Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lots of back-up posts

The Unconditional Parenting board is closing down, so I have backed up lots of my posts from there.


how can teens experiment safely with alchohol?

I think there's great value in European attitudes to alchohol, where it is something regularly offered to children if adults are drinking some with a meal. In many european families, parents or other relatives would expect to help their children train their palettes - distinguishing between grapes and learning the different scents and flavours. This would model wine drinking (and Scots similarly teach teens about whisky) as something to be savoured rather than a dangerous drug to be experimented with safely.

Also - what better place to first experience the physical effects of half a glass of wine - and to develop theories about how to behave under such circumstances - than in the home?

alchohol being "forbidden fruit" contributes to potentially dangerous attitudes to drinking it IMO

How do I protect precious ornaments from my child?

I think if there are communal expensive things a parent wants to protect, then they need to find ways of protecting them without hurting the child.

If things get thrown at TV, put TV in one of those 1970s cabinets? Then the doors can get quickly shut as the throwing begins. Having something on the outside of the cabinet worth throwing things AT would be cool. (like a target painted on or someting)

You could have a whole row of good things to throw on a mantelpiece or shelf so there's always something to hand.

eggs. Buy very very cheap ones. Play outside. Hose down afterwards. Or actually break eggs into a bowl to make scrambled egg, but have a good play with them first.

Make cornflour+water paste (fun texture in itself) and leave to dry in the sun. It goes cracked like a desert. Crumbling the chunks into tiny tiny pieces is cool.

Bottles of water to splash around outside might be a fun substitute for breaking - and for splashing in afterwards.

My child wants to play with toys in shops!

Well then, if child wants to play with toy in shop (as long as it isn't inextricably in packaging, which is another problem to be worked out, perhaps with the help of the shop assistants) then I would stay in shop for as long as child wants to be there playing with toy.

The details of ownership of the toy are then (as Julia Roberts not-quite said) just geography.

Repeat after me...


It can really help to leave the watch at home, and make it possible, as far as packaging makes it possible, for child to play with toys/other interesting objects in the store for as long as they want to. Shall we go to playgroup or shall we go to Walmart today?

Often, a child will have finished with object way before the check out counter. In fact, games of putting umpteen bags of sugar in the trolley and then reshelving them is also tremendous fun (well, maybe less thrilling for a 14 year old than a 3 year old, heh)

There is no law which says that something in the trolley has to be bought. It just shows that these are the objects which have caught your eyes so far.

(I'm not saying that if child really wants to buy the Neutron soup, you should put it in the trolley and then lie to them about having left it behind. What I mean is, the moment of putting something in the trolley or even putting it on the check out counter does not represent an irrevocable decision)

My child throws food out of the high chair all the time

If child is interested in an activity, find a way to help them get LOTS more of it safely and with parents being happy.

How about a carpet picnic on a big sheet? Then food which gets dropped can just get back on to the sheet?

How about passing child loads of objects for throwing while they are in the high chair?

Jenga blocks are fun.

Plastic balls can easily be gathered into their container with a broom later.

Buttons of different shapes, colours and sizes might be fun (if choking hazard doesn't worry you) and can be swept up with dustpan and brush.

Play dough is divinely wonderful. You can do all sorts of different colours, the cooked kind and the uncooked kind, different flours give v. different textures... also wonderful for throwing in small balls.

Paper aeroplanes are of course good for throwing.

Buy a child-sized table and chairs and decamp down there so child can sit at the table for exactly as long as they want.

How should one prepare for a long plane journey with small children?

It's very important to have something to suck and swallow during take off and (especially) landing - it can be as much as 20-30 mins of ear popping on the way down.

Talking about what you see when you take off and land - small houses, cars, fields, then up through the white clouds - talking about what clouds are made of. MAKE SURE YOU GET A WINDOW SEAT

There are some great magical Kipper episodes which happen in the clouds - have them in the DVD player? Several Richard Scarry DVD moments in airplanes too.

The tray of airplane food can itself provide literally minutes of innocent entertainment for children and adults alike

Friendly crew might offer them a tour of the cockpit to meet the pilot?

At the airport: escalators and lifts can be fun. Weighing child on an unused check-in carousel? PRetending to drive one of those little electric car things for disabled people (when not in use). Pushing a trolley around? [Although if child rides on trolley, the security staff may come and get officious] Check in, and then go for a walk outside the airport until it's time to go through security? Lots of colouring things? Sticker books?

Wait until the flight is actually called before going to the departure gate. The departure lounge often has amusement arcades for children, some entertainments in which are free; might be worth budgeting $20 for rides? Looking out of the departure lounge windows at the planes and staircases on lorries and baggage trains etc might also be fun

what if my dentist tells me that sucking a blanket will lead to my child needing a brace?

1. Get a second opinion.
2. get more info.

Having a brace later might mean all sorts of different things. It might mean one of those round-the-head traction jobs, or having 8 teeth removed to make space BUT...

if the dentist is right and it's just thumb/blanket sucking that is pushing those front teeth out, then my guess is that if it DID need a brace, it'd be a daytime only or nighttime only removable, top teeth only job. Which your child might well consider is a good trade off for several years of happy sleeping.

One of those top-and-bottom, fixed brace with elastic bands connecting to a night time jaw moving machinery... no, that might not be considered a good trade off.

If people smoke around my child will they become a smoker?

This was a post where a child started pretending to smoke a pretend cigarette after aunty Flo or someone had smoked near them.

I'd try to see it from the child's POV.

FRom whenever fire experimentation starts, with candles, matches and a trusted adult with a bucket of water, child has been learning that fire is HOT and has flames, and makes smoke.

Child has also been gradually learning about the sorts of things people put in their mouths. And putting fire in your mouth and then blowing smoke out is a new one.

Frankly, I'd be role playing it too.

I would think that parental or peer smoking is likely to be amuch bigger influence on a person taking it up than having one isolated aunt who does it.

(drifts off into happy memories of experimenting with dry cow parsley stalks as huge "cigarettes" as a child. THe smoke was wonderfully viscous and oily, but you had to suck on the stem to get it to come out of the top in a satisfying curly way and if you inhaled it by accident you'd be coughing evil poison out of your lungs for ten minutes...)

are manners important?

As far as small children are concerned, you could just as well be insisting that they say "a la la peanut butter sandwiches" before making a request as insisting on "please". It's an arbitrary convention. I prefer a spontaneous (probably occasional) heartfelt "thank you" or a beaming smile, or just a satisfied glug glug glug as the water goes down.

Make it so you don't have to respond to requests that irritate you. Bottles of water (refilled bottled water bottles) around at 4yo level? A water cooler?

I hate it when I have done something for a small child - pass them a toy they wanted, or something - and just in the middle of a beautiful communicative eye-contact moment between the two of us, with gratitude expressed and acknowledged, and sometimes even a spark of joy, the parent wades in with "say thank you". And I think "butt out, you just ruined the moment". And we've completely forgotten what we were doing.

I always say to the parent "no need for thank yous - we're doing fine"

Also, children pick up the way their parents speak. I think communicating with thank you/sorry is NBD - if the parent uses them, the child picks up when to, when they feel like it.

what should I do if my 2-year-old child ignores me?

"for every paragraph you were planning to say, substitute a sentence

for every sentence, substitute a word

for every word, substitute an action."

[copyright a wise friend of mine]

I wouldn't try to communicate verbally with a child this small about how they just spilled water and whether they should be clearing it up. I would just start tidying up (the first time a child helps their parent clear up, of their own accord, could be a really magical one - why spoil it with trying to make it happen for months before the child is ready?)

And I would find ways of tweaking the environment so that things which trigger a parent to fury don't happen often. So...

water in a sippy cup (great for spraying out of mouth, and just evaporates)?

milk in the bath or outside or in a room with tile/wooden/lino floor?

cover the carpet with old sheets or those cheap waterproof camping table cloths (good for spaghetti bolognaise nights too... )

I try to minimise the triggers by tweaking the environment in this sort of way.

If making a connection with the child is the thing bothering the parent, it might help to find time to connect through eye contact and hugs and perhaps reading a book together or having a conversation, either at the beginning of the day or just before sleeping. But in the middle of a busy day? Interrupting what they are doing to ask them to help clean up spilled water? When there's a universe to make sense of?

what kind of preparation is cool?

(rather than living seat-of-your-pants all the time)

My life changed when I got given a hand-me-down crock pot aka a slow cooker. Probably 2/3 days a week, I throw ingredients for a meal in there in that early morning mellow time. I always cook at least enough for two meals, so on some of the other days, I'm a 15 minute girl, when I look in the freezer and grabbed something I cooked a week or two ago.

I have a special grab it now rucksack, which contains all the basics that people I go on trips with might want (e.g. biscuits, entertainment and some cash). Then if it's time to go RIGHT NOW, I just grab the bag. This piece of preparation was a once off, 6 months or more ago. I just stick another bottle of water in if the old one is empty when I get home, or whatever. I just added gloves today brrrr.

what do I do if my child keeps picking my plants?

I know people with a big vegetable patch and a rabbit problem. They fenced the whole thing in with chicken wire. It probably goes almost a foot underground and sticks up about 2 feet.

this doesn't just make rabbits pause, but also small children, so that their time in the veg garden among the podding peas can be carefully supervised. I'm not advocating sitting in the enclosure with child crying outside, but it would give you warning that child wants to be among your precious plants with you, so you can concentrate on them.

You could always plant things which child is encouraged to pick around the edge of the fence?

If you can get the first sprouting of weeds out when your plants are seedlings, the vegetables stay ahead of the weeds which are really just superficially annoying then.

Some parents I know go "don't touch me!!!" in a silly high voice when a child puts a finger towards a flower. So that even touching the flower is a hilarious game - no need for picking.

Others I have come across make a big deal out of smelling the flowers with the child, sticking their noses right inside to get a lung full of the scent.

Some avid vegetable gardeners have put many of their gardening ambitions on hold for a year or two, instead making mud pies in the earth on a daily basis for a whole growing season

Hanging baskets for precious flowers?
Raised beds for vegetables?

Lots of lawn space with fun toys - a trampoline, a climbing frame, a swing and slide, a sandpit with lots of toys? You can buy cheap plastic water play tables which can be a great place to stand and do sand games/ water with bubbles/ corn starch and water/ you name it.

Child might like to stand on a step ladder and help you hang clothes.

I'd be thinking about ways of having the child involved with what you are doing, and consider saving the garden maintenance for when another adult is around to amuse the small child.

what do I do if my child won't sleep?

(post rescued from the soon-to-be-defunct Unconditional Parenting board)

A wise person once told me that on those occasions when you want to sleep and for some reason you can't (like you're on a night shift, or you're caring for a child who, for whatever reason, isn't ready to sleep, or is sleeping in a very unsettled manner) there's a curve of ghastliness, and if you can sit out the curve, about 15-20 minutes after you feel your head will explode, it actually becomes ok to stay awake. It might take a few similar experiences before you can recognise this.

Useful things: put on a DVD in a room with a mattress. You can lie and doze while child watches DVD. Don't expect child to go to sleep for 4 hours - if they happen to go to sleep earlier, then well and good, but it means you stop being impatient. Remember that while lying with your eyes shut is not as restful as sleep, it is much more restful than having eyes open and being alert. As Kipper says "One night without sleep won't matter".

In the time when you are awake, schedule yourself a nap for tomorrow, while child naps. Remind yourself that child will probably sleep in till 11am, and give yourself permission to do the same, cancelling engagements by email or text if you can.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

tidying a house

Some people hate cleaning and tidying and are happy with the way their house looks. As Quentin Crisp said (and I paraphrase) "After three years the dirt doesn't get any worse. You just have to HOLD YOUR NERVE"

Lots of people hate tidying but want their home to be tidy. They need to get better theories, either about to what extent cleanliness matters, or about whether it is fun to clean or not. I don't think it really matters which route they follow, but if they have decided to be tidy then:

Get lots of stackable plastic crates. Or handwoven organic sea grass ones if that's your preferred asthetic. The plastic ones cost almost nothing, though. They are great for having toys sorted into - lego in one, soft toys in another, musical instruments in another. They are also excellent for building dens, for impromptu tables, for climbing onto large items of furniture...

People with a competitive streak can turn tidying into a competition, with their co-habitees or against themselves. e.g. throwing plastic balls into a filing cabinet drawer from the other side of the room = target practice. Child might want to join in while parents are having fun with such a game - no need for nagging. And if parents are having fun, they won't actually mind if child joins in or not.

I think of tidying as re-setting the house so that all the toys are attractive to whoever might want to play with them - making sure all the jigsaws have all their pieces with them etc. Any toy in its home is a gift to my cohabitees.

Someone said to me that if there are items you move in tidying more than once every 24 hours, then they live in the wrong place. It may be that the home of a very favourite toy is in the corner on the floor, not up on a shelf.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

splash happy

From a thread at the Unconditional Parenting message board, where a poster asked about a situation in which a 3-year-old likes to splash water out of the bath all over floor/parents.

Brain storm:

Get in the bath with the two children (between them) so you protect smaller child from tsunamis and you are warm and wet instead of cold and wet.

Put washing up bowls along the edge of the bath on the floor to catch splashes.

Buy one of those really cheap carpet mat things which have a plastic base (they look pretty grim, but they soak up lots of water, it doesn't go through to the carpet, and they can easily be hung on the washing line outside to dry off)

Cut up an old towel into strips and attach the strips to the side of the bath with strong tape. Drips going down the outside of the bath get caught in a towel strip rather than going on the carpet.

Make lots of little bottles of potion (food colouring and water) for pouring.

Get a waterwheel for pouring games.

Bubbles may be more fun to pat and throw around than actual tidal wave splashing

If your kitchen has tiled/lino/wooden floor, the sink may be a good place for maxi-splash fun (and you can get just as clean in a sink as in a bath). As long as child isn't in danger of falling on the floor, parent can use it as an opportunity to mop the floor with constant water provision!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Playful Parenting"

I read half of it.

Too many cheery anecdotes about Lawrence Cohen's own family and therapy patients, which all show what a Goofy Guy Larry is.

Important good things: play is an important means of communication for children; play can be a means of changing the energy of a situation, of backing off from an area of conflict for a time, or a tool with which to resolve it; play can be a way of reconnecting with the people we cohabit with.

Bad things: "follow the giggles" - because IMO giggling can indicate fear and nervousness
: he does not like TV and thinks that it stops children from being able to play imaginatively - because they are following someone else's script. I've seen 4 year olds tell/act out The Three Bears without tolerating hesitation, repetition or deviation and it didn't take a TV show to fix the narrative.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Attitudes to children

Overheard on a bus:

"Oh, children are manipulative little s*ds, aren't they?"

This comment would be socially impossible to make in a western country in a public place about any other group of people (blacks, hispanics, joooos, women, old people...)

It also reveals a complete lack of understanding of the aims of very small children.
"Gah I can't sleep alone in the dark here... I know, I'll really annoy my parents by screaming so loudly that they get as miserable as me... mwahahaha that'll show them not to force feed me tasteless goop three times a day"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Gateway Books"

There is a thread on the TCS list at the moment about books people have found helpful in learning how to treat their children as small autonomous people rather than property, untamed savages, extensions of the self etc etc.

I want to put the books on here so I don't lose the list!

Lawrence Cohen 'Playful Parenting'

Jan Hunt 'The Natural Child'

anything by John Holt or Deborah Jackson

Alison Stallibrass, "The Self-Respecting Child" (for a reminder that some good ideas have been around
for a while...)

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

Hold On To Your Kids

"Raising Your Child Not by Force but by Love," by Sidney D. Craig

Jan Fortune -Wood's 'Winning Parent Winning Child', 'With Consent', 'Without Boundaries'

Sunday, May 14, 2006

co-sleeping in the MSM

I was just sent this link

The Sunday Times is read by thousands and thousands of people. And this article takes exactly the right approach for its audience - nothing crunchy or "natural" but measured use of the science. Babies who sleep apart from their parents are much more stressed. Sleeping apart from parents correlates with women having eating disorders later in life (not that that proves a causal link of course).

And there's a neat little sting in the tail - the stress felt by babies sleeping alone is similar to the stress they experience when left at nurseries...

Monday, May 01, 2006

health visitor rant

this article reminds us that UK Health Visitors have not had a clue about baby nutrition for the past 40 years, despite that being one of the main parts of their tax-funded advisory role.


Monday, April 17, 2006

An idea from the corner shop

The lady in our local corner shop told me today that when her children was little, she bought one of these types of things.

and filled it up with chocolate covered raisins, M&Ms, raisins, and nuts. Especially almonds, which she was waxing lyrical about how good for you they are. And then she justleft it at child height and whenever they wanted a snack they'd go and help themselves. It was particularly good for snacking in the early morning, when she didn't want to get up and make breakfast yet. The container keeps it all fresh, and the turning handle bit makes it fun, and mixing up the chocolate covered ones with plain ones makes the plain ones more delicious in combination

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Monastery and cathedral schools trained churchmen. The earliest monastery schools I know of are ca. 800 AD in the Carolingian empire. The main purpose was to teach Latin through memorising (singing by rote) first the Psalms and then Latin hymns. Once the novices had this basis they could take part in the liturgy. Later training was based on the seven liberal arts, all of which equipped students to be effective monks/clerics (eg arithmetic and astronomy were important for calculating the date of Easter). These schools provided a focused vocational training.

Secular schools developed in urban centres in the 15th century. European grammar schools (Lateinschule in Germany) came from the desire of urban merchants to prepare their sons for the professions (law, medicine etc) without necessarily tying them into a career in the church. To enter such professions, the boys were expected to know the sorts of things that the products of cathedral and monastic schools knew, concentrating on the acquisition of Latin. Such families were unlikely to be able to afford individual tutors. They set up charter schools to spread the cost of educating their children.

Schools were often set up by urban guilds as a perk for the sons of their members; some still survive in England (eg Merchant Taylors; Haberdashers; Christs Hospital -
still run by the Almoners' Guild...)

So even at this stage, schools had moved beyond providing a vocational training to providing an arbitrary passport (Latinity) to the desired profession. IMO, this peacock’s tail is still the primary function of schools – they rarely supply the information or offer the training that people want; instead, the qualifications are interpreted by employers or universities or whoever as indicating a certain level of staying power and determination to proceed to whatever goal it is that the person has in mind.

It is quite possible for a person to spend many years (not just finishing high school or a Bachelor’s degree, but a Masters as well) chasing the peacock’s tail which will supposedly finally allow one to start learning how to do what one actually wants to do.

The most valuable areas of training preserve their vocational aspects – music, dance, art, sports… – and mostly people pursue these areas outside schools through: private tuition with an expert; self-directed practice and study; joining a club/team/orchestra; engagement in the pursuit with others of similar ability, etc. IMO, the methods by which people find and train for their vocations are much better models for pursuing any interest at any age than the school model, which purports to provide a generic preparation for specialisation later.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

circumcision and nappy rash

On the TCS list, someone likened infant circumcision to changing a diaper when child has a rash - it will hurt the child but parent knows it is the best thing to do and goes ahead regardless of inflicting the pain.

In the current case, the mother (father / caregiver / whatever) often has to make decisions for the eight-day-old boy because she can't communicate why some things are happening, he's not yet prepared to understand the range of options, and he can't communicate his opinions except in the most basic ways. Under those circumstances, making many decisions for him is necessary, not irrational. For example, he might not want her to change his diaper, perhaps because he has a rash and the wipes cause pain. Yet the mother, if she is rational, will change his diaper anyway because she knows that to do otherwise is far worse for the child. This is coercive, but rational. There's no alternative. (She will likely mitigate the pain however possible, of course, but she'll still change the diaper and the child will still hurt.)

No. Changing the diaper regardless is unneccessary coercion. Here are some possible solutions which would not hurt the tiny baby:

Get in bath with tiny baby. Instead of using baby wipes, the water will gently wash the baby clean. No pain.

Change diaper when child is asleep and won't notice.

Instead of using wipes, gently wipe the baby with a soothing anti-rash cream (yes, fingers in poop and all). After a few minutes, it may be possible to use wipes without hurting the baby. Wash hands thoroughly in between obviously ;-)

Instead of wipes, use a soft damp cloth?

Lose the diapers altogether and leave the bottom half nekkid until the rash goes. Might be a chance to experiment with elimination communication. And honestly, 8-day-old baby pee or poop on one's T-shirt is not a disaster. It can just join the half digested milk :lol:

To say "In most cases, I try not to coerce my child, but in circumstance X there is no alternative" signals a failure of creativity not a grim reminder that life is inevitably painful. Sure, we all have failures of creativity from time to time, but we mustn't pretend that they are anything other than failures, which we can learn from and do better next time.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


The infant circumcision rate in the UK is less than 1%. In this country circumcision is generally regarded as barbaric genital mutilation, undertaken only by a tiny proportion of the population, for religious reasons. I was astonished to learn today that the circumcision rate in the US is more like 60%.

There are various possible health benefits to circumcision, but the American Academy of Paediatrics said in 1999 that they are not sufficient to recommend routine infant circumcision. There are some STDs which are more difficult to catch with a circumcised penis (because there are some cells in the foreskin which easily absorb whatever is going around), but there are simple ways of avoiding STDs which do not involve genital mutilation. Several of the risk factors can easily be dealt with by basic hygiene.

On the reverse side, there are risks associated with circumcision itself, from bleeding to infection and much worse. Estimates of the percentage of baby boys affected by such things vary between less than 1% and 10%, depending on who is counting. Use of anaesthesia is by no means universal, although the procedure is certainly painful. Duh.

Circumcision is not easily reversible, and affects sex. It makes it much harder to keep penis and vagina lubricated during sex. It reduces sensation in the penis and can affect the erection. It takes longer for circumcised males to come to ejaculation (some might find this an advantage of circumcision).

There is no guarantee that one’s son will thank one for having circumcised him. The surveys of males circumcised as adults cited on Wikipedia indicate that the satisfaction rate is only about 60%. There was nothing to indicate how many men circumcised as infants were happy about it.

If your son decides as a teen/adult that he wants to be genitally mutilated, that’d be the time to do it, IMO, when he can decide for himself.

I find it hard to imagine a viable justification of infant circumcision unless there are religious factors involved, and that deserves another post, which will have to wait till I have time to write it.

Friday, March 03, 2006


well, I assume noone is sitting patiently out there waiting for me to write.

I've changed my links so they reflect what I'm actually reading.

Thoughts about other things are still cooking...