Tag Archives: Child Psychology

A Safe Place to Talk?

Has talking to each other become impossible? Are the things you’ve got to sort out too difficult? Does it feel as if there’s a brick wall between you that you can’t bring down?

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live. The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.


Focus mediators are trained and practised in addressing any power imbalances. They are completely neutral: they don’t take sides. Most importantly, they are non-judgemental. Nothing shocks them. The mediator keeps you focussed on the plans you need to make for your future, rather than dwelling on the past. She uses her wealth of experience to help you both knock down that wall and build a future.

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’. Mediation can only help those who want it to work and are willing to set aside their old habits, under the mediator’s guidance. The mediator has a right to end the mediation if she feels the process is being abused.

Controllers – Do They Come in Pairs?

Often in mediation we see the couple separately for their first meetings. This gives people an opportunity to be very frank and open about their situation. Often one will say “S/he’s a controller, and I’m unsure I can cope with mediation!” Then the other person comes and says the same. What might be happening? Each clearly feels they’re not getting their way enough. They have come to resent and oppose the control or influence involved in being part of a couple. Whether this is reasonable or unreasonable as a matter of opinion.

So for example, if Harry went out alone to the pub every night, their partner might object, then Harry might complain of being controlled, but who would be at fault?


What if John complained Sally spent too much money on shoes and the family had a huge debts and Sally had 1000 pairs of shoes? Sally might say John was controlling, if he tried to stop Sally buying shoes, but would his actions be inappropriate and who would be at fault?

These exchanges are the overt text, the surface conversation. What is really going on is what I call the subtext and it is the subtext that is so interesting. It is a matter of opinion whether there are inappropriate control issues as opposed to an expectation of a reasonable conversation about something important with the person with whom you share your life. A conversation might be initiated by the so called controller in the hope of influencing the other person to change behaviour which they feel is threatening the foundation of the relationship. Whether this attempt to influence or control is reasonable or unreasonable is depends on your point of view. If the relationship is strong these exchanges are productive, useful and keep the relationship on a sound footing. If the relationship is struggling, the exchanges may become aggressive, negative, recriminatory or  accusatory. Things may have gone too far for the couple to put things right, however much talking they do. Perhaps reasonable exchanges about what is fair and right in a relationship needed to be had years before, before the situation became irretrievable. So influencing your partner through rational discussion is vital to a healthy relationship. This is appropriate and to be expected.

However, it is easy to think of situations where one person is seeking to control the other inappropriately. Examples might be trying to prevent them seeing their friends and family, to cut them off from other relationships, force them to eat, drink or dress in a certain way, or control their conversation, thoughts or beliefs. These would be issues where controlling behaviour would be inappropriate and usually wrong. So accusations of control need exploration and not just to be accepted at face value. We need to unpick the behaviour behind the assertions and ask what is really going on.

So people should change their understanding of the word ‘Control’ and dig deeper. They should think about what is really being asked, is it a reasonable or unreasonable request?

At the point where the so called controller says, in answer to a question about a request: “OK, it doesn’t matter, it’s not important.” there are two possibilities:

The first is just that it’s not important

the second is in getting close to terminal – they giving up on both on their partner and the relationship, it doesn’t matter any more. Then they may well find themselves in family mediation, quite possibly with me, saying “My ex is a controller . . . ”

For more information go to http://www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Kids come first

“The Randolph Hotel is on fire!” As my bus pulled around the corner, everyone turned to look out of the window: a plume of black smoke was spiralling up from the top of the Randolph’s central tower. People were stopping to stare, and as we moved up the road, we met the inevitable volley of sirens.


A small boy, his eyes shining, turned to his Mum and crowed with excitement. “There’ll be fire engines and hosepipes!” Then his eyes grew troubled. “What if there are kids in there? They’ll get burnt, won’t they? They’ll be trapped…” His anxiety was infectious.

“Oh, don’t worry, said his Mum: they’ll get the kids out first.”

Because kids come first don’t they. Always. It’s one of the unwritten principles of life. We prioritise the needs of the children, because they are vulnerable and they cannot look after themselves. We have to meet their needs.

But how easy is it to apply this principle when a marriage breaks down and all you can think about is where you are going to live? Is it possible to put the kids first – to rescue them from the debris of your marriage – so that their needs come first?

At Focus Mediation, we can help you both face the uncomfortable truths involved in separating your lives, and devise a way forward which makes sure the kids don’t get burnt. We give you a safe, neutral space in which to discuss your hopes and fears. And we can talk to the children themselves, if you think that would help. Sometimes, hearing what they think and knowing what they want to save out of the wreck can be very useful.

Exam Time in Schools- What price do children pay when parents are breaking up?


When parents’ relationships break down, the aftershock is felt by all those around them. The first to be affected are often the children.

In November last year, Resolution (1) commissioned research which surveyed 14-22 year olds about the effect of their parent’s break-up, asking how it had directly affected them.

The survey uncovered that

  • One in five(19%) said they didn’t get the exam results they were hoping
  • The majority (65%) said that their GCSE exam results were affected 
  • 44% said A-levels suffered.
  • 15% said they had to move schools, which may have had a knock-on effect on exam results.

Children also experienced difficulties away from the exam room.

  • Almost a quarter (24%) said that they struggled to complete homework, essays or assignments. And
  • more than one in 10 (11%) said they found themselves “getting into more trouble at school, college or university,” and
  • 12% confessed to skipping lessons.

Parents often ask us how they can minimise the effects on children and reduce the impact that their break-up has on their children’s academics and potentially their future career prospects.

At Focus Mediation, our mediators will keep your children firmly in the centre of the picture when discussing divorce and separation. We can help you to help your children in the following ways:

1 By keeping it out of court

Mediation is a way to work out how best to separate in a way which has the least impact on your children. Going to court is hard on those involved and those around them- it’s how you imagine it and ten times worse in terms of stress and often in terms of time spent and costs incurred.

2 Make agreements about what you say and do in front of the children

In mediation we can help you to set ground rules for yourselves about how you will speak to each other and conduct yourselves in front of the children and the extent to which they will be involved in what is going on for you. This is invaluable when feelings are still raw and emotions difficult to contain.

3 Make contact arrangements children-focused

Our mediators can help you to make agreements which meet your interests whilst keeping the wellbeing of your children in the foreground at all times.

It is important that your children have time to study and time to relax as well as spending time with the two of you.

As mediators we will always test with you the reality of any proposals which could inhibit their ability to learn and to flourish. At the very least we can help you to make child-centred arrangements to get your children through this stressful summer period of exam preparation and performance.

It is difficult enough for young people in this academically competitive world where every grade counts. Most parents will fully support the creation of a plan which eases the pain and the difficulties inevitably caused by their break-up which impact on their children.

4 Joined up Parenting

No child likes to be caught between the two opposing views of the people we are closest to. In mediation, we can also help you to smooth out any foreseeable future bumps in the road: we can help you to look at what happens if you disagree on choices your children make, how you want to communicate with each other and the extent to which you can co-parent in a joined up way, even though you are no longer together.

Having safe parameters within which they can operate is also vital for children, particularly as they grow older and behaviour can become more challenging. Remember: any gaps in communication are easy to exploit for a wily teenager!

5 Speaking to your children, enabling their voices to be heard.

Finally, we offer direct consultation with your children, enabling them to have a voice in the changes taking place. We speak confidentially with them, away from mediation and then, with their agreement, feed back to parents what they want them to hear, without fear of taking sides or hurting your feelings.

Because from what we hear when we consult children, they care as much about you as you do about them.

Any thoughts about this, please do Tweet us 

or share your thoughts on our Facebook page – we welcome your feedback and comments



[1] the body representing 6,500 family law professionals in England and Wales,

Free Easter Activities: Easter on a shoe-string for separating parents

The Easter Holidays are here and many single parents will be trying to work out how to keep their children entertained without it costing the Earth.

At Focus Mediation we are aware of the implications of separation on parents: there is often a desire to make time with your children special and when one household is split into two, this is also the time when you are feeling the pinch financially.

Although the cost of living in London is high, we are also lucky to have a wealth of free events laid on for us. Here are a few offerings which might keep your little ones amused and won’t break the bank! Let us have you feedback on Facebook or Twitter if you go to any good free events so we can pass on your thoughts and recommendations to single parents.

1       The Passion of Jesus- with horses, donkeys and doves!


Wintershall Players are in charge of this piece of theatre with a cast of over 100 which promises to be an amazing specatacle. The performances are on 3rd April at Trafalgar Square at midday and 3.15 pm- see http://www.passionofjesus-trafalgar.co.uk/ for map and details.

2       EGGstraordinary Fun!

From 30 March – 2 April & 7 – 10 April the Bank of England are running free activities for children including an Easter Egg Hunt

“ Children can follow the treasure trail around the museum to hunt for the hidden chicks and egg. There is a chocolate egg for every child who takes part. Children can then express their creativity by decorating an Easter finger puppet to take home. “

See http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/museum/exhibitions/eggstraordinaryfun.aspx for more information about other things taking place such as the “discover Gold” exhibition. It all sounds both tasty and informative.

3 Selfridges Easter Egg Hunt


From 10 am on 2nd,3rd and 4th April. Chocolate goodies are to be found across the 4th floor for those who are looking! Somewhat dangerously located in and around kids toys so be prepared for some window shopping too

4 Easter egg hunt at Gabriel’s Wharf

The organiser’s say: “Come along this Easter Saturday and hunt down delicious chocolate eggs hidden in and around the designer craft shops at Gabriel’s Wharf.”

Date: 4 April 2015

Time: 11:00am – 6:00pm

Venue: Gabriel’s Wharf

Price: Free

Should I book? No

Age Range: All ages

See http://coinstreet.org/events/ for other events on in this area including a mass-sculptural performance at Oxo Tower Wharf perhaps suited more to older children.

 5       Ellie Castle’s Easter Hunt-


This is an interactive performance for 5-10 year olds taking place at the Artworks at Elephant and Castle. The audience help Ellie to find out why the weather has changed in remarkable ways: the sun starts singing, the clouds have gone away and the rain has turned to chocolate!

The event is happening at Art Works Elephant which is a new creative hub working out of shipping containers in Elephant and Castle. Performances take place across the day at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm and 3pm and last around 40 minutes- an interesting diversion!

And one more.. for the Under 5’s, the Museum of London Docklands has the Mudlark’s Children’s

Gallery where they learn to explore with soft play and moving models. Entry is FREE but you will need to collect a timed ticket from the main desk on arrival. The gallery is open to the public all day during school holidays and at weekends – See more at: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/visiting-us/visits-families/under-5s/#sthash.ushY5H0D.dpuf

The Museum also has storytelling, workshops and a host of free family events- check this link for details: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/whats-on/family-events/holidays/

Finally netmums.com have a great “Free places to go in Greater London” link : http://www.netmums.com/activities/free-family-fun/best-free-places-to-go-greater-london-region

And another good one: “101 ideas for free family fun”


Wishing you a very happy Easter.

Focus Mediation


Mediation in Oxford: Fast and Affordable: An Outbreak of Sanity for Separating Couples.

Mediation has been around for at least thirty years and is now used by a vast proportion of separating couples. It is actively promoted by the government and the courts as the preferred way for couples to sort out their separation. Oxford judges frequently recommend couples to mediation instead of battling it out in their over-crowded Family Court. They will not start a new case unless the couple has first met with a mediator to find out about mediation. Here is a guide to what is involved when you come to Focus Mediation in Oxford.


You start by coming to a MIAM: a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. This is time spent alone with your Focus mediator, who will want to understand what has happened to you. She then explains the process of mediation. You can come to the MIAM on separate occasions, or you can come as a couple: either way, you get time alone with the mediator and a full explanation of what lies ahead.

Once you had your MIAM, the joint sessions start, spaced to suit you, your timetables and what you can afford. These sessions give you a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your issues: the kids, the money, where you are each going to live.

You might start with a session working out a timetable for sharing caring for the children. Or you might launch straight in to disclosing your finances to each other, so that your mediator can write up your Financial Statement; then, when you can see what you’ve got, your mediator will help you make a plan: sell the house, or transfer it to one of you, or keep the house until the children are older and sell it later; set an appropriate level of maintenance … whatever seems best for your particular case, bearing in mind all your circumstances, including the local problems presented by living in an expensive part of the world like Oxford. Focus Mediators are also family lawyers: they know what the solicitors will be looking for and what the court is likely to approve. They can give you helpful legal information to inform your decision-making. You need not feel lost and frightened.

Once you have agreed all the aspects of your settlement (and preferably taken your solicitor’s advice on the proposals), your mediator will record them, and they will be handed to the solicitors who can turn them into a Consent Order, sealed by the Judge. This makes your agreement binding and makes any pension share happen, if you are divorcing. If you are an unmarried couple splitting up then your solicitor can make the agreement binding in another way, so it cannot be re-opened later.

You might have three, four or five joint sessions, depending on how many issues there are to cover and how co-operative you can both be. Focus mediators work fast and effectively: they are dedicated to helping you reach a settlement as quickly and cheaply as possible. Their reputation depends on it!

Focus charges £100 + VAT for each MIAM or £150 + VAT for a joint MIAM, then £125 + VAT per person per hour, with concessionary rates for people on low incomes. The cost per person of a full mediation is usually between £200 each (single session of 1 ½ hours at concessionary rates, no documents) and £1,300 each (4 sessions and two documents on a fully successful mediation at £125 ph). Legal Aid is also available (unlike solicitors, who can no longer offer it).

If you are separating and live in or around Oxford, it would be sensible to come to meet Caroline Friend, Senior Mediator at Focus Mediation. The office is in Summertown at Prama House on South Parade. Caroline can help you quickly and affordably in a matter of weeks, and avoid the horrendous costs and delays involved in court proceedings. Doesn’t that sound like the sane thing to do?

Half term activities for separated parents in London

Some more half term suggestions for separated parents wanting to entertain their children. Happy Holidays from

Focus Mediation!

Imagine Children’s Festival on the South Bank

The Imagine Children’s festival takes place on the South Bank from 9th February to 22nd February where the children take over the South Bank and there are shows and activities for all ages involving theatre, music, comedy, dressing up, poetry and more : http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/imagine-childrens-festival

Some highlights include:

For younger children

  • Charlie and Lola’s Bestest play (for age 3 plus) on every day 2 or 3 times a day
  • Pip and Posy by the Gruffalo writer, Axel Schaffer’s Pip       (age 3-6) Friday 20th February

For the older child 8/9 plus –

  • Anthony Horowitz – 9 plus
  • the “greatest comic making show on earth with The Etherington Brothers” Thursday 19th February 11.30 and 2.30pm
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – 8 plus Friday 20th at 11
  • a lesson in Dangerology (“discover what to do if a shark comes out of the loo or a volcano erupts underneath your house”.) 8 plus ( book tickets.) Monday 16th at 3.15pm

For 3-11 year olds there is a Pirate School every say from Saturday 14th to Sunday 22nd 3 or 4 times a day (book tickets} where parents get to stay and watch. As well as lots of Alice in Wonderland themed activities to celebrate its 150th anniversary –activities to numerous to mention. Tickets need to be booked for several events- sooner rather than later.

Imperial War Museum Workshops:

The Imperial War Museum has exhibitions ranging from the First and Second World Wars to Afghanistan and a Holocaust exhibition for over 14’s. Thought provoking and good for an extended age range.

Mini Vault

This underground space beneath Waterloo station has 3 weekends of shows and events for families with children up to age 11- the pdf document on the website shows ages and activities in one place : http://www.vaultfestival.com/activities/mini-vault/


The Horniman Museum:

Visitors say that it is a joy for adults and children! It has a natural history museum with a very fetching large walrus as its centerpiece. It has plenty for everyone. It has an impressive collection of taxidermy, African art, musical instruments, and an aquarium and a petting zoo (as well as decent coffee for parents) to name but a few of its features , visitors say it is good for young children, has something for everyone and the gardens are also particularly fine on a sunny day.

The Science Museum

The website splits activities into age groups which makes it handy for planning a trip. The new Information Age gallery may appeal to some older children.


The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Natural History Museum

Nature at its best with some of the most amazing photographs you will have the pleasure of seeing.

And finally…

  • If your children enjoy taking part in workshops and making things the following ideas work well:
  • Museum of London, British Museum, V & A, Design Museum, London Transport Museum (often running half term workshops)
  • Art galleries such as the Tate Modern, the National Gallery Tate Britain all have workshops over the holidays. See, for example, the Tate Modern’s plentiful offerings:

1.     Events


Daily activities: Tate Modern

Open Studio: Ooo Mmm

Every weekend. Additionally, Thursdays and Fridays during holidays, 11.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.00

Ooooooooos running down the wall, mysterious mmmms creeping around in the shadows, tired, floppy wwws hanging around.  What does language look…



Special event: Tate Modern

Tuttle Families

Saturday 14 February 2015, 12.00 – 16.00

Weave in, out and around. Flock together and apart.  Weave your way through the Turbine Hall as you move your body to an original soundtrack,…


  1. Courses and workshops: Tate Modern

Reach Out event: How We Learn

Tuesday 24 March 2015, 10.00 – 13.00

Calling all Instagram users! Come, create and see your image in a mass installation within the Reach Out exhibition at Tate Modern. Work with…



Daily activities: Tate Modern


Every weekend. Additionally, Thursdays and Fridays during holidays, 11.00–16.00

Liminal is a participatory sculpture for families, inviting you to experiment with shape, form and composition – inspired by the art and…



Daily activities: Tate Modern

Sonic Weave . Exploring Silk and Viscose Through Sound

Saturdays and Sundays plus school holidays Thursdays and Friday, 11.00–16.00

Listen to the sound of silk worms eating mulberry leaves, viscose being chemically synthesised, fibres being spun on a spindle and explanations…


Event series

Listen. Sonic trails for children and families

Saturdays and Sundays plus school holidays Thursdays and Fridays

Experience Tate through sound-scapes especially created for families by musicians and sound artists.  Borrow a set of headphones and an MP3…

If there are activities your children have particularly enjoyed and you would be happy to share them, do feel free to post on our Facebook page or  send a Tweet

London Schools and Divorce in London

When a couple separate there are many issues to resolve. Most couples will want to provide as much stability as possible for their children at this uncertain time. One of the biggest problems in London is schools and catchment areas.

Separating in London can present additional problems compared to most other areas of the UK in terms of schooling, especially if the only option is to sell the family home. Down-sizing to another house could mean children being uprooted from schools and friends at a time when they most need their support network outside the home.

This year the number of 4 year old children applying for school places in London exceeded 100,000 for the first time. One in five children missed out on their chosen first place.

lodon school

The pan-London admission board received a record 102,441 applications for primary school places, an increase of three per cent last year.

The Evening Standard reported in November 2014 that “81 per cent received their first preference school, 92 per cent were offered one of their top three and 95 per cent one of their top six school choices”

The boroughs with the lowest numbers of children getting their first preference school were Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea, at 73 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.

Parents in Newham were most likely to get their first preference school, with 90 per cent being successful. In Barking and Dagenham and Havering 89 per cent of parents got their first preference school.”

It is common to read of situations where families living in the same street in London fail to get a school place in local popular schools, as they are as little as 500m outside the catchment area. This can be randomly unfair.

Focus London mediators will help you think through the options with regard to your family home and consider the implications for your children and their schools. In mediation you can consider these problems together and with our help work out which options are realistic, which provide the best outcomes for you and your children.

For more information email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk

The Unreported Flaws Behind Penelope Leach’s ‘Toxic Truth’

Parenting guru Penelope Leach’s recent claim that after parents split, no child under four can spend even one night away from their primary carer – usually their mother without the risk of lasting damage – has caused a storm of controversy in family law. Her latest book, Family Breakdown, cites “undisputed evidence” that overnight separation from mum can adversely affect a child’s brain development.

These trenchant certainties threaten to have an enormous impact on parents and judges who are often confused about what is best after couples split.

Leach’s influence is even more worrying because science shows her “undisputed evidence” may well be wrong. She relies on a study from Australia (McIntosh el al 2010) Responding to this study, the American Psychological Association (APA) has published a paper, Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,  endorsed by 110 of the world’s leading child mental health experts from 15 countries, repudiating its conclusions. The lead author of the Australian study has subsequently dropped the conclusions that Leach relies upon, stating: “Cautions against overnight care during the first three years are not supported.” Sadly for so many children and their parents, Leach does not include this addendum in her book.


We cannot afford for such important questions about child welfare to become an ideological battleground. Parents, mediators, lawyers  – and the judiciary – need clear guidance grounded in sound evidence. That’s why the APA review is so valuable, since it provides an overview of 45 years of settled and accepted research.

“We found no support for the idea that children under four (some say under six) need to spend nearly all their time living with only one parent, when their other parent is also loving and attentive,” the lead author Professor Richard Warshak said. “Warnings against infants and toddlers spending overnight time with each parent are inconsistent with what we know about the development of strong, positive parent-child relationships. Babies and toddlers need parents who respond consistently, affectionately and sensitively to their needs. They do not need, and most do not have, one parent’s full-time, round-the-clock presence.”

At Focus we can, in many cases if you and your children want, talk to your children in confidence about their thoughts, wishes and feelings.  It won’t be easy for either of you, but at the end of it we hope that you will have reached an agreement that you both feel works for you and most importantly your children.

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