Thursday, 24 February 2011

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

As my little girl is rapidly growing older, I thought it was time to start thinking about how to deal with behaviour. I'm convinced that I want to avoid rewards or punishments, but this is virgin territory for me. How do you confront challenging behaviour without either carrot or stick?
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was a title that I'd heard recommended in a number of blogs and forums, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm so glad I did!

It's a very easy read, and even comes complete with cartoons to illustrate the key points! It reads like a manual and is very firmly grounded in the practical application of the tools it offers. In fact, the authors even set assignments and exercises to complete, and exhort you to actually write your responses. Their background is in parenting workshops, and reading this book made me feel I had attended one. I particularly appreciated the numerous references to when parents, and even the authors themselves, get it wrong and how it is possible to put right your inevitable slip ups. This is a book written for fallible human beings and unique, complex relationships, not for textbook, theoretical families.

The authors clearly regard children in a positive light. It's a far cry from the conventional attitude that children are basically bad and need cajoling to become socially acceptable. Instead, the approach is unremittingly respectful and relies on developing good relationships within a family where all members can speak freely and solve problems together.

A revelation for me was that it is acceptable, even essential, that we show our true emotions to our children. I have somehow always felt that certain feelings, especially anger, should be hidden, and the goal of a good parent should be to maintain a calm appearance. I realise now how dangerous this could be. You run the risk firstly of overreacting when all those suppressed feelings finally explode out of you, or perhaps worse, you pass on the message to your child that strong emotions are unacceptable and must be hidden away. The book provides practical ways in which we can acknowledge our anger, and model good ways to deal with it.

A comment at the end of the book really struck me. The authors identify learning their skills with learning a new language "To learn a new language is not easy. For one thing, you will always speak with an accent. . . . But for your children, it will be their native tongue!" (p271) Making the effort to sidestep the generally accepted methods of raising children has an impact not only on our relationship with them, but also on their relationships with others. We are providing them with the tools to communicate effectively. I can think of few better gifts I could give my daughter than that.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sourdough loaf: The first attempt

Just over a week after starting my sourdough starter, it was finally ready to use. Full of bubbles, and smelling sweet and quite winey, I couldn't wait to start.

I made a sponge using some of the starter, flour and warm water, then left it in the airing cupboard. By the end of the day, it was bubbly and ready to use.

More flour and some oil got added to the sponge to make the dough. I enjoyed the rhythmic, repetitive task of kneading, although if pushed for time in future, I may use the dough blades on my mixer.

The dough then rose in the airing cupboard overnight.

I knocked back the dough, and put it into my makeshift breadbasket to rise a second time before putting it in a hot, steamy oven.

And here's the result!

I'm going to fiddle about with how to form the dough, as this was a little flat and wide, and I'm looking to find ways to make it less dense. A brief look on-line has shown me just how much of an art this is, one that takes years to perfect. Having said that, I'm delighted with the first attempt, and the taste is fantastic. I'm definitely hooked!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

The past few days haven't been plain sailing for me and Alice. She's endlessly teething, and getting frustrated if I don't understand her attempts to speak. Little things are of cataclysmic importance to her. Heaven forbid I cut a piece of food for her that she wanted whole, or put the left shoe on before the right. She's less tolerant of other children than usual, and if someone so much as brushes past her, she collapses in tears. She seems perpetually frustrated and angry.

Me? I'm fine. Honestly.

I thought I was fine until I went upstairs to the bathroom, and caught sight of myself in the mirror. Reflected back at me was a frowning face with a deep furrow between the eyes, and a turned down mouth. I honestly looked like a villain from a Disney film. Quickly, I made the effort (and it was an effort) to relax the muscles in my face. I took some deep, slow breaths and closed my eyes before heading back downstairs to my already wailing child. Almost as soon as she saw me, I noticed a change in her behaviour. Her tight little muscles began relaxing and her movements became less jerky. It was obvious that my display of physical ease and contentment was affecting her own feelings.

Now I'm not going to pretend that all has been plain sailing since. She has her own feelings regardless of mine, but my efforts to control how I displayed myself to her seemed to break the cycle of stress. Imagine you had to spend all day with a person who looked pained and even resentful. Even the most buoyant of characters would find it hard to stay happy under those circumstances. Being more aware of my body language and facial expressions not only makes me feel more relaxed and positive, but it has a similar effect on Alice too. It's a significant step towards turning a negative cycle into a positive one.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Something for nothing

Getting something for nothing is great. When that something is a nourishing stock that provides the base for countless tasty dishes, it's even better. After a difficult day, I found making a batch somehow eased my tensions. Everything in it would otherwise have been thrown away. Tops of leeks, a bendy carrot and a few sticks of elderly celery, outer cabbage leaves, a few leaves of lettuce left over from lunch, a slightly soft onion and broccoli 'trunks.' A couple of bay leaves and a few whole peppercorns and Bob's your uncle. You may be tutting at me and thinking that I should have planned my meals better to use up every veggy available, but I defy anyone not to forget the odd bit of vegetation at the back of the fridge. Stock is an easy and useful way to make use of every last leaf and root.

If we have any meat on the bone, it will always be turned into stock. I eat meat, but I am always aware that an animal died to provide me with food. I think it is therefore important to make the most of it. It makes financial sense too. I only buy free range meat, and preferably organic too, so it is a hefty portion of our food budget and needs to be appreciated. A rich, dark chicken stock adds lots of flavour to an otherwise uninspiring meal.

Making food for a baby means using little or no added salt, so stock cubes are a no-no. I like to make a big batch of stock and freeze smaller portions ready to defrost when needed. Thrifty, tasty and simple.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Unexpected Opposition

At 17 months old, Alice is still a fairly frequent feeder at home, but in public, she's usually too busy to want to nurse. Oddly enough, when she does want to feed, I find myself heading to more secluded places. Not because I'm embarrassed to NIP, (quite the opposite!) but because she needs to have peace and quiet to feed well, and perhaps help her to nap. On a couple of recent occasions I have taken her to a baby feeding room in our local shopping centre.

I have been fortunate to have never experienced negative comments when feeding Alice in public before, so it came as a surprise to receive my very first from fellow breastfeeders. On two occasions, as I have latched Alice on, I have looked up to see a woman nursing her own baby with a horrified expression, and have been asked "How old is she?!" with an incredulous tone. One lady told me that her husband had said she needed to stop feeding her two month old soon otherwise he'd get too attached. She said she wanted to feed until three months "but no longer, or I'll end up with a nightmare like you!" Another woman asked me "shouldn't she be eating solid food instead by now?"

These comments bothered me far more than they would have done coming from other people. I wondered why they were judging me in a way that others hadn't. I think in part it is because of their own insecurities about nursing babies. I've been fortunate in that I have been well supported by family and friends. I attend a La Leche League group, and know my stuff when it comes to the benefits of breastmilk. Many women are not so fortunate. They feed in the knowledge that 'breast is best' or because they have a deep biological desire to nourish their child, but negative comments can get you down. Seeing a woman still happily breastfeeding well past the 1 month, 3 month or 6 month target they've set themselves must be threatening. When we're threatened, we often attack. I think that the disapproval they showed me was as a result of that they they had received.

Although my experiences were a little disheartening, and I must admit they made me a little more self conscious about pulling my top down to feed, I have been spurred on to continue NIP wherever Alice wants to, and to make sure I answer negativity with positivity and confidence. Hopefully, it won't be too long before nursing an older baby, toddler or child becomes a more common and accepted sight.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Carry On Carrying

Not too long ago, I wrote a post explaining how I had started to use a pushchair as Alice was getting too heavy to be carried. Reading it back, I can tell how much this upset me, but thought this was the way it had to be. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to meet Angela a couple of months ago who gave me hope that maybe my babywearing days were not quite over. She has a business making and selling a variety of beautiful slings, and still wears her 4 year old if the occasion demands it. I was inspired. I persevered with the BabyHawk, but it was too short for my lanky toddler. Angela let me try out one of her toddler mei tais, and the difference was astounding. I had no hesitation in asking her to make me my own. An unexpected bonus is that now Alice associates the sleep hood with sleeping, so even if she's awake, she'll rest her head on my back and close her eyes when I pull it up. I can carry her for at least and hour and a half before I need a break.

My brief hiatus in babywearing has made me appreciate the benefits even more. These are the key advantages I've noticed:

Improved social interaction - Not only do I find I talk and sing more directly to Alice when I'm carrying her, she's also more involved in the daily interactions I have with others. She's on a level where she can hear the speech and closely observe the facial expressions of people we meet.

Better bonding - I don't think I am alone in finding the toddler stage difficult at times. Wearing Alice gives us physical closeness that somehow translates to feeling emotionally close again. However angry I have become, I find it melts away after a little time of carrying her.

Calming for the child - My strong willed little girl has some big emotions to deal with, and like many toddlers, she sometimes finds them frightening. Securely held against my body enables her to feel safe and allows her to relax again.

Confidence building - Carrying a toddler shows them how important they are to you. You are making it clear that you want to be close to them, and this must inevitably have a positive impact on the way they view themselves.

Convenience - As Alice increasingly wants to walk, I can pop the carrier in my bag and get it out again when she's tired. I am no longer barred from shops with heavy doors and steps, or narrow aisles, I can head up escalators rather than searching out the lift, and I can pick my way through woods, beaches and fields with no problems!

Those are my reasons I'm so glad to be babywearing again. Let me know if you think of anything I've missed!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Our Daily Bread

Here's a little game for you. What's this?

Not particularly beautiful is it? Well, it is to me. It's the start of something I've been meaning to do for a while, and I'm very excited about it.

It's my first attempt at a sourdough starter so that I can bake my own bread. For the uninitiated, the idea is that you mix flour and water, and cross your fingers in hope that airborne yeasts will ferment the mixture. From these humble beginnings, you can keep taking portions of the starter to make your bread. You then 'feed' the starter daily with flour and water, and keep it in a warm place.

I've no idea if this first attempt will work, but I have a good feeling. As I whisked the mixture into a thick consistency, I imagines all the loaves that it would one day help to form. All the sandwiches, bread and butter puddings, golden breadcrumbs and crunchy slices of toast. Despite the rather unappealing look of the starter, my mouth was already watering.

Only time will tell if it will ferment as it should. It's currently nestled in the airing cupboard, surrounded by towels and bedlinen, looking a little out of place. Hopefully, this will be the perfect place to encourage those yeasts to perform their magic.

If I get this right, I'm hoping that good quality, slow risen bread will be on the menu every day in our house.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Apple printing

It's my Grandmother's birthday this week, and I decided it would be nice to send her a picture painted by Alice. I thought we'd have a go at potato prints, but we ate our last potato yesterday (we aren't as impoverished as that sounds, our veg box is due to arrive tomorrow!). I raided the fruit bowl and found a rather sad looking apple that was going to become a crumble. Looks like it had a higher purpose!

Here are my top tips for potato (or apple!) printing with a toddler.

Get prepared Use a wipe clean floor or a large shower curtain taped to the carpet, and have a damp cloth close at hand. Make sure you and your little artist are wearing clothes that can get a little painty.

Make the printing blocks the right size They need to be be chunky enough to make a good clear print, but not too big for little hands to hold. About 7cm across is probably a good guide.

Keep the paper still Stick the paper to the floor with tape. I'd suggest using a few sheets of paper or one big one, as toddlers like lots of room to work with.

Model how to do it After some initial goes of smearing the apple around the page, I showed Alice how to bash the apple down and pull it straight up. She enjoyed hearing the sound it made, and we got some quite effective prints.

Use a range of colours It looks lovely to have more than one colour per print. You could also try adding a little glitter.

Relax! As with all art with small children (or anyone really) don't worry if it doesn't fit your idea of a good picture. If they are happier smearing paint around rather than making clear prints, let them. It's all about them enjoying themselves and experimenting. This is their picture. Have your own piece if you want to get creative, but allow them to find their own way.

Monday, 7 February 2011


I've had a difficult few days lately. Poor Alice is going through the mill. She's seems to be constantly tired, but fighting sleep and her favourite word is NO! which tends to be shouted in my face. We just don't seem to be getting on well.

I got to the end of the day yesterday after finally getting her to sleep at nearly 10pm, and the thought popped into my mind

I wish this whole day had never happened

Almost immediately, I realised how foolish and ungrateful this was. If in ten years time, or even five years, I was given the opportunity to live that day again, I am certain I would jump at the chance. It was a day that my daughter was 17 months old, I was able to cuddle and kiss her, to wipe her face after a meal and hold her hand as she tentatively walked downstairs. It was a day that I breastfed her and dressed her, gave her a bath and stroked her hair.

I will never have the chance to live that day again, and I should be grateful for it. It's been a comfort to me, and has given me perspective when all I want to do is run and hide.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Attention Span

When I was training to be a teacher, I was told to always remember how short children's attention spans are. A good rule of thumb, so the experts said, was to assume a child could concentrate for the same number of minutes as they were years old. To expect a five year old to concentrate on one task for longer than 5 minutes was asking for trouble.

I have been wondering lately if these minuscule attention spans are something we develop in our children rather than something that is innate. Have you ever watched a tiny child left to their own devices? One action can be repeated over and over. Sometimes they are delighted by it, sometimes frustrated, but it holds their attention and for much longer than the minute or two I was told we could reasonably expect from a child of their age.

As adults, this is sometimes hard to bear. The value of a task as insignificant as putting pebbles in a jar or making finger trails through sand is hard to appreciate. We might smile at the action for a few minutes, but it soon becomes tedious. We've got appointments to keep, rooms to tidy, 101 more useful tasks to be doing. Even if we do continue to play, we all too often feel the need to alter the game, maybe introducing other elements to keep our interest. It isn't the child's attention span that is lacking - its ours!

I imagine it doesn't take long for the child to realise that flitting from one task to the next is standard. What a shock it must be when they are suddenly expected to concentrate for a length of time on a task that doesn't interest them.

Being able to apply focussed attention is an important ability. It is through this that learning naturally develops. It should be our aim to foster this natural skill in our children and allow them time to explore their world in their own time.