Baby & Child Sleep During Lockdown – Q&A

I thought I would run a little Q&A answering some of the most common sleep questions that have been posed to me over the last couple of weeks while the world is in lockdown, due to Covid-19.

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Q: My baby will only nap if we are out walking
A: I think the answer to this depends on how old your baby is and how many times per day they need to nap. If you have an older baby who only naps once a day, then I would combine naptime with your one daily exercise (providing you live in a country that allows this). Getting out once a day is so important if you can, the exercise and break from your home can really help you and if it helps your baby to nap then it’s really not something I would be aiming to stop! If you have a younger baby and they need to nap more than once per day, then obviously you are not going to be able to go outside 2 or 3 times per day. Here, I would focus on moving as much as possible in your home. If you usually use a sling/carrier, put it on and walk, or preferably dance around your home to your baby’s favourite music (I always found something with a strong beat – particularly rock music – helped my babies the most!). If you usually use a buggy/stroller/pram for naps, then I would put your baby in it as usual and walk around your home as much as possible. Try to find an area that is a little bumpy to wheel over (as it’s usually the jiggling motion that helps). If you don’t have anything (ie door thresholds) you could make a little series of bumps to go over with rolled up towels, broom or mop handles laid out horizontally. I am usually not one for recommending baby gadgets and I wouldn’t usually recommend this, but THIS gadget that fits on to any pram/buggy and simulates a rocking motion can really help in the current situation. Whatever you end up doing, do make sure you’re not trying to get your baby to take too many naps, or nap before they are ready. It will be much easier to get them to nap if they are tired and ready to sleep. I really do not recommend the current trend of aiming for maximum awake times between sleeps, there is no evidence to support this and I find it makes parents unnecessarily worried about their baby’s sleep and a tendency to try to get them to take more naps than they really need..

Q: My baby will only go to sleep for me again, we had worked hard for dad to do bedtime and this feels like such a step back – help?
A: Don’t see this as a step back, but rather a little fork in your journey. These are uncertain times and our children will pick up on this. At times of high anxiety and uncertainty it’s only natural that our children will be a little clingier and need their primary attachment figure in order to help them to feel safe and relaxed enough to sleep. I know a lot of mums who tell me they have worked hard to get their partners involved in bedtime, so they are not so mum centric, and they are scared to take over again, but please don’t be scared. Focus on getting through each day, in the moment, as easily as possible for you all. That most likely means mum centric bedtimes again for a while. Get through the lockdown and then work on getting your partner involved in bedtime again, this really isn’t the time to be trying to promote more separation at the moment.

Q: My toddler will only go to sleep at night if we are driving in the car, obviously now we can’t do this, what should we do instead?
A: Sadly this is not considered essential travel. I know for many of you it feels essential, because bedtime is such a nightmare otherwise, but the advice is clear that we should stay home unless it is essential to get groceries (as infrequently as possible), one daily exercise, medical and essential work reasons. Roads need to be kept as clear as possible in order to try to prevent any accidents that could place more stress on our emergency and medical services. So – what do you do? Here, it’s SO important to make sure that bedtime is at the ‘right’ time. What do I mean by this? I would say that 90% of people with this issue are trying to get their toddler to sleep too early. I would not try to get them to sleep before 8pm. Next, a good bedtime routine is vital. If we’re aiming for sleep onset at 8pm, we need to work back two hours to create a really sleep inducing bedtime routine. I recommend the following:

6pm – All screens off! (even if the toddler is not looking at them!), no artificial lights on in the same room as the child unless they are red (see HERE for more). One hour of active play (remember no screens!) – imagine you’re exercising a puppy before being crated at night – see more HERE.
7pm – offer a bedtime snack (I favour toast with nut butter, or porridge/oatmeal with diced banana)
7:20pm – warm bath – NO bath toys! (keep it boring, this is bedtime, you don’t want to stimulate!) and don’t use the bathroom light – it’s terrible for sleep!
7:30pm – Straight through to the bedroom they sleep in (don’t go anywhere else!), into PJs, no toys and remember no lights aside from red. Make sure the curtains/blinds are closed when you enter, consider using an aromatherapy diffuser and some alpha music (see tips HERE)
7:40pm – Read one book (the same each night and no lift the flap/noisy books, they’re too stimulating!). Milk and cuddles until they are asleep around 8pm (or at least that’s the goal).

At this point if they aren’t sleepy (it’s OK for them to cry a little  – or a lot – by the way, don’t be scared of tears, so long as you are providing comfort see HERE for more), then I would consider walking around your home with a buggy/stroller/pram or carrier and you could even utilise videos of road noise for an authentic sound! See HERE for just one example!

Q: I really need my toddler to nap now we’re all at home together, but it’s so hard!
A:  I hear you! Sadly, if your toddler doesn’t need to nap then this is going to be a nightmare. I understand completely the need to have a break when you’re all stuck inside together 24/7, however trying to force a nap that a toddler doesn’t need is a recipe for disaster. I also understand that when toddlers are in the process of dropping a nap that things get much harder initially. They don’t want to nap, yet their behaviour indicates they NEED to nap. It’s common for them to misbehave, tantrum and generally be hideously overtired. This doesn’t mean that dropping the nap is the wrong thing to do, it just means it takes time for their body clock to reset. A nap drop takes at least a month for them to get used to – in that month it’s common for behaviour and sleep to get worse. Don’t be duped into thinking it means the nap needs to stay. Instead of trying to force a nap, I’d recommend trying to have some calm time each day instead. Maybe watching a movie together snuggled with a blanket on the sofa, listening to a children’s meditation together or similar. More HERE on nap drops.

Q: My preschooler’s sleep is a nightmare since the lockdown started – help!
A: Can you remember a time when you were feeling anxious and unsettled and your sleep really suffered? Perhaps you found it hard to get to sleep, or you kept waking in the night? It is common and normal for sleep (and any other behaviour) to regress during times of stress. Your child may not fully understand what is happening, but they understand something is happening! I know most parents are tempted to try to work out what is wrong and ‘fix’ their child’s wakings, or need to bedshare again, however – really the best answer is to roll with it and provide the comfort they need during these uncertain times. Their sleep won’t be like this forever, it will get better when the current craziness is all over, please don’t be worried about creating bad habits during these uncertain times.

Q: Should I keep the same bedtime for my child now they are not at school?
A: Oh, this is a tricky one! Children thrive on routines and one of the keys for good sleep is regular wake and bedtimes. So, as a ‘sleep consultant’ (I hate that terminology!) I would say “yes – keep the same bedtime, waketime and bedtime routine”. As a mum however, I’d be tempted to say “just do whatever you need to do to all survive and get through this!”. You can get back on track with timings once schools start again (I personally don’t think that will happen until September), I’d recommend getting back to normal around a month before school starts, so August time. Until then, just roll with it. If you wanted to keep something familiar, I’d recommend sticking with your regular bedtime routine, but being flexible with timings. Remember routines are what you do, not when you do them! See HERE for more.

 

Do you have a lockdown related sleep question? Pop over to my Instagram to take part in my Q&As! 

What To Do When You Disagree with School Discipline Policies

Many parents (particularly those who follow gentle parenting principles) struggle with the discipline policies at their child’s school, but what should you do if you find yourself in this position? The following is an excerpt from a section of my ‘The Starting School Book’ concerning this issue.

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Some of my top tips include:

1. You have to come from a position of understanding the limitations faced by the school and the teachers. Remember to approach any discussions with them with the mutual respect, understanding, empathy, collaboration and open and honest communication we mentioned at the start of this chapter, however, keep your goals realistic. The school are not going to change their whole approach to discipline based on your discussion, but they may agree to look at one very small aspect of it. Here, pick your battles, go for the smallest section that bothers you the most, rather than trying to change the world.

2. Be your child’s advocate. Be prepared to stand up for your child and their rights, even when you feel uncomfortable doing do. Your child needs you to be their voice and in their corner. Always approach discussions with the school as a team with your child.

3. Your child’s class teacher should always be your first port of call. If you still have concerns after speaking with them the next step is to request a meeting with the deputy or head teacher. Of, if your concerns are about SEND (or potential ones), ask to meet with the schools SENCo. Make sure you write down your concerns before heading into the meeting and take notes while you are in there. You could also follow this meeting up with an email detailing the key points discussed, ask them to place a printout in your child’s file. Emails create paper trails that are much harder to ignore.

4. Consider joining your school’s board of governors. Sometimes it is easier to petition for change from the inside.

5. Consider how you can ameliorate any negative impact at home. Remember right at the start of this book, we discussed that you were and always will be, the most important influence on your child? Children are resilient and we can make them more so. If you focus on unconditional support at home and you act as your child’s sounding board and champion, then a few days on a sad cloud or red traffic light, and a handful of superficial certificates really will have a negligible effect. Discuss how a certificate made a child feel, ask if they felt proud and say “ah, we don’t need certificates to show that do we? It’s what we feel inside that matters the most and I’m *always* proud of you”. Teach them to feel pride in their efforts as well as their accomplishments and help them to realise that they are always safe to discharge their difficult emotions with you at home. You can also discuss why schools need to use behavioural control you don’t use at home, explaining to your child that because schools have so many children to care for they have to do things you don’t use or agree with at home.

Ultimately, you have very little control over how schools do things, but you have total control over how you do things at home and that is always far more important.

While I am happy to compromise on most school discipline, there are two forms that I cannot ever support. Attendance Awards and Clean Plate Certificates. Awarding children for having a high attendance at school (usually in the region of ninety-eight to one hundred percent) and thus punishing those children who do not have good attendance for whatever reason is a ludicrous and wicked scheme. Children have no control over whether they are sick, they have no control over whether their parents struggle for whatever reason to get them into school and they have no control over other issues that may prevent them attending. Effectively punishing a child who has a chronic health condition, requiring multiple medical appointments, one who has been unlucky enough to contract several infectious illnesses in a term, or one whose parents are separating, experiencing financial problems or health problems of there is mean and short-sighted. These schemes do far more harm than good and they should be stopped immediately. My firstborn has an autoimmune disorder meaning he regularly missed school for consultant appointments and because he was too sick to attend, thankfully these attendance schemes didn’t exist when he had just started school (though he was unfortunate enough to run into them as he progressed through school). If they had this would have been an issue that I would have raised immediately and taken as far as I needed to take it to be heard. It is discriminatory and highly damaging.

My other non-compromised form of school reward was stickers or certificates given for ‘eating well’ or clearing dinner plates. These awards encourage over-eating and non-mindful eating, which as children grow, can turn into severe eating disorders. My daughter once left school with an “I ate all my lunch up today” sticker and I immediately asked the school to never reward (or punish or chastise) her for her eating again. I don’t think they realised just how damaging one little sticker could be, because from that day onwards I didn’t see any other eating related stickers or certificates again.

My Starting School Book can be ordered HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

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Why You Should Change The Way You Think, To Change the Way Your Child Behaves!

Expectations are the Enemy of Parents.

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I would say over 90% of the parenting dilemmas posed to me daily have one very simple answer; “you’re expecting too much of them”.

Our expectations of child behaviour are totally warped in society today. We just expect too much of kids (and no age or behaviour is immune). We expect them to sleep like adults. We expect them to control their impulses like adults, regulate their emotions like adults, manage their time like adults, observe social rules and niceties like adults and eat like adults (and as adults – our eating is totally screwed and unnatural, check out my ‘Gentle Eating Book’ for more). We expect them to consider the consequences of their actions like adults, communicate like adults and plan for the future like adults. If they can’t do these things we desperately try to ‘fix them’ and train and discipline them to do them (and frequently get frustrated when our efforts fail).

The thing is babies can’t do these things. Toddlers can’t do these things. School aged children can’t do these things. Teenagers can’t do these things – heck, even adults struggle to do these things a lot of the time! .

If you take just one piece of advice from me – please make it be to drop your expectations. Stop expecting mature adult behaviour from a child (and teens are still children!) who has a totally different brain structure to you. It’s a recipe for stress and disaster. You can’t teach a baby to drive a car. You wouldn’t even try……but that’s what happens when you try to teach or discipline children to do something that is beyond their development and age ability. Understanding and accepting normal, natural child development is the way forward. Reset those expectations and if you can, adapt life around them for a while. This is the key to calmer, happier family life.

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How to Encourage Reluctant Children to Brush Their Teeth

Do you have a reluctant tooth-brusher? There are several reasons why young children don’t like having their teeth brushed, but the top three in my opinion are:

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1. Because it makes them feel completely out of control (imagine how you would feel if somebody brushed your teeth for you?)
2. Because it disrupts what they would rather be doing/something that is way more fun
3. Because there is something about the sensation of it they dislike.

The answer then is to come up with a solution that mixes up all three. First reluctant children should always brush their own teeth, even if that only involves chewing on a toothbrush for a minute. The alternative here is to allow them to brush your teeth while you brush theirs. Taking turns to brush for 10 seconds or so.

Second don’t aim for a specific tooth brushing time and think outside of the bathroom. Tooth brushing while in the bath often works well, as does tooth brushing while watching a favourite video clip or reading a book. There are several great apps and youtube videos that encourage tooth brushing that work really well (I turn a blind-eye to the close the bed screen time this requires, it’s only for a couple of minutes and the positive for teeth outweigh the negative for melatonin inhibition). You can also turn it into a game and pretend you’re hunting for dinosaur bones or hidden treasure in their mouth.

Third investigate different types of toothbrushes, chewable rubber ones are often more successful, as are dental wipes. Some children are thrilled with an electric toothbrushtoo. Lastly swap out mint toothpaste for fruit ones, or other alternatives. As a grown adult I still HATE mint flavoured toothpaste with a passion, it’s a very strong flavour and knowing that young children have more sensitive taste buds than us, it makes sense to avoid anything very strong flavoured (Punch and Judy make a great strawberry flavoured toothpaste).

Talking to Children About ‘Stranger Danger’

I’m often asked my opinion of talking to children about interactions with strangers and how I would best approach the topic. It may surprise you that I am really not a fan of the idea. Why?

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* Most child abductions and abuse occur from somebody known to the child (family members, family friends or professionals known to the child). Warning children about ‘Stranger Danger’ somehow implies that they can implicitly trust all those close to them, when actually these people pose far more risk to the child.

* Strangers can play an important part in keeping a child safe. For instance, if they get lost in a shop, or run into trouble when they venture out alone for the first time.

* Following from the above point, those who children really need to trust to help them keep them safe are technically strangers – here, the most pertinent being Police Officers.

* Warning children of the danger of all strangers can cause unnecessary anxiety when children meet new adults.

Instead, I far prefer the terms “funny tummy people” or “tricky people”. Of these two terms “funny tummy people” is my favourite. While a young child could struggle to grasp the idea of a ‘tricky person’, most will understand the concept of something not feeling right and giving them a funny feeling in their tummy. Most importantly, these terms include ALL adults (and older children), not just strangers.

What should children know?:

* Who they can trust in an emergency (e.g: the emergency services, store security guards, a mother with young children etc..)
* What to do if somebody makes them feel a funny tummy (how to say “stop!” and find and tell a trusted adult)
* That they should never be made to have physical contact with somebody they don’t want – this also includes visits to Santa, never force a child to cuddle him for a photo opportunity if they are uncomfortable! (more HERE on respecting body autonomy in childhood)
* The pants rule (click HERE)
* When it is appropriate to speak with strangers (eg if they are in danger, or if you are with them) and when it is not.
* How to call the emergency services
* Teach them a password, in case you ever need somebody to collect them in an emergency. Make it short and easily memorable and tell them to never go with anybody (whoever they are, even if the child knows them well) unless they know the password.
* That they can tell you ANYTHING that is worrying them, without fear of repercussion or ridicule (this is where Gentle Discipline is so important – if children are used to your support when they are experiencing tricky times, rather than being excluded from you as punishment – they may be more likely to confide in you).

I don’t think it’s ever too early to start these discussions with children. Particularly if you use age-appropriate props, such as cartoons and books to aid the discussions.

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What Should you Look for, or ask, at a School Open Day?

Are you just starting to think about choosing your child’s first school? Not sure what to look for, or what to ask when you visit? This article should help!

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A lot of schools will run tours of the school by the oldest pupils. This can be off-putting to parents initially, who may prefer to be shown around by a staff member, however this is  unique opportunity to find out about the school from some of the most important people  the children themselves! Children tend to be brutally honest, whereas staff members will tend to be more diplomatic. Ask them questions and make full use of the opportunity! On your tour, ask to see lesser covered areas, such as the changing rooms or pupil toilets, the condition of these can give you a good indication of the school’s views. For instance, pupil toilets that are well kept (although they may be old) and brightly painted to appeal to children is usually the sign of a caring school.

A good open day will also allow you to speak with the headteacher and other teachers at the school, even better if you get to view a lesson in progress. Here, really observe how the teachers interact with the children and how the children respond. What they say and do to the children is of far more importance than what they say to you!

The following is a list of questions you may want to ask, both the teachers and children, at an open day:

*Do you enjoy working/going here?
*What are you most proud of about your school?
*What do you think the school could be better at?
*Do you have any plans to improve certain things in the future?
*What is the biggest challenge your school is facing at the moment?
*How do you cope with difficult, or unwanted, behaviour from children?
*What is your view on rewarding children for good behaviour, or for attendance?
*What is your view on starting age for summer born children?
*How do you help settle an anxious starter?
*What do you do if a child is very upset at school?
*How do you deal with friendship issues and bullying?
*Do you have a peer mentor, or buddy scheme? (pairing older children with new starters)
*What sport and physical activity do children do?
*What are your school lunches like? Can I see a typical week’s menu?
*How much time do children spend outside every day? How does this change as
they get older?
*How much time do children spend sitting still and learning? (e.g. at a table, or at a computer)
*What is the school library like?
*What does an average school day look like?
*What opportunities are there for children who like art, music and drama?
*What is your SEND and pastoral care provision like?
*What do you offer for ‘gifted’ children, or high achievers?
*What support do you provide for children who struggle academically?
*What is your view on standard assessments?
*What are the school values, or ethos?
*What is the school’s opinion of homework? When does it get set, how much and what sort of thing?
*What is your teacher retention rate like? How long have your current staff been here for?
*Do you have an ‘open door policy’ if parents have any concerns?
*Do you know how many siblings of current pupils will be applying this year?
*How many children are in an average class? If this is a larger number, how do
you make sure they each get the individual attention they need?
*What clubs and extra-curricular activities do you run?
*What do you think parents would say about the school?
*What do you think pupils would say about the school?
*Do you think your current official rating is a good reflection of the school? If not, why?
*Does your school have an active PTA?
*What opportunities do you have for parents to get involved with the school?
*Do you offer school trips and visits? If so, can you let me know what they have been in the past?

Don’t feel embarrassed by asking too many questions, however if you are conscious of time, or of monopolising a tour, ask the headteacher if you can send them some questions to answer via email, or speak with them via the phone at a later date. Usually the response to this request is a pretty good indicator of the head’s attitude, however, do bear in mind that most are incredibly stretched and although they may want to spare you the time to answer all of your questions as thoroughly as possible, it may just not be possible.

Warning Signs to Spot on a School Visit
School visits aren’t just about looking for the good points and asking the right questions, they also give an opportunity to raise alarm bells. There are certain things that you really  don’t want to see, these include:

*Quiet classrooms – learning at infant and primary shouldn’t be quiet, that doesn’t mean it should be chaotic, but you should expect talking and laughter. If a classroom is quiet it may be an indication that the school are expecting too much compliance and age inappropriate behaviour from the children, it can also be a sign that they aren’t as engaged with their learning.
*Few wall displays of children’s work – schools should be proud of the work of their pupils and want to display artwork and project work, even if it makes the walls look cluttered and non-colour-coordinated. Classrooms that lack in children’s work should raise alarm bells.
*Unhappy children – this one goes without saying. Do the children look sad, or stressed? Or are they relaxed and smiling?
*Stressed teachers – again, another obvious point. Do teachers generally look happy at work? Or do they appear very tense? Or shouty?
*No mess – learning isn’t neat and tidy. A classroom where everything is put away and looks pristine raises suspicion. You don’t want utter devastation, but somewhere in  Between shows a good balance
*Lack of outdoor play spaces or equipment – outdoors is where children relax, what does the school offer them?
*Children being disrespectful to each other – what is the general feel of the school? Are children polite to each other as well as teachers? Do they hold doors open for each other, or help when another drops something or falls over? A lack of compassion towards each  other is often indicative of a lack of compassion and respect towards children.

If your child is starting school soon and you would like to learn how to choose the best school, how to prepare them (and you), or know how to settle your child into their school, then my new ‘The Starting School’ book will be perfect for you! You can learn more and order HERE in the UK or HERE in the rest of the world.

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Confusional Arousals – AKA Why Children Wake in Tears After a Nap

I’m often contacted by parents who are worried that their children (usually toddlers) wake seemingly inconsolable after sleep, usually naps. They describe children who won’t settle (even for their usual fail-safes), can’t be reasoned with and seem in great discomfort. This crying lasts anything from a couple of minutes, to ten or twenty minutes, or more.
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This pattern is characteristic of a condition known as Confusional Arousal disorder. In adults, this parasomnia (a disorder that commonly affects falling asleep, waking up, or the period during sleep) usually manifests as slurred or slow speech, forgetfulness and generalised confusion (or what some may term as ‘sleep drunk’) and affects around 2.9% of people. In young children however the incidence is much higher at 17.3%, manifesting almost always as intense crying, although sometimes it can be continued subdued sobbing or whining. Confusional Arousal is more common if the individual is woken from sleep (ie parents wake the child from a nap), rather than the sleep cycle naturally concluding, however this is not always the case. The best way to view them is like an electrical blip in the brain, where the individual is jolted out of sleep too quickly and therefore becomes severely disorientated, with their body and mind taking a while to catch on to the fact they are now awake.

Although these episodes can be incredibly scary (and hard to handle as parents), the good news is they are not harmful to the child and are usually outgrown naturally by around the age of five years. As with other parasomnias (such as sleep walking or night terrors), there is often a genetic link and children who are affected will often have a parent who used to experience the same (or another parasomnia) as a child.

What can you do to help a child who suffers from Confusional Arousal? Ultimately this is a case of waiting for the child to outgrow the disorder (and keeping them as comfortable and safe as possible during an episode), until then, the following may be helpful:

  • Make sure the bedroom (or room they nap in) is not too hot, or too cold. In general the ideal temperature to keep a bedroom at night is around 16-18 centigrade.
  • Keep artificial light out of the bedroom at night (if you use a nightlight, make sure you only use one that utilises light on the red colour spectrum).
  • Try to avoid waking your child from naps if they suffer from Confusional Arousals.
  • Try to avoid your child becoming overtired.
  • Consider their intake of Omega 3 fatty acids (a limited amount of research has shown a link between deficiency and parasomnias in children).
Ultimately though, be ready to reassure them and offer as much physical contact as the child wants, to help them to calm down when they wake properly.
This is an extract from my NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out May 5th 2020!

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Setting Limits on Junk Food for Children – Is it Possible When You’re Aiming for Self-Regulation?

I’m often contacted by people who, having read my Gentle Eating Book, ask me if I really set absolutely no limits on the junk food my children eat. I think they presume that they eat only sweets/candy and chocolate all day long and that my house is reminiscent of some sort of Willy Wonka’esque never ending sugar factory.

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To answer this, I need to do a quick recap of the main ideas in my Gentle Eating Book. I’m not adding the research in here as 1. it’s all referenced in the book should you want to read it and 2. I’m writing this newsletter with zero time while our dinner cooks and don’t have time to dig them all out! Anyway – the main ideas behind so called ‘treat’ food are:

1. Labeling palatable food as ‘treats’, ‘sometimes foods’, ‘unhealthy’, or something similar can in itself make a child more likely to crave them as they get older. When we anthropomorphise something (ie give it a personality) it greatly impacts on how we interact with it.
2. Restricting palatable foods (by palatable I mean predominantly refined sugar) is shown consistently to be a large risk factor in the child being unable to self-regulate it later in life. ie: if sugary foods/junk foods are banned, or overly restricted, early in childhood, the child is more likely to struggle to regulate them as they grow and gain independence surrounding what they can eat and when. This dis-regulation often results in overeating and bingeing on the previously forbidden items in the teen and young adult years, which can and does impact on weight gain.
3. Children are able to self-regulate their food intake if adults don’t interfere with our learned beliefs and eating behaviours. Even refined sugar (and no – it’s not addictive! despite what you may read online, or in certain books, similarly it doesn’t make children hyperactive, or cause problems with sleep!). The key here is to look at what they eat in total over the course of a week, not analyse it hour by hour or day by day.

So – what does this look like in reality?

In our house, I order our groceries online and get a delivery that is to last us for between 7-10 days. I meal plan, so we have no wastage. What gets delivered I know will be gone by the time the next order arrives. Each week I order what many people would term ‘junk food’, or ‘treats’ (I just call them ‘food’): small chocolate bars, biscuits, crisps, fromage frais or chocolate desert pots and choc ices or ice pops usually. It usually works out so that there is enough for 1 chocolate bar, 1 packet of crisps and 1 desert option per day, per child. Plus a couple of biscuits per day, per child. These all go into our pantry or fridge/freezer and once they are delivered I have zero control over them. My control is what I buy and bring into the house. The children are allowed to self-regulate their eating of them. If they choose to eat loads the day the shopping arrives, then they have none for the next 7 days. If they eat them slowly they can have a feast the day before the new shopping arrives. If one child eats their own and their siblings’ food, well then they all have to figure it out themselves, because I don’t get involved in small sibling squabbles (I should add a caveat they are all tweens/teens, I would get involved if they were younger). Mostly, they take their allocation of food that doesn’t have to be refrigerated and keep it in their bedroom (personally, I hide my chocolate at the bottom of the vegetable drawer!). If they chose to eat chocolate for breakfast, then so be it (they invariably eat ‘proper’ breakfast 30 minutes later).

They are each free to spend their pocket money as they would like. If that’s all on sweets/candy, then so be it (it rarely is by the way, usually only when they have a sleepover or go into town with a friend and visit the sweet shop), because once I give that money to them I don’t believe I should have control of it (more HERE). If we’re out and about and they ask for a cake, or an ice cream, I will buy one if I have enough cash on me (they tend to only ask for sandwiches, sushi or cooked pasta pots though).

When it comes to Halloween, they do go trick or treating and come back with impressive hauls. I let them eat this haul with almost zero restrictions (when they were younger I used to take out the gluten containing items for my coeliac son and I won’t let them eat gumballs , bubble gum, or toxic waste type sweets – that’s a brand name by the way, google it – it’s disgusting!). If they want to eat all of it for dinner, then so be it. Usually I end up throwing away discarded sweets/candy a couple of weeks after Halloween when they’ve got bored of them, in fact it only takes a couple of days for the boredom to set in. I often find Christmas chocolate in the summer and uneaten Easter Eggs in the Autumn/Fall.

The only other way I get involved with their eating of ‘junk’, is by asking them to check in on their bodies if they’re hungry and want to eat. They tend to come home from school ravenous and want to eat immediately. My daughter in particular will grab the quickest thing, which is usually the biscuit tin. If I see her going for it I will ask “are you hungry? if you are, then some cereal or toast would probably fill you up more”. Sometimes she opts for cereal, other times she opts for the biscuits, but I make sure I have no further involvement in her choice, aside from getting her to think about why she is eating.

Is my approach perfect? Of course not, what is? Although, what I can see is that (so far) none of my children have the terrible relationship with ‘junk food’ that I had as a teen (and still do). My mother heavily restricted refined sugar when I was a child, junk food was a special treat only. I didn’t know any better until I got a little older and saw my friends had biscuits, cakes and soda streams in their homes. I would gorge on iced party rings and sweets at parties and when I went to secondary school I would often spend my dinner money solely on cake. I hope I’m raising my children to be different!

You can read more about the psychology of eating in childhood – and what the science says about raising children to have a healthy relationship with food in my Gentle Eating Book. available HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

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What to do when Somebody Criticises your Parenting

“You really shouldn’t hold her so much you know”
“He should be sleeping in his own room by now”
“She’s too old to be having milk at night now”
“He should be sleeping through the night by now, it’s not good for him to wake so much”
“She’ll never learn to be independent if you don’t leave her”
“You need to be firmer with him, he has to learn he can’t always get his own way”
“If you don’t punish her she’ll never learn the consequences for her behaviour”
“She really should be in nursery now, socialising with children of her own age”
“You pander to him too much, if he doesn’t eat it then just take it away and send him to bed hungry”

I hear these sorts of comments so much from parents. When you practice a more gentle style of parenting, criticism from others can be all too common. So, what should you do then next time somebody offers you one of these pearls of wisdom?

crit

1. Try to see the motivation
A lot of what we view as criticism can really be classified as well-meant concern. This is particularly true if it comes from those close to us, ie relatives. Perhaps they are worried about how tired you look, or they are genuinely concerned about your child and rather than meaning to attack what you are doing, their comments are actually aimed at (what they believe will be) something far healthier for your child, and you. The comments may come out wrong and it can be easy to perceive them as just being an attack on you, but I think most criticism is just poorly phrased concern. Of course this isn’t always the case, sometimes people are just negative interfering busy-bodies, but I find trying to look for the motivation really helpful.

2. Understand they are speaking from their own knowledge and experience base
When my firstborn was a baby, early weaning (by 16 weeks), cry based sleep training and punishments were the in-thing. This advice was given in all the baby books, by health visitors/child nurses, official healthcare publications and television experts. Things have changed a lot in the last 17 years, imagine how much they have changed over the last 30 or 40! I have kept up to date with current research and recommendations, because that’s my job, if it wasn’t, I’d have no reason to know how much things have changed and I would likely believe that the same recommendations still applied. People give advice/criticise based upon what they know and believe to be true. Similarly, they criticise and advise based upon their own experiences; of being a child and (sometimes) raising one. This involves a lot of cognitive dissonance, because accommodating new, updated, advice, means admitting that how they were raised, or how they raised their children may have been damaging. Instead of admitting this – and working through the big feelings it brings – many people will attack the new information, sometimes consciously, other times totally subconsciously. In a sense the fact you are doing things differently may be seen as an attack on what they did, or are doing. Hence, their criticism of you is a self-protective mechanism. Basically, their negative words are not saying anything about you, but everything about them.

3. Ask questions and Talk about Emotions
If you want to respond to the advice/criticisms; my strongest suggestion is to hold back on piling the evidence on them. I see so many posts on social media saying things like “can anyone provide me with some research showing sleep training is bad?”. Providing evidence here is totally ineffective. Why? Because it just won’t get through the cognitive dissonance barrier. They probably won’t even read it. If they do read it they will dismiss it. As much as you may think listing evidence is the way forward to convince them that you are in the right, it really isn’t. What works better? Two things – asking “why?” and appealing to their emotions. The next time somebody says “he needs to sleep in his own room” ask them “why?”. Keep drilling down and drilling down. When they say “because he needs to be independent”, ask “why?”. When they say “because he won’t ever learn to be alone otherwise”, ask “why?”. At some point they will reach a dead end and simply not be able to answer, or – there is a slim chance they may realise that their criticism has no substance and what they read/saw is incorrect (though don’t hold your breath!). Another tactic is to appeal to their emotions. Here, I like to ask them to put themselves into the child’s place, or imagine how they felt/what they needed as a child. “how do you think she feels when she’s left crying in her cot?”, or “do you remember a time when you really needed your parents, but they didn’t come for you?”. Asking ‘why’? and appealing to emotions is inifinitely more successful than providing evidence in my experience.

4. Smile and thank them
Aka ignore them. Ignoring in a way that makes them feel like they’ve been listened to is key though. Instead of saying “please keep your opinions to yourself”, or “no, I’m not doing that”. Responding with “Thanks for your advice, I’ll take it on board”, or “OK, that’s definitely something to think about” quietens people a lot quicker than disagreeing with them! Sure, you have not done anything to attempt to change their mind, but I think sometimes for our sanity it’s best to smile nod, ignore and move on. We’re not here to change the world for everybody, just our children. It’s OK if somebody holds a conflicting view to you.

5. Remind yourself of why you’re doing things this way
These last two points are about keeping your confidence up. Criticism and unwanted advice can really erode it. If you’ve been on the receiving end from several people, or over a sustained length of time (I’m thinking family holiday and so on) it can be all too easy to start second guessing yourself. Take a breather to remind yourself of why you’re doing this your way, re-read the books and the articles, watch a video, listen to a podcast. Revisit whatever source convinced you in the first place. If that source was your intuition/heart, then try to switch off from all things parenting and go for a long walk, watch a movie, read a (non parenting) book, meditate and do whatever it is that you enjoy doing to take away some of the toxicity.

6. Get support from likeminded parents
It can be hard parenting in a way that is not the norm. A day or two surrounded by people doing things differently to you is hard going, especially if they criticise you. The best solution I’ve found for this is to surround yourself with like minded people. People who agree with you. Post on the internet about your experience, the replies agreeing with you and telling you to ignore the critcisms can be incredibly validating! If you’re on Facebook, come and join my gentle parenting chat groups HERE for those of you in the UK and HERE for those of you elsewhere in the world.

 

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The power of self-forgiveness – and why it is important for your parenting.

I came across this quote recently and it really spoke to me. Of course, this isn’t only true for women, but men too. I think it’s highly applicable to parenting.

Sometimes I think we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to parenting. Yes, it is wonderful when we set the bar high and aim to be the very best parent we can be, but it can also be incredibly damaging. I come across far too many parents who confess their guilt to me. They worry that they make too many mistakes, yell too much, don’t find joy in every moment, wish the days and nights away, regret having children, utilise screens too much, don’t play enough, didn’t breastfeed long enough, don’t feed their children totally wholesome food and so on….you name it, I’ve heard a related guilt confession. In fact I’ve never come across a group of people who are harder on themselves than those practising gentle parenting.

Yes, introspection and awareness of our flaws is a really important part of gentle parenting, but too many people let it get in the way, because they treat themselves so poorly. The irony that gentle parenting highlights children should be treated fairly, with empathy and respect is not lost on me when I think about how heavy some parents are on themselves.

I have made parenting choices that I am not proud of now and I would not make again if I knew then what I know now. I’ve also slipped up, many times, ‘in the moment’ and said and done things I regret. Everyone has, but I welcome my guilt for it teaches me to be a better parent. When we know better we do better. Life is about living in the now, parenting is about living in the now, not dwelling on what happened yesterday. If you don’t feel you have enough patience today, that’s OK, because tomorrow is a new day and everybody can change!

If you’re up for it, I’d like you to try something. For the next 7 days I’d like you to pay close attention to your thoughts. Every time you catch yourself feeling negative about your traits and parenting related qualities, I’d like you to stop and correct yourself. Remind yourself that you’re learning, you are doing your best and that you can – and will – be better with practice and a little self-directed empathy. Cut yourself a break, try to direct some of the nurturing you are constantly aiming at your children at yourself instead. If you’re an affirmations type of person, try repeating some of these to yourself when you feel most in need:

“I am still learning and I am doing the best I can”
“I am a great mum/dad”
“I can do this”
“Today is a new day, what happened yesterday is in the past, it’s time to move on”
“I am good enough as I am”
“Perfect doesn’t exist, real does”
“Today I will be kind to myself”
“It’s OK if I don’t know all the answers”
“We are learning together”
“All parents have bad days, some just hide them better than others”
“It’s OK to focus on my own emotional wellbeing”

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