Monthly Archives: January 2016

  • When we think about adults spending quality time with children, i wonder if it's just me, or does your mind go straight to sentimental sorts of scenes: cosy board game by the fire, baby crawling through the daffodils of his first spring, perhaps a slow-motion shot of a family laughing as child toddles through lapping waves.

    If i were to ask you to imagine and adult spending quality time with a child, to consider a rich opportunity for relationship strengthening or visualise a learning interaction, i don't reckon you'd visualise a nappy change.

    But perhaps we should. perhaps the journey to self begins on the nappy change table.

    If you're reading this, you are probably fairly interested in child development and  you will know how powerful early relationships are in impacting our social skills: our ability to read cues, to respond to and empathise with others, and that these abilities serve as powerful predictors of things like school success and later relationship health.

    Those of us who are interested in brain science understand the repetition is one of the key principles for reinforcing learning and building brains. We know that infants and young toddlers are particularly malleable at a foundational level: their 'habits of mind' are being formed, they are waist-deep in the fundamentals of identity formation.

    So while our memories might grasp onto "special occasion" moments as examples of quality time, our brains are actually built on the everyday minute, the day-in, day out activities so often disdained for being just routine.

    Please join me in rethinking this idea, just for a moment. Consider that most children are reported to enjoy around 5000 nappy changes in their lifetime. There are interactions that are happening anyway - these are, if you choose to think if it like this, tasks that must be done.

    A nappy change interaction can be swift and clinical, making maximum use of distractino as a tool for getting jobs done. The distraction might be that of the adult (cricking phone under neck or sending a text message) or it might be the child who is distracted, encouraged to lavish attention on something other than the adult.

    Instead, imagine the way that nappy change routines can be an oasis of relational connection in a busy, busy world. They offer the change for adult and child to share gaze and conversation, smiles and song.

    Children who are consistently handled with kind hands and good humour are far more likely to radiate those gifts back to the world. Imagine how you might handle a nappy change routine differently if you weren't consistently rushing to get it finished, but you were instead seeing it as an opportunity for unhurried, relational strengthening (with poo-be-gone benefits).

    These daily acts of mothering/fathering/caregiving provide an inbuilt opportunity for children to experience intimacy - especially when their adults hold an intention to build and nurture the relationship, to attune to the needs of their children, as well as achieve the practical goal represented by the routine.

    Children who are consistently handled with kind hands and good humour are far more likely to radiate those gifts back to the world.

    It is helpful to view all care routines in this way, to see that feeding a baby is an opportunity for shared intimacy, warmth and the beginnings of conversation - and to consider that nappy changes are an extension of the feeding and nurturing routine.

    Babies aren't necessarily aware of a separation: what happens at the top half of their personhood in comparison to what is happening in the bottom half, but they are certainly aware of how good it feels to be held gently, spoken to warmly, smiled at by a loving and familiar face. And we are aware of the power of the repetitious.

    Remember, children don't delineate their experiences into "educational and relationship enhancing opportunities" and "other" - the act of supporting a toddler into gumboots is just as full of rich learning as the splashing in puddles to follow.

    Let's pledge to say the word "routine" with reverence, and imagine that the very familiarity of the event creates a framework that allows us to pay even closer attention to the person we're caring for.
    Miriam McCaleb, Brainwave Trust Educator.

    Reprinted by permission of The Brainwave Trust. To obtain a copy of this article, we recommend you go to: http://www.brainwave.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Nappy_2.pdf

  • I’ve never taken much note of the claims cleaning products make but when you’re looking along the supermarket shelves, you being to wonder about what you read.

    The claims give the impression that mould and grime, window streaks and dirty marks will disappear the moment they see the cleaning product poised for action. Forget elbow grease – that went out with the last century. Forget your grandmother’s recipe for stain removal – that’s been superseded with chemicals in a bottle.

    I got thinking about this at the same time as I was facilitating a parenting course and I began to think about our expectations. We microwave our food; we drive through for our take out; we check our bank account for our ‘real time’ balance; and that product we ordered, it arrived before the weekend.

    All this speed and little effort spills over, unconsciously, to other areas of our life.

    We expect parenting skills to be applied with no elbow grease. We try a new idea and become disappointed when our child’s behaviour hasn’t changed in 24 hours. 24 hours? Like within the moment.

    And yet, deep down we know from personal experience that change takes time.

    And if we’re a little reflective, we recognise that a little elbow grease applied in the form of perseverance and effort actually results in a job well done, in a skill learned, or in our character being formed.

    Our pain-free, elbow grease-less, ‘now’ world actually needs a little pain, a smattering of elbow grease and some extra time to ensure we and our children grow character, achieve goals and make a difference.

    As parents, we need to slow cook our parenting and give time for those changes to take place. When we persevere, our children realise we mean what we’ve said. So become a broken record. Don’t budge even when the tantrums occur. Apply elbow grease. Your life will become better for it … in the long term.

  • It’s just occurred to me that we’re going back in time.

    I’m not much into history but I have been thinking recently about historical ways of life after seeing the movie, Suffragette.

    Throw into the mix one of my children having a chat to me about self-value. “Mum”, he said, “tell me how valuable am I to you?”

    Along with the constant awareness I have of children sitting in trolleys or buggies with electronic devices; observed at meal tables when we’re out; or seen in cars on journeys [where, let’s face it, there are windows so they can see what is going on in the world].

    Put this all together … and what have we got?

    I think we have a new way of ensuring children are ‘seen and not heard’.

    We’ve gone back in time. We’ve gone back to a time of life that we look back at and say, “Wouldn’t want life to be like it was for our grandparents.” And yet we’re now partially in that place.

    All too often, we give our children an electronic device to stop them making noise [and they’ve worked out ‘noise’ gets them the electronic device] while we’re out and about. This stops us from having conversations about the world and how it works. This stops us having conversations with our children. This stops us talking about life and what matters to us.

    What did I answer to my son’s question? How much I loved his attention, how I delighted in his opinions, how I valued his stories and more – I’m not going to give detail because that was a conversation between him and me. But how could I answer his question? We have had shared time, chatting, wrestling with issues, talking through ‘what if’s?’, asking tough stuff – together. He’s in his twenties and back when he was growing up, there weren’t devices to hand over. We talked at the table. We chatted in the car. We conversed while we journeyed through life.

    As someone in another phase of ‘family’ to those of you in the pre-school and primary years, can I encourage you to think about the place of ‘the device’ in your lives? It does have a place. But is the use of devices causing your children to be ‘seen and not heard’?

    Jo

  • Ever been asked, ‘How’s the work-life balance going?’

    Personally I find this question unachievable. Just when you get the ‘balance’ right in the work area, a family situation occurs and work has to take back seat and family takes the focus. Or a massive deadline looms and family don’t get the same level of dedication and time as you prefer.

    I prefer the question, ‘How’s the work-life tension going?’

    if you’re stressed with work or life not going well, maybe it’s time to make a review. And it can happen easily using the illustration of an everyday product providing an everyday service. Elastic.

    It holds up our undies and those trackies. It’s been modified and appears as Lycra or Spandex. It’s a part of our everyday life.

    Too tight and we can’t function. Too loose and everything falls around our ankles. Too tight and we immediately think, ‘No more donuts’. Too slack and we think perhaps we CAN have another chocolate.

    But elastic works best when it’s taut. A bit like life’s tensions.

    When we have the integration right, we enjoy getting up in the morning. Another day of challenge, not exhaustion. Another chance to build into our relationships rather than be frazzled by them. Life can be ‘full on’ without being ‘flat out’.

    However, it takes energy and time to stand still and evaluate. Sometimes it’s easier to keep moving and kid ourselves into the fact that this is the way it has to be.

    But if we stand still long enough and logically consider the options, engage our heart to see what is really happening, and make change, we’ll release time and energy into our lives.

    There are times when some parts of our life are affected by the pressures we put ourselves through – things that don’t really have to happen. They only stretch the elastic of life. And when elastic stretches for too long; it slowly loses its spring. The fibres snap. And the bounce back … well, it doesn’t.

    There are other times when some parts of our life become extremely tight. Like when a child is sick. Or when you or your partner lose a job. Or when a close family member dies. These are times when we need to give ourselves some slack in other areas. Saying ‘no’ to invitations that will be offered another year or another time is okay. Finding a way to keep the house at an acceptable level of tidy or clean; rather than a perfection level.

    Someone wise once said, “It’s not truth that changes people; its truth applied.”

    We know aspects of our life need a change. But if we don’t apply what we know, the tension of our lives will become unmanageable and that often causes a ‘snap’.

    Tension … Taut but not stretched and like elastic, the tension will be at its best.

    Remaining in the tension of a fulfilling life is the great excitement of life.

  • The message that the first few years of life are extremely important for brain development is becoming more widely known. What may be less clear is how to put this knowledge into practise. Parents wanting to give their child the best start are faced with a huge variety of choice and much commercially-driven pressure to ensure that their child makes the most of this developmental opportunity. The bewildering number of toys and activities currently available for our babies and young children is enough to send parents’ cortisol levels into orbit. And that’s before the credit card bill arrives.

    Children need stimulation, but as with many things, moderation is key. More is not necessarily better. Many children today are at risk of being over-stimulated or over-scheduled and this can actually impede rather than encourage their optimal brain development.

    During the first years of a child’s life it is play, not scheduled instruction that contributes the most to brain development (Frost, 1998). We don’t need to formally “teach” our young children in order for them to learn. Children have their own interests and by being supported to follow these they are likely to be getting the stimulation that they need.

    Play provides a wonderful opportunity for parent and child to have fun together, deepening their relationship. Children also need opportunities for some play on their own, this provides many opportunities to develop their imagination, problem-solve and develop other skills that are less likely to develop in adult-directed play. At times, boredom may provide the impetus for the child to make their own discoveries and create their own fun, fantastic life skills and great stimulation for a growing brain.

    Simple toys that allow children to use their imagination and creativity have many benefits over the endless plastic creations currently available (Ginsburg, 2007). Blocks, play dough, a sandpit, versatile dress-ups (as opposed to Disney inspired ones), crayons and paper provide endless options. Household objects such as boxes, blankets, pots and pans can also provide many hours of fun and learning. The toys and activities that offer the most stimulation for a growing brain often don’t have the “educational” label on them!

    Learning and brain development is not limited to toys and activities specifically created for children, but also by following their interests in participating in the real world. Household activities that most adults consider work are also rich with opportunities for learning. Hanging out the washing, baking, grocery shopping and weeding the garden provide many opportunities for exploration and learning - and while the task inevitably takes longer, it can be much more fun for the adult too.

    Everyday life is full of naturally occurring learning opportunities. Watching the rubbish truck, road works, rain going down the drain, or a rainbow, can capture the interest of a child when shared with a parent. Take time to stop, observe, and talk with your child about the things happening around them, and when possible move on only when your child’s interest is waning. Be confident in the knowledge that you have just provided them with the stimulation they need, and it didn’t cost a cent!

    Rich sensory experiences that are so vital for optimal brain development are readily available in nature. Playing with the sand at the beach, feeling the bark on trees, smelling flowers, or listening to birds singing, enjoyed with a loving parent all provide stimulation prompting brain connections to form. Sensory experiences can be a messy business and children benefit from being able to enjoy such experiences fully, without anyone worrying about the washing!

    Playful, creative children who have had plenty of unscheduled, non-screen (TV, computer etc) time for play throughout their early years, are more likely to arrive at school with their natural curiosity intact, and a strong desire to learn that will benefit them more than those whose infancy and pre-school years have been filled with scheduled activities and little time for play.

    Written by: Keryn O’Neill, MA PGCertEdPsych Brainwave Trust Researcher and Educator

    You might want to check this out on the Brainwave Trust site: http://www.brainwave.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Learning-is-Childsplay2.pdf

    References

    Fancourt, R. (2000) Brainy Babies. Penguin: NZ. Farquhar, S.E. (2005) The role of Parents and Family in Children’s Early Education. Keynote presented to the International HIPPY Symposium, Auckland 22nd September 2005. Available at www.childforum.com. Accessed 28/04/09.

    Frost, J.L. (1998) Neuroscience, play and child development. Paper presented at the IPA/USA Triennial National Conference, June 1998. Available at www.eric.ed.gov. Accessed 28/04/09.

    Ginsburg , K.R.(2007) The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, Vol 119, Number 1, January 2007. Available at http://pediatrics.aapublications.org/. Accessed 3/05/09.

    Perry, B.D. (Date unknown) The Importance of Pleasure in Play. Available at ttp://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/pleasure.htm. Accessed 28/04/09.

    Perry, B.D., Hogan, L. & Marlin, S.J. (2000) Curiosity, Pleasure and Play: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective. Available at www.childtrauma.org/ctamaterials/curiosity.asp. Accessed 1/05/09.

    Perry, B.D. & Szalavitz, M. (2006) The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. Basic Books: New York.

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Fires, floods and other nasties
Families at risk
Mental wellness
Fires, floods and other nasties
If there has been a natural (or man made) disaster in your country, like fires, floods or even terrorism, and you'd like to support the groups in that area, depending which country you give from, we'll make sure these groups get help. The money will go to celebration items (like Christmas books or birthday gifts) and financial support of the local groups affected.
Families at risk
We're connecting with families who don't always see the value of mainly music sessions first off - but when they attend other services provided by agencies and participate, their smiles return as they connect with their child. It fills mum's life and develops the bond with her children.
Mental wellness
We have many stories where mothers say, "I went to my GP. I was told to go on medication. I found mainly music. I don't need medication at all." Post natal depression, social isolation, and anxiety can stop anyone in their tracks. Contributing to this fund in NZ will assist the sessions held at Walsh Trust, where mothers have been hospitalised for their PND. Contributing in Australia will assist sessions for families experiencing the effects of mental unwellness.
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