How do you know you can’t do it if you haven’t even tried?!

“Bend the tree while it’s still young because when it is old it will break.”
Ever heard that little Jamaican proverb? As much as it may be sound advice for those with green fingers, it is definitely a proverb you may want to consider if you are currently raising little fingers. Our ultimate goal as parents is to raise our children in such a way that they can go out into the big bad world and fend for themselves and then repeat the process by having, and successfully raising, munchkins of their own.

I am sure, in your pre-parent years, you shook your head at a few instances where a friend’s child was being quite clingy and whiny. Was that “my kid will never be like that” I heard you mumble…? Well, how did that work out for you; now that you have given birth to a two-legged piece of Velcro that keeps on attaching itself to your hip?

Don’t fret, that tree is still young and with the right skills, you can bend it in the right direction. There is a catch though, and it is going to be harder for you than it is for your child…you need to let go. Figuratively and literally. You can’t expect your little one to have the skill sets they need to navigate this complicated world if you keep them hidden behind your leg or strapped up in their stroller.

Let’s start with the littlies. Little ones need to feel safe. This feeling is derived from your hugs and cuddles as well as how responsive you are to their ques. This lays the groundwork for trust. Which in turn builds towards independence later on. Try chatting to your baby about what you are doing while changing their nappy. None of that ‘coochy coo’ nonsense. Save that for the puppy. Talk to them as if they understand. Tell them that you are changing their nappy because they are wet/soiled and you don’t want them to be uncomfortable. As they mature, they will feel like they are an active contributor and they will start to take an interest in their own hygiene and care.

Some parents, very patient parents mind you, have even gone as far as teaching their little one’s baby sign language! Linda Acredolo, the co-author of the ground-breaking book Baby Signs, says, “Encouraging babies and toddlers to use signs gives them a feeling of confidence and competence, the basis of independence. By providing a way for children to let you know what they need, they feel able to do other things. They can be agents in the world.” Babies around the age of 8-10 months (some even younger) are already using sign language when they wave goodbye or blow kisses!

One very important way to let your child develop in independence is to allow them to feed themselves. Yes, it is messy. But what did you expect? How else will they find out how deliciously mushy mash potatoes are if they can’t squish it between their chubby fingers and shove what’s left in their mouths? And peas!! They can roll around! (If mommy doesn’t overcook them) They may roll onto the floor and the mash may land down there too but this way you finally find hidden talent in your coochy-coo puppy (it can vacuum and mop all at once). On top of that, your child learns about physics and how to aim for their mouths. You can add a spoon to the equation and a new learning curve begins. How about you each have a spoon? Mommy pops a mouthful in baby’s mouth then baby gives it a try.  Don’t let the thought of mess deprive your child of this food-experimenting adventure.

As your child matures, the need to encourage emotional independence grows. You can start this process by making sure that they have a stable routine. When they know what to expect, they feel in control and less prone to emotional outbursts. Simple little actions like reading a book to a toddler every night before bedtime will signal to them what is coming next. Sleep. So they will unknowingly start to relax and prepare themselves for this next step. That’s a step in the right direction towards self-soothing.

Lower your child’s bookshelf, make the nappies accessible, show them how to fetch the items you may need in their everyday care. Let them use their brain and their body to help you take care of themselves. “Kids who navigate their environment independently are developing problem-solving skills, which instils a sense of confidence,” says Amy Borak.

I know it’s hard and very time consuming to let your little one get their shoes on by themselves but how will they ever taste success if they don’t get opportunities to experience it! Imagine that look of accomplishment when mom or dad gives them a high five or extra tight hug because they finally got it right.   ‘Finally’ being the operative word in that sentence. Unless you have birthed a genius, it’s going to take a few tries before they grasp certain concepts. Your hands will itch to help, you may roll your eyes and sigh in impatience when they do it wrong for what feels like the millionth time (frustrations are always exaggerated when you are in a hurry). Just remember those little neurons are firing and making new pathways every time they learn something new; how things work and how they don’t work.

Now I am not saying you should be like; “We are not stepping a foot out of this house till your shoes are on your feet young lady!”
Big eyes staring back at you slightly confused… I mean, let’s encourage independence. You are allowed to help them out a little by making sure you put the right shoe by the right foot. Loosen the Velcro straps a bit so they don’t struggle to get their foot in. Make the impossible seem more attainable for them. If you need to wake up 20 minutes earlier for your child to develop a sense of wanting to be independent and get themselves ready, then sacrifice that 20 minutes of beauty sleep. Trust me, the wrinkles and grey hair you will get from a needy child who wants you to do everything for them is a much less appealing thought.

You do get little ones who seem ready to move out of the house by the time they are crawling. These little souls need to be reined in enough so that they don’t hurt themselves, but they must be allowed the freedom to explore and learn from their independent nature.

Being the very broad and involved subject that this is, I had a chat with a very wise bunch of ladies. I chose this group of ladies because they spend their days dedicating themselves, physically and mentally, to the well-being of the children in their care. You could probably ask them almost any child-related question and they would be able to give a doctorate/degree kind of answer. The staff at Little Farmyard Pre-primary are basically a group of encyclopaedias on 2 legs with regards to what’s what about children and their educational care.  And this ain’t just book smarts people, this wealth of knowledge is from years of experience. I asked these ladies to give me a few pointers on how a parent can encourage a child’s independence. The catch was that I wanted gems on how to encourage independence in a way that will make the child’s day easier for the child, not the adult. These are in random order and not categorized by age.

  • Let your child learn to dress themselves.

Teach them how to put on a pair of undies and then let them try. There will be a few uncomfortable moments where you need to de-wedge the wedgie or put the ‘jewels’ back where they belong and they may even land up with the leg hole of their shorts around their waist. At least they tried! Gently show them that it will be a lot more comfortable if they put their shoes on the right feet or their neck through the neck hole, not the armhole and let them have another go at it again.

  • Give them choices.

Keep these choices limited though. Want to give them a snack? Limit it to one category e.g. fruit. Let them choose which fruit. Or give them a choice of 3 tops and 3 skirts and let them mix and match. Who cares if it doesn’t match! No one makes green stripes and magenta spots look as good as a mismatched 3-year-old. No one will judge you!

  • Give them chores.

Age appropriate of course. Let them feel like they have an important role in the running of the household and they are a valued member of the family. With that feeling of importance will come a feeling of willingness to do more. They will start looking for jobs to help and that will instil a little bit of independent thinking. Until they are teenagers. Then the willingness stops and sometimes the thinking too…

  • Encourage them to eat on their own

Such an important step in independence and one that can be encouraged from an early age.

  • Show them how to wipe after going to the toilet.

Someone should definitely be there to lend a helping hand but as your child matures, so does their sense of privacy. You don’t want your little one to not want a teacher or caregiver to wipe them but they are unable to help themselves.

  • Let them learn to deal with conflict

As you will soon find out, or have already, as children grow older they start to bicker. With siblings and friends. As much as it pulls on those mommy heart strings and as much as you want to go into a full-on momma-bear mode, don’t.  Your child needs to learn how to resolve the conflict. They need to know that what was said to them on the playground today hurts, but doesn’t define who they are. You can remind them that you or their teacher will be there to listen and sort out anything that should not be happening, but ultimately they need to say sorry or forgive when apologised to. Its hard mommy, but they have to learn to fight these battles on their own.

  • Encourage the use of the potty/toilet

Potty training is no joke. It has rattled the strongest of parents and turned them into pleading, bribing, negotiating adults. And when the pleading doesn’t work and the poo happens behind the curtain, it turns them into gagging, slightly green adults.  It is so much easier just to leave the nappy on. Who has seen a 10-year-old in nappies anyway? That’s the ostrich approach. And it is opening your child up to feeling inadequate and possibly frustrated because they are ready for the potty training journey but you are not.

  • Encourage exploration.

This should be done from an early age. The minute they start crawling let them explore. On their hands and knees, not from your hip. The view they have from the floor starts to look quite daunting if they have learnt to prefer the view from moms’ arms. There is a wealth of knowledge and huge amounts of independence to gain when they are adventuring on all fours while mommy keeps an eye on them to make sure they stay safe.

  • Let them self soothe

The smell of your child, especially when they are freshly bathed and ready for bed is one of those smells you will never forget. But as tempting as it is to rock your child to sleep, it’s not worth the consequences. For your child as well as yourself. You want your little one to fall asleep at night feeling content and calm, not in your arms, waking up every time you move in fear that you are going to put them down. They need to find comfort in their own company, thoughts and sense of self.

Last but by far one of the most important hints is:

  • Teach them to face new situations with confidence.

Starting school for the first time, or a Monday morning after a long weekend, going to a new friend’s house, meeting an unfamiliar face… all these situations hold the possibility of a mini, or major, meltdown for your child. How you build up to the situation or react when the poo hits the fan is how the situation will pan out. Radiate calmness and confidence. Show your child that they have nothing to be worried about and that mommy knows that they will be fine and mommy believes in them. Encourage them to physically walk into the situation, encourage them to treat new encounters like an adventure. Congratulate them on their strength in handling difficult or uncomfortable situations. That first day of school may seem scary, for you and your child, but don’t let your child catch even a smidgen of your uncertainty. Confidently hand them over to their teacher, shower them with love and tell them you will see them later. Then leave and go cry in the car. This will probably be the absolute opposite of what your maternal instincts are telling you to do but you don’t want to leave your child with a picture of mommy crying. Goodness knows what type of conclusions their little mind will jump too!

This world can be harsh and unpredictable at the best of times. Robert A. Heinlein once said, “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives too easy”. Guide your child through the trials they may encounter, not around them.

Okay, I think you are ready. Take a deep breath, look at your child, deep into their beautiful eyes, and show them that you have the faith in them that they need to believe in themselves and they must know without a doubt that they can do this! Exhale, and now let them go try…

Why is my child biting!?

It’s the time of day when you are about to pick your little one up from school. You are tired from a hard day’s work, and you have managed to get through the day without strangling anyone. Well done! Now you can’t wait to swoop your child up into your arms for a quick cuddle before you enter the next phase of your day…domesticity. Basically, that means being the mother of one or more two-legged tornado’s, as well as organizing and running a household that is constantly being revamped by the two-legged tornado’s.  A feat, in my opinion, that deserves a trophy. Anyway, I am getting sidetracked.

You arrive at your child’s school to be greeted by your child’s teacher, who very apologetically tells you that your child has been bitten. Well, there goes the ‘no fatality’ record for the day.

You cannot believe that someone bit your precious little person! That ‘someone’s’ parents will definitely be hearing from you! And then your exasperation or rage, depending on the rating your day got on the bad-day-o-meter, turns to your child’s teacher. Okay, hold on… let’s pause for a moment and think about a few things.  No, not revenge. Let’s rather figure out why the biting incident happened.

There are quite a few normal reasons why one child may take a chomp out of another’s limb. Especially up until the age of 3 and I can assure you that none of them are underlying cannibalistic tendencies. In fact, the reasons why children bite range from frustration to curiosity. It is very seldom that a child will vindictively choose a victim to bite. If biting becomes extreme and persists then there are most likely other signs of developmental or emotional issues. Below, I am going to list a few reasons that may have your child latching their toothy grip on someone’s appendage.

  • Curiosity – Hmmm…that finger looks interesting, let’s taste it. Oooh! It made a screaming noise! I am definitely going to try that again!
  • Imitation – I saw it happen/ it happened to me, let’s give it a try.
  • The need to feel in control –This room is so crowded; there is so much noise, so many things that scare me!
  • Attention – Mommy, why are you still talking! I want your attention now!
  • Self-defense – That’s my toy! Give it back!
  • Inability to communicate–I don’t know how to say “That’s my toy! Give it back!” so what other choice do I have?
  • Frustration – Why can’t you understand me?! Leave me alone! I don’t want to!
  • Excitement – Oh my goodness! This tickle session is so much fun I just can’t control myself!!
  • A range of other emotional stress issues – Something has made my heart very sad and I don’t understand this feeling. I don’t know how to tell people I feel like this; I can only show them.

Navigating this world with a limited vocabulary is a very frustrating phase for a child. But be rest assured that all children go through this phase. There are a variety of different ways in which a child shows this frustration, biting is a very common outlet. How smoothly they transition through this developmental stage is largely up to the adults who care for them.

There are so many ‘old-wives-tales’ on how to deal with a biter…some of them are believably convincing and some make you think ‘Seriously? People do that?!’ Let me sift through these tales. I will filter out the facts from the foolishness and hopefully show you a few ways in which to deal with, and definitely not to deal with, your toddler tasting sweetheart.

Don’t resort to these tried and tested (and failed miserably) tricks:

  • Don’t bite the child back in retaliation. We are supposed to lead by example, not retaliate with the offending behaviour.
  • Don’t force the child to bite himself/herself. I don’t even know where to start with the very many reasons why you shouldn’t do this…just don’t.
  • Don’t freak out and deliver a 10-minute lecture. If the biting is an attention-seeking ploy, delivering a state of the nation length speech will give them exactly what they want. Remember, attention is attention to a child, be it delivered negatively or positively.

How about we focus on the positive, result delivering do’s:

  • If your child is teething, give them something to chew on; something that is made to be chewed on. There is nothing more soothing than chewing on a nice cold teething ring to get rid of those gummy aches.
  • When faced with a crying toddler, that has just been bitten and a very guilty looking biter, reprimand the biter by firmly telling them that biting is not allowed, add a reason or two as to why you deem it bad behaviour e.g. It hurts the person that gets bitten, it is not a way to show anger or frustration (base it on the situation). Then focus your attention on the toddler who was bitten. By doing this you will be showing the biter, and possibly the audience of toddlers that have gathered that biting someone doesn’t get them the immediate attention that they may want. Once the bitten toddler is calm and the wound has been cleaned, remind the biter of the reasons why we do not do react like this and give them some love, after all, emotions, be it anger or frustration, are scary emotions to feel when your ability to process these big feelings are so limited.
  • When you are dealing with a mini nappy-wearing vampire, you know the tiny tots who nip you on the neck or shoulder when they reach excitement overload, try to steer clear of those triggers. Sternly tell them ‘No! No Biting!’ and remember to be prepared when the same trigger may come along again. It really is pointless reading the ‘bill of no bites’ to them.

When biting becomes a habit…

Buy a muzzle. No, just kidding. I am quite sure that’s not legal, no matter how tempting it may sound after your child has bitten again for the goodness-knows-how-many’th-time. You and your child’s teacher will have to be on the same page with regards to the plan of action and remember it takes a while to break a habit.

A good foundation to start on is to help your child learn and understand key phrases like, no, that’s mine, stop and leave me alone. This is giving them an alternative to biting. Unfortunately, this solution may not always have the desired effect as the one who is about to get bitten may not follow these commands. Don’t let this demotivate you, these defensive commands will eventually be understood and whenever your child uses them instead of defensive action, don’t forget to congratulate them.

The next preventative measure comes into play when the defensive command is ignored.  You need to watch the child and react when you see that the situation is heading towards a tiny tot meltdown and jump in to prevent an incident before it happens.

Last but not least…if your child reacts to stress or excitement by biting, it helps to keep playful biting out of the games that you may play with them. Your gentle toe nibbling might encourage frustrated finger chomping.

If you find that your child is older than 4, and still biting, despite you having read 3 ‘How to Stop a Toddler from Biting’ books and you have attended all the seminars on the topic that you can find, as well as having read this blog, then your child’s biting issues may stem from a more serious emotional or developmental problem. This is the time to get some professional help.

It’s not a nice feeling to be told that your child has bitten someone; your emotions ping-pong between anger and protectiveness. Just remember that your child is reacting in a perfectly normal way. Now it’s up to you to keep the situation calm and react in a perfectly responsible adult way.

My child will never lie to me…

A tall story, white lie, fib, fable, half-truth, humbug or a whopper. Whatever you want to call it, you feel physical gut-wrenching pain when your child drops one of these into a conversation for the first time. The betrayal you feel is devastating! Especially seeing as you told yourself that your child will never lie to you. Same thing your mom told herself when she had you. Quite sure your gran said the same.  It hurts, I know, but let’s see if I can help put this dilemma into perspective for you.

Let’s start off with an interesting fact: the people who have made a living from studying children and their lying patterns (yip, people actually get paid to do that), all agree that preschoolers with higher intellectual quota scores are more likely to tell tall stories. Children who fib from an early age may also be good with social skills. Crazy hey?! They all agree that there is nothing wrong with a youngster telling a fib every now and then because they actually don’t know the difference between fiction and truth yet.  So there you have it – lying is actually considered to be an important stage of development.

Here are some statistics for you:

  • 30% of 2-year-olds, who are slightly more advanced in their verbal development, will give lying a try at some point.
  • 50% of the 3-year-olds are trying it regularly
  • By the age of 4, 80% of them are fibbing.
  • And last but not least, children between the ages of 5 and 7 have all lied at one time or another and I suspect some a bit more often than they will answer honestly too if questioned.

Now before you really start to freak out, let’s discuss why children lie. It is often for the same reasons that we, as adults do. But when we lie, depending on how skilled we are at it, we involve a complexity to the tale that we hope ensures the tales ‘believability’. We are also aware of the consequences, and even then we still risk it! Children don’t fully understand the consequences of their lie like you do when you drop a whopper. When a four-year-old tells you they have absolutely no idea where your car keys are, when they actually flushed them, they don’t realise that if they told you the truth, it would save you time looking and enable you to move on to a very expensive plan B. The reason why they continue to hold on to that lie is because they are focusing on the consequence of getting into trouble for the action, not what consequences the lie may hold for you.

Another big difference that you need to take into consideration is that a lot of the time your little one genuinely believes that what they are saying is the truth! Their imagination is so vivid that they truly do believe that they have an imaginary friend, or that the blue headed, pink-eared, furry creature that they saw living in the cupboard will eat all the curtains if you leave the door open.

Self-serving lies are usually the beginning of your little one’s fable fabricating journey. These are either in denial of an action to avoid the consequence or to gain something for themselves. There are also times when your little one will lie to you just to see what happens. This will be one of the very many times and ways in which they will test your reaction. Prepare yourself. It gets rough.

They will also tell little white lies in the form of exaggeration. Have you ever thought of that? Exaggerating is a lie. How many times a day do you exaggerate? Even just a little? This little-exaggerated tale is often to promote their own self-esteem and gain approval from the receiver of the lie by making their tall story ever so much more interesting! On the other end of the spectrum, you get the little individuals who lie to get the attention focused elsewhere and off themselves. These little ones don’t like the spotlight so they will deny doing anything that merits reward or attention.

As a child ages, self-protection becomes the main reason why they will tell a fib. They will do anything to avoid having to face the consequences so they will deny the action as much as possible. Here’s an interesting fact – Did you know that your child might tell a lie to protect you? They might bend the story a bit because the truth will hurt your feelings and believe it or not, as crazy as they may drive you, they do love you. It’s just buried deep beneath all the mischief and defiance.

Now that you, hopefully, have some clarity on why your darling feels the need to lie, let’s focus on the best ways to respond and encourage honesty. If a young child does something that is surely going to get them into trouble, and their deed is met with an angry accusation by an adult, the default response will be to lie.  So avoid the whole – “You did it!”-“No, I didn’t!”-“Yes, you did!”-“It wasn’t me!” – scenario, by calmly commenting on the vase being broken and ask if the child (who is obviously looking very guilty) had any idea who did it. Continue to say that you would just like to make sure that whoever did it is okay and that the culprit didn’t cut their hand in the process… This should hopefully let the guilty party know that the adult isn’t about to turn into the ‘scary, shouting giant’ and they will be more likely to confess.

Once you have the confession, you can tell your child that it’s okay to make mistakes and they must not be afraid to tell you the truth in the future. That last bit is very important. You don’t want your child to get to a place where they are too scared to tell you the truth because of your past reactions to it. They do need to understand that there are consequences, but that the consequences are fair ones and not given in the heat of anger.

  • If you know with 100% certainty that your child is guilty, don’t press them for a confession. This is just creating an opportunity for them to feel the need to fib. Confront them with the truth head-on. Don’t make them squirm under interrogation. (You can pack away the metal chair and polygraph machine. Save that for when they are teenagers!)

Even though it is normal for a child to fib, it should not be a reaction that you would want to encourage.  Use opportunities of honesty and dishonesty, whether it be displayed in public by strangers or at home by family, to show your child the different choices the liar or confessor had and discuss the consequences of these. Whether you are teaching against lying for moral or religious reasons, begin from an early age. Show your little ones that there is value in telling the truth. Lessons in moral values are a huge part of parenting. If you don’t pass these values on, others will — friends, social media, media and the rest of the big bad world out there. You, yourself, need to be a role model. Those are big shoes to fill. This means following through on promises or not making them at all. It also means that you will need to avoid the temptation of encouraging your child to tell a white lie when the situation suits you. e.g. “If the man at the ticket counter asks how old you are; mommy wants you to tell him you are 5. Is saving a certain percentage in costs worth getting your child to lie?

The biggest nugget of advice that I can leave you with is to listen to the reason behind the lie, not so much the lie itself. When you figure out what the hidden message is entwined in the lie, be it one or all the reasons listed above, you are better equipped to handle the situation and hand out consequences. So put on your detective hat, tip it stylishly to one side and good luck with deciphering fact from fiction. Very soon you will become a pro at detective hat-tipping and sniffing out far-fetched fables!

If I catch you doing that one more time I am going to….

How many of us have said this? C’mon, be honest. I have. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping the reaction would be when I threatened my boys with this. Maybe if I threaten just one more time they might listen? In the meantime, the eldest was probably thinking that he had better make sure that I don’t catch him next time then!

There are so many variations of discipline. As a parent of a pre-schooler, it is hard to choose which method is best. So you ask around. Some parents puff their chests out in pride because they have this discipline thing perfected. All bad behaviour can be fixed with a good old hiding! The trick is to scare them into submission. Other parents answer nervously because they know that they are doing a terrible job; they are just hoping that no one notices. So they give you a story or two of the few times that they accidentally made the right judgement call. Then you get the gems who lose their cool at home, in a way that they would never admit, but in public it’s just the evil eye and a promise of bad things to come, spoken through clenched teeth. The free spirits that would rather die than restrict their child’s behaviour are something else! That’s the parent of the little boy who is currently climbing on the house roof, about to become the next emergency room casualty.  Everyone has their own way of disciplining and they all have guaranteed tips and tricks of the trade to share, so you land up trying bits of it all and none of it works!

Which form of discipline would work best for your child? That’s the question you should be asking. The little individual that you are trying to mould into a successful member of society is just that, an individual. There is no method that will work with every type of personality out there. But there are however a few methods when used in conjunction with each other, and with the right balance between them, that can make a good foundation to start on.

Please do keep in mind though that this is just a guideline. A few tips and tricks of the trade learnt from years of experience. There is no set rule as to what works and what doesn’t. This is just one drop of information in a whole big Olympic size swimming pool full of information. If you are going to take a swim in that pool, be prepared, it gets deep. So let’s stick to the shallow end for now and get you ready for the plunge if you decide to dive deeper.

The first one is positive reinforcement. Ever heard of it? The dictionary reads that it is ’the process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behaviour by offering a reward when the behaviour is exhibited’. So basically what it means is that the more you reward good behaviour, the more of it you should get. (This works for all age groups, even adults!) Condition your child to want to act in a way that has positive consequences. Now, these rewards don’t always have to be materialistic. There are only so many sweets that you can offer for good behaviour before the kid’s teeth and weight become affected in a not-so-positive way. Never mind the fact that a sweet might not remain a motivating factor in the child’s aim to behave. Vary your rewards. Tailor-make them to fit the child. You have no idea what power a touch from your hand and a praising comment can do! Even a pat on the head or a gentle shoulder squeeze, when behaviour is acceptable, is classed as positive reinforcement.  Find as many opportunities as possible to positively reinforce if you are dealing with a difficult child. If the child is sitting still, even for 30 seconds, when normally they would be running circles around the dining room table at supper time, use that opportunity to make a big fuss of the good behaviour. If they comply with a given instruction without you having to nag, then use it!

I truly believe that for every negative action that needs to be addressed, you need to follow it up with at least 2 positive reinforcements. It’s going to keep you busy. It’s a long, very time-consuming behavioural conditioning technique. But consider this, would you rather have a child’s good behaviour be a part of who they are or have it be a reaction in response to a threat or punishment? You are not always going to be there to catch them doing something they shouldn’t and as they get older they will realise this. So your aim should be to get them to want to behave. The reward of the pride that they feel in themselves must heavily outweigh the disappointment they will feel if they misbehave.

Now I am not meaning that you should ignore all the bad behaviour. That would be leaning a little bit too far over into the free spirit parenting role. But you can’t always focus on the negative behaviour (Scare tactic parent) or take action when the situation suits you (evil eye parent). No matter what your beliefs are with regards to a hiding/spanking/pakslae, it’s now illegal. So if your hand starts itching when your child is misbehaving, put it in your pocket or sit on it.

https://www.parent24.com/Family/Parenting/smacking-your-child-is-officially-illegal-in-sa-now-20171020

There are other ways in which you can address negative behaviour. These consequences must be age appropriate though. It’s quite pointless to ground your 3-year-old. Withholding an after meal treat might not be that effective with your teenager. All that might get you is a smirk and a mumbled ‘whatever’. Your child needs to learn that there are negative consequences to negative actions but being locked in a cupboard or sent to bed without supper is not what I mean. Limiting access to a favourite toy or pastime (TV) seems to have quite an effect on children. Did you know that ignoring a temper tantrum is also a form of negative consequence? Often the wobbly they are throwing is to get attention. So don’t give them the attention their negative behaviour is seeking.

No one knows your child as well as you. You know what makes them tick. Well, most of the time you do. Use that knowledge to formulate a plan that works for your child. Fill it with loads of positive reinforcement. Don’t expect your child’s behaviour to be exemplary. You are setting yourself, and your child up for serious disappointment. They need to learn from their mistakes and the consequences that follow. Just as they will learn that the alternative is better.

There are probably more than a few of you reading this while thinking that it’s easier said than done and you are right. But no one said that parenting would be easy; so chin up, take a deep breath and carry on finding the moments where you can show your child that good behaviour is worth the effort. Just like all the hard work you are putting into raising them will be worth the results.

Fiddling and Peeking….

I have been pondering on how to start this blog for a while now. How do I put two words in the same sentence that don’t sound right together? The mere thought of these words being in such close proximity to each other makes most people blush, gasp or call the police. But this is a very important subject that needs to be tactfully discussed.  See my predicament?

I guess the best way to do it is just to get it over and done with. So here it goes… Let’s talk about the sexual awareness of a preschool child. (Covers face so as not to see the horrified expressions. Peeks through fingers. Okay, everyone is still calm. No sirens can be heard in the distance.) I think it’s safe to say that I can carry on.

This topic is as awkward as it is important to discuss. So I am going to lay down the basics for you. There will be frank talk and you may blush or cringe but once you begin to understand the ins and outs of it all, you might just realise that the ‘avoided’ subject is actually quite enlightening. So sit back, put your feet up, (unless you are reading this at work, then I wouldn’t recommend you put your feet up) and let’s delve a little bit deeper into what makes your little one the special person that they are.

Quite a while ago, people believed that children did not begin the journey to any form of sexual awareness until they hit puberty. Ha! If only they knew how wrong they actually were. And don’t get me started on puberty. Now that’s a word that should make you run for the hills. Did you know that girls can start going through puberty as young as 8 and boys at 9! Scary thought hey? Anyway, as children mature and get to know the body that they are in, they begin to discover that this body creates different sensations when touched in different places. They also start to take a keen interest in how their body differs from others. The ‘discovering my body’ expedition, with regards to touch sensations and what’s hidden under other’s clothing, starts from a very young age.

Children find pleasure and comfort in certain types of touches, just as adults do. There is a very important difference though. There are absolutely no sexual thoughts tango’ing through a child’s head when they touch their penis or vagina. It’s literally like rubbing their ear lobe or scratching an itch. I know you might find this a bit hard to wrap your mind around but a child views his or her body parts as, for lack of a better word, equal. It’s the adult that adds the sexual connotation to certain body parts and the exploration of them. Children don’t masturbate to orgasm either, it’s not the happy ending that they are after; it’s the immediate sensation that the touch brings about.

There might be a time in your child’s early childhood where a game of ‘doctor-doctor’ may drop to places below the belt. As embarrassing as it might be for the adult who walks in on the game, it’s merely a means to an end in satisfying the curiosity these youngsters have about why yours looks different to mine or; “Oh look! You have one too!”

How do you react in situations like this? When seeing your child playing peek-a-boo with their panties and a friend, or they start exploring down under while standing in line at Woolies; your gut instinct would be to freak out. Most parents do. Then you spend hours agonizing over how this came about!
What has your child been exposed to?
“That’s it! No more television/friends/school/contact with the outside world!”

In actual fact, what your child is doing is normal and you need to handle it like it is. It’s obvious that these types of shenanigans can’t happen in public. So the solution to this is to use this as an opportunity to teach your child about public (Woolies) and private (bedroom/bathroom) places. You should only touch private places on your body in private places in your house. Please don’t let them feel like what they are doing is dirty or shameful. That’s asking for a whole lot of trouble if they grow up thinking that it is. You do want grandchildren one day, don’t you?

Have you ever wondered why we give a penis and a vagina odd names? It’s not like we are in the habit of calling our nose a ‘sniffer’ in public so why on earth do we talk about his ‘willy’ or her ‘lilly’. And have you noticed how your voice drops a few decibels and becomes all squeaky when you talk about it? You want your children to be aware that their weewee and fanny are private areas with restricted access, but we don’t want them to think that there is something wrong with their tottie and blommetjie. So, every now and then, throw in the word penis and vagina. It has been said that using the proper terminology for your private parts will make children more likely to be able to share if something uncomfortable or abusive is happening to them. Incorrect terminology allows for misunderstanding and carries less weight in court. Did you just have an ‘Oh my gosh’ moment? Yip, this is serious stuff.

Not all sexual behaviour is normal in children though. There are a few red flags to look out for, and if these flags pop up, take note that they are waving frantically and take action. If abnormal sexual behaviour may occur, it might happen quite often and it’s hard to distract the child from what they are doing. If a child’s actions are causing emotional or physical pain to others or themselves, or they are behaving in a way that ends in aggression or involves forcing someone against their will, then you have a huge red flag right in front of you!  Let’s say an older child, who is mentally sound of mind, forces younger children to take part in these acts, professional guidance will definitely be needed. Simulating adult sexual acts is also a no-no. So is putting objects in places they shouldn’t go, if you follow my drift, after the child has been warned of the dangers and implications. It basically boils down to the fact that if the behaviour is disruptive and continues in spite of you trying to distract them, or the behaviour hurts other children or themselves, you are most likely going to require expert help.

Abnormal sexual behaviour escalates and you do not want to go down that path. So nip it in the bud. There are people out there who have the correct training to deal with this. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. What’s more embarrassing would be to ignore those red flags and end up with problems that have BIG consequences.

On a lighter note let me finish off by saying that the fiddling that you see happening under the blankets or the peeking you see happening when friends are around is normal, within reason. React to the behaviour in as much of a positive manner as you can muster in your shocked/embarrassed momentary frame of mind and remember to remind them about private places. They are probably going to do it whether you want them to or not. Deal with each situation as it arises, whether it be to distract them or counsel them on appropriateness. Then pat yourself on the back for doing such a good job, because parenting is confusing, embarrassing and hard at the best of times, and you just dodged that curveball like a pro.

When I grow up I want to be……

Did you know that even though gender and sex are often used interchangeably, they actually have different meanings?

According to the people who know what they are talking about, gender is what you think you are and sex is what your body parts say you are. Not that those body parts actually speak, but you know what I mean.

So now that I have shed some light on the difference between the two, let me tell you a story about what is going on in your child’s head with regards to their gender and how generations of gender-biased opinions could have an effect on them.

Long, long ago, in a land far away ….

Well, it was actually about 2 years ago and it happened, quite unexpectedly, when *M and *F had a ‘birds and the bees’ moment while F was cooking supper.

*Male and *Female (Thought this might be easier than giving them actual names. Especially if those names happen to be your name and the name of someone you don’t like and my story lands up having a really unwanted undertone)

I will leave the details of this moment to your imagination. What happened after the birds tweeted and the bees buzzed went something like this – 22 chromosomes in M’s sperm and 22 chromosomes in F’s egg decided that they liked each other and hooked up. The odd couple out, chromosomes 23, decided that they would give the concept of ‘opposites attract’ a try, and gave each other a hug. And just like that the odd couple out decided on the sex of the little baby that we will refer to as B.

Little B had no choice in the matter. The fate of his/her sex had been decided by what was written into his/her chromosomes.

Let’s fast forward in time until B, who was born biologically female, is the delightful age of three. B doesn’t think that her gender has any permanence at all. In her little mind, she thinks that the clothes you wear may change the gender that you are. She was even heard asking mommy if mommy was a boy or a girl when she was little.  It will not be until a little later on, around the age of 4-5 years old, that B will realize that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina (when this happens a whole new can of worms is opened with regards to sexuality. That’s definitely a story for another blog).  She will then start to understand that a change of clothing or a haircut cannot change what sex you are.

Seeing as B had been born biologically female, would this mean that later on in life she would adopt all the gender characteristics that society believes females should have? Throughout her short life, B has been subtly influenced by society and her family with regards to gender and gender roles.  B was born into a family where mom and dad had very specific household chores. Dad never cooked supper, besides the occasional braai. He spent a fair amount of time maintaining the garden and serviced his own vehicles. Mom worked from home, so the responsibility of the house cleaning and cooking fell under her allocated chores. B had a beautifully decorated room. Pink and purple filled the wardrobe and dolls lined the shelves. Sound familiar?

Back to the story – One-day B’s mom was reading a blog written by a lady who knows what she is talking about. This blog encouraged her to expose B to a variety of toys, not just the ‘girly’ ones. What?! Why on earth would B want to play with trucks? Airplanes? Never. Her grandparents would have a fit!

You need to understand, Little B is a blank slate, a piece of soft, cute, squishy dough ready to be moulded into something exceptional. What if that mould wasn’t what society viewed as a ‘feminine gender orientated’ role? Due to the way her family viewed certain things, it was highly unlikely that B would ever grow up to be a firefighter or a fighter pilot in the air force. Which is quite sad if you think about it because who knows what talents are hidden underneath those beautiful curls and chubby cheeks.

Feeling slightly ruffled and annoyed, B’s mom cooked supper that evening with this idea forming roots in her mind. Had her rigid ideas about gender roles in society almost prevented her from letting her child explore her talents to the fullest? Maybe this little person sitting on the floor in front of her, banging pot lids together, deserves to be defined as more than just ‘female’. Maybe this little man growing inside her womb was the next Benjamin Millepied (don’t worry, no need to google him. He is a famous male ballerina and choreographer).

B can count herself lucky that her mom read that blog. From it transpired a new way of viewing the limitations set on us by our gender. Who knows, give it 20 years or so and you might be driving a car designed by B, just because her mom decided that Hot Wheels were not just toys for boys.

The sky is the limit for our children. Don’t let their gender ever be a deterrent.

Shopping for the Right Pre-primary School

Looking for the best pre-school for your child? Little Farmyard Pre-primary School will tick all the right boxes.

Pre-school shopping is not for ‘sissies’.

Seriously. You are looking for a facility in which you will place your child for x amount of hours a day. This is no small decision to make. The people whose services you are looking to procure are the people who will be helping to mould your precious baby. These are the people who you will trust with your child’s life – literally.

So you visit the first pre-school and you have your list of criteria. You promised yourself that you will not waver on this list, but as you visit school after school you become inclined to compromise because you are getting a little bit desperate. The new school year is just around the corner and you haven’t yet found that perfect ‘fit’.

Is my list of criteria really necessary…? Is my list of criteria even relevant…? What if I am looking at the wrong things…? Surely if it is a registered school, their standards have to be maintained at a certain level? These are the questions that are frantically bouncing around your head while you try make your decision.

The children at that little school looked happy, but then again they were watching television. Isn’t that what children do at school nowadays? That big school on the corner was clean, it had a bit of a funky smell though but looked clean. Maybe I imagined the smell. The teacher seemed friendly. She was sitting under a tree watching the children play.

For someone who knows what to look for/smell for, and which questions to ask, the above train of thought raises a lot of red flags! Let us guide you through this decision making process. Let’s use Little Farmyard Pre-primary school in Noordheuwel, Krugersdorp as our reference point.

First of all, you need to have the right list of criteria and you must NOT COMPROMISE on anything that involves the well-being and safety of your child!

You may find the location of the school somewhere on your list. This is the one factor you may have to compromise on, as not every neighbourhood has a good pre-school in it. Is it worth an extra 10-minute drive to not have to subject your child to that funky smell every day? Trust me, funky smells are never a good sign! Have a look at the view from Little Farmyard’s veranda, that is so worth the extra time spent in traffic.

Talking about funky smells, a clean school should be one of the top points on that criteria list. The toilets specifically. These should be well ventilated and basically be sparkling clean. No compromise. If little Timmy has left a funky smell in the toilet, that’s okay, but what’s not okay is if the cause of the smell has not been flushed. Or the cause of the smell is running like a rivulet between the tiles on the floor. No… there is absolutely no excuse for that. A nursery school that does not take the cleanliness of its facilities seriously should not even make it to the top 10 on your list of schools.

At Little Farmyard Pre-primary School there will definitely be times where little Timmy leaves those funky smells behind – can you blame him? Our lunches are so delicious, he needed to have a second helping! The difference at little Farmyard is that little Timmy will never be left alone in the bathroom to fend for himself. We make sure that children are always accompanied by a staff member on toilet breaks and she will make sure that the toilets are left sparkling fresh for the next little one to make more room for lunch.

The staff at the school you are looking at should be under scrutiny as well. I can guarantee you that the teacher sitting under the tree, “watching” the children play, will take as long to get up out of her comfy chair in an emergency as it might take a hippo to get out of quicksand. At Little Farmyard Pre-primary School, we don’t sit. If we do, it is to the benefit of the children in our care.

First of all, there is no time to sit around toddlers! I firmly believe that more than one toddler should be called a ‘tornado of toddlers’. Luckily the staff at Little Farmyard are excellent weather analysts and we are ready to distract, calm and disperse the situation when we see a ‘tornado’ brewing! Years of experience and training have taught us that well-stimulated children are happy and content children and these children usually do not turn into destructive forces! Our daily programmes consist of a fun-filled educational content that will make even the most unimaginative mature individual wish that they were young and enrolled in our school!

Don’t forget to ask about what happens during class time. It’s not supposed to be television … just saying. You have every right to ask to see the educational programmes that they use. Ask what curriculum they base their programmes on. If you are answered with an “uummmm…” walk away, quickly. It’s not worth your time to go any further.
Here at Little Farmyard, we have taken a whole bunch of effective early educational learning programmes, sprinkled them with generous helpings of staff qualifications and experience, and topped this all off with the love that comes from wanting the children in our care to have the best possible advantages in life. And the whipped cream on the side is that our staff members work a full day! That way nothing is ‘lost in translation’ and you are able to get a first-hand account from your child’s teacher about their development. C’mon! Who wouldn’t want a slice of that!

Another spot on your criteria list should be taken up by what is served to eat at the school. Is it possible that a generous menu is advertised but a jam sandwich is served? Think twice about compromising here. If your child’s day is filled with energy consuming and brain-building activities, they will need energy giving and brain feeding meals. A jam sandwich is a snack. Not lunch. The hearty aromas that waft over Little Farmyard while every meal is being lovingly prepared for the children, is something worth experiencing. We have tailor-made our menu to suit all who sample it and our generous helpings curb the strongest of hunger pangs. Is your mouth watering yet?

With another set of school holidays steadily approaching I am sure you are filled with dread. What do you do with your precious schnookums? You need to work! The grandparents are just not catching the hints that you are dropping! I am quite sure there is also a touch of envy when you think about those lucky nursery school teachers going off on ANOTHER holiday break.

Add this point to your criteria list: Does the pre-school you are looking at stay open during the holidays? Well, Little Farmyard Pre-primary does. We have a super fun-filled holiday programme for every ‘school holiday’ on the calendar. Every day is a new adventure. We do however take a short, battery charging, re-energizing 3-week break in December. We find that the luscious green grass on our triple sectioned playground does well with a 3-week breather too!

Whilst school shopping, it helps to throw in a bit of terminology. If you drop a word or two into the conversation that would generally be used in the education ‘business’, you may give the impression that you are more knowledgeable than assumed – you are aware of the ‘tricks-of-the-trade’, so to speak. This, in turn, will make the person who is now aware of your knowledge base less likely to try to fool you. Throw in the words, “gross and fine motor”. “Bilateral integration” is a good one. “Auditory discrimination” is another. You might get a very blank stare in return. Or another uuummmmm…

See, I told you, you should have walked away a while ago. At Little Farmyard Pre-primary school, we make sure that all these areas, and more, are focused on and developed. We have a list of educational activities and remedial work activities that will make your head spin. We have therapists on site who really do know what they are talking about, I promise. They are the genuine thing. Don’t worry, I triple checked.

So, does school shopping seem less daunting now that you have the right questions, and senses (sniff sniff), ready to interrogate your child’s future educators?

Wait a minute…. How about you just swing past Little Farmyard Pre-primary school and complete the enrolment form?

Have a look at your criteria list. We have just ticked all the correct boxes!