BEST Natural home remedies to cure an ear infection

Natural cure for ear infectionAn ear infection can be a very painful explanation for a sleepless night. Three out of four children will have suffered at least one by their third birthday. It is also the most prevalent complaint that lands children at the doctor’s surgery, and the most common reason for prescribed antibiotics. Yet the NHS website states that the routine use of antibiotics to treat middle ear infections is not recommended, as there is no evidence that they speed up the healing process. In fact, many ear infections are caused by viruses, which antibiotics are completely ineffective against.

I remember waiting several hours to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic on a Sunday morning when Melissa was really small to find out, to my relief, that her ear pulling and grumpy disposition was just a bad case of teething.

When your baby screams in excruciating pain unable to tell you what the matter is, it’s easy to feel helpless. Yet ear infections are almost completely preventable and easily remedied at home.

Firstly, how can you tell if your baby has an ear infection?

1) Ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. Watch out for a runny nose that turns yellow or green as a bacterial infection sets in.

2) Increased night-waking and fussiness during the day and night could be a sign of pain, however it’s often difficult to tell the difference between teething and an ear infection.

3) Low grade fever (101-102F) most certainly indicates an illness of some kind but is not always present with an ear infection.

4) Ear drainage – blood or pus draining out of the ear is a sure sign of an ear infection but will only show if the eardrum is ruptured.

5) Worsening of pain when lying flat could be a sign; however the pain could be elsewhere, for example colic pain is often worse when lying down.

6) Pulling on the ear – small children cannot localise where pain is coming from and may do this when teething or simply playing with their ear.

7) Diminished hearing – may indicate a blocked ear in a baby, but could just be a sign that your toddler is developing selective hearing.

As you can see it’s all very confusing. You can never be completely sure that your child has an ear infection unless you or a doctor to take a look right inside. However, you can take preventative measures to make sure that your child does not get one to begin with, by following these simple steps.

1) Put on a woolly hat! Cold wind can quickly get to the ears and turn a cold into an earache. Keep heads and ears well covered on a cold winter’s day.

2) Don’t go swimming if your child has a cold, and use a nasal aspirator to clear mucus from the sinuses and prevent infections spreading to the ear.

3) Make sure the ears are completely dry after getting wet in the bath, shower or swimming pool by gently tipping your child’s head each way over a towel for a minute to allow water to drain.

4) Exposure to cigarette smoke can irritate the tiny estuation tubes in a child and lead to an infection. It goes without saying – don’t smoke around children.

What can you do if you suspect an ear infection?

1) Apply a warm wash cloth, water bottle or heating pad on the ear – this helps with pain.

2) Combine a few drops of garlic oil with a tsp of olive oil and warm it to body temperature. Using a dropper, drop a few drops into the infected ear and allow the child to rest their head to the side in order for the oil to penetrate. Repeat on the other side if necessary. WARNING – if you see any liquid or pus draining out of the ear, DO NOT PUT ANY DROPS INTO THE EAR.

3) Perform a gentle ear drainage massage to clear the ear and get rid of excess fluid. See the video below.

4) Echinacea is a herb which medical research has shown to be safe and effective at boosting the immune system decreasing the frequency, duration and severity of common illnesses including ear infections. Here’s my favourite brand for babies over 6 months.

Do remember, that although extremely painful, an ear infection will usually clear up itself after 3 days with no treatment whatsoever.

As a child I suffered from numerous ear infections. Goodness, they were the most painful thing (other than labour) that I’ve ever experienced. I had many courses of antibiotics, my ears drained and waxy build up syringed, but they just kept coming back. Then when I was 18 I discovered I had a cow’s milk allergy. I haven’t had cow’s milk regularly now for nearly 20 years, and I have also never suffered with another ear infection.

If your child is having repeated ear infections I suggest you consider the following;

Natural solutions for chronic ear infections

Natural solutions for ear infections1. Craniosacral therapy – During labour the skull of your baby is squashed to fit through the birthing canal and especially in the case of an assisted birth (vontouse or forceps) may take time to recover shape. Gentle adjustment to the skull and neck can improve middle ear drainage and decrease ear infections.

2) Swimmers ear – if your child seems to get an ear infection every time they go swimming, you may prevent this by placing several drops of rubbing alcohol or white vinegar into the ear canal with a dropper. These kill infection and dry up the moisture.

3) Get an otoscope so you can see the infection yourself without having to wait for a doctor’s appointment. This way you can treat at the first sign.

4) Allergies – if like me, your child has continuous ear infections I would consider an allergy to cow’s milk. Research has shown a link between cow’s milk allergies and recurrent ear infections. Other signs that your child may have a cow’s milk allergy are colic, hay fever, eczema, acid reflux and digestive problems.

Does your child suffer with ear infections? Have you found any natural solutions or cures for your child’s ear infections? I’d love to hear about them. Please leave comments below.


Mummy De-Stress!

Looking after number 1 – Part 3

Spa minerals face packWhen you become a mum, it’s important to put some coping strategies into place to make sure you don’t reach the point of ‘burnout’.

If you’ve read my post on how to cope with sleep deprivation you’ll have seen that at the beginning I wasn’t very good at doing this. I literally road a caffeine fuelled car to get me through the day. This only stressed my adrenal glands and blocked important sleep inducing chemicals in the brain, so that when I did want to sleep I wasn’t able to. How frustrating!

These days I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve stopped trying to be the perfect mum who has all the washing and ironing done. After all, rushing around cleaning the house when your child is asleep is all very well, but I’ve discovered that nobody but you really cares if the house is spotless. And when Melissa tells me

mummy you just need to relax’

……instead of ignoring her warning and getting annoyed that a 4 year old is patronising me, I listen to her intuitiveness and use it as an excuse to put my feet up. After all, she and I are both aware that a de-stressed mummy is a happy healthy mummy.

So I’ve swapped my coffee for a cup of relaxing herbal tea and I’ve searched out ways to put 10 minutes of calm back into my life. Whether it is a simple yoga stretch on the floor, a face pack that stops me from talking, or a foot massage with some beautiful smelling essential oils, I find a way to be just me (for a few minutes).

Baldwins destress pack for mumsI was lucky enough some weeks ago, to be sent a Mummy De-Stress pack by one of my favourite Complementary Health stores; Baldwins.

I lived in South East London for over 15 years before moving to Oxford, and being into all things natural, I often frequented this gem of a place on London’s Walworth Road. It stocks all kinds of herbs, supplements and goodies and is a proper modern day Apothecary.

The Mummy De-Stress pack was an absolute joy to receive and test out. It included some of my favourite holistic brands. For example Bach flower Rescue Remedy and Rescue night liquid melts; which I’ve been popping just before bed to help me sleep deeply, as well as giving the odd one to Melissa if she wakes upset from a nightmare.

We’ve just put our SE London flat on the market, hoping to make the move to Oxford a permanent one. As you can imagine selling a flat is never straight forward and worries tend to creep in at night when you lie in bed. A night time bath with Baldwins Soothing Bath Oil followed by a couple of capsules of Pukka Night Time blend of Valerian and Ashwagandha has certainly helped me to ‘turn off’ the worries until morning. Whilst sipping a bedtime cup of Baldwins loose herbal teas (read more on these here) has left me so relaxed I’m practically horizontal.

Herbal sleep tea for childrenThank you Baldwins for sending this Mummy De-Stress pack to us. Even though I’m a Herbalist I’m still constantly blown away by the healing power of herbs, and Melissa was extremely chuffed to see her name on the packet of Melissa officinalis tea!

Are you a parent that’s found a coping mechanism or a way to de-stress from the strains of parenthood? I’d love to hear about it. Please leave comments below. If you missed part 1 and part 2 of my series on ‘Looking after number 1′ please click here (part 1 – coping with sleep deprivation & part 2 – the value of having some ‘me time’).

Make your own Natural Food Colouring

Make your own Natural food colourings for birthday cake
For many years there have been parents who have insisted that additives and E numbers in food and drink have caused changes in their child’s behaviour.

If you’ve read my blog posts on natural ways to deal with Temper Tantrums and Sleep Inducing foods, you’ll know that research is now catching up. In fact, it reveals that as many as 75% of children with a behavioural problem have some sort of food reaction to common artificial food colourings and preservatives that exacerbate their condition.

Food additives linked to behaviour & allergic reactions

Other studies have now shown the potential risk of allergic reactions, such as asthma and breathing problems linked with certain food additives and E numbers. Furthermore, food chemicals can pass through breast milk and affect breastfed babies. So if you have a cranky poor sleeping breastfed baby, I would look directly at your own diet.

With the above in mind, parents are now recommended to avoid products with these suspect additives and E numbers in them, especially if their child shows signs of allergy, behavioural problems and hyperactivity. The main ones to look out for are:

  • E102 – tartrazine
  • E104 – quinoline yellow
  • E110 – sunset yellow
  • E122 – carmoisine
  • E125 – ponceau 4R
  • E129 – allura red
  • E211 – sodium benzoate

These E numbers are everywhere; in Smarties, Jelly tots, Jammie Dodges as well as Sugar free Ribena and Fruit Shoots to name a few! And when you’re thinking of making a birthday cake extravaganza, it’s easy to grab a bottle of food colouring and create. However if you’ve inviited twenty 3 year old’s to your home, you may wish to re-think what goes into the icing; otherwise you could have a brawl rather than a party on your hands.

Melissa, being a spirited and energetic little soul has always led me to search out natural ways to maintain her calm. It was her birthday 3 days ago and I thought I’d go the extra mile to design a birthday cake that wouldn’t send her over the edge. If you wish to do the same, here’s my list of tried and tested natural food colourings. All you need to do is juice a tiny amount of each fruit or vegetable to get your natural food dye:

Natural food colourings from fruit and vegetables:

beetroot cupcakesRed: beetroot juice gives an amazingly wonderful deep pink colour. You only need a drop or two if you want pale pink icing or more if you want a deep fuscia. Click on the picture and scroll down to see my chocolate and beetroot fairy cake recipe.

Orange: carrot juice is fantastic and healthy

Yellow: a pinch of turmeric or saffron in a little water, or orange juice if you’re making an orange flavoured cake.

Brown: golden beetroot’s earthy yellow colour produces a dye that’s brown.

Green: spinach, rocket or watercress juice is actually undetectable if mixed with sugar paste.

Blue: blueberry juice gives a blue / purple hew that is beautiful. It’s not a sea blue colour but if marbled with green sugar paste it creates a perfect mermaid’s tail.

Purple: blueberry and blackberry juice give a wonderful purple colour; commercial colour free natural grape juice concentrate gives a great colour too but a strong taste; okay if you like it.

Black/brown – if you mix all the coloured icing pastes together you can get a rock effect. It is trial and error on how much of each you add but the results can be a beautiful marble.

Does your child have a reaction to food colourings and E numbers? Have you found any naturally coloured children’s sweets that you recommend or have you successfully experimented with natural food colourings yourself? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


10 EASY ways to live without WHEAT

Following on from my last post – What’s the problem with Wheat? I wanted to discuss the array of gluten free products that have flooded the supermarkets lately in a ploy to get you to spend huge amounts of your money on something that is usually dry, tasteless and really not that good for you. I’m not a fan of anything processed, and some of the ingredients appearing in these products are less than desirable.

Here’s a few of them listed for you – Vegetable Glycerine, Yeast, Caster Sugar, Methyl Cellulose, Dried Egg White, Hydroxypropyl Methyl Cellulose, Locust Bean Gum and Guar Gum. To summarise in one word –  YUK!! I would go as far to say that eating commercial white wheat bread may be (marginally) better than regularly eating these ingredients. So what’s the alternative? I’ve complied a list;

10 easy ways to live without wheat

…….and not compromise your health or your taste buds.

chickpea brownies1) Chocolate brownies have got to be one of the most delicious treats you can make. I don’t know a child (or adult for that matter) that doesn’t love a brownie and they’re so easy to whip up when you’ve got friends popping over. My favourite recipe found here uses chickpea flour instead of wheat flour. Test it out – I’ve not had a complaint yet. Even Nick Pearcy on BBC Radio Oxford was loving them!

2) Pasta – It’s easy to switch from wheat to rice pasta. Some of the supermarket brands aren’t the most delicious. The best one I’ve found is Doves Farm Penne, Fusilli and Spaghetti. It’s made from brown rice and tastes exactly like the wheat variety – except without the ‘bloat factor’.

3) Tacos – If you’re anything like us, you’ll love Mexican food – a spicy chilli or fajitas with plenty of guacamole and salsa. Tortilla wraps are an absolute ‘no no’ when you go wheat free, but Taco’s and Nachos are made purely from corn. Kids love loading them with their favourite toppings and hearing the crunch as you bite in.

4) Pancakes have to be one of our favourite breakfasts (read more on the dangers of commercialised breakfast cereals here). When you make your own you choose what goes into them. We like using chickpea as well as coconut flour for dreamy light and fluffy pancakes.

cauliflower pizza 25) Pizza is the one thing I used to miss the most when I gave up wheat. Not any more! I discovered this amazing recipe where you use a grated cauliflower to make the base before loading it with your favourite toppings. This is the healthiest pizza recipe you’ll find – no guilt included. Click on the picture and scroll down to find the recipe.

6) Snacking on the go can be challenging when you’re wheat free, as everything is bread or biscuit orientated. When you’re out-and-about think OATS. This nutrient packed grain is full of healthful fibre to keep you full (and regular if you know what I mean). My top in-the-handbag snacks are Nairn’s cheesy oatcakes (Melissa’s favourite), Trek bars and flapjacks – Holland and Barrett stock a wide variety.

Moist gluten free mermaid birthday cake recipe7) Cakes can be a big disappointment if you buy commercial wheat free ones; they tend to be dry and tasteless. If you think that baking a wheat free cake is difficult, think again. My favourite recipe uses almond flour and whole oranges which creates a deliciously light and moist sponge. I recently used it to bake Melissa’s 4th birthday cake. It’s also Nigella’s favourite cake recipe too, so it has to be a winner. Check out her recipe here – it’s the easiest cake you’ll make.

8) Quinoa is an ancient Peruvian grain which is gluten free and contains all 12 essential amino acids as well as plenty of vitamins and minerals. It looks like cous cous and can be served as such with a vegetable tagine, stew or made up as a salad.

9) Granola is typically oat based. As you’ve probably read, I’m not a fan of commercial cereals but granola can be a delicious and healthy alternative. Here’s my favourite grain free granola recipe or No-la as Katie Folds my fellow grain free foodies loves to call it. In the winter switch to porridge, it’s wholesome and hearty and puts hairs on your chest (okay maybe not the hairs bit).

10) Bread has got to be the Nations one love; it certainly is Melissa’s. So I have to be constantly searching for a healthier option and sorry Genius bread – you just don’t cut it! I prefer Village Bakery Rye Sourdough, which uses a fermentation method which reduces the gluten content. It is dark but moist and so passes the Melissa test. Also check out the grain free Focaccia recipe of my GF recipe page here. It is so simple and easy to make and you can load it with any topping you prefer, for example olives and rosemary or sage and onion; perfect for dipping in soup or slathered with hummus.

If you missed my article on ‘What’s the problem with Wheat?’ You can read it here. As you can see, there’s really no excuse for eating tasteless and expensive ‘gluten free’ or ‘wheat free’ products ever again. Have you got a favourite wheat free food or recipe? I’d love to hear about it. Please feel free to leave comments below.

What’s the problem with WHEAT?

What's the problem with wheatI remember when Melissa was a tiny baby I really looked forward to when she’d be able to eat solids. Being a Nutritional Therapist (read more about me here), I fantasised about all the culinary creations I would make. Yet Melissa was so disinterested in food it was embarrassing. I’d slave away over a butternut squash puree, meticulously freezing it into ice cube trays, but it would just end up on the floor. After ditching the blender and switching to Baby Led Weaning we had greater success, but the only food she really liked was bread. This worried me as I suffer from a wheat intolerance and hadn’t regularly eaten bread for over 10 years. Yet despite my better judgment my desperation for Melissa to eat something and give me a break from breastfeeding persuaded me that she’d have daddy’s genes and be okay. I was wrong. Even though it was subtle, I noticed that when Melissa ate bread she would become constipated, behave aggressively and wake up more frequently at night – not a happy girl.

It led me to look into the whole wheat intolerance thing in more detail and here’s what I discovered.

What’s the problem with wheat?

For over 10,000 years we’ve cultivated wheat, stored it, milled it and eaten it in the form of bread. It was nutritious, a food staple and kept generations from going hungry. Then hit the Industrial Revolution. Wheat then needed to be stored for the millions of workers in the Cities. To do this, technologies were invented to turn healthful whole wheat into refined flour. Milling removed the nutritious wheat kernel before bleaching and chemicals made it resistant to pests. As farming methods progressed, wheat was modified to grow quicker; dramatically increasing its yield. Finally in the last 50 years advances in genetics have allowed increases in the gluten content of flour to allow for lighter fluffier bread. The results, a gluten-free craze, and it’s not surprising…

….wheat is not what it used to be!

If you think that eating wheat free is just a fashionable fad for celebs wanting to stay slim, you should think again. Gluten (the protein in wheat responsible for Coeliacs disease) in commercial wheat has been shown to make up 50% of the product compared with 5% only 50 years ago.

The increase in gluten intolerance

Lemon almond gluten free fairy cakesWith an increase of gluten in our wheat comes an increase in sensitivity, and far more people have a gluten intolerance than you think. Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 of people in the USA, which is a hundred times greater than a previous estimate. There are studies showing that this rate is increasing rapidly, and undiagnosed in over 80% of sufferers.

Furthermore, Coeliac or not, gluten is thought to cause gut inflammation in at least 80% of people. The effect can lead to leaky gut syndrome allowing bacterial proteins and other toxic compounds to get in the blood stream contributing to numerous health conditions. In fact over 200 clinical conditions have been linked to wheat. A leaky gut also means that food is not digested properly which can lead to nutrient deficiencies. The problem is compounded by the fact that….

…we are eating more wheat than we used to.

Whilst previously we may have tolerated eating the old style wheat a couple of times a week in a traditional 1950s diet of meat and two veg, and fish on a Friday’s, wheat is now everywhere! We eat it in our Cheerio’s, Wheatabix or breakfast bagel and croissant, sandwiches and wraps are a quick and easy lunch and it’s now fashionable to eat pasta, pizza or cous cous for dinner. Furthermore, if you’re snacking on cakes, biscuits and donuts in the day you’re unwittingly eating wheat six times a day.

Not everyone needs to give up wheat

Just cutting down will do your health a lot of good. For most people consuming small amounts of gluten in the occasional slice of bread won’t do any harm. It’s when we eat it every day that the problem starts.

If your child is suffering from any of the following – eczema, tummy trouble, constipation, diarrhoea, hay fever, any behavioural or sleep problems I would seriously consider looking at their wheat intake.

Gluten free paleo focacciaFor Melissa eating wheat is an infrequent affair. I avoid it totally at home so she only gets it at friends’ houses or out and about when there’s nothing else. The results have been a happier child with a sweet, gentle and cooperative nature, as well as the added bonus of a better night’s sleep. Interestingly, my husband recently also went wheat-free to join us, and despite being very fit, tall and slim has also noticed numerous health benefits including ‘no bloating’ after eating and the disappearance of an annoying itchy rash (dermatitis herpetiformis) he’s had on his elbows for as long as he can remember.

If you’d like to check out our wheat and gluten free recipes please click here. I’m sure you’ll love our amazing focaccia recipe; it’s so easy and delicious to make. Also here’s 10 easy ways to live without wheat – and not compromise on taste or health.

Have you had any experiences in going wheat-free? Or do you have any recipes you’d like to share? I’d love hear about them. Please leave comments below.

Does crying damage your baby?

Does crying damage your babyAre you from a family of criers? I am. You only had to see my sisters’ faces at Melissa’s christening, when we were singing Jerusalem (which was our old school song); tears rolling down our cheeks, lumps in our throats. Or my mum’s touching goodbye with a tear in her eye; knowing that it’ll be a while before we see each other again. Not to mention the ‘welling up’ of pride when my dad saw me in my wedding dress. We’re an emotional bunch. In fact, I’m shedding a tear as I write – ridiculous as it may seem, because it’s a beautiful thing.

Humans are hardwired to cry. Crying is a natural physiological response to pain, fear, happiness as well as getting grit in your eye or cutting onions. Emotional tears start in the cerebrum where emotion is registered. The endocrine system is then triggered to release hormones to the ocular area, which then cause tears to form.

Feeling better after a good cry

A study at a Medical Centre in Minnesota, found that chemicals that build up in our body during times of stress are shed in our tears when we cry. If we suppress the emotion and hold back the tears, the unreleased stress can manifest into health complaints like chronic illnesses and an increased risk of heart attack or damage to the brain. So the human ability to cry not only feels good, it’s necessary for your health!

So, why is society down on crying?

Somehow our culture has filtered down the message that children shouldn’t cry.  Or that crying should be reserved for the really big things in life, like the loss of a loved one. We’re taught that repressing your emotions is a mature thing to do, and that we must behave in a socially acceptable way; hence the stiff upper lip.

Little boys are told to ‘man up’ or that ‘crying is for sissy’s’. Older children are told that ‘crying is for babies’, and I frequently hear parents say ‘that doesn’t hurt, there’s nothing to cry about’.

Firstly, who are we to decide what does or doesn’t hurt? Secondly, children (as well as adults) cry for many different reasons. It may look like your child’s friend only pushed them gently, but the tears may flow over the emotional hurt that comes from a friend’s rejection. The amount of times I’ve stubbed my toe, collapsed on the floor in sobs and realised I’m crying over something completely different.

Babies cry as a way of communication

The first thing that a baby does when it enters the world is cry. Parents and midwifes sigh in relief that the baby is breathing and all is okay. Crying is a language, it’s a form of communication that tells you your baby need feeding, changing or cuddling and it deserves to be listened to. Toddlers and children often don’t have the words to fully express what they are feeling. So in times of raw emotion they resort to crying, yet society has taken the view that crying is wrong; that a child should be seen and not heard.

Should we tell a child to stop crying?

When we tell a child not to cry, we are saying to them that crying is bad. We aren’t teaching them how to master the expression of emotion, but rather how to suppress it. Worse still, if you tell a child off for crying, or ignore crying, then you’re saying that the emotion they feel is invalid and wrong. If constantly reinforced, over time, your disapproval or unavailability will stop them from expressing their feelings to you again. On the surface, this may produce an obedient child, but this suppression can often be the source of frequent toddler Temper Tantrums (read more on that here), and later in life emotional suppression has been linked with major depression.

My experience of crying

should you leave your baby to crySomething I have the pleasure of, thanks to my lovely husband, is the ability to cry over anything and express myself in a safe environment; even when I’m being completely irrational.

In my experience when someone invalidates my emotions by telling me ‘I don’t understand what you’re upset about’ or ‘you’re over-reacting’, it only makes me defensive, and I no longer want to share my feelings with that particular person. In this way, good friends that listen to you open heartedly are so important; because you deserve to be listened to when you’re upset. I want Melissa to feel the same – that no matter what the problem is, she can express it to me and I’ll support her.

I don’t stop Melissa from crying when she’s screaming the house down; even when I think she may be overreacting. Responding to her cries promptly and allowing her to express whatever it is she wants helps build a strong bond of trust between us.

Even when disapproving eyes are on me….

….instead of trying to quieten her, I offer a cuddle and words of reassurance. Once she’s calmed down enough to hear me, I work on expressing her emotion by verbalising what she may be crying about. For example ‘you’re sad because your friend pushed you over and you really like playing with your friend’ or ‘you’re cross that you didn’t get a turn on the swing’. By putting words to their emotion, even at a very young age, you’re teaching your child to express themselves clearly; which is a valuable skill for life.

Repressing emotions only leads to things eating away at us. Our children are precious; we need to teach them to communicate their emotions freely, safely and openly for them to grow up into well adjusted individuals.

I always carry some Bach Flower Rescue Remedy in my handbag for times of emotional need. I also find Australian Bush Flower Emergency Essence mist amazing at giving everyone a bit of emotional comfort. For more info on how to help a child deal with their emotions safely please read my post on ‘Being a baby is Emotional

Have we got crying all wrong? I’d love to hear your view, please post comments below or on Facebook.

Does TV rot your toddlers brain?

TV bad for your child's brain

Is TV bad for your child’s brain?

Melissa never seemed to need as much sleep as her peers. Just like her father, she had boundless amounts of energy and would easily be revived by a 10 minute cat nap. She could fare quite well on 10 hours sleep a day; even at aged 1, when others toddlers would sleep up to 15 hours. So for the most part, I could have 5 extra waking hours with my child than some other mums did.

Melissa was also an extremely active toddler; she cruised at 7 months, could climb a flight of stairs by 8 months and walked at 9.5 months, yet was too young at this time to understand that cat biscuits were for cats and plug sockets weren’t somewhere you put your fingers.

My husband worked terribly long hours and commuted 3 hours a day, and with family a bit far away to just drop by, I was on my own a lot and I struggled to get some ‘me time’.

TV became my babysitter when I was cooking, needed to shower, or just wanted 30 minutes peace. It led me to worry about the amount of screen time Melissa was getting and what TV would do to my child’s developing brain.

Children and TV Statistics

On average, UK children spend over 4 hours a day in front of a screen (TV, DVD or games console), and a whopping 51% of American households, have the TV on “most” of the time.

For school age children the research is clear; an excessive amount of television watching is bad for brain development. It affects sleep, weight, school grades as well as behaviour, not to mention taking time away from healthy activities like playing outside with friends, participating in sports, eating dinner together as a family, reading or other skilful activities such as cooking, art or music.

However, very little research has been done on the impact of TV on pre-schoolers. With TV, video and DVD programs geared towards babies and toddlers flooding the market surely it’s time we took a closer look. I did my own research and found some surprising results.

Talking up a storm

Several studies have shown how toddlers’ language can in fact benefit from television. One found that babies and toddlers learned vocabulary, in particular shapes, colours, letters and numbers from watching Sesame Street. Dora the Explorer was also positively related to expressive language production and vocabulary, and daily viewing over 6 weeks resulted in 13 more vocabulary words on average at 30 months old.

Another study showed children aged 3 scored higher on school readiness, reading, number skills and vocabulary, if they were regular watchers of Sesame Street. These gains were even greater if caregivers had children participate in a 30 minute lesson following on from the program watched. For example, viewing a program on insects and then going to the park to find some ants and ladybirds enhanced the total learning experience.

Are early TV watchers high flyers?

When it came to the impact of early viewing on academic achievement at school, research is also encouraging. High school students (particularly boys) who had watched Sesame Street as pre-schoolers achieved better grades in English, Maths, and Science in Junior and Senior school. Research revealed they read more often, had greater academic self-esteem, and valued academic performance more highly. To test this hypothesis, researchers in a study called Does television rot your brain?’ looked back at academic achievement in the pre television 1940’s and found that pre-schoolers who watched television preformed better in reading and general knowledge.

Does TV Steal the imagination?

Blueberry muffinsTelevision is often criticised for squashing a child’s imagination and making them lazy. Yet research demonstrates that younger children use their experience of television in play, imitating Tree Fu Tom’s magical moves or playing Princesses and Pirates for example. In this way, as long as the content is good, television stimulates make-believe and acts as an important outlet to express feelings and fantasies.

Melissa and I often get baking after an episode of Cbeebies I Can Cook. Mister Maker is an excellent platform for getting the craft box out and building a rocket out of loo roll. And I’ll never forget the day Melissa pointed at a word in a book we were reading and said C A T; it must’ve been the episodes of Alphablocks she loves to watch.

Children who flick through a picture book, watch a play, or listen to a story on tape also consume fantasies produced by others, but nobody has ever argued that books or theatre hinder a child’s imaginative play. With this in mind, there’s little reason to assume that TV, if used appropriately, does either.

My experience

In our house we have a few rules: Melissa can watch half an hour of TV whilst I’m getting ready in the morning, then it’s switched off for an activity. There’s no telly in the evenings as I find it over excites her brain, which results in meltdown at bedtime as well as frequent nightmares. If it’s a rainy day, we may make popcorn and watch a movie together snuggled under a blanket. During weekend mornings, TV is a treat – mainly in the hope that my husband and I get an extra hour in bed (although this hasn’t quite worked yet!).

At the end of the day, when it comes to TV, parents need to use their common sense. If a screen takes priority over doing activities then a child will become lazy and get used to being entertained in that way. However, as an educational tool, TV’s and computers can stimulate curiosity, creativity and imagination, but only if used appropriately. Let’s face it, in an age where a knowledge of technology is essential, I think it an advantage that Melissa knows how to work my iphone better than I do!

It’s all about balance!

Ask yourself; have I had a meaningful interaction with my child today? If the answer is YES and they’re driving your round the bend, then maybe 30 minutes of screen time’s good for everyone’s sanity! But if the answer’s NO then remember, spending excessive hours in front of the TV leaves less time for other social or intellectual activities. In the long term this could make a child less imaginative and creative than a child whose TV viewing hours are carefully regulated.

Here’s how to help your toddler get the most out of TV:

Missy and headphones christmas 20101) Choose quality content – one that offers possibilities for interaction and new experiences.
2) Makes sure TV is age appropriate as this is when learning is optimal.
3) Follow up a viewing with a related activity or discussion to reinforce learning.
4) Keep viewing times short (max 30 minutes at a time).
5) Know what your child is watching – even Disney can be scary for a 2 year old.
5) Don’t leave the TV on in the background.
6) Most importantly, keep TV out of your child’s bedroom!!

Again another controversial subject. Does TV damage your child’s brain? I’d love to hear your views so please feel free to leave comments below. Thanks for all your comments on Facebook; I’m glad to hear this article made mum’s feel less guilty. If you found this post interesting you may like my article on Co-sleeping habits around the world. Please click here to read it.