Mother and Baby

Childcare Expert Fi Star-Stone Answers Your Questions

From questions on potty training to fun activities for babies and toddlers, it’s all covered

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, childcare expert Fi Star-Stone was on hand to answer your questions.

Mum-of-two Fi is a qualified nursery nurse with over 22 years experience and a broadcaster, blogger and the editor of parenting site Childcare is Fun. She’s qualified in Nursery Nursing and in Childhood Studies and has a degree in Childhood and Youth studies. Fi also has training certificates in baby sign, sleep training, sports for children, science for children, special needs training and breastfeeding support.

Here’s what happened…

I would love some great quick meal ideas and healthy snacks for my two-year-old daughter. She's really fussy and has a really sweet tooth.

Fi: Every week I post a #TopToddlerTeas idea. I love sharing fun but quick and easy lunches and teas for little ones. Pasta is always a firm favourite with children and is really easy to prepare. Make your own sauces in bulk (you can mush down most veggies and add to the sauces too) then freeze and defrost ready for a quick but healthy tea topped with cheese!

Homemade pizzas are fun too. Little ones take great delight in creating their own shapes – you can even use cookie cutters. My two kids love making 'spacemen pizzas' and creating their own fabulous toppings. I serve them with 'space pasta’, which is planet shaped pasta from Asda. For snacks, try making cheesy bread sticks dipped in humous or cream cheese. Fruit kebab sticks are fun too, and in the summer you can pop them in the freezer for fruity frozen fun.

Fruit kebab sticks are fun and in the summer you can pop them in the freezer for fruity frozen fun

I’m really struggling with potty training my son. He's three and a half and I've been trying for what seems like years but he just won't do it right every time. I'm worried he still won't be able to use the loo when he starts school, which could cause big problems! Can you help? I know I shouldn't use bribery but I'm at an absolute loss.

Fi: Here are my top tips:

1. Try and train to toilet and not to a potty if you can. Otherwise you'll end up training to toilet from potty eventually, and you'll be kind of starting all over again.

2. Wait until THEY are ready, and not you! I know parents can be competitive, but honestly – go by your child and not by their age. Toilet training can start anytime between 20 months and three and a half years. I've known some children not remotely interested until almost four – and that’s fine. 

3. Buy fabulous pants – ones with favourite characters are great. Say funny things like ‘Don't wee on postman pat!’ and it makes it a challenge to keep him dry! Also don't use pull-ups in the day – they send out mixed messages. They are not pants – they’re nappies with elastic. Use them at bedtimes and call them ‘night night pants’. It's so important that when toilet training little ones can feel wetness or if they've soiled. If it's a nappy they won't mind! 

4. Anymore than four to five accidents a day and your little one just isn't ready. Go back to nappies for a week or two and start again. Finally – don’t worry. It will eventually happen and of course there will be accidents and mess and things you never though you'd deal with but it'll happen. 

5. When going out use disposable changing pads. They are great for saving car seats! Also invest in a carry potty for when you’re out and about.

I'm a stay-at-home mum and have three children under the age of four to keep busy each day. I hate the idea of plonking them down in front of the TV but they're bored stiff of the usual arts and crafts, park, building den activities. Anything you suggest that they can all do together? The youngest is 21 months.

Fi: There's lots of fun to be had without the need for TV or expensive toys. Have you tried messy/sensory play? One of my favourites is cold spaghetti play – my two (aged three and four) love it. It's a great 'all rounder' so all of your children can play at the table together.

Or you can do a variety of play ideas such as bubbles/foam play, rice play, shaving foam and even bring some sand inside to play. In the winter we bought the snow from outdoors inside and played with it in metal trays. We added zoo animals and my kids had so much fun.

Role play is also great for all ages

Role play is also great for all ages. Again, you don't need to buy expensive toys or dress-up outfits. Your old clothes and shoes are perfect, and an upside down cardboard box with circles drawn on it becomes an easy homemade cooker. Imaginative play is great for encouraging siblings to interact and play together.

I have a four year old and 10-week-old baby. My four year old’s behaviour has been a lot 'harder' since having his sister and he never lets her sleep when he's around during the day – he always makes sure he's as loud as possible, which results in an overtired baby. I then struggle to get her to sleep much at night, too. She's very slow to gain weight (8lb 6oz at birth and 9lb 3oz at nine weeks), which I’m worried is due to her lack of sleep. Can you suggest anything to get the four year old to understand she needs to sleep?

Fi: Sleep is really important for growth and development yes, but try not to worry. Sibling rivalry is normal, and it's important to try and divide your attention equally even though it's incredibly hard to (I had two under two so can totally understand how hard it is!). When your baby goes down for their nap, explain to your four year old that this is 'your very special time together'.

That way they will look forward to that time. Plan an activity to do together – puzzles, simple sensory play or crafting (lots of ideas on my parenting site).

Also encourage quiet/rest time for your older child. Getting into a great routine will really help you have some quality time, some rest time for both your little ones, and a happier time all round.

I have a three and a half year old and have just had another baby. My eldest is very good with the baby and obviously loves him a lot, but she has started misbehaving with me. She constantly says things that she knows are naughty and will upset me. I'm a bit confused by this as we've made a point of making sure she still gets a lot of attention, although I know it won't obviously be as much as before the baby was born. Do you have any advice? I feel that she is doing it for my attention and punishing her is making it a vicious circle.

Fi: Don’t worry – jealousy is totally normal. There will be tears on occasions, so prepare for this. Try and make time to have special daddy or mummy time with your older child so they get that special ‘them’ time back each week. Encourage them to be involved with the new baby. It’s hard work when you have a second or third baby – but making time for both little ones equally makes it a much smoother journey.

Try and make time to have special daddy or mummy time with your older child so they get that special ‘them’ time back each week

Buying a baby doll for your little one is a great way of letting them feel included in the new baby care routine. When your baby is born they’ll have their very own baby to care for which will make having a new sibling fun and exciting! Change nappies together (they change their dolly) and even feed! My daughter had me in giggles ‘breastfeeding’ her little dolly when I breastfed Oscar.

I have a question on weaning. My baby is six and a half months old and is showing less and less interest in solids. We started to wean her about two months ago as she suffers with reflux and never happily takes her milk even now the reflux is controlled. She used to have three meals a day (porridge at breakfast, half pot veg at lunch and veg and meat at tea) now she refuses any breakfast, will have a few mouthfuls at lunch and half a jar at tea. If I give her anything with a lumpier texture than stage one or finger foods she chokes and vomits. She never even seems hungry and I feel like I'm constantly offering milk/ food throughout the day and she's not interested, but then she is still up once or twice in the night for feeding. I've also tried yoghurts, fruit, Weetabix and rice pudding but she's just not interested. Can you please advise how I can get her to eat more solids in the day?

Fi: Firstly, reflux isn't very nice at all. My two both had reflux and so I can empathise. Weaning can be both fun and stressful at times, but the main thing is to try not to worry. Try a variety of food with your little one and encourage a mixture of both baby-led weaning and puree foods.

It's really a learning experience for both of you, so just keep trying different flavours and textures. 

I'm looking after my friend's toddler for a weekend soon and would love some ideas of activities that I can do with them (ideally ones that don't cost much!).

Fi: My favourite activities are pretty much free! Using things from around the house. Saucepans and plastic pots turned upside down make great musical instruments for a music session. Pop on some classical or even some rock and let them play away.

Sensory play is also cheap and easy. Play with rice, spaghetti, foam, pebbles, anything really that's safe to play with. Pop onto a tray and add animals or spoons/cups for some messy, sensory fun.

Arty fun is also fab and how nice it would be to give the parents a little painting! You can keep one yourself to remind you of the fun day. Printing is an easy activity – use corks, potatoes, or even milk bottle lids to create fun shapes on paper. Use child-friendly poster paints – available quite cheaply at supermarkets.

What topics would you like covered in our Wednesday Lunch Clubs? Let us know in the comments box below.

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