Where Has My Little Girl Gone? Questioning the Way We Bring Up Girls.

My eldest daughter has just turned 7 .  She will soon be going to Junior school and moving away from Early Education, my area of expertise.  I am not overly worried about her growing up too soon but  I am sure that the Junior school years will throw up new challenges.  So when the offer to review a new book ‘Where Has My Little Girl Gone?’ by Tanith Carey came my way, I thought it might be interesting to read about the challenges that might be faced along the way for all 3 of my girls.

The book ties in with a recent ‘mumsnet’ campaign ‘Let Girls Be Girls’ which campaigns to stop the sexualisation of young girls.

The book looks at the aspects of modern life that are fast-tracking our daughters through childhood. However, it is much more than a simple account of the sexualisation of young girls. It encourages parents to question the influence we have over girls growing up in this generation.  It discusses influences including body image, mobile phones and the internet.

 There are insights into the most extreme examples such as parents paying for their daughters to have plastic surgery and children pole dancing but is also full of practical tips on how to help young girls become rounded individuals, rather than focusing purely on beauty. The section on body image certainly made me question the messages I give to my daughters.  I am fortunate that I am naturally slim but I have never been completely satisfied with my body.   Though I don’t diet and try not to talk about losing weight I am sure my negative body image must have some effect on my girls.  I have hoped to have breast enlargements once my child-bearing days are over.   I hadn’t considered before now that this might make my girls view appearance as the most important factor in life, or see surgery as a quick fix.  Though I am not having second thoughts, it has made me realise that I need to approach the issue sensitively with my daughters.

 There is a particularly good section about boosting self-esteem.  It gives some lovely examples of things you can do to help girls feel unique, from simply asking their advice to building a scrap book of their artwork and writing, from the very first scribbles and sharing it together over the years.  I like the idea of this one and it’s something I can imagine doing with all of my girls.

 There is also some very practical advice on how to praise daughters and some lovely tips on how to help your daughter to understand about friendships that fall out or people being unkind.

 Another message that hit home for me was about spending quality time with your daughters, taking them for coffee and having  proper conversation. I think this was something I did a lot when my eldest was an only child but we don’t spend much time together alone anymore and I can already see her retreating into a book, game console or tv programme. The book talks about showing that you are interested in what they have to say and giving them your full attention.  I’m sure we have all glazed over when they talk about some television programme that we know nothing about, and how many times do we not really listen or give eye contact because we are too busy doing something else?

Spending time with your daughters, helping them to question things is a key message in the book. It doesn’t suggest banning commercial television, magazines, pop music or internet but to watch things with them and discuss the issues that arise.  In our house we have always been against commercial television and rarely watch adverts.  When we do we have frank discussions with our children about how advertising is often aimed at getting you to buy things you don’t really need, or promising you things that aren’t necessarily true. ‘Blah, blah, blah’ my daughter says every time an advert comes on.

There is also a lovely section for fathers and the importance of their involvement

‘a girl sees it as her mother’s natural role to care for her, she feels that time spent with her dad is his choice’

It talks about rebellious teenage girls testing their fathers to see if they would fight for them and encourages fathers to appreciate their daughters achievements instead of pushing them immediately to try the next thing.

I think that we are fortunate to have not seen too much evidence of our daughter growing up too soon.  She likes pop music and pretty clothes and sometimes wears make up, she is influenced by her older friends and occasionally speaks in an annoying american accent, but on the whole there is nothing that worries me. We may not shield the younger ones quite so well as they try to emulate their older sister. I’m sure that this book will give me many valuable tips for the things that life may throw at us as the girls grow up.  It has certainly made me think about the relationship I have with them and how I would like that to be in the future.

For anyone bringing up girls this is a really valuable read and it certainly made me stop and think about the quality of my relationships with my girls. Since reading the book I have reflected upon some of the messages I give to my girls.  Whilst my girls were watching a Disney Princess DVD, I considered that I may need to encourage my daughters to question the notion that finding your Prince Charming is the most important thing in life.  It has also made me think about the messages I give to them about the role of a mother.  I would like my daughters to grow up feeling that they can achieve anything and they do not have to give up a part of themselves to become a good mother.  Being a stay at home mum for a few years I feel that I may have reinforced the stereotype that it is a mum’s job to look after the children and house and that dad’s are the successful ones.  I hope that I can give my girls something to look up to so that they can see that women can be successful too.

This is a very practical and thought-provoking book – a worthwhile read for any parent of girls.

A break from the routine sometimes helps

I’ve been away for the weekend with my friends whilst my husband  looked after the girls. It was touch and go whether I would go as he has a broken foot and dealing with a temperamental 2 year old and a baby whilst hobbling on crutches can’t be much fun. Selfish wife and mummy I hear you cry……… but something worked.  On the first night my 7 month old slept through the night for the first time .  Result, no more sleepless nights with a baby in my bed continually feeding.  I had my first full nights sleep in months last night and my bedroom no longer looks like a nursery. To add to this my 2 year old, after months of coaxing, finally used the toilet.  For the first time today she asked to use the toilet and spent a successful afternoon in knickers. Well done Dad for breaking 2 well entrenched habits.  Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about trying to encourage the kids to do things – perhaps just pass the buck to someone else. Of course it could just be a fluke.

Maybe I should go away more often.

Lego Games – Just for Boys?

The good people at Netmums have been kind enough to let me and my 7 year old daughter review  a Lego game.  I say ‘kind’ because the original request went out to boys.  Strange, I thought, I’ve always thought of Lego as a unisex toy. Having heard good things about Lego games, I thought it was worth asking if they would like a girl’s perspective and hey presto our wish was granted.  My daughter has been eagerly awaiting the postman for weeks, especially as I promised she could invite 2 of her friends to test it with her.

The game that finally arrived was Ramses Return.  It is described as a memory game suitable for children aged 7+.  So far so good, Egypt is a fairly unisex topic and memory games are generally popular in our household.


Before playing the game you need to build the board and the die which adds another dimension to the toy.  We had fun building it together and the instructions were clear and easy to follow.  It comes with a funny little tool (the red thing in the picture) to lift the tiles from the die  if you want to change it around . This is (as are many of the other pieces) very small.  In our house this means that tidy away time would need to be supervised to ensure that no pieces went missing or were eaten by toddlers, babies or dogs.

The rules are easy to follow.  The object of the game is to move around the board collecting crystals and treasure, some of which are hidden under domes.  If the die lands on a colour, you have to check the domes to see if you can find a matching crystal, the domes then can be placed back on the board in any position, so you need to remember where each colour is. If the mummy passes through your space you lose a piece of treasure and go back to the start. The winner is the first to collect 3 different pieces of treasure. The treasure and crystals fit neatly onto the heads of the playing people, my daughter loved balancing the funny hats on their heads.

We have played the game twice so far, once just the 2 of us and again with 3 children plus my 2 year old and myself playing together.  When it was just the 2 of us it took about 10 minutes to play.  I liked this because often board games are quite long and it is difficult to find long enough stretches of time when the babies are not around for us to play. With 4 players it took considerably longer, one of the boys became bored before it finished and then they all gave up.  The boy who gave up playing was younger than the recommended age so this may have been a factor, also because the board is so small with 4 players it is quite difficult to sit around it.  We passed it from player to player instead.

The thing that I loved most about the game is that it promotes creativity by encouraging you to change the rules.  We changed a number of rules such as when a player landed on your space you had to give them a crystal and if you choose an empty dome you had to go back 2 spaces.  It was lovely to see the children negotiating the rule changes.

So was the game a hit with girls?  I think that is a resounding yes.

Are Twos Really Terrible?

The bedroom door opens and a loud and enthusiastic voice proudly announces that she has opened her own door. She attempts to climb over everyone in the bed  asks for covers and then announces that she is hungry and wants breakfast. We are lucky if we get breakfast on the table without a shriek of ‘No me’ or ‘mummy do it’ if her sister tries to help.  ‘Me do it’ is the favourite phrase when getting dressed, followed by a Rumpelstiltskin stamp and jump if she fails.  Late for school again, we are lucky if we make it that far without  a tantrum over picking a flower, whether to walk or get back in the buggy, wanting to bring something we have left behind or failing to say hello to someone on our way.

Welcome to a typical morning in the McClary household  courtesy of my challenging middle daughter aged 2 and a half.  I don’t remember the 2’s being particularly terrible with my eldest, perhaps memory fails me, but then she didn’t have to compete with 2 sisters for attention.   I was once told that 2 year olds are not deliberately difficult, they just make mistakes.  I’m not always convinced – particularly when I say don’t wake your sister and she proceeds to shout in her loudest voice . We give her a hard press sometimes but always come back to how gorgeous she is.   When a day starts in this way it’s often difficult to focus on the positives but in reality there are lots of lovely things about 2 year olds.

The pride that they show when they achieve things – my daughter beams and says ‘I did it’ .  As difficult as it may be to let her do things herself , especially when we are in a rush it’s wonderful to see her achieve things.  Hopefully she will soon be independent and able to dress herself by the age of 3 like her sister.  I also remember my eldest making me breakfast for the first time before she turned 3.

Though often toddlers like to challenge us and do the opposite of what we say, they also love being helpful.  If you give my  daughter and her friend a special job to do they are eager to help.  She is good at tidying up, putting things in the bin, helping put the washing in the machine and feeding the dogs.

She is incredibly loving .  She loves to have hugs and often says ‘I love you’ .  She wakes me in the morning with a hug and a kiss and if her dad is away says ‘ I want my daddy’ and sometimes when her sister is at school ‘ I want my sister’.

I love the way she can hold a long telephone conversation .  She makes funny little mistakes like showing my dad that it is raining in our garden ‘ look, see, in this garden.  It is raining’ or that anything that happened in the past is referred to as yesterday. She sometimes has telephone conversations with her best friend.

Her vocabulary is improving all the time and never ceases to amaze me.  I love listening to her use new words and phrases and hearing  the things she has obviously picked up from us or her sister.

I love hearing her laugh – she is incredibly ticklish and it’s lovely to hear her unrestrained laughter.

She is still working out how things work so sometimes comes out with funny things.  Recently she said ‘mummy remember I lost you and you were in hospital, then we went to hospital to buy my baby sister’ or the time that she saw horse manure on the road and said ‘mummy has the road done a poo?’

I love that she is learning new things all the time and her beaming smile when she discovers something new.  Her latest discovery is rhyme and often recognises rhyming words  and proceeds to list as many word as she can that rhyme with the original word.

I love reading stories with her.  She has had a love of books from before she was a year old and is always asking for stories.  When she is getting difficult because she is tired she will sit and cuddle in to you sharing her favourite books.  It’s also lovely to see her ‘reading’ books for herself – reciting the well-known phrases verbatim .  If you give her a book with single words accompanied by a  picture she believes she can read and looks so impressed.

I often find myself hoping that the 2’s will soon end in the hope that we will have a more civilised little girl.  This exercise has reminded me of all the lovely things about her and that sometimes I should take a step back and remember those things. Children grow up so quickly and soon these times will have been and gone and I’ll wish I had appreciated them more.

And the winners are…….

Thanks to all those who entered  the Leapfrog Maths Adventure to the Moon DVD competion and congratulations to the winners

Laura Steward,  Gabrielle Svensson and MJ McNair.



Toddler Takeover @At-Bristol

watering cans
I’ve had a really fabulous day out with my 2 year old and her friend at the bi-monthly Toddler Takeover at At-Bristol.  At-Bristol is an interactive science centre with over 300 hands on exhibits.   The Toddler Takeover is a themed day targeted at the under 5’s.   The theme for today was ‘Come Rain or Come Shine ‘.  I’ve been impressed by the amount of exhibits that my 2 year old can enjoy when visiting with her older sister in the past.  There are 2 under 8’s areas that are always available .  A role play airport including a cockpit where the children can fly a plane, passport control, luggage and an x-ray machine and a hostess trolley.  When my eldest was 4 we spent most of the session playing here.playing airports  The other has an animal theme and includes a tunnel, dressing up, storytelling and a sticky spider’s web game where the aim is to throw bugs at it to try to make them stick in the web.


I once saw a superb storyteller in this area so was disappointed to have missed the storytelling session today.

As our children were under 3 we only had to pay for the adults therefore the day was good value for money.  In addition to the usual exhibits, there were a number of theme based activities  designed with the under 5’s in mind.  These activities were on the whole well thought out and there was a mixture of child directed hands on activities and more structured adult directed activities.  Some of the activities involved making an end product – a windmill or weather wheel and some were more exploratory such as musical instruments that made weather sounds, pretend snow and water play.  These were suitable for even the youngest children and each of the exhibits included a list of  suggested questions and discussion points .

There were a lot of staff helping the children to make the most of the exhibits including a number of volunteers.  Some staff were better at engaging the children that others but in all I felt that the level of supervision was excellent.

For an extra 50p the children could watch a show in the planetarium.  This was very interactive and visual and at about 15 minutes short enough to keep the children’s attention.  It may have been better presented by someone with experience of working with large groups of under 5’s but he managed to keep the interest of most children.

My little one enjoyed running through the lights best of all and is looking forward to returning with her sister so that they can do it together.

playing with light

We had a lost child incident whilst we were there and would just like to commend the staff for the efficient way that this was dealt with.  The child had wandered from the cafe to the main exhibit area.  When  staff  observed that he was without an adult, 4 members of staff  kept in close contact  without approaching him directly, so as not to alarm him. When reporting the lost child the reception staff immediately alerted all the other staff and the child was found .

On a practical level there are a number of baby change areas and buggy parks throughout and a picnic area where you can sit and eat your own food.  The cafe has its own small play area so the children can play whilst you have a coffee break. Parking is on the expensive side but park and ride or public transport are an option.

As an added bonus to the day out, outside At-Bristol there are a number of water features that on sunny days become a great place for children to splash about in.


My only real suggestion for improvement is that there could have been better signage from outside that the event was going on . I’ll definitely be recommending this to my friends and am looking forward to the next one.

At-Bristol is also a great place to visit with older children too, my 7 year old wants to go tomorrow and is disappointed that she couldn’t come with us today. ‘I want to play with the fake snow’ she said when she found that it was only available for the toddler session.


Children’s Parties – No More Party Bags Please


Party season has arrived again in our household.  My eldest has just had her 7th birthday and most of her class are spring and summer born babies so we now have an endless run.   In her book bag today I found 3 thank you cards, some written by the child and some by the parents.  What will I do with them?  Look at who they are from and put them straight in the bin. To the mums who spent hours writing them or the poor children who have been made to sit for hours signing their name, I am sorry.  Though I agree that it is right that children should be grateful for what they are given, when they go to so many parties is it really necessary that we get a thank you card from every one?  I’m probably known as the ungrateful or disorganised mum because I don’t send them.  At the weekend we visited friends and my daughter decided she wanted to write a thank you card for them, this one was written because she decided it was a thoughtful thing to do rather than because I had told her to do so – surely that means far more.

Women’s Hour today discussed  children’s parties and most of the views expressed were either that they were a huge headache both financially and in terms of organisation, or that they were a thing that the parents relished organising.   I have a friend in the latter category, who will throw a party at the drop of a hat, hand making everything to fit the theme including party clothes and food.  A part of me would like to be like that but time and inclination hold me back.  Besides which,  I’m sure my children would be just as happy with a trip somewhere nice and a shop bought cake.  We have tried various things from overcrowded parties in the house, hiring a big hall, not having a party but taking a few children to the theatre and this year an ice skating party. My 2 year old is yet to have a party as she doesn’t really have enough friends to justify one .  Parties in the house are far too stressful for me, the combination of noise, overcrowding, mess and organising food is a nightmare.  The big hall party was fine on the day (a joint party with 30 children) but organising what I was going to do with them, sorting food and all the things we needed to entertain them took a lot of time and energy.  The last 2 were relatively easy.  Ice skating with a group of  7 year olds was surprisingly stress free.  The children had a lesson and then were given penguins to hold to help them balance if they needed them.  There were plenty of adults around to help out so that even the 2 year olds had a turn.  The food was prepared by the venue and all I needed to provide was the cake. Party bags included a free ticket to come back and ice skate – so much better than the usual tat (though some of that was still there).

Why do we feel the need to provide party bags at children’s parties?  We all hate the little bits that come out of them that usually end up scattered around the house.  Some people  substitute the bags with presents but all children somehow expect to come home from a party with a present  these days. When we were kids this was never contemplated, if we were lucky we came home with a prize from a game.  Even pass the parcel now has a present in every layer – I remember the days when each layer had a forfeit rather than a prize.  My children so don’t need anymore stuff.  Call me a humbug, but I’m not going to do it anymore and hopefully lots of like minded mums will join in the boycott.