Monday, May 28, 2007

fussy eater

So a child won't eat a huge selection of foods, and the mother has decided that she's not prepared to cook the same thing every night. She will offer the child whatever the family is eating, and if they won't eat it, they'll go hungry.

Relevant anecdote
I have a vivid memory of a school dinner which came around on the menu once a month. It was fish with a white sauce and tomato ketchup. The rule was that you had to finish your meal before you could go out to play. There was no choice of meal.

Even bringing the memory of that food back to mind is setting off my gag reflex. I have not eaten tomato ketchup since I left that school. So if their plan was to force me to eat certain foods because it would make me like them, their plan completely misfired.

Oh God, I've just remembered the custard tart thing which had what we described as pepper on top but I guess was cinnamon. That WAS possible to swallow, but only if you held your nose. Strangely enough, not a dish I have sought out in adulthood.

Ihad a friend who was fine with the fish and the custard tart, but his bugbear was the cheesecake. Generally he'd just sit in the dining room for the whole lunch time, but one time he was so desperate to go out and play that he took a mouthful and WAS SICK ALL OVER THE PLATE. His mum came in and tore the headteacher off a strip, and after that the rule changed and you no longer had to eat the food you didn't like (there still wasn't any choice though; just the one meal)

My approach
I'd be taking a completely different tack - rejoice at the veg and pasta and fruit and fishfingers - that's a balanced diet before you even start - and just offer other things on the plate or on a separate plate at the same meal time.

If there are things a child will often eat, but not if there's a bowl of pasta available, give them the other things five minutes before you produce the pasta, so they maybe have a bit of whatever else it was.

I'd be offering a selection of things which my child might want to eat in that meal, and the rejected ones I'd eat myself or pop in the fridge or freezer for another occasion.

I'd be aiming at a balanced diet over a week or month rather than every day. And of course my values would reflect in the kinds of things I offered - whether it was all organic tofu or there was a big concentration of chips, or whatever it might be. In that way, I'd be inexplicitly sharing my understanding of what good things and bad things are to eat. [nb I've never tasted tofu in my life but I had chips for lunch today...]

The theory bit
Why would you be punishing someone for not wanting to eat certain foods???? What precisely are you hoping to achieve by that? I just don't get it as a strategy for developing a balanced diet and adventurous palate. It certainly didn't work for me and my friends at primary school.

Worth thinking also about food as control and as battleground. If a person doesn't have control over food - they are forced to eat things they don't want and when they don't want to eat, in circumstances which they don't want to eat in, that can become a really really serious battleground later on. And in their teens, the way a person might well be taking control over that part of their lives if it's been a battleground through early childhood is through anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders and binge/slim stuff. Maybe these hypothetical unintended consequences are too extreme and unrealistic, but I'd definitely be wanting to watch out carefully for whatever knock on effects this kind of battle might have both on my child's psyche and on our relationship.

No shoes or socks thanks

I'm sure I've visited that challenge before. Here are some possibilities:

Sandals with no socks?
Those jelly shoe things?
Bare feet?
Some of those little leather baby shoes? (like - that's not me spamming, it was just the first google hit)

Some children go through a stage where they HATE putting on shoes and socks before going out, but once they are outside smelling a flower or something, you can slip them on without the child even noticing or minding. Or leave them off till you get to a piece of rough ground and then offer the shoes.

Are you sure the shoes are comfortable? That'd lead me towards the baby shoes because they are just so soft.

I spent most of my childhood running around with bare feet, except when I was in a nettle patch or among too much chicken s**t :-)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Argument against controlled crying

If considering controlled crying, I'd be asking myself some very honest questions about what I was hoping to achieve, what my perception of the process was, and then what my child's perception of the process was likely to be, and finally what unintended consequences the action might have on top of the grand plan of my child learning to sleep alone.

I personally believe the distress of a crying child left alone for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour, is immensely psychologically damaging to them, both in the short and long term.

I also believe the unintended consequences include: long term damage to child's trust in parent and decreasing likelihood of child being able to communicate their needs successfully; blunting of maternal instinct and increasing inability to respond to child's distress and other wants.

Controlled crying may be training your child to sleep alone, but it is also arguably training you to dismiss their cries as "not serious" or "attention seeking" until they are absolutely frantic.

Maybe I'm wrong. But I'd be really interested to see a correlation study comparing parents who leave their children to cry alone and parents who complain that their children tantrum regularly. There seem to be clear links of relationship dynamic to me.

I'd also be interested to see a correlation studying comparing the controlled crying parents with those who complain later that their teens don't communicate with them at all.

And I also think it is worth noting that Richard Ferber, who invented the technique, has since distanced himself from many of the ways people apply it, saying that while it works for some children to be left alone for a couple of minutes and they drop off, he NEVER intended for it to cause hours of distress for anyone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My child hits other people's children

Not my child; this is the question someone asked advice about at a mainstream board.

Stay with your child in such situations, and get between them and any other children if there's any sign of them hitting. Model the kind of behaviour with other children that you want your child to pick up on. Be really verbal "little girl down the slide and then it'll be your turn. There she goes 1, 2, 3 weee and now it's your go!". "That boy is playing with that ball. Shall we find a ball for you?"

Make sure you always have a soft toy or a book or something in your bag - acts as collatoral in potential toy conflicts. I know some groups of mamas whose children regularly go home with each other's soft toys, because that was the thing each child was happy holding as they parted. Charity shop toys are good for this sort of thing - I'd always be prepared to just give a 60p toy away to some other person's child rather than having a fight start.

Just in case you weren't anyway... you need to be right there with your child, helping them to learn about interacting with the world in a way that will make people love them. It's not a question of telling off, it's just that they've learned to walk and they've learned to talk a bit, and now they are in the process of learning to interact with strange children - they need your loving guidance in getting that right.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

not allowed in the kitchen

And little boy stands on the other side of the stairgate and cries...

"i don't like sam in there when i am cooking for safety reasons."

I'm trying to think what they could be. Sharp knives? Give child one of those ancient blunt little kitchen knives we somehow all have one or two of, which hardly cut anything, and have him help you chop the veggies?

Dangerous objects in low cupboards? Either move them higher and safe things lower, or get those cupboard fasteners from mothercare

Kettle lead? Attach it to the wall so child can't pull boiling water on their head

Hot pans? I learned at my mother's knee to keep the pan handles tucked inwards so you can't pull them off the cooker

I don't think it's ever too soon to teach your child about hot rings and hot water in safe ways - putting a ring on and holding them far enough away to be safe but close enough to feel the heat, and explaining "hot", or whatever. candles are very good for learning about heat.

In your situation I'd be finding ways of making it possible for my child to come in the kitchen safely - because there's going to come a time when no part of the house is a no-go area, so why not work out how to make that possible as soon as you can? - and I'd be finding really cool things to amuse them safely while they are in there. Some salt and flour and food colouring and water? (make his own playdough) or a basin of water and some plastic mugs for pouring at the sink (And when itgoes on the floor, you just mop it up and feel smug because you mopped your kitchen unlike the rest of us)

"i don't want sam wandering or playing the kitchen period, so he has to learn
this, it is a boundary or rule i am setting him. i am happy for him to have his
own way on lots of things but not the kitchen. this is just my choice to keep
him out of harms way"
He thinks you're wrong about that. That's why he cries.
He might be right.

Toddler screaming

"Anytime he cant do what he wants or get what he wants sets him off"

Toddlers are discovering so much about the universe - about what is possible and what isn't possible and what is allowed and what isn't allowed. It must be incredibly frustrating because to them so many rules seem totally arbitrary.

So... I'd be trying to work out really carefully what the child is really after, and then, if possible a) work out a way to make that safe and ok to do right now (e.g. by wheeling the buggy between them and the busy road so they can walk safely without holding hands)

b) work out a way to make it safe and ok to do next time (e.g. by buying toddler reins so they can walk by a busy road without holding hands whether or not the buggy is on the traffic side of them)

c) if you can't think of a b) yet, work out a way to avoid the problem until you do (child doesn't want to hold hands or wear reins, so walk on the back streets for a week or two, maybe)

And remember that it may well be the child who comes up with a), b), or c), even if they are preverbal.

Children are going to get incredibly frustrated at the universe sometimes - it just isn't possible for them to go on the roller coaster because they aren't tall enough, say - but I would save my "no, you can't do that" for the really impossible situations, otherwise working with the child to find a solution that both you and they are happy with.

not allowed to do things

You know the advice women get given about men in Cosmo? "Never try to change a man, just accept him as he is, and then find ways of being happy with the situation" I wonder whether that acceptance might be applied by parents who are in conflict with their children a lot.

Here's an equivalent between parent and daughter:

"She will deliberately do things she knows she's not allowed to do"

She thinks you are wrong about not letting her do those things. Either a) you haven't explained or shown why sufficiently well or b) you might be wrong. [and remember that a gesture may communicate more than a word and a sentence may communicate more than a paragraph - if you can't explain and persuade in less than 15 seconds, you maybe don't actually have a very clear and rational reason for forbidding the thing...]

"I have started sending her to her room telling her she can come out when she's
stopped crying"

(This is a parent who complained that her child doesn't listen) From her point of view, that's got to look as if YOU don't listen!!!

"Something as trivial as her asking for a drink and being told "in a second
babe" can be enough to set her into a full blown rage and I can't handle it any

Don't worry - this one is easy. You say "yes of course you can have a drink. Do you want to get it yourself right now, or do you mind if I quickly finish up what I'm doing and then get it for you?" If she wants you to get it immediately? I'd be inclined to get the drink straight away (that's got to be better than rage), and then in future make sure there are drinks available near her so you don't have to fetch all the time. I know a man who used to keep a stack of bottled water by the side of the couch so that whenever his wife said "can I have a drink please?" he could say "yes of course darling" and hand one over without missing a moment of the footie...

Monday, May 14, 2007

School's Out

this is astonishing. Good news. No more schools in Knowsley, but drop-in education centres.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The problem with copying

... is that you end up making these mistakes. Reproduced here just because I adore these long words...

Dittography (writing the same thing twice)
Haplography (missing out one iteration of a repeated passage)
Homoeoarchon (where two passages begin the same, and only the second gets copied)
Homoeoteleuton (where two passages end the same and only the first gets copied)

Nothing to do with children being people or anything else related to the point of this blog. Just revelling in the polysyllables.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A letter to the Guardian

Dear Sir,

I have several concerns about your recent Home Education piece, ‘Educators fear for standards of home schooling’. First, most in the Home Education community prefer to refer to what they do as education, not schooling. In fact, if James Meikle had read the consulation document to which the article refers, he would find that the current guidelines are very clear (see paragraph 3.11 in particular) that home education may not look like home schooling at all.

Your article opens: ‘The government has issued its first consultation into the growing practice of home schooling to find out whether rules need to be tightened over how children are taught out of the education system.’ This is simply wrong. The DfES are planning to issue new guidelines to LAs to assist with their dealings with Home Educators. There is, explicitly, no plan to change the law. In the email informing interested parties that the consultation had opened, Elaine Haste at the DfES wrote: 'it has been decided not to propose any changes to monitoring arrangements or legislation so this consultation is solely on the issuing of guidelines.' This needs clarification in your coverage; it is overly intrusive LA inspectors who are being reined in to follow the law as it stands, and the current consultation has no brief ‘to find out whether rules need to be tightened’ or decide ‘whether new laws were needed’. Again, this is very clear from reading the consultation document itself.

‘Local authorities fear the safety and well-being of "a small number of children" is being put at risk by the "minimal" regulation of standards in home schooling, the Department for Education and Skills said in a consultation document’. Not the consultation document on Home Education – I have searched for these quotations in vain. Perhaps you would clarify the source of them. It is very clear from the consultation document that LAs already have power to intervene when they have good reason to believe that children are not receiving a suitable education (see in particular paragraphs 2.7 – 2.10); the safety and well-being of this “small number of children” is instead put at risk by Local Authorities failing to do their job within the current legal framework, as the recent Eunice Spry case amply demonstrated.

And where is the evidence for the reported claims of Tony Mooney that home educating parents cannot ‘deliver seven or eight subjects entered for GCSE’, getting ‘in particular trouble with mathematics, science and languages’? It would only take a phone call to Education Otherwise to hear to what extent that misrepresents the aspirations and achievements of the home educating community. And Mooney’s anxiety over children from ‘working-class estates where parents have not been able to get their kids to school because they have been bullied or are school phobics’ demonstrates a contempt for the ability of the working class to make the best decisions for their children, and to educate them appropriately. Again, might I suggest that your journalist keeps abreast of the latest media coverage of working class home educating parents (here, for example). Is it possible that instead of having ‘twigged it is easier’, such parents have simply lost patience with a state schooling system in which bullying is endemic and, for some, fatal, and have chosen to provide an appropriate education for their children themselves? Instead of relying on the views of polemicists like Mooney, the Guardian might be better turning its critical attention to the parents whose interpretation of their legal responsibility to 'provide an efficient education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child' is to let them take their chances in the failing state school system, rather than putting out misleading information about those who instead make the decision to take their legal responsibility seriously and, in the absence of adequate school provision, educate their children themselves.

Yours faithfully,

A letter to the Telegraph

Dear Sir,

The first thing to surprise me about your recent Home Education piece was the title: 'New rules to cover rise in home schooling'

Please could you tell me the origin of this headline claim?

First, most in the Home Education community prefer to refer to what they do as education, not schooling. In fact, if your headline writer had read the consulation document to which the article refers, (s)he would find that the current guidelines are very clear (see paragraph 3.11 in particular) that home education may not look like home schooling at all.

Most importantly, what are these 'new rules'? The DfES are planning to issue new guidelines to LAs to assist with their dealings with Home Educators. There is, explicitly, no plan to change the law. In the email informing interested parties that the consultation had opened, Elaine Haste at the DfES wrote: 'it has been decided not to propose any changes to monitoring arrangements or legislation so this consultation is solely on the issuing of guidelines.' This needs clarification in your coverage; it is overly intrusive LA inspectors who are being reined in to follow the law as it stands - it would take very few phone calls for your journalist to establish that many LA inspectors have a shaky grasp of the law in this area, and rely on equal ignorance on the part of home educators.

'officials fear that many do little or no work as parents use home education as a front for truancy'. Which officials? DfES officials? Or perhaps LA officials, like those notorious in HE circles for their campaign against home education. Might I suggest that you contact Ann Newstead at Education Otherwise once again, ask to make contact with some media-friendly HE families, and send a journalist to collect some information about the real activities of home educating families and the learning outcomes? 'a front for truancy' may be attention grabbing, but it is painfully far off the mark.

The Telegraph might be better turning its attention to the parents whose interpretation of their legal responsibility to 'provide an efficient education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child' is to put them in the failing state school system, rather than putting out misleading information about those who instead make the decision to take their legal responsibility seriously and, in the absence of adequate school provision, educate their children themselves.

Yours faithfully,

Saturday, May 05, 2007

More conversation about "naughty" wall-painting children

why not just allow a child to draw sitting at a table with paper instead of the
I'm assuming that the parent has done that. I'm thinking of ways to cope with child not wanting to draw on the paper and colouring books provided.

I'm assuming parent has already spread newspaper on the kitchen floor and let the child have at it with plates of paint and potato prints and hand and foot prints, and walking on the paper with paint-y wellies on and everything else.

This is a child who REALLY wants to paint on the walls, I'm assuming.

I don't think any encouragement to draw on house walls is a good suggestion
Why not? You might get some just stunning murals. Or if they aren't any good, you just wash 'em off at the end of the painting session. What's the big deal?

and also having one rule at home and one rule somewhere else is creating more
rules and potential confusion to a young child...why is it acceptable mummy to
draw on our walls and not at x house!
Let's turn that the other way round. One of the things children learn about is property. This is my car, that's Billy's car. This is our house, that's Billy's house. Explaining about some things being ok only at our house is a valuable part of that process.

Plus: why create a false "no" at home in preparation for a real "no" somewhere else? If your "no"s are usually arbitrary and actually not rational, why would you expect your child to listen when you say a real urgent "no" in order to protect the safety of your child, someone else, or someone else's property? You're much likelier to have your child heed your advice if your relationship is based on honesty and trust than if it is based on authority and Conforming to Normal Behaviour Or You'll Be Considered Naughty.

Plus: if there actually ISN'T any good reason not to paint on the walls together, then does saying "no" really make life easier for anyone? Some might regard it as picking an unnecessary fight, or exerting power over someone small when it could instead have been a wonderful game together.

Also, maybe this is just my impression but why is discipline being looked at
like a dirty word...
Because discipline implies one person having power over another, simply by virtue of being the adult. I consider that the last refuge of the unimaginative. If you can't persuade someone to your viewpoint by reason, or by offering something better to do, you then "discipline" them, right?

But if you've actually got good reason why they shouldn't do that thing, and you've really offered much more exciting alternatives, the child won't do it. If the child still wants to do it, maybe the child is actually in the right and the adult is in the wrong. "Discipline" doesn't allow for that possibility.

I would also imagine that a child that goes to school never having had any
discipline is going to be incredibly sensitive/reactive when it comes their way
through school/authority figures
Me too :-) I would just ask: when in history has any good come from people not questioning authority figures when they think they are wrong?

With grateful acknowledgements to the anonymous Frog Pond poster who provided most of these ideas ready for me to communicate into the wider world.

Friday, May 04, 2007

My child is too naughty!

With a list of misdemeanours...

Think PLAY!!!

"throws things". great! find some things which are good to throw - soft balls or cuddly toys and do lots and lots of throwing with her. No need to tell her off - when she throws something you don't want crashing around the house, just pick it up and get some throwable things and as you throw the first thing gently to her, pop the hard thing somewhere out of sight till the throwing game is over. No need to say anything - she'll soon cotton on that fun throwing games happen with certain types of objects rather than others

"draws on the walls" This is a good one. find ways for her to draw on the walls without staining. ELC ready mix paint is good as long as you wipe it off while it is still wet. Can't guarantee any other brands - I've always found crayola washable a bit staining. There are hints on the web about getting crayon off walls, though I've never had that one. Chalk is billiant because it brushes off dead easily. A paint brush and a little pot of water makes a good temporary mark which just dries off. I like those elc bath crayons too for drawing on any tiled surface or on enamel felt tip pens on the fridge and cooker is good - wipes straight off (er... test it quietly one evening before offering just in case you've got a stainy colour - I steer clear of black, blue, purple)

"wont eat" don't let food be a matter of "naughty". Of course she'll eat - all children do! You just need to offer a variety of foods, at least some of which you know she likes, on terms which she accepts - maybe a carpet picnic while you're playing together, or a sandwich while you're on the way somewhere in the buggy. I think the whole Family Meal is something children join in with when it becomes interesting - the conversation and the company.

"she throws a strop whenever she is asked to do anything " what kinds of things? Ask her things which won't make her throw a strop. It might be exactly the same thing, done differently. eg "time to go inside now" *TOTAL STROP* or "hey, you want to go inside and do some more painting on the tea caddy?" *mum chases daughter up the garden path as they go off to have fun inside!*

A teacher responded, and this was my answer...

[quote]Unfortunately, she still has to learn how to behave in other people's homes and at nursery! [/quote]

Well, of course, and a major part of the parents' job is helping their children learn exactly what is socially acceptable.

I would argue strongly that children can learn, with guidance, that there are different rules in different places.

You don't have to sit quietly on a sofa all the time at home because that is what great-granny demands when you go to her house.

[quote]"Imagine how upset she'd be if she thought it was fine to paint on the walls then did it somewhere else and got into trouble - she wouldn't even know she'd done anything wrong."?)[/quote]

Yes. So parent helps child to understand that that's something we just do at our house.

[quote]"I have taught many children who have never been told 'no' and they have a very difficult time settling at school because they never feel comfortable in case they're doing something wrong (if they've never been told it's wrong, how are they supposed to know?)?)[/quote]

My ideal would be that parents help children ease into the transition into an institutional setting, if they decide to go down that route, by being present all the time to start with (like at toddler group), gradually helping their child learn the arbitrary behavioural codes of that place. Making our children submit to arbitrary authority so they'll placidly submit to the arbitrary authority of teachers is a much worse long term strategy than helping them to dance with the society in which they find themselves.

Because these children forced to submit to the arbitrary authority of parents and then teachers are the ones who all the parents in the older children messageboards and the teachers at teachers forums are saying "they reject our authority and they are 6' tall and we can't do anything with them". Arbitrary external authority has a use-by date on it, that's the problem. End rant.

Giving it Time

Child is angry when pulled away from things...

Often if adults try to hustle a child along, they'll scream blue murder, but if the parent just waits, the child will be ready soon. Sometimes it can help to say to yourself explicitly "I'm not going to suggest moving for 15 minutes" and lo and behold, ten minutes later, the child is halfway out of the door ready to go home.

If there are toys or places a child is getting a lot out of, make as much time for that thing as possible. I know one mum who spent about an hour in the gift shop each time they went to a local attraction, and then after 6 or 7 visits, the child had pretty much sucked all the fun out of the gift shop and was never there for more than 5-10 minutes. She told me she spent a grand total of about £5 in all those visits...

[PS that's a made up hypothetical, but I first posted it on the kind of mainstream board where people give real examples all the time]

Plus, I don't agree with time warnings. I think one should allow enough time on expeditions for toddler pace, and always have snacks etc so there's no pressure to get home for a meal. I'd always leave a child on a toddler ride till they were ready to get off.


because why is the parent's timetable so much more important than the child's?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

tidying your room

Child was told to tidy room, child didn't. Parent removed (in a black bin bag) all of child's belonging which were not put away properly...

My ideal would be that every person - adult or child - has a space of their own: a flat, a house, a room, a sectioned off area of a room, a cupboard, even. And what happens in that space is for them to decide. It is their fortress, their castle, their cave. If our children invited us in to their place to help tidy or rationalise old forgotten toys, we would help, but otherwise we would give them freedom in that place. That's my dream.

If your child wants her room tidy, she'll ask for help. And the baby? Well, when they arrive they'll want to be in with you to start with anyway, so it would be completely reasonable to put the baby clobber in one of your bits of the house until they are old enough to share a room, surely?

I believe that when parents try to impose their will on the rest of the family, to be the authority figures, to make other people change their behaviour and their personalities, to insist on their own standards of cleanliness and all sorts of other things, the family ends up in enormous conflict. The bin-bag removing your child's belongings is an example of that. What an awful situation for both you and your daughter.

Your daughter obviously isn't ready or willing to keep her room as tidy as you want it to be. So instead of punishing her for her preference, why not work with it? Just off the top of my head:

-If she has no objections, _you_ could clear the path to the wardrobe
-You could make it much easier to tidy - lots of those plastic storage crates maybe, so it's easy to run around throwing everything in a crate rather than putting on a shelf
-You could keep her clothes in the airing cupboard instead of fighting across the floor?

I'm a big fan of disciplining your surroundings rather than your children - making it so the conflict points just don't arise because of the way you've organised your surroundings. EG instead of trying to keep a cruising baby out of the kitchen cupboards, you fill everything in baby reach with things which are fine for the baby to play with

no clothes thanks...

So parent and child have conflict every time parent wants child to get dressed.

I replied:

it's been so warm the last few weeks. Maybe she's too hot in her clothes? (in which case, just a sundress maybe - I'm sure it's too early in the year for burning to be very likely)

Or maybe she would prefer to choose her own clothes? Some children like to be offered a choice and they reject the ones they don't like.

Some children are perfecty happy to BE dressed, they just don't want to GET dressed. It's a passing thing, but you can save everyone hassle for the weeks or few months while it lasts by a) give up on pyjamas and just put tomorrow's clothes on the evening before. b) with some children, it actually works best to wait until they are asleep, and then slip on some easy-on clothes - wait until they've gone really floppy, but catch them in the first half hour of sleep when they are out for the count.

I know families who've had a few days where the child didn't want clothes and the parents just said "ok then" and played at home and in the garden until the child was happy to have clothes again.

I've met others where children refused to wear anything in the house for a while, but if you got in the car to go somewhere, they were perfectly happy to put on t-shirt and skirt/trousers at the same time as climbing in the car seat, and then shoes and socks as they climbed out of the car at the exciting destination.