Friday, July 25, 2014

50 things to do before you're 11 and three-quarters

I've been reading the National Trust's 50 things to do before you're 11 and three-quarters. Don't ask me where that fabled age benchmark came from, or why. 

It's a nice list of goals to acheive with your kids - a kind of checklist for getting you all outdoors and creating fun memories with them. The National Trust is a charity aimed at getting kids outdoors and active, so I don't mind being told what to do on this occasion.

I'd say my kids (age 6, 5 and 3) are well on their way to achieving the bulk of them. We still might need to print out the list however, and stick it on the notice board to prompt us of the ones yet to do. Or to remind us of the ones that need repeating, all in the name of character-building fun times for our kids.

I think it makes me want to get my eldest enrolled in the scouts. I think it makes me want to be a scout again and go on loads of outdoor adventures.

To download and print your own pretty copy, there's a link to the PDF from here.

How many have your kids ticked off? 

And here's a copy of the full list in text form:
  • 11.Go on a really long bike ride
  • 12.Make a trail with sticks
  • 13.Make a mud pie
  • 14.Dam a stream
  • 15.Play in the snow
  • 16.Make a daisy chain
  • 17.Set up a snail race
  • 18.Create some wild art
  • 19.Play pooh sticks
  • 20.Jump over waves
  • 21.Pick blackberries growing in the wild
  • 22.Explore inside a tree
  • 23.Visit a farm
  • 24.Go on a walk barefoot
  • 25.Make a grass trumpet
  • 26.Hunt for fossils and bones
  • 27.Go star gazing
  • 28.Climb a huge hill
  • 29.Explore a cave
  • 30.Hold a scary beast
  • 31.Hunt for bugs
  • 32.Find some frogspawn
  • 33.Catch a falling leaf
  • 34.Track wild animals
  • 35.Discover what’s in a pond
  • 36.Make a home for a wild animal
  • 37.Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
  • 38.Bring up a butterfly
  • 39.Catch a crab
  • 40.Go on a nature walk at night
  • 41.Plant it, grow it, eat it
  • 42.Go swimming in the sea
  • 43.Build a raft
  • 44.Go bird watching
  • 45.Find your way with a map and compass
  • 46.Try rock climbing
  • 47.Cook on a campfire
  • 48.Learn to ride a horse
  • 49.Find a geocache
  • 50.Canoe down a river

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Hooray! My Third Child Suddenly Grew Up!

We’re recently back from our most relaxing holiday ever since we embarked on having three kids, nearly seven years ago. For the first time in forever, we got to laze around in the sun and read books, whilst the kids played happily around us.

Our youngest, 3-year-old Mr Singing and Dancing Lorcan, grew up in front of our eyes, as he enhanced his singing repertoire from Frozen songs to any old random musical soundtracks.
One minute he’d be singing “Do you want to build a snowman?” and the next “Doe, a deer, a female deer”, then “Mamma mia, here I go again”, and then “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow…”
He loves his musicals and picks up songs really quickly, often with his own musical interpretation such as “Do you want to do a poo poo?”, which obviously makes everyone snigger around him.
You could be out and about at the height of summer and he’ll burst into a few choruses of “Jingle Bells”, or lead a pub sing-song with a 5-minute rendition of “Ay yai yippie yippie yippie-I”. I can hear him in the garden as I write this singing “happy birthday to you” – yet it’s no one’s birthday today.
He’s going to win the X-Factor for me one day, so I can retire to a caseta in the south of Spain. So all the hard work of the last few years since he arrived and added chaos to our family is finally starting to pay off.
He’s carving his niche as the entertainer, the musical one, the funny little fella who fears no one, the solid little fella who toilet trained himself at just over two and a half and who had no wobbles when he started playschool recently.
It amazes me that we’ve got to this stage – that the youngest is finally three, and – shock, horror – life is getting easier every day. (Aside from him still finding it hilarious to run off into crowds.) Believe me, I never thought I’d see this day. I’ve been in the eye of the storm for years – at one point, I had three babies all in nappies at the same time. I couldn’t see an end to it all.
But now, watching all three of them playing together, being best of friends and having fun making up games on holiday, it does wonders for my overwhelmed-mummy stress levels. I’m thinking I might get some semblance of a life back someday…. Could it be possible?
Is it really getting easier?
I can see the light through the trees finally and now I have an amazingly flourishing third child to hang out with.

Hooray for the third baby becoming a boy!

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Being a Sensory Mum to a Sensory kid

It was only when my firstborn started displaying unusual behaviour that I started to wonder whether he could have a behavioural condition.

ADHD and Autism/Asperger’s get a lot of attention and schools have special units and special-needs assistants set up to support kids with these conditions. 

So I asked teachers, other parents, and specialists about whether they thought he was on these spectrums and their answers were always no. “It’s more likely a sensory issue,” they said, watching my child clawing at the floor or running around with a bag on his head banging into things.

So I started to research Sensory Processing Disorder and the different levels of the spectrum. He ticked a lot of the boxes:

  • He could never sit still as a baby. He wanted to be out of the house from just a few months – he used to go mental if we stayed indoors. Eventually, he used to start exploding when we went to toddler groups and soft play centres as the bright colours and crowds overwhelmed him. He would start fights with other kids and deliberately bang into things.
  • When he started playschool, he displayed worrying behaviour. He froze in front of people, and would lick hands (mine and his), hide away from being seen by key workers, flung himself under the table clawing at the floor. He didn’t say a word for the first 6 months, which was put down to shyness and speech delay. Funnily enough, I had exactly the same problems as a small child, apparently not speaking at all until I was 5 and being painfully shy.
  • He has always refused to wear jeans, which he calls “hard and scratchy”. Instead he will only wear soft tracksuit bottoms.
  • He has not been able to sleep from 8 months without his soft attachment toy (called Silkie).
  • He calms down when he has structure, routine, and activities; when he is able to get stuck into something, such as building Lego or drawing. But if he’s tired, hungry, out of routine, or confined in a busy space, he can suddenly roar and become aggressive, start throwing things, chew off his fingers, and hit his own head.
  • He started being allergic to dust and pollen at age 2 and uses an inhaler to help him breathe. I’ve read that autoimmune allergies such as hayfever and dust and food sensitivities are connected to sensory processing because of the way the system perceives them as another attack and melts down. I’ve been blighted by these allergies all my life, and now, sadly, my son has them too.
We were close to a private referral – costing upwards of €1,000 – but instead I decided to talk to more parents and read more books about SPD. The research I found said that these conditions are on the increase, with around 1 in 20 children’s daily lives affected by some level of high sensitivity; yet our school said they didn’t monitor sensory issues unless our child had problems with physical co-ordination. (He doesn’t.) 

However, he did seem to fit into the category of Sensory Seeker: a very active child who is always looking for ways to move, jump, fall, crash, kick, or push something heavy; and craving soft textures and comfort.
I noticed his behaviour got better after about 6 months at school as he matured and learned social skills and became more able to sit still and concentrate. He also improved when I gave him Omega 3 supplements, removed him from crowded rooms, had a good routine in his life, and got loads of sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a label for my son. I’m looking for better understanding and useful techniques to help him, such as weight-bearing exercises – he is never happier than when he is carry heavy things or digging and lifting stones.
My own personal discoveries about SPD involved recognising my own limitations as a child and acknowledging that this could be something he inherited from me. Here's an article I wrote about that here.
We’re all on a journey, right? Parenting is the biggest journey of them all, fraught with scary self-discoveries and new insights into our own limitations. I’m finally able to embrace them, and face up to new insights about myself and my eldest son. Thankfully, his SPD behaviours are mild and improving with maturity – so now I’m hoping that our relationship will become more rewarding as a result of trying to understand and respond to him better.

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For more on this, read Kids Who Feel Too Much.
For a quick overview of SPD, read this excerpt from the Making Sense of Your High Sensitivity by Cliff Harwin.

This article also appeared on


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Being a Sensory Mum

It was with great interest last week that I read Christine Doran’s piece about the Highly Sensitive Parent and scored 100% in the self-test devised by leading psychologist Dr Elaine Aron.

I knew I was over-sensitive – but that’s a ridiculously high score!

It’s something I’ve been researching over the last few years, spurred on by trying to comprehend the erratic behaviour of my eldest son, who explodes when he’s overwhelmed and seeks out soft, silky materials to calm himself down. I suddenly realized I do the same.

As well as explaining my highly sensitive son, I found Sensory Processing Disorder explained everything about myself, finally giving me some understanding of why I was so painfully shy and seemingly misunderstood as a child.

I used to recoil from people and situations and I buried my head in a book because the world seemed too alien to me and my feelings felt too overwhelming. By realising now that this is a condition and that I’m not alone, I feel I’m finally starting to understand myself better.

And by understanding myself, I’m able to understand my eldest, and recognise the traits he has inherited from me (and how I can help):
  • I cringe at noises, environments, and textures other people don’t even notice. I seem to implode when my kids make loads of noise, or my husband whistles, or when there is a radio on in the background. I have never been able to wear uncomfortable clothes or shoes, namely heels and dresses.
  • I’m annoyingly always aware of people’s moods – and my mood goes up and down depending on who I’m talking to and what they have to say.
  • Smells bother me. A lot. People smell, especially. There are some people I consciously avoid sitting next to because of their body smell. I’ve subtly asked others if the smell bothers them too, and they hadn’t even noticed it.
  • Sometimes I prefer to be alone, which is not easy with three small children all needing me, all screaming for attention, all causing chaos and untidiness wherever they breathe.
  • For years, I have been dismissed by loved ones for being “oversensitive”, and I flat-line instantly if I perceive someone to have bad vibes towards me.
  • I have difficulty staying still and paying attention, unless I’m twiddling something like a pen or my hair (I twiddle my hair against my upper lip all the time). For a time I thought I had Restless Legs Syndrome because my knees would shake and I found rocking very soothing. I don’t like soft touch – it has to be hard pressure or it feels like a tickle, which is tough on my husband and massage therapists.
  • I need to do a lot of forward planning – to prepare my nervous system in advance. I hate surprises. This realisation came about after I married (and had 3 kids with) someone who loves surprises – and then gets upset when I freeze.
  • Sometimes I feel like a human sponge that soaks up far too much of my environment: noise and smells, and people’s emotions around me. When bombarded with stimuli, I feel like my senses are going to explode and someone has just turned up my nerves.
  • Having known my limitations for years, I now have a label for them. Apparently, some 15-20% of people are highly sensitive people, with many not realising it, or not knowing how to help themselves, nor how to reduce their anxiety and stress.
By acknowledging this part of myself that I am still embarrassed about – because nobody wants people to think they’re highly sensitive, right? – I am finally starting to understand why I overreact to things and what I need at certain times. Maybe I can learn to stop taking things personally, find better self-soothing techniques, and communicate better to my family so they can understand me better.

Part two, Being a Sensory Mum to a Sensory Kid, is here.

For a quick overview of SPD, read this excerpt from the Making Sense of Your High Sensitivity by Cliff Harwin.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Beware of Scaremonging

"Red alert to parents as convicted child predator arrives in
 Dublin…with a suitcase full of toys”

Have you seen this headline on social media or the tabloids?

The real risk to children in Ireland is much closer to home. 

GUEST POST BY Tom Evans, psychotherapist and father of three, explains the reality behind the headlines and outlines strategies on how to protect our children and equip them to mind themselves.

I find this kind of headline a bit grating. It seems sensationalist, scaremongering and it propagates the notion that the “predator” is the stranger, an unknown, probably a foreigner, oh and yeah, in this case, a black man to boot. I'm not suggesting that anybody ignore the risk posed by this individual. 

I am angered when I hear the details of the gruesome acts perpetrated by Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford, Catholic Priests, and others in positions of authority. But sadly, the truth is that children are at much greater risk from those they know and those who they are entrusted to, than the unknown stranger.
That’s a scary and depressing thought and I guess it goes a long way in explaining why we tend to demonise the stranger – who is as different to us in as many ways as possible. 

It’s easier to get our head around that, rather than confront the actual truth, that when it comes to predators of child sexual abuse, we don’t need to go far to find them.

I’m sure those people who shared the above warning on social media meant well and intended to inform fellow-parents and carers of an increased risk. But the stats show the profound misunderstanding of where the greatest risk dwells, and how the misunderstanding is perpetuated by a media in snappy headlines.

A paedophile is a person whose only sexual interest is in children. The majority of those who sexually abuse children are not paedophiles, but heterosexuals who have adult sexual relationships as well as abusing children. Both types of predator perpetrate heinous crimes on children and cause immeasurable suffering to their defenceless victims. 

Figures provided by support organisations tell the story. Each represents a child who has had a crime perpetrated on them and has suffered an ocean of pain as a result. One-in-Four, 2012; (Based on the experience of their Psychotherapy clients for that year, who had been sexually abused as children):
·                 53% were sexually abused within their own families.
·                 8% were abused by family friends or neighbours
·                 16% were abused by members of the clergy.
·                 9% were abused by professionals (coach, teacher, etc)
·                 14% were abused by a total stranger.

From Rape Crisis Network Ireland, 2012; Survivors of child sexual violence reported that in the majority of cases they were abused by someone known to them. Strangers accounted for only 7% of all reported incidents.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland 2007; (from analysis of reports of 1,691 survivors of sexual violence crimes who attended 14 rape crisis centres that year). (Quotes are from Fiona Neary, director of the RCNI at that time).

  • ·       One in every four people who reported to rape crisis centres was abused by more than one abuser.
  • ·       60% of people abused in Ireland in childhood were abused for longer than a year.
  • ·       7% of childhood abuse was perpetrated on girls under the age of four. “We can see clearly that girls and boys are abused differently and also that the nature of abuse can change with the age of the victim”.
  • ·       Girls are much more likely to be abused by a family member - 55%)
  • ·       One third of the abuse committed on boys was perpetrated by a family member.
  • ·       Younger girls are more likely to be abused by family members than girls aged over 11.
  • ·       Boys are much more likely than girls to be abused by an authority figure, which may include a youth leader, priest, or sports coach.
  • ·       Girls are twice as likely as boys to be abused both as children and as adults.
  • ·       While the risk to sexual violence greatly decreases for boys as they grow up, no such safe haven is available to women, as the risk of sexual violence only decreases by 10% in adulthood.
  • ·       The family home remains ‘singularly unsafe for girl children and adult women’.
  • ·       Offenders are overwhelmingly male, at 96%. While the majority of abusers are men, both men and women sexually abuse children.
  • ·       In about a quarter of cases, the abuser is him or herself a child or teenager.
  • ·       The least likely of all sexual abuse to be reported to the GardaĆ­ is abuse of a child by a family member, which is one of the most common forms of abuse. “It is clear that the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim is extremely significant in the victim’s decision of whether or not to report”.
  • ·       In 86% of child abuse cases, the abuser is likely to be well known to the family, if not a family member.

These numbers tell a harrowing story and they show that while the stereotype of the child sexual abuser suggests that they are instantly recognisable as suspect, in fact, in most cases, child sexual abusers appear to be ordinary, trustworthy people and the majority operate very effectively and ‘normally’ in society. Child sexual abusers come from every type of social background. In some cases, they may be socially skilled individuals who take up leadership roles in the community.

When it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse, it’s less likely that you won’t already know the person who is most likely to be the predator.

So how do we protect our children and equip them to protect themselves? I strongly recommend a website called for powerful suggestions and instructions in this regard. Here are some below. They are Reprinted with their kind permission. For more information, please visit

1. Safety. The safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.
2. Make sure you know what someone is doing with your kids.
3. LISTEN to your children and teach them not to keep unsafe secrets. Most abusers cultivate strong relationships with children before doing anything sexual. Often, they start by testing a child’s boundaries by being inappropriate in other ways.
4. Prepare young people to take charge of their safety by practicing skills. One quick action can stop most abuse – pushing someone’s hand away, ordering someone to stop, leaving as soon as you can, resisting emotional coercion, and telling. Kids are more likely to be able to take actions like these when they need to if they understand their safety rules and have the chance to rehearse following these rules in a fun, age-appropriate way.

A good news story this year in my view is the launch of The Child and Family Agency, called Tusla. This is a statutory organisation, established in January 2014 under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. Under Section 8 of the Act, it is required to support and promote the development, welfare and protection of children, and support and encourage the effective functioning of families. It’s a strong step in the right direction, from government, albeit brought about after years of neglect and denial.

If you’ve been affected by this piece or need further information, then here are some useful links:

The Rape Crisis Network

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Tom Evans is a father, hubby, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork.

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