Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"I'm a strong, tough, mighty girl": Teaching my daughter to value her body



It's nearly a year ago now, but I still remember it very clearly. We were walking home from nursery with friends and Eleanor was racing ahead. She called back to us, "I'm a strong, tough, mighty girl!"

I smiled. It's a phrase I'd said to her many a time. And now she'd internalised it. She believes that her body is strong and powerful.

Confidence was the main thing I wanted to instill in my daughter, right from an early age. I have struggled with self esteem since my childhood, so I wanted her to be self-assured. I especially wanted her to be confident with regards to her body image, something I had never been in my youth. Something, apparently, many girls and young women aren't today.

The Children's Society recently published the Good Childhood Report 2016, in which they found that girls' happiness is declining. 1 in 7 girls aged 10-15 are unhappy with their lives. And it seems body image is a big part of that: a third of girls in that age range are unhappy with their appearance.

Graphic supplied by The Children's Society

The Children's Society are appealing for people to stand up for girls, to improve their well-being. They are calling on the government to ensure access to mental health and well-being services in schools and colleges to improve the happiness of all children in the UK. This would be fantastic and is much needed, but we also need to work as a society to value children, especially girls, for who they are and not what they look like.

Graphic supplied by The Children's Society

Eleanor is still only 5, but I believe self esteem and a healthy body image are established far before the age of 10. It makes me sad to think so many girls and young women are unhappy with the way they look. I don't want that for my daughter, so I'm doing everything I can now to teach her to value herself and her body.

So how am I standing up for my daughter? Do I just tell her that she's beautiful to establish a positive body image while she's still young?

Well, I do tell her she's beautiful. But I emphasise her other great qualities - her kindness, her work ethic, and, yes, her strength. I want her to regard her body not as an ornament but as a tool. I want her to value her capabilities over her appearance. I encourage her to take care of herself, not so she looks 'good' but so she is fit and healthy. I also encourage her to be active, to enjoy sports and physical activity so she can take pride in what her body can do.

I worry that this is not enough. I see her internalising messages about the need to be 'pretty' that she's picking up from wider society and it makes me anxious. As much as I stand up for her, I know that as she gets older my voice will be drowned out by that of the media and her peers. Which is why I think it is important for us all to stand up for girls now - so that we can change the script and raise a generation of healthy, happy women who feel confident in themselves and content in their lives.

For more information on the work of The Children's Society, check out their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This post was written voluntarily in support of The Children's Society, however all words, views and thoughts are my own.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

An Introvert Raising An Extrovert

"What's YOUR name?"

The little girl turns away and buries her face in her dad's chest. Eleanor, oblivious to what this means, simply steps closer and repeats her question.

I cringe inwardly and try to persuade her away. She keeps chatting with the other girl's dad. I feel like going over and apologising, but I'm not sure what for.

She's an extrovert; I'm an introvert. She is confident; I am shy. She is unflappable; I am easily embarrassed.

It's a tricky parenting situation.



She strikes up conversations everywhere we go and it makes me flinch. Partly because I would never be that bold. I tend to wait to be spoken to, for fear of inconveniencing the other person. I assume they don't want to be spoken to unless proved otherwise. Eleanor assumes everyone is up for a chat, and will not accept evidence to the contrary.

We're both a bit socially awkward in our own ways. Me, because I'm too worried about overstepping boundaries. Her because she doesn't even realise they're there. She doesn't understand why other children won't talk to her. She doesn't get what shy is.

Mostly I'm proud of her extroversion. When she was little I tried really hard to talk to other people at playgroups, partly to make friends but mostly so she could see me socialising and not feel nervous about it herself. More than anything, I wanted her to be confident. I got what I wanted.

But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. The problem with being an introvert with an extroverted child is that you get pushed out of your comfort zone a lot. You have to negotiate the social niceties your child can't. You need to assess who is happy to talk and who wants to be left alone, and try to communicate that to a person who can't understand why anyone is different to her. You end up having conversations with total strangers, a situation which leaves you tongue-tied. When you want to shrink away and go unnoticed, your child is busy drawing attention to the two of you.

It's not all bad though. She's showing me that, actually, more people than you'd expect are happy to chat. That talking to them isn't imposing on them, it isn't a massive inconvenience. She's teaching me that I don't have to bend over backwards to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. People are more tolerant, more friendly, than I thought.

I love my little extrovert. I know that her friendly, confident nature will open doors for her. I'm glad she'll probably never struggle with shyness and will always get stuck in in a new situation. Despite the cringes I'm incredibly proud of her.

That said, I hope her brother has a little bit more reserve!!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Say What You See: 'Welcome to Mamoko'

A few days ago Eleanor pulled a book off her very full shelf which we haven't read in a while. I'd forgotten how good it is.


'Welcome to Mamoko' by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski is a (mostly) wordless picture book which reminds me slightly of 'Where's Wally?' The first page introduces you to the characters, then you choose one and follow their story.


I love the detail on every page, it's so fun trying to spot the characters together!




We don't have many wordless books which is a shame as they are great for getting your child thinking about what's happening. We take the ability to work out a story from pictures for granted, but children might not instantly understand how a sequence of events fit together. Open-ended stories like this are a good way to ask 'why' questions. And as various characters experience upsetting events, it's also great for talking about feelings and empathy.

I particularly love how so many of the stories intersect - characters come together to help each other, or to catch the bad guy. It shows how our actions impact on other people, how we're all connected and how we can all work together even though we're all different.

Another brilliant thing about this book is that kids can really get lost in it - it's not just one story, it's a whole bunch of them, so they can go back to the beginning over and over to follow a different character. And as there are no words, they can do this fairly independently, although the pictures are so detailed they might sometimes need a bit of help finding their character!

I really recommend this book as a way of developing storytelling, understanding emotions and connections, and keeping an older preschooler or younger school age kid quiet for AGES!!


Linking in with 'Read With Me' by Mama Mummy Mum.

MamaMummyMum

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

How I Support My Children's Mental Health

Yesterday I discovered that this week is Children's Mental Health Week, and it got me thinking. Mental illness is a very real concern for children and young people today - this week Childline revealed that one in six calls they receive relate to serious mental health problems. We often see articles suggesting that mental illness in children and young people is on the rise.

I'm no expert so I won't speculate on the causes of this rise, but I do take my responsibility to safeguard my children's mental health seriously. As much as I want them to be successful, popular and all the rest, above all I want my children to be happy. I think most of us would agree with that.

So how can we support our children to stay healthy in mind as well as body? Again, I'm no expert but here are some things I do:

Take care of your family's mental health and you too could look like this!

Hug

I believe strongly in the power of hugging, and it seems science backs me up: new research shows that cuddling helps little ones to grow up healthier, less depressed and kinder. I try my best to never deny either of my children a hug if they want one - obviously it's not always practical, and in the middle of the night I might be rather grumpy about it, but I want them to know I'm always there for them and always love them. 

Play

When Eleanor was a toddler I read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. While I haven't entered fully into the spirit of his parenting ethos, I do try to use play to help my daughter through tough times. This could mean role playing difficult situations with her toys, but more often than not it just means getting her giggling to release tension. And just making time to play with her shows her that she is valuable to me and gives her the attention she needs. It's not easy now I have two, but I'm getting better at it.

Read

Reading children's books is a good way to start conversations about feelings. There are many books out there aimed at addressing certain emotions, but I find with Eleanor she can find them a bit too direct. Instead, I try to talk about characters' feelings in the regular books we read, to help her to recognise those feelings in others and in herself.

Talk

Following on from the last point, I try to talk about feelings as much as possible. This particularly involves naming emotions - we take the ability to say how we feel for granted, but even kids with very competent communication skills can struggle to find the right word. So when my children are angry or upset, and unable to articulate that (which obviously is all the time for Ezra) I will say something like, "I can see you're feeling ..." I also talk about how I'm feeling so they can understand that they're not alone, everyone (even grown ups) have these feelings.

Listen

This side of communication is often the harder one - as much as I believe in talking about feelings, I need to be ready to listen to my children express their feelings. This can be tough, especially with non-verbal children who will mainly express themselves through crying. But I hope that by listening to my children cry (and scream and rant and rage) I am showing them that they can come to me with any problem and I will accept their feelings. I don't want my children to ever feel like they can't tell me about their emotions.

Get outside

I'll admit I'm a bit rubbish at this one. I'm trying to get better though, because there is growing evidence that getting out into nature helps your mental health. I'm very much a fair weather nature lover - a bit of cold or rain and I'm grumpy, too much sun and I wilt - but when the conditions are right I try to get out to the local park, or even further afield if it's the weekend. I'm also trying to encourage Eleanor to spend more time in the garden, but that's proving a challenge!!

Model

I've saved the toughest till last - I am a role model to my children, so I need to show them how to deal with their emotions and take care of themselves. Before I got pregnant the second time I was pretty rubbish at self-care but it soon became apparent I was going to burn out if I kept giving everything I had to my kids. So I'm trying to do better. And I try to talk about that with Eleanor so she knows that I have needs too - and so hopefully she will learn to take her own needs seriously as she grows up. I'm also getting better at taking deep breaths when I get cross and telling Eleanor what I'm doing so she sees me managing my emotions healthily.

So that's what I'm doing. I've no idea if it's working, and I'm not always great at it, but hopefully it will help to bolster my children's mental health. What do you do with your children to keep their minds healthy?


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Wait-And-See Parenting

Ezra is napping in his cot at the moment. This is a bit of a breakthrough.


He only started napping in his cot a few weeks ago. Before then he'd often fall asleep in the carrier on the school run in the morning, then I'd hold him for his afternoon nap.

I'd tried putting him down a couple of times but, in all honesty, I didn't try very hard. There was always something - an illness, a looming change of routine, a short morning nap meaning I needed to ensure he got a good sleep later. To be honest, I was just happy to keep cuddling him and to wait and see.

With Eleanor we tied ourselves in knots trying to get her to nap in her cot. We tried all sorts, even pick-up-put-down which was stressful and upsetting to all three of us. We tried it once, she cried herself to sleep then woke up distressed after a few minutes. We never tried it again.

We then started setting a nap routine by taking her out for walks at the same time every day so she was used to sleeping at those times, then gradually transitioned to letting her suck our fingers for comfort (I know, eww) then rocking her until she was asleep enough to set down. At 9 months she finally napped in her cot.

Contrast that to this time. We just waited, and then one day I could put Ezra down after a feed. At 10 months.

All that stress first time round just to gain an extra month of cot-napping!

The thing we often forget as parents, particularly first time parents, is that babies change. They can't not. They will inevitably grow from babies to toddlers to preschoolers to school-age kids to teenagers without us doing a darn thing other than keeping them fed and clothed.

And so many parenting books and products trade on this parental amnesia. They convince us that we have to Do Something to make babies sleep otherwise they'll never learn, as if we'll all be rocking our 14-year-olds to sleep in years to come. They tell us we need to bombard our kids with flashcards and specially-designed DVDs otherwise they'll never learn to read, as if just reading to them isn't enough. As if we aren't enough.

Years ago I wrote about how we need to trust our toddlers to learn in their own time. I still believe that, in fact I believe it's true of most things at most stages of parenting. If we just wait and see, trust ourselves to guide our little ones and trust them to get the hang of things in their own sweet time, it takes so much stress and effort out of parenting. Yes, some things need more guidance than others, but even then they'll often be easier if we just wait until our child is ready. As I learnt the hard way with potty training.

Wouldn't it be easier if we stepped away from the parenting books that tell us what our child 'should' be doing, and just let our child develop at our own pace? Personally, I'm going to stick with Wait-And-See Parenting a bit more, and try to worry a bit less.