Tag Archives: tantrums

Book review and giveaway: Kids Don’t Come With A Manual

Parenting books

After the baby years, there was I thinking I wouldn’t bother with any more parenting books. Despite my best intentions, I never got to the end of them and what I did read was 20% useful and 80% forgettable when faced with a bawling child. When I was asked to review Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole & Nadim Saad I expected it to join my other good intentions on the dusty pile under my bed. But I was surprised. It’s the first book focusing on children (rather than babies) that I’ve managed to read from cover to cover. More importantly, it’s one that I’ve been able to apply to my own daily battles with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, with – dare I say it and tempt fate? – a degree of success.

As the book proclaims: ‘Parenting is a Balancing Act!”. The book was driven by the authors trying to reconcile their opposing parenting styles. Throughout the book, both give their perspective on how taking a new approach has forced them to adjust their behaviour, reassuring you that no parent is perfect. But the book isn’t about how to fix your parenting differences with your partner. Its real focus is on providing balanced, practical tools to help you deal with the everyday challenges your children present you with, helping your children become happy and self-reliant adults and maintaining a good connection with them throughout their lives.

The authors’ objective was to “find practical, tried and tested evidence” for a balanced (and effective) style of parenting. That they have formulated their own approach by bringing together existing research and parenting books makes me less inclined to feel lectured at and more inclined to take on board their advice. Parents are sensitive types when our methods of parenting are called into question! The commonsense approach may on occasion make you feel you’re being told what you already know, but this is in fact reassuring – it confirms that good parenting isn’t rocket science. What I like about this book is that it’s very easy to remember the practical advice and then apply it in those moments of need when anything more than simple coping strategies would fly from your mind.

The initial chapters on ‘preventative tools’ are fascinating. They look at how to parent ‘pre-emptively’ rather than ‘reactively’. This lies in recognising that children’s behaviour demonstrates their desire to gain control over their lives and achieve a sense of belonging. Understanding why children act as they do and how important our reactions are can help nip difficult behaviour in the bud before it flares up, as well as build a more positive, nurturing environment. The ‘What a child may be thinking’ sections in the book force you to step into their shoes and shine a torch on your own behaviour – not always a comfortable experience but nonetheless an invaluable, mind-changing insight. “It can be difficult to accept and admit”, write the authors, “that despite all the love we have for our children, we may be exacerbating their ‘mis’behaviour through our own reactions.”

Whilst the authors recommend reading the chapters on ‘preventative’ tools first, this doesn’t stop it being a book you can dip into and still find useful. There are practical tools throughout for dealing with different challenges and, as the authors say, the “beauty of this is that even if you were to read and apply just one tool alone, in isolation, you would be very likely to experience a significant and positive difference”. The final part of the book deals with troubleshooting the ‘top 20 parenting challenges’ (eg, refusing to cooperate, whining, taking too long to do everything – sound familiar?) and is a quick reference to the best tools to use. I can see myself filling this section with post-its.

Truth is, we can read as much about parenting as we like but if we don’t find the advice easy to put into practice then we might as well never have picked up the book. Kids Don’t Come With A Manual has taught me new tricks for managing situations that would have previously resulted in me losing my cool and spiraling into the ugly vortex that is Parental Guilt. I knew that some of my ‘techniques’ were far from satisfactory but this book has given me a deeper understanding of why they were failing. This new insight has provided the kick up the backside that I needed. I can honestly say I feel a long way towards being a calmer parent. Of course, the tantrums haven’t disappeared completely nor has my children’s hearing improved significantly but I can deal with everything more effectively and with a renewed determination to remain calm. (And, yes, I’m feeling a little bit proud of myself!)

If kids did come with a manual then this book would probably be it.

Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole and Nadim Saad, Best of Parent Publishing, paperback, £12.99 (Kindle £6.99). For more information visit: www.bestofparenting.com/books.

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Who’s in control here?

Kids driving car
Mum relegated to the back seat. Again.

Becoming a parent makes you lose control of a lot of things – your finances, your social life, your pelvic floor muscles – but it should be possible to maintain the illusion of being in control. Whilst your time may not be your own, you can still be in charge. Trouble is, I’m not in charge anymore. I’ve lost it. I’m flailing wildly whilst being hit over the head with balloons, pelted with peas and fleeced for poor quality soft toys and cheap plastic goods.

Let me give you an example. Every mother knows that when you have kids you give up the right to pee in private. The other morning, with my 5-year-old being uncooperative with her school shoes and my 3-year-old iPadding, I saw a rare opportunity to grab some solo toilet action. (Normally on the pre-school run pee I find myself wedged into our cupboard-sized downstairs toilet with both children, the light being switched on and off and trying to stop them flushing whilst I’m mid flow.) Ah, the joy of not having to defend why I chose a particular pair of knickers that day or explain why we have ‘winkies’. Sadly, the sound of the flush broke the spell of the iPad:

3yo: [screaming] NOOOOO! Do it again!

Me: What? Do what again?

3yo: Go for a wee again!

Me: But I’ve just been. I don’t need to go again.

3yo: [Eyes now spilling more water than a blocked u-bend] DO IT AGAIN!!!

So what does any self-respecting parent in search of a quiet life do? I go through the whole process of going to the toilet again. Just so he can be there with me. I’ve lost control in my house to such an extent that even my bodily functions are dictated by my children.

Is seeking a quiet life devoid of tantrums effectively handing the reins to Little Dictators or does it actually help parents stay in control? I would argue the latter simply to justify my lack of parenting balls. Taking the path of least resistance certainly helps me get out of the front door – I rarely have time to employ Supernanny-esque techniques and sit out the tantrums, nor do I have the patience – and sometimes that’s just enough to keep control of my (teetering) sanity.

On the other hand, I’m well aware that I’m most likely creating little monsters and the much-maligned rod for my own back. I’ve wiped their noses, wiped their bums and now I move the potty (complete with child) so that it’s closer to the plug for charging the iPad that my son needs to help him focus on doing a poo. (I’m potty training so cut me some slack.) How long before my lack of authority comes back to bite me on the backside, leaving not the imprint of milk teeth but of teenage teeth too late for turning?

To undo all my bad work I need to transform from Maid to Matriarch. It’s a makeover that will require more than a quick visit to the Boots make-up counter – we’re talking a full-blown injection of parenting botox and possibly a large dose of Mother’s Ruin. Wish me luck.

Review: Radical Reward Charts

Reward chart

Parents are constantly given tips on how to ensure their children’s good behaviour. Family, friends, magazines, experts, Gina et al, they all add their twopence worth, asked for or not. Should we over praise, under praise (tiger mom, grrr!), bribe, deprive, reward, or even get down on the floor and tantrum with the best of ’em – it seems that the parent’s toolbox is endless. However there is one approach which seems to be universally lauded: the reward chart.

I am a latecomer to reward charts. We once had a scrap of paper and some stickers – it seemed to do the job for there aren’t many children who can resist a sticker – but that was our first and last reward chart experience. There was some excitement then when I got the chance to review Radical Reward Charts, described on their website as ‘A Parent’s Best Friend’. My 4-year-old is seriously testing boundaries (and my patience) at the moment. Her 2-year-old brother has recently found his voice and with it the defiance of a teenager. Dare I hope the charts could work miracles? Here is the baseline we started at:

Me: Shall we put the reward charts up?

4yo: Yes, because my behaviour is getting a bit bad. I’ll do nothing all day to make sure I don’t do anything bad. I’ll just walk in circles round and round my room.

Errr ... think you need to be putting that a bit lower down.
Errr … think you need to be putting that a bit lower down.

Unlike my scraps of paper, the Radical Reward Charts are beautifully illustrated and lovely to look at and – should you ever find your kids too angelic for their own good and racing through the charts (I can only dream) – they are reusable. My 4-year-old daughter chose the Reedy River design and my 2-year-old boy was lured by the caterpillar and frog on Grungy Garden. Most exciting of all for them were the personalised markers: laminated photos of their own mini-selves. A cracking idea to make climbing the chart just that little bit more fun.

The charts arrived with instructions. That there are any rules governing reward charting is new to me, but it turns out I’d got it horribly wrong with my only other attempt. Apparently you should “not put your child DOWN the chart if they misbehave”. Ah. But it had such a wonderful (dramatic) effect previously! I’m abiding by the rules this time; however I have been using the threat that there will be no more moving UP the chart if you don’t get off of your brother’s head.

I really ought to have read the instructions before agreeing what is to be the ultimate reward when the 20th notch is reached by my daughter. “It’s often a good idea to let them choose the reward” – CHECK – for example “small novelty items, sweets” – ERRRR. It’s a symptom of (a) society, (b) the power of advertising and/or (c) my weak parenting skills that against my best judgment I agreed to a pair of Lelli Kelly shoes. I know, I know, vile things – what was I thinking? (I tell you what I’m thinking now (between kicking myself): EBAY.)

Children's behaviour
Think how easy it would be to manage a pocket-sized child!

So, are the charts working? With the 2-year-old I have no idea. He doesn’t quite yet get the idea of incentives. Obviously he’s rewarded but I couldn’t say that the prospect of moving up the chart makes him think twice about how he behaves. My 4-year-old, however, gets it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see an increase in spontaneous good behaviour. I knew there would be a danger that every good deed could be deemed worthy of a trip up the reward chart. According to the accompanying instructions, rewards are most effective if “given for something completely unexpected”. This seems to work and has so far generated further unexpected good behaviour. Progress up the chart to date has been for eating courgettes at nursery, playing nicely with visitors’ children and tidying up the dinner table.

The Radical Rewards Charts may not be an entirely new concept but for a newbie like me they provide an attractive alternative to other charts I’ve seen. At £14 a chart (including P&P and a personalised mini figure) they’re not cheap and for this I expect quality. I feel I got this with the Radical Reward Charts, plus as they’re reusable they are value for money to boot.

We’re making slow progress up the charts but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, we’re some time away from having to line the pockets of a certain shoe brand. That’s almost incentive enough for me to encourage bad behaviour!

Thank you to Amanda at Radical Reward Charts who sent me these products free-of-charge and asked for nothing other than an objective review.

Me! Me! Me!

Raising considerate children

A day off work waiting at home for a delivery is not without its dangers. First, there is the guilt over sending the kids to nursery whilst you put your feet up and enjoy visiting the toilet in peace. Secondly, stuck inside and craving interaction with the outside world, your usual defence mechanisms are weakened and this can lead to you answering the door in a reckless fashion. Cue people of a certain denomination ‘spreading the word’. Cue a parenting blog post. Yes, really. Inspiration moves in the most mysterious ways.

I don’t believe in God myself but I do make time to listen on the doorstep. I will inevitably shut the door clutching a selection of leaflets and, because I feel guilty at having taken leaflets that could have gone to someone more likely to be converted, I do try to at least flick through them. (Thus, I expect, earning myself brownie points should there turn out to be a god.) Amongst the latest batch of leaflets, little did I expect to find a whole pamphlet on parenting. Whilst it didn’t leave me questioning my lack of faith, it did leave me questioning my parenting skills.

The feature article was entitled ‘Raising Considerate Children in a Me-First World’ – “If you are a parent, how can you help your children to reap the benefits of being kind and to avoid being contaminated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds them?” I was transported back to Christmas Day and an image of my 4-year-old surrounded by piles of toys and wrapping paper. She asked “Are there any more presents?” whilst I sat thinking about how lucky my children are and wishing she could find contentment and happiness in a lump of coal. Everyone wants their children to be happy but how can you ensure this without the negative consequences of them believing that they are at the centre of the universe?

The article outlined 3 “traps” that can create inconsiderate, self-centred children:

1. Overpraising

“Do not dole out praise just to make your children feel good about themselves” – a slapped wrist for parents who “have been unduly influenced by the self-esteem movement”. Of course, you shouldn’t praise your child for everything and bad behaviour should be addressed in an appropriate way. If my 4-year-old threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall I certainly wouldn’t praise her for the wonderful mural she had created. However, as someone with low self-esteem who is terrified of passing on my own neuroses to my children, please do excuse me if I choose to lavish praise on them to make them feel good about themselves, however small the achievement. A lack of self-confidence has the tendency to saddle you for life. That self-doubt (whether it be a drop or an ocean) can permeate everything you do and hold you back rather than propel you forward. I would much rather my children approached everything believing they can do it well, rather than wondering whether they will do it well enough.

2. Overprotecting

“Whilst it is natural to want to protect your children, overprotecting them can send the wrong message – that they do not need to take responsibility for their actions.” In my opinion, there is a difference between protecting them against the consequences of their own actions and protecting them against adversity in the world around them. My children are both under 5 and are firmly wrapped up in the cotton wool I have spun just for them. Every day in the car I have to switch the radio off when a news bulletin comes on describing death and destruction in the world. Yet my 4-year-old still picks up odd words and asks questions – as much as I can sensitively bat away those questions, I know that little snippets will be sticking in her mind and sowing seeds of worry. She is not old enough yet not to be overprotected from the world around her. As for my children’s own actions, no, I won’t completely ignore it if, for example, they fail a test. However what I will do is ensure they understand how they can do things differently in future. I hope I can give them the confidence to accept responsibility and move forward, learning on the way.

3. Overproviding

“In a survey of young adults, 81 per cent said that the most important goal of their generation is ‘to become rich’ – rating it far above helping others.” This is about stuff. Stuff and money. Stuff and money and things. It is also where I hold my hands up and look shiftily at the floor. I acknowledge that I am guilty of buying my children things as treats to make them happy and – okay, okay, I admit it – things that they ask for. I also acknowledge that I’m not doing a good job of trying to instill in them a sense of the value of things or that treats sometimes have to be earned. Am I creating monsters? If I am watching a full-on tantrum in a toy shop then I would say ‘yes’, I am. If I am watching my oldest sellotape tissues to a toilet roll and use it as a sword to attack her brother then I would say, most definitely, ‘no’. Like all children, they take pleasure in the most modest and unexpected of things and, thankfully, are not complete slaves to the best that money can buy.

The emergence of a generation of self-centred individuals seems to be weighing heavily on society’s conscious. The policy in China of only one child per couple has, it is commonly believed, created children who, being used to being the sole focus, have grown up selfish and prone to neglect their parents. Indeed, China has recently introduced a law to force children to visit their elderly parents. In the last few days, research in the US has suggested that high-self esteem in students can actually lead to less successful lives. (Of course, the definition of success is debatable – if my kids end up scraping gum off the pavement for a living but are happy, healthy and contented then I would consider that a success.) My own recent experience in a very rich foreign country (which shall remain unnamed) and the proliferation of kids there with an enormous sense of entitlement and a complete lack of manners left me very conscious of the little people I am bringing into the world. Reminders of my duty as a parent to help my children become considerate members of society appear where I least expect them – and for that reason my door will always be open.

Christmas cheer and fear (part 1)

The world of children’s stories is a mixed up place when you put Kipper back on the bookshelf and pick up the traditional fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. There is a sinister side to these stories that starts to fill a child’s world with bogeymen, wicked witches and monsters lurking under the bed. Christmas is not so different. A bold statement perhaps (*puts tongue in cheek*) and certainly not in the accepted spirit of things. Is Christmas all about cheer or does it, like many traditions and stories, have a darker, scarier side?

As a child I was afraid of Father Christmas. I was fully signed up to the idea that he was the jolly fella who would arrive laden with gifts, but there was still no way I was letting a strange man into my room in the middle of the night. In the dark. When everyone was asleep. Well, would you when it’s put that way? No, no, no – it was a step too far for the shy child that I was. What if he was the child catcher in disguise? Or the Pied Piper? What if he had elves with him? My Christmas stocking stayed firmly hung on the outside of my bedroom door and never once graced the end of my bed.

Father Christmas may bring presents with a hearty “ho, ho, ho” but he is also big, fat and hairy. To a child he must seem enormous and, wearing his peculiar clothes, must beggar the question in their fragile minds: “who is this huge, red, scary monster man?” Worst of all, he is over familiar – he even wants you to sit on his knee (well, he did in the innocent days when CRB checking Santa would have been like asking the Queen for a form of ID). He’s the Werther’s Original Grandpa on speed. Observe the Santa Effect in action in the photograph below. This was taken at my daughter’s first (conscious) visit to the Big Man aged 14 months:

Note the school masterly look on Santa’s face then note the look of sheer terror on my daughter’s. Oh yes, and look at Mummy laughing nervously as she tries to enforce the Christmas cheer, only managing to worsen the Christmas fear by shoving her dear daughter closer to the object causing the anxiety. It won’t stop me doing it again. My 20-month-old son has his first visit to Santa lined up. I know what his reaction will be but, dammit, it is Christmas (and a photo opportunity).

And what do we do as parents to help this fear? Nothing. We make it worse. As soon as the first bauble hits the shops in August, the threat of Father Christmas and his all-seeing eye becomes the parents’ weapon of choice. Who needs bribery when the prospect of a lump of coal can be wielded in the face of a screaming child flailing around on a supermarket floor? So much for putting the fear of God into someone, this is the fear of Santa. (Gosh, I’ve associated Christmas with religion there – that can’t be right, surely?)

So can Christmas get much scarier? You bet it can. In Part 2 of this post you will meet a character who is so very wrong on many levels … Zwarte Piet.