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Elaine Halligan

Elaine Halligan is a director at The Parent Practice and has been a parenting specialist since 2006, helping parents raise competent and confident children through parenting classes, private coaching and keynote speaking in schools and corporate settings both in the UK and overseas. She is frequently quoted in the broadsheet press and regularly appears on Sky News, BBC world news and BBC local radio. Her mission is to help parents find the holy grail of parenting: keeping calm and bringing out the best in their children.

Click here to read Elaine’s interview in The Telegraph.

Click here to listen to Elaine’s podcast with The Extraordinary Business Book Club.

Connect with Elaine


Publications by Elaine Halligan

My Child’s Different

Elaine Halligan’s My Child’s Different: The lessons learned…

Author Blog

12 days of [a happier] Christmas

For peace and goodwill in your family this Christmas try these 12 strategies.

  1. Pay attention

When there are positive connections between ourselves and our children everything goes better; we have greater influence so the children are more cooperative and their self-esteem grows. It’s not easy but we need to put our digital devices to one side, park the never-ending to-do list and engage with our children.

  1. Make time to play

Don’t skip over this one! You may be thinking that with all that you have to do how can you possibly play? Invest in some fun with your child to make this the Christmas that she remembers with delight. She will not notice that the presents were immaculately wrapped and that guests were served with those special Spanish almonds you tracked down with great detective powers. Schedule a small amount of time each day over the holiday season for time to play, either one to one or with all the children. Board games, card games, charades, silly dancing. Take your pick. Tip: minimal equipment to minimise clean up.

  1. Resolve to speak less and listen more 

Resist the urge to nag, advise, lecture, take over, fix or even offer solutions when your child is facing difficulties. Instead give him the message that you trust he can figure it out because he is a problem-solver. Let him know that making mistakes is ok and a necessary part of reaching solutions. When children develop competencies they grow in confidence. Feeling capable is the antidote to anxiety. 

  1. Give positive, not negative attention 

When children ‘act up’ it’s often because they are not getting the attention they need. Don’t make them wrong for that. Instead recognise it is a primal need and fill that need with positive attention. Use a pasta jar as a prompt for you to notice the positive things they do. Just keep an empty jar handy and pop in a pasta piece any time you notice good behaviour. Get the kids to help you and give them a pasta when they tell you about something good their siblings are doing –the sibling gets one too so it’s a win-win situation! 

  1. Make your child feel appreciated and important

The best present you can ever give your child is to really see them. You can do this just with looks – let your face show delight to be with them. And you can use words. Make sure they are descriptive, not evaluative. Notice their efforts.

  1. Ask open-ended questions

Sometimes it can be hard to start up a conversation with kids. That’s because grown-ups often ask them closed questions to which the answer is yes/no/fine. An open-ended question makes it possible to find out something real and meaningful about the other.


  • What is your favourite Christmas ritual? What do you like about it?
  • If you could be a superhero what would your super power be?
  • Who is your favourite film/TV character? What do you like about them?
  • What’s the best thing to do with friends? What’s the best thing to do all by yourself?
  • If you were Prime Minister what’s the first thing you would change in our country? 
  1. Sideways talk

Sometimes children don’t want to talk, especially if the subject is challenging for them. Make sure you listen non-judgmentally and without comment. It can help to do an activity together to get the conversational juices flowing. Some of the best conversations I had with my sons were when walking the dog together. Get them to help wash the dishes with you and you may be surprised what you learn.

  1. Validate feelings and empathise

Feelings can run high during the festive season –for the kids too! Sometimes this shows up as grumpiness, rudeness or uncooperative behaviour. The kids too! Try not to get stuck on the behaviour but delve deeper to the feeling beneath. Name that feeling to tame it. All feelings can be validated even if the behaviour isn’t ok. This tells your child that they are ok even when the behaviour isn’t. And it is far more effective in getting the child out of a behavioural rut than any amount of scolding.

  1. Don’t ask why

When faced with challenging behaviour don’t ask your child why they did it. They probably won’t have the maturity to be able to identify the emotional cause for their actions. Don’t ask why are you so cross? Instead just acknowledge that they are angry and maybe make suggestions based on your observations. I can see that you got really angry when your sister messed up your new train set. You had taken so long to set it up just perfectly. Babies can be very annoying sometimes can’t they?

  • Enthuse about their passions

When we enter into our child’s enthusiasms we let them know that we understand and value them. My youngest son has always been quite obsessive about quite niche interests (Star Wars when he was very young). As he’s got older he has learnt that not everyone shares his enthusiasms so he tries to temper them. He recently apologised if he was boring me. I could say that while I didn’t share his interest in that particular thing my own niche area of enthusiasm was him and I was caught up in his passion for and knowledge of his subject so it wasn’t difficult to listen to him talk about it. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a teenager trying (and failing) to suppress their pleasure.

  1. Plan for sleep and down time

I know this is easy to say and difficult to do but it is so essential for a calmer, happier Christmas period. It’s so tempting to let the kids stay up later once school breaks up and there may be pantomimes to attend or trips to look at Christmas lights or visit relatives. Of course there will be some disruption to normal routines but do try to keep this to a minimum. Kids (and adults) need sleep of course but they also do better when they have consistent routines. Certainty reduces stress. They also need time to just chill out so don’t over-schedule them with festive activities. They need to be able to just play, especially after the big day when there will be new toys and books. The only thing to organise is getting out in nature so do plan for some walks or bike rides.

  1. Practice tricky situations in advance

Avoid embarrassment by teaching young children how to occupy themselves (non-digitally?) while adults are preparing meals etc, how to greet relatives they don’t see very often and how to be gracious in receiving gifts. Practice in role play what to do/how to arrange one’s features if they are given something they already have or don’t like the look of. And be realistic with younger ones.

We hope that these tips will give you 12 very happy days of Christmas. All the best to you and your family these holidays.

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Supporting Your Child at School – The Early Years

Guest Blog by Rachel Busby Director  of  Great  Reading  Ltd

Many  schools  talk  a  lot  about  the  importance  of  the  home/school  partnership  and  the  value  that  they  place  on working  with  parents  as  partners.    As  children  return  to  school  after  a  well-­earned  half  term  holiday,  hopefully settled  and  raring  to  go,  how  do  you  go  about  working  with  the  school?  What  does  this  actually  mean  in reality? 

There  has  been  a  huge  amount  of  research  into  the  positive  impact  of  parent  partnerships  on  student  success  
not  just  in  school  but  throughout  life. When  schools  and  families  work  together  children  have  a  far  better  chance  of  being  successful. So, what  is  the  best  way  to  partner  with  your  child’s  school? 

1.   Structure  and  routine  are key. 

- Try  and  provide  a  calm  environment  at  home  with  set  routines.    
-­ Get  your  child  to  school  on  time  having  had  a  good  breakfast  and  make  sure  they  are  collected  on  time  too.  Children  who  are  often  collected  late  definitely  show  signs  of  anxiety.      
-­ Help   your  child   remember   all   their   kit   and   equipment.   Maybe   display a timetable   showing   which  activities  are  on  each  day  to  help  you  both  ensure  you  have  the  correct  resources.      
-­ If  your  child  is  increasingly  tired  move  bedtime  forward  and  ensure  they  have  a  gadget  and  screen free bedroom  so  that  you  know  they  are  getting  good  quality  sleep.    School  can  be  exhausting!

2.   Encourage  your  child  to  become  as  independent  as  possible.  Make  sure  they  can  dress  themselves  and  think   carefully   about   the   type   of   shoes   and  coat   that you  choose   so   that   they   have   the   best   possible  chance of  fending  for  themselves  in  a  busy  classroom.  Don’t  be  tempted  to  dress  them  or  do  their  shoes  up  for  them – try  and  leave  yourself  enough  time  to  allow  them  to  do  things  for  themselves.  

3.   Read  with  your  child  every  day  at  home.  Very  often  there  could  be  20-30  children  in  a  class  so  the  role  of   1:1  reading   is  increasingly   becoming   the  responsibility   of   the  parent. hildren   who  read  every   day  at  home  always  make the most  progress.
4.   Provide  an  environment  that  is  conducive  to  working.  The  television  should  not  be  on  and,  in  an  ideal world,  it  should  be  calm  and  quiet  (easier  said  than  done  if  you  have  younger children  too).  
5.   Find  a  time  to  read  and  to  do  homework  that  suits  your  child  and  your  family.  There  is  no  right  time.    
-­ It   might   be   that   they   are   exhausted   when   they   first   arrive  home  from   school   and   need   to   refuel  and  refresh  with  snacks  and  a  bit  of  sofa  time. Prepare  them  for  the  fact  that  they  need  to  read/do  their  homework  later  and  maybe give  them  a  10  minute  warning  that  their  rest  time  is  coming  to  an  end.      
-­ Some  children  will  cope  with  getting  the  homework  done  as  soon  as  they  get  home.  
-­ Others   might   be   early   risers   who   benefit   more   from   getting   it done   before   school   the   following day.    
-­ If   you   are   struggling   to  get   homework   done   you   might   need   to  review   your   weekly   schedule   and possibly,  in  the  short-­term,  reduce  the  number  of  extra  activities  your  child  is  participating  in.  Over-­scheduling, with  no  down  time,  can  put  a  lot  of  pressure  on  children  and  parents! I  used  to  read  with  my  youngest  when he was  tucked  up  in  bed  before  we  started  the  bedtime  story – it  was  the  only  quiet  1:1  time  I  could  find. Work out  what  fits  in  with  your  routine  and  your  family.  
6.   Support   your   child   with   their   homework.   However,   DO   NOT   do   it  for  them!   Encourage   your   child   to  work   independently   and   to   be   resourceful.   Your  teacher   should   have   given   you   an   idea   of   how   long homework   should   take. Keep   an   eye   on   the   amount   of  “focused”  time   your  child  is   spending   on the homework  and  if  it  is  taking  a  lot  longer  than  is  expected,  be  honest  and  feed  back  to  the  school.  
7.   Hopefully  your  school  will  have  already  run  a  workshop,  or  held  a  meeting,  explaining  how  they  teach  the   basics   of   reading,   writing   and   maths   at   the school.   If   they   use   a   particular   phonics   scheme,   learn  the  basics  and  use  language  that  your  child  is  familiar  with.    If  they  need  help  with  reading  or  spelling  a  word  resist  telling  them  (particularly  using  the  letter  names)  and  instead  encourage  them  to  sound  the  word   out   for   themselves. It   might   not   be   spelt   perfectly   but   you   are encouraging   them   to   work  independently  and  this  means  that  they  can  demonstrate  resourcefulness  and  resilience  when  in  class  rather  than  asking  the  teacher  for  help  every  step  of  the  way.  
8.   Buy  a  mini  wipeboard  (A4  size  are  great).  Get  your  child  to  practice  a  spelling  on  this  and  see  if  they  can  work   out   if   it  looks   correct.   Mistakes are   easy   to   correct   and   remove   on   a  wipeboard   and   they   often  encourage children  to  take  greater  risks.  
9.   If  your  child  has  to  write  several  sentences  ask  them  to  tell  you  what  they  are  going  to  write.  Try  and  get  your  child  to  say  the  sentence  out  loud  and  get  them  to  repeat  it  several  times.  Very  often  children  forget   what   they   are writing.   Get   them   to   read   what   they   have   written   so   far   and   see   if   they  can  remember  what  they  need  to  write  next.    Resist  the  urge  to  tell  them  what  to  write  and  to  spoon  feed  and  spell  every  word.  Whilst  doing  this  means  you  are getting  the  homework  over  and  done  with  more  quickly  the  experience  is  not  actually helping  your  child  learn  or  consolidate  any  skills.  
10.   When   your   child   has   finished,   tell   them   how   proud   you   are   of   how hard   they   have   worked.     Also   ask  them   to   check   their   work   and   make   sure they   don’t   need   to   make   any   corrections.   A   question   like  “What   goes   at   the beginning/end   of   every   sentence?”   or   “Does   that   word  look right?” is   better  than  telling  them  what  they  need  to  correct.    
11.   Be   honest. If   your  child  is  really   struggling   try   to  remain   positive and   patient   but   also  go   and   chat   to  the  teacher.  Work  at  both  school  and  home should  always  be  differentiated  with  each  child  being  given  work  that  is  appropriate  for  their  ability.    If  it  is  taking  significantly  longer  than  it  should,  I  would calmly  stop   and  reassure   your   child   that   it   is   OK   and   that   you   are  going   to   write   to   the   teacher.  The   teacher  needs  to  know.    No  one  expects  young  children  to  be  working  for  hours  on  homework.  Equally,  if  your  child  is  flying through  it  you  can  feed  back  that  they  worked  independently  within  a  certain  time  frame.  Resist  the  urge  to  ask  for  harder  work.    
12.   If  you  want  to  have  a  chat  with  the  teacher  try  and  find  an  appropriate  time.    It  is  never  easy  to  chat  when  the  children  are  all  going  into  class  in  the  morning  or  when  the  teacher  is  trying  to  ensure  everyone  has  been  safely  collected at  the  end  of  the  day.  Initially  feedback  via  the  homework  diary/reading  record  and  if  needs  be  call  and  make  an  appointment  for  a  chat.      
13.   Always   try   and   attend   meetings,   workshops   and   parents’   evenings.     Schools   often   judge   a   parent’s  commitment   to   working   in   partnership   on   attendance   at   such   events.   If   work   commitments   make   it  difficult  make  sure  you  communicate  this.    Schools  will  often  put  on  evening  sessions  to  accommodate  working  parents.  If  you  have  a  nanny  or  au-pair  make  sure  you  have  introduced  him/her  to  the  teacher  and  ask  them  to  attend  if  you  can’t.      
14.   If  you  have  a  nanny/au  pair  who  does  homework  and  reading  with  your  child  make  sure  you  have  had  discussions   and   communicated   your   expectations   with   them so that   they   are   dealing   with   homework  in   the   same   way   that   you   would   be. Make   sure   they   are   also   aware   of   any   concerns   and   that   you  communicate  regularly  about  the  tasks.  
15.   Find   out   what   topics   your   child   is   studying   at   school   and   design   some   family   activities   around   them.  Maybe   visit   a   castle   or   an   art   gallery,   cook   some   different   food   or   go   to   the   library   to   find   out   more  information and  to  develop  their  knowledge.    Encourage  your  child  to  share  what  they  have  done with  their  teacher.  
16.   If   your   child   puts   up   a   lot   of   resistance   to   homework,   try   and   work  at   some   strategies   to   help   and  encourage  them.  Explain  that  it  is  not  you  that has  set  the  homework  but  the  teacher  and  that  you  will  need  to  feed  back  to  the  teacher  if  they  are  not  going  to  do  it.    Don’t  be  afraid  to  let  them  experience  the  consequences  of  not  doing  the  work.  This  is  an  essential  lesson  in  learning  and shielding  them  from  every  bump  will  produce  a  passive,  dependent  learner  rather  than  a  resourceful  and  resilient  one.  
17.   Enjoy   the   journey   together.   Get   to   know   other   parents   and   share concerns   if   you   have   them.   Get  
involved   in   the   school   community   with   social   events   and   volunteer   to   help if   required.   Don’t   be concerned   if   you   get   very   little   information   from   your   child   about   what they   did   at   school.   They   will have crammed   so  much  into   one   day   that  it   is   hard   to   remember   anything.  Try and  get   to   know   their  weekly  timetable  and  ask  slightly  narrower  questions  if necessary  to  aid  their  recollection  of  what  they  actually   did.     Maybe  ask  “Which new   sound   did   you  learn   today?”   or  “What   did   you  do   in   PE   today?”  rather  than  a  blanket  “What  did  you  do  today?”  You  might  well  get  the  “I  can’t  remember”  response!  
Rachel  Busby  –  October  2018  
Rachel  is  Director  of  Great  Reading  Ltd  and  has  over  20  years  of  experience  in  schools.  
Great  Reading  primarily  supports  young  children,  parents,  nannies/au  pairs  and  schools  with  the  development  of  reading.    They  offer  workshops  for  parents  covering  early  literacy  skills  and  how  to  help  at  home;  1:1  Introduction  to  Reading  courses;  Catch-­up  programmes  for  struggling  readers  and  bespoke  training.    They  will  work with  children  from  the  age  of  4  (before  any  formal  dyslexia  screening)  to  help  them  catch  up  with  peers  and  close  any  gaps  that  may  be  beginning  to  emerge.    They  also offer  advice  to  parents  who  have  any  concerns  about  their  young  child’s  progress  at  school.    Please  do  get  in  touch  if  you  require  any  help  or  advice  with  supporting  your  child  at  school  and  email rachel@greatreading.co.uk  or  visit  www.greatreading.co.uk  

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