Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Round two of the threenager!

Back when my son was age three and demonstrating some pretty challenging behaviour, I wrote this post, 'The Trying Threes'. Now I am going through it all over again with my daughter. Reading back over my earlier post, I am at least reassured that this is normal and just another stage we have to get through. It is a good reminder to me about doing my best to stay calm when faced with defiance from my daughter and feeling utter despair at times.

Last week I read this article, '10 Signs you are living with a threenager'. It is both funny and true! I can tell the author is talking about her daughter, as there are some things on her list that are the case with our daughter too but that never occurred with our son. Number 1 (about how to cut her sandwiches) and 3 (wardrobe changes, although just regular clothes, not princess costumes in our case) definitely apply to our daughter. Neither of these things were ever an issue with our son.

So, round two and having been there before I am going to try to take a deep breath and tell myself I can do this! I keep trying to identify what it is that is different on the days when my daughter is behaving beautifully but I think it is just the usual stuff: she needs sleep, food and attention, like they all do. Unfortunately there are always going to be days when she doesn't get enough of one of those and I will know about it!

In the meantime, I will endeavour to follow my own advice (see, 'The Trying Threes'), remembering she is only three, trying to lead by example, focusing on something positive from the day and remembering she does love me really!

Are any of you also currently living with a 'threenager'? What are some of the challenges they throw at you and how do you deal with them?
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Monday, 12 January 2015

Something's gotta give!

Once we got back after our Christmas trip to the US, I was desperate to cook some proper food for my nine-month old. I had been relying on either ready-made baby food or doing quick, lazy things for her to eat while we were away. She is at the stage to introduce more lumpy textured foods and a time to expand her repertoire of tastes. I consulted a weaning recipe book I have and cooked up a few batches of things so I could freeze some portions too. I felt much better feeding her homemade meals and she tucked in to them!

To get some food cooked for the baby meant sacrificing the rest of the family's meals a little. I gave the older two the same food as the baby (stuff like risotto) or did something quick and easy like pasta for the rest of us. Thankfully the baby is almost at the stage where she can eat what the rest of the family eat, just mashed or chopped small so things should get easier on the cooking front.

Being a mother of three is all about the juggling and weighing up quickly what is most important at a particular time. I can not keep an impeccably clean house, cook wholesome healthy meals for the family, spend quality time with all three children, help with homework, take a few moments of quiet for myself, do the grocery shopping, and deal with everything else that life might throw at me that particular day or week. Something's gotta give!

I find my priorities chop and change. There will be a day when I really want to clean up the house but that means I have not started dinner by the time my son is home from school, which results in a bit of a rush and often a bit of stress in the kitchen! Or like today, I wanted to get a blog post written so I am sitting here typing, neither cleaning nor cooking. I should have time to do a bit of dinner prep too.... If I am playing with the children after school or helping my son with his homework then we are invariably late with dinner.

I accept that this is the way life goes at the moment with three young children and I am ok with it. The kinds of things that are important to me are cooking healthy meals for my family and spending some time with my children. I also really need to do a couple of things for myself each day to keep me sane! I need to have a shower and be moderately presentable in the morning to put me in the best mood to begin the day so I often don't have the time to clean up fully after breakfast before it's time to leave for the school run. I also need a few minutes of peace and quiet that I take when the younger two are napping and the eldest is at school. It is my time to recharge for the afternoon and evening ahead!

These choices I make mean I may not spontaneously invite you in for a cuppa after the school run (although occasionally I do have an efficient morning and get all cleared up!) and I am often reluctant to do things that mean the girls miss their naps. I really do like to keep a clean house but in reality it is a struggle for me to keep it as presentable as I would like.

However, I do my best and very occasionally I feel like supermum - meals are prepared/organised, the house is clean and tidy, I got a blog post written and had fun playing with the children, did piano practise with my son, got everyone to bed on time. Very. Occasionally. Most of the time though, I struggle to keep up with everything and accept that is the way things are for now!

What kinds of things do you find yourself sacrificing due to lack of time or energy? What do you try to prioritise each day or week or does it vary? Do you always feel like you are struggling to keep up and if so, how do you deal with that feeling?
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Monday, 5 January 2015

Taking the pressure out of new year's resolutions

Whether you like it or not, new year tends to mean plenty of mention of new year's resolutions. We had some friends over on new year's day who told us they each had made resolutions for the year. His was to be more spontaneous and hers to be less stressed. Of course, I didn't say anything to them but those kinds of vague, immeasurable aims are the hardest to keep!

My husband and I are not very serious about new year's resolutions but we do usually have a chat about some goals for the year in a bid to start off the new year with a bit of direction. We had a conversation this new year's eve about a couple of things we each hoped to achieve but rather than the pressure of keeping up with something for a whole year, we acknowledged that there were a couple of things we would try to do for just one month.

There is plenty of evidence out there that a month is the amount of time to make something a habit and that if you can do a month of something, you are more likely to be able to continue doing that thing longer term if you so wish. A month is a lot more manageable than a whole year and by focusing on a month initially, you are already making your goal more in your reach. Once you get to the end of the month, you will have the sense of success of having achieved your aim. Knowing you can do it for a month incentivises you to try continuing it for another month. If on the other hand, you do not wish to keep the action up, no pressure, you can leave it to the side with the knowledge you did it for a whole month and knowing you could do the same again at a later date if you feel you want to.

If you have not made any new year's resolutions but are still thinking about it, it's never too late! Starting on the first of January is not for everyone and you can start whenever feels like a good time for you. Maybe being back to the school routine is a better time to kick start a change in your daily life or maybe you want to wait until closer to spring.

In considering your possible resolutions for the year ahead, think about some of the different aspects of your life:
Physical - exercise is an obvious and common one but be specific about what kind of exercise, how long and how frequent, and be realistic! Walking more instead of always taking the car, taking the stairs instead of the lift at work are other simple changes you could choose to make.

Emotional - could be something to connect more or better with a member of your family, a weekly call to a friend, helping out a neighbour, writing a regular letter/email to someone you care about.

Spiritual - anything from going to church more, reading a spiritual text, to taking 5-10 mins a day to meditate.

Integrity - volunteer work, helping someone in need, giving some of your time to a local school/church/organisation

Intellectual - read x number of books during the year, read 5-10 mins of news each day, learn a new skill by attending a class or doing an online course

Parenting - is there something you can do differently/better with your children? You and your partner could take it in turns to do 1-1 outings/activities with the children or as a family you could introduce more regular family time in the form of short excursions/games nights or whatever

Work/career - update or add to an existing skill you have, connect with new people in your field, send out your CV to x number of recruiters/targeted companies....

Keep your resolutions simple, manageable and specific. As an example, I decided on a whim to do five minutes of Spanish every day. I had downloaded an app (Duolingo) where you can learn languages for free and can set yourself daily targets. As a busy mother to three, I do not have much spare time but five timed minutes is definitely doable. I do my five minutes, it is very quick, it is simple and yet I feel like I have accomplished something. I might not be fluent by the end of the year, but that is not my resolution!

It can definitely feel overwhelming to commit to something for a whole year. Take off the pressure by keeping goals small and measurable and initially aiming for one month. See where the month takes you and go from there!

Have you made any resolutions this year or are you still thinking about it?
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Sunday, 14 December 2014

A final post for the year

Finally a few spare moments to write a blog post! We have had a lot going on with unwell children, hospital stays and other events so all my ideas for December posts went out the window! As I now have lots to catch up on and Christmas travels on the horizon, I am making this my final post of the year.

So a few Christmas related things I wanted to mention. This year we have had a new kind of advent calendar, a fabric Christmas tree-shaped wall hanging with little pockets for each day of December. My mum and aunt bought it and purchased some little gifts to put inside and I have added a few of my own. I loved this idea for seasonal activities to do each day during the month of December so I have thrown in a few of those too. It has been fun for the children!

Every year I have the thought of making some food gifts for neighbours and friends, wrapping in cute bags with ribbon and the like. This year again, I did not get beyond the idea but I did see some recipes I thought would be perfect for the purpose. In case you have the time and fancy making something yummy to hand out, some of these Homemade Food Gifts sound good.

In an effort to be a little more eco-friendly with wrapping presents, I have been using the brown packing paper that comes in many Amazon parcels to wrap the items enclosed. It is perforated so there is no cutting to be done and a pretty ribbon or some Christmas stickers added make it look perfectly acceptable under the tree!

We are off to spend Christmas with the American side of the family this year. The children are excited about seeing their cousins over there and it should be a lively, fun time. What are your plans for Christmas?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Operation Christmas Child

We spent some time this weekend packing up a couple of shoeboxes, for Operation Christmas Child. A mum at school had mentioned she and her son were going to do one and when I looked into it, I really liked the idea too. The charity, Samaritan's Purse, deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children around the world.

As we approach the festive season, I think this is a really nice way to involve children in the act of giving. My two had a lot of fun packing their shoeboxes and thinking about what a little boy or girl might like to receive or find useful. We began by packing one shoebox but when it came to deciding on whether it should be for a boy or girl (as Samaritan's Purse ask you to decide), we could not agree! My daughter wanted it to be for a girl, my son wanted it to be for a boy so daddy suggested we do two, one for each.

There are lots of useful suggestions of what to pack inside your box on the Samaritan's Purse website. We included a combination of some fun stuff and some practical items and my children also both drew a picture and my son wrote a little note on his to include inside. It was really nice to see my children excitedly running around finding things and coming up with ideas of what we could include in the boxes.

You are asked to send a minimum £3 donation per box to cover shipping costs for your box and if you donate online, you can follow your box and find out which country it gets delivered to. We are going to donate that way, as my son really wants to know where the boxes will go.

Once you have packed your box, you need to drop it off at one of the collection points near to you. The deadline is 18 November, so those of you in the UK reading this who are interested in making up a box should just about have time! If you miss the deadline however, you can still create a shoebox online, and have items purchased and packed for you.

For those of you in the US, you can do it too! Have a look at the details and deadlines on their website.

Have you done something like this with your children in the past or do you have other types of activities you involve your children in, to encourage the spirit of giving to those less fortunate?

Thursday, 6 November 2014

School dinners, snacks and sugary treats

One day during the recent school half-term holiday, my son said that he thought he would like to try school dinners when he went back (he has been taking a packed lunch since he started school). I asked him again the day before he returned to school and as he had not changed his mind, school dinners began for him this week.

For any non-UK readers, the government here decided to provide free school dinners for all children in Reception, year 1 and year 2 (4-7 year olds), as part of their policy to 'giving all children a healthy start in life'. I have always given my son the choice of whether he takes a packed lunch or has school dinners and until now, he always wanted packed lunches.

Part of me was secretly pleased my son had opted for packed lunches for so long, as I get particularly annoyed by the sweet puddings/desserts that are on offer every day! Part of the idea of the free school meals is to try to discourage those people taking unhealthy packed lunches (containing crisps, cakes, chocolate etc) and to bring healthier food to more children. I fail to see how the sugary desserts can be part of the 'healthy' school lunches.

No surprise to me at all that this first week of his school dinners, my son has had a chocolatey/sugary dessert three days out of four. The one day he had fruit instead was because he knew he had a friend coming over after school and that I would be making something yummy for them! I am hoping the novelty will wear off after a few weeks but we will see.....

Also this week, I came across this article, Why I became a Snacktavist, by Audrey D. Brashich and I felt it really describes the way I feel about children and sugar and treats. The opening lines are:
"Dear everyone who interacts with my children anywhere at all:
Please stop feeding my kids sugar."
She goes on to explain how sugar has become part of nearly every event for children, from after-school clubs, to holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), to birthdays and play dates. Part of her wants to remove some of the treats they might enjoy at home as a family, just to get some nutritional balance in her children's diets and yet, " I don’t want to have to give up the treats we enjoy together as a family just so my kids can eat their fill when they are everywhere but our house".

The article discusses snacks and how once they were simply something to keep hunger at bay between meals but now have become more of a 'treat' in themselves, with parents trying to outdo each other.
"Kids today are getting about 500 calories daily from snacking, and most of their snacks contain primarily refined white flour, salt, sugar and artificial additives, which is a dangerous combination given how childhood has changed, too. “There’s more inactivity and kids are eating more calories and artificial food dyes than at any time in history,
Do have a read of the article in full and let me know what you think.

As a parent to young children, I would like to be the one who decides when and how they consume sugary foods. I am happy for sweet treats to be offered to my children when they go to a friend's house to play and usually do the same here when my son has a friend over. I like to bake and have something a bit special on a Friday at the end of the week and perhaps make a nice dessert at least one evening over the weekend for the whole family to enjoy together. Every day at school as well? I am not so keen on that.

I do think school dinners can be a positive thing overall. Several parents have told me the good effect they have had on their fussy eaters, who start eating foods they previously refused and who surprise them by being more adventurous with their eating. Even my son on day one, chose a meal which had broccoli with it (which he detests) and ate it all!

What are your thoughts on school dinners, snacks and sugar treats?! Do you try to provide healthy snacks for your children to balance out some of the less healthy food they might consume at other times during the day or week? Does your child's school do a good job of providing plenty of healthy options for school dinners?
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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Party planning for toddlers

I have done a few birthday parties over recent years, for my son who is approaching age six and my daughter who just had her third birthday. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that less is more!

For an enjoyable and successful birthday party for little ones, you often need less of everything than you would imagine; less food, less party guests and less activities.

Food - I learnt early on that it is easy to over-cater for birthday parties. Even though I have vastly reduced what I used to prepare, there is still always more than needed! Little ones really do not eat a lot and coupled with the excitement and the promise of cake, they are often too distracted to eat much at a party. Keep it simple too, prepare what you know your child and friends are likely to eat, rather than what looks fancy!

Party guests - for my daughter's third birthday party a couple of weeks ago, we invited just three other little girls. It was her choice. I suggested another couple of people but she said no, she really only wanted these particular three girls, so that is who we invited. I once read or heard somewhere that is is sensible to invite the same number of guests as the child's age. That is what unintentionally happened this time and it was very pleasant! The fewer guests there are, the less stress for the parents, the more time the guests spend with the birthday boy or girl and the more attention they receive.

Activities - whilst you definitely want to plan a few activities for the party, you also don't want to try to cram too much into the time. It can be good to allow some going with the flow too! For my daughter's recent party, we had a couple of small art and craft activities for the children to do on arrival (and something they could later take home with them), which is good for filling the time as you wait for people to get there. Then we played some traditional party games (pass the parcel, musical bumps etc), had lunch and the cake and then finished with a final party game and dance around! It was simple but worked really well.

I will leave you with some other children's birthday party posts you may be interested in reading:
A great party bag alternative
Children's birthday cakes
A winning winter birthday party for a 2-year old

What have you learnt from birthday parties you have had for your young children? What has worked and what hasn't? Any top tips to share?
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