After several years of dealing with our childrens’ challenging behaviour (as it is somewhat euphemistically referred to) we were lucky enough to get help from a brilliant social worker specialising in fostered and adopted children. If I could boil his message down into one easily digestible mouthful it was this: spend every moment you can with your children, it will help them to feel secure and will lessen their opportunities to fail at things. He did not recommend that we kit up with Apple products, a flat screen television and an x-box kinect.
Ground down and brain turned half to jelly, this didn’t sound too appealing at first. And I thought I was already spending lots of time with them. He persisted. ‘Forget about what the house looks like, forget about making wonderful meals, eat Heinz beans every night if it means you can be with them and do whatever they want to do.’ That part was music to my ears. I bought baked beans, plus eggs and some grated cheese (I still have my standards) and therein began a big transformation in our family. We watched hours of Almost Naked Animals, Barbie Swan Lake and Deadly 60 together. Then after our beans on toast, we watched The Simpsons, or rather the children watched me laughing at The Simpson’s (why’s that funny mum?/well that man there is Richard Nixon… never mind’). It wasn’t all television. We made things, like paper money and toilet roll people, we cooked, we had a sports day in the garden. Hardly the stuff of a mumsnet blog, but it made the most remarkable difference to both of our children. They became calmer, less confrontational, we talked about things, we had fun. They came to understand when I was tired and needed to doze through ‘Tracy Beaker’ and sometimes they happily took themselves off to play in their bedrooms. Whenever things get difficult now I restock the tin cupboard, ignore the mess and get down with the kids.
In 2007, a UNICEF report found that children in the UK are the unhappiest in all of the industrialised world. Yesterday they issued a report which tries to explain why this might be. Their conclusion? We try to compensate for spending inadequate time with our children by showering them with material goods. And guess what? It doesn’t work. And this applies to families of all social classes and all races. Maybe there is a lesson in there for all of us.