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The power of the “let kids be kids” idea: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy

Picture of a man in a santa claus costume

We all want our kids to have a joyful and magical childhood and “be kids” for as long as they can.

I realised the power of this idea last week when reflecting on how we as a family have adopted the Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy myths.

Chances are you’ve bought in too. Read on to find out more!

Stop here, Tooth Fairy!

Recently our 7 year old, Little Mate, lost his fifth tooth.

The Tooth Fairy was a bit slack and didn’t deposit the much-awaited funds for some time.

One night as we were sitting around the dinner table, he asked me “Are you and Dad the Tooth Fairy?”

I was ill-prepared for such a direct question, but calling on my usual approach of being open, upfront and honest with our children, I said “Yes.”

Neither Little Mate or Dames (our 5 year old who is yet to lose a tooth) showed shock or disappointment at my answer.  Instead Little Mate said, “Well, when are you going to give me money for my tooth?”

When I told Damien later, it was he who felt the disappointment. His reaction surprised me – he was, after all, the kid who had Santa Claus pegged from early on and spilled the beans to the other children in his home town (Mr Lawson with the golden tooth was easy to pick dressed as Santa Claus).

Days later, and miraculously, the Tooth Fairy did visit Little Mate – leaving a deposit under Little Mate’s bed while we were away on holidays – so it could not possibly have been Mum and Dad and the Tooth Fairy story lived to see another day!

We’re in (and it shocks me!)

On reflection, it shocks me that we as a family have bought into the myths of Santa Claus and co. And while we haven’t ever gone to elaborate lengths to foster these aspects of Christmas, Easter and losing a tooth (I can’t remember Santa’s ever receiving biscuits and milk for supper and the best and most exciting gifts for our kids always come from us), we have nonetheless played along with the kid’s conversations about how amazing it is that the Easter Bunny can find us even when we’re on holidays and that Santa can still deliver us presents, even without a fireplace! And I must admit that planting chocolate Easter eggs as Easter Bunny has been an incredibly joyful experience for both Damien and I.

There are three reasons why I feel shocked by this:

  • both Damien and I take an open, educative and honest approach when it comes to our kids. I always try to explain something if asked no matter how challenging the concept might be – six months ago when I was putting the final touches on my book and Little Mate was also into book creation and (re)creating a favourite book of his, we had a chat about copyright laws;
  • I never accept what people say, take advice or other things at face value. I think critically and usually research widely and canvas other’s views. I can hand on heart say that I never did any of these things when it came to Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy; and
  • sharing this realisation with Damien while writing this post, I learned that Damien was “not comfortable” with the stories. Normally we would discuss and come to a landing on anything either of us felt uncomfortable about in the parenting sphere – but this also never happened.

So why are we in?

Why did we buy in to these myths at the expense of the way we usually parent? Why did Damien feel disappointed that I’d spilled the beans on the Tooth Fairy, when he felt uncomfortable with the story in the first place?

I think it’s because it’s such a powerful idea – that we should let kids be kids – so powerful in fact that we would put our parenting practices and principles on hold to uphold it.

And how do we know what being a kid is like?

Well, we know this from our own experiences as children.  Believing in Santa and co is a significant childhood tradition, particularly in my family. Getting a gift from Santa is a tradition to which feelings of hope, surprise and thrill attach. And we feel sentimental about our childhoods and we want our children to feel the magic and the wonder that we felt when we were little and thinking about a big guy in a red suit and a big bag of presents for us and our family.

We also want our kids to be kids for as long as possible. Parents over the last few days have told me how they hope that the Santa and related myths continue in their families for as long as possible and they dread the day that their child finds out the truth. It’s a sign of growing up and a loss of innocence – and we don’t want our kids to do that too fast!

And just to be clear – in making these discoveries while writing this post – I haven’t felt guilt or regret about the approach we have taken. Perhaps more I’ve felt trepidation about having the chat when the need finally arises. And, also sadness that, at least for our two boys, the time for them to know the truth draws closer.

Lauren x

PS

The idea that kids should be kids deserves more than a single blog post as it plays a part in how we address many issues with our kids, such as:

  • sex, our bodies and sexuality
  • relationships and divorce
  • wellbeing, sickness and death
  • homework, testing and grades in school
  • violence and crime
  • stranger danger and sexual predators

Stay tuned for more posts on this in the new year!

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Time well spent: playing board games with our kids!

“Can we play a family game?”

It’s a request we are getting more and more frequently in our house, particularly from Dames (our second child).

Quite often the request is made when the kitchen is a flurry of activity, pots and pans clanking, pasta sauce slopped in all directions and our youngest, Miss Gubby, is at her most vocal wanting to be fed. We try to say yes, but we can’t always.

On weekends we say “maybe, after we get through all our jobs” (dinner, baths, etc).

The other difficulty we face now is that Miss Gubby is too young to participate and still needs to be watched around small items. So, game time is usually only when Miss Gubby is sleeping.

I was reminded of the importance of making time to play board games with our children recently. And not just because I was reminded of the benefits of board games that I was already aware of – for example, teaching a child to follow rules, to be good sport as a loser (and a good and gracious sport as a winner), taking turns, sharing, accepting the good with the bad and knowing that luck can turn (either way!) in an instant, the value of persistence and, of course, communication and counting.

Sharing a game of Monopoly with our boys gave us the opportunity to teach them a very important life lesson – and hopefully, because it was experienced in an authentic setting and not just taught, one that they will remember for the rest of their lives.

The game

As only befits a birthday, I was ruler of our family for the day in October and got to decide what we would do.

So, while Miss Gubby had a nice long afternoon nap and we were housebound, I decided that all remaining members of our family would play Monopoly.

So out came the board, the houses and hotels, the Community Chest cards and the counters – the ship, the top hat etc.

The boys (7 and 5 years) wowed us with their adding and subtracting and reading the cards and the street names. They also wowed us with their strategy.  Little Mate (the eldest) was focusing on some advice that Damien had given him about the properties with the highest “return on investment”. Dames was more interested in stock-piling cash.

We laughed, we whooped (when going past GO and collecting $200!) and we cursed (mostly when sent to jail)!

And then Miss Gubby woke up and we abandoned ship/top hat etc.

We returned to the game once Miss Gubby was down for the night. What was obvious however was that one of the boys had helped himself to some finance from the bank. Quite a bit of it in fact.

We expressed our disappointment at the behaviour and determined that the boy in question should not benefit from the next few throws of the dice.  And, sure enough, with the illegally obtained finance gone and no ability to earn, the boy in question was soon bankrupted from the game.

When the winner had been determined, we continued our conversation about the incident. Our little guy, who always tries to do the right thing, was clearly devastated by what he had done and had not appreciated the enormity of it.

Nonetheless we took the opportunity to talk about how it was the wrong thing to do and how it was important to play by the rules.

We also talked about how we wanted both boys to remember this lesson for the rest of their lives because the consequences of cheating and stealing were serious – that, if they stole money or other things in later life, they would be taken away from their family and put in jail; that, with a conviction, they may not be able to travel overseas and get certain jobs. We also talked about how much we valued honest people and honesty and that sometimes doing the right thing was not always the easy thing.

Being there with our children and sharing the game gave us the opportunity to have this discussion in a situation that was authentic and hopefully memorable for them.

A recent seminar on resilience that I attended at the boys school advocated the benefits of an engaged family environment when children are young – because that environment can provide a soft landing and a safe space without judgment where children can make errors and learn from them. To me what transpired through that game of Monopoly was exactly what the educator was talking about that night.

As well as overtly teaching a lesson, we also modelled good behaviour to our children during the game of Monopoly. Board games with an element of chance (eg that involve the role of a dice) can be a great way for parents to model good behaviour to their children because generally the playing field is level and everyone is in the same boat.

In the Monopoly game we played we were all struggling on the property ladder, we all landed on someone’s hotel and had to scrape together the rent (including sometimes mortgaging properties to stay afloat)! Nonetheless, neither Damien nor I robbed the bank!

P.S.

I’ve been wondering if we got too heavy in explaining the consequences of stealing with the boys. You want to teach the “do not steal” lesson to last a lifetime, but you also don’t want to scare the living daylights out of them!  It’s that question of kids should be kids isn’t it? But what does that mean, where are the boundaries and does that mean sometimes parents must lie? Stay tuned for more – I’ll be discussing the idea that kids should be kids next on this blog!

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Let’s Draw a Baby!

Image giving directions for a baby drawing activity to help prepare big brothers and sisters for a new baby

Let’s Draw a Baby – a drawing activity for older siblings

In creating baby + me, we spent lots of time thinking about activities to help prepare soon-to-be big brothers and sisters for a new baby. Looking at baby + me, you’ll see we value drawing highly, as it can provide a window into a child’s thoughts.

This activity called “Let’s Draw a Baby” is a great big sibling activity – it provides an opportunity to talk about the baby (their physical make-up, their capabilities and needs); it helps develop fine motor skills; and, it’s a great bonding activity (and, if the child develops an interest in drawing, it can be a go-to activity when the new baby arrives). 

This blog includes tips for doing (or modifying) the activity to suit you and your child. These tips come from my own experience as a mum and draw on the knowledge and expertise of Debbie Isaac, the consultant paediatric occupational therapist on the baby + me book. 

Tips

There’s no one-size-fits-all with big siblings – they could be 1 year old or 10 years’ old or more. Boys, girls, indoorsy or outdoorsy types…

It seems young, but children from 1 year of age can be encouraged to hold a crayon or pencil and draw. I’ve just started Miss Gubby (15 months’) with crayons. She’s now spending more time at it and filling the page with more and more colour.

To be completely honest with you though, if I’d read this post six years ago when I was pregnant with our second boy, Dames and had Little Mate (then just a year old), I probably would have found another source of inspiration for big sibling activities!  Worse still,  I probably would have worried and even felt guilty about the fact that Little Mate thought crayons were for chewing (or throwing) and paper was for scrunching.  Little Mate was not really interested in writing, drawing or talking.  Outdoor activities, playgrounds and riding on trains were his thing!

But fast forward to now and Little Mate (now age 7) is full of words and fills not only my ears but also any piece of paper he can find around the house with words and drawings. Often he will get home from school and launch straight into a creative project – writing a book, tracing a picture, doing a painting.

Here’s some tips for doing (or modifying) this activity to suit you and your child:

  • do it together – drawing is a great activity to share!
  • choose crayons or pencils or other writing tools (chalk) that suit your child. There are a wide range of writing tools available that have been specifically designed for children – for smaller hands, for those who are just learning to use a pencil grip or for those just starting out.  Here are a few options.  These ones are available at one of our fantastic baby + me stockists – Windmill Educational Toys and Equipment (see www.windmill.net.au for more details):
  • try modifying the drawing activity to suit the child’s capability and interest level. Here are some baby pictures of varying complexity to give you some ideas:

 

  • if your child is just starting to draw, take the lead and draw the outline of the baby, and ask the child to colour (scribble!) it in or add some features (eg eyes, nose, fingers).  This is also a great strategy if your child says “I’m finished” but the drawing is missing some important features. You can prompt your child in a less confronting way with questions such as “does the baby have any hair?” and “what is baby wearing?”
  • even if your child is older and more capable, a blank page can give a child “stage fright”, so consider starting the drawing off yourself.  For that reason, the baby + me book does not have any completely blank pages in it!  Even my Dames, who has loved drawing since he was very young, has got stuck starting a drawing from scratch!
  • try foot prints or hand prints as a starting point for a baby picture. These are always popular with the little-ones and, even if they are not holding the pencil or crayon, they feel involved in making the picture by having their hand traced around!
  • consider using a different medium for drawing – a more sensory experience like drawing in flour on your kitchen bench or in the sandpit may have appeal
  • add a date to all the drawings – they could be a nice keepsake and help you track how the child’s drawing develops over time
  • and finally, try not to put pressure on your child (or yourself!) – drawing should be fun for both adult and child.  You can always come back to it another day!

We’d love you to try “Let’s Draw a Baby”.  Please tell us how you and your child go (pictures too please)!

Good luck and happy drawing!

Lauren x

 

 

 

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Book Magic!

Quote about the magic of books.

baby + me, a new and unique book for soon to be big brothers and sisters that helps them prepare for a new baby, is Lauren Gardiner’s first book. In this blog post she talks about why she wants to write for children and hopes that it will inspire you to share a book with a child, or even pick up a pen or your computer keyboard and write a story yourself! The story behind baby + me and Lauren’s inspiration for it will be covered in a later post.

I reflected on my motivation for writing for children last week when I had the privilege of opening a book launch event for the Year 6 children at Our Holy Redeemer School in Surrey Hills as part of their Book Week 2018 celebrations.

The children had each written, illustrated, covered and bound by hand a picture story book.

The books are bright and engaging. Some are humorous. Others are very touching – about family, friends, feelings. An incredible amount of time, thought and effort has been spent on them.

The children are now on tour – reading their books aloud to the other classes and to children at local kindergartens.

In the address I gave, I focused on my own motivation for writing for children, because I think it demonstrates the incredible thing these children have achieved.

Books as part of the bedtime ritual

The image that motivates me to write for children is an image that I am part of almost every night in our house.

The bedtime ritual.

In our house we choose a kid’s bed and we snuggle and we cuddle and our legs go this way and that way and we read books together.

We read the story and talk about the pictures and we enjoy this special wind down time together.

Sometimes the book teaches us something (perhaps we’re reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and we learn about the life cycle of a butterfly).  Sometimes the book might help us feel more accepting of life’s ups and downs (like Dr Seuss’, Oh, the Places You’ll Go).  Or maybe the book helps us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and realise what it’s like to live differently from how we do.  For example, as a homeless person in David Walliam’s book, Mr Stink.  And sometimes we just enjoy a laugh all together (has anyone read Captain Underpants lately?)

Books at any time!

But books are also a “go to” for our family at any time of the day – not just at bedtime. Sometimes we grab a book after school when the kids are tired or things are a bit rocky. A child who’s feeling a bit on the outer, maybe a bit upset, slowly warms to the idea, maybe listening from afar in the beginning, but slowly edging closer and closer.  Ah…the magic of a book to calm and to gather in close!

Books have also helped our kids understand their feelings and to express them (see Trace Moroney’s When I’m Feeling… books).  They’ve helped us with school and kinder transitions and other tricky transitions too, like toilet training.

I love the way that children’s books speak to children through words and pictures in a non-confrontational way. Sometimes they can plant a seed but don’t prod it and poke it (like sometimes a parent does: best case of that, me!)

I have no doubt that reading to our kids from a young age has helped them with their reading at school – it has sparked an interest in books that has made it so much easier and more natural for them to find the tools they need to read for themselves.

Tools to read

I remember not knowing what else to do with our eldest child, known here as Little Mate, in those early days. We’d done tummy time, already gone for a walk, sung my total repertoire of nursery songs (badly!) What next to do with a newborn? Answer: read books!

In summer last year we drove 6000 kms up to Queensland and back over 6 weeks. We downloaded audio books from the library and listened to them most days on the road (some days it was essential for our sanity!) We also read chapter books almost every night.  When Little Mate returned to school in February this year, he started reading at a level that was almost 20 levels above where he had left off the previous year.  And no, we didn’t do readers with him every night on our trip (actually: none at all!)

Book magic!

Books are magic no 2

To me, books are magic.  They give gifts to readers – to children, to adults and to families.

The magic of books is that – while they are made up of two-dimensional images – how we experience a book is so much more than that.  Books enter our children’s heads and spark joy and excitement, bring calm, or prompt wonder and imagination, evoke laughter, understanding or knowledge and foster a love of language.

So, from a writer’s perspective, don’t you think it would be amazing to contribute a book to the world? To share some magic? To give a gift?

Speaking of the world: let’s talk about Eric Carle, the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar for a minute.  Over 30 million copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar are floating all around the world (WOW!) (Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Very_Hungry_Caterpillar)).  If you’re Eric Carle, you would have brought joy to millions of children and taught them about the caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies.

And while I’m not at the 30 million copies sold point…(yet!) the response from families and children who have received baby + me to date gives me so much pleasure. My favourite story so far is from Harvey (age 7) who took baby + me to school for “show and tell” (that’s a kid’s version of a gold medal isn’t it?!?!) He also told his Mum that:

I couldn’t wait to get home from school every day to fill out this book with my Mum.

There’s magic in books.  There’s magic in baby + me – for families, parents and children and I can’t wait to share it with more of them!

Lauren x

PS

And if you do one day choose to pick up a pen or a computer keyboard and write a story, know there’s plenty of time to get published – the winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year award 2018 announced last week was Gwyn Perkins.  He was 76 at the time of writing and illustrating his book called A Walk in the Bush! Inspiring stuff!

 

 

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REALLY LOUD about baby + me!

A book for soon to be big brothers and sisters. This is a page from the book. It says "Really Loud!"

baby + me, a new and unique book for soon to be big brothers and sisters that helps prepare them for a new baby, has involved a number of “firsts” for Lauren Gardiner, the author of baby + me and creator of me mo books. Lauren talked about these firsts and why she wanted to be “REALLY LOUD” about them (which is not her usual style!) at the VIP Launch Event for baby me.

Above is a spread from the baby + me book.  It is part of a sequence as follows: “I can be quiet to help our baby settle to sleep or feed.  And sometimes I can be … REALLY LOUD!”

Here is an edited extract of what Lauren said at the VIP Launch Event for baby + me at Reunion Cafe on 29 July:

Welcome to the Launch Event for baby + me.

There have been a lot of firsts for me in this project and getting this book to print.

The book in itself is a first.

I made my first website.

I had my first foray into social media (argh). Thanks to Tennille Wong for holding my hand with that!

And I’ve made my first book sale!

Debbie Isaac (consultant OT on the baby + me project) first suggested I needed to have a launch.  Here I was thinking that a writer’s life was reclusive and behind the scenes and I could tap away happily at my keyboard in the comfort of my own home… Well, if I didn’t look aghast when Debbie made this suggestion, that’s definitely how I felt! And Tennille Wong, the publicist for baby + me, was right behind the launch thing too.

I was warming to the idea of a launch (still feeling slightly sick about it, but warming to it).  And then my eldest son (let’s call him “Little Mate” or “LM” for short) had his seventh birthday and received a bright orange bike. He rode it for the first time that day. The whole family was there to encourage him, Damien and I held the bike to steady him the first few times and gave him a few tips and our middle son (let’s call him “Dames”) gave us frequent updates on how many laps he’d done. “Gubby”, our youngest, was right into the clapping – she loves a good clap! And Damien and I felt so proud for days afterwards. In fact all our faces beamed with delight and pride at LM’s achievement!

We’d also had a few other firsts in our family too around that time – Gubby’s first steps and first words and Dames’ first day at school and his first readers.

Looking more closely at these firsts, they all seemed to have a couple of common characteristics:

  • one: how they might never have been possible without the help, support and encouragement of a lot of people.  Team work was involved; and
  • two: how they are so exciting, not just for the person who achieves them, but for everyone connected too.

But when you’re an adult and you’ve ticked the boxes on a lot of firsts, celebrated all the usual milestones (marriage, children etc), you might be inclined to celebrate with a nice quiet dinner, go away for the weekend, drink wine or eat cake.  And perhaps we do the quiet thing because we feel like to do the loud thing is a bit self-indulgent, over the top or a bit “showy”.

But … maybe being quiet about our firsts or other achievements as adults fails to truly acknowledge the nature of a first or an achievement – that they often involve a team effort and that they can bring so much joy to a lot of people around you – your friends and your family.

So the Launch Event is to acknowledge and give thanks to the many people who have helped on the baby + me project (many just out of kindness and a desire to see my project come to life) and to share the celebration and the joy of bringing this little book into the world!

So first, the thank you’s …

My first thank you must go to Grace West, the illustrator and designer of baby + me.  I think everyone would agree that each and every page of the book has been beautifully designed and illustrated. Grace, you have done the most wonderful job of illustrating and designing this book. I think it was incredible that your vision for this book really matched my own. I couldn’t believe how spot on those first draft images and pages were. I am so grateful for all the work that you have put in.  I hope you are as proud of this project as I am.

Secondly, thank you to Debbie Isaac. Debbie has given so much time to me and this project. You’ve become a mentor and a dear friend. In our first meeting you helped me to distil and to simplify the book – which is key for engaging with children (in fact we cut it in half!). Again, I think you had a vision for this book and it really matched my own. The partially completed pages are also a product of what you have taught me – that kids sometimes don’t cope well with a “blank page”.

Next up is Fred Mayer from Adams Print. So … we started with a book with a middle page of stickers and scrapped that.  Then we fiddled with paper stock and considered other sizes for the book. And as we were approaching the finalisation of the design, I threw in a “please can I have a spine?” request.  None of these things were any trouble for Fred. Thanks for all your time, advice and your patience.  And your spine solution is awesome!  I’m so proud to be associated with a fantastic local Geelong-based printing company in Adams Print.

Thanks to Tennille Wong – my publicist extraordinaire. Thank you for believing in this project. I am so incredibly fortunate that you put up your hand to help me with it.  I’ve learnt so much from you and you have been prepared to get deeply involved in all aspects of the marketing and publicity campaign for the book. Thanks for holding my hand on my first Facebook and Instagram posts – argh!  What fun it has been working with you!

Thanks to my close group of friends, particularly mum friends that have reviewed versions of baby + me.  You’ve also been my market research consultants, bounced ideas around with me on things such as business names, potential stockists and avenues for marketing.  In particular, Susannah, Amy, Holly, Felicia, Tennille (again) and Jules.  And through our pep talks in playgrounds and coffee shops you’ve kept me going and reassured me that my time has been well spent.

Thanks to Chris McLeod, for providing me with some great help on the legal side.  With any luck we should have trade mark protection on a couple of aspects of the project in the coming months!

I’ve also got to thank Damien for suggesting that baby + me was worthy of publication and giving me the opportunity and the resources to take this idea forward.  Thanks for staying up late playing with and testing the website e-commerce functionality and invoicing functions. And thanks for just being you!

And of course to LM, Dames and Gubby.  You are my inspiration for this book. I hope that through this book, which is based on our experiences as a family, we can help other families with new babies on the way.

And to Mum, Dad and Rita for believing in me always and your love and support.

And nothing happens in our family without the wonderful support of Jess, the ever caring and loving nanny to our three kids.  Thank you Jess.  I couldn’t have done this without you.

And in terms of the launch here today:

  • Thank you to Emma Cogdon for the lovely baby + me biscuits and making some of my launch documentation look beautiful. You are an absolute star Em!
  • Thank you to the ladies at Reunion Dining – Jan and Leith. You fill our bellies every Saturday morning with yummy brekkie and you’ve done it again today with some yummy nibbles and yummy bubbles for the launch. Thanks too for your support of my book project – baby + me is stocked in Jan and Leith’s Providence Melbourne store.  And thanks for allowing me to offer local pick up for website sales there too!

And thanks also now must go to all the newly minted “baby + me ambassadors” – everyone attending the launch! I’ve already had some great ideas for advertising and selling baby + me and some excellent social media posts and likes and shares! Thank you!

And now for a REALLY LOUD cheers to baby + me!

In the spirit of being “REALLY LOUD” and my new appreciation of firsts, let’s say cheers to baby + me and to all of you!

Lauren x