We really enjoyed watching the Jubilee Celebrations last weekend and, like many others, we were particularly curious to see how George, Charlotte and Louis behaved as they rode down The Mall in a carriage and appeared on the balcony with their great-grandmother, Her Majesty The Queen.
Now, none of us has had to prepare our kids for quite this sort of large-scale event or such a high level of public scrutiny. But we’ve all had our own slightly more down-to-earth version!
Juliet remembers taking her sons to her best friend’s wedding. It mostly went well, until Will got overly helpful with the canapes and started taste-testing them for the guests, and Ed got bored and climbed a pile of chairs and fell off ….
Jenny recalls taking her 4 children – all under 5 years old – to an extended family lunch. Again, things started smoothly but the food was slow to be served and the children started an impromptu sing along accompanied by banging their cutlery against the table and their drinking glasses …. The grandparents were not amused - obviously this being before the Queen made it acceptable to tap ‘we will, we will rock you’ on her tea cup with Paddington Bear!
It's well known that the Duchess of Cambridge is very interested in early years development and supporting families with their mental health and well-being. We’re sure that she has met some amazing advisors who may have shared some helpful tips and strategies to use in her own parenting, just as we’re sure she has some amazing insights and thoughts of her own, and it seems that she benefits from a lot of positive support from her own family and friends.
Taking your children out in public is a tough gig at the best of times.
Some kids make it slightly easier by being relatively compliant and somewhat able to manage their impulses and regulate their emotions. Some kids are a real handful at ‘events’ or ‘occasions’ because they’re easily overwhelmed, by physical sensations such as sounds and lights, and by big emotions that they can’t necessarily control.
But whether the children are ‘easy’ or ‘not so easy’ to handle, none of them will behave perfectly in a new, potentially stressful, situation mostly because they simply don’t know what they’re supposed to do unless we discuss this with them ahead of time.
Although most of the time parents remember to do this, we’ve all had times when we don’t think about it until right at the last minute and rapidly download a long list of ‘don’t do this, remember to do that’ things. We’ve all fallen prey to the Curse of Knowledge and simply forget that our children simply don’t know what we know.
It’s so obvious to us how we want them to behave at the dentist, in a theatre, or in a horse-drawn carriage, that it can be hard to remember that our children are likely to have a very different idea about what they should or shouldn’t do.
That’s partly because children have very different agendas than adults. Our priorities and values come from a lifetime of experience and change as we mature. As adults, we’re motivated to do what we believe to be the ‘right’ thing, and we’re capable of thinking long-term, but our children are motivated to enjoy themselves and gain attention in the moment.
We think they all did very well indeed, including Louis, even if Charlotte thought he waved a little too enthusiastically at times, and he did push past The Queen to get a better view and pulled faces and covered his ears during the fly-past. (And Her Majesty wasn’t fazed at all!)
And we’re pretty sure that the Cambridge children didn’t do so well without a little prep beforehand. We can’t imagine that Kate and William left it to chance!
We refer to preparing our children for challenges and new situations as ‘Setting up For Success’ and there are several really practical things parents can do to help their children understand how they need to behave and be able to do so in the heat of the moment.
At the heart of it all is talking with our children and rather than simply telling them how we want them to do things, we engage them in thinking about how they need to do things, and what will help them.
The second most important bit? Practice, practice, practice …. It really is talk, then walk the talk. Then talk again, and maybe another walk through!
So, with all due respect, and totally from our imagination, we thought about how the Cambridges might have set up for Jubilee Success!
Scene: Monday evening at Apartment 1A, Kensington Palace
Present: Kate, William, George, Charlotte and Louis
Well, thanks for such a speedy tidy up! Now we have a clear table and we can talk a bit more about what’s happening later this week. Who can remember what the big occasion is on Thursday? Hands up!
I know, I know, it’s Great Granny’s party. We were talking about it at school last week. Everyone’s so excited, and I’m going to wear my blue dress!
WilliamSpot on …
And a thousand million planes are going to fly over.
And I have to wear a tie …. But Louis doesn’t have to … And that’s not fair.
There may not quite be a thousand million planes, but yes it sounds like you’ve all got your remembering heads on today. I know you feel it’s unfair about the tie, George. You do such a good job with your school tie, let’s just make sure it’s not too tight, ok?
So, at the weekend, we practiced sitting still on the sofa, pretending to be in a bumpy carriage, and we agreed we’d all wave with our right hands so we don’t bash each other. I know you wanted to wave with both hands Louis, and you’re being very sensible about waving with one hand.
And it will be so exciting to see all the people waving as we go down The Mall. Who remembers why none of us will stand up to get a better view?
Me, because we’d fall over and it will hurt and spoil everything.
Yes, and it will unsettle the horses too! They’ve got a very tiring day and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to do their work.
And after the Trooping Ceremony, who knows what happens next?
We get lunch and there will be sausages and then we go on The Balcony to see the planes!
This is a really important bit – yes, we get to see the planes, but who is the most important person on the balcony?
Gan Gan because it’s her birthday and she’s really, really, really old ….
It is her birthday and a very special occasion for her. And everyone wants to be able to see her on the balcony, so who goes out on to the balcony first and who stands right at the front in the middle?
She does and I want to stand next to her. Why does it have to be Louis?
I know how much you like spending time with Gan Gan, and we agreed that Louis would stand in front of me in case he needs any help. This is his first big occasion. You and George will stand in front of Daddy.
And when we step out onto the balcony in our order, what do you think you will see first?
Lots and lots of people. How many people exactly will it be?
I’m not sure but usually lots and lots of people come so you will see people all the way down The Mall. How might it feel to see so many people looking up at you on the balcony, and to have so many big planes flying overhead?
Don’t be silly Louis, it will be exciting!
I’m not sure. I’ve not done it before, so I don’t know how I will feel.
Sometimes things are scary and fun and exciting at the same time, particularly when they’re new things for us. We might all feel different about the same thing. If you did feel scared, or excited, or not sure, what could you do about that? Especially because we don’t want to spoil anything for Gan Gan.
I can hold your hand. I want to hold your hand.
That’s a great idea – you can squeeze my hand like this … No, not too tight, yes, that’s about right!
I can hold Daddy’s hand. But I won’t need to.
Hand holding is a good idea. So, Louis holds my hand, which is easy because he’s in front of me, and George holds Daddy’s hand, if he needs to.
How about you Charlotte? What would work for you? Daddy’s got a spare hand going?!
CharlotteI will hold my own hand thank you very much.
Wow, that will work. So let’s practice walking out and standing on the balcony tomorrow, ok? We’ll start from the bit where we tidy our hair and go to the loo, and finish with coming back inside in the right order.
So, yes, this is a completely made-up scenario. But watching the children makes us think that something like this will most likely have happened.
And we can all take the same approach! Whether it’s for the first day of school, a sleepover, a trip to the theatre, an exam or interview, or standing on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. It is always so much better for our children (and for ourselves!) when we prepare in advance rather than leaving things to the last minute and hoping for the best and spending our time and energy in putting out small fires as they occur.
Setting up for success is all about preparing - letting children know what to expect, giving them a chance to think about what they need to do, how they can do it, how they may feel and how they can manage those feelings. Over time, these conversations empower children to be able to cope with different situations.
When children do well at different occasions and in different situations, they grow in confidence. They have evidence wired up in their brain that they can do things well, and they can repeat the same behaviours again.
The best bit? We feel very proud of our children when they do well – and that’s a lovely feeling to have. We hope that Kate and Will felt proud of their children after Thursday’s celebrations, although we’re aware that not everything may have gone so smoothly behind the scenes!
We’re confident they will have shared their pleasure and acknowledged their children for everything they did right over the Jubilee celebrations, because letting children know what they did right fuels their confidence. It’s the parents’ positive - and truthful - response that will make it more likely that the next time George, Charlotte and Louis appear on the balcony, things will go even more smoothly.