At last it is the summer holidays. We have come out of the exam season and the long wait for results is finally over. This year, for many reasons, I have been pondering what helps our children to have success and smiles rather than stress and low self-esteem.

I was beyond proud last month when I was able to be present at my eldest son’s graduation.  It was partly a relief that all the blood, sweat and tears had been worthwhile but it was also recognition that, at least some of our strategies as parents had helped him on his way.

Building in Success

I have long held the belief that building in success for our child (something we all strive to do) is founded on firm foundations. For a number of years now I have been sharing one of my favourite acronyms with parents and educators, that is:


Look past the gender bias that the name suggests as this CILLA can be male or female, young or old. What this person does is simple …they care, and more than that- they show they care on a regular basis. Within human bounds, they are always available to the child, both emotionally and to turn to whether the waves are rough or the waters are still. Sometimes warmth, sometimes a rock, sometimes a sounding board, sometimes a lighthouse in a storm.

What does C.I.L.L.A. stand for?

It stands for:

Continuity of



                        Learning and



The most intrepid explorers have a back-up team.

There are times when we all think we can ‘do it alone’ but even the most intrepid explorers have a back-up team; they may not be visible but they are there in the background- quiet, unsung and reliable. This is the kind of continuity our children need from the age of two to twenty, beyond that and before it. We all need someone in our lives that are stable and certain- someone we can turn to.

In life we need things to be constant, consistent- provide us with boundaries that make us feel secure. We need somewhere that we can call home, with someone we can rely on.

I recently had the privilege of meeting with Karen McCluskey, a wonderful woman who works with and fights the cause of prisoners. One of the main things many of these people lack in their lives is stability- a person to turn to- who has ‘got his back’ as my wise God-daughter calls it.

In life we go through many ups and downs but what helps us through them is continuity, consistency, a person you feel confident to confide in (I had never made the link between these two words before!)

The heart of the matter

This heart shaped diagram can help us unpick how we can help and support children when things are challenging:



The people Karen meets are often diving- they have fallen off the support structure of society and are living life on their own air tanks; we need to address this and find ways of giving these people support- moving them up from the depths towards the light and air at the surface. There is very little human contact and what there is may be less than supportive!

In my heart diagram, the next level up is surviving- there is some support there- just enough to keep them going but more is needed and this, I fear is where we fall down in our education systems and  as parents  in our busy lives.

Could do better!

Children have form tutors, class teachers, key workers but- do all these people truly understand the responsibility of the relationship role, not just the expectations of education? This is an area where our school report often reads ‘Could do better’

As we go into a new school year we need to reflect on what really makes the difference. By having stronger relationships and more one to one time with a tutor, home-school link worker or mentor a child can move up from surviving to striving. Here they feel supported to begin to drive forward themselves; on the heart picture for a child who is striving there is a greater connection between the child and the mentor. This empowers the child to begin to take some risks or to feel supported when they put in the effort that will help them be successful. They begin to become resilient and are more able to bounce back from the bumps that may come their way.

The top of the heart shape shows us why this metaphor is so powerful. When a child is thriving, that support is still there but the child is empowered to need it less often. They are able to weather the storm and hopefully come back to share those successes with their CILLA.

Bear this in mind this autumn term when you are helping your children settle and that CILLA could well be you.

Dedicated to Alistair Mitchell- with heartfelt thanks.

Ali’s work ‘transforms practice, transforms lives’

You lucky people can hear her speak at Childcare Expo in September and take away not just practical tips and advice but a real depth to enable you to challenge your own practice.

​You will leave invigorated and be able to empower all your staff to really ‘Make it Better for Boys’ and for girls alike. If you simply cannot wait then Ali would love to hear about how she can help match your training needs at


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