Category Archives: parenting

Do the opposite


opposite photo

Do the opposite

We’re creatures of habit so we rarely do the opposite. It’s human nature to repeat the same patterns often without even realising how often we act in a certain way. Think about it. Do you always go down the supermarket aisles in the same direction? Do you always put your underwear on before your socks? How do you make your tea and coffee? The same way each time I’ll bet. And when it comes to more important things like relationships, we tend to behave in similar ways too.

When we feel insecure, some of us become more needy, some of us pull away to protect ourselves. When it comes to friendships, some of us act aloof, some of us try too hard.

Whatever your patterns of behaviour are, I dare you try shake it up and do the opposite. I am trying this in my own life and it’s working! Of course, you need to find out what you do out of habit before you can do the opposite. Being self aware is part of the issue, as often we race through our lives like rats in a maze, hitting our heads against the same wall every time.

Think of each time you do the opposite as a ‘life experiment’. Try small things first like a new route to the grocery store or go up and down the aisles in the opposite direction and see if you notice any new things or products. If you find that you end up in similar situations with intimate relationships and/or friendships, see if you can identify things that you do in each relationship and try doing it differently next time. See what happens..take a chance.

Mandy X

How to deal with emotional blackmail


emotional blackmail

How to deal with emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is a form of psychological manipulation. When someone tries to make you feel fear and guilt if you do not do something, you are probably being blackmailed emotionally.

Manipulators love to use emotional blackmail. They are very adept at knowing your weak spots – the areas that lead you to feel guilt or shame and they will target that mercilessly. They will make you feel you are a bad parent, a bad child or a bad spouse with emotional blackmail

Examples: If you loved me you would take me to see that show.

A good father would pay for me to have that outfit.

The give-get ratio is out of balance and you may not realise you are being manipulated. Even though you may not fully realise what is going on, you will more than likely feel bothered or may even feel anxious and depressed.

Is there someone in your life who always seems to be judging you as “good” or “bad”. Do they judge your actions and use emotions to explain why you should or shouldn’t be doing something? Are you doing things for others that you don’t feel entirely comfortable with? It may just be that you are the victim of emotional blackmail.

Set personal boundaries for yourself. Decide what you will and won’t do and clearly define what is acceptable to you. Stick to this no matter what. A blackmailer will try to confuse you and throw in all sorts of issues to distract you and make you doubt yourself. Often they are complete hypocrites who do all the things they say you are doing or not doing. Double standards are something emotional blackmailers live by.

Manipulators will often try force someone into making a quick decision. Never feel pressured and take your time if you are unsure. Trust your instincts.

Learn to say no and stick to personal boundaries. These are the most important strategies to deal with emotional blackmail. Learn to cultivate emotional distance from what the person is threatening you with. If you fear you will lose the relationship and keep giving in to them, they will keep manipulating you. You have to be willing to lose the relationship and stand up for yourself for something to shift and for you to regain power in the relationship. It is only once you take a stand and refuse to give in to the emotional blackmail that a positive shift can take place.

Mandy X


4 Tips for raising happy, emotionally healthy children


parents photo

4 Tips for raising happy, emotionally healthy children

It can be tough raising happy, emotionally healthy children in a world that is so full of emotionally unhealthy people. Children spend at least twelve years in an educational system that is sadly, ill-prepared for teaching our children how to manage their emotions effectively and how to deal with stress. In a world so sorely lacking in good advice and positive role models for children, the onus falls on parents more than ever to equip their children with effective mental skills and strategies to encourage resilience and staying power when the going gets tough.

Here are a few tips on how to better equip your children to navigate through their emotional world and cultivate mental and emotional strength.

Encourage emotional expression

Helping children to identify their emotions without judging the emotion as good or bad is a healthy way to teach children to own their feelings and be self aware. Emotion is a normal part of life and allowing children to express them helps children to accept and deal with their emotions rather than suppressing them. When children are taught to suppress emotions (eg. boys don’t cry, be a big girl now…) this suppression can lead to anxiety, depression and possible panic attacks. A panic attack occurs when a child denies their emotions – the emotion gets pushed down and the body is forced to ‘push it out’ on a physical level – that energy has to be released some how. Identify and label emotions.

Exhibit pro-social modelling

Be a positive role model and let your children see how you deal with your emotions. Children learn by observation and they will watch how you deal with your own anger, frustration and sadness. Some parents try to hide their emotions from their children but this is a bad idea as you are depriving your children of the chance to see what you do with your emotions. Let them see you sad or angry and show them how to deal with these emotions appropriately. Talk it over with someone, get some fresh air or exercise – whatever you do, make sure your children sometimes see how you deal with your emotional landscape – this is very valuable learning for them.

Teach psychological flexibility

It’s not so much what happens to us but rather how we perceive what happens to us that can make or break us. Bad things happen, yes and there is no way to make something bad seem good but the story we tell ourself can lessen the distress we feel. For example, if we fail at something, we could start an internal dialogue that goes something like this, “Nothing ever goes right for me. This just shows what a loser I am. What’s the point of even trying? I just fail at everything”. OR we could tell ourselves this story instead, “I failed and it sucks but that doesn’t mean I am a failure – it’s just that what I tried didn’t work.” The second self-talk dialogue will lead to a lot less stress than the first one. This is the beauty of psychological flexibility. There is ALWAYS more than one way to look at a situation. Thoughts lead to feelings and then behaviour. Ensure you teach your children to manage their thinking process and not catastrophise.

Preserve self esteem

Never tell your children that they are stupid. Always separate the behaviour from the child. What they did may not be ideal but never label the child as “bad, stupid, fat or lazy”. Love your children unconditionally. Your love for them should never depend upon achievement of any kind. Teach them that they are fundamentally valuable just as they are. Never compare them to others – each child has their own individual strengths. Learn to love your children just as they are. If you feel disappointment on any level – question whether it is your issue rather than your child’s issue. For instance, if your child doesn’t seem to have many friends, do not make an issue of it if they seem happy enough. If you imply that they should have more friends, you may inadvertently leave them feeling inadequate. Always check whether the issue is your own before addressing it with your child.

Parenting unfortunately does not come with an instruction manual and no parent gets through without making mistakes. Being informed is a great way though to try avoid some of the more common mistakes.

Mandy X




Depression in teenagers


depressed teen

Depression in teenagers

Depression in teenagers is a growing problem. Teenagers face increasing pressure to achieve, perform and cope with a variety of stressors. There is academic pressure to achieve against an extremely competitive backdrop. Teenagers are also going through huge developmental and hormonal changes that can lead to insecurity, low self esteem and extreme self consciousness. Social anxiety in teenagers is on the rise and bullying can now follow teenagers into the previously relied-upon sanctity of the home. Nowhere seems safe anymore.

Symptoms of depression in teenagers

Lack of enthusiasm and/or motivation

Social withdrawal

Decreased pleasure in activities or hobbies they used to enjoy

Changes in appetite (eating more or less)

Changes in sleep patterns

Irritability or anger


Poor school performance

Is it depression or ‘usual’ growing pains?

Teenagers all go through tricky phases, such is life for all of us but when symptoms persist for a few months, it may be time to delve deeper.

What to do:

Don’t ignore the problem. Gently talk to your teenager and try to find out how they are feeling. It’s is also important to establish whether they have ever thought about suicide.Try not to lecture or judge, rather listen and encourage – be supportive even when at times this can be hard. As parents, we all have expectations of our children and when they fail to manifest, we can become irritated at their perceived lack of drive.

Encourage socialisation. Withdrawal and hiding away only adds to depression. Being involved in activities and getting out of the house, even for a brief walk can have a positive effect on mood and behaviour.

Seek professional help if your teenager seems unable to help themselves get out of their funk. CBT can be useful and this can also be supplemented with antidepressants after a careful assessment by a doctor.

There is always hope and with the right input, all teenagers have the capacity to improve.

Mandy X

Helpline:  The Samaritans:  CALL  116 123 (UK)

Are you emotionally unavailable?


emotionally unavailable

Are you emotionally unavailable?

We form attachments with our primary caregiver as infants and the nature of this attachment influences how we behave in all future relationships. If we had a happy, stable upbringing with consistent love and care, we tend to grow up into adults with stable attachments. If we received unpredictable care or were abused and/or neglected, we learn that the world is unsafe and that others can’t meet our needs and this is where the beginnings of emotional unavailability begins.

As children we have to learn ways to cope with unpredictable parents and we  create defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. Children do this in many ways, one is by disconnecting emotionally or they overcompensate by becoming aggressive and unruly. This blog post focuses on emotional disconnection.

Here are signs that you are emotionally unavailable:

  1. You find it easy to switch off your emotions from certain people.
  2. You can act in selfish ways without feeling guilt.
  3. You struggle to understand and empathise with others when they are sad or emotional.
  4. You struggle to know what to say or how to help others when they are upset with you.
  5. You find it difficult to interpret other people’s moods

Becoming more emotionally available is possible – it is a skill that can be learned. Start by identifying emotions that you experience. When did you last feel happy or sad? When did you last have a good cry? Get used to dealing with emotions in others rather than running for cover. Emotions aren’t logical or rational and that can scare emotionally unavailable types. Learn to use emotion to give you power to understand the world around you.There is  power in knowing and understanding. Being emotionally unavailable can cause major problems in relationships and can leave people lonely and isolated in the long run as they lose the ability to really feel connected with others.

Learn to embrace emotions, they are natural human responses to life. Plug back in to life instead of living ‘safely’. You won’t experience the highs and lows of life as much if you stay ‘unplugged’ (emotionally unavailable) but you will live a life that is bland with many regrets at the end of it.

Mandy X

Why Finland is so successful at education


school photo

Why Finland is so successful at education

Teachers take the approach of “less is more” and this shines through in their methods and their results. I have never been a great fan of the western education system which is so competitive and puts students into “clever” and “stupid” groups – to put it bluntly. Students are labelled and they begin to believe what they are told – that they are clever or stupid. Teachers would deny this but research shows that teachers unwittingly treat students according to their perceived levels of ability and have far more patience for those that they feel are clever. They will try harder as they perceive the error in the student grasping the concept to be an error in their teaching method. Whereas with a student is seen as stupid, a teacher will perceive their inability to grasp a concept as being due to their  lack of cognitive ability.

Children start school when they are older

Children start school at the age of seven in Finland whereas they start much younger in the UK – around 4 or 5 years old. This allows children to ease into school and adopt a more positive approach to the education system. They do nine years of compulsory education and then are free to choose 3 different paths:

a)Upper Secondary school –  a mixture of high school and college that continues for 3 years and prepares students for entry into university. Recently, just under 40% have chosen this option.

b) Vocational Education – this is also a three year programme based more on practical skills but also prepares a student for entry into university if they choose it. A little under 60% choose this option. Many continue by going straight into work after their three years education and do not continue on to university.

c) Go straight into a job (less than 5% choose this option)

Children spend less time in school

Research has consistenly proven that young people need their sleep, especially in the early morning and school often starts around 9am in Finland. The school day usually ends around 2pm or 2.45pm. Typically in a day, they have three to four, 75 minute classes with several breaks in between.

Consistent teachers

In primary school, many students have the same teacher for many years. The same teacher over six years or so can learn a great deal about their individual class of twenty students and will know their favoured learning styles as well as they best way to help their group of students reach their best potential. This streamlined approach offers stability and a holistic approach to the teacher as they will be aware of the developmental and educational needs required at each age instead of passing their group onto a new teacher at the end of each year.

There is less testing but more learning

Teachers in the UK today have to work to narrowly defined goals – their students MUST pass tests at certain stages and the reputation of the school relies on good grades being obtained. As a result, there is far more stress which inevitably filters down to the children. Jobs depend on good marks and the main objective of teaching starts to become less important as meeting targets takes priority. Teachers in Finland also have a structure to adhere to but it is far more flexible allowing the teacher to be more creative in their lessons and take a few risks.

Fewer topics/subjects are covered

Instead of trying to cover everything there is to know in a subject on a very superficial level, teachers in Finland choose fewer topics but spend more time explaining those topics and building perspective and comprehension around these topics.

Less homework

Finnish students average under half and hour’s homework each evening. Possibly the lowest homework load globally.  This is especially interesting when you realise that Finnish students outperform high performing Asian students who receive out of hours tutoring and a lot of work to complete outside the hours of school.

Smaller classes

The average size of a class in Finland is 20, in the UK it is 30-35 students.

There is a lot more trust in the system

Trust is key to this whole system not structure. Instead of being suspicious of one another and creating tons of structure, rules, hoops and tests to see if the system is working, they simply trust the system.  Society trusts the schools to hire good Teachers.  The schools trust the teachers to be highly trained individuals and therefore give them freedom to create the type of classroom environment that is best for their individual students.  The Parent’s trust the teachers to make decisions that will help their children learn and thrive.  The Teachers trust the students to do the work and learn for the sake of learning.   The Students trust the teachers to give them the tools they need to be successful.  Society trusts the system and gives education the respect it deserves.    It works and it isn’t complicated.   Finland has it figured out.

Mandy X

Education in Finland


Help for anxious teenagers



 teenager photoHelp for anxious teenagers

Anxious teenagers exist everywhere and this phenomenon is growing. I am seeing a huge volume of anxious teenage clients and it has shown me just how much teenagers have to cope with these days. Peer pressure is high as well as the pressure to achieve and be successful. Competition is rife for places in well established Universities and being a teenager is full of angst and self doubt.

This constant ongoing pressure is resulting in varying consequences – teenagers who are angry and out of control or the other extreme – anxious teenagers who are withdrawing and who seem afraid of life.

My own son, who has just turned seventeen seems to fit loosely into the second category. He has seen me struggle as a single mother with very little support (financially or emotionally) from his father and this has framed his reference of the world. At times, I am sure he sees the world as a hard place with little compassion. He worries that if he is barely coping at college, how will he ever cope as an adult, having to pay bills and stand on his own two feet?

He has an awful role model as a father and unfortunately has not had the stability of a two-parent family. Despite this, there are many protective factors (factors that counteract harsh circumstances) that exist.

Here are a few tips to help you deal effectively with an anxious teenager:

  1. Maintain open and honest communication at all times.
  2. Be loving and supportive – offer a consistent base for teenagers to explore the world around them.
  3. Be open minded and non judgemental when it comes to your teenager’s attitudes and transient behavioural patterns – they are growing and changing rapidly. Behaviour they exhibit today may no longer exist in a few month’s time – see the bigger picture.
  4. Don’t put unrealistic expectations on your teenager. You may have preconceived ideas of how you wanted your children to turn out and they may not be living up to that idea – remember though, this is your issue – not theirs. The more you push them to be a version of what you want, the more you damage their sense of self esteem.
  5. Help them to challenge their negative ideas about the world. Teenagers spend a lot of time thinking about what others think of them and wondering about how they are being perceived. Remind them that they don’t truly know what others think and that thoughts and facts are not the same thing. Get them to look for evidence of their thinking. More often than not they will see that their thinking isn’t accurate and that people don’t think about them the way they imagine.
  6. Be aware of the ‘lessons’ you are teaching your teenager. Are you giving them the idea that life is hard, harsh and difficult? Of course – that is a part of life but be sure to teach them about the good stuff too. Nurture their sense of hope and optimism about their abilities and the future.
  7. Teach teenagers to be true to themselves and to reject the idea of peer pressure and fitting in. Peer pressure is especially hard for teenagers to resist but let them know they do have a choice and that they need to develop their own voice as they move into adulthood. Life often seems more critical and intense as a teenager. Take this into account.
  8. Pick your battles. Some parents tend to get into nonsensical battles with their teens over the time they spend on their phones, computers and social media or they struggle with getting their teenager to clean their rooms. Stop and ask yourself which of these battles are really that serious. Will some of these battles naturally sort themselves out over time? Learn to let go of some issues in order to promote more peace and a happier relationship at home. I have stopped arguing with my son over keeping his room tidy and I have let him decide for himself as to how much time he wants to spend on his computer. We have certain limits, especially on college nights but in general, he is learning to self-regulate. Self regulation is a vital skill that many teenagers do not get an opportunity to learn as they have overbearing parents who put all the limits in place for them. The more you do for them in this way, the less power you give them. You teach them that you do not have faith in their abilities to make decisions for themselves. Learn to let go a little.

Be kind and compassionate with your teenager and remember that you were a teenager once too. Be patient and consistently supportive and you will ride through the anxious teenager phase…I am riding along in there with you…at least for another two years!

Mandy X

Love yourself


happy woman photo

Love yourself

Believe it or not, when resilience is called for it is often those who have self belief and love themselves who are more successful than the talented ones. Self belief often wins over talent. I would say that the majority of my clients do not love themselves. In fact, I would say it’s the exception rather than the rule to find someone who has tons of self belief and really likes themselves.

Someone may have all the trappings of success, such as a great job, a wonderful family and financial stability yet they can still feel empty and unhappy because they do not like themselves enough and as result they never really enjoy the fruits of their labour. There is always something missing.

You are far better off if you possess healthy positive feelings about yourself and take pride in who you are than possessing all the riches on the earth.

Many good wonderful people lack self belief and self-love. The beginnings of this self-defeating behaviour often starts in childhood. As a child you don’t have the sophistication to reason and save yourself from any damage you may be experiencing. Critical parents, being bullied at school or an unhealthy home environment can all detract from healthy self-love. Your identity is shaped by the individuals around you and you believe what you’re told.

Parents can be guilty of the most appalling neglect and ignorance when it comes to giving the children healthy self-respect. As adults we have a duty to ourselves to challenge any negative messages that we were given as children and to replace them with more rational alternatives, as well as realise the flaws in our own parents.

I recently worked with a client who had very damaging views about herself and as result her behaviour led to him missing many positive opportunities in her life. On some deeper level she did not believe she deserved any happiness or love. Together we worked on changing her views about herself. Unless you have consciously ‘detoxed’ yourself from negative childhood messages, you may be holding self-defeating and self-limiting beliefs about yourself. Definitely excess baggage that you are free to cast off at any time.

Loving yourself is contagious. The more you love you the more others will too. Appreciate yourself more and talk kindly to yourself as you would a best friend. You came into this world

and you will leave it on your own. At some point in between it makes sense to get comfortable with yourself.

Write down reasons to like yourself and make a list of all your strengths and achievements.

Challenge negative thoughts about yourself, you really do have a choice when it comes to what you want to believe about yourself.

Pamper yourself and see it as a way of honouring you and your life.

Don’t neglect yourself-make sure you take good care of yourself. See yourself as fabulous, likeable and utterly lovable!!

I have had to work very hard to undo negative programming from my childhood. I do not believe I would have achieved very much in my life had I allowed all the negative messages to define me. I have forgiven but not forgotten and use my progress in life to reinforce how far I have come. The more I achieve and the more I foster self belief, the greater my power grows. I have refused to allow small mindedness as well as mean-spirited and ignorant adults to affect my life forever. They no longer have this power over me.

Mandy X