playgroup

Going to baby group for the first time (tips and advice for shy, anxious parents)

I can still remember it so clearly, the first time I decided to venture out to a baby group with my son.  I was so unbelievably nervous.  I’ve always been a shy person and so the thought of walking in to a room full of people I didn’t know and somehow trying to start up a conversation with them was just terrifying!

But, I had no Mum friends at that point, so took a deep breath and made myself do it.  And, honestly, that first time wasn’t that great.  I found it really hard, and had to force myself to go back a few weeks later.  But after that, it got easier and the people I met at that first baby group are still good friends of mine now which I’m so happy about.  We saw each other through the really hard times of being a new, first-time parent and are still around now to help each other through the hard times.  Especially now several of us have had a second child.

So, if you’re a new parent and sort of want to venture into the world of baby groups but are really scared by the idea of it, I would really encourage you to go for it.  It’s so worth those scary, uneasy moments!

Here are some tips, some science-backed, some just based on my own experience, that might help you take that first step into the world of baby groups!

going baby group first time advice shy anxious parents

Take someone with you.

Now, if you’re going to a group with the aim of meeting new people and making new Mum friends, then taking someone with you might not seem like the best idea, as you may well end up spending the whole time just chatting together.  But, if you’re really shy and nervous, having someone you know there with you might be enough to get you through the door.

Then once you’ve done that, you may well feel brave enough next time to go in alone.


Have a hug before you go in.

If you do take someone with you, try giving them a big hug just before you go in the door.  Or, if it’s your partner or someone you’re close to, try holding their hand on the way there.  If you’re going by yourself, then get your baby out and hold them close to you as you walk in the door.

All of these actions release oxytocin into your blood stream which is a really good thing!

Research from Concordia University has shown that oxytocin can help introverts in social situations because “under the effects of oxytocin, a person can perceive themselves as more extroverted, more open to new ideas and more trusting”.  So get those hugs in!


Ditch the car.
Try walking to the group if you can.  There are two reasons for this, the first is that walking releases oxytocin, just like hugging does, and the more of that the better when you’re feeling nervous!
The second reason is that walking to the group will give you time to calm yourself.  You won’t be worrying about whether or not there’ll be enough parking when you get there, you can just relax and take the time to reassure yourself that it’ll be ok.


Listen to some soothing music.

If you do decide to take the car (maybe that option is less stressful to you than pushing a heavy buggy all the way there!), then try listening to some soothing music as you drive.  Studies have found that doing this can, say it with me, release more oxytocin into your bloodstream.  Marvellous!


Use your baby to break the ice.

One of the great things about baby groups is that you have a natural ice-breaker with you!  You don’t have to worry about awkwardly starting up a conversation about the weather, you can open with a simple ‘how old is he?’.  You’ll find that other Mums are more than happy to answer questions about their babies, I mean, who doesn’t love talking about their kids!


Get people’s names!

One thing I would highly recommend though, is to make sure that when you do get chatting with someone you ask them what their name is, and not just their baby’s name!  I speak from experience.  I spent far too long calling people ‘so and so’s Mum’, then it just gets to a point when it’s almost embarrassing to ask.

So get in there early, ask for their name and then use it in conversation with them so it has a better chance of sticking in your sleep-deprived mind!


If at first you don’t succeed…

Try, try again.

And then try a different group!

You might find that the first time you go to a group it all feels a bit awkward and you don’t really talk to anyone.  If this happens, take a deep breath and try again.  It might take a few visits for you to warm up enough to start chatting to people, and also once you’ve been a few times people will start to recognise you and chat more with you.  If you really don’t like the first group you try though, have a look around at the other ones that are available in your area.

If you find the free-play sort of groups really intimidating then try going to a class or activity-based group instead.  Rhyme time sessions at the local library are a great free option, and there are all sorts of baby massage classes, baby signing classes, arts and crafts for toddlers sessions, and music classes that you could look into.  You might find that the activity helps you relax more so that you can start to chat more easily with the other mums.

So, there you have it, my advice to other shy parents who are working up the courage to venture out into the world of baby groups!  I really hope it helps, and that you end up enjoying these kind of groups as much as I’ve enjoyed them over the last 5 years.  If you have any other advice or related stories then please do leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Benefits of eating together as a family

5 benefits of eating together as a family

Quick question – how often do you sit down as a family and eat a meal?

I know we don’t do it anywhere near as much as we should.  Mainly due to the fact that my children are hungry and ready to eat their dinner by about 4.30 every day, and my husband is still at work at that time.  It just doesn’t work for us to all eat dinner together during the week.

But I know we need to make more of an effort to find a way to sit down together for more meals.  I’ve done a bit of digging around and found some really interesting points about the benefits of families eating meals together, and it’s definitely inspired me to make sure we do it more often.

Here are my top 5 benefits of eating together as a family on a regular basis: 

5 benefits of eating together as a family (4)

 

1) Your children will eat better
Various studies have shown that children who regularly eat meals with their families tend to eat a healthier, more varied diet.  One particular study carried out in 2000 found that the 9-14 year olds who ate dinner with their families had diets that were higher in loads of key nutrients like iron and calcium.If your children are fussy eaters then sitting and having dinner together regularly could help to increase the number of foods they eat and enjoy.  A study carried out in 2003 found that children who were offered sweet red pepper every day for 8 days said they liked it more (and were eating more of it) than children who were offered a reward for eating the pepper.  This research seems to suggest that constantly exposing our children to new foods, without pressure from threats or rewards, will help them learn to try, and like, different things, even if they don’t like them at first.So, eating dinner together, and offering our children new foods to try each time can gradually help them to start eating a more varied, healthy diet. 

2) They’ll improve their vocabulary
Assuming you don’t sit in stony silence at mealtimes, you can help increase your children’s vocabulary by eating dinner together.  Studies have found that chatting together over dinner results in children knowing, and using, more words than average.

Not only that, but they also know six times more rare words (by which they mean words that children don’t typically use) than children who don’t eat meals with their parents.

 

3) You can tackle bullying
Bullying is something that most children will be exposed to in one way or another while growing up, and now there’s also cyber-bullying to deal with.  It’s easier than ever for children to bully each other, and perhaps harder than ever for parents to prevent it.

What research has found, though, is that eating meals together as a family can actually be helpful in recognising that bullying is going on, and addressing it.

Regularly sitting down as a family gives parents a chance to pick up on warning signs that their child is being bullied, and to provide support to help get the situation resolved.

 

4) You’ll form closer family relationships
We all lead such busy lives, that taking time out to sit down together and share a meal and a chat can be a great way to deepen family relationships.  Studies have found that families who do often eat together are more honest and open with each other, and that the children are more likely to turn to their parents with any problems they might have.

 

5) The whole family will be happier
Research carried out with American teenagers found that those who regularly eat with their parents are more likely to be emotionally strong, and less likely to experience mental health problems.

They were also found to have good communication skills and manners, most likely through learning by their parents’ example.

Interestingly, the results don’t just apply to children.  Studies have also found that Mothers who eat with their families are happier and more relaxed than Mothers who don’t.

 

Those are my top 5 benefits of eating together as a family, but there are also a few other things that I think are worth noting to really get the best out of doing it:

 

It doesn’t have to be dinner.  If you find that your lifestyle really doesn’t allow you to sit down with your children for dinner every night, then it might be worth seeing if you can share another meal together instead, like breakfast.

 

Get everyone involved.  Get your children sitting at the table as early on as possible, so they’re exposed to all the benefits from a young age.  I find that booster seats that fit to kitchen chairs are a great alternative to high-chairs, as you can push them right up to the table so that even babies and toddlers can be part of the action.

 

Keep it light.  Family mealtimes should be relaxed and fun.  If you have young, fussy eaters you don’t want dinner to become a battleground, so try offering different foods with no pressure, alongside food they know and like.  And with older children keeping things light will encourage them to feel more comfortable opening up to you.

 

Limit distractions.  Most of the benefits of eating meals together comes from the conversations that occur during the meal, so having the tv blaring at the same time will have a negative impact.  So when you sit down for dinner, turn off the tv and keep phones and tablets away from the table.

 

Researching and writing this post has really made me think about how I do need to make more of an effort to plan our meals so that we can all sit and eat together as often as possible.  I know that on weekdays it just won’t work for us to try and eat dinner as a family, but, if I get a bit more organised, I can see how I could change our mornings a bit to make sure that I sit at the table with the children each day for breakfast.

And there really is no reason why we can’t eat lunch or dinner as a family at the weekends, I just need to get in the habit of doing it, but there are enough benefits to make it well worth it!

 

One thing I will say though, is that I don’t think parents should feel guilty if they aren’t able to sit down together for a meal every day.  A lot of the benefits I’ve found seem to be a result of time spent together, being relaxed and chatting openly with each other, and I think you can create a lot of that away from the table.  So maybe you spend a few minutes each night before bed, chatting with your child about their day, or take a little walk every day as a family and discuss what’s going on in everyone’s lives.

As long as you’re creating a space for open conversation then I think you can still reap a lot of the benefits.

 

But if you can find a way to have regular meals together, so much the better!

stop offering false hope to parents of babies who don't sleep

Maybe we need to stop offering false hope to parents of babies who don’t sleep.

For the first 4 months of my daughter’s life if someone asked me ‘how is she in the nights?’, I would answer ‘brilliant…for now’.

See, at the beginning she would sleep for a good 5 hour stretch every night.  But I just knew it wouldn’t last.  I knew that something would come along and it would all go to pot.   And that something turned out to be the 4 month sleep regression.

It was crazy, in the space of about a week she went from sleeping these lovely long stretches at night to waking up every 2-3 hours (at best).  On our worst nights she woke up pretty much every hour.  And each time she woke, she fed.

This carried on until she was about a year old and I finally managed to cut out her night feeds.  She still rarely sleeps all through the night, but the days of 2-hourly wake ups are behind us.

Those 8 months were some of the longest, hardest months I’ve ever had.

There were days where I was so tired I felt dizzy.

I constantly craved caffeine and sugar.

A lot of exhausted tears were shed.

And one thing that really didn’t help?  False hope!

offer false hope parents babies don't sleep (1)

When you tell people that your baby is waking a lot in the night, they’ll more often than not offer you some advice.  And the internet is full of suggestions and miracle cures.

And you get your hopes up.  You start to believe that your baby will sleep better if you just do this one thing.

The thing is, some of the advice will work for some babies, but not for others.  Sometimes you can try everything under the sun and still get nowhere, because your baby just isn’t a ‘sleeper’.

And sometimes, the advice being handed out isn’t even right.

One big thing that we hear a lot is that your baby will start to sleep for longer stretches if you switch them to formula, or start feeding them solid foods.

And I remember reading this and being told this and really getting my hopes up that Nerys would sleep better once she got to 6 months and was starting to eat solids.

But, it made absolutely no difference to us.  I would give her a bowl of cereal before taking her up for her bath, in the hope that it would fill her tummy and get her to sleep for longer.  But it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

So I was really quite relieved to read this research from Dr. Amy Brown at Swansea University that found that switching to formula or giving solid foods had no effect on how many times babies wake in the night.

The study involved asking over 700 mothers with babies aged 6-12 months how often their baby woke up each night, and whether or not they fed them each time.

Dr Brown found that “there was no difference in the number of times babies woke up dependent on whether they were breast or formula fed, how many feeds they had in the day or how many solid meals they ate.”

So, basically, no matter what you feed your baby if they’re going to wake in the night, they’re going to wake in the night.

And I think there’s some comfort in that.

I mean, it’s not what you want to read at 3am when you’re desperate for an answer (and some sleep), but there is some comfort in knowing that it’s just the way it is.

You can easily drive yourself crazy by worrying about what you’ve done wrong to make your baby a ‘bad sleeper’ and putting together plans of attack to solve the problem based on bits of advice you’ve read.  But maybe it isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed.  Maybe it’s just the way it is.  Just the way your baby is.

I know that my approach in the end was to try my best to just accept the sleepless nights.  To steer into the skid.

It’s not a miracle cure or a perfect solution to your sleep problems, but here’s what helped get me through it:

  • Accepting the situation and keeping in mind that, one day, it would improve.

 

  • Coffee.  Lots of coffee.  And sweet things.  My body was craving sugar and energy, and while I’m sure there are healthier ways to get what I needed I was too tired to do more than grab a handful of skittles.

 

  • Having other people to talk to who were going through the same thing.  This is huge.  A good friend of mine was dealing with the same thing as me at the same time, and seeing her every morning on the school run and comparing stories from the previous night (and knowing I wasn’t in it alone) really helped get me through.

 

  • Taking naps.  Whenever and wherever I could, I would shut my eyes.  And at the weekend I would head back to bed for a good few hours and let my husband have quality time with the kids so I could catch up on some sleep.

 

  • Netflix.  When Nerys woke up for a feed in the night I would grab the ipad and prop it up in bed next to me and at least be entertained while she fed (and fed and fed).  I got through all of Prison Break, Orange is the new black and Charmed (along with few other shows) in those 8 months of endless night-feeds.

So those are my thoughts on the whole thing, and my advice for getting through it.

I’d love to know what other people think about this.  If you had/have a baby who wakes a lot in the night, have you found any advice useful, or did it just give you false hope?

Parenthood and the spotlight effect

Feel like the whole world is watching you?  (Parenthood and the spotlight effect)

When you have a baby you’re suddenly faced with so many things that you have to learn how to do.  

It can take a long time to feel comfortable and confident tackling all the tasks that parenthood demands of us.  And while we’re finding our feet it can really feel like everyone and his mother is watching us and judging our abilities as parents.

A lot of things, like changing nappies for example, we can practice in the safety of our own homes before we have to potentially do it in front of other people.  But eventually we have to venture out into the world and in front of witnesses!

I’ve definitely had several moments when I’ve felt awkward and like I’m being watched while I’m out with my children.

The first few times I went out to baby group after Nerys was born and I had to attempt to get her safely into a stretchy wrap I felt really self-conscious.  I felt as if I was drawing attention to myself with this huge length of fabric.  I felt like the baby-wearing pros were watching and wondering if I had a clue what I was doing!

Then I had to face something I was really worried about – breastfeeding in public!  Even in the breastfeeding-friendly atmosphere of baby group I was still unbelievably self-conscious.  Especially because, in those early weeks, Nerys was a very messy feeder and I had a tendency to end up covered in milk!  I didn’t want to use a cover, but also really didn’t want to end up flashing the room, so I moved as quickly as I could to get her latched on!

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the parents who are bottle feeding who worry so much about being seen and judged by the breastfeeding mums that they would rather leave than pull out a bottle.  My son was formula-fed from 2 weeks and I was lucky enough to feel confident in my decision that this was what was best for our family and so never had any problems feeding him in public, but I know that some women find this really hard.

There are so many other times that we feel like people are staring at us when we’re out in the world.  

When you head out on the school run with unwashed hair and weetabix smeared on your clothes.  Or when your toddler is pitching a fit in the supermarket when you won’t buy them any chocolate.  Or even when you take your baby out without a hat on a chilly day.

But it turns out, we might be worrying unnecessarily.  We might just be falling victim to the spotlight effect.

Parenthood and the spotlight effect

The Spotlight Effect is the psychological term for our tendency to believe that more people notice things about you than actually do.  

So, while we might think that all the other parents at the school gates have noticed that the baby is still in her pyjamas, chances are only one or two of them actually did.

People in general are really egocentric, meaning that we’re basically the centre of our own universes.

This doesn’t mean that we all think we’re great and so everyone must be looking at us, more that we’re so used to seeing the world from our own perspective that we believe other people must do the same.

We are so aware of the fact that we’ve got baby food splattered on our top that we assume that other people must be aware of it too, when in reality they don’t even know that the stains exist and are, in fact, much more preoccupied with their own appearance to even pay much attention to ours!

This quote from a study carried out at Cornell University sums it up really well:

“Strangers, colleagues, and even friends rarely have the luxury of devoting their full attention to either our triumphs or our slips….They are typically busy managing their own actions and appearance and the impressions they hope to make.”

Makes sense really, if we’re preoccupied with our own lives, then it does follow that other people are preoccupied with theirs!

So next time you’re anxious about having to feed your baby in public, or getting a newborn in a fancy sling or just leaving the house with no make up and hair that needs a wash, don’t worry too much about it – people aren’t looking at you half as much as you think they are!

What are your experiences with this?  When have you worried that everyone is looking at  you?


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7 days to a happier you

7 days to a happier you

At the end of another long week, how do you generally feel?

If you’re not feeling as happy as you’d like, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!  I’ve been doing a lot of research into happiness and joy recently, working out what little things we can do to up our happiness levels.

There are lots of things we can do to increase our happiness in the long term, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start.  So I have a bit of a challenge for you.  Over the next week, try these 7 different things to bring a bit of extra happiness to your life.

7 days to a happier you

 

Starting this weekend, try my suggested activity for each day and see if you feel happier by the end of the week!

Here we go:

Saturday 

Give a friend five £1 coins and get them to kind them in random places around your house.  Think under a sofa cushion, in your coat pocket, in your junk drawer (we all have one right?), or in your jewellery box.

Studies have shown that finding money unexpectedly really works to make us feel happier, and this way the chances of you coming across a surprise bit of money are greatly increased!

You could get your kids involved in this one instead of a friend if you want, but be warned that the coins will end up in REALLY random places.

 

Sunday

Have a lazy Sunday morning cwtch-fest.

Bundle the whole family into your bed for a bit for lots of cuddles; you’ll get loads of oxytocin flowing which makes you feel lovely and relaxed and happy!

 

Monday

Work to your strengths.

There was a study carried out at Harvard University where volunteers were asked to identify their strongest trait and then use it in a new way every day for a week.  The volunteers reported feeling significantly happier at the end of the week and, even better, the results lasted for six months!

So, have a think about what your greatest strength is and think of how you can use it more every day.

Are you a kind person?  Maybe you can help someone carry their shopping to their car, pop some money in the charity tin at the till, or simply shoot the Mum with the screaming toddler a sympathetic “I’ve been there” smile!

 

Tuesday

Smile!

Beat that Tuesday feeling (is it just me who feels that Tuesdays are a bit of a non-day?!) by smiling.  Even if you don’t really feel like doing it, smiling really does make you feel happier.  Michelle from The Joy Chaser wrote a post all about how it works, explaining that “when you feel happy, your brain produces endorphins and sends signals to your facial muscles to trigger a smile.  The smile tells our brains we’re happy and creates a feedback loop that keeps the process going”.

So even if you feel a bit silly doing it, put a big smile on your face and see how much happier you really do start to feel!

Smile to feel happier

 

Wednesday

Get moving.

I know, you’ve heard it before, but getting some exercise really is a great way to increase your happiness.  Getting out for a brisk walk on your lunch break (or to the park with the kids) will stimulate your brain’s production of dopamine which increases our feelings of pleasure and happiness.

But, did you know that the way you walk can affect your mood?!

In the same way that smiling (even if you don’t feel like it) can make you feel happier, walking in a bouncy, happy way (even if you feel a bit blue) can make you feel better.

So put a bit of zing in your step, after a short while you’ll start to feel as bouncy and happy as your walk!

 

Thursday

Share a ‘Throwback Thursday’ photo.

Before you choose one to post, take a bit of time to go through your old photos, reminiscing about happy times from your past.  Studies have shown that thinking about happy times boosts serotonin levels in your brain, which has been linked to decreases in depression.

Make even more of an impact on your happiness by writing a little post about the good time you had when the photo was taken – processing your emotions through writing has been found to help you feel less distressed

 

Friday

Change your bed sheets.

End your week on a happiness high by climbing into a bed made up with lovely fresh, clean bedding.  In a research project, two-thirds of people said that sleeping in a freshly made bed was at the top of their list of things that made them feel great.

So, there you have it, a week of ways to increase your happiness.  Are you game to give it a try?  

Try this trick to improve your relationship with your partner

Try this one little trick to improve your relationship

Relationships are wonderful.  

They really are.

But, they’re not easy.  You sometimes need to put a little bit of work in to keep them on track.

This little tip though, is a pretty easy and fun way to help improve things in your relationship.

Try this one little trick to improve your relationship

Sit down and watch a romantic film together!

Researchers at the University of Rochester carried out a study of couples in the early stages of marriage and found that divorce rates were cut in half for couples who watched romantic films together and then talked about them afterwards.

Pretty impressive.

The study looked at couples in their first 3 years of marriage and found that watching a film every week that has a romantic relationship as a main part of the plot and then discussing it afterwards was as effective at preventing divorce as other, more intensive relationship therapies.

Now, the key seems to be the discussion afterwards, where the newly-weds would answer specific questions about the couple in the film and how they dealt with various issues.

They were encouraged to discuss if they dealt with things the same way as the film couple.

It seems to me that the main thing to take away from this is the importance of talking openly and honestly with our partners about our relationships, and to acknowledge how we might sometimes handle things the wrong way and work to resolve issues in a healthier way.

So, if you feel like your relationship could do with a bit of tlc, try putting on a romcom and then having a bit of chat about it afterwards.  Sounds like a pretty painless way to start communicating again.

Unless you’re like my husband and really can’t stand those kind of films, in which case, think a little outside the box.  We don’t watch any of my collection of romcoms together, but we did watch all of How I met your mother together – perfect for sparking discussions about relationships!

And remember, the key here really is the discussions afterwards, if you can find any way to start talking about couples and how they might deal with various issues then you’re on to a winner.

So what are your thoughts on this?  Do you watch these kinds of films together as a couple?  Do you naturally tend to discuss relationships (fictional or otherwise) together?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com
Get a happier less anxious you with oxytocin

6 ways to boost your oxytocin levels (and get a happier, less anxious you!)

Have you had a good oxytocin fix lately? 

If you’ve read my previous post about making your mornings happier by making time for a good hug with someone, then you’ll have an idea of how amazing this happy hormone is!

Oxytocin has some real super powers, like boosting your immune system, reducing anxiety and lowering your blood pressure.  So, how can we all get more of the good stuff?

Here are 6 ways to get you started on getting more oxytocin in your day:

Get a happier less anxious you with oxytocin 

1) Have a good cuddle, get a massage or stroke your cat/dog.

Basically, any kind of physical contact is great for getting the oxytocin flowing, but the more you do it the better, so a nice long hug from a loved one, a 5 minute snuggle on the sofa with your cat or a pampering hour spent having a massage should do the trick!

2) Give some money away.

Studies have found that showing compassion in a visceral way (so, doing it because your gut feeling about it is good, rather than there being a logical explanation for doing it), like giving money away, is linked to higher levels of oxytocin.

So you might have a charity that you just feel an affinity with – go donate a bit of money to them.  Or, for a real feel-good hit, hide some money about town for strangers to find, random-acts-of-kindness-style!

3) ‘Like’ some of your friends’ post and photos on Facebook.

In the same way that hugging releases oxytocin, so do all sorts of other kinds of social interaction, including getting stuck in to a good Facebook session.

Researchers have found that we get a dose of oxytocin after spending time on Facebook and Twitter, most likely down to the fact that ‘liking’ and commenting on our friends’ photos and status updates makes us feel more connected to them,

4) Go for a walk outside.

This one shouldn’t be a surprise, we’ve been told time and time again how great gentle exercise is for boosting our moods.  And studies have shown that going for a walk outside in nature is associated with increased levels of oxytocin.  If you’re feeling more adventurous, then grab a friend and go exploring – it’s been found that going on adventures with people helps to make us feel more bonded to them!

5) Listen to some soothing music.

Ok, so this one is also quite logical, I mean, taking some time out and listening to soothing music is bound to make you feel relaxed!  And the reason it makes you relaxed, is because it prompts the body to produce more oxytocin!

There was a study carried out on patients who were recovering from open heart surgery, that found that when they listened to soothing music there was an increase in the levels of oxytocin in their blood.  Meaning they were less stressed and healed more quickly – pretty amazing.

6) Eat some eggs and a banana.

Eggs and bananas have both been linked with increased levels of oxytocin.  So, scrambled eggs followed by a banana for breakfast will set you up for a great day!  Or you could give these banana pancakes a try for the same effect, and you get bonus happy points if you add some chocolate chips for a dopamine hit!

If you like this post, then you might also like these:
6 reasons to squeeze more hugs into each day
Try this one little trick to start your day feeling happy

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Mr and Mrs T Plus Three
Share the Joy linky at TheJoyChaser.com