Mum Canute

This week I was lucky enough to have one of my visual ideas pique the interest of Momtimes4, with the result of our collabo here.

My original idea was entitled ‘Mum Canute’. Thought I’d do a little text here to go with her marvelous cartoon.

You know the story of King Canute, right? The king so arrogant with power that he sat on the beach and ordered the waves to stop…which of course they didn’t.

Well, I feel like Mum Canute sometimes, not the arrogant part, but the misguided part that believes that if I order the kids to “stop fighting/pulling hair/destroying things/kicking/drawing on the wall/cutting your hair or clothes/strewing bits all round the house/eating on the couch etc, etc” that they will stop. The orders are often as futile as ordering the lapping waves to desist!

In fact, if my recent research has any weight, ordering, shouting, pleading , even breaking down into tears of futile exasperation have the opposite effect: they actually fuel the behaviour and do nothing to ‘train’ (teach) the children to stop.

So what does work?

Not entering into conflict.

Any situation where conflict arises, where even a slight battle of wills happens is doomed. Because children’s wills are stronger and they have less social norms (they don’t care if you are late for work, or eat at 12 midnight, or the neighbours think you are nuts, or that anyone thinks they are spoiled unruly brats). Because entering into a power battle leaves everyone injured.

You can step back, for now, asses the situation, and act differently next time. Usually there is no urgency to most situations, and usually there is something we can do to troubleshoot in advance.

These skills can be learned by reading books like Children: the challenge or (my all time fave) Talk so your kids will listen, and listen so your kids will talk. Then getting on the same page with your partner (no mean feat for most…) and implementing the strategies. It works, it really does.

It doesn’t for one instant mean letting them do whatever they want, it means working together to create a democratic, respectful and more harmonious family environment (and, sorry if I’m getting a bit loquacious, but a world full of people who are used to dialogue and negotiation of their rights, rather than being ordered around).

We are the rulers, the kings and queens of our homes, and our children wouldn’t want it any other way. But unlike the royalty of old, our job is not to order our kids to do things, it’s to inspire cooperation with great leadership skills.

PS. King Canute (or more accurately, Cnut) of Denmark has been misrepresented in popular culture. He did order the waves to stop, but when he realised that he did not have this godly power, he threw down his crown forever more saying “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” Nuff said!

Mum Canute

Books for better biting behaviour

My kid was a biter (so I totally sympathise with MFS who has a hair puller, a condition also known as trichotillomania, officially, just so ya know…)

It occurred in private to me and my DH (I looked like I had been beaten up, with bruises all down my arms and thighs) and in public to other kids. Whenever we were in the park and I would hear another child scream I would think “Oh no, what has he done?”. Parties and social occasions were fraught.

Though boychild is now 7 and he doesn’t bite anymore, I wound myself up for years about the reasons for the biting: Was I too soft? Was I not loving enough? Was I ‘secretly depressed’? I blamed my not perfect relationship (please email me if there is a perfect relationship out there…!), blamed food, blamed myself day after day.

Guess what? Blaming myself didn’t stop the biting. Practical, loving, consistent support did.

So, if your kids has some difficult behavioural issues I have 2 things to say: It doesn’t last forever and it’s not your fault.

Now, practical things that did work.

Books one in particular ‘Teeth are not for biting‘ (alas, no hair pulling one in this range…write to them!) but all this range of books I recommend. Read over and over and over and over…

Consistency between all care givers. He attended a fantastic nursery here in Barcelona called The Playhouse who actually devised a biting strategy with us (LOVE) which we all agreed on and followed there and at home. It included things like wearing a baby teething toy clipped to him and when he was about to bite getting other children to say “Don’t bite me, bite this!”, comforting the injured one, encouraging him to ‘make good’ by bringing them ice or a hug, removing him from the situation if necessary, but in a calm and controlled manner (even negative energy is exciting to little ones, so making a big fuss and scolding can actually encourage the behaviour you want to avoid).

S.O.S technique for biting moments. If you do get bitten, don’t try to pull your arm away, it usually makes them bite harder to grip you. Gently but firmly push their head towards your arm/leg, their jaw should loosen up and open, and you whip away quick time. Good little tip to avoid shark teeth circular bruises. Learned this one late in the experience, but it works.

Lots of love, lots of cuddles, try not to lose faith in yourself or your little one. Oh, and my all time fave parenting mantra “Its Just A Phase“.

Books for better biting behaviour

Encouragment and praise

Reading an interesting parenting book at the mo’, aptly titled “Children: the challenge” (too right!). It was written by Rudolf Dreikurs in 1964, but seriously is more modern and ‘right on’ than many of the simplified (yet oh so lucrative…) behaviorist tendencies of today.

One thing I’m ruminating on right now is the difference he draws between encouragement and praise. There has been quite a lot of writing recently about how not to praise children too much, lest they become praise ‘junkies’ or ‘addicted to praise’ or, even worse, won’t do anything unless praised/rewarded. My response to this has been that limiting praise in this way is like the icing on the cake of perfect parenting in a perfect environment. In other words most kids in this world don’t get enough positive feedback, so it’s a bit irresponsible to suggest limiting it even more. Children need love, praise, positive feedback and encouragement in abundance to feel worthy and secure.

Now I’ve read this book, it has clarified my stance a bit. Rather then praise, what we want to aim for is encouragement, and plenty of it.

Praise: Well done! Brilliant! You are amazing/fantastic/the bees knees etc. (I do this all the time…)

encouragement: You did it! You must feel proud of yourself! I see a tidy room, how does that feel?! You got all A’s, I’m glad you enjoy learning so much.

encouragement is literally ‘giving courage’, so not over protecting a child to the point that they feel they cannot do things. Let a baby try and try and try again to scramble up the step, without helping (you did it!). Letting the small child pour that milk even if it spills – the sense of satisfaction of doing it for herself outweighs the wastage of a bit of milk (you poured the milk all by yourself!), with practice she sill get it right but not if discouraged the whole time. Trusting that older child to go to the shops alone. Giving kids the thumbs up for things they may not be able to do yet and not spoiling it with a ‘be careful’ (suggesting they will fail). Giving courage, having courage in them, having faith in them and transmitting it. You can do it. En-couragement.

I still think that this technique is a bit ‘parenting PhD’, it’s like there are so many other things to be worrying about, can we really worry about the way we word positive feedback to our kids…yawn. I think there’s no harm in bigging up your kids from time to time, showing them with words and hugs that they are the best things since sliced bread.

But I like the idea of encouragment…giving them courage, strength and skills to feel “I can do it”! Bit of both scenario, methinks.




Encouragment and praise

Not a scream

My upstairs neighbor is a screamer. No, not THAT kind of screamer (tut tut), a scream-at-your-kids-till-your-voice-is-hoarse screamer, an I-don’t-care-what-the-neighbors-think-cos-they’ve heard-me-so-many-times screamer.

It’s kind of escalated since I would say 2 years ago. I used to hear her from time to time (normal), then it was raised voices at bedtime (poor her, I thought), and now, somehow it’s turned into an at least twice a day shout down, always ending in tears (theirs).

Why? What lead them to this point I sometimes think?

But then, I know don’t I, cos I am certainly not saint mummy. I’ve screamed, I’ve hit. Luckily I’ve always managed to turn it off at some point, to get some love in there and break that horrible cycle.

Kids annoying=screaming=kids even more annoying=more screaming etc etc.

It’s the screaming trap, each time you need to escalate to get the “desired” results. (As opposed to saving screaming for real “emergencies” when it really causes shock and awe, I’ve heard…)

I alternate between feeling sorry for them, sorry for her, being weirdly fascinated by the outburst/nosey about what may have sparked it off (very mundane stuff as far as I can tell, water balloons in the bathroom, sibling fights, bouncing basketballs, not doing as told when told etc), and slightly, just slightly, smug that THIS time, it’s not me.

Not a scream

Judging me, judging you

I’ve realised that having a View (note: capital V) on parenting practices is often just jazzed up judgmentalism. Saying certain parenting practices are “right/wrong” is judging, like it or not.

Even though I’ve always thought of myself as what I call a right-on parent (cue two finger peace sign), I’ve had many, many Views. They are mostly “progressive” “peaceful” views (against cry it out, pro breast-feeding and what have you), but nevertheless they are Views.

I’m here to unravel and undo that. We need to come together fellow parent folks, and I want to support not divide.

Back to the beginning…

I remember seeing a family in the airport while I was pregnant for the first time, not yet a mum but feeling very righteous in the place of mum to be. They were towering over their child, shouting at her, telling her things like “oh it’s always about you isn’t it, why don’t you behave, you spoil everything” etc etc. They seemed like evil monsters, I would never, ever speak to my child that way. Their children would turn out BAD and it would be THEIR fault.

Years pass, more kids come along.

At some point patience wears, you find yourself losing it. More than once. In times of extremis losing it becomes daily. Then somehow you find a gap, maybe an understanding comment gives you a ‘lightbulb’ moment, something you read (a blog post, perhaps!). You get a moment to think, and with that tiny space you change something, remove a stressor or two, life balances, you lose it less, or deal with it better, or best of all use those moments as modelling good behaviour moments.

You don’t get it right all the time, just most of the time. You learn humility, that good enough is good enough. You learn that all parents are doing a bloody hard job, doing it well most of the time, and need understanding, not judgment and blame.

You learn that there are many ways of doing this thing called parenting, that the outcomes depend on so many factors, that there is no perfect, and that is ok.

If I could rewind and say a few words to those parents I would like to say “this too shall pass, you are doing a good job, we have all been there.” I don’t judge them anymore, and actually writing this has lifted another layer of judgment: judging myself for judging them…we all deserve another day, another chance to get it (almost) right.

Judging me, judging you

Bribe and punishment

Bribing your children is wrong, right? It smacks of pushy parents who pay cash for an A, B or C. Or over-anxious parents of younger kids offering sweet rewards for every bit of green stuff. I mean, how are kids gonna value learning if they have to learn “only” to get paid, how a kids going to learn about healthy eating if they feel green stuff is something to get over with so the real fun can start?

Maybe. Let’s get a little deeper. Bribes are wrong, bribes are bad news, lazy measures for lazy parents who can’t control or reason with their kids. The last resort, a bad habit, second-rate parenting.


Picture this. A tired mum picks up two tired kids after school. Gets on train, then the metro, then faces the walk home. All the way there are dangers (tracks, strangers, pickpockets, closing doors). All the way there is crying, bickering, tiredness from their respective long days and lack of parental attention. The journey takes an hour of vigilance. Nerves a frayed on arrival at home, but dinner, baths and homework still need to be completed.

Is there really something wrong with said mum offering a sweet in return for staying close to her on the way home? Is it a bad thing if it allows her some control over them to ensure they still have all their fingers after tackling the half-dozen escalators they have to ride, to make sure they don’t run off into the crowd of commuters, or to help them all get home with the maximum good energy left to face the tasks of the evening ahead?

Picture this. Teens like money, teens like going out, buying new things. Exams are about memorizing stuff, stuff you often don’t use later. Parents know good grades unlock certain “levels” (I.e. the next one). Teens study more knowing they will get to buy stuff, and they get to next level. Win win.

Picture this. Kids eat spinach to get ice cream, kid learns that you eat savory healthy food before dessert, and eventually will do so out of habit, as most adults do.


I’m being devils advocate here. I am the first mum, yes. But I don’t have a teen, and when I do I don’t think I will bribe them (I will just “bribe” them for doing housework), and I have never and probably will never do the spinach-ice cream scenario because I just find something else they will eat before eating yoghurt for pudding which is the standard dessert around here. And I would accept yoghurt as a meal substitute in any case.

I just want to show that bribing can be useful, it can be necessary even, it can be ok. It can be one of the ways you get things done, make an unbearable situation bearable, sweeten the bitter pill. So, as with most things, lets not throw the baby out with the bath water and remember there are many right ways.

Bribe and punishment