Encouraging Your Children To Read

This piece first appeared in the May, 2012 issue of  Easy Parenting 

Reading is the greatest gift you can give your child. Not only is it fun, it is vital. Reading opens up whole universes to children – and can help them make sense of the one they’re already living in.

Some children love reading and take to it like the proverbial duck to water, but others need coaxing.

Of course, some children do have difficulties with reading that have nothing to do with motivation or desire. If you are concerned, get your child tested for dyslexia, dyspraxia, myopia or other optical difficulties.

If you sense your child is just reluctant to read, however, there are a few things you can do:


Books can be intimidating. Maybe your child isn’t progressing with their reading because they worry about getting it wrong. I know this was true for my eldest daughter. I despaired over her reading until I realised that it was a confidence issue. Rather than try to read something that might be difficult – and fail – she decided it was better for her not to even try.

Once I figured that out, I invested in a few workbooks that started at the very beginning and progressed. Ishthara knew she could read the alphabet and she knew she could do the simple exercises in the workbook. So she took great pride in zipping through them. Very quickly, she built on what she already knew and it wasn’t long before her confidence soared – along with her reading fluency.


For some families, bed-time is not conducive to story-time. If that’s true for you, is there a time that might work better? First thing in the morning, perhaps? Or – if you work at home – the middle of the afternoon? When dinner’s cooking? Immediately after dinner?

Reading isn’t just about books, though, and can be incorporated into every day – when you’re driving, ask your child to spot signs with the name of your destination on them. In a restaurant, offer your child a menu and ask them to select their own meal. Have them read the instructions to a board game you’re about to play. Hand them your shopping list and ask them to help when you’re in the supermarket.

Or imitate the Finnish, who have the highest literacy rates in the world. Part of this is because all television programmes are subtitled (in Finnish). This encourages children to read along when they’re watching T.V. Our government hasn’t adopted this practice yet, but there’s nothing to stop you putting on the subtitles every time you switch the telly on.


Finding the genre your child enjoys most is a great way to find the door into reading for them. One happy day, my eldest chanced upon a book by Karen McCombie and fell in love. Since then, she has read many of Karen’s books and joined her fan club online (more reading!).

We’ve also discovered that Ishthara devours books based on fact, and books that are more ‘real’ (like the Breadwinner trilogy); while Kashmira loves books about animals as well as books with elements of time travel and the odd ghost.

Don’t dismiss comics either. In other countries they are referred to as ‘graphic novels’ and are for all ages and reading levels. As the recently-deceased Maurice Sendak (author of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’) said: ‘Kids don’t know about bestsellers. They go for what they enjoy.’


Use your local library. Ask the children’s librarian for recommendations. Libraries often have writers visit them – and some have workshops for children. Getting your child involved can add a new dimension to reading.

Rather than feud with your child over screen time, incorporate reading into it. For instance, one hundred classics – including ‘A Little Princess’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Treasure Island’ – are all available on a single cartridge for Nintendo DS®. The Internet, too, can be used to your advantage in your quest to instil a love of reading in your child. Check out to start with.

Finally, remember that you are your child’s biggest resource. Lead by example – discuss books, share facts you’ve discovered through reading, and let your child/ren see you reading whenever you get the chance. 

Ishthara &Kashmira Reading

Parenting, Personal

Regrets? I Have But One…

This day – March 28th – was the first day I landed in my new home of Singapore many years ago. I was with my first husband and was convinced that this move – from one side of the world to the other – was the best thing I’d ever done.  I was convinced that it was the beginning of the rest of my life.


I was sure that my husband I were destined to live our lives out under the tropical sun, working hard, contributing to society, raising several children and generally living a ‘normal’ life.


It wasn’t to be.


He was abusive from the start, but eventually, there came a straw that broke the camel’s back and I left him. Not long afterwards, I met my second husband – who was equally abusive – but in slightly different ways, so it took me a while to see it.


Not long after I left my second husband, and just before I turned 30, I realised I was pregnant with my second daughter. The father of this child ‘suddenly remembered’ he was married the day after I discovered I was expecting.


I was a single mother, with two children and no support – emotional or financial – from the fathers of my children. I was desperately trying to be all things to both of them, do my best for both of them.  I was trying to do the impossible; work full time to earn enough to pay the bills and have a reasonable life-style and still be a full-time mother.


But I regret none of this.


My one regret is returning to Ireland at the end of 2004 with my children who were then two-and-a-half years old and five months old, respectively.  Persuaded by people who claimed to have my best interests at heart (be wary of people who claim to have your best interests at heart – they usually only have their own best interests at heart) to leave Asia and return to Ireland, I did.


It was the biggest mistake of my life and the only thing in my life that I regret at a deep soul-level.


Ireland was never kind to me. Not when I was growing up here, and not in the years I have lived here as an adult with children of my own. I wish I had never come back. I wish I had analysed my situation, in 2004, closer and found a way to stay out of this country and keep my children safe (part of my reason for leaving was that my second husband had threatened to kidnap my eldest daughter and take her back to India. I couldn’t afford to under-estimate him).


But I didn’t. I didn’t look hard enough. I beat myself up for that. I took flight and took my children back to a country where they were not welcome. A country that bewildered me. A country that did not enfold me to its bosom and welcome me ‘home’.


Part of my biggest difficulty with living here is that – in spite of seven years tertiary education and nearly 20 years of work experience in various sectors – I have not been able to find paid employment here. It’s not for the want of trying, I can assure you. I went back to education when my girls were still babies and earned a BA (Hons) in psycology. Two years later, I had an MA. Nearly six months after graduating, I am still unemployed and sick of hearing that I need to stay positive and keep looking that ‘something’ will turn up.


After eight and a half years of hearing that, it rings hollow. Anyway, all I want to do is find a job that will enable me to move abroad again – either by dint of a transfer or by saving up enough to leave.


All those years ago, when I awoke to  new life in a new world, nearly ten thousand miles away, I thought it was the first day of the rest of my life. My life certainly didn’t work out the way I expected it to.


But guess what? All these later, today is the first day of the rest of my life.


A Sorry State

Recently, Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister apologised to women who had been incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries.  He had to apologise twice, because the first effort was so lukewarm, people registered their outrage and demanded better. The second effort, which you can read here was, to my ears, fulsome. He didn’t sound like he meant a word of it.


There is more about the Magdalenes and their cause for complaint here



By contrast, the Australian PM – Julia Gillard –  apologised for forced adoptions that took place in Australia as recently as the 1970s.  Enda could learn a few lessons in sincerity from Ms Gillard.


Sorry may be the hardest word to say, but I reckon it’s something future Irish Taoisigh will have to get used to uttering. They will have to apologise to:


1. People with mental health issues who have had medication/treatment (including ECT)  forcibly administered.

2. Women who were denied their human rights with regard to choice in childbirth.

3. Asylum seekers who have waited more than three years (and in some cases up to nine years) to have their cases heard.

4. Asylum seekers and refugees who were kept separated from their families as a result of Ireland’s laws.

5. Children with special needs who did not receive an adequate education (and I include highly gifted and talented children in that group).

6. The families of people who were left to die because our health service is terminally ill.

7. Children who should have been fostered, but were left in abusive homes because the State chose not to intervene.

8. Child offenders who were incarcerated in adult prisons.

9. Children with mental health difficulties who were kept in adult wards.

10. People who were left homeless after banks (of which they owned part) repossessed homes for which they lent too much money in the first place.


This list is incomplete. Please feel free to add to it.


Health, Personal

Iron Lady

At the risk of proselytizing with the zeal of a new convert, I want to share with you my latest discovery. 


For the past few months I have had very little energy. I think of myself as the kind of person who has high energy: I feel I have lots of things to do, but am blessed with all the energy I need to do what needs to be done. It’s been several months since I felt that way, though. In retrospect, I’ve been slowly running out of steam.


Casting an eye over my ‘to do’ list has had me nearly in tears at the thought of all I have to do and of how I’ll never manage to do it because I simply don’t have the energy. Even looking at the list made me feel tired, overwhelmed and like an immediate failure.


That was bad enough. What was worse was the sudden, inexplicable weight gain. All the clothes I like in my wardrobe are a size 10. I am not. Not any more. Since September of last year, I have gone up a dress size. This depresses me no end. You’d want to hear what I’ve been saying to myself; out loud, under my breath, and in my head.


Sharing my despair with a friend, she suggested that I might have a difficulty with my thyroid gland. My symptoms were a match. I spoke to another friend who was diagnosed with hypothyroidism two years ago. The symptoms she spoke about – the extreme fatigue the weight-gain, the brittle nails, the life-less hair – were very familiar to me. Too familiar. Depressingly familiar. But, at the same time, I was excited. If it was hypothyroidism I was suffering with, then a simple blood-test would let me know. After the diagnosis, there were pills that would put all in my world to rights. I presented for the blood-tests and had myself convinced I was suffering from the condition and would soon be happily living with it.


Imagine my surprise when, a week later, my doctor told me that my test results showed nothing to worry about in the thyroid region. I was disappointed. I know, it’s a bit mad to be disappointed to learn you don’t have an incurable medical condition, but I was desperate to have an answer – a reason for all that was going ‘wrong’.


But there was more. Drawing my attention to a line of red data, my doctor informed me that my iron levels were alarmingly low. Usually at around 15, they were currently showing up at a decidedly low 1. She suggested that this might be what was robbing me of my zest for life. I was doubtful. I had all the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism – how could mere anemia account for all that ailed me?


Suffering a bout of extreme scepticism, I started my course of iron tablets.


Oh Lordy! The difference those pills made in a matter of a fortnight! I wish, wish, wish, wish that I had gone to the doctor for a blood test months ago.  I have found that I am waking up refreshed and raring to go after 6-7 hours’ sleep. I am looking at my ‘to do’ list with delight and zest. I am staying up past 7pm in the evening not because I have to – to supervise homework and send emails etc. – but because I feel I have the energy to. I don’t guilt trip myself out of bed in the morning, I rise full of excitement at what the day might bring. 


My brittle nails and less-than-bouncy hair are also easily explained away by a lack of iron in my blood. Iron brings oxygen to the cells in the body. None of which can function well – or even properly – without oxygen.


I’ve even figured out the weight gain issue. My sub-conscious was convinced that my lack of energy was due to a lack of food; so encouraged me to eat more than I needed to. I have noticed feeling inclined to eat less and less in the past ten days or so.


As if in any doubt, I knew all was well when, on Friday morning, I was up humming and happily scrubbing toilets at 5.30am.





So I’d urge you – if you are no longer feeling yourself, instead of trying to figure out why, head to your doctor and ask her to figure out why. That’s her job, after all.


Parenting, Personal

No Country For Pregnant Women

Yes, yes, I know…’re sick of hearing me banging on about pregnancy and the state of maternity “care” in Ireland.

But it’s getting worse, not better.  I heard from Jene Kelly at AIMSI (the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services, Ireland) today. She told me a shocking tale. Alas, I have to report that I am shocked, but not surprised. This is how women are treated in Ireland. We are still second class citizens, we are still treated as though we are incapable of making informed decisions for and about ourselves. We are still subjected to a patronizing, patriarchal maternity system that, crucially, is not evidence-based

This past weekend, as the nation celebrated International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, an Irish Maternity Hospital initiated an invasive procedure on a pregnant woman against her will. ‘Mother A’ was denied patient autonomy and the right to informed refusal when the drastic and unprecedented measure of an emergency High Court sitting was called in order to compel her to undergo a Caesarian section. The risk of uterine rupture was cited as one of the main reasons for the urgency in this case but this risk is widely reported as being 0.1% or 1/1000. This is what Dr. Michael Turner, Obstetrician at the Coombe Hospital has called: “exaggerated, professional scaremongering…and it must stop” (VBAC Conference, 2012).

State-sanctioned coercion of medical procedures on pregnant women or any other competent adult is not only unacceptable but it is also unlawful in other jurisdictions, such as the USA and the UK (Re AC [1990] & Re S [1998]). ‘Informed consent’ and ‘informed refusal’ abuses are common issues reported to AIMS Ireland by women.

Imagine if ‘Mother A’ was your mother, or your sister, or your cousin, or your daughter, or your friend, or your partner or your wife, or you.

Jene Kelly, of AIMS Ireland, states: “there is an overwhelming acceptance by the public and some maternity service providers in Ireland that a pregnant woman’s right to informed consent, or informed refusal, is not reliable and that women who exert their rights are selfish. It is this mentality that has allowed atrocities such as symphysiotomies, miscarriage misdiagnoses, unnecessary hysterectomies by Dr Neary and all the other reported assaults against women by our maternity system to continue to go unanswered in Ireland for so long. This is no country for pregnant women. ”


AIMS Ireland reports that women who are bullied into consenting do not fulfill the principles of informed consent and therefore are entitled to sue the doctors for assault. For example, a woman who was forced to have a caesarean section against her wishes in the UK sued the doctors (Ms S v St George’s NHS Hospital Trust, 1998) and was awarded £36,000 damages. It is time that Irish women did the same. Threatening women, bringing women to the high court, removing women’s rights and choices – these bullyboy tactics do not promote trust between women and their care providers. How can you trust a system that doesn’t acknowledge your rights? Women are choosing to leave the system as a result.

Annette is one of these women. She is lobbying the HSE for a homebirth following a previous Caesarean section. The HSE currently does not recognize informed choice for homebirth for women who fall outside strict exclusion criteria in site of a European Court of Human Rights ruling recognizing a woman’s right to decide how and where she births. Annette does not meet criteria following her previous Caesarean, despite having subsequent successful vaginal births. Annette asks: “Is it HSE policy to use the High Court as a method of intimidation and coercion, when a patient tries to exercise her right to informed decision making, as laid out by the European Court of Human Rights (Ternovsky v Hungary, Under Article 8)? We are humans, with great intellect. We are capable of informed discussion and decisions regarding our pregnancies and births in the best interests of ourselves, our babies and our families. I feel anger, disappointment and bewilderment. Today as a woman and mother, I grieve.”


Words of Advice to (Potential) Contributors

It’s fifteen years since I first worked as a researcher for a television programme. Since then, I have researched for hundreds of shows on radio, television and print articles.


Working as a researcher basically means that you do this: Find people who would be willing to talk, meet with them, discover what they had to say for themselves, write up the notes of those meetings, discuss those meetings with colleagues and then book the contributors for filming.


It’s not rocket science, but it’s something I really enjoy doing. In my first researcher’s job, I learnt that not everyone makes the final cut. The original brief is a guide – it’s not set in stone.  It’s a map – a document detailing where you are and where you (think) you’d like to get to. There are a selection of routes, and the one you think you’re going to take is not necessarily the one you eventually traverse.


What that means is that people who give of their time – sometimes three or four hours of their time – and expertise may not necessarily end up in the programme they’ve been interviewed for. It’s annoying. It can rankle. But it’s not personal.


Here’s the thing, we work hard to put together the best programme we can, but that doesn’t just mean we only use the best people. It means we use the bits that best inform the audience of the message we’re trying to send. Often, in the course of filming, we’ll find that the programme is going in a direction we hadn’t anticipated. We find that what we thought was important isn’t important to our contributors or our audience – or isn’t as important as we thought.  Sometimes, a contributor will say something that triggers a worthwhile diversion from the original route.

Sometimes, a production company will be informed by the commissioning station that they have changed their mind about the focus or the thrust of the piece.

Sometimes, an editor and a director will find themselves grappling with the task of whittling 40 hours of great footage down to a commercial hour (which is only 52 minutes). That’s a job I would hate. How do you make the decision? How do you decide what goes, what stays, and where the bits that are staying should go in relation to each other? The final decision is not a reflection on the quality of an individual’s contribution.


In my experience – on both sides of the camera – you don’t find out that you’re not in the show until you sit down to watch it.  It’s only the most thoughtful and courteous of  producers that will let you know you haven’t made the cut.


So, if you agree to contribute to a show on radio or television and don’t see or hear yourself when it goes to air, don’t take it personally. It really, really, isn’t meant that way. Please, however, be gracious. Understand that your contribution was valued but for some reason or another – or a combination of reasons – what you had to say didn’t ‘fit’ in the final 52 minutes.


Spitting the dummy and working yourself into a state of high dudgeon won’t do you any favours.  Saying you’ll never have anything to do with anyone making a programme ever again is an empty, useless threat – which pretty much guarantees there won’t ever be an ‘again’. Demanding to know why you weren’t part of the programme – even after you’ve received a polite, respectful, email telling you why – won’t endear you to anyone, either.


Like anyone, researchers and producers and directors and presenters are human; and we prefer to surround ourselves with people who are easy to work with. Given a choice, we will select the contributor who understands that we can’t use every word recorded; the contributor who realises they are part of a programme – not the programme in its entirety.  Often, it pains the production team more than the contributor him or herself if their piece ends up on the cutting room floor.


It is the nature of the beast that someone will end up being cut. Sometimes, that someone will be you.


Self Harm Awareness Day

I didn’t mean to write this post.  I was popping onto WordPress to write a piece about how Ireland treats a certain group of people. But that’s been shelved.


Because today, Twitter informs me, is Self Harm Awareness Day. Or Self Injury Awareness Day – I’ve seen it referred to as both.


So I thought I’d write about that instead.


Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this post – I’m just doing it off the top of my head and on the fly. I have no statistics, I have no ‘hard facts’. I just have what I know. I just know what I know. And that is this:


Self harm, self injury, self mutilation, cutting…it has a number of names. But at least it is named. When I was busy cutting lumps out of myself, there was no name for what I was doing. At least none that I was aware of. Now there is awareness that people – young people predominantly, but not exclusively – hurt themselves physically in a number of ways.  Given that I hold the belief that the more people who talk about something (like mental health), the more people will talk about it. So here goes.


I can’t speak for the entire cohort of people who hurt themselves, but I do know why I did it. There were times when the pain inside me was so intense, so overwhelming that I had to get it out of me. I had to externalise what was internal in order to feel that I could cope. This isn’t the awareness of retrospect – I was acutely aware of what I was doing and why at the time.


I used to dream of being able to hack open my own chest and have all the pain and suffering that was festering away inside me  expel itself in a huge gust. It was a powerful desire. I could nearly feel it happening. Nearly. But not quite.


So I had to find another way.


As someone who has experienced both suicidal ideation and has self-harmed, I can confirm that they are different things. People who injure themselves aren’t always suicidal. They don’t necessarily want to end their lives. Paradoxically, self-harm can be a way – a desperate measure – to keep oneself alive. Almost like a form of bloodletting.


The point of self harm – for me, at least – was to have a valid reason for hurting. I couldn’t explain the pain I was in. I knew what I was feeling, but I had nowhere to take it. I didn’t have the words to explain the feelings. I didn’t have anyone who wanted to hear. I didn’t know anyone who would care. I had no one to take my pain to. I felt I was being corroded from the inside out and there was no one to share that with. No one cared. It’s not that I thought no one cared, but – really, actually – that no one cared.


So, because there was all this pain that I couldn’t really understand, I felt I needed to create a pain that I could understand. I needed to be able to point at something and say (even though only to myself) ‘There! That is why it hurts.’

If I am bleeding, then I am allowed to hurt. Then my pain is valid. The idea that my pain was valid simply because it was there, was one that never presented itself to me.


I wasn’t allowed to be in pain.  Emotional, psychological, mental pain and anguish were simply not ‘allowed’ to exist. Only physical pain was allowed to exist. Even if no one else ever saw it.


Hurting myself brought tremendous relief. It externalised the pain. It meant that sleep came easier. It meant that I could look at the wounds I had inflicted on myself and say ‘There – that’s what hurts. That’s why you’re in pain.’

Even though I knew, even then, that the source was something else entirely.


But I shouldn’t have been in a position where the only relief my teenage self could get was sawing away at myself in the middle of the night.  Thankfully, people in a similar situation today have places to go and people who will listen. If you are tempted to injure yourself, if you have injured yourself, or if you know – or suspect – that someone else is hurting themselves, why don’t you contact Pieta House?