Category Archives: Parenting

I read it so you don’t have to: The Explosive Child

The Explosive Child by Ross Greene (not of Friends fame) is a parenting book I’ve heard recommended for ages, but had never got round to reading. My child isn’t really explosive, I thought to myself. Maybe a little volatile. Maybe prone to random violence. Maybe impossible. But not actually, you know, combustible. Not entirely composed of dynamite. Just, say, 60%.

Just read it anyway. Or read this and see if you’d like to read it. It provides a good technique for finding solutions to problems between two people, especially when one of them has not yet developed coping mechanisms for, you know, life as we experience it.

The subtitle is “A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.” It’s not new any more, of course, since it was first published in 1998, (though this is the fifth edition, from 2014, that I got from the library), but it’s newer than spare the rod and spoil the child, or many other tried and tested (and failed) methods you may have heard of. If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids Will Listen , this complements what’s in there quite well. If you’re a fan of gentle discipline, forge ahead without fear.

Anyway, I’m going to run over the basic points here, in case you don’t have time for a whole book in between picking up the pieces and mopping up the detritus that your non-combustible child causes.

  • Children do well if they can. Your child is not making trouble to make your life hell, or getting into trouble because it’s fun. They’re doing it because they can’t do any better.
  • The reason they can’t do better is not because they’re spawn of satan. (I’m paraphrasing here, you understand.) They simply lack the skills to be able to. Mostly, this is because their brain is still developing. The part at the front of their brain that enables them to be patient, to roll with the punches, to have emotional fortitude, isn’t really online yet. Instead, their lizard brain at the back kicks in and they respond to frustrating situations with, you know, explosions.
  • Rewards and punishments don’t work with these kids because they’re not helping the kid solve the problem, they’re just focused on avoiding the result – the explosion. Instead, we need to help them learn to solve problems.
  • We need to do this collaboratively, not by telling them what to do. Telling kids what to do works with some kids, but with others – say, my not-entirely-made-of-TNT child – it just gets their back up and makes them more certain that they’ll do anything but that. So you need to approach it with them, as a team, and let them participate in coming up with the solution. The more practice they get doing this, the better they’ll be, and their front brain part (technical term) will grow.
  • It’s best to do this proactively, not in the heat of the moment. So the idea is that you identify problems, figure out what lagging skills are the root of it, and try to plan to fix that the next time it comes up.
  • There’s a website! If you go here you’ll find lots of stuff that goes along with the book – and you don’t really need the book to use it. You can use the ALSUP checklist and guide to help you find what skills your child is lagging in that are contributing to their meltdowns. You can use the Problem Solving Plan as a flowchart to help you have conversations that identify the problems and find solutions. The Drilling Cheat Sheet gives lots of scripts to help you find out what’s really going on. (If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids will Listen… or Siblings without Rivalry it all looks pretty familiar.)

And this is roughly how, ideally, a conversation is meant to go. Of course, it might not. The book goes into all the various iterations of what might happen and how you get it back on track, but very basically…

– I’ve noticed you have difficulty doing x. What’s up with that?

-Well, I hate y.

-So you hate y. Anything else?

– And it’s really hard because of z.

– Ok, so you hate y and z gives you trouble. Anything else?

– No, that’s it.

– Let’s think about how we can solve this problem. I wonder if there’s a way to avoid y and make z easier. Do you have any ideas?

Then you come up with some ideas, together. The solution has to be realistic and mutually satisfactory. If it turns out not to be realistic after all, you come back and find a new solution, as many times as it takes.

The more often you have these conversations and work together to find solutions, the better your kid gets at doing it, and so they start building those skills that they were lacking, and your life becomes inestimably better.

That’s the theory, anyway. It’s worth a shot. Let me know how you get on. I’ll be gazing into calming waters and breathing deeply.


Calming waters, deep breaths

10 Things I’ve Learned about Parenting

Here are some things I have learned, in my ten and a half years of having small people hanging out of me. They are deep wisdom and I will give them the hashtag “parenting truths”.

  1. Sleep when the baby sleeps is both true and bullshit. Yes, you should, and maybe you could, but time spent zoning out on the sofa without a small body attached to you is also very important.
  2.  The days are long and the years are short. But the nights are longest of all, and staying in the moment is sometimes the last thing you want to do.
  3. It’s good to be present, but it’s good to take photos too because some people have crappy memories.
  4. When you’re a stay-at-home parent, the other parents in your community are you co-workers. Treat them accordingly: with respect, friendliness, and an awareness that you’re going to be encountering each other for a long time to come, so don’t burn any bridges.
  5. It’s okay to look at your phone at the playground. You’re not ignoring your child, you’re fostering their sense of independence. And you might be reading War and Peace, not Facebook.
  6. You can breastfeed anywhere you want. If someone doesn’t like it, squirt them in the eye.
  7. The most important reason not to use your device to distract your child is that you will want it back. And they will drop it. Or discover Minecraft. And then you will have to buy yourself a new device. Which they will want, because it’s better. So you’ll give them the new one and have your old one back and then you’ll have to put up with a crappy device with a cracked screen for ever.
  8. Teaching children to read as early as possible is a terrible idea. You don’t want them reading distressing newspaper headlines, or the profanity-laden text you just sent, or the No Parking sign you just flouted.
  9. Always get the dye-free Motrin. Your kid might be fine with Red 40, but your white cushions won’t be.
  10. What your child does is not your fault. Unless it was the right thing. Then it’s 100% down to your excellent parenting.
Mabel aged 1.5 or so

It’s her birthday, so she gets to be in the photo


Blogging ain’t like it used to be.

I don’t know why. Well, I do. It’s not it, it’s me. It’s me, and it’s my kids. They’re people now. I can’t go whining about them on the Internet, because what they do is no longer unconscious behaviour, it’s not just because they’re a baby, it’s not all about me. It’s about them, and I can’t write about it if it’s not fun and funny, entertainment, light and fluffy and a quick boost for the reader on the bus. Don’t bring anybody down. Keep it easy. Take it handy.

Maybe I don’t have any readers on the bus. Maybe all my readers are people who know me anyway, who care about what I’m doing and how I’m feeling – but in that case I certainly can’t go airing my dirty laundry in public. Anonymity only goes so far.

When my daughter has a screaming fit of rage over something inconsequential, it drains me.

When my son ignores my request – telling – demand – shout – to stop doing the thing he’s doing until I physically remove him from the situation, it makes me angry. And guilty. And angry.

When I’m the one who always picks up the giant mess, I feel like a crappy parent because I got it all wrong.

When I make three dinners for four people, night after night, I wonder when they’ll grow out of it, and at what point I was meant to make it be different, and how that was meant to happen, and whether it was easier for everyone else or if I’m just particularly bad at it.

I don’t want to dwell on these feelings, because I’m mostly a positive person who doesn’t find it so hard to look at what I have done, at the good things, at my kids’ accomplishments and the times when they exceeded my expectations… but it’s all valid. The coin has two sides.

I feel this, and if I do, quite possibly you do too. My blog is not Pinterest perfect, Facebook happy, more than chirpy holiday snaps and snippets of hilarity as I show off my kids for their comedy charm and cuteness.

My blog is where it all hangs out – I tell you how insecure I’m feeling about my writing (hey, guess what, there are two spelling mistakes in the print version of the book, and I’m done with uploading corrections now) or how I worry about Dash’s dyslexia and how it will affect his future, how Mabel bit someone or how much of a double-edged sword tandem nursing is.

Because my blog is for connecting, and if everything’s perfect I can’t connect, except with all the other people pretending everything’s perfect for them too.

That’s not the connection I’m looking for. That’s not why I’m here. Why are you here?

Upside-down "Detour" sign by water.

I knew this would come in handy.

I wrote a book. It’s fiction for children aged 9-12, mostly, with a nostalgic Irish twist. If you want to know more about it, drop me a line at or tweet me at @awfullychipper.

Dashing onward

Baby Dash, about two weeks old, arms flailing

You have a baby, and it feels like forever. Time is measured in two-hour blocks, all day, all night, for ever. You’re constantly counting things, because it gives you the illusion of control: feeds, ounces, wet diapers, dirty diapers, weeks until breastfeeding gets easier, hours of sleep. Minutes of sleep. It takes so long, so much, just to get as far as that first smile, when everyone says things will start looking up.

He gets his first tooth, a white nub of sharpness poking through the bottom gum, and you feel a tiny chime of something, of sadness, of “over-ness” because this is the beginning of the end of your newborn, who isn’t a newborn any more anyway, he’s already up on hands and knees rocking back and forth and propelling himself backwards into the blinds on the french window instead of forwards to the thing he so badly wants to reach. You laugh and make videos because you know that in a day or three or five he’ll be going forwards after all, and he’ll never look back again.

You have a little boy, sturdy, chubby-handed, all grins and cheeks and dimples and still-fluffy wispy hair. He lisps adorably and says memote rontrol instead of remote control. You don’t teach him the right way to say it, but one day you realise he hasn’t called it the memote rontrol for ages, and you didn’t even notice that his lisp is mostly gone.

You have a boy whose elbows and knees are suddenly pointy, poking into you when he sits beside you, too big to sit on your lap (but still trying). He has grown into the gap where he knocked a front tooth out: nobody is surprised to see it any more because his classroom is awash with wobbly incisors and gappy gums and children who want to show you that their tooth fell out. Your boy has a classroom where things happen that you don’t even know about. You’re not too sure how you feel about that, even after all these years of waiting for the day when you could go to the bathroom without an audience.

Now you have a boy whose legs are long and strong and tanned and covered in bruises from baseballs and mosquito bites from staying out in the back yard making crossbows from sticks. You have no more duct tape in the house. When he lazes on the sofa playing a computer game he takes up the whole thing – the same cool brown leather you laid your shirtless newborn down on one small portion of because the hospital said you had to wake him for a feed every two hours. It has more scratches now, more pieces of breakfast cereal and dried-up pasta and toast crumbs between the non-removable cushions, and its backbone is broken from too much jumping, but it’s the same sofa.

Yesterday. Yesterday and forever. What they didn’t tell you was that after that first smile, time would catapult you forward and it would only ever get faster, never slower again.

Dash on a statue of a moose in Philadelphia

Moose express


Dear potential employer,

My absence from the paid workforce for the past years has given me valuable experience and enabled me to develop skills and abilities that will make me an asset to your team. Please consider the following in lieu of things that I might otherwise have done in an actual office during that time period.

Relevant experience:

Produced miniature human out of own body twice with limited outside aid.

Seven years’ experience feeding children from appendages of own body. Job requirements: tenacity, patience, high pain tolerance, high boredom threshold.

Almost ten years’ experience as mother, stay-at-home parent, mom, Mooooom, Mummy!, food source, youth fashion buyer, household organizer, holiday booker, human pacifier, maker of rod for own back.

Kept appointment diary for CEOs and ensured that they attended all required events (doctor, dentist, family Christmas, nursery school open day) as scheduled.

Provided hugs, kisses, and band-aids on a daily basis, even when no visible injury present.

Invested personal resources into developing ability to say no and stick to it.

Finely tuned ability to remain open to persuasion and see multiple points of view.

Learned to tune out “noise” and focus on what’s important. (This mess and my cup of tea, respectively.)

Professional certifications and awards: 

  • Advanced level not giving a fuck
  • Distraction and redirection, toddler level: gold star
  • “Above and Beyond” award for licking a hanky and rubbing your face with it while you squirm
  • Question-answering 101 and beyond, graduated with honors
  • 1st place, Pretending to listen and making appropriate response noises, 2012, ’13, ’14 and ’15; has been awarded the trophy in perpetuity
  • Master’s degree in Getting out of bed at 3am

I’m sure you will appreciate how many of these experiences, qualities, and qualifications will prove invaluable to me going forward in the workplace; and the others are clearly testament to my strength of character and had better have some sort of payoff in years to come, dammit.

Yours in hope,



Lawnmower parenting – a new label to help you feel guilty

I just read the phrase “lawnmower parenting” on Facebook, and had to look it up to see whether someone was hilariously mixing lawnmowers up with helicopters or if it really was a new thing.

It really is a new thing. Lawnmower parents are parents who smooth down every little bump ahead of their children, so that they face no obstacles or nasty tricky hurdles in their lives.

I didn’t read any more. I can see how it works. I can see how sometimes you’d do it and sometimes you wouldn’t, and how you’d do it less as your child grows up, and you’d adjust what you’re doing according to the personality of your individual child, whom you know, because you’re their parent.

Unless, of course, you’ve heard that now it’s a thing you mustn’t ever do, because then you’ll be a lawnmower parent, and if it has a name and a label then it’s a Style of Parenting that you must now and forever espouse or reject, amen.

So now, helping your child is another thing to worry about, and feel potentially guilty for, and wonder whether you’re doing enough of or too much of. I don’t care for this. We have enough sources of potential guilt already. I think we can stop making up names for things now.

Here’s a plan. Do what works for your family. If it’s not working, change it. (I did not come up with this insightful basic truth. It’s from Magda Pecsenye, who has been making parents feel better about what they’re doing for years and years.) Behave decently, and let your kids see you behaving decently, towards them and to others. Feel your feelings, and talk about them, and give your kids words for how they feel. Do what feels right. It probably is.

The kids will be all right.

Ice cream tongues


“I’m sick of parenting,” I caught myself thinking. “Can’t I just ignore them for a while?”

And then the irony struck me. We spend a lot of time harking back to our childhoods (at least, assuming they were good), trying to emulate them for our children, whining about how we didn’t have Playstations and Kindles and 24-hour iCarly TV stations, and we just had to be outside in all weathers, getting rained on or sunburnt (pick your continent), making our own fun. And it was good for us, and we liked it.

But our parents didn’t parent. They just were. It wasn’t a verb. So on the one hand we’re all congratulating ourselves on knowing so much more about child development nowadays, and on caring so much more about what our children are doing that may or may not be helping their braincells grow larger and their psyches be unscathed so that in the future their therapists will say “Well, I can’t blame the parents;” and on the other we’re wanting them to have the sort of childhood we had before any of that was a concern to anyone.

Our parents’ concerns were that we went to school when it was school time and stayed out of their hair when it wasn’t. I may be missing a few nuances, but that was mostly it, right? They fed us and clothed us and then they stayed out of our way and we stayed out of theirs, and everyone was fine. More than fine: I’d say we learned a lot more on our own and with our friends than we did when we were under strictly supervised conditions. Not all of it pleasant, perhaps, but if you’re constantly on hand to save your children from the unpleasant, they’re not going to turn into very robust or resilient adults.

Maybe I’ll start unparenting. It could be the new thing.


Guest post from Kate Takes 5: Parenting outside the lines

I’m delighted to host a guest post from the lovely Kate from Kate Takes 5. Kate lives south of Dublin in Ireland with her three children, and her blog is a treasure trove of gorgeousness, from the beautiful photos to the parenting wisdom. So … take it away, Kate:

SAMSUNG CSCThe ten year old ticks many of the ‘first born’ boxes – responsible, confident, creative; she likes to be in charge when it comes to her siblings.

At the moment she and her friends are glued to Video Star, an app that lets you make music videos to various songs – miming the words and dancing along as you go.

So far she’s done about 3476 of those videos, and after being super-impressed with the first 500 they sort of fell off my radar. Sorry precious first born.

But this is not about her. It’s about her little brother, who at eight years old is told clearly and in no uncertain terms if and when he is allowed to use her Video Star app.

And just as she fits so nicely in the First Born box, so too does her brother fit in the Middle Child one. The forgotten peacemaker, he is also very sporty and so has inadvertently been labelled ‘The Sporty One’.

But as we all know we shouldn’t place labels on children as they are far from one dimensional.

Yesterday as big sister deigned him the right to use her app, Middle Child took the iPad and disappeared for some time behind a closed bedroom door. As he spends most of his time playing, watching or talking about either football or Minecraft I was fairly sure he would be quickly bored.

But when he emerged from the room and sidled up to me, his face was the perfect mixture of pride and shyness as he quietly asked me if I wanted to watch what he had made.

As we sat with our heads together watching his out of synch miming, his awkward dancing and his new creative inroads, I felt my eyes welling up and my heart breaking with the pure innocence and vulnerability of it all.

When the video finished he looked up at me expectantly, searching my face for approval – and I felt like I had never loved him more.

And that’s parenting for you. Just when you think you have the measure of things, a moment occurs that leaves you wondering who this little person before you really is and whether you have short-changed them with your expectations and lazy labelling.

And so you hug them and kiss them and look at them again – someone you know so well, yet not at all, and you realise the importance of parenting outside the lines.



Kate writes about parenting, fitness and lifestyle at Kate Takes 5. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Under your own steam

The one thing missing from baseball practice last week was the bikes. There should have been a pile of bikes on the ground, or propped up against the fence. This team is made up of nine-to-12-year-old boys who all live nearby. Shouldn’t some of them have been able to get themselves to practice, on a warm evening in spring break? Instead, cars came and went down the short lane to the baseball diamond, each one disgorging a single boy before turning around and heading back for the short drive home, probably, only to do it all in reverse two hours later.

Do I blame America, or modern parenting, for this? I’m not sure.

A few weeks ago I took a wild notion and walked down to meet some friends for an evening out. I had a lift home sorted out already. I didn’t want to drive and leave the car overnight as it would be needed early the next morning. I certainly didn’t want to drive both ways, because then I’d have to stop after one drink. (A taxi, the obvious solution to an Irish reader, is not really an option. I mean, they exist, but it would be weird. Nobody does it. Not right here in town. If we were in the city, sure.) It was a nice evening so I decided to wear boots I could walk in and take Shanks’s pony. It’s about a 20 minute walk and there are sidewalks all the way, which is not a given in this part of the world. The area is residential, mostly, and then you’re at the supermarket and the bar we were going to. It’s not a dangerous urban area or a remote rural one.

There was one other person walking a little way behind me. It was a man, not anyone I knew. I felt vaguely nervous, and ridiculous for feeling that way. It was a little dark, but it was not even eight o’clock yet – not late by any stretch of the imagination. I thought of all the times I’ve walked home from the last Dart in Dublin, or even from the Nitelink at 3am. Heck, in Dublin all winter it’s dark by the time you’re walking home from work, never mind a night out. I was hardly ever the only person walking from point A to point B.

Just like breastfeeding in public, I thought: if nobody does it, then nobody will ever do it. There’s safety in numbers, sometimes literally.

At about the two-thirds-way-there point in my walk, another friend drew up beside me in her car and offered me a lift. And laughed at me for walking. How Irish of me.

America has a car culture. Even in this little town that was designed to be walkable, that prides itself on its pathways between the houses, and is very safe and friendly, people drive because a car is part of your personal freedom. People walk for their health, or they walk the dog. They bike as a “leisure pursuit” or a “family activity” but hardly anyone rides a bike to get somewhere they need to be, especially not kids alone, even though the bicycle is the perfect method of transport for short people with bountiful energy, a desire for independence, and no disposable income.

In fact, it’s not merely an idle thought to wonder if I might be arrested for sending my eight year old to his baseball practice on a bike, alone. Someone might call CPS and accuse me of neglect. Maybe that’s why nobody else does it. We all teach our kids to ride their bikes, delighted to watch them hit that milestone we remember so well for ourselves – but once they’re old enough to be sick of riding round in circles outside their own house, where can they go? Do they have to wait till Dad’s ready to suit up and take them to a trail, or have Mom drive them to a bike park?

I want Dash, my nine-year-old this summer, to ride his bike the half mile to his friend’s house and hang out with him… but then, his friend will be in camp all summer because his parents are divorced and his mom works full time… maybe I’m just hankering after a world that’s long gone…

Bikes parked with helmets

Bikes at the playground

The telling and the listening

Dash is a really good listener.

Not necessarily in the “Listen to what I’m saying and then behave accordingly” way, or the “You just asked me a question, now please can you not interrupt while I answer it” way, or even the “I just told you I was going to have a shower so why are you shouting the house down for me?” way. But he loves listening to a story and he’ll last a gratifyingly long time and appear interested while his father or I explain something long and involved. (Of course, his father’s explanations are always concise and pithy and never go off at tangents.) (That was a marital jibe. You can just ignore it.)

Anyway, since he has the misfortune to have two parents who quite enjoy pontificating on many given subjects, it’s nice that he’ll listen; unlike his sister who cuts us off with a blunt “I’m not listening any more” after the first two minutes or so.

And there’ll come a point – and to be honest, I’m lucky we haven’t reached it yet – when my opinion will be dismissed, at least on first hearing and in public. I’ll keep voicing it, like Chinese water torture, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned as I get older, it’s that my mother, dammit, was right about most things, but it might not be acknowledged for a long time, if ever.

Right now, though, is the time when my children will cite me as an authority to their friends (second only to their teachers, of course): “My mom says ___” has weight and they’re happy to quote me on any subject. (They might misquote me, but that’s a risk I have to take.) They’ll see the world first through the prism we, their parents, give them, even more than through the filter their peers provide.

As time goes on, the influence of friends will increase and anything I say will be met with automatic suspicion and cynicism, because it will be the case that I don’t know anything about anything that’s relevant to a teenager’s life. I was not actually ever a teenager myself, and anyway it was so long ago and so far away that it doesn’t even count any more. My opinion will stay there, tucked away in the back of their minds, niggling, maybe, but not – never, no way – proudly stated as fact the way it is now.

So now is a good time to tell them everything, about everything, as much as I know. Can I pummel 41 years of hard-earned wisdom and discoveries into an 8 year old and a 6 year old? I suppose I can try, but they’ll go and make their own mistakes anyway. And then a long time afterwards, they’ll say “Mom was right” and I’ll have the last laugh, just like my mother before me.


Dash and Mabel playing miniature pool

This one’s called “College Prep”. It has nothing to do with the post, but I have to put in a photo.