Monday, 23 October 2017

Weather and Children: Expectations vs Reality

I wish I was one of those outdoorsy mums who can somehow persuade their children out, whatever the weather, and come up with lots of wonderful wholesome activities on the way. I'm not. Despite my best efforts I'm just not that good at the great outdoors, and while Ezra loves any opportunity to get out and about on his little legs, Eleanor is becoming ever more reluctant.

I'd blame the British weather for this, but in truth, is there ever a perfect weather for getting outdoors with the kids? I've been thinking about what we expect playing outside to be like, compared to what it actually is like.

I bet this kid cried after this photo because the leaves were 'too crunchy'


Sunny

Expectation: Spending all day out in the garden, kids splashing happily in the paddling pool while I sip cool drinks and enjoy the rays.

Reality: It takes half an hour to get sun cream on everyone, and another half hour to inflate and fill the paddling pool. By which time the kids are getting hot and bothered. They paddle for about five minutes before the toddler slips over and the five year old gets freaked out by a fly that's drowned in the water. You try to persuade them to play outside a bit longer but they're getting whiny, the toddler keeps trying to get into the pool headfirst, and you start to get a sun headache. You all head back inside to cool off, where inexplicably both kids just want to hug you, making you all even more hot and bothered.

Rainy

Expectation: You'll pull out a range of stimulating and educational rainy day activities, then after a satisfying hour or two of crafts don the waterproofs and gleefully splash in puddles together.

Reality: There are no rainy day activities because you're never organised enough to prepare them. You try a few crafts on the hop, all of which are abandoned within seconds whilst strangely still causing the room to be covered in tiny bits of paper, glitter and glue. After coaxing the kids into their waterproofs, they whimper their way through a very brief walk outside, and everyone's wellies leak after the first puddle.

Windy

Expectation: Wrap up warm and head for the hills, it's kite flying weather!

Reality: You don't have a kite. Of course you don't, who remembers to get a kite in normal weather? You hide from the wind and chain-watch CBeebies. If you do have to venture out, the kids complain about it being cold and noisy whilst refusing to wear hats, scarves or gloves.

Snowy

Expectation: Everyone dons their warmest clothes and the family join in happily with snowball fights, snow angels and building snowmen, before snuggling up together with hot chocolate and a good book.

Reality: You don your warmest clothes, the kids insist that a raincoat over their t-shirts is enough. After a few minutes of handling snow everyone's gloves are soaked through and the kids are crying because their fingers hurt. The snowman only makes it to a foot tall and falls apart before you can even get a photo. Hot chocolate is spilt, causing more tears. Within five minutes the kids have forgotten their frostbite and want to go out again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Anyone else recognise these scenarios?!

Linking up with Day 23 of #Blogtober17 - Weather.

#Blogtober17


Sunday, 22 October 2017

How To Help A Challenging Child

Long-time readers of my blog will know that my 5 year old, Eleanor, has difficulties with regulating her emotions and behaviour. In other words, she's quite a handful!

As a gentle parent, I try my best to remember the mantra, "she's not giving me a hard time, she's having a hard time." I'm a firm believer that children do their best but that some struggle with certain areas of development more than others.

So it doesn't really make sense to me to punish Eleanor for the things she gets wrong, because developmentally she's just not there yet. Just like you wouldn't tell a child off for finding it hard to learn to read, I try not to tell her off for not achieving a standard of behaviour she's struggling to reach. Please note the word 'try' there - I'm only human, and at times I do get cross and tell her off. But guess what? That doesn't really work. Because she just can't do - or not do - what I'm asking of her yet.

So what can you do if you've got a challenging child and you can't somehow 'hurry up' their emotional and behavioural development? Well, I'm not an expert on this - I've only dealt with one challenging child and we're not yet through the woods with her! But here are a few things I've tried that have helped.

Using their interests to encourage the good

While in Reception Eleanor was having a particularly hard time following the rules. She likes superheroes, so one thing we did which helped a bit was reframing the rules as things a superhero would do. We made her a little card to keep in her pocket and remind her how to be a superhero:


OK, some of those things really aren't to do with superheroes, but it did get her into a better frame of mind. I know nothing about the psychology behind this, but I'm guessing having a role to play as 'Super Eleanor' somehow made it easier to follow the rules, as if it was all part of a game. I don't know. But it helped!

Noticing positives - and saying why they're positive!

Our children live in quite a reward-heavy culture these days. Stickers, behaviour charts, points etc - they're all intended to reward the good. Trouble is, sometimes children won't really understand why what they've done is good. With Eleanor, she sometimes doesn't even remember why she got the reward at all! I remember her getting a sticker at preschool for 'being good' but could she tell me what she'd actually done or why it was good? No.

I think it's easy for us to assume that the reason why good behaviour is good is obvious when actually it might not be. So I not only point out when Eleanor has done something positive, but say why. So that might be something like, "Thank you for putting your toys away, that really helps me tidy the rest of the room so it's safe and nice." (LOL, just kidding. She rarely puts her toys away. But that's what I say if ever she did.)

Spending quality time together

How much of your time with your child is spent arguing, nagging, ordering, persuading etc etc? I spend so much time just telling Eleanor what she needs to do next, from getting dressed in the morning, to doing her school reading, to going upstairs to brush her teeth in the evening. It can be really hard to factor in some pleasant time in amongst all the busyness, and that's without the petty battles over silly things.

Lots of experts advocate having a daily special time, of around 10 minutes, where you are entirely focussed on one child and do something they want to do. I really want to implement this but I've no idea when - in the mornings I've got both kids to deal with and Ezra still needs close supervision, and by the time my other half is home in the evening we're into the routine of tea and bedtimes, and Eleanor is so tired it's hard to get any sense out of her. 

But I try to find moments to enjoy Eleanor every day, whether that's reading her bedtime story or just having a cuddle. We used to have what we called 'magical Mummy Eleanor time' for an hour or so at the weekend but that's been too hard to fit in since she started football and swimming classes on Saturdays. It did make a difference though, she seemed more settled when we did it. I need to try again with that.

Look after yourself

I'm terrible at this. But it's exhausting dealing with a child who's struggling with anything, not just behaviour. It's exhausting being a parent at all! And it's really, really hard to stay calm and positive when you're exhausted. So whenever possible, try to find ways to look after yourself. I know, it's hard - I've written a whole post about how hard it is. But if I don't want my daughter shouting and snapping, I need to not do that too! I'm her role model, so I need to stay calm enough to show her how to handle big feelings.

And aside from my position as role model, I matter too. So do you. There's no point pushing yourself to the brink, because then you can't look after anyone else. It's a tough balancing acts meeting your children's needs and your own, one I haven't even begun to master. But we need to try.


So those are my tips. As I've said, I'm no expert and I've certainly not transformed my child's behaviour, but these little things do make a difference over time.

Linking up with Day 22 of #Blogtober17 - Villains and Superheroes.

#Blogtober17

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Why All The Fuss About Tom Hardy On Bedtime Stories?

Today's Blogtober prompt is Unusual Crushes. What's unusual about me is ... I don't really have any. Crushes, I mean. In general.

I used to of course, in my teens and early twenties, and there are celebrities I find attractive. But I wouldn't say I have a crush on them. I wouldn't actively seek out a film or TV show just so I could watch them.

Which is why I'm slightly baffled by all the hooha earlier in the year about Tom Hardy appearing on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. Before his much-publicised appearance I hadn't actually heard of him, and he isn't really my cup of tea (although I'm sure he's a good actor). I'm told that he read the stories very well, with a really gentle touch, which is great.

Because surely that's the point of Bedtime Stories? It's for the kids. So why was there so much publicity aimed at the mums? Why the timing of one of his episodes to coincide with Valentines Day? Why all the jokes about watching it after the kids are asleep, or about him talking about being 'tucked up in bed'?

I just don't get it. If you fancy Tom Hardy, watch one of his programmes or films. Why get all over-excited about a ten minute reading of a picture book? I'm not saying he shouldn't have been on it, if he can read a story well (which as an actor, presumably he can) then that's qualification enough. We don't need it to be sold on a 'something for the mums' ticket, surely?

Am I the only one bemused by this? Is there something I'm missing here?

Linking up with Day 21 of #Blogtober17 - Unusual Crushes.

#Blogtober17

Friday, 20 October 2017

Tales of Terrific Teenagers

It's Day 20 of #Blogtober17 and the prompt for today is 'Teenagers'. Now this is tricky for me as I'm at that in-between age when I'm a long way off having teenagers of my own, and memories of my own teenage years are getting hazy (and mostly embarrassing).

I've always had a lot of time for teenagers though. I think they get a bad rap because of a few, when actually most of them are lovely, funny, considerate and hard-working people. It's such a difficult age, walking that line between childhood and adulthood, dealing with hormonal havoc whilst having to keep on top of an ever more challenging education. I think we should recognise the many teenagers who are getting it right, or at least trying to.

So I've collected up a few stories of teenagers doing wonderful things.

Like Amineh Abou Kerech, a 13 year old Syrian refugee who won a poetry prize with an English-language poem despite only speaking English for the last year.

And these three boys aged 12, 13 and 14 who stopped a man from taking his own life.

Lilly Lyons, an American 14 year old, has set up a radio show to support fellow survivors of sexual assault.

14 year old Liam Woolford waded into a river to rescue a drowning puppy.

Ines Alves, 16, took her Chemistry GCSE exam just after losing her home in the Grenfell Tower fire - and got an A.

Similarly, Nikita Hett finished her GCSE exams after her brother Martyn was killed in the Manchester bombing - and got eleven A*s.

Bethan Workman, aged 16, has produced a booklet to help other teenagers handle stress.

And Greg Francis, 18, is cycling 500 miles to raise money for a charity that supported him growing up.

Undoubtedly there are countless other teenagers doing amazing things that you may not hear about. I was amazed at how hard it was to find examples for this post. So many stories are buried away in local newspapers while stories of teenagers getting into trouble grab the headlines. I hope this post goes just a little way toward redressing the balance. We have amazing young people in our world, and they need recognition.

Do you have any inspiring teenager stories to share? I'd love to hear more!

Linking up with Day 20 of #Blogtober17 - Teenagers.

#Blogtober17

Thursday, 19 October 2017

We Don't Keep Secrets

Many years ago, long before I had kids, I went to some child safeguarding training for my voluntary work as a youth leader. I remember very little of what was said now, but one thing stuck with me - a snippet of a conversation about secrets. The woman running the session said, "We don't keep secrets in our house. We have surprises, but not secrets."

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
Now I have children, I try to live by that rule. Whenever the subject comes up, I remind Eleanor that we don't keep secrets from each other in this family. Surprises, yes - like a present - but no secrets.

Why? For two reasons.

Firstly, for safeguarding. By telling my children we don't keep secrets from each other, they will hopefully know to be suspicious of anyone who asks them not to tell us about something. And should anything happen that they are uncomfortable with, hopefully they will come to us before it gets out of hand. I'm not particularly paranoid about this issue, I know that child abuse is thankfully rare, but I also know that nobody is immune to it. By establishing from the start that we have no secrets in our family, I hope that should the unthinkable happen my children would be confident in telling us.

Secondly, and less scarily, because one day they will have big stuff going on in their lives. Friendships, fallouts, relationships, break-ups, peer pressure, school stress - as much as it worries me to think of, they're going to have to deal with it all one day. And I want them to feel they can come to me with any problems they have. I also hope that, knowing we don't keep secrets, they might think twice about getting into any dodgy behaviour, although perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part!! I know that my job isn't to be their friend, but I hope they will see me as a confidant and a support.

It is surprisingly tricky to avoid talk of secrets though. From fleeting mentions in books and TV, to whispers between friends, the idea catches on that we need to keep some things secret. There have even been times when adults have reinforced this idea. So we keep having to patiently repeat the message that we don't do secrets. Nobody should ever ask you to keep a secret from your mummy and daddy.

Eleanor has actually caught onto it quite well. She has a little pocket in her book bag that she calls her 'secret pocket' and nobody is allowed to look there except for her, me and daddy. When she got up to a bit of harmless mischief with her friends and they'd said it was a secret she queried this until they said she could tell me - and she did. There are times when something's gone wrong at school and she hasn't wanted to talk about it, but I will just say, "OK, well when you're ready to tell me I'm here, because we don't keep secrets." And she will eventually tell me.

I'm sure as she grows up this will become trickier to navigate. I know there will be things she (and Ezra) wants to keep private and I haven't quite worked out how to handle that sensitively yet. But hopefully when it comes to that point they'll be so used to being open that the things they want to keep private won't be anything to worry about.

So that's why we don't keep secrets. What's your approach to secrets? Have you found this issue challenging as your children have grown up?

Linking up with Day 19 of #Blogtober17 - Secrets.


#Blogtober17


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Five Parenting Quotes From Children's Books

I'm not really an inspirational quotes kind of person. I think as I get older I'm becoming more of a cynic - motivational posters and feel-good memes give my ocular muscles a good workout from all the eye-rolling.

But one thing I'm still not cynical about - and perhaps never will be - is children's literature. There's a lot of wisdom in there that can be discounted by people thinking it's just for kids. In fact, there are some lines from children's books that have encouraged and challenged me in my parenting. Here are five quotes that speak to me, and I hope to other mums and dads too.


"A person's a person, no matter how small." - Dr Seuss, 'Horton Hears A Who'

This is the stand-out children's book quote for me. When I'm feeling frustrated by my own small people, I find myself going back to this line. It reminds me that they are people in their own right - they're not here to do my bidding, or follow a set pattern. They are individuals, with their own minds, own strengths and own weaknesses and I need to respect that rather than just try to control them.

"You've got to be strong to be different." - Giles Andreae, 'The Lion Who Wanted To Love'

Often, the way I parent sets me apart a little. That's not a conscious choice - I don't actually like feeling different, but doing what feels right for me and my family tends to put me on a slightly different track. Equally, Eleanor is growing up to be a true individual in many senses of the word and it can be discomfiting seeing her stand out from her peers. But this little line reminds me that not only is it OK to be different, it takes strength and courage.

"And that's what they did - because that's what you do when your kid has a passion and heart that is true. They remade their world - now they're all in the act of helping young Ada sort fiction from fact." - Andrea Beaty, 'Ada Twist, Scientist'

I love this story (in fact I really should review it sometime!) - at the start, Ada's parents try to control and contain her curiosity, but by the end they accept it as a strength and change their own response. It helps me to remember that sometimes, if my child is doing the same 'bad behaviour' over and over, it's not them that need to change - it's me and my response to the behaviour. Is it really bad, or is it just inconvenient or annoying to me? I love the phrase, "they remade their world," because parenting is all about adjusting to the fact you've got a whole other human being in your life now.

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes ... as long as you take the trouble to learn from them." - Norton Juster, 'The Phantom Tollbooth'

OK, I confess - I've never read this book, I just came across this quote while researching for this post! But it sums up an important part of parenting for me. I make mistakes all the time - we all do, right? Right? But luckily children don't need perfect parents who never put a foot wrong, they need parents who try their best, get it wrong sometimes but are big enough to put it right and do better next time. Or maybe the time after that. I think I need to read this book.

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." - A A Milne, 'Winnie The Pooh'

Parenting, like life, is full of pressure isn't it? From 'are they sleeping through' to 'are they walking/talking/jumping/making marks/reading etc etc' there is always a new milestone to chase. 'Winnie The Pooh' is a lovely, gentle book containing this lovely, gentle quote reminding me that everything comes in time and there's no point in trying to rush things. It's also a useful reminder for me as I wait to get a bit of 'me' back, socially and professionally. It will happen, I just need to trust that the river will take me where I need to.

What quotes give you reassurance or inspiration, either as a parent or generally?

Linking up with Day 17 of #Blogtober17 - Quotes.

#Blogtober17

Monday, 16 October 2017

Fighting Fears And Building Bravery

So, funny story. A couple of years ago, a lovely relative bought Eleanor some clothes from Joules. She gave us them in the bag which was so nice I let Eleanor keep it to play with. A few weeks later, she was in her room and I heard her say, "Mummy, there's a spider in the flowery bag!" I went in, and she was right - it was a whopper too.

 Now, I'm arachnophobic. Very, very arachnophobic. Up until that day, I'd hidden this fact from Eleanor. But faced with a massive spider in a bag, I froze. And I had to say to her, "I'm actually quite scared of spiders." But still I managed to bring myself to pick up the bag, get to an open window and lob Sid the Spider out. (As far as I'm concerned, this is humane. I'm not killing the spider. Whether or not it lands safely is it's problem, not mine.)

I put the bag back in Eleanor's room and tried to stop myself imagining spiders crawling on me. A few days later, I was tidying her room and saw the bag. My blood ran cold. I got that fluttery feeling. And every time I've seen that bag since, I've had the same feeling.

Tl;dr - I'm now afraid of a Joules clothes bag.



But this incident actually taught me something. I'd always thought that not showing fear was important, that if I hid my fear then my children wouldn't develop that phobia themselves. The trouble is, fear is human. Yes, Eleanor isn't scared of spiders. But she did go through a phase of being scared of slugs and snails - something I've never had an issue with - and she's currently quite nervous around dogs after a bad encounter with one. You can't avoid your children developing any fears just by pretending you don't have any yourself.

What you can do, though, is show them fear is surmountable. That it's OK to be scared, but you don't have to let it stop you getting on with life. That true bravery is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Hopefully, telling Eleanor I was scared before plucking up the courage to get rid of Sid showed her that fear doesn't have to stop you, that you can face your fears.

And I see Eleanor trying to deal with her fears. She has now started approaching dogs again, albeit gingerly and always with the owner's agreement. She's still not keen on slugs but will happily pick up snails by their shell. And for many little occasions when she feels nervous, I remind her that she's a brave mighty girl and she can do it even if she's scared. Most of the time, this works.

So maybe I shouldn't worry too much about hiding my fears. Maybe instead I should take the opportunity to model bravery.

Linking up with Day 16 of #Blogtober17 - Phobias.

#Blogtober17