Tuesday, 30 April 2013

This week: face off with my 4-year old!

When my husband walked in from work last night, I jokingly told him he'd arrived just at point of face off between my son and I. That's kind of how it's been this past week or so with my four-year old, with lots of silly little battles, frustration on both sides and I've found it all quite difficult and draining.

I have to laugh at myself when I read the post I wrote last year On taming toddlers, where I said I was glad to see my son (at the age of three) assert himself at home and that it was the best place for it! Little did I know what I had coming back then!

To give a couple of examples, mealtimes have become difficult, where they never were before, with my son simply taking one look and refusing to eat any of his meal. A lot of my simple requests such as, 'please can you tidy that up', are met with a loud, whingy 'no!' and usually accompanied by as screwed up a face as he can muster, sometimes with a tongue sticking out and sometimes with sound effects. I ask again, nicely and maybe in a slightly different way, but there's no change to the outcome. Sometimes, as last night before bed, we get full-on screaming in protest.

As hard as it is, I resist reacting to my son's response and try to remain calm and pleasant. I try not to raise my voice, if anything, to do the opposite and soften it. I try to smile or keep a neutral expression on my face. I persevere and am almost at the point of breaking when I usually, finally get through to him. It's really not easy and sometimes I feel infuriated on the inside and want to shout at him but I know that won't get me what I want and will probably make matters worse.

I've made an extra effort to do nice things with my son, pay him extra attention, give extra cuddles and kisses in an effort to counterract the animosity in the air but to no avail. I recently read a post on Zen Habits about managing the stresses of children, in which we are encouraged to deal with challenging situations with detatchment:
"We don’t get angry at the wind for blowing, and yet the blowing does affect us. Let the actions of your kid be the wind blowing — you just need to find an appropriate response, rather than being stressed that this phenomenon is happening." 
I like the thinking behind it but boy, is it difficult!

To end on a positive note however, I remind myself to step back and look at the bigger picture. Overall, the challenging behaviour I've found myself faced with more recently is not my son's dominant behaviour. He is most of the time a fun, loving, sweet boy, he's well behaved at nursery and whenever we are out and about. It's easy to get bogged down by the difficult, stressful side to parenting but when we do, it's definitely helpful to think about all the good things too and regain perspective. I find that enables me to better face the challenges and with a lighter, brighter attitude.

What do you do and how do you aim to respond to challenging behaviour with your children? Any of your tips are greatfully received!
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Friday, 26 April 2013

What keeps your family strong?

I was walking along with my two children from a morning outing and picnic in the woods earlier this week to take my son to nursery, when I was stopped by a young American Mormon. He simply said, "Excuse me, what keeps your family strong?". My default reaction when someone stops me on the street is to tell them I can't stop and I'm rushing to get somewhere. This time it was true however, and I politely excused myself and went on my way.

Later that day, I thought back to the young man and his question, what keeps your family strong? What would I even respond if I'd stopped to chat to him? I had to think it about it for a while and by no means is this an exhaustive list, but I came up with a few things that I think are important to my family and in keeping us strong:
  • quality time spent together as a family
  • good communication
  • trust
  • love
  • consistence and continuity in our everyday life.....but also
  • acceptance of change or obstacles that come our way 
  • a generally positive, happy outlook on life
How would you have responded to what keeps your family strong? I'm sure we'll share some of the above, but perhaps you have other things that are important to your family - maybe a close support network from extended family who live near you, maybe your religious beliefs or maybe money and security from your job.... Do share in the comments!
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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

This week: time spent outdoors

I don't mean to be a bore and talk about the weather, in true British style, but after a long miserable winter, I feel very uplifted by our recent, long-awaited arrival of spring. Seeing blue skies, feeling the warmth of the sun and seeing the colourful flowers in bloom makes a big difference to my mood and enjoyment of each day.

As a result, we have been spending lots more time outside. We've done more planting (broad beans and calendula flowers this week), we've eaten lunch outside on a couple of days and my children have been playing happily out in the garden a lot more. They both love the watering can. My son can of course fill it up and water the plants. It makes me smile seeing him look after the things we have planted recently. My daughter copies him, walking around with an empty watering can making sound effects of pouring water, which also makes me smile!

We've played football outside, we've jumped on the trampoline, we've mowed the grass and tidied up, we've just pottered around the garden and we've played firemen role play games (my four year old's current obsession that can be played indoors or outdoors!). Everything feels a bit more relaxed being out in the fresh air, everyone is in good moods and time passes very amiably.

During nap time, I've sat outside with a cup of coffee and my book with only the sound of singing birds and the odd aeroplane flying overhead. I love those moments and even if it's just for five minutes before I go back inside to do some cleaning or cooking or whatever, it's a treasured moment nonetheless. Simple pleasures!

I know I'm far from alone in feeling the benefit of longer, lighter days and brighter weather. I'm sure many of you have also been enjoying the springtime and getting outside more. What have you been doing outdoors lately? What are some of you and your children's favourite things to do outside?
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Friday, 19 April 2013

Our first foray into gardening: tomatoes!

Since moving to a house with a garden, I've been keen to spend some time outside and engaging my children in simple garden activities. This is our first spring here and we've watched our daffodils bloom (bulbs we planted earlier this year) and I was wondering what we could plant next. Coincidentally I was recently contacted to see if I'd like to grow our own tomatoes with Heinz Tomato Ketchup as part of their first ever gardening scheme and so I jumped at the opportunity.
We received our gardening goodies from Heinz, pictured above. My son was especially delighted with the wheelbarrow! We were also sent two packets of tomato seeds, the San Marzano variety, a red pot in which to plant some, a wooden crate and one bottle of tomato ketchup.
As this week is National Gardening Week, it seemed fitting to get started on our tomato growing project. We got some compost and my four-year old son started filling up the pots. Carefully following the instructions, we ensured the compost was nice and damp.
Next, my son took great care in placing the seeds onto the compost, spacing them out and then covering with a layer of dry compost. We then gently watered them, placed the pots in plastic bags to retain moisture and they are currently sitting in a sunny spot indoors.

We check them each day, give them some water when needed and are excitedly awaiting the sight of green shoots. I'm not particularly green-fingered myself so I'm a little nervous, but nothing ventured, nothing gained!  Here's hoping I will have some progress to report in due course.

Have you done any planting/gardening with your children? I'd love to hear about anything you have grown or even attempted to grow!
Disclosure: We were sent a crate containing the items described above, if we blog our progress Heinz will send us a hamper full of Heinz goodies as a reward.  Get involved too and head over to the Heinz Tomato Ketchup UK Facebook page offering free tomato seeds, tomato trivia and a fun game for all the family to enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The comforts of coming home

We just got back from a few days holiday in the south of France. We enjoyed walks along the sea front with the warmth of the sun on our backs, playing on the rocky beach (a big hit with both a one year-old and a four-year old) and plenty of fun but also relaxing family time together. It's always a bit of a disappointment when a holiday comes to an end but there's also some comfort in returning to home and the familiarity you've been away from for a few days.

I particularly love being back in my own bed for a good night's sleep after an inevitably tiring travel day. I'm also happy to be back to home-cooked, healthy meals after the indulgence that often comes with a holiday. My son was excited to be reunited with his favourite toys and has renewed interest in them after some time apart.

This morning we resumed our regular routine, my husband was back to work and my son back to nursery. I took a certain satisfaction in returning to 'normality', ready to get up out of bed and start the day, enjoying my coffee and bowl of cereal for breakfast, getting the holiday washing done and restoring order after the unpacking was dealt with.

A large part of the pleasure of a holiday is the break from the daily grind and routine. With that break and distance, we return to our day-to-day life with a more refreshed outlook, greater appreciation for the regular things we often take for granted and renewed vigour for tackling what we all too often perceive to be the monotony of everyday life.

What do you look forward to when you return home from a holiday? Can you relate to my enjoyment of being back to the day-to day stuff or do you find yourself pining for the lazy days from your holiday?
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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Lost for words

Evelyn and I met at university and became the best of friends. We travelled lots together, we shared our aspirations for the future and helped each other through the ups and downs life brought us. She was the photographer at my wedding and was maybe the only person present at both our children's christenings. She has a fabulous fiancé (they'd love to be married but chose paying for a house over paying for a wedding) and after many years together, they decided they'd like to start for a family.

Long story short, they sadly aren't able to conceive naturally and Evelyn is devastated, as you'd expect. Just last week, her fiancé had an operation to see if the IVF route might be a possibility. They are currently awaiting the results but despite the 51% chance of success, she is not optimistic and certainly, she needs to be prepared to meet either eventuality.

Of course, I can not even begin to imagine what she is going through and I really don't know what to say to her when we speak these days. It's a horribly sad situation, someone so desperate to have a baby, someone who would make such a loving parent and yet is thwarted at every turn. All she sees is pregnant people around her on the way to and from work, or friends of hers who have recently become pregnant or those like me who already have children.  Why not her?

They'll get the results from the recent operation in the next few days. We're away on holiday from tomorrow so I will probably hear the outcome when we get back. In the event the operation was a success, the IVF route is no guarantee of a baby and can be a long, difficult journey. If it's not a success, that's it for them. There will never be a baby. She's already been crying for days at the thought of it, how will she cope if that's the news they hear?

I want to be a good friend for her, a shoulder to cry on and able to console her but in reality, I'm lost for words. I'd always assumed she'd have children one day and we'd swap parenting notes and laugh about the funny bits of motherhood together.

Do you know anyone who has been in a similar situation to Evelyn? Or maybe you've had a different situation with a friend where you've been lost for words? Any advice or suggestions most welcome!
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Monday, 8 April 2013

This week: back to bread and sugar

Those of you who follow my blog regularly might remember I had decided to give up refined sugar and bread for Lent this year. My online food diary was a big help in motivating me to think of different ideas for lunches in particular and I had fun experimenting with some sugar-free baking. Interestingly, I found the bread more of a challenge to avoid than refined sugar. I generally steer completely clear of processed foods, which often contain sugar. It was only on one occasion when I checked the ingredient list for some cheese crackers I like, that I was surprised to see they contained sugar and therefore didn't buy any.

If you're wondering what happened once Lent ended, the simple answer is I consumed both bread and refined sugar almost immediately! However, I have made a couple of decisions based on the experience of giving them both up for a few weeks that will influence my eating patterns going forward.

I realised I enjoyed my non-sandwich / non-bready lunches a lot more than my simple sandwiches I often ate in the past. Generally, during the week I will continue to avoid bread for lunch and will eat the substantial salads, soups and such like that I got used to recently instead. It means I eat more healthily and increase my intake of fresh vegetables.

With the refined sugar, we all know it's not good for us and so if I'm going to have some, I'd rather it be in something worthwhile for an occasional treat, like a cake I really enjoy or a couple of squares of chocolate and not in something where it's essentially a redundant ingredient. So, I won't be buying or eating the aforementioned cheese crackers any more (I've even found an alternative with no nasty ingredients) and I won't bother with breakfast cereal that contains sugar (we only ever buy one type of cereal that has a very little sugar in it, never buy any of the obviously sugary cereals). I also like to think I will try to give it up entirely again for the odd month here and there, to resist the addictive qualities it has on us.

Some of you might be curious as to whether I noticed any differences in myself after omitting these two things from my diet. I didn't really. I've been ever so slightly happier with the state of my tummy recently but hard to know if that's related to the small dietary changes or a result of more regular exercise. Not having bread, did make me feel less full a lot of the time and so I recognised that I ate more fat (cheese, crackers etc) which probably wasn't a good thing but there was no change in my weight and I was eating a lot healthier for my lunches than previously so perhaps everything balanced out...

In conclusion, I am back to bread and sugar in my diet but with a difference. I'm glad I gave both up for Lent as it's given me a new perspective on my own eating habits that I otherwise wouldn't have had.

Did any of you give a particular food for Lent or have you made any dietary changes for other reasons? Was it very difficult or easier than you anticipated? I know a couple of my readers have made some dietary changes recently (you know who you are!) and I'd be very interested to hear any of your observations so far.
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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Why we should all get out of our comfort zone

A few years ago I wrote a post about why it makes sense to introduce some small life changes or tackle projects that have been neglected in the spring time. It's a lot easier to motivate ourselves at this time of year when the weather is brighter and the days are longer, as opposed to the middle of winter when our new year commences. Consequently, I'm going to suggest in this post that we all take the opportunity to get out of our comfort zone!

Entering that area where we feel challenged, a little unsure, maybe even a little scared, a sense of unfamiliarity as we explore new ground is definitely good for us. It's by pushing ourselves out of our everyday ease and regularity that we can stretch our mind, body and spirit and in doing so gain new experiences, new knowledge and some excitement we perhaps didn't recognise we needed in our life.

Coincidentally, I was recently reading a Guardian article also talking about comfort zones. It gives a nice approach to how we might start to embark on some things that will take out of us our comfort zone, suggesting we draw and write out in various circles, activities we are comfortable doing, those that require some extra effort and those that we aspire to do but put off. As the article rightly states, "the idea is to expand in small steps". That's the crucial thing in my opinion.

If we are over ambitious in setting out to achieve something, the truth is, we're more likely to fail at it. If on the other hand, we start very small, we immediately make the end goal more in our reach. A small challenge is doable and encourages us to keep at it and then to move on to the next step. Once we take that first step out of our comfort zone, we often relish it and wonder why we didn't do it sooner.

I'll be honest, I could definitely be doing more to get out of my comfort zone and tend to do it in fits and starts. When we moved house at the end of last summer, I did a few things that were out of my comfort zone that I knew would be of benefit to me in the longer term. Little things like starting conversations with random mothers in the playground to try to make new friends or just to make myself feel less alone. I signed up to be one of the class reps at school because again, I thought it would be a good way to get to know the other mothers and make friends. I invited our new neighbour over as soon as we were somewhat presentable in our new home.

The funny thing is, although these examples are all of me slightly outside my comfort zone, I enjoy doing them and the path along which they take me. That's what's so great about getting out of our comfort zones, we think it's going to be a bit difficult, too much effort or whatever, but once we do it, we recognise the benefit almost straightaway and it's a good feeling.

What could you do to take yourself out of your comfort zone? Maybe you've been doing something already and can appreciate the benefit?
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