Tag Archives: tantrums

Review: Radical Reward Charts

11 Aug

Reward chart

Parents are constantly given tips on how to ensure their children’s good behaviour. Family, friends, magazines, experts, Gina et al, they all add their twopence worth, asked for or not. Should we over praise, under praise (tiger mom, grrr!), bribe, deprive, reward, or even get down on the floor and tantrum with the best of ’em – it seems that the parent’s toolbox is endless. However there is one approach which seems to be universally lauded: the reward chart.

I am a latecomer to reward charts. We once had a scrap of paper and some stickers – it seemed to do the job for there aren’t many children who can resist a sticker – but that was our first and last reward chart experience. There was some excitement then when I got the chance to review Radical Reward Charts, described on their website as ‘A Parent’s Best Friend’. My 4-year-old is seriously testing boundaries (and my patience) at the moment. Her 2-year-old brother has recently found his voice and with it the defiance of a teenager. Dare I hope the charts could work miracles? Here is the baseline we started at:

Me: Shall we put the reward charts up?

4yo: Yes, because my behaviour is getting a bit bad. I’ll do nothing all day to make sure I don’t do anything bad. I’ll just walk in circles round and round my room.

Errr ... think you need to be putting that a bit lower down.

Errr … think you need to be putting that a bit lower down.

Unlike my scraps of paper, the Radical Reward Charts are beautifully illustrated and lovely to look at and – should you ever find your kids too angelic for their own good and racing through the charts (I can only dream) – they are reusable. My 4-year-old daughter chose the Reedy River design and my 2-year-old boy was lured by the caterpillar and frog on Grungy Garden. Most exciting of all for them were the personalised markers: laminated photos of their own mini-selves. A cracking idea to make climbing the chart just that little bit more fun.

The charts arrived with instructions. That there are any rules governing reward charting is new to me, but it turns out I’d got it horribly wrong with my only other attempt. Apparently you should “not put your child DOWN the chart if they misbehave”. Ah. But it had such a wonderful (dramatic) effect previously! I’m abiding by the rules this time; however I have been using the threat that there will be no more moving UP the chart if you don’t get off of your brother’s head.

I really ought to have read the instructions before agreeing what is to be the ultimate reward when the 20th notch is reached by my daughter. “It’s often a good idea to let them choose the reward” – CHECK – for example “small novelty items, sweets” – ERRRR. It’s a symptom of (a) society, (b) the power of advertising and/or (c) my weak parenting skills that against my best judgment I agreed to a pair of Lelli Kelly shoes. I know, I know, vile things – what was I thinking? (I tell you what I’m thinking now (between kicking myself): EBAY.)

Children's behaviour

Think how easy it would be to manage a pocket-sized child!

So, are the charts working? With the 2-year-old I have no idea. He doesn’t quite yet get the idea of incentives. Obviously he’s rewarded but I couldn’t say that the prospect of moving up the chart makes him think twice about how he behaves. My 4-year-old, however, gets it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see an increase in spontaneous good behaviour. I knew there would be a danger that every good deed could be deemed worthy of a trip up the reward chart. According to the accompanying instructions, rewards are most effective if “given for something completely unexpected”. This seems to work and has so far generated further unexpected good behaviour. Progress up the chart to date has been for eating courgettes at nursery, playing nicely with visitors’ children and tidying up the dinner table.

The Radical Rewards Charts may not be an entirely new concept but for a newbie like me they provide an attractive alternative to other charts I’ve seen. At £14 a chart (including P&P and a personalised mini figure) they’re not cheap and for this I expect quality. I feel I got this with the Radical Reward Charts, plus as they’re reusable they are value for money to boot.

We’re making slow progress up the charts but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, we’re some time away from having to line the pockets of a certain shoe brand. That’s almost incentive enough for me to encourage bad behaviour!

Thank you to Amanda at Radical Reward Charts who sent me these products free-of-charge and asked for nothing other than an objective review.

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Me! Me! Me!

17 Jan

Raising considerate children

A day off work waiting at home for a delivery is not without its dangers. First, there is the guilt over sending the kids to nursery whilst you put your feet up and enjoy visiting the toilet in peace. Secondly, stuck inside and craving interaction with the outside world, your usual defence mechanisms are weakened and this can lead to you answering the door in a reckless fashion. Cue people of a certain denomination ‘spreading the word’. Cue a parenting blog post. Yes, really. Inspiration moves in the most mysterious ways.

I don’t believe in God myself but I do make time to listen on the doorstep. I will inevitably shut the door clutching a selection of leaflets and, because I feel guilty at having taken leaflets that could have gone to someone more likely to be converted, I do try to at least flick through them. (Thus, I expect, earning myself brownie points should there turn out to be a god.) Amongst the latest batch of leaflets, little did I expect to find a whole pamphlet on parenting. Whilst it didn’t leave me questioning my lack of faith, it did leave me questioning my parenting skills.

The feature article was entitled ‘Raising Considerate Children in a Me-First World’ – “If you are a parent, how can you help your children to reap the benefits of being kind and to avoid being contaminated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds them?” I was transported back to Christmas Day and an image of my 4-year-old surrounded by piles of toys and wrapping paper. She asked “Are there any more presents?” whilst I sat thinking about how lucky my children are and wishing she could find contentment and happiness in a lump of coal. Everyone wants their children to be happy but how can you ensure this without the negative consequences of them believing that they are at the centre of the universe?

The article outlined 3 “traps” that can create inconsiderate, self-centred children:

1. Overpraising

“Do not dole out praise just to make your children feel good about themselves” – a slapped wrist for parents who “have been unduly influenced by the self-esteem movement”. Of course, you shouldn’t praise your child for everything and bad behaviour should be addressed in an appropriate way. If my 4-year-old threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall I certainly wouldn’t praise her for the wonderful mural she had created. However, as someone with low self-esteem who is terrified of passing on my own neuroses to my children, please do excuse me if I choose to lavish praise on them to make them feel good about themselves, however small the achievement. A lack of self-confidence has the tendency to saddle you for life. That self-doubt (whether it be a drop or an ocean) can permeate everything you do and hold you back rather than propel you forward. I would much rather my children approached everything believing they can do it well, rather than wondering whether they will do it well enough.

2. Overprotecting

“Whilst it is natural to want to protect your children, overprotecting them can send the wrong message – that they do not need to take responsibility for their actions.” In my opinion, there is a difference between protecting them against the consequences of their own actions and protecting them against adversity in the world around them. My children are both under 5 and are firmly wrapped up in the cotton wool I have spun just for them. Every day in the car I have to switch the radio off when a news bulletin comes on describing death and destruction in the world. Yet my 4-year-old still picks up odd words and asks questions – as much as I can sensitively bat away those questions, I know that little snippets will be sticking in her mind and sowing seeds of worry. She is not old enough yet not to be overprotected from the world around her. As for my children’s own actions, no, I won’t completely ignore it if, for example, they fail a test. However what I will do is ensure they understand how they can do things differently in future. I hope I can give them the confidence to accept responsibility and move forward, learning on the way.

3. Overproviding

“In a survey of young adults, 81 per cent said that the most important goal of their generation is ‘to become rich’ – rating it far above helping others.” This is about stuff. Stuff and money. Stuff and money and things. It is also where I hold my hands up and look shiftily at the floor. I acknowledge that I am guilty of buying my children things as treats to make them happy and – okay, okay, I admit it – things that they ask for. I also acknowledge that I’m not doing a good job of trying to instill in them a sense of the value of things or that treats sometimes have to be earned. Am I creating monsters? If I am watching a full-on tantrum in a toy shop then I would say ‘yes’, I am. If I am watching my oldest sellotape tissues to a toilet roll and use it as a sword to attack her brother then I would say, most definitely, ‘no’. Like all children, they take pleasure in the most modest and unexpected of things and, thankfully, are not complete slaves to the best that money can buy.

The emergence of a generation of self-centred individuals seems to be weighing heavily on society’s conscious. The policy in China of only one child per couple has, it is commonly believed, created children who, being used to being the sole focus, have grown up selfish and prone to neglect their parents. Indeed, China has recently introduced a law to force children to visit their elderly parents. In the last few days, research in the US has suggested that high-self esteem in students can actually lead to less successful lives. (Of course, the definition of success is debatable – if my kids end up scraping gum off the pavement for a living but are happy, healthy and contented then I would consider that a success.) My own recent experience in a very rich foreign country (which shall remain unnamed) and the proliferation of kids there with an enormous sense of entitlement and a complete lack of manners left me very conscious of the little people I am bringing into the world. Reminders of my duty as a parent to help my children become considerate members of society appear where I least expect them – and for that reason my door will always be open.

Christmas cheer and fear (part 1)

28 Nov

The world of children’s stories is a mixed up place when you put Kipper back on the bookshelf and pick up the traditional fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. There is a sinister side to these stories that starts to fill a child’s world with bogeymen, wicked witches and monsters lurking under the bed. Christmas is not so different. A bold statement perhaps (*puts tongue in cheek*) and certainly not in the accepted spirit of things. Is Christmas all about cheer or does it, like many traditions and stories, have a darker, scarier side?

As a child I was afraid of Father Christmas. I was fully signed up to the idea that he was the jolly fella who would arrive laden with gifts, but there was still no way I was letting a strange man into my room in the middle of the night. In the dark. When everyone was asleep. Well, would you when it’s put that way? No, no, no – it was a step too far for the shy child that I was. What if he was the child catcher in disguise? Or the Pied Piper? What if he had elves with him? My Christmas stocking stayed firmly hung on the outside of my bedroom door and never once graced the end of my bed.

Father Christmas may bring presents with a hearty “ho, ho, ho” but he is also big, fat and hairy. To a child he must seem enormous and, wearing his peculiar clothes, must beggar the question in their fragile minds: “who is this huge, red, scary monster man?” Worst of all, he is over familiar – he even wants you to sit on his knee (well, he did in the innocent days when CRB checking Santa would have been like asking the Queen for a form of ID). He’s the Werther’s Original Grandpa on speed. Observe the Santa Effect in action in the photograph below. This was taken at my daughter’s first (conscious) visit to the Big Man aged 14 months:

Note the school masterly look on Santa’s face then note the look of sheer terror on my daughter’s. Oh yes, and look at Mummy laughing nervously as she tries to enforce the Christmas cheer, only managing to worsen the Christmas fear by shoving her dear daughter closer to the object causing the anxiety. It won’t stop me doing it again. My 20-month-old son has his first visit to Santa lined up. I know what his reaction will be but, dammit, it is Christmas (and a photo opportunity).

And what do we do as parents to help this fear? Nothing. We make it worse. As soon as the first bauble hits the shops in August, the threat of Father Christmas and his all-seeing eye becomes the parents’ weapon of choice. Who needs bribery when the prospect of a lump of coal can be wielded in the face of a screaming child flailing around on a supermarket floor? So much for putting the fear of God into someone, this is the fear of Santa. (Gosh, I’ve associated Christmas with religion there – that can’t be right, surely?)

So can Christmas get much scarier? You bet it can. In Part 2 of this post you will meet a character who is so very wrong on many levels … Zwarte Piet.

How to break a child’s heart in one easy ballet step

30 Oct

We’ve just returned from holiday. In the days leading up to the journey home there were the inevitable groans about our imminent return to cold, grey reality. The 4-year-old didn’t want to go back to nursery. The 18-month-old didn’t want to leave our hosts’ endless supply of Swiss Chocobits cereal. I knew that an English supermarket could probably sort the latter, but what to do about the former? Obvious answer: give her something to look forward to when we got home.

And so it was that for several days before our return I buoyed my daughter up with the prospect of her Monday ballet class. As expected, this resulted in the tongue-rolling, dress-lifting, wriggling excitement that normally only a Disney princess can elicit. Pat on the back to Mummy. I was on to a winner.

Back at home on Monday morning disaster struck. A faulty gas supply left us without heat and hot water and the prospect of a day stuck in the house waiting for help to arrive. As the plumber (yes, the same plumber as in that post) got steadily more grumpy and the hours ticked by the likelihood of getting to ballet started to dissipate like the waft of gas from a dodgy gas pipe. Like any good parent, I deliberately didn’t mention the impending trauma to my daughter lest by some miracle all should come good.

An hour before the class and things weren’t looking promising. Tears, tantrums and utter devastation loomed. I called Mr Crumbs & Pegs in the hope he’d be able to pop home from work for an hour thus releasing us from the purgatory of infernal waiting. Success! We were back on track.

Half an hour before the class and I got one very excited little girl into her ballet outfit. All was progressing as normal – the usual explanation of why she must wear her skirt pulled as high as Simon Cowell’s trousers rather than skimming the bottom of her buttocks like a gangsta, the foot stamping as locks of hair escaped from her hair band, and of course the frenzied tumbling into the car when we discovered we were running late. No surprises then when we pulled away from the house with one/some/all of us fraught and in tears. That aside – we were on the way to ballet!

Under stress I seem to have the knack of turning my daughter into a blubbering and uncooperative wreck. (Four years in and I am yet to learn that shouting does not make children go faster. Some red underlining is clearly required in the Bad Mother’s Notebook of Things I Must Do Better. ) Dragging two children into an empty leisure centre reception area I stopped in my tracks. Where were the pushy mammas in their boots and skinny jeans?  Where were the siblings who were usually sprawled across the corridor playing Top Trumps and tripping up the attendees of the Blind Badminton class? Hell no! It was half term. No ballet class.

The receptionist looked at me with pity (or was it disgust?) as I made the walk of shame back out the leisure centre doors, crying ballerina and confused toddler in tow. Guilty doesn’t do full justice to how I felt as I explained to my daughter that her mother – who was obviously always right – had got something terribly wrong. In the car I proffered a trip to a café by way of an apology but was told that her “tummy hurt too much from crying to eat cake”. Make it worse why don’t you.

A day later I am still apologising. A day later, when reminded of the incident, my daughter still looks at me like her heart has been broken by an idiot. A complete idiot. Welcome to parenthood.

Review: Sing & Learn

20 Feb

I reviewed Vicky Arlidge’s Tunes 4 Toddler Tantrums CD in 2010 and thought it was excellent. It was full of original songs (this Vicky is one clever lady!) and there was no exaggeration in the title — it did what it said on the tin. So when I saw that Vicky had two new CDs out I was very excited. But then I saw the CDs — two collections of already well-known songs. Hmm. I’ve done my share of Rhyme Time at the library. I’ve struggled to sing along at baby music classes where the teacher has insisted on singing at a pitch only dogs can hear. There’s nothing more I could possibly need to know about the health of the sleeping bunnies or Miss Polly’s Dolly. What then, I asked myself, could Sing & Learn Volumes 1 & 2 possibly bring to my musical table?

My initial doubts were (happily) proved wrong.

The songs may be old favourites (eg Incy Wincy Spider, Old MacDonald, Wheels on the Bus) but they have been arranged to breathe new life into them. Vicky has the voice you wish you had for blowing those other parents out of the water! And — most importantly for parents of children who adore repetition — it’s a voice that doesn’t have you running for the off switch even after having the CDs on loop for days. Children’s music that doesn’t drive you slowly mad, now there’s a rarity.

I discovered that I’m not as clever as I thought — you can teach an old dog new tricks. There are songs on Sing & Learn that I remember from my childhood but had forgotten the words to (Horsey Horsey, Polly Put the Kettle On). After a few listens I no longer had to fill gaps with awkward “la, la, las” and can now keep up with the never-ending stream of songs that my 3-year-old returns home from nursery singing. Much cred to Mummy.

Usefully, Vicky has divided Sing & Learn into two volumes — the first CD consists of nursery rhymes (eg Humpty Dumpty, Three Blind Mice, Hickory Dickory Dock), whilst the second is songs that have accompanying actions (eg If You’re Happy and You Know It, Dingle Dangle Scarecrow, Sleeping Bunnies). This makes the CDs suitable across a range of ages from baby to toddler to … well, whatever age it is before they discover Britney, Bieber and Beyoncé.

I’ve subjected my children to the Jeremy Vine radio show on a daily basis for far too long. All of us are unwilling participants. Now I can flick the switch and fill the room with happiness and silliness. What more could a stressed and tired parent ask for?! (Well, that doesn’t require a prescription.)

Sing & Learn Vol 1: A Collection of Traditional Nursery Rhymes to Help Little Ones Learn & Develop and Sing & Learn Vol 2: A Collection of Action Songs to Help Little Ones Learn & Develop. By Vicky Arlidge. Both volumes RRP £5.99. Available from Amazon (or Cuthbert’s toy shop if you’re lucky enough to live in St Albans!!).

Vicky is also a comic songwriter – see her on YouTube being very funny and very clever: Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum?

How to survive two hours in a dark room with Bob the Builder

10 Sep

I love doing things that make my little girl visibly happy and excited. Often this means doing things that I wouldn’t normally endure – sorry, choose to do – or enjoy myself. And so this sees me, along with many other eager-to-please parents, at theatrical ‘specials’ (not sure what else to call them) featuring such monumental actors as Bob the Builder, Peppa Pig and that great classical actor Tiger (you know, the one who came to tea). What follows are my observations and recommendations on how to spend a successful 90 minutes shut in a dark room full of overexcited children and their reluctant parents. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest they constitute ‘etiquette’ but a parent indulging in this form of entertainment for the first time may wish to add them to their survival toolbox.

1. The show will not last long but please be sure to pack plenty of snacks for your child. Sugary ones are preferable as they will drive an already excited child into a frenzy. The result of this will be a fairly hardcore tantrum when the child is asked to return a cheap, flashing light stick (available for purchase in the foyer for an unknown reason) to a similarly bawling sibling. Think the embarrassment of a tantrum in a supermarket but multiplied by the number of rows in the theatre.

2. If either parent feels the urge to sleep please ensure that they don’t do it with the baby child on their lap. Other theatre goers don’t appreciate an unrestrained baby pulling their hair or posseting down the back of their neck. If you believe you can go along to one of these shows for a sleep please see point 5 below.

3. You must join in with the songs but if you do so whilst looking intently at your child it will suggest you are doing it for them (and disguise the fact that you’re secretly enjoying it as it’s the closest you’ve got to a drunken night out in months).

4. If joining in really is too much for you then be sure to take a grandparent with you, preferably one who is ‘young at heart’. They will not be able to resist trying to impress their grandchild and will sing and dance with gusto. This deflects attention from yourself and permits some shut-eye (see point 2 above but again with the proviso of point 5 below).

5. It is important that your child spends as much time as possible kicking the back of the seat in front of them. If said seat is occupied by an adult do not be concerned that they will turn around and complain. They know full well that their child is doing the same to someone else. Parents in glass theatres shouldn’t throw stones – if someone else’s child is committing a socially unacceptable act it is inevitable that your’s will do too by the time the curtain falls.

6. Although you suspect it will lead to disappointment, if there is an opportunity for your child to go on stage you must encourage them to get to the front of the auditorium as quickly as possible. They will be slightly reluctant so will only reach the front once the lucky child (whose parent splashed out on the front row – you didn’t) has already been selected. This culminates in you needing to retrieve your child as, across the audience, they implore you with sad-eyes, confused as to why you made them go up only to be sent away again.

7. Some mothers use such events as an opportunity to have a chat with a friend over the heads of their children. They will generally by the well-coiffeured type who can barely lift their hand for the diamonds. Not the type you’d expect to be seen dead in a local theatre but needs must darling. Prepare to be moderately irritated by them. In such circumstances school your child in point 5 above.

So if you have an audience with Bob or Peppa coming up my advice is to go prepared and you may even enjoy yourself. If you don’t enjoy yourself then the thrill of seeing your little one believe they’ve been waved at by their hero (and not simply a jobbing actor in a big foam suit) will make it all worthwhile.

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