Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Being the mum of the 'wild child'

I'm beginning to suspect that Toddler is what people in gentle parenting circles would call 'spirited', and what people in not-so-gentle-parenting circles would call 'difficult', 'demanding', 'a handful' and maybe even 'wild'. How I describe her very much varies according to how stressed I am about it!!

She's not a 'bad' child, if you can even use that word to describe someone so young. She very rarely lashes out at other children, and while she will sometimes hit or kick me it's never maliciously - she either thinks it's funny or she's registering her frustration at me trying to change her nappy or physically restraining her from doing something dangerous. She can be defiant, but it's generally in a good-natured, jokey way. She's just not the kind of child who can sit still, or wait for things, or ... well ... do as she's told.

This is challenging enough for me at home but I have to admit that when we're out the eyes of others makes it seem so much worse. Yesterday, for instance, I took her to the library, as I do every Tuesday, for their Rhyme Time session. She had been getting a bit better at these sessions - she still wouldn't sit quietly but she was more engaged in the stories and rhymes. But for the past couple of weeks she's been hard work. Yesterday, she insisted on climbing on and off a soft block intended for sitting on, bouncing on it then jumping off. I was feeling a little embarrassed by it at first, and then another mum told her daughter not to do exactly the same thing and I felt a wave of disapproval that I would let my daughter be so 'naughty'. Whether that wave was real or imagined, I don't know, but try as I might to not let it bother me, it did.

She then started to try and escape the children's area by climbing over the gate, which resulted in her getting her feet stuck, shouting, then screaming when I unstuck her feet and carried her back into the circle. When it came to 'Ring a ring o'roses' at the end, she threw herself on the ground in protest, then cried when it was over and she hadn't had chance to join in. I felt so embarrassed by the end I was glad when she bolted for her pushchair and I could make a quick escape.

Today we went to a playgroup. She copes much better there as it's mainly free play, although I did have to cope with her shouting, "want a biscuit!" at the top of her voice while the leader was going through the notices before snack time, and while the other children were sat, angelically silent and bemused by my daughter's screaming and squirming. Then at the end of playgroup, she once again refused to join in with a song then cried when it was over because she hadn't had chance to join in. Sigh.

I must admit I'm struggling with this phase in Toddler's development, but I know that it's me who needs to adapt to the situation, not her - she's too young to be expected to change. She will learn to be patient, sit still, join in etc. etc. all in good time but she's on her own schedule and I need to respect that. Still, it's hard when I feel like other parents and carers must think she's a 'wild child' and I'm not doing enough to rein her in. I'm very aware that our society prefers to force the child to change, using punishment and rewards, but that's not what I want to do. I trust my daughter to find her own way and I believe that when she does it'll leave her more confident than if I'd tried to coerce or cajole into obedience.

So, yes, I need to change. I need to become more patient with her, more organised so I'm not stressing out when she refuses to get ready to go out, more relaxed about how she's experimenting with her own physical abilities. And I definitely need to develop a thicker skin. Because even if people do think I'm not doing my job properly, I know I am. It's just that the job description I've made for myself might be different to the one they've made for themselves.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why my daughter is crying ... and why I won't be posting pictures of it

She woke up.

I turned off Youtube.

Another child was using the swing she had decided she'd had enough of two minutes ago.

I turned off the TV.

She banged her foot.

The singing fish at a friend's house was singing.

I pretended to unsuccessfully pull my nose off.

I couldn't fix the crayon she broke.

These are a few of the reasons Toddler has cried over the past couple of days. Some of them – banging her foot, and, arguably, the singing fish – were fairly legitimate. Heck, I feel like crying when I wake up sometimes. Others are a bit more out there, and therefore amusing to us adults, with our fully developed brains.

About a year ago I first saw that website, 'Reasons My Son Is Crying'. Yes, I chuckled at some of those reasons. But it didn't sit comfortably with me. While other people found it funny, I was picturing the scene: a child in great distress, looking to their parent for comfort, while their parent whips out their camera to take a picture before attempting to console their child. "Oh you're crying – right, hold that thought – where's my phone – that's it, keep crying, keep crying – Aaand – done. Aww, do you want a hug?"

I do sometimes make light of the reasons why Toddler cries. Because they can be pretty ridiculous to my grown up eyes. But I try not make fun of those reasons in front of her, and I would certainly never stop to take a picture of her tears before comforting her then post it online.

If you think I'm being over-sensitive about this, just think about how you'd feel if the person you loved most in the world, who you felt most secure with, took a picture of you crying and put it online. Does that sound nice? No, it doesn't, does it? I'd much prefer a hug in those circumstances.

We all cry from time to time. Toddlers cry a lot because they haven't learnt emotional self-regulation yet, and because this big wide world is pretty confusing when you've only been in it a couple of years and don't understand all the rules yet. While a wry chuckle after the event can help a parent cope with the irrational tantrums, I really don't think we should be withholding comfort and mocking these poor kids online.

And, just to point out, toddlers don't have a monopoly on irrational crying. Here are a few reasons I've cried over the past few days (I should point out I'm ill and a bit stressed out, I don't cry this much normally!):

An unanswered e-mail.

Toddler bouncing on the bed for 20 minutes when I needed to change her nappy.

'One Born Every Minute'.

Peaches Geldof's last column for 'Mother and Baby'.

Toddler taking an hour and a half to go to sleep.

In isolation, these reasons seem pretty irrational. But other stuff was going on, and these things were the last straw. I imagine it's very often the same for children.

And if anyone had taken a picture of me in those moments, they'd have risked not having an operative camera thirty seconds later!!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

In praise of free play #LetKidsBeKids

I haven't done a post to link in with Let Kids Be Kids for a while, and there's a reason for that: I haven't done much. That is to say, I haven't done much that is particularly bloggable. (Yep, I made up that word. But it's a good word. Use it in a sentence today.)

A combination of teething hell for Eleanor and starting up a business for me (more on this ... oh, at some point, when I have the energy) means that I haven't been putting much thought into the activities we've been doing together. Three days a week we go to groups and on the free days it's all too tempting to veg out at home and just let her entertain herself with her Duplo or soft toys. On nice days we've been out in the garden, but again we've done nothing much other than pottering about, terrorising worms. (Well, Eleanor does that. I try and stop her. And inevitably fail.)

But hang on - is that really a bad thing? After all, she's two. Only two. While crafts and specific messy play activities are nice and everything, is there really anything wrong with a two-year-old just doing her own thing?

Today a news story is going round about the chief of Ofsted saying that more children should start school at the age of two. I find this unspeakably sad. In the UK we already have an earlier school starting age than most other countries, despite so much evidence showing that children learn best through free play. Willshaw seems to have missed the point to me: if children are not ready for school at the age of 4 or 5, perhaps the problem lies not with the child but with the starting age - an extra year or two to develop could be all they need. But I digress.

My point is, free play is important, especially in the early years. I think it actually helps with communication - Eleanor will chat away to herself while she's engrossed in her play world, mimicking things she's heard me say, lines from books and, ahem, TV. And she will happily line up toys and count them too, so it's helping with her number skills. She doesn't need formal schooling to teach her these things - she's basically teaching herself, we've just got her started by reading, talking about numbers, and talking to her in general.

And Eleanor isn't that interested in structured play anyway. I take her to a playgroup once a week where they have a short craft activity at the end. Sometimes she joins in but for the past couple of weeks she's been more interested in playing with their fabulous doll's house. And that's fine. I'd rather leave her to do something she enjoys than try and cajole her into sticking things in the 'right' place and end up finishing it myself when she wanders off! Similarly, at home, if she wants to spend half an hour playing Ring o' ring o' roses with a toy rabbit and orangutan, why should I try to persuade that she'd rather do some painting for ten minutes of entertainment followed by twenty minutes of cleaning up?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying structured activities are bad. If they're what the child wants to do, then great. This morning Eleanor demanded that we 'bake teddies' (i.e. teddy-shaped gingerbread) at 8.30am. I went with it, even though my preference was for changing out of our pyjamas. But there's enough pressure on parents without them worrying about setting up exciting crafts that they've seen on Pinterest but that will ultimately end up with a half-finished cardboard animal of some description, mess all over the floor and a child who has tottered off to play with their cars. Yes, if the kid is bored, pull something fun out of the bag to mix things up. But if they're happy, let 'em play for goodness sake, and get yourself a cuppa!

I'll leave you with a picture of a game Eleanor likes to play called See How Many Soft Toys You Can Fit In A Potty. You couldn't make it up. Well, she can. And she did. Because she's two.