Letting the kids look after themselves

Well….kind of.  I’m not exactly suggesting that my 5 year old nips out to the shops for milk, or that my 2 year old runs his own bath or anything. But most kids can probably do more than we give them credit for.

My (almost) 2 year old has started fetching his shoes and bringing them to me when he knows we’re off out. I’m chuffed to bits about this – not only because it demonstrates how well his understanding is evolving, but also because I know that I helped make that possible for him.

Here’s how.

We have a ‘shoe cupboard’ of sorts. Well, it’s more like a shoe ‘hole’ in the wall. It is literally STUFFED with shoes. The front is open and it looks really messy (because we aren’t shutting it away behind cupboard doors, and because they’re all thrown in haphazardly). The kids know that’s where the shoes go. They’re not ordered or neatly put together, so as long as they take their shoes off and throw them in there – the job is done.

This all makes it wonderfully easy for my toddler to see where his shoes are, get hold of them, and then return them when finished.

The shoes are nice and low down (reachable), and it is obvious where they belong.

He gets the sense of independence, and pride at being able to participate in getting ready, and I have one less (tiny) task to do myself. Win Win.

We have a similar strategy with the kids coats. We have an ‘adult’ row of pegs, and a ‘child’ row of pegs. The child row of pegs is low enough for both kids to reach, and it is glaringly obvious near the front door. ‘Hang your coat up, put your shoes away’. No excuses, because we have adapted the environment to facilitate independence.

So I’ve been thinking….. There’s 3 strategies that I can think of to support my children in gaining independence in the home:

LOWER – put the things that the kids need, at the right height for them to reach. For example, if I want my 5 year old to start laying the table each day, I need to keep placemats and cutlery somewhere that he can get hold of them himself. Without my help.

RAISE – we have quite a few foot stools dotted around the house. This way, either of the kids can grab one and move it so they can access the sink, or the kitchen sideboard, or the books on the shelf. Without my help.

MAKE IT OBVIOUS – the shoe ‘hole’, the ‘child’ row of pegs, pictures on drawers (for those who can’t yet read). We can help enable independence by keeping things available, accessible and visible for our kids.

 

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5 Reasons kids should be walking to school

Unfortunately my son’s (our chosen) school is too far away for us to walk there.

I’ve given us a week to get accustomed to the early morning routine, and now, i plan to drive some of the way and make us walk the rest (perhaps a mile or so). And here’s why:

  1. Daylight. Do i really need to explain why this is a good thing? Exposing our kids to daylight helps us synchronise important biorhythms, it is critical for promoting alertness, it raises our mood, and helps us to produce vitamin D.
  2. Exercise. When i was a kid, we didn’t need to ‘exercise’. Playing was exercise, because playing was not sitting, or being indoors, it was running and riding bikes and building camps. However, sometimes today’s kids need a little extra help to get the right amount of exercise, and its important because it helps maintain the right body weight, builds strong muscles and bones and improves the quantity and quality of sleep we achieve.
  3. Air. Ok i accept that depending upon where you live, your child may or may not be able to gulp lung fulls of ‘fresh air’, but regardless, they need ventilation. And arguably, the quality of indoor air can be far worse than the quality of outdoor air, even if you live in the city. Imagine all of those bugs coming out of snotty little noses and circulating around the classroom. Lovely.
  4. Sensory (proprioceptive) input. Kids need heavy work. I don’t mean sewing in a clothing factory, or working a production line. I mean, pushing, pulling, lifting, moving. Heavy resistance and input to the muscles and joints is essential for sensory processing and has a calming effect on the nervous system. Walking provides your child with calming sensory input.
  5. Time. Walking to school gives you and your child precious ‘now’ time to talk, share and reconnect. Or complain and drag heels….as the case may be!

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Embrace the Pace

So it’s the third week of the summer break from school and I’d describe myself as ‘surviving’.

Week one, I was clearly buoyed by a false sense of security. The kids were pretty chilled out and ready for a rest. ‘This is easy’ I thought. Beach time, a little TV, some lazy mornings.

Week two was hell on earth. It rained. The kids were little monsters. Both were poorly. The dog had fleas. I had my period. We cried. All of us. A lot.

Week three – Its a bit of a mixed bag. It’s only Monday, so a lot could happen.

Here are my findings thus far into the hols:

  1. There’s no point fighting it – just surrender. Surrender to the mess.
  2. Go outside. And stay there. Every day. I have two sons, and they need to be run like puppies. The beach is my friend.
  3. Don’t bother with clothes – kids in swimsuits. And then pyjamas. And then swimsuits again. They don’t really need washing do they……?
  4. Never, ever, go to the shops with the kids in tow. Ever. It will only end in tears.
  5. Expect to gain a few pounds in weight. Chips and ice cream anyone?
  6. Slow down. Embrace the pace. Don’t make plans. And definitely don’t make appointments. The stress of trying to get everyone there on time is the stuff of nightmares.

There’s still a few weeks to go.

Breathe deep. We can do this….

Letting the kids talk to strangers

I took my boys to the beach yesterday with our big gangly dog. Nothing strange there. We do this every day.

Anyway, I digress. I took my boys to the beach yesterday, and whilst we were there a man arrived with a bucket, wearing waders and proceeded to wander out into the shallows.

It was a very low tide. Lower than I’ve seen it for a long time, and there were small pools exposed, and rocks covered in green slime, and shells and the spaghetti-like cases left by sand worms. And the man stopped by one of these pools, kneeled on the wet sand and began dipping his hands into the water and under the rocks.

It, obviously, caught our attention, and I found myself thinking that here was another great opportunity to let my eldest son ( for the youngest can’t speak yet…) practice talking with a stranger.

Talking with a stranger!!!!! Yes, you read that correctly.

See, the thing is, I know we’re all supposed to be frightened of talking to strangers. And we’re supposed to teach our kids that stranger = danger. But I just get can’t to grips with that.

We live in the north east of England. Up here the people are (for the best part) notoriously friendly.  We chat on the bus, in the street, on the doorstep. We don’t think anything of striking up conversation with folks we might stand next to in the supermarket aisle, or people smiling at us at the bus stop. And smiling…..that’s great shit isn’t it? Costs nothing and makes your day.

I’ve taught my eldest to smile at folks. I’ve also taught him to say hello if someone sits next to him. To say ‘excuse me’ to the shop assistant if he wants something. He’s only 4 (nearly 5) but I’ve encouraged him to approach the lady behind the counter, to speak to the bus driver, to say ‘good morning’ to fellow dog walkers.

And I encouraged him to approach the man in the waders, and ask him what he was doing. I knew what he was doing. But I saw this as another chance for my son to practice politely approaching someone. And of course, to learn something new.

The man responded with kindness. Maybe it’s because we live in the north. But he took the time to answer my son. They both smiled. My son came skipping back to me, buoyant with the new information he had. Excited that he had learnt something new. And confident that he could approach someone he didn’t know.

I had watched from a distance. I knew he was ‘safe’. And I was glowing with pride to overhear his beautiful little voice start “excuse me….”.

How can we teach our kids independence, if we are to control who they speak to? And how they speak to them?

There are so many skills I am trying to teach my kids. Surely, one of the most important is how we integrate into our society, how we make friends, how we talk to others.

I’m not prepared to teach my children to be afraid of strangers.

Why I’m letting my kids develop ‘bad habits’

If parenting is about keeping your kids at a distance. And teaching them to cope on their own. And refusing to give them things. And restricting, and routine, and ‘letting them know who’s boss’….. then i am happy to admit, i am really really rubbish at it.

My eldest son and i took a huge sack of stuff to the charity shop (thrift store) the other day. We have an agreement – if he helps me, he can choose a ‘new’ (used) toy from the same place that we  deliver our bag.

When i was speaking with the shop assistant, i happened to mention that agreement. Her response really threw me. “You’ll create a bad habit there if you’re not careful”. I can only assume that by ‘bad habit’ she meant that my son will expect something for helping me.

Some people might call me ‘soft’, but when did being a parent become ‘them against us’? I mean, its ok to give my child a gift right? And its ok to ‘reward’ him for his help? We’re on the same ‘team’. And i love them. And this is not a military operation. I’m not raising a little army.

I’m regularly offered advice (aka opinions) on how to raise my kids. My neighbour will openly tell me that my ‘downfall’ (as she so kindly put it) is that i carry and cuddle my kids too much……that i pick them up when they want me. And that thats wrong.

There’s an army of folks ready to tell me how i should put my kids in their bedroom and let them cry to sleep. How thats the only way i’ll ever get them to sleep alone. The only way i’ll ever stop them waking in the night. I’d really rather not. I like my kids. Even if they do ‘play me like a fiddle’ (to quote another warning i received). Even if i don’t get nearly enough sleep. Even if i often wake with a tiny foot in my face, or a finger in my ear.

I’m not a perfect parent. I probably get it wrong at some point every day. But i love my kids, and i also like them. And here’s the ‘bad habits’ i am happily letting them develop:

1. When they cry, i cuddle them. And i love it.

2. If they need me in the night, they can have me. Anytime. For as long as they want.

3. I carry them. Albeit for less time than i could when they were tiny. But they like to be carried. So i carry them.

4. If they don’t want to eat it, they don’t have to eat it.

5. I buy them treats. When i feel like it. As often as i can afford.

6. If they help me, i reward them. Sometimes its a biscuit. Sometimes its a trip to the park. But i reward them.

7. They can make a mess. This is their house as well as mine. They can leave their toys on the floor, they can leave comics lying around, they can pull out the contents of the bookcase. We’ll tidy it before bed.

If cherishing and treating and keeping my kids close is creating ‘bad habits’, so be it. My kids won’t always be ‘kids’. For now, I’m just throwing myself into it. They’re kids – lets throw caution to the wind and just enjoy it.

10 best baby toys

I’m by no means an expert on baby toys, but I know what my kids have loved. Here’s my top 10:

1. Wooden baby gym. Don’t bother with any of these cloth ‘arches’. Go straight for the robust wooden ones. There’s some beautiful types of wooden baby gyms out there, but you can’t beat the ikea one. It’s cheap, sturdy, and easy to sell on.

2. Wooden baby beads. As well as looking pretty, they’re great for teething/chewing on. Held together by an elastic string, they can be stretched apart and manipulated. Great for developing those grasp/grips/fine motor skills.

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3. Mobile. You know you don’t need to spend a fortune on an ‘all singing, all dancing’ musical mobile. Babies love to watch anything thats moving. Amazon sell a great ‘crib mobile attachment clamp’ to which you can attach any mobile at all. Choose something you think looks pretty. I’ve got a range and I swap them over from time to time – a wooden dinosaur one, a capiz shell one (sounds gorgeous) and a one made out of old CDs tied together (great for catching/reflecting the light).

4.  Rainmaker. These sound great and are pretty easy for little ones to grab, roll along the floor, pick up.

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5. Door bouncer. Good old Lindam. Baby number two predictably LOVES throwing himself around whilst hanging from the door frame by elastic. Hilarious to watch, if nothing else.

6. Nursing necklace. Why didn’t I know about these when my first was a baby?! These are amazing pieces of kit and I wouldn’t be without one now. It’s become natural to pop one on when I get up in the morning, and there’s some gorgeous ones out there. Check out etsy for some lovely handmade ones. Baby can fiddle, chew, pull on, play with – all whilst they’re comfortably sat on your hip, or cuddled in for a feed. Perfect.

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7. Cot gym. Heimess do a great little cot gym. It’s the same principle as the baby gym but it can be tied to a cot, a pram, a car seat – so really portable. And pretty to boot! 

8. Puppet. We have a great little puppet that comes in very handy for promoting giggles, distracting from tears and introducing foods when weaning. 

9. Cloth books. They are generally filled with crinkly noisy material and in bold contrasting colours. Great to look at, suck on and generally cover with dribble, in our experience.

10. Lamaze octopus. We were given one of these when my first son was born, and it’s now getting used a lot again second time around. Fabulous and for my money, it’s the best Lamaze pram toy around. Loads to chew on, very colourful, noisy/crinkly and it doesn’t hurt when it gets bashed on your face (bonus!).