How often do you sit down and eat as a family in your house?

I know it’s something my family and I don’t do often enough.  With the children ready to eat almost as soon as they get home from school, eating dinner together during the week just doesn’t work for us.  We try to sit down together for a meal at the weekend but even that doesn’t happen as much as it would in a perfect world.

There are so many benefits to eating together as a family, but it seems to be something that doesn’t happen often enough for lots of families.

Furniture village recently commissioned a survey that looked into mealtime habits in the UK, and the findings are really interesting.  Only 22% of the people asked said that they ate their dinner at the table every night, while 53% said that they eat on the sofa more than anywhere else.

What they also found though was that 70% of the people they asked said that they believed family relationships were strengthened when everyone sat at the table and ate meals together.

It can be hard to find the time though, and when you do have the chance to do it sometimes family meals can be stressful with fussy eaters and no one really talking to each other.  Hopefully these tips will help to make family mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone.

How to make family mealtimes more enjoyable

 

Get the children to help

It’s easy to feel a bit hard done by if you’re the parent who sorts everything out for family mealtimes.  So get the children in on the action to share the load a bit, as well as get them more interested in the food they’re going to be eating.

Depending on a child’s age they can help with:

  • Menu planning
  • Food shopping
  • Preparing ingredients for the meal
  • Cooking the meal itself
  • Laying the table and clearing up afterwards

 

Play some games

You can make the dinner table a happy, fun place for everyone to spend time together by playing a few games during mealtimes.

Here are some ideas:

  • Would you rather?  Ask your children age-appropriate questions like “would you rather be the teacher at school or a student?”.  You can ask really silly questions or more serious ones, depending on the mood everyone is in.
  • Who am I?  This is a game we play in the car sometimes.  One person thinks of someone (normally someone we know in real life) and the others ask them yes or no questions to try and work out who they’re thinking of.
  • What am I?  This is basically the same game, but you think of an object rather than a person.
  • Carry on the story.  One person starts a story, along the lines of ‘once upon a time there was a little girl with blond hair’.  Then the next person makes up the next line of the story, and then go around the table with each person adding more to it.  The aim really is to make the story as silly as possible.
  • ABC.  Think of a topic like countries or foods or people’s names and then go around the table coming up with an answer for each letter of the alphabet.

 

Get the conversation going

If you’d rather chat with your children than play games, then you can start a conversation by asking what the best and worst parts of their day were.

Then move on to more random conversation topics, like:

  • If a genie granted you a wish, what would you wish for and why?
  • If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be?
  • If you were a superhero, what would your special power be?
  • If you could only eat one food for the next week, what would you chose?
  • If you could visit the setting of any book or tv programme, where would you go?

The great thing about these kinds of questions is they’re quite fun for the adults to answer too.

 

I know these ideas won’t magically solve issues with fussy eaters or get fidgety little ones to sit still and eat their food.  

There are always circumstances that make mealtimes stressful and no fun for anyone involved.  Hopefully though these tips will help to get children more interested in sitting down together.  They might distract them enough that they’ll put more food in their mouths without a big fuss.  They might engage them enough that they’ll stay sitting at the table that bit longer.

Do you have any other tips to make mealtimes more enjoyable for the whole family?

 

Along with countless other parents I recently watched my baby head off to big school for the first time.

It’s been a pretty big change, but we’re quite lucky really because, while the situation is new, none of us feel like we’re new at the school.  Rhys has been there for years now and Nerys is well and truly settled in with her classmates after getting to know them all in Rising 3s and Nursery.

I do remember how it felt at the start though. 

The anxiety of what it will be like at the school gates. Wondering if anyone will actually talk to you or if you’ll be left out of all the cliques that you always hear about.

So for anyone who is going through that at the moment, for all the new parents heading to the school gates for the first time, here are a few words of reassurance for you.

A word of reassurance for the new parent at the school gates

 

First and foremost, don’t believe everything you’ve read online so far.

There are all sorts of posts out there about the 5 (or 10 or however many) types of mum you meet at the school gates.  Posts that talk about the cliques that form with the working mums, the hippy mums, the hot-mess mums, and so on.  And if you don’t feel like you fit any of those descriptions it can be quite worrying thinking about where you’ll fit in.  And it must be even worse for the dads out there at times.

Don’t let these posts fool you; I’ve been doing the school run for over 4 years now and can honestly say I’ve not come across any of these stereotypical cliques.

People do naturally form little friendship groups but I’ve found that everyone has always been more than happy to chat with everyone else.  There’s no queen bee waltzing around making everyone else feel bad about themselves.  There’s no fashionista group standing at the gate judging those of us in jeans and hoodies.

There are just mums and dads trying to get their children to school on time.

 

If you’re still feeling nervous though, here are some little bits of advice that might help you to get chatting and possibly even enjoy those moments at the school gates:

 

  •  Smile.  Even if you’re feeling really anxious, give people a smile if you catch their eye.

 

  • Use your children to help.  If you can see who they’ve made friends with, take the chance to say ‘hello’ to that child’s parents.

 

  • Don’t worry about what you’re wearing.  Honestly, unless you live in a super stylish part of the country, just wear what you want.  Just steer clear of anything that might embarrass your children.

 

  • Look for other parents who are on their own.  It can be really intimidating to approach a group of people who are chatting, so find someone else on their own and go and say hi.

 

  • Go online.  Find out if there’s a Facebook group for your child’s class or yeargroup.  We have one for both Rhys’ class and Nerys’ class and it’s been a great way to get to know the other parents a bit better and keep up to date with class news.

 

  • Give it time.  Keep it mind that it can take time to get to know the other parents and for friendships to form. Don’t rush things.

 

  • Don’t take things too personally.  If someone doesn’t return your friendly smile, or rushes off as you try to say hello, don’t immediately assume it’s about you.  There could be a million reasons behind it.  Everyone at the school gates is busy, trying to keep track of their child, wondering if they put the signed form back in their bag, planning their hurried route to work as soon as the door opens and their child goes in.

 

  • Join in.  If you really want to get to know people you can think about joining the PTA.  It can be quite a commitment but also a great way to get involved with the school community.

 

It can be quite intimidating for the whole family when your child starts school. 

And I know that at our school it can feel pretty manic in the mornings around the classrooms, as everyone tries to get to where they need to be on time.  And it can be hard to strike up conversations and get to know people.

The afternoons at pick up time tend to be a bit calmer and there are often more chances to say hello and chat with the other parents.  So keep that in mind when you’re thinking about trying to strike up a conversation.

Other than that, just smile, be friendly and give it time.  

 

I had a cuppa and a catch up with a friend the other day.

We hadn’t seen each other for a month or two and it was really lovely to chat and get up to date on what’s been going on in each other’s lives.  That evening I was talking to my husband about it, and how it had suddenly occurred to me that we had been friends for around 7 years now.

It just felt like such a long time ago that we met as exhausted first-time mums at the local NCT baby group.  And it was so lovely to think how our friendship has developed and how openly and honestly we can talk to each other about things.

It makes me so glad that I pushed myself to go to baby group all those years ago.  That I stepped out of my introvert comfort zone and started making small talk with the other mums there.

I know a lot of introverts really struggle with small talk.  For me it’s more about social anxiety but I know for others it’s about wanting to go deeper than small talk and chit-chat allows.  The thing is though, you have to go through that small talk phase to be able to build relationships and make friends.

So, here is my guide to making small talk for introverted parents.

The introverted parent's guide to making small talk

 

Whether you’re a brand new parent heading to baby group or you have older children and want to get to know people at the school gates, these ideas will help.

 

Break the ice

Take a deep breath, this is the hard part for so many of us.

If you see someone you want to chat with then you’ll need to find a way to break the ice and get the conversation going.

Jennifer Latson, author of ‘the boy who loved too much‘ suggests a three-step approach to greeting people.

  1. Compliment them.  It can be as simple as saying how much you love their baby’s name, or how happy their child is going into school.
  2. Ask about their well-being.  You can go with a simple, ‘how are you today?’ or go a bit further and ask if they were struggling with the morning rush to get to school on time like you are!
  3. Choose a topic to chat about that is relevant to them.  This is pretty easy if you have children the same age, you can just ask their thoughts on any issue you’re dealing with at the moment, or how great different parts of being a parent are.

 

Ask open-ended questions

This is a classic way of getting conversations flowing.

People quite like to talk about themselves, so showing interest and asking questions is a great way to start chatting.  The trick though is to steer away from ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions which can stop a conversation in its tracks.

One way to do this is to ask ‘why’ questions instead of ‘what’ questions.

So at baby group you can ask someone their baby’s name, and then keep the conversation going by asking if there was a reason or special significance behind their choice.

 

Return their questions

If you find it hard to think of questions to ask, you can just wait for them to ask you one and then ask the same one back.

So when they ask you “Is this your first baby?”, you can reply “No, it’s my second, how about you?”

 

Introvert parent's guide to making small talk

 

Make other parents feel like you care about them

Ask their name (not just their child’s name) and use it when you speak to them.  When we’re used to being called ‘so and so’s mum’  that it feels quite special when someone makes the effort to call us by our actual name.

If you’re sitting with a few other mums at baby group or at the school gates then make sure to bring everyone into the conversation.  If you notice that one parent in particular seems to be left out, make a point of directing some questions to her and making sure she’s ok.

 

Ask fact-based questions to start a conversation.

At baby group ask if they know what time it finishes, or if there are any other nice groups that they know of in the area.  At the school gates you can ask about homework, or events that the PTA are planning.  You could ask if they know which swim school is best to go with locally, or if they know of a good karate or ballet class.

 

Find a common enemy.

There’s something about complaining together that brings people together.  And while being a parent is wonderful there are also lots of things that we can complain about, all of which make pretty good topics of conversation.

Lack of sleep, teething and weaning troubles are good things to complain about together when your baby is little.

 

As your child gets older then there are bound to be all sorts of school related issues that you can bond over.  It can be as mundane as complaining about the fact that it always rains during the school run, it will still break the ice and get you chatting.

 

I know for a lot of introverts small talk is painful. 

You want to go deeper than chat about the weather.  But you have to go through the small talk stage to connect with people and move on to the next level, so hopefully these tips will help make the process a bit easier.

The beach is definitely my happy place.

No matter what time of year it is I love to go to the beach, to listen to the waves and breathe in the salty sea air.  This summer especially we’ve spent a lot of time there, building sand castles and paddling in the sea.

The not so fun part comes when it’s time to head home and you need to try and put shoes back on when your feet are absolutely covered in sand.  If you’ve ever tried it you’ll know how horrible and uncomfortable it feels to put shoes back on when there’s still sand all over your feet.

The only thing that’s worse is trying to put shoes back onto your child when their feet are covered in sand.

So what’s the best way to clean sandy feet after a day at the beach?

Here’s the little trick I’ve been using for a few years now that works like a charm.

Try this one little trick to clean sandy feet at the beach

 

Take a little bottle of baby powder or talcum powder to the beach with you.

When it’s time to get the children’s shoes back on to head home, grab the baby powder and sprinkle some on their sandy feet.

Wait a minute and then gently rub the powder and sand off.  You can do this with a towel if you have one or you can just use your hands.

Use baby powder to get sand off feet at the beach

Basically the powder removes enough moisture from the sand and your skin to make it easier for the sand to be simply brushed away.  You might need to add a second helping of powder to get the last of the sand out from between the toes, but before you know it your children’s feet (and yours) will be sand-free and shoe-ready.

As an added bonus they’ll feel pretty soft and smell quite nice too!

If the nice smell isn’t enough to sway you to use baby powder or talcum powder then you can use cornflour instead, it works in exactly the same way.

So there you have it, a quick and easy way to get sand off your feet after a day at the beach.

Now if someone could just come up with a way to keep the sand out of sandwiches at beach picnics that would be perfect.

 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

If the idea of hosting a children’s party brings you out in a cold sweat, don’t panic.  Here are some great tips that could help you survive your next kid-friendly event.

Children's parties - a parents survival guide

 

Pick a suitable location

Picking the right location is an important aspect of the party planning process – and if you choose wisely, you could save yourself a whole lot of stress.

For example, while you might be tempted to host your shindig in your own home, think carefully before you send out the invites. Although this could be a convenient, affordable place for your party, you may not love the idea of having little ones running wild around your property – especially if you’re particularly house proud.

Instead, you might be more suited to celebrating somewhere else, such as a local function room.

 

Make sure you’re prepared

There’s a lot that goes into organising the perfect kid’s party, so it definitely pays to be as prepared as you possibly can be. Leaving things to the very last minute could mean that you forget something vitally important.

For instance, make sure that you have all the party essentials you’ll need. We’re talking everything from paper plates and cups to balloons and banners. The good news is, it’s easy to pick up these items. For example, you can purchase these accessories online from retailers like HiHouse and have your order shipped straight to your doorstep, leaving you to put the finishing touches to your party setup.

 

Get your entertainment spot on

The truth is, you’re not going to survive the party unless you get your entertainment just right. You can’t expect the day to go smoothly if your smaller guests aren’t amused, so it’s important that you suss out how you’ll keep them from getting bored.

Fortunately, there are a whole host of fun and exciting activities for you to choose from, such as bouncy castles, discos and magicians. You could even arrange to host your party at a bowling alley or the zoo.

 

Try to keep your cool

It might be easier said than done, but try to keep your cool.

If you let yourself get into a fluster, you’ll find it hard to enjoy the festivities going on around you, so do your best to remain calm and collected. After all, once the party is in full swing, you’ve pretty much accomplished what you set out to do, so there’s no reason why you can’t take a moment to enjoy the event for yourself.

 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post

We all know how busy life is, especially when you have children, and how hard it can be to make time for ourselves.

It’s so important though to put ourselves first now and then, to take care of ourselves and have a bit of me-time.  The whole family benefits when we look after ourselves, it gives us the energy we need to then look after everyone else.

I’ve recently discovered a great new way to take some time for me and get a bit of self care, with ParkLives.

Self care and time for me with ParkLives

 

I’ve been along to quite a few family-friendly Coca-Cola ParkLives sessions with the children this summer.

We’ve been to a family fun day, a football session and a family yoga class, amongst other things, and it’s all been absolutely brilliant.  What has been the cherry on the cake is discovering that ParkLives also offer activities that I can go along to on my own.

I found out that Delyth from Free Self Yoga doesn’t just run the family yoga sessions in Brynmill Park, she also does a yoga session on the beach on a Saturday morning.

The session takes place on the beach in front of 360 cafe, so I was able to walk there and back and feel like I had a really lovely morning of exercise.

Beach yoga Swansea ParkLives

The class itself is brilliant.

Delyth is a great teacher, she’s really welcoming and explains everything perfectly as the class goes along.  The session I went to was nice and gentle with a fair bit of relaxation work which was just perfect for me.

Swansea beach yoga ParkLives

The setting couldn’t be more perfect either.

Lying in the sun, on the sand, listening to the waves as you focus on your body and your breathing and let all other thoughts and worries go.  It was a perfect hour of ‘me time’ and I came home afterwards feeling like I’d had a real break from everything.

I’d hoped to go again last weekend but the weather didn’t cooperate and the session was rained off.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for dryer weather this weekend though so that I can have a few hours to myself for a lovely spot of yoga and self care.

Swansea bay beach yoga ParkLives

It’s not just yoga on offer from Coca-Cola ParkLives either.

I’ve had a look through the activities available on their website and found a few different options in the area that would be lovely for a bit of me-time.

Along the same relaxing theme as yoga, there are Tai Chi sessions available in a few locations around Swansea.  These focus on gentle, flowing movements that improve both physical and mental well-being.

There are also some lovely walks in Margam Park that last about an hour and would be a great way to get some gentle exercise and fresh air.  And for anyone looking for a more intense workout there is a circuits session every week in Victoria Park that would be great.

We all know that exercise and fresh air are important for our physical, emotional and mental health and with ParkLives offering this variety of exercise sessions for free there’s really no excuse not to pop along and give one of them a go.


You can find out what activities are available in your area and sign up for sessions on the Coca-Cola ParkLives website – www.ParkLives.com


 

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post, however all photos, words and opinions are my own.

As I watch my children start to find their feet at school one thing that I’m finding I’m paying quite a bit of attention to is the friendships they’re forming.

They both have little friendship groups which for the most part is brilliant, but I do worry a bit to be honest about how they’ll cope with the inevitable arguments and falling outs that will come at some point.

I want my children to learn how to be good friends, and in turn spend time with people who are good friends to them.  It doesn’t stop in childhood though, there are things we can do throughout our lives to be better friends.

5 ways to be a great friend

 

1. Remember it’s a 2-way street

A great friendship needs both friends to give and take equally.  If one person is always the one giving, always the one reaching out and making the effort, then the balance is all wrong.  To be a great friend you need to give as much as you take.

Be the one to suggest getting together one weekend, text them randomly with something that will make them smile.

The other side of this though is that you have to be able to take as much as you give too, so accept your friend’s offers of help when you need it, take their advice on board when they give it and welcome love and compliments that they give you.

 

2. Don’t keep score

Following on from the first point, while you try to keep a balance in the friendship you should also try not to keep score too much.

Don’t keep a running record of how many times you initiate getting together vs how many times your friend does.  There might be a number of reasons why she’s not as organised or proactive as you in arranging getting together.

If they’re a good friend in other ways and support you and are there for you, then don’t keep score over the other things.

 

3. Reminisce over past memories, then make some new ones together

Let them know you’re thinking of them now and texting them private jokes, or quotes from TV programs you loved to watch together.  Post old photos of the two of you together on Facebook and write a caption about the day it was taken.

The key though is to not let your friendship live completely in the past.

Make plans to do something new and fun together, to keep making new memories.  Maybe start taking a class together, if there’s something you’ve both always wanted to learn to do.  Or if you have the time and money available, think about booking a weekend break in a new city and go exploring together.

 

4. Cheer them on

Be there as much as you can to support your friend, to encourage them and let them know how much you believe in them and their dreams

The author of ‘The art of friendship’, Sally Horchow, has said “being generous in spirit is said to stimulate the same part of your brain as simple pleasure.  So, put yourself aside and try simply cheering them on”.

If your friend is trying something new, or working towards a goal, it can sometimes be a bit unnerving and we might worry about things shifting in the friendship.  But it’s really important to not let those feelings stop you from being supporting and encouraging.

 

5. Be you

Let your guard down and be as open as you can with your friends.

Let them really get to know the real you.  Sally Horchow wrote, “It’s better to be open, realistic and expressive with your friends, in good times and bad.  This will reinforce your bond”.

While it can be really scary to open up and let your friends get to know the real you, flaws and all, it’s the only way you can properly get close to people.

 

These are all things I’ll be talking to my children about as they get older and hopefully it’ll help them to be great friends and to form close relationships with people who’ll be amazing friends to them too.