Wednesday 12 December 2018

Dear David Coleman: My six-year-old questions our values all the time

Photo posed
Photo posed
David Coleman

David Coleman

Since my six-year-old started school he is questioning everything I do at home.

We eat healthily but recently he complains about having porridge for breakfast, and home-baked bread for sandwiches. He wants crackers and yoghurt in plastic tubes. He now hates having friends here because I don't give them sweets and don't let them plonk in front of screens when they are here to play. I don't know how to get it through to him that what I'm doing is for his best. I feel we were in a little bubble before he started school but now it's burst!

David replies: I think one of the hardest things to sustain, as a parent, is our value system. There are many compromises that we have to make, sometimes to do with money, sometimes to do with time, sometimes to do with expediency and sometimes because compromise with a partner is necessary.

So, add the pressures from external sources, like our children's friends, their teachers and, increasingly, the internet, and it can seem like there is a constant assault on our values.

I like your acknowledgement about the fact that the "bubble" you were in, before he was aware that there were different choices that could be made, has burst. You, like all of us, were in the lucky position that there was no challenge to your decisions or your values. What you believed was accepted by your children as the only way to live.

You give two examples, food and screen time, where your oldest son, based on his experience with his friends and at school, is now questioning your values. He has discovered that other people make other choices that suit their beliefs or their family circumstances.

This isn't a question of which family (you or them) have made a "right" choice. You don't need to persuade him that what you are doing is for his best. It is simply about the fact that your choices, based on your values, are different. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't yet get to choose which values he lives by. He has to live by yours.

In this context, I believe it is all the more important for you to hold true and consistent to what you believe. So, for example, if you have strong beliefs about what constitutes "good" food that is nourishing and nutritious for you and your family, then I think it's OK to insist that this is the food that gets eaten in your home.

The key to a belief like that is that it is based on sound evidence and, if pushed, you can give a clear rationale for it. This is not a random whim that you are expecting your children to succumb to. In your particular family situation, your food choices seem wise and healthy. There is no reason to change those choices.

What you do have to learn to do is to be open and understanding about the fact that there are other ways that your family could be living your lives. Now that your son is exposed to different influences, opinions and beliefs, it can, in theory, add richness and diversity to your own perspectives.

It may be that some of the ideas he will come home from school, or his friends, with, in the future, will be useful, thought-provoking, or even life-changing for you and your family. Other families may have good values of their own, that you may want to adopt!

For now, though, the ideas that your son is coming back with don't fit, and don't feel right for your family. However, rather than rejecting his ideas out of hand, or becoming too defensive, listen openly to him.

The simplest way to deal with his disappointment or frustration about the fact that friends seem to have an easier, more fun-filled, or more enjoyable life is to just validate those feelings. Acknowledge that it might be hard for him to do things differently in his house. Who knows, there may even be some compromises that you are willing to consider with him.

By really listening to his experiences (even if they are delivered as complaints), you show him that you are willing to consider his views, even if you don't then change your beliefs.

It is OK to accept that he may perceive the "grass is greener" at his friends' houses, while still holding firm to your conviction that actually the grass is just the right shade of green in your own home.

 

Q. How do we go about getting our 11-month-old  out of our bed and into a good sleep routine?

We are parents to a beautiful little 11-month-old girl. We typically rock her to sleep at night or she falls asleep in our arms having her bottle. She starts off the night in her cot, but for the last few months or so, has ended up in our bed later on. I don't mind this too much as I know her sleep will settle in time. However, we're planning on having a second baby and would like to have her somewhat sorted and sleeping independently before we have another. How do we go about doing this? Should we wait or should we address this now?

David replies: That said, I think you are right to recognise that at some point in the future, co-sleeping may not work for your daughter or for you. It is rare that children are the ones who pick their own time when bed-sharing, or co-sleeping, no longer works for them. Their parents will, usually, have decided that the co-sleeping needs to come to an end sooner.

Sometimes, when a family starts to expand further, co-sleeping can become more challenging. Often it is the case that the new arrival needs to take the physical space in the bed, or the room, and so the older child needs to give way to make that space. Sometimes it suits for both children to share together, having the benefit of being company for each other.

So, if you have decided that another baby arriving in to your house will mean an end to co-sleeping, then so be it. However, do consider the timing. If the co-sleeping works well for the moment, and you have no great need or desire to change it, then don't.

Whenever you actually get pregnant again is probably time enough to decide about changing your older daughter's routine or habits. You don't yet know, or can't predict, but even when you are pregnant, there may be compelling reasons to keep your older girl with you at night, for example if she is teething or sick.

Whenever you do decide that you want to end the co-sleeping, the process for doing that is straightforward, and involves gently and slowly weaning her off your physical presence and support to get to sleep.

Establishing a really consistent, and stable bedtime routine will help with this process. So, do try to get in a habit of getting her ready for bed, including changing, bathing, story time, prayers and so on, at the same time, and in the same way each evening.

Consistency and habit makes her world predictable and predictability tends to reduce anxiety and distress. So the more settled and habitual things are, the easier it will be for her.

The first steps in moving away from co-sleeping will be settling her in to her cot, while you still stroke her head, or hold her hand. She may protest initially, but if you stay with her, remaining calm and comforting, she should settle into the new routine after some time. You then need to give her a further period (like a week or two) for this new way of settling to sleep to really become established.

Once she is used to falling asleep, lying in her cot, while you are still touching her you can move to the next stage which might entail staying beside her, but not touching her while she falls asleep. Again, she might not be happy initially, but with time and soothing tones from you, she should settle.

From that point, you are, in stages, moving further away from her as she falls asleep, ultimately reaching a point where you are just leaving her in her room and coming to check on her occasionally.

Each time you move to a new stage, you need to give it a couple of weeks before you think about moving to the next. Sometimes you have to go back a stage until she is ready to move forward again. Warmth, caring and consistency are the keys to establishing new sleep habits.

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