Parenting rules: What worked for us
Ever wondered what goes on at home with the parenting experts? How does a child psychologist speak to her children, and what does a nutritional guru give her brood for tea? Zoe McDonald gets the lowdown
Accentuate the positive
'Give genuine, heartfelt praise – often. It's the most potent form of attention you can offer. When you react to what your child does well, whether it's co-operating with your requests or being kind to others, you'll get much more of the good behaviour you want. It's all too easy to pick up on what's wrong but it's worth the effort to switch the emphasis to the positive. It's the piece of advice parents have most often told me was a life-changer for them. In our family, we have made praise a habit. It's definitely contributed to the children having a "can do" attitude and being positive about trying new things.'
■ Dr Claire Halsey is a leading child psychologist, author and broadcaster. Mum to Rupert, 20, Toby, 18 and Dominic, 14.
Learn to relax
'Many mothers find it difficult to fall asleep at times, even if they are physically and emotionally exhausted. The frazzled nerves and over-stimulation of motherhood combine to make it tough to still our busy minds. Next time you feel like this, and find yourself lying in bed at night wide awake, try the following DIY relaxation technique. I swear by it when I can't sleep.
✦ 'Close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breathing. Focus on slowing it and feel the movement of your abdomen as it gently rises and falls. Concentrate on really lengthening your out breath. Notice how your mind starts to feel calmer – you should fall asleep quite quickly!
✦ 'To build more calmness and relaxation into your day, try yoga nidra, a deep state of relaxation, when your child naps. You can download an app or buy a CD – I recommend Rod Stryker's. It takes around 30 minutes and even if you don't actually fall asleep you will be really relaxed and feel recharged and better able to cope.
✦ 'Knackered back? Lie with your legs up the wall for ten minutes. It'll help you feel calm and centred, and will open out a tense upper back and slouchy spine.
✦ 'Buy a postnatal yoga DVD or yoga app so you can fit yoga into your day, even if it's just ten minutes to release tension and help you feel energised and positive.'
■ Tara Lee is a pre- and postnatal yoga expert with classes in London and a series of DVDs. She is mum to Lola, 9 and Jago, 7.
Three little things
✦ 'Never swear in front of the kids – it's a sign you've lost control. Swear in technicolour when they aren't around if the fancy takes you though, it's a great release.
✦ 'Always take snacks with you wherever you go. Feeding a grumpy child usually buys some time, and it makes you feel organised.
✦ 'Know when it's time to throw out the rulebook and deviate from routine. For example, if you're having a fun afternoon or evening – say at a café in the park with your children – why rush back for "bedtime"? Unplanned family fun will make you feel more spontaneous.'
■ Molly Gunn is the editor of selfishmother.com, the blogzine for modern mums. She is mum to Rafferty, 3 and Fox, 10 months.
Let it go
'Learning to go with the flow has made parenting far more enjoyable for me, and is something I advocate in my books, too. Letting go of the need to control everything takes effort, but makes mothering less stressful. It's tough, because a bad phase – whether it's waking through the night or tantrums – feels as if it will last for eternity at the time.
'But any book that offers advice which makes you feel as though you're fighting your instinct should be junked. The phrase "this too shall pass" is a helpful one to keep in mind whenever the going is really tough.'
■ Lucy Atkins is the author of The First Time Parent (Collins, £12.99), and mum to Isabella, 15, Sam, 13 and Ted, 9.
Make food fun
While giving your children some choice is a good bargaining chip, wherever possible you should opt for honesty when you're trying to encourage them to eat up. Some kids can spot a hidden mushroom a mile off, so sometimes the best thing is to be upfront about fruit and vegetables, telling them where they come from and why they are so good for you. I have always given my children the facts about food, and have found it made them more interested and open-minded about what they eat.
'To make it easy and fun to eat healthily, challenge them to "eat a rainbow" of fruit and veg, and make things interactive for them by chopping, peeling and threading fruit and veg onto a straw. Fun little grow-your-own projects such as cress-filled egg cups (cress is packed with vitamin C) also make a great way to engage children and get them excited about food.'
■ Annabel Karmel is a bestselling author and expert on child nutrition. She is mum to Nicholas, 25, Lara, 23 and Scarlett, 22.
Don't exercise, be active
'Other mums always say to me, "You're so lucky, you can get fit on the job." But in actual fact, when you're a trainer you can't. You have to be totally focused on the client or class when you're working, so like other working mums I have incredibly limited time to work out myself. This means I've had to learn to squeeze it into my day in other ways.
'New Italian research shows that people who go to the gym often burn fewer calories than those who are active, but don't do so much formal exercise. It makes total sense to me, as I rely on packing as much incidental exercise as possible into my day. Leaving the car behind whenever possible, walking quickly, using stairs (take them two at a time and go quickly) are all great for cardio and toning.
'Playing active games with your kids helps too – check out my free "picnic workout" video by searching for "The Lazy Workout: Child's Play" online. And when my children were smaller, I used my buggy to add resistance to my walking workout. Pushing is great for the upper body and, if you engage it, your core too. Think of it as a mini-Pilates workout.'
■ Jane Wake is a celebrity personal trainer and founder of the Baby-A-Wake fitness programme; her Ante & Postnatal Exercise and Wellbeing Programme is available from her website. She is mum to Daniel, 9 and Gracie, 4.
Ask for help
'We get so many emails from new mums who are stressed about breastfeeding. Having had a terrible time with it myself, my advice to all mothers is the same: try your hardest to breastfeed, try to grin and bear it through the sore nipples and sleepless nights, but not to your detriment! If feeding is hard to begin with, it should get easier and hurt less. But if it doesn't, then please don't struggle on without help. Seek advice from a lactation consultant, your midwife or health visitor, but don't sit at home crying, feeling like a failure.
'Sometimes a 24-hour break from feeding can allow your nipples to heal and let you start again fresh, and sometimes it may just be too painful or too difficult. You should not be made to feel bad for giving your child formula if you are unable to breastfeed your child.'
■ Rebecca Maberly runs doctoranddaughter.co.uk. She is mum to Wilf, 3 and Gus, 1.
Trust home remedies
'My advice is based on wisdom handed down through the ages, woman to woman, mother to daughter, healer to healer. There's obviously a time when medication is essential, but I swear by a few tried and tested home remedies when my children are ill. There is so much forgotten wisdom that we need to hold on to.
✦ 'Vinegar-soaked socks are brilliant for taking down a temperature (wring them out and pop them on after soaking them). Have a bottle of Calpol ready in case it doesn't work, but I have rarely needed to use it.
✦ 'Stock up on good-quality herbal teas. Ginger and fennel are fantastic for digestion, while nettle is a great hayfever remedy – I often recommend it to pregnant clients who are suffering and can't take medication.
✦ 'Chicken soup is a wonderfully healing food. I make congee (a Chinese dish, made by cooking rice until it breaks down) with chicken and ginger. It's super-easy to digest and very tasty.'
■ Emma Cannon is a London-based fertility guru and acupuncturist, and mum to Lily, 18 and Violet, 12.
Hope for the best
'The most important piece of advice I have is to hope, not plan. This advice comes in handy at any stage of parenting, in a world where we are so used to being in control.
I hoped I would have a natural delivery, but then I had an emergency caesarean. I hoped my baby would sleep through the night at eight weeks but he had other ideas. Even now I hope that my children will have beautiful manners all the time – but that is certainly not the case. Because I have tried to hope, rather than make firm plans, I have managed my expectations and protected myself from the disappointment of my children not behaving according to plan.'
■ Louisa van den Bergh is a breastfeeding consultant, founder of antenatal group Lulubaby and mother to Arthur, 7 and Toby, 5.
'I learnt the hard way that following prescriptive parenting techniques went against my instinct and didn't work for me. Now I try to spread the word that whatever the books say, it's not possible to hold a baby too much. Cuddling your baby literally grows their brain and the more you hold your baby, the more intelligent and kind they will be as an adult. Ignore any advice that tells you otherwise.
'Self settling in particular is a developmental milestone that doesn't really happen until the second or third year of life, and trying to force it earlier is like trying to teach a newborn to walk – utterly pointless. So enjoy the hugs, knowing that it's not possible to spoil your baby or create bad habits.'
■ Sarah Ockwell-Smith is author of Baby Calm and Toddler Calm (£13.99 each, Piatkus) and mum to Seb, 11, Flynn, 10, Raff, 9 and Lila, 7.