The Government’s ‘Fish Wish’: parenting made simple

August 8th 2011

Chatting to my sister in the car the other evening, we were whished into silence by an indignant five year old in the back seat who, demanding our attention, said

“Remember the Fish Wish and the Government…”

The what? The who?  “Yes,” said Rory with all the authority he could muster, “the Government says to listen to children, not like Elizabeth’s parents in the Fish Wish!”

So, the just issued and widely supported daily checklist (part of a larger report by liberal thinktank CentreForum) had been picked up by a bright five year old – either from CBBC or reading the Times on his way to school.  My sister, rather quietly admitted that she had not been promoting the five a day guide, so he had not heard of it from her.  The Government’s marketing machine is clearly alive and well, and permeating the brains of our youngest citizens!  It also had the secondary impact of getting us both to properly read and reconsider the five a day:

  1. Read to your child for 15 minutes
  2. Play with your child on the floor for 10 minutes
  3. Talk to your child for 20 minutes with the TV off
  4. Adopt positive attitudes towards your child and praise frequently
  5. Give your child a nutritious diet.

Phew, I thought. I think I did all those things when they were young and I breast fed them; they should be paragons – but no chance!

However, the checklist is probably a good plan. It will no doubt annoy the earth mothers and loose women, but actually for many parents (and I meet a lot), it should bring some small but welcome relief; so many of them are desperately in the dark about what to do, not least as mastering the skills of feeding, changing and sleeping takes all their energy.

At LEYF, we often have discussions with parents whose youngest children have reached three months – and they ask, “what shall I do now??”  As a result, we have begun to work with colleagues in Scotland (Alice Sharp and her team) to roll out lovely activities called Tickle and Giggle; proving so popular with parents wanting to learn and do at the same time, especially as many of them have no reference point (having had little or no previous contact with children), and so are a bit lost.

Many people (a surprisingly large number) think all babies need is care, food and cuddles, but no talking or playing: how many parents have you seen pushing their forward facing prams with their mobiles or earphones glued to their heads?  Huge numbers of three year-olds now have TVs in their bedrooms and go to bed to a DVD, lonesome in their little bubbles of consumerist isolation and fantasy; some households turn the TV on in the morning and don’t turn it off again until they go to bed – try competing with that level of distraction!  Is it any wonder then that we have a growing population of children from all backgrounds, classes and creed with significant speech and language problems?

If all it took to solve the world’s parents’ problems was a ‘Five A Day’ checklist, one quietly nudging us into behaving differently, then we could have a big party and get on with preparing the next successful checklist – one for managing the trials and tribulations of coping with teenagers…

So, back to the Fish Wish and that sometimes small, quiet voice telling us to listen to children a little more.  Maybe we should; definitely.