It’s not you, it’s me.

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I heard myself defensively saying “we go to lots of playgroups, classes and play dates” before I could stop myself. It was only afterwards that I reflected and realised that the “preschool is good for them socially” wasn’t about my choices, it was about her’s. That a smile was enough. That she was nice. That just like me, she has worries in the back of her head about whether she has done / is doing the right thing.

I’m yet to meet a mum who doesn’t want to feel good about her choices or who doesn’t try to make them for all the right reasons.

I haven’t sent T to preschool because I wanted him to have what I had and because I am lucky enough to be in a position where it is possible. Because I feel I have been able to offer him everything he needs with what is on offer for preschoolers in my area. Because it felt like the right thing for him. Because it fits my skills set (most of the time…) and I enjoy it. And that’s fine.

And the lady I chatted too would have made her choice for different reasons; social reasons obviously and probably a whole host of other good reasons too. And that’s fine too.

And the relative/friend/neighbour who tells you how she got her children to sleep/behave/eat probably aren’t judging you either. Even if it feels like it. And even if they are, the overriding thing they’ll be doing is reassuring themselves. They need to feel that what they did/are doing was the right thing for their children. Because nothing is closer to their hearts than their children. Because they have never done anything before or since that matters as much.

So next time I will try and just smile…

 

 

 

 

Cuddles

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This is a post celebrating the power of the cuddle in terms of improving behaviour. It is so hard to find the time to cuddle up with a book / TV show and your little one(s) (until they’re bored) but so worth it for me this weekend. I would advocate trying this when behaviour seems to be going downhill. Here is how it worked for me…

Saturday offered a pretty poor start to the weekend with moods and behaviour in our house. We wanted to take the boys out in the buggy to a big play area for a picnic; we were loading their little bikes up on it so they could cycle along a nice off-road path when we got nearer. They were really up for this trip out but could we move them along and do the sorting that needs doing first – sandwiches, Friday night’s dishes, basic hygiene, etc….(nope we couldn’t).

The whinging noise was awful and probably something that could only be achieved by two under 4. (Please don’t correct me on this. I need to believe we are nearly out of the high octane whinging.) What made it more upsetting was that they weren’t being kind to each other; T in particular was picking on M. Anyway we got out a lot later than planned but we did at least have a lovely day. But why the painful start?

T has seemed a bit meaner towards M lately; winding him up verbally as well as pushing him and pinching him when he gets the opportunity. He is loving with him too but seems to feel the need to upset him more often than normal. I don’t know if its anxiety about starting school (wherever we go people seem to be asking and talking about it) and/or a bit of jealously – M is 18 months younger but will start school two years later.   I think being the eldest brings with it a few pressures and he had to give up being the baby so much younger than M (T still calls him his ‘baby brother’ but he is now 2.5).

Anyway, I moved him away, I asked him how he would feel, I threatened to cancel his birthday party (I know, not a great thing to say – you know when you just hear the words come out??). T is super sensitive and would have no doubt felt strongly that I was annoyed and frustrated with him. Whenever he is told off he asks if I still love him, obviously I always reassure him and explain its what he is doing that is the problem but at three I’m not sure he understands the distinction.

Sunday morning came and started to go the same way. Luckily something made me think of something that I have previously read, about how children very rarely get to end cuddles or chats as its the parents that normally go off to do jobs, etc*. The suggestion being that they might not get the reassurance and feeling of safety that they’re after. Without thinking much more I picked T up and told him I thought that he needed some cuddles and I plonked us both down on the sofa.  T is a very cuddly boy and was happy with this, obviously it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t, although love bombing is a technique worth exploring and appears in the first book listed below. I bet with some children just being there and sharing the television programme or book is enough. So we sat and watched television together for about an hour and a half then he got up to play. He seemed so refreshed, happy and content. And so much kinder to M.

Sometimes it feels like you haven’t got the time. And sometimes you simply haven’t. We did actually get out the house about two hours earlier on Sunday as it turned out; the boys were happy and we could sort ourselves out for the day without sorting out the commotion every two minutes. I guess I will never know the reason – sore throat, growth spurt, needing more sleep, anxiety about school – but it seems the cuddles helped all round.

*Divas and Dictators by Charlie Taylor; Siblings no Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Meltdown mindset

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I’ve got a new mindset to try and jump into when I’m having a tough five minutes (or so….) whilst in the company of my kids.  It could do with a catchier name but for now it is my “Let me show you” meltdown mindset.

This is how it went today when I found myself in a Post Office at 12pm (what idiot does that pre lunch?).  Anyway…..M starts having a complete meltdown; let me show you how to be compassionate, kind and patient.  He wants two toy magazines; let me show you how to be gently assertive, quietly persistent and patient.  He is really asserting himself back now; let me show you how to give him space.  People can’t get in the Post Office to post their letters; let me show you how to deal with embarrassment and bum shuffle with a two year old under your arm.  He is really losing his rag (insert your own); let me show you real patience.  He is getting quite animated (again please do insert your own); let me show you how long you have to be &£;!&£@ patient for sometimes.  He says he’ll be happy if we go to a playarea; let me show you what relief looks like and how to admit defeat (we will call it compromise).  And so we ate our lunch in a cold playarea because I said we would (let me show you how to keep your word).  Let me £&@£@@£ show you.  I don’t say the “Let me show you” bit btw.

Joking apart it did help and it does help me regularly.  I think I go a bit out of body, maybe even a bit professional.  I don’t feel professional but you know what I mean.  They get me back when they calm down.  And I guess they want me back because the let me show you woman is alright, but she doesn’t half grate after a while.

To help our children deal with the world I have come to accept a bit of adversity is needed.  They need to see you working hard at being patient; they need to know that it is hard and it feels hard, but that there are benefits.  That it is worth it. That things recover quicker and people may never say thank you but do appreciate and benefit from it.  That its the right thing.  That it can make you calmer and happier.  The firmness that goes with the patience can be quiet, kind and almost hiding.

The kindness is so important but make sure that it includes you; they’re modelling themselves on you afterall and you want their future self to be kind to themselves and happy.  And you want to be happy!  I think they benefit from hearing you say something kind to yourself outloud – sounds strange I know.  Let them hear you going easy on yourself when you make a questionable choice or forget something.  And just as importantly be kind to yourself when patience escapes you – like it does us all.  At least I assume it does.

Your children will probably find their own way of dealing with the sunshine and happy side of things quite easily.  Although having said that, it is perhaps not instinctive to share, be graceful and grateful.  I can do sharing but am only just growing out of my competitive streak, so I am not sure where they’ll get the grace from.  Dad I expect.  (Although he does run by them at ‘park run’ shouting “Yes I’m winning” when he is not even winning.  Never mind gracefully winning.  We may have to outsource grace.)

I’m touching wood as I write this, as we all do I guess when we are feeling lucky.  I feel very very lucky that tough today was literally spilt milk, not having enough layers on at the park (me that is – brrrrrr) and a meltdown in the post office (that was M the two year old, meanwhile T the three year old – and me – enjoyed being all reasonable).  I also feel lucky that my mind although tired, is today a happy and upbeat one.

I am grateful for having an easy “Let me show you” day but hopeful that it helped the boys learn some hard to master skills.  Skills I am still working on.  I mean really. Ffs.

As long as you do your best

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Who was told this as a kid? Isn’t this something all motivated children aspire to at school? But should it be what we want for our children? Or is doing “your best” getting all skewed? It certainly seems to be getting more and more tunnel visioned. More and more intense. Doing your best as a child seems to now mean getting the best exam results you can, possibly at the expense of happiness. It seems to be without context. Without boundaries.

It might seem strange to challenge such a seemingly wholesome mantra, but how do we really want our kids to approach their future exams and assessments; that will start aged six or seven (seriously?). Do we really want a four/five year old stressing about exams; such is the pressure on schools that the preparation starts long before the exams.

As a parent I now completely get why some of my students used to say “these exams are testing you not us” as we prepared them for the year 9 SAT exams. Those students had wise parents! Sure we want our children to try, and try hard, but their ‘best’? Is ‘best’ a bit too intense, especially when aged six or seven? What does ‘best’ mean? ‘Best’ seems to be a word that can carry too much weight by itself, as it’s a word open to implied pressure and an individual’s interpretation. We naturally want to prove that our best is worthy of respect, here enters the worst sort of pressure – the kind we put on ourselves.

So the questions we might want to ask include “What is best for my child?” and “Does this conflict with them doing their best?”. If you do want to promote them doing their ‘best’ on exams from the outset “How do you want to define their best?”. Would their best involve revision and past paper practice aged six?

Obviously we all want our children in happy, fulfilled jobs and careers; not sat on the sofa not being stressed, but eventually and inevitably getting stressed by their situation. Some stress is good after all. Isn’t it? Stress gets us out of bed and makes us do stuff. Doesn’t it? Couldn’t something else do this though? Conscience? Commitment? Enjoyment? Obviously every good parent wants their children to be happy, hopefully from the inside out. Happiness tends to include fulfilment and success to some degree, hence an inevitable quandary for us all.

Media seems to suggest that students are getting more and more stressed about their exams and academic/professional futures. Teachers want the best for and out of their students, but not I would argue at the expense of them learning how to have a balanced, happy life. The best interests of the child is a phrase bandied around a lot. Really? Is this pressure really in their best interests? Best interests surely means happiest and healthiest now and in the future? Isn’t mental health at the centre of this? Closer to the core of us than career? It seems that it is better for the economy, society’s progress and our international competitiveness to keep trying to drive up results and standards, but for each individual child? Really? And the goalposts for some must seem to keep moving. Someone has to fail for others to succeed. Even if it works for some children; is this one size fits all exam factory in the best interests of everyone? How can it be?

We are all indebted to the superheroes of society – the doctors, pioneering scientists, men on the moon and other people at the ‘top of their game’ – all moving society forward, making discoveries, if not or as well as saving lives. If we don’t strive for the best in everyone, will we stop making so many heroes? Surely not. Surely we can still stretch and challenge within a healthier system. And surely we all need a balance? Clearly this balance is different for everyone and some people’s dedication is awe inspiring; but lets not forget one person’s happy balance could be another’s living nightmare. Furthermore dedication that grows and is balanced by an adult is very different to a pressure that is heaped on a child who hasn’t yet the skills to manage it.

Simply put with today’s pressures children need more help working out what their ‘best’ means. When you don’t know what pressure is being heaped on by themselves or by stressed teachers guidance from you such as “best with an hour/age appropriate/if appropriate amount of revision” or “best after we’ve gone for a walk and before we watch a comedy show together” could be crucial. Lets advocate trying – and trying hard. Lets help them look for their own happy balance, a skill which is so important in today’s pressurised world. (Can we also actively encourage a slight disdain for formal examinations at the age of six though? Please!) Lets not have our children feeling stressed, defined or limited by examination results.

If doing their best academically becomes something children want to pursue and dedicate more and more time to, lets talk to them about stress, happiness and all the different bits of the brain (I for one need to do some learning here first!) together. A best with nothing else to balance it out probably isn’t a best anyway, as its foundations will surely be too weak. Let them know that simply trying hard can be good enough and that it is okay for this trying to come with boundaries. These beliefs shouldn’t rule them out of being an amazing doctor (all doctors are amazing in my book!) or a pioneering scientist but it could make them a happier (and I’d argue more effective) one. Above all lets help them find the confidence and mindset needed to grow up to be happy and fulfilled adults, who can go on to add to the world as they are able to, in whichever way they choose.