New mum joins the club – getting support from the group

  
BBC Radio4 broadcasted an interesting interview with sociologist Dr Jennie Bristow and editor-in-chief of Netmums Anne-Marie O’Leary about supportive role of friendship during early stages of motherhood. (Woman’s hour on BBC4 podcast, interview starts at app.33 min of the program http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06z255x). They spoke of early parenthood as one of these times in life when we need friends the most. This brought also questions of what is friendship, to what extent we can expect friends to be answering our needs and what kind of friends do we look for, over the course of life. The toddlers groups were mentioned as very valuable source of social support from people who are going through similar challenges.
In my experience as a stay-at-home mother, the various toddlers’ groups me and my children attend are indeed a great way to socialise and meet new interesting people. It helps me to remain active (and sane). It’s very rewarding to see my children playing with others. Going to groups makes me feel part of a wider community.
On the other hand, I find that groups can be sometimes a bit overwhelming and that they do have an unspoken, more difficult side which can make this group experience somehow stressful. This can be a reason for some mums who are feeling vulnerable, for whatever reason, to stay at home, rather than reach out for help and face the Group. 

Unfortunately, when we need the groups support most, we may find it most difficult to attend.  

Why is a toddler group a challenge?
As a group facilitator, I work with people who come to my classes with specific expectations. They want to be part of learning experience which will help them better understand themselves as parents and resolve their issues. This is the first, visible and spoken reason for joining the group. 
But when we form groups of any type, group dynamics are unleashed that we have to cope with. * These processes are powerful and not always easy to deal with, especially when we are not fully aware of them. When becoming part of a group, we tend to take up certain roles; sometimes we benefit from them, at other times, they make our experience very difficult. Common group dynamics evoke our competitiveness, our defence mechanisms, and trigger our deep emotional issues. .

Competition
Some of us have strong desire to compete with others and perceive competition as a fight for the badge “I’m the best”. This can provoke tensions between group members, make some people feel inferior or excluded. Sometimes the competition becomes a main figure of the meeting and dominant group feelings are that of tension and hostility; in these cases group no longer serves as a support group or safe haven. 

Defence Mechanisms
To understand the way we relate to the group, we need to go back to our own-early-childhood experience. The first group we are born into is the family group, and we learn about the world from relating to others: initially from our first care givers and our siblings. In relation to others we define who we are and what is important to us. We need others to see ourselves in their eyes, to figure out who we are from the way they react to us. What is more, we often need them to deal with our emotions. Early in life, we develop mechanisms which help us avoid emotions, which are too overwhelming. For example, children split the world into good and bad, and in this way they don’t have to deal with ambivalence and mixed feelings e.g. Mummy is all good, or all bad, pending on the mood the infant is in. Over the course of life we are expected to learn more mature ways of dealing with emotions. We as grown ups, should be able to face and process the fact that our parents can be right at some points, and completely wrong at others. Mature people should be able to accept the fact that sometimes they get angry, they experience envy and that is part of who they are. But even if we are capable of this kind of ‘mature’ emotional processes, we sometimes still turn to our defence mechanisms and use them to avoid some feelings. We might for instance project our feeling of sadness onto someone else. When we do this, we really can see evidences of the person being very sad and we intensely focus on this other person’s sadness. While doing this, we don’t acknowledge our own sadness. These mechanisms operate in groups. They can become very powerful, when group as a whole starts using them and prevents its members from embracing what they feel and who they are. Projections often hit the most vulnerable people in the room. Single parents for example can easily become ‘objects’ for projecting our own feelings of vulnerability, loneliness, dislocation. Group may be focusing on expressing pity and sorrow over one person, who starts feeling overwhelmed by the emotions, which belong to other people.  

Roles
In this way people play different roles in the group. Our life situation and personality are main contributors to the way we appear in the group. We might realise, that we often take up similar role in different groups we attend.  

It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek or cannot count on group support when feeling vulnerable. It’s just important to be aware that this deep emotional processes are circulating in the room and when we feel that something is put to us and we are perceived as more outside the group or more sad that we actually feel ourselves, we don’t have to consent to it. We can try and do something differently, engage with someone else that we usually do, change anything which we are able to change and see how it impacts our emotions and the way other people see us.
Getting group support which we need, often demands being proactive and as conscious as possible.

*my work on group dynamics is informed by relational psychoanalysis, concepts of defence mechanisms and group as a whole come from Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion

Photo: http://www.kcmetromoms.com

First published on xpose.ie

Full time parents: Re-connecting with the world 

  
Being a full time-stay at home parent for many people means disconnection from professional career. The distance from what we used to do before becoming a parent vary and we also take a break for a different period of time.
There are some circumstances in which come back to work can be particularly difficult.

Sometimes the break from work is very long and detachment from a job market is total. Some people left or lost their careers before becoming parents. Many families move to new cites or countries to have a fresh start. Without a network, with language barrier, differences in qualification system, building a career in foreign place is a huge task in itself. It becomes bigger when for a period of time we were preoccupied with the inner world of our family life and most importantly – with the youngest family members (some call this effect a ‘baby brain’).
In any case, planning to come back to work often triggers many emotions and brings to life questions regarding our identity, self esteem, skill set, belonging.

Coming back to professional work after a long break means reinventing ourselves and face all the challenges we faced when getting a job for the first time.
Re-connecting with the outside world of people who are get paid money for the work they do, is an emotional and strategic exercise. It is also an interesting phenomena in our culture. Our society tends to assign more value and importance to all the jobs happening outside the family home. It can make parents (in most countries – in majority – mothers) feel as if they are contributing less to the community or indeed to the family (not providing any financial income). It can also feel as if all the outside world was moving forward and learning new things, when in the meantime, home makers were just a home makers, doing all the things which all the generations have done before.
The value of staying at home parents is for me unquestionable. They not only dedicate themselves to offer care and support to those they love. They also rise people, who are the future of our communities. They do have a connection with previous generations, by committing to the same task which our grand and great grandmothers did. They learn – everyday of their lives – about relationships, emotions, themselves, their loved ones. They reach their limits and they learn to overcome their weaknesses. They manage family life and they care for the quality of it – food, aesthetics, warmth. They work and learn a lot and they do not have ‘baby brains’.
I am picturing this heroic image of staying at home parents and I am not mentioning the other part – those who make this arrangement possible, by earning money and contributing in many different ways. I will dedicate them a different post.
It’s because I sometimes hear when mothers who are planning to go back to work express their feelings of dislocation, inadequacy, low self-esteem, lack of clear direction and confidence. I also share some of these feelings.

And I think they need a strong encouragement and appreciation. They should remind themselves, that when staying at home, they are not disappearing in a vacuum. They are important part of the world ‘out there’ and that they can come back to work or do whatever they plan to do, reacher for the experience of being a home makers. Yes, it requires focus, commitment and strategic planning. Yes, it’s challenging and can be intimidating. Yes, they need a reality check and see what short term and long term goals are within their reach (considering support, actual opportunities, financial situation, further childcare).

But experience of being a full time parent is a great starting point and strong asset. Even if it is not being portrayed like this often enough.

Parents: children will be impressed with your new careers! Good luck.
First published on xpose.ie

Photo: http://www.scarymommy.com

Confident Parents – new workshop for parents in Ireland

I am very happy to announce my parenting workshop – unique one day learning experience for all parents and parents to be.

Contact me, if you are interested in organising the workshop for group of parents.

CONFIDENT PARENTS

WORKING WITH THE EMOTIONS OF PARENTING

A one day workshop to help you understand and manage the emotions of parenting

Emotions in family life can overrule clear thinking and lead to conflict, difficult behaviour, distort decision making, and create unintentional hurt. Emotions are also the foundation for supportive, loving, creative and caring relationships. We therefore need to learn how our emotions impact on our parenting, in order to become more confident and make good parenting judgments.
Parenting is personal, and each child is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all parenting solutions. 

This workshop will help you discover and develop your own solutions to the challenges and joys of parenting.

What will happen in the workshop? 

SAFE environment: A small group will meet in a safe, relaxed, encouraging and non-judgemental setting

SPACE will be created to allow you to share valuable experience, discussion and to practice new skills

INFORMATION for better understanding of your personal and family dynamics will be shared in the group

Who is leading this workshop?

Facilitated by Agata Western (MA, member of The Psychological Society of Ireland): psychologist, experienced certified trainer, parenting blogger – contributor for Galway Advertiser, xpose.ie and herfamily.ie. Agata brings to the workshop her international professional expertise in group facilitation and training, and her personal experience of parenting two young children

After the workshop you are invited to become part of a supportive network of parents.

When:

5th June 2016 10am-5pm

Where:

Salthill Hotel Galway

Fee:

Special Early Bird rate 75 EUR before May 20th, 90 EUR full price, including refreshments and lunch. Further discounts may be available on request if needed


Who can come?  

We welcome all parents: single, couples, foster carers, adoptive parents

Places limited, for booking or more information contact Agata at: balancingparents@gmail.com or call: 089 40 62 126

Birthday Party? Do it as you please!

  
It’s my son’s birthday this month and as we have some friends who were born in January too, we are entering busy birthday party season. I am looking forward to it, although I am also familiar with all the uncertainties which can make an innocent children’s party stressful. Of course it’s about our children having great time and celebrating together. But it is also about being exposed as a parent to other parents, who as we know, are sometimes harsh judges of our choices (or maybe we only think they are?). It’ s normal to be preoccupied about being accepted by the group and it’s also natural that the group is expecting us to conform to its norms and standards of doing things. Unfortunately it’s also the case, that conformity kills creativity and even threatens our identity. Group norms can be insensible, irrational, stupid. We might disagree with them completely and obeying them might hurt us. And yet, we still go with the group flow, because we want to be accepted and we want the same for our children. 
This reminds me of an article I read in Irish Times about birthday party etiquette.

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/parenting/how-to-host-a-child-s-party-without-breaking-the-bank-or-your-kitchen-1.2416806

It answers in details what is an accepted way of buying presents, making guest list, serving sandwiches, preparing goody bags, etc.

It is the brightest example of social pressure which glorifies group obedience and doesn’t allow for any creativity. It fuels anxieties and supports the phantasy world of the group which benefits from all the members being exactly the same. The imaginary good coming from this homogeneous world would be lack of conflict, lack of confrontation, eternal peace and happiness. 

At first glance the article looks as a helpful guide through the common doubts I mentioned above. But when you read it through, you realise that it creates a strange world in which all parents and children want exactly the same environment to celebrate, eat and enjoy the same things and expect others to do what majority does. There is a real thread which can be read between the words: If you don’t obey the etiquette, you become an outcast, a weirdo, someone who doesn’t deserve to be part of the clan. 

Parents are surrounded by this kind of ‘do and do not’ guidelines, which are doing more harm than good, because they make us forget about the most obvious truth: we are adults, able to think independently and perfectly capable of making our own decisions regarding our children and ourselves.

It’s important to remember that the fear of being rejected is fuelled by the phantasy, that we all should be the same. We are all different and that’s all right. We can host the party which doesn’t obey any etiquette and most likely we will be appreciated for being authentic and honest. 

This post was First published on xpose.ie 

Image: http://www.aliexpress.com

New Year’s resolutions – guilt and two other risks of planning changes

  
Christmas is behind us, New Year is here: the protocol of our culture is expecting us to make some New Year’s resolutions. Time for making promises! 

“I am going to exercise more.’ 

‘I’m going to be more patient with my ageing mother.’

‘I’m going to cut down sugar/cigarettes/wine.’ 

‘I am going to take more time off.’

The beggining of new year encourages us to make summaries and gives hope for the fresh start. 

We live in the age of therapeutic discourse, where people are expected to work on themselves, redefine and reimagine their lives. Life coaches are speaking on the morning radio programs about making positive changes, introducing plans, and exercising daily. 

These days none of us is free from the expectation to grow and become better in whatever we do or whoever we are. It’s not only about us as individuals but also us fulfilling certain roles which matter to others. Speaking about parents: we as parents are always observed by the community and we are expected to do right and do better as mothers and fathers.

On one hand this feels right and encourages positive changes in the society. Many people change their habits: they eat and live healthier, they think more about the environment, their prejudices weaken.

On the other hand, this drive for becoming a New Version of Ourselves can cause some confusion, especially for parents.

Guilt

It’s okay to be good enough. To be a perfect parent is a phantasy and following it isn’t serving anyone. Our task is to be good enough parents and this means providing a loving and safe environment for children to grow and explore the world. We won’t get everything 100% right and what we really should learn is to accept this fact. Of course we want to grow as parents and do better on many fields, but this expectation often causes a strong sense of guilt, every time we do something ‘wrong’. This creates a viscous circle and a tension which definitely won’t help with getting things better next time. 

Goals

Setting the right goals can be tricky. There are many advisors who focus on altering behaviour. They encourage us to set the clear goal, make a strong commitment to some behavioural change, and they offer techniques to stay motivated and achieve this change. It can all work well, under the condition, that we are focusing on the right goal. Sometimes emotional issues are so difficult to deal with, that we replace them with some other tasks which stay at the level of behaviour and don’t reach the deeper, emotional issues. For example one of the partners in a relationship decides to run a marathon which is going to be very absorbing – cost a lot of time and commitment. This can be a genuine sportive activity but it might also be taken up to run away from the difficulties in relationship which won’t be addressed.

Personality

There are some things in ourselves which are unlikely to change, because they are part of who we are, of how we define ourselves. They might be causing problems in our relationships and they might be these very things which we want to get rid of when interacting with our children. Some of us would find themselves too controlling, too angry, too anxious, too authoritative – put here your own characteristic which makes you worried when relating to others. This might be an important part of your emotional life, which developed early in the childhood and it manifested itself throughout the life in many different ways. Don’t expect from yourself that you are going to make it disappear. Find a healthier way of expressing it. You might even make use of it! Being aware of this dynamic you can also help your children dealing with their emotional challenges. A great example of dealing with aggression is using it in sport activities. 

There is an event on Facebook, where people commit to read 52 books in 2016. Over 70,000 people signed up. My first thought when I saw it was, that they can’t be parents to small children, but then I realised I’m speaking for myself. There are parents out there having great reading plans and fair play to them.

I wish them enjoyable reading and a very good New Year to all of you.
Photo: http://www.theodesseyonline.com

Alcohol and ‘real man’

Two weeks ago I went to Tesco and saw early bird Christmas shoppers. One man pushing his trolley alongside mine had it literally filled with bottles of wine.
This picture was for me a prelude to the alcohol related issues presented by Irish media.

It unsurprisingly made me think of children and the impact our social role modelling has on them regarding alcohol consumption.

Last week I listened to heartbreaking story of Natasha Eddery – the daughter of Pat Eddery – national legendary jockey, who died at the age of 63. She spoke about her father’s drinking problem and how it impacted on her and her family.
Few days after this account, RTE1 invited an expert to the Morning programme and discussed alcohol consumption during Christmas and how difficult it becomes for families who have a man in the family drinking far too much.
I then looked at the statistics and reports published by national charity Alcohol Action Ireland and realised how scary they are. From alcohol related crimes, health issues, problems caused within families, to mental health and suicide. To quote only two of the issues reported: ‘One in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol’. ‘Seven in ten men in Ireland who drink are drinking in a way which is already causing damage to their health’.

Men are much more exposed to alcoholism and it starts very early in their lives.* In fact it starts in our heads where we create socially accepted images of what real man should and shouldn’t be doing. There is much going on in our society to tackle damaging images we produce about woman, LGBT communities, ethnic groups. I believe we are moving in a right direction of developing equal and inclusive society. But at the same time I can’t see much going on about changing traditional, well established expectations towards men and their way of expressing themselves and their emotions.
Since my son, who is nearly 12 months old, was born I heard comments, like: ‘proper boy’ and ‘that’s what boys do’, referring to his busyness or adventurous behaviour. And from the same people I also heard (talking about some common friend) that he drank beer like a proper man. These words are worrying me, because they are expressing socially accepted expectation towards man, and boys who will be pressurised to grow into ‘proper man’: you should drink and you should know how to drink. That’s what man do here.

It starts with small signals sent to small boys: naughty, busy, less patient and less attentive than girls – that’s only few examples of how boys are perceived and unconsciously encouraged to behave. Then it moves towards being strong, brave and ‘dealing with emotions like a man’. These boys have also a role models – their fathers, uncles, cousins – who in vast majority are frequent and intense alcohol consumers. It is so obvious, that people who don’t drink really stand out, often being perceived as strange.

These boys are then becoming teenagers who have alcohol easily available as the way of belonging to the social group, as an escape from difficulties, as a risk factor which becomes very attractive.

This is how our society prepares us to go through transition to adulthood.

We all know it, but at the same time we don’t do anything about it.

But there is a link between terrible statistics and the way we think about our boys.

It comes from generations and we can change it by challenging the unconscious images and expectations, which occupy our minds and slip out through simple and ‘innocent’ comments.
*Unfortunately I can’t say that woman are free from drinking problems. There is a growing number of woman catching up on alcoholism and binge drinking. Alcohol become unquestionable part of our lives, being marketed as the best partner for virtually every occasion. Nevertheless it is not traditionally a ‘woman’s thing’ and this post focuses on a tradition influencing men’s drinking habits. For more on women’s drinking visit:

http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/women-and-alcohol/

Click to access womenSubstanceAlcohol.pdf

Photo:

http://www.lchs.com.au/gambling-alcohol-drugs

Is Christmas a challenge for you?

Christmas is a mirror in which families see themselves

  
In many homes Christmas is a non religious event these days. Nevertheless for most of us it still carries the important message linked to the Biblical story: it’s about family. An excluded (holy) family searching for home is a symbol of hope, despair, love and trust. Symbol of sadness and happiness, care and carelessness – all lying side by side. All residing in each of us and reflecting the reality of life. Life is diverse and complex, life is contradictory. Life is about good and bad things happening at the same time. Life is not all happy and all perfect, and it will at some point end (and only some of us believe that it won’t be the end of everything), which is itself a daunting thought. 
During Christmas period families get on well or just opposite, are present or absent, united or separated. We carry our families in our minds and we spend this time of the year in relation to our parents, siblings, grandparents, and importantly: in relation to the tradition that we know. We can contest it, go along with it or look for some middle ground. 
This reflection can be difficult to bare. Our culture indulges in just opposite association: Christmas equals festive, happy, great time for everyone. Christmas is about shiny lights, reindeers, presents, food and drink and spending a lot of money: all in excess.

I understand this excess as a collective run away from a powerful impact, that Christmas can have on our emotional life. 

 Of course Christmas Markets can be enjoyable and well known songs on radio can bring us a warm glow giving us an impression that we are part of safe and familiar universe. There are many beautiful reasons to celebrate Christmas, share joy with our loved ones and be happy. But because it is such an intense period, it inevitably brings some challenging situations, memories and reflections to the table. And for some people the difficult part of Christmas will be more present than the other one – those who recently experienced bereavement, or who are separated from the family, or are having health problems – this season simply won’t be that festive for them.

So there is an important aspect of Christmas which should not be lost in the flashiness of decorations:

To be authentic and honest with ourselves and our families. We should try and embrace the complexity of our emotional experience. We should let ourselves to feel all range of emotions and learn how to deal with them. Not only homeless people need our charity and are vulnerable during this time of the year. We might feel fragile too and it is how it is – we need to see it and stay with it. To be authentic is also the best way to share these moments with our children and I think this is what they expect us to do. What I mean in practical sense – if we are experiencing difficult time, The ‘abundance’ of Christmas offers us an easy escape from our feelings – the excess which I mentioned above. Our task is to refrain from this route, step aside and think how can we take better care of ourselves and our families. Christmas is a time for giving; but presents are only symbolic of what giving really means. What we really need to ourselves, friends and families at Christmas are love, care, sensitivity and comfort. Happy Christmas to all of you.

Photo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Is Santa coming?

  

Last year my then 1,5 year daughter saw her first Santa and she was scared of him. I can’t blame her. All the children were waiting for a Santa, who was very late. Finally a man in training shoes came to the indoor activity centre, where we all gathered, went to the toilet to “change” and after a while through the toilet door came Santa, in that same previously seen training shoes covered with a piece of tape. He was a pathetic Santa. Presents provided by the parents were handed to the children in provisory grotto, placed in the darkest corner of the big hall. Santa’s helper was calling the name, child had to enter the grotto, get the present, get the photo and that was it. If you can sense lack of any engagement and imagination in this picture,you are right, there was nothing of this kind.

I came across some comments on social media from parents questioning the idea of Santa. Some are concerned about lying to children – why not telling the truth about who is bringing the presents – they ask. Why enter into the world of making up stories, which gets only complicated with time, when there are so many Santas in town and when child grows older and there is no elegant way to come clean.

Well, I was also asking myself these questions, especially seeing these all Santas walking around, who just can’t be believed and who should be ashamed to be putting up such a bad show!

And my husband helped me with an answer. If you don’t want to engage and enter the imaginative world, it’s not worth it. If Santa is going to be only about presents it’s not worth it either.  

Yet watching and helping your child enjoy the magic of Christmas is a delight for all, seeing their imagination unfold and entering their world of creativity is both fun and how children learn. Engaging with Santa is not one way traffic- it’s not about what Santa will bring for you, it’s how you engage with Santa. Writing letters, sending them up chimney’s, leaving out carrots for the reindeers, making up stories, reading books – this sparks the imagination and joy of Christmas. 

Children have amazing imagination. The world which they live differs a lot from the world most parents live. During the course of growing up, years of formal education, years of learning how to make mental shortcuts and think schematically, how to fit to mundane tasks and repetitive work, our imagination can become dormant. It then takes great effort to bring it to live and enter the world of pure imagination, where Santa brings presents, but also does many different fantastic things, and does them in style.

Santa is not all about a set up which parents invent and a child follows- it can easily become this way, when we are too focused on this presents-delivered aspect of “Santaism” which today is so driven by commercial advertising and puts unwanted pressures on parents and children.

To play it creatively we can reverse the roles and think of if differently: this is us who are joining the children in their world and we are the guests who need to become familiar with the rules and obey them.

When I get hesitant about the Santa, I just think about my daughter and realise that she’ll be happy to guide me in this play, if only I give her an initiative.

I intend to do so and I hope Santa will come also to me. I wish all of you the same.
first published on xpose.ie

Photo: http://www.rachelcharlton.org

Is there a problem?How to know that you should seek advice


A few weeks ago I published a post about falling into a trap of following developmental charts and how they can provoke unnecessary anxiety or rivalry. The post focused on external pressures which may prompt parents to seek advice or get worried without any clear reason from the child’s side.

I keep thinking about this matter and recall real stories when parents had a dilemma whether to seek an advice or not. They were realising that their child develops a bit slower then other children in certain area and each family was taking different position on this fact.

It is a very complex and delicate matter and it surely engages a lot of emotions, some of them might be not that visible at first.

There is no advice which would apply to all of these families. Each parent and each family need to do their homework and try to understand their particular case, then act to their children’s best interest. Sometimes parents don’t realise how anxious they are and this anxiety determines their action. And it can go both ways: they might become overwhelmed by it and won’t seek any advice or further diagnosis – being too afraid that something wrong is going on. Or just opposite – they might be running from specialist to specialist, searching for an answer which in fact lays just in front of their eyes. I witnessed the situation in which parents were preoccupied with their daughter being much smaller than other children. They were performing complicated tests looking for  hidden abnormalities (including very expensive genetic analysis). All turned out to be fine and the daughter lives a happy life, despite being very petite (exactly like her grandmother used to be).
Let’s imagine we have a dilemma whether to seek advice or not. We have the knowledge available to us – from books, magazines and online publications. We observe our children with our caring and loving eyes. We do seek evidences that all is going well. Then we spot some signal that might worry us – child’s motor or sensory development doesn’t seem to be as fast as other children. How can we know whether it is just the child’s nature and her own path of development or there is something we should have a closer look at?

What can help manage our own emotions to allow us to make the right decision?

  1. Use the right source of knowledge – child development studies are very advanced nowadays and we have access to knowledge which helps us to understand our children’s developmental issues. If looking at the growth or development charts or statistics of any kind: read them properly: take all range of results into account (see my post) rather than only average result which is inadequate in assessing our children’s’ progress.
  2. Avoid posting real worries on large forums for parents – as you get all sorts of contradicting information which will only make you more confused.
  3. Observe your child – learn to know and accept her/his own phase of development. Think about environment you provide for our child to grow. What skills development are you supporting the most? Don’t judge, just look at your lifestyle as your children’s world and try to understand how it impacts them.
  4. Sit with your emotions – what is it that you feel about the possible issue? Are you worried? Are you avoiding this feeling by pushing all bad thoughts away and not even considering any further actions? Are you criticising yourselves for being too cautious? What is really going on within and for yourself?
  5. Decide who you can trust, a friend, a partner, an experienced relative? Who can you talk to about this, who will give you an honest advice, not only about the issue, but who can also help you manage your anxiety.
  6. Be aware of external influences. We have some knowledge which might be helpful but might be intimidating at the same time. We have a social network which can be precious but can put unnecessary pressure on us – fuelling rivalry or anxieties. We have family which wants best for us and our child but can also pass on expectations which we are not comfortable with. It’s important to know these possible influences and learn to protect against them.

photo: http://www.child-development-guide.com

Child-led play – What I learnt from a parenting workshop

  

photo: http://www.evoke.ie
Have you ever heard of child-led play? When I first did, I thought I am doing this with my child every time we play! But now I know I am not. This week I attended parenting classes, run by Linsey McNelis, an accredited Play Therapist (www.playtherapygalway.com). It was interesting evening, with good bit of knowledge, completely non-judgemental atmosphere and ‘gentle’ exercises, which supported our reflection and practice of child-led play skills.
Some ideas really changed the way I think about my role in my children’s play and I’d like to share it here. It’s going to be quite prescriptive, as we were explicitly told how parents should behave and what should they say – adopting child-led play rules means following a particular scheme. For the certain amount of time you are setting the scene for child-led  play and within this time limit you are consciously trying to follow your child and follow the rules. 
I can’t speak for other parents but for me it turned out that I am not doing child-led play ‘instinctively’ that is, when I spontaneously play with my child, I am doing things which direct my child in certain way and which are focused on learning rather than play itself. It comes naturally; I don’t feel it’s dominating the room, but I know it’s there.

Schedule it
So my first discovery of the workshop was that it is important for the child and for our relationship to make sure that in our interaction there is a space for child-led play. Instead of going to classes for toddlers, or some other structured (and paid) activity, you can do your own ‘classes’ at home and it will be the one which your child invented.
Child is in control
Second discovery is that once we are in this space, the child is behind the steering wheel and her imagination is the limit (within safety limits of course). So what I learnt is that in this particular moment child doesn’t learn anything from me. We are in the world where ‘anything can be anything’ and that includes 4+1 equals 13 and a toy figurine is having all the colours on her sweater mixed up and cat pretends to be a cow. It is all right for a child to make mistakes and it’s parent’s rule number one not to stepping in with corrections, lectures on animal classifications and classes from logic and morals. It can be difficult to just leave the things out of order and sabotaging grandma’s efforts to get the numbers right, but at this present moment it is more important that the child doesn’t feel assessed and criticised in any way.
There will be time for practicing the colours later and there will be time to get the maths right.

Praising children in new ways
Third discovery is about praising children (in general, not only during child-led play). I love praising my children and my language is full of positive adjectives like: good, beautiful, great, fantastic – they are all apply to my wonderful child in general. I think it is great that children hear a lot of applause from parents and I am sure it motivates them to ‘do well’. But what I was missing out was different ways to engage in positive feedback with the child. The one I learnt this week is using more descriptions and concrete comments about child’s actions and achievements. I am practising this for the past two days and it doesn’t come easily. Sometimes it sounds unnaturally and weird. But few times I did came up with replacement for ‘good girl’ which was adequate to the situation and went something like: ‘you helped me with all the dishes, even the heaviest! The dishwasher is all empty and ready to use again’. I was impressed with our co-operation in the kitchen and by describing my daughter’s input, I supported her in learning about her achievements from actual outcomes of her actions. This (as we hope) is going to influence her self-esteem and let her built it on more internal rather than external motives. And this is believed to be more solid base for confidence and strong Ego.

I am a trainer of personal skills and before a break for becoming stay at home mum I led many workshops during which I was presenting participants with some ideas of how to change the way they give feedback, set boundaries, deal with the stress. I am reminding myself, that the real learning starts ‘at home’, when people actually decide to try out and practise new ways. I am doing this now and waiting for a feedback from children involved.