Monday, 24 March 2014

Learning to be a good role model

I want a lot of things for Toddler. I want her to be confident, sociable, calm, emotionally mature, resourceful, practical, outdoorsy ...

In short, I want her to be Not Me.

That's the thing about parenting, isn't it? We think about our weaknesses and hope that we will find some way of ensuring our children develop the opposite traits. So when I'm feeling anxious, or shy, or hot-headed, I think, "I hope Toddler doesn't have to deal with these emotions when she grows up!" When I attempt anything vaguely DIY related and inevitably fail, I hope that Toddler will be more hands-on and able to deal with practical things. When I'm stuck indoors on a not-too-nice day and getting cabin fever I hope that Toddler will not develop my aversion to cold and rain and mud.

The trouble is that children learn by observation, so as Toddler's primary caregiver, what I do will have an effect on what she does in future. Knowing this has made me more aware of my shortcomings than ever, and my attempts to change are often frustrated.

For instance, not long after Christmas I dug a hole in the garden to plant out our Christmas tree. I am not at all green-fingered, but hey, I need to learn to do these things, I can't leave all the manual work to my husband, what will that teach Toddler about gender roles? But in doing so, I managed to trigger the SPD I suffered from during pregnancy and spent the following week in agony. Months later I'm still getting SPD twinges. So that went well.

Then there's my temper. To talk to, I seem very mild-mannered, but I am easily frustrated and can get a bit, ahem, shouty. I've been really trying to work on this in recent months and most of the time I succeed in avoiding yelling, but sometimes it all goes wrong and the effort to suppress the screamy urge is too much. I want Toddler to grow up to be calmer and more in control of her temper than me, but how will she learn that watching mummy effectively throwing a tantrum?!

I saw a quote recently which gave me some comfort. I can't remember exactly what it was, but it basically said that when you are trying to raise your child in a way that is different to how you normally act, or how you were raised, you force your brain to use neural pathways that are weak, as they haven't been reinforced over the years. This makes me feel better – I'm fighting my brain here! That would explain the headaches ...

Although it's hard now, I know that the more I persist in trying to be a good role model to Toddler, the easier it will get as those neural pathways strengthen. Hopefully this will help her to grow into a secure, able and level-headed young woman – with the added bonus that I might teach myself to actually be those things too!

Does anyone else find it hard to be a good role model to their children? How have you risen to the challenge?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

How to Get Your Baby To Love Books

Toddler loves books. I mean, LOVES them. She spends most of her waking time looking at books, whether I'm reading them to her or not. Roughly 85% of what she says is repeated from a book. She asks to go the library almost every day.

I remember when she was a fairly new toddler, a friend of mine with a baby asked me how I encouraged her to love books. Well, as today is World Book Day, I thought I'd share my wisdom with you all. Lucky you. So here's my step-by-step guide to getting your baby to love books ...

1. Read to them.

It's that simple. Read them books, willingly and enthusiastically, and they will grow up knowing that books are enjoyable.

I'm actually tempted to leave the guide there, because it really is that easy, but if you're looking for some extra tips, read on.

2. Choose books wisely.

I remember getting frustrated trying to read a story to Toddler when she was around five months old. After just a few pages she started to whine and squirm. She was bored - there were too many words, and seeing as she didn't understand any of them, I can now see why she got so restless. So start out with books that have few words but lots of pictures. Talk about the pictures with them, point things out. Books with flaps and different textures are great for babies. As they get older, gradually increase the word count. Now Toddler is 2 she will happily sit through a full story. Several times over. In one sitting.

Also, as your child gets older, be very wary of books 'for boys' or 'for girls'. Children should be encouraged to read whatever they want, not feel that one type of story is off-limits for their gender. Plus, gender neutral books can be passed down to siblings and cousins of either gender, saving you money!

3. Make books available.

This one goes against all my anti-mess instincts but ...

Once your baby is mobile and able to pull books off shelves, don't be tempted to hide them away. Let them get to their books, explore them, choose what and when they want to read. I remember a friend telling me they overheard a grandparent in a doctor's waiting room tell their grandson that they wouldn't read him a book because it wasn't bedtime. I found that so sad. Bedtime is a great time to read - but I think that reading to children whenever they ask (as far as is practical) is the best way to really kindle a love of books.

4. Take them to your local library.

Toddler really does adore the library, it's one of her favourite places. And it means you can expose your baby to a variety of books without spending a fortune. I try to let her choose at least a couple of books to take home, which means I've read some questionable ones, but she likes getting a say in what she reads and I want to encourage her to develop her own tastes.

5. Share your favourites.

In the picture above you'll see our copy of 'The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark'. I remember reading this book in Year 2 at primary school and loving it then, so when I saw a second-hand copy for sale when I was pregnant I bought it. Toddler loves it, and I think that's partly because I love to read it, so put that extra enthusiasm into my voice. So if you have an old favourite, dig it out (or track down a copy) and share it with your baby whenever you feel s/he is old enough.

So there you are, those are my tips for encouraging a love of books. If you have any tips of your own do comment below.

And if you're unconvinced about the value of getting little ones to love books, just think about this. I have a rubbish cold today, but I've managed to get some much-needed rest this morning while Toddler pulled books off her shelves and 'read' them to herself from memory. If that reason is not compelling enough for you, frankly, I don't know what is.