Tag Archives: kids

The Power of Positive Thinking: A Child’s Self Help Guide

Self help books are big business. Key among this genre are books about the power of positive thinking. Apparently all you need to do is believe in what you want and it will happen.

Having had only about 3 hours sleep in total and driven largely by coffee, I’m struggling with this, but watching my 3 year old in action over the last few weeks, I reckon I might have the basis for the next best seller.

The pre-schooler’s guide to the power of positive thinking.

Step 1. Know your goals.
They might seem unimportant, silly, even downright ridiculous to others, but you must be certain of what you want to achieve. If you want to wear shorts on a snowy day, insist on it. People might tell you it’s stupid and potentially even dangerous, but don’t listen to them. Once you’ve chosen a goal you must stick with it at all costs (even if that cost happens to be a week in bed with the flu).

2. Believe in your goals.
At times people will try to sway your from your goals, telling you they are unfeasible, impossible even. They may even try to bamboozle you with ‘facts’ and ‘the truth’. Never sway. If you believe it enough, it will become true.
Below is a real life example of step 2 in action.

Christmas Eve. A cold day. A family on the way home after a trip out for hot chocolate. A tired child.

“Come on. Let’s go home.”
“No. I want to go that way.”
“We don’t live that way. We need to go up this hill.”

“But I want to go down the hill.”
“But we live up the hill.”
“No we don’t”
“Yes we do!”

“No we dooooooooon’t! We live dooooooown the hiiiiiiiill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Child promptly sits down, crying and refuses to move.

See how effective it is. Sod the truth.  Believe whatever happens to be convenient to your wishes at the time!

Step 3: Visualise your success
As you have seen, real life can get in the way of your goals. Sometimes it is better to imagine what you want.
Want to a play game? More importantly, do you want to win? Play the real game and there’s always a risk you won’t. Avoid this downfall by playing an imaginary version instead. Ensure you are the only one who can see the ‘imaginary board’, make your own imaginary rules and you’re guaranteed to always reign victorious!

Step 4: Invest all your energy in what you want.
At times, even when you have followed steps 1-3 people will stand in your way. In these moments, a full on screaming tantrum is your only option. Whatever you do, don’t hold back.

Step 5: Enjoy the little victories
Unfortunately, sometimes not even the most positive thinking can overcome pesky things like facts, physics, geography and grown ups. In these moments of defeat, enjoy the fact that a well employed step 4 tantrum may at least result in you being given a biscuit or plonked in front of the telly just to shut you up.

Win-win.

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Stop making kids grow up so fast.

Being a grown up is rubbish for many reasons:
– having to work all the time
– paying rent/mortgages
– paying bills
– having to be aware of how much you spend on bills
– curbing your spending on more fun things to make sure you have enough left to pay the bills
– assembling flat pack furniture
– buying flat pack furniture
– spending a whole day of your precious weekend looking at and buying flat pack furniture

The list could go on forever, but in many ways the worst aspect of modern adult life is the relentless obsession with how you look. Some would say this peaks during teenage years, but really that’s just the beginning of a lifelong torturous routine of spending hours of your time and oodles of your cash trying to look a just little bit different than you do naturally, and even more hours being annoyed that it hasn’t quite worked.

Since becoming a parent it has gradually become clear to me how much of my time, money and energy I have wasted on the way I look. When my son walks in to my bedroom and says ‘what mummy doin?’ I give the simple answer: ‘straightening my hair’. This is followed by a puzzled but accepting look. I imagine him thinking ‘That’s weird – why do that when you could be doing jigsaws or running up and down the hallway? Seems like a waste of time to me.’

Numerous instances of this exchange have got me thinking: what am I doing? I spend about 30 minutes every morning getting myself ready: washing hair, drying hair, straightening hair, putting on make up (if hair straighteners confuse him, god knows what he thinks when he sees me drawing lines of concealer across half my face in an attempt to hide my sleep deprivation!). Pre-baby I spent about twice that time. If I spend about an average of 3.5 hours a week just getting ready (almost certainly an underestimation) since I officially became an adult at 18, I have spent 2548 hours just making myself look a little bit better than I did when I woke up. 2548 HOURS!!!! That’s 106 full days of my life.

Just looking at the figure makes me feel sick. Imagine what I could do with an extra 106 days! But I won’t change, I know I won’t. Occasionally I leave the house with my hair tied up instead of straightened and I genuinely believe that’s progress. I’m brainwashed. I really feel I need that 30 minutes of pampering before I can face the world, or rather let the world face me.

That’s why being a grown up is rubbish. Kids don’t think like that. My son won’t accept he can’t keep wearing the same nappy until it’s so full it falls round his ankles and stops him from playing ready, steady, go. Twice I have picked him up from the childminder to find him wearing pyjama tops because they had cars on and he wanted to wear a car that day. He doesn’t care that he looks like no one can be bothered to dress him in the morning, he’s got a car on his top!

How many of us have sat in conversations with friends who are intelligent, sensible and rational in every way, except when they begin checking the calorie content of a snack bar, complaining they need to be healthier then later that evening ordering a large glass of rosé? Or listened to them moan about how skint they are and that they can’t possibly come and met you for a coffee but, oh yes it is a new top. Do you like it? I bought it last week. On sale of course.

In my view, one of the best and simplest things we could do for our children is to protect them from this bullshit. Particularly the girls. Some boys and men may fall prey to these too, but we all know that in our society it’s the women who come under the most pressure to look a certain way and who are constantly objectified and sexualised.

So why, oh why, oh why do I keep seeing children in bikinis? CHILDREN in BIKINIS! They are not a practical choice for charging round paddling pools or jumping off water slides (any grown woman who’s had an embarrassing slip at a holiday water park could testify to that!). They are boring – what child would choose pink leopard print (one of the joys I saw in the park today) over Peppa Pig or multicoloured spots or giant stars? But most of all, they are just too adult. Literally, they are designed to cover up the adult parts of the body which children either don’t have or should not be worrying about yet. I can just about forgive the frilly spotty crop top and shorts I saw last week, striking a balance of just enough frills to be childish and just enough covered not to be garish. But when a child so young they have no curves and still giggle at the word poo is running around in just enough material to cover their nipples, with briefs held up by the flimsiest of ties, I can’t help but cringe. Clearly copied from a design intended for women to highlight their best assets, it masquerades as swimwear but is actually a sign of how little we have come to respect childhood. It might be fun to dress a child up in a suit for a day, to give them a t-shirt which matches their dad’s so they look like a mini-me, but that’s what it should remain. Fun. Dressing up.

Teenage years and adulthood are fraught enough with concerns about out sex and appearance – why the hell introduce your child to all that when you could wrap them up in an all-in-one wetsuit covered with colourful fish? Plus, you’d save a shed load on suncream.

Why Mr Gove and I will never agree

On the whole, I would rather scratch out my own eyes than ever agree with anything that emanates from the vicinity of Michael Gove. I was therefore horrified to discover that, when reading his speech from earlier this week, I actually agreed with two key issues he raised:

  1. Many children don’t read enough
  2. Many children don’t really understand the basics of grammar

Just as I was picking up the phone to pre-book an appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital, I continued reading only to discover that, while he’d finally picked up on something relevant he had, as always, completely missed the point.

Like most people, my key issue with Mr Gove (I use the formal name out of respect, not because I am in anyway incorporating a Mr Men analogy into my very serious piece on education) is that he seems to have based the education policy for an entire nation on ‘Well, I liked school and I turned out ok, so everyone should do what I did!’ He, of course, would have articulated it much better than I just have, and probably thrown in some reference to classical mythology  just to prove how well educated he is.

Mr Gove believes our education system has fallen prey to a “culture of excuses and low aspirations”. There is no doubt that there are times when this is true: working in a disadvantaged area it can be easy to fall into the trap of just being pleased when certain challenging students manage to turn up and get through a whole school day. That clearly isn’t enough. However, there are issues with certain students which are complex and require more thought than Mr Gove implies.

If I attempt to engage a disaffected student with a chaotic home life and no academic aspirations by sticking them in a private school style blazer and making them read only 19th Century classics, am I really raising their aspirations? Or am I just reinforcing the idea that privately educated people are generally ‘better’ and the only way to get on in the world is to pretend to be more like them?

At the risk of ruining my eyesight forever, let’s return to the key points where Mr Gove and I do have something in common.

*brief pause while I shudder after writing that sentence*

One of his key issues is that of children’s reading. Rather than being concerned about the number of children who don’t read at all, Mr Gove is concerned that “there are all too many children and young people only too happy to lose themselves in Stephanie Meyer”. He is concerned that children are actively turning away from classics such as George Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ in favour of teen fiction like the Twilight series. What Mr Gove seems not to understand is that it is not an either/or choice. The beauty of the advent of modern fiction, like The Twilight Series, is it engages a whole audience who may never before have considered reading for pleasure. They may not be of the same literary calibre, but if children are actively ‘losing themselves’ in a book, surely that can only be a good thing. If a child has discovered a love of reading, don’t ruin it for them by forcing them to read books they don’t like or aren’t yet ready for. Support them and let them discover it in our own time. Just because Mr Gove loved George Eliot as a teenager, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong anyone who doesn’t.

While he seems to dislike any books not written prior to the 19th Century (since when did age alone become a marker of good literature?), Mr Gove does attempt to make himself more culturally relevant by referencing popular children’s author Jacqueline Wilson to support his assertion that levels of grammar among school children are not good enough. Again, I agree. (I may have to take a shower after I finish writing this to wash off the shame!)

As a secondary school teacher, I am seriously concerned about the number of students who arrive in my class unable to properly punctuate even simple sentences.  When asked what the purpose of a comma is they invariably reply ‘it’s where you take a breath’. I must therefore assume there is an uncharacteristically large problem with respiratory diseases in my classroom, as commas are thrown around in sentences like confetti at a wedding.

Part of the problem is that there was a clear hiatus in the explicit teaching of grammar, meaning we now have a whole generation of teachers who don’t really know how to teach grammar. I should know – I’m one of them! I know how to use grammar correctly, but explaining its intricacies to other people is something I have to work on constantly. I also face the challenge that, by the time students reach secondary school, many of these bad habits are so ingrained it’s practically impossible to train them out of them.

If I, as a specialist English teacher, struggle to know how best to teach grammar, I can’t imagine how primary school teachers feel. The primary school teacher is the ‘jack of all trades’ of the education field; expected to teach every subject under the sun to children ranging from those who have only recently mastered potty training to those on the cusp of full-blown puberty. Can you really expect them to be able to practically demonstrate the process of photosynthesis one minute and move on to explaining the varying uses of subordinate clauses the next with equal skill and enthusiasm?

So how does our inimitable educational leader plan to tackle the problems of reading and writing? With “a screening check at the age of 6”. Hurray! A test! Another test! Because we all know the best way to fatten a pig is to weigh it more often. Constantly, in fact. Never let the pig off the scales! Stand there, staring at it constantly, telling it to gain more weight by reading out the numbers on the scales and setting it clearly defined targets of how many pounds you want it to gain by tomorrow!

And if it doesn’t work? Well, it’s clearly the fault of all those teachers and teaching unions who don’t care. They, allegedly “have objected to our desire to ensure that children are properly literate at the end of primary school”. Yeah that’s right. We all hate kids! We don’t want them to learn. That’s why we choose to work with them day in, day out, despite being constantly criticised by the government. Because we hate them and want them to fail.

So, it seems that Mr Gove and I don’t actually agree on that much after all. Thank God for that. I thought I was about to lose all sense of who I was!

But before I throw a party in celebration of realising my true political leanings, I have to admit it makes me a bit sad. I wish I did agree with Mr Gove. I genuinely want him to succeed because, despite the massive risk to my ocular function, I really do want education to work for every child and for every child to reach secondary school fully literate.

So, on the off chance that any of you readers know Mr Gove (you never know!) and can convince him to take the opinions of someone who, sadly hasn’t been to Eton, but who has worked with primary school children struggling with literacy and young offenders who had often been excluded from school, has taught in inner London for several years, who is a godmother and aunt to primary school children and pre-schoolers, and now mother to an almost-toddler (well, he might be toddling if he wasn’t so busy sitting on his backside reading Dear Zoo for the 1000th time!) here are a few ideas for fixing the problems we both agree on:

– Reinstate funding for public libraries. You can’t encourage a love of reading in children if they don’t have access to books so they can read.

– Don’t cut funding to children’s centres and similar services. Our local children’s centre recently announced it was cutting a number of vital services because it had lost 20% of its funding. It’s ok for people like me who know about education and already read with their children, but what about parents who didn’t have a good education themselves? Where are their children going to learn good social skills and be read stories? There’s no point waiting until they’re 6 then screening them to discover they don’t even know which way the pages of a book turn. You need to intervene when they are babies and toddlers, get them reading and talking before they even walk through the school gates.

– Stop moaning about teachers’ inability to teach grammar and do something about it. Provide some training (not a boring information pack, actual training) so teachers know how to teach grammar properly and confidently. There will be plenty of people who say you shouldn’t have to provide this, and maybe you shouldn’t, but if you don’t think the teaching’s good enough, stop moaning and do something about it.

– Don’t just assess: intervene. If children are really struggling with reading and writing, they don’t need a standardised test. They need help! This takes time and resources, but it works. Look to charities like Springboard for Children and Reading Recovery. They may not have gone to Eton, and they may not even all have read Middlemarch, but they do know what they’re doing.

Michael Gove’s speech in full

http://www.springboard.org.uk/  @springboard4

http://readingrecovery.ioe.ac.uk/about.html

The Eternal Suffering of the Spotless House

If cleanliness really is next to Godliness, my family are stuck permanently in purgatory.

While we are a long way from the horrors of student days – when my husband tells me a girl was once sent screaming from his flat after noticing a distinct rustling in the pile of takeaway boxes which had become a permanent fixture next to their kitchen bin – I’m hardly a domestic goddess. If you were to turn up at my house uninvited, or even invited, you’re far more likely to be greeted by a mound of un-ironed shirts and half-read newspapers than a freshly brewed pot of tea and a slice of homemade cake.

I am not a domesticated person. I eat cake, I don’t bake it. I buy clothes, I don’t iron them. I can cope with cooking up and – more importantly – eating a family meal, but don’t expect me to wash up as well. That’s just ridiculous.

I hate housework; I hate it.

Housework is a necessary but mind-numbingly boring evil. A task approached with begrudging acceptance and minimal satisfaction on completion.

Sadly, housework when you have a baby moves from an occasional inconvenience to an eternal occupation: cleaning and sterilising bottles; washing dirty clothes; picking up half-eaten food from the floor; scrubbing baby sick off the sofa; picking up half-eaten food off the floor; washing more dirty clothes; drenching every surface with anti-bacterial spray when someone who visited turns out to have a stomach bug; picking more half-eaten food off the floor; putting away toys; hanging out washing; ironing; picking up yet more half-eaten food off the floor then sweeping and mopping it before collapsing, exhausted and miserable in front of ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, ‘The Great British Bake Off’, ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ or some other prime time reality show designed to highlight how crap you are as a homemaker compared to these inane, grinning buffoons, who periodically fawn over a particularly well-constructed cross-stitch or sobb over a rogue macaroon which isn’t quite the same shape and size as the rest. Oh for God’s sake, grow up and get a real life!

I hate housework and homemaking; I hate it!

King Sisyphus angered the gods through his trickery and deceit, and so was condemned to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see it fall straight back down and have to start again. In the first few years of our courtship, I lied continuously and pretended to be interested in my husband’s crappy football team. Perhaps that deceit is why I seem to have been sentenced to a lifetime of mopping the kitchen floor, only to slip on a sludgy piece of brown banana ten minutes after I finish and start all over again.

I really hate housework; I HATE IT!

Throughout my pregnancy, there was a constant stream of doomsayers, desperate to tell me how shit my life would be once I became a mum. Gems such as “Ooh, enjoy sleep while you can. You won’t get much once the baby arrives!” or young single people gloating “We won’t see you down the pub again soon” or women who already have a brood of children taking pleasure in telling me, in detail, all the ways in which my body would fall apart and begin to resemble that of an ogre after the ‘joys of childbirth’. But no one told me that I’d be perpetually chained to the kitchen sink and essentially have to superglue marigolds to my hands just to get through the day.

My biggest concern when going off on maternity leave was that I’d be bored away from work. “Oh you won’t have time to be bored” chimed the doomsayers. Well, they were half right. I don’t have time, but forgive me if I don’t find dusting that stimulating.

I hate housework; I REALLY HATE IT!

Like most people, as a child I went through numerous phases of wanting to be all sorts of things: a lawyer, an actress, an astronomer, a singer, a fashion journalist – once in middle school I even did an art project about wanting to be a dentist! I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, but I always wanted to work and, to quote the great feminist thinker Beyonce, I wanted to be an ‘independent woman’.

I have always worked, ever since I got a part time job at the age of 15. For most of the time my husband and I have been together, I have been the greater earner (not by much, but still!). The idea of being at home and being reliant on someone else, of having to go cap in hand to ask for cash to go shopping whilst on maternity leave was galling. It’s something I’ve never gotten used to. Many people would say I’m doing a valuable job by staying at home to raise our son, and I’m sure that’s true. But when raising him on some days consists of going to some cutesy named playgroup to sing nursery rhymes, then round to a friend’s for lunch and a coffee, I do feel a bit guilty.  So I feel it’s only fair that I take on the lion’s share of the housework. The problem being, just in case you’ve missed it, I HATE HOUSEWORK. I HATE IT!

So, in two weeks, I’m heading back to work. Full time. I thought this was the norm but chatting at the local children’s centre tells me this often isn’t so. Everyone else is sorting out flexible working arrangements, cutting down their hours or giving up altogether. It’ll definitely be hard to leave the little one, but, oh to engage my brain again! To talk about something other than nappies and weaning. But most of all, to escape the housework: the wiping, the mopping, the sweeping. What’s that you say? It’ll still be there to do when I get home? No it won’t. I’m getting a cleaner! Yes, sod the expense – I’ll dye my hair at home and we’ll eat more beans on toast. Sod the middle class guilt – I’ll get over it when I see how shiny the sink is. Sod what other people think – it’s money well spent if I can pick the baby up from the childminder and head down to the park rather than picking up the duster and heading to the living room furniture.

So take that Sisyphus. If only you’d thought to hire help and sneak off back to work, perhaps eternity wouldn’t have seemed so torturous.