Parents, is it Time to Stop Dieting?

As a weighty parent, with more ‘body’ for my children to love than I would like, I diet and seek support from others to succeed. All too often, in the past, those others could be my children. But by including my kids in my dieting support group, I was nurturing an excess of issues in them which they could find themselves unhealthily feeding upon for years to come.

Despite my love of food, I can honestly say that I do get the desire to diet! As an overweight parent, I long to turn my body back to the time before I had kids – when clothes shopping was not an exercise in shame and body image pain and when the physical challenges of enjoying time with children did not result in being out of breath sooner than it had begun.

I’ve been riding the merry-go-around – or should that be roller-coaster! – of dieting since just before I got married 16 years ago, and I’ve yet to find a way to stay off it for a significant period of time.  I’ve been to Slimming World, counted calories, cut out sugar, South Beach-ed it and many, many others. I’ve seen good, sometimes even significant, weight loss with each of these and I’ve reached some of my goals.  Then I’ve got busy and stressed again, before stumbling and failing to keep the weight off. Yet the biggest failure of mine has been to let my children know I was dieting!

When your children know you are dieting, you are connecting them to body image shaming issues. One of the biggest challenges for parents today is to help our children accept themselves, especially their body and appearance – but when we model discomfort with our appearance, we increase the chances of them forming similarly unhealthy views of their own bodies.

Most adults tend to diet in short bursts and so offer confusing messages about healthy and balanced eating to their children. And if they do manage to diet long term, going on and on about their food intake in front of their children can be rather like going on and on about practicing times tables… far from inspiring enjoyment, it inspires life-long loathing!

When we do succeed at dieting, by manically shunning certain foods as if they were kryptonite to our bodies, we all too often add even more confusion to our kids’ minds by then ‘rewarding’ ourselves for losing weight by eating the very things we have been avoiding! This models to our children that reward equals food and that eating must always be one extreme or another.

I hear the argument that by including our children in our dieting we are modelling our attempts to better ourselves and, yes, that is true. But this small positive does not outweigh all the negatives. It’s like eating 6 donuts and thinking a 10-minute run will burn off the 1500 calories you’ve just consumed!

This is not going to be a popular sentence but here goes: When it comes to eating, our children are very likely to follow our habits and that includes becoming overweight and joining us on the dieting merry-go-round. You don’t want that for them and nor do I, which is why I advise us to drop the ‘d-word’ hide our diets from our kids.

Here are some tips to successfully be on a diet while being a parent:

  • Get yourself an amazing support group that does not include your children ( – and never take your children to a Slimming World/ Weight watchers type weigh in!)
  • Eat the same main meal together as a family: healthy food for you is healthy food for the kids. Don’t eat weird ‘diet food’ in front of them and don’t join them in eating crap. You’ll all be happier and healthier. This way you can model healthy, balanced eating.
  • Use snack-time for your weird ‘diet food’ as your kids will not notice that.
  • Celebrate your success – you deserve it! – but not in front of your kids.
  • Be active together as a family!
  • Reward yourself and your family when you all do things well – but with treats other than food!
  • Be kind to yourself and the kids when dieting, as we can easily be moodier parents when cutting the calories.
  • Talk about being healthy… dump the diet word!

I honestly wish you all the best in becoming healthier. I hope it makes you happier and able to more fully enjoy your wonderful family. I hope the way we achieve our healthier success means we give the next generation a better shot at being happy in their own skins.

And if you are trying to diet, I weigh in once a week on my FB page – come and see how I am doing and share your story!

Perfect Parent Newsletter

2016 has been another perfect year for the faultless Shorters.

Before we begin, it is worth pointing out that by merely reading this letter you will undoubtedly be inspired to follow our example of parental perfection. This is completely normal and does not necessarily imply any inadequacies in your own parenting.

The perfect birthday bash

January 2016 literally went off with a bang! For our son’s birthday, we raised the bar for in-house party entertainment in a way which could best be described as ‘not age appropriate’. A wayward outdoor firework mistook our dining room for the night sky and exploded under the table. Thankfully, and miraculously, no one was hurt, although everyone’s party bag subsequently came with a complimentary phobia of fireworks. Obviously, I blame the entire incident on a faulty firework. If I were not such a perfect dad, I would have had to graciously accept that, in situations such as these, some fault must be attributed to the guy with the lighter in his hand – namely me… but of course, being a perfect parent, I don’t have to!

Holidays are perfect learning opportunities

While having a lovely week in France, staying at a converted barn in Normandy, we solved the issue of keeping children educationally engaged whilst on holiday.
‘Kids, put the iPad down and look out of the window,’ led to this parenting breakthrough. Like many parents on long journeys, we often let the iPad parent our children so as to avoid the trauma of the inevitable and repetitive grilling of ‘how long?’ and ‘are we nearly there yet?’

But while driving through quiet and picturesque towns in rural Normandy, we insisted the kids look out of the window – only for us to pass two cows enthusiastically experiencing carnal knowledge of one another. This deeply amused our eldest, who with the unnecessarily over-the-top exuberance of a preteen boy, gave his sisters a detailed anatomical commentary of what was going on – replete with sound effects! This left my six-year-old daughter decidedly underwhelmed by any subsequent car journey that did not include copulating cattle.

Near perfect new school transition

Our son started secondary school in September and his calm management of this stressful change demonstrates the amazing perfect job we have done with him. However, it has not been an easy transition. A week or so beforehand, the nerves and sleepless nights set in. Worries about bus trips and how to find the toilets were the foremost causes for concern. Cries of ‘where’s the lunch box?’, ‘where’s the Oyster Card?’ and ‘is the right P.E. kit packed?!’ echoed throughout the house.

Thankfully, he quickly became aware of the anxious mess his parents (well, his dad) had found themselves in and helped us (ok, me!) successfully process the transition. Taking everything in his stride, he listened respectfully to our concerns and said all the right things, enabling his unstable parents to cope with his change to big-school. A clear example of the excellent empathy and counselling skills we have instilled him with.

Professional Encouragement

As you probably know already, our business, Tender Shoots, is up and running – Alison is operating a very successful Forest School programme and I am offering private parental coaching. One of my key take away lessons from this experience has been that children often fail to realise just how perfect their parents are. ‘Dad, you are a rubbish parent, how can you be a parenting coach?’ has rung out around our house more than once in the last year, simply proving they don’t yet know how lucky they are… right…?!

Honest Weight Loss

Teaching children honesty is so important. My youngest daughter embraces filterless honesty by regularly observing that my bum is too big for our toilet seats! This kind of motivation from the children has meant that yet again this has been a year of dieting – and I think I have lost a total of over three stone! Regrettably, I have also put on around 2 1/2 stone… but at least I’m a few pounds better off than when I started.

Perfect Pet Care

Most parents will testify to the traumatic experience of allowing your child to have a small pet. However, I doubt many parents have provided as intimate care for their child’s rabbits as I have.

This year, we welcomed Len and Bruno into our home, our middle child’s beloved rabbits. Within a few months it was evident that they were fighting and had to be separated. I then embarked on a three-month rabbit conflict resolution program, aided by hours and hours of watching YouTube videos about how to support rabbits to get along with each other. All the advice seemed to suggest that getting the rabbits ‘done’ was the best way to resolve the conflict. After an insanely expensive operation, I’m pleased to say both rabbits came through the procedure neutered and relatively well.

Unfortunately, Len’s empty scrotum would not heal. To aid Len’s recovery the vet presented me with a tube of Manuka honey. I have never tasted this expensive condiment, but this was not for eating – rather the vet instructed me to spread the honey on the rabbit’s scrotum! And that twice-daily for a week! Sadly, Len is no longer with us. The combination of my soothing hands and expensive honey did in fact heal Len’s scrotum. but the many hours in rabbits’ couples’ therapy with me could not heal the emotional wounds between him and Bruno. Len has therefore moved on to pastures new, although I doubt they will offer him the intimate care he received in our household.

With such a busy, perfect family life, it’s a wonder I found time to write this!

May your 2017 be as memorable as our 2016.
Don’t try to be perfect, just be yourself…it’s far more fun!

God Bless, The Shorters

Boys crying

Men have emotions, everyone knows it, it’s just we are rubbish as a society at allowing them to show them. (Unless they score a goal!) In the Channel  TV series SAS who dares wins episode 2 , we see several men talking about their emotions, dark times and suicidal thoughts with refreshing honesty.
Men and boys need space, to be honest, to have a down day and to be hurt, angry and upset. The consequences of bottled up emotions are very ugly.
Comments like “act like a man” & ‘boys don’t cry’ do not help. Even saying ‘there-there it’s ok’, is unhelpful because sometimes it’s not ok! I’ve had two lots of counselling because I needed help to process what was happening internally but it took me ages to get over the shame of it.

As parents try to ask questions about how your son is feeling, don’t try to fix all the problems, just listen. Encourage them to see expressing emotions is a strength of character, not weakness and thank and praise them for telling you how they feel even if they express it with expletives!

Be a parent not a friend

When I was a child, we had a black Labrador Alsatian cross. Wonderful as he was, he became one thoroughly confused dog. Five owners, and five completely different sets of rules. Despite my parents best efforts to insist on uniformity, this poor dog never really knew where the boundaries  were.

Exactly the same thing happens when parents try to be friends with their children. When parents place a higher priority on being liked, being matey and being friends with their kids, Children land up confused. Parents, in turn, become very frustrated because children then do not respect boundaries.

Parents often want to be liked by their children, because of a low sense of self-esteem and self-worth. As parents, we would be more effectual if we found the affirmation and encouragement we rightly need from sources other than our children.

These thoughts were inspired after reading this excellent article by the secret teacher. 





Anne Robinson’s Britain

BBC One 6th October 2016

As ever Anne Robinson can ask the right questions and in this TV programme, her interrogations aimed at parenting. It is well worth a watch.

Watching the programme highlighted once again the guilt and shame that surrounds parenting. Parents are under more pressure than ever to be “the best”. All the parents shown in the programme had strengths and weaknesses. We (and I include myself in this) would do better to be more compassionate on our attempts to raise our children.

As a TV programme, they were looking at “different” families. What I loved about each of these families is that they were living out the values they wanted for their family. Meaning they had broken away from “societal norms” to do this. There is so much parenting “advice” it restricts what families are keen to implement. These families had reflected on what was important to them and done it. I don’t agree with everything each one was doing, but so what, I’m not in their family. Too often we allow others who aren’t living our lives to set our agendas.

Finally, they did a parent swap, is what we all could be doing. This is the value of parenting coaching. It allows someone to ask questions of what we are doing. Not so we copy the other, but to ensure we are living out the family values and actions we are happy with. The two families who swapped learnt by listening and observing each others strengths and weakness. Could we humble ourselves and listen and learn together. Not easy when parenting is such a guilt-ridden area of life.

Tampons, food, fire and some dads.


Dads, let’s talk about Puberty

Isn’t it about time we dads learnt to talk about puberty? About unwanted erections, hormones & changes that happen women? And to do it without embarrassment and code words, as if any of it were something to be ashamed of?

Now I’m not saying this is easy! I am a fairly confident chap who, as a church minister, youth worker and parenting coach, is used to tackling awkward issues. But although puberty and sex education have been bread-and-butter topics through years of running youth clubs and supporting parents, I found speaking to a bunch of other men about them quite unnerving.

Gathered with 20 men around an open fire, beer in hand, it was not just the heat of the flames that made my cheeks glow rosy red as I showed them how to put a sanitary towel in a pair of knickers! Why was it so uncomfortable? I think it’s because whilst it’s natural for mums to address bodily changes with their daughters, dads often exclude themselves completely from talking about puberty – let alone periods and menstrual cycles! – with their children because they themselves are ill at ease. All too often, our best efforts at talking about anything to do with puberty with our son’s can have a lad’s mag element, approaching it indirectly as if it is somehow unclean. Yet talking maturely about puberty can be essential in helping our children understand their body and nascent sexuality. Perhaps we need to be honest as well, with all the gender equality strides we have made, it seems us dads are still smugly satisfied to leave the talk of blood to the mothers of our children.

Our dads’ night at school was intended to complement the excellent mothers & daughters assembly that had happened a few weeks earlier, and I am grateful to the school for trusting me with this pioneering project. Around a fire, with beer and good food diffusing tension, 20 men discussed the stages of puberty, talked about the need to use anatomical words when discussing genitalia, and laughed as we encouraged one another to overcome our insecurities in these areas. Conversation flowed about how to help our children handle those embarrassing puberty moments such as unwelcome erections, spots, comparisons of bodily parts and pubic hair growth. Not the usual locker room talk but something far more ‘manly’!

It took everyone courage to come and discuss these matters, but removing long entrenched shame and secrecy from the natural process of growing up and becoming sexually aware is a challenge. Few experts would doubt we have a crisis of body image and self-esteem among our teenagers, allied to inappropriate and naive understandings of sexuality and sexual health thanks to the prevalence of porn. Yes, I was a bit embarrassed standing there with a sanitary towel in my hands, but only by together going a bit red in the face can we start to help our young people build positive body image and learn healthy habits around sexuality which will enable them thrive in adulthood. I am looking forward to getting around a fire again with these brave men and any others who want to join us. One day our kids will thank us.

Getting ready for secondary school

Are they ready for secondary school? Are you? It’s the time of year when hundreds of parents will be walking the corridors of secondary schools,  listening to head teachers do their best to sell their school to nervous mums and dads. The cross over to secondary school is a big challenge; getting them into the right school is hard enough, but as they finish year six you will ask yourself a hundred times, ‘are they ready?’

Who is more nervous about this step, you or the child?

img_0435I’m a dad of three, but I am also a parenting coach who has supported many parents as they helped their children through moments of transition.In my experience, the best way to help our child know they can handle and flourish in the face of these challenges is to provide them with what I call ‘intentional moments’ – that is creating a moment when they can see what they are made of.  This summer as my eldest approached the crossover for Secondary school I wanted him to see that he had the resources and strength of character to thrive in his new environment.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks were to be my son’s ‘intentional moment’. I was hoping that conquering the three highest summits in Yorkshire would help him see his character and that he has all the assets needed to cross over from primary school (Mead Primary School) to secondary school (Coopers Company and Coborn school). We knew it would be a challenge. The 24-mile route, which includes around 1600 meters of ascent and decent, will push most adults to their limits. The first day we climbed Pen-y-ghent (6miles), to reach the summit in the clouds, and on the second day we ascended and descended Ingleborough and then Whernside (20miles). I loved walking in the hills, and spending the quality time with my son was amazing. The climbs were hard work and I could not longer suppress the truth that I was not as fit as when I did my DofE Gold.  When I struggled most, my drudgery was made harder by my 11 year old getting bored of waiting for me and disappearing off to leave me on my own. My son is fit! However, towards the end, this challenge pushed him and I was incredibly proud to see his perseverance and commitment to complete the task. Once we had completed the required distance we thumbed a lift from a friendly farmer back to the campsite. After all, the trip was not about getting blisters for the sake of it; it was about exposing himself to his inner strength. His humour throughout kept me going too, as did the jelly beans every mile!

img_0434Encouraging parents to see developmental stages in life as a rite of passage gives children the perspective they need to become more resilient. By framing these transitional phases in this way, and associating ‘intentional moments’ with them, children learn to embrace the challenges as steps towards adulthood and taking their place in the world. When they are young, these transitions can be seemingly small – like celebrating the ability to get dressed on their own – but as they grow older, it is important to acknowledge larger challenges like going to secondary school. An intentional moment marks the stage and demonstrates our confidence in their ability to face the next phase of growing up.

A significant part of growing up is being knit into the adult world, often through storytelling. To share our highs and lows, when we got back from the peaks we gathered around a table with the important men in my son’s life. His granddads, uncles and close family friends listened as he told the chronicles of his adventure. For me, the meal cemented externally what the walk had done internally as he related his pain and joys. He listened to those there tell stories of the challenges they had been through and he was affirmed. My son says of our trip, “It was a fun but hard journey and I think I will do well in challenging situations at secondary school; I know I can to do well.”

‘Intentional moments’ don’t have to be this challenging; they can be planning the coast to coast train trip, walking some of the South Downs, entering a triathlon. The important thing is that it they provide an appropriate challenge, giving the child the gift of having to dig deep, and provide some space for them to reflect.

Now my son has started secondary school I realise the time up we had up those hills together was about both him and I getting ready for the change going to secondary school brings. These are transition moments for parents as well as their children!


Cafe owners unhelpful tantrum support

For a parent what could be worst than a child throwing a full blown tantrum in public?

It is embarrassing and very hard to know how to deal with it.

It is a shame that this week yet again children throwing tantrums are in the news again.

This time a cafe owner in Felixstowe has made some  comments about tantrums and parentings.

The owner of the cafe claims that if a child is throwing a tantrum for longer than 5 mins the parent can’t be disciplining the child! This sometimes maybe the case, other times it might not. It would appear that the cafe owner has a misunderstanding of what disciplining a child means. Disciplining a child does not mean they will be seen and not heard, it means they are being disciplined (lead/ taught) what is good for them and not just the adults around them.

Two things to remember about tantrums: 

  • Almost all children throw tantrums, its an annoying part of normal development.
  • Giving into the demands of the tantrum increase the lightly hood of another tantrum happening,  but sometimes for your own sanity you need to give in…it’s one of these things. Move on and be ready for the next one!

My top tips for helping parents survive the public tantrum.

  • Tell the child calmly that you will talk to them when they are calm.
  • Ignore the tantrum, but not the child, do not let them out of your sight!
  • Praise them when they are calm, even if that’s just taking a pause in screaming to breath!  [I once had a 45 minute battle over who was going to shut the car door! I lost count of the number of times I said, “when you are calm we will talk about this”, then saying “well done for calming down” when the child took a breath only to repeat the “when you are calm we will talk about this” once the screaming and shouting restarted.] This way the child learns that tantrums are not the way to get what we want.
  • If they are hurting themselves, others or property try something else.
  • Remember tantrums are exhausting for you and the child!

What to do if a member of the public or a cafe owner tries to step in. 

  • Thank them for their offer of help (even if through gritted teeth)
  • State you are dealing with it.
  • Don’t make negative comments about your child or the adult.

What to do if you see a child throwing a tantrum in public

  • Give a friendly smile and say something encouraging or sympathetic.
  • No parent wants a strangers judgemental help.
  • Do not try to talk to the child as you don’t know what the parent is trying to do.

For more help with tantrums do get in touch.


Beckham kiss & pressure to be perfect

The Victoria Beckham kiss controversy shows once again the pressure parents are under to be “perfect.” It is right and proper that parents are able to ask questions of each other, but this type of over the top and critical response is not only bad for Victoria, but for all parents. We need each other to sharpen our parenting skills. Sadly the type of pressure to remain perfect is what makes so many of us as parents defensive about parenting and therefore not open to learning from each other.

Who would you trust to ask loving questions about your parenting?

Do you give yourself permission to not be perfect as a parent?

(For the record…I don’t think Mrs Beckham did anything wrong.)


Some of the press footage about the kiss.—but-is-it-ok/