Do you wrap kids in cotton wool? Continued.

Do you wrap the kids in cotton wool? Continued

Embrace messiness

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Yes they will put their hands on that dirty rail, yes they will make mud pies, and yes, they will lick their shoes – and that's fine. Let them pat the friendly dog in the park, and don't reach for sanitiser every time they fall down. Exposure to germs helps to build a strong immune system. Anyway, the last thing you want to do is foster OCD-like tendencies in them from birth.

A growing body of research also backs the 'hygiene hypothesis' which suggests that children protected from germs and even parasites have a greater chance of developing allergies, asthma and other auto-immune diseases.

'Just as a baby's brain needs stimulation to develop, the young immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so it can learn, adapt and regulate itself,' explains Professor Thom McDade, director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University in the USA.

Take a creative back seat

If your child is drawing – or mark-making as child experts call it – leave them to it. It can be so tempting to ask them to draw a flower and then be disappointed by the scribble on the page, or to try and help them do it 'right'. But your child's way is the right way. So what if that camel looks more like a stone, or if their attempts at shaping letters are nothing more than crayon scratches on the paper. This is their creative time – so don't hijack it.

Dr Laura Markham, clinical psychologist and parenting author, agrees: 'Focus on the play and process, not the productivity, to let them really engage with what they are doing. Affirm how hard they are working on a picture so that they don't feel they have to rush through it for your approval.'

Stop tidying up

Make tidy-up time a game you can play together at first. Teach them they can't get out more toys until they've tidied away ones already out. Allow them some responsibility over their possessions. That goes for mess too – if your toddler willfully spills milk, give them a cloth and get them to help wipe up. It's never too young to start teaching them to take responsibility for their actions.

'It's unrealistic – and frankly futile – to expect a young toddler to take care of all his things on his own,' says Heidi Murkoff, author of the What to Expect series of books. 'So work together and make it fun: you can tackle the tougher jobs while he does smaller things; set a kitchen timer and race each other to put things away; or sing along while you're doing it, and you'll make it twice as fun.'

Drop the spoon

Meals provide one of the earliest opportunities for babies to express themselves. Don't stop them playing with their food, and encourage them to try feeding themselves as early as possible – they are much more capable than you might think, especially if you give them some control. If your baby can make a pincer grip – can they pick up a raisin and eat it? – they can hold a spoon. Finger food is easiest, so make them penne pasta or soft sticks of butternut squash and leave them to it.

Gill Rapley, co-author of Baby-led Weaning (£10.99, Vermilion), explains that this is the traditional way of weaning babies – it's only modern parenting styles and convenience that has us reaching for the squeezy pack of mush.

The benefits include faster development of dexterity and co-ordination, plus it's cheaper – they eat what you eat. On the downside, meals will be longer, and messier, for a while.

Don't intervene

Babies may be social creatures but they aren't born with social skills, they learn them. You might have noticed that they'll smile for you, but they aren't especially interested in other babies, or in sharing their toys. It isn't until children are around two that they start to play with other children, as opposed to simply playing alongside them, and like any other skill in life, they will learn to do this through trial and error, through sharing toys and empathising with other children.

When your tot plays, and sometimes squabbles, with other children, don't get in their way. Stop yourself from constantly saying things like, 'Say hello, Stanley,' or telling them, 'Share your toys.' And try not to dive in if they get pushed or are involved in an altercation.

By the time they start school they will have to manage these relationships on their own, so help them out by allowing them some freedom to learn how to socialise with others, under their own steam.

Ignore them

Yup, ignore the bad behaviour. Tantrums, tears, shouting and other attention-seeking behaviour is usually exactly that. They want your attention and they know which buttons to push. But if you ignore the behaviour then their ploy doesn't work, and so they will learn to stop. Give in to it and they'll know exactly what to do the next time they want mummy to focus on them. Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist specialising in play and child development, agrees: 'It is true that if you pay attention to bad behaviour, it encourages it – if it's safe to do so, you should ignore it.

Illustration by Jenna Lee Alldread


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