Mother and Baby

Psychology Expert Dr Christine Puckering Answers Your Questions

Missed our Wednesday Lunch Club with psychology expert Dr Christine Puckering? Not to worry, you can catch up on all the advice she shared here

Every week at Mother&Baby we bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your fertility, pregnancy and parenting questions from a top expert.  

This week, psychology expert Dr Christine was on hand to answer your questions.

Dr Christine is a chartered clinical psychologist, chartered forensic psychologist and a full practitioner member of the Division of Neuropsychology of the British Psychological Society. She has more than 30 years' experience of working with children and families both in clinical and research positions. In addition to this, Dr Christine is one of the original authors and the programme director of Mellow Parenting, a charity that helps parents from pregnancy onwards to make better relationships with their children.       

Here’s what happened…

My oldest child is going through a bit of a difficult phase (refusing to listen to us and throwing things) and I’m worried our youngest will start copying her. Is there anything I can do?
Dr Christine: You don't say how old the older child is, but you need to put some boundaries in place if their behaviour is not acceptable. Try to keep house and family rules simple but consistent. A good technique is to say no, ignore misbehaviour and offer a distraction. If they are throwing toys, you can say, ‘we don't throw toys because someone can get hurt’, then turn your back, and start another more enjoyable activity, maybe with the younger child.

Ignoring is a strong technique, though not easy, and you must be consistent. You can't allow things one day and then forbid them the next, and if you make a rule make it always the same. If you do ignore, remember to keep it up. If you ignore for a while then get cross, the child is learning ‘keep on doing what you were, because it will get attention in the end.’ I am not a big fan of naughty steps or ‘time out’ as it is too easy to get this powerful technique wrong. Turn your back and IGNORE if you can. If your older child is not getting pay-off and your younger child sees that, they are less likely to follow. Just make sure they both get lots of praise and attention when they are being good. We often react more to misbehaviour than good behaviour so ‘catch them out being good’ as often as you can.
I have a set of twins and while one is very relaxed and quite a chilled little boy, the other is extremely highly strung, has daily tantrums over nothing and seems very insecure. How has this even happened? I feel like I've brought them up the same and yet they behave so differently.

Ignoring is a strong technique, though not easy, and you must be consistent.

Dr Christine: Yes, it happens not infrequently. Babies have their own temperaments from birth, and sometimes that fits well or less well with our own temperament so things go smoothly or become a little more ragged. Maybe treating them the same is not the answer. If they are different, treat them differently. I don't mean favour one, but what works for one may not suit the other. Take some time to tune in to Mr Difficult. If possible get someone else to take Mr Easy out for an hour so you can really give space to Mr D. Just sit in the floor and watch what s/he is interested in and follow their lead. We sometimes call this the ‘football commentary’. ‘Oh, you are picking up your bricks.’ ‘Oh you are putting your shoes in the digger.’ Don't join in unless you are invited. Don't ask questions. Maybe make time for a snack and let them choose, within reason – e.g. "Would you like carrot sticks or a sandwich?" You don't give their age but give Mr D space and allow them to help if possible. Being a twin sometimes means having to find your unique place and identity so try to appreciate Mr D and praise frequently when s/he gets it right. We reckon five praises to every prohibition is about the best recipe.

I breastfed my daughter to sleep until she was 14 months and she is now 22 months and we still lie on her floor whilst she goes to sleep as she cries if we try to leave. We are more on the attachment side of parenting and don't want her to feel like she has been abandoned, but recently she has started waking up once or twice in the night as well (she was generally sleeping through) and needing us there - at this stage would it hurt her emotionally if we were to try and start withdrawing from the room even if she gets really upset?
Dr Christine: Well, I am on the attachment side too, but at 22 months she is now ready to learn a new skill; how to settle herself. We all move though different levels of depth of sleep during the night, some light and some deep. She is now ready to learn how to settle and also resettle if she wakes. Make sure she has a really good routine, bath, book, cuddle in a quiet and preferably dark room might be one option, then put her in her cot and say good night. You can stay and pat or gently rub her back for a minute then leave. She will probably protest, but leave her a minute or two then go back, do not take her out of her cot, but reassure her, lie her down, pat her back and leave. You may need to go through this a number of times. You can wait outside her room to listen as to whether the crying is accelerating or diminishing and if it is diminishing don't go back too quickly. Some children will ‘burble’ to themselves for a while before they drop off. If you rush in too quickly you don't give her the chance to settle herself. Look on this as a learning task and don't expect it to be learnt first time. If she wakes in the night, do the same, reassure, lie her down and leave.

My child overheard a swear word and now she can't stop saying in (in public!) -what can I do?

We reckon five praises to every prohibition is about the best recipe.

Dr Christine: No doubt when your child heard it and then said it they got a reaction! Whether people laughed at them or got cross, no doubt they got a reaction. Children will do it again for the reaction. If you can, just ignore it. Develop ‘strong ignore muscles’ as it might take a few times to lose its effect but it will work if you persist. Warn sensitive folks so they react consistently. It does work if you can be consistent.
How to help my four-year-old daughter during very a long divorce? She's a daddy's girl and I will be moving out to live with my new partner. Help!
Dr Christine: Separation is always difficult for children. They only know that they have lost someone they love, and they will often blame themselves, ‘if only I had not been naughty…’ The most important thing is to keep very regular contact and keep any conflict or disagreements between you and your husband out of her knowledge. If you disagree, do it in private. That is grown up business and not for her to worry about. Don't ever say or even imply any criticism of her father. If you and he can meet when she is there, without fighting, then that allows her to see that no-one is blaming her and she does not need to take sides. If you can, visit her at her father's house (sort out the ground rules with him first). I don't know if she has met your new partner. If not, take it slowly. If she spends time with you, she wants time with you, not time shared with someone else. If she has not yet met them, then meet on neutral ground first, not in your new joint home so the ground rules are open for all to negotiate, not already set up. When they do meet, your partner should be careful not to try to be her new parent.


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