Mental health during a pandemic

This piece was written in August 2020 for my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It was published on in Janaury 2021 after it had been graded.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

The pandemic has caused a greater level of fear and anxiety for a lot of people across the world. It therefore is unsurprising that children are also suffering with their anxiety and mental health, in a world that has completely changed overnight for them. Speaking to experts in mental health, I have compiled some advice and warning signs to look out for in both you and your small child, though lots of the tips are useful for all of us to ensure our mental health doesn’t suffer.

What are some of the warning signs your mental health is suffering too much, causing you to not function properly?

The main warning sign is that you aren’t coping with everyday tasks, suggesting the pandemic has taken over your mind and rational thoughts. It might be causing panic attacks or what feels like physical pain, or even an uncontrollable sadness. You may have trouble sleeping, struggle to get up in the mornings or eat excessively or too little.

Bethany Twite, from the charity Mind in Norfolk and Waveney explains some warning signs you might notice: “With any mental health issue, it can be really individual to the person and come on at any time. Specifically to do with the pandemic itself, some examples are excessively worrying and obsessing about statistics, washing hands far too frequently (for example every half an hour), making them unnecessarily sore, wanting to talk about coronavirus constantly, steering conversations back to it, having the news on a loop, avoiding people at all costs regardless of social distancing and feeling overly panicked when you do come into contact with someone.

“Unfortunately, we cannot control our reaction mentally to the pandemic, but we can establish what balance looks like for us and the children around us. It is important to know what keeps you in a mentally well place and remember that doesn’t mean feeling ecstatic all the time, but a place where you can cope with everyday life and tasks, it might take a while to know exactly what a mentally well place looks like for you and you might need help to find it from a medical professional,” adds Bethany from Mind.

What should you do if you spot the warning signs in yourself?

“Utilise any support networks you have and be honest with someone when you are struggling. This can be a family member, friend or medical professional. Think of ways you can still do the things that help keep you in a mentally well place, even during the pandemic. For example, if you don’t have a garden, go to a friend’s or a park and sit in a green space,” says Bethany from Mind.

Knowing intricate details about the pandemic also isn’t necessary, so think about turning the news off and taking a social media break. “It can be easy to see people’s highlight reel on social media and feel inadequate so come off it until you are in a more positive head space,” adds Bethany.

Try Practicing mindfulness, which doesn’t have to mean meditation, just being present in the moment of each task you do. Yoga teacher, Claire Thomas, who runs classes in Hebden Bridge on health and anxiety, explains an element of Karma Yoga: “A good way to get in the moment is to add the principle to really mundane tasks. I always tell my students to do the washing up but concentrate really hard on every aspect of it. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to the task. You can even explain out loud each step as you go, filling up the bowl, adding fairy liquid and so on. It is a really great start to mindfulness that isn’t as easy as it sounds, as to begin with your mind will keep wandering off to your anxious thoughts.”

If you did hypnobirthing for the birth of your child, try playing the tracks again and fall asleep listening to the audios. Remembering how well you got into a state of mindfulness for birth might help ease your anxiety levels.

Also take time for yourself. This can be something as small as going for a walk with a friend, taking a hot bubble bath undisturbed or dedicating an hour to get lost in a book. If going shopping in a mask is adding to your anxiety, switch to home deliveries for food shopping and make the most of the online sales from the comfort of your own home.

Maria Foy, a blogger from New Zealand who runs the blog “Happy Mum Happy Child” on Instagram, with over 70 thousand followers, said: “Every person is so different when it comes to mental health issues with different symptoms. Being aware of who you are helps to identify the signs. For me it is making sure I am looking after my basic hygiene and eating well, not necessarily healthily, just well as junk food really impacts my mental health.”

What are the warning signs to look out for in your child?

Professor Tamsin Ford, a psychologist and expert in her field from Cambridge University, explains: “Warning signs can include changes in behaviour, distress and generally not coping with ordinary activities as they did before.”

As with ourselves, anxiety and fear of the pandemic can present itself in different ways depending on each child, but can include signs such as a child going into themselves and being uncharacteristically quiet, disturbed sleeping patterns, lashing or acting out, being overly sensitive or emotional, being very clingy and not wanting to leave your side and lying devious behaviour. Generally, if they are not themselves and displaying unusual behaviours out or the ordinary.

 Like adults, they also might be obsessing over details of the pandemic, fear leaving the house or coming into contact with people.

What to do if you spot the warning signs in your child?

Try not to panic. Professor Ford advises: “The important thing is to not try and brush off the child’s feelings. Lots of us are a bit scared but think through what the risks are and also what you can do about them and discuss it with your child.

“Children are very unlikely to catch the virus and less likely to be very ill if they do. Explain to them they can make this risk even smaller by washing their hands thoroughly and more often and wearing a mask when in crowded enclosed places.”

Both Bethany from Mind and Professor Ford recommend getting outside in a non-crowded place as it can do wonders for everyone’s mental health. It can also help remind the child that it isn’t all negative in the world right now. Practicing social distancing is much easier large outdoor spaces too so it might help a child who is anxious to leave the house to start in the countryside.

Getting mindfulness into your child’s routine is also as important as getting it into your own. Instead of a task like the washing up as recommended for mothers, get them to talk you through each step of painting a picture or take them on a nature walk, concentrating on every step and bug you find.

“I think the lack of social contact has had a big impact on young children, so even Facetiming their grandparents and friends regularly can really lift their mood,” says Bethany.

Though it’s just a bit of fun, in our house we always do highlights and lowlights of our day at teatime where we each say what the high point of the day was as well as the low point. This could be extended into more of a feelings circle, similar to what my son was doing at school when he returned after lockdown. It can be a chance for everyone to voice their thoughts.

What to do about negative behaviour in your child?

Professor Ford recommends parents look at The Incredible Years Program for parents and teachers. This is an online program looking at behaviour with accompanying books, developed by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, a licensed Clinical Psychologist. A lot of schools are looking to implement the program into their teaching in September, anticipating that children’s mental health is likely to have suffered after such a prolonged period off school, resulting in negative behaviour.

“Try to repair the positive time and picking your battles but be clear about what you want the child to do and what will happen if they don’t and then follow through,” adds Professor Ford.

The Incredible Years Program also recommends that parents put aside at least 20 minutes of special time a day. “During the special time, the child sets what they do with the parent. This special time happens regardless of what has happened that day as it focuses on strengthening the relationship. When behaviour deteriorates, the parent often withdraws in frustration and then if the only time the child gets attention is by behaving badly, this encourages bad behaviour,” explains Professor Ford.

It is really important to be very specific with the child about what you want them to do and link the behaviour to consequence, for example a star chart with stickers on. “Instead of telling a child to be good, it is much better to be very specific. If shopping, give them specific instructions like hold on to the shopping trolley the whole way around the supermarket,” adds Professor Ford.

Finally, Professor Ford recommends ignoring some low level behaviours and instead distract the child onto something else rather than always telling them off. “Praise them explicitly when they do what is asked of them, we forget how reinforcing adult attention it,” says Professor Ford.

Top 5 websites to visit

The Incredible Years Program there are lots of resources on the website, you can also order the book or order it through Amazon.

MindEd The website has resources for parents, including a specific section on supporting children during the pandemic.

The NHS website This has information for parents on services they can access for their children.

YouTube A guided meditation for children. There are lots of different videos on mindfulness to try.

The Dare Method. There is also a book you can purchase which takes you through steps to get through anxiety including audio tracks for grownups.

5 ways to entertain your baby during a pandemic

This piece formed part of my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It was written in August 2020 including the lockdown rules at the time which may now differ. It was published on in January 2021 to allow it to be graded.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

Coronavirus has forced us to stay at home a lot more and think of inventive ways to keep our little people happy. A little organisation can go a long way, and though it can sometimes seem impossible to find a spare few moments alone, taking a little time each evening to roughly plan out the next day can really help. It doesn’t matter if most plans go out of the window after a rough night, the intention was there, and the list can roll on to another day.

1.Plan themed weeks with easy activities to set up based on each topic. For example, dinosaur week with toy dinosaurs and playdough made volcanoes. Once your baby gets fed up, you can get the paint out and let your baby make footprints with the dinosaur’s feet.

It is important to add structured activity as their normal routine has been up-skittled for many months. If your child is not at nursery because of the pandemic, it can be a great way to emulate their nursery environment at home, even getting in touch with their key worker for ideas on themes and setting up activities.

Lisa Clegg, author of The Blissful Baby Expert Book and a maternity night nurse, helps thousands of parents find their groove. “Take one day at a time and try to break the day into sections too. With my new mums who are overwhelmed this is the biggest thing I tell them to do.

“Don’t think too far ahead or you will find it a never-ending task with no end in sight. Try to have a rough routine plan for meals and bedtimes at least to give you all some structure and then split the day into morning and afternoon activities to break the day up,” says Lisa.

Visit The Blissful Baby Expert for lots of tips, articles and mum meet ups at

2.Enroll in a local baby massage or baby yoga group. Coronavirus unfortunately closed all face to face groups but slowly they are starting up again, so it is worth checking Facebook for a local group. They are operating in spaced out in big halls, remotely, or outdoors across summer months. The benefit of a weekly group is it adds structure to the week and forces you to both get dressed and out the house, or set up in front of the computer screen if it is an online class.

It also allows you time to lean on an expert and follow their lead rather than your own. Founder of the Village Midwives, Annette Ashford, explains the benefits: “It is as much for the mothers as it is for the babies really and at the end of a baby massage course it is lovely to see how friendships have blossomed. We all need a tribe to get through motherhood and it can be the start of a lifelong friendship. It has been very different virtually but worked really well and the babies have all enjoyed sensory objects and the massage itself.”

If you are in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Norfolk or South Yorkshire, you can find classes at

3.Get outside. Remember that though we are at home more, we can make the most of the great outdoors where generally it is easier to adhere to social distancing measures. To lift both your mood and the baby’s, sometimes a stroll can be just what to doctor ordered.

It can also be fun to turn the walk into light exercise and time your routes each week to see how much you have improved. Now shops have re-opened you can reward yourself with a skinny late for the way home, feeling good about supporting local businesses at the same who are down on profits because of coronavirus.

Keira Williamson from Zen Mama is organising local walks around her hometown of Spalding with other mums. “I think we all miss the contact with others and meeting outdoors for a walk can really lift your mood as you share your experiences of motherhood and take in a bit of  exercise within the rules of coronavirus,” says Keira.

Why not see if there are local walks with other mothers in your area and if not, start your own?

Log and share your walks on and find other walks in your area.

4. “Ready, set, bake,” as they say on the Great British Bake off. Baking with your little one can be lots of fun and a chance for them to engage in messy play, getting their hands, and sometimes feet, dirty. Don’t worry, you can make a separate batch to actually eat if things go awry. If your baby is too little to join in, they might enjoy watching you bake with the different visual culinary sensations in front of their very eyes. Don’t forget to talk to them about each step of the recipe as it is a great opportunity to explore language together.

Alternatively, setting time aside to prepare lunch or dinner earlier in the day can be a fun activity and a time your baby can explore self-led weaning as they chew on a piece of cucumber. It can help prevent the stressful time of day as dinner can just be cooked later instead of you trying to prep whilst juggling an unhappy baby.

Visit for some yummy toddler recipes.

5.Have a dance party to shake it off. I like to do this on a Friday afternoon to get us in the mood for the weekend with my children. The sillier your dance moves are, the funnier your baby will find it as they get in the groove with you. To make it more authentic, darken the room and set up a disco light to add to the sensory experience. It really is impossible not to smile as you put on your favourite tunes and sing out of key to fits of giggles from your baby.

Picking a song with a solid beat your baby can nod along to before progressing to a wiggle, helps keep them interested. Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars is always a winner in our house.

Browse Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon music for readymade playlists for babies and children. Linking to your Amazon Alexa can mean the children start to make requests themselves too!

As a plan fan, it is really satisfying to print out the daily schedule and tick each activity off as we go. It helps me feel like I have achieved something, even on tricky days.

Comment below your own experiences of entertaining during the pandemic and any activities you have tried and loved.

Giving birth during a pandemic

This was a piece written in July 2020 for my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It remained unpublished on until January 2021 when it had been marked and graded.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

Covid-19 has changed the way we communicate with each other. Weekly quizzes and get togethers with friends and family remotely soon became the best way of keeping in touch. Speaking to women and mothers about their experiences remotely seemed impossible though, especially given the personal details they were revealing to me.

A slightly panicked house scout to find the tidiest spot ensued as lockdown has ravaged through each room in turn, even the mess is messy. How I long for a fancy bookcase to portray an inaccurate image of intelligence and organisation, just like we are used to seeing on the news. I hope my own pregnancy and children might put their minds at rest as we are members of a club with stretch marks and questionable bladder ability worn like a badge of honour.

My first interview is with Emma Epton from Boston. Emma has a little girl called Libby who is five and has been trying to conceive for a long time for her second child. I have known Emma for over ten years so thankfully it was a good starting point to get used to communicating over Zoom. Once the niceties are over, I could see her face drop as we got onto the subject of pregnancy. Emma had an ectopic pregnancy last year and has lost one of her fallopian tubes after surgery.

“Coronavirus has really put us off trying for a second. I would be so nervous pregnant during a pandemic and it has perhaps made us realise how lucky we already are with our daughter,” she says with a smile.

As the conversation develops she admits that reaching the decision had made her want a second child more than ever.

“It is typical really, it would be a terrible time to be pregnant but I would really be delighted if it did happen. Perhaps though it is for the best if the pandemic keeps restrictions in place for years to come. It might ultimately take the decision out of our hands,” she concludes.

Emma isn’t alone in putting off decisions for starting a family. Initially experts were expecting a baby boom, Nadine Dorries, the MP responsible for Maternity Services, even tweeted back in March “I am wondering how busy we are going to be nine months from now.” Quickly it became clear that people were changing plans though, which isn’t surprising given that most people have increased stress levels, not overly conducive to making a baby.

Next, I compare my own pregnancy with Kirsty Lilly, a mother to two girls, Isabella and Florence, with a third baby on the way.

As the camera flicks on I am relieved to see that she too is bookshelf free as she instantly apologises that the children are running slightly wild so may interrupt the Zoom call. I have a little chuckle as scenes of children interrupting broadcasts have become commonplace on the television. In some ways the new way of working has shown us all in a more natural environment. As she focuses on me, I can see in her eyes she is desperate to know what the children are doing right now. I try and reassure her we can be as stop-start as she likes.

“I am finding the juggling a little bit of a struggle I must say. I am a Human Resources manager and work mainly with people without children so their understanding at times is lacking. Added to this is the fact my husband has chromes disease so we have been shielding limited to the house and garden for months,” she explains.

Kirsty readjusts her screen apologising: “Sorry I hate that I can see myself, despite being only 16 weeks pregnant I think I have developed an extra chin for each week.” I instantly love her as I readjust the maternity leggings currently cutting me in two.

As we are at the same hospital for birth, it is interesting to swap stories of our experiences so far, though I am starting to feel like Kirsty is enjoying being at home a little more than I am.

“When I was told to shield, I was a little relieved. I was only a few weeks pregnant and felt so tired and poorly. With it being my third pregnancy, I already looked bloated and feared everyone might guess. For me it took the pressure off and I could work from home juggling my other children and hibernate,” she concludes.

Kirsty reveals her strangest craving third time pregnant is for beer. Obviously drinking pints of larger is a no-go, so Kirsty has been buying non-alcoholic varieties.

“Having a non-alcoholic beer has really helped curb the craving. I will admit I cracked one open last Thursday afternoon after a conference call and my husband looked at me daggers. Turns out a beer during work hours isn’t socially acceptable even without the alcohol,” she chuckles.

As the call ends, I can’t help but smile at her confident, breezy take on being pregnant for the third time. We both agree that wearing masks to appointments and having to go alone to all the scans is tough. So much so that Kirsty has booked a private scan this week to find out the sex of her baby. For that, her husband is allowed to be in the waiting room, so at least he can sort of be there.

My next interview is with a first-time mother called Sarah Moore who had her baby girl, Lily in April. For Sarah it was easier for her to have a quick phone conversation with follow up messages back and forth on Facebook Messenger. Sarah sounds so tired, I can’t help but feel sorry for her and think back to my own first time. Nothing prepares you for how hard night feeds are the first few months and to face it all with just her partner and no family allowed in her home is a terrifying thought. In Sheffield where she lives you are currently only allowed one birthing partner once active labour is established.

“It was very scary to enter the labour ward to be assessed, whilst in the early stages alone. As this was my first baby neither my partner or I were really sure of when to go to hospital, we followed the advice yet went back and forth to the hospital three times before I was actually in active labour,” says Sarah.

Sarah explains that she didn’t have to wear any form of personal protective equipment but that all midwives and medical staff had gloves, gowns and masks. Her own birth plan largely was followed so for her, pandemic or not, it was successful.

“Once I got into the birthing room and my partner was back with me, I didn’t really notice or think about the pandemic. Midwives were all wearing masks and generally being careful but this didn’t bother me, the only thing that bothered me was that I really wanted my partner and my mum there,” she adds with a sad face emoji.

Sarah stayed in hospital for one night while feeding was established but was happy to get home the next day and be reunited as a family. The following weeks did however prove hard for her as she had to drive to hospital for all routine appointments. Normally the visits take place in your own home.

“This really was a struggle as my partner doesn’t drive and I had to attend alone so it was sore to drive and carry the car seat alone,” says Sarah.

I have kept in touch with Sarah over the last few weeks and was delighted to hear that she was able to stay with family under the new guidelines that came in on 4 July. Life as a family of three has been a struggle and she really felt her mental health was suffering not being able to spend time with family and friends.

For Charlotte Goodley, the pandemic had less of an impact on birth as she was booked for an elective cesarean section. Charlotte is a great friend who I met doing pregnancy yoga a few years ago with her first-born Aspen. Charlotte gave birth to Orla in April.

As a midwife herself, I have to ask if she was relieved to have timed her pregnancy seemingly so well to avoid working during the pandemic.

“I really wouldn’t have minded working, I am young, fit and healthy so hopefully it wouldn’t have caused too much of a problem if I had contracted it. I feel a little guilty really that my friends are working and I am not. Especially because I slightly changed my career to sonography in later years and the clinic has had to close due to staffing a lot over the last few weeks,” says Charlotte.

Being a midwife and giving birth in the same environment can have its perks as Charlotte was able to pick the Surgeon and midwife staff. The operating room looked exactly the same as a high level of PPE is normal in the sterile environment.

Visibly upset, Charlotte does admit that while she was fully prepared and knew exactly what was happening at all times, her daughter had to spend time on the neo-natal ward.

“Nothing can prepare you for that, no matter how many times you have been on the other side of it reassuring mums all will be ok. It was completely heart breaking being split from Orla for the first few hours of her life,” Charlotte adds.

Whilst the pandemic has undoubtably had an impact on the mental health of the mother’s I have spoken to for this article, it is really comforting to know that the births for the most part have gone as expected.

I did manage to speak to a midwife to get the medical point of view, though this unfortunately was a quick phone call and then a series of emails due to her work schedule. The majority of emails came through in the middle of the night between shifts.

Amy works for the United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust and her story on her time working during the pandemic is hard to read as I can feel the anger and despair coming through the email.

The PPE shortages were all over the news at the start of the pandemic and though Amy always had enough access to PPE, the lack of testing directly impacted her.

“Back in late March I had a really sore throat and perhaps the worst headache I have ever had. I spoke to the Matron on the ward and begged to be tested as I really thought it was likely I had coronavirus but because I didn’t have a cough or temperature and access to testing was so limited, I was told no and had to continue to work,” says Amy.

The reality of work and a pandemic is shocking as some hospitals do not have access to excess staff so had Amy and others had gone off poorly, it would have potentially resulted in a short term closure for expectant mothers.

“Now testing is more widely available we have more access and an anti-body test has shown I did have coronavirus. I feel awful imagining who I could have infected, but what could I do?” she adds.

The role of the midwife has altered significantly as they are alone with birthing mothers a lot more as fathers wait outside until active labour is established. For Amy this doesn’t pose as much as a problem as the PPE they have to wear.

Amy explains: “I find the PPE really hard because as a midwife you are very close to the women. They hold on to you for support and sometimes want a hug. You rely on expressions from your eyes instead of greeting with a smile. It’s like the PPE acts like a barrier between you and the woman which is awful as a midwife is all about being ‘with women.’”

I am surprised to read that there is no set infrastructure or processes to check on the midwives’ mental health, instead Amy thinks she would approach the Matron if things were getting on top of her. Given shortages and the way she had to work poorly, I am not overly confident she could get access to mental health support if she needed it.

“I really can’t wait for things to go back to normal, the only plus for me is fathers can no longer stay the night. It can really impact breast feeding and establishing that bond between mother and baby. Often parents chat through the night which can keep other mothers awake. We have also found that the mothers all bond between bays which has been lovely to see,” Amy adds.

Writing this article remotely was difficult but in all honesty, it was the nicest few hours I have spent all lockdown, nattering into a computer screen with friends and strangers alike. As I prepare for my own birth in November I hope the world looks a little different, though I am comforted by the women I have spoken to that my own experience should still be the birth I want it to be.

Top tips to help you prepare for your own birth during a pandemic

1)Plan your ideal birth but make sure you have a few back up plans incase things do not go the way you expected.

Annette Ashford, owner of the Village Midwives, a private midwifery service said: “One thing I would say is there are elements you can control and elements you can’t. Try to focus on those you can control, for example, the type of birth you want and how you can try and make that happen or adapt when things change.”

2)Add a daily practice of yoga into your routine. This can be as little as ten minutes but it can help with strength and help focus your mind ready for the birth.

3)Try Hypnobirthing. Celebrities and supposedly even royalty have long backed Hypnobirthing as a fantastic way of giving birth, a coveted endorsement that might suggest it’s worth a try. With the help of MP3 tracks, breathing techniques, familiar scents, vision boards and minimal intervention it can help control the birthing environment.

4)If a homebirth is an option for you, it is worth considering to avoid hospitals. For a homebirth two local midwives come to your house and help you labour wherever you feel comfortable. Often mothers opt for an inflatable birthing pool.

5)Consider a Doula for your birthing experience. A Doula is a birthing partner you pay for who is an expert in advocating your rights and wishes during birth. Though it can be an expensive luxury, with other children potentially at home and less family and friends able to offer childcare support, it is an option to consider.

6)Get used to wearing a mask for periods of time at home so appointments are less daunting with a mask on.

7)Be prepared to throw all your principals out the window and if you need medical intervention or drugs to get you through the birth, accept that it is ok to deviate from your birth plan to do what is right for you and your baby.

8)Make yourself up a little care package with your favourite snacks in, face creams, magazines, drinks, and any other home comforts. You might not use it during the birth but it will come in handy afterwards.

9)If the NHS in your area is no longer offering antenatal classes, book with a private midwife offering home visits or zoom calls.

10)Remember that things might be a little different but it will be a year to remember and it is exciting you will always be a part of it giving birth.

The Dreaded PT

I can’t put it off any longer. The dreaded PT is upon us and actually I think I would rather be shouted at in the gym for an hour than face the real reality of…

Potty training.

As a mum of two boys I am outnumbered in the toilet department, and have to just accept that for the foreseeable future, I will have to sprint to the toilet ahead of any guests to make sure they don’t get soggy socks, or worse. If only that was a joke.

I have shamefully made a swift exit from a local café that has a small area of soft-play after my first born decided the artificial grass looked too realistic. The fact he is comfortable, as actor Jack Black would put it, to ‘drop-trou’ in nature comes with its own horrifying tales but this might have been the worst of his toilet antics. I can only assume I have the ‘flight over fight’ instinct to account for the dash. A moment impressed on my memory as a parenting low point, normally popping into my head just as I am falling asleep.

I have read hundreds of advice articles online, even delving into the lengthy opinionated threads on Mumsnet to no avail. Nappy-free time always leads to accidents and Wilf is the child who will happily sit in wet pants, I am guessing until they dry out again?

The only time he is willing to sit on the potty is after he has filled his nappy. His odd thought process in which he thinks if he sits on the potty after the event, he will skip the cleaning process, like the potty has some magical cleaning process of its own.

Perhaps he has seen a self-cleaning toilet during one of his Youtube sessions.  It would surprisingly be a lot more interesting than watching an American child unpackage and play with a toy Wilf actually owns and could be playing with in real life himself. That would be far too sensible.

So alas I am in limbo, trying to remind myself that no grown man crawls into a board room meeting in a nappy as he never learnt to walk or use a toilet.

Although now I have written it, perhaps it doesn’t seem completely inconceivable in a morning after a drug-fueled bender, Wolf of Wall Street, lads in the city-esque way.

The Terrible Twos

The clock strikes midnight turning your gorgeous bundle of joy into a two-year-old. Like magic dust has been sprinkled over their pillow as they sleep, the ‘terrible twos’ alter their attitude and you are left wondering what on earth happened to your baby over night?

The sweet alliteration lulls you into a false sense of security that it can’t actually be that bad, don’t be fooled. Friends assure you their child made three drama free then whisper something inaudible about threenagers.

To offer a little advice, commiseration or encouragement, I have compiled my top moments of the phase so far. You will live with a mini volcano that will erupt spontaneously and inconsiderately though. Enjoy that.

They will ask for a blue plate, they want a blue plate, you serve dinner on the blue plate. They will scream for half an hour on the floor as they wanted a red plate and you are such a mean mummy for not sensing this telepathically.

For public meltdowns lift them up by the back of their coat and march out as if they are some sort of wriggly suitcase. Just always remember to zip up first to avoid face-plants.

They will sense any ounce of mum guilt and fully throw it back in your face. My Lincoln stopovers to get last minute projects done in December resulted in a meltdown at Disneyland as neither child wanted to sit with me on a ride, only Daddy. If you take it personally you will cry into your £20 cheeseburger and feel like a tit.

Their sweet nature and willingness to please will disappear, not all the time but enough to make you question if it is worth a Google to see at what age personality traits are set. I am reliably informed Adolf Hitler was a lovely child, maybe it’s not time to panic just yet.

 I smiled at Wilf playing the other day and he turned to me, pointed and shouted: “Do not smile at me mummy,” with the most furrowed brow a tiny face can muster.

Most of all try and keep a straight face. It is so hard at times, especially when they are in trouble for answering their dad back in a hilarious mimic involving a puppet parrot.

If all else fails, hide in the pantry and eat their Christmas chocolate whilst chanting: “You are not the boss of me.”

School Mum

At the tender age of 30 I became a school mum, no longer smug booking term time holidays at bargain prices. I’d heard so many horror stories about the dreaded school gate. A year in, what would I tell myself?

BBC’s Motherland, a comedy based around a group of school mums is actually quite depressing as it’s remarkably accurate, apart from the abundance of wine at children’s birthday parties.

So far that hasn’t materialised. The cliché characters really exist. It’s worse than being 15 years old in an all-girls school, with hormones almost visible as they float down the corridor. Bored school mums can be meaner than the Year 11 captain of the netball team. The worst part is, they will be nice to your face. Just blanket smile at everyone, it’s the safest option.

The school day is ridiculously short. It’s not really worth your while leaving. Why lose your parking spot, a mere 25-minute stroll from the gate after-all? Any trips you do result in a stressed and rushed commute back.

The image of your lonely child, last to be collected, assuming you’d forgotten them impressed on your mind. You’ll shout profanities at slow and leisurely drivers, praying they aren’t repeated at teatime by your two-year-old. Me: “Well they didn’t hear that from me?” Two-year old: “Mummy you said the old man was a sh*t driver.”

You can buy 30 pairs of navy socks and you still won’t be able to find a pair when you are running late. Note, it’s always these mornings that your child tells you they need their PE kit, blazer and library book but can’t possibly find it all themselves as they have to pick a ‘pocket-toy’ that will inevitably be lost in the playground, or launched over the fence. It was always a dare, never original thought, apparently.

Skive work for assembly. Watching your child spot you at the back of the hall and grin from ear to ear will make you want to sob uncontrollably. The guilt at missing one will be huge. “I looked for you mummy, but I couldn’t see you.”

The best part though is you will click with a few school mums and feel like you are 15 again, discussing boys in a hot tub. Only the boys aren’t boyfriends this time, just mini people who stole our hearts the day we brought them into the world.

Reading with young children

Ailsa Adams, columnist and mother to George and Wilf, aged five and two explains why reading with your small children is still important in 2020.

As the digital world encroaches on our lives further, it is still important to read physical books with young children and babies. The benefits are far reaching for both the child and yourself and as the phrase says: “There is no App to replace your lap.”

When to start?

It is never too early according to Dr Karen Coats, the Director of the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Cambridge University: “As early as the 1970s, researchers have found that infants can recognise a text that has been read to them repeatedly while they were still in the womb, within hours after birth.”

Sounds like the perfect excuse to read your old favourite children’s book aloud to your bump with a hot cup of tea, all in the name of education.

Benefits for your child

There are so many benefits to reading with young children, the obvious one being language development. Dr Karen expands: “When babies and children are read to, they hear many more and different words than people use in everyday conversation. They also hear these words in clusters and expressions such as ‘handsome prince’ or ‘big, bad wolf’ so they are getting a sense of context.”

One book a day prior to starting school at the age of four will mean the child has listened to at least 1460 stories. The impact to literacy is so far reaching, not only for competence but also for enjoyment, attention span and focus.  “You can tell who has been read to and who hasn’t when teaching a child to read and it alters their enjoyment of it, it can be much less of a chore.  If you are in a good routine of reading with your child, it will also be easier to start hearing them read to you every day after school,” says Sharon Clarke, a primary school teacher in London and Lincolnshire for 35 years and mother to six children.

Another benefit is that it is an easy way of bonding with your baby and can form an essential part of a good bedtime routine. If you are struggling to get a child to go to sleep, instilling a routine can really help with the winding down process, getting the book out is the signal it is time for bed. A warning from Dr Karen though: “Be aware that for babies, a book is something to explore with their mouths, so you want to make sure the books you share aren’t too precious.”

The best part is while they are a baby, you can pick what you read to them.

Benefits for you

It is an excuse to escape reality for ten minutes a day while you delve into the depths of make-believe. Dr Karen feels passionately about dedicating time: “For that space of time, phones are put away, TVs turned off, and the pair share attention without the distractions.

“Most books for children are enjoyable in ways that adults might have forgotten such as the rhythm of the text, the humour or the appeal of the images.”

It also impacts on our mental and overall health in a positive way. “Rhythmic language can actually lower blood pressure, for instance, and reading picture-books and stories that require the creation of mental images integrates neural activity, making the reader feel more coherent after a day of stressful demands,” says Dr Karen.

Does it matter what you read?

Not really, but some books are more beneficial than others. Dr Karen offers advice on what is the most beneficial: “Everything starts with poetry, so read lots of poetry. This will give them an ear for their language and help them develop confidence in speaking as well, as children’s poems are written to be read aloud.”

At a young age enjoyment is also vital, there is no point reading Aristotle to a two-year-old if they (and you) are not interested. A book they can get involved with will have them reaching for it again and again from the bookshelf.  “Around 10 months old I really noticed the effect reading was having on the boys. Rex started to pick the books off the shelf he wanted me to read to him, showing favouritism to certain pages too,” says Isabella Hicks, a reader and mother of three boys aged five, three and two.

Dr Karen agrees: “Give them lots of opportunities to choose their own books and do some exploratory work on your own to find books that present them with a range of artistic styles and diverse stories.”

What if my baby won’t sit still?

Start small with short stories and keep building it up, taking breaks to discuss it with older toddlers. Dr Karen believes the talking around the book is as important as the book itself: “Talk, talk, talk about what you’re reading, you’ll be surprised with what they noticed that you didn’t.”

The last story read to Wilf is in his bed, so he is laying down and engaged with the story. It is a different type of reading than daytime when he is pointing at pictures and turning the pages.

“Reading with toddlers both on and off your lap is a great start to getting them used to sitting on the carpet for story-time at school,” says Sharon Clarke.

The verdict is clear. Let’s reach for our favourite books and have a snuggle for some essential, educational bonding time, complete with lots of obligatory head sniffs, to soak up the adorable baby smell.