What is childhood?

Artist Raindropmemory from www.wallpaperswide.com

Artist Raindropmemory from http://www.wallpaperswide.com

Reading the comments below this blog post on extra-curricular activities for children has got me thinking – what is childhood?

Are those who say “let children be children” and “XXX is being robbed of his childhood” a bit disillusioned? It’s only in recent decades society has romanticised childhood. Before the war and for hundreds of years (and in many countries even today) children were/are expected to work in factories, not have an education and provide for their family doing laborious, and very dangerous, jobs.

Children now in the Western world have never had it better. Education, toys, technology and more all on their doorstep. No longer are they shoved up a chimney or whipped to fetch a pail of water. Most are privileged to have loving families, a school system to help them succeed and to participate in extra curricular activities, which more often than not, are fun.

A fair number of parents shake their heads disapprovingly at the latter. When a parent is prepared to pour their time and money (not to say it always requires money) into educating and bettering their children, how can that be a bad thing? I see and hear about parents who don’t read to their kids, aren’t fussed about homework and let them play on the streets until dark in the name of childhood. Letting their child fall out of education without a plan in place, because you know, little Timmy is still trying to work out the path he wants to take.

Children get stressed when they have too many choices. Choices should be arbitrary (“would you like a custard cream or a digestive?”) not about serious life decisions. No child will ever volunteer themselves for maths tuition (or anything else that requires effort quite frankly), but that doesn’t mean it’s cruel to enrol them. DS1 started Kumon workbooks I bought from Amazon from aged three and they were a game to him.

At aged five, DS1 has been enrolled onto the Kumon course for three months now. He gets home from school, has a snack, does his 20 page Kumon worksheet in approximately 15 minutes, practises reading with his daily book from school and then he is allowed free play. He understands the routine, there’s no fight, no shouting, no tears. The misconception that a strict routine entails negativity from the parent is wrong. He is praised for his efforts and excited for the sticker at the end. Kumon hasn’t only taught him sums – he’s learnt routine, concentration (even when the task in hand isn’t brightly coloured and flashing to get your attention like most activities – that’s another blog post for another time…), to work autonomously, self-correction, seeing things through to the end, pencil control among many others.

The key to success is to be relentless with everything you do. I try my best to instil good habits from an early age, so as they grow up my children are hungry to achieve for themselves.

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Food for thought.

I have always been a bit obsessive mindful of DS’ eating habits, paying close attention to the food groups and making sure he had a balanced diet from the word go. Some might consider my behaviour a bit abnormal, I mean, I have been known to stand in the yoghurt aisle for a good fifteen minutes, noting each pot for it’s sugar, salt and saturated fat content.

Knowing this about me, my seven year old sister was a little anxious about staying at my house this weekend. She’s that kid you see in the TV programmes, junk food galore, shunning every vegetable in sight. My mission was to break her down, remove the crisps and replace with fruit and well balanced meals.

It wasn’t as difficult as I first anticipated. I allowed no room for discussion, outlining that her dislike for one thing or another just did not matter. Sometimes children and adults have to do things we don’t necessarily want to. It’s important to embed this young, teaching children to get over things easily, otherwise you end up with an adult who has learnt to be spoilt like me.

I made eating fun, getting DS and my sister to race against each other – who can eat the fastest, who can find the carrot first, who has the biggest chunk of salmon. If they grew tired of the games and receded back to moaning about their meals, I would not even acknowledge that either had spoken. I like to be hard but fair in my approach – speaking to children matter-of-factly seems to work well.

Some would view the spectrum above and believe the best position would be to place themselves in the middle – well balanced, a bit of everything. The stigma of mothers who stand firmly on the right end of the spectrum, is over presumptuous and gives excuses to those who wish they could have done better. Mothers who obsess over healthy eating slave away in the kitchen, they create children who are gagging for a bit of chocolate, alienated by their peers and when they are older they’ll over indulge.

It’s not true. It takes me 20 minutes tops to make DS’ lunch every time. We eat the same dinners. It is just as quick to pick up an apple as it is to grab a packet of salt ridden Walkers. Children who go without are resigned to this fact. When they are older, they will become equally as apathetic. Something went wrong for the children who do over indulge.

Hopefully my prudence will spur my sister on to eat with variety and encourage DS to continue his love for healthy foods. I don’t think I can convince her to steer away from junk food entirely – I don’t work miracles.

Get Out of my Hair.

I love DS’ hair. His luscious long locks, coupled with his sweeping fringe, is a rich chocolate brown and on occasion shines golden in the sunlight. It can be tucked behind his ears or left untamed in all it’s glory.

I take pride in my boy’s hair and do feel insulted when we are greeted with, ‘I think you should get his haircut soon‘, as if anyone other than Mummy and Daddy have any sway on what DS’ hair looks like.

We have only taken him to the hairdressers twice, both experiences were rather traumatic for everyone involved. I am not averse to getting his hair cut more often, although I do find it heartbreaking. Not just the physical cutting of the hair and handling a very strong toddler who will battle with all his might, but his hair has become part of his identity and to snip a part off does not sit well with me.

I cannot ever imagine my boy with a shaven head, or to generally not have it long. There must be a word to describe exactly what the feeling would be, devastation would come close, but slightly overdramatic I guess.

I will say it once more for clarity; DS Will Not Be Undergoing Any Form of Significant Hair Loss Resulting From a Pair of Scissors. 

Toys Are Us.

So Christmas has been and gone as fast as it came, leaving a trail of oversized plastic monstrosities and a mother desperate for more storage. It appears last year’s storage solutions are no longer fit for the job and I now have specific corners of each room dedicated for DS’ toys and books.

I have managed to hide all plastic out of sight, in places easily accessible to DS. They are just such an eyesore, tasteless and oh so American. We have lots of wooden toys, which are just (or even more so) enjoyable and they are mechanically very clever. Like the snail pull along toy that bobs up and down when pulled across the room, or the intricate detail in the tools for work bench we bought DS for one of his Christmas presents. Classic, impressive and definitely not tacky. Actually, let me tip toe back a bit, I do like Lego. I’ll give you that.

For comparison; classic wooden car park Grandma bought DS..

VS.

..a plastic monstrosity. Luckily we didn't receive this.

I am planning on getting rid of old toys to allow for more space this week, but I am a secret hoarder for memories. I know cannot continue following DS through life with a hoover in one hand and a suction bag in another. I am setting myself up for a fall when he lives for University and I am left at home clutching at his toggle coat from aged 1 and playing with his Mega Bloks.

Terrible Twos.

Terrible twos; one of those umbrella terms we use for tiredness, teething, overexcitement, generally misbehaving, to ward off prying onlookers and those who love to judge. Whilst you are squalling in your cot for no apparent reason, dear DS, I seem somewhat bipolar in my newly adopted children’s TV presenter persona, whilst secretly wanting to scream.

My grandmother asks, “why do you not shout at him or smack him so he knows he’s misbehaving?” Clearly there is a generational gap in our views and practices. Shouting and displaying violence would merely teach DS those actions are acceptable, which they are obviously not. My strategy to kill with kindness is nearly always a very long and drawn out pursuit to distract DS from whatever it is he is so distraught about. The other day he threw a tantrum because he would not allow me to put on his other shoe and insisted on hobbling around the room. There really is no reasoning with a child.

Anyway, it’s not like there is a specific age where children just suddenly morph from an angelic baby to this monstrous being. Understandably around the age of two a child starts to develop a real personality and becomes defiant in their wants and, less so, needs. But it is not only two year olds that are terrible, my sister is six, she is pretty terrible too.

It seems the age of two is the beginning of something that nearly never ends.

Mr. Bump.

It is not unusual for DS to fall over and display some sort of mark from an accident, however Sunday was different. There was actual blood dripping from his face. Perhaps I am being overdramatic and a bit precious over my baby, but it was pretty shocking from where I was standing.

So the story goes, Daddy and DS were setting off to Tescos for some cream cheese to accompany our smoked salmon lunch, which I was very much looking forward to. But within a minute of closing the door behind them, there was a loud frantic knock on the door followed by the sound of DS’ cry. Upon opening the door and seeing DS’ face, I froze and became motionless. I am not sure Daddy knew exactly what to do either, as this had never really happened before.

We decided to clean up the cut with a wet towel, much to DS’ dismay. We dabbed some Savlon on his lip and proceeded to cure him with love and kisses. He most probably ate the Savlon, as he was very keen to prod his lip and investigate after he was over the initial shock.

He seems absolutely fine now, a few days on, though I am still getting over it. It is awful watching your child bleed and feeling helpless, but knowing full well what happens next is up to you. I guess it was one of those milestone moments that follows all the childbirth/nappy changing/weening ones, when it suddenly hits that you are Mummy (or Daddy) and in charge now. No one else can fix that boy.

A Fresh Start.

As you are probably aware, DS has had a tough time at nursery in the past couple of months. He struggled to settle in and there were ongoing issues with the lack of food they were giving him. The communication was poor and I was left not knowing what my baby boy was getting up to for large chunks of the day. Yes he survived the day each time, but considering the amount we pay for childcare, we should receive a little more than the bare essentials; even then he would regularly come home crying for water.

But enough with the bitching, I am happy to section that part of DS’ life away to a dark corner and move forward. After an erratic week of finishing one nursery and having settling-in sessions at another, DS been exceedingly good at his new nursery today. I was doubtful at first, as he would kick and scream at the drop offs for settling-in sessions. But today he walked in calmly and did not shed a tear. My boy did me proud.

I have high hopes for this nursery, they are very confident in the way they conduct themselves and how they communicate with parents. I was a little annoyed that they did not apply Sudo cream because I had not signed a form (even though I gave them verbal authorisation), but I guess it is good to be strict with rules. I had a little spy on DS on the nursery cam and he seemed pretty happy running about with the other children. They only allow fifteen minutes a day per parent to view, which is good as we all need that little bit of reassurance, but we also need to get on with the reasons why they are there in the first place.

Here's what you could have won - What we gave to DS' first nursery when we left.