Category Archives: Parenting

After school clubs – what’s your magic number?

After school clubs – what’s your magic number?

Our children spend at least six hours every day in school. We expect them to sit down in a classroom from an early age and learn. And once the school day finishes, the clubs begin.

Why do we do it?

To put it simply, it’s about getting their bums off seats. Sports activities allow our children to let off steam and learn new skills in a safe, structured environment. Social groups, like the Scout movement, encourage independence and ingenuity outside the home.

How much is too much?

Recently, I realised that after-school clubs were starting to dominate our lives. Like a lot families, we’d started off with just one activity per child each week. But this had started to creep up, until we only had Mondays and Fridays free each week. The balance felt wrong.

A quick straw poll amongst my friends told me that we all feel the same. Our older children are doing 2-3 activities per week, our youngest 1-2.

Is that too much? Maybe not if your children are doing their activities at the same time, in the same place. But what if they’re all in different places, at different times? That could mean 4 or 5 different seperate activities to get to each week. It’s a lot of rushing about, not to mention expensive.

Is that ok?

The answer is different for everyone.

For our family, three afternoons full of activities and clubs were too much. We were neglecting some of the other important things in life: meals eaten at the same table, time to read together and complete homework. Calm bedtimes. And most important of all: the chance to relax and just be.

After school clubs: what's your magic number?

How to do you find a balance?

First, prioritise your children’s activities.

Do they really love them all, or is there a sense of obligation? It’s good to teach your children commitment, but equally it’s also nice to allow them room to breathe. Is there one activity where everyone always drags their heels, but you feel you ought to do? Talk about it and reach a compromise.

For us, that was swimming. It’s an important life skill that they need, but they never want to go. We now go on a Sunday morning. I’ve always fought against clubs at weekends, but we’ve all agreed this won’t be forever. Once they’ve learned to swim confidently, they can choose to stop if they like. It eats into the weekend, but we all go together and combine it with a nice lunch in town. They’re learning, but we’re also getting to spend time together as a family – much better than rushed afternoons at the pool.

Remember that clubs get more serious as time goes on

Lots of activities require more commitment from your child as they get older. Football, martial arts and dance often start small, but become full-scale commitments over time. If your child has a passion for something, encourage them, but remember, that other things may have to fall by the wayside.

After school clubs – what’s your magic number?

Team up with other parents

If your children desperately wants to do something, but you can’t make it work with your schedule, team up with other parents. Share lifts, or take it turns to look after younger siblings. If you need to keep costs down, how about meeting up for more informal activities with friends? Football or a scavenger hunt in the park.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the neighbours

Try not to be influenced by what so-and-so’s child is doing. Some families relish being busy all the time, others don’t. Do what works for you as a family, and no one else. If this means teaching your children to swim yourself at weekends, or restricting sports to a casual kick about in the park, then so be it.

Remember that down-time is an important activity in its own right

Never forget that. We expect a lot from our children. It’s essential that they have some time to themselves too. Time to just drift and do exactly what they want (even if that’s nothing). We shouldn’t be micro-managing every aspect of our children’s lives. They have the rest of their lives to be weighed down by schedules and commitments. Give them opportunities, but also give them the precious gift of freedom!

 So, what’s your magic number? I’d love to hear how you make it work. 

 

Why I miss the baby bubble

I miss the baby bubble

What do I mean by the baby bubble? Think of it as the first few years of a child’s life. The pre-school days. That period in your life where you live in a cocoon of damp curls, sticky little hands and wooden toys. The relentless, but joyful, time when your children look to you for their every need.

It’s incredibly hard work. Everything feels very intense and it’s possible to love it and hate it the same breath. It’s tempting to wish it away.

My children are now 8 and 6. I have well and truly left the baby bubble. I feel nostalgic and get a bit emotional when I see little babies. It’s not because I want another one. I don’t. It’s a feeling of wistfulness. A longing to go back in time and implore my younger self to make the most of it.

Picture the scene: you’re pushing your newborn around in a pram round the supermarket, a cross toddler attached like a limpet to your leg. You’ve already had a full day of it and it’s only 9am. An old lady will stop you: she’ll probably coo over your baby and tell you how quickly time will fly by. You’ll probably give a rigid grin and nod in agreement, whilst thinking time can fly just as quickly as it likes, thank you very much. 

But you know what? She’s right. Time does fly and before you know it your children will be growing like weeds, criticising your parking skills and making endless jokes about farting.

The bubble doesn’t pop suddenly overnight. It slowly deflates.

The change really comes when all your children are at school. When your children are at nursery or pre-school you’ve still got one foot in the baby camp. Once they’re at school all day you jump headfirst into a whole new stage of childhood.

Life gets much easier in some ways. You don’t have to cart round nappies or worry about the bedtime routine. Tantrums mostly get fewer and further in between. But in other ways it gets harder. Your children enter a whole new world. Your family is still at the centre of it, but it’s part of a larger, more confusing map. There are a whole new set of baffling hurdles to jump over, which can leave you longing for rhyme time and babyccinos.

Other people’s children. They always mixed with them at baby groups and nursery, but now your children spend six hours a day with them. You don’t get to cherry pick their friends for them anymore. At playgroup, you’ll probably try to keep them away from certain children. The one who always hits others over the head with a saucepan in the play kitchen. Once they get to school, they make their own decisions. And you might not like them. They might decide to be best friends with the saucepan child. It’s their choice.

They pick things up. When your children are little the knowledge and mannerisms they pick up come mainly from you and your family. As they get older, it changes – your little bubble has burst. This is an important part of growing up and it can be funny and wonderful. It can also be annoying and worrying. Inevitably they’ll see things you desperately wish they didn’t have to see. The baby years can make you a bit of unwitting control freak. Letting go can be tough.

It’s all part of growing up. But it’s hard. You feel desperately proud of them, but also like you want to gather them back into that cocoon and never let them out. It’s innocence versus experience. And my goodness I miss the innocence sometimes.

When my children are teenagers I’m sure I’ll look back and think about how easy the middle years were. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Parenting is a journey that never stops. Bringing up a child is like helping them build a boat for life. Every day you add a little more. Eventually you’ll help them launch off and you hope you’ve done enough to make their little vessel seaworthy.

I’m not trying to say the baby years aren’t hard. I know they are. Just remember that while the baby bubble might feel suffocating at times, it’s also glorious. Don’t wish it away.

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The first half-term

Peter and Jane

So, you’ve survived the first half-term. Your children are (hopefully) settled into school. You’re probably feeling tired, a bit battered but also elated to have the first holiday in sight. Maybe your child has just started in reception, or maybe you’re a seasoned pro. Whatever. The feelings are very similar.

Over the last seven weeks or so you’ll have…

Done over thirty school runs. That’s thirty mornings of cajoling your children into their shoes.  Then the challenge of actually getting through the front door with book bags, rucksacks and little furry key rings all present and correct. Walking to school down the same roads, seeing the same people but always talking about something new. Anything from what they’re up to that day to something that’s worrying them. Or maybe just a conversation about landing a probe on Mars or whether Darth Vader is really bad, or just misunderstood.

You’ll have experienced the delights of British autumn weather. Freezing in the morning, yet the playground’s a boiling cauldron by 3.15. Cue mummy lugging home everyone’s coats like a packhorse while crossly sweating into her new winter coat. You’ve probably been soaked to the skin at least once, and one of your children will certainly have jumped in a puddle and completely soaked their socks. I’m hoping you’re not the kind of person that packs spares either.

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Your child may have received their first reading book and you may have been introduced to the weird and wonderful world of Biff, Chip and Kipper. Or maybe your child hasn’t got a reading book yet. That’s ok – it’s pretty unusual to get one in the first half term of reception. You may have learnt that it’s best not to rush or be impatient when it comes to reading. Or maybe you haven’t, in which case you may be worrying about it. Don’t.

Learning to read

You’ll have washed a lot of school uniform. And possibly forgotten to wash some too. Some weeks, three sets of everything just isn’t enough and there’s a fair bit of last-minute sponging going on. Black marker pen, gravy, mud and weird unidentified stains – you’ll have got to know them all well.

You’ll have made over thirty lunches. And emptied them out again at the end of day (or the next morning, possibly, which is bad if you put a yoghurt in). Perhaps you’ve wondered what to put in them. The classic combo of sandwich, fruit, muffin and a fruit yo-yo never let me down. Or maybe you’ll have done hot lunches, in which case you don’t really have much of a clue how much they’ve eaten and just hope a vegetable has been consumed at some point along the line. You then probably end up cooking another hot meal in the evening just to make sure they have eaten a vegetable.

Yo yo bear lunch box

You’ll have learnt about your lack of control. Not that you want to control your children, but it’s hard letting go. If your child has started in reception, then you’ve had to learn how to step back and accept that your child can make their own decisions and choices while they’re at school. You may have freaked out about this a bit and shed a few tears. Even when your child isn’t in reception the same thing happens every September. During the holidays they’re with you and you’re in tune with everything they do. Once they’re back at school things are a bit of guessing game at times.

The first half term is all a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. You’re child may have struggled to settle into school and perhaps you have too. So, well done. Make of the most of the half term by doing as little as possible and recharging everyone’s batteries!

I fully admit that this post us heavily based on my own experiences! What have you learnt during the first half term? I’d love to know. 

I was kindly gifted some yo-yo bears and a lovely lunchbox by BEAR to help us enjoy our first few weeks back at school. 

Thoughtful and useful gifts for a new baby

Thoughtful and useful gifts for a new baby

I love buying presents for new babies. It’s a chance to buy something really special.

People always say that you don’t need to buy much for a new baby, and I have to say that I agree. Everyone’s different, of course, but tiny babies really don’t need very much other than warmth, love and clothes at first.

However, that doesn’t mean that the baby’s parents won’t appreciate a lovely gift. The baby won’t notice, but the parents will. Ideally, it needs to be something pretty and useful. Nothing too precious, but something a bit less mundane than the piles of newborn babygros they’ll already have. Pretty clothes are always tempting, but not always the most useful present.

Here are some of my favourite ideas…

Muslins…. You don’t see the point of these until you have a baby, when suddenly they become the most useful thing ever. Use them when feeding over your shoulder, to mop things up, as a sun shade or a blanket. They’re invaluable. I still have a few of mine knocking about and they’re surprisingly useful. If you can find some colourful or patterned ones, then they’re even better. I have recently started stock these beautiful woodland themed muslins. They’re the prettiest I’ve ever seen!

Woodland print muslins by Zoe Olivia Elsdon

A lovely book… The earlier you start reading to a baby, the better. Buying a book is a thoughtful present that will be cherished. I like to choose something that I remember from my childhood in a board book edition. Books by Janet and Alan Ahlberg, like Each Peach Pear Plum, always go down well.

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A homemade gift… either made by you or someone else. A crochet blanket or a knitted hat make wonderful presents and mean a lot. If you lack the time or inclination, buy something interesting and unique made by someone else! These soft, squishy rattles are hand-made in the UK and make a fun and unusual present.

Ice cream baby rattles

An eye-catching soft toy… Soft, pastel coloured bunnies look wonderful, but aren’t actually that interesting to a little baby. If you’re going to buy a cuddly toy, make it something eye-catching and bold that will capture the attention of those newly focusing eyes. Both of my children loved Lamaze toys and responded to them from an early age. You can hang them on a buggy and they’re just so useful.

Lamaze Freddie the Firefly

Vouchers… OK, maybe not as meaningful, but often the best solution. The parents get to choose exactly what to spend it on. Something for the baby, or maybe something for themselves. You can’t go wrong with John Lewis.

What are your favourite gifts for new babies?

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How to save money this summer

How to save money this summer

In the school holidays it’s hard to keep track of money. It’s not so much the big days out and holidays away – you can plan for them – it’s all the little things that quickly add up: trips to the cafe, ice creams, little treats here and there… and that’s before we’ve even thought about new school uniforms and two new pairs of shiny black shoes. It’s easy to end up completely penniless by the end of the holiday.

This year, I’m determined to keep a lid on the spending. If I’m careful, we can still have treats. Here are some easy ideas for how to save money this summer

Set a weekly budget for the little extras. This can be as much or as little as you like. Put it in a jar and plan things out with your children – it’ll help them learn and give them an idea how quickly money runs out! I wouldn’t expect the money in this jar to pay for big days out – it’s more of a fund for ice creams, comics etc. You do have to be quite disciplined to do this – make sure you have a plan for when the money runs out on a Monday afternoon!

Find as many inexpensive drop-in activities as you can. Where we live there are free drop-ins at the Cathedral twice a week with crafts and activities. We’re also heading to our local museum’s weekly craft sessions which cost £2 per child. Go and check out the noticeboards in your library or children’s centre, or follow local museums on Facebook.

Go to the park. A lot. Buy a flask or a insulted mug and take your coffee with you from home! Or make use of that useful free coffee from Waitrose if you happen to live near one.

Join in with the Big Friendly Read at your local library. Every summer libraries host a summer reading challenge – this year it’s got a bit of a Roald Dahl theme. The idea is to read a book every week for six weeks. Each time your child returns their book they get a special postcard to add to a special collector’s album. Some of them are even scented (don’t sniff the George’s Marvellous Medicine one too hard, it’s poisonous!).  It’s all completely free.

Crafting at home doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t need to buy lots of new craft supplies to make things fun. I’m saving as many junk modelling things as I can and keeping them in a box for the boys to help themselves. All they really ever want for their creations is sellotape, scissors and a box of crayons.

What are you favourite ways to save money this summer?

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When your child doesn’t talk

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When you become a parent for the first time, life becomes punctuated by lots of little milestones. Reassuring little beacons in what can otherwise be an exhausting and confusing landscape.

But what happens when your baby fails to reach one of those milestones? Today I’d like to share my experiences of delayed speech in young children. I hope that this will prove informative and reassuring for anyone going through the same situation.

Both of my boys had delayed speech and neither spoke clearly until they were over four years old. These days you’d never know they’d struggled, but it was a long journey. Here’s what I learnt along the way.

Try not to compare your child to other children. Trust your instincts. I eagerly waited for my first son to start talking, and got sick of people asking me if he was. By about 18 months his lack of speech became more and more noticeable. I was worried. I’d never done this before and everyone else’s child seemed to be talking so easily, babbling ‘Mama’ and more without hesitation. It’s hard not to feel like you’re doing something wrong. Try, whenever possible, to focus on your child. Are they responsive and able to communicate their needs to you without speech? Are they happy and generally well? If so, there’s unlikely to be much wrong.

Speak to your health visitor, nursery teacher or GP. If your child is under the age of two it’s unlikely that anyone will be very concerned by delayed speech. But it’s worth talking to your health visitor. One of the most useful things they can help you with is to arrange a hearing test. When my eldest was two and half, we had his hearing tested and it was found to be completely normal. As part of his hearing test, he had to respond to questions through actions – like using building blocks and colours – and it was reassuring that there were no concerns about his understanding and communication skills, even though he couldn’t actually talk, other than through certain limited sounds.

What’s wrong with my child? Probably nothing. There was nothing physically wrong with either of my children, but for some reason they just found talking incredibly difficult. With my eldest it was a classic case of delayed speech, whilst my youngest displayed disordered speech – he struggled to make the correct sounds and everything became very muddled. You can’t force change, and must be very, very patient. Eventually, with time and support, they will get there. Jumping to conclusions isn’t particularly helpful, especially when it will make you even more worried. You’d be surprised by what is considering ‘normal’ by speech therapists in young children.

Go to a speech and language drop-in. Our local children’s centre runs a speech and language drop in session, where you can call in with your child and speak informally to a speech therapist. This is the most common route to go down and it’s the best way, in my area at least, to get your child into the system. I took both my boys to one of these sessions, and then received a referral to have then individually assessed by a speech and language therapist at our local hospital.

Accept any help that’s offered. My eldest son’s delayed speech suddenly began to improve in the summer before he started school – it was almost as if a switch had been pressed in his brain. It all started to come together incredibly quickly. My youngest son’s speech problems proved a little harder to solve. He’d actually talked much earlier than his brother, but was displaying worrying signs of his speech actually deteriorating, rather than progressing. By the time he was getting close to starting school I decided to accept every bit of help that was on offer. This involved a course for me (very useful), weekly group sessions, one-on-one sessions with a speech therapist and, finally, a week of intensive speech therapy in the summer holidays. It was hard work, but it worked. By the time he started school he had come on in leaps and bounds – a total transformation over about six months. The therapists really did seem to unlock something in his brain, and for that I’m truly thankful. All of this help was provided by the NHS.

Learn a few tricks from the experts. One really useful bit of advice I learnt from the speech therapists is when struggling to understand what your child is trying to tell you, try not to respond by saying ‘I don’t understand you’. Children with speech difficulties often get very frustrated when you don’t understand them and often don’t want to repeat things. Instead, say to them ‘I’m sorry, my ears don’t always work properly, can you tell me that again?’. Another useful approach I learnt was to use puppets or toys to help your child to recognise correct models of speech. Take two toys, one says the word incorrectly and the other correctly. Ask your child to tell you which toy is right. We really did find this very useful and fun.

Patience, patience and more patience. In most cases, it’s as simple as that. I’m not saying it’s easy, and they were many, many times when I just wanted to wave a magic wand for my boys. But in the end they both got there, and these days you’d never know there’d been a problem. This isn’t because I didn’t anything amazing – it was all about taking deep breaths, accepting help when it’s offered and letting them get there in their own time.

I have written this post based on my own personal experiences. I am not an expert and all children are different. I hope, though, that this may help some people who are going through a similar experience. I read a lot online during my evenings of worry, and I’d have liked to have read something like this. 

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How to be a relaxed parent

How to be a relaxed parent

I have two children, aged five and seven. Ever since they were babies I’ve tried to be a relaxed parent. I say tried, but really it wasn’t a conscious decision – it was my instinctive response to becoming a mother.

So, what do I mean by relaxed parenting?

In a nutshell, it means don’t be afraid to learn as you go along. Nobody becomes an expert on parenting by reading hundreds of books, they learn through experience. Some of this is instinctive, some of it isn’t. Follow your instincts: you know your child better than anyone else. Sometimes you won’t know what to do, but most problems resolve themselves as quickly as they started, to be replaced by new questions and challenges.

Let your child lead the way, gently guided by you. And don’t be afraid to back off if things don’t work. When my children were little, everyone convinced me that the only way for children to learn to swim was to start early. I was swayed by this and signed my eldest up for lessons. We went, week after week. He really didn’t like it, and made little progress. I was torn between wanting him to be happy, and worrying that I was encouraging him to give up too easily. In the end, I chose to make him happy: we stopped lessons. Three years later we started again, when he was ready. This time round, things are so much better and I’m glad I let him lead the way.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you’re a parent to a young child, every little detail can feel like a big deal. I felt really guilty about the swimming, but in the end it didn’t matter. When they’re really young, it really isn’t worth doing things that make everyone unhappy. Take baby groups: if you like them and your child does too, then go and make the most of them. But if you don’t enjoy them, then simply do something else instead. Children don’t really interact that much with each other until they’re over a year old anyway. I liked to go to baby groups to chat to other mums, but I still remember how hard it was when nobody spoke to you. Try not to let it get to you. Playgroups tend to work better when your children are toddling and can interact more – there’s no need to go much before then (unless you really want to).

Don’t be too rigid. Find a simple daily routine that works for you, but don’t be afraid to loosen up. Sometimes children change overnight, and what worked one week won’t work the next. Relax, and try something new. Your routine will inevitably change over time and things can’t stay the same forever. And don’t be afraid to break your rules every now and again: the world won’t come tumbling down. Make the most of the freedom of early childhood.

And finally, remember that everyone else is making it up as they go along too. However together other parents may seem, the chances are they have no clue what they’re doing either. All you can do is learn from your child, learn from other parents and trust your instincts. Try not to compare yourself to anyone else – learn from them, yes, but remember to do what works for you.

This blog post (written by me) first appeared on the Organic Mama blog

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My half term survival list

Half term with the kids

It’s half term next week. If you don’t have children that means that you’ll be tripping over small people every time you go out. If you do have children, the same applies – except you’ll also be in charge of keeping them amused and happy for a week.

A half term holiday is a great chance for children to relax and kick back. But, there’s only so much relaxing and ‘unstructured time’ you can have. A bit of planning and herding is always required to keep everyone happy in this house.

Here are some tips for keeping everyone sane next week: 

Plan one or two big outings. The seaside, a castle or a trip to Legoland. It’s great to have a treat. But don’t overdo it. You don’t have to do something extraordinary everyday. You’ll be exhausted and bankrupt by the end of the week.

Find local activities to join in with. Museums, galleries, cathedrals and parks all usually organise some sort of holiday activities. Search out these events – they’ll give a bit of structure to your day and take the creative pressure off you for a while. I like to sign my boys up to craft activities at our local museum (which costs a few pounds and is fantastic value) and Ely Cathedral often has a free drop in session with things for children to do. The National Trust also offer fun activities for kids. I generally find out about these events through Facebook (the local paper tends only to tell you about things after they’ve happened). Make sure you’re following local museums and galleries for regular updates.

Plant some seeds. A cheap and cheerful activity that will keep everyone happy for a couple of hours. Go and buy the seeds and compost, choose some little pots. Then plant them. It really is as simple as putting a bit of soil in a pot, poking in your seed (perfect for little fingers), and watering it. If you keep them indoors, they’ll soon start growing. I recommend peas or beans – they’re big (you can’t accidentally drop a whole packet and lose them) and start growing really quickly.

Use public transport. A trip on a bus or a train is always popular with my boys. It doesn’t have to be a special steam train, any old train or bus will do. We don’t do it that often (most things are within walking distance, or we use the car) so it’s a bit exciting and different – especially if we get a seat on the top of a bus.

Meet up with friends. Ok, this is a bit of an obvious one, but worth including anyway. I like to organise a couple of meet-ups with friends in the park or at our house. It’s nice to get the children altogether during the day, rather than the rush after school.

Always have a few simple things up your sleeve. The ingredients for fairy cakes, a new DVD, some printable colouring sheets, some new play dough… you’ll be glad you remembered these.

Remember that it’s OK for your children to be bored sometimes. It’s easy to think you’re only a good parent if you plan and organise every minute of your child’s time. Feeling bored isn’t anything to be afraid of, and I think it’s great to encourage your children to think for themselves and find their own amusement. Sometimes the best games are born out of a sense of boredom. Obviously you want them to have a nice holiday, but remember to give them space to encourage a bit of self-sufficiency. Being a good parent doesn’t have to be all about being an all-singing-all-dancing children’s entertainer from dawn till dusk.

What are your half-term survival tips?

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The morning whirlwind

Morning tea

I’d like to say that mornings in our house were a calm, relaxing affair. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Every morning my boys create a whirlwind of destruction. And at 31 years old, I’m not much better.

Basically seven years of being a stay-at-home mother, and now working from home, appear to have made me chronically lazy. Subconsciously, I’ve mastered the art of never being late for school – but it’s always by the skin of our teeth. Every morning we fly out of the door in a cloud of toast crumbs, leaving chaos in our wake.

Here’s why it always goes wrong… 

After a few years of trying to dress to smartly for the school run, these days (unless I’m going out somewhere) it’s all I can do to simply pull a hairbrush though my hair and brush my teeth. I never allow enough time and always forget that I have two small people to get dressed as well as myself. I usually mean to put my mascara on but I almost always get waylaid trying to track down a clean pair of pants for a small boy.

Clearly, I should get up earlier. And I guess if I was commuting to an office straight after the school run, I would. But as I’m working at home, it’s always easier to scuttle home and smarten up later.

I also always intend to leave the kitchen nice and tidy, and remember to empty the dishwasher before bed. But, really, does anyone actually do that? Instead, it all gets crammed in at the last minute, or not at all. Usually, someone asks for porridge to be cooked at five past eight, or wants four rounds of toast. I just run out of time, and end up coming home to deal with dirty dishes and piles of sticky porridge, when I really should be getting on with work.

I suppose I need to pull my socks up and stop slacking, don’t I? Pretend I’m going to work in an office. My home is my office and it’s no wonder I often struggle to get anything done when I’m always two steps behind.

Of course, there’s always going to be a certain amount of unavoidable morning chaos. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, no matter how early you get up, your children will always empty the Lego box five minutes before you leave or lose the one precious keyring that has to go on their book bag. And that’s before we even remember about the lost library book/spelling book/raincoat the moment we step over the threshold.

But if I can at least hold my end up, then maybe there’s hope for us yet.

So, next week I’m going to try and get up earlier every day and find some time to gather my thoughts before the morning madness begins. Hey, the husband and I might actually get to have a cup of tea together before he disappears off to catch a train.

I’ll report back on how I get on. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any tips you have for on becoming an early-morning ninja warrior of a mother!

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Creating a kindness branch

Kindness branch

My boys are old enough now to understand how exciting Christmas can be, but the message sometimes becomes a little muddled. It’s easy for them to think it’s all about receiving.

Like many families across the country we started opening our advent calendars yesterday. It’s a nice tradition, but this year I want to add something a little different. Something that we’ll be able to see growing as the advent calendars empty. That’s why we’ve made a kindness branch.

As they get older I really want to them to think more about others, and what Christmas means (aside from getting presents). We don’t emphasise the religious side of Christmas, but I do want to them to start celebrating something else: kindness. Or more specifically: kindness, generosity and gratitude.

I’ve been trying to think of ways to teach the boys more about kindness and generosity. I don’t want to bully them into behaving thoughtfully with threats or bribery (or that slightly creepy Elf on the Shelf).

This is what we’re going to do:

Every evening after dinner, we’re going to take a few moments to think about what we’ve done that day to help others, or how we’ve been kind – or perhaps simply to think of something we’re thankful for. We’re then going to tie a ribbon onto our kindness branch, which is hanging in the kitchen. If they’d rather not do it one day, then that’s ok – it’s not supposed to be about cajoling them into doing something.

Kindness branch

As the weeks go on, it will get prettier and prettier – unlike the advent calendars, which will get tattier, emptier and more forlorn.

Kindness branch

I tied together a few pieces of drift wood, but you could bring in some twigs from the garden.  You could also just tie your ribbons onto a long hanging thread, or on your bannisters.

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you have any clever ways to teach your children a kinder and more generous way to approach Christmas?

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