Rachel Waddilove's sensible approach to parenting group sessions
Rachel Waddilove's voice is exactly the kind you would like to hear if you were being driven to distraction by lack of sleep. The legendary maternity nurse and parenting expert (Gwyneth Paltrow and Minnie Driver are among her clients) has been dispensing soothing, kind advice to wrung-out mothers for 40 years, on everything from sleepless babies to difficult toddlers.
Her recent book, Sleep Solutions: Quiet Nights for You and Your Child, has been hailed as the latest in back-to-basics parenting. In an age of attachment parenting, when babies sleep in their parents' bed and are fed on demand, Waddilove, who is giving talks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi later this month, encourages a gently structured approach built around "loving boundaries".
"Feeding baby and tucking baby down in his cot after a feed - that's what newborns need and very few people are taught that today," says the mother and grandmother, who has family in Dubai. She has no problem with controlled crying, when babies are left to cry for short periods in order to learn to settle themselves. "I think a bit of crying is good for babies. They air their lungs. They exercise. I don't have a problem at all with them having a little shout."
Waddilove trained in a Barnardos children's home in the UK in the 1960s, and her approach is at odds with some of today's "softly-softly" approach. "You need to put in a structure in the early days," she says. "You feed them well, you wind them, you change their nappy and you tuck them down in their cot. Whereas today, it's all, 'Oh they're crying again. Let's pick it up and give it a bit more food.' And the poor little mite doesn't really know where it is."
Having practised as a maternity nurse (a live-in carer who helps mothers with their newborns in the early weeks) all over the world, Waddilove has seen it all. Her first two books, The Baby Book: How to Enjoy Year One (2006) and The Toddler Book: How to Enjoy Your Growing Child (2008), were celebrated for their refreshingly traditional approaches to childcare. The Observer described the former as "the most sensible book on how to bring up a baby".
With tricky toddlers, Waddilove says: "You have to have boundaries. People hate the word discipline but it's explaining to parents that if you don't put boundaries in, you're going to have a little tearaway by the time they're 5. It's almost empowering parents that they are the ones who have to put the boundaries in and that the little one does not run rings round their parents. And for parents to decide together what is acceptable behaviour and what is not."
Discipline, though, does not have to mean always saying no. "Sometimes you get stuck in a rut," she says, "where you find, as a mother, that all you've said all day is no, no, no, no, no. And I often say to mothers: 'Let's see if we can swing it right round and get some good stuff and start really praising our child.' It's so negative sometimes. Children do respond better to positivity."
For parents of picky eaters, her advice is not to make an issue of it. "Children are very likely to go off their food sometime between the age of a year to about 3," she says. "And that's a very normal thing. In that second year of life, they don't, in general, actually have such a big appetite."
Waddilove advises no snacks between meals, small portions and, for those who really find mealtimes difficult, telling a story to distract them while they eat.
You should also never ask a toddler what he wants to eat. "They don't know," she says. "They might like a chocolate bar. You need to say: 'This is what you're having today.' If they don't eat it and they make a fuss and they're obviously not going to eat it, you say: 'OK, fine. You get down and run off and play.' Take the food away and tell them there's nothing more until the next meal."
It all sounds, as The Observer said, rather sensible. So what about that other high-profile parenting guru, Gina Ford, whose famously rigid routines have been dividing parents for years?
"Personally, I feel that you need to have flexibility," says Waddilove. "When you've had your own children [Ford has none] you understand a bit more about that emotional tie. But I think in life you cannot have that rigid approach. Some people love it and thrive on it, and I think you might be able to do it with one child, but with two or three children on your own it becomes almost impossible. And also I find that mothers get tied up in knots over it and you feel guilt-ridden if you can't do it. I'm always saying to girls: 'You must have a life'."
Waddilove in the UAE
Rachel Waddilove will be in the UAE from February 16 to 21.
She will hold informal small-group sessions for advice and open discussion on newborns through to toddlers on:
- Sunday, February 17, 9am at Db Babies in Town Centre Jumeirah, Dubai
- Wednesday, February 20, 10am at Db Babies in Al Wahda Mall extension, Abu Dhabi
- To reserve a place, email email@example.com
She will also hold seminars at the Just Kidding store in Safa Park, Dubai:
- Monday, February 18, 9 to 11am
- Tuesday, February 19, 9 to 11am
- To reserve a place, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Waddilove will be available for home visits. For more information and contact details, visit www.rachelsbabies.com