Over the years a few tips have been picked up from seasoned girlfriends and a few more worked out along the way.
+ Long days. As part of our commitment to keeping things simple we don’t have a tv at home, but for times when Ol (and I) need a bit of down time, I keep a bunch of wooden puzzles on hand and also a jar of crayons for drawing, and chalk for mincing about on the pavement outside our house. I have a few good friends who are primary school teachers who tell me that it’s good for children to be bored – it breeds creativity and independence, so with this in mind I tend to skip the Chinese language classes, Baby Einsteins and swimming lessons and just take Ol to the pool myself or to the park to kick a soccer ball, or for a two stop ride on the tram to the further away shopping village. Sometimes we walk to the library, or he gets up on his wooden step and helps me cook dinner in the afternoons. He’s at a Reggio Emilia childcare a couple of days a week so he gets a tonne of learning and socialisation there – much more than I could ever give him, so when he’s with me we keep things pretty simple.
+ Food. As a general rule I don’t stress over what Oli does and doesn’t eat, I figure if a child always has healthy food put in front of him he’ll never starve and if he’s not hungry now he will be later. I tend to go easy on the snacks in the afternoons so that he has a good appetite for dinner, but generally accept that he has a natural inclination to graze, rather than sit up to three cooked meals a day. This also takes the pressure off me in terms of cooking convoluted kid-friendly ‘super food recipes’ and spending hours in the kitchen that could be better spent with Ol at the park, so generally he eats what I eat and we keep it pretty simple – snacky vegetables like carrots, string beans & cherry tomatoes, grainy bread, a bit of cheese, maybe some cold cuts of meat, hard-boiled eggs, that type of thing. If his nan gives him ice-cream or he eats lollies at a party I take the French approach and just make sure the rest of his meals are healthy – he’s a kid at the end of the day and life’s too short to obsess over these things.
+ Trips to the coffee shop. I tend to get a bit cabin feverish on days when I’m at home, especially in the Winter time, so Ol and I will often find ourselves in a café after a long walk. I tend to avoid letting Ol play with my phone but I totally get that he needs to keep busy as much as I do, and unlike his mum, his people watching skills are still in development.
I always keep a bunch of scrap paper with a bulldog clip and two pencils in my bag so that we can sit together and draw trains. I also have a couple of small trains in a calico bag and a sticker book his nan bought him for longer lunches or catch ups with a girlfriend who I actually want to have a conversation with longer than a few minutes. When I’m with a girlfriend I usually order fruit toast or something else to keep him occupied so he sits there happily gnawing away before silently passing me the crusts.
+ Negotiating. When I was pregnant with Oli I was given a copy of Why French Children Don’t Throw Food by a teacher girlfriend and it taught me a lot about the French way of parenting, in particular listening to your child and treating them with respect while still maintaining a solid ‘cadre’. There are times when Ol pushes to get his own way and if it’s reasonable I respect it (I don’t really mind if he wants to wear two different socks to school.. you’ve got to pick your battles) but if it’s not, the first thing I do is get down on his level and explain to him why it’s best for him to compromise.
When a tot is going through the ‘pushing boundaries’ stage and negotiating isn’t working so well, and they’re getting more worked up – I was taught that rather than raising a tone above theirs, keep yours low, stay calm and if the situation is still escalating walk away and take a breather. Often by leaving the room it diffuses the situation and one can wait for the toddler to come to them, at which point I always offer Ol a cuddle and an explanation to reiterate why we have to change his nappy/not eat nice-cream at 3 o’clock in the afternoon/can’t drive two hours to nanny’s house on a whim.
Another sound piece of advice I was given was to give your tot the heads up about the plan rather than abruptly expecting them to immediately obey. For example warn them while they’re playing – in ten minutes we’re getting you in the bath kiddo.. in five minutes it’s bath time start packing up your toys…. ok come with me time to hop in the bath. Its amazing how giving your child the space and independence to accept the plan somewhat on their terms makes them that much more reasonable.
+ Toys. I’m not going to go into detail about the ongoing struggle of trying to keep plastic toys out of our house but there are a few tricks learned along the way which help with the balance of giving a child something to do v’s keeping a clutter free home.
A few things that work for us:
Drawers – We have a dedicated toy drawer to keep toys put away so that we only ever have a few out on rotation. Having said that Ol’s toys are getting larger as he gets older (nod to the large wooden train set) so for all of the bits and pieces we keep those types of things in woven baskets. I picked up a bunch of straw, fair-trade baskets from Rigby’s in Barwon Heads to keep his room soft and restful.
Storage – We have an old wooden wine crate turned vertically beside Ol’s bed to keep his books in, plus the library books rest up against the crate so they’re in one place when it’s time to swap them over.
I believe one of the best things you can give a child is independence, so rather than have Ol’s clothes in a hard to reach cupboard, all of his clothes for the season are in cotton weave baskets at the end of his bed so that he can start to dress himself and put away his own clothes. I don’t worry about folding his clothes [or ironing] because
he’s a kid and we try to keep things pretty simple.