A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Birdy learning to swim

Well the Olympics are here – what better opportunity to get your kids interested in sport.

The great thing about the Olympics is that it only comes around every four years so the kids never get sick of it! 

Even if your child is ten or twelve they’ve probably only seen two other Olympics.  And if you have little kids like me, then it’s all totally brand new.

So why not go the whole hog, get into the spirit and have your own little backyard Olympics at home?  Or give your kids a chance to try a sport they’ve never attempted before.  Take the kids iceskating.  Set up an obstacle course in the backyard.  Do some rhythm gymnastics on the trampoline.  The Olympics is a great opportunity to get active.

The irony is that it’s all too easy to spend the entire ten days in front of the television, rather than actually being active.

We haven’t started any organised sport in our family (other than the obligatory swimming lessons that every Aussie kid does from the age of about two) but Birdy has just started doing sport for the first time at school and she’s loving it!  In kindy they just do very simple bat and ball games, but she’s really enjoying it.  So recently I’ve taken out my old cricket bat or hockey stick and proceeded to put holes in the lawn with her.  Each time we’ve done it, it’s been really fun and my daughter has been quite amazed to see that Mummy can actually hit the ball.  Unfortunately most five year olds can’t just pick up a bat and hit it for six on the first try! It takes practice and it can be a bit hard for them to grasp that concept when they’re little.

 Like most parents, I hope all my children will get involved in some form of sport. It’s great for kids to be active and playing sport is a healthy, sociable way of having fun.

But it’s not just the physical activity that kids benefit from. 

There’s learning to work as a team, the discipline of training, learning to lose graciously, the confidence they gain from learning a new skill and the feeling of belonging that you get from being part of a team.

I think for girls particularly, sport can help with body image issues, because they learn to respect their body for what it can do, rather than regarding it as an object to be looked at.  But playing sport can also give children another way of finding their place among their peers.  When I was in Year 6 in primary school, as we were approaching adolescence, the girls all gave up playing at lunchtime.  Suddenly they just wanted to sit around and talk about boys, hairstyles, who had a good figure, who was getting their first bra, or who wasn’t but should be, and I found that incredibly boring.  I wanted to do something.  So I used to go and play soccer with the boys at lunchtime.  Obviously sport can be a way of making new friends, but it can also offer kids a different way of relating to their peer group.

For boys, sport can be a positive outlet for their aggressive instincts, but also a way of putting limits on that aggression.  In sport, if you break the rules there are consequences and those consequences affect the entire team.  So playing a sport can give boys an outlet for their aggression, but also train them to control it.

So how much physical activity are kids supposed to have?

 The Australian Government department of health and ageing recommends that kids have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.

They also specify that children should spend no more than 2 hours per day using electronic media for entertainment, especially during daylight hours.

By the way, that 60 minutes of physical activity doesn’t have to be organised sport.  If your child really isn’t into sport, maybe you just need to start walking to school, or doing nippers or geocaching or highland dancing or skateboarding.  There are lots of different ways to be active.  That’s one thing about the Olympics, there are plenty of activities to choose from if you need some inspiration!

What do you think are some of the benefits of getting kids into sport?  Did you play a sport as a child?  What about your kids?  Would they get the 60 minutes a day of exercise that the Australian government recommends?  Is the family getting into the Olympics and feeling inspired to be more active?

As parents there are lots of things that we may want to teach our children, but one of the greatest gifts or skills we can give to our children is self-control.  For Christians, self-control is listed as one of the fruits of the spirit, along with virtues like patience, kindness, goodness, but it’s probably also the virtue that is the hardest to teach.

How do you teach self-control?  How can you show children what it looks like?

Obviously it helps if parents can model self-control, but I think it is also possible for children to learn this skill even if one or more of their parents may be lacking in it.  My daughter actually taught me a great lesson in self-control.  I said something that was a little negative and she told me off and said, “Mum you don’t say that.  You just keep it inside your head.”  And she went on to explain to me that if you want to say something, but you think it might hurt the other person’s feelings, you just keep that thought inside your head and you don’t say it.”  I thought that was quite a good explanation of self-control from a five year old.  Of course, the next step is learning to think less negatively so you don’t have to internally correct yourself all the time.  (But that’s another whole topic!)

Of course self-control isn’t just about what we say, it’s also a skill that kids need to learn so they don’t throw tantrums, or hit other kids, or so they can overcome their distaste for a task which they may not want to do.   All these things take time to learn.  Even as adults we can’t always get it right.

But at least children have more of an excuse when they lose the plot.  Developmentally, you can’t expect young children to exhibit the same ability to control their emotions and behaviour as adults do.  When we’re born as babies we have zero self-control.  Babies function purely on instinct and it’s only in the toddler years that parents have to start teaching those skills of self-control.  Interestingly, brain research is showing that the neural pathways that children need to control their primal instincts are being forged when they’re very young.  And those connections develop when a distressed child is comforted.  So, when a baby is upset, their carer comforts them and the body produces the right hormones and chemicals to help them calm down.  Then gradually as the child gets older, they learn to soothe themselves.

So if you want your child to be calm and self-controlled, you actually have to calm them down when they’re little, so they learn to do it themselves as they grow older.

The best way to do that is with your physical presence – holding them close, patting them, soothing them and speaking reassuring words.  It sounds so simple, but when a young child looses control, comforting them and helping them get back in control of their emotions will be more effective than just dishing out a punishment.

However if a child is really struggling in this area, there may be other factors to consider. 

In kids that have frequent outbursts of aggression, there may be a medical cause behind it.   But like us, kids are also affected by physical needs that can influence their mood.

–       Are they overtired, cold or hungry?

–       Could their blood sugar be low? That can cause mood swings in some children.  Include some low GI carbohydrates in their diet.  Protein is also important in mood regulation.

–       Consider artificial colours, food chemicals and additives.  If a child becomes suddenly negative, anxious, aggressive or emotional, it may be a response to artificial colours, flavour enhancers and even natural food chemicals. Simply taking those things out of the diet can make a huge difference.  (See Sue Dengate:  Fed Up with Children’s Behaviour)

I just wanted to mention those things briefly because we can’t expect children to be self-controlled if their basic physical needs aren’t being taken care of first.  It’s funny.  Just tonight my daughter had a big wobbly at bedtime.  It came after a big weekend.  She sang in an eisteddfod on Saturday, we were out all day on Sunday and had a late night at church on Sunday night.  By the time I finally got her into bed tonight, we were all feeling frazzled.  I don’t feel I can hold her too responsible for her behaviour when she was probably hugely overtired.  We all have our limits.

Do you have any ideas on how to teach self-control to kids?  Do you find it easy to be self-controlled when dealing with your own children?

The problem with babies is they are just so adorable that as soon as you have one, you want another! 

Canoeing at Springfield Lakes

On our recent trip to Queensland we caught up with some of my husband’s family for a picnic and canoeing by a lake.  His cousin has five kids under the age of eight.  All together there were three families with ten kids between us.  I kept expecting to look around and see one of the babies crawling into the lake.  There was actually a moment when one of the little toddlers picked up his baby sister and charged towards the lake.  When his Dad asked him what he was doing, he said that he was just going to throw her in!  Scary!  We had a lovely time, but by the end of the day, my nerves were shot!

The funny thing was, when we said goodbye, the mother-of-five had a long cuddle with Molly and said something along the lines of, ‘I wouldn’t mind just one more.”

 If there was one thing I learnt from that day, I could not cope with five kids.  I would be a nervous wreck. 

I don’t know too many people who want five kids, but many people seem to have very clear ideas of how many kids they would like.   Of course it often doesn’t work out that way in practice.

I always wanted three kids and my husband always wanted two.  So when we were first married, I used to say I wanted four in the hope that we might be able to compromise at three.  I come from a family of four children, so the family car always feels a bit empty with a spare seat in the back.  When I was a kid we had this XF Ford Falcon with a bench seat in the front. All six of us would be packed in like sardines.  I loved sitting up the front in that middle bench seat.  It’s too bad they don’t make cars like that now.  But while there’s a spare seat in the back of the car, it still feels to me like there’s someone missing.   I doubt I’ll be able to twist my husband’s arm into letting me try for one more.  He likes his peace and quiet far too much!

The thing I’ve noticed is that when you’ve been going out with someone for a while people start asking, “When are you two going to settle down?”  Then when you get married people want to know when you’re going to have kids.  Then when you have a baby, people immediately start asking if you want another one.

 My sister-in-law has three kids – one is still a baby – and she says people are always asking her if she’s going to have another one.  I’ve really tried not to think about it with Molly.  I joke about having another baby to tease my husband, but actually I don’t want to colour every moment by thinking, “This might be my last baby” or by thinking about wanting another one.  I just want to enjoy her for the baby she is, not where she comes in the birth order.  I think sometimes when people have their fourth or fifth child, their friends and family don’t always celebrate it as much as when they have their first or second.  But people who have four or five kids appreciate and adore every baby just as much as somebody who has one or two. Every baby is special, precious and unique, whether they were born first, last or (like me) somewhere in the middle.  And even if you have five of them!

How many kids did you always want and how many do you have?  How do you work it out if you and your partner have different ideas?  Do you think about ‘just one more’?  Do you have a big family, what kinds of things do people say to you about it?

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