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Monday, January 31, 2011

Modelling happiness: broken families

In this blog I've stressed the need to be authentic, the need to be respectful and the need to model the behaviour you want your child to copy. It all sounds amazingly easy when you're sitting in a chair reading it. Parenthood in action, however, is a very different experience- especially when the parenting relationship is in crisis.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fighting with your ex- a child's view

I'm not very good at ending relationships. Most of us aren't. I know what it is to feel deeply hurt, disappointed, broken-hearted, emotionally bruised, what it's like to have my innermost hopes, my self-esteem and my sense of justice trampled on. I know that both parties will usually feel equally overpowering emotions. I also know how easily these feelings translate into a red-hot, uncontrolled boil-over when you see each other.

Well, red-hot rage might be thoroughly understandable in those circumstances, but when there are children in the line of fire be very careful. It's so tempting to mentally enlist them into your army, based only on your own anger and hurt. It's way too easy to misinterpret what they say and do on the home battlefield when you have a personal agenda.

Let me tell you a true story from my life. Call it a cautionary tale.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Seven Deadly Sins of daycare parenting

Every daycare worker has a recurring set of complaints about parents in those 'water-cooler moments'.  Of course we do.  Don't YOU complain to your fellow workers and family about clients or workmates who get up your nose?

If you're reading this column, you've made a great start to being a fantastic parent, because you're willing to learn (I note that you have to pass a test to drive a car, but nobody issues licences for parenting, so good on you for showing some initiative- not all good parenting is instinctive!).  You deserve to know what parenting behaviours really annoy your children's carers- let's face it, we won't tell you this to your face, because we try to be positive.

You can't be expected to get it right all the time if you haven't ever been told what drives us mad.  So here are the seven deadly sins that get right up our noses.

The first day at daycare: let's get it right!

I'm not sure who suffers the most on a child's first day at daycare.  Is it the weeping child, or the anxious parent?  In some cases, even the staff have problems- almost always because parents didn't know what preparation was needed when they left their child at care for the first time.

So here are some hints for a lower-stress separation.  They apply as much to family daycare as to centre care, though I've written from the latter perspective.  Leaving your child will still feel terrifying, especially for a first-time parent- but it needn't be a disaster.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The parent as cab driver: after-school activity overload

Once upon a time there was a world where children spent their out-of-school hours making up their own games, playing on the street with the other kids from their area, entertaining themselves with their siblings and playing board games and card games with mum and dad in the evenings. If they were lucky and their parents were rich enough, they might be offered some sort of music lessons when they were in middle childhood; if they had trouble with Maths or reading, too bad- either mum and dad helped them, or they struggled.

Educational opportunity has improved for children. But there is also such a thing as going too far the other way. James Thurber once wrote a hilarious mock-fable ('The Bear who Let it Alone') about a drunken bear who caused fear and chaos while falling down in a drunken stupor; seeing his error, he reformed his ways and caused fear and chaos while showing off his new exercise regime (the moral of the story being, 'You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward').

So here we are in the C21st leaning over too far backwards, with parents  spending half their lives driving the kids to out-of-school activities- soccer, maths coaching, early music classes, swimming training, reading tutoring, ballet, drama, speech therapy, netball... the list goes on... all supposedly in the name of giving their children vital opportunities, while those same children are starved of time for unstructured fun with their peer group and family.

What does this whirlwind world look like to a child?  And which of these activities are really valuable?  How much is too much?

Don't drown in your child's gene pool

New parents have so many hopes and dreams about what their child will be like, but the reality of bringing up a little human can be crushing at times. We may hope to raise a leader of men, a sports star or a brilliant student- someone with all the best features of the people we admire most- and yet one day we find ourselves staring at a child who resembles nothing so much as a small replica of the partner we divorced so bitterly, or our dissolute Uncle Bruce, or-worse still- someone who combines all our own worst features with none of our coping mechanisms.  It's a hard moment for a parent.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Putting on a show with young children (with free script!)

Most teachers and childcare workers I've spoken to about producing a show with children greet the subject with a shudder (the smaller the children, the bigger the shudder).  I can never understand that- I love putting on performances with children!

Being in a show can be a turning point for a child. A good teacher can encourage even the shyest of children to wear a costume, learn simple movements or a song and walk on stage to perform in a group with other kids- and the applause and sense of achievement they get after it's all over creates a boost in self-confidence which is beyond price.  For more outgoing or gifted children, a show gives them an opportunity to shine at their own level without disadvantaging other children. For children who come from impoverished backgrounds, a simple show carefully run (to avoid incurring any parental expenses) may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the fun of extra-curricular activities.

So here are some guidelines for putting on a performance with young children, to help prevent this wonderfully rewarding activity from becoming a nightmare.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

W-sitting- a handy link for you

I've asked Roberta to write about W-sitting, as it's something we childcare workers are asked to discourage in the kids.  Lots of mums and dads don't know why it's a problem, so here's a link so you can get it from the horse's (well, physiotherapist's!) mouth.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The fine art of active storytelling

Most parents and childcare workers have realised the value of reading to  children.  (There is a very fine book on the subject written by Mem Fox, of 'Possum Magic' fame, which explains how reading to your kids can help them to learn to read themselves.)  But few seem to have recognised the value of told, rather than read, stories; we rely on the pictures to hold small children's interest- perhaps we feel we'll never keep their attention without them. And not too many have worked out how much fun and educational mileage you can get out of a storybook or a told story if you're well prepared.

Here are some hints on how to get the most out of story time by becoming a skilled storyteller.

Good NIGHT!!!- all about sleeping, at all ages

Oh, the joys of a baby who wakes every hour, a child who won't go to bed or won't sleep once he gets there, and a teenager who has to be prised out of bed with a crowbar every morning.   Your child's sleep patterns can be one of the most soul-destroying parts of parenthood.

I was sleep-deprived for about six years after I had my son.  He came out of the labour ward with his eyes open, and from that moment on he needed less sleep than I did (and complained vigorously and ear-splittingly the moment I tried to put him to bed to snatch a moment's rest myself). So as you prop your eyelids up with matchsticks to read this column, rest assured that I Feel Your Pain.

How did I cope with a child who didn't need to sleep much? (Yes, I'm still here, and some even think I'm still relatively sane.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Food failings and fussy eaters

Do you worry constantly about your weight? Do you automatically label some foods as 'bad' or 'good'? Do you reward yourself with food and then punish yourself by dieting? Do you eat when you're not hungry, just because it's mealtime? Do you overeat and then diet? Do you eat junk food and takeaways most of the time? Does this sound like an ad for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig? 
Companies like that succeed because many, many women (and increasing numbers of men) answer yes to most of those questions without hesitation. 
What does that have to do with childcare?  Sadly, we also manage (albeit unconsciously) to teach our children these destructive behaviours- we pass on our attitudes to food as surely as we pass on our moral standards, political leanings and prejudices, by modelling them to our kids.  And childcare workers are just as guilty of this as mothers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Your baby: milestones, physical development and choosing day care

One of my friends is running a physiotherapy blog which has some very useful information posted for parents of babies and young children (there is a special paediatric section).  You can also ask Roberta your own specific questions about physical issues.

The blog is at

Roberta's physio blog

I was interested to note that Roberta supports my statement about young girls wearing high heels- it's a bad idea, not only due to the age-inappropriateness of sexualised clothing but also in terms of physical development- see shoes for children

Teaching resilience: how to get your kid back on the bike

'Lilian' took her 7-year-old daughter 'Marni' bike riding in the park the other day. Marni was ripping around having a great time when she tried to turn sharply in the middle of a puddle and came to grief, splattering herself on the ground and scraping off a fair bit of skin. Tears and fears! Marni was very reluctant to get back on that bike, saying she thought they'd better walk home.

Some parents would tell the child not to be a sissy, get up, stop crying and get back on the bike- which might appear to work in the short term, but could hardly be considered respectful parenting.

Other parents would be terribly upset, reproach themselves for letting such a small child do something so dangerous, over-comfort their baby and wrap her up in cotton wool, then take her to the doctor to check for broken bones (providing special treats on the way, probably in the form of junk food) while deciding to lock the bike away till she's older. (Don't laugh. I know parents like this.)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Smacking: let's stop pretending!

If you read current child-rearing literature and listen to the experts, you'll know that good parents don't smack their kids. Yet if you talk for long enough to almost any parent, you'll know that theory and practice are WORLDS apart on this issue. Nearly every parent has lost their cool at some stage and smacked their child. I did; my mother did. You probably have too.  Plenty of mums and dads still use it as a regular disciplinary device- they're just not talking about it.

To have a rational public discussion about smacking which considers any positives as well as the negatives is considered taboo- smacking is politically incorrect, and that's that. This has created a quiet subculture which really, really worries me. If we're still doing it, we need to bring it out in the open. So let's have that discussion right now; it's about time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to stop kids whining

Is there anything at all a parent can do to stop a child whining?

I have to admit that it's one of my pet hates, and one of the characteristics that I find hardest to deal with as a teacher and carer, because it's almost impossible to use my own strategy when I'm responsible for a large group in a classroom. Thank heavens my own child didn't have this problem! I might have gone completely mad.

There are certainly a few things we can do in the long term to discourage children from whining when they don't get what they want.

Respectful parenting- how to say NO

I always cringe when I hear a parent proudly proclaim that they are 'friends' with their child. I wonder what they think this means. You are not one of your child's peers; you probably don't share their interests, or at least not at the same level; you are almost certainly not stimulated intellectually or emotionally by the same things. To strive to be your child's friend is fraught with danger.
The truth is that children really don't WANT you to be a friend in that way. Your child needs you to be a parent, even when they might be screaming to the rafters that they hate you for some boundary you've set. Children without boundaries are scared children, and one of those boundaries needs to be around you; teenage children whose parents are intent on being their 'buddy' will learn how to manipulate that relationship very quickly, and will resent you trampling on their territory to boot.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You're NOT leaving the house wearing THAT!

A few weeks ago my daughter-in-law set me a challenge to write a column explaining how to tell a friend that the Justin Bieber hairdo was, um, A MISTAKE. It was obviously topical for her, and given that parents have started rows over their teenage children's appearance since time immemorial, the art of criticising a young person's appearance in a constructive way could probably bear a little attention.

My answer to her would be leave him alone; he'll work it out when he discovers that he has a swarm of 10-year-old girls around him while the ladies of his own generation giggle in the background. It's a good strategy for parents, too, if it's really not a life-threatening or career-killing problem. But there are some things you can do to help prevent your kids making bad appearance choices in the first place.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is my little boy gay? He likes girls' toys!

It's a common misconception that boys who like to dress up in girls' clothes, play with dolls and do other things which are stereotypical 'female' activities are necessarily gay. Not so! I was just starting to write a kids' story about this very issue, and someone's saved me the trouble...  one of my friends just shared this link on Facebook:


Seeing I don't need to write that story, I'll spend the time sharing a few anecdotes to get your thoughts going about what little boys actually get out of playing with girls' toys.