All is peaceful in a Dubai park. Neat rows of children patiently line up to use the swings. An angelic voice cuts through the air as a girl with pigtails sings songs about butterflies sitting on flowers. There is laughter and harmony from bright-eyed and smiling parents who look on with adoration at their perfect creations. This is what family life is all about. Then your lot arrives.
Within a minute sandwiches are scattered, knees are grazed, war cries have been hollered and the other parents are packing up picnics before your, suddenly feral, youngest takes the sobbing angelic songstress hostage on the climbing frame.Actually, THAT is what family life is all about.But don’t worry. All parents have been there. You know the kid singing the song about butterflies? We saw her having a full-on-shoes-kicked-off-and-arms-wrapped-around-a-stranger’s-leg-meltdown of a tantrum at a supermarket checkout last week.
This parenting lark is all about making the most of the best moments of family life and trying to minimise the rough times in between. Making your children happy, healthy and comfortable and giving them a solid start in life, while also making sure mum and dad survive as well.
This article doesn’t really have 25 secrets of happy families, because, you know what, there aren’t any. What we do have, however, is 25 pieces of good advice. Compiled by the Time Out Kids editorial team with the help of many UAE experts we are sure it will help start 2016 in a positive way. If you do discover a secret – let us know.
Dance together as often as you can: “Dance is an excellent way of spending time together, appreciating music and burning energy. There is nothing like having the music on and everyone laughing and dancing around. It inevitably ends up in a dance-off between kids and Mummy and Daddy.”Lisa Marshall, Performing Arts Principal, Diverse Choreography. For more information on taking your kids dancing to the next step call 04 330 7338.
Enjoy family meal times: “Eating as a family at least once a day has a lot of benefits, especially when it comes to talking and bonding. Many families eat at different times so it is important to make an effort and eat a meal out every now and then. It’s good to try different kinds of food, but also to have longer conversations as meals at restaurants usually last longer than ones you have at home.” Dareen Charafeddine owner of BookMunch, Time Out Kids’ Best Family Cafè of 2015. Get more information at www.bookmunchcafe.com (04 885 3799).
Get a good night’s sleep: “Sleep is a basic need for both parents and their babies. Babies who sleep better, grow and feed better and learn skills faster. Parents who are sleep deprived at night find it more difficult to cope during the day, they have shorter attention spans and react to problems inappropriately. They tend to do less with their small babies and as such the babies tend to cry for attention more, which then makes the sleep deprivation harder to deal with. Families that all sleep well are more functional than those with sleep disruptions.” Cecile de Scally, founder of Baby Senses. For more information see www.babysenses/me (04 558 7307). choose healthy meals: “When it comes to feeding your family, try to choose healthy options as often as you can. There’s no better time than January to shake-up what your family is eating. Living a happy and healthy lifestyle is all about balance. As long as treats are in moderation and families are hitting their five-a-day target, then they’re on track to eating well for 2016.” Annabel Karmel, children’s food expert. www.annabelkarmel.com.
Have family movie nights: “There are few things as magical as being able to see an old favourite through new eyes, so why not relive your youth and enrich theirs at the same time? Everyone’s life is better for having Steven Spielberg in it, so dig out E.T. and watch their wonderment as Elliott and his friends’ BMXs soar high into the air. Movies are the gateway to dreams. Make your kids’ ones the most stunningly-shot on the planet.” Mark Dinning, Time Out Dubai editor and massive movie buff. See www.timeoutdubai.com for movie timings.
Healthy bodies for healthy minds: “From an early age, children are sometimes pressured into being told they are great at sports and others great in academics. But every kid, regardless of innate skills, can benefit from the non-competitive spirit of yoga, which cultivates their focus, concentration, happiness, confidence and deep relaxing breathing techniques which can turn to a calmer, more confident and happy household.” Noura El-Imam, founder of Yogalates Bliss. For information about GroovyKids Yoga contact www.yogalatesblissdubai.com (050 328 9642).
Don’t forget the discipline: “Positive discipline encourages children to think for themselves and become more responsible and respectful. Classes teach long-term parenting skills using non-punitive, respectful methods that incorporate kindness and firmness, help families get to the core of their child’s misbehaviour, and bring joy, awareness and fulfilment to parents and children.” Carmen Benton, parenting educator at Lifeworks Dubai. Get more information on parenting classes at www.counsellingdubai.com (04 394 2464).
Turn off the tech: “In the name of connecting through media and electronics, we have become more disconnected than ever. There is nothing that can replace the human touch or a heart-to-heart moment. Turn off the electronics and face the person you love, feel them as they speak – it will be good for your health and theirs, and it will result in a closer relationship.” Dr. Saliha Afridi, managing director of LightHouse Arabia. For more information on how a psychologist can help you identify and resolve mental health issues in your family see www.lighthousearabia.com (04 380 9298).
Sing to each other: “It has been claimed that singing is the only exercise that utilizes all your cerebral facilities at one time. Apart from that, singing takes you on a magic carpet ride. You can lose yourself on wings of fancy, whilst expressing your innermost emotions and those of famous composers.” Sara Bardakji, marketing manager, Impact Music and Performing Arts Centre, www.impactcentres.com (04 361 5002).
Make a financial plan: “In life, things happen. That’s why it’s important to be prepared. As boring as it sounds, having a financial plan is key to this – and saving is your first step. ‘Save for a rainy day’ is one of the best pieces of financial advice you’ll ever hear. Simple as it sounds, the act of saving will put your mind at rest – even when things do happen. Rebecca Steele, head of marketing at AES International. To arrange an appointment to speak to a financial planner contact www.aesinternational.com (04 450 2500).
The magic of imagination: “iPads, phones and game devices have taken over a generation and children are not able to be creative and use their imaginations. Most four to six year olds think magically in everyday life, enabling them to see problems from different perspectives. I suggest that books and videos about magic such as Harry Potter might serve to expand children’s imagination and help them to think more creatively... or just bring them to one of my shows.” Magic Phil, children’s entertainer. For more information see www.hatsmagic.co.uk (052 865 0530).
Adopt a family pet: “Have you ever wondered how to explain to your kids what it is like to be in your shoes? Adopt a family pet and teach your kids to care, to love and nurture. Teach them how to be future parents. Adopting a pet will complete your family.” Kay Ivanova, founder 38 Smiles. For more information on pet adoption contact www.38smiles.com.
Communicate your problems: “While most children feel insecure and unworthy in the presence of a sibling, parents assume that their love is seen as fair by their children. Until it is recognised as a lack of communication, much later in childhood or teen years. By then, it oscillates between aggressiveness and avoidance, creating emotional distance and painful attachments in the family. An appropriate intervention by the objectivity of a therapist, helps to prevent scarred relationships in the family. It facilitates the understanding that we are all perceptually different from one another.” Sherry Katawala, Counsellor and Holistic Therapist at Illuminations Well-Being Centre. JLT.
For more information visit www.illuminations.ae (800 4325).
Time Out Kids recommends
Laugh off the small stuff: There is going to be poo, there are going to be lost toys and there will certainly be burps, bumps and dribbles. Don’t stress. See the funny side in every situation and fill your home with the sounds of laughter. The Clowns Who Care and Dubomedy performers offer comedy training for kids and adults who want to channel their funny side more often.
Visit www.dubomedy.com (050 927 3621).
Be interested in kids’ stuff: It is one thing to love your children and want what is best for them, but sometimes they want you to be interested in them as well. That means listening to descriptions of Pokemon, having conversations about Minecraft and listening to their 1D albums sometimes. No matter how much you want to slap Pikachu, don’t understand Minecraft and despise 1D, if you are an expert in the things your children are interested in then they will want to talk to you more often and then you’ll discover more about them.
Learn to be a better parent: Raising a family in Dubai can be tough. Many expats don’t have grandparents nearby. Or siblings, other relatives and lifelong friends. It can seem, in other words, like you’re on your own and making things up as you go along. You will never do anything as difficult in your life and left to your own devices it can seem overwhelming. Classes such as the Positive Parenting Program at the Kids First Medical Centre will introduce you to easy-to-implement solutions to frequent problems. The evidence-based programs are eight-week courses aimed at helping you identify issues before they arise and give support to parents in need.
Find out more at www.kidsfirstmc.com (04 348 5437).
Do something incredible: Wake up, go to school, come home, do homework, watch TV, go to bed. Wake up, go to school, come home, do homework, watch TV, go to bed. There has to be routine in your child’s life. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for something fantastic in the family cycle of day-to-day essentials. Volunteer in UAE is a community organisation which can match individuals, organisations and, if you’re willing to put in the effort, families with fundraising groups. You and your kids could be cleaning up the desert, helping animals or working with the needy in your spare time.
Find out more at www.volunteerinuae.com.
Don’t forget date night: Your children mean everything to you, we understand that and know how exhausting it is to run a family home and maintain working relationships. But believe us when we say parents need some time together away from children once in a while. Pierchic won the Time Out Dubai’s Most Romantic Restaurant award. Just saying.
Visit www.jumeirah.com (04 366 6705).
Do homework together: Blank-eyed confusion, frustration, lost textbooks and angry quitting — and that is just from parents. No matter how long ago you left school and how little you want to see homework, the benefits of sitting down for some study time with your child should be obvious. At the very least it could give you an insight into their struggles, but it will also be great bonding time for you. Two points to remember: don’t end up doing it for them and stay calm.
Have some space and nothing time: With all the laughter, dancing, after school clubs, homework, yoga and various other activities listed in this magazine, sometimes kids just need time to relax. As long as they are safe and secure, the freedom to make their own decisions is an important part of their development.
Get some help in the house: There will only ever be 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, and it can seem there is never enough time to do basic chores, never mind volunteer to help at school. Hiring a maid or nanny for just a few hours per week will give you time for other jobs. See www.maids.ae (055 222 9800).
Always have a plan: Don’t leave long-term happiness to chance. Maybe you are the sort of person that likes to go with the flow and see where life takes you, and there is nothing wrong with that. But having a plan in place for every part of your child’s development is common sense. Start at the very beginning, so if you are either pregnant or planning to conceive speak to a doula about delivery options in the UAE. For more information on Doulas visit www.dubaidoulas.com.
Book at bedtime: The internet and, whisper it carefully, actual books are full of evidence about why bedtime stories improves parent-child bonding, encourage independent reading in kids and could even lead to better future employment prospects. A world with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Roald Dahl’s chocolate factory and J.K. Rowling’s magical schools is a place your child will remember forever, so make the memories good ones. See the kids’ book section at Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall, www.kinokuniya.com (04 434 0111).
Sit down and play together: Adults, by and large, forget how to play. But for children that is how relationships and boundaries are formed, language learned, entertainment is provided, values developed and creativity is expressed. Get down to your child’s level and play with them. Comb a doll’s hair, build a Lego castle, line up animals in a farm – whatever the game, be part of the touch-and-feel experience.
Make joint decisions: As a parent you are effectively household managers. It is your responsibility to manage the wellbeing of your family. Like any good manager you should take on feedback and listen to the family. Obviously, important decisions lie with parents but if it is an issue which will affect your child then listen to their views. Whether it be moving house, what to do at a weekend or deciding what is for tea, make children part of the conversation and communicate with them in a mature and engaging way.