Friday, December 4, 2015

"PRESCHOOLERS AND MUMS : My 2 Concerns in Summing Up"

“In other areas of child development, society welcomes a framework of optimal parenting practices. For example, we accept that five servings of fruit and vegetables a day is optimal and preferable to four servings, which in turn is preferable to three servings and so on. …

And yet when it comes to parenting practices such as parent/non-parental care, which infringe upon our adult professional freedoms, society seems to actively retreat from constructing any framework that may be construed as a hierarchy of optimum to less optimum practices. No matter how uncomfortable, New Zealand needs a framework to make fully informed decisions about its children’s wellbeing.”  WHO CARES : Dr Aric Sigman p.26
The request is a good one. Wouldn’t it be convenient and helpful if we had such a scale that we could measure ourselves or our lifestyle practice against! We could then ‘tick the box’, confidently thinking we have provided our child with all that is needed for them to mature into a resilient adult, successfully handling the stresses they will encounter in their future life.
My first CONCERN ~
But even if an acceptable authority published such a framework, would adhering to it assure that our children would be resilient to stress, when the time came?
I am not disagreeing with what Dr Sigman says. It is essential that he clearly makes the point that a mother’s availability, love and nurture of her preschoolers contributes enormously to building a stable and resilient adult.
My concern is that a misunderstanding can occur here, and it is best explained by looking at Dr Sigman’s illustration, that everyday, children need 5 servings of fruit and vegetables. This of course is correct because it contributes to children growing strong and healthy bodies and minds. However, these same children can also be struck down by a deadly disease or condition and the health of their body would then be in jeopardy regardless of eating fruit and vegetables.
Similarly with stress and anxiety. There are situations that can enter the lives of children which can cause them to become depressed, have panic attacks and worse. 
But we are wise to take Dr Sigman’s advice, just as we are wise to follow the advise of the Ministry of Health, and give our children  5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Following this wisdom builds a solid foundation and is the best contribution we can make to our children's future - however, it does not guarantee that our child will go through life without serious health issues or difficulty in handling stress. 
"In the human brain, the quality of a mother's care in early childhood is a factor thought to influence the size of the hippocampus (Buss et al, 2007). Attachment insecurity has now been significantly related to reduced brain size and brain cell density within the hippocampus of young adults (Quirin et al, 2010) ...
Maternal care or a deficiency of it, plays a key role: maternal care can produce semi-permanent changes in gene activation in brain regions vital in responding to stress, thereby providing a potential mechanism for the early childhood programming of stress-induced disease in adults (Tara, Craft and DeVries, 2009) ...
Therefore, a key aspect in the early care environment for young children is the ability of adults to be available to respond appropriately to stress reactions triggered (inevitably) by normal day-to-day events." WHO CARES : Dr Aric Sigman p.18, 19, 20.
The "quality of a mother's care" is under examination in the above sentences. If her care is deficient the child ends up not developing brain skills which govern their future response to stress. The responsibility is returned to the mother to be available and "respond appropriately" to normal everyday happenings which can cause stress to the child.
My second CONCERN ~
To many mums these words can be alarming. They believe they are being told that they must prevent the baby from experiencing any situation which may cause stress. So the baby must be picked up and not left to cry, the child must be pacified and given-in-to so they remain satisfied and don't become anxious.
But Dr Sigman is not saying or intending this interpretation at all. In fact this pattern of dealing with children will only develop children who are self-centred and lack self control. (If your children currently are living in this way and you would like help to change this situation, look at my website - A Way to Parent and make contact with me.)
Dr Sigman says parents are to "respond appropriately".
How do parents do this in stressful, difficult everyday situations?
 * By being rational with self control
 * By staying calm
 * By being prepared with a thought out plan of what to do ready for when it happens
 * By cultivating a happy and positive mindset towards her child
 * By looking after yourself with regular rest and exercise, eating and drinking healthily and continuing to develop yourself.
(Again look at my website if you would like help by discussing any of these ideas)
A stressed mum will invest stress into her child.
A mum's attitude and behaviour play the biggest role in creating a home environment which ensures child wellbeing is an important priority.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ "Female mammals raised with nurturing mothers have been shown to exhibit more nurturing and less anxious maternal behaviour in their turn. Transfer of maternal behaviour from one generation to another is thought to be an example of an epigenetic change, in which environmental influences [quality of a grandmother's mothering] cause chemical changes to DNA that leads to changes in the expression patterns of genes which influence the way the next generation mother cares for her child (Esel, 2010)". p. 27.
Be encouraged as you mother your preschooler this week.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

"PRESCHOOLERS AND MUMS : Affection and Attachment Builds Later Life Resilience"

"The degree of warmth and affection, particularly between mother and child, can curb a child's stress reactions and generally make a child more resilient to stressful and difficult situations later on." WHO CARES : Dr Aric Sigman. p.12.
Most couples realise how important it is to spend sufficient time together to build a close 'healthy' relationship. The requirement for a young child is the same - to build a 'healthy' child there needs to be lots of affection and attachment time between mum and child, especially in the preschool years.
Oxytocin is known to be the bonding hormone which is released in a mother's brain as she begins to breastfeed her baby. This hormone causes a mother to be affectionate, protect and care for her baby. It is important that this close mother-baby bond be sustained through a baby's early years, as the amount of affection affects the baby's brain chemistry, influencing their future capacity to deal well with stress. 
"A recent study entitled 'Mother's affection at 8 months predicts emotional distress in adulthood', found high levels of affection between mothers and infants were associated with fewer symptoms of distress 30 years later, compared to offspring of mothers who showed low or normal levels of affection. The findings of this study strongly support the view that early life experiences influences adult health and emphasise the importance of a strong nurturing relationship with the biological mother(Maselko et al, 2010)." p.12.
However, if very young children spend most days in daycare separated from their mother, they are not experiencing this essential bond, required by a child for their wellbeing.
Affection and attachment time can not be scheduled into certain hours when a mum is available. A baby or child needs their mum spontaneously 
- to smile or comfort them when they fall and hurt themselves
- to cuddle on the couch or tumble on the floor
- to know it is Mum who made the sandwich and handed it to them
- to know Mum is in the next room, not too far away, and is accessible.
"REAL QUALITY TIME IS USUALLY UNPLANNED, undefined and can occur at all times of the working day, as well as the highly inconvenient middle of the night. IT'S A FEELING, NOT AN APPOINTMENT. Quality time is not a substitute for the sheer amount of time children need every day from their parents." p.13.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ check yourself - is the time you spend with your preschoolers based on what suits YOU or what your child needs?

Thursday, September 24, 2015


"Across cultures, foetuses can remember and recognise their biological mother's voice before they are even born and then prefer it after birth to that of other women, including care workers. Newborns will even change their behaviour to elicit their own mother's voice. Researchers have found that experiences in the womb have an impact on infant behaviour and development and that recognising the mother's voice in the womb may play a role in mother-infant attachment. It is believed that in-utero neural networks sensitive to the mother's voice and native-language speech are being formed (Kisilevsky et al, 2003, 2009)" WHO CARES? : Dr Aric Sigman. p.11-12.
Recently in our street we experienced the annual arrival of dozens newborn lambs. The chaotic bleating and baaing of mother sheep and baby lambs as they call-out to find each other, is just amazing. The lambs recognise their mother's baa, race towards it, then dart under their belly and furiously feed.
Some human mothers intentionally speak to their baby when in-utero, knowing that the baby can hear their voice. But the fact that the baby is tuned-in to their mother's voice is only the start of a close relationship that all babies need with their mum to develop clear language skills.
"And neurophysiological research finds only the biological mother's voice preferentially activates the parts of the baby's brain responsible for learning language, even when the baby listened regularly pre-birth to a nurse who was also a mother and whose voice was matched to be similar to the mother (Beauchemin et al, 2010)."
The researchers concluded, "scientifically speaking, that the mother's voice is special to babies... This research confirms that the mother is the primary initiator of language...."
In my family I have seen the power of my voice in my children's language. I am Australian and my eldest 3 children were born in the first five years after I moved to New Zealand, when my Aussie accent was still very strong. Now decades later these 3 adult children are still picked for their Australian tones in their speech. 
The brain connection to do with language that exists between a baby  and their mum, is actually two-way. New mums "seem to be biologically primed with a linguistic advantage for their own children." Mums with young babies "exhibit increased brain activity in areas known to govern language.", when they hear real-life or recordings of 'baby talk'. However, mothers whose children had grown  out of this baby talk stage did not show the same brain activity of connection with the recorded baby sounds. 
It's as though mums are given deep connections with their baby for a time period when the child needs certain things to be supplied by their mum, which will lead to their greatest development.
"Years later, a mother's voice continues to have physiological effects on her child. When children and young adolescents who are experiencing anxiety along with raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol hear their mother's voice on the telephone, there is a dramatic change: a rapid rise in oxytocin and dramatic reduction in those cortisol levels (Seltzer et al, 2010). It should not be surprising to learn that the mother-child interaction is now being elevated to a medical status. Editorial papers in critical care medical journals are now calling for recognition and use of "The Therapeutic Effects of a Mother's Voice" on seriously ill patients in hospital (Alspach, 2010, p.13)".
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ you can use this information. 
If you are pregnant - chat away with your baby. 
If your child is under 12 months - you are both still connected in this amazing way, so be available to give them lots of time to baby talk to you and for them to hear you chat to them. 
If your children are older or you have teenagers - be aware of the privileged power you hold, especially to help them in times of anxiety and stress.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


"Eye-to-eye contact along with skin-to-skin contact is vital for child development at all ages but particularly during the very early years. 80 per cent of a child's brain growth occurs during the first three years of life." WHO CARES? : Dr Aric Sigman. p.9.
When you read a document written by someone who is a Fellow of the Society of Biology, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a recipient of prestigious scientific awards, has done extensive field research observing the care of children in dozens of remote places of the world, has written a number of successful books, been written up in the media and debated on television, AND the important thing - a dad of three teenagers and a daughter in her 20's, you then know they have something worth listening to!!
Dr Aric Sigman is not saying anything 'new', he simply gives current statistics and applies research findings to the way life is being shaped for preschoolers today.
Dr Sigman is deeply interested in the wellbeing of infants and preschoolers, because he knows that if what happens in these early years of development is not in the child's best interests, they will be seriously ill equipped for later development, which in turn will affect future generations.
"Everyday, ongoing touching, cuddling, singing and smiling are vital aspects of attuned, responsive care necessary to develop key parts of child brain circuitry. Close, physical touch from someone who loves the child is crucially important. These things enable the child to develop the neurocircuitry required to feel empathy and care for others, which is a basic necessity for healthy functioning as an adult. This 'learning' requires high levels of eye-to-eye contact." p.10.
How to Give Eye-to-Eye Contact
The first two words give the answer. 
Little children need "touching, cuddling, singing, smiling" at all times. Such things need to be available to them. They need easy access to enjoy and participate in them.
Look them in the eyes whenever you 
~ talk with them
~ change their nappy
~ put them on the toilet
~ into a bath
~ into the highchair
~ into the carseat
~ dress them
~ clean their teeth
~ wash their hands
~ put their gumboots on
~ peg out the washing together
~ pack away the toys together
~ pass them food
~ wipe the bench together...
Take up the dozens of simple daily doings and LOOK INTO THEIR EYES.
This way "high levels of eye-to-eye contact" can easily be achieved, everyday.
"One of the most pronounced changes across the industrialised world is a reduction in the number of minutes per day that parents interact with their children. Recent history has seen parent and child in marked retreat from one another as New Zealand has moved from a culture of greater common experience to a society of more individual experience. She is in good company, as parent and child in Britain, too, step back from one another in unprecedented strides. Parents who work full-time spend only 19 minutes every day 'caring for [their] own children" according to the British Government's Office for National Statistics, while a further 16 minutes is spent looking after their children as a "secondary activity", indicating that the parent is doing something else - such as supermarket shopping - at the same time. The study looked specifically at working women in Britain and what they do during a typical 24-hour period (ONS, 2006)."p.8.
We have heard of these harsh statistics and with embarrassment, know them to be true. The culprits which cause mums and preschoolers to "retreat from one another", can include,
~ the attraction of mobile phones and other technology
~ the dominance of a mum's career or job
~ the misbelief that professional centre-based or home-based daycare is superior to a preschooler being at home with their own mum
~ being preoccupied with "doing something else" so that eye contact with the preschooler is minimal.
A Wise Family Practice
In our family my husband and I tested many things on an annual basis
~ was it 'working'?
~ in what ways?
~ how was it affecting our marriage?
~ how was it affecting us as individual parents?
~ THE IMPORTANT QUESTION - how was it affecting the kids?
~ can we change something?
~ what could we do differently?
~ would this change benefit the kids?
Ask the WISE questions of Yourself.
The Need to Look at Reality and be Honest
If, as the second quote says, "Close, physical touch from someone who loves the child is crucially important", because "these things enable the child to develop the neurocircuitry...which is a basic necessity for healthy functioning as an adult", then eye contact for "19 minutes every day" between you and your preschooler is honestly NOT sufficient.
"Discussions of childcare must in future be uncompromising and honest with an exclusive focus on the wellbeing of the child." Dr Aric Sigman.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ How are You honestly doing in the area of eye-to-eye connection, with your preschooler?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


It is August, which technically is the last month of Winter here in New Zealand.
Although the wind and temperatures can be cold in August and the day  still start with a bitter frosty morning, the beginnings of Spring have arrived! The incredible miracle of new leaf and flower buds are filling stems, stalks and branches.
Right now is the perfect time to start a game with the children that lasts a year.
1. Take your child for a walk to find a planet or tree that has bare branches. Let them pick out their plant friend. 
The plant needs to be close by so they can see it regularly. 
* In you home garden
* In a kind friendly neighbour's garden
* In a nearly park
* In the parking area at the shops, supermarket, mall, cafe, hall, school..... somewhere you go often.
This plant is to become their year long friend.
2. Each week or if you prefer each month, together with your child take the walk to their plant friend so they can visit and see what is happening.
I have done the weekly and the monthly versions with my children and found both were very rewarding experiences.
3. Once there, the child needs time to just look and chatter away to you if they wish. 
Each visit the condition of the plant friend needs to be noted or remembered. The child can do this by making a drawing, taking a photo or collecting a sample. 
Drawing demands physical and artistic skills from the child as well as concentration and patience. But this type of drawing is not about creating a work of art, it's about looking and seeing. It needs time and patience from  mum to be prepared and have the equipment at hand, then to wait while the child draws. 
I found it best to also draw a plant friend, that way I was busy while they were busy.
Photos are good because they are accurate and quick, but that is also their downfall. They prevent the child looking and taking time to get to know their plant friend. That's why I prefer drawing.
Collecting Samples is also good because they begin a physical collection with which the child can compare the future stages of their plant friend.
We found it was best to label each sample at the time with a date tag, or glue it with strong glue onto cardboard with the date labelled underneath, or place it on a large paper page with a date label underneath then covering the sample with clear contact. 
However you do it the point is to get them to look, compare and observe for themselves the changes as they occur in their plant friend for the duration of the year.
4. Remember, My Plant Friend is an experience for the child. It is for them to learn and discover what they can using their senses. Mum is allowed to answer questions but not to become a teacher or take over steering the child in how to think about their plant friend. You may find help by reading the final points of the post "Kids Outdoors in the Winter"
5. - At the first visit the child may find only bare branches.
- Next small lumps will appear on the branches and stems. You may be asked what these are. It is fine to give them the name, 'buds', but leave them with the mystery of what a bud is. It is good for them to think and wait.
- The buds grow and form a shape.
- The buds burst open - depending on the plant the bud may hold a leaf or flower. Let them find out.
"life stirs in the beautiful mystery of the leaf-buds, a nest of delicate baby-leaves lying in downy warmth within many waterproof wrappings;...each has its own way of folding and packing its leaflets." HOME EDUCATION : Charlotte Mason p.52.
"Then the flowers come, each shut up tight in the dainty casket we call a bud, as cunningly wrapped as the leaves in their buds, but less carefully guarded." HOME EDUCATION : Charlotte Mason p.53.
- Watch the way the leaves unfold - each plant is unique. It is good to capture the process as you draw, photograph or collect samples.
- Gradually the leaves and flowers multiply and grow in size. They mature, become damaged by the wind, insects or birds. They decay. 
- Then there may be fruit. If a child discovers for themselves that the fruit comes out of the flower, they will know it and remember it for life.
- the leaves may change colour and shrivel, then fall off the branch.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ these simple happenings are old stale knowledge to us but it is all new to a child. Our job is to put ourselves into the child's position and to wonder and admire the surprises they discover along with them.
Let your child find a Plant Friend this week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Here is another outdoor game for children where they get to think their thoughts without interference. It again encourages children to look carefully as well as the need to use their mind to picture and remember, then describe. It is easy to play Mind Photography.
The Game Mind Photography: 
1. Take your children to a place where there is plenty to see in the distance or there is a wide open view. Usually an elevated position works well - 
a hill
a headland
suburban scene
If you live in Auckland it is perfect to go to the top of one of the many volcanoes.
2. Sit everyone down, they need to be comfortable. For this reason it would be best if the children have already had a run around, eaten and had a drink.
3. The best way to teach this game is for you to firstly demonstrate how it works. You will need to already have a few Mind Photographs stored in your memory. 
Close your eyes and tell them about one scene that you remember. Describe it clearly and with enthusiasm. It could be a scene they are familiar with. Your description will influence them so make it memorable. When it is their turn they may mimic your words or mannerisms so be an example worth following.
4. Once you have finished, tell them it is their turn. They start by  spending some minutes looking at a section of the scene in front of them. They can take their time. They need to look at it carefully and remember the details.
5. When they think they have looked enough, tell them to shut their eyes and try to see the image of what they have seen. If any part of their image is blurry or they can't clearly remember what it looks like, they need to open their eyes for a closer look. Then close the eyes again and recall the image. When they believe they have the image perfectly in their mind then they are ready to describe what they see.
6. Tell them to close their eyes as they describe, just as you did. Everyone is to simply listen, not correct or offer their thoughts.
Children can use this skill of looking at a distant scene, closing eyes and remembering or recalling it, as often as they wish. This is not difficult. The difficulty comes when they need to concentrate and describe out loud what is in their memory. Therefore it is suggested that the describing part of this game be only played on occasions.
Benefits from Mind Photography:
# A child's mind is filled with rich images of places and scenes that will stay in their mind's memory card for life. These images  are ready to recall, be enjoyed and bring with them recollections of innumerable sights, things heard, smelt, tastes, feelings and imaginings. They are their images and memories.
Mind images made in a child's mind in this way will be clear and vivid into old age. 
The reason so many childhood memories for adults are vague or incomplete is because as a child we never looked fully of carefully to make a clear mind photograph.
# By nature children can successfully look in detail at things that are close or near to them and tiny, minute things. This is not difficult for even very young children.
But to ask a child to really look carefully at things in the distance or at a wide open scene, is a more difficult task. 
They need help to be aware of the distant view. This is where this game of Mind Photography is so helpful. 
To be able to look beyond, further than what is close by, to look so carefully that the details are clearly kept in one's mind, is a skill that prepares a person's future abilities in numbers of life areas. By adding to that the occasional verbal description, where the child's mind and concentration work very hard, and you contribute to your child's future success in writing. Clear, accurate verbal description is the forerunner of successful writing.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ take the kids outdoors and play Mind Photography. It is an investment into their future.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


I want to build on one of the ideas I mentioned in the last post, KIDS OUTDOORS IN THE WINTER, of mums grabbing moments with the kids “to train the (child’s) seeing eye, the hearing ear.”
1.  Send the children off as a group to explore something
    - The rocks at the end of the beach
    - A garden
    - A small hill
    - The hedge
    - A little stream
    - A group of trees
   All you need to say is – Who can see the most, Who can tell the
   most about the rocks at the end of the beach…
   2.   Although not intentionally, to children this is like a
   competition. They race off to get there first. After a short time
   they’re back again, yabbering and breathlessly trying to say what
   they saw. The comments start with excited short phrases and jump
   all over the place, as their minds settle. Then sentences become
   longer with more detail.
3.   The child who has tried hard to describe something, such as a
   tree, deserves to know the name of that tree or any special
   information you know about the tree. Take this perfect learning
   moment, while the child is already curious about the tree.
   4.  The child who returns with nothing much to say or a lazy, clumsy
   description, needs no such extra information from you. Let them
   flounder along until they themselves choose to race back to look
   again and return with a more accurate description to tell you.
5.      You can finish the game by getting the children to take you and
   show you what they described.
   Children love to do this, as long as we listen while they tell. 
   Mum is interested, mum came with me, mum listened to me…
   This is a great simple family experience, playing The Exploration
   Game, but it may not happen like this the first time, so keep
   trying it. It is hard if you have only 1 child – you could borrow
   some other children or combine with another family to play.
   Here are 3 outcomes that come from this style of ‘training’ in
   # They develop mature skills of observation generally ~
   “By degrees the children will learn discriminatingly every feature
   of the landscape with which they are familiar.” p.47 Home
   Education: Charlotte Mason.
   Everything in the natural world is constantly changing, nothing
   stays as it was last week. Things grow, die, are moved by wind and
   rain and disappear. The unlimited scope of material outdoors,
   provides children with a huge range of experiences connections,
   interests and information gathering. Through simply looking on a
   regular basis, children store up a large amount of rich knowledge,
   ready for use throughout life.
   # The habit of truthful observation is learnt ~
   Mum “is training her children in truthful habits, by making them
   careful to see the fact and to state it exactly, without omission
   or exaggeration.” p.47 Home Education: Charlotte Mason.
   The Exploration Game challenges children to look quickly, look
   honestly and be discerning. Because they have siblings or other
   game-players who may also look and tell about the same thing, and
   because it is MUM (that font of all knowledge) who will hear all
   the comments, there is an obligation to be truthful and accurate.
   Developing such traits shapes the growing character of children.
   # The increase of vocabulary, conversation and skills to express
   their ideas ~
   “This is all play to children, but the mother is doing invaluable
   work; she is training their powers of observation and expression,
   increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them
   the name and uses of an object at the right moment.” p.47 Home 
   Education: Charlotte Mason.
   The need to speak and tell in The Exploration Game, means children
   practice using the words they know while learning new ones. This
   adds to their overall success to communicate the ideas in their
   mind as they practice describing what they see.
   THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ play The Exploration Game.
   More on this next post.