A couple of incidents that happened some time ago made me think about this more than usual. I have had to stop and ask myself how supportive I have been of my children’s relationships, both within the family and with their friends.
With the pandemic, there has been less physical interaction with their friends due to off campus learning and social distancing. The kids have adapted fast and are ok playing with each other but there is still something missing.
With schools opening in January for face to face learning here, the kids are looking forward to seeing their other friends and planning for playdates.
Children generally make friends with those closet to them; neighbouring kids, church mates, classmates, or in extra curricular clubs such as music, swimming or gynmastic classes. When we moved away, they had to start from scratch, which was not easy as we did not know many people here, and those we did, had kids much older than them. Our immediate neighbourhood doesn’t have kids their age too, but thankfully we were lucky to meet up with some family friends who had also moved here.
One of the things I am always keen on is knowing who their friend’s parents are, and their contacts. Play dates can be arranged but no sleepovers.
Playdates are good as one gets to observe how the children are interacting with each other. It can give one an idea of what values their friends have, by how they behave when in your home, my assumption is that the other parent is doing the same (though we know this is not always the case).
Some of the ways we have been trying to support their friendships in this social distancing times is by having them invite a friend over, letting them use my phone to record voice notes for their friends, scheduled video calls, emails and even cards or notes left in class cubby holes, so their friends can pick them up when they go collect their schoolwork.
I am learning to be intentional in this; speaking to them about their friends and what they like or miss about them. I also talk about my friends, and how my friendships were at their ages. Keeping communication lines open is important, they will be more willing to speak up when things are not right and be more confident in sharing the good experiences too.
Parenting includes recognising and supporting our children as individuals. They have their own likes, preferences and dislikes, and we need to teach ourselves how to acknowledge their desires in creating social bonds for themselves as they grow. No man is an island. As adults, we take pride in our social relationships, why do we forget that our kids need it too?
Children learn from us. The pride and fun they see us enjoying in our friendships adds to that appeal for them, and they yearn to get the same recognition and enjoy their friends company. Obviously we do have to discuss boundaries, safety and respect, but let us be supportive of their positive friendships.
The kids have been home for the better part of this school year due to Covid protocols where we live. Hopefully, face to face classes will resume in January and I for one cannot wait.
It has been great having the kids learn from home, but it is not easy. From longer screen time, not being able to physically interact with their teachers and schoolmates, a larger school work load…online learning is taking a toll on everyone involved.
The kids have always carried snacks and lunch from home. This has worked well for us so far- in terms of cost, being able to know what they are consuming and it doesn’t take as much time as one might expect.
Planning ahead is the greatest tip I have for this. As a Mum, my prime concern is for them to have healthy and tasty food, but I also need to take into consideration what is easier for them to consume in school; what is not time or labour intensive for me, we and will go well with the main family meal plan.
When my eldest child started carrying food from home, I worried she might not like what I have packed, so I decided to include her in the planning process. This has been working well for us so far.
Here are some tips in no order of importance:-
Focus on healthy, colourful, tasty food, that is easy to pack and keep. We do many cold meals, though the kids can warm from school, but cold lunches are great in this Kampala weather, they are quick to eat and clean up. No soup spills and the like.
Have a variety of meal options. I usually have 10-15 main meal ideas the kids like and approve, so I plan their meal choices around those options.
Include the children in planning for their meals. What would they like to carry? You can make a plan with them (keeping in mind the main family meal plan), so you are sure of less food wastage, they will eat what they chose and like, and you have less labour in shopping and prepping.
Make what you can ahead, if you can peel and chop or boil earlier it becomes easier to assemble in the morning.
Involve the children in packing the snacks and lunches too. My kids have become so good at this, I am really proud of them. Since they know what is on their menu, it is easy for them to pack what they are carrying for the day. For example, Fridays is a day for fries and a kachumbari salad for lunch. The kids are quite firm on this, but flexible enough on me to make plantain, green banana or even sweet potato fries, instead of the normal Irish potato ones.
Partitioned lunch boxes are a great option. One is able to separate the fruits and veggies, or main meal and salad. And I am also able to portion according to how much I know each kid is able to eat.
In terms of cost and nutrition. Fruits are a necessary snack. For this, I always put what they like and a fruit that is in season at the moment. For example, there are plenty of mangoes available at the moment, so their price is lower than other fruits not easily available at the moment.
Uganda’s great weather ensures we have plenty of sweet fruits available year round, so homemade juices are a great option too with the passion fruits and oranges that are easily available.
Basics for me in their bags are a bottle of drinking water, a small bottle of juice or flavoured milk, fruits and a healthy meal and snack. For example, a snack box for break will include a small sweet banana, popcorn, a muffin and some nuts. Popcorn is easy to make from home and doesn’t take too much time. Lunch can be rice balls, a simple salad and the fruit option can be grapes (sliced vertically), pineapple slices, or apple slices with some peanut butter on them.
Do not forget to pack some serviettes (paper towels) and cutlery for them. IKEA and many supermarkets have hardy plastic or melamine ones so you can keep your silverware safe. LOL.
Family main meal leftovers are also great for their lunchboxes. Leftover pasta makes a great pasta salad with some added veggies, tuna and mayo or yoghurt dressing.
Leftover steamed rice is great for rice balls, or fried rice which can be had warm or cold. Having canned tuna, chickpeas, sweetcorn and quinoa in the pantry is great to add to salads and sandwiches.
Pancakes can be spread with jam, Nutella or peanut butter to make them more interesting and sweeter for the kids. Leftover veggies are great for savoury muffins, sweetcorn, zucchini and cheese make great options for this.
Other food options we like are :-
Salads- potato salad, pasta or quinoa salads are great with added cold meats such as tuna or leftover chicken. Veggies to bulk them can include chickpeas, sweetcorn, carrots, cucumber, red cabbage, beetroot, or even roasted zucchini and eggplant.
Fries or potato wedges. These could be sweet potato fries, green banana cutlets, plantain or yam fries.
Beef kebabs with a yoghurt sauce.
Orzo pasta is a fave here and can be used to bulk up a lentil salad.
Amaranth cereal bars
Pancakes both sweet and savoury. Sweet ones can be spread with their favourite spread and sweetened with fruit. Savoury crepes work well with a veggie and cheese filling.
Leftover chapati can make wraps of quesadillas, even frittatas.
Rice can be a salad, or fried rice. the kids also love beetroot pilau and celery rice which they can warm at school if they want to.
Carrots, cucumbers, celery stalks are great as a side salad with a small yoghurt sauce.
Quickbreads and muffins; banana bread, chocolate muffins, cheese and herb rolls are great options too.
Using what you have on hand and that which is easily available makes your work so much easier as a Mom.
Other tips to help the school mornings and school runs easier are:-
Having a good sleep routine. It is important for both you and the children to have a good night’s rest. Especially the kids who are still growing and need to let their minds and bodies rest and replenish lost energy. Having set times for bed and waking up is great for this.
Be prepared. Be stocked up on essentials to make mornings move faster. If you have to stop at the store on your way to drop them, chances are your kids will be late for school.
Have a morning routine for the family. Not a strict military style one, but a basic one that you and your family members have discussed and agreed upon. Simple ones like making beds immediately they get up, breakfast then shower and brush their teeth, oil themselves and dressed up work. This is how we teach our children independence, decision making and basic life skills.
Pack ahead for co- curricular activities. Sports and swimming gear can be packed the night ahead. Imagine looking for a swimming costume in the morning when they need to be out the door? it leaves everyone frazzled and not a good way to start the day.
An evening routine is great too. Once they get home from school, what is the first thing they do? When I pick them I always ask them to check if they have all their stuff with them. Once home, it is shower, a bit of play and tea time, homework then they can play some more before dinner is ready. Do not let them get way with dumping their shoes and bags at the door. I am firm on this. As messes such as these will end up with someone tripping on them and getting hurt, and also not teaching them how to be responsible for their things.
Check their schoolwork and let them also pack the books and stationery supplies before they go to bed once they are done with their homework; less chance of forgetting their homework at home or diaries.
Always keep the kids involved. Listen to them, talk to them, discuss with them what is going on in their school life. It makes them feel heard and seen and improves their self esteem.
As a parent, I am the adult and should lead by example. The kids being late is not their fault, it is mine if I did not take the time to ensure they are well prepared for the day ahead.
Let me also add that there is no perfect parent. We are all trying to do the best we can.
I will not lie and say I have all this down pat. No! I am still learning and I do drop the ball from time to time. However I cannot emphasize enough how much being organised has saved me time, money, energy.
Sure it’s easy for me to say do this and you will all be a calm, happy family. But as any parent will tell you, there are no guarantees. We can make the effort nevertheless. Nobody likes yelling or being yelled at in the morning to “hurry up!” And being more organized will reduce those frazzled mornings, don’t you think?
There is a lot that can be said, but I came across this brief version I had jotted down years ago and thought I would share.
Parenting is hard, and we are all raising our children differently. These pointers are just some things I learnt over the years, and still learning as we apply them raising our children. I ask myself these questions on a daily basis on this journey that has no perfect manual. I am no perfect parent, nobody is, but we are all trying to do our best right?
Once you get a child, you know your reason for living has changed. You are now conscious of being the provider to a little helpless human, till the time they can fend for themselves. How prepared are we for this?
Keep in mind, humans are totally helpless when young, the child cannot provide shelter or feed or cloth itself, it is up to us the parents to do it.
The first seven years are said to be the most critical in setting the foundation for the kind of adult a child will grow to become. How are we fulfilling this provision role to ensure we set a firm and stable standard?
Parenting is not just paying the bills and ensuring the child is fed. Provision of basics is not enough.
Are we available when it comes to our children? Are we easily accessible to them or are they to be neither seen nor heard?
Do we look them in the eye when they speak to us, or are we buried in our phones, laptops and tv screens?
Are we approachable, or do they fear us?
Do we listen to them or just talk at them?
Obviously, boundaries and respect are important, but we should not let them fear to come to us. We are all they have in a cruel world, if they cannot turn to us and trust us, who can they trust?
It is not enough to just provide as a parent, we need to be responsible for and to our children.
How quick are we to respond to their needs? (Including young babies).
I do not mean we should drop everything and centre our lives around them, but we do need to be responsive to their needs and teach them patience too.
When playing and they get frustrated, how do we teach them coping strategies? Do we demean them or do we help them understand that it is normal to get frustrated and anxious at times.
If it is about something they want; talking to them about the difference between wants and needs, will help in this.
I also learnt something the other day about looking for opportunities to say yes to their wants, as per our resources and dependent on what it is they need. “Yes, you can have that toy, but for your birthday, or special occasion”, instead of an outright “No!”
Children learn more by what they see, than what we tell them. Are we responsible human beings in our personal lives?
How can we expect our children to learn responsibility when they see us shirk ours in various ways; Escaping work early, lying to get out of family commitments, e.t.c. They see all this.
Let us lead by example.
We should strive to encourage our children at all times. Through their successes and failures.
It also doesn’t hurt to carefully steer them towards the vision you have for them, and encourage them accordingly.
This is tricky and it is easy to steer them towards our failed dreams; visions we had for ourselves and impose (read force) them to actualise them. Let us not do that.
Ask them what their vision is, and guide them accordingly, we know our children; their strengths, weaknesses, talents and that they like. That knowledge will inform us on how best to encourage them.
Also let’s not compare our children to others. It is so easy to do this, but let us not. Comparison is the thief of joy. Do not be the one making your child miserable because they are not as good as the Joneses’ seemingly perfect child, or not doing things as well as their sibling. Just don’t. It inflicts wounds that fester inside and damage their self confidence and self worth.
Encouragement and nurturing go hand in hand. As parents we must try to be dream builders not dream crushers.
Is your child talented? Encourage and nurture that talent but! there is a big “but” here – keep in mind they are still children. And we should still let them be children.
Let us take care of them, be protective of what we expose them too.
This is easier said than done, as we might also end up being too protective. It is a delicate balance of allowing them to explore; but still remain within our sights.
As parents, we will drop the ball many times. Let us not be too hard on ourselves. We can strive to not give up, delegate our role or neglect it as the sole providers and nurturers of these precious children, no matter how difficult it will get at times.
We should keep offering direction, guidance, and discipline. We are their first teachers. Language, values, manners, how they talk and how they think, is up to how we train them.
Guiding them through each milestone is not an easy task, and many are the times we will ask ourselves what we signed up for and if we can hack it. We can and will hack this parenting thing but we have to be intentional in steering them the right way.
Leading by example, listening to them, correcting them, teaching them with love and patience the difference between right and wrong.
Training also includes basic body hygiene and how they conduct themselves in private and public. Toilet manners, table manners, making their beds, brushing their teeth, cleaning up after themselves, respecting authority and elders, proper communication. “Excuse me,” “pardon me,” “please,” “thank you,” “you are welcome,” ” sorry”, how to be safe, money sense, and many more.
We are the ones to teach them all this. Not the nanny, not the daycare provider, not the teacher, we the parents are the ones to do this.
There are age appropriate ways we can impart that knowledge to them as well as many teachable moments in our daily lives that we can use to do it.
Parenting is not an easy task, but with knowledge and guidance, and keeping a ‘village’ aka support system around us, that is respectful and shares our values, we will become more confident and feel less alone when navigating this parenting life.
What are some of your best parenting tips? Please share in the comment section.
My daughter has a lot of affection for one of the dogs. Both kids love all the dogs but there seems to be an extra special bond when it comes to this specific dog. Anatalina is her name and she is a playful and delightful dog that loves human attention.
This girl knows all there is to know about this specific dog. She knows its age, what it likes and is able to tell whether it is feeling good or a bit low. What the different barks and whines mean, even how to calm the dog down sometimes. I have never seen such an intense bond between a child and an animal up close. It is something special to watch.
Growing up, not many people kept indoor pets where we lived. Even now, many people keep dogs as a security measure so they are usually built for kennels outside, and let out at night to deter intruders. Getting the kids indoor pets was not anything we took seriously. Back in Nairobi we lived in a homestead with cows, pigs, rabbits and chickens and they helped out in feeding and caring for them, but we do not have deep emotional attachments as compared to keeping a little chihuahua or pet parrot, nope.
We did have a pair of love birds once some years ago…for a day or two, then they disappeared and no, it was not my fault. LOL! Even cats are out of the question for us. Animals live outside, we live inside, that is my rule and I like it that way.
When we found out we would live with the dogs here, I was obviously apprehensive but the kids and the dogs get along just fine.
Anatalina always barks happily when she senses the kids leaving for school or when they are getting in back later in the day. She has this special whine she lets out that can be really insistent and only calms down when my daughter goes to her side of the garden and pats her down.
My daughter always checks to know when the Vet is coming to check on the dogs and watches him treat the dogs as she asks why they are being given specific meds or vitamins. There is a time she cried when Anatalina was not feeling well, and could not bear to see the dog being injected.
Seeing her interact with the dog has made me learn a few things too, and made me understand a bit on why kids love animals, in this case dogs, so much.
Dogs are known to be loyal, affectionate creatures. Probably why they are known as ‘man’s best friend.’ Dogs offer companionship, loyalty and understanding. No matter how lousy you are feeling, the sight of your dog’s delight to see you will lift your spirits. Dogs are no longer just helping us to keep safe, their presence in our lives has health benefits too. Playing with them, walking with them, stroking them helps keep us active and happy. Dog owners are actually more physically active than people who do not own dogs. If the kids are sad or had a bad day, they will sense it and try to cheer them up.
Dogs are great protectors, they will alert you when something is not right in or around your home. Their behaviour and the sounds they make will let you know of anything suspicious.
Which reminds me, I have a bit of a mystery I have been unable to solve in the neighbour hood. Almost everyone around us keeps dogs and these guys (the dogs, that is), always bark and howl insistently when one of our neighbours drives back in the evening. I do not understand why it is always that specific neighbour. At first it was a bit amusing but it has never stopped, and it has been over a year now since we moved in here. Every night this guy comes home just before 9.00 pm, ALL the dogs in our immediate area howl and bark like crazy for 3-5 minutes. I wonder why?
Anyway, back to why kids love dogs. I have also read that playing with dogs can calm down hyperactive kids, helps kids with special needs, and also teach kids a few skills. By caring for the dogs, the children learn responsibility and commitment. Knowing that there is another living being they care for will also boost their self confidence, teach them kindness and to be trustworthy.
I may have not liked dogs in the past, but I am definitely developing puppy love vibes recently. Watching my kids play with the dogs so gleefully and interact with them so freely, has taught me to also loosen up a bit, let go of my inhibitions a bit and have some fun too. What’s a little dog fur on my clothes in return for doleful eyes watching me, tail wagging crazily as I rub Anatalina behind her ears?
She is also an amazing listener. I can rave and rant and she will lie down and watch me as I vent out all my frustrations. With a few whines thrown in here and there, that I am pretty sure mean she agrees with me. She will watch me exercise or jog in the garden even dance with no judgment at all. And she keeps me company when I cook. Always at the kitchen window trying to keep up with whatever is going on with me. She is obviously begging for some kitchen scrapes but i will go with my delightful company as the reason she is always there. She is such a delightful dog.
George Graham Vest said, “The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world—the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous—is his dog.” Every time I watch how my daughter bonds and plays with Anatalina, I am reminded of how special dogs are. In this crazy world, who would not want a loyal, non judgement and playful companion by their side? Will we get a dog when we leave here? You bet we will.
(You can read on the other dogs’ escapades here and here. )
I will also be back soon with an update once I solve the mystery of the dogs’ reactions to our neighbour. Keep it locked.
Being a parent is interesting, it is a continuous learning process and a constant reminder on how much we do not know. On anything. Toys and playing for instance.
When you get your first child, you are excited and some of us go overboard with the toys. We read up on age appropriate toys, check reviews and buy them for our little tots, assuming they will be as excited as we are about them. Some kids are happy, at first. They will touch, sniff, try to taste the toy, throw it or even play with it. But the toys do not hold their attention for a long time. Many a time has a mum had to cook with a tot at her feet banging pot lids and plastic cups together. The child finds this more exciting than their store bought toys.
So you opt to get them a mini kitchen set to play with, but nope the real oven door is much more fun to try swinging with. Cake sprinkles are better for them to run their little fingers through than the beanbags you got them, and your cookbooks are much better finger painted on. Whew!
Anyway, as the kids grow older, you realise they are building and expanding their creativity and wonder how to help them enhance it. After a few deep breaths and a painkiller or two.
Both our kids are at the age where they are now learning their strengths, and what they want to work on. They are creative and innovative at what they choose to do. As a plus, they can now pick out the kind of toys they prefer. But it doesn’t end there. What they do with the toys or rather, how they play with them is where it gets interesting.
About a couple of years ago, my son got a really cool firetruck and my daughter a Christmas Holiday Barbie all decked in a red and gold gown with a faux fur cowl. You should see the doll now, first it was renamed. Then got bangs, then the gown discarded for a toga made from a cloth dinner napkin. The firetruck is still there unchanged but when it is being used for play, but it is not for fake fire rescue operations, noooo. It is used as a cargo truck to transport the smaller Hot Wheels from his room to the garden.
The most interesting thing for me though is how they incorporate other everyday bits and pieces they find around the house to enhance their play experience. I no longer discard kitchen paper rolls, cereal boxes, egg crates and even water bottle lids (for the big water bottles) once done, as the kids always find ways to use them up. I have seen my son turn an old egg crate into a ‘robot monster claw’, a woven shopping bag into a cape, torn socks into sock puppets, to name a few.
They each have a dedicated drawer for their sleeping toys, or those not being played with at the moment. In one drawer, Wonder Woman is sleeping next to GI Joe covered by a paper napkin, and the bigger dolls are seated watching the smaller dolls sleep in little repurposed boxes. An old cereal box has been used to hide toy cars from batman (who is a villain) in one of their games and Chase from Paw patrol will lead the other GI Joes in a sting to bring down the villainous Batman. Their story lines are humorous but intricate cliff hangers full of high speed chases, screams, rescues and happy endings.
They are also inspired by some of their favorite shows. I have been called upon to judge mudpies â la Chopped style, as well as been asked for plastic cutlery for them to showcase their meals like Tilly Ramsay. It is enlightening for me to watch them try new things, create stories in their minds and come up with characters and plot points all by themselves. I have to keep reminding myself to not interrupt them, but nurture and support their creativity. They still have to clean up after themselves though. There is no compromise on that here.
As I listen and watch them play, I can tell how they interact with each other, how they compromise, solve problems, fight and make up. By listening to them I am also able to know what influences them. The shows they watch, their friends and even the names they give to their toys do mean something to them.
It is important to let children play and let their imagination flow. Play teaches them organisation and planning skills. How to arrange for some things and how certain actions produce certain results. It teaches them social skills; communication, teamwork, patience, how to handle their emotions, empathy and sympathy, self control and how to love too.
I am learning a lot about my children by not only observing them but also playing with them. I have realised that the more interaction we have in relaxed play, the more they open up about themselves; what they like and do not like, how they want something done and it never ceases to amaze me how much we as parents and adults take this for granted. I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t buy toys for our children, if you can do so, just get them age appropriate ones. Let them play with their toys as well as those boxes and rolls you are about to throw out. Let their creativity amaze you and once in a while, ask to join in their fun imaginative world too, you will not regret it!