A new baby means big changes for the whole family. Second (or third) time around, you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s coming. But your toddler has no idea what’s about to hit them and there’s a good chance they won’t particularly like it when it happens. A new baby means lots of things toddlers don’t like: sharing toys, sharing the limelight, sharing mummy, well, sharing in general!
It’s not uncommon for toddlers to have confused reactions to the arrival of a new sibling – one minute being the perfect big brother or sister, then angry, jealous or aggressive, or even self-harming. My eldest son reacted to his brother’s arrival by banging his head – hard – against walls, the floor, people, sometimes hard enough to cause a bruise. It was very distressing (though thankfully passed quickly) and I will always be grateful to the lovely mum who came up to me in the pub garden and told me not to worry, her son had done the same thing.
There’s no guarantees that things will go smoothly, but preparing your child in advance for the new baby’s arrival should help to get things off to a good start. Continue reading
Welcome to the parenting teenagers years! During this stage of parenting there will be no handy help from midwives, health visitors or mother and toddler groups. You won’t be swapping tips with other mums or dads at the school gate and no one is going to give you a ‘How To’ manual for Christmas. When it comes to parenting teenagers, you are on your own with only self-doubt and the internet to help…
So, in the spirit of comradeship, here are a few simple rules that I found out the hard way. Stick to these and – yes, it might still get messy and there will definitely be difficult moments but there’s a good chance you’ll come out the other side with a healthy relationship with your adult son/daughter and a smile on your face. Good luck! Continue reading
Last week, one of the mums I was working with repeatedly burst into tears as she described her 8-year-old’s low self-esteem. He was reluctant to try anything new, gave up easily in the face of failure and struggled with friendships. She could already see him falling behind his potential and was scared for his future. As a mum, she felt utterly powerless in the face of his relentless negative thinking and no amount of praise or encouragement (or anything else) seemed to make any difference. It is an all too common story.
The Optimistic Child is a book which will give hope to parents of children with poor self-esteem.
Right from the start it makes crystal clear the links between pessimistic thinking and low self-esteem and it is packed with practical exercises for parents to use to recognise and tackle their child’s negative habits of mind. It is immensely readable, cogent, inspiring and practical. And most importantly, because it views pessimistic thinking as a ‘learned helplessness’ it offers the possibility that new ways of thinking can be taught. Continue reading
Toddlers’ brains are only half-finished. As a result, toddlers think in fundamentally different ways from adults. For toddlers, the impossible is just as likely to be true and the laws of the physics don’t exist. Interpreting toddler behaviour according to adult logic is therefore pointless – and it sometimes leads us to draw conclusions that aren’t always helpful. Toddlers make much more sense if you step inside their heads and try and see the world from their level of development.
So here’s a quick guide to what every parent needs to know about toddlers’ brains in order to interpret toddler behaviour accurately.
Why can’t toddlers walk from A to B without being distracted by a leaf?
The part of the brain that enables adults to focus on a task and resist distractions is called the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is involved in thinking, planning and focusing and it isn’t well developed in toddlers’ brains. Continue reading
“He’s got toddler OCD” is a phrase I’ve heard countless times from parents of 2 and 3 year-olds. Sometimes said with a laugh, sometimes with real concern. My response? “Excellent!”
Why “excellent”? Well, in crude terms, repeated actions are the foundation of abstract thinking. A toddler who is obsessively moving toy cars from one place to another (to the exclusion of all other children or activities) is well on the way to building an advanced conceptual model of the world. Frustrating for his parents (and for any other child who wants to play with those cars) but usually simply a sign of intellectual development.
Young children don’t learn about the world by sitting back and contemplating it – their brain structures simply haven’t developed to do that. Young children learn about the world through physical and sensory experiences: touching, tasting, throwing, jumping, and climbing into things. Continue reading
It’s no fun living in a war zone. Children fighting can really take the joy out of family time and make the most saintly of us wish to be elsewhere. Sibling conflict is a common family problem most families will experience children fighting, arguing, bickering, teasing, and refusing to share at some point or other.
Some squabbling between siblings is to be expected, but it becomes a problem if it is the usual way children treat each other. If not dealt with effectively, arguing often gets worse or escalates into aggression and physical fighting. Brothers and sisters need to learn to resolve their disagreements and behave in a polite, co-operative and caring way with each other (see Managing sibling conflict: why siblings fight). Continue reading
As a parent, it’s often hard to know what’s important and what isn’t. Does it matter if your child eats their chips with their fingers at the dinner table? Or is it more important that they can sit and have a pleasant conversation with you while they are eating them? Should you push them to keep playing the cello when they want to give it up? Or allow them to make their own choices about how to spend their time? What’s the best balance between structured activities (classes and sports) and unstructured downtime? And does any of it really matter as long as you love them and give them your attention?
Feeling a bit bewildered by so many judgement calls (and in a bid to silence my inner doubting voice) this Mothers’ Day I decided to get back to basics and ask an expert. Continue reading
The basic premise for Sue Gerhardt’s book Why Love Matters is simple: the way that mothers respond to their babies during infancy influences how their brains develop. On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer. So why did I find it such a deeply uncomfortable and annoying read as both a parent and a professional?
Despite the erudite academic stance, Gerhardt’s argument is utterly reductionist – parents are to blame for all the ills of their children all the way into adulthood (behaviour, mental health and even cancer) and that if we get it wrong in the brief window when our kids are babies then, basically, they are doomed. What’s more, mothers start getting it wrong before their children are even born by providing the wrong in utero environment. The complex interplay of factors that affect the growing child after their first birthday is pretty much dismissed as irrelevant: if we have got it wrong in infancy then their only hope is many years of psychotherapy as adults. Continue reading
Teenagers and toddlers have a lot in common. An ability to go from 0 to 10 on the tantrum scale completely out of the blue, a stubborn refusal to follow guidance, fierce fixations on particular objects or activities and a single-minded pursuit of the pleasure-right-now principle (to name but a few).
I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to trying to work out why children behave the way they do. Partly it’s curiosity and partly it’s a way to stay calm in the face of unreasonable and unpredictable child behaviour. If I’m able to imagine my tantruming toddler as a Play Robot that has got stuck on ‘Go’ then I find it a lot easier to achieve the emotional distance required to stay calm when he ramps it up at the checkout in Tesco’s.
Now we have reached the teenage years, I have been searching for an understanding of older children that will help keep me sane in the face of their more maddening behaviour. And I think I may have come up with a few! Continue reading
When it comes to parenting, teenagers get a pretty bad press. The mood swings, the rudeness, the mess, the risks, the smell! No wonder so many parents dread the teenage years.
But it isn’t all bad. There’s a lot to look forward to when your children become teens. Here are six of the reasons why I love being the parent of a teenager:
1. The TV is much better
Is it just me or is Modern Family actually quite funny? It certainly beats Teletubbies and Postman Pat, that’s for sure. My stamina is nowhere near teen level (a whole series of Big Bang Theory in one sitting, really??) but finding a companion to watch Amazing Spaces with me has been a real boon. And snuggled up on the sofa with no-one looking, I sometimes even get a rare teen cuddle… Continue reading