Parenting

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

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‘That New John Lewis Ad’ Or ‘Better to give than receive? Try telling a Toddler that!’

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Is it too early to have a Christmas themed blog post? I hope not. I usually gage it by the Christmas lights being switched on in shopping centres so it seems to have officially started in some parts. I have an axe to grind, a bug to bear, a rant to rave…. Now when in my pre-parent days I heard people harp on about the over indulgence and materialism of Christmas I used to nod in agreement but secretly felt they were probably a bit of a scrooge or at least ‘tight’. Now, having become a mum and this year being the first that 2-year old BearCub seems to understand, I am outraged that the nets of marketing aimed at my seemingly innocent child have worked and fully ensnared him! Suddenly my son not only wants, but also expects, ‘everything’. Any shop we pass he is asking to buy a plane or car and any vague acquaintance that visits the house is questioned as to what they have bought him. I like to think I am not a materialistic person and we do try to avoid Milkshake in favour of Cbeebies in part due to the onslaught of child aimed mass marketing – in part due to the annoying presenters. Where has my ungrateful and greedy child come from? We have tried having the chat about not expecting presents every day and that gifts are deserving of special occasions only and I even put a ban on all gifts between a couple of weeks back and Christmas. However this all proved futile when BearCub’s Grandma returned from Australia and presented ‘just a few little gifts’ which turned out to be a massive remote controlled car and a mini motorbike – both gifts I’d deem as a main Christmas present – and with Christmas just 5 weeks away!!!! Grrr!

I really want my son to grow up with the literal awe my sister and I had when we would open our second-hand (and clearly used) presents with delight then go upstairs when it was over and find one last extra present – a Commodore 64 our mum had worked extra hours to get for us. We literally cried with joy and complete amazement! Instead my 2-year old already expects to receive whatever he wishes for!

I had a wealthy friend who would allow her children to select one toy to keep and then go with her children after Christmas to give their other gifts to less fortunate children. Maybe a step too far but I love the idea of teaching that giving is better than receiving from a young age.

You’ve probably seen the new John Lewis ad by now – you know the one everyone is raving about. Since being pregnant I have gone from a gal who had never cried at a film in her life to someone who gets choked at episodes of Holby City. The striking point of the J.L ad is the fact that we are so familiar with children impatiently counting down until Christmas in anticipation of the gifts they will receive that we are wholly touched when we realise this boy’s excitement is at that thought of giving a gift to his parents. This would obviously never happen in real life but, I do think it serves as a great reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. As to how we teach our little darlings that it’s better to give than receive when they are currently going through the stage of not at all understanding why they should share anything in the world…well if you have the answer please do let me know!!!

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

Can Toddlers be bullies?

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This week is anti-bullying week and thinking about it made me recall a conversation I had with a mummy-friend a couple of weeks back.  She had been pulled aside by the nursery staff when she went to pick up her son and was told her son had been caught ‘bullying’ another child – a child with Downs Syndrome.  The whole incident was very distressing for my friend and she apologised profusely.

I had very mixed emotions when she told me about it and lots of questions.  In particular, what constitutes bullying by a 2 year old?  My son, and many of his friends, are presently living out the ‘terrible twos’ in full force, testing every boundary known to woman and generally challenging everything.  This sometimes manifests in what I suppose could be described as bullying: Being territorial over their toys, snatching, randomly diving on some poor unsuspecting child’s head, shouting at the top of their voices while just an inch away from someone’s face!! But is this bullying?  Had the nursery made an issue out of ‘normal’ two-year old behaviour because the other child had Downs Syndrome?

Now, from our previous post on prejudice and children, you’ll know that I don’t believe very young children can be racist or prejudice.  Difference doesn’t threaten them like it does when they get older.  The other thing that struck me was how it is just as devastating to be the parent of the bully as it is to be the parent of the victim.  We try to do our best with our children but sometimes they may still display bad behavior despite our best efforts – see our nature V nurture post.  I am devastated at the thought of my son coming home having been bullied at school but, I am even more horrified at the thought of the school contacting me to say he has been the bully!

I am passionately against bullying and fully support this week’s campaign.  Like racism, I think we can help our children against bullying by simply celebrating difference from a young age.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you there is no easy way to deal with bullying however, if we can focus our efforts on growing our children into accepting, caring, confident and content human beings, maybe that is our best fight against bullying as parents.

The Beatbullying organisation says their key aim is all about ‘shaping attitudes and changing behaviours’.  I’m inclined to agree that this is probably our strongest weapon to help combat bullying and we can start this with our young children as parents in the home before school even starts.

L

Nature V Nurture & National Adoption Week

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This week is National Adoption week.  To mark it, on the radio station where I work I interviewed 3 ladies for the women’s programme.  They were; a retired clinical geneticist, a former family lawyer who now works for a well-known family charity – Care for the family – and a post-adoption team social worker.  All are also mothers.  We were tackling the age-old debate of Nature Verses Nurture in the light of adoption.  When we have children, or adopt, we hope and believe environmental forces i.e. parenting, above all else excels a greater force on our children than nature.  That their personality will be shaped by love and discipline.  But is it really?

I love a good debate and this is one I’ve revisited time and again particularly since I became a parent and especially since I became a ‘single’ parent.  The radio discussion was fascinating:  The geneticist, understandably, argued that there is a limit to what good parenting can do as genes do affect behaviour characteristics.  However, she added we are never programmed fully by our genes.  Ironically, the social worker had done a thesis on nature V nurture years ago and concluded that nurture was the prevailing factor.  However, after years of social work she admitted her view has changed somewhat and now believes a lot is down to nature.  The ex-family lawyer and charity worker felt, like the other two ladies, that in the early years there is a key opportunity – in particular the first year and continuing until age 5 – when good parenting and a lot of love can have a profound effect.

My problem with this debate is there are very strong arguments on both sides.  There is no doubt certain traits and characteristics are passed down through our genealogy and we only need do a case study of our own familes to see it.  But, I also believe our environment and circumstances (in this case love and good parenting) can go a long way in shaping the people our children will become.  Our genes do affect who we are but the bit I’m interested in is, are we a slave to them or can bad genes be overcome with good parenting for example?  How much of children’s behaviour is due to parenting and how much is due to their innate character?

Lionel Shriver addresses this beautifully, if not darkly, in the brilliant ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ book.   (By the way don’t read it if you’re pregnant with your first child).  The book doesn’t really provide clear answers but wonderfully explores whether a child can be ‘evil’.  Furthermore, if this is possible, is it an innate evil that cannot be overcome or a result of experience and circumstance?  It’s just been made into a film starring Tilda Swinton if you can’t be botehred to read the book!

Studies suggest that many temperamental and behavioural tendencies are ultimately 30 to 50 per cent genetic and five major personality traits are identified which show the strongest influence called the Big 5: Extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and openness to experience.  Others with a significant genetic legacy include altruism, shyness, accident-proneness and even self-esteem.

I guess we could all frantically go through this list and analyse our children trying to see if they have that same ‘look’ in their eye that mad uncle George had and end up paranoid and fearful.  However, it was in fact the geneticist who pointed out in the interview that although good parenting goes a very long way indeed it is helpful to acknowledge that genes play a part because despite our best efforts sometimes our children do go off the rails and parents are the first to feel guilty and ask the question ‘Where did I go wrong?’

As it is National Adoption Week, I have to also mention that I was astounded to learn that despite numerous research concluding that early years are the key time to provide, love, consistency and lay firm foundations for children, there are 3600 children in care under the age of 1 and only 60 babies were adopted last year!  I find this disturbing and quite frankly disgusting.  Apparently on average children have to wait 2 years and 7 months for a new home by which time a considerable amount of damage will already have been done.  It angers me that red tape is getting in the way of these babies having the love and stability they deserve especially when there are adoptive parents put there waiting to provide it.

To end on a more positive note, the family charity worker gave some great tips for making sure your child not only knows they are loved but feels it too.  She said we can tell when our child’s ‘love tank’ is empty when they start acting up (at this point I did think Bearcub must be running on empty a lot of the time lately!) but she then went on to quote a fantastic book, which I’ve read called The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman Chapman explains that it is imperative that we learn our child’s (or partner’s or friend’s) ‘love language’ and communicate to them using it to ensure the message gets across.  The Five Love Languages are – Time, Touch, Words, Gifts and Actions.  It’s about learning how an individual wants/needs to be loved.  I for one found this quite a helpful tip for making sure that BearCub’s Love-tank is regularly and fully topped up!

L

Urban Vs Rural Childhood

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Recently I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of rural versus urban childhoods. Does the perceived safety of a rural environment allow children more freedom? Are children who are brought up in the city more tolerant of difference? Are rural kids fitter? Do urban kids have more access to cultural and intellectual stimulation?

As part of my MEd I had to read a report about urban and rural childhoods.  It was not well researched and had many flaws, but it concluded that those children who grew up in urban environments had much higher ‘social capital’. i.e. they could socialise better with a wider range of people, had a wider range of experiences and social networks and that this is led to more economic stability in adult life. I don’t feel like I was stunted by my own rural up-bringing, nor that I am less economically stable than if I had had an urban upbringing; but who am I to judge myself? Munchkin, at two, has a much more diverse range of experiences than I did at her age thanks to living in London.

The second thing that made me think about the urban vs rural childhood was CoombeMill’s blog and in particular the Country Kids photoblog linky that Fiona has started.  This week she put up photos of her kids climbing trees and I thought, “I remember that, and I loved it!” I remember the freedom of being outside all day from a very early age and wonder if I’d have been given the same freedom had I lived in the city? But I also remember visiting my London cousins and feeling much more naive than them, despite being older.

I grew up in a hamlet of 15 houses miles away with nothing but a post box and a phone box and 3 miles to the nearest bus stop. As a teenager I did get frustrated that I couldn’t visit them without relying on my parents, but overall I loved the freedom.  I’d go miles (literally) on my bike with friends with the only proviso being that I should be back for tea.  I could spend the day making dens in the farmyard.  I could identify flowers, trees and insects.  I got muddy and I knew where milk came from!

As an adult I enjoy the convenience of the big city.  I couldn’t go back to having to get in the car even for a pint of milk, but I do miss the countryside.  I miss the community of living in a small village where I know everyone.  I have much more of a sense of community in London than I thought I would, but I don’t know my near neighbours.  Long Sunday walks to the park are lovely, but not quite the same as a country walk. I make jam, chutney and sloe gin (collected sloes at Mum’s when we visited last weekend!) but I get funny looks when I offer people a jar/bottle!

OH and I are planning to move to the country in the next few years, so whilst we’re in London, I intend to take Munchkin to as many museums and galleries as possible.  I do worry that rural village school will lead to a more blinkered view of things like race and I know that we’ll have to work harder to counter those things.  I hope my understanding of the rural life will allow me to give her more freedom than I would in the city.  There are pros and cons to both upbringings.

I know we have a diverse range of readers and I’d love to know your thoughts.  What are the pros and cons of bringing up children where you live?

R

Daylight Saving Time: Torture for parents!

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I am too tired to write a deep and meaningful blog post this morning and I’ll tell you why:  Whose stupid idea was it to change the clocks twice a year?  Obviously they were not thinking of the impact on Mother’s across the nation whose little darlings get up at 5.30am like mine does!  What on earth were they thinking and just who does this benefit?

Well apparently it’s all to do with saving the hours of daylight, and was started by a chap called William Willett, a London builder, who lived in Petts Wood in Kent.

Basically, he reckoned that you could improve the population’s health and happiness by putting forward the clocks by twenty minutes every Sunday in April and do the opposite in September (quite obviously not a parent!). His idea was not taken up, even though a ‘Daylight Saving Bill’ was introduced some five years before the outbreak of World War One. But once the war started, it was considered prudent to economise, to promote greater efficiency in using daylight hours, and in the use of artificial lighting. And so in 1916, ‘Daylight Saving Time’ was introduced.

Hello?  This was therefore about three reasons: improving health and happiness and economising due to the war.  Not a very extensive study admittedly, but I’m yet to meet a person let alone a parent whose happiness, health or utility bill has been helped by this out-dated notion.

Let me tell you the affect it has on me:  BearCub has never needed much sleep.  He sleeps through the night pretty much without fail (apart from when he’s ill) but he has always been an early riser.  I have done everything to try to change this including pain-stakingly moving his bed time 10 mins a time to an hour later.  As is the pattern I will finally get him into a routine of sleeping until a grand 6.30am when the clocks will change and we’re back to 5.30am wake ups!  I can handle anything past 6am but just that half hour earlier tips me over the edge.  I’m particularly dreading this weekend’s change as BearCub has taken to waking at 5.30am for the last week which means I’m in for a 4.30am little alarm clock on Sunday morning – joy!  It will take me a good few months to get this back to anywhere near 6am and then the clocks will go forward and bedtime will be mucked up with a knock on effect on wake ups!!!  Bloody daylight saving!!

L