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Last week, I was out with my sister and my lovely nephew for a sunny outdoor lunch and catch up in a park café. All was going really well—we’d been to the park and he had a big play on pretty much everything in the playground—then we decided it was time for lunch. Queue the start of what looked like a potential meltdown as my lovely nephew decided he didn’t want to listen, it wasn’t time for lunch, that he wanted to stay and play, and eventually when he accepted it was time for lunch, he was too tired to walk and refused to move.
At this point I decided to take a step back and let Mum deal with the situation. Was I being cowardly? Well perhaps a little yes, but it felt like a situation to be dealt with by his mum. I had horrible visions of my sweet nephew transforming into Damien from Omen and becoming one of those kids who lies on the ground in a supermarket, beating the floor with his fists and crying uncontrollably.
I observed from a distance my sister crouching down and talking really calmly to Henry whilst the tears streamed down his face. Within a couple of minutes, he was calm, holding his mum’s hand and walking towards us. He spent the next 45 minutes or so eating lunch at the table like an angel!
I was so impressed with my sister’s handling of the situation and we got talking about some of the typical challenges parents face with young children and how she copes with them. I thought I’d share them here.
For some parents meal times can be super stressful, especially if you’re on a schedule! Since small children find it hard to make a distinction between playtime and mealtime, things can often get messy and take forever. A useful tip my sister discussed was to put only small quantities of food on your child’s plate—something manageable which you know they can finish and have more of if they want it. Piling food on plates only serves to put them off and means there is little opportunity to praise them if they by some miracle finish the food. If they’re hungry, they’ll ask for more. Similarly, if your little one refuses to eat, don’t force them, and certainly don’t start spoon feeding them, especially if they get down from the table. This only serves to reinforce bad habits. When your child is hungry, they will come back to the table to eat. If keeping them at the table is a real problem, try engaging in conversation with your child—anything that’s not "eat your dinner."
The distraction for your little chatterbox will keep them at the table and hopefully eating as they see you doing so also. It’s also good practice for the future to encourage conversation at mealtimes as your child gets older, rather than getting one-word responses or complete silence!
2. Not Listening
It can be seriously frustrating for a parent who is trying to communicate with a child who is ignoring them. Perhaps they are ignoring you because they don’t want to do what you are asking, or perhaps they are really enjoying what they are doing and are deeply engaged in an activity. This is apparently very common from age 3 upwards and it’s times like this that it’s important to remember that a child’s brain is constantly creating new neural pathways and is twice as active as an adult brain, so basically there’s a lot of sensory stimulation going on! If your little one isn’t listening for any of the reasons described, the best way to get their attention is not to raise your voice, but to get down at their level, look them in the eye and talk to them calmly.
3. Not Wanting to Go to Bed
Bedtime can be a nightmare for some parents as it was for my sister with my nephew. The problem was that despite being tired, he did not want to go to bed because after dinner he was allowed some TV time. He really enjoyed just flopping in front of the TV after long days in nursery. The mistake my sister believes she made here was extending his TV time by "five more minutes" and this often led to an extra half an hour of TV watching as she then got on with other tasks in the house. It seems this deviation from the routine caused a number of problems. Firstly, the large amount of screen time just before bed only serves to stimulate the brain further (see note above on not listening!). Secondly, pushing back the bedtime routine meant my sister rushed the whole process which took away the ritual of what should be a calm, quiet, and special time between parent and child. The importance of rituals and routines should never be underestimated with young children.
4. Taking Medicines
Many everyday medicines for coughs and colds in children are available in liquid form and are disguised as pleasant tasting syrups. But there are a number of medicines that children require that are only prescribed in tablet form which can present a real problem for children who cannot swallow tablets. Crushing tablets for sprinkling on food or in a liquid drink may seem like a good solution but this is not always safe as it can dangerously speed up absorption of the medication.
There are, however, solutions for some medications in the form of unlicensed medicines where liquid forms of a number of medications can be obtained. Don’t let the term "unlicensed" put you off—it means typically that for perfectly legitimate reasons, the drug may be licensed in other countries but not the UK, or may be licensed for use in adult doses, which can be modified for child consumption once prescribed by a healthcare professional. In fact, more than 10 percent of all paediatric medicines prescribed in general practice in the UK are in fact unlicensed, and this figure is far higher in hospitals. If this situation ever presents itself as it did for my sister, it’s definitely worth exploring what medications are available in liquid form.
5. Temper Tantrums - Public And Private
Obviously, these can be triggered in multiple circumstances and are common where a child feels they are losing an element of control over a situation, as was the case with my nephew being taken from the playground by mum for lunch. The key thing to remember here is that outbursts like this are a key part of a child’s emotional development and a result of the fact that the part of a child’s brain that controls logical thinking at this age is not yet fully developed. With this in mind, it’s clearly up to the adult to take the lead and control of the situation. What did my sister do in the part to calm her little one down? She stepped back just for a few seconds, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she got down at his level and talked to him, calmly, offering him a choice of what he could have for lunch. This choice gave him back a feeling of control, and as they walked back to me, she distracted him with talk of guessing what I may like for lunch.
In talking with my sister I could see some key themes developing that encapsulate all these issues and probably many more that parents of young children face. Distraction, preparation, praise, keeping calm and not diverging from routines unless absolutely unavoidable, seem to be the key take-aways. I hope you’ve found this post useful!