EARLY YEARS SPECIALIST, VERA WELLMAN, IS A TRAINER OF NURSERY STAFF AND AN EXPERT ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN IN THEIR EARLY YEARS, AS WELL AS MUM TO LULU, AGE TWO. SHE SHARES WHAT HER JOB HAS TAUGHT HER ABOUT BEING A PARENT…
Culturally I was always told as a child to be careful and not to do things because I would get hurt. So, from the beginning of my journey as a parent, one of the things that I have given priority to is to always encourage risk-taking. Understanding how much children are capable of, and how much potential they have, through my experience with the Reggio Emilia schools [an Italian educational approach that is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery through a self-guided curriculum], I decided to always allow my daughter, Lulu, to follow her instincts when playing (within safe boundaries). I try not to intervene with my opinion, or apprehensions, but be available to support her and scaffold when needed.
One example of this is Lulu has had a climbing wall at home since she was one and, as a result, she’s developed physical skills and confidence that you would most likely observe in older children, because she was given the opportunity to explore without restraint.
It’s very similar when she explores paint. She has always been given the opportunity to use paint as she likes. Not only on the surface and with the tools I provide, but with anything she wishes to try. And although I have to bite my tongue sometimes when I see the mess, I can see how her artistic ability to create has flourished because she is given freedom and opportunity.
I always explain expectations and consequences. Lulu is just beginning to understand them, but using a firm voice usually works. She knows when she has to do something and understands when she has full range.
Having a routine is crucial. Although some people might think my routine is too rigid, I follow a similar pattern everyday no matter what country we are in. Routine enables children to know what to expect, to learn expected behaviours and to be calm. Routine is the best solution for behavioural issues.
My parenting no-nos are: no screaming, or hitting and absolutely no shaming! Time out chairs affect children’s self-esteem. I believe in demonstrating to children that we are unhappy, or upset, by their actions, but never shaming them for their actions. We all make mistakes.
Read more: The Positive Parenting approach to discipline
I like studying and writing, so I have a couple of hours a week put aside for me to read and write, which makes me feel purposeful and fulfilled. I also like working out, so I feel like I am caring for myself physically.
Parents inhibit children’s curiosity and risk-taking from early on. I think it’s natural that we don’t want them to injure themselves, get dirty, or make a mess, but children’s ideas and impulses and motivations also deserve to be given a chance (within the right environment).
One of the biggest misconceptions that parents have about raising young children is that you can control who they are, or who they will become. When it comes to controlling a child, I think it’s impossible and we should not aim for it. Children have personalities from when they are born and we need to learn as parents how to cope with them, and how to provide routines and discipline, without crushing who they are.
Lulu’s dinnertime is normally between 5:30pm and 6pm. She has her bath by 7pm, then it’s book reading and calm time for about 20 minutes in her bedroom before lights out.
I have smacked my daughter a few times and I still feel guilty about it – and can remember the times I have done it. Parenthood often pushes us beyond our limits and, even as a professional in the field with my background, I have gotten to that point. It’s regretful – there’s no excuse for it. But I’m also a human and it’s something that I have to work on for challenging days and moments.
When I get frustrated, I try to breathe and, as long as Lulu is safe and entertained, try to distract myself from the situation. Something that helps both of us when emotions are running high is cleaning up the playroom. Organising and caring for toys brings the energy down... Lulu begins to engage in play and the tidying slows my thoughts and usually allows me to let go of frustration. I try not to get wound up when Lulu is crying, or yelling, because I have done it in the past and learnt that it makes the situation worse.
Technology is not the enemy. Don’t feel guilty as parent if you let your child use technology. We all need breaks at some point and if you need to use technology (with measure), do it without guilt.
My one piece of advice for parents is to spend as much time as you can playing with your children, reading with them and, sometimes, just observing them without interacting. Watch their amazing bodies play, move, talk – they truly are a miracle. Exercise being grateful for the good times and for the tough times. Spend time with them. Nothing will influence your child more than you and the time you spend together.
VERA’S TOP THREE WAYS TO CONNECT WITH YOUR CHILD ON A DAILY BASIS
1. Read with them and ask questions after reading, acknowledging their thoughts even if they are just beginning to speak.
2. Colouring and painting together are good ways to connect silently.
3. Role playing with dolls and toys is a great way for you to connect with your child and for them to express their feelings.
FIND OUT MORE FROM VERA
Vera offers consultations on play to help you develop understanding about your child’s development and skills to help you play with your child, while also helping you to set up play environments. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on @eydubai.
Photos by Anas Thacharpadikkal