10 celebs on...Family life
Rebecca Howard-Dennis draws on the wit and wisdom of cartoon characters to learn a thing or two about raising kids
1. Be the boss of you: Wilma Flinstone
Wilma-style resentment of their partner is a gripe for many new mums, but not in France, where women are encouraged to return to work as soon as possible. Remember the then French Minister of Justice, Rachida Dati, back at her desk just five days after giving birth – by caesarean?
While no one's suggesting we adopt a similar career mindset this side of the Channel, there are a few tips to glean from the French, including a passionate belief that 'what's good for the mother is good for the family.' In French society mothers are 'le chef' (the family chief), and her word is considered final – mostly by the children but we suspect also by their husbands.
For an outsider's take on how French women chicly segue into parenthood, safeguarding their relationship and sanity on the way, pick up a copy of Canadian author Catherine Crawford's mummy manual, Why French Children Don't Talk Back (£9.99, John Murray).
Wilma Flinstone: "I work hard and what do I get? A lot of yak form you. Youat least get out every day, see things, talk to people. I never get out of this cave."
2. Set the rules: Gru
Ah, rules, the bedrock of family life. But just when should we start introducing them and how is it best to go about it? The general rule of thumb for those early days is to keep the focus on safety and damage control rather than actual esson-learning. Rosalie Ajzensztejn, parenting guru and senior consultant at Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting (tnlc.info) recommends introducing key rules from the age of three, through lots of collaboration and questions. Start by trailing it well: 'The new rule is going to be sitting at the table until mummy says you can get down.' Then spend the next few days asking your child about the new rule using who, what, where, when, why and how. Pick a neutral, quiet time with no distractions and ask two or three questions for no longer than a minute. So, 'Where will your bottom be when you are sitting 'at the table?' And, 'How will you know to leave the table?' Every time they answer correctly be sure to give them a huge smile and say, 'Well done. You were listening.' This encourages what Rosalie calls 'Think Throughs' that allow your child to imagine the new rule.
Research shows that this kind of visualisation helps to seat an idea in a child's long-term memory so it becomes a learned response and m establishes 'house rules' with less arguments or conflict.
Gru: "Clearly we need to set some rules. Rule number one: you will not touch anything."
3. Enjoy the cute factor: Donkey
Those donkey-dragon babies might have a face that only a mother (or Donkey dad in this case) could love, but we're all hardwired to think our offspring are adorable. In fact the latest research shows that 82 per cent of parents proudly believe their child is the most beautiful they have ever seen.
While the other 18 per cent have argued that this is just a bad case of the 'baby blinders', in the mid 20th century Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian biologist who studied animal behaviour, identified the cause as something he termed 'kinderschema' – namely the set of traits humans identify as cute. These traits (including rounded cheeks and large eyes) trigger in us a primeval, protective urge. It's why every sympathetic cartoon character ever drawn has big, wide-spaced eyes and a head large in proportion to its body. So yes, while all babies might look like Winston Churchill, as the quip goes, thanks to kinderschema most people, and not just the parents, are going to find a baby supercute.
Donkey: "Are my kids cute or do they make people uncomfortable?"
4. Learn to love mud: Peppa Pig
Our advice? Don't try to fight it. In fact studies have now proved that outdoor activity, and specifically puddle jumping, is crucial to learning and development on every level.
'Many man-made outdoor spaces, such as climbing frames and safety surfaces, are too sterile,' explains Claire Wenden, an Early Years expert. 'Children need long grass to run through, muddy holes to dig in and shallow puddles to splash in.' The great outdoors and natural materials such as water and mud are fantastic learning resources and specialists agree we should take a leaf out of Denmark's book where 'there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes', and kids are sent to school equipped to play outdoors come rain or shine.
Be prepared and follow Peppa's sage advice for happy splashing for kids and mums by investing in a pair of Rainsplats (£35.99, muddypuddles.com). These boot-welly hybrids are designed to be worn all day and in all weathers. Team with some Polarn O Pyret rainwear (polarnopyret.co.uk) and your kids are ready for anything from a light shower
to a torrential downpour.
Peppa Pig: "If you jump in muddy puddles, you must wear your boots."
5. Feed the imagination: Mummy Pig
Mummy Pig has a point – necessity is the mother of invention and those who are critical of children watching TV have always argued that it spoonfeeds ideas rather than allowing a child's imagination to run wild, that it is passive learning versus personal exploration and experience. Other groups have linked childhood obesity to screentime, recent figures for pre-schoolers suggesting a child's risk of obesity increases by six per cent for every hour of TV they watch.
As a guide, international organisations including the American Academy of Paediatrics recommend no TV for the under-twos and a maximum of one hour's recreational screentime a day for children aged two to five, increasing to two hours for kids from five to 18. According to Psychology Today, other good habits include never installing a TV in a child's bedroom, not using it as a proxy babysitter and always ensuring that you watch programmes with younger children, asking them questions and sparking a discussion about what's happening on the screen.
Mummy Pig: "In the older days when there was no television, children had to make up their own games."
6. Do the right thing: Elastigirl
No one wants to call Pixar's bendy crime-fighter or her flexibility into question, but after three kids Elastigirl needs to admit (like the rest of us) that she's probably less superhero, more super-mama.
Admitting you've taken your foot off the gas workwise to raise kids can be difficult, especially when figures such as the (female) Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning- Schmidt, pile on the pressure by accusing British women in particular of 'wasting' degrees from 'fancy universities' to devote their best career years to child-rearing. Ouch! So much for female solidarity. Whether you head back to the office, or focus firmly on your family, boils down to choice. The key is to know yourself well enough to make the right choice. There will be guilt whichever path you take but one thing is most definitely clear – answering the incessant questions of a curious five-year-old requires some impressive mental gymnastics and transferable skills from your PB (that's pre-baby) life.
Just saying Helle...
Elastigirl: "I'm at the top of my game! I'm right up there with the big dogs!"
7. Cultivate their tastes: Django
Django's son Remy may have a more sophisticated palate than his father, but most (two-legged) parents are desperate to expand their child's tastes. If picky eating is a problem, just remember we are born with an instinctive preference for sweet and salty food and an aversion to sour and bitter tastes. This trait from our 'caveman' days helped prevent youngsters nibbling poisonous plants, many of which taste tart.
The good news is, this natural predilection can be overcome with repeated exposure to rejected foods – although patience is paramount, as it can take as many as 12 attempts. Persevere, and start their veggie education with sweeter squash and carrots, leaving green, leafy veg until later. Likewise, be sure kids are given sweet, ripe fruit and hold off on grapefruit and Granny Smiths until their taste buds mature. Finally, make 'you don't have to like it, but you do have to taste it,' your mantra.
Django: "Food is fuel. You get picky about what you put in the tank, your engine is gonna die. Now shut up and eat your garbage."
8. Present a united front: Queen Elinor
According to new research Queen Elinor is not alone in feeling like a misunderstood mum. A study by Water Babies, the infant swimming school, revealed that a whopping 70 per cent of the 2,000 mothers surveyed felt forced to play the 'bad cop' when it came to discipline. They saw themselves as the'taskmaster' while dads were seen as the 'fun one' by children. Half said that always stepping in to make 'sensible choices' made them feel like the 'fun police', and 30 percent worried they were too bossy.
'Mums are very often the engine of the family,' reports a study spokesperson. 'They keep domestic life running smoothly. Inevitably this means always being the voice of reason, which isn't always the fun option, and so it's easy to see why they feel like the stricter parent.'
But experts agree that solidarity between parents is essential when it comes to boundaries and discipline. 'It has to be something that is consistent between both parents rather than one colluding with the kids and the other being resented,' says Jeremy Todd, chief executive of parents' charity Family Lives.
Queen Elinor: "If you could just try to see wht I do, I do out of love."
9. Set a good example: King Thistle
King Thistle, we applaud you. If only everyone could be 'just nice' more often. But while us adults should know better, teaching kids the importance of tact can be tricky. For a start it's a concept they simply can't grasp until they're six or seven. Before then, experts agree that children are naturally self-centred.
In The Family Virtues Guide (£11.80, Penguin), 'fun one' by children. Half said that always stepping in to make 'sensible choices' made them feel like the 'fun police', and 30 per cent worried they were too bossy.
Linda Kavelin Popov and her co-authors want to help parents bring out the best in their kids and themselves. The main message is, 'Tact is telling the truth in such a way that no one is disturbed or offended.' The trouble is, this needs considerable verbal skill and quick thinking, so start by setting a good example. Or why not take another cartoon character's advice and teach Thumper's simple rule from Bambi: 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.'
King Thistle: "There's a time for telling someone they're smelly and ugly, and a time for being just....nice."
10. Praise, don't punish: Marge Simpson
We love Marge's subtle take on discipline (subliminal sandwich messages must surely be preferable to smacking, no?) but new research shows the strategy has potential pitfalls. As parenting author Dr Justin Coulson (happyfamilies.com.au) points out, 'Rewarding and punishing children... can send the message that our love is conditional.' Alfie Kohn, in Punished by Rewards
(£9.43, Houghton Mifflin), agrees and warns that the promise of a reward is also the promise of a punishment. Instead, Kohn recommends focusing on building your child's autonomy and leading by example. 'Conversation is key,' he says. 'So talk about the consequences of their actions – it fosters your child's internal motivation. And be sure to let your child know you appreciate it when they do as they're asked and behave well. Kids of all ages like to hear when they have made someone happy or grateful.'