Archives for posts with tag: creativity

Ingredients: Any of the resources you have at home and a willing attitude to be calm, kind and firm in helping your little person adapt to the bigger world around them.

The Big Sell: Here are your options – what choice would you like to make?

Strategy:  If you were to visit my house right now, you would find a very small, apparently cute, and innocent-enough looking but deadly serious dictator. He is three in two weeks time, and has to have his favourite food, bowl, cushion, socks, toy in hand, story, TV programme, etc.. at the time of his choosing or all hell breaks loose.

I’ve agonised over experts’ opinions on the ‘correct disciplinary steps’ and concluded I prefer a ‘let’s make it through one day at a time’ approach, not expecting too much or a one-size fits all solution, reminding myself that all his control-freak obsessions are a completely normal response to the independence he is learning to develop.

However, I’ve found a few handy hints can help along the way, and they include trying to build in as much as creativity and choice as possible, whilst steering him firmly but kindly down the path that will help him grow safe and happy.

1)      Shopping: I made own Velcro-backed food options stuck to a large sheet of cardboard (as above)so my boy can be my special helper as I drive him round in a trolley or buggy.  We also sing songs at top volume and talk endlessly about any topic of his choosing, regardless of funny looks. It worked wonderfully between the ages of 2 – 4 for my eldest son and even now he says “I miss doing the food shopping with you!”

2)     Clothes: in my book, this one isn’t worth fighting over. My two sons have chosen to leave the house in the most bizarre, weather-inappropriate outfits you can imagine – bow ties with Bermuda shorts for example – but at least they are happy and, hey, it makes strangers smile!

3)     Role-play: once safe in the home, I encourage him to engage in as much adult-modelled role-play as I can, helping with ‘fixing’, ‘washing up’, ‘bathing dollies’, etc… including him as much as I can in the family routines in a positive way. For instance, I couldn’t understand why my son didn’t want to go on his potty in the corner of the living room (so he had enough time to reach it) until I realised he wanted it upstairs in the toilet where everyone else goes.

4)     Potty training: And while we’re on the subject of potty training, for my eldest I made a ‘social story’ by stapling together some blank pages and writing out the easy steps he needed to achieve, and the effects his actions would have on those around him. E.g. X pulls his trousers down and sits on the potty – Mummy is so proud! … X washes his hands with the soap – it is fun! You can include photos or little pictures of each step to make it more visually stimulating. (Note: these are often used in teaching children with Autism – see this link:

5)     Food: if you have a fussy eater like I do (and like I was when I was little!) this can be a major battle ground. I’ve found the only way the Dictator and I can reach a compromise is for me to cook him foods which I know are ‘ok’ (so no asking for extraordinary feats of bravery) but contain at least some semblance of a balanced diet (often hidden – home-made veggie soup or carrot grated on homemade pizza) and then I firmly in a calm quiet voice insist that this is all there is to eat until it is finished. I don’t shout or get angry, but I also don’t back down or offer any pudding until at least 75% of it is gone. Then he can have his own choice from an easy to reach cupboard filled with healthy cereal bars, fruit bars and fruit pots. He is allowed special treats of homemade cupcakes / cookies (often packed out with porridge oats to fill tummies) after meals are done if still hungry. Outside of main meals times I try not to let him fill up on snacks, and also have learnt when his natural food times and give him his biggest meals then. I’m sure some experts would disagree with this and in an ideal world there would be no perception of ‘yummy’ or ‘yucky’ foods (in his words), but I have had to find a middle ground. Plus I always give him vitamins to supplement his diet and don’t expect the same behaviour when he’s anxious in other people’s houses!

6)     Messy play for tactile defensive children: often fussy eaters are also ‘tactile defensive’, meaning they don’t like mess, gunk, goo, anything that feels strange or unpredictable, such as sand, runny sauces, sticky play dough. I’m not having any of this in my household! When my youngest started freaking out on the beach, I made him a large sand box in our back garden and filled it with diggers, dinosaur bones and other treasures. I regularly make batches of homemade play and modelling dough of a variety of stickiness. You can also fill trays with jelly, soil, porridge oats, rice, flour, paint, etc.. and let them experiment with getting their hands, toy cars, potato prints messy and learning that this will not harm them. When summer started last year and we first went out barefoot, he also freaked out about the ants and started trying to climb up my body! This only lasted a week as we started insect-collecting together, putting them in matchboxes and gradually letting them run over our hands, he began to see them as our friends, pointing our daddies, mummies and babies according to size. [If your child goes to playgroup for a few hours, you can try to leave a few trays with activities in tempting spots when they come home (ready with some kitchen roll for mishaps!) and just leave them to it, to give no added pressure.]

The verdict:

This age can be a real challenge, and I have produced two sons who are very vocal about what they want (and don’t want) in life, which has been difficult at times. The hardest moments come from older generations who are sometimes (but not always) liable to say things like “Well, we didn’t stand for that in my day!” which is particularly unhelpful mid-public tantrum. Occasionally we’ve had to shut them in their room for a short time (a minute for every year of their life) to “calm down”, but I rarely use naughty steps or reward charts. I’ve found its far better to take a preventative approach by prioritising their choices and giving positive praise where possible, and establishing a dialogue which encourages useful language to name the big feelings they are discovering for the first time. For instance, we use a lot of puppet and drama play which explores feelings and behaviours, such as sad / happy / angry, kind / unkind, helpful / unhelpful – meaning both parties are less likely to fall  back on words, such as naughty /  stupid which I worry will lower their self-esteem and attach harmful labels.

For more information on a liberal approach see this article reported this week about a Montessori approach:

I also think it’s been important for me to establish realistic expectations for my children and myself in stressful situations. Second time round, I don’t expect the terrible two’s to last for two weeks (they lasted for about 3 years with my first son), don’t expect a naughty step to be a cure-all, and don’t expect to always get it right. Instead I aim for the ‘good enough’ parenting model, in which we both try to do better tomorrow and give myself treats at the end of a hard day to ‘thank myself’ even if my child isn’t ready to thank me yet for my tolerance and patience. And I definitely don’t enter into competitions with other mums about whose child is best behaved – I use my friendships as a sounding board for the hardest bits and with relief find out no one else’s child is perfect either.

When all else fails, I remind myself that nothing frightens me more than an overly passive child, afraid to speak out in company and nervous about making their own suggestions. By establishing respect through offering choices and rewarding for kind, helpful and considerate behaviours, I believe children develop a solid sense of right and wrong and respectful relationships with others.

Catchphrase: From my ‘tactile defensive’ dictator yesterday morning: “Mummy, your car’s all messy!”

Me: “Oh dear, do I need to tidy it up?”

Him: “Yes”

Me:“Oh I’m sorry I don’t meet your exacting standards, my lovely boy. Shall we do it together this weekend?!”

Left wanting more?

So many wonderful books for this age group to choose from:

  • You Choose, by Nick Sharratt & Pippa Goodhart, published by Corgi Children
  • I want my potty! (and all the Little Princess books) by Tony Ross, published by Harper Collins
  • I have feelings! By Jana Novotny Hunter, published by Myriad Books
  • I feel Angry / I feel Frightened, by Brian Moses, published by Wayland
  • Hello Dudley / You’re Not So Scary Sid, Puppet books by Sam Lloyd, published by Templar
  • All the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes, published by Red Fox

Ingredients: One hand-picked cuddly toy that takes on monumental significance for your child. This cannot be prescribed by any adult and the bond cannot be severed once established. For my children, a very worn bear and a very straggly elephant have become the lynch-pin of our family lives

The Big Sell: You can’t sell this one – children will either find (what I call) a ‘special love’ or they won’t. However, I don’t think it’s coincidence that both my boys ‘attached’ to their chosen toy at precisely the age they gave up breast-feeding, and simultaneously started sleeping through the night, reassured by their new companion. Things can be helped along the way however, by imbuing the toy with your own mummy smell (sleep with it for a couple of nights or wrap it in your nightie) and some drips of milk to make it a little stinky. This is, of course, a classic example of a ‘transference object’ and helped make a strange unfamiliar world increasingly safe as they travelled the pathway of my children’s development hand in paw.

Strategy: If your child happens to choose a ‘special love’ there are many uses this toy can play in the child’s development. Below I will name only a few examples of how ‘Horace’ the bear and ‘Happy’ the elephant have enhanced my children’s lives.

  1. Getting dressed and potty-training: as both boys built independence skills between the ages of 2 – 3 their cuddly functioned as a pupil to learn alongside them; always less competent than their child companion, Horace or Happy would experiment with sitting on the potty headfirst, wearing trousers on ears, tying shoelaces, etc.. thus making the whole process quite hilarious and allowing the child to take the lead.
  2. Getting to know our community: dragged along on walks to the library, hairdresser, dentist, news agent, it wasn’t long before Horace and Happy were well known in our town, and gave my children an excuse to practice talking to adults overcoming shyness. Both children have chosen voices that they use to speak as Happy and Horace, which they can often find even if they can’t find their own.
  3. Behavioural stumbling blocks: when going through tough times – the arrival of a new sibling, separation at pre-school, tears & tantrums – these raggedy heroes bore the brunt. They have been punch-bags, night watchmen and sick bed nurses. As a parent it is particularly useful for me to tackle jealousy or attention-seeking behaviour by exploring the issue through the cuddly, explaining to the child that I’ve noticed Horace has been a bit challenging recently – what do they think he is feeling? Shall we put Happy on the bottom step until he has calmed down and can talk nicely? You don’t feel like reading your school book – why not teach Horace how to read the first page, then maybe Mummy will help him to read the rest to you?
  4. Battling the war of materialism! When money gets tight it is useful to have a special toy that demonstrates the power of devotion and loyalty. When we were waiting in the late night pharmacy the other day, ill and bedraggled, we held our special loves up against all the new fluffy toys on the shelves and noticed how different they looked. Why did they look different? Because we could see the love all over them, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. On bored days, we have made new hats, costumes, masks for our old favourites, rather than trading in old for new.
  5. The power of imaginative thought: one of my most powerful childhood memories was approaching my Mum when she was baking in the kitchen and saying in an important voice that I had just remembered it was Belinda the Bunny’s birthday – we needed to throw an urgent party! My Mum would never say ‘Not now’ but react in deadly seriousness that she would immediately fill small bowls with party food and sandwiches, I could even help her make a cake. The gift that this selfless act taught me was that my creativity was important, my spontaneity was valued, my magical world had the potency to be real to another – it gave me my artistic centre and made me feel capable of anything.

The Verdict:

I cannot imagine how my children could have survived their childhood without these beloved comrades. Sometimes my eldest experiments with testing his love for his cuddly by saying “But Horace, you’re only a toy!” to which I respond (in Horace’s voice) “How dare you! I’m not only a toy! I am a real bear with real feelings and I really love you and will do forever!” and my son joyously throws his arms around his bear, and says “I know you are – I was only teasing!” Compassion, companionship, and a rich imagination have grown from the strength of this bond. Having an alter-ego as you grow gives you the chance to experiment with right and wrong, taking the leap whilst holding hands with someone.

Catchphrase: Can we take Horace and Happy too? Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without them.

Left wanting more?

If your child is bored they can make a song, a book, a painting, a costume, decorate a cake for their special toy. Allow your child to shine in showing how they have learnt to care for another, feeling the warmth of giving rather than receiving, and then you will always be able to tell your child how they are so caring and kind.

 Ingredients: Toys you already own (dinosaurs, playmobile, play dough, cars / trains, arts & crafts leftovers, wrapping paper, throws, cushions, etc…) , all the time you can give, freedom to make mess and have fun for ages 0 – 90.

The Big Sell: Never mind new presents under the tree, the thing most kids want this Christmas is you, your inspiration and focus on play time as a family – so ransack the toy boxes and get busy!

Strategy: Clear a carpet space or table and use the toys most families usually have to create the MOTHER OF ALL FAMILY GAMES! Some ideas include:

Dino Valley

Transform a rug into a landscape using a shallow tray or bowl filled with warm water for a lake on a towel, cushions for hills covered in throws, sand or moon sand in a shallow tray for a desert, plasticine / play dough trees and all the dinosaur toys / play mobile people with jeep, to create Jurassic Park in your own living room.

Towering Inferno  (or any 70’s style disaster movie!)

Combine lego, drawbridge made from string/ wood off-cuts (see Ball of String blog post), playmobile, toy garage & other sundry buildings, and scrunched red tissue paper (for flames) left from presents to create a disaster movie better than any ITV3 re-run. The kids get to pick which Playmobile men play the Jeremy Irons / Sean Connery / Kurt Russell etc… baddies and goodies, perhaps employing your best attempt at impersonating the accents for a giggle? Make a bomb from a matchbox to be placed in a central spot that the goodies have to disable before the egg timer pings!

Constructions with Play Dough

I don’t know about you but I get terribly bored with repetitively making sausage shapes or using cut out shapes with Play dough. For a new approach, cut play dough into small brick shapes and build your own wall or castle. Combine with a toy crane with added play dough wrecking ball to knock down and re-build.

Or flatten long thin sausages of play dough to make networks of roads or train tracks round the dining room table. Combine with your Thomas the Tank Engine or Postman Pat toys to create village life – run play dough roads over folded tea towels to make bridges and cardboard rolls for tunnel, or even attempt a full rollercoaster – be as ambitious as possible!

The Verdict: This is the kind of play which provides unforgettable family memories – get relatives staying for the holidays involved too and everyone regresses into a united fantasy world. The games provide an antidote to the chocolate-fuelled, present overkill, post-Christmas blues that hit any time from Boxing Day onwards. Every year I promise not to buy the kids so much ‘stuff’ and every year I fall prey to the commercial tsunami, before realising too late that it’s these imaginative “let’s see how many toys we can use in one game” activities that really make us genuinely happy and bring us all together again.

Catchphrase: Run, run for your lives – T-Rex is coming from under the Christmas tree!!!

Left wanting more?

Struggling to get the kids to write thank you notes to generous relatives? Why not bump their heads together to write a bespoke Christmas thank you poem or song and email round a short recording of them in full recital to one and all?!

Ingredients: A talkative child/children combined with a bored Sunday afternoon / walk to school / car journey to fill up.

The Big Sell:  Let’s take turns telling a story and see where it takes us…

Strategy:        Old reliable favourite in our family that I consider far less mind-numbing than I-Spy.

I take turns telling a story with child / children such as:

“Once upon a time there was a frog called Gerald who really wanted to fly… (your turn)”

“… so he climbed up a tree and jumped off but luckily was rescued by a passing sparrow called Brenda who took him back to her nest and tried to eat him (your turn)”

“… but he escaped and decided to follow plan B by strapping himself to a passing ladybird….” etc…

The Verdict: My son now often asks if we can play this game either if he is bored stiff or wants a bit of one to one quality time. The beauty is not only that it makes turn-taking fun (you really can’t wait to  hear what the other person is going to come up with!) but it teaches imaginative story-telling and broad vocabulary by stealth; the more you use your turns to add twists, turns, humour or tragedy, the greater the landscape of your child’s imagination. Of course, it works particularly well for boosting your child’s self esteem if you make them / their teddy / their siblings, the main protagonists / heroes / heroines of the tale. When I first started playing this game my son would tend towards more conventional plot lines which came to a close quite quickly, or would say little and ask me to take longer turns. However, as his confidence grew he took on more of the story with increasingly adventurous twists and is now an excellently eccentric story teller and I barely get a word in edgeways! You can’t really go wrong with this one!

Catchphrase: “Another one! Another one! Can I start this time?”

Left wanting more?

  • If you want a drawing version of this game, try using a piece of paper to take it in turns to draw the face, chest, tummy, hips, legs, feet of an imaginary person or creature without the other person seeing, folding over each section. When you open up the page you can see what wonderfully strange individual you have made together.
  • You could develop a particularly successful stepping stone story into a written version by asking your child to make it into a book or illustrating text you have typed out on the computer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ingredients: Any old shelf or plank of wood, white paint to prime, tester pots of paint / acyrlics, paintbrushes

The Big Sell: Let’s make a totem-pole painting of our favourite place!

Strategy:        OK, I did this over the summer with my eldest who is already a confident creator, so some children may need to build up to this. We went to visit the Open Houses event (see if they have something similar in your area and were inspired to have a go ourselves. Strapped for cash, I trawled the loft and found an old shelf and tester paint pots. On the first evening I divided and painted the shelf in thirds in three horizontal stripes (light blue for the sky, yellow for the beach, dark blue for the sea). The next day I presented the idea to the eldest and we sketched out images on the background (his drawings were much better than mine!). That evening I painted in his images, left them to dry and then finished off round the edges with a black marker and a final coat of varnish.

The Verdict: Eldest son was very impressed when presented with the professionalism of the final artwork. It’s an idea I’ve been using with him since he was small whereby he starts an image and I finish it. I think you can strike a delicate balance here – it’s not about improving but enhancing the original creation. When he was much younger (age 2 – 3) and still at the stages of joyfully creating splashes of paint I would sometimes keep his artwork and, when dry, turn a splodge into an aeroplane, face etc… and show him the wonderful images I had seen in his artwork. This led into discussions (on his level) about the subjective nature of art and how everyone sees different things in a painting (I’ll follow this up in a future blog about abstract art and how children can find this much more accessible than you’d expect). This was the start of the ‘dialogue’ which now accompanies our collaborative artwork together. You can tailor the extent to which you intervene to each child – my son tends to get bored after the initial sketching stage (as in this activity) and is happy to let me ‘colour it in’, another child may request more control of the whole process.

The totem pole landscape now lives proudly in our dining room!

Catchphrase: “Wow, did you do that?!” (visitors comments)

Left wanting more?

  • Add some heavy-duty garden furniture varnish and you can plant your artwork in a flower bed or screw to a garden fence.
  • Discussions about artistic cultural references can accompany this process. Look for other totem pole / Native American art on the web, or discuss the difference between a landscape and portrait.