A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: February 2013


My husband and I received a nasty letter this week from our real estate agent.  You see we belong to that second-class group of citizens known as renters, who live at the mercy of our landlords and we received that notice we live in fear of – that the rent is going up… again. And whenever we get one of those letters I find myself thinking about all the things we don’t have in our very basic three bedroom house – no dishwasher, no air-con, no built-ins, no lovely ensuite.  But there is one thing we have that I appreciate more than all those other things put together and that is the humble bathtub!

The bath is just such a great way to keep small children occupied at the end of the day when they’re getting to that ratty, “I’m bored, I’m hungry, I’m tired” time of day known to many parents as ‘arsenic hour’.  There have been many occasions when I’m looking after my niece and nephew and I’ve reached the point where if I have to adjudicate one more squabble I’m going to pull my eyelashes out one by one, so I’ll just chuck them all in the bath together and buy myself half an hour of peace.

There seems to be something about the bath that has a natural calming effect on kids.  You know yourself how at the end of a bad day a warm bath can be really soothing.  It’s the same for kids, all that warm water seems to calm down their overstimulated little nervous systems and help them relax.   Also, so often when kids get ratty it’s because of some physical need that’s not being met.  If they’re hot, you can throw them in the bath to cool down, if it’s a cold day you can throw them in a warm bath to warm up.   If they’re hungry, it distracts them until dinner’s ready.   It’s a win-win situation.

The bath also helps bridge the age gap between kids.  There’s almost five years between my girls, but when they have a bath it’s one of their best play times together.  Water play really isn’t that different whether you’re five or three or one.  Before we had Molly I used to feel quite sad that Birdy had nobody to play with in the bath, so now I get a lot of joy from seeing them playing and laughing together.   And for babies, it never gets boring!  They learn so much from playing with water – splashing, pouring from one thing into another, learning what floats and what sinks, blowing bubbles, watching the water disappear down the plug hole – what a great mystery that is for a baby!  The properties of water are endlessly fascinating.

So yes, bathtime is now one of my absolute favourite times of the day.  It probably comes a close second to Mummy’s quiet cup of tea time, while Molly takes a nap.  That’s also a pretty special time of day.

I want to write about manners today, but it sounds so old-fashioned so I thought I’d call them social skills instead!  Last week my daughter came home from school saying her buddy doesn’t like her.  For those who aren’t familiar with the ‘buddy’ concept, all the little kids at school get allocated an official buddy – an older student who’s supposed to look out for them in the playground.  So I asked her why she thinks her buddy doesn’t like her and she told me she saw her buddy at the bubbler on Friday but she didn’t say ‘hello’.  And I thought why is it that we put so much emphasis on teaching kids ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ when really saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are so much more important.

Saying ‘hello’ to another person is the most basic way of acknowledging their presence.  It’s almost foundational to society, because when you say hello to someone, whether you know them or not, you’re recognising your shared humanity.  If you think that sounds over the top, next time you go through the supermarket checkout make an effort to say ‘hello’ and make eye contact with the person serving you and see the difference it makes to how they treat you.

And goodbyes are also really important because when we say ‘goodbye’ we let the other person know that we care whether or not we see them again.  We say, ‘See you next week’ or ‘Catch you round’ or ‘I’ll call you’.  Or we let people know that we care about them by saying, ‘Take care’ or ‘Drive safely’ or ‘Have a good holiday’.  And they’re small things to say, miniscule really, but they’re ways of showing care for each other and valuing the other person’s presence.  Sadly as people interact more through devices and less with the people around them, it seems like some of those basic courtesies are going out the window.  That’s why I think we have to be quite deliberate about teaching them to our kids.

It’s also important to remember that something as simple as saying ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ is not necessarily easy for a child.  I was a very shy child and my daughter is quite shy so she finds it quite hard to say ‘hello’ to people she doesn’t know very well.  In that case, the worst thing you can do is make fun of the child, or their shyness.  If I had been given a dollar every time an adult said to me ‘What’s the matter?  Cat got your tongue?’ I would have been a very rich kid.  When I was little, we lived on an isolated property, and I wasn’t used to seeing people I didn’t know.  I still remember how terrible it felt when a grown-up would make fun of me for that.  If you have a very shy child, you can at least encourage them to wave and make eye contact, because even though it’s not the most polite way of saying hello or goodbye, it is at least acknowledging the other person.

We’ve had an ongoing struggle getting Caillie to say goodbye properly when her grandparents or aunties leave after they’ve been staying with us.  I think she gets a bit overwhelmed by her feelings and at those times her instinct is to withdraw and hide.  So we’ve had many, many talks about why it’s important to come out to the car and give them a hug and say goodbye properly, and she is gradually getting better at it.  But it’s taken three or four years for her to really improve.  If she doesn’t want to hug, I don’t usually force her to, but she does have to come outside and wave them off.

I think that part of the reason that kids aren’t that good at saying ‘hello’ these days is that about half the population doesn’t say hello to them.  I see it at the school gate all the time.  Parents rush up to each other eager to talk, but forget to say hello to the child on the other end of their friend’s hand.  (I’m sure I’ve done it too.)  So all of us can help just by introducing our children and by saying hello to the kids we see at church or school or in the street.  And you’ll notice that when a child does return your greeting confidently, it really stands out.

We’ve got some friends who have four kids, and the first time we visited them on their farm, all the kids came out to the driveway to greet us and the eldest son, who was about six, shook my husband’s hand, looked him in they eye and said hello.  We nearly passed out in shock – it was so unusual – but it also really made us feel really welcome.  That’s why I think that ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are so important – more important even than ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ – because they have the power to really influence how people feel.

Do you have a shy child or did you struggle with shyness as a child?  How are your child’s manners or social skills developing?  Do you have any tips for helping children to learn social skills?


Last year, some good friends of mine travelled from the country to Sydney to bring their kids to the Lego exhibition at the Powerhouse.  At the time I was a little surprised that Lego could inspire such devotion.  But last weekend I was introduced to the world of Lego for the first time and I now understand where that devotion springs from.  I think I’ve been converted to a Lego fan!  And I’m obviously not the only one.  I recently learned that if you laid end to end the amount of Lego sold in a year, you could circumnavigate the world ten times.

My daughter was recently given her first big tub of Lego for her sixth birthday (we’ve had little bits and pieces of Lego before, but never a big set) and it kept her busy for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon.  That was 3 hours of blissful peace and quiet while Molly took her afternoon nap.  I put on my Angus and Julia Stone live album and sat there fishing for pieces from a huge tub.  It was quite therapeutic – almost like running sand through your fingers!  I was just sifting through piles of Lego looking for the pink arch piece or the red flower piece or whatever.  And I was really enjoying it until that moment where there was one crucial piece missing in a set that we’d only just opened, which meant we couldn’t finish what we were making.  And then it ceased to feel therapeutic and suddenly felt like a lesson in anger management!  Grrr.  But even with that frustration, if I had boys, I would definitely be investing in some pretty nice Lego, because anything that can keep a boy quietly occupied without a computer screen has to be a good thing.

There actually has been some research into developmental outcomes of playing with construction blocks – not necessarily Lego but anything that involves building things out of bricks and blocks.  Obviously it’s good for fine motor skills and spatial awareness, but it also helps kids cooperate because if you’re building something you’re better off working together, rather than being competitive.  It teaches children to follow instructions, but also to develop creative problem solving when they go off-plan.  It’s even been shown to lead to improvements in maths!  I also think there’s some good discipline involved because it teaches children to follow a task through to completion.  Then at the end there’s all the imaginative play that takes place when they’ve finished building their rocket or space station or whatever.  Birdy played with her horse and stable for the rest of the weekend, but the great thing is that when they get bored of playing with what they’ve made, they can just smash it up and make something else!

Finally I think that Lego can be a great vehicle for teaching children about forgiveness because when their little brother or sister inevitably destroys that space alien they’ve just spent three weeks making, they’re going to have to learn about forgiveness!

Do the kids (or big kids) in your family enjoy playing with Lego?  Did you play with it as a child? 

One of the things that I’ve been wanting to do this year is to have a little bit more structure and routine in the week.  When you first have a new baby, it can be very hard to find any kind of structure in your life. But this year I really want to make the effort to get out of the house and do some things with Molly.  And the first thing on my list is to do a regular trip to the local library.

When Birdy was little I used to take her to the library once or twice a week, but since she’s been at school, she now brings home books from the school library and we haven’t been going up to our local library as much.  But during the holidays our book supply was cut off so we found ourselves back the local library out of sheer desperation.  And the funny thing is, whenever we go to the library, Birdy still wants to see the Library Storytime man that used to come and read to her class at daycare.  That’s two or three years ago.  He is like a rock star to her.  She goes all shy and says, “Look, Mum there’s the Library man!”  He obviously made a big impression on her.

Chris Cheng does a special Storytime at Leichhardt Library

Chris Cheng does a special Storytime at Leichhardt Library

Because I had my new children’s book out last year, I actually went to read it at some of the local library Storytime sessions.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well attended they were.  I visited a number of different libraries, Ryde, Balmain, Leichhardt, Mosman and they were all packed to the rafters.  Some of them had more than 40 kids turning up for Storytime!  I was encouraged that so many parents recognise the value of doing this kind of activity with their kids.  And it’s free!  There is so little you can do these days that is free.

I was also impressed by how lovely many of the story spaces are now.  So many libraries have made it a priority to open up their space, or to have a special room that they’ve decorated for the kids.  It makes the library so much more appealing for the children.  When I was a child, libraries were somewhere you had to be quiet and they weren’t much fun to visit.  Now the best libraries are much more of a community centre.  Leichhardt Library is a great example of that.  It’s right in the middle of the Italian forum, really easy to access and very much in the heart of the community.  Sadly, in other parts of the world, such as in the UK many public libraries are closing down.  Last week I heard a really interesting interview with with Caitlin Moran who’s the author of How to Be A Woman.   (She’s pretty out there so don’t take this as an endorsement!) One of the things she was talking about was that the closure of public libraries has been such a loss in the UK.  She pointed out that libraries are one of the last places you can go without needing to spend money or without having any kind of commercial exchange.  In a library, your choices aren’t limited by your finances.  That’s why they’re such a great place to take little kids.  If they say ‘I want this’, you can say ‘Sure thing’ and it doesn’t cost you anything.  If they want ten books, you can still say ‘No worries!’.  And if they want to stay and look at the books for 2 hours, there’s no pressure to leave just because you’ve finished your coffee an hour ago.

So if you haven’t already, make this the year you introduce your kids to the local library.  Find out when your nearest Storytime is and make it a regular date.  Not only does it foster a love of books and learning in your children, but according to Professor Torr from the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University, studies show that a child’s pre-school vocabulary relates to their literacy achievement in later life.  In other words, reading to your child now does affect their future learning outcomes.  We’re really lucky to have this amazing free resource, so make the most of it.  Otherwise one day you’ll drive past and notice there’s a shiny new McDonalds or Starbucks where your local public library used to be.

Do you enjoy Storytime at  your local library?  Is your library kid-friendly?

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