Friday, 7 November 2014

Cruel or Kind ? You decide!

Hello fellow parents! I had a great chat with some friends over lunch yesterday. We always have a good laugh together and share parenting tips. But yesterday they told me a story that left me speechless...!

I'd love to hear your opinions about this little story. I was horrified...

Father: "Daisy, did you know that every 7 years your parents are allowed to choose a new name for you?"

Daughter (nearly 7 years old): "No, really?"

Father: "Yes, every 7 years your parents can change your name and then when you get to 21 you can change it yourself to whatever you want."

Daughter: "Ok."

Father: "So when you turn 7, we're going to change your name to Plop-plop."

Daughter: "What?"

Father: "Do you want ice-cream for desert?"

Daughter: "Yes please."

Father: "If you want ice-cream, you have to sign this contract, agreeing to the name change."

Daughter: "I don't want to."

Father: "Well, no ice-cream for you then."

Daughter: "Er, ok, I'll sign it."

Father: "Good, thank you for signing the contract, you know this is legally binding and from next Tuesday, your Mum and I, and everyone at school will call you Plop-plop."

Daughter: "But wait... that's not fair!"

The Father in this case made a strong argument to me that it was a good life lesson. Daisy got to learn about contracts, what her signature means, commitment, trade-offs and long-term vs. short-term.

They have a good solid and frequently jokey relationship, which reduces the sinister tone that I was afraid of in this exchange. But I'm certainly not going to be using this as an go-to lesson for my kids. Predominantly because I try to never lie to my kids, not even to wind them up. I think it's important that I mean everything I say, and that I always follow through on promises.

The above exchange seems to contravene that approach, but it does get the message across in a punchy and memorable way.  It also gives the whole family a good chance to use Daisy's alternative name 'Plop-plop' for comedic effect later on!

I'm not sure who's right on this one. What do you think?

Your kids are amazing... but, what are you doing about it ??

I only ask the question because sometimes I don't feel like I give my kids the credit they deserve for the things that they do.

In the course of a busy week, the kids certainly feel that they've achieved things, had successes and "won" at whatever they were doing. As adults it's easy to miss the importance of these small achievements, and let large achievements fade into distant memory.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs describes the different levels of human motivation. We all need to have
basic needs met before the next level becomes important. For example, if you don't have a roof over your head, you probably aren't worried about not having lots of good friends. The levels are as follows:

1. Physiological - food, shelter, warmth
2. Safety - personal, financial and health
3. Love/Belonging - friendship, intimacy, family
4. Esteem - self-respect, recognition
5. Self-Actualization - being the best you can be

Luckily in my kids' world, we have the top 3 levels nicely covered. We still have to work hard to fulfill those needs, but our children are priviledged to not need to worry about levels 1 and 2. Level 3 is also present, whatever kind of family structure you have, the focus for most of us as parents is to make the children feel loved.

So what else do they need? Well, level 4 seems to be our next goal. Building, in our children, self-respect, giving them recognition, and instilling self-confidence are the next most important needs.

NOTE: "Being the best" is level 5 - not level 4. It's important to remember this. To address level 4, we should purposefully avoid merging our actions to try to meet level 5.


Strict Level 4: "Well done Daisy, you were amazing! I was very proud of you. How did that feel?"

Mixed Level 4 & 5: "Well done Charlie! You won! You've got a great chance of winning at the national championships!"

The difference is simple. Recognise the children for what they have done, in that moment. Avoid projecting future success, or future potential into the picture.

Ways To Recognise Your Children : Good vs Bad

Adults sometimes have a difficulty in recognising different types of success. I was reminded of this when my youngest was struggling a little with his spelling tests. It was clear that he wasn't putting the work in, with enough attention to detail, and was going into the weekly test not 100% confident.

We worked out a plan, which involved daily short sessions, with tests in the 2nd half of the week - so that he could see how well he knew the spellings well before the formal test.

This was initially somewhat onerous to administer daily. But with suitable encouragement it became a daily habit that had (almost) perfect results. The encouragement that we gave him was not...

(BAD) "Well done for getting all the spellings right!" - which you could only say after a few days of hard work... but instead...

(GOOD) "Well done for sitting down and concentrating on your spellings!".

The difference here is in recognising effort and attitude, not success. Success should come at the end of a lot of effort, so why wait until the success happens before you recognise and reward. And what do you do if a child fails, or doesn't win?

Here are a few ideas to add to your daily list of positive encouragement:

"Well done for turning off your bedroom light this morning!" - in front of the other children who didn't.

"I'm very impressed that you always get ready in good time for the bus!" - rather than being annoyed on the odd occasion when they forget their PE kit.

"You're really getting into your maths today! You've been at it for 45 mins! Well done!"

"You looked like you were trying really hard at training today - you were flying along!"

"Thank you for being patient and not interupting. Now, what did you want to ask?"


There is a song in the wonderful Theatre Show of 'Matilda', written by Tim Minchin, called 'My House'. A line in the song (and seeing the stage show) inspired this rather awesome tip.

"On these walls I hang wonderful pictures"

Miss Honey sings this in her small, run-down shack of a house. In the stage show the pictures were drawings that the children in her class had drawn for her. I stole this and applied a little extra oomph to the sentiment.

Most family houses have a pin board or a fridge with lovely kids drawings, newspaper cut-outs, and maybe a certificate or two. That's great, but I wanted to fill my house with motivation and memories. So we took it up a notch.

I set the children a challenge at the beginning of the year to produce something worthy of framing and putting on the wall.

We had a few empty picture hooks to fill up (a different story all together), and I wanted to put up something meaningful and beautiful. I could have gone over to IKEA and bought a random canvas picture of a pleasant photograph, like I did when we first moved in. But DaddyDaddyCool runs a different ship now!

First up on the wall: Aaron's Owl
It took a little while, but the first picture that went up was a painting by my middle son.

This was closely followed by a pen-drawing of Pudding Lane by my youngest.

My eldest was a little stuck, as at secondary school their art was being done in an art book that couldn't be sliced apart until the end of term.

But the next thing that I wanted to put on the wall wasn't art. My youngest got an unexpectedly good report from school and a special prize for science & technology. Guess what?... those went up on the wall, in a frame, too!

Not art, but still worthy of framing: Reggie's Report
Now everyday he walks past that picture frame with the glowing teacher comments in it. Knowing that I thought it deserved its place on the wall, and that I'd gone to the trouble of buying a frame, mounting it, and adding it to the collection. Extra bonus: frames are very cheap these days!

I can't think of a better way to recognise his effort and his improved attitude to school!

By the way, it makes me proud everytime I walk past it too!

Just this morning, I framed up a special achievement certificate which my eldest received last year. There was a time delay because I was away when this event - the national maths challenge -  happened. When I suggested that I frame another achievement certificate that she received as "Best in year 9", she objected and pointed out her more impressive former achievement. I conceded and we framed a 1 year old certificate which shows her as "Best in the country". I added a little extra 'Wow!' to this framing, to make it even more special.
Mia's "Best in the UK!" Certificate deserved its place on the wall

I'm secretly hoping for some more artwork to put up, as there are still a few bare walls around here. The positivity and motivation, that framed certificates and school reports give, can't be denied!

So if you are looking for home decorating ideas, which are guaranteed to make you feel good, and will help tick off one of Maslow's higher-ranking needs for your children, then go ahead and start framing awesome stuff - DaddyDaddyCool style!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Fitness made simple for dads

I've just read a load of supposedly helpful posts about fitness, which don't half get confusing when you try to put all the advice together.

So I thought it might be useful to put into a simple blog post the simple rules by which I try to stay fit when looking for guidance or inspiration in the gym or elsewhere.

My simple fitness rules:

1. Set yourself a challenge - one that's hard but also fun - and recruit one or more pals to the same challenge

2. Train to meet the challenge over 3,4.. 6 minutes months.

3. Don't worry about what you normally do for fitness - if you're working towards a good challenge you'll have to change your regime anyway.

4. Eat to meet the challenge - with the right balance of carbs / fats / proteins, and at least one blowout day per week.

5. Moderate your caffeine, sugar, alcohol - except for special occasions.

This is the way to keep moving forward, not hate your fitness routine, have a life, and achieve some impressive goals - collecting stories along the way.

Examples of my recent challenges:

2011 - Complete a sprint Triathlon
2012 - Fight in local inter-club Muay Thai event
2013 - Man vs Mountain 23 mile race over Snowdon
2014 - Get stronger (at 40) than I was at 25 = 105kg bench press & power clean
2015 - Complete "Tough Guy" extreme obstacle race

In 2011 I could swim 2 miles in a session and run a 21 minute 5K.

In 2012 I hit 84kg and had fantastic cardio for fighting 3 rounds of 2 minutes, full contact.

In 2013 I was 85kg and running up to 40 miles per week at a comfortable 8 mins per mile.

In 2014 I hit the gym three times a week, religiously following a targeted strength program, and crept over 92kg.

In 2015 I will need to get used to ice-cold swimming, conquer my claustrophobia and overcome my fear of electrocution. Can't wait!

You'll find yourself in different shapes and sizes depending on the challenges you choose, and this is more empowering than the constant pressure that we're under to look like a "Men's Health" cover model. Doing what it takes to meet the challenges, overcoming your set backs and having a load of fun with friends along the way is just the best way to keep in good shape and stay healthy.

Muay Thai: round 3
Man vs Mountain: Man won!
Triathlon: Uh oh! I still have bike & run to do!

An added bonus is that motivating impact that it has on your children. They see you setting goals, training for them, and achieving them. If a little of that rubs off on them, then you'll have set them up for a rich and rewarding life!

So find a challenge, recruit some pals, and GO FOR IT!!!

Come dine with ... us!

One of our most memorable Staycation activities this summer was "Come dine with me!". We modelled the Channel 4 program to create a fun half-day activity - perfect for adding some interesting video segments to our Staycation video!

The format is simple: 1 course per child, with cooking, tasting and voting, all on camera.

As my three lovelies are 8, 11 & 13, the courses were allotted on a difficulty basis.

8 y.o. worked on melon and parma ham starter.

13 y.o. attempted a full roast chicken.

11 y.o. worked on chocolate coated strawberries for desert.

There was general agreeement over timings, so that the kitchen wouldn't become a war zone. And all the cooking was supervised to a greater or lesser extent by me (the responsible adult!).

Some ground rules were established upfront a few days before the competition.

- All ingredients had to be written down on the 'shopping list', according to the recipes
- All utensils, cookware and presentation plates had to be assigned to minimised double-usage

With these in place, and the shopping done, we were all ready. I was on hand to help and keep a photographic record.

All the 'cooks' did a great job and kept relatively calm under pressure. My three thrive on competition, so great care was taken to do their absolute best.

NOTE: Some children thrive on teamwork and cooperation rather than competition. So judge for yourself how the 'competition' should play out.

Just before the meal was ready we drew up scorecards to hold up on video, to give an extra visual impact to the footage. And with that, the first course was served.

Starter: Reggie's Melon & Parma Ham

A nice simple, family friendly, course - involving washing, cutting and arranging - perfect for an 8 y.o.

The judging was carefully considered after the first course, with most criticism coming down to an under-ripe melon - rather than the expertise involved in getting it to the plate.

Main Course: Mia's Roast Chicken with all the trimmings

An ambitious project, even for a 13 year old. Her speciality is normally baking cupcakes, but she threw herself into this one. With a bit of help from me on timings, she worked diligently to the plan, delegated a few tasks (to me!), and put on a really impressive spread.

Again the judging was fair and honest, and there were almost all positive comments, with everyone particularly enjoying the chicken and pigs in blankets.

Desert: Aaron's Chocolate Covered Strawberries with Strawberry Couli

Always a crowd pleaser, the chocolatey strawberries went down very well, and a well executed couli was an added delight. All the children enjoyed this course, but tactical voting had now set in, with very low scores from some judges.

Nevertheless, Aaron's desert was a big success.

The Final Verdict!

The final scores were:

Reggie - Starter : 17 Points
Mia - Main Course: 17 Points
Aaron - Desert: 19 Points

Aaron won by a very small margin - and was very proud of himself. The others, despite some tactical voting, did agree that he had done a very good job.

All in all, we had a great afternoon with this really fun and different activity. I'd recommend it to anyone with one or more kids. Even if the adults have to compete to make it interesting!