We’ve recently been away visiting family in the country. Can I just say there is no better family holiday entertainment than going to stay in the country and discovering there’s a real live mouse in the house! My little city kids thought that was very exciting. When Granny said she’d put out a mouse trap, Henry (my 3 year old nephew) picked up the board game Mouse Trap and gave it to Granny to catch the mouse with. Hilarious!
Every time we go away, I’m absolutely amazed at how much stuff you need to go on holidays with kids. At least Birdy packs for herself now, but she always wants to take a ridiculous amount of toys. Whereas all Molly needs to keep herself occupied is a baby doll and a copy of Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox. We did a six hour car trip from Dubbo to Darlington Point (near Griffith) and Molly was quite happy reading Where is the Green Sheep? to herself for most of that time.
Is there any child in Australia who doesn’t have a copy of that book?
When Birdy was born we were given four copies of it, and we gave two away which I’m regretting because the other copies are now so worn out. When I was a kid, I think every parent knew off by heart the words, “Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter…” Or this one: “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. Then one Sunday morning, the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” These days I think every parent knows the words, “Here is the blue sheep, here is the red sheep, here is the bath sheep and here is the bed sheep. But where is the green sheep?” It’s almost become a developmental phase that between the ages of one and three children become obsessed with that book.
What is it about that book? Why do toddlers love it so much?
I think it’s the perfect combination of the everyday and the absurd. It’s full of things that even babies recognise – the sun, the rain, a car, a train – and yet the pictures are also portraying something outrageous, like a sheep dancing around a lamp stand with an umbrella in the rain. Yet the pictures are so simple and iconic that even Molly at eighteen months will point to the umbrella and say “ella”.
The first time I read this book, I found it very strange and I wasn’t the only one. I was a bit surprised to read Mem Fox using nouns as adjectives. Lines like ‘Here is the bath sheep’ are a little grating at first, because we’ d normally say ‘Here is a sheep having a bath’, or ‘Here’s a sheep in the bath’. And yet somehow it really is perfect for little kids. The other day I discovered that it won the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award in 2005. I can see why. It is literally teaching my daughter to speak. She now points to the moon and says ‘moo’ and at the star and says ‘ta’. So even though we might get a little bit sick of reading the same book over and over and over again, it is actually the best way to encourage speech and literacy in little ones. Of course, once they get older, it’s good to read more widely, but for a one-year-old all you really need are three or four copies of Where is the Green Sheep?
(PS. If you’re looking for other great books to encourage your toddler’s speech development, why not check out the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2013 shortlist and past winners.)
Have your children enjoyed Where is the Green Sheep and made you read it over and over again? What do you think of it?
We’ve all been waiting for it and now it’s finally happened!
Molly has taken her first independent steps!
She’s already 17 months so she’s a bit of a late bloomer, but hey, we all get there in the end. The first time it happened we were in Dubbo, visiting my in-laws. She was holding onto a chair on the dining table, then took three steps over to the couch to get to Mum. It was probably only just one step that she wasn’t holding on for, but she managed to transfer her weight from one foot to the other so that was exciting.
After that she lost confidence and didn’t do any more walking for a week or so. Then she waited until the one night of the year that I went out with some girlfriends and decided to run a marathon while I wasn’t looking. According to an eyewitness account from a reliable 6 year old I know, she took at least five steps before she fell down on her bottom. I can’t say she has mastered the whole walking concept yet but she is definitely making progress.
I think she has started to understand that it is something she can learn. The thing I’ve realised watching Molly slowly learn to walk is that it really does take a lot of practice. She’s in this stage where she wants to walk, but she’s not quite confident enough to do it on her own, so she crawls over to one of us, takes both our hands, stands up and asks us to walk with her wherever she wants to go. I don’t want to complain, but it’s actually very time consuming and sometimes slightly annoying. I can be in the middle of cooking breakfast or getting dressed and Molly will come over and want me to take both her hands and walk up and down the hall with her. Or she’ll want to climb up and down the stairs over and over again.
Often when people talk about taking on a new task or learning a new skill they’ll use the phrase ‘baby steps’ to mean that things don’t happen overnight. It really is so true. We’ve been enjoying watching The Voice lately. I think it’s a very positive show, but you could so easily get the impression that to be successful all you have to do is go on a TV show, become an overnight sensation and it will somehow change your life. What people forget is all the years of learning and practice and preparation that has got those artists to the point where they can sing on national TV without falling apart.
Learning to walk is one of the most life-changing skills anyone could ever learn. Watching Molly practicing her walking over and over again has reinforced to me that achieving anything in life requires baby steps, lots of practice, lots of persistence and even more patience. I sometimes get sick of holding Molly’s hand as she traipses up and down the hallway, but isn’t that what we all need to achieve our dreams? Somebody to hold our hand, while we practice and stumble and fall over on our bottoms again and again and again, until one day, when nobody’s looking, we discover that if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, we can walk all by ourselves. I’m looking forward to sharing that moment with Molly one day soon.
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.
Well now that we’re into December and officially into the down hill run for the year I thought it might be good to talk a little bit about dealing with change. The end of the year is often a time when both children and adults are gearing up for big changes in their life. Perhaps moving house, one or both parents changing jobs, having a good friend move away or starting at a new daycare, pre-school, school or even starting high school for the first time. Change can be difficult for anyone, but especially for kids.
Some people seem to cope with change better than others…
Personally, I’m not very good at coping with change. Recently I’ve been reflecting over the past 12 months and I’ve actually had quite a bit of change in my life. I gave up my job which I loved, I had a new baby, I launched my first children’s book and had to learn a whole new industry and then my eldest child started school. My husband also changed his working hours more than once. There have been a few times this year when we’ve thought about moving to another city, going overseas or buying a house in another area of Sydney and I really haven’t wanted to. My instinct has been to sit tight. So personally I’m not wanting any big changes for 2013, but I know that for lots of families some change is inevitable.
So I’ve done some research into how to help children cope with change and here are a few ideas.
– Usually anxiety around change is fear of the unknown. For children they might be worried about not knowing who they’ll make friends with or who their teacher will be. So remind them of other times they’ve made new friends or coped with a big change.
– Give them as much information as you can about the details,even if you can’t answer all their questions about what life will be like next year. Take them to see their new house or new school or show them photos so they get a sense of what their life might be like.
– Focus on the positive aspects of the change so they have things to look forward to.
– Practice the rituals – getting dressed in the school uniform, packing up the back pack, practising where to catch the bus.
– Kids love routine, so it’s a good idea to keep some aspects of your routine the same, especially routines around meals and bedtime.
– And make sure they have plenty of notice about any changes that are happening. Many kids don’t react well to having things sprung on them at the last minute.
Often the changes that affect children most are things that they have no control of… so it’s important to be aware of signs that suggest they’re NOT coping.
Hopefully they’ll tell you if they’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, but if not it may show in their behaviour. Whether that’s through tantruming or being withdrawn or not sleeping or eating as well as usual – all those things can be signs that kids are bottling up their feelings.
The good news is that young kids get most of their security from their relationship with their parents so as long as you remain constant and you’re available to talk to, that can be very reassuring for them. Also little kids are used to dealing with lots of big changes – learning to walk and talk are two of the most colossal changes a person could go through. Children are always learning new things about the world. So they may even cope better with change than we do.
If our kids are really concerned about a change, it’s possible that they’re taking their cues from the adults around them.
Maybe we’re the ones who are having trouble coping with the idea of our baby starting school, or of leaving all our friends. We need to make sure we’re not projecting our worries onto our kids and burdening them with things that otherwise wouldn’t concern them.
Have you had some big changes in your life? How have you coped with them? How have your children adapted to moving house, changing cities, moving overseas or starting a new school or pre-school?
I know that those of us who are parents can be a bit painful to our friends without kids.
They want to catch up with us at lunch, but we can’t do lunch because that’s when our toddler has their nap. Or they want to go out at night, but we can’t stay out late because we’re paying a babysitter by the hour.
Sometimes it can feel like we expect everything to revolve around our kids.
I remember how that feels – when you don’t have kids, but everyone else expects you to make your plans around their children. But what I want to talk about today is at the other end of the spectrum.
Here’s what I want to say: It’s not a crime to be a kid. Kids have as much right to be in the world as anybody else.
I started thinking about this when my usually mild-mannered sister had a run-in with a senior gentleman while borrowing books from the local library. Her kids were swiping the books under the scanner one by one, and being children, they were probably a little slower than an adult might be, but they weren’t causing any trouble (for once!).
Suddenly the man behind them said, “Come on then, get out of the way.”
Shocked she turned around and said, “I’m sorry, we haven’t actually finished yet.” Then he said, “This isn’t a playground you know.” When she explained that she was just teaching her kids how to do it, he said, “Well go back to kindergarten then,” and stormed off.
The implication is that children don’t really have a right to be in the library and that they should only be in a playground or a kindergarten.
Personally, I think borrowing books from the library is a sign of good parenting, but for whatever reason, this gentleman seemed to think it was infringing on his rights.
Fortunately, nothing like that has ever happened to me, but I have sometimes been on the receiving end of some subtle comments that I didn’t quite know how to take. A week or so ago, my sister and I did a charity walk from Cammeray to Balmoral Beach with our kids. (It’s quite a long way for a 2 year old, a 4 year old and a 5 year old to walk, so I was pretty proud of them.) After the walk we caught the bus back to where the car was parked. Between us, we had two prams, a baby and 3 kids so it took us a while to get off the bus and as we did so an older gentleman, rolled his eyes and said, ‘What an expedition!’
He may not have meant anything by it, but it made me feel like there was something illegal about going out with children on a bus.
After all that exercise we stopped for coffee and cake at Cammeray Stockland. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a nice little shopping centre built around an open piazza. In the middle of the piazza there’s a low fountain pool, at ground level with just a few inches of water in it. These days there are lots of parks with water features that kids are allowed to play in, like Bicentennial Park at Homebush or Newington Armoury or the new Water Park at Darling Harbour. So we thought this was something they’d built for the kids and we were happily letting them splash around in it. It was only when it was time to leave that we noticed a tiny little engraved plaque that said ‘Standing in the fountain is prohibited.”
To me, that is like putting a big pile of cupcakes in the middle of a room but not letting the children eat one. Or teasing a dog with a juicy bone, but not letting them have it.
It’s just not very considerate of children. There are lots of ways they could have made that fountain less appealing to kids if they didn’t want them to play in it – they could have raised or lowered it so it wasn’t right on ground level, they could have put a Perspex fence round it, or made it deeper.
Whoever built that fountain has totally forgotten what it’s like to be a kid – how lovely it is to splash around in something like that.
Especially when there was absolutely nothing else in the space for children to play in!
I’m not saying that everything should be built or created to cater for children, but just that kids have as much right as anybody else to use the library or ride the bus or to be in a public square. So just as we consider the needs of disabled people or the elderly when we design public spaces… we should also consider the needs of children. They’re legitimate members of society.
After all, not everybody will be an adult. Not everybody will make it to old age. But everybody on the planet was once a child.
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?
In every family, there will be pain. In every family, there will be times of struggle and stagnation. Times when the daily grind of cleaning and nappy changes and cooking spaghetti bolognese for the 500th time gets you down. (I actually love cooking spaghetti bolognese, but you get the point.)
And in every family, there will be moments of joy. Simple moments. Ordinary moments. Forgotten so easily if not captured in an instant.
We had a moment like that, just the other day. Walking home from the shops, we came across a carpet of purple flowers. A Jacaranda was dropping its blooms. Birdy, Dad and I raced to catch the twirling, swirling petals as they fell from the sky like elusive feathers. There was much raucous laughter, squealing and delight and before we abandoned our game we’d caught five Jacaranda flowers in mid-flight. A precious prize indeed and Birdy carried them home in her hat like we’d found gold.
It’s those kind of moments that Lisa Jay captures in her children’s and baby photography. The moments that stand out from the daily grind because they are perfect. Perfect in their simplicity, their purity, their innocent joy.
Not because life is always like that. But because those are the moments we live for.
If you have enjoyed Lisa Jay’s photos on my blog, you might be interested to know that her new blog, Days Like This is now live.
And share the joy.