Wednesday, 25 January 2012

First food choices

One food blog I enjoy is Green Kitchen Stories and back in October of last year they had an insightful post about their approach to providing a healthy diet for their one and a half-year old daughter. They explain that as adults, we make the decisions on what our children eat for the first two years of their life and have the responsibility of instilling healthy eating habits.

I can relate to a lot of what they say and exercised similar care with my own son's diet. The description of their daughter could be used to describe my son too -it certainly makes you wonder about a child's behaviour and the impact their diet might have upon it. I'm sure we've all seen the general hyperactivity in toddlers after a slice of birthday cake for example!

A sentence that stood out for me from their post was, "If someone wants to give Elsa an ice cream, it’s not because she wants it, it’s because they want to give it to her". So true! If you don't give your child chocolate and ice-cream, they won't ask for it or want it. You're not depriving them and can still give them yummy but healthier treats. After all, they have plenty of years to indulge in chocolate and ice-cream if they choose when they are older.

After my son turned two, I became more lenient with what he eats and allowed him the odd biscuit / cookie, cake and chocolate but even now he's 3, I still keep a careful eye on his sugar intake and ensure that those  sweet treats are used as a 'treat' and not as a part of his regular daily diet. I avoid giving him any sugary foods before nap time and definitely before bed. If we've been to a birthday party, that can't always be helped!

The same post lists some helpful tips at the end for giving your child a healthy start in life and there's some great advice I think. Two of the tips I would definitely encourage are, 'Be a good role model' and 'Always bring a snack'. A child usually wants to eat what they see their parents eating, so if you eat predominantly healthy food, that definitely helps. Having a healthy snack in your bag for your child means you can always bring something out for them when you're with others who are tucking into something you'd rather your own child doesn't have.

How strict or not were you with your child's diet in their first two years? Do you recognise any effect sugar or other less healthy food has on your child's behaviour / attitude?
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Monday, 23 January 2012

What to worry about

I came across this lovely list of  things to worry about and not worry about, from a letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his 11-year-old daughter in 1933. Seems like great advice for the 21st century too.

Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions

Friday, 20 January 2012

On taming toddlers

Keeping with the parenting theme this week, I read another article I thought was worth sharing. Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting? appeared in the Guardian and discusses the way parenting books focus on getting your child to do things well, or obediently, as journalist Annalisa Barbieri states. She points out the fact that whilst an obedient child is likely to be seen as a good thing, an obedient adult is not something we necessarily want to be, or want our children to be.

According to child psychologist Alison Roy, a child pushing boundaries is a healthy sign of their secure attachment and recognising that 'their voice is valued'. It's also the way they develop their own sense of curiosity in the world around them, so suppressing that for the sake of obedience can have repercussions.

I often get told how well-behaved my 3-year-old son is, by friends, by his teachers at nursery, other mothers and even the odd random stranger. Generally when he is outside of the home, he is pretty compliant and is not the sort of boy who would ever be described as rebellious. At home however, it's often a different story. He loves running around, jumping all over the place, being loud, making a big mess and he's definitely not so compliant! 

I think that's a good thing though. I'm proud of the fact he behaves nicely amongst other people and isn't one of those kids who is screaming and kicking because they want/don't want something. I'm happy for him to assert himself and run riot in the home if he wants, it's probably the best place for it. I do get frustrated sometimes when he doesn't do something I ask him to or if he does something he knows he probably shouldn't but at the same time I recognise it's my responsibility as a parent to pick my battles and not make a meal out of everything.

The teachers at nursery tell me my son is very chatty, always asking questions and making jokes! I think that all sounds very positive and hopefully means we have a healthy balance of good behaviour when needed whilst still allowing him to exercise his independence....

What are your thoughts on the article and in relation to your own children?
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Monday, 16 January 2012

Are you guilty of over-parenting?

You might have read this article at the end of last year from Boston Magazine, called, Welcome to the Age of Overparenting. It talks about the current parenting tendency towards bonding with our children, spending as much time with them as we can, wanting to make them 'happy' and be their 'friend', doling out the positive reinforcement, micromanaging their time, activities etc. Whilst all done with good intention, the end result might not be what we want or expect.

I started reading the article thinking, 'oh I'm not one of those parents'. I mean, I've always thought it a bit strange when parents say they are their child's best friend. In my opinion, friends are people we are drawn to and develop a relationship with out of our own choice. They're not family. You can have a great relationship with your child without needing to be their 'friend'. I think family psychologist Richard Weissbourd makes an excellent point saying that, 'Treating kids as equals doesn’t allow them to idealize their parents and learn to adopt their values.'.

Further through the article however, I recognised that I am definitely guilty of the positive reinforcement thing! Just as Weissbourd says, it comes from a concern of my child's experience with failure. Not that I have ever thought of it that way, it's just an automatic reaction to praise and put a positive spin on everything. Thinking about it, it's like anything else that if you do or say something too much, it loses meaning. Maybe I need to be a bit more conscious of when and how I give praise to ensure it holds significance when it's really needed.....
"While today’s middle- and upper-middle-class children have an unprecedented array of opportunities, their experiences are often manufactured by us......But their experiences aren’t very rich in the messier way — in those moments of unfettered abandon when part of the thrill is the risk of harm, hurt feelings, or struggle.".
Parents are all too ready to make time for organised activities, classes, team sports and such like, but does that leave less time for letting children play and explore by themselves? Are we overly concerned with safety that we don't want to run the risk of letting our own children do some of the things we enjoyed in our own childhood? Is it the convenience of handing over responsibiliy to an instructor / teacher rather than us dealing with the responsibility that comes with allowing children a bit of freedom?

As with everything, it's about getting the balance right. I'm sure many of us like the idea of having children who enjoy exploring and having their own self-led little adventures but in order to allow that part of their childhood to develop, we need to give them the time and opportunity. There's nothing wrong with some structured classes too, where they can learn specific skills and interact with peers.

I'm sure you'll agree that it's an interesting article and provides lots to think about. Is there anything that stands out in particular to you? Do you think you too might be a little guilty of over-parenting sometimes?
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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Following dreams

Not everyone does new year's resolutions but I think there's a natural inclination to think about some things you want to do or change in the year ahead, even if you don't state them out loud to yourself or others. Eating better, exercising more and taking up something are common ones but for a bit more substance to your year ahead, I wanted to share these Top Five Regrets of The Dying.

Not to be too sombre for the start of a new year but there's always something you can learn from others and in this case, people who had the occasion to reflect on a lifetime. Whilst there are no big surprises in the list of five, they each provide food for thought.

Regrets tend to be things we didn't do - we rarely regret doing something, even though that's often what we fear. Should we talk to that person, make that phonecall, start a conversation with a person who catches our eye, ask for a pay rise / promotion......? If we don't do it, we're likely to regret it. If we can make ourselves do it, we're not only unlikely to regret it but it will probably benefit us in more ways that we can imagine.
"I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me"
This first regret in the list (and the most common regret according to the post), resonates most strongly for me. We all have dreams and it's only too easy to dismiss them and tell ourselves we'll do it another time. We get caught up in the everyday and dreams get pushed to the side. Actively following them and trying to achieve something that matters to us takes an effort but one that we'll be glad we made later in life.

Are there any regrets in the list that strike you as being something you'd like to focus more on, something you recognise is an area of your life you need to work on?
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Monday, 9 January 2012

A tip for smoother playdates

A few weeks ago, we were invited to a friend's house one afternoon for a playdate. It was the first playdate with this particular friend and I was asked to bring a small toy or book with us for her son to play with. At the time, I thought this a little strange but of course I obliged. Her son barely played with the toy we took, but that was ok....

The following week, I had invited a different friend over to our home one afternoon with her son and baby girl. They came along and had brought a couple of small toys for my son to play with (I hadn't asked her to). This time, being the host of the playdate, I saw the benefit of this simple gesture.

At age three now, friends are starting to become important to my son (as I think they are meant to around this age). He talks about them a fair bit, he hopes we bump into some friends when we go out and about locally and he likes the idea of having friends over to our house. Sharing toys, which I remember around the 18-month stage was simply not an option, is now something to at least contemplate.

However, I've seen my son be a bit uncomfortable in his own home when certain friends have come around and got stuck in, playing with his toys. He's always excited about having the friends over to play but when they are here and he sees them playing with his toys, it's as if he feels like he can't play with his own toys while they are there. (This doesn't last the entirety of the playdate, I hasten to add).

If the invited friend brings something for him to play with, this changes things for the better. Either he really likes the toy they bring and has a fun time playing with something different or even if he doesn't especially love the toy, it still serves as an initial distraction and is recognised as a kind gesture. He then forgets any anxieties about having someone else playing with his toys and everyone is happy!

You might already follow this playdate etiquette and wonder why it's taken me this long to get up to speed but if you don't, I'd recommend taking a small toy next time you and your toddler are invited to someone else's home. Don't feel shy or silly about asking a friend to bring something for your child too when you are hosting your next playdate.

Do you already do this and have you seen it make for smoother playdates too?
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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

6 fun ways to keep your child active indoors

Happy New Year to you all! Hope your Christmas was enjoyable and that 2012 has started off well.

The new year in London has been pretty cold and wet so far. After a whole day spent indoors today, I was thinking about how my son was getting his fix of physical activity (see here for the UK guidelines for children under 5).

If you have lively little ones at home, you'll probably be finding the winter months more of a challenge for keeping their energy levels sufficiently satisfied, with less time spent outside. Of course you can (and should) wrap up warm and get outside when possible for some fresh air and a brisk walk or run around, but with the cold weather and shorter days, your time outside will nevertheless be limited. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for keeping active indoors:

Dance! Put on some lively music in your living room and have a good dance around with your child. You could also play games like musical bumps, musical chairs or simple 'freezing' on the spot when the music stops to make it more fun.

Balloons. Bounce balloons up in the air and try to keep them from hitting the floor or hit them to and from each other like volleyball.

Paper aeroplanes. Make some simple paper aeroplanes and fly and chase them around the house.

Follow the leader. Take turns leading around the house marching, jumping, skipping with children/parents/siblings/friends following.

Obstacle course. Space permitting, create an indoor obstacle course with cushions to jump over, objects to run around, maybe tables to crawl under....

Running / chasing. Whilst you do need to exercise care running around a home and amongst other family members, running and chasing games can still be enjoyed. Up and down a hallway, stairs, or in and out of every room can make for fun active play. 

Do you have some other ideas to share? How do you keep your children active during the colder, darker months of the year?
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