Saturday, 25 August 2012

Raising healthy boys!

I love little boys, but I can understand that some mothers recoil in horror when they find that there lovely baby boy:
  • is fixated on cars and all forms of wheeled transport
  • takes great joy in loud burps and farts, often repeated for extra effect
  • runs and climbs and kicks and throws balls
  • is unable to sit quietly without starting to wriggle, wrestle with siblings and create a commotion
  • plays superheroes and has mock fights at every opportunity
It's not that little girls don't do these things, but somehow, some little boys do them all and with such gusto.
And it's not as if every little boy is like this.  Some are gentle, sensitive souls who are creative, studious and caring.
But some little boys are right out there, almost as a caricature of all that is masculine.

Parents of children like this should not despair, even as these youngsters challenge their rules and push the boundaries.

These little boys are healthy.
  • They are often physically assured and so challenge what we regard as safe behaviour.  A tree is there, so climb it.  A fence is there, so balance on it.  They are confident in their own abilities and consequently take risks so they end up bruised, scratched and sometimes with broken limbs.
  • Their personalities tend to be irrepressible and they take little notice of warnings, especially from those they regard as having inferior prowess (ie their mothers).  
  • They tend to be cheerful, not brooding; they are given to hero worship of those bigger and stronger.  
  • And they are often very affectionate when they are not being thoroughly obnoxious.

Raising healthy young boys, however, does require that they have good male role models.  This is especially true when they live in all female households, or where their fathers are present but frequently absent because of work, or are emotionally absent.

They need male figures in their life who can match their energy and help to channel this into safe and fun activities.

They need to learn from these figures:
  • that people who don't share their enthusiasms are different but still worth having as friends.
  • that there is a time and a place for their more boisterous behaviour, but there are also times when it is sensible to be quieter
  • that there are limits which need to be observed for the safety of others, if not themselves
  • that their behaviours do have consequences.

It is important to have rules about:
  • respecting other people eg no bullying, good manners
  • the difference between indoor play and outdoor play eg no jumping on the furniture or running inside
  • the difference between inside and outside voices eg quieter voices inside

But the quiet, sensitive boys also need good male role models who can show how these qualities can be expressed without leaving the boy open to mocking or bullying.
They need to know that it is ok for boys to be artistic and creative, that not every boy is a future footballer.
While their more boisterous brothers are climbing trees and leaping from rock to rock it is fine for them to be collecting flowers to draw, or watching the clouds blow and making up stories about the images they can see or playing 'Pooh sticks' (floating sticks from one side of a bridge to another in the style of Winnie the Pooh.)

And boys need male role models to show them how to be decent adult men, respectful of women, respectful of property, and respectful of themselves so they don't drink themselves to oblivion, use drugs or drive dangerously.

Boys are fun, but they need lots of help to grow up healthy.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Nanny power!

It is an honor to present our first guest blogger, Tracey McDermott. Tracey is a very experienced nanny who has received much publicity recently for her efforts to promote the status of nannies: a wonderful example of a movement by nannies for nannies.

Here's her story.

I have always loved babies and children. One of my hobbies as a child was collecting pictures of babies and books about babies, so it is no surprise that when I decided to pursue a career that would bring me joy rather than just a pay check, childcare was my first choice. I started out in long day care centres. When the opportunity to relocate to London and become a nanny presented itself, I grasped it with both hands. My time in London convinced me that being a nanny was the perfect career for me and I have continued to work as a nanny since my return to Australia.

Nannies are a more socially accepted form of childcare in England than they are in Australia and I have found that the work of nanny is largely misunderstood here. I often have to explain to curious people that I do have a qualification; I don’t clean the houses I work in, nor do I cook the parents' dinner or do various other household chores. 

 Most of the nannies I know have an early childhood qualification and provide excellent quality care for the children they are employed with.  They take the children on outings, provide educational activities at home and have play dates with other nannies and children. They care for the children when they are sick, patch them up when they have a fall, read bedtime stories, repair holes in much loved teddies, climb into pig pens to rescue toy giraffes (yes, I actually did that!), and do things like cook dinosaur shaped pasta to make dinnertime fun! 

                                                           A morning at the park.

The benefits of the close relationship that develops between a nanny and the children should not be underestimated either. I am proud of being a nanny. I think what we do is invaluable and important not only for the lives of the children in our care, but for the parents we work for as well.                  
When an article ( appeared in The Australian newspaper earlier this year claiming that extending the childcare rebate to nannies would put children in the care of unqualified babysitters, place them at risk and see them well behind their peers, I was infuriated. The article went on to claim that nannies have no childcare qualifications, or are only trained to babysit, unlike childcare centres where staff members are university educated. As often happens, nannies were categorised as unskilled ‘babysitters’ rather than professionals with qualifications.

I wrote to the journalist to set her straight and defend the many great nannies working in Australia, asking her to write another article addressing the false claims about nannies and she agreed. 
The feeling that nannies were misunderstood and undervalued here was now something more real and I wanted to do something about it. With a few other women from the industry who were equally upset by the article we started the Australian Nanny Association. The troops were rallied and we now have almost 190 interested people waiting for the opportunity to join up as members.

I see one of the roles of the association in the future (and the one I am most passionate about), as being one of educating the public in an effort to change the perception of nannies as unqualified babysitters and cleaners for the privileged. I hope that one day Australian society will understand and value the work we do, as much as we do. It’s a big dream, but I’ve never been one to dream small.

Another important role I hope the association will play is to connect nannies from across Australia in one place for building friendships, sharing information and supporting each other.

The Australian Nanny Association can be found at
And we hope to be taking memberships by the end of August.


                                          Making dinosaur footprints at home.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Back to books and reading!

After several blogs on weightier matters, I feel like some light relief, and what better way of getting some relief but by turning to a book.

The key to all this enjoyment is of course the  wonderful skill of reading.

We use reading in so many areas of our lives: for directions, filling in forms, for following any form of written communication, including the use of the internet.

I read fiction and non-fiction, but I'm a light reader, rarely undertaking the classics, or heavier themes. When I think about it, I think the reading I most enjoy is story telling, whether factual, in the form of biographies and travel writing or as fiction.

Like most people, I read for many purposes:

  • to escape when I like crime novels ( writers like Ruth Rendell, Ian Rebus, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo), or perhaps a family saga, often multigenerational.
  • for enjoyment when I like what is called literary fiction (John Lanchester, Anna Funder, Nam Le), and especially what I'd call 'world' themes often written in translation, of life in many different countries.
  • for education, and information when I use the dictionary, consult reference books and travel guides, and read well written but 'light' history.

I love the newspaper, and while I'll check stories on-line, nothing, for me can replace the spreading of a newspaer on the table at breakfast time and combing through it for news and opinion.

I use an e-reader when I'm travelling and occasionally at other times, and it certainly beats carrying 5 books in the luggage, but nothing can replace the smell, feel, and weight of a proper paper book, hard back or paperback.

It is hard for me to imagine not being able to read.  It feels as if my whole world would collapse.  I know one of the things an elderly friend regrets with her failing sight is the effect that has had on her reading: talking books are just not the same.  As I watched someone reading braille last night, I though what a wonderful physical act to enter the world of reading, such sensitivity of touch must be required.

When I had contact with adult migrants learning English I became aware of how many, because of poverty, war and lack of opportunity had never developed the ability to read their native language so while they might develop verbal communication skills in English, they would probably not be literate in either language.

Earlier this year, I noticed billboards about indgenous illiteracy in Australia, and wondered they were about.  Following up, I found the website of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation where I found some of the problems in communities particularly in remote areas where many issues combine to reduce the ability of children to learn even the most basic literacy skills. Like all such groups they are dependent on funding, much coming from a percentage of sales in some bookshops, and from publishers, on Indigenous Literacy Day( 5 September, 2012), and the rest from the community.  Save your book purcases until then and go to one of the listed booksellers for a painless way to help. What better gift could we give these young people than the gift of books and reading during this Australian Year of Reading?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The dance of parenthood

What is parenting?

At its most simple, it is raising a child to adulthood.
In more complex definitions there is an attempt to distinguish between the basics of rearing a child, and parenting which is about socialising a child to fit in with their culture and about outcomes like providing the care and nurture needed to produce happy, healthy adults who are able to fulfill their potential.

One of the images I have of parenting is that it is like a dance where the parent and the child, over time, learn to move well together, growing to understand each other, with complimentary roles, and gradually learning to be independent of each other and able to dance separately and in their own style.  This is an image of parenting as a process which changes and develops with time and experience. As I often say, new parents all wear L plates and need time to find what works for them and their children.

There are different styles of parenting and these reflect different cultural practices and personalities (or adherence to different parenting gurus!), but most of us would see extremes of style eg very punitive, smothering, 'helicopter' or complete lack of limits as unlikely to produce an adult who is able to act with maturity.

I was reminded during the week of a quotation circulating on Facebook "the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice",  attributed to Peggy O'Mara, but very much a summary of one of the tenets of Transactional Analysis in the 80's and numerous other psychological theorists.  Think of all those sayings that lurk around our memories and guide our habits, our actions, or our rebellions. It was a matter of pride (when I reported to my mother) that when I had clothing cut off me following an accident that I had been wearing a new shirt and bra! Not all those circulating messages are that trivial, and many can cause great emotional pain because we don't realise that as adults we don't have to believe them or act on them, but can choose for ourselves.

I am inclined to believe that it is the children who have suffered from the extremes of parenting who are those who are most likely to be bullies, or to be the targets of bullies.  Children who learn in the parenting dance that they are responsible for their own actions are those who I think are less likely to bully and are more resilient when others try to bully them.

I think the very punitive, the smothering and the helicopter styles of parenting are all different aspects of control.  Whether from fear, from learned behaviour, or even from the best of intentions, these parents are not able to let go and dance with their children, instead they try the steps but don't hear the music.  Right from the start the needs, beliefs and practices of the parents are imposed on their children and often many of the everyday concerns of life become battlegrounds: feeding, sleeping, toilet training, clothing, play activities, friendships, school performance....

For all parents it is hard to stand by and see their children make mistakes, to try and fail, to fall, have cuts and scratches and sometimes, unfortunately worse injuries, to be dirty.  But as parents we need:
  •  to teach children to face challenges and encourage them when they don't achieve what they (not we) want;
  • to patch up the wounds and reassure them that there are other things they can do;
  • to help them set goals that they have the ability to reach;
  • to teach them that substance and authenticity are more important than appearance;
  • to help them to understand that even when their behaviour or lack of success may disappoint us, we still love them. 
For some children, this control by parents never seems to end: choice of career, life partner, how everyday life is managed is all subject to parental control.  Surely one of the parts of being an adult is making decisions for oneself, seeking advice if necessary, but think of the number of adults you hear who would never dream of making a decision without asking their parents, or who ring their parents, especially their mothers, several times a day.  These adult children are not to blame: they have never been taught to act as an adult, nor encouraged to be independent.  They have not learnt to dance, and unless that changes, they are unlikely to be able to be effective participants in the parenting dance when their turn comes.