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Encouraging children to be themselves

I’m a strong believer in allowing my children to be themselves.  Hell, not just allowing them to be, but actively encouraging them.  If my son wants to play with the dolls house then that’s great.  My daughter wants to push cars around and crash them into things?  More power to her!

As my son moves towards starting full time school I’m acutely aware of all the new pressures he’s being exposed to.  In the last few months he’s started talking about boys toys and girls toys.  We’ll see an advert for a toy and he’ll say to me “That’s for girls, isn’t it Mummy?”.  I do wonder where this has come from and find it slightly unnerving that he’s able to determine that a toy is for a girl, presumably just from the way it’s marketed.  My normal response is to tell him that anyone can play with the toy if they want to.  I would hate for him to miss out on discovering talents or interests just because the related toy or activity is ‘for girls’.

The thing is, since he’s started half days at nursery school he does seem to be learning about what is socially acceptable and may well already be feeling a bit of pressure from his classmates to play with certain toys.  I don’t want him to get teased or left out because he wants to play with a different toy, but, even more so, I don’t want him to hide his true interests just to fit in.

I want him to have the self-confidence to own his interests and his choices.  I’m hoping that by encouraging him to be himself at home, this confidence will grow.  I want him to trust that he is safe at home to play with whatever interests him, to watch the tv programs that he finds enjoyable, to wear whatever clothes he feels comfortable is, to express his feelings openly and to just be his true self.

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I really hope that providing this sort of ‘safe’ environment at home he’ll learn that it’s ok to be himself and I think this will have several benefits for him as he goes through life:

  • He’ll find friends, and later partners, who like him for who he really is.  Yes he can act differently to fit in with the ‘in crowd’, but he’ll never feel fully comfortable with them.  If he’s just himself he’ll attract people who he genuinely fits in with, who’ll understand him and love him quirks and all!

 

  • His self-esteem will grow even more.  It’s like a self-esteem circle – the higher his self-esteem, the more likely he is to be himself and attract friends who like him for who he is and knowing his real self is liked and appreciated will raise his self-esteem even more!  On the other hand, if he pretends to be something he’s not to try and fit in, he’ll feel like the true him isn’t worthy of knowing and so his self-esteem could potentially plummet.

 

  • He’ll be generally happier.  If he lives his life authentically, being true to himself, he’ll feel a sense of peace and happiness that will just elude him if he spends his days trying to be something he’s not.

I really feel that you have to spend the time to get to know the child you’ve been given.  They really are born with their own unique set of interests and their own personality.  It’s not up to us as parents to try and mould them into what we want; it’s our responsibility to embrace who they are at their core.  We have to let go of our own desires for them and realise that they are their own people with their own desires for their lives.

On a side note, my son isn’t gender non-conformist, but this article still spoke to me on so many levels about allowing our children to be themselves – 12 things every gender nonconforming child wants you to know.  Well worth a read.

Things I want my children to say yes to

Things I want my children to say ‘yes’ to

I wrote a post the other day inspired by Dave Cornthwaite’s message to ‘say yes more’.

It’s something I’m really thinking about a lot at the moment.

I’m quite a cautious person, and my natural immediate response to things outside of my comfort zone is to say ‘no’.  Which makes me quite sad.  As I get older I’m getting much more aware of the power of pushing out of that comfort zone and saying ‘yes’ to things.

And I really want my children to grow up with an awareness of how exciting and wonderful like can be if you say yes more.

5 things I want my children to say yes to (1)

 

These are the big things I want my children to say yes to:

New experiences

I don’t want my children to be afraid of trying new things and visiting new places.  I want them to say yes to new experiences, to be open to the idea that, yes, there’s a possibility they might not like it but there’s an equal possibility that they’ll absolutely love it!

 

New friends

I’m all for my children having a close little group of friends, I think it’s incredibly important for them to have people outside of the family that they can talk to and confide in.  But I don’t want them to limit their social interactions to their existing friends.

You never know what impact a person can have on your life; I want my children to be open to letting new people in.

 

Failure

This is a tricky one I know, but I really hope for my children that they can embrace the possibility of failure.

I want them to know that they don’t have to win everything, that it’s really ok if they fail at something.  A lot of the times that you learn the most about life and yourself is when you fail at something.

 

Being true to themselves

I know that it’s really hard when you’re a kid (and then a teenager) and you so badly just want to fit in, but I really want my children to say yes to being true to who they are.

I want them to own their quirks and embrace what makes them them.

 

Love

When it comes their way I want my children to say a huge ‘yes’ to love.

I want them to love with their whole hearts, openly and completely.  Yes they risk getting hurt that way, but it’s the only way to really love isn’t it?  Have a read of this quote that I wrote about recently – it sums up what I want to tell my children about love.

 

What things would you wish for your children to say a big ‘yes’ to?

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Things my children have slept through

I read a blog post the other day by Charlie at Real Girl Ramblings that really made me smile.  It was a list of all the bizarre things that wake her baby up.  And it got me thinking; when my children are just on the brink of being properly asleep they can be disturbed by the slightest noise.  Once they’re down though, they seem to be able to sleep through all sorts of things.  A few days ago Nerys was asleep in the buggy by the front door.  The postman opened the door and dropped a parcel on the floor right next to her with one hell of a thump, and she didn’t even flinch! So here is my list of a few of the other things my children have slept through:
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Jumping in the jumperoo
Photographic proof of this one above – finger still poised on one of the toys!  This was also with Rhys and her 3 cousins playing pretty loudly all around her.

Hoovering.
Both Rhys and Nerys have slept quite happily in the moses basket in the lounge while I’ve hoovered right up to the edge of the basket.  I can sort of understand this one, as the hoover is a kind of white noise I suppose, which babies tend to like.  But it’s a pretty loud white noise when it’s right by your head!

The smoke alarm going off.
Rhys was napping on the sofa one day a fair while ago, and whatever I was attempting to cook had set the smoke alarm off.  I dashed into the lounge to make it stop and fully expected Rhys to have woken up.  Nope.  He was still flat out.  Bit worrying really!

The Eurofighter Typhoon.
Have you ever heard one of these things?!  We were at the Swansea bay air show when Rhys was a few months old and one of these was taking part.  It was seriously one of the loudest planes ever!  And Rhys slept through the whole display.  Unbelievable.

Are your children light sleepers or can they sleep through anything?!

You Baby Me Mummy
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How to get those annoying kids TV songs out of your head

I learnt a new word today.  I might be the only person who didn’t know this, but there’s a word for those bloody irritating songs that get stuck in your head – earworms!  How brilliant is that?!

Earworms affect all of us at some point, I mean, who hasn’t had a catchy pop song stuck in their head?  Or worse, the song from the Hive advert.  You know the one, where the guy singing it just sounds a little too pleased with himself?

These are all annoying enough.  And then you become a parent.  And you start having kids TV on during the day.  And then you find yourself lying in bed with the perfect slumber party song from Sofia the first going round and round in your head.  Or the ‘make some noise‘ song.  Or ‘roll up the map‘ from Jake and the Neverland pirates.

Yeah, we watch a lot of Disney junior in our house!  For the Cbeebies families out there, how about the theme tune from ‘Something special’?  Or, oh God, the spring time song!

You hate me a little bit now don’t you, for putting those songs in your head?  Well I’m about to make it all better – apparently there’s a way to get them out again!

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According to a study carried out at the University of Reading, getting rid of earworms is as easy as chewing gum!

Dr Philip Beaman from the University explains that the brain’s tendency to play catchy tunes on repeat might be ‘a form of involuntary musical memory’.  The key word here is ‘involuntary’, which is why you can’t just will away a song when it’s stuck in your head.  What you can do though is interfere with the playing of these musical recollections.

Previous studies have shown that repeating a random word over and over again in your head can degrade your short-term memory; doing this while looking at list of words has been found to make most people forget 1/3 to 1/2 of the words on the list!

The study at the University of Reading suggests that chewing gum has a similar effect.  It disrupts the musical memory enough to get that damn song out of your head.

Well, it has to be worth a try right?!

Mummascribbles
Modern Dad Pages

Muddy hands and scrammed knees

I put together a blog post earlier this week made up of three of my favourite quotes about play.  I had several comments from people saying how much they like the quotes and how true it is that play is serious business for our children, it’s the way they learn about the world.

One of the comments really stuck with me though.  The writer said that they felt that the traditional, simply play of childhood seems to be disappearing in this modern world.  That our children these days just want to play on electronic devices and aren’t interesting in old-fashioned play any more.

My eldest is only 4, so I don’t have any first hand experience of older children.  It may well be the case that they are more interested in computer games than any other kind of activity.  And certainly my son does like to play on my phone and ipad.  The thing is, I really do think that they have a place in our children’s lives these days.  They’ve been born into a very ‘electronic’ world.  They will need the skills they learn using these devices as they get older.  I also know that Rhys has learnt a lot from watching certain programs on the TV and by playing with various apps on my phone.

But, BUT, he also spends a lot of time engaged in ‘old-fashioned’ play.  The writer of the comment mentioned that we need to try and remind our children how good simply play can be, and I really do agree.  We’ve spent the last two afternoons at the park where Rhys has run around with his friends, learning about co operation, sharing and taking turns, using his imagination playing house in the bushes, testing his body by climbing and jumping.  And I’ve been very conscious of finding a balance between hovering and making sure he’s safe, and standing back and letting him get on with it.

See, there’s been a lot of talk recently about our children’s safety.  This video of a man leading children away from a playground recently popped up on my Facebook newsfeed.  It seemed to prove that our children aren’t safe out in public; that even if we’ve taught them not to talk to strangers they are still likely to go off with them given half a chance.  And if you just quickly watch the video you’ll most likely be terrified and want to keep your children by your side where you can keep them safe.  It’s scare stories like this that are all over the media that are causing parents to be so reluctant to let their children run around outside.  It’s much safer to just keep them in and let them play on the ipad!

Which is why I’m so glad I found this article on freerangekids.com, which argues against most of the points made in the video.  I highly recommend you go and read it.  It might help put your mind at rest a little bit.

There are always dangers to our children.  Lenore Skenazy from free range kids makes the great point that we could drive our children to school to keep them safe from predators, only to be hit by a truck instead.  The point being, we can’t guarantee our children’s safety 100% of the time.  There will always be freak accidents.  There will always be illness.  And yes, unfortunately, there will always be sick people out there with bad intentions towards our children.

But that is life.  We can’t hide ourselves and our children away.  There is so much more good in the world than bad.  I for one want my children to be bold and to explore all the wonderful things out there.

So I’m working on finding a balance.  My children will play on electronic devices; they can learn a lot from them and have fun.  But they will also draw and paint and make things with play doh.  They’ll explore our slightly out of control garden.  They’ll go to the park and test their boundaries and play in the bushes.  They’re still so young that I try my damn best to keep them in sight at all times, because in all honesty it does scare me what might happen if they’re out of sight.

But I don’t want to hover.  I don’t want their main memory to be me telling them to ‘be careful’.  I want them to remember me telling them to have fun instead!  That’s what childhood is about. muddy hands and scrammed knees and just having fun!

What are your thoughts on this?  Have you seen the video?!  How willing are you to let your kids out to play like we probably did when we were little?

Modern Dad Pages

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Encouraging pretend play

“For children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood” – Fred Rogers

It’s now well established that play is incredibly important to children and their development.  In fact, it’s so important that it’s been recognised as a human right for every child by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.

I love watching my children play.

Waiting to see what toys they’ll make a beeline for at playgroup.  Seeing the different ways they decide to play with them.

Recently I’ve noticed Rhys getting much more creative in his play.  He’s had a play kitchen for a few years and has always liked ‘cooking’ with it, but his pretend play has definitely changed in the last few months.  He’ll play with a few soft toys now, coming up with scenarios for them and making all the different toys ‘talk’.

It’s fascinating to watch and I love seeing that creative, imaginative side of him!

Which makes me think about what I can do to encourage him to continue this pretend play and to introduce it to Nerys.

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After doing some research I’ve come up with these three suggestions for how I can encourage my children to engage in pretend play, and the benefits of it for them:

Provide props, suggest several uses and encourage open-ended play
 

One of the big things we can do to encourage our children to engage in pretend play is to provide them with the necessary props.  This can be as elaborate as buying or making them a whole play kitchen, complete with toy food and pots and pans, or it can be as simple as gathering their soft toys and some sheets of paper so they can play ‘schools’!The main point here is to provide props so that the play is open ended.  Let the child make the decisions about how exactly they’ll use the items provided and what scenarios they want to act out.  Psychological studies have found that this type of play promotes creative problem solving skills.  One study in particular, by Wyver and Spence (1999) suggested that there is a causal connection between pretend play and a child’s ability to solve divergent problems (these are problems that have several possible outcomes, as opposed to a convergent problem which only has one correct answer).

Wyver and Spence (1999) found that children who were encouraged to participate in pretend play, and who were shown how to do so, then showed an increased ability to solve divergent problems.  Interestingly, they also found that children who were trained in solving divergent problems then showed increased rates of pretend play!

So perhaps if you have a child who really isn’t interested in pretend play you can encourage them to look at divergent problems with you and discuss possible solutions; this may in turn lead them to naturally show more of an interest in pretend play.  You might have an empty box, that another child would naturally grab and turn into a racing car.  

If your child doesn’t seem interested in using the box for pretend play you could try and spark their creativity by discussing with them all the different ways you could use the box and encourage them to come up with as many suggestions of their own as they can!


Introduce a play mate

At the moment Rhys seems to particularly like engaging in pretend play by himself.  I’m very conscious of the fact that I need to encourage him to play co operatively with other children.  I really need to set up some after-school play dates!

Playing with other children can be hugely beneficial.  Watching another child engaged in pretend play can give your child ideas of how to play himself.  By observing they can learn how a certain toy or prop could be used.

Engaging in pretend play with other children is also important for a child’s social skills and has the added benefit of increasing their ability to self-regulate (their impulses, emotions and attention).  A study by Lillard et al (2013) found that children who frequently engage in pretend play with other children have stronger self-regulation skills.  

Which does seem to be logical; after all, if you’re pretend playing with another child you both have to agree about what pretend things you’re doing and how you’re playing!  

The children have to learn to conform to a set of rules and the researchers suggest that practising conforming to rules like this could help children to develop better self-control and self-regulation over time.

Talk about the things you do as an adult and encourage them to copy you.

A lot of children will naturally want to copy what their parents are doing, grabbing a brush to help you clean up or making dinner in their play kitchen.

If you’re child doesn’t instinctively do these things you can encourage them by talking about the things you’re doing and then offering them tools to play alongside you.  So if you’re cooking dinner you could give your child a few bowls and spoons and dry pasta to mix up and transfer from bowl to bowl.

This kind of ‘real-life’ play has been found to help prepare children for actual real life challenges.  A study by Lancy in 2008 found that children all round the world engage in play activities that mimic the kinds of things they’ll be doing as adults.  The study also found that when older children or adults engage in the play with them and use that opportunity to teach them about the activities the children do take that information in, showing that children really do learn through play!

Do you think these tips are helpful?  Does your child naturally seem to enjoy pretend play?  I’d love to hear about the kinds of pretend play they enjoy!  

Mummascribbles
Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity_

My 3 favourite quotes about play

Sunday 17th May 2015 is national children’s day which is looking to spread the word about how important play is to children.  It’s not just about them having fun.  On the national children’s day website they explain that “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child (Article 31)”

So in celebration of the importance of play, I’ve put together this list of my 3 favourite ‘play’ quotes!

1) “Children need the freedom and time to play.  Play is not a luxury.  Play is a necessity”

Play quote

 

2) “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood”
quote about play

 

3) “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”
quote about play
Do you have a favourite quote about play?  Do you like the three quotes I’ve found?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Cuddle Fairy