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Wednesday Lunch Club Q+A With Child Psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer

Missed our Wednesday Lunch Club with Dr Amanda Gummer? Don’t worry, you can read all of the expert advice she shared here

Every week at Mother&Baby we bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your parenting questions from a top expert. This week, child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer was on standby to answer questions.

Amanda’s a leading child psychologist with over 20 years of experience and specialising in play and parenting. She’s taught children with special needs as well as contributing to government policy on children’s issues and scientific research in Learning and Education.

Additionally, Amanda’s a member of the British Psychological Society, the International Toy Research Association, Play England and the National Toy Council and has recently founded the online play advice site Good Toy Guide.

If you missed the chat, here’s what happened…

Your happiness and well-being is the most important factor in your baby's development

At what age will my two year old start getting excited for Christmas? I'm so eager for her to get excited by it but she's not interested yet. Clare

Dr Amanda Gummer: This is likely to be the first year that she really 'gets' Christmas, but she's too young to remember anything from last year so it's difficult for her to get too excited too quickly. She will copy you so if you're getting excited, she'll pick up on that.

Plan lots of fun things 'because it's Christmas' but leave it another week or so otherwise you risk burn out before the big day. Let her help with decorations and making treaty food, look at the lights and generally embrace the season – she'll soon get the idea.

I've been separated from the father of my baby since she's been born (she's now eight months). When do you think it will start affecting her that we aren't together? It worries me when she'll start asking questions and picking up that she doesn't have two parents. Anonymous question

Dr Amanda Gummer: Your happiness and well-being is the most important factor in your baby's development – if you're happy, relaxed and confident it won't necessarily have a negative effect on her.

Having said that, all children benefit from good role models of both genders so it's great if there are men (uncles, grandfathers, friends) that she can look up to and learn from. Don't beat yourself up about being a single mum – guilt and shame will do your daughter more damage than only living with one parent.

My son is nearly five and is incredibly insecure about losing me. He's generally an outgoing, independent child but needs to know where I am, even in the house and if he can't find me he gets very upset! If I put him in the car and I need to go back in the house he gets upset, likewise when I put diesel in the car. How can I reassure him? He's also starting talking about death recently, saying, ‘I don't want to die’, and crying. How on earth do I answer that, honestly but age appropriately? Anonymous question

Dr Amanda Gummer: It's likely that something has triggered this and it's good to try and talk to him about where his worry has come from. Try and communicate really clearly what you're doing and where you'll be and give him lots of reassurance.

At this age, times such as 10 minutes won't mean anything but he'll understand sequences so explain e.g. that you're going to go and get the washing, then you're going to put it in the machine in the kitchen and hang the other load out and then you'll be back. He'll learn to trust that you'll come back.

Conversations about dying are also common at this age. You can explain that it's natural and can be sad, but normally only happens when you're very old or very poorly.

My daughter is 11 months and has started throwing big temper tantrums. These are around a few things – being trapped for nappy changes, getting dressed and not being allowed in the kitchen cupboards. But the main ones are around food. She doesn't like to eat anything that isn't finger food and had huge tantrums. She's thrown food off my spoon and also thrown food when it's not what she wants. She just bangs the high chair and throws everything off her tray. I'm finding this really stressful and don't know how to react. I've tried saying no but she just gets more upset and read that I shouldn't react but things I say to annoy her too. Have you got any advice about how I should react? Wendy

Dr Amanda Gummer: Food can be a battle ground and with such stigmas over eating disorders and obesity, it can be very stressful. At 11 months old, finger food is great so I'd be tempted not to react at all and just stick to finger food for a while. You can give her lots of positive reinforcement about how well she can feed herself and giving her healthy food in finger form will encourage her to chew and bite, which will strengthen her mouth muscles and promote speech development.

As long as she’s getting a balanced diet, I’d try letting her enjoy finger food for a few months and then reintroducing cutlery at some point as a ‘big girl’ thing to do. Family meals where she sees you using cutlery will help, too.

Food can be a battle ground and with such stigmas over eating disorders and obesity, it can be very stressful

My daughter Gemma will turn three in April. She is generally very easy to look after and well behaved except for one thing. She has a real 'thing' about her dad and when he is home she follows him around and has a tantrum if he even goes into the bathroom or goes out without her. This started about a year ago, but is getting worse. Sometimes he can't even put her down without her going berzerk! She says she wants “Dadda” and doesn't want “Mamma” but when he isn’t there she is really good for me and affectionate. Her Dad is around a lot as he is not working full time and he plays with her and gives her a lot of attention. Why is she doing this and when will she grow out of it? The Daddy tantrums are a bit stressful!  We have another little girl of 10 months and Gemma has got worse since her sister was born, though she loves her sister and plays with her a lot. Lorraine

Dr Amanda Gummer: It’s common for children at this age to idolize an adult and it’s often not the primary carer. It’s no slight on your attachment or relationship, but it may be partly a reaction to her younger sister. It’s likely to be just a phase and you can shorten it in a number of ways.

1. Try making sure your partner takes his turn with the baby too and you get some time to do special treats with Gemma.

2. Encourage your partner not to react to the tantrums as these can easily turn into attention seeking and manipulative behavior if they’re not addressed.

3. Do as much as possible as a whole family

4. Talk to your partner about his view on it and come up with a consistent approach on how to deal with undesirable behaviour.

My daughter is going to secondary school next year. Should I tell her that Santa isn’t real? If I let her still believe will she get bullied? Kirsty Marie

Dr Amanda Gummer: The way children find out about Santa can be really traumatic and it's important to get it right. Most children will stop believing when they're ready but don't force the issue.

Giving children the freedom to believe what they want to believe is empowering and promotes tolerance of different faiths and cultures, but it's also important to answer questions truthfully to promote trust – this is especially important as children enter teenage years and become more independent.

Give her plenty of opportunity to ask questions and discuss the meaning and magic of Christmas and let her guide you as to whether she's ready for the truth.

How much roughly should you spend on Christmas presents per child? Everything is so expensive! Gemma Ivens

Dr Amanda Gummer: There's no set amount, but don’t go into debt to get the kids more present than you can afford – they'll benefit more from having a relaxed happy parents over Christmas and into the New Year than having more toys and parents who are stressed about money come January. There are lots of free fun Christmas things to do – try the #fun4all twitter stream for ideas.

Any tips for giving dummies to Santa? My two year old son was up for it, but now seems to be backtracking on the idea! Elaine Muirhead

Dr Amanda Gummer: It's a great idea but don't overdo it. If he's not ready this time, you could wait and do it for his birthday. He can leave it out with the milk and cookies and maybe Santa could leave a special present there in exchange.

It's great to get children into the idea of giving things back to Santa as a way of getting rid of old toys that have been grown out of and clearing cupboard space for new things.

How do you entertain a wide range of children aged two to 10 and adults on Christmas Day? Gemma Ivens

Dr Amanda Gummer: Family games and treasure hunts are great. Table games such as pass the pud from Gibsons are good for entertaining little ones between courses and construction toys or family puzzles are good for a quiet time after lunch while the grandparents have a nap!

My girls are aged 10 and seven and still get excited about Christmas. I now have a new baby and so I’m very tried and struggling to get into the spirit of Christmas. Can you help with any ideas to get us all excited about Christmas? Lucy Johnson

Dr Amanda Gummer: The trick is to let the children lead on things the will enjoy doing unsupervised to give you a break – encourage them to put on a Christmas play for you and the new baby. Or all wrap up and go for a walk to see Christmas lights – the fresh air will help everyone relax and sleep better.

Christmas music and some favourite Christmas stories that they can read to the baby can also help bring the spirit of Christmas back and don't forget to get the rest of the family involved in keeping the magic alive for the older children. A shopping trip to buy baby a present will be popular.

My friend has two- and four-year-old girls and will be doing a lot of travelling over Christmas. Is there anything you can suggest to make this less stressful for her? Michaela Dockerill

Dr Amanda Gummer: Planning journeys with lots of breaks is a good idea and if it's a car journey try to travel at naturally quiet times. Make the journey fun and get the kids involved in packing – make sure they include some travel toys to keep them entertained.

The PlayAway Case is a great Christmas present for children on the move a lot and can help keep the children amused as well as their stuff contained. We've reviewed it over on Good Toy Guide along with other travel toys.

What topics would you like expert advice on? Share your ideas below.

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