How come some children are good, healthy eaters, and some are super picky and have a difficult relationship with food? Is it a matter of nature, or of nurture? I was recently chatting with my girls’ ballet teacher, a lovely lady of sixty-something, and she was telling me about her baby granddaughter, who basically refused to eat anything from the day she was born. She’s been in and out of hospitals, being fed with drips, feeding tubes in her nose, and all sorts of astronaut kinds of food. There doesn’t seem to be a physical reason that the baby is refusing to eat — the little girl simply has no interest, probably even an aversion, to food. (I can only imagine how difficult this must be for the baby’s parents.)
So we can’t say that difficult or picky eaters are always a product of their upbringing. I do however think that very often, our own attitude to and relationship with food is of an enormous influence on our children.
My own four children happen to be very good eaters. They are interested in food, they try new things, and are not overly picky or fussy. Probably my husband and I have partly been lucky, and we’ve partly been doing some things right.
Eating is a much debated and quite sensitive topic amongst parents. This weekend I was talking with some girlfriends after we just had lunch with our families. We were discussing how we raise our children, and what parenting choices we have made to help our children become the good eaters they are today. I thought this would be an interesting (but difficult) topic for our Tuesday Tips series, so I have made a list of tips that in my experience can help make eating a positive and fun part of the day. Here goes:
– Involve the children in the dinner preparation. They can start helping at quite an early age. Tell them what you are doing, let them try the ingredients. Trust them with a knife — Ava has been making a really good Caprese Salad from the age of 4. Even Casper (2) chips in with cutting the mozzarella! Also: grow your own veggies if possible (even on the windowsill). Take your children shopping (f.e. to the (farmers) market), let them choose some food and prepare that food that evening. When your children have been actively involved in the dinner preparation, they will be more open to try and enjoy the food.
– Eat with the children as often as you can. Sit at the table, and have a proper family dinner experience. Don’t turn the tv on (you could even argue to turn the music off). Dinner is a social experience, it’s about connecting with each other and sharing the pleasure of each other’s company and good food. Set the scene, make a nice table, use little bowls, napkins, light candles, etc
– Don’t allow negativity about food, instead be positive and adventurous about food. Set the right example; don’t ‘dislike’ food yourself. If you love food, your children will love food. I’ve had children at my table who started to be negative as soon as I served the food on the table. ‘Oh, tomatoes! I hate those! Eeeks, I don’t eat brussels sprouts, they are disgusting!’ I personally don’t allow my children to use those kind of strong associations in connection with food. In general, I want my children to understand that the food that I buy, prepare and serve on our table, is good, healthy and delicious food. I don’t allow my children to be disrespectful to this food, or to the cook (me!) who has done her best to prepare a yummy meal.
– Be relaxed about food. When introducing a new food — don’t overhype or over-react, be casual about it, make it a part of the regular eating experience. I also have experienced that some foods, which I expected my children not to like (sauerkraut, for instance, or olives), have been received with great enthusiasm. So instead of being doubtful (‘you can try, but you probably won’t like it’), be casual. You might be surprised!
– Always encourage your child to try everything on the table. Don’t let them get away with ‘not liking’ something too easily. If my children, after positively trying the food, don’t like it, I ask them why they have difficulty with it — for instance, the food can be too spicy, too bitter, too salty, etc. I then try to get where they are coming from, and most often understand, but maybe we talk about how ‘too salty’ can also be good in combination with other things. Overall, this has made eating and trying food a more positive experience and a fun interaction.
– If a certain food is disliked, just let it pass, but don’t ban it from your kitchen. Positively offer it to them again at other times. Encourage them to keep trying; their taste might change and chances are that at some point, they will (learn to) like it. Especially if they see other people enjoying that food!
– When your kids don’t want to eat their dinner, that’s ok, but don’t offer a substitute.
– Expose your children to different varieties of food from a young age. Don’t generally cook ‘child-friendly’ dishes for your children, serve them regular adult dishes with regular herbs and spices. (I personally believe that even during pregnancy it’s important to eat a variety of dishes!) Take your children to restaurants, and choose from the main menu (most restaurants will be happy to serve half of a main dish to a child, or split one main dish on two plates). Emilie told me that she encourages her children to be flexible in their eating so she can take them to friends places and she can travel with them and experience different cultures. She told me that she refuses to be a guest in someone’s house and have her child turn their nose up at a meal, so if her girls want to come, they will have to eat without making a fuss!
That’s it! I realise this is a tricky subject, so please remember that these are tips that stem from my own experience. I’m curious to find out what your family’s relationship with food is. What’s your attitude? What are your tips and routines?
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I grew up in a small farming town about half way between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. The area is known for the wonderful produce that is grown there, including all the delicious berries in the summer, but is probably best known for the hundreds of acres of tulip fields that bloom each spring (I have previously shared photos of the tulip fields here and here. Isn’t it so pretty?!)
My father and his brothers are tulip farmers and run what is now one of the biggest (bulb) flower farms in the world, shipping flowers to people and businesses all over America (you can read a little bit about the family business here). I grew up on the tulip farm and remember how exciting it was every spring to watch the surrounding fields fill with colour. Our spring break from school always fell in the middle of tulip season and my dad always put me straight to work in the flower stalls selling tulips. I think, by the time I was eight, I knew all the different names for every tulip variety and I could answer any tulip question, no matter how random. (Of course I have since forgotten all those different varieties! My dad would be so disappointed.)
Every year at this time, as the flower stalls around London fill with tulips, I’m reminded of my childhood and the tulip farm back home. I spoke to my dad over the weekend and he told me that the tulips are blooming really early this year due to a really mild winter. So, now that it’s tulip season I thought I would share some tulip tips I’ve learned from my dad over the years. (Please forgive me if you’re a long-time reader. I posted a similar post back in 2008, but thought it was worth re-posting since it’s been so long!) Here are some handy tips for buying tulips and keeping them alive as long as possible:
- Try to buy the freshest tulips. Don’t buy tulips that are limp; make sure the stems are thick, plump and strong. (In general, the bigger the stem–the bigger the bulb– the healthier the flower).
- Make sure the leaves are tight and curled inward toward the stem. If they are already bending outward, they are not very fresh.
- The bud should be closed and on the tighter side, but you should still be able to see the color of the flower.
- Cut ½ an inch from the bottom of the stem and place immediately in cold water. (Remember that the stems will continue to grow in the vase, so you can cut them down to be a bit on the shorter side).
- If the tulips came in plastic wrap, you can leave the plastic on for the first couple hours. This will encourage the stems to stay straight instead of bending over. (As soon as you cut the bottom of the stem, the tulip ‘comes back to life’ and will begin to respond).
- Leave the vase in a cool spot (not in direct sunlight or near a radiator). You can even place the vase outside during the night (unless it is freezing) for even longer ‘vase life’.
*Don’t ever mix daffodils and tulips in the same vase. The daffodil juice taints the water and will ‘poison’ the tulips!
And apparently all those silly things we’ve all been told about putting a penny in the water or adding sugar really don’t work!
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My father, one of ten children, was raised on a farm in rural America. His parents were Dutch immigrants who had lived through World War II and they were strict, no-nonsense types. They believed in hard work, discipline and obedience. As a result, my father’s sensitive side was mostly ironed out of him at a young age and he only rediscovered it later in life.
I remember sitting in the back of the car with my little brother who, by nature, was a really sensitive boy. I remember him fighting back tears and wiping his cheeks with his sleeve as my father shouted from the front seat to stop crying. I don’t think my dad meant to cause any distress, but I do think he discouraged my brothers from being sensitive or emotional. He parented the only way he knew how: the way he had been taught, which was to hide your emotions, dry your tears, be a man – not a mouse, shake it off, toughen up…
Thankfully, nowadays most of us can see the folly of this approach, but still… I’ll admit that I will occasionally say things like ‘there’s no need to cry’ or ‘come on, it’s not worth crying about’. I don’t say it in a ‘be a man’ type of way, but more in a ‘let’s move on so I can go back to cooking dinner’ type of way. This is especially true if they come to me crying about something that doesn’t seem very important (a missing Lego, a skipped turn in a board game, the smaller half of a shared biscuit, etc.).
I recently met up with Lydia Gard, editor of Mr Fox: the new online magazine for parents with boys (and mother of two boys), and she reminded me that even these innocuous types of comments are probably not healthy for our children, especially for our boys who already face societal pressure to ‘man up’. It led to an interesting discussion about raising boys and how important it is not to stifle their sensitive side. I asked Lydia to share some tips for raising boys in a way that doesn’t repress their sensitivity and she’s agreed. Here are her suggestions:
1. I firmly believe that telling a boy that he shouldn’t cry or shaming him when he does, won’t teach him to manage his emotions, only to suppress and ignore them. I want my boys to grow up confident that they can speak their minds or show their feelings openly, without being mocked or humiliated, and so I offer a safe space in which they can express themselves, without fear of judgment. I’m also careful not to let other family members use derogatory terms like ‘babyish’ or ‘man-up’ in response to my sons’ tears.
2. Habitual responses, like ‘It’s nothing to cry about’ are really commonplace among busy mothers and, frankly, they sound pretty rational to other grown-ups. But if someone were to say that to me when I’m weeping over a sad song or because I’m knackered after a week of sleepless nights, I would feel invalidated! I often think, would I say that to another grown-up? If it comes off as cruel or lacking empathy, then I shouldn’t say it to a child either.
3. When my children cry I always try to choose between empathy and action: they need to know that I’m either in their corner (a reassuring hug is often enough) or that I’m willing to fight for them if the tears are over some injustice – a sibling fracas or a school bully.
4. My boys are both prone to drama, so I take a few seconds to let them just cry, and then ask them to tell me the problem, in their words. Sometimes I have to wait patiently for the answer. Parenting guru Noel Janis-Norton believes that we need to teach and train boys to express their feelings and thoughts, their worries and their dreams. “It is important that boys become comfortable with describing their inner life. When feelings come out in words, they are much less likely to come out in misbehaviour.” It’s not always easy when the dinner is burning or the phone is ringing, but I always think it’s worth the investment of a few extra minutes to make sure they feel heard.
5. Why something triggers a tearful response is often unfathomable. Have they fallen over? No. Were they arguing? Don’t think so… Is it always a reasonable and rational reaction? The answer is probably no. And while I may not agree that his LEGO Chima Fire Temple is sacred and that missing one tiny little, grey speck of plastic warrants ten minutes of rib-wracking sobs, he does, and it’s my job to comfort him (and then crawl around for 2o minutes with a head torch trying to locate it).
Photos above are of Lydia’s two boys. Thank you Lydia for your tips!
As always, please leave comments below if you have additional tips, thoughts or questions! xx
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Last night at dinner my husband and I started talking about how relaxed we’ve become about bathing our kids. We’ve become so relaxed, we sometimes can’t keep track of how long it’s been since we bathed them last! And the thing is, we’ve decided it’s perhaps not such a bad thing…
As a new mother, I remember reading somewhere that babies like routine — they like the predictability of an evening routine consisting of dinner, bath, bedtime and that this routine helps to create good going-to-bed habits. So of course, like so many new mothers I knew, I bathed Easton every single day. When Quin was born, I still put Easton in the bath every evening. I even remember nursing Quin with one arm and washing Easton’s hair in with the other and feeling like superwoman at the end of every evening because I survived yet another gruelling day of essentially being torn in two directions and doing the whole dinner/bath/bedtime routine with two needy kids. My kids were bathed but I was absolutely shattered. (I’m pretty sure those days were the toughest in my parenting life! It definitely took me a while to learn how to juggle more than one child.)
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve relaxed over time or if I’ve just become too busy to give the kids a bath every evening, but these days our kids are lucky if they get two baths a week!! And yet… they are completely fine. They’re all still healthy, happy, and relatively sweet-smelling. They still go to sleep when it’s bedtime despite the lack of routine… and just think how much water we’re saving by not filling our bathtub every evening!
More than anything, it’s made my life that much easier not to stress about bath time every day. I really wish I could go back to those days when I had two small boys and tell myself that it’s okay to skip a bath, it’s okay if they eat scrambled eggs for dinner, and that the kids will be okay if they don’t have the same routine every night. The beauty of hindsight, I guess!
So tell me, how often do you bathe your kids? Do you think it’s gross that my kids only get bathed twice a week? (When I was little, I think my siblings and I were only bathed once a week!!) Have you also become more relaxed over time? Thoughts?
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My husband and I love culture and history, and one of our favourite (weekend) activities is to go to museums. When traveling to new places, but also when we’re at home here in Amsterdam, we love to discover the information and inspiration that museums can offer us. Our love for museums has certainly rubbed off on our children — when on a Saturday morning we sit at the breakfast table and we’re making plans for the weekend, the first thing that all of our children will want to do is to visit a museum!
I think the reason that they have grown to love going to museums as much (or maybe even more) than we do, is that during a museum visit both my husband and I really engage 100% with our kids. We take the time to explain the artefacts, art and content. We read the titles and descriptions of the artwork together, talk about it, look at colours, shapes and subjects, discover the meaning, find the connection between one piece and another, or link them with travels we’ve made, books we’ve read, things we’ve seen, etcetera. I think that our own enthusiasm, passion and eagerness to learn makes our children as enthusiastic, passionate and eager to learn as we are!
Sometimes, I hear from other parents that they are unsure to visit museums with their children, that they’re afraid they will misbehave, will be bored or uninterested. And yes, sometimes it is definitely not a good museum day. But in my experience, most of the time they love it! Be it a museum of history, art, nature, objects or culture — there is always something to discover in a museum.
I have tried to write down some tips that I think are relevant when taking your children to a museum. Of course these tips stem from my own experience, and some museums are certainly easier to visit with kids than others…
- We like to visit museums early in the day if possible. When you have children, chances are big that you’re up before other people, and you can make it to the museums when it’s still reasonably quiet.
- Don’t overstay — make the visit long enough to enjoy it, but not too long as to bore your children. We have a yearly national museum membership, so we don’t have to pay the entrance fee for individual visits. This way, we can visit a part of a museum, without having the urge to see everything as to make worth for our money. I’d rather only visit one room of a museum and really take the time to discover a few pieces well, than to end up tired and annoyed, with tired and annoyed children.
- Make sure the children are well fed before your museum visit! Unless, of course, you would like to start your visit in the museum restaurant.
- Make use of the toilet when entering the museum. I also prefer to hang our coats and put bags away in the cloakroom, so I don’t have to schlep them around, making it easier to bend or kneel down next to my children.
- I think no props, books or tools are specifically needed for a museum visit — we love the time we spend with our children and the interaction we have with them. Also, when you discover the museum together, you know what the other one has seen and learned, and can refer to the experience at other times and locations. I’m not always crazy about specific children’s museum tours — we recently went to a museum where the kids were given a ‘find the artwork’ children’s tour, which had our children running through the museum, looking for a few specific pieces to cross of their list, and not even properly looking at those paintings, let alone the rest of the art! Having said that, some museum books or tours are great, and can also be a good tool to prepare your visit at home. (I find that audio tours can be fun and informative for older children, but I don’t think they work well for younger ones. Plus — you will miss out on the special interaction you will have with your children when discovering the museum together.)
- Although it’s definitely easier to visit the more child-friendly sort of museums, we try to to visit the more ‘serious’ museums as well. Museums are for everyone! Also, I feel that it’s fine to repeat the museum visit. Museums are like books — our children don’t mind reading them over and over again. : )
- Adjust your visit to your children’s speed and needs. If you would like to see a specific exhibition and for instance have the time to spend 20 minutes in front of a Rothko, then it’s best to come back another time without kids. Having said that, I did take all four of my kids to a Rothko exhibition a few weeks ago, and found that they all had an interest in the pieces (well, except Casper, who preferred to run around, despairing the guards and his mama! Hurray to my Iphone apps to keep him entertained for long enough!). Pim especially reacted remarkably to Rothko: he felt the paintings were really embracing him, and drawing him in. I’m sure he understood the art better than me.
- Let the children be your guide — you will find they will indicate what pieces they find specifically interesting and start to direct your tour. For instance, my mother-in-law told me that she visited the Rijksmuseum here in Amsterdam recently with Casper and Ava, and that Ava was enthralled by a 17th century painting depicting cows on a ship. She thought that was amazing — cows on a ship! The rest of the visit they spent searching for paintings with cows. : )
What do you think about visiting museums? Do your kids love it? Do you have any tips to share? And, what are your children’s favourite museums? I asked my children, and Sara’s favourite is the Open Air Museum (one of my favourite too!), Pim likes the National Maritime Museum here in Amsterdam, and Ava said she simply loves all the museums in the world.
PS First two photos were taken in the Egyptian gallery in the British Museum in London, the third foto shows my children in front of Rembrandt’s famous painting the Nachtwacht, here in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, together with Claire of Thinkingmuseum.com.
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Courtney and I just came back from a little trip to New York, where we scouted venues for a NY ShopUp event (more later!), where we had lots of meetings with friends in the business (we’re so lucky to call so many of the brands and boutiques we work with our friends!) and where we visited the US edition of the Playtime fair, where we met even more wonderful friends. It’s always so fun to spend time in this bustling, busy city — I came back feeling full of great memories and inspiration! One of the friends we met in New York was Kirsten Rickert, an amazingly talented lady originally from Australia, who now lives in the US with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Kirsten is such a beautiful, pure lady; just have a look at her blog and her Instagram account. It was Kirsten who recommended the darling book ‘Pelle’s New Suit’ to us.
‘Pelle’s New Suit’ is written by Elsa Beskow and was first published in Sweden in 1912. It’s a simple and sweet story with beautiful illustrations, taking place in a time before ready-to-wear clothing existed. Pelle is a little boy who owns a little lamb, and one day shears off all its wool. He then visits different relatives and neighbours in his small community village, asking them to help him with the different steps that are needed to transfer the lamb’s wool into a new suit (carding, spinning, dying etc.). In return, he will help his friends with different chores. For example, when his grandmother cards the wool for Pelle, he pulls the weeds from her carrot patch. When his mother weaves the cloth, he takes care of his baby sister. And when the tailor finally makes his suit, Pelle rakes the hay, brings in the firewood and feeds the tailor’s pigs. At the end of the story, when wearing his new suit, Pelle visits his lamb to show it his new suit and to thank it.
In our modern, consumer society, a piece of clothing is often mass-produced and simply picked up from a store. Sometimes the amount of money that is paid for clothing is so impossibly little, or so incredibly high… and many times it is discarding after a season, after a certain fashion is over. Or it is just valued for the brand it displays on its front. Clothing is often taken for granted, and there’s no ‘respect‘ for it — no real knowledge of the effort it took and the actions that were needed to create that piece of clothing. I love how this book describes the various steps of making a wool garment, the understanding of where the clothing actually comes from. I also love how it shows that when you don’t have the specific skills that are needed to do something yourself, you can ask others in your community to help you, and offer your help or skills in return.
I hope that with the help of this little book (and trying to sew and knit as much as possible with my kids, passing on the skills that my mother and grandmother taught me), one day my children will be able to make a sensible and conscious decision when they will buy their own clothing… and that they will respect it and use it for what it entails. Anyway — so many words about fashion, reflection and values, all because of this sweet, beautiful little book. Thanks Kirsten, for the tip!
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Here is a typical situation in our household: I hear a little pair of feet running off toward the bathroom in a hurry and then there is silence. Approximately two minutes later the little feet run off again. I then yell: “have you flushed the toilet and washed your hands?” and the answer is inevitably yes. I then point out that I am going to check the toilet and the hands. There is a moment of silence and the little feet run back; I hear the toilet flush and the water of the wash basin run.
A similar thing happens with brushing teeth, where a cheeky little girl once told me that she had indeed brushed her teeth, but the reason her toothbrush was stone dry was because she had carefully dried it with the hairdryer. The same cheeky girl once blamed a pot of mayonnaise for having dumped a whole sack of toys on the floor.
Now this can either make me giggle or drive me to desperation (often depending on how tired I am), but apparently it is totally normal and is actually an important step in a child’s development. It normally starts at the age of two when a child suddenly realises that her way of thinking is different from others around them and limits are tested. It’s also an age where the lines between fact and fantasy are still very blurred. When they get older the lines become clearer, but the moral priorities are still blurred. The importance to please parents is very important, sometimes more so than actually telling the truth. I thought this article and this article were really interesting.
What I need to remember is not to lose my cool when it happens, as it is definitely more counteractive than anything else! Also a recent study has shown how punishing lying in children actually pushes them towards bending the truth more.
I have to say, after researching this, that my admiration for school teachers has grown even more. Can you imagine the tales teachers must have heard in their life?
The photo above is of my girls which I took the other day. They look like butter couldn’t melt in their mouth. Rest assured, it can!
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Today for Tuesday Tips I would like to talk about toys. The kind of toys that I prefer in our house are the basic, evergreen kind of toys. I like toys that are well made, with a simple concept, that can be used and combined in different ways or played with in different settings. Toys that are beautiful to look at, as opposed to most plastic, brightly coloured and battery-operated toys.
I have always had a preference for these kind of toys; I remember telling my mum when I was pregnant with Sara ten years ago to please not give me any battery operated toys! Of course, plastic toys have occasionally entered the house… (and so has Hello Kitty!), but over the past nine years, I have really noticed that the toys my children play with most (if not exclusively) are those that encourage creative and social play, and are designed with ‘open ended play’ in mind. I just love watching my four kids play together, building houses, cities, and worlds, setting the stage for the different scenarios for their pretend play.
I do agree that typical battery operated toys have great appeal to my children at first. They will love the sounds and colours and will be so easily entertained. Often, when the toy is first given to them, they will even fight over it (these toys are designed for the entertainment of the individual child, not with social play in mind!). However, very often my children will quickly lose interest in the toy, which consistently performs the same trick over and over again. So boring! The toy will end up standing in a corner somewhere until we decide to bring it to charity. Such a waste! Heirloom toys are not always the cheapest investments to make, but if you consider that they will be played with so much, for generations even, it’s all worth it. My children still play with some of my own childhood toys!
I thought it would be nice to write down a list of some tips for evergreen toys that have proven to be very successful in our household — toys that are played with by children of different ages and don’t lose their appeal, ever. I asked input from Emilie and Courtney and some of my friends, so this is very much their list as well. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about toys in general, and please do share your children’s favourite toys!
Toys we like (for inside play):
- Wooden marble track: the perfect toy for all ages. Small children will like to play with the blocks and start stacking them (without the marbles of course), bigger children will build intricate tracks (and parents will gladly help).
- Building blocks: stacking and building structures, but also great to combine with other toys (f.e. Schleich animals – build compounds, zoo, etc.) or just line them up. Any ordinary blocks will do (we also like this blocks set).
- Dolls: Kathe Kruse and handmade Waldorf dolls look beautiful, but any good quality doll is fine. And some dolls’ clothes.
- Doll’s bed: a simple fruit crate with some small towels will do, but a baby needs a bed, of course.
- A sturdy dolls’ pram with little pillows and blankets. Invest in a good, sturdy dolls buggy and it will be played with forever.
- Schleich animals: wonderful quality toys, they look beautiful and will be played with a lot. Great for all sorts of adventures.
- Wooden play barn /house /dollhouse /structure: to combine with Schleich animals, Playmobil, all other little characters that children will find or create and need a place to live.
- Lego & Duplo: building and inventing, creating. We love the original, plain blocks.
- Puzzles (educational ones or just the old-fashioned jigsaws!)
- Playmobil: we love the old-fashioned characters, great to mix with all sorts of other toys (see above).
- Kapla: some of our favourite blocks for super creative tower-building (see building blocks).
- Dress up clothes: some old shawls, hats, dresses and sunglasses and some pieces of fabric will get you very far. Let the children be creative – no need to invest in expensive dress-up outfits, which are much less imaginative anyway.
- Train track: a simple wooden train track (Ikea) is great for all ages – a puzzle first, then a road, then it becomes a landscape (enter Schleich and Playmobil for surroundings)
- Garage and cars: a wooden garage appeals to most children and it a great space to store the cars.
- Nesting dolls: my kids love these! And they make great decor too.
- Play kitchen & kitchen toys: a wine crate on the side with circles drawn on top makes a good enough play kitchen. And a little set of pots and some mini kitchen utensils will be played with loads. (Regular kitchen utensils are just as successful, BTW!)
- Stacking cups: babies love playing with them, and all my kids still love them in their bath!
- Wooden spinning tops: fun for everyone and they look pretty on your coffee table.
PS Like I mentioned above, these toys are mostly for indoor play — maybe we can share some favourite toys for outdoor play and some great baby toys later.
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Last weekend, Tamar (my husband) and I spent a few great days together in the wonderful capital of Denmark, Copenhagen. We really enjoyed our stay (albeit we had quite some rain!), and I’ll definitely share some of our favourite discoveries here very soon. In the meantime, I wanted to post about something fascinating I noticed in Copenhagen…
Even though it rains a lot in Denmark, and it can also be quite cold in winter, the Danes believe it is super healthy for their children to spend most of their day outside. Every time a baby or young child naps during daytime, it sleeps outside. For this purpose, there are special prams that are much bigger than the practical pushchairs we tend to use here in the Netherlands (f.e. the Bugaboo). I was chatting to a mum and she told me that Scandinavian children consistently sleep in their prams for daytime naps until they are at least three years old! It is generally believed this is healthier for the children, and also that they sleep much better outside. Amazing!
Even when it rains, the babies sleep in their prams. They all have a huge (black) cover that completely covers and protects the sleeping child. When out and about, and a child wakes up and wants to sit, there are are special banana shaped pillows to support it in the back. Also, prams (with the sleeping baby inside!) are often left outside of shops or cafés, while the parents shop, sip their coffees or have lunch inside.
Another thing I noticed, is that children of walking age all own a special one-piece ‘outdoor suit’. It’s like a thick, warm rain / snowsuit that is worn on top of the ‘indoor clothes’. I’m told that often, the ‘indoor clothes’ are very easy-to-wear: often these are leggings and long-sleeved tops or all-in-one jumpsuits, made out of cosy cotton jersey or thin wool knits. When the child goes outside, the ‘outdoor suit’ is simply put on on top of the cosy (and easy-to-layer) indoor wear. So practical! Even when it’s raining or snowing, Scandinavian children spend most of their day outside.
Tamar and I were so inspired by all of this. We pledged to take our children outside even more, and definitely be bothered less by ‘bad weather’. (We even went to a department store to check out the ‘outdoor suits’!) Because as the Scandinavian say — there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!
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A few people have asked lately for tips on going back to work following the birth of a baby, because let’s face it — leaving the baby bubble and heading back into the real world is a challenge for EVERYONE (I defy anyone who says that they did not have even the smallest bit of anxiety about this).
I went back to full-time work after my first daughter turned one and again after the second was one year old, and both times it was such a big change that came with its own set of new challenges. (I am an animation producer during the day and do my best to write for Babyccino at night ;)). I am happy to be back at work; I enjoy my job and I enjoy earning my living and working with interesting and inspiring people. I did have to make some compromises, especially in the first few years, but in the end, I managed not to literally combust, which I am quite happy with! So here are a couple of things that worked for me:
1. Be organised. I am possibly the least organised person in the world but dealing with kids and work has made me (moderately) more so. Spending Sunday night planning out dinner for the week and making sure that everyone has a stack of clean underwear (including me) makes the rest of the week so much easier. Basically it eliminates a lot of stress.
2. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t worry about things not being perfect. Good enough is often absolutely enough. If you have forgotten to get wrapping paper and you have to wrap a present in newspaper, no one is going to care or suffer. If the flat is sometimes a bit messy just because you don’t have the energy, it is not going to have any long term damage on your kids.
Roll with the punches and don’t be too hard on yourself. I have decided that it is all about marketing: if you come home and announce that tonight is going to be super exciting because you are going to have cereal for dinner, kids will feel like it is a treat not a let down.
3. Stick with what you know (at least for a wee bit of time). Going back to work is going to be stressful, so if you can, it could be a little bit easier if you can go back to a job you know, with people you know and a routine you know. You will not have to prove yourself as everyone already knows what you are worth and it just take a bit of pressure off you.
4. Take it easy on yourself. In my case, I started working full time when I was 25 and had my first child at 32 and the second at 34. Considering that I will be working until 65 (possibly longer) I still have the biggest part of my career ahead of me. So I decided not to stress for the first couple of years and take the foot off the gas a tiny little bit. If that means my career stagnated a bit when my children were small, then so be it – there is still a lot of time ahead of me.
5. Surround yourself with a good network. Again this varies so much from person to person, but if you have family you should not be ashamed of asking them for help. In my case, I live in a city far away from my family, so I worked hard to build up a strong base of babysitters and friends. Sharing a babysitter with friends who have kids the same age works for us; it’s cheaper and if one parent is late someone else can help out. With older kids, having someone who helps with homework is key and if you can, you should think about having a cleaner. There is nothing better than coming home to a clean house and clean children. Basically whatever works for you is good, but the network needs to be trustworthy and strong. It needs to survive the unexpected!
6. Don’t feel the need to over do it. A lot of women (myself included) feel like they have to compensate and almost prove that having a child has no impact whatsoever on their working schedule. Unfortunately that is not true, so it might be better just to own that than to try and make everyone happy. Sometimes it is inevitable when a deadline looms, but often people are happy enough to postpone a meeting or conference call if it concurs with your children’s pick up time or dinner. It will mean that you will be less frazzled and more concentrated and everyone is a winner. Chances are your colleagues have similar priorities.
7. Treat yourself. Be it a manicure, driving or walking to work with music on at full volume, an espresso in the bar around the corner, or an hour of yoga at lunch time – find sometime that gives you a chance to relax and re-tank. I go to the cafe around the corner from school after school drop-off and have a cheeky coffee or two. Mornings in our house are hectic and so it gives me 20 minutes to gather my thoughts, talk to friends and get on my way. It is a small thing, but it is enough to give me the energy to move on and conquer the world. ; ) I think us woman have a tendency to forget ourselves with all the demands from work and family. The key it to scrape out one little moment that has nothing to do with work or family and is just for yourself – it is all part of self-preservation.
8. Above all, do not feel guilty. Here is the thing: in most countries at least 60-70 % of mothers work, for all sorts of different reasons, but mainly to support their families. My theory is that women since the dawn of time have been working, so there is no way that that you going back to work is going to mess your children up. (Conversely staying at home is also not going to mess them up). Of course you will miss them and they will miss you but you being happy is, in the long run, going to make your family happy. If you don’t impose your guilt on your children the chances are, they are going to be fine (possibly after a bit of a readjustment period) and so will you! Let yourself enjoy being back at work; it is not hardship, but something that defines you as much as your relationship, your family and your friends.
These tips are just based on my personal experience by the way, so they might not work for everyone! Would love to hear if you have any insights, because there definitely cannot be too many! As I mentioned in a previous post, there is no right or wrong way of approaching going back to work or indeed deciding not to go back, for everyone the right choice is a different choice!
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As I’ve written before, it always surprises me how much pressure our society puts on baby sleep. It seems that from the moment babies are born, the questions inevitably roll in from friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers in the supermarket: ‘how is he sleeping?’, ‘how long is he sleeping between feeds?’ and even ‘is he sleeping through the night?’. I remember fielding these many questions after the birth of all of my babies and consequently feeling guilty that I couldn’t astound them with stories of my amazing sleeping baby. My babies never slept through the night until they were around one year old — they usually slept in bed with me and nursed on demand, which is something that always felt natural to me and worked for our family. Apart from the pressure from others, I never really minded that my babies weren’t ‘perfect sleepers’.
Sometimes I wonder if all of this pressure for babies to sleep through the night has a knock-on effect on whether they eventually do. I wonder if these societal expectations encourage parents to turn to techniques that might not necessarily feel natural and that in turn interfere with our children’s natural sleep development. In her new book, The Happy Sleeper , Heather Turgeon aims to teach parents that babies have an innate capacity to self-soothe, as well as the brain machinery to sleep well, and that by being more mindful and open we can encourage children to do exactly that.
We’ve asked Heather Turgeon to share some tips for raising happy sleepers. I love that these tips are more about creating a positive association with sleep and less about following strict methods that might not feel instinctive. Here are her tips below:
1. Build a good relationship to sleep. Schedules, feedings, nap issues…it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of sleep, but think about your children’s relationship to sleep (they have a one, just like they have a relationship to food). We influence our kids’ feelings about sleep in our subtle choices of language and tone. If we approach sleep as a “must do” or even a negative consequence, by saying things like, “You have to go to bed!” or “You’re cranky, do you need a nap!” with an anxious tone, or give kids a time out in their beds, it grows into a negative association. Instead, talk about sleep as the fascinating subject and welcome treat that it is. Sleep is something we get to do, not something we have to do. The more we convey that to our kids in small moments, the healthier their relationship to sleep for the rest of their lives.
2. Know that sleep is not learned, but habits are. Sleep is a natural, biological human activity—it doesn’t require “training,” because it’s programmed deep in our children’s brains. But even though sleep itself isn’t learned, the habits and associations around sleep are. Those habits include where your child sleeps, her specific routine, her blankets and loveys, and the sounds, sights, and feels of her room as she falls asleep. Our little ones are creatures of habit and their brains are primed to follow and latch on to patterns. That means (for good or ill), that what you do one night, your child usually expects you to do the next! The best sleep patterns stay the same from bedtime through the rest of the night—bedtime sets the stage for everything.
3. Do a “last call for stuff”. If you have little kids, you know the amazing and random statements they make after bedtime: “My bunny jumped out of the bed,” “I need the water filled exactly to here”… Last week my son called me in and said, “My toenails are pointing inward!” One really helpful idea is to make a “last call for stuff”—in which everyone knows it’s time to gather the right animals, fill glasses, blow noses and ask questions. Once the lights go out, remind your kids that they’ve already had their last call, and now they’re in charge of their own “stuff.”
4. Work with your child’s biology. There are certain facts about our kids’ biology—use these to your advantage. For example, little babies are ready to sleep after about 90 minutes of awake time because they have a very strong “sleep drive” (the amount of time before the pressure of sleep builds to warrant a nap or bedtime). The internal clock is very powerful after the age of 6 months, and it likes consistency. Having a regular bedtime and routine harnesses this power.
5. Run sleep patterns by two criteria. When my partner and I do sleep consultations, we get asked whether certain sleep patterns are okay (like baby coming into bed for the last half of the night, child only napping in the stroller, or baby only sleeping in the parent’s arms). There’s no “right” way to sleep (look at how differently people sleep all over the world!), but a good sleep pattern meets two criteria: 1. People are sleeping enough (except in the case of having a young baby), and 2. The pattern works for everyone involved. If your child starts the night in her own room and joins you at 2:00 a.m., everyone still meets their sleep needs and feels happy with it—no need to change a thing. If one or more of you isn’t sleep well this way, time to change. The good news is that sleep patterns are adaptable regardless of age (remember, they are learned!).
I don’t know about you, but her first tip particularly resonated with me. I definitely need to be more mindful about the way I talk about sleep. I’m sure I’ve said things like ‘if you do that one more time, you can go straight to bed’ (making bed be a punishment). Ooops! It makes so much sense why this is exactly what you shouldn’t do!
p.s. The image above is one of my very favourite photos found on Pinterest. Isn’t it the sweetest?
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There’s something funny that I have noticed: when they pretend play, my children (and their friends) often use the past tense.
I’ll give an example. Playing goes something like this (imagine, in this case, lots of Playmobil characters and horses with accessories, and a completely engaged couple of friends, moving different horses and characters around):
[CHILD 1] I was the horse riding teacher at the manege, and you were the student… And I had the white horse…
[CHILD 2] Yes, and I had this black horse, with this brown saddle, and the brown pony…
[CHILD 1] Yes, and I had the other black horse as well and the two grey ponies with these saddles…
[DISPUTE — change to present tense]
[CHILD 2] No! That’s not fair because now you have two horses and two ponies and I only have one horse and one pony, so I want to have one of the grey ponies with the saddle!
[CHILD 1] OK but I’m the teacher so I want to have the horse blanket for my horse then!
[CHILD 2] Alright then…
[RESUME — back to past]
[CHILD 1] OK so I had the white horse and the black horse with the blanket and the grey pony, and I was riding the white horse when you came for a lesson on your black horse and you said ‘Please teach me to galop and to jump over these hurdles?’
[CHILD 2] ‘Please teach me to galop and to jump over these hurdles?’ And then my horse saw your horse and they became friends, so their stable had to be located next to each other…
It’s really such an interesting way of communicating, and I find it fascinating that they use this special past tense while negotiating their pretend activities and to outline the ‘stage’ in their pretend play. I even developed a little theory about it — I think that if in play, children use the past tense, it’s more of a ‘done deal’ (since it basically ‘happened’) and evokes less arguments. (In the case that it does, the argument are settled in the present tense, only to go back to the past tense quickly after.)
I also noticed that it seems to happen more in girls’ pretend play then that of boys– the above (fictional) example could well have been played by Sara and one of her girl friends, where Pim with a boy friend is more likely to build giant Lego rockets or marble tracks or dinosaur parks or things like that, without much discussion or negotiating at all. However, Pim and Sara can play together for hours, cleverly combine dolls and horses with knights, war and dinosaurs — and then they do use this special past tense then.
I just wonder — does any of you also recognise this phenomenon? Or is this something that just happens in our little family? I would love to hear more about it — I find it so sweet and funny!
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This week we thought we would offer some fun tips for getting kids to eat… because every once in a while it’s good to have a trick up your sleeve to outsmart the kids at mealtime.
- Sprinkle a little bit of cinnamon on apple slices. My kids eat apples, but they LOVE them with cinnamon. And if I add some raisins to the mix, it’s like they’re eating apple pie! Cinnamon also works on porridge, pears, sweet potato, frothed milk (babyccino!), and even on toast.
- My dad used to play this game with me when I was a child, and now my children play it with us: When eating soft-boiled eggs, teach your kids the practical joke of turning the empty egg shell upside down after they’ve eaten it to trick someone into believing it’s a new ready-to-eat egg. I swear, my kids eat the egg quickly just so they get to do the trick! (Oh, and don’t forget to act surprised!)
- Make faces, or stories out of the food. Just be creative — broccoli or green beans for hair, a sausage for a nose, tomatoes for the mouth (and mozzarella for the teeth!), mashed potatoes for the bow-tie, etc. So fun! (‘Oh no! You’re eating his eyes! Now he can’t see anything!’)
- A few years back I got a stash of vintage fondue plates from the ’70s, and my children love it if I use those for their dinner. A little dish in each section (a bit of left-over pasta, some slices of banana sprinkled with cinnamon, a hard-boiled egg, some raw veggies — anything that you can find in your fridge!) — I think it’s their favourite dinner — they eat everything so well. And it’s really easy and fast to prepare ; ).
- Offer your kids a bowl of frozen peas for a little snack — my kids prefer to eat them frozen rather than cooked. Marlow eats frozen peas like it’s candy!
- Pretend your toddler is a dinosaur eating trees (broccoli) or a mouse eating cheese or a bear eating fish, etc. Somehow pretending they’re an animal gets them to eat the food on their plate with added gusto.
- Make frozen fruit lollies — insert a popsicle stick or toothpick into sliced fruit (watermelon, kiwi, peach, pineapple, strawberries, a banana, etc.) and stick it in the freezer. Easiest ice lolly you’ve ever made.
- Make DIY dinners (meals that kids can make themselves) like fajitas, stuffed pitas, summer rolls, pizzas or any kind of flat breads or crackers. They seem a lot more inclined to try and test new things if they can assemble it themselves. You can also just serve finger food items and let the kids have fun dipping: guacamole is a great way of eating avocado, houmous a great introduction to chickpeas, etc. I have even made beetroot dips, yogurt dips, broccoli and parmesan dips — basically dips out of everything in my fridge. The fun of being able to dip, rip and roll makes eating a lot of fun.
- Let your kids help in the kitchen. You are more likely to eat something you have personally slaved over and are super proud of. Be it being the person who has pushed the button on the blender or having mixed the salad dressing or cut the vegetable etc. It also takes away a lot of “prejudices” — if you have made your own pesto (which all kids love) you are less likely to protest about eating basil, pine nuts or garlic…
Please share your food tricks — we can never have enough of them!
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This week for our ‘Tuesday’s Tips’ series, I would love to talk about potty training. Very soon, we will be potty training Casper (second try!), so I thought it would be good timing to dig up some potty training wisdom from my personal archives and share it here with you. And to hear your tips and thoughts, of course. (Please!)
I think the first and most important question raised with regards to potty training is:
When is the child ready?
So here’s what I have learned. Over the years, I have found out that there are quite a few cultural differences with regards to potty training. Compared to the UK, where the consensus seems to potty train around the age of two, here in the Netherlands parents generally seem to wait much longer – until around or after the third birthday, or until the child itself shows an active interest in the potty. Or, until there’s no time left to postpone longer! (At the age of 4 all children here in the Netherlands need to be potty trained in order to start school. The nursery teachers told me that even then, some children are still not fully potty trained — which must be such a huge burden on the poor teachers!)
Because we lived in London when our first babies were born, I followed the English way for Sara and Pim, and they were both successfully potty trained around the age of two. After we moved to the Netherlands, I stuck with this idea and Ava was also without nappies shortly after her second birthday.
In my experience, most children are ready to be potty trained around the age of two – in general, they are communicating well enough to understand basic commends and they understand the concept of potty training. They are open to new ideas, but are also still young enough not to overthink the whole idea. (I have heard stories of potty training being a long, emotional and stressful affair with older children).
Some indications that my children were ready to be potty trained included the ability to understand basic commands, the ability to pull down their own pants, and the awareness that something was happening in the wee and poo department. (Some of my children verbally communicated that they were weeing or pooing, and some simply got up from what they were doing and stood quietly in a corner – all indications that they felt it coming or at least that something was happening.)
To give you an idea about the exact age: Sara and Ava were potty trained within a month of turning two, Pim was not ready until about 4 months after turning two. Emilie’s girls, Coco and Vivi, were potty trained before they were 2 1/2 as well, and Courtney’s little girl Marlow, exceptionally, basically potty trained herself when she was 18 months! They do say that girls are a bit faster with things like this than boys, and I think you can generally say this is true.
On a completely different note, I’ve always been quite eager to get my children out of nappies sooner than later out of an environmental point of view. (Plus, nappies cost a heck of a lot of money too!)
How to prepare for potty training?
A few months before their second birthday, I put a potty in our bathroom and sat the child on the potty for a bit before their bath. Just to get them accustomed to the idea of the potty. We started to casually speak about the potty, read books, and play with dolls (and stuffed animals used the potty as well, of course). We’re all really easy going in our household (nobody closes the bathroom door when we’re on the wc) so we would talk about how mama or papa would use the wc, and of course the bigger siblings once they were there.
Then, we simply picked a weekend where we would ‘do it’. I think it’s best to choose a weekend where there’s little else going on, when you’re home, and you have your partner, a friend or family member around to help. In general, don’t mix major happenings if you can avoid it – so don’t take the dummy away when you’re potty training or around the time you’re expecting a new baby.
A note on the weather: I have potty trained my children in warmer and colder weather, and although it is generally perceived that it’s easier to potty train during the summer (just let the child run around without clothes), I don’t think that to be necessarily true. I think that it might be better to keep the child dressed, so he/she really feels the result of an accident. More of a hassle, maybe, yes, but I don’t think it’s best to wait ’til summer if your child is ready to be potty trained in winter.
What do you need?
Some items that are handy to have around before you start are:
– At least ten pairs of fun underpants for the child
– Plenty of easy-to-pull-down trousers with an elastic waistband, such as jogging pants or pyjama pants
– A few potties – depending on the size of your house, you may want one on each floor or in each bathroom
– A sticker chart with fun stickers – you can just make this yourself, it’s just a big sheet of paper with squares on it. One sticker for a wee in the potty, two for a poo!
– Two buckets prepared with soapy water: one to soak dirty underwear and clothes, and another used to wipe the floor clean
– A portable potty and wipe-clean shoes such as Crocks or Native shoes, for when you’re out and about
So how does the process work?
I strongly believe that the most successful way to potty train quickly and successfully is to go ‘cold turkey’. Which means, take the nappy off, and don’t put it back on unless you put your child to bed. No pull-down nappies, no nappy when you go to the grocery store or music class, no matter how tempting it is. Yes, there will be accidents, a lot of them! But I really think that this way, you’re giving the child a very clear and non-confusing message that a change has occurred and that it is time to adapt: no more nappies.
So on Saturday ‘potty training’ morning, immediately after the child woke up, I immediately took the nappy off and replaced it with the cool big kid underwear (make a big fuss! so exciting!) and set the child on the potty.
The key is to put the child on the potty every 10 to 15 minutes on the first days. We always sat next to the child in the beginning to keep them entertained, reading books (I like the classic books from Alona Frankel for boys or girls ) or watching little films on the Ipad. It’s pretty full on! (This is why it’s nice to have some help around during the first days.)
And, in our case, the first days, most of the poos and wees actually happened next to the potty, so it was pretty frustrating as well. (And yes, it was so very tempting to put that nappy back on!)
But, perseverance and patience was always rewarded, and there were more and more successful attempts. When there was a wee, we made a big fuss about it (cheering and applause!), and we let the child participate in pouring the wee in the toilet, we let the child flush and wave bye bye. And of course, we put a sticker on the sticker chart!
If there was no wee, we would remain encouraging and just try again a little later. In case of accidents (many!), we remained positive but at the same time we made clear to the child that this was not the place were the wee belonged.
When you feel things are absolutely not working well after the first days trying, just go back to nappies for a few weeks and try again later. I’ve heard that some children simply don’t have the muscle control to hold their wee even at two years of age. Or they’re not mentally ready — when we first tried a few months ago, Casper hated the idea of the potty so much that he absolutely refused to sit on it so we quickly abandoned the idea. Now, he actually thinks the potty is really cool, so time for a second try (he turned two back in October). So if it doesn’t happen the first time, don’t fret! Simply take a break and try again in a month or two.
How long does the process take?
For my kids, the first days it seemed that they were just not getting it. I would dutifully sit next to them every 15 or so minutes, but still most of their wees would end up on the floor. By day three, I was so frustrated and so very tempted to put that nappy back on… But, magically, after a few days, they started to suddenly get the idea. So I’ve learned to hang in there! When the child started to really wee on the potty (in my experience by day 3 or 4), I could make the potty intervals longer, and things would really get easier. About a week after the start, my kids were all pretty much potty trained.
And I say pretty much, because there would still be the occasional accident, but less and less of them. And in the beginning, we would still have to very regularly remind the child to think about the potty. Also – in the beginning they would tell me they needed to go, but wouldn’t be able to hold it up very long, so we would need to act fast. But they have always learned very very fast!
What to do for naps?
Some kids can be potty trained during the day for years before they master holding their wee overnight. So for nap time and nighttime, we always put the nappy back on. When we saw that the nappy would be consistently dry after the day nap, we would start trying without. And then eventually, when the child would be ready, we would try without during the night as well. (Waterproof bedding is really helpful during that period.)
Out & about
Although it’s probably handier to stay around the house the first few days of potty training, there is no need to stay housebound during the rest of the process. Just make sure that when you leave the house, you have at least one change of clothes including shoes that can be wiped clean, and a plastic bag for the dirty laundry. We always brought a little potty on the road (for Ava, someone gave us a portable potty and it was brilliant!) because in the beginning of the potty training process, little children can not keep in their wee for very long, so if they need to go, they need to go! Right where you are! (On the pavement if necessary!)
If your child attends daycare, I really believe that the staff should respect your choice and parenting method and should be willing to accommodate your efforts and work with you on potty training your child when you think it’s the right time and the child is ready.
All my kids (and I hear it from friends too) have had a fallback about half a year after we potty trained them. For a few days (up to a week!) they start wetting their pants again! It’s crazy, but it just takes a few days and then they ‘get it’ again. I’m not sure why this happened, but it did!
So… that was a long story, but I felt it would (or could?) be helpful to write it all down. Of course these are just my experiences, and every child, and family, and parent is different. This weekend we’ll be potty training Casper, and we will see how it goes this time around!
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We’ve decided to dive straight in to our new ‘Tuesday Tips’ series with a weighty discussion about sibling rivalry! We hope you’re up for it, and we really hope you’ll share your tips and experiences too. Here goes…
Growing up in a big family, the eldest of five children, I remember how important it was to my mother that my siblings and I were friends. It was a worse offence in our house to hurt your sister’s feelings than it was to be told off in school or to forget to do your chores. Get in a fight with a schoolmate and you were given a stern talking to. Get in a fight with your sibling and you could feel the deep disappointment before she ever said a word. My mom always maintained that her biggest goal as a mother was to raise children who liked each other, and it was this goal, above others, that guided her parenting practices throughout our childhood.
I remember when I was pregnant with my second baby and we found out we were having another boy. Sitting there in the ultrasound clinic, it became immediately apparent what my mother had been talking about for all those years. The only thing I could think of was how much I hoped my two boys would become the best of friends. Becoming a mother of two, I could feel the focus of my parenting shift: it became less about me and more about them. A loving relationship between my children became, and has remained, my biggest commitment as a mother.
Over the years, as our family has grown from two to now four kids, it’s become even more apparent how much my children are shaped by each other, how their individual personalities are so influenced by their birth order and relationships with their siblings. (Do you remember this post and the article in Time Magazine noting that children are more shaped by their siblings than by anyone else?) Even more reason to ensure that the relationships between my children are happy ones.
Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way:
1. Don’t compare your children, not even to raise ambitions: Try to resist the temptation to make comparisons with the hopes of encouraging your child to do something. For example, at the dinner table when my kids are eating and Ivy is sitting there eating VERY slowly, my first instinct is to say something to Ivy like “Ivy, hurry up and eat your broccoli. Look at Marlow – she’s eaten all her food already”, but I have to bite my tongue here because I don’t want to create a competition between the girls or pit them against each other.
Thinking back on my own childhood, I remember one sunny summer’s evening, standing with my mom in our backyard watching my three brothers play basketball. My middle brother was so clumsy; he was short, even shorter than my youngest brother, and he couldn’t make a basket no matter how hard he tried. My mom just sat there smiling and encouraging them all. Never once did she let on that my youngest brother was better than my middle brother, not even to light a little fire under his behind. Looking back on it, I think my brother just played because he liked playing with his siblings. He didn’t play to win or to be good at it. And I think my mom didn’t care if he was good either. She was just happy to watch them play together.
2. Resist the temptation to intervene: My natural reaction as a mother is to step in and make sure things are always fair and right, to ensure the older ones aren’t coercing the younger ones into doing what they want, or that the younger ones aren’t just breaking down in tears to get their way. But I’ve learned that actually my children play better when they know I’m not going to get involved in their little disputes or sort out their disagreements for them, and that in most cases when they sort things out for themselves, they usually do so in a pretty fair and decent way. If my kids are playing outside in the garden or upstairs in the playroom, they tend to play better knowing I’m not within earshot of whining or tattle telling. Of course if an argument becomes physical, or if someone’s feelings are really hurt, I will step in. But if they’re fighting over toys, or arguing over who gets to choose the bedtime story, I have learned that sitting on the sidelines and letting them work out their differences is the best approach.
3. Encourage your children to empathise with each other: I was talking to Esther a few days ago and she explained that whenever one of her kids comes to her complaining about their brother or sister being cranky or mean, she tries to encourage them to understand why their sibling is acting this way — perhaps they’re tried, or hungry, or not feeling well (usually it’s something quite simple like this). Esther told me that she wants her kids to understand and empathise with their sibling rather than to immediately feel attacked or be angry with them. Isn’t that so sweet? It’s something I hope to start doing with my kids too.
It also got me thinking about my own siblings and how whenever I have a small argument with one of them, I can usually understand their point of view almost before I start to feel defensive. (Perhaps my mom used the same approach as Esther!) I think it’s such a great problem-solving technique; if only we could employ this with every relationship and with every argument!
4. Encourage your children to share a bedroom (or even a bed): I’ve written before about how my boys share a bed, but I think many of the same benefits can be said of simply sharing a bedroom. I think by giving your children a shared space, it naturally gives them a sense of being on the same team. They have a shared responsibility of keeping their room tidy, making their beds, putting the books away, etc. Plus, the bedtime chats before they fall asleep are just so sweet; the bonding that takes place during this ‘secret’ hour can only bring siblings closer.
5. Ask your kids to help you by helping their sibling: One of the obvious downsides of having several children is the lack of one-on-one time with each of them. It is something I’m constantly aware of and always trying to improve on. The benefit, however, is that your children rely more on each other, and it creates a sense of teamwork between them. I remember when Marlow was born, I asked for a lot of help from the older kids with her, and it helped to encourage a nurturing relationship with the baby and it built up their confidence as care-givers to their younger sister. I don’t always have time to sit down and read with all of my kids in the afternoons, but I will ask Easton to listen to Ivy read and help her with words she doesn’t know, or often Quin will read to Marlow, or Easton to Quin. (My mama heart!)
6. Allow your kids the opportunity to negotiate their own way with each other: I always use bath time as a perfect example of this. I usually put all my kids into the bath together, and while it’s a bit of a squeeze for them all, it is the perfect time for them to learn important life lessons: like vying for space, sharing and swapping toys, arguing over who gets to sit closest to the faucet and negotiating who must get out first based on the previous bath, etc. Not only do they learn to love and play and care for each other, but also to argue, negotiate, and share.
I’ve recently noticed a new dynamic in our family: because Easton now spends more time reading and doing homework in the afternoons, Quin, who is normally Easton’s playtime pal, is left to play with Ivy or Marlow. The relationship between Quin and Ivy is a somewhat ‘new’ relationship, and I have to admit it hasn’t really been smooth sailing. I guess it all comes down to pecking order and Quin, being the eldest in this relationship, becomes the dominant ‘player’, and Ivy ends up being bossed around or somewhat bullied by Quin (who has always been the sweetest, most loving little boy). I’ve been watching this relationship unfold from a distance and noticing that it is certainly a bit of a rocky one. I’ve decided that it’s important for the two of them to learn how to play with each other even if it means the occasional argument needs to happen, and I’m hoping that it will only strengthen the bond between them, and of course help with other relationships in the future. (At least I’m hoping — I’ll let you know how it goes in a few month’s time.)
So, those are some more general tips and experiences that have worked in our family. I’d love to hear your experiences and any tips you would like to share. Please leave your comments below.
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Over the years we’ve been asked by readers to share our thoughts and tips on parenting-related topics. Whether it’s a question about something basic like potty training, weaning or dining out with children…or something slightly more complex like preventing sibling rivalry or raising healthy eaters, we’ve received these questions somewhat apprehensively, as we didn’t quite know how best to respond.
Apart from the odd post (like views on electronics or co-sleeping) we have mostly shied away from writing these more advice-driven parenting posts. I think it’s because none of us have ever felt qualified enough to offer advice (none of us have ever officially studied or read up on these topics). And yet… the questions keep coming. Which got us thinking: perhaps it’s not about reading all the books. Perhaps it’s the actual trial and error of raising kids that makes a mother an ‘expert’? And perhaps, even more than that, maybe we don’t necessarily want an expert’s advice; maybe we’re more interested to hear how other like-minded mothers approach all the many parenting stages and challenges.
Between the three of us, we have spent the past ten years birthing, sleep-training, weaning, potty-training, feeding and raising ten children! That’s ten years of parenting, learning, discussing, questioning, adapting and becoming generally more confident as mothers. Perhaps we do have a trick or two up our sleeves? (At least for parenting young kids — we’ve got a lot to learn about the next stages…. like teenagers… yikes!!!)
Actually, the more we think of it, the more we realize that all mothers, regardless of how many children they’ve had, are experts. Don’t we all have some tips we’ve learned along the way? Wouldn’t it be fun to create a platform where we can all weigh in with our tips and suggestions (and questions!) so that we can all learn and benefit from the wisdom of other mothers?
We would love to start a weekly series here on this blog where we pick a parenting topic and shed some light on what we’ve learned and what has worked for us (not in a preachy way, but in a hopefully helpful way). We would love for this series to encourage healthy discussion and to prompt even more questions and topics to discuss. And of course we really hope you will all chime in with your own tips and tricks. We’re super excited to kick it off!
In the meantime, please feel free to offer suggestions for topics we can cover. We’ve got a list from previous questions but would love to hear your suggestions so we can start to organize these topics. Also, if there’s a question or topic we don’t feel qualified to shed light on, we’ll try to seek out a mother or expert who has the experience and insight to share. This is going to be so fun! Our first ‘Tuesday Tips’ post will be up later today…
Love, Courtney, Esther and Emilie
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Last night, as the end of a long day drew to an end, I had the need to jot down a couple of thoughts about the events in Paris since Wednesday. It has been terrifying, horrific, violent, senseless on the one hand… and beautiful, peaceful and full of hope on the other hand. It is very hard to describe what has been going on in this beautiful city of ours over the last few days, so apologies if I ramble. ; )
I wanted to start off by explaining to the non-French contingent the importance of Charlie Hebdo and how much it symbolizes so much of French culture. Here in France, illustrated stories and cartoons are a huge part of our culture. Adults as much as children devour illustrated novels. (One of my 9-year-old’s after school activities is a cartoon class.) My generation grew up on the cartoon books by Wolinski and Cabu, so these guys were not just people working for a small satirical magazine that sometimes found itself on the fine line between offensive and provocative, they were illustrators that have formed the rebellious spirit of a whole generation.
The French are, on the whole, cynical, critical and irreverent (I mean this as a compliment). They are also, compared to all the countries I have lived in, the most politically aware and politically engaged. This is why the attack of Charlie Hebdo was so significant: it represents an attack on something us French hold the most dear: our freedom of expression. A quote by Voltaire has been repeated again and again this week: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” People here feel strongly that provocation by cartoonist are incredibly important, as the irreverence and humour is such a historic way in France to mock the government and society in general.
For most of Wednesday and Thursday, Charlie Hebdo was our main focus – Friday’s attacks irreversibly changed the scale of the attacks. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly became so much bigger than it had been. It came to represent all groups targeted in the attack. “Je Suis Charlie” suddenly came to mean: I am a journalist, I am Jewish, I am the Police. The slogan became bigger than just France, it started to represent all the people targeted senselessly by terrorists.
On Wednesday late afternoon, after letting sink in the terror of what had happened in my neighbourhood and in my city, I took the kids over to Place de la Republique. A spontaneous gathering was taking place and I felt like it was important to show the children (and myself) how a tiny little group of people can commit a senseless crime and how in the face of that, thousands of people gathered together peacefully to stand up against violence. The atmosphere on the square was so calm and strong and it was incredible to see how everyone needed to unite together and gain strength from likeminded people. I think, hopefully, that showing the children what was going on (both the good and the bad) was the best way for them to deal with the tragedies. The Charlie Hebdo shooting and the shooting of the first police man happened so close to us that ignoring it and protecting them from the events was not a possibility. But I do hope that by participating in the demonstration today and laying flowers down for the victims will give them an understanding of what happened and how important it is to stand up for our basic rights.
P.S. For anyone living in France or whose children read French, I really liked the gesture by Le Petit Quotidien, a children’s daily newspaper who have made a version dedicated to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks downloadable free of charge.
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Last month at our ShopUp event, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow London mum, Louise Hannon. We started talking about children and life in London, and she told me her incredible story about her son’s illness, his life-threatening surgeries at Great Ormond Street Hospital and his heart transplant through organ donation. We spoke about organ donation and how important it is to spread the word about it. Did you know that, according to statistics, more than 90% of us would consider donating our organs and yet, here in the UK, only about 30% of us are registered? It all comes down to spreading awareness.
Here in the UK, more than 10,000 people need a transplant and three people die every single day waiting for one. In the US, there are more than 120,000 needing a transplant and 17 people die each day waiting for an organ. Also, one organ donor can save up to eight lives!
I was so moved by Louise’s story, we asked her to share her story with us and she very kindly agreed. Here is her story, a rather brief re-cap of a very tumultuous past 18 months:
On 28th January 2014, my six-year-old son Joe had a life saving heart transplant at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. This was due to the amazing generosity of a lady who, through organ donation, chose to save other’s lives in the event of her death.
Up until summer 2013 he had been a non–stop little boy, full of energy, who loved being outdoors, playing football and climbing trees. We had just moved to South Australia when he suddenly became unwell, and Joe received a diagnosis of ‘Dilated Cardiomyopathy’ – serious heart failure that would most likely require transplant in order for him to survive. We were utterly devastated and struggled to deal with the news especially being on the other side of the world away from friends and family. Calling our parents back in the UK to tell them the news was incredibly hard and the first of many difficult phone calls we had to make to them over the following months.
After a month in Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital Joe was repatriated back to London in a medical jet in the hope that he would receive a heart transplant more quickly in the UK. However, Joe’s heart transplant did not come as quickly as we had all hoped and he continued to decline despite the maximum IV drugs he was on. It was frightening to see how quickly his heart was giving up and the effect this had on him as he lost huge amounts of weight and would lie listlessly on the bed unable to really talk to us. We were desperate to get the phone call each day to say a heart was available. We were also aware though that when a heart did come that meant a family somewhere else would be experiencing tragedy and this was such a difficult process to reconcile ourselves with.
We were told his only option now was to undergo open heart surgery for a ‘Berlin heart machine’ to be fitted to keep him alive until transplant. He had a number of serious complications whilst on the machine requiring further surgery including pneumonia and bleeding into his lungs. There was a huge amount of uncertainty as to whether he would pull through and we literally held our breath for weeks willing him to fight and get better. Our four months in intensive care was an awful experience of watching him suffer horribly. I naively hoped that, though unconscious, he wouldn’t suffer pain. I hoped that it was only us suffering as we watched and waited to see if he would recover. The reality was that he was often conscious and very distressed, unable to speak or swallow due to the breathing tube in his throat. We would watch him cry and feel completely helpless. This was the hardest part of the entire ordeal.
His biggest complication arising from the Berlin heart machine was the severe stroke he suffered on Boxing Day, 2013, which is one of the most significant risks associated with the Berlin Heart machine. After the first brain surgery to relieve the bleed in his brain we were told he would not survive and we asked my parents to bring our three year old daughter up to the hospital to say goodbye. They operated for a second time as a last ditch attempt and he miraculously survived, but was left paralysed down his left side. A heart finally became available a month later and Joe had his long awaited transplant. We then began the arduous road to recovery, involving rehab to help him learn to walk again and use his left arm. Joe spent a total of six and a half months in hospital, enduring thirteen operations and a further six weeks in a children’s neurodisability rehab centre.
He is truly a living miracle and we are hugely proud of all that he has battled through at such a young age. We are slowly coming to terms with what has happened to our family in the last eighteen months and the far reaching effect this has had on all our lives. We never thought something like this would happen to us. We had coasted along in life ticking off our plans for career, children, and travelling, believing we were in control of our lives and future. As Christians, this experience has taught us we need to rely on God who is the only one who has ultimate control and it has been a hard test of our faith.
Joe takes lots of medicines every day and will do so for the rest of his life. He can now walk short distances and has returned to his old school part time. Day to day life holds lots of challenges for him that can leave him angry and depressed. He is much more volatile as a result of his stroke and tires easily. We also live each day knowing that a heart transplant is a palliative option, not a cure, with the average life expectancy being ten years. As we near the first anniversary of our son’s transplant we think about the woman who donated her heart to him and the family she left behind. To see our son in the garden kicking a football around again or playing with his sister reminds us of the incredible gift she gave us. (Below are some photos of Joe since coming home from the hospital.)
Please consider signing up online for organ donation, for yourself and your children that in the unfortunate event of an untimely death, a second chance at life for others can be brought out of tragedy. Signing up for organ donation costs nothing but could mean everything to another family facing their worst nightmare.
Louise, thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and we wish you all the best with your two beautiful children.
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The other day I was on the phone to my great university friend Suzie, who is a stay-at-home mom with four kids. In contrast I am a single, working mother of two, so our lifestyles are pretty different.
Now, what was very interesting about our conversation was how defensive we both were of our life choices and how we felt, both of us, that we needed to prove to each other that our life was hard and not at all an easy choice. Luckily enough we both picked up on that and had a really much more interesting conversation on how critical woman can be of each other and how much we each admired one another. Ha! (I think actually, it was our mutual admiration that made us feel we needed to justify our own choices. It’s almost a sort of insecurity in ourselves that leads us to feel we need to pick holes in the choices others have made).
Working mothers are criticised for neglecting their children and for putting work before family. Stay-at-home mothers are criticised for not contributing to the finances of the family and for having an ‘easier’ life. Seems like none of us can get it right! I sometimes have the feeling that women are so much harder on themselves – and each other – than men are. We constantly scrutinise each others appearance, ageing process, career paths and behaviour. But why? Here is my theory: we are still very insecure about what is the right role for a woman in society, and to believe that the choice we have picked for ourselves is the right one, it is necessary to justify ourselves.
If it was just up to choice, it would be so much simpler. But the problem is, some women have to work to support themselves and their family, while other women have partners who have time-intensive jobs and so they themselves aren’t able to work and be away from family. Some women are simply more fulfilled by looking after their children, and of course there are others who simply cannot find a job at all! It’s not always an easy choice to make.
I guess what I am trying to say is that it would be great if we could avoid judging other women for their choices or look down on them. We should be celebrating individuality and accepting that different scenarios work for different people. If we did everything the same way, we would live in a very boring world. Life is so complicated anyway so why do we seem to be each other’s worst critics rather than enthusiastic supporters?
And we also need to learn to accept that the choices we’ve made are what work for us, for our lifestyle and our families. We shouldn’t need to feel we have to justify this to anyone. There really is no such thing as ‘having it all’; everything is a balancing act and we all balance our many roles in very different ways. Let’s make sure we stand up for ourselves – and all those other women juggling their lives too!
– Emilie (and Suzie)
Above is a photo taken a couple of years ago of mine and Suzie’s kids, who, though brought up very differently still get on like a house on fire!
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I’ve had lots of questions recently about my parenting ideas, especially when it comes to electronics, so I thought I’d answer the most common questions in one post. I want to emphasise that this is what works in our family and for our children. I know it won’t work for every family… and it may not work forever for us. As our children grow, so will our parenting style. Below are some answers, and as always I welcome your thoughts and comments.
1.) Do your kids ever watch TV?
Almost never, except for the World Cup and the Olympics. But let me explain a bit… Both my husband and I grew up in big families and in homes without cable TV. Growing up, my family had a really old television that on good days, broadcast three channels. As a young child, I watched the occasional Sesame Street show, and sometimes, if the antenna had blown in the right direction, we could watch cartoons on Saturday morning with clear reception. Watching TV was not something we did as a family. Instead, we played a lot outside (I grew up on a farm), and we played a lot with each other (a benefit of having loads of siblings). Apart from the odd conversation where I couldn’t contribute my views on Doogie Howser or the Wonder Years, I don’t think I missed anything. I am really thankful for a childhood filled with imagination and adventure and I hope to create the same sort of upbringing for my own kids.
We don’t have some absolute no-television-whatsoever rule. We have a TV. We just aren’t really interested in TV. And we keep it in a cupboard—out of sight, out of mind. I also encourage my kids to play and find creative ways to entertain themselves without a screen. There was a short period when we allowed the boys to watch Scoobie Doo on Saturday mornings. After a few months I started noticing that, instead of crawling into our bed and enjoying a slow-paced morning, they would wake up and run straight downstairs to sit in front of the television. They stopped helping to make pancakes, couldn’t be bothered to set the table, and were cranky at breakfast time. It was then I decided that I prefer Saturday mornings without Scoobie! It really only took a couple weeks to break their interest and they went back to helping with the pancakes.
We DO let the kids watch the occasional movie, usually an old Disney classic (Robin Hood, The Rescuers, Peter Pan!) or one of the pretty films by Hayao Miyazaki, etc. In my dreams we would live in Australia or somewhere sunny and my kids would play outside and would never sit in front of a screen. But… a good family film on a cold, dark winter’s day is a nice treat every once in a while. Now that my kids are on school holidays I’m looking forward to the next rainy day so we can all sit down and watch ‘The Sound of Music’. My favourite!
2.) How do you keep your kids from the commercialisation of Disney? Do they ever ask you to buy them t-shirts with Disney princesses or super heroes on them?
I think I’m lucky with this one in that my kids never ask me for Disney t-shirts or Disney toys. Living in Europe I think we have less exposure to these things (and they don’t see them on TV). We also try to keep our kids out of shops. Most of our groceries are bought online, clothing is bought when the kids aren’t around and we avoid malls at all cost (which is easier to do when you live in a big city).
Even if they were to ask, I’d be unlikely to buy these things (mean mama, I know). Perhaps they don’t ask because they know they won’t get, but I like to think they are generally not interested. Here again, our policy is not absolute. I once bought Ivy some Hello Kitty underpants and this year I bought some miniature ‘Frozen’ figurines for the Advent Calendar. But… I rarely buy the kids anything pink or plastic, branded or battery operated, and I hate the idea of kids being sold to everywhere they look or feeling like they must have the latest branded toy.
It’s not always easy (given my business), but we try not to make a big deal about ‘new’ things—especially clothes or toys. We hardly ever give them a new toy unless it’s a special occasion, like a birthday or Christmas, and even then we only give them a few things, placing emphasis on quality over quantity.
My kids are young and so I’ve been able to influence their wants for now. I know that may change someday and so will my strategies, but I hope the values will stick with them.
3.)Do you let your kids play electronics? Do you bend the rules for educational games on the iPad?
Not really. We believe electronics are addictive. No matter if it’s a Nintendo game or an educational one on an iPad, once picked up they are hard to put down. And you rarely walk away from a long session on a device feeling wonderful—mostly the opposite. I notice this firsthand — I have to give myself breaks from my iPhone and remind myself to be more present. Like other addictive things in our lives, limiting our children’s exposure to electronics just makes sense to us.
We also believe they get only one childhood and the rest of their lives to be tethered to a device if they choose. Their education, their careers and their social lives may demand it some day, but for now we would love for them to find joy in the ‘real’ world. And most importantly — play together! Every once in a while, they will ask to play a game on the iPad or watch a movie because they are bored. When I tell them to go play, they might moan for five minutes, but then ten minutes later I’ll find them building towers or playing games together. If we gave our kids an iPad every time they told us they were bored, there would be far less imaginative play in this house!
As above, we know this all will change someday. Already Easton has math homework on the computer three times a week and I’ve noticed how it has changed the play in our house on those afternoons. As our kids grow our parenting style will grow with them, but we will always maintain our focus on family, friends, nature and activities.
4.) Do your kids fight? Do they moan? Do they throw fits? Do they nag, make messes, and sometimes torment each other?
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. Do I feel compelled to reach for my camera in these moments? No. Does anyone? My photos are about celebrating the joys of bringing up kids — the simple and the beautiful things in life. I would never pretend parenting isn’t hard work. It is. It is the most difficult and the most important work in our lives. I choose to focus on the positive side of family life and I hope it comes across as honest and loving (and hopefully inspiring too).
p.s. I’ve written before about electronics here, a post which stirred up quite a healthy debate!