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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

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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Activity Ideas Education

Black History Month: Week 5 – The Future

Black History Month for us, is not just about celebrating and learning about Black History. It is also about how the lessons learned from Black History can help shape the future of the black community.

Here are my top three for the week:

Then, Now, Next

The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

About, Black Lives Matter

It is widely known that Black History has been blighted by the systemic mistreatment of the black community. Black Lives Matter are working towards a future, free from the systemic targeting of black lives. While I wouldn’t discuss the movement with younger children as it could lead to a difficult conversation about the violence towards black lives, I would recommend discussing the movement with teens and young adults.

Fighting for a Future

If your climate change activist is looking for somebody to look up to, who also looks like them. Isra Hirsi is the ideal candidate. The 16yo co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Isra Hirsi’s focus is building an environmental justice movement for young people of colour, advocating for communities disproportionately hurt by climate change.

The Future is…

Robotic?! We are all to familiar with the talking, moving, blinking robots that were once science-fiction and now a scientific reality. However, what makes BINA48 unique (other than her AI capabilities), is her appearance as an African-American woman. You can read more about her here.

Black History Month 2019

You can find all previous Black History Month 2019 blogs here:
Week 1 – Activities
Week 2 – The Slave Trade
Weeks 3 & 4 – Africa & PoADS

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Activity Ideas Education

Black History Month: Weeks 3 & 4 – Africa & PoADs

When somebody tells you they spent their holidays in Europe, you usually ask them which country. If somebody tells you they spent their holidays in Africa, it usually ends there. Our focus for Weeks 3 & 4 was on Africa, the continent as well as our family’s personal history as People of African Descent (PoADs).

Africa

Did you know that Africa is a continent made up of 54 countries? Of course you did, but not everybody realises that the countries in Africa have their own language, culture and history. A lot like Europe.

The focus for Week 3 was learning all about the continents of the world, focusing on various facts about Africa herself. As we are currently in a North African country at the moment, our environment lends itself as a handy resource on our doorstep. We have friends from other countries in Africa and while I have dreams of visiting Ethiopia one day, the children would like to visit Egypt and Ghana. Drawing on our existing knowledge, we are able to appreciate and understand that each country in Africa is unique. Coupled with online resources, we were able to touch on Black History within the continent before The Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Lesson Ideas

English: Read the poem Civil Lies by Benjamin Zephaniah. What is Mr. Africa trying to say?
Maths: Imagine you Mansa Musa I of Mali. What will you buy with your gold? What were the types of currency used during those times? Can you create your own currency?
Science: Pretend you’re an Ancient Egyptian embalmer, mummify some fruit.
Humanities/ICT: Learn how to use Google to answer questions about the history and geography of Africa. Pick one country to focus on – what is the capital city, what language(s) do the people speak, what does the flag look like etc.?

PoADs

During Black History Month we also take the opportunity to look at our own personal history as People of African Descent (PoADs). In particular the journey my grandmother (pictured below) took from Jamaica to England in the 1950s. We still have the suitcase that she used for her journey, and while she passed away many years ago. I try to share as many memories as I can of her and what she did to allow us all to be here today.

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London Parenthood

Event Edit: Big Fish Little Fish Hackney – Drum n Bass

The concept of a family-friendly rave has intrigued me for quite a while, the Little Londoners were ecstatic at the idea of ‘going out’ with me rather than the usual, yet rare, babysitter (read: abandonment) scenario.

That’s where Big Fish Little Fish come in, their events promise top DJs and licensed bars for the ‘Big Fish’, as well as craft areas, play areas and face-painting and more for the ‘Little Fish’. I was excited, the boys were excited and there was an ‘optional’ fancy dress theme of togas, which of course I made them wear!

Upon arrival the Little Londoners were given a free glow stick each, to add to the assorted collection already adorning their wrists. We navigated past the buggy park to the front door, they had warned of a security check but as I no longer need to carry a changing bag we had a friendly face ushering us through to the rave room.

Our first mission was to wake up a little as they had both fallen asleep on our way to the event, so we headed over to the craft area run by Captain Cookie Crafts. There was a mural and a container of felt tips that W (4) happily took advantage of. There was also a craft table with some sort of headdress craft for children to make with a few examples dotted around. It was pretty busy so we steered clear, the play dough table was even more packed and the play area itself seem to trigger a few soft play flashbacks for B (3) as he clung to my leg whimpering. We avoided that area for the rest of our time until the end when W saw the opportunity to make his own ‘pirate’ headdress (I think they were meant to be Egyptian but didn’t have the heart to dampen his spirit).

Face painting was next on the agenda, this was provided by PHACEbyPhilly. W opted for a dragon and B opted for a crocodile. She was super fast and effective, I thought the face painting the boys had done at Into the Wild was brilliant, but this was on a whole other level!

After a few marshmallow pops and a couple bags of popcorn, washed down with apple juice we were ready to hit the dance floor. W happily showed off his best moves, and even tried out some questionable break dancing, that I had to put an end to due to the number of little walkers on the dance floor. DJ SS was headlining and played some pretty decent tunes that even I (not really a drum n bass fan) could get into. They managed to top the event off with some pretty cool light effects, bubble machines and glitter cannon!

The only tears we had were from me trying to get self-conscious/Velcro ‘baby’ B to detach from my leg and join W in dancing. We also had tears and screaming when it was time to go home, but that’s always a sign of a good time and we can’t wait for the NYE event, which has already sold out!

I’d definitely recommend going to BFLF event near you if you have the chance, but make sure you bring your partner, or if you’re a single parent like me, a friend, it would have been nice to have let W happily space out on the dance floor while also allowing B some ‘quiet’ time in the play area.

***

We were invited along for the purpose of this review.

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Education

Red card, Green card

Now that I’m a new member of the school mum’s club, I am privy to various methods used to convince our children to behave. I’m sure that managing 30 4-5 year old is not an easy feat so I wasn’t entirely surprised when W (4) ran to me after his second morning of school shouting “We did rules today, Mummy!”.

It’s not so long ago that I don’t remember the various school rules and sanctions imposed for breaking them from secondary school, but I don’t really remember anything from primary school. I think at that age, the mere thought of being reprimanded for even the smallest toe out of line, was enough to keep me in check.

I suppose it’s a sign of the times that various incentives and behaviour systems are being applied in an effort to not only encourage good behaviour but also as a classroom management tool. W’s school is employing a red card, green card system. You start off with a green card and extremely good behaviour is rewarded a ‘superstar’ card. Anything that doesn’t meet expected behaviour standards receives a warning, after that it’s a red card and a phone call home. There was also something about marbles and when they manage to collect a certain number of marbles they can have movie and a popcorn as a class.

W has, as with everything, taken this all in his stride and is convinced that not only will he remain on a green card but also achieve a superstar card and the movie/popcorn reward seems well within his reach. However, I do wonder about the children who are a little more sensitive to the fact that their names are on display in the classroom for all to see where they sit on the behaviour chart. I know there have been various other mummy bloggers that have spoken out about traffic light systems for monitoring behaviour in the classroom, especially when during Reception years undiagnosed conditions can reveal themselves in the form of ‘bad behaviour’.

W thrives on rules and knowing how things work but B (2) this system would no doubt fill him with anxiety. I am very interested to see how W and his peers will fare under this behaviour management system and perhaps how it will change as he moves through the education system, if it is something that I can also apply at home or if it will conflict with practices I already have in place. Will it be a realistic preparation for life after school, working on the assumption that the red cards of today will dictate the path a child will take? I don’t know, while I understand the need for behaviour and classroom management, I wonder if there are more fluid approaches and methods available?

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Education Parenthood

Starting School: Schultüte 

A Schultüte is a wonderful German tradition for the first day of school. My grandmother is German and so it’s a tradition that we are passing down and I intend to keep within our family. I remember receiving mine when I first started, so of course I had to make one for W (4) on his first day!

For those of you that don’t know, a Schultüte is essentially a cone packed with goodies, to celebrate the year ahead. Some parents are more creative and able to make fantastic cones but I just stuck with card, wrapping paper, tissue paper and ribbons for W’s.


What’s inside?

You can put anything inside of these, I tried to think of things that I thought W would need as well as enjoy. I got him a couple of new books to read and Star Wars themed workbooks to support his learning (I can’t help but giggle over P is for Padme, or the saying on the back ‘Learn well. You will.’). The notebook, pencils and skipping rope are from Cath Kidston and I found a CD of alphabet songs to add to the boys collection.  W loves taking photos on my phone so I popped in a disposable camera for him to have a go at taking his own (the old fashioned way), also picked up a boys fragrance bottle from Next because he always wants to borrow my perfume! The Lego set and the Go Fish! game are just for fun and great activywe can do together. Not pictured are some triangular colouring pencils as they are easier for him to hold that I also picked up for him.

How to make it? 

I cut out a square of wrapping paper, stuck it onto some thing card, put glue along one side of the square and made a cone shape, sticking it down together. I glued tissue paper along the inside at the top, stuffed a ball of tissue into the base (a little like a cornetto) and then filled it up with presents, before tying the top with some ribbon.


He had already been given a new school bag and a Swatch watch at breakfast, so the look on his face to be surprised again when I picked him up was totally worth it! I couldn’t be more proud of him and so excited to see what the year ahead has in store.