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The family way
6:00am Saturday 28th December 2013 in Lifestyle
As the New Year approaches, parenting experts give their views on the resolutions that will make 2014 a better year for the nation's families.
By Lisa Salmon
Most mums and dads, however dedicated they are to their children, would agree there are still some aspects of parenting they can improve on - and what better time to make those improvements than in your New Year's resolutions?
Who better, too, to help you plan these resolutions than the nation's parenting experts?
Here, a host of specialists share their opinions on what British families should really be pledging to change, or keep, in 2014.
Lorraine Thomas, chief executive of The Parent Coaching Academy (www.theparentcoachingacademy.com), says the one simple resolution parents should stick to is 'connection not perfection'.
"Don't try to be the perfect mum or dad," she says.
"Perfect parents don't exist and real parents are much more fun.
"Connecting with your child - cuddling, sharing a story, jumping puddles, playing tickle monsters and having a laugh together - will create memories that last forever."
For mums, Justine Roberts, chief executive of the parents' social networking site Mumsnet, wryly suggests "diet less and dance more".
More seriously, she also points out that mothers seem to be at a disadvantage in the workplace because the UK continues to have a tangible gender pay gap.
"With over half of mums saying they feel less employable and three-quarters saying it was harder to progress in their career since having children, it's clear there's still lots of work to be done to ensure family-friendly practices are commonplace," she says.
"In 2014, we are resolved to work with employers to help them evolve more family friendly policies to protect women against discrimination."
As for dads, the Fatherhood Institute says everyone in Britain needs to resolve to do everything they can to provide a great dad for every child.
"Dads matter hugely to their children," says Jeremy Davies of the Institute.
"If you have a positive relationship with your dad, you're likely to do better at school, be happier, have higher self-esteem, and even form better relationships when you're an adult.
"But all too often fathers get forgotten or sidelined, and governments, public services and employers act as if mothers are the only ones who really matter. This needs to change."
He suggests such change should involve a cultural and legal system that expects both parents to care for and support their children financially if they don't live together, and a parenting leave system that encourages dads to become hands-on parents.
In a similar fashion, the campaign group Working Families suggests parents should make the most of their 'right to request' flexible working practices in 2014.
"Working flexibly will help your work-life balance and make you a more engaged, loyal employee," says Elizabeth Whitehead from Working Families.
"The right will be extended to all employees during 2014 so think about what you'll request now."
Families also need to think more about their older members, say grandparents' groups.
"Appreciate your grandparents," declares Lara Crisp, editor of Gransnet.
Lynn Chesterman, chief executive of the Grandparents' Association, agrees: "Parents and groups need to recognise how important each grandparent is in a child's life, and resolve to communicate better as adults so that children can remain in contact with their grandparents."
On the family health front, the NCT suggests that all GPs resolve to follow Government guidelines to identify postnatal depression in new mothers and offer treatment when necessary. The parenting charity stresses that, though it is rarer, fathers can experience postnatal depression too, and GPs should be more aware of this.
Other health resolutions come from the British Dental Health Foundation, who wants parents and children to resolve to adopt a good oral health routine in 2014, pointing out that this can contribute to avoiding potentially serious health conditions such as diabetes, strokes and heart disease.
On the subject of mouths, parents should resolve to make sure what goes in there healthy too. Children's food author Annabel Karmel suggests parents can instil a love for good, healthy food in children by adding an extra vegetable into the family's daily diet, filling the fridge with healthy finger foods, getting children into the kitchen and interested in what's going into their tummies, signing them up for a hot school meal, or preparing a healthy lunchbox the night before.
She says it's also important that children eat a wholesome breakfast such as porridge or scrambled eggs, rather than sugary cereals, before they go to school.
"It's simple changes like these that could ensure healthy eating habits last a lifetime," she stresses.
But while getting kids to help in the kitchen can encourage healthy eating, parents also need to be aware that accidents can happen there.
Kristin McCarthy, campaigns manager at the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), warns: "Sometimes, new abilities bring new risks. So resolve to find out how to keep your child safe from serious accidents - visit www.capt.org.uk for practical child safety tips."
Tom Mullarkey, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), also steps in to warn how accidents can destroy families, and suggests that to avoid calamity parents should resolve to be grateful for what they have, and to think ahead.
"Just thinking how we'd feel if we were to lose our closest is enough to put things in perspective," he says, pointing out that making a conscious decision to think ahead, leave enough time for journeys, plan dangerous activities carefully and take reasonable precautions, will greatly minimise risk.
"Learning about the hazards that face us and our families is a good first step," he says.
"Let's make 2014 the year in which, because of your good sense, your family has nothing but the good things to look forward to."
:: For safety advice, visit www.rospa.com
Ask the expert
Q: "I've just had a baby and because I have food allergies myself I want to reduce the risk of my baby developing them. Is this possible?"
A: Dietician Dr Kate Grimshaw, who specialises in paediatric food allergy at the University of Southampton, says: "To minimise the risk of your infant developing a food allergy, first try hard to breastfeed. If you find it harder than you expect, persevere as it nearly always gets easier with time.
"Try to exclusively breastfeed for as long as you can, ideally for at least 17 weeks (the recommendation is 26 weeks), since recent research I led found this reduced the risk of food allergy development.
"However, if you end up giving infant formula, continue to breastfeed as well so your infant receives the factors in breastmilk that are thought to educate the immune system away from getting allergies.
"Since you have allergies yourself, if you do give formula it's better to give a specialised 'extensively hydrolysed' formula until your infant has had cow's milk. Your allergist or health professional can advise you on where to get this.
"Next, don't introduce any solids before 17 weeks of age and if you can, delay it towards 26 weeks. Continue to breastfeed during the period you introduce solids, until one year of age.
"Additionally, don't restrict your diet while you're breastfeeding and don't restrict your infant's diet by delaying the introduction of allergenic foods (eg cow's milk, eggs, fish and foods containing peanuts) beyond six months of age.
"Finally as you widen your infant's diet, give healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish, predominantly home-cooked, as this reduces risk of food allergy development."
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:: Halos N Horns Zingy Orange Hair & Body Wash
A gentle hypoallergenic non-drying wash that can be used as an all-over hair and body wash. Suitable from four weeks to five years, available from Asda, Boots and Ocado, £3.05.
:: Boots Baby Head To Toe Wash
This sensitive multi-use product has a tearless formulation that can be used as a foaming bath, baby wash and shampoo. Suitable from birth, £1.45, available from Boots stores.
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