Advice

What makes children happy?

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I read with interest yesterday an article on the updated findings of a landmark report published three years ago by the Children’s Society – ‘A Good Childhood’ which I blogged on some months back – here.  The previous study warned that young people’s lives are being blighted by Britain’s selfish society.  However, the updated findings say that ‘half a million children in Britain are unhappy at any moment’.  Following interviews with 30,000 under-16s it claims those who have deeply negative feelings about their lives are at higher risk of bullying, depression and eating disorders.  At first glance it makes for depressing reading and is another stark reminder that we still have unacceptable levels of child poverty in this country are more than unacceptable.  But, I then realised that the study was not talking about children on the poverty line but children in general across the board!

As I read on what actually concerned, and frankly annoyed, me about the report was the findings that;

‘Children who worry that they do not have the right clothes to “fit in” with classmates are three times as likely to be unhappy with the way they look, with the problem affecting girls more than boys.’ And ‘Those who received less pocket money than their peers reported lower levels of well-being, but so did those who were given a lot more cash, suggesting that children want to be similar to their friends more than they want to be rich.’

I’m sorry but since when did we not balk at the idea that our responsibility for making our children ‘happy’ lies with providing them with the right ‘clothes’ and enough pocket money?   Is it just me or is something amiss here?   Should it not be more cause for alarm that the emphasis and importance placed on image, labels and material things in general is completely out of control and endemic?  Instead of being encouraged to revise our children’s opinions we’re being pressured to adhere to their demands and (in my opinion) helping to compound the problem.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand the mortification of not having a ‘puff-ball’ skirt, ‘Wallabies’ or a ‘United Colors of Benetton’ sweatshirt at school because we were a single-parent family who lived on a council estate!  However, despite our low income, my mum always dressed us ‘well’ albeit not the latest labels.  My mum, instead encouraged us to be individual and suggested it was cool to be different – just as well seen as we were the only mixed-race kids in our entire year!  I remember my aunt made us some ‘flares’ just before they heavily came in fashion (I’m talking the second time round in the 90’s – I’m not that old!) and although we were a little nervous at wearing them in the first week, the ‘top girl’ of the school came up to us asked us where we got them from and if our aunt would make her some!  There is a lot you can get away with if you’re confident and this attitude has got me a long way in life ever since.  I just think it’s a much more helpful trait to encourage in your child – confidence, individuality and setting the trend rather than following it.

There is a big difference between not having any shoes at all (real child poverty) and not having the ‘right’ shoes.  And as for pocket money – don’t even get me started. They don’t know they’re born!!

L

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Developing speech, language and communication in your child

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Yesterday a survey by OnePoll for I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and Openreach revealed that children in the UK are suffering as the recession forces parents to take extra work.

According to the findings the recession has forced 81% of parents in London (72% of British parents nationally) to take on extra work to make ends meet putting pressure on home life and time with children.  Worryingly, parents surveyed said this impacts on the time that they have to talk and interact with their child aged 0-5 years, which could potentially impact on their child’s communication development and their school readiness. Evidence shows that children’s understanding and use of vocabulary at 2 is very strongly associated with their performance on entering primary school. More than 50% of children start school without the communication skills they need to achieve particularly in some areas of social deprivation within the UK.

Key stats from survey in London:

•           Over a third are working longer hours, one-fifth have found themselves with no option but to take on a second job and a quarter of parents surveyed are now doing extra work from home.

•           More than half (57%) say they have less quality time with their children as a result of their work.

The survey shows that parents of children 0-5 years old, understand the importance of regular, quality conversation with their children. However:

•           44% say they rarely have time to talk these days and blame increased workloads.

•           20% are too tired to chat with their children by the time they get home from work.

•           Around a third state that either answering work calls or responding to emails often interrupts attempts to chat with their children.

•           Although parents in London recognise mealtimes as one of the key occasions to engage in conversation with young children, nearly 40% are regularly missing out on these meals due to work commitments.

The survey aims to encourage as many families, nurseries, child minders, children’s groups and others across London to register and take part in I CAN’s Chatterbox Challenge 2012 ‘Kids in Motion: Get Active and Make Chatter Matter’. the 11th annual Chatterbox Challenge, from 1-7th February 2012. The Chatterbox Challenge, developed by speech and language therapists, aims to develop children’s communication skills, through songs and rhymes, in homes, nurseries and childminding groups across the country.”

With support from Openreach, donations raised during the Chatterbox Challenge go directly to I CAN’s work with children with speech, language and communication difficulties. I CAN aims to ensure that no child is left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding.

 Kate Freeman, I CAN Communication Lead Advisor says, ‘There are many quick and simple ways to help your child’s communication and we’ve put together 10 tips on building talking and singing into a busy day’:

10 TIPS FOR DEVELOPING SPEECH, LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION

GET YOUR CHILD’S FULL ATTENTION FIRST

Get down to the child’s level and engage their attention before speaking or asking a question – say their name to encourage them to stop and listen.  Talking about what your child is interested in will also help to gain their attention.

MAKE LEARNING LANGAUGE FUN

Funny voices, rhymes, noises and singing all help children to learn language.  Be silly – often the daftest things gain their attention

IMITATE CHILDREN’S LANGUAGE

With very young children, simply repeat back sounds, words and sentences. This demonstrates that you value all they say.  This can be anything from “ba” to “Oh, you liked the apple?”

USE A FULL RANGE OF EXPRESSION

Speak in a lively, animated voice and use lots of gestures and facial expressions to back up your words – you’ll give clues about what your words mean

USE SIMPLE, REPETITIVE LANGUAGE

Keep sentences short – as you talk about what is happening (“We’re driving in the car” or “Wow, you’re building a tower”)

MAKE IT EASY FOR YOUR CHILD TO LISTEN AND TALK

It is easier for your child to know what to listen to if your voice is not being masked by the television or music.  Give your child quiet times to help them focus on your words.  If your child uses a dummy, make sure that it is not in the way of their talking.  Keep dummies to sleeptimes

BUILD ON WHAT CHILDREN SAY

Talk very clearly and add one or two words to your child’s sentence – if your child says ‘look car’, you could say ‘look, red car’

GIVE CHILDREN TIME TO RESPOND

Children often need time to put their thoughts together before answering, so give them longer to respond than you would with an adult

BE CAREFUL WITH QUESTIONS

Try not to ask too many questions, especially ones that sound like you’re constantly testing the child, or where you already know the answer

DEMONSTRATE THE RIGHT WAY

Praise your child’s efforts, even if the results aren’t perfect – if the child says “we goed to the shops” the adult might say “Yes we went to the shops” of if child says “look tar” the adult could say “yes, car!” 

I thought these were pretty good tips but I’d add avoid baby talk.  I honestly have never understood the thinking behind teaching two versions of words when you can teach the correct one from the start! Why say ‘Choo-Choo’ when you can say ‘train’? Why teach ‘Ta’ when you can teach ‘thank you’.  Some baby talk words are more difficult to say than the real ones i.e. ‘Bow wow’ V ‘dog’!!!!  My son’s speech has always been fairly advanced (a real chatterbox) and although he loves using funny voices, making up words and silly rhymes (which I encourage) he has a great vocabulary and loves learning new words and their meanings.  I’m sure this has been largely down to us taking advantage of his inquisitive nature and explaining things properly when he asks about them rather than palming him off with kiddy answers – that are often not true.  Sometimes adults can assume a child will not understand and therefore over simplify an answer which can actually end up confusing a child – especially if they’re on to the fact that you’ve made it up!  I also found responding to a question with a little bit of additional information but not too much helps to add interest and fun into learning.  I also have talked a lot to my son from him being a tiny baby and I believe this helps them with their speech and understanding.

What tips would you add to encourage development in your child’s communication?

There is still time to register for a free Chatterbox Challenge pack, just go to www.chatterboxchallenge.co.uk

L

New Year’s resolutions for children?

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The New Year means new beginnings for many and an opportunity to start again, set some goals and make some changes.  These very often take the form of New Year’s resolutions for adults.  But what about children?  Is it a good idea or even healthy for children to have a set of New Year’s resolutions?

I must admit, personally I change my mind from year to year with regards to resolutions.  In some ways I think they can set you up for inevitable failure, in other ways I think it is good to have something to aim for.  I guess as long as you don’t beat yourself up about it if you don’t reach your goals than they can be helpful guidelines.

Anyway, I came across an interesting American article about New Year’s resolutions for children.  It quotes American pediatric psychologist, Stacy Flowers.  She says, “The New Year is a fresh start and it’s a great time for families to take a look at the past year and see where they can make improvement. For children and teens, making resolutions helps with self-discipline, goal setting and, when they are successful, improves self-esteem.”

I was skeptical at first but as I read on I felt Flowers had some interesting and helpful points.  According to Flowers, parents can play an important role in helping their children decide on goals and successfully meet those goals in the coming year:  “The first step is knowing your children. What areas can they work on? Where can they improve? Where will they see the biggest benefit?”

The key, according to Flowers, is to come up with manageable accomplishments that are personally meaningful to your child. These accomplishments will vary greatly with age.

However it’s all very well setting goals but how on earth do you get children to keep them?  Flowers suggests,

“Young children might benefit from charts and stickers to document their progress and accomplishments. Older children and teens can utilise calendars or electronic documentation of their achievements. Parents can also use age-appropriate rewards to recognise their children’s successes.  No matter how old you are, it feels so good to get something crossed off your list, and the absolutely best way to change behavior is to reward it instead of punish it.”

We, as parents, don’t get let off the hook in the article either.  Flowers says if children are making resolutions, their parents should be as well.  She says, “Those goals should be shared with the children so they are aware of what their parents are hoping to achieve. That actually makes it fun for the children. They get really excited when they can point out something their parent isn’t doing right.”

Flowers concludes that, “Everybody has something they need to work on, so resolutions can become a family tradition.”

After reading the article I felt that if nothing else it would give me a chance to approach and tackle some of the ‘difficult’ behaviour my son has made a habit of over the last year and I can set some goals that I know he’ll relish keeping me accountable to.  It could actually be fun! What do you think?

L

How to talk to Little Girls

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I read a really thought provoking article this morning which really challenged my thinking completely.  It was by author Lisa Bloom in the Huffington Post called How to Talk to Little Girls. Now I see myself as a liberal, forward thinking, bordering on feminist woman who feels strongly about girls celebrating their brains as well as beauty; having a healthy all-round self-image.  However, when I read the article I realised that I too have often been guilty of employing ‘flattering’ tactics of little girls in order to boost their self-esteem.  All little girls want to be a princess and love to be complimented on their pretty dress, hair or smile – something we never really grow out of!  But what Bloom challenges in the article is the idea that teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.  This really did make me stop in my tracks!

Bloom noted that this week ABC News reported that;

‘Nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. Also in her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, she reveals that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart.’

A depressing outlook!

Yes we want our little girls to know they are beautiful physically regardless of the current ‘trend’ for beauty and whether they fit into it or not but, wouldn’t it be even better if they were brought up to believe that this actually doesn’t even matter at all?!  As to whether this is possible in today’s society is another thing altogether but Bloom does believe we can play our small and significant part to, as she says, ‘Change the world, one little girl at a time.’

Bloom suggests we consciously engage in a different dialogue when we talk to little girls such as asking them; What is she reading? What does she like and dislike, and why? For older girls she advises, asking about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Basically to model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

I found this really inspiring as well as challenging.  I don’t have a daughter but if I did I’d love it if my friend’s I admire and look up to conversed with her in this way.  As a mum of a son it obviously got me thinking about how we talk to boys and what negative stereotypes we subliminally enforce – but that’s another blog post for another day!!

L

Domestic Violence: Refuge 1 in 4 campaign

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Today we here at More Than A Mum want to start a conversation. It is not an easy conversation to start.  It is about Domestic Violence.

Refuge and Avon have teamed up in the 1 in 4 campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence.  They are using the statistic 1 in 4 as this is the number of women who suffer some form of domestic violence in their lives.  As part of their campaign they are asking people to start a conversation to end domestic violence. So here we are, starting a conversation with you.

Between the 25th November and the 10th December they are asking people tell a friend everyday about the 1 in 4 campaign.  There are ready made facebook status updates and tweets to help you out  and there is also a facebook app you can download.  Just raising awareness and helping to get people talking about such a taboo subject is the first and most difficult step.  Support this campaign by talking to someone else.  If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, then the Refuge has a wealth of information and support available to support you.

Refuge is a women’s charity, standing up for women in domestic violence. Women are most often the victims in domestic violence situations and it can be very difficult for them to escape the relationship.  It is not only women who are the victims in domestic violence, however, there are men who live with abusive partners too.  It is estimated that between a quarter and a half of domestic violence victims are men. This is sometimes even more difficult to talk about.

As well as highlighting Refuge’s brilliant campaign here and encouraging you to take part, I wanted to post a link to a men’s advice charity.  Let’s start a conversation about all victims of domestic violence.

R

First time mothers and home births

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At least once a week a report is published, and taken out of context by the media, on parenting, child birth or children that really annoys me.  Last week it was championing Ceasareans rejoicing in the fact that all women should be able to have one if they ‘want’ one – obviously they have not spoken to any women who have had one before phrasing this like it’s a luxury must-have accessory!!!  And this week it’s the ‘warning’ to first time mums against having home births!

The study claims that ‘First-time mothers who opt for a home-birth are almost three times more likely to suffer complications than if they go to hospital.’ It went on to state that ‘up to half of first time mothers were transferred to hospital while in labour from home and third from a midwifery unit’. Arrgh! This is yet again the ‘medical brigade’ forcing out women’s choices with that oh so powerful vehicle of fear!  I am aware not every woman will be with me on this one and perhaps it is reassuring for many to give birth in a hospital. I however, was adamant from the moment I was pregnant that I was not ‘ill’ and had never had a stay in hospital in my life so therefore why should I go now while I’m performing something that trillions of women have done through the ages and continue to do so every second of the day around the world which I believe is called ‘natural’ childbirth??!!  BearCub was meant to be a home-birth and I had my entire labour at home when the mid wife ‘thought’ his heart slowed so they took me in (during the transistion phase) when I arrived I was 10 cm and ready to push so I could have stayed hoem after all!

But what I really hate about this research, as with most statistics shoved in our face by the media that we for some reason feel unable to question, is that they only tell half the picture.  In fact way down near the bottom of each article on this paper the researchers stressed that ‘giving birth is generally very safe as 250 babies suffered complications from the 64,538 births in the study’.

Hospitals want us to have medical intervention during child-birth as it is quicker, safer (for them), and quieter.  Yes really! Ask any NCT teacher and they’ll tell you that hospitals don’t like the grunting, groaning, screaming and general animalistic noises that help us pop out our offspring.  We are hassle wanting to be mobile, upright, on all fours or have scented candles and Bob Dylan playing in the background!!! In short it is much preferable to them if they are in control of your birth experience rather than you.

I think it’s worth noting that only 58 per cent of women in hospital had a natural birth without any intervention, compared to 88 per cent of women who opted for a birth at home and 76 per cent to 83 per cent of women who chose a midwife-led unit.

Professor Peter Brocklehurst, who led the study at Oxford, but has since moved to University College London (UCL), himself said adverse events are very uncommon.

“For every 1,000 women, 995 babies would have a completely normal outcome,” he said.

In contrast to the study, Maureen Treadwell, of the Birth Trauma Association, said: “These findings are useful but are based on a study of only 5,000 women in each type of midwifery unit and do not tell us how many babies died or were brain damaged in each group.”

Could it possibly be a strong argument that the number of first time births have more complications because they are first time births whether at home or in hospital?  The experience is entirely new to the mother, things generally move slower and first-time mums do not know what to expect.  That sounds logical doesn’t it? And we are allowed to use our brains and our mouths right?

I’d love to, along side this, see a study publish the results and recovery time of women who have had a natural birth and those who have suffered medical intervention.  What can seem like the best option because it is the fastest can sometimes have the longer and more adverse affect which leads me on to another rant….. ok well I’ll leave that one for another post!!! 😉

L

Parents’ evenings: an insider’s guide!

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So far here at more than a mum, we have focused on toddlers and Mums.  That is where Loretta and I are at with our own parenting.  Today, I want to discuss something for parents of older children: school parents’ eveningsParents' evening

As you may know I (Ruth) am a secondary school teacher and recently when attending a Mums get together, I chatted to a number of women with older children.  Something that they all said was that one of the toughest  parenting challenges they faced was school. In part, this was due to finding they didn’t understand “the system”.

One area where many parents can feel lost is parents’ evening.  You may feel anxious and as if you are on trial, waiting for the verdict to be pronounced on you via your little darling’s achievements or misdemeanours. Teachers have to see tens of parents in very short order and (at secondary school, especially) you are often only allocated a 5-10minute slot with each teacher.  You want to spend as long as necessary, but are aware of the queue building behind you and the mounting chorus of sighs and tuts.

Firstly I thought it may be useful to tell you how the teacher may be feeling.  I cannot say that this goes for all teachers; I can only talk from my own experience. The thoughts below are amalgamation of my own thoughts, experiences and observations through ten years of teaching.

“As a teacher I am frustrated by the short time slots. They don’t allow me to talk properly with parents.  I am also very aware of the huge queue building up and wary of the parent who wants to talk for the entire evening.  I would like to build a good relationship with parents but often don’t feel that there is the time on these evenings.

“For parents of children who are doing well, I may not say much.  I want these students to do well, but as their families are obviously already doing all the right things, spending ages talking them is not my priority. I may tell you statistics and use acronyms without explaining them to you – this because I forget that you may not understand and I know it they mean that your child is doing well.

“For parents of children who need more support in learning or behaviour, I may appear to lecture you and not let you get a word in edgeways.  This is because there are a number of things that I need to say to you and I am aware that time is short. I am used to talking to students who are expected to listen and can sometimes forget that I’m not in the classroom.  I want you to be involved; in fact I need you to be involved if we are going to help your child.”

So, that was my view on the part of the teacher in parents’ evening, but as the name suggests, it should not be about the teacher. The second part of this blog is therefore, over to you.  Please add your questions and answers below.  As a parent, what do you want to know about parents’ evenings? What most frustrates you?  What is the thing you always want to find out, but never can? Which acronyms do you need explaining? Has your child’s school really got something right? Have you got a parents’ evening insight to share?

Also, are there any more teachers out there (I know there’s a few of us hiding, unnoticed in the mummy-blogging community!) who could share a hint or tip for parents about how to make parents’ evenings a successful interaction for all concerned?  Or can any of you answer the questions posted?  I hope that this blog will get a dialogue going and help to remove at least some of the barriers of “the system” that the women I spoke to seemed to have found.

R