By Joanna Fortune

It is hard to be a parent. It is really hard to be a parent who also works outside of the home. It is even harder to try to strike a balance of how to maximize quality time with your child when you don’t have quantity time! Parents are usually exhausted after a day at work and come evening time just want to fall down on the couch and relax...But this isn’t a reality for parents, unfortunately.


As a parent your time will either be spent on basic needs: Related image

• Feeding

• Bathing

• Sleeping

• Clothing

or on the over-and-above kind of needs:

• Having a chat

• Playing a game before bedtime

• Bedtime Story

• Riding bikes together on a Sunday afternoon


Every child needs both sets of needs to be met and responded to.  While they will survive on the basic needs being met they will thrive on the over and above kind of needs being met. It’s about you being tuned in and putting everything else aside to spend time with your child, not just about you fulfilling a basic need. Sometimes you will need to prioritise to make this work...leave the dishes in the sink and attend to the bedtime story. 


Other ways to spend quality time with your children


Double up with your chores

If you have to wash your car, put one child in it with you and use the time sitting in the car to play a game of thumb wrestling or pee-a-boo or make a handstack together.  If you have to go to the supermarket, bring one child with you and make them their own shopping list so that they are engaged in the activity rather than just following you around.


Have a day out

Have a day out (or a morning/afternoon/evening) with your child that is just you and they and spend the time doing things that they like to do while connecting and talking together. This should be one to one time and it can be with Mum/Dad (ideally alternate so that your child gets this special time with each of you). This shows your child that you know the things that they like and are prepared to share in these with them.


Plan your week ahead

Tuesday/ Thursday is story night; Friday is make-your-own-desert night, football or outdoor play on Sunday afternoon. In this way time won’t fly away with all your good intentions.


Make a point of having dinner or breakfast together

Make a point of having dinner or breakfast together and don’t be in a rush. Talk about your day and ask about theirs, what is everyone’s best bit of the day and the day they wish they could do differently.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.


By Joanna Fortune

Premature and prolonged access to screen based devices can have a negative impact on developing children across all areas of their development including sleep, weight, behaviour, mental health and even motor skills development.  The research tells us that the best advice for parents of young children is no screen time under 18 months old and a limited amount thereafter with a maximum of an hour a day beyond 2 years old.  This is largely because the critical period for brain development in young children is 0-3 years old.  Young developing brains cannot process the multiple forms of stimuli screen based devices deliver and as such young children get over stimulated and are unable to process or regulate their brains resulting in behavioural meltdowns.


In reality many children are spending much longer than this on such devices and this is impacting on the very skills most parents are seeking to work on with their young child. Their ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s emotions and connect with them, to build a large vocabulary are all negatively impacted upon with excessive screen use at this young age.


Schools report that young children are having difficulty gripping and holding a pencil or developing handwriting skills because their fine motor skills are under developed as a result of too much screen time.  If you read this and are concerned about that in your child you can start to address it now with simple and small changes.  Limit the screen time and introduce access to play-doh, have them use and pick up other items using a grip tweezers (under your supervision), practice pulling the zipper up and down on coats, painting with cotton buds because the grip is small and tight, or lacing up ribbons or shoe laces.


Develop some screen play alternatives.  Create a treasure map either around your house (if raining) or outdoors and have your children follow clues (drawn or written) to track down a treat at the end.  The treat can be a baking session with you or a nature walk. 

Develop a check-list before they are allowed onto the screens.  Such as 

  • Have you shared a story with someone today?
  • Have you told and been told a joke today?
  • Have you spent at least 20 minutes playing outdoors today?
  • Have you done two chores to help around the house today?

The answer must be yes to the above before screens are handed over.  With very young children you can ask and answer the questions of them saying “Have I shared a story or a laugh or been outdoors with my child today” etc.


Screens are an unavoidable part of our lives these days and they are not going away so it will help you in your parenting to develop a proactive plan about ensuring they are a small part of you and your child’s daily activities rather than the main activity they engage with.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.


Sensory play is very important for all children.  Up until the age of 3 ½ or even 4 years old children are still working out where they end and the world and people outside of them begins.  Sensory play allows them to grasp that they have a skin that contains them.  This type of play is all about exploration through the senses: touch, taste, hearing, smell and sight.  This is a stage of messy play where you often can identify what they have been playing with simply by looking at them. It is very important for their development and in helping them begin to develop an emotionally expressive language as they grow.
Here are some clever ways to achieve sensory play in your home. Remember that when hands are busy and engaged on the outside, it is often much easier to talk about or just express what is going on inside. Children of this age cannot always express what is going on emotionally for them. When your child needs help to regulate their emotions, you might find that using this type of play can help them to calm down, when other methods may not work.
Make play-doh: If you make it together there is the added sensory experience in the making it…it also means if they eat it, it is safe and you know what is in it.  Allowing them to get messy as they mix in food dye to make different colours is something young children love to do, especially if doing it with you.  Another benefit of making it in different colours is that you can assign a feeling to each colour (red = angry; blue = sad; yellow = happy; green = excited etc).  Then, when they are feeling a certain way they can reach for the colour that fits their feeling, or they can mix up different amounts of each feeling to best describe how a situation is making them feel.


Sensory tables offer a wealth of benefits for all children and especially for those with special needs.  Engaging in sensory experiences like running fingers through dried rice or pouring water can distract and calm a child who is feeling over-stimulated or anxious. It promotes self –discovery and encourages a child to explore new textures, which in turn supports social and emotional development.
Offering textures like dried beans, sand or cotton balls promotes hand-eye coordination and gives the opportunity for a child to pinch, grasp and enhance fine motor skills.  As children discover new textures and objects, they tend to have a verbal response.  Engaging them in a sensory table is great way to work on language development.
NOTE: Be aware of potential choking hazards with these and supervise your child appropriately when engaging in this type of play


Sensory Basins - for a wet sensory basin you half fill a bowl with warm (not hot) water.  Add a squirt of washing up liquid (don’t mix just add it in).  Add in a teaspoon of cinnamon or ginger.  Add a handful of glitter (diamond glitter is best in water).  Give your child a handheld whisk and allow them to stir the water.  This will form bubbles while they see the glitter sparkle and smell the cinnamon/ginger giving them significant sensory stimulation.  Depending on your child’s capacity you can take a straw each and when you say GREEN LIGHT everyone blows into the water, making bubbles grow bigger and bigger.  When you say RED LIGHT everyone stops blowing and pops the bubbles with their straw or their finger.  Your child might also like to put some small toys into the basin and play in the water.
              For a dry sensory basin you can fill a bowl/basin with (uncooked) red and green lentils, add in some (uncooked) bow tie shaped pasta because it looks like butterflies.  Get two small cups/follower pots (the tiny seed planting size) and have your child run their hands through the contents of the bowl, pour from one cup into the other and you may even bury something in the bowl that they must burrow through with their hands to find. You can, of course, improvise depending on what you have available on the day, other dry materials they might enjoy include: rice, barley etc.

Music (rhythm and synchrony-based activities) activates every subsystem in the brain, including areas that regulate emotion and motivation.  Setting aside specific time to sit together and make music allows children to bond with family members and gives them a sense of containment.
Music time can be especially beneficial to children who are non-verbal.  For them, music can be a way of expressing themselves and interacting with their peers.  Provide children with instruments, like egg shakers, bells or toy drums…you can make your own instruments such as pouring dried peas into an empty Pringles tube and sellotaping the lid on (decorate the tube or wrap it in colourful paper) to make a shaker, equally, using an empty baby formula food container with a burst balloon stretched over the open top and secured in place will make a great finger drum.  Encourage them to make noise with their instruments and move their bodies to the music.  Sing songs that incorporate the name of each child so that everyone feels like they have an individual role in the activity, e.g. “James is here today, James is here today, clap our hands and shout Hooray that James is here today” and repeat for everyone’s name…even if there are just two of you doing it.
Additionally, incorporate music in other activities of the day.  Sing songs while cleaning up and transitioning into new activities like nap or snack time… “We are cleaning up our toys, we are cleaning up our toys, it’s fun to sing and make some noise while cleaning up our toys” or something like this to the tune of your choosing.

Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.
Joanna recently hosted a series of successful talks for Kildare County Childcare Committee.


Our guest blogger, and parenting expert, psychotherapist Joanna Fortune shares her practical ideas on how you can calm down when your young child pushes your buttons – so you can help them to regulate their own behaviour!

This is not what you want, but we have all been there!

Anyone who has attended my talks, or clinical consultations, knows that I’ve never been an advocate of the Time-out. I prefer to talk about how, in order to be most effective, discipline must aim to teach the behaviour parents want to see from their child, rather than punishing the behaviour they don’t want to see.

However, giving yourself a 5-10 minute “time-out” before you react to your child’s negative behaviour may well be a good idea.  It can be very difficult to stay calm yourself when your child or children are acting out.  Their behaviour may even be pushing an emotional button in you, making it more likely that you will snap and yell at your child.  This will not diffuse the situation, moreover, it will only serve to escalate it.
Our children, especially the littler ones under 7 years old, will struggle to self-regulate their emotions.  They look to their parents and caregivers to co-regulate their emotions with them.  What this means is that if your child is “losing it” and they manage to make you “lose it” with them, they cannot co-regulate with your rage and as such their behaviour will likely escalate until one or other of you lash out, verbally or otherwise.  This will not help anyone and will leave you both feeling pretty rotten afterwards.  Now, none of us are saints but we are the grownups in charge and need to take steps to ensure we stay in this role.  This means we have to spot when we feel our tempers rising and ensure we do not react in those moments - but remove ourselves until we are calm enough to respond in a more positive way.  This is the value of a parental time-out.  Never just walk away from your child but say “I don’t want to lose my temper with you, so I need 5 minutes on my own to take deep breaths and then I am coming back to talk about this with you”.  If you feel you can take the 5 minutes breathing in front of them, better again as you are modelling a positive self-soothing behaviour.

Once calmer, return to the situation and try to hold in mind that the most effective discipline is discipline that seeks to teach the type of behaviours you want to see -rather than punishing the type of behaviours you don’t want to see. 
Give do-overs: Say something like “I think you forgot how we behave towards each other.  Do you want to try that again?” and if they do it correctly/better second time, praise that and move on.  If they don’t you will have to issue a consequence.
Consequences: Make these logical yet creative and try to deal with them in the moment.  For example, if you have two children squabbling, separate them and have them make each other a card with 3 things they like about each other and exchange the cards.  If they do this quickly or choose to take a long time, it is up to them. Your aim is to switch them from thinking about what they don’t like about each other to what they do like.


Help them understand the feelings behind the behaviours: Young children need us to help them make sense of their emotional experiences.  ACT is a good way to do this.  For example:
Acknowledge the feeling “I know that you are angry because your brother grabbed your toy”.
Communicate a limit “We do not hit people in this family”.
Target an alternative behaviour “If you want to hit something, hit that cushion over there”.
Use distraction over discipline: Very young children (under 4 years old) struggle to ‘do’ cause and effect, so they struggle to connect your disciplining them with their behaviour.  Instead use distraction, which does not mean ignoring the behaviour.  So, come to their eye level (holding their hands), in a firm yet gentle voice clearly say “no hitting” and then (still holding hands) bring them over to the building blocks and ask them to build a structure just like the one you are making, for example.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues. See
Joanna recently hosted a series of successful talks for Kildare County Childcare Committee.

Do you find it difficult to communicate with parents on sensitive subjects?

Are you afraid to bring up such subjects with parents for this reason?

You are not alone, anecdotally lots of childcare service providers feel this way.

Here are some tips on how to handle these issues:

  1. Always respect the parents position – this is their child you are talking about, it is natural for them to feel defensive and difficult for them to see the matter objectively.
  2. Try not to seem ‘condescending’ towards parents – for example use language parents will be familiar with, rather than technical terminology.
  3. Address the issue when it first arises. Use your policies and procedures/ parents handbook to back you up where necessary, hopefully this will help prevent issues from escalating in the first place.
  4. Try and find an appropriate space for the discussion, for example discussing a sensitive matter at the door at collection time may not be appropriate and puts the parent under stress if the child is there/ if they are in a rush. Try to schedule a suitable time and find a quiet place to talk.
  5. If the issue is regarding behaviour, for example, try to help the parent – offer support and suggestions as to how the parent can help deal with the issue. A useful strategy is if the service and the parents can agree on how to deal with the problem, ensuring consistency between home and the childcare/ playschool setting.
  6. Make sure you listen to the response of the parent and try to find common ground (*as suggested in ‘Tennis Balls and Slippery Eggs’, link to article below). Reassure the parent that you both have the child’s best interest at heart.
  7. Try to leave the discussion with a plan if possible or at least an understanding between yourself and the parents.


Useful Resources

Have a look through these articles, they contain some good practical advice as well as general ideas:

Aistear; the early childhood curriculum framework ‘Building partnerships between parents and practitioners’:

Barnardos ‘Parental involvement, a handbook for childcare providers’

*Childcare Resources Inc ‘Tennis Balls and Slippery Eggs: How to Communicate with Families’:

Clouducation ‘10 Best Strategies for dealing with difficult parents’: 

Illinois Early Learning Project ‘Resource List. Communicating with Parents During Sensitive or Difficult Situations’: (particularly useful on broaching developmental delay and other related topics)

Siolta Research Digest ‘Standard 3. Parents and Families’:

Zero to three ‘How to communicate with parents’:


We all know that for children entering a preschool/ childcare setting for the first time it can be daunting enough. Add to this the introduction of a completely new language, and often a new cultural situation and you can see why settling in is more difficult for these children.

As parents from other cultures understandably value their child speaking their own language and aim for them to become bilingual it is often in preschool that children encounter English for the first time. It is important that we understand the value of bilingualism for the child, while supporting them to eventually use English on a daily basis in our services.

You will see below that there are some great practical resources available which you can use with children in your services.

For children who are encountering a new language there seems to be agreement that language learning goes through a number of phases:

– speaking the home language (the child realises it doesn’t work)

- the silent stage (listening to the new language and learning routines)

- repetition and language play, use of formulae, routines and single words

– more complex English or productive language use eventually follows


The NCCA stress that the silent phase is not something to be overly concerned about, it is normal for children to take time to observe and listen in a completely new environment/ with a new language. It is vital at this time to provide reassurance and encouragement. If possible some use of the child’s first language is helpful at this stage. Including the child in activities with small groups of children and giving as many opportunities for child to child interaction is helpful. It is through these interactions and those with the teacher that the child will eventually learn language. At first this is seen with the use of single words and phrases, singing rhymes are also among the first use of English to be seen. It may take longer for the child to gain in confidence to use more complex English but with good support we eventually see this happening.

In the Aistear guide Supporting Children to Become Bilingual. Birth to 6 years. There are the following suggestions for the early stages:

Speak slowly and clearly. • Use pictures such as a picture-timetable to explain what is going to happen next. • Use gesture, pointing and objects to help the child understand. Encourage the children to do the same. • Identify words you use often and repeat them, for example, toilet, lunch, book and home. Have pictures of these items displayed low down so children can point to them. • Make short comments and name things that the child is interested in or is doing. • Give children extra time to respond as they will take longer to think of what to say.

Finally, patience is required, it can take children up to two years to be able to have a conversation in English, and up to five until they are fully fluent (NCCA).

Practical Resources

Integrate Ireland. English as a Second Language: Activities for very young Learners.

This activity sheet has some useful ideas for the early years’ practitioner to use with children learning English as a second language, which include:

Suggestions of play activities to learn basic language, including learning to answer ‘what is your name’, describing family, body parts, food, days of the week. Using puppets, playing games to help interact & express themselves.

Also, from the UK based Early Learning HQ, there are ideas for practical activities:

and here


Referenced in the blog:

NCCA Aistear guide. Supporting Children to Become Bilingual. Birth to 6 years.

NALDIC. Supporting bilingual children in the Early Years.

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