A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: April 2012

All this year, Birdy has been asking me if she can learn the violin. I hate saying ‘no’ to this, because I remember how passionately I wanted to play the guitar when I was 5. For about a year I begged my parents for a guitar and I will always remember the sheer joy of waking up on my fifth birthday and finding a guitar on my seat at the breakfast table. It’s still one of the happiest memories of my childhood. Unfortunately my fingers were too small to start lessons and by the time they had grown, the one and only guitar teacher had left town. It would be another ten years before that guitar saw any real action, but I kept the love alive for all that time. So when Birdy asks me if she can play the violin, the sentimental side of me wants to say yes, but the rational side of me knows I can’t afford to pay for music lessons while I’m not working.

I have to confess there’s another reason I’m not willing to let Birdy start the violin just yet and that is because I know it’s going to be painful. This was vividly brought home to me when I heard her school band absolutely slaughtering Abide with Me on Anzac Day. We almost need to have another special day to commemorate the pain and suffering that was inflicted at the Anzac service, it was SO bad. I know that if Birdy starts learning an instrument like the violin, the first few years are going to be ugly. Personally, I’d rather defer that pain until a time in my life when I’ve had more sleep.

One of the most common questions that parents ask music teachers is what age should children begin music lessons and what instrument should they start on. One of my friends runs a music teaching business and she once told me that it’s helpful if children can read and know their alphabet before you’re trying to teach them to read music (unless you’re doing the Suzuki method). But in general anywhere between 6 and 10 seems to be a good age to start. (Unless you want your child to be a concert musician, in which case it’s probably too late.) Personally I’m a fan of learning the piano first because it’s less painful to listen to – you can’t play it out of tune – but also it’s so much easier to understand because you can see visually exactly where every note is in relation to every other one.

Amanda Niland is a Lecturer at the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University and Commissioner of the Early Childhood Music Education Research Commission. She says, “We all learn best when we are intrinsically motivated, that is, when we really want to learn something. So the best time to start instrument lessons is when children show an interest or ask to learn.” But they also need to be committed enough to practice if you want them to learn an instrument. Can you see your 4 or 5 year old practicing every day? If not, it might be best to wait a little longer or start a more general early childhood music program.

“Children are naturally attracted to music and respond to it joyfully even as very young babies,” Amanda says. “The earliest communication between mothers and their babies is inherently musical: adults use a singing-like voice to which babies respond with great interest. Adults rock, pat or jiggle their babies rhythmically, which babies find soothing and satisfying. Children are born with musical potential, which is then developed through experiences with music in their daily lives.” There’s no doubt that there are benefits for children in learning and practicing music in formal lessons. There is some evidence that learning music long-term and from an early age can improve children’s IQ. But even without that, there are many benefits: the discipline of practicing, fine motor skills, learning to perform in front of others, creativity, confidence, self-expression and listening skills.

With all this in mind, I decided to take Birdy along to the Australian Girls Choir. It’s cheaper than learning an instrument, but still a step towards more formal music education. If you’ve never heard of the Australian Girls Choir, just go on u-tube and check their version of Thriller from last year. It’s seriously cool. So I was all excited about it, but unfortunately at the end of her trial class Birdy decided she didn’t want to do it. She just wasn’t as excited about it as I was. At first I was gutted, but then I realised that learning to play and appreciate music is just like learning to read or to dance – what you do at home is just as important as what happens in a formal lesson.

Amanda Niland agrees, “In music as in every other aspect of learning and development, children learn most through play. If you would like your children to include active music-making in their lives, then it is essential that their early musical experiences are enjoyable.” So just listening to music, singing nursery rhymes, making your own instruments, playing games with rhythm and clapping, or where you have to guess what song the other person is humming, all these things just as important as paying a lot of money to learn an instrument. I like to think of it as home-schooling music lessons. And with all the money we’re saving, we can afford to splurge on the occasional Play School concert or Babies Proms!

Did you learn an instrument as a child? Did you enjoy it or was it a burden?  Have you started your child learning an instrument?  How have they responded?  What do you think is a good age to start?


I know you said you don’t eat green things, but broccoli is VERY different to zuchini.  They’re not even in the same family.  OK, pear it is then.

Yes, those really are YOUR hands and YOU are actually controlling them.  I’ve been trying to tell you this for five months now, but I get the feeling you still don’t believe me.  Seriously, why would I lie to you about this?  I’m your mother.

When I was a kid, the main rule at dinner was ‘No elbows on the table’.  In my husband’s family it was ‘No guns at the table.’ (He’s from the Back of Bourke).  These days the family meal rule has to be ‘No gadgets at the table’.  Dale Kerrigan summed it up beautifully in the old movie, The Castle when he said, “At dinner time the TV was definitely turned down!”  If there’s any time that is sacred for families it’s meal times.  More and more, research is showing that the family who eats together stays together.

Eating together is still the best way of connecting.  It’s not like you’re always going to have the most amazing conversations, especially if you have small children.  Sometimes they’ll be fighting or you’ll spend half the meal trying to get them to eat one piece of broccoli but like anything, if you persist, your family will get better at it.  And it’s not just about spending quality time together; it’s also social training for your kids.  It’s during family meal times that they learn how to make conversation, how to listen and take an interest in others.  They learn how to fit in by all eating the same meal, even if it’s not their favourite. It’s good to have rules around the dinner table, because dinner table etiquette – like not speaking with your mouth full or not leaving the table until everybody’s finished or offering the last sausage around before you take it yourself – is all about learning to consider others.

Eating meals together also seems to provide all sorts of health and social benefits.  Families that never eat together are more likely to be obese and depressed.  Also, kids who watch TV at meal times eat fewer vegetables and more junk food.  (Even if you don’t have a dining room or a dining table at your place you can sit together and listen to music instead of turning on the TV.)  Eating together particularly has a big impact on the wellbeing of teenagers.  A 2006 study found that children who frequently eat with their families have better results at school, are less depressed and less likely to drink alcohol, smoke, or use marijuana than children who ate with their families less than twice a week (Carson, 2006).  So if you’re out doing activities every night of the week because you want your kids to get ahead, spending some time together around the dinner table may actually be more beneficial for your kids.

So if you’re new at this, here’s a few suggestions for how to make family meals a priority in your home…

1)    Try not to schedule activities more than 2 nights a week, so that most of your family is home at least 5 nights a week.

2)    Never let your kids eat in their bedroom.

3)    Don’t eat in front of the TV.  If your family has a favourite show that you like to watch together, record it and watch it after dinner.

4)    Put on some music that everybody likes so you’re more likely to hang around.

5)    Don’t let kids leave the table or eat dessert before everybody is finished.

6)    Get everyone involved in cleaning up.  I know Collett Smart often says they have their best conversations around the dishwasher; in our family it was always washing up.

7)    If it’s been a long day remember that everybody feels better after they’ve eaten.  Sometimes the best conversations come after dinner. A little treat or a hot chocolate after dinner might encourage the family to stick around and chat.  When I was a kid, sometimes after dinner one of us was allowed to go to the corner store and buy a Mars Bar and we would share it between all 6 of us and really savour each bite.

PS. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s only important for families with kids at home.  If you’re a couple without kids or empty nesters whose kids have moved out, don’t get into the habit of eating in front of the TV, just because the house seems a bit empty. Even if it’s just the two of you, the benefits of eating together are going to pay off!

Does your family eat together most nights?  Or do work commitments or other activities make it impossible to eat as a family?  How do you find time to connect as a family?  What was your experience growing up?

When the second child comes along, it’s quite common for the first child to have a few issues!  A bit of jealousy that Mum’s so wrapped up in the baby, sometimes a bit of attention seeking behaviour.  So far we’ve had an incredibly smooth run.  Birdy has been nothing but adoring of her baby sister, which has been lovely.  But I do remember very early on, when I finished feeding Molly, that Caillie said to me, “C’mon Mum, now you have to look after this kid!”.  So even though she seems quite independent, she still needs to feel like I’m looking after her.

The Fairy Princess Castle

I think the age gap of five years between my children may have made things easier.  It helps that she can look after herself a little, or make a fairy princess castle out of sticky tape and a shoebox while I’m feeding the baby.  It also helps that she can understand her emotions and tell me how she’s feeling.  We haven’t had to deal with crazy attention-seeking tantrums or a fit of jealous rage where she hits the baby over the head with her barbie doll or bites it’s ear off when I’m not looking.   But because we haven’t had any obvious signs of jealousy I’ve probably been a bit slack about making sure Birdy knows she’s still just as special.  And I got a bit of a rude wake up call the other day.

We were just hanging out having a chat when she said, “But Mum you love Molly more than me.”  And I was like, “What did you say?”  “You love Molly more than me.”  I was so shocked I had to drag my mouth up off the baby-food covered floor before I could speak.  So naturally I said, “No I don’t, honey.  I love you both the same.  I just have to spend more time with Molly right now because she’s a baby and babies need lots of looking after.”  Part of the problem could be that I tend to smother Molly with physical affection.  Unlike her father and sister, Molly just loves to be kissed and cuddled, whereas the only way to get a cuddle out of Birdy is through a long absence or dreadful illness.  (I’ve thought about pretending to go to work just so I can get a cuddle when I arrive home!)  I still don’t know whether Birdy genuinely thinks I love Molly more or whether she was just testing me out, but the fact is that I never leave Molly.  Birdy goes off to school and to swimming lessons and to her friends’ houses, so there are lots of times I hang out with just Molly, but not so many times I do things just with Caillie.

Here's what we created during our most recent quality time session last weekend. This is my version of sacrificial love - doing craft!

To rectify that, I try to make sure that during at least one of Molly’s sleeps I do an activity with Birdy. We make something together, or cook something or read a book.  I’ve also staggered their bedtimes, which works really well.  I put Molly to bed at 7 and Birdy at 7.30 or 8 so that we have some time together to read stories together and talk about the day.  It’s worth taking stock of how you do things, working out how you can find time quality time within the routine that you have.  For me, walking home from school is a good way of spending time with Birdy while Molly is taken care of in the pram.  Also one of the biggest challenges for me has been meal times.  We always used to chat over dinner.  But now I’m nearly always busy feeding Molly and getting her in bed when my husband and daughter have dinner.  So I’ve decided to put a comfy chair in the dining room so I can sit with them and feed Molly while they have tea.  Whenever there’s a big change in your family it’s good to reassess how you do things, and a new baby is certainly a big change for everyone, including the older siblings.

How did it work in your home?  Did your older children become jealous or attention-seeking when the new baby arrived?  Does the age gap make a difference?  What did you do to make sure your older children weren’t neglected?


Scroll down for your comprehensive guide to buying nut-free Easter Eggs and chocolate.

Well it’s been four years since Birdy was diagnosed with her peanut allergy and lots has happened along the way.  I remember so clearly the moment her paediatrician told us she was allergic to peanuts.  I was in total denial.  Until the very moment he said it I was still thinking, “She won’t be allergic to peanuts!”  How wrong I was.

Since then, we take Birdy back to RPA Allergy Clinic for regular testing each year.  Last year we had some good news and some bad news.  The good news was that Birdy is no longer allergic to any nuts other than peanuts.  The bad news is that her RAST test showed she is in danger of having an anaphylactic reaction if she is exposed to peanuts.  So we’re now armed with an epipen for her school.  Unfortunately its not a peanut-free school.  I must admit, it makes me feel a little nervous knowing that kids in her class are brining peanut butter sandwiches to school.  I recently had a chat with the class coordinator about letting the other parents know that there is a peanut-allergic child in the class in the hope that some of them may take a little more care about what they pack in their child’s lunchbox.

As well as adjusting to school, there are two other situations I find stressful – Easter egg hunts and Birthday parties.  Fortunately most of our family friends have learnt a lot in the past four years and the parties we attend are generally peanut-free.  I still ask my friends to keep the packets of any food they put out so I can read the ingredients and the allergy warnings before I let Birdy eat anything.  Some of the party foods that catch people out are Honey Joys made from Corn Flakes (All Kelloggs products contain traces of nuts), tomato sauce (Masterfoods tomato sauce contains traces of peanuts but Fountain, Pops, and Heinz don’t) and nearly all chocolate, which contains traces of peanuts.  Kids parties are particularly difficult when the children are small because little hands dive in and out of the bowls and food ends up scattered everywhere.  That was the reason I wrote the picture book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, being published soon by Wombat Books, to help parents and friends of allergic children negotiate parties more safely.  If you have a peanut-allergic child, nephew, niece or grandchild, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of the book when it’s released.  If you are interested in hearing updates about Marty’s Nut-Free Party, and getting a copy when it’s released, be sure to like my facebook page by clicking the widget opposite.

Easter presents its own unique set of problems.  Cadbury strongly dominates the Easter Egg market in Australia and all Cadbury products are labelled with the ubiquitous May Contain Traces of Nuts warning.  It’s a shame they don’t specify which nuts because they may not even contain peanuts, but you can’t take the risk.  Lindt chocolate is generally more helpfully labelled.  They have a number of products that May contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds but not peanuts. These products are now suitable for Birdy.  But in general, if you go through the chocolate aisle at the supermarket, you won’t find much that is suitable for nut-allergy sufferers.  Guylain, Ferrero Rocher, Whitmans Sampler and anything by Nestle all carry nut allergy warnings.

There are however a couple of small rays of light.  Big W stock the Heritage range of nut-free chocolates.  These are by far the safest choice for peanut allergic children.  Be careful though.  Not all Heritage chocolate is nut-free, only those products clearly marked as part of the nut-free range.  Always read the label.  There are also a number of Kinder products that appear to be peanut-free. My daughter has eaten these many times with no reaction, but they are not guaranteed to be nut-free.  Kinder Surprise carries a milk and soy allergy warning.  Kinder Mix contains hazelnuts, milk and soy.  If your child is also dairy-allergic, then your only real option is the Sweet William range.  Some Sweet William products are available in Coles, BiLo, NSW Franklins and IGA.  Darrell Lea are also stocking two Sweet William Easter products that are nut, dairy and gluten free.  They taste OK.  They’re not as tasty as real chocolate but they are a viable alternative. Personally I choose not to shop at Darrell Lea as they are selling peanut-rolled Easter Eggs.  Just looking at them makes me nervous.  In the whole store, they only sell two nut-free products and those products also happen to be dairy-free.  I find this a little tokenistic.  Also, a word of warning to those who have enjoyed the Kinnerton range of novelty products each Easter as we have.  This year my local Big W isn’t carrying any Kinnerton product.  However they are carrying novelty eggs made by Park Avenue.  These include Hot Wheels, Toy Story, Dora the Explorer and Barbie novelty packs.  These products are NOT nut-free.  They carry the warning May Contain Traces of Peanuts, other Tree Nuts and wheat.  I did find two Kinnerton novelty products in Coles, but they weren’t for children.

To make this article a little more comprehensive this year, I’ve decided to rank products according to their risk for peanut and other nut allergy sufferers.  I hope you find this useful.  Please encourage your friends and family to read this article, so they can make their Easter Egg hunts nut-free.  It’s so nice if everyone can be fully included, rather than the allergic child needing their own special chocolate substitute. Also, let’s support companies like Big W, Heritage and Kinnerton for providing a fantastic range of tasty nut-free chocolate.

Your 2012 Guide to Nut-Free Easter Eggs in Australia

These Products are High Risk – DO NOT buy these products for Nut Allergy Sufferers!


Warning Available from
Red Tulip Rabbits in various sizes May contain traces of nuts Widely available
Cadbury 20 Hunting Eggs May contain traces of nuts Widely available
Cadbury Dairy Milk and White Rabbits May contain traces of nuts Widely available
Cadbury Crème Egg May contain traces of nuts Widely available
Lindt Chocolate Selection May contains traces of peanuts and tree nuts Widely available
Lindt Lindor, milk, dark, mint and white May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts Widely available
Lindt bunny with plush ears and egg May contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts*NB Lindt gold bunnies packaged individually only contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds, however Lindt gold bunnies packaged in sets also contain traces of peanuts. Widely available
Lindt Stracciatella May contain traces of hazelnuts, almonds and peanuts Big W
Lindt Bugs and Bees May contain traces of peanuts and other tree nuts. Big W
Guylain Belgian Classic Assortment May contain traces of Nuts Widely available
Whitman’s Sampler Produced on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and wheat Widely available
Hot Wheels, Toy Story, Dora the Explorer and Barbie novelty packs made by Park Avenue May contain traces of Peanuts, other nuts and wheat Big W
Any Darrell Lea produced chocolate May contain traces of peanuts and other nuts.  High risk as they are selling a giant peanut-rolled Easter Egg. Darrell Lea
Coles chocolate Easter bunny May Be Present: Peanuts and Tree Nuts Coles
Heritage Bunny Manufactured on shared equipment that handles peanuts and other nuts. Coles

Moderate Risk Products – They May be Suitable for those with mild allergy or those who are allergic to peanuts only and can tolerate other nuts.

Product Warning Available from
Ferrero Rocher Contains hazelnuts Widely available
Lindt Gold Bunnies Sold Individually, milk, dark and white chocolate May contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds Widely available
Lindt chocolate blocks  May contain traces of hazelnuts and almonds  Widely available
Kinder Mix Contains hazelnuts, milk and soy Widely available
Kinder Bueno Contains hazelnuts, milk and soy Widely available

Low Risk/Safe Products – suitable for severe peanut and other nut allergy sufferers

Product Warning Available from
Heritage Nut-Free 12 milk chocolate easter eggs Nut-free, contains dairy Big W
Heritage Nut-Free Bunny 180g Nut-free Big W
Heritage Nut-Free Bunny 60g Nut-free Big W
Heritage Nut-Free milk chocolate solid easter eggs 180g Nut-free Big W
Heritage Nut-Free Mixed Bag 240g Nut-free Big W, Coles
Heritage Nut-Free Premium Milk Chocolate Nut-free Big W
Sweet William Rice Crackle Easter Bunny 75 g Nut, dairy, lactose and gluten free Darrell Lea, Coles, BiLo, IGA, David Jones, health food stores and many NSW Franklins
Sweet William Easter Bunnies 12 Multipack, 155g Nut, dairy, lactose and gluten free Darrell Lea, Coles, BiLo, IGA, David Jones, health food stores and many NSW Franklins
Kinnerton The Simpsons large ceramic mug with milk chocolate egg and bar, 92g and Top Gear milk chocolate easter egg with a ceramic mug, 92 g Made with the Kinnerton Nut Safety Promise.  Contains cow’s milk, soy.  May contain traces of egg. Coles
Kinnerton milk chocolate easter egg, 50g Bananas in Pyjamas, The Simpsons, Hello Kitty, Puppy and Thomas the Tank Engine Made with the Kinnerton Nut Safety Promise.  Contains cow’s milk, soy. Woolworths
Kinder Surprise Contains milk, soyThis product does not make a nut-free promise, but doesn’t contain any traces of nuts. Widely available
Kinder Surprise MaxiAnd Kinder Choc Bunny Surprise, 110g Contains milk, soyThis product does not make a nut-free promise, but doesn’t contain any traces of nuts. ColesWoolworths


This list has been compiled by me personally visiting stores and checking all the ingredients myself as I have not found store websites to accurately reflect the stock that is carried.  I’ll gradually add to it as I can.  If you know of other products, please leave a comment below.  Also if you find this information helpful, let me know and I’ll make the effort to do it again next year.  I get an awful lot of hits to my blog from people google-searching ‘nut-free Easter eggs’ so I know there are people looking for this information.

Also don’t forget to like my facebook page so you can hear all about Marty’s Nut-Free Party and how you can get a copy when it is released.  And if you’re new at being a parent to a child with food allergies, can I just say, hang in there.  It’s overwhelming at first, but it does get easier, especially if you can get your family and friends to take it seriously!  Oh and finally, be prepared to stick up for your kid, they deserve better than to be treated as a hypochondriac or a weirdo.

Happy (nut-free) Easter, with lots of love from my family to yours!

Katrina x

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