Look again?

To watch or not to watch.  That is the (parenting) question.

Ah yes, the great TV debate. Yawn. But I have to confess I think about it. A lot.
I know there has been a huge amount of research done into the effect of TV on kids, and journals published and books and lots of child psychologists warning well-intentioned parents away from the screens. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to think again?

My kids are preschool age and whilst they are growing up in the same house, with largely the same experiences and environment as each other, their experiences with TV have been different. Because our experiences of parenting have evolved from when we had our daughter.

With Aisha, we limited TV to two half-hour programmes a day, from that bastion of kids TV, CBeebies. I read the books, I knew that you should limit telly time, carefully select programmes, and then watch them together.  And for quite a while we did okay with that. Aisha never demanded programmes, she didn’t get upset when the box was turned off, she didn’t think much about it in-between viewings and she had no idea what the Bedtime Hour was.

With our son, Abel, things have been very different.  You could say we have adopted a more relaxed approach. Or you could say we discovered there are significant benefits from allowing a bit of CBeebies time (or if it’s well early and you can’t cope with the beeb, a bit of Milkshake).

We put Milkshake on in the mornings in order to facilitate a stress free getting-ready-for-nursery time and to buy us some time to get ready ourselves without the bathroom door bursting open mid-toilet-visit or a small child appearing at the side of the bath during your shower and asking probing questions about your body parts.  So, hurray for Milkshake.

But as well as that, other programmes have been creeping in and TV has become a sort of comforting constant in our lives.  If the kids have had a busy day and they’re over tired, we will put a programme on for them to wind down with whilst we get tea sorted. Or if it is a Sunday and we come back from something busy, we might watch on an afternoon movie and chill out for a bit.

I think I knew it was bad when Abel started to come in from nursery, point at the TV and say “Beebies”.  Very cute but very bad.

So what do we do? Do we believe all the haters and think that TV will ruin our kids? Or do we give ourselves a break and let them enjoy TV as a part of their lives, with appropriate programmes?  

I have mixed thoughts.  On the one hand I do worry about the TV creep in our lives, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to have kids TV available all day and sometimes all night.   In my childhood You got to know when programmes were on. – cartoons on a weekend morning, kids programmes after school.  I would welcome a return to that.  But on the other hand, why should we try so hard to stop something that is engrained in our adult lives?  I don’t believe, if used responsibly, that TV necessarily stops kids from being kids.  I just think we need to be wise, monitor what they are watching, and not worry so much.

The thing I think a lot of us struggle with, and I know I’m guilty of this, is using the past as a point of reference for our children.  The ‘now’ and the future are very different to the world we grew up in.  iPads, laptops, smart phones. They were unheard of twenty, thirty years ago. TV was as advanced as it got.   We need to move with the times and let our children embrace the world they are growing up in.  So maybe it is time for a rethink about TV, and within that all of the other wonderful technological developments and how they are affecting children.  I can’t predict what the research might say but I would imagine it would make for interesting reading.

A Musical Education

Bedtimes in the Thompson house follow pretty much the same routine every night, give or take the odd camping trip or one off late night at the grandparents’. This routine involves bath, hair washing, running around naked when the kids refuse to get in their towels (kids running naked, not parents), dressing son quite calmly, dressing daughter using finely-tuned negotiation skills to make her think there are benefits to her in being clothes for bed. Two stories, one choice each, and, depending on the mood of the parent these can be quite boringly delivered or completely over the top (Rumpus anyone?).

And then we arrive at song time.

Song time has followed the same set of songs since my daughter Aisha was a baby; A few familiar songs and into bed for a round of crying and general grumpiness before sleep takes them.

Recently though, there has been a new addition – the introduction of ‘the car songs’. In adult terms, this means songs from the car.

You see, as well as my sharp wit and magnetic charm, I am also an amazing(ly bad) car singer. Any car journey I’m on, I sing (apart from at traffic lights and in my work car park). And when the kids are in the car with me, I still sing and Aisha has started to join in. Although it took a while for me to realise she was singing along. I used to turn the music down, ask her what she needed, only to be commanded “I’m singing mummy, turn it up”!

The car songs she loves at the moment are Days by Kirsty MacColl and I Have a Dream by ABBA. I think I sang these just once and they stayed in her head so much that I am instructed to sing them every time I’m doing bedtime.

And I love this. I love that both of the kids adore music and singing and different songs. I grew up loving music. I played the flute (pretty well) and piano (pretty badly) and even once played in the steel band at school. My siblings and I were weened on Fleetwood Mac, Barbra Streisand, the Phantom soundtrack, Clannad and other amazing artists. Our musical education was fantastic and our parents still have a lot of the original vinyl albums.

My husband and I try to listen to as much variety of music as we can in order to give our kids a brilliant musical education. So far they seem to be loving it.

I think that nursery rhymes and children’s songs are wonderful for children’s learning about language and life, but I think wider music has a very valid and valuable place too. Providing there is no ‘parental advisory’ sticker on a track, we should let our kids listen to our favourite music. Let them hear different words, sounds, melodies and beats. And let them form their own tastes as they grow up.

Who knows what the music of the future will be but if it’s anything like now, it will be heavily influenced by its ancestors. I think it is important to keep music in our kids lives and let them enjoy as much as we do.

Day out in Chester

Officially completed my university induction today, which means I’m ready to start my course in two weeks. Andrew and the kids came with me for a morning of Chester fun whilst I was there. Whilst I was learning about studying for a Masters, they were having cake in Starbucks, visiting Roman ruins, and going on a boat ride. After my induction we had lunch at the lovely Cafe At The Wall. Not far from the riverside, if you are in Chester make sure you pop in. The staff are so welcoming, particularly to the children. A train ride home completed our day and the kids were exhausted at bedtime 😃

Going to grown up school

Universities around the country are preparing to receive the new intake of Freshers as we enter another September.   And thousands of just-legals are preparing to go off to study and leave home for what may be the first time.

We hear a lot in the news about this as summer departs us, but we rarely hear about the ‘other’ students.  The mature students.  And, shock horror, the mature students with kids.

As of late Sept I will officially be an MSWK – a Mature Student With Kids (my own abbreviation, I’m pretty certain it won’t catch on). I’m going to get a new school bag, pencil case and notebook and then trot off to study a part time post-graduate course. And I’m beyond excited.

I’ve never been a mature student before. Last time I started any significant studying it was sixteen years ago when I became an undergrad at Lincoln University.

I was fortunate to be able to go off to university after my A-levels and, as an awkward 18 year old, I was a completely blank canvas for the molding and shaping that the university experience would do.   And mold and shape me it certainly did. I had a blast and I learnt stuff too so that was an added bonus.

Despite the fun and general awesomeness, I carried with me a narrow-minded expectation that everybody around me was of the same blank canvas, e.g. eighteen, just left home, most likely single, little life history, and just starting their learning journey. I didn’t account for anybody else in my cosy fantasy world. So when I did encounter the “mature students”, my friends and I used to look on in wander as if they were exhibits in a museum. Look! They carry flasks! Hey, they’re sitting right at the front! OMG they are actually asking questions! (Although there was no OMG in 1999 so we just did it the old fashioned way and said “Oh My God”).

And sixteen years ago I wouldn’t have even conjured up the image of a student with kids (you’ll be pleased to know my mind has become much less narrow since then).   The closest I got was slightly knowing (walking past in the street) another student in my year who was pregnant in our second year.    I wish I had been more perceptive and open to different situations then but that is with hindsight.

Now, as I start to think about my preparation, I’m completely on the same page as the mature students I used to mock. A flask? Of course I will need a flask, and probably some snack food and a bottle of water. In fact, I think I will buy a mini cool bag. And where else to get the most out of the lecture than at the front? After all, I’m a mature student, I won’t be rocking up after a heavy night out so I don’t need to hide at the back.

I visited my new university recently for my interview and I took with me (as you do) my mum, the kids, and a carefully selected group of The Teds to join us for the day. I was grateful to my mum for helping out looking after them as I knew I wouldn’t relax if I was worried about them and there was no way I could take them into the interview with me.
The university building itself was old and not at all set up to receive visitors with prams (though strangely, once you had managed to navigate the many steps, there was an accessible lift down to the café).

But the kindness of strangers prevailed and people helped us into the building, into the café, and I was able to set up mum, the kids and the bears in the café whilst I went for my interview. My son is too little to understand where we were going but I explained to my daughter, who is 3 and a bit, that I was going to ‘grown up school’. I hesitate to call it ‘Big School’ because that will be too confusing for her when she is going to ‘Big School’ next year.

I won’t lie, it felt strange being there with children. And there was a part of me that expected the other students (proper undergrad ones) to sneer at me and give me a look that said, “This is no place for kids.” Largely though, they were welcoming and didn’t bat an eyelash at the kids.

Perhaps, since I first went to university, times have changed so brilliantly that anybody, anywhere and from any background can become a student.

Of course I won’t be taking the kids with me when I start but it’s nice to know that they are welcome there and that I’m welcome there. I hope that I will be able to learn, study, and get the most out of this course, at the same time as managing my normal life of child-caring and working. I’m going to wholeheartedly embrace being a Mature Student With Kids.

Passing on our fears

Whilst doing some research recently into the alarmingly large wasp population I keep noticing, I came across a brilliant little ‘ten things’ piece. It was ‘ten things you can only understand if you are scared of wasps’. They were pretty standard – you love winter because the wasps are gone, you fear any buzzing noise, etc. But one stood out. Firstly, because it made me laugh and, secondly, because it was a teeny bit true. It was this – you will sacrifice your mum/dad/child to get away from a wasp and avoid being stung.

Funny but not far from reality.

My sister-in-law and I took the kids to a local stately home/beauty spot this week to have a picnic and lots of running around fun with ice cream and an enormous park. It was a fabulous way to spend a sunny day. Except we didn’t get to spend the day there. We were invaded by hundreds of wasps. They were all over us, all over our food, and even on the kids’ faces. I did my best to appear brave and not at all scared, but inside I was in bits. And then my daughter was stung. And I’m ashamed to say I looked to my (much braver than me) sister-in-law to save us. And she did, thankfully.

But reading that article later, although I chuckled, I could completely relate to the wasp fear and understand the feelings that come with a phobia like this. I don’t describe myself as phobic but if I truly think about my feelings towards the winged, buzzing creatures, I probably am. I can do spiders, flies, ants at a push, but show me a wasp and I’m a total custard. I freeze, my heart races, and I instantly believe I’m about to encounter certain doom. Bees, I’m a little better with, as I know it’s pretty desperate if they sting me as they come off much worse.

I find phobias fascinating and I have been thinking a lot about how they manifest themselves, how you present them to your children, and how you can avoid passing them on.

Since my eldest was born, I have been acutely aware that my fears can easily transfer to her if I project them onto her. And for the most part I have hidden the fear of wasps. If there was one around I would tell her they had come to have a sniff of her and say Hi. And she was fine with them. But then she was stung a few weeks ago and, despite my husband and I being upbeat about it, it made her wary of them. The second stinging really upset her and I realised that she has developed the fear as I have.

Did I do that? Did she pick up on my feelings that I probably didn’t hide that well? Or did the experience of being stung twice in a few weeks make her become naturally frightened of them anyway? And, therefore, did my fear have no bearing?

I wonder a lot about how we develop our fears in the first place. Are they brought about by an incident or do we learn them? Or both? I think perhaps it is a blend. Even in the early days when my husband and I used to welcome wasps and say hello, I could never stop others around my daughter, for example at her nursery, go into full panic mode when they saw one. So maybe as her mini society around her we all contributed.

Considering that she now has this fear, is it a bad thing or is it going to give her some natural caution against the wasps? Personally I don’t want her to fear anything but I know that is an unrealistic expectation to have. Children have to experience fear in order to be able to learn, in a safe environment, how to overcome it, And I know that whilst my instinct is to wrap my kids up in bubble wrap, I can’t and shouldn’t do that. They have to experience the bad things in life as well as the good in order to prepare them for their futures. And hopefully make them resilient adults who can learn to manage the things that sometimes frighten them.

For now, I think I will keep trying to hide the wasp fear but secretly yearn for the colder months when my winged foes depart our gardens and parks.

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