Talking to Children about Death

Children often become interested in, and preoccupied with, death around the ages of three to five years and parents can really struggle with explaining it to them – the natural instinct is to down play it, so as not to scare them. I am firmly of the belief that we should expose children to death (ie they should attend funerals) and discuss it in a factual, honest way with them. In other cultures death (and birth) are a normal part of everyday life that children are not shielded from, I think we could do well to learn from these societies.
death
I think it’s important to use words such as “dead”, “died” and “death”, not “passed away” and “passed on” when explaining death to a child. I would also keep religious talk (if you are religious/spiritual) out of these conversations initially. e.g I would not say “s/he has gone to heaven”, or “lives in the sky now” (even if this is what you believe) and I would definitely not use language about “going to sleep”. Finally, I would not say “s/he was poorly”, or “s/he was sick”, instead I would say “s/he died from xxx” (naming the actual disease). The language we use is VERY important when explaining death to children. We need to be very clear about what we mean, explaining somebody is in the sky or similar leaves it open to interpretation that they may come back. Saying something like “s/he was poorly” can leave children worried that they may die whenever they are sick and “gone to sleep” can cause worry at bedtime. The more precise and matter of fact you can be when explaining cause of death the better. Re. spiritual beliefs of an afterlife, it is fine to discuss these, but only when children have a good grasp of death and what it means, not included in initial conversations.

When helping children to understand death (and especially the permanence of it), it can help to use examples children may have been exposed to – e.g: the death of a pet (allowing them to see the body and take part in any burial), the death of a houseplant, or even the death of an insect. This helps to make it tangible to them. I would also read books about death, e.g: ‘Goodbye Mog’, or Margot Sunderland’s ‘The Day the Sea Went Out & Never Came Back’ to help the child to process their feelings in a safe, child-friendly way.

Sarah

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5 Ways to Encourage a Positive Sibling Relationship

The following is an excerpt from my ‘The Second Baby Book’:

The following tips can all help to forge closer, more positive sibling relationships:

1. Don’t Compare Them
Comparing children is possibly the most destructive mistake that parents of two or more children can make. If you have a sibling, how many times did you hear “why can’t you be good, like your sister?” or “your brother is so much easier than you!”? How did it make you feel when your parents compared you to your sibling? Resentful? Hurt? Angry? Not only can comparison drive a wedge between parent and child relationships, but it can also cause animosity between siblings. Labelling children can have similar unexpected negative consequences. Be careful not to label children as “the naughty one”, “the quiet one”, “the easy one” and so on. Aside from encouraging a self-fulfilling prophecy with the limiting beliefs that accompany labelling, the unspoken comparison between siblings can often cause them to fight to keep their place or shed the label and place it onto another member of the family. Your children are individuals, treat them as one, the more you do, the less chance of any feelings of resentment they will have towards their sibling, which may damage any relationship they have.

2. Encourage Personal Space
Most children struggle with an invasion of their space. Toddlers on a play-date lash out and hit a peer who dares to join them in a favourite activity and teenagers can be hugely territorial over their belongings, albeit their lashing out is usually more verbal than physical. Helping siblings to have their own personal space, that is sacred to them, is vital. As is teaching all members of the family to respect this sacred space. ‘Don’t touch without asking’ should be a rule that applies to all. If your living arrangements don’t allow for your children to have their own bedroom (which is probably the easiest solution to allow for personal space, but not something that most families are able to provide), make sure each has a special corner of a room that is theirs and theirs alone. When they are young, I recommend buying each child their own toy box. A closed space that their sibling is not allowed to touch without their permission. As the parent, you must make sure that this is respected, don’t force children to share with their siblings if they are struggling with feelings of invasion of space and a lack of ownership.

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3. One-to-One Time
Do you remember wondering how you would ever be able to love another child as much as your firstborn when you were expecting your second? Something we covered right at the start of this book. Then the new baby was born, and you wondered why you ever worried, maybe not immediately, but as the days and weeks went on. While loves multiplies and we somehow find it in our hearts to have more than enough love for another child, sadly our time availability lessens. There is a famous quote, by the American author Anthony P Witham that says, “children spell love T.I.M.E” and it couldn’t be more correct. While you know you love your children equally (albeit you may not like them equally at any given moment in time! Which is totally fine by the way), this is a worry that they struggle with throughout childhood. Making individual time for each child, one-to-one, is critical. Children need time alone with their parents, without their siblings around. This means leaving the new baby with your partner while you dash to the park with your toddler for fifteen minutes, spending a day out shopping with your teenager, while their younger sibling stays at home, or taking fifteen minutes every day to tuck up each of your children in turn in bed, rather than sharing bedtime. You may be thinking “but I don’t have time for that!”, but I think it’s always possible to grab a few minutes each day, it’s about utilising and prioritising time and sometimes asking for help if you are a single parent, or your partner works away from home lots. The sad truth is that if you don’t make time for one-to-one attention for your children as they grow, then you’re going to have to make time to deal with the rivalry and fights that result from not doing it. It’s much more enjoyable and far easier to spend the time reconnecting with children than it is dealing with the fallout of them feeling disconnected from you and resentful of their sibling.

4. Encourage Problem Solving
As we discussed earlier in this chapter, your role should be as a mediator, not a judge. Often, parents jump in and try to fix sibling squabbles far too soon. This ‘fix it’ approach inhibits the siblings from learning how to solve their own issues. Instead of jumping in and delivering a verdict, it’s much better to act in a commentator type role. See your position as encouraging communication and empathy, giving both children a chance to feel heard and then collaboratively problem solving to reach an amicable solution, rather than refereeing. Remember, this usually means biting your tongue and sitting on your hands, while you wait for the children to work things out, with a few added pointers along the way, just as in the worked example we looked at. This approach does take some practice and requires a lot of patience on your behalf, but it really does help, albeit probably not as quickly as you would hope.

5. Co-Operative Games
Encouraging siblings to work as a team during play is a great way to transpose the skills to everyday life. Instead of encouraging games where they work against each other, racing to find a winner (and a loser), try to find ones where they work as a team towards a common goal. For younger children, co-operative board games work well. You’ll find some recommendations at the end of this book in the resources section. For older tweens and teens, consider a family trip to a Room Escape game, where you work together as a family to solve the clues and escape the room. Siblings will always disagree and fight, however with a little bit of mindful guidance, not only can you encourage their bond, but you will also help them to navigate relationship difficulties, from romantic ones to workplace ones, that they will come across in adulthood, remember, sibling fighting is actually a good thing for their emotional development.

The Second Baby Book is available as an e-book, paperback and audio book. 

UK orders
Australian orders
USA & Canadian orders
Rest of the world orders

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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Is Screen Time Ever OK for Children?

Recently a new study was released, looking into the impact of screen time on toddlers and preschoolers. Predictably; the mainstream media picked up on the research and were all reporting the perils of screen time and how it should be avoided as much as possible for young children. The trouble is, these dire warnings were not supported by the actual findings of the study.

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The research looked a good sized sample, just under 2500 children, from Canada. It charted their screen time exposure (including television, tablet, computer and phones) between the ages of two and five years of age and looked at any specific impact on the child’s development. The latter was ascertained by questionnaires completed by parents, which aimed to assess gross motor skills (eg walking), fine motor skills (eg picking something up), communication skills, problem solving skills and social interaction skills. These results were then compared to the amount of screen time the children were exposed to and conclusions drawn. While more screen time did negatively impact on children’s development as they grew older, two factors influenced their development more: 1. the amount of time children were read to by their parents and 2. the amount of sleep they got. Or, in other words, while screen time undoubtedly can and does impact development, other factors can have much more influence. This is also presuming that the study findings were reliable and accurate, sadly many reliant upon parents completing questionnaires aren’t.

What I did find interesting about the research was that it helps parents to compare their child’s screen time to other children of a similar age. The researchers found that at age 2 years, the average child had 17 hours of screen time per week (or just under 2.5 hours per day), at 3 years, the average child had 25 hours of screen time per week (or just over 3.5 hours per day), and at 5 years of age, the average child had 11 hours of screen time per week (or just over 1.5 hours per day – presumably reflecting the fact that most children of this age attend school and so naturally are exposed to less screens during weekdays).

What can we take from this research? Personally, I think it reinforces my view that screen time isn’t to be avoided at all costs. We need to be realistic and realise that our world is very different now to the world we grew up in. Screens form a vital part of our lives now and most young children are exposed to at least two hours or more of it every day, despite some recommendations that it should be much more strictly limited. Screen time isn’t all bad, it very much depends on how much of it children have and what it is. For instance, a toddler spending 17 hours per week, sitting alone in front of a TV or tablet watching Peppa Pig isn’t so great, but 17 hours of watching animal, plane, car, dinosaur or tractor YouTube clips and playing educational apps, particularly when you are watching with the child and holding a conversation about what you’re watching, as part of a balanced lifestyle which incorporates plenty of hands on play and nature is just fine. The balance here is key. Watch with them, talk about what you see and make sure that screens don’t replace real books and reading together. Be mindful that screen usage doesn’t inhibit physical exercise, get up and move and even better – get outside! Turn the screens off when food comes out (even if they encourage a picky eater to eat more!). Watching television or tablets while eating can cause dis-ordered and non-mindful eating, which has been shown to increase the chances of children becoming obese as they grow (something discussed in my Gentle Eating Book if you’d like to read more). Finally, make sure that screens don’t inhibit your child’s sleep, by removing them two hours before bedtime. Screen time in the run up to bedtime has a doubly negative impact on sleep; the blue light from the screens inhibits melatonin – the hormone of sleep and the actual programmes themselves stimulate the brain in such a way that children find it hard to switch off.

Screen time can be an absolute life saver as a parent. Sometimes you need the down time, sometimes you need something to occupy them (something I’ve mentioned quite a few times in The Second Baby Book ) and I don’t think parents should be guilted into not relying on screens now and again. Especially, when the research doesn’t support a total ban, or over-restriction of screen time. As with most things, it’s HOW you use it and How often, plus what else you do that matters! Personally, my kids have all had plenty of screen exposure growing up and I don’t regret a thing!

 

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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Second Time Mother Guilt – The Emotional Toil of Welcoming a Second Baby

The following is an excerpt from my new ‘The Second Baby Book’:

One of the toughest things about becoming a mother for the first time, is learning to cope with feeling guilty. We feel guilty if we don’t ‘love every minute’ (nobody does by the way!), we feel guilty if we lose our temper, we feel guilty when we desperately need a break away from our children, we feel guilty about parenting choices we  make, or those that were made for us and we feel guilty about not doing enough self-care. We just can’t win. Physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation aside, the guilt must be one of the worst things about new motherhood. First-time mother guilt is hard, really hard. The second time around, you have the same guilt you had the first time around and so much more. The good news is though, that it is normal. You’re not alone. Knowing this helped me to feel so much better. It didn’t lift the guilt any quicker but taking away the nagging doubt of “is there something wrong with me for feeling like this all the time?” made it much easier to cope with.

Let’s take a  look at some of the most common feelings of guilt that second-time mothers feel and ultimately – how to move forwards.

second mum

Guilt from Turning Firstborn’s World Upside Down
We’ve already spoken about feeling guilty because of the disruption another baby brings to your firstborn’s life in previous chapters, but I wanted to bring it up again. Sadly, those feelings of guilt commonly increase when the new baby arrives. For some, the new wave of guilt hits the minute you leave your firstborn to give birth to your new baby. For others, it doesn’t hit until a few weeks, or even months, down the line. I have never met a mother who didn’t feel guilty about changing her firstborn’s world though.

When Your Firstborn Suddenly Seems Huge
I remember the sense of shock I felt when I first held my second baby for the first time. My babies are huge (ten and eleven pounders), but he felt so very tiny. Realising how tiny he was made me cry, because it reminded me that my firstborn was not a baby any more. My older son, even though he was only fifteen months old, felt huge. Suddenly it felt like I had missed a chunk of his life somehow. The feel of a tiny new baby in my arms made me mourn a little for the baby that my firstborn once was and in turn, that made me reminisce about the early days as a brand-new mother, just myself, my firstborn son and my husband. Which made me realise that our little family of three no longer existed. I thought I was insane for mourning my firstborn’s babyhood, when he was alive and well and a thriving toddler, until I spoke to more second-time mothers and realised that many had felt like I had
felt too. The feeling didn’t last for long, because life as a family of four quickly becomes the new normal. I also spent several hours looking at my firstborn’s baby photos, looking for similarities and differences between him and his new brother, which helped to allay my craving for my firstborn as a baby.

Guilt from Not Having the Time to Bond with the Baby
The first few weeks, or even months, of life with a baby and a toddler felt very much focussed on my older son. We went to his playgroups, met with his friends and went for days out to entertain him. The day revolved around my firstborn’s mealtimes and nap times, while my second born either slept on me in a sling or slept in his Moses basket in our living room, in between some snatched time for breastfeeds. Once my firstborn had gone to bed, I would pick up my new baby for what felt like the first time that day. Of course, I had picked him up several times in the day, but those holds felt very functional; a quick feed, a quick nappy change and so on. I didn’t feel like I had any time in the daytime to just cuddle him and get to know him. I felt so guilty, that I was somehow depriving him of my full attention and inhibiting bonding in some way. The truth was, he was very settled, calm, well-fed, clean and content, but I felt like I should be giving him more. I felt sad that I wasn’t going to any baby groups with my new son, instead he was being dragged along to toddler music classes and the like. I finally felt the guilt ease a little, when I booked us into baby massage classes at around six weeks. My older son spent a few hours with a childminder (who he loved, which helped to ease any potential guilt there) and I could finally spend time one-to-one focusing solely on my new baby. Baby massage added to this experience, as we spent an hour each week looking into each other’s eyes and releasing lots of oxytocin with the skin to skin touch. I would recommend that you don’t worry about going to any baby classes or groups with the new baby, but if you can, try to get to a baby massage class or two. It really does help with bonding and feeling less guilty about the time they spend strapped on your chest in a carrier, or rather ignored in a crib.

Guilt from Giving Attention to the Baby in Front of Your Firstborn
While I felt guilty for not spending enough quality time bonding with my new baby, the irony was, if I did manage to do this, then I immediately felt guilty for doing so in front of my firstborn. This is so common amongst second-time mothers I have spoken with. So many tell me that they feel guilty for holding and cuddling their new baby if their older child is in the same room. They worry about upsetting their older child’s feelings, or somehow making them feel less loved. Thankfully, this feeling wore off quite quickly, entirely of its own accord, as it does with most mothers. Until it did, I took solace in the night feeds. Night feeds, when my firstborn was safely tucked up asleep, felt like our stolen secret. An illicit affair in a way. As exhausted as I was, I would savour the quiet and still night to hold and cuddle and gaze at my new baby as he fed, safe in the knowledge that my firstborn was fast asleep and not witness to my display of love towards another. My second baby slept through the night freakishly early, at around four months old, and I still remember how sad I was to lose our special time together. It was an ironic feeling, considering I had been ecstatic when my firstborn had started to sleep through the night. I found myself wishing that he would wake again.

Guilt for Not Doing the Same with Your New Baby as You Did with Your First
One form of guilt that lasted for a long time (and still hasn’t completely gone if I’m honest), is the inability to do with your second-born what you did with your first baby. My first baby had homemade organic, steamed vegetables for weaning. My second-born was weaned on family leftovers and more jars of baby food than I’d care to admit. My firstborn had beautiful, immaculate clothing, bought specially for him. My second born’s wardrobe was predominantly hand-me-downs, as was most of the equipment he used and toys he played with. During my first pregnancy I lovingly filled in a baby diary and journal. I could tell you exactly when my son said his first word and took his first step. I can’t actually tell you what my second-baby’s first word was, let alone when he said it and I only know when he began walking, because we took him to get some first walker shoes fitted the next day and
the shoe shop took a photograph and dated it. I spent hours reading to my firstborn, teaching him baby sign language, singing with him and going to every baby group possible. Most pertinent though was the wall of professional baby photos we had had taken when our firstborn was three months old. They cost the equivalent of a foreign holiday (we justified their purchase by our absence of a holiday that year). They hung, pride of place, in beautiful frames in our living room. My second born had a couple of photos in cheap supermarket photo frames. We didn’t have the same disposable income, the inclination or the space to repeat the ridiculously overpriced photo package again. The only saving grace as my second son gets older and asks where all his baby photos are, is that I have barely any of his younger brother and none at all of his sister, our fourth born. Sometimes I still feel a little guilty over not giving my children the same in their babyhood, but in my more rational moments, I really don’t think it matters. Aside from the lack of photographs, the only person who remembers ‘life before two children’ is me. My second born didn’t know what he had missed and certainly didn’t suffer because of it. In wistful moments I remind myself that it really doesn’t matter, not to them anyway.

Breastfeeding Guilt
One thing that I come across a lot amongst second-time mothers is breastfeeding guilt. They feel guilty if they didn’t manage to breastfeed with their first baby but were successful the second time around. Or they feel guilty if they breastfed their first, but didn’t manage to feed their second-born, or fed for differing lengths. Finally, they feel guilty for feeling the need to wean their firstborn, either during pregnancy, or shortly after their firstborn arrives if they had planned to tandem feed but found it didn’t work out for them. There is no doubt that breastfeeding is the norm for our species and optimum for health, however that doesn’t mean that formula milk is the devil. Our society needs to invest more in breastfeeding, in better support, better knowledge amongst health-care professionals and better provision for tongue tie spotting and division. If your breastfeeding journey didn’t work out how you had hoped, whether it was with your first or second baby, or perhaps both, it’s so important that you realise that you didn’t fail at anything. If anybody failed it was those that should have supported you better, or your government for not properly investing in breastfeeding services. Know that you did your best with the best that you had at the time. Try to be at peace with the knowledge that you did what you could, and you gave, or are giving, your very best to your baby. I have breastfed my own children for hugely varying lengths, from six weeks, to five years. None of them, as teenagers, have the faintest interest in how they were fed as a baby. Any time I spent beating myself up about the different ways they were fed has had no impact on how they feel about me, or their upbringing.

Guilt from Feeling You’re Not Quite Meeting Anybody’s Needs
Too many mothers feel as if they are failing. If you look at mothering as an occupation, a job, I suspect that we would be the harshest critics at any work appraisal, harsher on ourselves than those in any other occupation. The truth is, if you’re reading this book, I’m pretty sure that you’re a fantastic mother. Even if you feel like the total opposite now. I remember the days when my baby and toddler cried in unison. There were a few when I joined them too. I remember the days when I went to bed, with a messy house and a frozen pizza hastily thrown in the over, thinking “I’m just no good at this, I’m barely surviving”. But survive we did, we made it through the day, the next day and the next. All in one piece. My mantra on the bad days became “nobody died, everybody survived”. Keeping us all alive and healthy became my baseline. If I had a good day I would give myself a virtual high five and feel like Supermum. Gradually, the good days became more and more. Although, a decade and a half later, I think my ratio is probably still only seventy-percent Supermum days and thirty percent survival days. But, I’ve become less of a self-critic. I realise that I’m doing my best and that’s good enough. In the early days, I’d really recommend having a “nobody died, everybody survived” mentality. Don’t even aim for seventy-percent good days. See them as a positive and unexpected extra when they happen. It’s OK to just aim for survival!

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Steps to Overcome the Guilt
  • Recognise that what you are feeling is common and normal, you’re not alone!
  • Accept your feelings. Allow them to exist. Don’t feel wrong for feeling this way
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember, it’s OK if all you did today was survive.
  • Remind yourself that images of family life you see on the internet, or even in real-life, are just snippets. Well-edited snippets if they’re on social media. You’re seeing other families at their best. Don’t compare your worst to their best!
  • Try to find just five or ten minutes per day to unwind. I don’t mean taking time away from your children (unless you want to!), but time to just sit and focus on breathing, listening to a mindfulness recording or similar, just to unload your head a little each day.
  • Talk to other second-time mothers. Hearing others share their gritty feelings can help you to feel less alone and more sane
  • Don’t feel the need to be Supermum. Taking care of a child and a new baby is enough. It’s OK if your house is messy and you’re eating frozen meals. It’s also OK to use the television as a babysitter!
  • Do talk with your health visitor or doctor if you feel that your feelings are become hard for you to handle, or if you feel that you are developing anxiety or depression.
The Second Baby Book is available as an e-book, paperback and audio book. UK orders
Australian orders
USA & Canadian orders
Rest of the world orders

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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The Art of Saying ‘No’ to Children

I hear many myths surrounding gentle parenting. Some of them are so absurd that I simply just laugh them off. There are one or two though that really bother me. In particular the myth that “gentle parents don’t say ‘no’ to their children”. Because, actually – that really isn’t true. NO is not a dirty word and it definitely has a place in my parenting vocabulary.

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So, why should you say “no” to your children?

Quite simply, because sometimes it’s really necessary! If your child is about to hit another child, jump on the dog or smash granny’s expensive vase, there are only two words that will do. NO or STOP. Not shouted (because kids really don’t listen if they’re shouted at), but said very loudly and very seriously. Either word is absolutely fine. No (and stop) very clearly tells the child that what they’re about to do (or have just done) is categorically not acceptable. It is short, brief and to the point and absolutely cannot be misunderstood. In a heated/dangerous moment, you don’t want to confuse the children with a lengthy sentence. You have to think about the quickest way to stop something. Above anything else, the safety of your child, other children, animals and precious objects, are vitally important. Safety trumps *anything* in my opinion. That’s why I put it first in my five step tantrum plan (though – this isn’t just relevant to tantrums – but rather any difficult behaviour):

As with my meme above. NO is absolutely fine in the ‘Safety’ section……BUT once safety is secured, it’s time to work through everything else and once the child is calm – then you need to explain. You can’t just leave it at no.

When Shouldn’t You Say No?

When there is no real need to. That looks different for everyone. Unfortunately we are quite conditioned to say no to children a lot, but that subconscious response is often totally unnecessary (I’ve written about this before HERE). So, if you want to say no, my best advice is to first ask yourself “why am I saying no?”. If there is a legitimate reason and you really believe that saying no is the right thing, then it’s OK to say it! Just support and explain and make sure you tell them what you want them to do instead. That explanation is key. Tell them what you want them to do, otherwise they just don’t know. But, as with the safety situation above, there is no use telling them what you want them to do if they are mid tantrum/sulk/screaming. Wait for them to calm first. If they are already calm – you could focus straight away on telling them what you want them to do instead (“stroke the cat’s ears, not her tail” etc..).

What about Yes Spaces?

I’m pretty confused about the idea of yes spaces and why people think they are a gentle parenting thing. A yes space is an environment where the child can do whatever they want, without the adult saying no. Yes, it is a lovely idea and I’d advise all parents to reduce any need to say no, by removing anything that they don’t want children to touch and so on (and questioning the need to say no)……but I think yes spaces do children a disservice. It’s not wrong to say no, but it is wrong to remove any learning from the children. It also feels a lot to me like trying to avoid dealing with big emotions from little people. They can cope with no, if it is said mindfully and effectively (see above) and we support any upset. No is everywhere in life. A little learning in a safe and supportive environment is great preparation for that. Don’t be afraid to say it!

For more on saying no, coping gently with difficult child behaviour and the best way to communicate for effective discipline, see my Gentle Discipline Book (in the UKUSACanadaAustralia and Rest of the World).

 

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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Why Sibling Rivalry can be a GOOD Thing!

The following is a short excerpt from my ‘The Second Baby Book’:
With so many resources giving parents advice to stop sibling fighting, we lose sight of the positive side of these seemingly negative interactions. Parents are often so eager to stop any fighting that they don’t realise that actually, most sibling fights, provide wonderful communication education, personal growth and emotional literacy to both siblings. To aim to stop any sibling squabbles is not only naïve (because no families have siblings that don’t fight, often regularly!), but a lost learning opportunity for the children. Rather than getting stressed worrying about fighting siblings, my best advice is to accept the behaviour, for the normal, common and positive thing that it is.

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So, why is sibling rivalry positive?

Research from Cambridge University has found that fighting siblings help each other’s emotional development. Largely, because the relationships help siblings to explore a large range of feelings in relation to social interaction, which is likely to help them in future social situations, particularly when it comes to verbalising their feelings. Siblings who squabbled tended to have a more mature range and understanding of emotionally rich language, than those without siblings. The lead study researcher, Dr. Claire Hughes said that “the balance of our evidence suggests that children’s social understanding may be accelerated by their interaction with siblings in many cases. One of the key reasons for this seems to be that a sibling is a natural ally. They are often on the same wavelength, and they are likely to engage in the sort of pretend play that helps children to develop an awareness of mental states.”

In short, sibling fighting allows children to grow up practicing social skills that will be necessary to see them peacefully through life. They get to practice the less positive side of relationships, tackle personal conflict and understand how their behaviour affects others in the safety of their own home, so that when they leave it, they carry with them the important lessons to future relationships. With no, or little fighting, they lose the opportunity for this important emotional development. For parents, sibling rivalry can often be hard to handle and something that most seek to, unsuccessfully, avoid, but for the children, it’s a gift.

The Second Baby Book is published in paperback, e-book and audiobook. You can order:
HERE in the UK
HERE in Australia
HERE in New Zealand
HERE in the USA
HERE in Canada
HERE elsewhere in the world

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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How to Help Children to Cope with the Death of a Pet

Losing a pet can be a really tough time for children, it is however an incredibly important learning opportunity. For most children, the loss of a pet is their first encounter with death and grief, handling it well can really help for any future bereavements, animal or human.
pet
To start with, I suggest that you are quite open with your children about the situation and don’t try to hide what is going to happen  (or already has happened) from them. Spend some time to quietly explain that your pet is not well and will shortly die (or has already). Use this as a chance to talk about death and what it means. Unless you are religious (and your child shares your beliefs) I would not reference talk of a spiritual afterlife. Instead be clear and calm when explaining natural life-cycles and with an emphasis on enjoyment of life and gratitude for the time we spend with those we love.

Next, I would also talk about how the wonderful memories of your pet will live on in your hearts and minds forever. Here I would encourage you to take as many pictures of your pet and your child together as you can and encourage (or print out those you have already taken if the animal has already died) your child to look at them when they’re feeling sad. Selecting a favourite one for a special frame in their bedroom is a lovely idea. It’s also a good idea for your child to draw pictures and write stories about the pet, these will be priceless to refer to in the coming months and the creative process can help them to process grief too.

I would also think about funeral service of sorts and ask your child how they would like to contribute, again discuss this before the death if it’s possible. They may pick a favourite piece of music to play, a certain part of the garden to bury or scatter the ashes in and a certain plant or ornament to decorate the area. Encourage your child to see this funeral as a celebration of the life of their beloved pet. It’s a good opportunity to share funny stories and special memories. Next, I really recommend reading books about the loss of a pet, my favourite one is ‘Goodbye Mog‘, it can provide some really good talking points to discuss with your children.

Finally, be aware that the death of a pet can negatively influence behaviour for several weeks and months. Rather than the stereotypical sadness that many expect to see, it’s quite common for children to get very angry and violent as well as become rude with you after losing a pet. These behaviours all mask the true feelings of sadness and grief and as such should be treated with empathy, just as you would with tears and upset.

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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The What, Why. When and How of Sleep Regressions

What Are Sleep Regressions?

We often make the mistake of thinking that baby sleep is linear. By that, I mean the presumption that it starts off really bad when you have a newborn and then it gets progressively better as the baby gets older, until at some point it becomes ‘good’ like that of an adult. The trouble is, life doesn’t work like that. Baby sleep is very up and down. I liken it to a rollercoaster (see this article). There are peaks, when you feel rested and then lots of big dips, when it takes a nosedive, just as you begin to think you have the whole sleep thing sorted. What often surprises parents is to learn that, according to scientific research, the best sleep in the first year happens at around 3-4 months and that at 9 months, sleep is usually significantly worse than it was at 3 months. This really goes against the whole idea of it getting better as the baby grows. The other thing that’s important to remember is that even adults don’t sleep particularly well. We often wake at night and our sleep gets disturbed by different things too. Why would babies be any different?

sleep

Why Do Sleep Regressions Happen?

There are so many reasons for sleep regressions, including: illness, pain, teething, learning a new skill (such as rolling over, or learning to crawl), starting solids (many think solid food helps sleep, but actually the huge change usually means it gets worse for a bit after solids are introduced), separation anxiety, disruption because of holidays, moving house, mum going back to work. Really, the reasons are endless – just like adults!

When Do Sleep Regressions Most Commonly Happen? 

Babies usually sleep ‘well’ in the first few days after birth and this really lulls parents into a false sense of security. Often they are tired from the birth and transition into the world, but they tend to wake up towards the end of the first week and sleep can often become more challenging. The other thing to keep in mind here is the huge transition babies make from being inside the womb (where it’s always dark, they are ‘held’ constantly, it’s warm, they are never hungry or cold and there’s always reassuring sounds). Post birth they spend a significant time on their own when parents “try to put them down”, experience hunger, cold, thirst, pain etc…it’s a crazy difference and understandably one that impacts their sleep.

Around four months is a very common time for sleep to regress. There is no one specific reason for this, however I always think that babies of this age seem to cope with a great deal of frustration on a daily basis. They are much more aware and alert, however their control over their own bodies are still quite poor. This inability to get hold of a toy they want, or to move towards you, or out of an uncomfortable positive is very frustrating and seems to cause a negative impact on their sleep. In addition, it won’t be long until they gain these movement skills and that acquisition can often disrupt sleep.

The most common age for poor sleep in the first year is between 8 and 10 months. At this age, many think babies should be able to sleep through the night and consider it problematic if babies are still having night feeds. According to scientific research however, most babies in this age bracket are waking regularly throughout the night and many still require several milk feeds. In part, this is caused by separation anxiety, where the baby understands that you are they are individual beings, but has no concept of time. This means that every time you leave the room, they feel abandoned and scared that you will never return. Sadly this often coincides with the end of maternity leave and mothers returning back to work, which can cause more issues because of the separation in the daytime and the baby learning how to cope in daycare. Finally, this is also a common age for teething. Basically, if you have an 8, 9 or 10 month old. Don’t expect much sleep!

No, Your Baby Should NOT be Sleeping Through the Night by 12 Months!

Do Toddlers and Older Children Have Sleep Regressions? 

Sadly, yes! There are three common stages, rather than specific ages, that toddler and preschooler sleep regresses; when they potty train, when they start preschool or nursery and when a new baby sibling arrives. All of these disturb the child’s status quo, can leave them feeling anxious and upset and tend to disrupt regular bedtime routines. All recipes for a disturbed night’s sleep. Beyond this, sleep regressions continue to happen all the way through to, and including, adulthood. Commonly anything that disrupts the regular daily routine, or leaves the child (or adult!) in pain, scared and stressed has the potential to negatively impact sleep, such as holidays, moving house, illness, or a change in family dynamics.

How Do You Cope With a Sleep Regression? 

The most important things that parents can do when their child’s sleep is regressing are:

1. Realise that it is normal, remember – sleep is a rollercoaster, not a nice straight upwards line. Regressions are almost always NOT the fault of the parents and anything they have or have not done.

2. If you can, be patient. Most sleep regressions will pass naturally, without you doing anything. Usually they last from between 2 and 8 weeks.

3. Try to not make any extra changes. A lot of parents panic when sleep regresses and start trying to change things up, changing bedtime routines, buying new sleep gadgets and so on. However this is the worst thing you can do. The key is keeping things the same and not changing anything. This provides the stability that they so desperately need.

4. Be easy on yourself. Sleep regressions are common and normal and they will pass without you needing to do anything, but you need to take care of yourself while they run their course. Lighten up on the housework, buy some freezer meals or get a takeaway, get some early nights in and keep reminding yourself “this too will pass”.

For more on sleep during the first five years of life, check out my Gentle Sleep Book

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

 

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Why Does Toddler Sleep Regress? (and what can you do to help?)

First of all, apologies to those of you reading as a parent of a baby, I don’t mean to scare you by talking about the dreaded toddler sleep regression, hopefully it won’t happen to you or you will at least have a few months of unbroken nights for it does!

Whenever I run my monthly sleep Q&A on my Gentle Sleep Book Facebook Page , I am always asked for advice for toddlers who have massively regressed in their sleep. I don’t think there is a specific age where this happens, 18 months seems common, however it can happen earlier or later, 2 years for instance seems quite a common age too. What is true however is that it is very common for children who have previously ‘slept through the night’ as babies to start waking up again as toddlers. If you are there right now, the first thing you should understand is that it’s normal. The second thing you should understand is that it is transient and the third thing you should understand is that it isn’t happening because of you!

Why does toddler sleep regress so often? Well, think about how much the world of a toddler changes! They have mobility, they can talk a little (often not as much as they would like though and the frustration here definitely plays a role), they may have welcomed a new baby sibling (one of the most common reasons for their sleep regressing), perhaps you have returned to work and they have started nursery, or perhaps they are at preschool. The world of a toddler can be full of exploration, joy and wonder, but it can be also full of misunderstanding, frustration and upset. It is not only the latter than causes sleep regressions, but the more positive too.

Imagine you are about to go on holiday, do you ever find it hard to go to sleep? The excitement keeps you awake, the same is true for toddlers only there are many things they get excited about on a daily basis. What about your night’s sleep before starting a new job? The change can cause you to struggle with sleep. What about your best friend moving a thousand miles away, your grief at missing her can cause you to struggle with sleep, the same can be true with toddlers when you return to work, or they start preschool.

There is no inherent biological reason why toddler sleep should regress, however the emotional reasons are through the roof. This is also the age of nightmares, fear of the dark and anxiety over scary monsters, all part and parcel of your wonderful toddler’s imagination.

How do you get through it? Ultimately you keep reminding yourself of the enormous transitions your toddler is making every day, understand how life can sometimes be full of struggle for them, with a lack of autonomy and communication frustration. Understand that your toddler is not “being difficult”, but that there is genuinely something behind their new broken sleep.

You may want to look at their diet, their bedtime and their bedtime routine (lots of toddler sleep problems happen because we are trying to put them to bed too early), perhaps they need to drop their daytime nap. Perhaps you need to work more on reconnection with them at the end of the day, especially if you work or they have a new sibling. You may need to look more at their sleep environment, do they need to ditch the cot and move to a ‘big bed’ now? Do they need a nightlight on all night to allay their fear of the dark, do they need other security objects around them to help them to stay calm. My article HERE may help.

Remember, the sleep regression is temporary, it will pass!

For more on toddler sleep, and how you can implement changes, gently, see my Gentle Sleep Book.

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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Potty Training Regressions and Refusals – Why They Happen and How to Cope!

While there are a multitude of different potty training problems, the two most common – and definitely the ones I get the most questions about – are regressions (accidents after a period of being fully dry/clean for a good while) and refusals (refusing to use the potty or toilet, most commonly after 3-7 days of beginning training). Let’s look at both of these, the reasons that are usually behind them and what parents can do about them.

Refusals
Refusing to use the toilet or potty (and requesting nappies/diapers again) is common around three days after potty training begins, although it can (and does) happen at anytime within the first month. Usually this happens for a few common reasons:
1. the excitement has worn off, the child has realised that actually there’s more work involved in potty training than they expected and it isn’t as fun as they imagined it would be (especially during the underwear and potty buying trips!).
2. They become stressed or scared by accidents (or more specifically somebody’s reaction to an accident) and want to avoid it again,
3. Over-prompting. This often results in children withholding, because they frankly get sick of being asked if they need to go!
4. Inconsistency between home and somewhere else, or inconsistency in keeping them in underwear/bare-bottomed and swapping to nappies/diapers (e.g: when you’re away from home).
If you are pretty sure that you started training when the child was physically and emotionally ready and have had some success in the previous days (and by some success I don’t mean no accidents – I would expect more accidents than in the potty), then keep going! With the proviso that:
1. You need to keep up the excitement with lots of effort-based praise and sharing books, DVDs and conversations about potty training. Here, meeting up with a friend with a potty trained child is a great idea too.
2. Really be very careful about your own attitude, are you positive? Or are you feeling stressed and negative and allowing your emotions to rub off on your child, especially when they have accidents. Could you have scared or upset them with your response to an accident?
3. Stop the prompting, or dramatically reduce it.
4. Make sure you’re consistent, unfortunately – although it’s inconvenient, you really do need to devote time to potty training, ideally 3 days as a minimum. If you can’t devote that time (ie booking holidays from work, ordering grocery shopping from the internet and taking some days off of your regular activities), then I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t even start. This is a huge moment in your child’s life, they deserve the time and attention needed to achieve it.
You may also need to take the lead and take some of the control back from child. For instance, I would offer “underwear or no underwear (bare bummed/commando) today?”, but wouldn’t offer a nappy/diaper. Depending on the child’s level of understanding/verbal ability I would also have a chat with them about growth mindset (not using that terminology obviously) and how proud you have been of them over the last week for trying to so hard, re-iterate accidents are OK, they are learning and they all happen, tell the child that you had them too. Usually what’s needed with refusals is some emotional work – for you as a parent as much, if not more so, than fhe child!

Regressions
In my experience, most parents need to reset their expectations when it comes to what success when potty training looks like. Children have accidents for months and YEARS after potty training. There is a bit of an incorrect assumption in our society that once they’re done – that’s it, no more accidents, actually – that rarely happens. The learning carries on for months and years after the initial ‘training’ period and with that learning comes mistakes.  If you could draw potty training success in a chart, it would look like this:

Regression after a new baby arriving in the family is common, it can and does knock a toddler/preschooler for six, their world is changed over night and it literally pulls the rug from under their feet. Naturally they struggle to control their bodies when they’re feeling so bad and sometimes potty training accidents mean more attention for them, at a time when they are desperate to be seen. Ultimately the key here is to be compassionate and empathic towards how the child is feeling. In the case of a new sibling arrival, the child will be busy dealing with feelings of anger, grief, sadness, confusion etc.. it’s no wonder attention so often shifts away from potty training. Sometimes wetting and soiling happen deliberately, in this instance it’s almost always a cry for attention (actually it is in most cases) – ask yourself what does your child need? The answer is almost always, you. Or rather the you they had before the new baby arrived. The accidents draw your attention solely to them for a few minutes. Any attention is better than no attention. The answer to this is to build in one-to-one time with the child away from the baby – preferably not with the baby in the same building. Feed and run and take them to the park for half an hour a day leaving your baby with your partner/parents/friend. Make sure you do the oldest child’s bedtime each day, give them a bath and read a story while your baby is elsewhere in the house.

Another common cause of regressions that is often overlooked is a physical cause. Here the top culprits are constipation or a urinary tract infection (UTI). Constipation commonly results in soiling accidents (especially diarrhoea) because of what is known as overflow poo. While UTIs cause very frequent urination and dribbling. In both cases, the child is incapable of not having an accident. If there is no big emotional change in your child’s life and their toileting has regressed, the first thing you should do is to pay a trip to your family doctor to rule out constipation and UTIs.
In terms of how to react when the accidents happen – Stay calm, stay compassionate and stay consistent – don’t under any circumstances threaten to put the child back in nappies. This will pass! Just as with refusals, the key to surviving regressions is once again you – and how you act and react.

For more on potty training – including signs of readiness, how to prepare practically and emotionally, common hiccups along with way and how to copy with them, check out my gentle potty training book in the UK HERE, Australia and New Zealand HERE, the USA HERE, Canada HERE and the rest of the world HERE.

 

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram You can also sign up for my free weekly parenting newsletter HERE.

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