Starting Childcare When Your Baby has Separation Anxiety

Leaving your baby or child in the care of others can be a stressful time for parents, some children take the transition in their stride, but others struggle much more with the separation. While some settings and childcare providers offer brilliant support and advice to ease the transition, others are less helpful. Much is made of attachment theory in early years settings, yet I’m not certain that some truly understand its implications.

I have often seen well-meaning nursery workers peeling a sobbing child or screaming baby off of an equally distressed parent with reassurances of, “It will be okay, don’t worry.” The parents walk away with tear-stained cheeks, desperately trying to not look back, whilst the childcare workers speak in jolly voices trying to cajole toddlers with the promise of a sticker or story, or bounce babies whilst playing peekaboo.

Understanding attachment theory is so important here, for both parents and professionals. In the case of a securely attached mother-infant dyad, both will be experiencing trauma in the above situation if it is not well handled. The abrupt separation of the child from his or her ‘secure base’ is not something that can be ‘got over’ in minutes or hours. The child will stop eventually crying for its parent, but perhaps because of ‘learned helplessness’ or distraction, rather than being truly calm and reassured. It is important to realise that the potential trauma of separation is very real and valid, and to acknowledge, rather than try to silence it. Only then is it possible to move on to the ultimate goal – that of a truly happy child and a happy parent whilst using childcare.

So, How can you help to smooth the transition, mindful of attachment?

1. Empathy and respect
Listening is so important. Don’t be tempted to tell your child: “don’t worry”, “don’t be silly” or similar, all of which dismisses feelings. Instead, you could say, “I can see you’re very upset, that’s okay, it’s a really big thing. How can I help?” which validates feelings and shows your genuine concern. Of course, in the case of a baby or young toddler, this sort of conversation won’t be possible, but you can still empathise and ask yourself if there is anything you can do to make it easier for them. I think, more than anything, it’s important to face this transition as a unit, recognising that your baby, toddler or preschooler is not behaving this way to deliberately make things harder for you.

2. Questions, questions, questions
Asking lots of questions about the setting, what happens and when, how it happens, who is responsible for what  etc can help. Especially if you can make up a visual timetable of sorts to share with your child (again, suitable for older toddlers and preschoolers, but less so for younger). .Don’t be afraid to ask anything that is on your mind, especially something you feel might be silly to ask – it is often these points that bother parents the most and are therefore the most important to discuss. Also, make sure the staff have as much information about your child as possible. Tell them what their favourite toys and activities are, what television programmes they like, what craft activities they enjoy, what their favourite book is, how they like to calm if they are angry, or settle to sleep. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for the childcare staff to meet your child’s needs in a bespoke way. You could even consider writing this information down as a sort of plan, over a couple of sides of A4.

3. Speak with other parents who have been through similar
It can be tremendously helpful to access peer support from those who have been in a similar situation. You could ask the setting if they have a parent there who had a tough start but whose child is now thriving that you could talk to, or consider asking parents with a similar parenting ethos to you online what helped them (you can join my Facebook chat group if you’re in the UK HERE, or HERE if you’re outside the UK).

4. Make sure your child has a key person
A key person becomes a replacement attachment object for the child, so it is vital that they form a good bond with the child in advance of the child starting. Both the parent and child need to meet their key person several times before starting day. I recommend a minimum of 3-4 times, for a minimum of 30 minutes per time (though more is usually better). It is also helpful to take a photo of your child’s key person (with their consent of course) to take home and refer to, building recognition and bonding at home.

5. Visual cues
Young children do not process and store information in the same way as adults. Using visual props can be very helpful, e.g. a small scrapbook with pictures of the nursery and staff that you share with your child at home, in order to familiarise.

6. Transitional objects
If your child already has a comforter, a cuddly toy, for instance, this should always come with them to the daycare setting and should never be taken away. If your child doesn’t have one, try to condition one a good month before daycare starts (or immediately if already started) – do this by involving the comforter in hugs and cuddles and feeds if the child is a baby.

7. Ask for honesty
Ask your childcare provider to always be honest with you. If your baby or toddler has had a bad day tell them that you would like to hear the truth, however hard it is. If they tell you today has been especially hard, ask to have a conversation about why this may have been (what happened that day? Did anything different happen? How did your child sleep? What did they eat? Can you spot any patterns over time?). Try to use the bad days as an opportunity to discuss how you can improve things with the childcare provider.

8. Consider who does the drop off
Children of all ages are usually ‘better’ at the drop off (by that I mean less upset) if it is not the primary attachment figure (and here this is usually mum) dropping them off. If you live with somebody else and they are available to do drop offs, it may well be calmer and more successful. If you are alone, or nobody else can do drop offs, try to really work hard on your own emotions. Babies and children definitely pick up on our own anxieties and emotions. Practice some positive affirmations, deep breathing and mindful for a few minutes before you leave the house and again just before you get to the daycare setting. Aim to be as calm and positive as you can be. On this note, unless you absolutely MUST leave at a certain time (eg to make it to work on time), it is not better to make a quick dash and leave your child crying if you can stay for a while and help comfort them, whatever anybody may tell you at the setting. If you do have to leave by a specific time, consider arriving earlier if possible, to build in some time for a slower drop off.

9. Ask the provider to consider babywearing
Using slings and carriers can be an amazing way to settle fractious babies and young toddlers, especially if you babywear at home. Ask your childcare provider if they would be willing to carry your child for a short while after the drop off, especially if they have other children to care for. We know from research that a child crying ‘in arms’ does not suffer the same toxic stress effects as a child who is crying out of arms. Babywearing allows a childcare work to have free arms to support other children in their care, whilst ‘holding’ your child through their upset. This is a good article to share with your setting if they are not sure of the idea.

10. Don’t be afraid to look for alternatives
If your child is persistently failing to settle into the setting, don’t be afraid to consider alternatives. This is really pertinent if it is relating to a toddler starting preschool. I believe many toddlers are forced to start before they are ready and that waiting just another few months can make a dramatic difference, although this of course only applies if you don’t *need* to use childcare. If you need to use childcare because you are working, then consider other providers – e.g: some do much better in a home based care environment, such as a nanny share or childminder. Or if you are already using home based care, it may be that your child will form a better bond with somebody else. If your child is in a nursery and you want them to stay there, or there are no home based alternatives, perhaps they may do better with a change in keyperson. If you use childcare part-time, consider if it’s possible to switch the days, for instance, many do better if they attend on concurrent days, rather than spacing care out by a day or more over the week. There is usually something you can consider here, so don’t be afraid to think about alternatives.


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How to be a Gentle – Not Permissive – Parent

I was chatting with a journalist recently who was writing an article about forcing children to say sorry (based upon a piece I wrote for the HuffPost a while ago). In the piece I talk about the importance of parenting mindfully, leading by example and teaching children well – but not enforcing discipline because of societal rules, if those rules don’t fit with what we know to be a good fit for the capabilities of children. She asked me what I would do instead, or more specifically she asked “but, what happens if you don’t make them say sorry? Would you be OK with them never apologising as they got older?”. I explained that actually, they would be far more likely to apologise as they grew, if they had done something wrong, because the discipline I would use (namely being a good role model), would be far more effective.

I come across this misconception time and time again; that if you don’t make your child do something (in an authoritarian way), then they will never learn and will grow to be rude and feral. People seem to forget (or perhaps don’t realise in the first place) there is a sweet spot in the middle – something known as Authoritative Parenting. You can see more about the different styles below:

Despite the popular myth; there is a huge difference between Gentle Parenting and Permissive Parenting. Gentle Parenting falls into the official definition of Authoritative Parenting (not to be confused with Authoritarian which is harsh Victorian style parenting!).

Authoritative Parenting is characterised by the parent having realistic expectations of a child’s behaviour, a good degree of empathy and compassion and a good balance of control. ie giving children control where it’s appropriate with the parent taking the lead when it isn’t – or, what is better known as having consistent boundaries.

Permissive Parents tend to have unrealistic expectations of their children (believing they are less, or more, capable than they really are) and tend to give children too much control and not have consistent boundaries. You can see more about the different parenting styles and how Gentle Parenting fits in in the introduction to my Gentle Parenting book HERE.

To stop yourself straying into permissive parenting; the key is to first have a good understanding of what your child can and cannot do and can and cannot understand. To make sure that you are not expecting too little of them (or too much!) when it comes to their behaviour. In short, you need to have a fairly good understanding of child brain development.

Next, it’s about setting age appropriate boundaries and most importantly – sticking consistently to them. See THIS post for more on how to do this. An Authoritative (Gentle!) Parent would uphold boundaries even if their child is crying. What makes the parenting gentle is not the avoidance of crying, but how you respond and react to your child when they are upset – by staying empathic and offering them comfort.

A Permissive Parent is far more likely to drop a boundary if it upsets their child, for fear of them crying and they are also less likely to have boundaries in the first place. It is this setting and consistency of boundaries – and the acceptance of your child’s emotions – that marks the biggest difference between the two styles I think.

For more on what to expect of children at each age, how to choose and enforce appropriate boundaries and to stop yourself straying into permissive parenting, see my Gentle Discipline Book. Available in the UKUSACanadaAustralia and the Rest of the World.

gentlediscipline gdb

Separation Anxiety – What it is, Why it Happens – and How to Cope

 You may notice that your baby starts to become more clingy as they get older, crying if you leave the room for only a few seconds or needing to be held by you all of the time. Separation anxiety is a normal stage of psychological development for babies that usually starts at some point between 8 and 18 months old.  Separation anxiety is actually a good sign of an emotionally healthy child, however it can leave many parents wondering if they have done something wrong and somehow created an unconfident baby. It is very important to remember therefore that this is a healthy sign.

Far from meaning that you have created a needy child it is actually a sign that you have done a great job raising your baby.  To understand why separation anxiety is a good thing we first need to start with what your baby thinks and feels at birth. Newborn babies have no idea that they are a separate entity to their parent. This knowledge begins to happen at around six months of age, usually peaking between nine and twelve months. The development of separation anxiety is an indication that your baby has formed a secure attachment to you, that they realise you and they are separate beings but that you are vitally important in terms of helping them to feel safe and secure.

Last century, the Psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth formulated the idea of attachment theory. Their important work led us to the understanding that the beginnings of true independence and confidence in children stem from a secure attachment to their parents in infancy, or as Bowlby called it a “secure base”. For babies it is important that they are allowed to be dependent on their parents for as long as is necessary in order to be independent as an older child and adult. One of the best measures we have of ‘secure attachment’ is to observe a baby who is comfortable in the presence of his or her parent and very upset when his or her parent leaves. In our current culture however this is not seen as normal, it is seen as undesirable and ‘clingy’ behaviour and many experts and professionals are eager to force independence as soon as possible In the mistaken belief that independence can be taught, it cannot. The commonly held assumption that in order to create a confident independent child we must push them out into the world so they can learn we are not always there is grossly incorrect. True independence is not learnt through rewards, punishments and forced separation, true independence stems from a loving, secure relationship with caregivers at a young age. This is what your baby learns during this period of separation anxiety and why it is so important to stay responsive during this time. It is absolutely not a time for sleep training which only teaches the baby that you don’t come back when they need you.


Top Tips to Cope with Separation Anxiety.

  1. Empathising with your baby’s feelings is hugely important.  Try to understand that this is a normal phase of development, albeit a scary one, for them to pass through and that they are not trying to manipulate you in any way. If you parent with empathy during separation anxiety not only will your child be more empathic and confident themselves when they are grown, ultimately parenting will be easier and more rewarding for you too.
  2. Ignore advice from those who tell you that they need to learn to be alone. Despite research into attachment theory being prevalent in the 1950s and 60s, the results of this research didn’t really filter down into mainstream parenting. For this reason many grandparents probably parented in an entirely different way that involved their children “needing to learn to be independent”.
  3. Consider the timing of the end of maternity leave if possible. Many mothers book their return to work at around eight to ten months, but sadly this is perhaps one of the worst times a mother can return to work, because of the separation anxiety. Is it possible to push the return to work back by a month or two? Alternatively consider settling your baby into childcare well before separation anxiety hits in order that they can form a close attachment with their new caregiver.
  4. Try to foster your baby’s secure attachments with other people. Secure attachment doesn’t just have to be with the parents, it can be with grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, nannies, childminder or nursery key workers. You just need to build the secure attachment before separation anxiety exists
  5. Help your child to feel as close to you as possible by giving them an item of your clothing to hug. You could try a muslin spritzed with perfume, or worn close to your skin to absorb your scent, or an old T-Shirt that you have worn often. Some parents even record their voices, talking to their little one or singing a lullaby. Only around 60% of babies will take to a comfort object though.
  6. Try to keep the rest of your life as constant as possible around the age of separation anxiety. It may not be the greatest time to go on holiday for instance.
  7. Lastly, be kind on yourself whilst your baby is experiencing separation anxiety. This is the real key. You can’t do much to speed your baby through this stage, but what you can do is change how you respond. In order to respond with compassion for your baby you need to nurture yourself. Sleep when you can, enlist help from people your baby already has a secure attachment with, even if it is just for them to sit cuddling your baby for an hour whilst you soak in the bath. Keep telling yourself that it is a good sign and repeat the mantra “this too will pass” often.


    This is an excerpt from my Gentle Parenting Book – a guide to gentle parenting practices from pregnancy through to seven years of age. You can get a copyHEREin the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

5 Ways to Reduce Tricky Behaviour From New Big Siblings

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

Ultimately, the solution to all behaviour problems that arise in the wake of the arrival of a new baby in the family is time. Until that time passes however, the following five steps can really help to reassure your child, which in turn will reduce their grief, frustration, confusion and hopefully their tricky behaviour eventually.

1. Understanding and Empathy
Remind yourself that your child is not jealous, they are grieving, and they are hurting. They are not being deliberately malicious. Their behaviour shows they are struggling and they need your help.

2. Recognition
Recognising your child’s feelings and showing them that you understand how they feel can go a long way to resolving their behaviour. “It’s so hard sometimes when the baby needs to feed so much isn’t it? I miss our hugs, I bet you do too?” recognises the child’s feelings, without them needing to verbalise them. It shows your child that you get it. You get them. That you’re on the same team.

3. Communication
Encouraging your child to communicate their feelings with you in whatever way they can is very helpful. If they are older, then instigate conversations with them about their feelings, bedtime is a great time for this. If they are pre-verbal, then teaching some simple sign language can help to remove frustration. If they are verbal, but struggle to understand emotions, then make sure to read books explaining emotions, so that they can point out pictures or characters they feel are like them.

4. Connection
Ultimately connection is the key. Your child is mourning the relationship you once had and feeling pushed out by the new arrival. You need to appreciate what a huge deal this is to them and help them to feel connected with you again. Doing bedtime, without the baby, every night is a great first step. But sometimes children need more. An hour in the park together every Saturday morning, while the baby stays home with your partner, dad, friend or relative. Swimming together, without the baby every Sunday afternoon, something predictable, that occurs every week is the ideal. Once the baby is older, or you feel able to leave them for several hours at a time, then planning some special “mum and son/daughter days” is important. Ideally a whole day, if not a whole morning or afternoon together, while somebody else takes care of the baby, just enjoying each other’s company, doing something fun together, can work miracles. This special day does however still need to be accompanied by the more frequent bedtimes and short park visits.

5. Patience and Persistence
Unfortunately, none of these techniques will work quickly. They require perseverance, patience and persistence. Don’t expect results in days, perhaps not even weeks. Think in months. Having a new sibling is a big deal, it can’t be adjusted to quickly. Often you will find different behaviours reoccur further down the line, even after a period of relative calm. This is normal and once again, they will pass. Eventually. In the meantime, the most important part of the puzzle is you. How you cope and react underpins everything.

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

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The Two Most Important Steps to Coping with any Behaviour – and why so Many get it Wrong!

I often speak with parents who are struggling with a specific behaviour, such as hitting. They will say “I keep telling them to stop and explain why they shouldn’t do it – but it just keeps happening!”. The problem here is not necessarily what the parent has done, but what they *haven’t* done. Dealing with tricky behaviour is a two step process. If you skip one of these processes, it’s almost inevitable that your discipline will be ineffective.

What are these two steps?

1. Dealing with the behaviour ‘in the moment’.
2. Understanding and future prevention.

Let’s look at them in some more detail:

1. Dealing with the behaviour ‘in the moment’.
This is what I call ’emergency discipline’. It’s discipline in the here and now. You have to stop your child 1. hurting themselves, 2. hurting others and 3. damaging things. This is what the parent has done in the hitting example above – they have stopped the hitting. That’s great, it’s important to do, but that’s only half of the discipline needed. I’m often asked how you stop children biting/hitting/throwing/running away and so on – my answer is pretty much always “however you have to”. This is emergency discipline. Safety is at risk. ‘Gentle’ is not high on my list at this point. If I need to physically move my child in order to stop them hurting others (or themselves) I will do. Even if it makes them cry. If I need to shout at them when they are about to run into a road and I can’t reach them quick enough, I will do. Remember – safety is our number 1 priority here. I need to extinguish the behaviour as quickly as possible. Once I have stopped the behaviour (and thus ensured safety) I would focus on reconnecting with and calming the child. This may not be a hug (some children need space, enforcing a hug on a child who would rather not be touched while they cool down is clearly not gentle!), it could be sitting close by, it could be letting the child know you will be in a different room whenever they need you. Of course you also need to calm down. When you are both calmer it’s time to talk, explain, hug and make everybody feel better. This is where the gentle comes in, not earlier – when safety (and getting the child to stop the behaviour) should be your priority.

2. Understanding and future prevention.
Coping with behaviour ‘in the moment’ is important, however it’s only half of the discipline. Unless you look at the cause of the behaviour and work to remove or reduce it, the behaviour is going to keep recurring, however well you coped ‘in the moment’. Step 2 is all about WHY? Asking why your child acted in such a way, trying to understand how they feel, what triggered them and what they need in order to dramatically reduce the chance of the difficult behaviour recurring is the second most important thing to do (after ensuring safety). Children don’t behave in difficult ways for no reason. Now it’s time to find that reason. In the case of hitting it could be: a need for more physical activity, a need to express feelings in a more positive way/to be understood, e.g: via signing, a need for more 1-2-1 time away from a sibling, a need to reconnect with you more if they spend time away from you in the daytime, a need for less (or more) stimulation, a need to be alone/away from other children, or simply a need for food or sleep. Until you find the underlying cause of the behaviour (and associated triggers) and work with that you will be left to deal with the same behaviour over and over again ‘in the moment’ (no matter how great your emergency discipline skills are).

The best – and most effective – discipline strategies incorporate both discipline steps!

For more on coping ‘in the moment’ and long term ‘why’ discipline check out my Gentle Discipline Book HERE in the UK, HERE in the USA, HERE in Canada, HERE in Australia and HERE in the rest of the world.

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.
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.


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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.

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. 

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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.

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!



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

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!

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


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

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.


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).



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