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Have you noticed how much you need to pack in your kid’s lunch box as well as to share with the class? What ever happened to the classic Vegemite sandwich?  Now, it’s fruit plates, sushi muffins and so much more!

There’s a lot of talk, this time of year, post-hols-and-with-the-schoolyard-looming, of the humble school lunchbox and what should go in it.

My son is going to Kindy this year, so I’m new to all this. I must admit, I’m a bit gobsmacked by the AMOUNT of food that’s expected to be packed for a six hour stint in the classroom and playground. There seems to be all manner of muffins, and snacks, and fruit platters, and sushi, and rice paper rolls, and bread rolls, and olives with cubed fetta and sundried tomato and some sort of marinated mushroom. Plus a drink, half a sack of popcorn and a tub of yoghurt. And some grapes, preferably seedless.

There are lots of fancy lunchboxes, with nifty little slide-out compartments, so you can send a veritable buffet of food options for lunch and your child can pick and choose. There are fabulous cool bags, and ice block-thingies to keep your sushi fresh, and neat little pockets to store a drink bottle in. It’s all terribly organised, and the expectations are clear. Buffet up, Mama, you have work to do.

I am a child of the 70s; a latchkey kid, with parents who favoured the Free Range approach before it was even called that. Basically, I’m so old I am almost desiccated. Even so, the buffet-lunchbox approach seems excessive to me. I hate to play the ‘in-my-day’ card but, heck, I’ll do it anyway.

In my day, I distinctly remember being sent to school with:

1. A vegemite and cheese sandwich on wholemeal bread.

2. An apple.

3. A mandarin or carrot.

4. Possibly a water bottle, if anyone remembered and usually they didn’t. If I needed a drink, I could find a water fountain somewhere or, failing this, a puddle. Like I said, Free Range. Use your initiative. Find your own way, even if it does involve slurping from a puddle to avoid dying of thirst. All of that.

My lunch was packed in a recycled paper bread bag, which more often than not retained a veritable avalanche of bread crumbs that stuck to everything inside. I did envy the other kids who had proper brown paper lunch sacks, clean and crumb-less, and always hoped that Mum might buy the same. Great expectations, and all that. She never did, by the way, being somewhat embarrassingly before her time in regards to waste and recycling.

If I needed a drink, I could find a water fountain somewhere or, failing this, a puddle.

My school also put on Dry Roll Days semi-regularly. On Dry Roll Day, the whole school abstained from bringing lunches and, instead, purchased plain dry rolls – white and fluffy as clouds – for about fifty cents. The reason for this was twofold. Firstly, it was an attempt, well intentioned but perhaps misguided, to make us comfortable middle class kids experience how it might feel to have limited food options and be a bit hungry. I’m not sure how successful this was, given we had breakfast before school and afternoon tea and dinner afterwards, and could buy as many dry rolls as we pleased, and we did. Secondly, all those fifty cent pieces we handed over for our dry rolls went to a charity, which provided food to people who needed it.

All well and good, but I’m not sure if Dry Roll Day would cut it today. There would be all sorts of worry about malnutrition and the like. Stern notes might even be sent home, reiterating the value of healthy food choices. It sounds dramatic, but I have heard of such things. Teachers policing lunchboxes and pouncing on illegal biscuits, only to have a tetchy word with Mum at the school gate about sending broccoli florets instead. That sort of thing.

It’s all rather daunting if you think too much about it. You can’t spend your whole life dodging behind the lavender bush near the school gate, because you sent a donut to school for your child’s morning tea. Or can you? There are fourteen years of school, counting Kindy and Pre-Primary. That’s a heck of a lot of dodging. Bad for the knees, I’d wager. It’d be better for everyone to Mum up to things, and learn to make rice paper rolls and the like. Even if your child turns up their nose at them and asks for a vegemite sandwich instead.

Not that I’m worried about my boy doing this, of course. No, not one little bit.N

Do you want your child to grow up to be a happy, resilient teen? Offspring catches up with renowned parenting expert, Kathy Walker, about what you can do now to help that happen.

Let’s face it – saying life is busy when you are taking care of a young child is an understatement. Each day is a juggle between swimming and ballet lessons, playgroups and visits to the library, toilet-training and trying to get them to eat a balanced meal (when will they eat a vegetable without it being disguised with cheese?).

Everything you do for your child, you do to make them happy and to give them the best start in life – but have you started thinking about how you will equip them to deal with future challenges, such as peer pressure?

It seems like a long way off, but a stern word about responsibility the first time your teen asks for your car keys is too late to shape them into a young adult that makes good decisions.

Parents need to be proactive in helping their children create strong relationships to instil self-discipline, learn emotional intelligence, master mindfulness and a sense of self, and develop resilience.

Leading parenting expert Kathy Walker and author of Future Proofing Your Child says by establishing boundaries and by being a good role model, parents can equip their children, from a young age, with the skills and qualities to become a happy, resilient and emotionally-intelligent teen. She calls it ‘future proofing’. “We are spending more time on electronic devices and in Australia we have increasing rates of suicide and depression,” she says. “I felt that anything we can do early in life, the better…future proofing is about prevention rather than cure.”

So how do you ‘future proof’ your child?

According to Kathy, parents need to be proactive in helping their children create strong relationships to instil self-discipline, learn emotional intelligence, master mindfulness and a sense of self, and develop resilience – all of which are very important skills and qualities to have when they reach teenage-hood and beyond (when they are likely to be exposed to stressful situations).

Kathy says all parents focus on making their children happy, however, things like setting boundaries, learning about disappointment and frustration (such as realising they cannot win all the time or missing out on something they want to do), being able to make mistakes and solve problems, and having time to ‘be bored’ can all help your child learn develop qualities that will be invaluable for them in the future.

For example, one example Kathy uses is by respectfully saying no to some requests (she says many parents don’t like saying no to their children for fear of them missing out), children can learn:

  • We don’t always get what we want when we want it.
  • We can feel frustrated, angry and disappointed but we will get over it.
  • We can’t manipulate people with our emotions.
  • It is okay to say no to someone.

(Source: Future Proofing Your Child by Kathy Walker, Viking, 2015).

One of the most common mistakes, she says, is when parents overschedule their children because children need time to play to learn, discover and make mistakes – but she says having time to be bored is a good thing! “I have been working with families for over 30 years and all parents want is the best for their children, but they don’t know how to say no,” she says. “They want to give their children many opportunities but they then end up overscheduling so their children don’t have the opportunity to self-entertain – and self-entertaining is so important. In life, you have to look after yourself, and if the pattern early in life is that every minute is scheduled, then you don’t get that opportunity to initiate your own ideas.”

 

Kathy says all parents focus on making their children happy, however, things like setting boundaries, learning about disappointment and frustration (such as realising they cannot win all the time or missing out on something they want to do), being able to make mistakes and solve problems, and having time to ‘be bored’ can all help your child learn develop qualities that will be invaluable for them in the future.

Kathy says you don’t have to be the perfect parent – but it is important to be reflective as parents and take on strategies to keep communication open with your children and create a strong relationship – which will make your child feel valued and secure. Then hopefully this will mean that in the future, your child becomes a teen that keeps communicating with you and will come to you with any worries or concerns.

Limiting screen time is an important aspect, according to Kathy, who says long periods of screen time can promote isolation. “Just because children have the skills to work these devices doesn’t mean they have the maturity to use them,” she says. “I wouldn’t let a toddler use an iPad. For older children, I would set a timer so they have a set time to use them. They need to communicate in the real world and get outside and play.”

“(Parents) want to give their children many opportunities but they then end up overscheduling so their children don’t have the opportunity to self-entertain.”

“Remember that you are models for your children,” she advises. “One example I think of is going to a restaurant and seeing every member of the family on an electronic device – the kids are watching their iPads and the parents are on their phones, so no one is communicating with each other. You need to spend quality time together to keep communicating with your child.”

Kathy’s top 3 tips for parents:

– Really listen to your children.
– Always end each day with love.
– Never discipline when you are angry.

 

To help future proof your child, Kathy provides the following top tips:

  • To create strong relationships with your child – Spend quality time together.
  • For self-discipline – Follow through with consequences.
  • To learn emotional intelligence – Parents need to acknowledge a child’s emotions.
  • To master mindfulness – Learn to slow down the pace of life. We all rush too much and we need to remember that children are not mini adults – they weren’t designed to work at adult pace.
  • To develop resilience – Let children make mistakes. It is important to sometimes let kids make discoveries for themselves.

 

Kathy Walker’s latest book, Future Proofing Your Child, RRP $32.99 (Viking) is available now.

For 20 years, Harry Potter has indulged the imaginations of children millions of times over, and with the recent announcement of two new books being released later this year, the debate of whether future generations should be exposed to witches, wizards and wands will no doubt reignite.

As much as reciting the spells, waiting for an acceptance letter from Hogwarts or imagining what Diagon Alley looks like, there is more to the Wizarding World than meets the eye.

Here are five important lessons children can learn from the Harry Potter franchise.

1. Friendship. Throughout the series, the strength of the friendship between the characters is what holds everything together.  This is especially important for children to witness that having a large group of friends isn’t necessarily better than having a couple of strong friendships with people you know will always have your back.

2. The importance of reading. Hermione’s love of reading and knowledge was one of the things that got the trio of protagonists through sticky situations. If Hermione, a strong, intelligent female, can love to learn, and read, hopefully it’ll inspire a new generation of children to be like her.

3. Bravery. The books exemplify how being brave isn’t just the people who fight in battles, but are too the ones who stand up for what they believe in, even when it’s difficult.

4. To always stay true to yourself.  The characters can teach children that no matter who you are, what, or whom you love, you shouldn’t change for anyone.  This is particularly important now more than ever as children become adolescents and feel an enormous amount of pressure to “fit in”. Sometimes the people who aren’t like the rest are the most interesting.

5. Never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help can be one of the hardest things to do at any age, but if children can see that Harry would ask for help when he needed it they can see that it’s nothing to be afraid or embarrassed about.

Parenting is hard. Parenting kids without a partner to help can be grueling. From finding the right support to setting realistic limits, you can feel more in control and less overwhelmed. Here’s how.

        Tap emotional support. A positive support network is instrumental for stress management. If you don’t have access to close family or friends, seek support from single parent or mothers’ groups.

“We have discussion groups that discuss topics pertinent to single parents,” says Janet Gallinati, president of Parents without Partners, an international non-profit organization, with chapters across North America. “Sometimes all you need to do is talk about it, but there may be someone in the group who has gone through something similar.”

   

        Manage your finances. Many hardworking single parents struggle to make ends meet. If you qualify, numerous non-profit and government organizations are available to provide assistance. Also, eliminate unnecessary bills or contact the company to see if refinancing is an option.

“One of the worst things to do is to let the kids think that the only thing that has changed is that mommy or daddy has left,” Gallinati says. “Explain that this is now a one-income family and cuts need to be made.”

        Set limits. Say no to requests that will cause undue strain on your wallet or your time. Also, resist the urge to say yes to every activity your child wants to participate in. Make reasonable choices according to what works with your hours and available support.

         Seek flexibility. If possible, negotiate work hours or find a job that better accommodates you and your children’s needs.

“Finding flexible work is realistic if you are clear about what you need, how you can be successful and matching that with the business need,” says Laura Wildman, a staffing consultant with Mom Corps, which helps match professionals who are raising young families with companies that offer flexible work conditions.

As president of Mothers & More, a national organization that provides community, support and programming for mothers, single mom Jill Gaikowski, says she works in the evenings and on the weekends when she doesn’t have her child.

“I’m happy to make the trade-off because before becoming a single parent, I was a stay-at-home mom. I am lucky to have this option,” Gaikowski says.

         Resolve guilt. Are you haunted by feelings of guilt, inadequacy and resentment in the midst of juggling parenthood and a career? Realize that you are doing your best and focus on remaining optimistic.

“You will get that important email that comes while you are at your kids’ game and you will get that call from school when you are working, but your mindset and flexibility can make it all work,” Wildman says.

         Ask for help. Without adequate emotional and practical support, caregiving can deplete your energy making you more susceptible to illness and depression. Utilize available resources and take advantage of any help that is offered by family and friends, says life coach Kristin Dunn, owner of From the Ground Up Life Coaching.

Also, find a reliable sitter, trade babysitting with a friend or check out area drop-in day cares.

         Commit to self-care. Engage in activities that nurture and energize you like meditation, reading or exercise, even if that means waking up a few minutes earlier than usual. Use your lunch hour to connect with a friend.

“Don’t underestimate the power of human touch,” Dunn says. “Schedule a massage or a pedicure. Human contact is really helpful in releasing bottled up energy and emotion that may not otherwise have an outlet for release.”

         Plan ahead. Include personal time on the calendar. “Do something for yourself once a week. You will see how it makes you better in all other areas of your life,” Gaikowski says.

         Integrate fun. Spend time with your kids cooking meals together, playing board games, bike-riding or watching a movie. Also plan playdates or outings with other families to build a sense of community.

         Involve your kids. Assign age-appropriate responsibilities which helps children grow more self-confident and independent.

“If you over-function by doing things for your children they could be doing for themselves, you’re teaching them to have unrealistic expectations for themselves and others,” Dunn says.

Although single parenting isn’t easy, remember that when you manage your stress and focus on creating a stable, loving home for your kids, you’ll not only survive, you and your family will thrive.