Life’s Little Things

Children become our watchdogs and keep us on our toes

Remember that wonderful ad on TV about bedtime routine at home? Family members danced from room to room, switching off lights, emptying ashtrays and putting fire guards safely on still burning hearths. It was catchy and memorable and for years we sang the song before we went off to bed.

The fire safety crew called to the children’s school and I spent an evening answering my son’s questions about our homes safety habits and filling in questionnaires reassuring him that I never left the cooker unattended.

These programmes work. The children become our watchdogs and keep us on our toes. “Mum did you forget to check that our smoke detectors are working;” “Mum you are blocking our exit from the house with the bags you left in the hallway”.

The Food Dudes programme followed quickly and we spent weeks filling in dietary records and inventing new and thrilling combinations of fruit and vegetables to bring into school. It has been educational for the children but I have found it somewhat irritating to have my children quiz me on what specific varieties I was planning for their lunch for the next week. What do they think they have been living on for the last 10 years?

Careful about food

When my children were little I was careful about what they ate. It was one of the areas I worked most hard on to ensure they established good eating habits and a healthy attitude to food. I pureed organic celeriac and mango when my children were little; I froze individual cubes of blended vegetables, progressing steadily forward through an every expanding range of flavours and odours to educate their taste buds.

Trial and error discovered the elusive perfect consistency of lumpy and squashy to encourage correct oral and sensory development. I am not kidding. I took this job very seriously, reading up on optimum child nutrition to ensure that I wasn’t just a lunatic who insisted on feeding their children specific foods without justification.

As my children have grown I relaxed my hold allowing them the freedom to occasionally have bad for you food, or as we have been reliably informed by the food dudes “sometimes food” as opposed to “everyday food”.  It doesn’t always work quite as intended.

In the same way, I know parents who allow their children the choice of as much screen time as they want on certain days of the week in the vain hope of making them so sick of it that they will jump at a chance to go outside for some fresh air and exercise. They still end up pasty faced irritable and hankering for more.

It seems to be the same with sugar. They will always want more and need to be taught to engage their brains to be mindful of what they are eating and why. It’s a long slow process.

I smile when parents tell me their children know when they have enough. This may occasionally be so but for most of us, our children are more likely to be the ones stuffing five chocolate biscuits into their mouths or yelling in protest when we unplug the TV.

Children learn by doing and don’t really move out of this type of concrete learning until somewhere around 11 years of age. The bottom line is if you allow them to do something they will learn that it’s ok to do it.

Our job is to teach them when to call a halt. It won’t really matter how many times you cross on green, they will always remember the one time you allowed them to cross on red.