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.