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|**We Were Here First, Kids** (Scotland on Sunday)|
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|Posted by:||Mar 7th 2005, 09:14:41 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||"Our Little Tot’s First Martini Recipe: All children should know how to make this cocktail for their parents and other thirsty grown-ups. Chill two martini glasses, fill a shaker to the brim with ice and add gin and a splash of dry vermouth. Shake, strain and pour. Teach your youngster to say "cheers" at an early age and he will be on the road to a successful social life."
We were here first, kids
TINA Woolnough admits she was once a slave to her three children. She breast-fed them all and didn’t have a night out with her husband Peter for five years because she couldn’t bear the thought of a stranger putting them to bed. Dirty nappies and food-stained clothes were changed immediately.
"I completely sacrificed myself at first," says Tina, 42. "When you breastfeed you have to be a martyr anyway for a short period of time, and with your first baby you are so frightened.
"For years we had no social life at all. It was control freakery. I didn’t feel comfortable putting them into full-time childcare. I felt that I had had a good life and seen a lot of the world so I was prepared to put the children first." She pauses, and adds: "But I think I did go over the top."
Tina’s sacrifices for six-year-old Felix, Astrid, nine, and Ingrid, 10, will be familiar to most parents.
For many, the birth of a child creates a bond so strong it remains unbroken by a return to work, a romantic weekend break or even a single night out for many years.
It is an approach that is encouraged by a child-centric culture in which youngsters are more than just the apple of their parents’ eye: they are cosseted and praised, clothed in the latest expensive kiddie fashions by mums in threadbare jumpers, and taken to the latest mindless Disney cartoon by dads for whom Al Pacino has become a fond but distant memory.
Not always grateful, the youngsters are ferried hundreds of miles every year to tumbletots, jungle gym, swimming and ballet by parents frantically making up for the time they spend at work.
Meanwhile, discipline is all but a dirty word associated with Victorian-era punishment and deprivation. Many children rule the family home, as well as supermarket aisles, by simply throwing tantrums when they don’t get their own way.
It’s a "them-first" style of parenting that has evolved since the 1960s, in the belief that such an approach produces confident, happy children whose talents will be fully explored.
But, finally, the backlash has begun.
The counter-attack is being led by a new breed of child experts that Dr Spock and Miriam Stoppard would frown upon.
Christie Mellor, author of the self-explanatorily titled book We Were Here First, Kid, weighs in with phrases such as "Sadly the use of child-sized muzzles has never caught on, though I can’t see why not."
Her advice on dealing with tantrums? The cupboard. "If your child is prone to yelling and screaming lead him to a quiet corner," she says. "When your child realises he will be alone in some dark, cramped cupboard free of an adult audience he will soon tire of the sport and move on to quieter activities."
Instead of mollycoddling as a reaction to bad behaviour, the latest experts advise firm discipline, including threats and deprivation. And they even suggest that children can be put to good use in the kitchen by teaching them how to mix not fairy cakes or muffins but mum and dad’s favourite cocktail. Equally, they recommend a stern look like the one your own mother used to adopt that made you realise you were in big trouble. Mellor even suggests the odd kick under the table.
Mellor’s philosophy is straightforward: "We have become ineffectual lap dogs to our children. If you don’t start saying no to your children as if you mean it the tantrums will only get worse. Let us be frank. You were here first. You are sharing your house with them, your food, your time, your books. Somewhere in fairly recent memory we have lost sight of that fact."
Her darkly humorous chapter headings include ‘Saying no to your child: It’s a kick!’, ‘Bedtime: Is five-thirty too early?’, ‘Child labour: Not just for the third world!’, ‘Self-esteem and other over-rated concepts’, ‘Children’s music: Why?’ and ‘Screaming: Is it Necessary?’ Mellor is not alone. Another new parenting guru is self-confessed "Slacker Mom" Muffy Mead-Ferro, a working mother of two who has published a set of lessons learned from her own grandmother. Rather than child-proofing the house, buying educational toys and ferrying children to after-school activities she advises entertaining them by simply telling them: "Go outside."
While many parents live in constant fear of their child being harmed, Mead-Ferro believes, somewhat controversially, this is a lesson best learned from close contact with hot taps and sharp edges.
Equally un-PC advice comes in Perry W Buffington’s Cheap Psychological Tricks for Parents, which states that the age of parents as friends is over and suggests a number of bribes and threats to make the little ones do as their elders wish.
Instead of endlessly nagging children to leave their dirty shoes outside, you should occasionally put small treats in correctly stored shoes. If a wastebasket is within nine feet, children will try to use it; further than that, they won’t. Set up a swear box with the monetary value of something the child wants inside it. Each time the child swears, take a portion of the money out.
While it is easy to scoff at such advice, bad behaviour is a serious problem among Scottish children. A recent survey of almost 1,800 teachers revealed that since 1990 the percentage of secondary teachers who considered discipline to be a serious or very serious problem had risen from 36% to 59%.
And Eleanor Coner, a mother of three and an information officer at the Scottish Parent Teacher Council warns that today’s children are in danger of becoming adults who simply cannot cope.
"The problem is that the generations go from one extreme to another. The SPTC has been very vocal about the fact that parents are almost becoming divorced from their children and youngsters have been given so many rights the parent is on the sidelines," she said.
"In some schools it is common not to be consulted if a child is misbehaving until it gets to the point when it has become very bad. Children’s rights should also come along with responsibilities but in many respects that does not seem to be happening. We are rearing a generation of children who can’t cope.
"I would like my children to take risks, by being able to play conkers in the playground, get dirty and trip up and learn by their mistakes. That’s what I want, but that’s being taken away because our children are being mollycoddled."
Conor believes children both need and enjoy having rules they must abide by, but says today’s parents have never been taught this important fact.
She added: "It used to be the case that mothers learned how to bring up their children from their own mothers, but parents are not living near their own families these days and there is less community child-rearing. Once you are past the early years and you don’t have the health visitor and the doctor you are on your own.
"Your child is quite rightly the apple of your eye. But that does not mean they have to be the centre of the universe. I hate to say this but I think older parents can be very, very indulgent. They will push their child to the front of a queue and talk to them in a special way, explaining everything to them patiently. If you are having a conversation with such a parent the child is allowed to interrupt. I am not saying children should be seen and not heard, but they need to learn they are part of a big world."
Linda Russell, who runs the Parent Coaching Studio in Edinburgh, agrees. "We live in a society where children do not know boundaries," she says. "The only way forward for parents is discipline but they are frightened of the idea because they associate discipline with punishment. But it’s not about that at all, it’s about boundaries. Every parent should set boundaries that fit their family life, such as bedtime, politeness and when children can leave the table."
Tina’s own turning point came after the birth of her third child where her circumstances forced her to re-evaluate her family life.
"With the first baby you have high standards but when the second comes along you can’t sustain them," she says. "You just make more practical choices. They have to stay in a wet nappy longer and wear clothes with food down the front. They don’t have to have a bath at the same time every day.
"With the third you just think - sod it. If they make it through the day you’re doing well. You’ve only got two hands."
She adds: "This means the third child is much better adjusted and happy-go-lucky."
REARING TO GO
PARENTING advice from We Were Here First, Kid! by Christie Mellor
• Our Little Tot’s First Martini Recipe: All children should know how to make this cocktail for their parents and other thirsty grown-ups. Chill two martini glasses, fill a shaker to the brim with ice and add gin and a splash of dry vermouth. Shake, strain and pour. Teach your youngster to say "cheers" at an early age and he will be on the road to a successful social life.
• If your child nags you for a pet and you don’t want one, buy a goldfish. Speed up its death by putting it in a fishbowl with plastic seaweed which will add no oxygen to the water.
This will help enormously in putting your child off the idea of pets. Having a little burial ceremony could turn into a valuable lesson in land usage and the environment.
• In order to help your child with school projects, start saving your empty shoe boxes, which fill a wide variety of project needs. The best way to secure enough shoeboxes is to buy dozens of pairs of shoes. You may have to occasionally splurge on some really well-made Italian footwear which provides the sturdiest boxes.
• If, on long car journeys, your child gets into the habit of asking to stop the car so he can go to the toilet every 20 minutes, understand he is only engaging in a simple power struggle. Make the stop as uncomfortable as possible, perhaps by a hedge of brambles.
"When your child realises that penny chews and sanitary toilet seat covers are no longer within whining distance, a strong bladder will begin to develop, and with it a much more enjoyable trip for everyone."
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