Sunday 24 February 2013

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Childcare

So one of the UK government's recent crazy plans is that people who look after children should be allowed to look after more children.  Specifically, one person should be allowed to look after 4 babies, or 6 2-year-olds.  Now, if this sounds like quite a lot of small people for one person to handle, that's because it is, and one can only assume that it was dreamt up by someone who wandered into a room with 10 sleeping babies and wondered what all the fuss was about.

However, the fact that a policy is insane does not, as we have seen, prevent the current government from implementing it, and thankfully I have some experience in this field, since (due to what I'm sure will turn out to be some sort of clerical error) I am left in charge of a group small children at least once a week.  Not in sole charge, mind, but still, I like to think I have an air of authority.

So it is without further ado that I present

The WhyNotSmile Guide To Childcare

Now, the first thing to appreciate is that childcare is not like a regular job, where the first fortnight is considered a roaring success if you spend less than 78% of your time sobbing in the toilets.  With childcare, you have to be On The Ball right from day 1, and if you end up crying, no one really cares.  So, before looking after small children, you need to master the basics:

The Basics

1. Your main aim is always to hand the children back alive.  No matter what else you do, no matter how much fun they had, and no matter how healthy the snacks you provided were, you have to make sure that you keep your charges alive and kicking for the duration of their stay with you.

2. You have to hand the children back with all essential parts still connected.  It's all fun and games till someone loses an eye.  Or an arm, or a leg.  Even a small appendage, like a finger or toe, cannot be accidentally removed if you want to seem competent.  Now, the key here is to determine the meaning of 'essential'.  If they break a nail, it's ok (in fact, probably a good idea) to snip off the little loose bit so they don't injure themselves, or (more likely) pull it off themselves and eat it.  You can also get away with giving hair a slight trim if it gets Play-Doh or something stuck in it, although you should try not to remove large chunks.

3. You need to end up with the same children you started with.  You might think that, in the early days, it is sufficient to ensure that each parent who left a child with you gets a child back in return, but this is not the case.  At this point it is helpful to introduce some form of System, ideally one which prevents any child from leaving or entering the room.  This will help you greatly.

So, to summarise, you need to make sure that the children are kept in a locked room from which they cannot escape, preferably with padded walls and nothing they can climb on.  You should probably also not have a lot of sharp or pointy objects around.  However, children are notorious for creating sharp, pointy objects out of fixtures, fittings and soft furnishings, so it's best to keep an eye on them regardless.

Intermediate Level

The basics are all well and good, but once you get a bit skilled, you'll naturally want to up your game a bit.

**Proceed with caution**

Here are some tips for this difficult transition phase:

1. Try to get as many of them as possible to go to sleep.  You'll find that the parents aren't always entirely keen on this, as they like you to have to take some of the grief that comes with having wide-awake children, but at this level it is acceptable.  It is handy because while asleep, most children can't injure themselves, shout, or spill things.  Remember, however, that if you have one awake child, you might as well have two, since they can entertain each other, so time the sleeps carefully.

2. Understand that small children fall over a lot.  There is no shame in them having the odd small bump.  The important thing is to minimize the risk, and to make sure that you report all bumps which happen to the parents.  If their child falls off a chair, they'll find out anyway when the bump comes up, so you might as well look like you at least noticed.

Larger bumps are more serious, as is anything which leads to actual blood.  Small children are quite bouncy, but if they bump their heads, then it might be worth Getting Help of some kind.  Likewise, if they fall and their arm suddenly has a 90 degree bend, or if there is blood gushing from anywhere (exceptions to this are mouth injuries, which will bleed like mad from the tiniest cut you can imagine, and nosebleeds, which are sometimes serious but sometimes happen for no reason whatever), then you'll want at least a second opinion.

3. At the intermediate level, you're hopefully starting to introduce some element of fun to proceedings (though don't go too mad - you're still new to this, and things can still spiral out of control very quickly).  The first thing to understand is that things that you think will be fun for children invariably aren't.  Get over it.  I have made you a helpful chart:


Amount of Fun



Colouring in
> Children may eat crayons
> Children may stab themselves with pencils
> Children may start fighting over who gets to colour in which picture
> Crayons will fall on the floor and you may either kneel on them or slip on them
> Paper will end up on the floor and you may slip on it
> Everyone always wants the same colour of crayon.  In the event that you have several crayons the same colour, everyone will want exactly the same crayon

Possibly worth it, in a confined space
> Screams of 'he got a bigger bit than me'
> Food will end up all over the place, so choose your menu carefully
> Don't expect to get to eat anything yourself, other than the squished up soggy crusts which are handed to you as children tire of them

Quite good for a while; be cautious about giving them sugary food unless they're about to go home anyway, in which case it's someone else's problem and you might as well go for it if it keeps them happy
Play Doh
Lots of fun for you; less fun for children
> Try not to let them eat the stuff (if they do, it's not the end of the world, since it is technically edible, but make sure you mention it to the parents, as it will get pooed out eventually and then you'll have to fess up)
> The stuff gets everywhere and is really hard to clean off cushions and stuff

Depends on the book
> Children may throw books at each other; books are easy to get a good swing with
> Children may stab each other with the book corners
> If there are flaps to lift, they'll all fight over them; if there are no flaps, they'll create them by ripping the pages
> Even agreeing which book to read can be fraught with danger and strife

Good for a while
Toilet Trips
Epic; can provide 45 minutes of entertainment, particularly when hand washing, giving out the soap, and throwing the paper towels in the bin is involved
> Technically, you probably shouldn't be spending 45 minutes in the toilets with children, so there's potential for it to look bad
Definitely a good idea, but try to make sure you have a pedal bin for the fullest form of happiness

Advanced Level

Once you've mastered all of that, it's time to move on to Advanced Childcare.  The aim of this is to reach a state in which you and the children are all safe and happy; in the hands of a true expert, such a state can be maintained for up to 24 seconds at a time.

To maximise your chances:

1. Never consider any disaster impossible.  Do not allow yourself to say things like "I'll put that up there where she can't reach it".  If she wants it, she will reach it.  Likewise, "Those two can play quite happily together in that quiet corner" is simply Asking For It.

2. Never be fooled into thinking they're on your side.  Small children look out for no one but themselves.  They lull you in with their big eyes and their cute smiles; the sneakiest among them will do things like learn to say your name.  Do not think that this means you're home and dry.  Right at the point when you think they're happily sitting on your knee, ready to go to sleep, they'll barf into your top, and then laugh their heads off.

3. Make sure they all go home. A rookie mistake in childcare is to say things like "Oh, don't worry about being on time to pick her up, I can hold on to her for 5 minutes".  Next thing you know, you're there for an extra hour.  Remember: in Parent and Toddlers, the people on the door are not there to stop children leaving without their parents; they are to stop the parents leaving without their children.

I trust this helps.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

A Good Thing I Read About The Importance of Mercy and Compassion and Stuff

You could probably guess that I'm not a big fan of celebrity Christians.  I don't mean like Milton Jones and Frank Skinner; I mean the 'big names' like Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and themuns.  It's nothing personal, and it's not that I dislike them (ok, some of them I dislike) or their teaching (ibid), it's just that I don't feel all that inclined to follow them on Twitter and hang on their every word.  If they write some good stuff or make a decent Bible study series or something, that's great and I'm all for it.  But, you know, that's where my fandom begins and ends.

And sometimes it worries me when I see teenaged Christians who are big fans of the latest leader or singer or band in the Christian world, because then they often aspire to be like that, and to be honest, that's not really what we need our young people to aspire to be.  Now, I've been promising you a post on my views on Youth Work (sorry, Transfarmer, it will happen, I promise), and this is sort of vaguely related, in that it often makes me uncomfortable to look at the kinds of people we think our young people should be influenced by, because I came across this post (thanks, Soapbox) and she said a lot of things that I wanted to say, and said it better than I would have, so I thought I'd just link to it for now (it's directed at all of us, not just young people, so it's ok to read it even if you're a bit scared of the young people in church because they're all cool and stuff).

Go and read it.

I'll wait.

Back?  Good.  Now, wouldn't it be nice if we lived in ways which showed our young people that THAT's the kind of thing that matters, and not the Big Names and the People With Fans and the Famous?  You know, so they see that they 'worship' just as much on a Sunday morning when they take time to chat with an older person as when they're singing with their arms in the air?  That they serve God as much by picking up a half-eaten biscuit that one of the creche abandoned and throwing it in the bin as the guy at the front does when he preaches his sermon or plays his guitar or looks all relevant?  That it is as important to hold back from sarcasm as it is to be on the prayer ministry team at the cool conference?  And that when they start with the small stuff, they can build the big stuff on, because we're all going to be there supporting them in it?

Because I think that would be nice.

Monday 11 February 2013

What to talk to me about

Now I've never been a big one for the conversation, but of late I've been feeling that the quality of the offerings has dipped a bit.  So I decided to make a graph, so you know what to talk to me about:

This shows the things people have been trying to talk to me about of late, and things I would like to talk about, and the varying levels of interest in each.

Ideally, all conversation would be on the middle line there, with both myself and everyone else being interested in the same things.  But alas, for most conversation seems to be in the top left, and these are things I'm not so fussed on discussing.

I have not at any stage had an interest in the horse meat thing, for instance.  I just don't really care that much. Maybe it's because I've always suspected that 90% of what's in processed food is pretty iffy.  Maybe it's the bad horse puns.  Nevertheless, I can't get myself excited.

Likewise, I'm not that interested in discussing my wedding; partly because it makes me stressed, and partly because I've never really found wedding details intrinsically interesting.  People always assured me that I'd feel differently about my own wedding; it has come as no surprise to me to find that I don't.  If I was interested in something when it happened to me, I would also be interested when it happened to my friends, because that's how friends work.

On the other hand, I am always pleased to have conversation about the Six Nations, or about what we're planning for church this half term and Easter, because those are Quite Interesting.

And, as of about an hour ago, I have become obsessed with the Pope resigning, so you'll probably find that you won't hear the end of THAT for Quite Some Time.

Saturday 2 February 2013

The WhyNotSmile Guide to Helping a Depressed Person

A few days ago I read a thing entitled something like "How To Help a Depressed Person", which had some ok advice.  Then I searched for it again, and couldn't find it, but found all manner of other crappiness instead, and decided that the internet needs to be Taken In Hand.  And hence I present the WhyNotSmile Guide to Helping a Depressed Person.

Please note that I have no medical training, so there's a fair chance that most of this is pure guff.  I wouldn't go trying it out on actually depressed people - at least, not without adult supervision.

The WhyNotSmile Guide to Helping a Depressed Person

1. Appreciate that you cannot, in fact, help in any real way at all.  I'm sorry about this, because I know you mean well.  But in reality, there is nothing you can do or say which will do anything more than make the other person Feel Better.  Now this is nice in itself, of course, because we all like to feel better than we did 10 minutes ago, but the point is that if you say nice things and I feel better, there is nothing to say that once you leave the room I won't go back to feeling worse again.  You should still feel free to tell me I'm awesome, though (except you'll have to be more specific, or I will assume you just read this and then decided to be lazy and not actually think about the ways in which I am awesome).

2. Crying is not the end of the world.  Some of us like to cry.  Not in a miserable crying-is-more-fun-than-laughing sort of way, but if you want to cry, you want to cry, and sometimes the easiest thing is just to get the feck on with it.  After agreeing to marry Boyfriend Smile, I cried for 3 days.  When I said that out loud, some other people said that they did too (when they got engaged, I mean, not when I did, because that would be weird), but people tend not to tell you things like that, so then you feel bad for crying and having to send Boyfriend Smile home so you could calm down, even though other people do Things Like That as well and everything turns out more or less fine.

3. All attempts at 'Cheering Up' will be met with the contempt they deserve.  Remember, sad is happy for deep people.  And I don't really care that there are other people who are worse off than me, unless they are standing right in front of me, in which case I will do what I can to help and then go back to bed feeling pretty much how I do right now.

4. Remember that depressed people are not necessarily useless.  Some are, but this is generally an inbuilt characteristic, rather than something that the depression caused to happen.  In much the same way, some depressed people are lazy fecks, some have blue eyes, and some like yogurt.  Much like not-depressed people, in fact.  The fact that we may not have the energy to do anything but stare out the window for an afternoon is not an indication that we are incapable of doing anything, ever.  It's more that sometimes what's happening out the window is more interesting than you are, with your insistence on conversation and your questions and your complex expectations that I'll be able to formulate a reply.  Especially if what's happening out the window is 'nothing'.

Tomorrow you might hold more fascination. Or you might not.  It's hard to say.

Also remember that your parties, gatherings, and social events are not endlessly fascinating.  But I'd still like to be invited to all of them, even though I probably won't go.  From time to time you could suggest we do coffee or I get out of bed or something, as this may be more achievable.

5. Not all depressed people think in exactly the same way.  It might be helpful to make an analogy with not-depressed people here.  In fact, it may help to think of depressed people as if they are regular people.

6. If someone says they are depressed, don't say "Again?  You're always depressed".  I speak from experience when I say that this tends to be discouraging.

7. Also discouraging is when you say you were depressed that time your dog died.  You weren't.  You were sad because your dog died.  And you might remind me about the time my dog died, and then I'll be sad too.  So you're being discouraging and insensitive, and that's just mean.

8. With all this in mind, it should be apparent that perhaps one of the best things one can do if someone is depressed is to help them to help themselves.  This may mean allowing them to be sad when they are sad.  Or allowing them to cry when they want to cry.  Or generally just demonstrating that being depressed does not make them a worse person.  In other words, allowing them to realise that they are regular people who are not in the wrong for being sad.  And that it is ok to say that.  And that they can talk about being depressed without it being odd, or people thinking they're a bit dodgy or selfish.  And that they can even go and tell a doctor that they are depressed, and that the doctor might be able to help.

Remember that depression is a lying fecker.  It gets into your head, and then it's all like "Oh, you're useless and no one likes you", even though you are not really useless, and some people think you are Quite Nice.  Sometimes it is helpful to point this out.  Sometimes it's just annoying.  You may have to experiment.  It may be useful to be able to help the person to recognise that their brain is lying to them.  Although, it may just freak them out, so you should probably try to say it tactfully.

It is always fine to tell me you think I'm Quite Nice (but again, you'll have to be more specific, or I will assume you just read this and then decided to be lazy and not actually think about the ways in which I am Quite Nice).

You should probably also read something written by actual medical people, who have some idea what they're talking about, rather than listening to me.