Baby Led Weaning – Is It For You?

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Starting solids; it’s such an exciting time in your baby’s life! Finally your little one is going to start getting a taste for the good stuff – one slobbery, awkward, half-spat-out mouthful at a time. If you’ve done any research at all on the matter, you know that there are two camps when it comes to starting solids – good old-fashioned purees, and the newer baby led weaning craze.

True baby led weaning (or BLW to those in the know) involves giving your baby zero purees at the start, and allowing their very first food experiences to be with whole pieces of food that they can pick up, taste and explore for themselves. The focus is less on making your baby eat something new, and more on allowing her to discover food at her own pace – and if that means for the first few weeks all she does is pick things up and smush them between her fingers, then so be it!

There is an entire movement of Mums singing the praises of baby led weaning, so when you begin your research, be prepared for lots of loud and proud opinions, and brags about 7-month-olds eating table food. Take these with a grain of salt though, as ultimately the decision depends on what you are most comfortable with.

What are the benefits?

BLW enthusiasts claim that babies who learn to eat solids this way are doing it on their own terms, and will therefore be more willing to try new foods as they grow older, resulting in less picky eaters. While we can’t say for sure that this is a totally accurate claim, it is true that babies generally prefer picking up, tasting and experiencing new foods themselves far more than being force-fed purees without having any control over the situation, and so may take to solids more willingly this way.

What foods are good to start with?

Foods that are soft and easy to grip work best at first. Think baked sweet potato “chips”, banana, long strips of avocado and very ripe slices of pear. Once baby has the hang of these, more foods can slowly be introduced.

Will my baby choke?

This is the number one concern of parents considering baby led weaning, and it’s a valid one! It can be daunting handing over a piece of baked sweet potato to a tiny human who has never experienced swallowing anything more substantial than gulps of breast milk or formula. However, babies are equipped with a gag reflex that is much further forward than ours, protecting them from swallowing things that are too big for them to manage. Your baby will almost certainly gag in the beginning, but this is a normal tool that will allow him to bring the food back forward and continue chewing and sucking on it until it is a more manageable, swallowable size. It’s all a learning experience, though it can give you a fright at first!

Can I start BLW after trying purees?

Purists will quickly point out that true baby led weaning starts on day one, and not after trying purees for a few weeks. However if you find that purees aren’t working out, there is no reason why you can’t change your approach and start implementing some baby led weaning tactics.

Is it ideal for everyone?

Nope. The decision is entirely yours. In your research, you will no doubt come across people who passionately support BLW, as well as some who violently oppose it. Try not to be influenced by people’s opinions, and instead use the facts to make an informed decision that you are 100% comfortable with.

The main thing to remember when it comes to baby led weaning? Patience is key. Your baby has suddenly had a whole new world of experiences open up to him, and getting food into his tummy isn’t going to be his number one priority. Don’t worry though; once he has the hang of eating, there will be no stopping him and he will soon be enjoying meals alongside the rest of the family.

 

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10 Things Your Son Needs To Hear You Say

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Are you raising a boy? Me too! If your boy is anything like mine, you’ve got your hands full! Imparting wisdom might not come easily in between the scraped knees, the squashed bugs, the dirt that gets into every nook and cranny on the daily, and the inherent need to climb every tall thing they encounter. But when they’re not tearing up the house and trying to ride on the family cat like it’s a pint-sized pony, our boys are listening to us. They may not always acknowledge it, but their little brains are soaking it all in as they form their ideas of the world – so the words we speak to them are integral to their development. Here’s what we should be imparting on our little lads:

  1. “You’re so smart”

When boys are young, it can be easy to focus on their physical attributes as that is where a lot of their energy is focused. From toddlerhood, they’re busy testing their physical capabilities and limitations, while their female counterparts are generally focusing on language development and problem solving – so it can become easy to cheer them on when they kick a goal or win a race, but might seem less natural to applaud the way their minds work. Make sure they know that they’re worth more than their ability to catch a ball or run around an oval.

  1. “It’s OK to cry”

It’s widely known that older generations of men were taught to suppress their emotions because crying, or even showing signs of distress, were considered weak and feminine. As a result of those bottled up feelings, male depression has become more and more prevalent. Stop the cycle and encourage your boy to cry when he needs to let it out.

  1. “I love and respect you”

For boys (and men), respect is as much a sign of your love for them as your hugs and kisses are. It’s important for them to feel loved, and it’s important for them to feel heard and appreciated.

  1. “Calm down and breathe”

I don’t know what it’s like to experience a testosterone-fuelled rage, but I do know that there are thousands of stories out there of men whose anger boiled over and in an instant someone was hurt – a partner, a child, a friend, a stranger. While I’m not suggesting that a simple suggestion to “breathe” is the be-all, end-all of anger management for men, it’s a starting place for boys. Make sure your son is equipped with coping mechanisms for his anger when it strikes.

  1. “You don’t have to be good at everything”

Boys (particularly our sweet little alphas!) are driven to win. They want to be the best at everything, or at least really good. So when they find themselves struggling with something, they get frustrated and are likely to give up on it – then beat themselves up over the failure of it all. Make sure they know that not only do they not have to be good at everything they try – it’s not humanly possible!

  1. “You are brave”

Bravery is a big deal for boys – so it’s important that they feel acknowledged when they’re being brave. Of course, just as they need to be able to cry, they also need to know that it’s OK not to be brave – but having their bravery recognised helps to affirm it.

  1. “You are handsome”

Sure, boys are often happy to wear the same muddy jeans and ripped T-shirt every day for a week if you’ll let them, but deep down, of course they want to look good (or at least passable). Yes, a nine-year-old boy will probably outwardly groan if his mum regularly tells him how handsome he is, but a teenage boy who has made the effort to dress nicely for a school dance needs to hear it – it will really boost his confidence.

  1. “You can play with dolls if that’s what you like”

Gender-specific toys are becoming a thing of the past because parents are realizing that a baby doll isn’t going to cause their son to be less of a man when he grows up. Who would have thought!? In fact, it turns out that boys grow up to be Dads just about as often as girls grow up to be Mums. So if your boy chooses to play with a doll over a dinosaur, embrace it! I promise it won’t harm his development.

  1. “Your hard work will be worth it”

The society we live in today is a convenient one in a lot of ways. There are short cuts, hacks and products to make all kinds of things quicker and easier, from Thermomixes to dry shampoo. I mean, we can run our entire lives from behind the screen of an iPad. Hard work can easily become a foreign concept, especially to younger generations. Teaching our sons the value of hard work now is essential for their future tertiary studies, jobs, relationships and house-keeping… because there are just some things that can’t be short cut-ted!

  1. “Tell me more”

Women can talk your ear off if you let them, but men aren’t always as forthcoming. Whether they’re talking about something good, something bad, something hard, or something funny, they don’t fall over themselves trying to provide every last detail. Teach your son the art of expressing himself, his ideas and his emotions adequately by prompting him with questions that show him you’re listening, and that what he’s saying is important.

Raising a boy (raising any child, for that matter!) is a wonderful privilege, but one that comes with so much responsibility. Offer the above words to your son, and he will reap the rewards throughout his entire life, raising him to be the best man he can be.

 

 

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10 Things Your Daughter Needs To Hear You Say

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So – you want to raise a strong, brave, empowered, independent daughter. That’s awesome – as her parent, you are in a pretty great position to do that through your parenting style, your actions and your words. There are some words that can have significant power in your daughter’s life, and it’s important that she hears them not only from teachers, mentors, friends and peers, but specifically from you. Build your daughter up to be the very best version of herself by speaking these words over her:

  1. “You’re a good person”

Girls rely heavily on others’ opinions of them, and there is a swarm of nasty (not to mention unfounded!) comments out there waiting to attack her character as she grows older and more impressionable. Other peoples’ negative opinions can become a self-fulfilling prophesy if they’re not balanced with more truthful reminders of her goodness. It may seem obvious, but she needs to be assured that she is inherently good in order to believe it.

  1. “You have amazing ideas”

Give power to her ideas and let her know that they are unique and valuable from an early age. Girls who believe in their ideas become women with initiative and self-confidence.

  1. “You know the answer to this problem

Sometimes, girls know the answer to something but need a little push to commit. Encouraging her to practise committing to a solution now will teach her to trust her instincts and decision-making as an adult.

  1. “You’re really good at this”

Acknowledging your daughter’s natural talents validates her abilities and encourages her to continue honing her skills. She is constantly going to face people who she perceives to be better than her, so it’s essential to instil the belief that her own abilities are not dependent on being the best; that she is absolutely talented regardless of how talented others might be too.

  1. “I love you”

Some families have these words constantly on their lips, but others go with the notion that actions speak louder than words, and though unspoken, everyone knows that they are loved. And yes, most of us know that our parents love us, but the words “I love you” are extremely powerful to hear all the same. Teach your daughter that your love for her is unconditional by ensuring that you say it regardless of her behaviour, emotional state, grades or achievements.

  1. “I’m proud of you”
    Throughout her childhood (and hopefully beyond!), you are one of the people she is going to most want to impress. When you see that she has worked hard to achieve something, acknowledge it. Let her know you’ve seen the effort she has put in, and tell her that she has done well.
  2. “It’s ok to make mistakes”

It is very common for women to become perfectionists who beat themselves up over mistakes and perceived failure. Don’t let your daughter fall into that trap! By helping her believe that mistakes are just a normal bump in the road, you are raising her to pick herself up and carry on rather than dwell on the things she does wrong. Plus, by accepting her, mistakes and all, you become an unequivocally safe place for her to run to if she is ever in trouble.

  1. “You don’t need to follow in my footsteps”

Because she doesn’t. She might have your eyes, but she’s her own person with her own interests, talents and passions - not a younger, fresher-faced carbon copy of you. Sure, she may love the idea of taking on the family restaurant someday, or of growing up to be a lawyer just like you, but if she doesn’t – it’s not a personal attack against you. It’s simply a sign that you have raised a strong, independent daughter.

  1. “I wouldn’t change a thing about you”

It is important for your daughter to be comfortable to be herself around you, always. Don’t set impossibly high standards for her, and don’t compare her to siblings or friends. Simply let her know that she is perfect and wonderful in your eyes. Allow her to flourish in her own skin, not feel like she’s constantly disappointing you.

  1. “You are beautiful”

It’s no secret that when it comes to their appearance, girls are ridiculously hard on themselves. Girl as young as six are looking in the mirror and critiquing the way they look compared to their peers and the images of young women in the media. No doubt you see your daughter’s unique beauty better than anyone, so help her to see herself through your eyes.

Imagine living in a world in which an entire generation of women grew up with the unquestioning understanding that they are strong, uniquely talented, equal individuals. Parents of girls, it starts with you! Your words have power, so speak them wisely and intentionally, and raise your daughter to see the amazing person that she is.

 

 

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Responding to tantrums with gentleness

Responding to tantrums with gentleness

As a toddler-mum, I am no stranger to tantrums. It seems that with every passing month of toddlerhood the tantrums are becoming longer, more intense… and harder to deal with. It’s part and parcel of parenting a toddler, I know this, but when I’m in the thick of those banshee wails and that angry, frantic flailing of limbs – I panic. Every time. I cannot reason with this tiny, ticked off little person. I cannot convince him to stop. I can’t even bribe him. His tantrums usually end with both of us reaching emotional exhaustion.

Recently, I noticed some blog posts and articles popping up around the place suggesting a patient, gentle response to tantrums. I wasn’t convinced. Cooing softly at a scrunched up, red little face didn’t sound like smart parenting to me. Treading softly around him and giving him what he wanted in order to keep his screaming to a minimum didn’t appeal either. To be honest, the whole gentle response thing seemed more like pandering and less like parenting.

Then I witnessed a gentle response in action.

I was on my way into a Café, and walked by a mum standing beside a crying little girl on the footpath. It was a tantrum in full swing, and I readied myself to issue the empathetic knowing smile, waiting for the inevitable huffy, “Stop crying! You’re being silly! I’m going to count to three! We’re going home right now!” You know, those standard panic-buttons we hit when the tantrums strike in public.

Instead, the mum sat down beside her, looked her lovingly in the eyes, and spoke to her gently, “I’m here. I know you’re upset. It’s okay. When you’re done crying, we can go back inside together.”

Did the little girl instantly stop crying? Of course not! When it comes to tantrums, there’s no magical off-switch. But the tantrum didn’t escalate, either. Mum and daughter sat together, waiting for the storm to pass.

Tantrums are based on:

-        Anger

-        A sense of injustice

-        Sadness

-        Fear

-        Uncertainty

None of these are pleasant feelings, and toddlers deal with them the best way they know how. They don’t have the ability to rationalise, and they don’t have a full grasp on perspective. So when they throw themselves on the floor in a full-blown tantrum, it’s because the world is ending. It seriously is. What I have learnt about responding gently and patiently when my toddler cracks it, is that it’s not about giving into whatever hair-brained idea has derailed him this time. It simply means being a soothing, safe place for him the whole time, so that when he stops for a breath, I’m there, loving him and cuddling him and telling him it’s okay. This is a stark contrast to the angry, fed-up, impatient mum he might have dealt with before – and I know which option would help me cheer up if I were in his shoes! Plus, as an added bonus, I find that concentrating on an intentionally gentle reaction actually keeps me calm in the face of a tantrum. His tantrum may not end any sooner, but it does end better – for both of us!

Here are my tips for keeping your cool and responding to tantrums with gentleness:

-        Pause. Breathe. Shake off any frustration that has started to build.

-        Avoid using phrases such as “Stop this now!”, “You’re being silly!” and “Don’t do that!” Instead, focus on responding with “I’m here”, “I know you’re upset” and “It’s not nice to feel angry, is it?”

-        Don’t try to rationalise with your toddler. Don’t try to distract him. All of his focus right now is on the big emotion he’s experiencing.

-        Get down to his level – standing over him when he’s feeling vulnerable can be intimidating

-        Be patient. Ride the waves and be ready to cheer him up when the screams turn to whimpers and he begins to listen to you once more.

-        When he moves on, you move on – don’t dwell on the tantrum or the reason behind it.

Gentleness isn’t generally our default response when it comes to tantrums, but with practise it can become second nature. Give it a try – see if it makes a differenc    

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I Miss My Husband!

I Miss My Husband!

 

“I miss you.”

I say these words to my husband far too often these days. Sure, the man gets home from work around 6 every day, watches TV with me for an hour or so most evenings, and sleeps beside me every night, but it’s not enough. Since having our son 18 months ago, our marriage has changed – in good ways, but also in challenging ways – and our quality time has suffered.

There is one other time in our marriage when this has been a problem – and it was right at the very beginning. We didn’t live together until after we were married, and within weeks of saying “I do” I realised that we were going days without connecting properly. Now that we were finally living together, we were both working on the assumption that we would just see each other all the time at home – which, in theory, freed us up to make lots of individual plans with friends and commitments to other people. But we quickly learnt that living together is not enough, and despite the fact that we were seeing each other regularly, we were not focusing enough on connecting regularly. It was our first lesson on marriage, and luckily we caught it quickly enough to change our habits before we did any damage.

Now with a little human in the Donovan family fold, we’ve fallen into the trap of taking each other for granted again. Don’t get me wrong – we’re fine, we’re happy, we’re very much in love – but still, we miss each other. That connection we’ve enjoyed so easily for over eight years now is a little harder to catch thanks to six o’ clock dinners, bedtime routines, teething, tantrums and toys all over the floor. When we flop down on the couch at the end of the day, it’s not often to spend quality time together – it’s to recover!

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you miss your husband as much as I miss mine? Here are some simple ways that may help you to reconnect.

Really talk

I can go days of building up things that I want to open up about with my husband, but never feel like there’s time to do it. I blame Netflix. Open conversation is so important in marriage though, and shouldn’t be reserved as something that happens once every few days. Go beyond the usual “How was your day?” small talk and delve deeper. Some couples have a set list of probing questions that they ask each other at the end of every day. I find it really beneficial to sit outside in our backyard when I want to have a good conversation with my husband in the evening. Something about the night sky, the lack of distraction and the openness of the space tends to foster our best chats.

Make eye contact

We can let a whole conversation slide by without ever looking someone in the eye these days – whether we’re loading the dishwasher, scrolling through Facebook, getting dressed or wrangling a toddler. Purposefully locking eyes while conversing instantly ups the connection and makes both people feel listened to and valued.

Laugh together

There is something wonderfully bonding about enjoying a laugh with someone – it aligns you for a moment and makes you feel like they just get it. Getting out of the house to enjoy a comedy show might not be the easiest when you’re deep in the throes of parenting, but watching a funny movie at home together (or heck, even dog videos on YouTube) should be equally satisfying.

Snuggle

A lack of physical connection is one of the quickest ways to grow apart from a spouse, so make sure to spend intentional time just holding (and being held by!) each other.

See a counsellor

Though I have not personally gone down the road of marriage counselling before, I have heard many people shouting the praises of a marriage ‘fine-tune’ once in a while, and it makes sense. Sometimes we need help to unpack all of our feelings before we can build our way back to a proper connection. Seeing a marriage counsellor is never a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you care about your marriage, and you want to put measures in place to protect it.

 

Our roles as parents are super important – but so are our roles as husband and wife! At the end of the day, our kids will grow up and leave home… but our spouses are in it for the long haul. Taking constant care of your relationship will help strengthen it and build a connection that will last for years to come.

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Raising Wild Kids: The Benefits of Outside Play

Raising Wild Kids: The Benefits of Outside Play

I am not an outdoorsy kind of girl. If there’s an opposite to “outdoorsy”, that is me. Indoorsy? Is that a thing? Let’s go with that. I am indoorsy. I choose dinner parties over picnics, yoga over hiking, and reading on the couch over laying on a beach towel in the sun. The sun-kissed, brown-as-a-berry skin I enjoyed up to the age of about 11 is but a distant memory. Pale and proud; that’s my jam.

For the last 18 months, this indoorsy girl has also been a mother. As an immobile baby, my son became very familiar with the confines of our home, of cafes and shopping centres, of friends’ houses and the local library. When he began walking, he was initially content with laps around the house and trips to indoor play centres. But pretty soon, he wanted more. He would stand banging on the back door, begging to be let outside. It was ingrained in him; he yearned to be outside. And so we began making trips out into the yard. Trips to the park. Trips to the beach. And my son became a wild boy.

When he goes outside, he comes alive. He runs, he tumbles, he explores. He gets dirt on his hands and knees. He sits and watches beetles in the grass. He splashes in the mud. He cries when it’s time to go back inside. And despite my indoorsy tendencies, going outside with him has become one of my favourite things.

I recently watched the short film “Canvas of my Life”, featuring the actor Jason Momoa talking about his creative childhood, and the way he is now raising his kids to be wild, free creatives. And despite the fact that it’s actually just a super-long ad for Carhartt pants, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Because for all my love of air conditioning and cups of tea, nothing beats a shot of a pack of happy kids racing through the woods and climbing rocks with big, wild grins plastered across their faces. That’s the kind of joy I want for my kid.

There are a number genuine of benefits to outside play, too.

1.     It’s active

Put a kid in the confines of four walls with a bunch of toys, and he will sit and play. Let him loose in a yard with grass, trees and dirt, and he’s unstoppable. Kids are natural explorers, and they just love to run. Being outside lends itself to active play.

2.     It’s sensory

They can smell the grass, hear the birds and cicadas, feel the wind on their face and crunch leaves beneath their feet. Outside play fully engages all the senses – yep, even picking up a handful of dirt for a sneaky taste counts!

3.     It’s healthy

They soak up some good old vitamin D, they inhales bucket loads of fresh air, and they stretch those little limbs in new ways, which contributes to their muscle development.

4.     It’s interesting

Our outside environments are subject to constant change – changes in the weather, new weeds popping up between the pavement, new leaves falling from the shrubbery. There are always holes to be dug, ants to be trailed behind and flowers to be picked. The engagement is endless!

5.     It’s confidence-building

Outside play is often quite independent, which gives kids a massive sense of self-confidence as they learn their capabilities and test their limits.

The benefits of outside play are endless, and so important for developing kids. These days I aim to get outside with my son at least twice per day – and I have to say I think I enjoy it almost as much as he does! So let’s hold that thought on my “pale and proud” skin – I just might end up revisiting that berry-brown glow after all!

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