our household, ask yourself these questions…and then ask these questions of your family – essential for developing communication, self-compassion, and collaboration:
How do you feel about asking for help? (Because success over this summer and beyond if going to rely on even more good team-work in the home).
How do you feel about some one else asking for help?
Why is there – might there be a difference? What does it mean when we are more comfortable giving help and uncomfortable receiving it?
How can we gently let each other know when we need something?
How can we give each other grace around asking for and giving and receiving help? Without getting defensive? 
IS there a symbol, sign, or gesture you can use to show among your family and friendship teams, that you’ve got each other’s backs? 
I hope you’ve found this edition fun and helpful – I enjoyed writing it! I would love to hear from you if you have any great summer projects or family routines that give you all a lift and help connect…
If you want some help and support to make meaningful change via coaching to get lift-off with these approaches in your family context, do make contact. I can do sessions by phone or online 1:1 or with couples, or parent/child sessions. Or you may want to host a small group webinar by getting some friends together to brainstorm some thorny area you’re all working with over the holiday. My large scale sessions for schools and businesses are going to pause a little over the holiday period – which opens up more windows for small group work and coaching spots.  
You may be a teacher or a school leader who finds it hard to switch off, or gear up to Autumn. If you’re wanting to dig a bit deeper and take some personal learning from all that pivoting you’ve been doing – or some of that burn-out you may have experienced…get in touch. I can help you craft a wellbeing practice that will work for you, and help you stick to it – so that you can approach the Eiger of the new school year with more hope and less trepidation…
With much love, gratitude, and anticipation of summer joy,

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