Friday, 20 January 2012

How to deal with bullying

As a mummy, I had my first encounter with playground bullying when Bobby was at preschool. There was a little girl in Bobby's class called Cinzano (I kid you not). Cinzano was definitely on the 'no' list for potential sleepover buddies. It really wasn't her fault, but she was rude, grubby, crawling with goodness knows what and was nasty to all the other little girls. I say it wasn't her fault because a) she had to live with the name Cinzano, which is enough to drive any girl over the edge, and b) she had an aggressive mother who had a chip on her shoulder so large she could have supplied a well known burger chain with fries for at least 20 years.

Cinzano's mother had so much anger and resentment that it showed on her face, the result being that she looked rather like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Most of the other mothers had been on the receiving end of her temper at one point; consequently, most other mothers avoided her. She was one scary lady- large and manly in figure, tattooed, pierced, grubby- and Cinzano was a miniature version.

Bobby frequently came home from preschool in tears because of something Cinzano had said and, despite much tantruming and complaining on my behalf, the actions of the school had had little effect. One day Bobby again came home in tears; she had been given some pretty hair clips by her auntie and Cinzano had made fun of them. I comforted my small daughter, explaining that Cinzano probably said those things because she was sad that SHE didn't have pretty things, and was jealous of how pretty Bobby looked in her new hair clips. I (perhaps foolishly) added that poor Cinzano didn't have a nice mummy like Bobby did who would cuddle her and brush her hair etc etc and this would make her sad and cross.

The next day, Bobby trotted off to preschool feeling confident and loved. When I picked her up at lunchtime she was, miraculously, all smiles. I asked her how her morning had been and if she'd had any more trouble from Cinzano. She said, "Oh yes, mummy, but I just remembered what you told me. I told Cinzano that you said she only picks on me because she's the fat kid."

Nooooo!!!!!!! No, no, no scary mummy of Cinzano, that's not what I said!

Avoiding Bulldog Wasp Mama we legged it out of the playground. Unfortunate as the choice of wording was, it worked. Bobby and her friends had no more trouble from Cinzano, who evidently didn't want to be proved to be 'The Fat Kid', and I remained safe from her mummy.

Bobby and Peter have both been bullied at some point, especially since starting secondary school. Peter is a prime target as he is so odd, bless him. Thankfully both of them felt comfortable enough to tell someone and the problem was sorted out swiftly, with their dad and I monitoring every step to make sure the problem doesn't resurface.

If you have a child in this position, kick up a screaming fuss until it is sorted, and monitor closely. There is no shame in making sure your child is happy. You are the parent. If you don't do it, no-one else will.

If your child has never been bullied, keep a close eye on them. Chances are that if they are not in with the wrong crowd, or being picked on by the wrong crowd, they ARE the wrong crowd. That's teens for you, sorry and all that. Prepare yourself for a 'phone call...

Today: Where to get help if your child is being bullied
To keep them safe online

Friday, 6 January 2012

How to feed a fussy eater

All kids go through fussy phases. Bobby went through a phase where she would only eat orange food- carrots, baked beans, fish fingers, marmalade (but not toast...) and of course oranges. She also went through a brief vegetarian phase on finding out that meat came from animals:

"Urgh! That's so nasty! I'm never eating meat again! I don't want to eat a cute little animal!"
"Except pigs. I don't like pigs. What can I eat if I eat pigs?"
Ah the morals of the young!

Of all my kids, however, Peter was definitely the fussiest. A fussy tot with autism is a nightmare, and there were times when I seriously doubted that Peter would reach his teens without developing rickets, scurvy or similar. Peter is now 13, and eats pretty much anything, except sprouts (and I have to agree with him there).

To get Peter from fussy to foodie, we used a combination of tactics. First, the paediatrician's suggestion:
To reduce the fear of food, we first had to get Peter to tolerate it in his 'personal space'. Right. A bit nineties therapy, but we'll give it a go.
We had to start by putting a small piece of the new food next to him on a side plate, then moving it in gradual steps onto his plate. Peter was then supposed to touch, smell and play with the new food before trying it. Good advice. Didn't work.

To slip new food past Peter, we realised we had to be wily. We became as cunning as politicians, putting a positive spin on new experiences and lying through our teeth.

When we started, Peter would only eat sandwiches (peanut butter or Marmite), crisps, chips or plain pasta. Peter would refuse all sandwiches unless the bread was perfectly square. We told him that rectangular bread was really square bread that had been squashed in the freezer, and showed him all the loaves squashed in. It worked. When the peanut butter people changed the lid of the peanut butter from blue to yellow, all hell broke loose, but we convinced Peter that peanut butter, like hamsters (see 'How to deal with the death of a pet'), shed their 'skin' in the summer months.

Peter would eat chicken, but no other meat, so we renamed all meat to be chicken. Beef became African chicken which had been out in the sun longer than UK chicken, pork was chewy chicken- chicken which was just a little bit older, fish was flaky chicken, you get the idea.

Peter's autism also meant that he got very stressed if something wasn't quite right, so to get him to eat fruit we labelled all the bananas with the days of the week. Peter was so stressed that the 'Monday' banana wouldn't be eaten until Tuesday that he ate it himself. Job done. His teachers thought we were a bit odd, but it was a small price to pay.

The real turning point came when we took Peter to an 'All you can eat' Chinese buffet. By this time, Peter was eating chips. When he saw chips at the buffet he said, "Oh, I didn't know chips were Chinese. I like Chinese food, then?" This progressed to, "Of course you like prawns/onions/cheese Peter. You eat crisps in those flavours." We've told Peter that he is amazing because he tries anything now, and Peter, ever susceptible to the power of suggestion, believes us to be telling the truth. Thus, another self fulfilling prophesy is brought to fruition.

Phyllis isn't too bad, although she prefers grazing to 'proper' meals. This is fine; she has a tiny giraffe tummy, rather than a whacking great elephant tummy like the teens who trample through my fridge most evenings. She's not the type to waste away, however, and any faddiness soon evens out in the end. We get her to try new things, or things she has already tried and dismissed, by saying, "Ah but you've grown now, so your tongue has grown too and will have more taste buds. Let's see if you've grown enough to like ***** (insert your own food) yet. Wow you have!"

Getting kids to eat is part psychological mind games in which you, as the adult, hold the upper hand, and part relaxing and admitting that it is very rare for a child who is offered food to starve. If they won't eat what you want them to eat, but are growing and healthy, the problem is yours as you have to prepare more food. This is a nuisance, but not life threatening.

Today: A step too far
Trying to persuade Phyllis to eat sprouts (she happily eats cabbage) I told her that sprouts were 'fairy cabbages', small and dainty fairy food.
Phyllis gave me a whithering look. "Mummy I'm 6. Don't be silly."
Ah well, none of us like sprouts anyway. Saves me the cooking.

Mama Jax

Monday, 2 January 2012

How to keep your head when all around are losing theirs

One of the worries of having children is that you are responsible for providing for them, and I'm telling you now they're not cheap! Phyllis isn't too bad. Her school uniform is still small, she doesn't eat a lot, and Santa can fill her stocking for under £10, if he shops wisely.

Teenagers on the other hand are a whole different ballgame. All items on their Christmas list are the size of a 50p piece and cost a gazillion times more. Santa would need to re-mortgage his workshop and redeploy several elves to get even close to the amount of money needed to fill a teenager's stocking.
School trips start from about £250, and they need so much school uniform it's a wonder they have any time for learning at all with all the changing that must go on.

With this worry constantly in the back of my mind, I have always worked. Recently, however, I have joined the growing ranks of the unemployed in the UK, and the once niggling worry is now jumping all over my brain like a child on a bouncy castle. Luckily, the mortgage payments are covered by the insurance, but, my insurance company informs me, my claim is not valid unless I sign on.
"Right," I naively thought, "That should be easy enough."
Oh how wrong I was...

I arrived at the Job Centre, eagerly clutching an envelope full of relevant paperwork, on the first day it opened after Christmas. The Job Centre was empty, apart from a 'yoof' who looked as if she was expecting applause for being out of bed at such an ungodly hour (1.30pm) and two security front men.

Me: I'd like to sign on please.
Security man: You need an appointment.
Me: But there's no-one here.
SM: That's the system. Here's the number to call.
Me (wondering if the proffered number is in fact the number for the 'phone on the desk in front of him): Can I not just see someone now? There's no-one else here.
SM: No. You have to go away, ring the number, get your appointment and come back.
Me: Well, can I ring now?
SM (unnerved by a question not on the card): It's not usually done, but I suppose so.

I get out my 'phone and move to sit on one of the many empty chairs.

SM: You can't ring from in here. You have to go away and ring. That's the rules.
Me: I suppose this system, complicated as it is, is creating jobs...

The irony was lost on the 3 amoebas in the Job Centre. I moved outside and sat in the car, where I rang the number in full view of the Job Centre reception and it's 3 inhabitants. The man on the 'phone offered me an appointment for the following Tuesday.

Me: Can I have an appointment now, please? I'm sitting just outside.
Phone man: Oh. Why are you outside? You're supposed to go home and ring from there.
Phone man: I'm afraid next Tuesday is the first available appointment. They're very busy over the Christmas period.
Me: THEY'RE NOT BUSY!! I CAN SEE THEM!! THEY ARE CHATTING AND DRINKING TEA!! In the two hours it has taken me to reach this point, NO-ONE HAS COME IN OR GONE OUT!!!
Phone man (unknowingly quoting 'Little Britain'): Computer says 'no'.

I'm going back on Tuesday. It is highly likely this post may have a Part 2...

Today: Reasons to start your own business, courtesy of You Tube and Loose Change TV

Mama Jax

Sunday, 1 January 2012

How to survive a sleepover

Sleepover. One of those misnomers, right up there with 'fun run' and 'sports personality'.

Last night Phyllis had her first ever sleepover. Her friend, also 6, came for New Year's Eve and stayed. We survived; having had 3 kids I have developed a very strict set of rules for sleepovers:

1. Choose your guest/s wisely. Phyllis' little friend came from Good Stock. We know the parents and knew that they were bringing her up well. She was polite and fun. Do not choose a child who has multiple piercings under the age of 10, is named Checayne, Tequila or similar, and who's mother is 12. On the flip side, do no allow a child to stay who has a live in nanny and a maid. They will sneer at your Factory Shop furnishings, and demand scrambled quail's eggs on a fat/sugar/salt free brioche for breakfast.

2. Give them sweets. Yes, I know that is against everything you have been brought up to believe, but look at it this way: They will be hyper anyway, would you rather blame their behaviour on Haribo or your total lack of control as a parent?
Thought so.

3. Cram in as many children as will fit in the house. Again, this may seem crazy, but the less space they have, the less they can move. Moving=mischief.
This also makes the inevitable arguments more interesting and varied, and chances are they will tell each other to go to sleep as the first few get tired, saving you a job.

4. Invite children who have unusually early bedtimes. Phyllis' friend is usually tucked up by 6.30pm. The odds on her being tired at a reasonable time are significantly better than, say, a child whose usual bedtime is 9pm.

5. From the age of about 8 or nine, sleepovers become a popular and regular occurrence, particularly with girls. Parents of said kids will usually take turns to host the sleepovers. Make sure your turn falls in the summer months and stick them all in the garden in a tent. Surprise them with one unannounced 'supervision' visit to let them know they are being watched, then leave them to it.

6. Behave totally inappropriately in the house (see 'How to get your teenager to go to bed') to ensure they only come in when absolutely necessary, like if an alien abducts one of them. And maybe not even then.

7. If they are old enough to have a sleepover, they are old enough to make their own breakfast. Leave out a selection of easy things for them to make, like the cornflakes you've been trying to get rid of for months but no-one in your family will eat. Hide the nice stuff! I cannot stress this enough. This particularly applies to teenage boys...

Today: Phrases that may be used in an emergency
"I want you all asleep by 10pm. If you're quiet though, I might forget you're not asleep and you may get to stay up longer..."
"Ah, poor thing. If you can't settle to sleep here, maybe I should take you home."
"Of course you can come in! ***'s (insert name of your child) dad is just watching the 'News at 10' in his pants, but you won't mind that will you?"
For loud music: "Oh my gosh I LOVE this song!! Turn it up!" Dance outrageously.


Mama Jax