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Parenthood

7 Strategies for Parenting a Sensitive Child

Parenting a sensitive child is no easy feat, trust me. I have one. B (5) is the kindest, sweetest child and I often ask everyday what I did to deserve a child as amazing as him. He will often write me little notes, or bring me gifts from the garden. Always looking out for W (7) and striving to be as helpful as possible when the situation arises.

BUT he cries. He cries A LOT. He cried from the moment he was born and he hasn’t really stopped. Okay, a slight exaggeration but he would cry as a toddler when he didn’t want to walk and I ‘fixed’ it. B is now 5 and today alone he has cried about 8 times, over what I feel are small, easily solvable situations, and I am yet to ‘fix the problem’. He doesn’t know why he cries, I don’t know why he cries. He just does and it can be frustrating, which is why I have put together the 7 strategies I employ for parenting a sensitive child.

1. Keep Calm

Have you ever heard of the phrase “adding fuel to the fire”? My parenting approach is to NOT do that. I’m maybe successful 97% of the time, I’m only human, but it works. Shouting at a child who is crying or upset, is not going to help the situation at all. In fact, research shows that shouting at a child can raise their stress levels and cause changes in their brain structure. These sorts of changes can lead to mental health issues in adolescence and adulthood. Read more here.

By being calm and lowering the temperature of the situation, I find that it can be resolved a lot more quickly, easily and calmly. That’s a win in my book!

2. Work Together

This depends on the situation/child, but as an educator and a parent I’ve noticed that children cry when something goes ‘wrong’. This is an opportunity to work with them, showing them how to fix the problem or clean up the mess. Or provide a learning experience on the logical consequences of crying. I would near more hands to count the number of times B has missed out on an activity/experience due to crying. Where I have maybe had to remove him from the room/session in an attempt to calm him down. Only for him to realise that he’s missed out and the crying to start all over again! He is still grasping the idea that the harsh reality that the world will keep on turning, and it won’t stop just because he is crying. It is also an opportunity to…

3. Provide Reassurance

In my experience, sensitive children are anxious children. They can be the sweetest, kindest child you ever meet and yet extremely anxious about anything and everything. B is a complete perfectionist, he wants everything to be exact, following the rules and if it’s not…the frustration unleashes (mainly onto his brother). Providing a child with reassurance and building their confidence is key for any parent, but it is imperative for sensitive children. The older B gets, the quicker he is finding his voice (several weeks vs. several months) and so this is my bit of reassurance for you: it won’t last forever.

4. Explore Emotions

Help your child learn all about the different emotions we can have. As a home educator we actually made it into a mini-project. We watched Pixar’s Inside Out, wrote film reviews and played an interesting version of musical statues. We explored emotions in a fun educational way, so that the children can recognise the emotions they are feeling themselves and also recognise them in others.

I also use our magnetic mood board, that allows a child to change the expression of the character to match theirs and then we talk about it.

5. Talk Together

This is a chance to talk about the WHY and the HOW, with your child. Note I stress the ‘with’. You need to talk together, to find out what works for them. NOT what works for your.

  1. WHY are they upset/angry/anxious/distressed etc.?
  2. HOW could they communicate that differently in the future?

Crying because they can’t reach a favourite toy, ask what they think they could do instead? Perhaps ask an adult for help. Maybe delve deeper into why they didn’t ask an adult for help, or why they didn’t feel able to ask an adult for help. Do they need a confidence boost? Did they actually attempt to ask for help, but you were distracted/busy and dismissed them? This is also an opportunity for you to work out how you could do better for your child.

6. Be Proactive

You should know your child by now, you know what triggers them. For example, I know that B LOVES to sing. But if anybody asked him to sing, or looked at him while he was singing, he would start to cry. He really, really hates the feeling of having a spotlight on him. Knowing this, I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t notify his teachers beforehand. It would be unfair on him to feel singled out, and it would be unfair on his teachers and peers to have to ‘deal’ with his tears in an avoidable situation.

7. Give Space

My goal has always been to raise independent, autonomous children and that sometimes means allowing them to be in control of the situation. They can talk to me when they’re ready, instead of being forced into a conversation when they are still emotionally vulnerable. By giving them space it also means they can contribute more meaningfully to a conversation as they have been given the time to work out their feelings and what’s triggering them.

Yesterday, I made a pun with B’s name and he cried. He told me he didn’t want to talk to me as he was sad and needed some space. A few moments later he asked for a cuddle, he still didn’t want to talk but he needed comfort. When he was ready, he explained that he didn’t like his name being made fun of or changed. I apologised, because I believe in modelling behaviour and treating children as unique individuals with thoughts and feelings. The issue was resolved as he was able to take the time to reflect before confidently expressing himself.

These are all strategies for parenting a sensitive child. You may find articles on discipline, punishment or control (the parent/adult having control over the child). However, I personally believe that when a baby or child is crying they are trying to communicate something. Instead of punishing or silencing the child, we should encourage them to work through the feelings. Help them to recognise their emotions and express themselves confidently. However, if you have concerns that there may be something else going on with your child, then you should contact your doctor.

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Parenthood

Respectability Politics aka The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Respectability politics – “the set of beliefs holding that conformity to socially acceptable or mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a member of a marginalized or minority group from prejudices and systemic injustices.” – dictionary.com

‘Respectability politics’ the ultimate form of gaslighting or the lies we tell ourselves. If only we behaved ‘better’, looked ‘better’, spoke ‘better’ then we wouldn’t be subjected to racism and injustices. It can rule the lives for people of African descent and negatively influence our parenting experience.

Parenting Problems

Image credit: @momfully.you and @_happyasamother

When I first saw the image above, it resonated so deeply. While I may not be mothering black children, I am a person of African descent. I am never made more aware of the colour of my skin than when I am parenting my children. From the way I dress them, to their behaviour and the world around them.

In 2017, W started attending a state primary school. The majority of the pupils came from South East London’s Afro-Caribbean community. The staff did not. There was a startling lack of diversity, and an unwillingness to acknowledge Black History Month. When I removed him to be home educated at the start of the second term, I gifted books with diverse characters to the school library.

When W was on the ASD diagnosis pathway, most of the doctors I met referred to the statistics of being a boy from a single-parent, black ethnic minority family. I am hypersensitive to the fact that any slip up would not be looked upon as favourably as their peers from white British families. I often hear myself telling the boys that “I don’t want anybody talking to me about your behaviour.”. And nobody does. Oftentimes friends will compliment on how well-behaved and polite the boys are. Gushing with enthusiasm as to what a pleasure they are to be around and they press me for details. What’s my secret?

Neurosis and paranoia.

And these extend beyond parenting, these concerns influenced my naming choices before they were even born.

What’s in a name?

I love the boys names and I wouldn’t change them for the world. They completely fit their personalities and I have no regrets. However, I was conscious of the negative impact a typically BAME name could have on their future. I had to take the potential consequences into account when naming them, before I even knew what they looked like. W has a deliberately unisex name for this reason, and B’s could easily be the name of a child from a white middle-class ‘crunchy’ family.

I’m reminded of the episode in Black-ish when Dre argues to name the baby DeVante and he says to Bo “The only reason we’re not naming our son DeVante is so people won’t know right away that he’s black. I hate the fact that when something is black, the world sees it as bad.”.

I don’t know if I will ever have more children. But as the world is starting to wake up, I am determined to reclaim my heritage and my history for myself and my children. Given the opportunity, would I opt for a ‘black name’? I honestly don’t know. While I have shunned every opportunity to conform to society’s standard of ‘acceptable’ – namely in the education of my children and the parenting methods employed (hello attachment, autonomous supportive, gentle parenting!) – I seem to be unable to shake the shackles of respectability politics.

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Parenthood

3 ways to promote positive self-image in boys of African descent

I made a mistake. I thought that I was doing everything I could to educate my children about our black heritage and black lives. But I forgot the important of promoting a positive self-image for them as boys of African descent.

I have written blogs about my own experiences as a child, for Black History Month and International Women’s Day. All of these have been centred around my experience as a dual heritage woman with African ancestry. I bought the books celebrating Black Women in history. I bought the books with little black and brown girls as the main characters. Because, I wanted to promote a positive image of girls and women of African descent.

Somehow, along the way I forgot about the boys. While my boys are white-passing when it comes to first impressions, they refer to themselves as ‘light brown’. Lining up at the pool with white British children, there was a clear difference in skin colour, and as a result treatment by certain swim instructors. Their green eyes, considered a novelty, formed a superficial basis for a majority of their positive interactions with white adults. And it wasn’t until our trip to Naples, Italy when W declared joyfully “Mum, they have hair like me!” that I realised he was self-conscious about his appearance.

I soon found myself on Amazon, looking up “Black Boy Books for Children“, looking for boys about happy curly-haired boys. However, I am aware there is more that I could and should be doing to promote a positive self-image in my children, as boys who will eventually become men of African descent. So, without further ado, here are 5 ways to promote a positive self-image in boys of African descent.

3 Simple Ideas To Help Promote Positive Self-Image in Boys of African Descent

1. Inspiration

Look at the Black men in your life. Highlight their achievements, use them as role models for your child. Inspire them to be as kind, caring, passionate and innovative as the Black men in their families and communities.

Promote prominent Black men in history and their achievements, look at Black men around the world and explore their successes. Show them that they can grow up to men who are just as capable.

2. Representation

What images do they see representing children and families of African descent? Make a conscious effort to promote black positive books, cartoons and films in your home.

Books: Black Boy Books for Children
Cartoons and Films: 11 Black Animated Movies and Shows – Bustle.com

3. Conversation

Talk to your child, build up their self worth by:
– encouraging growth mindset
– celebrating what makes them unique
– praising your child and working with your child
– promoting confidence in their identity

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com
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Parenthood

Life after lockdown

As lockdown restrictions ease around the world, I’ve been reflecting on the things I have learned during lockdown. However, I can’t help but wonder what life after lockdown will look like.

Earlier this week New Zealand announced success in their strategy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Last week schools in England ‘reopened’ to nursery, reception Y1 and Y6 pupils, despite government advisors saying and test and trace system needs to be in place before allowing pupils to return.

While Morocco has extended its state of emergency to July 10, with limited ease of restrictions. I look to other countries in search of what life could look like after the lockdown is lifted. I’m almost certain, however, that it won’t be returning to ‘normal’.

*schools have been open to children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. As well as providing online lesson and educational support for home learning throughout the lockdown.

Life after lockdown: What about the kids?

As parent of course, my focus is on what’s next for the children. As a parent I am perhaps mindful of outcomes for children during this global pandemic. After 3 months of complete isolation, and with limited contact to the outside world. I am extremely concerned about the mental health impact on my children.

I myself collapsed in exhaustion after a brief (necessary) meeting. I was out of practice. Smiling, laughing, actively listening – and it drained me, a neurotypical adult. So who really knows what the isolation and sudden reintroduction to society will do to our children? We won’t know immediately, but we can know what it could look like for our children. We can look to countries in Europe and Asia, that eased restrictions already.

Back to School?

Heartbreaking images of a French primary school playground, shocked parents all over the world. In China (where the virus was first identified), clear partitions separate students from their peers during lunchtime. Face masks are mandatory and students sit feet apart. This is not the educational future any parent imagines for their child. Separated from their peers, isolated but not alone.

What about the home educators? Or the parents who have decided to give home education a go after their experience during lockdown. Where will we go and what will our children do while large social gatherings are banned? We are instead forced to consider our options and weigh up the pros and cons, under government guidelines.

Socialising after lockdown

Before the lockdown, the children were attending a small homeschool co-op, just outside the city. It consisted of around 5-6 other families, depending on the day. A very small social circle which is now a health risk (numbers wise). I have been considering the best way to reopen our social circle once lockdown restrictions allow us to do so.

Do we create our own social bubble and trust that eveybody will stick to it? In the UK, gatherings of no more than 6 people are advised. Meeting up with families with 2 or more children would quickly bring us over the limit. We also have to consider where we are meeting and how we are travelling (public transport carries risks). As well as how long should we meet for before introducing others into our social bubble? All of these will depend on your government’s guidance and I have created a handy little checklist (below).

For me, I will of course wait for lockdown restrictions to be eased. I will take my time reopening our circle, encouraging my children to reconnect with their friends via Zoom or WhatsApp. Initial meetings – I imagine – will be relatively short, fraught with cires of ‘don’t touch!’, as well as copious amounts of hand sanitiser. I am actually at this moment (through a friend) getting reusable fabric masks made for the children. While I’m not sure if face masks for children will be a legal requirement. I am always nervous about anything that affects the lungs. Both boys have suffered in that department, and as a result don’t deal with viruses too well. They are improving with age, but it’s not worth the risk to me.

Regardless, while I cannot say for certain what life after lockdown will look like for everybody. I have no doubt that you will do the best for your family by:

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Parenthood

Lockdown life: 5 things I learned during lockdown.

6 months has never felt so long! With lockdown and everything else that’s going on in the world I almost forgot I was meant to be taking a reflective break from the blog.

We have been in lockdown for nearly 3 months here in Morocco and the government may be considering a third extension! I’m trying to stay optimistic and hope that we will come out of it this week (June 10) as the children haven’t been outside our front gate since Friday 13th March (eek!). So to kick off our return, I’m proud to present the five of the many things that I have learned during lockdown….

How to play

B (5) loves board games, I never had time to play with him. I would play one round and then go back to doing whatever I was doing before, IF that. Now I can sit down, play and enjoy myself. I’ve taught them Blind Man’s Buff and other fun playground games from my childhood.

I can cook

I won’t be earning any Michelin stars, but I’ve always said I couldn’t cook. The truth is, I didn’t have the time to cook. When you’re a single parent and your choice is change the nappy before the baby starts screaming and stick something quick in the microwave OR cook a gourmet meal from scratch. Of course I went with the easiest aka quickest option! Now that everything is on pause and the kids are older, I have time to try out new recipes and grow in confidence.

My kids are great

All kids are great of course. But mine have really taken everything in their stride, I’m awaiting the enivitable meltdown when life returns to semi-normal, but for now I couldn’t be more proud of the way they have just dug in with helping out around the house. From keeping their bedroom tidy, to watering their plants (and each other).

I don’t read enough

As a kid, I used to read 10 books at a time. I would stay up under the covers with a torch reading, getting lost in fantastical worlds. I could recite my favourite books, word for word, front to back but during lockdown I realised I couldn’t remember the last book I had read, I then realised with horror that I hadn’t picked up a book in 2020 at all!

What do I want from life?

Well, that’s for another blog post…

Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself or your children during lockdown?

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Education Parenthood Travel

LL Shorts: One school, two school, home school, world school.

Many of you who have followed our unschooling/home education journey so far are properly wondering why I’m sending the boys to school here in Morocco.

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight, I’m not anti-school, I’m anti bad school. I would only send my children to a school if I truly believed that school could do a better job than what I’m doing currently. Don’t get me wrong, schools are not the place (in my opinion) for developing emotional intelligence which is a huge part of parenting boys for me. However now that we are on our slow living worldschooling journey, the educational goalposts have changed.

I want to be raise global citizens, give them an exposure to the languages and cultures around us which brings me to school. I’m an English speaker, we all are. I have a smattering of French left over from GCSEs but that’s about it, just enough to get by but not nearly enough to ensure we all have the opportunities I’d like us to experience while we are here. It would be all too easy for me to find an English speaking community and stay within my comfort zone, but that would defeat the purpose of what we are doing. Which is why, I feel that for my boys at least, school will be able to provide them with the opportunities that I value as an integral part of our worldschooling journey.

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Parenthood

LL Shorts: 5 Minutes Peace

Has anybody read the book ‘Five Minutes Peace’ by Jill Murphy? It was my favourite book as a child because I could relate to the children in the book bothering mum trying to have a bath and a few minutes to herself. I’m now that mum and it’s tiring, it’s exhausting being a parent trying to juggle everything and everyone.

I get overwhelmed sometimes, the constant touching, the incessant talking competing with background noises, toys being thrust into my face for me to admire or fix – it become an almost sensory overload for me and I just need a few moments of calm to collect my thoughts and just breathe.

Well I finally cracked it! Usually a Lego work cycle involves complaining about each other not ‘sharing’ (I don’t force this which I may cover in another blog), cries of frustration when the parts don’t fit the way they want them to or when they push too hard and their creation falls apart. When they are at these high energy levels, I approach them with a low energy to try and bring them to a place of calm and reason. I thought I’d apply this theory to noise levels, as they started to get louder and louder I tiptoed over to them and started to whisper. They stopped shouting and running about because they had to listen to what I was telling them. I asked them if we could see who had the quietest inside voice for a few minutes, they nodded eagerly and went back to playing but this time in complete silence!

This silent work cycle lasted for a good 20mins, they were both focused and actually made a fair few creations with little interference from me. Now I don’t expect them to be silent all the time but it was quite amazing to see and I will definitely be adding it to W’s play skills therapy as he tends to get overexcited and boisterous which leads to broken toys and materials.

How do you get your 5 Minutes Peace?

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Education Parenthood Travel

LL Shorts: Worldschooling

I love London, I think it’s a great place to bring up children. Little Londoners was born out my desire to share all the amazing and affordable activities my hometown has to offer families.

However, hitting rock bottom made me realise that something needed to change. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to change our education set up but our lifestyle was no longer sustainable in London. I always said that I would never live outside of London unless I was living outside of the UK, so being the travel lover that I am I started exploring my options and discovered the wonderful world of worldschooling.

Worldschooling is essentially a combination of education and travel, but it can look different for every family. I don’t know what it will look like for us yet as we are only starting out but my main objective is to bring my boys up to be global citizens, with an understanding and respect for our world and the people and animals that inhabit it.

Our first stop is Morocco, a country we have visited on many occasions. After Morocco? Well we’ll see where the wind takes us!

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Parenthood

Mother’s Day for the single parent (or those with an inconsiderate ‘partner’)

Mother’s Day, a day of joy for most, a day of disappointment for some.

My very first Mother’s Day, W (5) was still on oxygen in his 4th NICU (that’s neonatal intensive care unit for those who don’t know). I made an effort for both his grandmothers, bath sets, chocolates, flowers and cards and yet I woke to nothing. Quietly disappointed, I made my way to the hospital where I received a card of his footprints – cue emotional snotty wreck. When by the end of the day, nothing had materialised for me, despite a Sunday lunch at ex-MIL watching her and ex-SIL open presents, be gifted flowers etc I asked my then other half if he had bought anything for me on behalf of our son he replied ‘you’re not my mother and I don’t believe in commercialisation anyway.’

To say my first Mother’s Day was ruined would be an understatement. There I was a first time mother yet not really a mother because my baby was in intensive care and on the day when I need to feel like a ‘proper’ mum the most, I was let down. Subsequent Mother’s Days didn’t fare any better and as a single parent didn’t seem to hold much hope. 5 years later and I’ve decided to take charge. Too often I’ve seen single parents or mums whose partners aren’t much better than useless/thoughtless/inconsiderate (take your pick), but why do we mums settle for less than what we give on others special days? Create the day you want for yourself!

I invited a good friend (who also happens to be a single parent) and her son over for brunch (pink champagne mandatory). I also set up a Mother’s Day themed sensory science activity (bicarbonate of soda, rose petals, essential oils – rose & lavender, lemon juice) filling our home with a glorious bubble bath smell. The children had fun, the mums were laughing we all had a glorious day. The cherry on top was not only the unexpected gifts from my sisters and the boys as well as the cuddles and kisses galore, but that by taking charge of my day and my own happiness I had the best Mother’s Day that I’ve ever had!