Friday, 8 November 2019

Making Mealtimes Relaxing and Enjoyable

Mealtimes can be stressful for some parents. It can be frustrating to spend an hour in the kitchen cooking, only to watch your baby throw the food on the floor or paint the table with it five minutes later. I've had some hectic days myself. I can't solve these problems for you, but here are some things that helped us. 

The most important piece of advice: try not to stress about it. Babies and children sense when you are tense, nervous, angry, and they test limits in these situations. They need to see calm, respectful parents, who can handle anything that's coming their way. In the first few months, babies have the occasion to explore and experiment with food, without having to eat that much - because they're still breastfeeding or on formula. So this is the time to let them explore and get interested in food, while you are observing.

The second piece of advice has to do with WHEN you serve a meal. Make a clear routine around snacks and main meals. Find the best time for your child to eat, and try to follow the same sequence of events that leads to that. For example, every morning when my daughter wakes up, we read a book, she breastfeeds, then I change her diaper, wash her face, she brushes her teeth, then go get some groceries, then have breakfast. Routines add predictability and children feel safe when they can anticipate what will happen next. Also, routines make it easier to learn the rules around mealtimes.

The third piece of advice is about WHERE your child eats. It's important to always eat at the table, because it creates healthy eating habits, your child is more focused on eating (no toys around), and it is safer when it comes to choking. Whether you choose a weaning table (a small table and chair, so that your child can get in and out independently - I'll write a separate post about our weaning table soon) or use the family table and a feeding chair, it's up to you, your needs and your baby's preferences. We have both - we use the weaning table for snack time, and the high chair for main meals. That way, I can eat with her. While she's having her snack, I sit on a cushion next to her weaning table.

E's weaning table (IKEA shortened Lack and a cube chair)
The fourth piece of advice is about HOW to feed your baby. I wanted to start with Baby Led Weaning, but it seemed that my daughter had other plans. I got a bit scared when she gagged on a tiny piece of chicken breast, so I decided to try a combination of purees and BLW. You should follow your child, then choose what style of feeding fits her - spoon feeding, BLW, purees, every child is unique and what might go for one, might not for another. What I really like about BLW is that it promotes healthy eating habits - babies are capable human beings, who can decide when they've had enough to eat. From the beginning, I let her use her hands whenever she wanted to and it was possible, and when we had soup or other liquids, I pre-loaded the spoon for her, but let her take it to her mouth. That way, she was in control.

“our baby feels respected and valued when she is asked to actively participate in a feeding experience with us rather than just being fed” (Excerpt From Elevating Child Care: A Guide To Respectful Parenting - Janet Lansbury)

This brings me to the question: "HOW MUCH to feed your baby?". Babies don't need us to shove a spoon in their mouths or bribe them to eat. They need to be in control of how much they eat. What works best for us is that we put a small portion for her, but have more in the pot. Once she has finished, we give her more. That way, she doesn't feel pressured to empty her plate or overwhelmed by the amount of food. We can consider ourselves lucky - at least at the moment, she eats extremely well and she always wants more.

“We want to trust our babies to be in charge of their appetites, to indicate a desire for food by opening their mouths when we present them with a bite or spoonful. “Here comes the airplane” or “Just one more bite” coaxing can turn feeding into something our babies do to please us. It can encourage overeating”. (Excerpt From Elevating Child Care: A Guide To Respectful Parenting - Janet Lansbury)

One last thing. This can be tough, especially if you have more than one child, work from home, or just have a lot of work in general. Try to be present and engaged during mealtimes. These moments can help you create a connection with your child.

I hope this blog post doesn't sound condescending. It's not my intention. And I'm definitely not trying to say that the way I feed my child is the best. These are just some things that probably helped in our situation, but it might be just that our daughter loves eating and it's not something we did that helped.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Praise, Acknowledgement, and Inner Motivation

I always strive to improve my teaching practice, especially my interaction with the children I teach. Creating a bond, connecting with them, will ensure that what I teach gets through to them. Giving feedback is one aspect that is truly important when it comes to teaching (or parenting).

You probably heard that “good job!” has a bad reputation and here’s why: it’s too general (the child might not understand what exactly he is praised for), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the adult actually paid attention to what the child was doing (sometimes it’s a filler, and it’s not genuine), it’s vague, it praises the end result, not the process, and it gets a child dependent on external praise, if used too often. Actually, the former is why we should always use acknowledgement, rather that praise, when we give feedback. Children should be able to do things without expecting praise, stickers, compliments in return – intrinsic motivation will help them become better in everything they do in the future.

An acknowledgment describes a certain behavior in an objective manner, without judgment: “Your grades have gone up. How do you feel?”, or “You’ve been concentrating on the game for quite some time.”. The tone used is usually flat. Praise, on the other hand, takes the attention off the child, and puts the spotlight on the adult: “I love how you …!”, “I’m proud of you for…!”. This can also put a lot of stress on a child to perform or do certain things the way the adults want him to.

Here are some things you should keep in mind:
  • Children need to be treated with respect and they will cooperate. They don’t need bribes to do certain things. Put it this way – if there’s something you wouldn’t say to an adult, don’t say it to a child either. Try to be genuine in the things you say to a child, don’t just pay compliments for the sake of it: children feel when you’re being fake.
  • Some of you might think that praise actually helps children stay motivated while learning a new skill. But they will learn to crawl, walk, talk, write, etc. without it. Just trust them and their capabilities, and your emotional support will be enough.
  • When interacting with children, you should pay close attention to the way you think about yourself. Model a growth mindset (the belief that you can become better at something by working hard on it), perseverance, patience, and other positive traits, and they will see it.
  • Try not to interrupt your child’s concentration to acknowledge what he’s doing. Wait for the child to make eye contact or stop what he was doing, then say what you want.
  • Encourage their effort and focus on the process, not the end result.
Sure, it’s difficult to refrain from praising your kids, but acknowledgement is a matter of practice/habit. But don’t worry, you won’t damage your children by saying “good job!” every now and then.

Photo by Porapak

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Places to Go with Your Baby

Now that E. is almost a year old, she seems to be craving interaction and loves exploring new places. So, I’ve made a list of places we’ve enjoyed visiting, hopefully for some inspiration.

playgrounds: for swinging and sliding;
nature walks on the beach, nearby meadow, or through the forest;
trip to the farmer’s market;
going to the airport to watch the planes;
watch cars from the bridge;
taking trips to the railway station to watch the trains;
visiting a fabric store, to touch different materials, ribbons, curtains, drapes (for this she’s in the front-facing carrier);
observing a construction site;
trip to the zoo;
feeding the ducks and geese on the beach/pond;
watching the ferryboats in the harbor;
having a picnic in the park;
botanical garden;
animal farm;

swimming pool;
pet store;
supermarket trips – to talk about fruits, veggies, flowers, and other products;
museums (they might also have events organized for babies and very young children, such as painting sessions, sensory play group sessions, etc.);
music classes at the local library;
story time at the library (read by someone else or just me);
play groups and playdates;
indoor playgrounds (most malls where we live have wonderful playgrounds, with slides, toys, climbing frames, etc.)

I’m sure that I forgot some places we sometimes visit. What are your favourite things to do with your baby?

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels

Sunday, 13 October 2019

DIY Play Sand for Sensory Trays

It's Sunday evening, I just came home from climbing and put E. to sleep. So what now? Hm... I finally have some time to prepare some play sand for tomorrow.

I wanted to make something brown, to resemble dirt to go well with the forest animals. But I didn't want to use food colouring. The usual recipe for play sand is 1 parts oil and 8 parts flour. But I used instead flour, carob powder, and a bit of cinnamon for the smell. So I just divided the amount of flour between these.

I made the play sand using:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups carob powder
  • 1 spoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cups oil (rapeseed and avocado oil, but any oil will do)
Tomorrow I'll show it to E. and I really hope she'll like it. Now I'm off to bed...I've got cinnamon tea and a good book waiting for me.

If you give this recipe a try, let me know what you think. :)

Monday, 30 September 2019

Why I Love Using a Baby Carrier

I'm going to get straight to the reasons why I’m all for baby carrying:

The first one is a general one: carrying your baby is a healthy thing everyone should do. Your oxytocin level goes up when you hold your baby close, and this promotes bonding. It also helps mothers recover postpartum.

Our little one hated the bassinet when she was little. She was born at the end of autumn, on a cold, frosty day in Finland. So the first few months of her life, it was dark, cold, and icy. Which meant that while out and about, she would either scream her lungs out in the bassinet (which is painful for all of us, as you probably know), or be fine carried. For the first few months we just carried her in our laps for short times, hoping that she will eventually get used to her pram...well, she didn't. She only did  after we switched to the seat. The carrier saved our sanity, and hers. It provided a safer option, and a more comfortable one.

Now that she is older, she loves facing outward, to touch tree trunks, wet leaves, smell flowers, look at foxes and bunnies, and check out the wonderful colours in nature. Our front facing carrier makes that easy and comfortable.

Her first time on the swing was also in the carrier and that provided her the confidence to experience that.

I don’t usually do chores with E in the carrier, because we have a baby proofed apartament and it’s still possible (she’s not walking yet) to keep an eye on her while I do some quick things around the house. Plus, I prefer playing with her or observing her while she’s awake. But the carrier has helped a lot on trips - we flew to Romania and we decided not to take the pram. She was extremely happy to be in the carrier. Of course, we only used it to go places, but once there, she was free to explore and move around. Babies need to improve their gross motor skills and get rid of that energy, otherwise we’d all go crazy.

E. still gets grumpy in the pram when she’s tired. I think she has fallen asleep in it only 3 times in her life. So the carrier comes in handy when she starts getting fussy. She loves being in it and calms down right away.

Carrying my daughter is comforting for both of us. There are days when I feel I have stuff to do and I’m missing on precious moments with her. But if she’s there with me, we cuddle and everything seems to go faster and gets solved easily.

With a carrier you also don’t need to worry about your pram being stolen. If you go somewhere, you don’t need to find a place to park the pram.

Before buying a carrier/wrap/ring sling, read about all your options and consult your pediatrician. You might decide to get a sling because it’s smaller, but then it might be more uncomfortable for longer periods of time (because you wear it on one shoulder) and your baby might not want to face you. The wrap is on both shoulders, but it takes some time to get used to putting it on. We have all three, but most of the times we end up using the carrier, because our daughter just loves facing outwards and seeing what we see.

What are your feelings on carriers?

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Getting Your Baby Involved in Daily Routines (6 months – 1 year)

Babies are capable of so much more than what we give them credit for! And they want to be involved in your daily routines…so why not let them?

I’m brainstorming ways in which E.’s (currently 10 months) independence is cultivated. I’m thinking of small things that she can do, with a little bit of help. If she works on these, she will soon learn how to do them independently. And these help her fine motor development, confidence, gross motor development, hand-eye coordination, and understanding cause and effect relationships.

Some of the things she enjoys/might enjoy doing:
  • pulling the drapes before bedtime (from my lap, as that’s easier)
  • brushing teeth in front of the mirror (I placed the mirror on the wall, next to the changing table and I let her sit, while keeping a close eye on her)
  • wiping her face with a wet cotton pad (maybe in front of the mirror)
  • wiping the table after lunch (with my help, but I let her place her hands on the cloth next to mine and wipe)
  • pulling the bib off
  • bringing a clean diaper from a low drawer (we have a small basket with two diapers next to the changing table)
  • putting clothes in the hamper (a bit later for us)
  • turning lights on/off (from my lap)
  • choosing clothes from two options
  • pouring her own water from a tiny pitcher (I’m modelling it for her, but hopefully soon we’ll take that step)
  • choosing the books I’ll read and the toys she wants to play with (we rotate toys, so they’re not too many, and she can choose them from her shelf. Everything is visible and within her reach)
When letting kids help, keep these things in mind:
  • keep the tasks simple, but not too simple;
  • don’t use tasks in a negative way – like “Clean the table, because you made a mess”;
  • if your baby isn’t interested in doing the task, wait until next time and see. Keep modeling it, and eventually it might spur her interest;
  • have patience – the tasks will take time to master and they might be messier, but it’s worth it.
What tasks does your baby enjoy?

She usually sits down facing the mirror to brush her teeth. The basket in the lower left corner has two diapers that she can choose from (different drawings).