Bringing Out The Best In Your Child - A Parent's Perspective by Mrs Dillon

Posted on: 04/10/2019

 Reflections on "Bringing out the best in your child"

On a wet Tuesday 24th September parents of students from nursery through to year 2 were invited to attend a talk led by Elaine Halligan of the Parent Practice, and author of “My Child’s Different”.


As a mother of two boys (Arjan in year 5 and Sarab in year 2) I was intrigued by the title of this talk – “Bringing out the best in your child”. My expectations were that this talk was going to share how to encourage your child to be the best “academic” and I was also secretly hoping to learn how I could get them to want to do their homework! 


Instead what we were gifted with was something far more relevant and thought provoking. Elaine is a very engaging presenter who started by discussing her neuro-diverse son who had struggled at school as a young child but is now a very successful adult. She attributes this success down to changes she made in interacting with him, specifically by encouraging a greater self-belief and confidence in himself.


Elaine reinforces the importance of how we talk to our children and the respect that we give them. She conveyed this message very well by role playing a provocative scene whereby we (as the audience) were the child and she was the parent. The way that she talked to us, as the child was patronising and demeaning and I’m sure many of us as parents could relate. She went on to explain that by conversing with our children in this manner we are actually having a detrimental impact on their self-esteem and confidence. These crucial interactions over time are then likely to lead our children to experience an awkwardness in their own skin, which is something none of us wants to do! 


Elaine touched on the fact that by only focussing on the “negative” (ie. 1 spelling mistake out of 14 etc.) we minimise the positive. I have to say that she demonstrated this particularly well. She showed us a “Reticular Activating System” which illustrated that if we only focus and notice negative behaviour then that is all we will see and we will miss all the good and positive behaviours that our children are demonstrating (see this video here: She goes on to explain that for every negative feedback a child is given, they need at least 5 positives to balance this out. 


Arguably, what most of us as parents are good at is evaluative praise which is along the lines of “I am so proud of you”, “good girl/boy” etc. This is too nondescript and over time will become meaningless to your children. As such she emphasised the impact that descriptive praise can have (ie. “you should be proud of yourself” etc). This praise needs to focus on effort, attitude and strategies that the child is using and by doing this we can get our children to focus on the journey and not overly focus on end results or achievements. This will help them develop a positive growth mindset and promote good mental health.


Elaine shared several practical ways to encourage this and a few of the ones that resonated with me are highlighted below- 

  • “Book of Gold” or “Golden Book” – this is an A5 book per child that has been decorated by the child. The parent has to write 3 descriptive phrases every day about each child. These phrases can take the form of acknowledging their effort, praising an absence of a particular negative behaviour or simply pointing out a quality that they demonstrated that day.  Elaine suggested reading these to them every night but having put this into practise now, I have found that I need time to write these in the evening and they actually enjoy reading them after breakfast (and I’ve noticed that it really puts a pep in their step in the morning). My experience (having done it for 5 days now!) is that it is tough to get started but it has made me refocus my attention to recognise more positive behaviours that I realise I hadn’t been acknowledging as much before. I did ask the boys how they feel about their “books of gold” and they absolutely adore them and it makes them so happy. What more could I ask for!

  • Choose a quality (or use the value from school) and put this up on the wall and discuss it regularly. This discussion could be in the form of the children giving examples of how they lived that quality that day.

  • “Pasta Jar” – Using a small pasta jar, for each positive action fill up the jar with large pasta pieces (Note – pasta can’t be too small and the jar can’t be too big as the aim should be to fill the jar within 3 or 4 days). When the jar is full the child is rewarded with something extra special. This reward should be non-material and non-time consuming. (eg. playing a game or lego, lighting a candle etc – basically anything that they love to do). There are two important rules here: do not take pasta out of the jar for misbehaviour and only one pasta jar per household (otherwise it becomes very competitive!).


The key take home message for me was to be respectful to your child, engage with them and catch them doing “good” things. It sounds simple but we all need a reminder of this and ways to implement this in our schedule with our children.  Ultimately our children do their best and we want them to feel good about themselves. I would truly recommend attending any of Elaine’s future talks as it’s all extremely relatable and encourages you to be the best parent you can be for your child.