1 I let my kids eat sugar-coated breakfast cereal every day.
Excuse: It’s the only cereal they’ll eat
We all know we should try to limit our sugar intake for the sake of our teeth and our waistlines. But kids are only human, and given the choice between rabbit-food muesli and a big bowl of Frosties, we know which we’d plump for – and surely it’s better to have something for breakfast than nothing at all?
Stephanie Karl, nutritionist at Dubai London Clinic (04 344 6663) says, ‘Breakfast is essential to kick-start the day and it’s a great habit to get into eating cereal, especially with milk. Cereals are often enriched with other goodies – iron, calcium and vitamins – and they are also a good mid-afternoon snack.’
But should we be concerned if they’re munching through sugary varieties every morning? ‘A varied diet is what is eaten over a week and not just what is eaten at one meal or in one day,’ says Karl. ‘Aim to widen your children’s food tastes and get them involved in shopping at the supermarket and trying new foods whenever possible. Read the label to get an idea of the sugar content and compare to other options, and make sure they clean their teeth afterwards.’
Confession: When they have snotty noses I tell them to wipe it on their sleeves
We say: gross but harmless
2 I let my five year old watch American Idol
Excuse: I want to watch it, her friends watch it, she loves it
Let’s face it, we all watch television and it’s not as if you’re plonking them down in front of The Evil Dead. Many would argue there are important life lessons to be learned from these reality shows – following your dreams, why sometimes it’s better to stick to what you’re good at, why it’s not nice to be rude and so on. And if you’re tuning in together, it could be a pleasant family bonding experience. Plus, with music programmes (we use the term loosely) you can get up and have a dance, or a giggle at some of the less tuneful moments.
‘Actually, I think it is a great way to spend some fun time with your child,’ says Dr Rajeshree Udani Singhania of Singhania Children’s Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City (04 334 1910). ‘You can follow it up with karaoke and sing-a-long CDs that are available in the shops and have your own “American Idol” game with her friends. Certainly moderation is the key and doing other interactive things with her like physical play, board games, arts and crafts etc is also important.’
3 My four year old still uses a dummy, maybe because I used to tie a muslin cloth around his face to stop it falling out
Excuse: It calms him down, keeps him quiet and helps me stay sane
Strapping a dummy into his face, while sorely tempting during those decibel-busting crying fits, is probably not advisable, but when does dummy or thumb-sucking become a problem rather than a cute comforter? Dr Agnes Roze, pediatric dentist at Dr Nicolas & Asp (04 394 7777), says, provided they stop by the time they turn five (and they won’t stop if you keep lashing the darn thing in), there shouldn’t be any long-term damage to their teeth. ‘When the adult teeth start to come through, the shape of the upper jaw should, in most cases, go back to its natural position,’ she says. ‘For both pacifiers and thumb-sucking, if they stop by the time they are five, it will be OK,’ she says.
Sucking is a basic instinct in infants, so it’s important not to try to force kids into quitting the habit too early. But by the time they are four years old, you should be encouraging them to ease off. ‘Around 50 per cent of children will give up spontaneously at about three or four years old, and many others will stop at six when they lose their front teeth and are more concerned about peer pressure,’ says Dr Roze. Start with occasional reminders to remove the thumb, and remember to be positive. Praise them for their grown-up behaviour and encourage and reward with stickers or crayons – not toffees.
4 I give my daughter chocolate when she’s having a tantrum in the supermarket
Excuse: It’s the only way I can get the shopping done without too much embarrasment
We’ve all been there, and we sympathise. Doling out punishments or, worse, shouting in public, is a nightmare. Everyone will have an opinion on whether you’re either a cruel disciplinarian or a namby pamby liberal. Either way, you can’t win, so if a little bribery and corruption means you can get out of the store with shopping and sanity intact, we’re all for it. Thankfully, childcare expert Rachel Waddilove (www.rachelsbabies.com) agrees: ‘Don’t worry if you have to buy them a sweetie or some chocolate. We’ve all done the same thing at times,’ says the author of The Toddler Book: How to Enjoy Your Growing Child. ‘Just don’t let it become a habit or she will make a fuss and expect it every time you’re out at the supermarket.’
However Helen Williams, a family counsellor and parenting educator (www.counsellingdubai.com), says if we want our kids to continue embarrassing us in public, we’re going the right way about it. ‘Isn’t it interesting how we would rather set up a habit like giving chocolate at the supermarket then let our kids perform badly in front of others?’ she says. We nod, sheepishly. ‘This habit has its roots in our own need for approval. You have taught them that every time they throw a tantrum when others are watching the reward for it is chocolate.’
Here’s what Williams says we could do instead: ‘Before you get to the supermarket, tell them that from now on you would like to reward them for good behaviour instead of bad. Give them a non-chocolate food treat before you begin shopping and reward them with your attention and conversation while you shop. Afterwards, take time to have fun and play together and tell them how happy you are with them.’
Confession: When they won’t stop fighting, I walk away and let them slug it out
We say: we don’t blame you
5 I give in and let my son have tomato ketchup with everything (even cake).
Excuse: There’s no other way he’d eat vegetables and fish
Power to you for getting him to eat fish in the first place! We’d gladly smother every meal with the stuff if they’d start to eat healthily. Nutritionist Stephanie Karl agrees, up to a point: ‘Some mums would be happy to serve up sauce along with the family meal just to ensure good food is being consumed. That’s fine. In fact, tomato sauce is a very good source of lycopene [a powerful antioxidant which may help prevent cancer and heart disease] and is often enriched with other nutrients such as vitamin C. Over the last decade, the big food firms have taken a responsible approach and now offer sauces with reduced salt and sugar to support better health. His tastes are likely to develop as he gets older, just keep an eye on the amount and make sure sauce is not replacing essential fruit and vegetables.’
Confession: I encourage them to eat the crumbs off the floor so I don’t have to sweep up
We say: at least it’ll build up their immune systems
6 I turn a blind eye when my son picks his nose and eats his bogeys
Excuse: I guess I’m just lazy
Oh dear. Where do they learn these disgusting habits? Actually, don’t answer that. Unfortunately kids develop an unhealthy fascination with bodily functions from a very early age. Bogeys, when you’re young, are quite simply the bee’s knees and something to be explored. No matter how often you plead or physically extract fingers from nostrils, a kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do. ‘We know that all children do this from time to time – usually when they are in the front row of the school nativity play! But this is not a nice habit and you need to teach your son not to do it,’ says Rachel Waddilove. ‘Help him to keep his nose clean. If you show him how to do this he will soon learn. Usually nose picking is just a phase they go through.’
Confession: I wash my daughter’s hair after she’s weed in the bath
We say: her hair’s probably glossier for it
7 I give my kids infant paracetamol before a flight or a long car journey
Excuse: They’re hyper – I can’t face the trip without it
One unnecessary teaspoon of Calpol is not going to physically harm your child, and yes, sometimes desperate times call for rather drastic measures. But we need to face facts: we’re basically drugging our kids for our own convenience.
‘If children get used to the idea of being drugged, as they get older they’re going to need more to calm them down. Kids need to learn how to cope,’ says family counsellor Helen Williams. ‘Of course our kids will feel cranky and upset by enforced stillness in the same seat. Why not just let them express these feelings, telling them that it is OK to feel cross, tired, bored and upset and that we understand completely how they feel? Encourage them to cry and express exactly how they feel about it,’ she says.
Encourage them to cry? Is she mad? But, Williams points out, kids are contrary wee beggars. ‘If you say to your child, “Don’t you dare cry”, they’ll scream the place down. If you tell them they can cry, they tend not to. After they digest the notion that they are heard and understood, focus on ways to endure this time together – talking, singing and playing games until they become sleepy. Sleep does come, and more easily for children who feel understood and listened to.’
8 I let my son, aged four, sleep in our bed
Excuse: He cries in his own bed and I need my sleep
You’ve made your bed, now everyone’s lying in it. Many kids creep into mum and dad’s room when they get scared or lonely at night, and that’s OK if everyone is getting the shuteye they need. Chances are, though, no one is. If you thoroughly enjoy the family snooze-fest, fine, but if all that kicking, prodding and kneeing is getting you down, it’s time to change, unless you want to share your bed with a hairy teenager (don’t answer that).
‘Of course he cries in his own bed,’ says Williams. ‘He’s been conditioned by you to cry so he can get into your bed. It’s a warm, cosy and loving place for him to be, isn’t it? Eventually you have to undo this wonderful habit and it could be tough on your child to be enduring sleep training as a 12 year old.’
9 I send my daughter to school when I know she’s got a cold
Excuse: She’s only slightly sick, and I have to go to work
Use your judgment on this one. If you’re talking the odd sniffle and she’s her usual perky self, strap on her rucksack and send her on her way. As Williams says, ‘We live in Dubai don’t we? If we kept our kids home every time they had a cough we may as well cancel the nursery and keep the fees ourselves.’
But in cases of fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, or if she’s really feeling rough, keep her at home. ‘There is a difference between the coughs and colds that come from living in an air-conditioned environment and knowing when our child is feeling miserable. I’d choose love over convenience any day,’ says Williams. ‘Sometimes it does pay to think about the poor teacher struggling with under-par children in an already full-on classroom and whether our generosity in sharing germs with others is a necessary act of kindness.’ Remember, you won’t be so blasé if it’s your child who’s exposed to a sick classmate.
Confession: I let them eat whipped cream straight out of the can into their mouths
We say: it’s a source of calcium
10 I let my son play on computer games for an hour after breakfast every morning
Excuse: They keep him occupied while I get things done around the house
We all know that too much time in front of the television or computer is a big parenting no-no. ‘It turns children into passive learners, ones who would rather have information handed to them rather than questioning and exploring answers for themselves,’ says Petra Arzberger, educator and owner of Kidz Inc toy store and nurseries (04 340 5059; www.kidzincdubai.com). ‘Everything happens on a screen. There is no real concept of size, touch, feel or smell involved, and there’s a tremendous barrier between practical activities and imagination.’
But, we whine, what if it’s our only chance to catch up on chores or wash our hair? ‘I think if it is only an hour and this happens just once a day, it is fine,’ says Rachel Waddilove. ‘If it enables you to get your jobs around the house done and then spend time with your son then all the better. Do make sure he is not on the computer any more than that during the day though. I find that children go through stages of being almost addicted to electronic games, so do watch out to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Maybe at weekends, don’t let him play, then it is just five mornings a week,’ she adds.
And Dr Singhania goes even further, quoting research showing the positive effects on cognitive development and learning. ‘Playing computer games is not always a bad thing. It can develop hand-eye coordination, thinking skills and concentration,’ she says. ‘The only thing one needs to be careful about is that he also plays physical games, mingles with his peers and that the computer games he plays have been properly selected by you – so no mindless violence.’