Archives for December 2010

A new approach to resolutions

Sarah Kingsley Sarah Kingsley | 00:08 UK time, Thursday, 30 December 2010


The start of a new year usually fills me with dread, but this time I have decided to ditch the traditional New Year’s resolutions of abstinence and denial. Instead, I’ve persuaded my family to get involved in suggesting some fun resolutions for 2011.

So, here are the rules. We each write one personal and one family resolution on separate slips of paper. Both must be positive, realistic and with no mention of giving up anything. Fortunately for children, the idea of abstinence is about as alien as Christmas without presents, so we’re onto a winner already.  

The first family resolution is from my partner: ‘Take turns to cook a family meal once a week.’ This sounds promising, especially as our children are more adventurous with food when we eat together (and it means I cook less often too).

Resolution 2 is from my seven year-old daughter, who insists we all resolve to improve our dancing. I realise it’s almost compulsory for parents to be embarrassing dancers, but to manage this before the children are teenagers, is quite an achievement. I can see the dance game we bought for the Wii this Christmas, will be getting a lot of use.

family in winter park @ Wildman - fotolia

I’m expecting my 12 year-old son’s resolution to be along the lines of going to bed at 11pm every night, but in fact he suggests we make Sundays a family day and visit different places in our area, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. This ties in well with my resolution to do more family walks in training for a charity walk I’m attempting in May. Not surprisingly, this isn’t quite as popular with the children. Perhaps the secret is not to call it a walk.

So what about our personal resolutions? My partner resolves to expand his reading beyond biographies and car magazines. Optimistic perhaps, but I try to look positive. My son wants to improve his football skills and even offers to coach his sister (which doesn’t go down too well). She is much keener to develop her cooking skills, thanks to the Junior Masterchef series, but in particular the art of making puddings. Now that’s the type of resolution I like.

Finally, the children demand to hear my personal resolution. Oh dear, I think, they are going to be disappointed with my desire to improve my knowledge of history. So I resort to that under-rated parenting skill – I improvise: “I’m going to learn more about history by reading all your Horrible Histories books,” I blurt out which, for some reason, they find hilarious. 

It’s a lot more fun getting the family involved in making New Year’s resolutions and I really believe I’ll stick to them this time. Not because I am more determined, but because I actually want to. Plus, the alternative is far worse – constant teasing from my children if I give up.

Sarah Kingsley is a freelance writer and has written for many parenting publications.


Forget New Year resolutions - concentrate on what is really important...

Claire Winter Claire Winter | 00:11 UK time, Monday, 27 December 2010


Happy New Year !

As we welcome in a new decade, we get time to reflect on what is really important to us, and plan for the coming year.

I have come up with my own three point F plan (don’t worry nothing to do with the 1980s uber-fiber diet). It goes like this  1. spend more time with my family, 2. catch up with friends and 3. have more fun. 

With finances tight in January, we tend to try and do things that are free or cost very little. Meeting friends at the Tate Britian is a firm favourite, you can park for free near the gallery at the weekend and there are always great activities for the kids to do. It is great to see a three year-old sitting before a masterpiece, trying to make their own! They have galleries in Liverpool and St Ives too.

We also  have membership to the National Trust, which means you get free entry to hundreds of places to across the country and most  are re-opening for the February half-term, so that you and your friends, plus the kids can enjoy the full glory of the spring flowers, there is something amazing about seeing the first snowdrops of the year.  

happy family watching a movie @ Mat Hayward - fotolia

And lastly, when the weather is really bad we have a movie night, we try and pick a film that we will all enjoy, dim the lights, allocate seats and make home made popcorn. All the children love cuddling up on the sofa with us and it is nice to put your feet up for a few hours!

 I think we all believe we can do better, when it comes to our own style of parenting, but  we can learn a lesson from the little people in our lives and just take one day at a time.

I tend to be very task driven and my days are filled with ticking off things that need to be done, laundry, shopping, work, school pick-up, etc. but when I stop and just play with the kids, I remember what I am doing all the running around for!

Many of us have unrealistic expectations about family life and think that we should be some model family that is portrayed in television adverts when in reality life is unruly, noisy and filled with arguments.

Lots of us our recovering from Christmas and for many, it has not been the rosy family event that we imagined.

There are more applications for divorce after the festive season, than any other time of year. Spending time with relatives and family can be hard work.

And as for resolutions, let’s face it, they were made to be broken!  But if you are serious about change and making a lasting difference to family life, sit down and write out a list of small, achievable goals.

There is nothing worse than writing something like ‘I will not shout at the children’ and then find that five minutes later, you are doing that very thing. 

Equally frustrating is making the age old one resolution of ‘I want to lose weight’, only to find that you immediately find yourself finishing off the Roses tin, which only has coffee creams and strawberry creams left in it (and lets face it no one even likes them)!

It is better to write ‘I will count to five before I raise my voice’ or ‘I will only eat one small piece of dark chocolate a day’, than grand statements that are unachievable.

And if your relationship with your other half is struggling, don’t make any rash decisions, take time to reflect on the options open to you. Relate has some good relationship advice and you could always go for counselling, before you make any decisions about your future.

This idea of having a new beginning should give us all hope for a better 2011, just don’t get put off, if you fall off the wagon and dive back in to the coffee creams!

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.


Keeping down the hours on screens

David Shaw David Shaw | 16:17 UK time, Friday, 24 December 2010


With the holidays having started, many parents will be relying on computers or games consoles to keep their sons and daughters entertained over the week-long break. 

The challenge will be to keep down the hours spent on the various screens. 

We recently bought our 13-year-old son one of the more grown-up consoles and will admit to some surprise at how powerful and flexible they have become. The biggest change is in networking. Nowadays, all these consoles are designed to connect to the web, and permit cooperative gaming. 

On the good side, that makes it possible for players to cooperate; to talk to their friends and to work together on a campaign or to achieve an objective.

On the downside, the console seems to have made his concentration worse. Except in one area - when does he next get to go on the console.

young boy using laptop and listening to MP3 player @ monkey business - fotolia

We can ask if he has done all his homework. The answer always seems to be yes, and I guess we should rejoice about that. At least until his teachers start reporting that the work is rushed and sloppy.

We can ask if he has prepared his books for the next day. The answer to that one seems to be, that he was always, just about to do it. The same, of course applies to jobs like laying the table; getting his dirty washing ready for the machine and so on. 

But it's not just the main games console. He takes his hand-held device everywhere. On the good side, we never get the 'Are we there yet?' question. On the bad side, the question we do get it 'Can I get out my console?'  - at friends' houses, on the tube, during a concert, at church. 

If this scenario sounds familiar, one way of tacking it is to introduce some alternative activities. Why not suggest playing cards or some board games. Other distractions could be baking some cookies or helping to cook the family meal. 

I talked to a local sleep advisor recently. Most of our conversation was about babies and parents getting sleep. But as soon as I mentioned the games console generation, she became really fired up about how they are damaging sleep patterns.

As a trained psychologist, she went on about arousal states and brain waves and alpha rhythms, most of which went over my head, but the thing which struck home was that she actively stops her 17 year-old from playing on the console on school days. She will go in there and unplug the machine, saying the constant battles are worth it. 

I think this anecdotal type of evidence, is a common currency among teachers and concerned parents. But it's also there in hard research. In the 11 October issue of Pediatrics, Dr Angie Page of the University of Bristol reports that, “Children who spent more than two hours per day watching television or using a computer were at increased risk of high levels of psychological difficulties.”

Research from Iowa, in America, showed that children who spent  least  time in front of a screen, had much lower blood pressure than their screen-addicted peers. (Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine journal)

The kicker was the high blood pressure, that was not solely due to simply sitting down and not getting exercise; nor was it due to body morphology. It appeared to be due to the excess adrenalin and other hormones, produced as a result of playing games and watching TV.

So that sleep practitioner was right about high states of arousal.

The question really, is not what those games do to our children. I think most of us know the effects are not all positive. The question is how we control access to the consoles and encourage them to get outside and play for hours, rather than spend their lives playing the latest shoot 'em up.

I'm not sure there are any easy answers to that one, though.

David Shaw is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Fun activities to fill the festive break

Joanna Youngs Joanna Youngs | 17:04 UK time, Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Keeping children occupied during any school holiday can be tough and the weather, at this time of year, doesn’t help. Short, chilly or sub-zero days, can make it difficult to venture outside for long, and inevitably the telly, DVD player or games console can be a very useful time-filler. But there are some other ways to keep boredom at bay, during the Christmas holidays...

Younger children are easier to please, but have shorter attention spans. Some of the classic but simple art and craft makes, which you probably did at their age, allow your child to be really creative - and they’re cheap. Think papier mache (if you’ve got the time and energy), cutting up old egg cartons and using the cardboard tubes from old loo rolls to create a whole host of things. I remember covering them in foil or paint and turning them into candles, angels and snowmen when I was young.

Take a look at the Mister Maker pages on the Cbeebies website, for lots of ideas for some easy and fun makes, such as paper masks, finger puppets, cotton-button creatures and fridge magnets. The Make and Colour section on the Cbeebies site, also has a big selection of makes which are listed by theme (eg Animals & Nature, Model Making and Cooking).  

skating @ Vladislav Gajic - fotolia

In the first week of the holidays, there’s always the option of making your own Christmas cards. Clear a space, put a plastic cover down and get the glue and the glitter out. Don’t forget shiny paper or foil, felt tips and crayons, tinsel, tissue paper and the obligatory cotton wool for Santa’s beard or any snowman. If your children aren’t as excited as they once were, at the prospect of creating their own glitter-strewn cards, then why not let them design one on the computer instead?

Baking is the other big indoor activity, which should keep kids of any age busy for a while. Why not get them to help you with a few Christmas recipes you’ve got planned – or let them choose something they’d like to make as a present – maybe some truffles, cookies, shortbread or gingerbread men. The BBC Food site has plenty of recipes for tasty festive treats, if you are stuck for ideas.   

If there’s a subject or topic your kids are really into at the moment (eg dinosaurs, sea creatures, insects, space), then another way of keeping them occupied in the holidays is to visit a few trusted websites. The Natural History Museum has an excellent 'kids only' area. Print out pages for younger children – who will enjoy colouring, cutting and creating a collage. If your kids are older you might want to let them spend half an hour online, reading up on their favourite topic and playing some related quizzes and games. 

And if you are happy to let them be entertained online for a while, then there is a wealth of fun interactive content on the CBBC website. And the Cbeebies site has a whole section dedicated to Christmas content – there’s an advent calendar to click on, plus festive songs, stories, games and makes.

Got a garden? There are a few things your kids can do at this time of year, to give your local wildlife a helping hand. My daughter and I like putting out peanuts and seed mix for the birds and then spotting which varieties swoop down to tuck in. The RSPB website has a really good kids section. The 'Make ‘n’ Do' pages include a recipe for an inexpensive bird cake, as well as a guide to making a bird feeder from an old plastic bottle. 

The ‘Things to Do’ section on the BBC Breathing Places site has lots of ideas for things to do in your garden – such as putting up a bat/bird box, making a bug home to attract creatures such as ladybirds (and help them through the winter), putting out the right type of food for hedgehogs and other mammals, and tips on protecting your garden wildlife from prowling cats. 

If you want to venture further than your garden (or if you don’t have an outdoor space of your own), then BBC Breathing Places site also has a ‘Places to Go’ section. Just type in your postcode and it will come up with wildlife places or events near you, many of which are free of charge and make a great morning or afternoon out with the kids. Another good searchable database is BBC Thrillseeker. Again you just enter your postcode, to find suggestions for activities and events in your local area. 

Many museums, galleries and arts centres don’t charge admission fees and often have extra events laid on during the school holidays. Log on to the Culture 24 site and discover what is going on near you - the site has listings from more than 4,000 UK venues. Some events may require you to pre-register, even if they’re free, so it’s worth checking in advance.

Why not consider going ice skating? There are more than 60 permanent ice rinks in the UK. And during the Christmas holidays, there are often temporary outdoor rinks in many towns and cities. The Thrillseeker site mentioned above, contains some useful information on ice skating – how much it costs and where to find more information on your nearest indoor rink. If you don’t fancy getting your skates on, swimming doesn’t cost much and can be enjoyed by the whole family. Check out your local council website for opening times or any special kids’ sessions, during the Christmas holidays.

Heritage organisations, like the National Trust, often offer a few seasonal events which children will enjoy. Our local NT property, for example, is hosting a Christmas storytelling event, and has a special lantern trail in the gardens, which children can explore until early January.

Finally, libraries are always a good source of information for cheap or free activities going on, during the school holidays. Check the noticeboards or ask the staff, who are often a font of knowledge. I hope that’s given you a few pointers for stuff you could do with the kids during the next fortnight... Good luck!

Joanna Youngs is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Exams - are they better suited to girls or boys?

Claire Winter Claire Winter | 16:36 UK time, Friday, 17 December 2010


For the last two decades, girls have beaten the boys to the top grades at GCSE and out-performed them at A Level, achieving 8.3% of their A Levels at A* grade (compared to 7.9% for boys). This, you could argue, is overwhelming evidence that girls perform better than boys in exams.

But last year, for the first time in 12 years, boys did better in Maths than girls. This was because of the decision to drop coursework entirely from Maths GCSE. Girls stayed at 56.8%, whilst the number of boys getting a grade A to C rose from 55.8% to 57.6%. 

Coursework that had traditionally been done at home, was replaced with ‘controlled assessment’ – coursework completed in exam conditions.

exam day @ Laurence Gough - fotolia

The recent white paper on education also heralds a big change to they way GCSEs and A Levels will be examined. They are going back to a more rigid, exam-based system. They will be less modular, with fewer re-sits allowed and this, educationalists argue, will definitely help the boys.

An article in the Independent, cites a 2009 report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) that compared GCSEs with the previous qualification, the O-level, which relied on exam assessment, and pinpointed coursework as a major factor behind boys' lower average grades at GCSE. At O-level, meanwhile, it was girls who traditionally fared worse.

"There is evidence that the introduction of GCSEs, contributed to the deterioration in the relative participation of boys," the report concluded. "There are strong indications that the nature of the GCSE assessment (and the nature of the teaching and curriculum that feed it) is part of the reason for the relatively poor performance of boys." As a result, for 20 years, boys may have been "needlessly achieving less than they might".

Perhaps, a more sensible approach is two have different exams for boys and girls? In the summer, it was reported that an exam board was looking in to creating a science GCSE with coursework in it for girls - one which gave more weighting to exam marks for boys. Some teaching unions have criticised it as gender stereotyping, but as neither girls nor boys will be forced to take a particular type of exam, isn’t it just adjusting the system to suit different pupils learning needs? 

Whilst I am all for more vigorous examinations and a stronger emphasis on grammar and spelling in exams, all things suggested in the White Paper, I also wonder if there is too much emphasis on exams?

As I pointed out in an earlier blog, girls may do better than boys in school, but they still end up being paid less in the workplace. The number of women in highly paid, managerial jobs, and positions of power is also very small. For example, female doctors are still paid 18% less than their male counterparts

So, until the gender inequality in our society is sorted out, does it really matter that females are benefiting from a system that is more suited to them than males?

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Being creative at home

Hannah Hunter Hannah Hunter | 15:26 UK time, Tuesday, 14 December 2010


Christmas, for me, involves lots of home-made things - I love to sew, cook, draw and paint. So I thought that my children, by some kind of magical osmosis, would share my passion.

The little one, who isn’t yet two, is already making marks with crayons and generally getting stuck in. But her four year-old brother couldn’t be less interested! He’s far too busy playing with dragons, dinosaurs and aliens from outer-space to sit down and make something.

As a child, I can remember many pleasurable hours spent drawing and making things and I have worried about him missing out. However, he displays fantastic powers of imagination and creativity in his play-acting and story-telling.

color painted child hand @ picsfive - fotolia

We tend to see creativity in small children, as defined by the making of physical objects, but it doesn’t always manifest itself in this way – creative thinking is key to any creative process. Educationalist and expert on creativity, Ken Robinson, highlights the fantastically non-linear way in which small children think and he wants educators and parents, to try to keep these ways of thinking alive. He believes that in order to do this, we need to change the education system: making it less about test results and more about the individual student. It’s hard to disagree with his thinking.

This vision may be far from reality in schools, but we can encourage our children’s imaginative abilities at home, by providing a safe space to let their creativity run free. Many parents fear the mess of creative play – I’ve heard of more than one family who never paints or glitters at home, because of the clearing up. Whilst I’m not ready to embrace wall-scribbling, even if it satisfies a creative impulse, I don’t mind a bit of low-level chaos in the name of self-expression.

We all need to encourage our children, by giving them the space and tools to extend their creativity.  So for some that will be glitter, paint and glue, but for others it might be some plastic dinosaurs, a cardboard box and some string (well it works in our house!).  And I will just have to have a crafty Christmas with only one little helper (not withstanding the occasional sprinkle of glitter from a passing dinosaur).

Hannah Hunter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

The show must go on

Sarah Kingsley Sarah Kingsley | 14:54 UK time, Friday, 10 December 2010


I, like many parents up and down the country, have recently watched my daughter perform in her primary school’s nativity play. She didn’t have a starring role, (she was an ant!), yet I still experienced a surge of pride as she strutted across the stage to the sounds of Adam and the Ants’ Prince Charming. This was the culmination of weeks of rehearsals, dance demonstrations in our kitchen and the usual last minute search for a suitable costume.

It’s a routine we should be used to by now. Every term, the children perform in a music concert, play or talent contest. Each week they are encouraged to bring in an item of interest for ‘show and tell’ and many join the choir or drama, dance and music clubs. But would their time be better spent focusing on the 3Rs rather than prancing about on stage to dubious 1980s’ songs?

Certainly there are those who believe reality TV talent shows have created a culture of celebrity wannabes. Yet, love or loathe them, there’s something reassuring about millions of families converging on the sofa every Saturday night, to watch ‘ordinary’ people perform. Then there’s the nation’s favourite choirmaster, Gareth Malone, who has tapped into the joy of communal singing, including opera, by inspiring everyone from teenagers to a community in South Oxhey to have a go.

performer girl @The Final Miracle -

We aren’t a particularly musical or theatrical family but even I can see the benefits of learning how to perform, whether it’s taking part in a show, reciting a poem in class or telling a joke. These are life skills that, let’s face it, are just as useful as algebra and conjugating verbs. My son cowered behind his teacher throughout his first nativity but gentle persuasion and numerous school performances over the years have cured his stage fright.

In fact, both my children have found drama, music and role-play at school helpful in building confidence, as well as a sense of belonging. Of course, I’d like them to do well at Maths, English and other academic subjects, but I also believe the performing arts have a vital role in enriching children’s education. Shakespeare meant nothing to me until I saw Twelfth Night on stage. My son became enthused by the Ancient Greeks after an interactive workshop at school. A friend’s teenage daughter has turned her life around since joining a local youth theatre. 

Unfortunately, the spending cuts in the arts announced in October could jeopardise future community and school projects for budding young performers. And whilst the recent news of a match funding scheme to encourage private sponsorship of the arts is welcome, it’s likely that smaller, innovative projects in deprived areas won’t attract the attention of the corporate donor.

What can we do to ensure children from all backgrounds, benefit from the performing arts? It’s all too easy to sit back and watch but I, for one, will be doing everything I can to make my voice heard. 

Sarah Kingsley is a freelance writer and has written for many parenting publications.

Balancing the nativity activity

Flora Napier Flora Napier | 16:58 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010


I have to admit to having felt a wee bit 'bah humbug' recently - and not just because I spent a good chunk of Monday stuck in a slushy, icy gridlock.

Thinking back to my own school days, I remember my parents greatly looking forward to the annual school Christmas carol concert and nativity play. The whole school and wider community turned out for an evening of festive entertainment - if a gathering of forgetful, tuneless but highly decorative small people, can be called entertainment.

So when did things change from one simple evening of fun, to the packed calendar of Christmas events which I received in the last school newsletter?

Boy with face paint @ Hunta - fotolia

Altogether, between the Christmas Fayre, fund-raising carols, Santa’s appearance at the Christmas party and the Nativity play itself, there are five different events at my son’s school, which parents have been invited to. None are in the evening, three clash with the days I work and the others both involve a good deal of shuffling other small folk about, then expecting said small folk to sit quietly, while their siblings have all the fun. Bah. And on top of that, I’m forking out money every day for pantos, grotto gifts, stalls and the obligatory Christmas card exchange, which in these parts, even extends to the nursery pupils. Humbug.

So how has it come to this, who is it really meant to be for and why do I get the feeling that Santa won’t be coming to my house, if I don‘t make a supreme effort to attend all of the events? 

By now, my inner grinch had started muttering darkly along the lines of, ‘it’s all very well for stay at home parents’. What about parents who work, but don’t want to let their kids down?

Then I remembered last year, when I moved heaven and earth to get to the tail end of my son’s school Christmas party. The hall was packed solid with other parents, who had made the same effort. My son however, along with many of his peers, was entirely oblivious to our being there at all. 

In a halleluiah moment, I realised I had forgotten that the whole point of these events is for the kids to enjoy celebrating age-old traditions. It’s also a chance for them to contribute something to the community. My son and his class and thousands of other children like them, will get a kick out of carol-singing their hearts out and charming little old ladies in supermarkets and old-folks homes all over the country. And besides, who really cares if mum makes it along to the Christmas party, so long as it’s not Santa that can’t take the time off work?

I sat down and had a chat with my son and explained that I would only be able to come along to one or two things this year. He was pretty keen for me to come along to the nativity play, but was otherwise supremely unfazed.

So, for stay at home mums - and dads - who can make it along to every event (not forgetting you are often the same people who give up time to make costumes and fund raise for the panto trip etc), enjoy! 

But this year, I think that those of us who work full- or part-time, should all have a merry little guilt-free Christmas. I’m going to accept that I’m not needed or expected at every single event in my son life. Independence is something schools should be teaching and encouraging anyway. 

And now I feel I can sit back and really look forward to all the fun and hilarity of the up-coming alternative nativity. If last year is anything to go by, it will probably prove to be a wet-wool smelling, uber-fidgety, over-crowded joyous giggle and definitely worth taking the afternoon off work for…

Flora Napier works for BBC Learning Scotland.

Tree week - how important are green spaces in school?

Hannah Hunter Hannah Hunter | 17:03 UK time, Friday, 3 December 2010


Most of us will have wonderful memories of childhood forays into nature. Whether it was in the local park or a country field, I can recall many hours of unstructured and imaginative play, led by the elements and the natural environment. Today, I watch my four year-old and his friends in the park, scampering around like puppies, escaping from the playground and exploring the trees and bushes, climbing, hiding and generally enjoying themselves whatever the weather.  

This ‘letting off steam’ is facilitated by being in an open space, and outside time is an essential part of school life. Whether simply running free at break-time, or more formally introduced through schemes such as Forest School, children will learn great life skills through being outdoors

I taught in an inner city school in Birmingham, where lack of grounds meant that the only outside areas were concrete and completely devoid of vegetation. We started a small container garden with the Key Stage 1 children, which gradually crept around the playground.  It provided a way for them to not only learn about life cycles and how to maintain plants, but gave those with little or no contact with the natural world a chance to get their hands dirty and simply enjoy nature.

boy playing with leaves @ Leah-Anne Thompson -


Much of the national curriculum can be taught outside, with charities such as Learning through Landscapes offering teachers (and parents) lots of ideas for how to use the outdoors in children’s learning. There are events through the year, such as this week's National Tree Week, organised by the Tree Council. Children will be given a chance to get involved in tree planting and to learn about the natural environment, with various events happening all over the UK. 

So many children spend the majority of their time indoors, whether at school or at home, often looking at screens of one kind or another. This bombardment of the senses by various technological gizmos leaves little time for contemplation, something that being outside in nature offers in spades. American author, Richard Louv, has coined the phrase ‘nature deficit disorder’ and has written widely, urging parents and educators to allow children time to explore the world on their own terms.

Too often, as parents, we are afraid to give children freedom to roam - it’s more convenient to keep them indoors so we can keep an eye on them. However, if schools as well as parents teach children how to be safe in nature, then maybe we can stop being so worried and allow our children the wonderful experiences we took for granted as kids, messing about outside.

Hannah Hunter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Check out the BBC ThrillSeeker site to find outdoor activites near you. 

Are our children sleeping enough?

Claire Winter Claire Winter | 13:50 UK time, Thursday, 2 December 2010


Having young children and suffering from sleepless nights has made me quite obsessed with sleep, but parents are not the only ones who suffer; lack of sleep affects children too.

A survey by Newsround, found that a quarter of children aged 9 to 11 were going to bed after 10pm, and half said they weren’t getting enough sleep and wanted more. 

Health experts warn that lack of sleep can cause health and behavioural problems in young children. The Sleep Council thinks sleep is so important for children that it should be taught in schools. 

boy sleeping @ jorn buchheim - fotolia

In fact, a sleep charity in Glasgow, has started to give teenagers sleep lessons and it hopes to roll out the project across the rest of Scotland.

And some research points to the fact that children sleep an hour less than they did thirty years ago. They also claim that this ‘lost hour’ has some serious health implications eg poor academic performance and ADHD.

Another study has shown that children aged 12 to 18 years, who went to bed after midnight, are 24% more likely to be depressed.  When our kids are young we are concerned about how early they wake up but by the time they are teenagers, we are worried about how late they sleep in. One school has decided to embrace the night owl lifestyle of teenagers and has changed school hours, so that school starts at 10.00am.

The head sensibly points out that young people in general are naturally late risers. They concentrate better in the afternoon and so he has adapted the school timetable to reflect this

It is great to see that schools are coming up with practical solutions for solving some of the difficulties we face with older children, but we also need to educate parents and children about the importance of sleep.

Lack of sleep also has a negative effect on parents. Research has shown that adults who get less than six hours of sleep a night function the same as someone who hasn’t slept for 24 hours.

The first year of having twins seemed to be a blur of feeding, changing and broken sleep. Then they started teething and used to scream from 8pm to around midnight and don’t get me started on when we moved them from their cots into beds…

If you are really struggling with getting enough sleep it is vital to ask for help from friends and family. My neighbours used to take my eldest child to school. They were passing my door, it wasn’t hard for them, but it made a massive difference to my day. You can also suggest taking turns to be on night duty with your partner or husband, so that neither of you go through a prolonged period of time without any sleep. The BBC's Headroom site has some great tips for getting a good night’s sleep. 

With young children, the mantra should be routine - get them to do the same thing every night. Start with a hot bath, a milky drink and a bedtime story. All three of my children love snuggling up in bed reading stories - it’s the perfect end to a busy day. 

Teenagers need to know that they should aim for eight to nine hours sleep a night to function properly, but parents ought to be sympathetic to their wish to go to bed later and get up later whenever possible. Suggest playing a game or encourage them to try reading or listening to quiet music an hour before bed, rather than being glued to TV or games screens and texting. This can really help them wind down and relax properly.

Getting enough sleep can be hard, given the pressures on our lives. But it is worth working on, as there can be big knock-on effects on our children and ourselves, if we don’t.  

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

Take a look at the BBC Learning Scotland blog entry 'Make my teenager sleep' by Anne McNaught.



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