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.