• Running Away

    Trainers or work?
  • Feeling Brave Books and a special guest blog post by Avril McDonald

    Five images fan
  • Win £200 of Love2Shop vouchers with DFS #SofaMoment

    johnny on the sofa
  • Book Review: Blue Moon by Jenny Oldfield

    blue moon

Running Away

Trainers or work?

Trainers or work?

Its been quiet here on the blog over the past four weeks. Thats because I have a new job, its a big responsible job and as i’m just at the start of my journey into it- very challenging. Unfortunately this has also coincided with the imminent arrival of the culmination of a years work on the St Albans Literary festival, a busy time at the museum where I lead workshops and an imminent formal assessment for one of my children. I don’t have a cleaner, a cook or general house-keeper (unlike many of my peers) and so I’ve had to squeeze in the odd bit of housework in order to stave off the rats and mice. There’s also been the wardrobe issue- jeans and tatty t-shirt not being all that acceptable in boardroom type meetings.

The result has been a virtual standstill on my running. In many ways a literal standstill as i don’t have the time or energy to fit it in. Cake at break time is a sort of right of passage in my new job as well and the occasional glass of wine (especially needed after the mental trauma of it all and possible self medicating given I haven’t included my 3 children in the list above or the 6 I have on the morning school run). This is a health disaster. I can see why people don’t achieve 10,000 steps now- they don’t have the time!

Its only four weeks to the St Albans Race for Life. I fear i’m going to let myself down and the past 6 months of running nearly every day will not be reflected in my efforts and time. This weekend I have managed to drag my exhausted bones out early both mornings, for a 5 km and a 7 km run. The times have been rubbish around 6:30- 6:50 per km average). At times I have felt near death. Its amazing what a difference a month of poor living makes! However, I’m keen and determined to pull myself out of this, mainly by looking to the future August looks promising with many of my work related challenges settling down. So, I can get through July and I can do everything well or at least to the best of my abilities.

How does one approach running after a month? I’ve done it by trying to regain the levels I was at before, making sure that I warm up well and stretch well afterwards. Music seems to help. I think I need some help on this one. Taking ones mind off the challenge whilst doing the challenge is also good. I’ve been pondering the EU Referendum (which could have consequences for our family in terms of finances) and a mixture of rage and despair has had a strange effect on my time. Rage is a good emotion for speed in running!

One of the other thing I have done is to treat myself to some long compression socks. These look quite cool as they are bright and also seem to help with my toe numbness. I think its always good to buy new kit to spur oneself on (if you can afford it).

I’m running 10km in the St Albans Race for Life, i’m currently doing it all alone. If you’d like to join me then sign up here and let me know. Its a very worthy cause and if you haven’t sponsored anyone yet and would like I’d love to  see your support here.

Feeling Brave Books and a special guest blog post by Avril McDonald

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This household is always a melting pot of different emotions, with three children there is always something going on from different factions emerging and people feeling left out, to fears about bullying at school and change. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have managed to build a rather lovely library of books to help the children manage these feelings. I’m also becoming increasingly interested in the use of Social Stories to help explain situations to children.This series of five books helps to fill some gaps in the 4-7 year old age range, although I’d argue its useful for older primary school children as well. They also provide a familiar character in the form of wolf (who is good rather than typecast) for children to empathise with.

In each of the stories Wolfgang is faced with a big feeling and his friend spider helps to offer some perspective on it. This is great, and the use of perspective is a very key part of CBT and incredibly useful to learn and if possible embed into children’s minds. The text is engaging and the pictures are visually engaging and modern. These are appealing books for the age group and really have that added value which you want for you every crowded bookshelf.

Avril McDonald is a woman on a mission, ‘I have a bold goal… to give ALL children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their creative potential’. I think she has made massive strides in getting these books published and out there. They are something which every school should have on their shelves. Our favourite is The Wolf and the Baby Dragon which helps children manage anxiety, but there is real value in the others. I’d recommend The Grand Wolf in particular which deals with loss and change which really fills a gap in children’s books, the only other book I can think of dealing with this is the wonderful Grandads’s Island. Be warned though, this one is quite hard to read as an adult as well!

We are very fortunate in that Avril McDonald has kindly written a guest blog for us. I asked her if she could help with an area which i’m currently grappling with for little Ned- how to manage big feelings!

10 Top Tips to help little children manage big feelings By Avril McDonald

It can be a bit of a shock when you realise that your children didn’t come with instructions! You can read books, ask ‘Dr Google’ (with caution) or see your GP to help you navigate your way around managing their physical bodies but it’s not so cut and dried when the time comes to help them manage their emotional bodies! Issues like nightmares, fear of the dark, being left out, change, loss and grief (to name a few) will invariably come up and they will look to you to give them the answers that they need!

Although our world has never been more distracted and stressful than it is right now, it’s also never had such wonderful opportunities (through research and technology) to understand how our brains operate and strategies to help children adapt and thrive. Here are my top 10 tips to help little children manage big feelings:

  1. Teach children about their brains as soon as you can

You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to lean that 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. This part of the brain 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. Young children can be introduced to this concept by imagining that one part of their brain is a bit like a ‘Cheeky Monkey’ and that another part is like a ‘Wise Owl’.   Sometimes the Cheeky Monkey can get a bit too excited or if it feels scared or angry, it might want to scream and run away or do things that might hurt other people like hit or say unkind words. The Wise Owl can train the Cheeky Monkey so that when feelings come up, the Cheeky Monkey can stop for a minute while the Wise Owl helps it do something really good with those feelings (even if the feelings are bad).

  1. Regularly practise 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) putting children in a powerful positive mental state. Practising calming techniques regularly make them easy to access in times when we most need them.

  1. Practise Empathy

Empathy plays a vital role in preventing bullying and building social tolerance. You can encourage children to practise empathy by asking them to reflect everyday on something kind that they did for someone (or that they saw someone else do). Or get them excited about carrying out ‘Random Acts of Kindness’. Reflecting on tough situations from a different perspective (e.g. looking down from high up in the sky) can also help children step out of difficult situations, consider other people’s feelings and process their own.

  1. Use stories to take away fears

If a child is worried about nightmares or certain situations and scenarios, try creating new stories together and make their scary things become funny or small and cute. This is a very simple Cognitive Behavioural Therapy called ‘Re-framing’. Or try ‘Role Playing’ Children love nothing more than role playing a tough situation they are facing when you play the part of them or you share a similar story from your childhood. Role playing gives them a safe environment to try out different scenarios.

  1. Encourage children to get comfortable with their own company

If children can learn how to ‘Make their own fun’ and get comfortable doing things on their own from time to time, it’s a great tool for them to use if they ever feel ‘left out’ or are in a new situation without their usual support group. This can also help to open up opportunities for children to make new friends because children are generally attracted to other children who are engaged and happy in a fun activity.

  1. Help children express their feelings through art

Giving children the time and initiative to draw or paint how they feel about something can help them explore and process feelings without having to find words to describe them (words which children might not even have yet).

  1. Help them build a Growth Mindset to build resilience

Help children 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.

  1. Help them practice risk in safe environments

Give children opportunities to experience risk, problem solve and to manage disappointment in a safe environment. We only have a limited amount of time to coach them in ways to cope before they will be out in the world reacting to real life situations based on the tools we’ve given them.

  1. Be open about change, loss and grief

It’s not only death that causes us to feel grief. Our lives are in a constant state of change, and grief is something that we will all experience to varying degrees. Being open with children about change, loss and grief, and practising ways to cope, can help to prepare them to manage their own difficult feelings.

  1. Play!

Having fun and laughing helps the brain to regulate the body’s stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and epinephrine) and increases happy hormones (e.g. dopamine and oxytocin). Group games also help to build relational skills through interacting with others and learning how to be a good loser and a good winner which helps practise social tolerance and resilience.

About the Author

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 www.feelbrave.com   She set up the www.friendsoffeelbrave.com charitable arm with the vision to give all children access to tools to help them manage tough emotions and reach their potential working with Educational Child Psychologists. Avril is an ex Primary School Teacher, Business Woman and a Mum. She is also a fellow of the RSA www.thersa.org which has a mission to enrich society through ideas and action.

Win £200 of Love2Shop vouchers with DFS #SofaMoment

I don’t know about your household, but things would very rapidly deteriorate here in terms of well being without our lovely comfy sofa’s to relax on. DFS have asked me to talk about my favourite #SofaMoment and to get you thinking about yours. When I started thinking it was amazing just how much happens around the sofa’s; you tend to think of the kitchen being the heart of the home. I’d argue it was the big sofa in the lounge in our house!
johnny on the sofaMy personal favourite #SofaMoment is the first few weeks when we got our cat Johnny. He was a rescue cat from St Albans Cats Protection. He was only just over one years old when we got him and quite timid, but a really good looking cat. We all fell in love with him at first sight. Just have a look here at my first post about him.

It took him quite a while to get happy with us as his new owners and pluck the courage up to come and sit with me on the sofa, but when he did it was quite magical. My parents used to have a cat when I was little but I think he resented me- not like Jonny. My evening isn’t complete unless he comes to snuggle up with me and try his hardest to push his way between the sofa arm and me, creating an effect like a fluffy water bottle.  I’ve had plenty of wonderful sofa moments with him!

Competition Time
What’s your favourite memorable #SofaMoment? Let me know your top moment below  in my comments and enter via the simple rafflecopter and my favourite will win £200 of Love2Shop vouchers!
This post is brought to you by DFS. Visit the DFS website to find out more about their great range of DFS Sofas.

Terms and Conditions are here and the competition closes on the 15th June 2016

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Blue Moon by Jenny Oldfield

blue moonBlue Moon is set in the Rocky Mountains in the USA it is the story of a young girl  Anna and her horse. When the girls mother becomes poorly and they need to raise the money for an operation the horse is put up for sale. Anna cant bear to be parted with her horse and so with her friend she launches a plan of action.

Published by Barrington Stoke who produce the UK’s most outstanding books for reluctant readers or children struggling with issues such as dyslexia. These books look exactly like standard children’s books except the font, paper and colours are very carefully considered to make the books easier to read and very accessible.

Blue Moon is written by a well established author and she has done a great job in recreating the landscape and the tension of the situation. The illustrations help break up the text further and convey some of the more oblique references.

My daughter Fifi who is pony mad and aged seven enjoyed reading this book and we both felt that this was exactly the sort of thing that would be really useful as part of the school reading scheme. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these sorts of books should be part of the reading scheme as they do really help inspire a love of reading!

Blue Moon ticks all the boxes for us, its a great read for any pony fan and works well as a book for a reluctant or struggling reader or perhaps a slighter younger reader who likes to be challenged. If you’d like to find out more and have a look at the other books available from Barrington Stoke have a look here.


Book Review: Doodle Girl and the Money Mystery by Suzanne Smith and Lindsay Taylor Illustrated by Marnie Maurri

doodle girlDoodle Girl lives in a big bright red magic sketchbook and draws doodles which lead her to have the most amazing adventures and meeting the most wonderful new friends.

This is a brilliant book for getting children to use their imagination and think about constructing stories in a creative way. Its a very original book and I think you’d either love it or hate it, in our household I really liked it and the husband did not enjoy reading it. The children were also a bit divided as the boys thought it was a bit too girly for them but Fifi loved it.

The book itself is a bit of a work of art as you’d expect and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in the children’s book section of an art gallery shop. It also includes an absolutely delightful colouring sheet which is worthy of being framed.

I’m a big fan of this sort of book as it can challenge the usual conventions and it helps to get children thinking about stories and using their imagination. I think there is far too much emphasis at school on children learning and thinking about creative writing in a prescribed way. This book is the perfect antidote to that and will help your children set their imagination free!

If you’d like to find out more have a look here.