The talk…

As parents, we know that this moment is coming. 

In fact, I remember joking about it in the delivery room, staring into the adoring eyes of my eldest as I held her in one hand. Now, nine and a half years later, that moment has arrived.

She’s noticed her body changing and the bodies of her friends. Her mother has also attempted to impose a preparedness kit on me, that consists of chocolates and cuddles. Niceties aside, I recognised that a growing young woman would need facts.

Puberty can be terrifying if you don’t know it’s coming. There’s a world of changes that will take place over the space of a decade, without warning; I wasn’t going to leave her unprepared.

At her age, change is not impossible; the process of puberty has been reported in children as young as eight, with girls being notoriously early developers. As a woman, I had asked her mum to discuss menstruation with her but was left disappointed by her efforts.

I’m neither inarticulate, nor shy, but I needed help on this one.

action active activity adult
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Shopping

I hit the keyboard, or in this case the phone browser in search if child friendly reference material.

As luck would have it, a friend of mine had recommended a really good book, but I decided to do a quick check of what was out there. Amazon didn’t disappoint.

The trick here is not to be sucked in by well illustrated covers, but to read the reviews from verified purchases. Not to put too much emphasis on this but this is one conversation that as a parent, you can’t afford to mess up.

Not surprisingly, there is quite a range of advisory material for puberty. Some aimed at parents to guide conversations and some written specifically for children. The book that my friend had recommended appeared to fall into the latter category and ticked all the boxes according to the reviews. Changing bodies, menstruation, attraction, moods and even sex. I clicked one copy into my basket.

Catalyst

Approaching my weekend,  I picked the cubs up from after-school club on Thursday. As is the norm, the floodgates of information and questions opens. This evening, she is full of questions.

‘Dad, I’ve been doing a lot of learning about bodies and how they change. What’s sex? and do you have to have it?’

Before I could answer, she continues.

‘Mummy was talking to me about periods and all of it and some of the girls at school have been talking about sex’

Ok; well what have they been saying?

Let me just get this out there; I think that there are very few conversations that you shouldn’t have with your children; done in the correct way, most information can be handled sensitively but informatively, without inducing fear nor wonder. Kids are sponges; they’re nourished by information and in this digital epoch, there are a lot of places that they can get it.

What I heard next both scared and angered me.

‘Well my friends haven’t said anything really but when mummy was talking about periods I asked her about sex’

Ok; so what did mummy say?

‘Well she was busy so she just walked away, so I waited until night time, when I couldn’t sleep and I looked up sex on my tablet [PC]’

I almost crashed. I had asked my ex to set up an age appropriate account on all of her devices, following a similar incident last year. I also asked her to restrict browser settings to ‘Safe Search’, which would limit access to inappropriate material. I doubted that either had been done and what I was told next confirmed this.

‘Loads of scary things came up that I didn’t understand and it really scared me! I turned it off! do you have to have sex daddy??’

I suppressed my rising ire and took a few seconds to think. The irresponsibilities of my ex would have to wait for now; this was the time for damage control.

Sweetheart, sex is nothing to worry about and more importantly you don’t have to think about it for a long time yet. You really must be careful when you use the internet and the things that you saw were not meant for you; try not to think about them.

‘Can we remove Chrome from my tablet?’

I don’t think that’s necessary, but when you come back to mine from mummy’s bring it with you and daddy will make sure that you can’t see things that you’re not supposed to. Now, when we get home, I have a present for you that will help to answer all your questions and then we can have a talk.

Fortuitously, the book had arrived the day before. Some of the reviews had stated that the depiction of sex within it may have been better left to older children. With this in mind, I had wondered if I should sit on it until her tenth birthday. Now, I feel that decision had been taken out of my hands.

img_1132

At home, she tore at the protective wrapper eagerly.

What’s Happening to Me? (Girls Edition) (Facts of Life) by Susan Meredith sat in her hands.

‘Thanks Dad! two of my friends at school have this book!’

Double confirmation that now was the right time for this. Having skimmed through it and rewrapped it for her, I gave her the options of reading it herself or us going through it together.

She chose the former, telling me that she would read it before bed tonight. In fact, she went from cover to cover in about 45 minutes. She ran up to me and gave me a big hug.

Do you have any questions?

‘Yes; lots; but can we read it together over the next few nights?’

Absolutely.

Damage Control

His bedtime is 7pm; hers is 8pm, but the rule is that she fills that hour creatively. She usually reads, but is not averse to origami or sewing. After tucking her brother in and going through our usual, goodnight; sleep tight sing-song, she calls me in.

I read and begin a guided Q&A session. Taking it slowly, we discuss the basic body changes around weight, height, pubic hair and breasts. I use the correct names for body parts, shying away from nicknames and the like. I don’t see the point in learning something twice.

As expected, she takes it all in her stride. We have appropriate levels of laughter but mainly, this is about reassurance; I’m aware that I’m sewing seeds of body confidence that could stay with her for life.

We will spend the next few nights working through the book, including sex and sexuality.

Conclusion

I’ll end on a couple of points. We need to give young minds both the credit and respect they deserve. Handled appropriately, they can handle almost anything as their brains have the elasticity to do so.

My second point is really a warning; please do not allow young minds to wander the internet alone. Their appetite for knowledge can lead them to places they do not know how to get back from and the damage can be everlasting.

They deserve knowledge and protection in equal measure.

hand heart

BSD

Couch to OK…

Let me begin with a disclaimer.

I’m not what you would call a slouch. I like exercise. I’ve grown up around it and I’m vocal about the benefits of maintaining health and wellbeing through exercise. Recently, I have been a bit of a slouch.

In a way, I forgot the golden rule that exercise serves to callous an individual against most of life’s stresses and strains. Instead, I gave in to those stresses and strains. Both exercise and diet suffered.

One of the [many] positive outcomes of finding out I’m not yet on my final path, was that my cholesterol level was quite high. Not wanting to bring on what I had feared was ailing me, I decided to buck my ideas up and get back on track.

Running

I’m on week two of the ‘Couch to 5K’ training program. I began while I was still under the perceived heart scare as in my head, 5k wasn’t a massive distance as I’d happily run 12 miles before; admittedly, it was a few years ago. I figured that it could only do me good and if I did have a heart condition, that distance wouldn’t tax me too much.

The program is an app that you download to your phone. It’s backed by the BBC Sport as part of their ‘Get Inspired’ initiative, aimed at getting Brits to take regular exercise. You get a choice of coaches, who happen to be personalities from the broadcasting world. They tell you when to run, how to run and how often. The only thing not provided is will power.

It seems to be working and more importantly, I’m enjoying being out on my feet. They do a ‘Couch to 10k’ too, for those without perceived heart conditions..

Follow me

Leading by example is important to me so I’m also sourcing Park Runs for me and the cubs. School has notified us with mild concern about their body mass index (BMI) and whilst I’ve never held much truck for the system I have noticed that both of my darlings are a little on the big side.

Rather than beginning to stigmatise and label them at such a young age I intend to just make them more active when we are together. This weekend they are coming to a Kung Fu session with me. I can’t wait.

Killing me softly

This Christmas just past a friend, work colleague and neighbour of mine invited me to his house for dinner with his family on the 27th. He has three children of comparable age to mine and we occasionally have play dates.

For the meal, we were accompanied by his partner’s family; her sister, her mother and her father. Her father was doing the majority of the cooking so we sat in the kitchen keeping him company. He looked in his late 70’s and had noticeable poor posture. He revealed the reason in a conversation.

’40 years of sitting at a desk has rendered my abdominal muscles useless’

That scared me. My job used to be more practical, but promotions have meant that I’ve been more managerial for the last decade or so. Work does give us the option of using ‘standing desks’ but I’d always declined, favouring getting up and moving around every hour or so. The only problem with this approach is that I tended to get stuck into a task and by the time I lifted my head, two hours had passed.

close up photography of wristwatch
Photo by Mat Brown on Pexels.com

I set my watch alarm to the hourly alert. The annoying function that I had disabled many moons ago. Now, every time the double beep sounds, I get up from my seat, perform 30 star jumps followed by 30 squats. In time, I hope this will become a Pavlovian response that will pay dividends in later life.

If anything good has come of my near miss, it was highlighting the fact that I had been taking my health and welfare for granted.

I owe myself and the cubs so much more than that.

BSD

Eye’ve seen it all now.

In the sprint up to Christmas, it’s a time of many birthday parties and events; the cubs and I are busy.

My weekend will be punctuated by one, 6th birthday party tomorrow but first, my two are due an eye test.

This was a fall out event from daddy having a new prescription a few weeks back. The optometrist and I got chatting and I realised that the cubs had never had an eye test. I booked one in.

Our last visit was a mirthful event as they were both on top form. At one point, the optometrist had to put the tools of her trade down as she was laughing so much. Apparently, say cheese! was not the correct response when looking for retinal scarring.

As we head toward the opticians, I ask them both to run through the rules of engagement (we’ve adopted these to keep innocent people safe from our shenanigans).

  1. Always say please and thank you;
  2. Look where we are walking;
  3. We’re not as funny as we think we are; keep it down.

More can be added dependant on circumstance and occasion. For this occasion, we also included ‘swivel chair rotations will be limited to 180 degrees; no exceptions’.

‘Ok dad; we’ll keep operations obtuse’ chimes in the eldest, impressing me. Youngest nods agreement, but I’m unconvinced he’s on message.

person wearing eyeglasses
Photo by Pexen Design on Pexels.com

Steady nerve

Having watched me get tested, their reluctance to sit in the chair and cooperate is non-existent. Youngest goes first, on a machine that checks the condition of the retina, an autorefractor. His sister positions herself expectantly near the viewing screen.

The assistant adjusts his chair to bring him in line with the machine. ‘Try not to move and I’ll adjust the machine to you‘. He nods. And moves.

Ok; this time, try not to move…

He nods. then moves.

This happens three more times and I can tell that attrition is having an affect on the assistant. Before I can address the issue, eldest positions herself behind youngest and administers an effective headlock. That does the trick.

Picture taken and a ‘that all appears fine‘ from the assistant is cue for a quick scuffle. It seems that youngest wasn’t going to let the headlock go unanswered.

 

accessory blur book close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Her turn next. As she sits herself down, her brother eagerly gets behind her to begin a revenge headlock. I assure him that it’s not necessary, and plop him on my lap.

She’s the model of a model patient and the optician is impressed. A second ‘All good‘ is exactly what daddy wants to hear.

I begin to walk out but the I’m stopped. Apparently that was just the pretest. I thought that was too easy.

We’re moved to the room with the wall charts.

In turn, the cubs have various devices strapped to them and are asked to read, decide and look for numbers in colours. The tonometer makes them both jump and giggle, but the fun quickly wore off when eldest asked the optician why she bought a machine to blow air into people’s eyes.

Result(s)

“That’s all done sir! both your children need glasses!”

They both cheer, and race out into the main shop, bumping into an innocent bystander. I guess they do need glasses. I apologise, and reflect on the damage this will do to my budget.

They split like a display team to the male and female displays of frames. The adult displays. I shepherd them back to the children’s sections. Thankfully, the store has placed the more expensive ranges higher up. Their eyes are naturally drawn upwards.

close up of tire rim
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

He goes straight for a pair of specs with a Batman logo. They’re free, thanks to our amazing National Health Service. Great result (two pairs of glasses have cost me just over £300…). She goes for a lovely, purple rimmed pair; they match her coat and the fetching, cat eared headband that she has on.

The assistant places them on each of them in turn, then begins to take various measurements. She hands me her cat ears in order to get a proper fit. I put them on my head in order to keep my hands free to restrain her brother, who has clearly hit the limits of his concentration.

Business concludes without much drama. Both cubs hearts visibly shrink when the assistant tells us that the glasses will be ready for collection in a week. They wanted their reward now. I explained about the process of creating the lenses to their specific prescriptions, which seemed to bore them into submission. They both looked at me, looked at each other and giggled.

It wasn’t until we had walked the full length of the shopping centre to get back to the carpark that I realised I was still wearing the cat ear hair band.

Photo by Amir Ghoorchiani on Pexels.com

BSD

All in good time

It hasn’t been plain sailing in the BSD household recently, and I’m squarely to blame.

Youngest cub has made the quantum leap to being potty trained. A real milestone in the transition from toddler to child. I’m ever so proud of him; he even goes to the bathroom standing up, after observing daddy in some uncomfortably candid moments.

I was conscious of this milestone as he entered the schooling system last September. His birthday is in late August and he had only just turned 4. Personally, I think that this is too young to enter full-time education, but such is life. I wanted him to be dry by the time he entered the system.

There is no shortage of reading out there with useful hints and tips. I knew what I wanted to achieve and set about doing it. I had the appropriate discussions with him and we spoke about what we would do to achieve it. We were both quite excited.

white paper with yeah signage
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

At first, things went quite well. He would excitedly run up to my room in the morning to proclaim his dry night. Great success!

He then had a couple of slip ups, but this was fine; the road to success is rarely a straight one. We could handle it. Bed changed, cub washed, no harm done; on with our day.

We then had a frequency shift; the dry days were beginning to lose out to the wet days. As we awoke in the morning, the disappointment in his voice was heartbreaking. More cuddles and reassurances that this was okay and that he would get it in time were administered.

I changed tactics slightly. Both cubs usually bedded down with a bottle of water to combat nighttime thirst. This stopped. We also watched the volumes of drink that we consumed in the pre-bedtime hour. This was restricted too.

It didn’t help.

We then tried a reward system. The star system that was already established was utilised. A star would be rewarded for more dry nights than wet nights.

This was wrong.

addition black and white black and white chalk
Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Things seemed to be getting worse.

Not only were we experiencing more wet nights but his skin also began to suffer. He’d clearly been peeing early in the night and then sleeping in it. The damage was visible.

He was also getting damaged inside with feelings of regret and shame of not doing as was expected of him.

I had a paradigm shift.

It  followed some soul-searching on my part and answering a few questions.

  • Why were we doing this?
  • Who would benefit?
  • How was it making him feel?
  • How was it making me feel?

The answers, were quite damming.

  • We were doing this because I had decided that we should do it.
  • Whilst we would both benefit, primarily I would.
  • It was clearly making him feel bad; he was neither dry nor earning rewards.
  • This made me feel bad.

Time for a change.

worm s eye view photography of stop signage
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

We stopped. We had another chat and more importantly we re-bonded.

This took the form of a huge cuddle whilst watching his favourite film and eating popcorn. Eldest wasn’t left out; she got under one arm (and near the popcorn). I could, quite literally feel us all renergising in each other’s company.

There were some big learning points here and they were all for me.

I realised that I had let outside influences decide on what was best for my cub, rather than let him tell me.

Please understand, I don’t mean that I expected a 4-year-old to vocalise what he wanted; our children tell us things in so many other ways. We, as adults have to shut out the external noise and truly listen to what they are ‘saying’.

I was guilty of comparing him to his sister, to his classmates, to books e.t.c and in doing so, I ignored the only one I should’ve really listened to; him.

Attaching desired behaviour to a reward system is an age-old methodology but I applied it incorrectly. I’m still not sure I should have applied it at all.

He’s fine now. His skin shows no traces and he’s his usual, cheeky self. He’s back in the training pants for bed as the realisation that he is a deep sleeper will most likely mean that he takes a little longer to get dry.

I have every confidence that he will be; all in good time.

beach woman sunrise silhouette
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

BSD

Editing Scripts

After a rather successful half-term holiday break, I haven’t seen the cubs for a few days. They’re with me for the next four days but I’ve missed them terribly.

I pick them up from after-school club on what was for me a testing day at work. All stresses fell away after I saw them. Youngest came out first, looking thoroughly fed up; 50% of him seemed to consist of tomato soup, the folly of a white, cotton school top.

Driving home, eldest gives me the full rundown of events from the last time we saw each other.

Someone has used the F word. One of her classmates.

My ears prick up.

‘I told her that I was going to tell the teachers; she begged me not to then started to cry!’

My inner psychologist spiked.

‘It was fake tears though, she kept looking to see if I was looking!’

So what did you do?

‘I told the teachers, but then she cried and they let her off. Then she told other people that I had said it and I AM SO ANNOYED!’

Why?

‘Because she never got punished! Then mummy text her mummy and they had a row!’

I smiled ever so slightly, but probably wider than I realised.

I dig deep for a response. I immediately think of the different ways in which my ex and I have approached this situation. For me, this situation does not require a knee-jerk response. There aren’t many situations in life that do.

What I felt was an appropriate response, was to help her deal with such situations when they happen again. I wanted to give her a script that she could call upon in future. I could fix the situation, but how would that benefit her?

I immediately thought of the differences in upbringing between my ex and I, and how this was playing out in our own parenting.

After listening to her, we picked apart the interaction, adding a rationale to each step.

  • She swore – yep, some people do but not at your age. It makes you look bad.
  • She cried to get out of trouble – that happens a lot. It the response of someone who won’t take responsibility for their actions.
  • I got really angry – interesting response; you’re probably holding others to your own standards and values, then getting frustrated when they don’t meet them. That’s a fast track to heartache.
  • I want to see what she does tomorrow – why? she’s already shown you who she is.

She reflected.

I interjected.

You’re going to come up against people like her all your life. If you let them get under your skin, they’ll ruin your day whilst they enjoy theirs. Learn to blank them out and avoid them.

She went deeper.

‘So mummy texting her mum was wrong?’

I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but look at the motivation. We’re both trying to protect you; just in different ways. Both are done out of love.

I could see her brain ticking over. Then she shook her head.

‘I think I’ll avoid her for a little while daddy’

Mission accomplished

BSD

5 Life skills; courage

Dictionary

The ability to do something that frightens one; bravery’ Oxforddictionaries.com

 

Adult perspective


One of my all-time, favourite songs has a chorus line as follows; ” If I sense danger; I’ll dust my heart down and carry on ” Sense of Danger by Presence.

I do not own the rights to this song.

This song has gotten me through so much in the past…

The greatest attribute, in my opinion is courage. Without it, there would be no challenge; no breakthrough and no progress. A lack of courage has led to some of humanity’s darkest periods and an abundance of courage has returned light where there was none.

Parent perspective

As a dad, I want the cubs to have the courage to:

  • Experiment
  • Tell the truth/speak up
  • Admit when you’re wrong
  • Admit when you’re scared.

I sometimes despair at helicopter parents. Watching them at the play park, following their children around various apparatus, waiting to catch them after the inevitable fall. I also sympathise, as I’ve been there.

I stopped when I recognised that in doing so, we cause a great deal of harm. Courage is learned in climbing trees, rope swings into summer rivers and monkey bars with impossible spans. As kids ourselves, we fell, almost drowned and learned about the importance of momentum and strength. We recognise now, that the reward lies in overcoming those fears.

Lies come from a lack of courage to tell the truth. I watch people lie all the time and it has to be one of the things that affects me the greatest, especially when it’s an obvious lie. More often than not, it takes real courage to tell the truth.

As we mature, what scares us changes. It’s easy to dismiss the fears of a child because we have forgotten our own childhood fears but, the gap in the monkey bars represents a lot. As an adult admitting fear can be liberating.

Child’s perspective

Limits are for pushing; it’s in our nature. That tree absolutely needs to be climbed and those bars aren’t that far apart. Others have climbed, swum and swung before us; someone was the first…

In a world where young voices are often lost, children should be encouraged to speak up. They need to know that how they feel is important, and that their views should be considered. Shouting them down or scorn will only take their future voice away.

For a child, truth and lies are legitimised at an early age. The parental response to either will decide which they prefer. If a child can ‘get away with’ an untruth, or gain advantage from it, they may be inclined to repeat the behaviour.

I positively reinforce the truth by reducing the consequences when the cubs are straight with me. I’m less tolerant of lies. There are no ‘little lies’ or ‘white lies’, it’s a binary choice.

I try to address their fears rather than ridicule them. It is a delicate act to which I try to apply science and reasoning. I encourage them to tell me what they’re scared of and emote their feelings. Once they do this, I can add a counter argument; a script, that once becomes reinforced, they’ll be able to complete themselves.

Conclusion

Courage takes so many forms in our adult life but as with most values, what is gathered and repeated in the formative years will most likely be who we become.

Positive and negative reinforcement will constantly shape their development; as parents, what we do will often have more of an effect over what we say, as you cannot hide who you are.

BSD


5 Life skills; prologue.

I’d like to give you a short preview of my 5 week series on the life skills I’m trying to impart into my cubs.

I’ve thought long and hard about this one and reflected on their upbringing so far. Eldest cub, for the most part was raised in a semi-stable home and relationship, although the signs that her mother and I weren’t going to make it were already there.

Her formative years were moulded by the dual influences of both parents, even though I worked long hours and my partner stayed at home. Bonds were formed and taught values were reinforced in behaviours I showed daily.

The co-parenting paradigm shifts things onto a more challenging footing, and my son is now away from the dual influences of both parents. It’s difficult to know what effect this is having on his development as you have to allow for individuality in behavioural differences. I doubt that it’s as straight forwards as nature or nurture.

This whole piece wasn’t straight-forwards.

Having the cub’s best intentions in mind, I want to give them the best start in life that I possibly could, without overlooking their childhood by extolling vicarious values. I tried to be objective, with a topic that is hugely subjective, and I struggled to get the list down to 5 life skills. It changed numerous times.

My list may differ from that of others and I’d be keen to see how mine measures up, but when I reflect on the times that I might have stumbled in life, these are the skills that got me to my feet again.

  • Courage
  • Self-worth
  • Determination/fortitude
  • Kindness
  • Humility.

Within each of these 5, I will attempt to explain why I think that the skill is vital, from the perspective of both an adult and a child. I will also attempt to explain how I teach this skill and then reinforce it in my own behaviour.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts and as always, I’d love to interact with you and have a discussion.

Happy New Year!

BSD