Posted on December 23, 2014
When a friend recently talked about ‘Gentle Parenting‘, or parenting without punishments or rewards, I will admit to first having to look up the term, and second thinking that can’t possibly work.
After reading the list on this blog, I realised that I’d been practicing a version of this parenting philosophy, without knowing there was a name for it. There is no blueprint for successful parenting, and I wouldn’t say that I am an expert, but these are the tactics that have worked for me, and my family.
We respect each other. This is central to our family life. When my son was about 9 years old, he went through a phase of being slightly selfish, and wanting things done HIS way; we struggled to get him to understand that his behaviour affects the rest of the family. He’s a numbers guy, and loves maths, so I explained that our family was a square, with a person at each corner of the square. When one person is more important, or dominates the family, it pulls the square off balance. This really worked to help him understand the dynamics of the family.
Choice not Ultimatums
One of the best parenting books I’ve read is How to Talk so Kids Will Listen. I can highly recommend this, even for those with younger kids. The thing that stuck with me most is to turn the ultimatum around – a very simple but effective trick.
“If you don’t put your shoes on, we won’t go to the park”
“Put your shoes, and then we can go to the park”
Turning the ultimatum into a To Do List takes the pressure away, and stops you boxing yourself into a corner. How many times have you threatened something, and then felt you had to see it through? Even if it meant spoiling the day for yourself, or the other children? Try never to give an ultimatum, as it is very difficult to walk it back.
Another tip from How to Talk. How annoying must it be for kids when they tell us they are too warm/hungry/not tired and we respond, ‘Oh, but you can’t be! You need a jumper/have just eaten/need a sleep’! Accept what they are telling you, and respond with empathy instead of brushing them off. This one is really important because it is vital that kids learn to trust their feelings and instincts.
Never Say Never/Always
This one was from a very early Parenting course when my oldest was in Kindergarten in Germany. The leader of the course asked us to imagine this scenario.
You are at work, and you forget to refill the paper in the printer. Your boss comes into the office and starts ranting. “Oh, for goodness sake. Look at the state of this! Why do you always forget to refill the paper. Can’t I leave you alone for a moment, without you doing something wrong? You always forget. And another thing, last week you left the light on when you went home, and you always forget to log off the computer properly”.
Imagine how awful you’d feel, but then think of this scenario.
You go into the kids’ room, and discover LEGO all over the floor. “Oh, for goodness sake. Look at the sake of this room! Can’t you ever play without making such a mess? I was only away for ten minutes! It is always the same.”
Sound familiar? I’ve done it, and I still catch myself doing it, but I try not to. The words ‘you always’ and ‘you never’ are banned in our house. Deal with the situation at the moment, and wipe the slate clean every day.
Diffuse tension and difficult situations with humour. I’ve heard from friends who surprised their tantruming toddler with star jumps, and I’m finding as my kids get older, retaining a sense of humour is becoming ever more important. My daughter is 12 years old, and increasingly stroppy – typical tween behaviour, and nothing troubling. I have to bite my tongue sometimes and try not to react to her grumpy comments, otherwise we end up in a vicious circle of sniping.
It can be incredibly hard to come up with a funny response after a long day, but it is worth it. You do have to watch that you still take the emotions and worries of the child into consideration – see the point of allowing feelings. Don’t use sarcasm. Kids don’t understand it; it confuses them and is hurtful.
Accept Children’s Personalities
Adapt your approach to each child. My daughter is more sensitive and a bit of a worrier, so I have to ensure that I take time to listen to her problems and respond. My son is more secure and self-assured, but still needs attention and care – just in a slightly different way, as I mentioned above with the square analogy. What works for one child, might need adjusting for the second or third child.
No Forced Apologies or Hugs
A forced apology is no apology. We’ve never made kids say sorry for this reason. People sometimes say this is learned behaviour, and I agree – empathy is learned behaviour. Making a child say sorry when they aren’t really doesn’t teach them anything except how to get out of trouble by lying about being sorry!
I am very against forcing kids to give grandparents or family members a hug or kiss when they don’t want to. It is vital to respect the boundaries of children, and allow them autonomy over their body.
Rewards and Punishments
This is often misunderstood. When I say that I try to parent without punishments or rewards, people think that I let my kids do what they want. I don’t. There are consequences to their behaviour, but they are not intended to PUNISH the child. This is interesting on the topic of rewards and punishments, and how they lead to an unequal relationship between children and parents.
Like many parents, we tried all the suggestions that were given at the time when our kids were toddlers. Time Out, Naughty Step, Star Chart, Pasta Jar… Nothing worked because they are all sticking plasters, covering the actual problems of behaviour.
There are consequences of bad behaviour, but they are in direct response, and connected. I do find this tricky sometimes and admit to getting it wrong – most recently when son had issues at school and we banned the Xbox for a week. I knew immediately afterwards that it was wrong, and struggled to articulate why. That was when my friend talked about Gentle or Unconditional Parenting.
The response to bad behaviour shouldn’t be to punish, it should be to teach the child the natural consequences of their actions. This could be – for younger children – removal of the child from the situation, or for older children, removal of internet privileges (e.g. if they’ve broken internet rules).
Let Kids Win
Sometimes you have to let them ‘win’. This was something that my husband said when our kids were little. You have to let them win their argument, and show them that they can persuade with words and not with tantrums or violence. Don’t be afraid to back down or change your mind, if presented with a compelling argument. It teaches kids that no one is infallible, even parents make mistakes, and that it is ok to admit it.
Does It Work?
Well, my kids are still growing, but so far I would say yes. We have a good relationship, and the kids are respectful, polite and generally well behaved. Yes, they test the boundaries at times, but that is normal, and is to be expected. I try not to be too strict, and have always allowed them quite a bit of independence. The interesting time is coming up, as they move into puberty and their teenage years. I will let you know in 8 years!
Updated on December 3, 2014
Times are tough for writers. With too many people willing to work for nothing, freelance writers are finding it difficult to survive. I know many talented writers who work hard, both in creating and promoting, with little to show for it. Rejection follows rejection, as publishers are reluctant to take a chance on an unknown writer, when they could sign up a celebrity or a YouTuber with huge existing fan base.
I am not knocking Zoe Suggs, also known as Zoella, but I do understand the frustration of many writers today, who looked at the headlines and sighed wearily. A relatively unknown vlogger who outsells JK Rowling – impossible!
Ever more writers are turning to self-publishing, cutting out the middle-man and selling directly to their readers. Particularly for bloggers, who already have a network, this can be a sensible option.
The huge advantage of self-publishing is simultaneously a huge disadvantage. Anyone can self-publish, and so without editing and quality control, books are uploaded and promoted. Writers need editors, and we all benefit from having another person take a fresh look at the ‘finished’ manuscript. I’ve often read and re-read an article, thought it was perfect, and then had a friend spot a glaring spelling mistake.
One of the things that many writers struggle with is discipline, and as Katharine Edgar wisely points out in her excellent blog, having a support group can be incredibly helpful. Another issue that many face, is promotion and marketing. “You need a blog!”, writers are told, but what do you do when you have that blog, and you need more people to read it?
How do you reach those out with your immediate circle of friends and acquaintances?
When some friends and I started talking about self-publishing books, we decided to work together – a kind of feminist self-publishing collective! Millie Slavidou had written a chapter story for Jump! Mag, and it seemed a shame that after the initial sharing on the blog, it would be lost in amongst old posts.
We decided to edit, expand and publish the story on Amazon Kindle. At this point, I realised that we have a huge amount of excellent content on Jump! Mag that could be adapted and expanded into eBooks, and I asked Sam Gouldson if she’d like to write an eBook about science vocabulary.
These two books are now finished, and available to pre-order on Amazon. A second book in the Lucy Evans, InstaExplorer series will be released in time for Christmas – explaining how Christmas is celebrated in Greece. I am currently working on a book provisionally titled ’12 Women Explorers You’ve Never Heard Of’, which will be released in early 2015.
The books are are being sold under the name ‘Jump! Books’, but they really are a collaborative work. We will stay true to the Jump! Mag ethos – gender neutral books, with strong female characters, fun and informative, with a healthy dose of science and history.
Working together means that we can each use our strengths and talents to create and promote the books, and I am really enjoying working with these fabulous women.
You can find the first books on Amazon, available for download from 9th December.
Updated on November 11, 2014
I love a good Trip Advisor review. Generally I use them as an aid to finding hotels to avoid. Any mention of “hilarious holiday reps”, “fab poolside and evening entertainment” or “delicious all you can eat buffet with proper English grub!” tells me that I will hate the hotel, and should keep looking.
Here are my top tips on how to write a Trip Advisor review.
Start by Telling Your Story
Always wanted to write a novel? Now is your chance. Begin your review by telling of your reasons for booking this holiday, and why you decided on this particular hotel. It is helpful to include details of health issues and/or previous disastrous trips. The above review is worth reading in full. The final paragraph is worthy of a Pinterest inspiring quote image.
Readers are particularly interested in any issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with the hotel you are reviewing.
We Brits are OBSESSED by the weather, so do let us know what kind of weather we can expect. Complaints of it being just TOO HOT when you’ve visited Tunisia in August will really help undecided potential holidaymakers.
Things the Hotel/Resort Can’t Possibly Change
Information about mosquitoes and small children, big hills, distance to sea (especially if stated in the hotel description… all this helps holiday seekers make their decision!
Do let us know if we will treated like FOREIGNERS!!!!
Remind readers that they could just stay home
Yes, this review was for the Colosseum in Rome!
Posted on November 10, 2014
A good friend of mine wore make-up last week. You may be wondering why that is worthy of a blog post, but you see Millie doesn’t wear make up. Not that she rarely uses cosmetics. She NEVER wears make up. She doesn’t own any cosmetics at all.
She posted a photo on Facebook, and was debating whether to wipe it all off, when I suggested she leave it for the day and blog about the reaction of her friends and family. She has written about the word ‘cosmetic’ on her brilliant etymology blog here.
You’ve all heard of the bare-faced selfie, where women were encouraged to take pictures of themselves without any make-up on, the assumption of course being that all women wear make-up all the time. Well, I do not. In fact, I do not even own any make-up.
This has long been an issue for a friend of mine who is a beautician, and she has frequently offered to teach me how to use make up and to do makeovers for me. I don’t need lessons, I hasten to add, I do not wear make up because I don’t want to. But, to keep a long story short, when she offered a couple of days ago to give me a makeover, as she has done many times before, I finally said yes, mostly so that I don’t have to hear about it again. I must give her her due, she did a nice job. I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t feel that it was me.
So far, so good. But I didn’t just wash it off the minute I got home. Instead, I kept it on to see how my day would go. I was quite suprised by the reactions of the people around me, all of whom had never seen me with make-up on before. People stared at me as though I had grown an extra head. It was actually quite disconcerting. One person asked me what the occasion was, what I was celebrating. Another came up and automatically wished me happy birthday, assuming that that must be the reason for wearing make-up. It wasn’t my birthday, of course. I was quite amused by all of this.
On now to darker reactions. One person who I know quite well, and who felt that entitled her to ask some more direct questions came up and asked me if I was all right, and had my husband hit me! I asked her what she was talking about. She had assumed that the only reason I would want to wear make-up would be to hide the marks on my face. It doesn’t help that I had a black eye a few months ago, and again the automatic assumption was that my husband had done it. (It was actually my young son, who has special needs and did not understand what he was doing when he hit my face with a wooden toy!) It was very telling, I thought, to hear the reactions from some other women I know, when I went to pick up my children from school. They asked me if my husband had been looking at other women and playing aound, and I had put make-up on in order to make an effort for him and not lose him. Because, naturally, if that were my problem, a bit of make-up would be the way to solve it!
These were all reactions from adults. I couldn’t help noticing that there was no thought that I might just be wearing make-up because I felt like it, perhaps I wished to experiment with some different colours. The immediate assumption related it either to a celebration (is there some law I have hitherto been unaware of that says I must put make-up on in order to celebrate?!) or to what my husband might be thinking and feeling or doing. It made me wonder about the relationships of the people who said those things to me, and I felt sad for them.
A few people told me I looked nice or beautiful. Although they meant well, and I smiled and said thankyou, I actually found it irritating. It made me feel as though the real me, the one without make-up, wasn’t nice and beautiful.
Finally, we shall come to my children’s reactions. First of all, as I have mentioned, my younger son has special needs, and does not speak beyond a few syllables. He reached up to touch my mouth with the lipstick on and made the sound he makes for “hurts”. He must have linked the red colour to the colour of blood. My daughter said to me “You look beautiful, Mummy! But it’s a bit funny!”
But it was my eldest son, who is seven years old, who was the most direct of all. “What’s happened to you, Mummy? You look horrible! You don’t look like you! Wash it off your face, I don’t like it. I like the real you best.” He continued to tell me to wash my face every time he looked at me, and when I did, he gave a huge sigh of relief. “Now you are you again!” he said. And that was how I felt, too!
Updated on January 6, 2015
Whether you are a guest, or the host, having kids at a wedding can be stressful. Finding the balance between keeping the kids happy, and turning the wedding into a Kinderfest can be tricky. We’ve all been to weddings where the tender vows of the bride and groom haven’t been heard by the guests because of a bawling baby! And I am guessing a few of you have attended a wedding with young children, chasing after them all day, having no fun, no wine and a pretty miserable time. Here are my top tips on keeping everyone happy.
1. Hire an Entertainer / Set up a Creche
Some venues have a room close to the main function suite that can be used as a creche/playroom/activity room. You can then hire an entertainer , or if you or your friends have a childminder, ask if they would be willing to do this.
2. Hire a Bouncy Castle
You will need to have someone around to supervise (and to ensure that no drunk guests have a bounce later in the day!) but a Bouncy Castle is always a winner with kids. Only downside – we do live in Scotland, so if the weather is bad, then this will be a washout.
3. Origami Kit
For slightly older kids – an Origami Kit will keep them amused during the speeches, and they can delight their relatives by giving them an amazing
grubby crumpled bit of paper piece of art.
3. Hand Puppets
These will keep little ones busy – they can whisper stories and wave to each other. Probably best to keep them away from the bride, with their glue covered fingers!
4. Wedding Activity Bags or Boxes
What kid can resist a goodie bag? You can make these up yourself, or buy them ready made. Fill with a selection of activities – no felt tip pens though, for the sake of all the bonnie frocks!
1. I Spy Conversation Game
This one is better suited for after the meal, and is a great ice breaker for all the guests. Place a card, a disposable camera, and a pencil at each child’s setting, and see which kid can photograph all the items on the list first. You won’t need an incentive to get the kids playing, but a small prize for the winner is a good idea.
From Martha Stewart
While searching for pics for this article, I came across these images of a bride jumping into the water with her kids. That is one way of keeping the kids happy, I suppose!
Updated on January 6, 2015
I interviewed ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’, Amanda Owen for Jump! Mag this week. When we started talking about raising children, Amanda had some great thoughts on allowing kids to explore and develop, that I wanted to share here.
Amanda loves the isolation of Ravenseat, the farm in the Yorkshire Dales, but is connected to the rest of the world via a satellite dish that provides the farm with internet connection. She discovered Twitter, and started sharing tales of her life in 140 character chunks, accompanied by stunning photos. Her chatty informal style was a big hit; she has amassed over 7000 followers and recently published a book.
The Yorkshire Shepherdess is reminiscent of the James Herriot stories we all know from our childhood, and brings Amanda full circle. It was the Herriot books that first set her on the way to becoming a shepherdess, inspiring her to want to work with animals. A career as a vet was ‘academically just not going to happen’. Another book, this time a photographic essay called The Hill Shepherd brought clarity, and a concrete aim – Amanda knew she wanted to be a Shepherdess, and not one on a lowland commercial farm.
As we chatted last week, Amanda was multi-tasking – serving cream teas to visitors, making scones and what she later termed a ‘deconstructed pie’, which was left rather too long in the oven! She has managed to transfer that warmth and humour onto the pages of her book, so that one almost feels as if she is sitting on the sofa, telling her story in a gorgeous Yorkshire accent.
Her story is told more or less chronologically, from her childhood far from farming life to her first experiences, and on to meeting her husband and settling into his farm. He too is a first generation farmer, but the love they both feel for their patch of land is apparent. Living on such an isolated farm does bring challenges, such as being so far from medical help when heavily pregnant and facing complications. The book deals with the Owen’s brush with fame on the TV series The Dales, and Amanda’s business ideas such as serving tea and scones to the walkers who pass through the farm, and the Shepherd’s Hut for staying overnight .
The book is definitely worth a read. You can buy it in your local bookstore, or online via Hive Bookstores.
On Being Wonder Woman
The kids all have responsibilities and have jobs to do at home. I think it is important for children, no matter what career you want to do, that you know that you have to do things. They need to know that they are important to us, and to how things are run. It gives me a sense of pride really, to see them doing things.
They play like normal children, but they also have that sense of freedom. Last night I was getting them showered, and I thought they’d all gone to the bedroom, but when I came back downstairs, they’d all gone back outside cause there was a lamb that needed a top up of milk. So they were there, in their dressing gowns in the farmyard, with a lamb!
I am very laid-back, I have to be. I think to myself, perhaps it wasn’t the greatest thing to be outside nursing a pet lamb in their dressing gowns, but does it really matter? Probably not. You know, in the scheme of things? Why sweat the small stuff?
I’m not Wonder Woman. It slightly annoys me, when people say, ‘Oh, you are Wonder Woman! You can do this that and the other’. No, I can’t. Something has to give, and quite often it is fact that I am not that fussed about housework. The house is fine, I am standing here, the washing is drying above the fire, it looks like it could do with a hoover, you know.
In the scheme of things, are the kids ever going to look back and say, ‘God, wasn’t our childhood fantastic? Do you remember how mother used to hoover everyday?’
It’s not going to happen, is it? They are going to look back, and they going to remember the laughs we had. I don’t want to be smugmum and say ‘You have to do it like this’, because you don’t. You just have to do your best, don’t you? As long as everyone is happy, and everyone is smiling.
On Town vs Country Kids
I did an book launch talk in Richmond recently and the manager of the bookstore asked if I was bringing the kids. He probably thought it would be complete pandemonium, with seven really bored kids, and he said ‘I’ve got you free tickets to go and see the LEGO film’. You’d have thought the kids had won the lottery. They were so excited. They hadn’t been to the cinema before. So that makes it special, it is more of a treat. Things are more special if you don’t have access to them all of the time.
Here, they have the savvy to know their patch. They know which horses are the risky ones, they know about the river. They go and look at the river, but it holds no intrigue at all, because it is just there. There is plenty of opportunities of places they could go and drown! There is a cliff right outside the back where they could fall off. There is a multitude of dangerous things, that they could kill themselves on, but you see, they don’t. Because they’ve always been there.
But if I take them into a town, it is a total nightmare! They have no traffic sense at all. I really stress about that. I watch little kids cycle down the pavement on one of those little tricycles, and I will think, ‘Oh, my God. That child is going to get run over!’How irresponsible to let that little child do that’, but it is just the other way around, isn’t it? My son spends many happy hours sitting down by the river, setting little bits of hay on fire. I’m absolutely sure he is never going to become an arsonist! It is learning; they learn common sense, they learn about nature.
On Imparting Local Knowledge
Nowadays you get sent a map of your farm, but they have none of the old names of the places. I spend a lot of the time speaking to the kids, and teaching them these names, saying ‘Right, we are going to take the sheep up to Round Hill’. Quite often these place names relate to things and people who have gone before, and I think it is good to remember them. It would be a shame if that knowledge was lost.
It is that nice feeling, that you are doing exactly the same thing that people have always done. On a farm like ours, we don’t have boundaries, so the sheep have a kind of homing instinct, that keeps them on the right patch of the hills. You breed the sheep, and when you die, or when you leave, the sheep stay. The sheep don’t belong to you really, you have them for a little while, you are looking after them for the next generation.
Disclaimer – I was sent a copy of Amanda’s book to review on this blog.
Photographs copyright of Amanda Owen.
Updated on July 30, 2014
For many, Bonfire night is eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed. Some younger or more noise sensitive children find it overwhelming, loud and downright scary. In the run up to the 5th November, start to prepare your child for the big bangs and whistles.
Talk about Noise – and Make some Noise
Talk about animals that are loud, and those which are quiet. Play at being quiet as a mouse, and loud as a DINOSAUR. Get your child to ROAAAAAAAAAAR like a lion, and roar back. Let the child bang on some pots with a wooden spoon, and band the pot lids together.
Think about getting the child some ear protectors, and let him or her try them out, while banging on pots. Does that make a difference? Is it less noisy, less scary?
Explain How Fireworks are Made
Here are a couple of good videos about explosions and fireworks (remember to put the volume down!)
Talk about Safety
For a lot of kids, it is the worry that something will go wrong that is scary, so talk about all the safety features that you have in place. If you planning to attend a community fireworks display, try and go a few hours earlier so that you can point out how far away the spectators have to stand, and what safety precautions are already in place.
If you are having a party at home, get your child involved in the preparations. Read the Safety Tips here and discuss how to make your display safe.
Have Fun on a Small Scale
You don’t have to go to a big display. Stay home, get a couple of packets of sparklers, light the BBQ and toast some marshmallows. If the fireworks being let off in the neighbourhood are scary, get the ear defenders on.
Be Prepared Call it Off
It is not the end of the world if you don’t go to the Firework display, or if you spend Bonfire Night at home. Download or rent a film that your child would really like to see (or go to the cinema!), get the popcorn, close the curtains and have a cuddle on the sofa. Your child may well feel more confident next year, especially you let them know that their fears and worries are being taken seriously.