• Why the Work Grass isn't Always Greener

    Why The Work Grass Isn't Always Greener

    I work shifts. As a parent (especially a single one), I always believed this would be completely non-conducive to having children. Given Ava is now in full time nursery and can be dropped off at those beautiful gates as early as 8am and collected as late as 6, I always assumed that a Monday to Friday 9-5 would be the only solution that would allow me to work. The holy grail for the single mum some would call it...

    Turns out that this might not completely be the case.

    With the right job, an understanding boss and the flexibility to have some control over which days you are in, working shifts can be an amazing blessing in disguise for a single mum. I only work nights on the evenings that Ava is at her Dad's. And on the odd occasion that I have to work a night that she isn't, I have a couple of pretty understanding sisters always willing to lend a babysitting hand. Yes, I sometimes have to work weekends. Yes. It totally kills that Friday feeling. And that can suck. But I usually only work a Saturday or a Sunday. Meaning I get one of the weekend days off to do what I please.

    And the reason I so adore the balancing act of having a 3 year old and working shifts? Because it often means I get a day off during the week. And if I didn't I wouldn't have a chance to write. I spent months pining after a 9-5. Searched fruitlessly for what Dolly Parton was singing about. I believed that because I was a working mother, it would make my life so much simpler. But then I realised - I would never get any time to myself. I wouldn't be able to go to the gym on a Monday morning when everyone else was at work. I wouldn't be able to do my supermarket shop on a quiet Wednesday afternoon and avoid the trolley rage and demented mamas of a Sunday Tesco visit. I wouldn't catch up on any writing I needed done because by the time I clocked off, picked up my girl, got home, did dinner, bath and bed, all I would be fit for was a glass of wine and an episode of Eastenders.

    Then after 5 straight days at work the weekend would come along but I would be too busy spending quality time with Ava, making soup, cleaning the house and doing the weekly shop to worry about sitting down in front of the laptop and getting my write on. And so I have realised that the grass isn't actually always greener. And the fact is I have the best working situation I can be in right now if I really want to keep all my little balls in the air. The balls being my job, my child and my fledgling writing career.

    Every few weeks I will get a weekend off. And being such a novelty, it really is a treat. Leaving work on the Friday and coming home to a take out and a long lie the following morning is relished. Saturday's spent catching up with non-shift working friends enjoyed. Maybe even a dinner party at mine on the Saturday night. And Sunday's are the best days. Walks through the park with a loved one, walks to the park with the little one. Bloody Mary's and brunch at a new little deli or a pint in your local then home for a Sunday roast.

    In bed by 7pm with nothing but the Sunday supplements and a massive bar of Galaxy for company. I do miss my Sundays. And adore the ones I have off. In the words of The Bangles. That's my fun day.

    But the truth is that even if I worked 6 days a week and my only day off was a Thursday, you would still find me on that Thursday on the laptop. Banging away at the blog, meeting a writing deadline or just simply applying for more freelance jobs. Stopping only for coffee and a quick look at the time in anticipation of when I get to go pick my baby up. And without the flexibility and non-conformity of shift work, I simply wouldn't be able to do that.

  • Designer Ski Wear Essentials for 2015

    If you are taking the kids skiing for the first time, the bottom line has to be if they are cold or uncomfortable they will put more energy into whining than skiing. The other consideration is that, unlike adults, kids won’t think twice about charging head long into a giant snowdrift or rolling around to make snow angels – that’s the fun of it. As a consequence, they are unfortunately, even more likely to suffer if they don’t have quite the right kit. So as your trip is likely to be short, its best to get it right from day one.


    So here is our 101 guide to ski wear essentials:

    1. Base Layer:

    First they need a base layer, avoid vests like the plague, in fact anything cotton or wool will do anything but keep them warm. Cotton holds moisture and if they sweat even a little bit, they will quickly find themselves damp and cold. Look for long thermal vests and long john that are breathable and wick the sweat away; merino is especially good. You also want it to fit reasonably snuggly, so try and avoid the temptation to buy several sizes up so it will last. With the number of layers they need, if it is too big they will feel too bulky and finding moving difficult (you really don’t want to end up carrying them because they are struggling to walk).

    2. Mid-Layer:

    Next the mid-layer which is worn over their long underwear, and under your ski jacket and ski pants. You’ll be relieved to hear that a basic fleece works well, most decent fleeces are breathable and they are great for keeping the wind chill off. As with the base layer, it is worth avoiding anything too bulky. It might look snug but with everything else they have on it will just make them feel uncomfortable.

    3. Ski Jacket:

    If you can, borrow one or there is a good market for kids second hand ski gear so it is worth exploring this option. If you do end up buying one, invest in a ski jacket that is waterproof or at least water-resistant, insulated, and breathable. This is where if you have well fitting base and mid-layers you can afford to buy a bit bigger, just make sure they can still move and aren’t overwhelmed by it. If you can find one they can actually do up themselves, it is worth its weight in gold.


    4. Ski Pants:

    These need to be waterproof, insulated, and long enough to be pulled down over ski boots. Especially important for little ones, make sure they have a snow cuff that pulls down over the boots, otherwise its too easy for snow to end up inside the trousers and down their boots before you have even started. Whilst salopettes are definitely a nuisance when it comes to getting changed (and importantly going to the loo) they don’t run the risk of falling down and are less irritating for young kids, so we’d recommend these over trousers – also as they are adjustable you’ll probably get more than just one season out of them.

    5. Ski Socks:

    It is tempting to think that socks won’t matter but this is one place you don’t want to skimp. In order to keep their feet warm and dry, they need a pair of socks that is slim-fitting and ideally wicks away moisture. Thin socks are better than thick as they let you feel the sole of the ski boot and give you a better sense of the movement. Again big bulky socks that wrinkle in the boots will just be uncomfortable and can lead to sore feet. No matter how cold, avoid the temptation to put on multiple layers of socks. If their ski boots are too stuffed with socks, air can’t circulate and their feet will end up getting cold.

    6. Gloves:

    Make sure the pair you buy either comes with elasticated cuffs (so they stay attached to the wrists when the gloves have been taken off) or get a glove string that does the same thing. If they lose their gloves, it is game over so securing them is essential. For little ones, we’d definitely vote for mittens over gloves, they are easier to put on and warmer than gloves. Again fit is everything if they are too small the air won’t circulate and they’ll end up with cold fingers and if they are too big they’ll be falling off, so take your time finding the right pair. The other important consideration is to find a pair they can put on themselves - if at all possible. You’ll be amazed how many times they can manage to take their gloves off, if they aren’t the ones having to put them back on. If you are especially worried about cold hands you can also buy glove liners that give some added warmth.

    7. Ski Helmet:

    This is an absolute necessity and a legal requirement in some places. You don’t need to buy one, most ski hire shops rent them and this way you can ensure year on year they are getting the correct fit. We’d also recommend balaclavas for under the helmets as being the best way to keep their faces warm.


    8. Ski Goggles:

    Even if it doesn’t feel like the sun is shining, the bright snow reflects the sunlight, and higher altitudes means the sun's UV rays are more powerful. Ski goggles will help protect their eyes from ultra violet and if you can find some with polarized lenses they are even better at reducing glare. In addition make sure you take some sunglasses for the kids to wear when you are outside having lunch or out and about.

    Other top tips:

  • Label everything, especially goggles, mittens or gloves.
  • Apply a thick layer of sunscreen and give them some lip-salve to pop into their pockets.
  • In case of emergencies, it is also worth sticking a note with your name and phone number into their pockets.
  • Be patient, the first time will always be the hardest.

    Please visit our fabulous range of designer ski wear for children

  • Finding 'Me Time'

    Before I had Ava I was pretty good at prioritising myself. Nights out were cancelled when I was in desperate need of some alone time with a movie and a massive box of Dairy Milk. Hangovers were spent indulging in take-out on my own and catching up on all the sleep my 25 year old self missed out on during the week. When I needed a boost I got my nails done. When I wanted some pampering I went for luxurious bubble baths that lasted for hours or I took myself to the nearest shopping centre where I could blow lots of cash in River Island without feeling guilty.

    Then I had a child. And all these self-indulgent, first world perks suddenly became a distant memory.

    Given I didn't go back to work until Ava was 15 months (and I had a partner who was either working away or 70 hours a week), Ava and I pretty much didn't see the back of each other. Not that I'm complaining. But the pair of us were thick as thieves. And my little shadow pretty much went everywhere with me. Shopping trips became a nightmare. Have you tried getting a buggy with a screaming baby into one of the Topshop changing rooms? Not easy. Hair appointments became impossible. While the odd file and polish was doable, the chances of a 10 month old sitting in her pram for 3 hours while you get a full head of highlights, cut and colour was slim to none. Movies were interrupted every 40 minutes by a baby who refused to sleep for more than 3 hours at a time. And you can forget bubble baths. Even now my so very loved Lush bath times are regularly interrupted by a three year old throwing Wotsits into the water and spilling my wine.

    Not that I resented any of it. I understood that this was all just part and parcel of becoming a mother. But I missed my 'me' time. Excuse me while I outwardly cringe at my ridiculous woe is me mother cliché.

    Then something I had hoped would never happen happened and her Dad and I split up. And suddenly Ava was away from me a couple of nights a week. And I was able to spend so long in the bath that I emerged like a wrinkled prune. I could nip to the supermarket without a squawking child in the trolley taking bites out of the butter. I could go for a beer and burger without bouncing a small person on one knee. I could go for lunch without desperately asking every single member of staff for the wifi password so she could watch Balamory. And I really appreciated this new time I got to myself. If for no other reason that the distraction it created from missing her like hell. And I missed her all the time.

    Now Ava goes to nursery 5 days a week. And as I work shifts I often find myself with a couple of days during the week to myself. I can write up that blog post I have been meaning to do for ages and actually take the time to take proper pictures for it as opposed to crappy hurried ones taken with my iPhone. I can try on 30 different dresses in River Island until I find the exact one I want for work. I can go for sushi or a latte and read Marie Claire instead of the latest Peppa Pig magazine. And finally I can go to the gym.

    I will never be a huge lover of exercise. I have always been more inclined to skip lunch to save calories rather than do a half hour on the treadmill. But thanks to some personal training sessions and my new found freedom, I have been finding working out a perfect way to get the me time that I have been craving for such a long time. To think. To get lost in my music. To just do something that is genuinely only for me and not for anyone else. And it's kinda great. And I am kinda loving it.

    And I haven't felt one ounce of 'Mum guilt' yet.

  • Will you stop fighting!

    How to Get Involved When Siblings Fight

    Does it really push your buttons when your kids fight? When they’re home over the summer holidays they’re in each other’s company more and they may goad each other out of sheer boredom. You know sibling fighting is meant to be normal, but seriously, over who gets to open the door when dad gets home? Which, after all, he does every day.

    Really? What did you envisage when you brought into the world a sweet little sister or brother for your adored first-born? That she should become a punch bag for him? That he should call her all manner of names and tease her? That she should provoke the life out of him?

    I thought not.

    You were probably like me with fantasies of them playing happily together and keeping each other occupied while you watched over them benignly with cup of tea in hand.

    When my boys were younger I thought we’d made a serious mistake in having more than one, one which we hadn’t worked out until too late.

    My older boy turned into a monster around his brother. He tormented him endlessly and seemed so aggressive with him I envisaged a future where I would be visiting him behind bars as I thought he’d turned into a psychopath.

    The advice I received was to stay out of their fights. I tried to do this but it was as if I’d given permission for the older one to bully the younger. My younger child felt abandoned. I could understand why I shouldn’t take sides in their disputes but I needed to do something….didn’t I?

    Studies have shown that effective intervention has the effect of reducing the number and intensity of sibling rows. (Perlman, M and Ross, H ‘The benefits of parent intervention in their children’s disputes: An examination of concurrent changes in children’s fighting styles.’ Child Development 1997).

    Faber & Mazlish’s Siblings Without Rivalry had some good ideas.

    Parents need to know when to get involved in their children’s arguments and when to stay out of them.

    We need to distinguish between minor squabbles and major on-going battles. We decide upon our intervention based on the level of dispute. We need to be ready to intervene when the children seem to be struggling, or the situation is potentially dangerous, but our intervention is only to encourage and support them to resolve their dispute constructively themselves.

    And when we do intervene, we need to do so in ways which not only encourage children to sort out their own disputes but which also support the children’s relationships, and reduce the risk of long term conflict.

    If we take sides or impose judgments not only does the accused retaliate later but the children don’t learn how to resolve matters themselves.

    The basic approach is to:
    • describe the problem
    • acknowledge how each child feels
    • help the children find a solution; support them in using more constructive conflict resolution strategies

    Example: Jack, aged 5, wants to watch Peppa Pig on TV but Bella, aged 8, is watching her ‘Frozen’ DVD and singing (loudly) along to ‘Let it go’.

    Jack saysI want to watch Peppa now Bella” and Bella just says “no”, so Jack hits her, saying “It’s my turn now horrible Bella.” And Bella shouts and hits him back. Jack cries.

    Dad thinks it’s time to intervene and doesn’t say “Ok, you two that’s enough. Bella don’t be so mean, give Jack a turn." (He did that last week and it ended in tears all round – Dad too, well, almost.)

    Dad: Jack I can see you’re upset. We don’t hit in this family. Can you tell Bella what you want, rather than calling her names?

    Jack: She’s being mean. I want a turn.

    Bella: But it’s my turn now. I want to watch the end of this video.

    Jack: You watched it on the weekend. I want to watch Peppa now.

    Dad: (Dad has some sympathy – he wouldn’t mind some respite from ‘Let it go’ himself.) Jack is saying he wants a turn to watch his show. Bella is saying she’s not ready for her turn to be over….Hmm…That’s a tough situation...I know it can be hard to wait, Jack.

    Jack: I don’t want to wait…I want to watch Peppa now! Bella gets to watch her show all the time.

    Dad: You feel you’re not getting a fair go? Can you tell Bella that and ask her when she’ll be ready to give you a turn? Bella can you tell Jack, without hitting, what would be a fair time for you to have on the video.

    Jack: It’s not fair Bella, you had a turn on the weekend and I haven’t had my turn for ages. When will it be my turn?

    Bella: Ok Jack! You can watch Peppa when the next song is finished. Why don’t you be Olaf?

    Dad gives lots of descriptive praise for both children for resolving this situation constructively.
    Both kids feel heard and they have learnt how to assert themselves without hitting.

    Managing sibling conflicts is one of the most difficult parts of parenting. Helping children to resolve disputes without abusing power or resorting to name-calling or violence is a great gift.

    Do you have brothers and sisters? If so do you still have that level of sibling rivalry or are you close now? My own brother denied my existence when I was in my teenage years and now we are very close. What did your parents do that helped or hindered those relationships?

    If you found this useful do share this blog with friends and family and subscribe to our newsletter.

    Happy parenting!

    Elaine and Melissa

  • Going Back to Work

    By Dawn Young, our lifestyle blogger.

    Two weeks ago my daughter turned three. And I decided to make the jump back into full-time work. Up until this point I had worked two days a week while Ava went to nursery two days. As a single mum this worked out perfectly for us. However, starting November Ava has a full time place at nursery five days a week. And I will be going into work four days a week while spending one day a week doing any writing jobs I have from home. And how do I feel about this massive jump for the both of us? A little scared if I'm honest.

    Right now my little cherub is snoozing in her bedroom. Top of the covers, bum up, face smooshed into the pillow. It's 5pm and it's stressing me out. Despite various attempts to wake her after she crashed out halfway through the supermarket shop, she is obviously exhausted and is taking this little late afternoon siesta whether I like it or not. I'm grouchy and annoyed. I have a deadline on two writing pieces that I have to get done tonight. If Ava sleeps now she will not go to bed. If Ava doesn't go to bed I won't get my writing done. If I don't get the writing done then I miss the deadline. All the while I have a bed that needs made up, a flat that resembles a Chinese laundry (thanks night training), a chicken that needs stripped of it's meat and a pile of dishes needing done.

    And I haven't even started back to work full time yet.

    The truth is it's time. I'm starting to struggle for things to keep Ava entertained. My Pinterest list of places to do and fun activities for toddlers is waning. She's getting as impatient with me as I am with her. And deep down I know she needs more stimulation. I know that I do too. I see those stay at home mothers who give up their work right up until that last baby is starting high school and I salute them. I really do. They must have the patience of a saint. Something I know I lack. And I think Ava knows it too. While I'm a little nervous that she is too young to go into full time childcare, or that she might hate me for it later when she stops remembering me being the one who takes her to the park on a windy Wednesday, I also know that that kid is going to be baking, shell sticking and glitter pimping to her hearts content Monday to Friday. Something that she loves and an area that I lack.

    A fascist to the end I have always incurred quite a regimental 7pm bedtime with Ava. So you can see why I am getting so stressed out at her current slumber situation. It's now five thirty and I'm starting to twitch at the realisation that it'll be at least 9pm before I get her to bed. Soon my strict bedtime regime will be unrealistic anyway. Some nights I will only just make it to the nursery for 6pm. But I will make it by 6pm so those other fascists that run the nursery don't fine me. By the time we do dinner, bath and actually spend some quality time together there is no way I want to put that kid to bed for 7pm. By the time I get all the little things I want to get done like the laundry or that soup made there is no way I am going to have the desire nor energy to write what I want to write at ten o' clock at night. To write what I need to write. To fulfil that desire to let the constant stream of words that jumble round about my head on a day to day base somehow form sentences. To keep that going. It's important to me that I don't stop but I sometimes wonder how I am going to find the time. And it's stressing me out.

    So I am guess I'm a bit over-whelmed about how it's all going to turn out. I guess I'm a bit scared that I won't keep on top of things. And I guess I'm a bit of a failure if I don't manage to keep all the balls in the air that I see so many single working parents manage to.

    But mostly, I guess I need to stop worrying about situations that haven't even happened yet ... and go try and wake my kid up!

  • Autumnal Escapes - Holiday Ideas for Autumn 2014

    Autumnal Escapes - Holiday Ideas for Autumn 2014


    Thinking of getting away for some last-minute sun before winter sets in? Our resident travel expert Angelina Villa-Clarke hunts out her choice of autumnal escapes – perfect for family adventures.


    The sunny climes of the Balearics have a year-round appeal – but they really come into their own in autumn when temperatures are moderately balmy, making islands, such as Majorca, an ideal destination for the little ones.


    The all-inclusive Club Cala Romani Hotel, near to Callos de Majorca, is a great option for a budget get-away with all the family. There are lots of activities on offer for all ages, such as archery, squash, volleyball and tennis, as well as two beaches and tranquil gardens.

    Best of all, when you book through www.loveholidays.com you can stay for six nights from 27 October at a cost of £721 for two travellers, saving £97 per person.


    Often overlooked for buzzier Mediterranean islands, Madeira has been quietly reinventing itself over the past few years into a chic destination far removed from its retiree reputation.


    With its glorious volcanic cliff tops, sweeping forests and lush landscape, it’s always been the isle of choice for those seeking natural beauty and a subtropical climate all year round. Discover it yourself and stay at Quinta Splendida, just outside the capital.

    Set in sprawling botanical gardens and boasting one of the island’s largest spas, this is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle for a while.

    Perfect for families with older children, there’s a five-hole putting green and bunker within the grounds, bikes available to hire and stylish interiors.

    For more information visit www.quintasplendida.com


    Based on the western Algarve coast, Martinhal Beach Resort is one of Portugal’s most stylish family-friendly hotels.


    Winner of the World Travel Awards’ 2014 ‘Europe’s Leading Villa Resort’, Martinhal is renowned for its attention to detail when it comes to catering for children of all ages – from its crèche for children from six months to its futuristically-designed teenage club.

    Five swimming pools, a sports academy to teach surfing and football and a range of activities, including dolphin-watching and kayaking, mean that all the family are kept happy.

    The unique 1950s retro-inspired design and a wide range of eating options mean that you don’t have to compromise on style when holidaying with the family.


    Halkidiki, Greece

    Come October, as our sun is setting on summer, the Greek islands offer guaranteed warm and sunny weather. Halkidiki, with its turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, is one of the most unspoilt of the islands.


    Base yourself at Sani Beach Hotel & Spa, which overlooks Mount Olympus and the glittering Aegean Sea. Inside the hillside-built resort, a traditional Greek palette of white and blue dominate the interiors, while outside there’s a 1km beach directly in front of the hotel – perfect for lazy days in the sun.

    Book with www.westernoriental.com for October and November late deals.


    Five-star Sun Gardens, Dubrovnik is found on Croatia’s cobalt blue Adriatic coastline and is a short hop from the UK, making it ideally placed for a last-minute half-term break with the family.


    Combining traditional Croatian lifestyle with 50 acres of modern facilities, the resort offers a private beach, sports facilities and a wealth of stylish bars and restaurants.

    Children’s activities, sporting options and an award-winning Spa by Occo mean that the little ones, dads and mums are catered for. For those wanting to explore further, Dubrovnik, with its medieval ramparts, cobbled streets and cloistered monasteries, is just six miles away.


  • Inspired Beauty

    Our beauty expert Angelina Villa-Clarke reveals her latest favourite beauty buys – perfect for at home or when away and inspired by far-flung places.

    While I love glamorous ‘dressing-table’ style products, there’s something about the new generation of practical beauty buys that is eminently covetable. Powder cleansers, for instance, are currently having ‘a moment’. Perfect for younger skin – ideal therefore if you have a teenager in the house – they change texture when they come in contact with water and are inspired by the ritualistic cleansing routines popular in Japan.


    De Mamiel’s Brightening Cleanse & Exfoliate, £41 (www.demamiel.com) is a nourishing powder-to-paste exfoliating cleanser. It contains a veritable cocktail of ingredients – such as gemstone and pearl powders, vitamin C and ginseng – which work to brighten and smooth the complexion.


    One Love Organics Brand New Day, £34, (www.oneloveorganics.eu) , meanwhile, contains organic sweet pea flour and fresh pineapple enzymes to exfoliate and reveal glowing skin. You mix with water to form a paste and massage on to cleanse skin. Ideal for the Asian practice of double cleansing, this can be left on as a masque for a deep-cleanse.


    Continuing with the Japanese theme, my latest must-buy are the covetable Japanese Exfoliating Towels, £3.50 (www.thisisbeautymart.com) for the body, which come in a range of popping colours. The skin-softening flannels come in a longer length so you can reach your back. Easy to rinse, light and quick drying – these are ideal for travelling and perfect for the whole family.


    When it comes to the latest beauty trends, experts are looking to Korea, which is known for being one-step ahead when it comes to skincare in particular. Korean skincare brand Mizon, available at Cult Beauty (www.cultbeauty.co.uk) uses a range of extraordinary ingredients in its products – think snail secretion, starfish extract and egg whites. Its Water Volume Aqua Gel Cream, £25, (www.cultbeauty.co.uk) is an oil-free, refreshing daily moisturiser. Ideal when flying, it leaves skin feeling plumped-up and revived. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and contains olive oil to help skin’s resilience.

    Safari Kabuki-Beauty Shot-UO

    Meanwhile, inspired by the professional make-up tools used in Japan’s Kabuki theatre, Japonesque’s range of brushes are ideal for creating a flawless, refined complexion. The Safari Chic Bronzer Brush, £19.50 (www.lookfantastic.com), for instance, not only has a gorgeous animal print embedded in its bristles, but is the perfect size for travelling. Its high density bristles give the perfect application of blush, bronzer, highlighter or mineral face powder.

    suqqu 1 musculate_massagemask_cream edit

    Japanese brand Suquu is another go-to for its expert range of products and make-up. Its hero product Musculate Massage & Mask Cream, £68 ( www.selfridges.com ) is a unique moisturizing cream that, when used properly following a traditional Gankin Facial Massage technique, promotes blood circulation and strengthens muscles. It hydrates, keeps skin supple and glowing and can also be used as a mask.

    Blotting Papers-2 edit

    Who remembers papier poudres or blotting papers that were all the rage many moons ago? Originally created in France at the turn of the century, the papers loaded with face powder meant that make-up could be discreetly applied through-out the day. Making a come-back due to their practicality – meaning you don’t have to carry a cumbersome powder and brush duo with you when out and about. This time around, they have been revamped with new technology, so papers are finely tuned and loaded with high intensity powders. Paul & Joe’s pretty version of Blotting Papers, £10.50 ( www.beautybay.com ), gives oil-control on the go and contains a mirror in its cute case.

    diamond trio edit

    Jane Iredale’s Facial Blotting Papers, £11, ( www.janeiredale.co.uk ) meanwhile, come in a sleek gold case. The papers are naturally absorbent sheets, which absorb excess oil without disturbing make-up, leaving skin matt and fresh. The genius Mai Couture Papiers, however, have taken the concept one step further by offering make-up on paper. All their thin papers come pre-loaded with high-pigmented blush, foundation and highlighter colours, £12.50 ( www.thisisbeautymart.com ).

    Angelina Villa-Clarke has been a beauty and travel journalist for the past 15 years. She writes for Stylist Magazine, Harpers Bazaar, Spa Secrets, Kensington & Chelsea Magazine, BA's High Life Magazine, Thomas Cook and The Independent. She also writes her own blog Angelinascasa and likes to get her feet sandy occasionally.

  • Get Back To Bed!

    Get back to bed

    Many parents experience difficulties with bedtime routines. It can be hard to get a child to get into bed in the first place or hard to get them to stay there. Of course at the end of the day both child and parent are tired and the parent may be longing to get the child down so that they can begin to have some adult time and because they know how important a good night’s sleep is for the child. Recommendations for sleep are 12 to 14 hours for toddlers and 10 to 11 hours for primary school age children. Tempers may run high and often parents find themselves saying things they later regret.

    If you’re making changes around sleep routines the summer holidays may be a good time to do it if you’ve got some time off work and are feeling rested yourself.
    Also if you have school aged children who may be kept awake while you’re training a younger child you’ll be less stressed about the impact on them if they don’t have to get up early in the morning.

    Cancel other engagements and devote yourself to getting your child into good habits around bedtimes. Enlist support from the other parent –maybe they could make dinner for a few nights or get take away.

    One of the changes that can be difficult is moving from a cot to a bed. Getting out of a new bed is not surprising. It is new big deal for her and may even be bit scary without the high sides of the crib. Some children don’t find change easy and they may not feel safe on transition to a bed without sides. Obviously the first thing to consider is the safety aspects and it might help her to feel safer by putting up guards.

    A lot of the recommendations that follow will also apply to a child who has been in their bed for a while but some other change has upset their sleep patterns.

    1. Winding down time. Consider the bedtime routine - this needs to be as consistent as possible. The various elements of it send her body signals that it is time for sleep. Spending 30 minutes to wind down is a vital way of signposting to the brain that sleep is on its way.
    • For babies, lie them down, tell them it’s sleep time, turn off the lights, stay in the room (or just outside) to gently soothe and settle if they cry, and repeat until sleep. Your role is to verbally comfort (and physically, if needed, with a cuddle) the baby at regular intervals (30 seconds to 1 minute) if they are crying or looking distressed. You are giving them the opportunity to self-soothe without leaving them alone to cry it out, which raises the level of the stress hormone cortisol.
    • For toddlers a good routine is bath, pyjamas and story in bed. Having a bath in the evening is a good part of the routine as the warm water will raise the temperature and then when he gets out the core body temperature lowers, promoting sleep. Don’t make bath time too stimulating.
    • Avoid stimulants in the hour before sleep –no screens, sugar or hyped up activity. Winding down in front of a DVD is not a good idea as the effect of the light from the screen is to signal the brain that it is time to be awake and it can be cognitively stimulating too –so they go to bed with their brains whirring.
    • If your child struggles to settle to sleep you might like to allow her to listen to some music or talking books. These become the bedtime cue that it’s lights off and body is settling down to sleepiness.
    • Provide an atmosphere conducive to sleep, ie low light, noise and temperature.
    • If you’re a working parent try to avoid coming home in the middle of bedtime routine as it will disturb the rhythm and excite the child.

    2. The child needs to feel successful and to have some input - she will have managed to crack other learning processes like learning to walk and talk and maybe potty training and she can do the same here but it is going to take time. Refer to these successes.
    Ask him what would help him to stay in bed. He might like to have an acknowledgment system like a sticker chart. Maybe he can choose a favourite animal or character that you can use as a template/outline that is filled in with stickers during the course of the bedtime routine. When you tell him “It’s sleep time now …what do you need to do” and he says “stay in my big boy bed” – lots of stickers on the chart as well as a verbal acknowledgment for this response. When he jumps into bed for his stories - stickers for being in the right place; when he chooses his music to listen to, stickers for being sensible and following the rule.

    3. Introduce the sleep fairy - she picks one of her favourite toys who is going to watch over her at night and keep her safe and help her get into good bedtime habits. Say the sleep fairy wants to give you something in your sleep fairy box when you stay in your bed like you did last night; you didn’t call out for Mummy and followed most of the bedtime routines like a big girl. Choose something to put in a box that is quite small and not of any real value –it might be a flower or a feather or a shiny button. Make a huge deal of it and say the sleep fairy will know how successful you have been each night and will leave a token in the morning to say well done for the effort and progress you are making to become a successful bed time sleeper!

    4. Acknowledge how it feels. If your child says “I’m not tired and need to get something” - articulate how he’s feeling by saying “ I know you find it hard to settle yourself to sleep. You would rather be racing round the house!” If you think he wants your attention don’t deny him by ignoring him - you need to give it to him for doing the right thing.

    5. Motivate with Descriptive Praise Establish a GOLDEN BOOK - help your child personalise and decorate a notebook and get into a routine of noticing the good things they do, around bedtimes and more generally, and commemorate it in the book. This helps the parent to pay attention to progress made. Night 2 was better than night 1 by 30 minutes!; night 4 was a complete success so she can do it!; this helps if night 5 slides backwards. This shows her good effort and attitude and you need to let her know you are noticing all this and appreciating the effort she is making. “You should feel proud of yourself –I only had to remind you twice last night about where you should be and you stayed in your bed longer than the other night! That’s progress. Very soon you will be able to stay in your big girl bed with no trouble at all.”

    Some children need a parent to stay close to their bed to catch them doing the right thing before they get up. They need the parent to remain close (not in bed with them) but out of sight and over a few nights move their chair to outside the room so the child can see your presence but not engage with your face. After a few minutes the parent goes in BEFORE she gets out of bed and praises her for doing the right thing…explaining you are just outside and that you’ll be back in very soon…a few minutes later repeat the same thing.

    These are really good routines to establish early on but if you’re struggling with sleep it can be exasperating and if your child is getting up in the middle of the night sleep deprivation is horrendous. Don’t give up – these habits take time to establish. Get support from friends and family and if necessary consult an expert sleep coach.

    Melissa Hood is founder of The Parent Practice and mother of three. A skilled therapist, providing parents with the right tools to improve and enjoy family life promoting happy childhoods and a brighter futures. She and her team deliver tailored training and consultations to enable parents to bring out the best in their children.



  • Single Parenting

    dawn and ava

    If there is anything that makes me paranoid, it's my fear of coming across as a martyr when I talk about being a single parent. However parenting solo can be hard and not necessarily more for the primary caregiver. Whether the child spends the majority of their time with one parent or they split their time equally between the two, when you are suddenly facing the intricate assault course that is bringing up another human being on your own, this parenting lark can seem like a frightening and scary place.

    For one thing you have no-one to balance you out. There's no-one to take a step back from a situation and to give you their tuppence worth . Morals, values, the difference between right and wrong are all massively important in bringing up a child. If you are doing it alone then how do you know you are always getting it right? You could be the most decent, upstanding and reasonable person in the world - but being solely responsible for teaching a little one to be a good person is a bit of a scary prospect.

    Being a single parent can be scary for a whole other host of reasons. I know that for many Mum's there is the risk of losing one's identity. Particularly if they are the sole caregiver. Having a little one does not a healthy social life make. Particularly if you are one of the only people in your social group to have a baby. My little girl spends three evenings a week with her Dad and I have lots of lovely family and friends who are always willing to help out with childcare. But I am lucky to have that. Being marooned and without anyone to offer the odd babysitting shift can be lonely. And hard.

    Then there is the guilt thing. Maybe it's just me but I sometimes feel like I let my little one get away with too much since I split with her Dad. For one it is much easier to give into their demands without a husband or boyfriend fighting your corner. And secondly you just want them to be happy. Happy with you. No single parent in the world can ever escape the fear that their child would rather be with one parent than the other. Even when such fears are completely unfounded. And falling into the trap of not bending to their demands because you want them to understand how much you love them can be a tricky skill to hone. But one that is important to hone all the same.

    Spending entire weekdays with a toddler can be tiring, demanding and frustrating regardless of whether you are with the child's father or not. I would be lying if I said I was a natural mother. I have a tendency to be impatient and when I am tired after a night spent with a 2 year old's feet poking me in the ear, my tolerance levels for pretend play picnics and floor puzzles do start to wane. When you have a significant other to share the brunt of these things - when you know someone else will be coming through the door soon and will be able to do bath time - then it can make things a little easier.

    I'm at a point in my life where I am not struggling with any of the things I am talking about. Possibly because my daughter now spends 3 evenings a week with her Dad. Which means I get a pretty decent break from the craziness of having a toddler rule our little home. And if truth be told I miss her like absolute crazy when she is gone. But where I struggle doing this alone is a personal thing. I can be highly strung, can get myself in a flap and can get very frustrated with myself when I am not parenting in the way that I feel I should be. When Ava gets two Happy Meals in one week or when I crack to her demands once again and let her watch Frozen in bed till 10 pm, I tend to beat myself up a lot. I label myself a 'bad parent'. I need a partnership because I need someone to talk me down sometimes. I think it's important that you have someone who will tell you that you are doing an amazing job but be just as quick to tell you that you are being too strict or too lenient. I need someone to talk me out of one of my flaps or to send me for a bath when an entire day with the kids is driving me to distraction.

    Whether you are a single mum or a single dad. Whether you are doing it one day a week or six. Trying to always make the best judgement call, trying to teach them right from wrong and just trying to ensure that don't end up hating you when they grow up can be seriously hard work.

    And so in particular to all the single parents doing it completely alone, without any help or presence from the other guardian - I salute you. I truly do.

    Massive high five.

    By Dawn Young

    The Lifestyle Blogger



  • Going Places

    Maybe you are super-organised and already thinking ahead to where you’ll be heading in your half-term break (or even, gasp, summer 2015). Or maybe you have left it all to the last minute, and are looking to get away this summer. However you book your holidays, our travel expert Angelina Villa-Clarke opens up her little black book for those fail-safe family-friendly hotels you'll keep going back to.

    Canary Islands


    The Spanish hotel group Barceló Hotels & Resorts are well regarded for their family-friendly properties, based all over the world. Their properties in the Canary Islands are currently offering 15% off bookings until October – perfect for half term or last-minute deals. Highlights include the recently refurbished Barceló Santiago found on the southwest of Tenerife. It has its own beach, sea views, three swimming pools and spa. Its kids club caters for 4-12 year olds and offers a range of activities and sports for all to partake in. www.barcelo.com





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    Offering an authentic Swiss experience with a child-friendly focus is the luxurious Beau-Rivage Palace. Hidden away in 10 acres of private gardens with spectacular views of Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps, it features three restaurants, two bars and terraces, two tennis courts, two swimming pools and special programmes for children (as well as a playground). The impressive hotel comes into its own in the summer months with its bicycles for hire and its own seven-seater electric boat that guests can hire to navigate Lake Leman. Furthermore, it offers a host of inspiring activities for children including the new pastry lessons and cooking classes with the hotel’s chef, flower arranging for both adults and young ones, treasure hunts and tennis camps. www.brp.ch



    It may not be an obvious choice for families, but for the adventurous few Vietnam has become a real option of late. Direct flights from the UK mean getting there is easier and new family-friendly hotel openings mean that a stress-free time can be had by all when you arrive. Take The Nam Hai in Hoi An, for instance. It has launched a ‘Kids Activity Villa’ and special summer activity schedule for ages up to 12 years. Lantern making, coconut leaf art, excursions and gardening lessons are just a few of the activities on offer. The villa-based property is situated on its own beach and is just a 15-minute drive outside the UNESCO town of Hoi An. It has its own cookery school, tennis courts and a nearby 18-hole golf course designed by Colin Montgomerie. www.thenamhaihoian.com


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    NAM-Overview-Main Pool01_v-1


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    Ideal for those wanting to stay put in the UK this year, is the charming South Sands Hotel found on three-time Blue Flag winner South Sands Beach in South Devon. The perfect family summer holiday base, the hotel is surrounded by rolling hills, sandy beaches and a never-ending coastal playground. Delightful. In addition to the hotel’s 22 bedrooms, it also has five Beach Suites which are self-contained two-bedroom apartments – so ideal for those wanting a little more flexibility. New for this summer is its I-Spy children’s photography course. Teaming up with the innovative photographic venue in nearby Salcombe, the course gives kids up to the age of 12 an introduction to photography, allowing the children themselves to create and produce the images. The hotel also has a rolling roster of activities for all ages, including sand castle competitions, crabbing, sailing, hot air balloon riding and horse riding along the beach. www.southsands.com



    Taking the notion of keeping the children happy to a new level is the tropical resort Anahita in Mauritius. It has opened a dedicated Kids Adventure Park offering a host of activities for pre-schoolers through to teenagers. There are mini jet skis, quad bikes and zip wires as well as pedal karting, trampolines and a giant inflatable castle. There is even a mini town with specially designed traffic signals and mini electrical cars. The hotel also has specific age-related kids clubs while parents can kick back in the five-star surrounds in a choice of suites or villas. The resort is found on the secluded east coast and has spectacular views of the mountains and Indian Ocean. www.anahita.mu



    Angelina Villa-Clarke has been a beauty and travel journalist for the past 15 years. She writes for Stylist Magazine, Harpers Bazaar, Spa Secrets, Kensington & Chelsea Magazine, BA's High Life Magazine, Thomas Cook and The Independent. She also writes her own blog Angelinascasa and likes to get her feet sandy occasionally.

  • Items 11 to 20 of 152 total

    Meet our Bloggers...

    Dawn Young - The Lifestyle Blogger

    Dawn Young

    The Lifestyle Blogger

    Kate Rowe

    Kate Rowe

    The Foodie

    Melissa Hood

    Melissa Hood

    The Advisor

    Joanna Worsfold

    Joanna Worsfold

    The Creator

    Clare Henderson

    Clare Henderson

    The Psychologist

    Angelina Villa-Clarke

    Angelina Villa-Clarke

    The Traveller