Saturday, December 31, 2011

Aspire to be a better parent, and you will be



It’s New Year’s Eve and this time every year we party like it’s 1999 and the next morning decide to make resolutions to be a better person for the year ahead.
I don’t really “do” resolutions. It seems to me that they are always made to be broken and that the really important ones should be thought of all year through, not just on January 1.
But with a new year ahead, it’s natural to have hope and optimism. 
Everyone can remember a “bad” year that they have had in the past where one horrible thing after another occurred in their life.
So we start 2012 with hope that it will be a good one, and this is where parenting resolutions – let’s call them aspirations instead can help.
The following words of wisdom I found written on the back of a bookmark printed by Just Kids, an early childhood organisation in Parramatta Park.
If I had my child to raise over again,
I’d finger paint more often and point the finger less.
I’d do less correcting and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious and seriously play.
I’d run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging and less tugging.
I would be firm less often and affirm much more.
I’d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I’d teach less about the love of power and more about the power of love.
To add to this are some of my personal aspirations which you may also recognise in your family life:
I will yell less often, and listen more.
I will read Hairy Maclary at bedtime, even though I’ve read it 50 times before.
I will cut up your dinner, even though you can probably do it yourself.
I will let you watch ABC4Kids, but I’ll watch it with you and we’ll dance together.
I will rock you to sleep, even though my arms are aching.
I will let you fill up your room with box constructions, even though I find them messy.
I will be a good role model and stop swearing in front of you.
I will try hard to stop saying “I’m busy” when you need me.
I will toilet train you.
I will not think about the housework when I’m snuggling with you.
I will continue to say “I love you” many times a day.
I will care less about the small stuff.
I will take more photos and videos of you.
I will allow you to express a range of emotions without putting a good or bad tag on them.
I will try to be more patient.
I will not say “stop crying” when you are upset and need to express your emotions.
I will not say “shut up” when you talk non-stop.
I will try to be more organised.
I will try to take each moment as it comes and not get worked up about you peeing on the floor, drawing with pen on the couch/quilt/floor/walls, or screaming at the dinner table.
I will try to be more tolerant of the chaotic times.
Being a better mother or father or grandmother or aunt or sibling  of a child is something you won’t give up on, you’ll always strive to do better.
So may 2012 be a year where all families connect, love and prosper with good health and happiness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Are we there yet?



Road trips with children don’t have to be a painful experience
So Christmas is just around the corner and many families will be packing the car full of presents to travel to family in other far flung places (that is, if you haven’t made plans to fly there instead).
Road trips when you’re 22 and carefree are fantastic because you can stop where and when you want and there’s no stress about where you eat and sleep each night.
But add a child (or children) to this scenario and you’ve got a full-scale operation complete with contingency plans, accommodation bookings and a boot load of “equipment”.
For those of you taking long road trips with children this year, I’ve compiled a list of ideas they may prevent you tearing your hair out at the end!
* Get the car serviced before your go to make sure it’s roadworthy and so you don’t have any unexpected breakdowns. Do the same for your tyres.
* Take rubbish bags for rubbish or car sickness, and some zip-lock bags for keeping souvenirs, toys or for snack packs.
* Take spare batteries for iPods, handheld games, etc.
* Take a small first aid kit, tissues, wet wipes, spare toilet paper and anti-bacterial gel.
* Rolls of masking tape can keep kids amused for ages as they mark out their territory in the back seat.
* If travelling at night, take a book light or small torch so children can read or play after dark.
* Make an enlarged copy of the route map and cover with clear contact paper. Let the kids mark the route and discover on their own “Are we there yet?” Get them to identify landmarks on the way.
* Try story CDs or podcasts of classic children’s literature read by actors. Local libraries have them to hire and it will entertain everyone including the driver.
* Take favourite music to listen to including children’s choices and a lyric sheet so they can sing along. You can also get your kids to create their own “mix tape” of favourite songs.
* Hands-on toys and art projects with washable crayons, stickers and felt kits will keep young children amused, and to limit the mess give them large placemats to put on their laps.
* There are plenty of mini board games in toy shops and department stores from checkers to snakes and ladders, and most have magnetic pieces so they don’t fall off the board.
* Card games are good for older children.
* Show a movie on a portable DVD player.
* Keep babies amused with cloth books, dangly toys, soft cuddly toys and plastic mirrors.
* Start your journey after a good night’s sleep and breakfast. Some parents swear by the early morning start but from my experience, this only works if you can get your child to the car without waking them. Otherwise, you end up throwing their sleep routine out the window.
* Stick to the same routines as home and take lunch at the usual time as well as regular stops for breastfeeding, nappy changes or toilet breaks, as well as a driver reviver.
* Take lunch breaks near parks or playgrounds so the children can let our their pent-up energy.
* Take plenty of snacks and finger foods such as fruit, sandwiches and muesli bars, as well as water but not orange juice as this is notorious for making young kids carsick.
* During night drives, simulate bedtime by putting children into their pajamas and share a story or book.
* Long periods of confinement and constant car motion will make most children under three very sleepy, so expect restless babies at night.
* Reward patience and good behaviour. Some parents hand out extra pocket money or some start with a set amount and then deduct money for each squabble they have. You could also stash a bag of sugar-free sweets in the glovebox and hand them out for good behaviour.
* With a carload of kids, try changing seats at regular intervals for a change of scenery.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The curse of Christmas shopping



Why do kids push all the wrong buttons at all the wrong times?
I still don’t know why I thought it was a good idea.
Perhaps it’s because I had my Mum with me as a kind of back-up should things go bad, and who doesn’t count on their Mum when you’re ready to have a mental breakdown?
Perhaps I was feeling a little anxious that it is getting close to Christmas and I hadn’t bought one gift?
Perhaps I just wanted a change of scenery and thought that this change of scenery might be a good thing for all of us?
But it wasn’t. It was a nightmare. And worst of all, I don’t think I have ever seen my children be so naughty in so many public places in their short little lives.
If you haven’t guessed already, I thought it would be a good idea to take my two children and my Mum to the big smoke for the whole weekend to shop till we dropped.
And when it was all over, I literally did drop into my husband’s arms pleading with him to pour me a big glass of wine and take over the parenting duties.
The weekend started out okay... well, apart from the youngest screaming for at least one hour of the car journey.
Once in the shopping centre, she continued screaming, which only made the older one scream too (why do kids have a fascination with high pitched noises?).
Department stores like Kmart turned them into monkeys wanting to climb the shelves, test out all the toys, open all the books and throw christmas baubles down the aisles.
Clothing stores were ideal for hide-and-seek which is normally fine if they leave the clothes alone. But not this time, as the youngest one (who I’m now calling Miss Firecracker) thought it would be fun to pull all the clothes off the racks and climb into the window display.
The eldest one joined in the hype and decided to lock herself and her sister in a change room.
“Great,” I thought, “I wonder if I can sneak out and leave them there for a bit?”

Monday, December 5, 2011

No more sipping on air




There are plenty of sippy cups for toddlers on the market, some with retractable straws, some with leaky mouth pieces and others with lids that are tricky to attach correctly.
But I’ve found a sippy cup that is leak-proof, light weight, is easy to assemble, and has the unique feature of a weighted straw that moves with the liquid.
This means that whatever angle the cup is tilted, your toddler won’t be sucking on air, they will be able to drink every last drop.
The new Essential Sippy Cup from b.box is free of BPA, Phthalates and PVC, dishwasher safe, has a soft silicone straw, easy grip handle for little hands and a flip-top lid is very easy for children to use.
My daughter, aged 17 months, took to the cup with ease. She is not yet old enough to understand that some sippy cups have to be used on one side only, so she often has the spout on the wrong side and tries desperately to get a drink. 
However, the b.box essential sippy cup can be used from both sides as it is the straw that does all the work making sure it stays in the fluid and not in air.
The cup is available in apple, blueberry and raspberry, and is only $14.95.
After all the accidents we’ve had with other cups, I wish I had this sippy cup months ago – it’s a definite winner.
For more information visit www.bbox.com.au

Remember common sense?




Nurturing clear thinking needs to come from parents who set an example

I read a story this week in that left me wondering if parents today lack one basic skill: common sense.
The story was about how feuding parents are turning to the court system over petty disputes.
It described a number of bizarre cases arising in custody battles in the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court.
Examples of cases in recent months included a father ordered to put sunscreen on his children when they were outside; parents who were ordered not to allow their children to watch R-rated movies; parents who were ordered to toilet trained their children aged four and five; and a father told not to swear around his children.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these orders common sense?
My next thought is what kind of parents let their children watch R-rated movies anyway?
But rather than go into a rant about bad parents, I thought I’d write about why teaching common sense to our children is so important.
Common sense is defined as sound judgement based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.
We learn common sense through nature and nurture, but the best way children can learn is by parents leading by example.
However, if parents lack common sense, what hope have the children got?
Gertrude Stein once said “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense”.
She may well be right. Parents today receive such an overwhelming amount of advice from books, television, websites, magazines, doctors, educators, friends, family and so on, that they lose confidence in their ability to raise their offspring.
They no longer trust their own minds to make good decisions for the benefit of their children and turn to these endless sources for wisdom and encouragement.
Parents today need to feel that they are doing a good job, otherwise we would all start rocking in the corner in the foetal position.
Some people believe common sense is either something you’re born with or not and can’t be taught. I disagree.
Common sense tells us that we should foster our children’s common sense as they grow up, and cultivate their capacity to think clearly and act wisely.
But this isn’t something that they can learn overnight.
Studies have shown that children’s brains function differently to adults.
The frontal lobe is late to develop and it is this part of the brain that regulates aggression, long-term planning, mental flexibility, abstract thinking, the capacity to hold in mind related pieces of information and even moral judgement.
So it’s no wonder some kids appear to not think before they act, and why teenagers can make bad choices.
There are endless common sense lessons that we can teach our kids right from their first steps.
Some examples include teaching them about rules and boundaries such as why we don’t play soccer on the road and why we wear seatbelts, good manners such as why we should be quiet when someone else is talking, stranger danger, why we must brush our teeth everyday and why we don’t spend all our money on lollies.
Help your children learn from their mistakes, rather than avoid them, and talk to them about the choices they make.
Allow them to work out solutions to problems and eventually they will seek out problems to solve before the obstacles are in their path.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Potty talk



Toilet training toddlers doesn’t have to be a battle
ONE of the biggest challenges faced by parents of toddlers is toilet training.
I am a big advocate of early toilet training having had success with my first born who was toilet trained not long after she turned two and within two weeks (that is, two weeks of no daytime nappies, several accidents but eventual success), and now observing my second child who is 17 months of age and has been wearing her big sister’s knickers in the backyard and showing me that she has had an accident (early signs of becoming aware of her bodily functions).
It makes sense that the earlier a child has been introduced to the toilet or potty in a positive way, the less likely the child will be afraid to use it. 
Many parents choose to toilet train when they are ready instead of picking up signs from their child, but this may be too late and further problems can occur. Lazy parents be warned!
Research undertaken last year by the University of New South Wales showed that the window of opportunity to start toilet training is when they are aged 18 to 24 months.
Any later than 27 months can result in harmful effects on the child such as longer bed-wetting.
If you wait until the child is two, you may end up with more tantrums than success, because at this age they are engrossed in making their own decisions. They are very good at saying “no”. 
Also, some children become attached to their nappies as they offer security and familiarity. 
Signs that your child is ready for toilet training include: being able to walk and sit for short periods of time, becoming more independent, interested in watching others go to the toilet, has dry nappies for extended periods of time, tells you when they have done a poo or wee in their nappy, begins to dislike wearing a nappy, has regular bowel movements, can pull his or her pants up and down, can follow simple instructions such as “give Mummy the ball”, and shows understanding about things having their place in the home. 
Here are some tips that will help parents and toddlers during this stage in their development: 
* Introduce the potty into your daily routine by regularly taking them to the potty or toilet at appropriate times (ie. first thing in the morning, after a meal, before bedtime). 
* A child should never feel pressured as this may hinder their learning and understanding. The child may become afraid of making an accident and in turn find it hard to go to the potty if they are stressed or upset. Any stress within the family or major changes (such as moving house) could also set back potty training. 
* Give praise for small steps as your child learns and offer rewards such as a sticker. Go at your child’s pace and don’t expect too much. 
* Never punish your child for mistakes or accidents. This is a learning process and there will be good days and bad days. 
* Make sure your child is wearing something easy to get on and off, and easy to wash, such as training pants. Nappy-free time is also a good idea as nappies are essentially a portable toilet. 
* Watch your child for signs of wanting to use the toilet, such as expressions on their face or stopping very still for a moment, and guide them to the potty saying something like “let’s see if there’s a wee coming”. Eventually the child will understand and get there himself. 
* Toddlers find it hard to “hold on” for more than a few seconds, so if they tell you before they do a wee or poo, thank them and take them to the potty straight away. If they don’t make it in time, still offer praise.
* Don’t make a child sit on a potty for a long period of time as it will feel like punishment. 
* If your child is afraid of the toilet, you may need to flush it once they have left the room, then gradually offer them the opportunity to try flushing the toilet after it has been used. 
* Teach proper hygiene when using the toilet, including washing hands. Toddlers cannot wipe their bottom properly, so parents will need to do this until they get it right.
* Some children start hiding in strange places when doing a poo. There is no clear reason why they do this, but parents shouldn’t punish them, just make sure they have easy access to the potty. 
* Give your child plenty of water and fibre in their diet so they don’t become constipated. 
* It is very normal for toddlers to be fascinated by their own poo and many will put it on their hands and spread it around like playdough. While this is unpleasant to deal with, your child is not trying to upset you so don’t punish them. 
* Make it clear to your child that you will help them in the middle of the night if they wake up needing to go to the toilet. 
* Children are often busy with what they are doing and don’t always notice that their wee or poo is coming until it happens. 
It is a big task for a toddler to learn to control their bowels and bladder. Children become toilet trained at various ages. Some are ready at 18 months, some take a lot longer. 
Even if your child uses the toilet or potty during the day, it’s not time to throw away the nappies as night-time training may be as late as six years. 
Above all, toilet training is a big deal for a child so if you celebrate it the transition will be much easier for both of you. 
A good place to go for further tips and toilet training aids is: www.pottytraining.com.au

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Letters from Santa



If you’ve got children who are desperately trying to be good before Christmas, there are some great websites to help you get in the spirit of the season
With only 43 days until Christmas, I’ve found some fun ways to make this year’s event even more memorable, and particularly fun for the digital generation.
NorthPole.com presents an animated village where each house offers something new.
There are dozens of games, activities, recipes, weather station, e-cards, letters to Santa, freebies, crafts, stories and lots more.
This is a great place for kids who are bored during the holidays, but probably the best feature is the personalised Christmas stories that you can print featuring your child’s name.
SantaTelevision.com has short videos of real life at the Santa Claus’ Village at Rovaniemi in Lapland, as well as footage of the Northern Lights, Christmas around the world, places to see in Finland and more.
This site shows Santa in his everyday life, with the reindeers and elves helpful for kids who are unsure if he’s real or not.
There are also lots of links to associated sites such as Santagreeting.net where you can order an official letter from Rovaniemi, Santa Claus’ home town at the Arctic Circle.
SantaClausHouse.com, based in Alaska, is another site where you can get a letter from Santa, and each letter includes a keepsake photo of Santa, Santa’s Good List sticker, Santa dollar, and stamped with an “official mail” seal and North Pole postmark.
This site has been sending letters for almost 60 years, putting smiles on the faces of nearly two million children all over the world.
Letters are mailed to arrive just in time for Christmas, but you need to order by November 25.
They are available in 25 different formats for boys, girls, pets, grown-ups, couples, baby’s first Christmas, and much more. 
There are also plenty of sites offering emails from Santa, but I personally think a letter in the mail is far more special for a child.
If you want to teach your kids about the history of Santa Claus, as well as traditional activities, then visit StNicholasCenter.org where you will find crafts, printables, recipes, stories, games and lots of culture. 
I particularly liked the section on Christmas traditions from more than 30 different countries.
How would your child like to see a video of Santa personally welcoming your child, congratulating them for being well behaved and hints at what special treat might be under the Christmas tree?
PortableNorthPole.tv asks you a few questions about your child and then produces an adorable video.
SantaClausLive.com promotes holidays to Finland to meet Santa Claus in person.
Since most of us are staying down under for Christmas, there is an interesting Santa Cam which starts on December 1, where you can see inside and outside of Santa’s office as they prepare for Christmas.
For lots of laughs, go to ElfYourself.jibjab.com where you can upload pictures of yourselves that are turned into dancing, singing elves.
You can create up to five elves, choose from numerous dance styles and then email the final video to friends and family.
AKidsHeart.com has a multitude of Christmas themed games, printables and more. Click on “Holidays”, then “Christmas” to get to the right section.
Then on Christmas Eve, don’t forget to log onto NoradSanta.org to track Santa’s journey around the world.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Minor meltdowns



Are you dealing with toddler tantrums? Try these tricks to tame your tot
My youngest stomps her feet, lets out an ear-piercing scream and then throws her body on the floor in a rage.
She’s having a tantrum, and since I can say I’ve “been there, done that”, it doesn’t faze me quite as much as it did with my first born.
But that doesn’t mean tantrums are just something to get used to, because there are many differences between one toddler and the next and it’s these differences that can leave some parents tearing their hair out and others smiling as if they have been given a secret recipe for taming their child.
Toddlers are extremely self-absorbed, developing their own personalities and learning about how the world works.
Tantrums are the most common way for a toddler to let out their anger, frustration, fear, jealousy or other similar feelings.
Often tantrums come from being unable to do something that they can’t yet do, such as dress themselves, or being prevented from having or doing something, such as getting a sweet treat from the supermarket.
Toddlers don’t have the inner strength that adults have to be able to cope with stress and frustration, even if it appears to be over something very trivial.
They also don’t often have the words to express what they need or want, so this is where parents need to get down at their level and show a lot of patience.
Young children often learn that parents will give in to what they want if they carry on long enough, so do not give in.
If your toddler learns that tantrums are having an effect on your behaviour towards them, they will end up throwing deliberate tantrums well into their fourth and fifth years to get whatever they want.
Say “no” and give them a reason why you are saying no, such as “You can’t have an iceblock because it’s almost time for dinner”.
Also remember that saying “maybe” means “yes” to every child, no matter what age they are!
Try to distract your toddler by giving them something else to do.
Ask them to make an important decision so they feel valued, such as “Shall we have a banana or watermelon for morning tea?”
Quite often the easiest way to stop a minor tantrum is to ignore them. But if tantrums happen often, think about what might be stressing your child. 
Is it because your child seeks attention, is tired, hungry, unwell or are there changes in routine such as starting childcare, or a new baby in the family?
Is your life so busy that you find it easier to give in every time your child has a tantrum?
If this is the case, then your child has learnt that tantrums are the best way to get what they want so they will continue with this type of behaviour.
To avoid tantrums, make sure you spend regular one-on-one time with your child. It’s a simple fact that if you give a child enough attention, they don’t need to misbehave to get your attention in the first place.
Other ways to avoid tantrums include putting things that your child wants, but cannot have, out of sight; go on outings after sleep time but not when your child is hungry; sticking to a routine, especially with meals and sleep times; and make sure there are lots of positive, fun times in your child’s day.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When girls play with trucks and boys wear tutus



While we all aim to let kids be kids, it’s important not to influence them with gender stereotypes
Before I had children I hoped I would one day have a daughter.
Having come from a family of mostly boys, I worried I would end up with a football team, and no opportunity to indulge in playing Barbies, and become a “ballet mum”.
However, why should I have worried about these things, when playing with dolls and dancing is perfectly fine for boys as well as girls?
Now I’ve got two daughters who love pink, dolls, dancing and all things girlie, and I’m clearly guilty of gender stereotyping.
It worries me that I’m not passing on a message of equality between the sexes.
Children learn gender stereotypes from adults, the media, religion, toys, clothes, books and their peers.
Right from the start, parents are painting the nursery in blue or pink, and from then on the gender differences carry on throughout their childhood.
Finding gender neutral clothes and toys is not always easy, but what we can do as parents is choose how we act and behave.
We can behave like the stereotypes and act out gender roles in relationships, or we can challenge our children to view their parents as equals.
For example, if Dad does some of the cooking, then his son will see that it is a perfectly normal thing to do.
This is a huge challenge for my family as I do tend to follow the traditional housewife stereotype while my husband is the breadwinner (although before kids both of our careers were of equal importance).
I try to provide a variety of toys for my daughters from the traditional dolls and dress-ups, to blocks, Lego, cars and trains, but it is fascinating the way children have a natural inclination to follow gender specific pursuits.
For example, my daughter’s best friend is her next door neighbour Charlie, aged 5.
They play lots of role-playing games and while Charlie wants to be a dinosaur or an astronaut on a rocket ship, Laura wants to play mummies and babies.
What’s nice is that they compromise and play both games.
So if your daughter wants to ride a motorbike, or your son wants to wear a tutu, it’s okay, and it’s not going to cause them long term damage. 
In fact, it may well be healthy as boys who play with dolls will learn to be more nurturing and verbally expressive, while girls who kick a soccer ball around will learn spatial skills and confidence.
Although we want our children to feel free to express who they are and follow whatever interests them, we also have a duty to protect them from potential backlash.
A boy wearing a pink hat to school may be teased by his peers, while a girl who cuts her hair really short may be shunned by her friends.
Finding a balance is certainly not easy.
In recent news we’ve seen the Canadian parents who decided not to share the sex of their newborn, named Storm, as “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation”.
And in Stockholm, Sweden, a preschool has been carefully planned to make sure the children don’t fall into gender stereotypes.
From staff who avoid using the words “him” or “her”, to the colour and placement of toys, the preschool is on a mission to break down gender roles.
While these are extreme cases, the problem children face is that gender expectations are firmly rooted in our culture.
With this in mind, the best way to parent boys and girls is to counteract the negative messages that society sends them.
Girls need to learn that there is more to life than meeting a prince, that dump trucks are cool, that maths and science can lead to great careers, that while it’s okay to be pretty ad nurturing, you can also be strong and smart, and that no one is allowed to hit them ever.
Boys need to learn that it is okay to cry and express your emotions, that it’s okay to like flowers, pretty colours and cute furry animals, that they can play with dolls, that they can be stay-at-home fathers, that women are people not objects, that while it’s okay to be strong, you can also be nurturing, and that violence is not acceptable ever.

Monday, October 31, 2011

No cotton wool here



Give your kids good old fashioned fun and adventure that’s more than just camping and biscuits
What do Bert Newton, Jamie Durie, Peter Garrett, Dick Smith and Sir Jack Brabham have in common?
They were all Cub Scouts in their younger years.
Last week I wrote about the importance of children learning life skills such as self-defence, but just as important is also getting kids outdoors.
There have been many articles written about how today’s children are wrapped in cotton wool, or being watched over by helicopter parents, and this can cause any number of problems.
Parents are so worried about their child’s self-esteem that they praise them continuously, won’t let them make mistakes and do everything for their children from tutoring at the age of six to taking down the back yard swing after one knee scrape.
However, studies have shown that this can lead to your children becoming less resilient, have an inflated sense of their abilities and unable to cope with failure.
If we worry about our children constantly, we are actually raising them to be anxious and unadventurous.
Then what sort of world would we live in without girls like Jessica Watson, indigenous role models like Tania Major, sporting heroes like Casey Stoner and Lleyton Hewitt, and Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Mark Donaldson all of whom have be awarded Young Australian of the Year.
In my circle of friends, I see this trend swinging back to the old days as parents give their children the room to explore, fight their own battles between friends and siblings, ride their bikes to school (on their own) and let their adventurous spirit run free.
Another way to get kids to become adventurous (and away from the screens the gadgets) is to join the Scout Association (and its sister association Girl Guides).
Run entirely by volunteers, Scouts and Guides offer young people friendship, fun and adventure, as they have done for the past 100 years.
The Association’s fundamental aim is to encourage and promote the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual development of young people.
It achieves this through progressive self-education programs which focus on initiative, teamwork and co-operation, as well as community spirit and service.
Ultimately, children who are actively involved in Scouts or Guides develop leadership skills and the opportunity to achieve goals, improve communities, grow in confidence and develop skills to be their best.
Scouts is open to both boys and girls and is divided into age groups with Joey Scouts for age 6-8; Cub Scouts age 7-11; Scouts age 10-15; Venturer Scouts age 14-18; Rovers age 17-26; and Adult Leaders.
Since 1996, all members of Girl Guides have been referred to as Guides. 
The younger girls (formerly Gumnut Guides aged 5-6 years, Brownie Guides aged 7-11 years, Girl Guides 11-14 years, Ranger Guides 14-18 years and Rangers 18-25 years) wear the same uniform as their older sisters and do similar activities at an age-appropriate level.
Children and young adults aged from 6 to 25 can join at any stage of Scouting and participate in a program that encourages them to grow through adventure by experiencing new challenges, making new friends, building confidence, taking responsibility for themselves, and being provided with opportunities to explore their own abilities and interests.
All adult members who are involved in the Scout Movement undertake an extensive background history check and are required to be a holder of a blue card issued by the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian.
For more information visit www.scouts.com.au or www.girlguides.org.au

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Grateful for small things



It’s simple daily rituals that really enrich a child’s life and happiness
In the past couple of weeks my family has adopted a little ritual that I thought probably wouldn’t last, but it has become an integral part of our day, improving our children’s behaviour and making us all feel more loved, more appreciated and more in touch with one another.
But before I divulge this little gem of an idea, I was inspired to write this column after reading a news story last week entitled “Dads missing out on important family time”. 
Apparently a report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that dads who worked longer hours were less likely to make it home for the evening meal, and therefore missing out on precious bonding time.
Sitting around the dinner table with the children is an integral part of family life and has been for many generations.
With technology encroaching on our face-to-face time, I have no doubt that many families eat their evening meal in front of a computer, iPad or television, and quite often in separate rooms.
But how is that engaging with your loved ones?
Figures show that nearly half of fathers with partners do not make it home for dinner every night when their children are aged 2-3, while more than a third are at the dinner table only a few times a week.
The figures improved as the children got older as 65 per cent of kids aged 8-9 had their dads home for dinner.
There have been other studies of this nature in the past and the results have been the same.
Families with older teenagers eat fewer dinners together than those with young children, Late working hours, long commutes and other conflicting activities (such as taking children to sports) are to blame.
However, according to Dr Timothy Sharp, in his book 100 Ways to Happy Children, eating together as a family can have extraordinary benefits.
Various studies have found that children of families that eat together regularly are:
- less likely to use drugs, alcohol and tobacco
- more likely to eat their vegetables, and have better nutrition generally
- less likely to suffer from depression later in life
- less likely to become anorexic
- more likely to do well at school.
Dr Sharp says this does not mean that eating together causes these outcomes, but there is a strong correlation between eating together and whole range of very positive behaviours and outcomes.
“Eating together provides nourishment and provides a sense of emotional connection, ritual and the opportunity to share information,” he said.
For many families eating together every night is not a realistic expectation, so it’s important that parents work hard to ensure they spend quality family time together at other times during the week.
My family have always enjoyed our evening meals together at the table, and although the television is on most nights, we regularly hit the mute button.
But here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for... we’ve been practising gratitude.
Sound cheesy? Perhaps it is, but we all feel so much better for doing so.
Miss Five has become very eager to participate each night, declaring all the things that happened in her day that she is grateful for, then both my husband and I express our gratitudes.
Sometimes it’s as simple as being grateful it didn’t rain so the nappies would dry on the line, or something deeper relating to health, relationships, finance or family.
In this busy world we live in where we are constantly trying to be better at everything, earn more money and be more successful, we get stuck in the cycle of wanting more, and forget the gifts of what we have right now.
By eating together every night, and practising gratitude, I’m in no doubt that our measure of happiness is growing each day.

"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but gratefulness that makes us happy."
- David Steindl-Rast

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A tough decision



How do you know when you’re family is complete?
A doctor once said to me: “If you have two, why not three? And if you have three, then you may as well have four!”
He, of course, has four children and adores kids, but his words have always stuck in my head when it comes to how many children is the right amount for us.
My littlest one is now 15 months and a few people have already asked me if we’re going to try for a boy (since we have two daughters).
But my husband and I are undecided.
We’d love to have a son, and would also be happy with three girls – after all, pink is my favourite colour.
But after a rough night of no sleep, I’m in the “no more, no way” camp, but a Huggies advertisement pulls me back to the “awww, perhaps just one more” side.
It’s a tug-of-war between my heart strings and precious sleep and so far there is no clear winner.
Sometimes the decision seems so easy. I had an intense longing for another baby after my first, but now I’m not so sure.
Having my second child was easier than I expected but I think that’s because there’s a big gap between the baby years.
Despite this, I often feel like I’m in a constant state of exhaustion.
I ask myself: “Do I have the energy for another two years of pregnancy, breastfeeding, nappies and sleep deprivation? Will I have the energy to do another set of homework, another bedtime story, another ballet run, and can I afford to feed another hungry teenager?”
Many women will cringe at the thought of doing it all again, whereas others have made up their minds even before they have their first child.
I asked a few friends and their answers were all different.
“I’ve been feeling clucky for so long now that I knew I wasn’t finished, and luckily my husband felt the same way,” said a mum who is pregnant with her sixth baby (yes, number six, that’s not a typo).
“I’ve got three boys and I’m really happy, so even though it would be lovely to have a little girl, I don’t think we’ll go again, and my age is a factor as it might be a lot harder for me to conceive,” said another mum, aged 36.
“My husband had a vasectomy after our last baby, so he made the decision for us, because I would probably keep on having more babies,” said one mum of three children, two boys and a girl.
I have plenty of friends who have their pigeon pair of boy and girl, and plan on having no more, but there are LOTS of couples who continue to conceive to get the gender they want. 
I once met a woman with four sons, who was pregnant, and with an expression of great relief announced she was expecting a girl.
I wonder how she would have reacted if she was expecting another son, or perhaps twins!
Sometimes the decision is completely out of your control.
Fertility, health, age and financial stability all contribute either directly or indirectly to your decision.
You might also worry about how much time you can devote to each child, the growing piles of laundry, unending housework, excessive noise, sibling fights, zero personal time, the logistics of getting three or more in the car and actually going somewhere, grocery shopping... see, now I’m talking myself out of it again.
The one thing that I know for sure is that you can’t always decide these things for yourself, quite often nature has a way of making that choice for you.
If you’re thinking about having another baby, or have three kids already, check out www.havingthreekids.com – it’s one of the funniest blogs I’ve ever read about this very topic.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Granny nanny



Should grandparents be paid for babysitting?
I have been very fortunate in the past couple of months to have my parents babysit my children for various lengths of time.
And although I’m taking full advantage of having family support it got me thinking: should grandparents be paid for their childcare services?
Grandparents across the country are saving their children millions of dollars each year by taking on childcare duties for no payment.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most commonly used type of child care is “informal” care which refers to non-regulated care by older siblings, grandparents, other relatives or other people such as friends, neighbours, nannies or babysitters. 
Grandparents are most likely to take care of younger children aged 0-2 and 3-5 years, but it was also the most popular choice for school aged children.
However, when your own mother or mother-in-law is taking care of your child, it can raise all kinds of emotional and logistical issues, so here’s a quick guide on how to make it work.
1. You’re still the boss: It may seem strange laying down the law with your own parents, but make sure they understand and are willing to co-operate with your rules about things such as what the children eat, sleep, television, junk food, outings, routines and appropriate discipline. But be flexible as too many rules will make them feel that you don’t trust their judgment.
2. Have faith in their ability as parents (after all, they raised you). Don’t worry about the small stuff, as long as the kids are alive, safe and happy, that’s all that matters.
3. Don’t involve the children in your battles: If you have relationship issues with your parents, the last thing you should do is put your kids in the middle of a decades-old power struggle. 
4. Keep them up to date: Before leaving your children with their grandparents, make sure you keep them informed on anything that is going on that may affect your child’s mood or health. This might include sleep issues, signs of an oncoming cold, recently developed fears (such as a fear of dogs or loud noises), separation anxiety, or trouble at school or with siblings.
5. Don’t make assumptions: Grandparents have their own life too, and if you continually assume they will be available for childcare duties, they will feel like they are being exploited leading to resentment.  
If grandparents provide regular ongoing care, then they may wish to be paid for their services.
Be sure to discuss openly how much to pay, how much notice to give in the event of a cancellation, what if the child or grandparent gets sick, and who organises and pays for activities such as classes or outings.
If grandparents provide regular care for their grandchildren, they may be eligible for Government assistance (visit Centrelink for more information).
If you are fortunate to have your parents or in-laws who want to regularly take care of your children, it can be immensely beneficial for everyone.
You get comfort knowing your children are with people who love them, and the children and their grandparents will develop a loving bond, and someone else they can turn to when they need extra support.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hidden from sight


Your child may have an eye condition and not even know it
Milestones in a child’s life are often accompanied by a trip to a health professional.
Immunisations require a visit to the doctor, new teeth trigger a trip to the dentist and as they get older various tests are undertaken to make sure our children are developing normally.
It is obvious when a child needs extra support, such as speech therapy or if they have hearing loss or a physical impairment.
But what about a child’s sight?
As far as I recall, my daughter’s sight was tested when she got her four-year-old immunisations but it is was simply looking at a wall chart and recognising animal pictures.
Fast forward 18 months to last week when I happened to go to an optometrist for a routine eye examination.
I had always assumed that if there was a problem with my daughter’s eye sight, she would be able to tell me, and so far she has never complained about her eyes, or showed other symptoms such as headaches or squinting.
So perhaps it was instinct, or just pure luck, that I decided to book her in for a check-up, believing that the optometrist would say her eyes are fine.
Instead, she was diagnosed with astigmatism in both eyes.
Astigmatism is a structural problem of the eye, and it is fairly common.
The cornea of the eye is normally a spherical shape, but if you have astigmatism, it is curved into an oval shape.
The cornea needs to be a perfect curve in order to bend (refract) light properly.
Astigmatism causes light to bounce unevenly off the flat and steep curves of the oval shape, and hit more than one focal point in the eye.
This impairs the ability to focus, and causes blurred vision.
Symptoms of astigmatism are blurred or distorted vision at all distances, sensitivity to light, headaches, excessive squinting and eye strain.
Most people with astigmatism are born with it, but the awareness of it increases with age. This means that children with astigmatism are unaware that what they are seeing is not normal.
Reading and concentrating at school may be affected if a child has undiagnosed astigmatism, but the long term problems are even greater.
Left untreated, a child with astigmatism may develop amblyopia, or “lazy eye”, in which one eye drifts inward or outward and may stop seeing.
Amblyopia occurs because the brain “turns off” the eye, not because the eye lacks the ability to see.
If amblyopia occurs due to astigmatism, irreversible functional blindness may occur if it isn’t corrected.
If the eyes do not work together properly, depth perception is also affected.
Astigmatism can be treated by wearing prescribed glasses or contact lenses, and if detected early in childhood, it can be corrected.
My experience has taught me that children really should have regular eye tests with an optometrist (don’t just rely on reading an eye chart on a wall).
In the UK, it is recommended that babies have an eye test soon after they are born, again at six weeks, a comprehensive test at the age of four, and then every year after up to the age of 16. Adults should have a test every two years.
We should also be following this standard because good eye sight is so important.
Thankfully my daughter is excited about wearing her new pink glasses, though I’m sure the novelty will wear off. I’m just so thankful that we can help her now.


* You can read more about my daughter's new spectacles on my other blog!