How to find ethical Christmas gifts for children and teens

With all the problems our planet currently faces, more and more parents are looking for Christmas gifts that have been produced ethically. But what does that actually mean? And how do you go about finding them?

My criteria for “ethical” was a) not mass-produced plastic b) not transported halfway around the world to reach Europe c) not ridiculously expensive.

Obviously, there are more issues at play than this, and if you want to delve even deeper, you might want to read the FAQs (and even email companies) for any store before shopping with them. While I was researching this, however, I uncovered a range of bigger, long-term issues with Christmas (beyond the trendy “hot topics” people are currently worrying about) that need to be considered by anyone trying to be ethical and sustainable at Christmas.

How did we get into such a mess with Christmas?

Many people think that an old-fashioned Christmas as idealized in Victorian tales is an ethical Christmas. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Victorian Empire (as it was) was built off the backs of some of the most appalling harm any group of people have ever inflicted on anyone else. The end of the Victorian era came with the Universal Suffrage movement — most working class men in Britain didn’t have the vote at this point and had no say over who controlled the country or their lives. Working safety standards were non-existent.

Friedrich Engels wrote “the condition of the working class in England” to try and convey to his native Germany just how appalling the exploitation was in Britain when he visited. Child labour still persisted throughout the Victorian era, and the “abolition of child labour” people often quote as happening in 1833, was the Factory Act 1833, which literally only banned the employment of under 9’s in factories. The second date oft-quoted, 1842, was the Mines Act 1842, which prohibited women and girls from working in mines, and boys under 10.

And that was just what the British ruling classes were doing to their own people, who they at least vaguely accepted were human. Out in the colonies, the exploitation of children and adults was even more appalling, and never protected under law (despite attempts during the interwar years of the 20th century), including in Ireland (where conditions under British rule were horrific). Thankfully Ireland was never especially industrialized so wasn’t subjected to the factories but children as young as five were still exploited as chimney sweeps to make those roaring Christmas fires happen, and used extensively in agriculture.

The British, of course, were not the only nation doing this. Central Africa is still suffering from Belgium’s despicable damage to the Congo. Parts of East Asia have been left to pick up the pieces after the French colonized “Indo-China”, including Cambodia, which might just be the most impoverished country I have ever visited. It’s funny how human rights never seem to reach the places where they would have the most impact.

My point is, a lot of the ethical problems we have today began with the behaviour of various powers during the industrial revolution, despite what smug elderly people might remember about their own childhood in the relatively safe bubble of the postwar twentieth century. You can’t just “go back to how things were” because how things were was just as bad as how they are now (but without glitter and plastic).

These problems were then exacerbated by the sickening capitalism of the cold war, during which America basically pushed people into becoming good little consumers to support the “free nation”. Buy, buy, buy. Cartoons showing characters awakening with billions of gifts. Threats of social exclusion if you’re the adult who said no to too many gifts (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Only by giving everyone lots of trappings of capitalism could the Grinch show himself to be a good person. Never mind that he was saving everyone from excessively sickening consumerism.

That wasn’t the American way. And it’s subtly been slotted into so much media such as films, books, games, toys and TV shows that most of us have grown up not questioning this narrative. Because, even though most people on this planet don’t live in America, their rampant evangelical consumerism has bled into every country around the world and now third world nations have swathes of people desperate to go to America and be a success (i.e. someone who owns lots of stuff).

Don’t believe me? Go visit Cambodia. They hardly even use their own currency because US dollars are seen as better. Visitors are treated like bottomless cash cows ready for milking by children forced to work long hours to pull on visitors’ heart strings for a dollar per postcard. Which is NOT the going rate for postcards even in the first world. America’s need to infect the world with consumerism, to get one over on the USSR, has compounded the problem quite significantly. According to UNICEF, one in six children worldwide are victims of child labour, and I strongly disagree that any five-year-old can ever consent to this.

America has twisted the narrative from the cynical “possession is 9/10 of the law” into “owning lots and lots of useless crap makes you powerful”. Look at pretty much any modern pop music song and you’ll see it. Ariana Grande’s 7 Rings is a prime example. Our whole culture worldwide is still designed to make us believe this narrative!

People are boycotting China all the time but why does no one boycott America? Because it’s not politically correct!

Flip your thinking on Christmas!

Basically, if you want an ethical Christmas, the best way to do it is to flip your thinking away from the idea of a “traditional” Christmas completely. You may have already done this. If not, keep reading. Do I do all of these things all of the time? No. Do I live in a yurt woven from wild sheep’s wool that naturally fell from the sheep? Nope. But if everyone does exactly what they’re comfortable with, we can all make a difference instead of having an all-or-nothing mindset. So pick the things from this article that you feel comfortable doing and do those.

A note on this: Something like this isn’t going to hit the mark for your children if, after 8-12 years of Christmas being an overload of too many gifts, you suddenly change the entire format without telling them. Get your children on board by sitting them down and talking to them.

You could say something like, “You know the environment is having problems? Well we’ve decided to help it out by doing Christmas differently this year. We’re still going to have tons of fun, but not because we’ve spent loads of time unwrapping so much stuff.” You could talk through (age-appropriate) news articles or videos with them, to show them the extent of the problem.

Get them invested in this whole thing well before the big day by asking them if they have any ideas for how they might like to make Christmas more sustainable or ethical at home. They may already have done something on this at school, or talked to their friends about it, and not know how to bring it up with you!

The main thing that will make or break a sustainable, pared-down Christmas is your attitude. If you’re constantly miserable about it all, disengaged from your children and spending all day on your phone, your children will notice and feel like they’ve not had a special day. Likewise if the adults in the house are ranting about how crap it all is, children will feel like this year’s Christmas isn’t good enough.

We often use gifts as a substitute for spending time and attention on people we care about. If you take away some (or most) of the gifts, you need to replace them with the real deal – your input. This will obviously be a harder habit to unpick with older children and teens, especially if they are used to spending all day on screens. Don’t try to do too much at once.

Ditch the stocking

Children don’t need to wake up on Christmas morning to a stocking full of presents to know you love them. Half those “stocking fillers” are crap that gets discarded within minutes anyway in favour of the better gift. Children are natural foragers, and Christmas stockings teach them that when you get given something, you should occupy yourself with it only until something better comes along. Is that a life lesson I want my kids to learn? Absolutely not!

You could still put together a stocking but maybe only put one small gift inside it. Stockings don’t need to be full. The whole “Christmas stocking” thing is ridiculous, anyway. They’re not stockings, they’re giant socks that you can’t wear.

If you are going down the stocking route and don’t already have a stocking, instead of buying one of those garish polyester (i.e. plastic) stockings from the Pound Shop, you could use a long sock per child (football socks or hockey socks from the school uniform would be a good size) and put a gift in there.

Mainly, the child needs something to do when they wake up at 5am and you haven’t got up yet and aren’t planning to for a few more hours. So put something in the stocking that will keep them busy. A treasure hunt, perhaps, so they have to search the house for clues? Or a game they can play? Printing out some Christmas-themed word searches or crosswords might work for children old enough to read and write. Or cram a small book in there for them to read or a small colouring book. None of these things will use up plastic and they are cheap and easy to make at home if you want to avoid buying things.

One gift-giver = one gift

Children don’t need more than one present from each adult. One meaningful present, or one much-wanted present, that’s going to last a long time and be used often, is far better than a billion unwanted presents. In the nicest possible way, all they’re learning from those billion unwanted presents is how to grin and lie and say thank you when you don’t like a gift. Instead of looking for lots of wooden toys handmade in Austria, the waste would be less if you just bought that one plastic slide your kid has been hankering after. Think about what they really want and what it would mean to them to get it.

Avoid expensive “advent calendars”

Children don’t need a new advent calendar every year and they absolutely don’t need those big ones full of plastic junk. I am persistently horrified by the bloating that has happened to advent calendars over the years. I think I hit my limit when companies like Benefit released advent calendars with make up products in, aimed at teens and young adults. Where does all that makeup go by mid-February? The back of a drawer, never to be used again. And those calendars cost upwards of £50. What was the point?

Here’s how I did my DIY advent calendar for children (coming soon). You could make something similar or buy an unpainted wooden set of drawers ONCE, keep it year after year, and put little treats in the drawers, or activities, or riddles, or a cracker joke (you know, the jokes that adults think are awful but kids have never heard them before so find them hilarious).

An unwanted ethical gift is still a waste of resources

If your child doesn’t actually want that lovely wooden rocking horse handmade in a yurt in south Wales, they won’t play with it. If they don’t use it, it was a waste of resources. All physical objects (and data) use some environment up. That’s conservation of matter, a basic concept of physics. Don’t waste it.

Ask your child what they really want, then don’t pussyfoot around getting them something different or similar unless the thing they want is beyond your budget.

How about a no-gift gift?

We have gotten into a habit of thinking Christmas gifts need to be physical objects, due to the history outlined above, but what if you helped your child think outside the box and come up with something else they want? A meal at their favourite eatery? A trip to somewhere they love? You could write a little pretend “voucher” for this and put that in an envelope for them to open on Christmas day then plan together how you’re going to use it. Gifts are supposed to represent love and affection, not be a symbol of how much money adults can spend on children.

Shop ethically

Hopefully if you’ve reached this part, you’ve seen that buying ethically is only part of the bigger picture when it comes to achieving a more sustainable and ethical Christmas while staying true to its real meaning. As I’ve said above, I do buy a plastic toy when it’s what my kids want because it’s better to give them one valued present than a million things they don’t use.

However, if an ethical gift is what your child wants to receive, here are stores to consider buying from for your ethical, environmentally-friendly Christmas:


Ethical Superstore:

Good Gifts:

These are all nice places to buy gifts, however my only concern with them is the distance these items have traveled. Companies marketing their goods primarily as fair trade rather than ecological or sustainable are generally not as concerned with the environmental cost of moving those goods from Africa or other countries to the UK and Europe. They all ensure fair pay for the people who have made the items, and that the items aren’t made by child labour, but ultimately, many of the goods are still travelling a very long distance to reach the UK.

An alternative is to look for recycled gifts:



Natural Baby Shower (bizarre note, despite their website URL, they’re neither based in Ireland nor do they ship here, but great if you’re in the UK):

However, some of these companies are also in the habit of disguising certain aspects of their business practice which some consumers might find distasteful. For example, many of the “unique recycled toys” I’ve seen for sale in niche and mainstream stores are made by Green Toys, a US company. While their mission to turn milk bottles into recycled toys is laudable, shipping these goods to stockists and consumers worldwide isn’t necessarily very environmentally friendly.

Whether that would be a dealbreaker for you depends on how comfortable you are with these kinds of complications. At the end of the day, nearly every solution to the problem will bring a bit of carbon into your life, and some stuff (i.e. packaging) you’d rather avoid. Personally, I would buy from them if they were the right place to get what my child wanted. For example, if he wanted a fire truck for Christmas, and they sell a fire truck (they do), we’re onto a winner. But I won’t mindlessly shop with any company just for the sake of “feeling green” when the production methods, packaging, and delivery miles still have to be accounted for, whether stuff has travelled 2 miles or 2000 miles.

An even more environmentally-friendly option is to buy from local charity shops or secondhand on Facebook marketplace or Ebay (you can filter Ebay so you only find used items). The chance of finding something your child asked for might be low if it’s an on-trend item, but if you search for the item early enough in the year, you might get lucky.

Tips for snagging a secondhand Ebay bargain

It might take weeks or even months to hunt down that special something on Ebay but if you’re pragmatic and willing to regularly check the site for your item, you’ll eventually get it. Follow these tips so you never miss that bargain (article goes live on Saturday)!

Charity shopping

Finding something specific at a charity shop can be hard, but if you go in with a loose idea of what you’re looking for, you can almost certainly find something similar. For example, my husband collects Forgotten Realms books. Many of these are out of print and go for a lot of money on Amazon. These are easy to spot in a charity shop because they have a characteristic logo that’s visible on the spine and front of the book.

Another example is board games. These can often be found in the toys section of charity shops. If you have a teen who is into “proper” board games (Settlers of Catan, Hero Quest etc), you can potentially find all sorts of fantastic finds at great prices, because these are one of the few items left in charity shops where the volunteers don’t price them over the odds. Of course, the downside of buying a secondhand board game from a charity shop is that it’s unlikely to have all its pieces. Check this before wrapping the gift, then either look on Ebay for spare parts or, if it’s the tokens etc that are missing, make your own.

If your teen is hankering after something designer from a particular brand, check out your local “high-end” charity shops. Most areas have one or two charity shops with a reputation for getting designer donations. Or consider giving your teen money and taking them on a charity shopping spree (scout out which shops have the best goods ahead of time if you want to make this a streamlined experience). For suggestions on where to get designer stuff, check out my upcoming article on buying designer clothes from charity shops (article goes live on Friday).

Doing your Christmas shopping on Facebook marketplace

This is more hit-and-miss for me, because Donegal doesn’t exactly have a thriving Facebook marketplace and Facebook is an abysmal failure at showing me local items, preferring instead to randomly mix in results from Dublin (but never Derry which would obviously be infinitely easier to travel to).

What I have learned is there are a lot of sellers on there who are wary of time wasters, especially when it comes to free stuff. To avoid this, sellers list things for odd prices like €1 or £1. Sellers also expect you to mind your manners. They are much more likely to deal with you favourably if you say please/thank you. Always check where the item is before messaging the seller to save both of you lots of time and effort. If it’s further afield and you can’t collect, expect to pay full postage costs.

However, some sellers are scammers or timewasters and you need to take reasonable steps to stay safe shopping this way because it’s the least secure way of buying anything. Never give them your bank details and don’t fall for the line about “oh I’ve just moved for work/uni but I’ll post it to you”. If they’re saying that, it’s a scam and they aren’t ever going to post it to you because they basically don’t have the item. When you get there, check (in a well-lit place) that the item is what they say it is (ALWAYS OPEN THE BOX), and that you’re happy with the condition of the item. You have very few rights to redress if you get scammed in a private sale, so Facebook Marketplace is my least favourite way of sourcing secondhand items but some people swear by it.

Check out car boot sales

Some people might think this is a dated way to shop, but either buying your child something from a car boot or even taking them to one to pick their own gift could be another great way to find something for their Christmas gift. If you’re like me, you might end up buying more than you intended, though!

Same rules apply to car boots as Facebook marketplace – always open the box to check what’s inside before parting with cash.

Vtech Starlight Sounds polar bear keeps stopping? Do this right now!

So I bought this singing bear toy to get my child to sleep.

The box says it has features. Like features.

This bear can read a story, sing a song, play “nature sounds” (which include white noise) and do a mixture of singing a song with nature sounds in the background. Honestly? I have it standing on the table beside me, playing songs as I write this and I’m feeling my eyelids getting heavy.

It’s impressive. Now that I’ve sorted out how to make it work.

When I first read it, I couldn’t find anything in the instruction manual telling me how to get this beautiful Starlight Sounds Polar Bear to work properly. That’s because it’s a stupid, tiny note on the very last page of a double-sided instruction manual which naturally opened onto the reverse side (and it wasn’t clear it was all a 100% English manual with double-sided instructions).

It makes me sad that parents around the world will be returning this toy to the shop with disappointed children because of a big oversight in the layout of the instructions. The “note” at the very bottom of page 7 should have been on the front page (the one with the picture of the bear).

Previously we had the Chad Valley singing jellyfish which does three songs, just the melodies, in midi tones, with no volume control. The top of the jellyfish lit up but didn’t project. It was ok until our baby hit about 5 months then it stopped captivating him. The Starlight Sounds Polar Bear projects color-changing stars onto the ceiling and there are three different lighting modes.

It’s everything I hoped it would be.

But it almost wasn’t.

See, when we got the bear it would only play for about 30 seconds then it turned itself off. I followed the troubleshooting instructions in the manual which said to remove the batteries for a few minutes then replace them to solve any issues. Two new sets of batteries later, this bedtime bear still didn’t work properly.

We missed the window to get my toddler to sleep in his bed tonight and my husband took him out in the pushchair.

It’s been 8 months since we were last able to settle our baby in his bed instead of the pushchair (ever since the day we moved to our new home in Ireland) and I was so hopeful that the Starlight Sounds Polar Bear would change that.

I knew from the Little Baby Bum Singing Storybook that sometimes, toys have a “demo mode” so they can give a quick demonstration in the shop. I wondered if the polar bear was stuck on demo mode, but the instructions and box didn’t say anything about that. And I couldn’t find a switch anywhere. I’d even had the batteries out, as mentioned.

I was getting really disheartened and worried that I was going to have to return the toy and buy a different one (I’d had my eye on the Chicco one when I found the Vtech Starlight Sounds Polar Bear in Home Bargains in Derry yesterday; I paid £24.99 for it).

Then I found it. The reason the bear wasn’t working properly. The thing that was making the Starlight Sounds Polar Bear switch off every 30 seconds.

The polar bear has white legs. Next to one back leg, there’s something that looks like a white label. Neither my husband nor I saw this while looking for a way to make the polar bear work better. Look carefully at the photos (I’ve made it easy by circling the label in red):

It’s not a label. It’s the tab that keeps the bear on demo mode. Pull the tab out and discard. Your bear should work now. You might still need to do a hard reset by following the troubleshooting instructions (switch off, remove the batteries for several mins, replace batteries, switch on).

As you can see in my second photo, there’s writing on the tab that says “please remove this strip”. Unfortunately, because of the way these bears are packaged, the tab gets folded so you don’t see that side at all until you are already looking for a tab to pull out.

If they’d inserted the tabs the other way around, or folded the tab in the other direction, it would have been a lot clearer, but with a white tab against white bear legs, it just wasn’t obvious at all that there was a pull tab to take this toy out of demo mode. I felt so silly when I got to the bottom of it, but at the same time, it seriously wasn’t obvious.

The only other issue I’ve had with this polar bear is that I tested the “sound-activated” aspect (when your baby cries for more than 4 seconds, it should light up and play soothing sounds). I varied my cry patterns, loudness and pitch, but it’s not turning itself back on for me. I would want to see this in action with a baby before saying that feature isn’t working on my model, because it might be attuned only to baby voices e.g. to filter out adult conversation or TV voices so it’s not constantly getting activated by the wrong things? I’m not sure.

The voices on the singing feature are good, and Vtech have chosen a strong selection of songs and nursery rhymes to get a baby to sleep. There is a playlist in the instruction manual. The sounds and music are good, too.

There is variation between the UK/Ireland version (where the product is called the “Little Friendlies Starlight Sounds Polar Bear”) and the US version (where the product is called the “Li’l Critters Soothing Starlight Polar Bear) and, like the Toot Toot Cory Carson car range (aka Go! Go! Cory Carson in the US), they have re-recorded the voicing to make it sound a little bit more local.

The volume control is also excellent, and you can make it louder if your baby is trying to sleep in a bigger room (or to make the toy heard over a car engine, for example) or you can make it quieter if your baby is in a smaller room or if you live in the country where the nights are quiet. Except for all those animal noises.

The toy itself doesn’t look very cuddly and I didn’t think it would get a lot of mileage as a soft toy, but my little one doesn’t like cuddly toys anyway. He likes things that light up and make noises. So this was an instant winner.

Now that I know what went wrong with using this as a bedtime sleeping aid tonight, I feel more confident about trying again with it tomorrow night and seeing if we can build a habit of little Jellyfish finally going back to sleep in his own bed.

You can buy the Little Friendlies Starlight Sounds Polar Bear on UK Amazon. This currently says dispatch time to Ireland and Northern Ireland (I tried both my addresses) is 1-2 months (seriously??) so I’d recommend getting it from Home Bargains instead.

Buy the Li’l Critters Soothing Starlight Polar Bear on US Amazon.

Fussy toddler? 10 easy ways to feed them healthy stuff!

If you listen to some people, all toddlers only eat alfalfa, olives, hummus and organic homemade raw vegan baby recipes that take only ten hours to make. Mine isn’t like that. He likes fish fingers and biscuits.

It’s been pretty easy to get into bad habits this year, as budgets have been squeezed beyond breaking (I earned €6000 last year BEFORE tax due to a toxic combination of factors. For comparison, in 2018, I had several months where that was my monthly earnings), and children get cranky when they’re bored because everywhere is closed and there’s only so many times you can play with the same toys.

One day, I realized I was stuck in a rut with toddler food. My baby had eaten everything and anything when he was a baby, then 20 months hit and BAM just like that he woke up one day and decided to be a fussy eater. Or was he?

In our efforts to get nutrition into him, we would often serve him two or even three different meals to ensure he’d eaten something. After a week of this, I grew deeply worried. How long would it take before he learned that all he had to do was refuse a meal and we’d get him one he liked, instead?

I searched the internet to learn about this and found lots of advice saying basically “If he’s hungry, he will eat,” and “don’t keep changing his meals” but also “don’t deprive him of pudding if he doesn’t eat his dinner.”

A lot of the advice, however, although it said it was aimed at toddlers, absolutely couldn’t work for us because it depended on the toddler being verbal. Ours is a late talker and is still mostly nonverbal. He has no functional language and can’t make himself understood through words. Reasoning with him is impossible.

So I took what I could from other advice but struggled to get it to work. I started putting things in front of him that I knew he would eat. I was scared of letting him go hungry, but was trying to follow the advice that it was bad to keep giving him alternatives if he didn’t like something.

Some nights, the only part of his dinner that he ate was his yoghurt.

My repertoire became more and more limited.

Three weeks ago, I hit breaking point. He refused one of the three things he’d currently eat. I left it on his high chair tray and left the room. I couldn’t participate in this circus anymore. Nothing about this was okay.

I felt inadequate. I was scared of stupid things like him getting rickets. I wanted to cry but most of all I was frustrated. Why won’t you eat? I screamed inside my own head, unable to speak the words because I didn’t trust myself not to shout.

I realized he was eating more variety of things at nursery than at home. So what were we doing different?

After a discussion or three with his nursery keyworker and some hefty research, I came up with a plan. It didn’t involve me becoming a stay-at-home-chef or spending a fortune, it was based in reality, where I don’t have loads of money and spend a lot of my time earning the money I have.

And it worked.

Here’s everything I did to get my fussy toddler to eat:

  1. Start with what he will eat. He liked eggs, and they’re fairly nutritious, but I wasn’t cooking them very often because washing up after scrambled egg is a nightmare (our dishwasher can’t seem to clean it off, and our tap water doesn’t get very hot or high pressure, so it’s a hard scrubbing job every time). So I decided to try boiled eggs. They taste similar but are faster to cook and require less cleanup. They have similar nutrients to scrambled egg, when served with buttered toast. I tried this and it was a big hit. Eggs are cheap and healthy. I feel way less bad feeding him an egg than giving him fish fingers.
    Working with what he will eat is especially important for toddlers with texture issues. If your toddler won’t eat specific textures, find the ones he’s currently eating and try and find similar things. For example, mine likes fish fingers, so vegetable fingers also worked for us. I thought battered chicken nuggets would be a great next step, but he didn’t like them at all (wrong texture, it has to be breaded for us, we learned). But don’t get disheartened! Each food refusal helps you narrow down which specific textures/tastes your toddler will eat.
  2. Find or cook choices with hidden veg. We don’t ever feed him chips, but he does like potato waffles. A healthier option is ASDA’s mini-waffles with hidden carrot. Carrots have lots of B-vitamins. Those Roots cauliflower bites are another way to sneak veg onto his plate. Both of these are easy oven food but healthier than the usual options.
  3. Ban biscuits. Sugary, over-processed snacks can actually restrict your palate! That’s why at fancy restaurants they serve dishes with wine rather than fizzy drinks. The sugar in fizzy drinks (soda/pop) wreaks havoc on your taste buds. The same is true for toddlers. By letting the flavoured, sugary yoghurts run out and also insisting my husband feed NO MORE BISCUITS to our toddler for a couple of days (ignoring the tantrums), our little one’s mouth got a chance to reset and he was willing to try more stuff. My husband was in the habit of giving the toddler half a biscuit whenever he asked for one. Including while I was cooking dinner. This then affected Jellyfish’s taste buds so he didn’t like what he was served.
  4. Swap unhealthy snacks for healthy ones. Some ideas include veg sticks (carrot, cucumber or red pepper), chopped fruit (apple, mango, halved grapes or halved cherry tomatoes), raisins or other dried fruit (apricots, bananas).
  5. Bake your own. There are recipes for healthy, savoury muffins and biscuits on lots of sites across the internet. When you cook your own snacks, you take control of the ingredients; for example, you have the power to swap sugar for other sweeteners.
  6. Change white bread for wholemeal. I was scared to do this, but our toddler actually prefers wholemeal because it tastes like Weetabix. So now he eats more of his toast, and that toast contains more fibre. Try it with pasta and rice, too.
  7. Keep offering things he isn’t eating. This also unsettles me. It feels wasteful. I grew up in a house where we didn’t have much money. But by prepping and serving fruit and veg even when he won’t eat it, you’re giving him the option to change his mind and try it.
  8. Don’t eat rubbish in front of him. Chocolate, crisps, biscuits, cake… eat them during his nap or after he’s gone to bed. Toddlers copy you because they want to be just like you. You’re their parent and therefore they think everything you do is amazing. If you or your partner are turning your nose up at veg and expecting the toddler to eat it, what message does that send? If the toddler never sees you eating chocolate, he will never know it’s in the fridge, and he’ll never be moved to try it.
  9. Meal plan. If you sit down and plan in advance what you’re feeding him, you are less likely to come home from work feeling like you’re on the back foot, which leads to reaching into that freezer and pulling out the chicken nuggets (or in our case, fish fingers; we can’t get him to eat chicken). Tied into this, be sure to rotate things. Toddlers get bored of the same thing day in day out. Try and have a weekly rotation so he’s not eating too much of the same food each day.
  10. Change the drinks. Fruit juice is healthy for toddlers, right? Sadly, not. Even fresh fruit juice should be watered down with 4 parts water to 1 part fruit juice for a two-year-old. It’s also bad for their teeth. Milk (or Alpro Growing Up Milk if you’re dealing with CMPA without a soy intolerance) contains calcium, vitamins and minerals not found in water or fruit juice. One issue we’ve had with Growing Up Milk is, it’s super-sweet, especially compared to cow milk, which exacerbates the issues I mentioned in point 3. Now, we give him cow’s milk during the day and Growing Up Milk for night feeds (he stopped breastfeeding two months ago) so he gets his milky nutrition.

Bonus tips for getting fussy ASD/ADHD toddlers to eat:

  1. Change the cutlery. This can make a big difference for us. The wrong spoon can really put our toddler off eating. Sometimes, the best cutlery is none at all. Other times, he insists on attempting to eat toast with a spoon and won’t accept this isn’t going to work until he’s tried it.
  2. Change the container. Sometimes this can work, too. He likes eating off some bowls/plates more than others. His favourite, however, is no bowl, so finger food placed directly on the high chair’s tray can work well on particularly hard days.
  3. If they like something, say the name of the food (as simply as possible) when you give it to them, so they associate the word with the food they like. So I say “egg” when he’s enjoying scrambled or boiled egg.
  4. Let them see it in a way they understand. I found pulling the boiled egg out of the egg cup to show him it was an egg made the difference when he first refused a boiled egg. Another thing that helped was dipping his toast for him so it came out with yolk on it. At first the egg looked all white inside because of where the yolk was, but when he saw the yellow, he remembered it was something he likes.

One important thing we’ve learned since our little one started acting like a toddler is how much his behaviour feeds off the attention he gets. He’s still very impressionable, and he can’t talk very much to express himself, so sometimes we can accidentally teach him the wrong things.

When he started throwing himself on the floor and having tantrums every time he didn’t get his own way, at first we tried hugging him and reassuring him. This meant he did it more, because he got attention and cuddles. When we realized, we employed the one-handed clapping method.

One hand can’t clap. We walk away now and pretend to be very busy with anything else at all (I’ve been known to pick up a box of tissues and start reading the label to make it clear I’m not paying any attention to the toddler). The tantrums very quickly stopped.

Don’t make dinner into a show. Some toddlers can accidentally become performance eaters, where dinner turns into a huge drama. This can feed into a bigger issue. If mealtimes are the only times your baby gets your undivided attention, he’s going to eat slowly, refuse to eat so you pick up the spoon and coax him, and do anything else he can to get that one-on-one time to last.

We nip this in the bud in two ways: First, we give him the food and the spoon/fork then step back and focus on something else. Your own food, if you’re eating beside him, or your knitting or something. Second, we make time earlier and later in the evening to sit with him and play in a constructive way to ensure he gets the extra attention he needs (this also works for tantrums). Step back when he demands negative attention and ensure he is getting positive attention for other things.

Hopefully this article has helped you with some easy ideas for how to get your fussy toddler to eat more healthily. Every baby is different, however, and what works for one might not work for others. If I find the magic bullet that transforms fish finger fiends into quinoa-lovers, I’ll be the first to write about it.

Recycled sensory wall for babies

This was a great fun project to do and you probably already have everything you need for it as it’s 100% recycled. I did this project in September 2020. We were living in rented accommodation last year and one of the issues is you can’t attach anything to the walls (pretty standard rule in rented houses in the UK, where we lived at the time).

Senses: Touch, vision, sound.

Skills: Helps refine baby’s motor skills.

Baby age at time: 13 months old.

Cost: £0

Time to make: About 30 minutes.

Start off with a big piece of cardboard. We used one of the boxes that Jellyfish’s cot (US English: Crib) came in. We had been using the box as a fireguard (we didn’t use the fire at our old house as it was a real smoke fire and I don’t think they’re great especially around babies).

For a few months I’d saved empty packets of wet wipes with the plastic clasps (rather than the flimsy sticky lids many of them have). These are great for a peekaboo wall. Using a pair of scissors, I cut out the clasps, leaving a decent-sized square of the packaging around the clasp so there was something I could tape down.

I taped the clasps to the cardboard on all four sides. Next, I got some old leaflets and packaging out of the recycling. I chose ones with brightly-coloured pictures and I cut them out. I taped the pictures behind the wet wipe clasps and also put pictures on top to ensure Jellyfish knew these were something interesting.

I also got some multicoloured rainbow washi tape from Amazon and used it to attach empty toilet roll tubes to the sensory wall so he could have fun pulling them off again.

Baby’s verdict: He saw the pictures of cars on the clasps and immediately went to play with them. He pulled the clasps open and found more pictures behind them! He had a lot of fun with these little “mystery doors”. It took him about two or three weeks to rip all the pictures off the wet wipe packets. I stuck them back on a few times. When we moved to a new country, however, the sensory wall was no more, but his motor skills did improve from playing with this toy regularly and he was able to open other things more confidently.

It’s a super-simple toy but he’s had a lot of fun out of it! I was sad to finally consign this to recycling when we moved to our new house in Ireland.

Our 12 favourite books for babies and toddlers under 2

I bought loads of books for Jellyfish before he was born. We were living in China at the time so every time I flew to the UK or America on a business trip, I would stop into a bookshop and pick up more baby books.

I really wanted our bundle of joy to have the gift of reading. He had other ideas. He’s a wiggly, mobile, bouncy baby on the move who has turned into a toddler who prefers to play outside rather than being indoors, and doesn’t really sit still for a story very often.

He likes books that do something. They need to be more than just words and pictures, otherwise he just wants to do something else.

He listens to stories standing up and needs time to move around the room between pages. Often, he doesn’t let me read all the words on the page before he turns the page to see what’s next. We abandoned the idea of putting him to bed with a story when he started trying to climb out of his cot and play at bedtime. I honestly never expected babies to do anything other than sit and watch the pages turn when a story was read to them, it never occurred to me that there were other types of people in the world, but here we are, and I love my wiggly baby very much.

The books that have grabbed his attention:

That’s Not My Bus

We have had to buy this twice, now. The first book got played with until it fell apart, over the space of a few weeks. The second time, I bought it in French to expand our bilingual library. I don’t like the weak design of the “that’s not my…” series, and judging by Amazon reviews, I’m not the only person who thinks these books could have been made a bit more robust, but Jellyfish loves this type of book so we have to keep bending over and paying for more of them. We also have That’s Not My Tractor, Car and Giraffe. Each one has slightly different textures/explanations but the basic structure remains the same.

Amazon US (Bus isn’t available in US yet, link for That’s Not My Tractor)

Amazon UK

Rabbit’s Nap

This was a surprise winner from Grandma. When it first arrived, Jellyfish wouldn’t even let me open it, the book went straight in his mouth and he had chewed a corner out of it before I could say, “can you believe what the baby is doing?” We put it on a high shelf for a couple of months and when I brought it back out, Jellyfish was ready for the story. He likes that the lift-the-flaps coincides with onomatopoeia, such as “rat-a-tat, who’s that?” (accompanied by me knocking on the book while saying “rat-a-tat” because every good story needs sound effects), and he has learned several new animal names from this book, as well as the word “bike” and the fact bikes go “ding-ding” when you ring the bell.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Red Car, Green Car

This was an instant hit from Grandma. You pull the flaps and the cars change colour. There’s no real story but Jellyfish doesn’t care. He just wants to watch the cars change colour. It’s quite a robust book but he’s still managed to pull one of the pages apart and remove the part that makes the car change colour.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

The Gruffalo board book

I felt a bit decadent buying this when we already had the full-sized picture book version, but it found its way into the trolley at ASDA anyway. It’s got a very shortened version of the original story, which rhymes at a shorter interval, meaning Jellyfish can focus on it easier. And he loves pulling the tabs to get the different animals to move as they flee the Gruffalo.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

What’s Up Crocodile (With Flaps)

We borrowed this from the library and then had it all over lockdown as the library was closed. It doesn’t have pull tabs or lift-the-flaps, but each double page is actually a folded down triple-page-spread so you can unfold the third page to get the next part of the story which Jellyfish really loved. This was where he first encountered skiing and cycling. We would get to the end of this book and he’d close it then turn it over so the front page was facing me, then he would push the book into my hand to ask me to read it again. I was quite sad when we finally returned it to the library 9 months after we first borrowed it, when we moved away from Belfast.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Little Tikes Little Baby Bum Singing Storybook

This was another instant hit. This one has no stories, but each page has a push-button which sings one of the songs from the TV show. Jellyfish was so surprised the first time he heard Five Little Ducks and realized it was coming from this book, not from the TV (which was off at the time).

Amazon US

Amazon UK

1,2,3 (With Squeaker Surprise)

This is a very simple bath book about counting to five. It tells you to press the squeaker as you count the animals on each page, culminating in the dramatic climax of five quacking ducks (press the squeaker five times). The squeaker isn’t positioned for little hands so he’s never been able to squeak it by himself but he loves when I read it to him and he has pulled it out of the bathroom several times and brought it into his bedroom to ask me to read it when it’s not bathtime.

Amazon US (out of print but if you see it secondhand for about $5 it’s great)

Amazon UK


This was Jellyfish’s first book and we’ve probably read it several hundred times. It’s a cloth book and two of the pages crinkle when you scrunch them up. It was also the book that elicited his first smile, on a car ride when he was three months old.

Amazon US (out of print but should cost about $5)

Amazon UK (out of print but if you see it for about £3-4 grab it)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

He’s only just getting into this over the past couple of months but he likes the last page with the butterfly (I wiggle the pages to make it look like it’s flying, which he really likes). I don’t think he’s old enough to care about the story at all, yet.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Listen to the Birds

This one has a push button on each page where it plays bird sounds. The sound quality is really good and Jellyfish loves it, but he got a little too enthusiastic about pulling the pages apart so we have to keep this one on a high shelf and only let him have it under adult supervision.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Little Green Frog on a Log

I wrote this one specifically for Jellyfish, because he went through a phase where he thought frog pictures were the funniest thing ever. He likes simple stories and as he was a late talker, I wanted something that started with a very basic sentence structure and built on it. I couldn’t find anything like this so being a professional author, I wrote it myself. The construction is standard Amazon paperback and so he pulled the pages away from the cover over the space of a few weeks, but I didn’t mind because I bought it for him specifically.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Who’s on The Farm: What the Ladybird Heard

This was a surprise hit. He didn’t like it the first three times I tried it, but one day he found it and brought it to me to read. Now he likes me to read it over and over to him. He’s ripped a couple of the flaps off, but overall it seems to have withstood his interest.

Not available on Amazon US

Amazon UK

The books we thought would work but didn’t:

Where’s Mr. Lion

He liked this one the first time we read it to him, but the very next time, as soon as I read the title, he took the book off me, turned to the last page and pulled down the flap. Because Mr. Lion is right there. On the last page. He’s never anywhere else. And that answers the title question, so as far as Jellyfish is concerned, the case is closed. We really liked the baby-proof felt flaps though.

Little People Big Stories series

Look, it’s really cute as an idea to have stories about famous people (mostly) and I was all over these when I saw them, but toddlers just don’t get it. So the board books are a bit pointless. Tell your preschoolers about Marie Curie, by all means. There’s really not a lot of point reading about her to a seven-month-old. Or a twelve-month-old. Or a two-year-old. The pictures aren’t engaging enough for this age and the book has no flaps or textures.

The Gruffalo (the full-sized version)

My husband loves this book and really enjoyed reading it at bedtime but eventually we realized he was getting a lot more out of this than the baby was, so we left it. Little jellyfish isn’t really the right age for big picture-books yet so he prefers the board book of the Gruffalo with an abridged storyline for small attention spans and moving parts for wiggly hands to play with.

Swimming adventure

Yesterday, we had a little swimming adventure at Finn Valley Leisure Centre in Stranorlar.

We waited until after jellyfish had finished his afternoon nap, and took his new UV protection swimsuit (a €3.49 bargain I spotted in Lidl yesterday after ordering reusable swim nappies for him from Jojo Maman Bebe the day before, which probably won’t arrive for a few more days).

The swimsuit has a top and shorts and I really bought it for splashing in the sea but I think it’s a bit déclassé to take a toddler swimming in just a swim nappy, especially since ours look small on him despite him still being in the right weight category for them.

When we arrived, we took it in turns to take care of the toddler, so I got changed while my husband changed Jellyfish, then we swapped and I held onto the wiggly toddler and inflated his floaty things while my husband got changed.

The pool here is amazing for little ones. There is a separate toddler pool with its own lifeguard. The water hits 0.45m max. It starts off at paddling pool depth so Jellyfish was able to quickly feel confident and in control of the water depth. He loves water anyway so this was just like going to the beach for him. When the water got to his chin, he got a bit worried so we put him in his big orange baby seat and whizzed him around, which he enjoyed last time we swam, before Christmas.

This time, however, we alternated putting him in his seat with letting him experience the water without it (he kept his armbands on). He enjoyed being able to wiggle and kick, and even started trying to move in specific directions to say hello to other babies in the pool.

I really liked how engaged the lifeguards were with the swimmers. I’ve never seen lifeguards actually helping children to swim before, but with enough lifeguards on duty, one was able to give their attention to a disabled child and enable him to experience swimming.

We spent 45 minutes in the water then showered off poolside as Jellyfish is a bit scared of showers. He liked being able to run out of the way of the stream of water and that helped us actually get him showered for a change (usually at home he baths rather than showers and he cried last time I tried to take him into our shower).

We hurried back to the changing room at this point and dried off. I undressed Jellyfish and my husband got his clean nappy on while I got dressed. The changing rooms are unisex with the option of both cubicles or open plan, which made it easy to find space to change Jellyfish and ourselves.

Overall, we all had a great, stress-free time and our little one was able to feel confident in the water which is really important to me as I’m not much of a swimmer (I failed swimming several times in primary school due to my asthma not being controlled, and I’ve never really been confident because of that).

From my own experiences, I wanted our little one to start swimming when he was a tiny baby, but this wasn’t possible. I was very upset that I couldn’t get Jellyfish into baby swim lessons last year, but that’s the trouble with having post-birth complications and a baby who was a few months old when lockdown began.

Like many other new parents last year, we lost so many early baby experiences I’d planned in the years before we got pregnant, so many chances for him to interact with other people and experience things out and about in the big wide world, and it was hard to deal with losing those important developmental opportunities, so hopefully we can make up for it all in the months and years to come.

I drove us home from the pool feeling happy that Jellyfish had enjoyed exploring the water and splashing around, and seeing other babies his own age doing the same. I would recommend this pool if you’re local in the County Donegal or Strabane area and looking for things to do with your baby or toddler, as the toddler pool is such a nice area to swim with a baby or toddler. I’ve honestly never seen such a nicely-designed public swimming pool before, and it’s definitely worth the €6 entry ticket per adult.

There’s free parking on-site and the toddler leisure swim is available 10am-6pm Saturdays and Sundays.

VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson Toys Ultimate Review

I’ve been putting off writing this review for quite a while because I have mixed feelings about this range of toys. We bought our first VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson Smart Point car a year ago, for Jellyfish’s first birthday. Since then, we have bought five more.

The features they are supposed to have:

They light up and talk/sing things from the Netflix TV show Toot Toot Cory Carson.

Each little toy seems to be voiced by the original actors (if you buy in the UK/Ireland you will get the British dubbed voices, which is good to know because the American ones will get the original American voices).

These work with the wider VTech Toot Toot toy range which is a whole selection of miniature toys that are like the Cory Carson ones but not part of that fictional world.

There are also playsets which have Smart Points in them. A Smart Point is an area in a playset that incites a toy car to say additional phrases.

If you stand one toy car on another one’s head, you can also incite additional phrases. I don’t know if these are different to the ones you get on Smart Points as we have several cars and no playsets.

First Impressions

When I first saw the orange Cory Carson cars in Sainsbury’s supermarket, I was stunned to discover they were suitable for ages 1+, which is what it says on the boxes. My baby was massively interested in cars (still is) and it was hard to find toy cars that were suitable for his age.

The bright colours appealed to him. The toy was just about the right size for him to hold in his little hand. Jellyfish was overjoyed that he had a toy car that talked and sang to him while its windscreen lit up. Everyone was happy.

Broken Toy

However, after four weeks, that first car broke.

Cue much heartbreak and upset from a baby who had fallen in love with his new toy car and took it everywhere with him. Unfortunately, while they look really good, they are not robust enough for newly-turned one-year-olds. We think what happened to the first one was that Jellyfish dribbled too much (he sucked his car a lot as that’s how one-year-olds explore and play, really), the toy wasn’t watertight against dribbly babies, and so the electronics shorted out. But we’re not sure because I’m not an electronic engineer. Being a one-year-old, and unconditional with his affection, Jellyfish loved the car still.

So he played with his silent car, took it everywhere with him still and often fell asleep holding it. It was his favourite toy, still, but now it didn’t talk to him or light up. When he pressed the buttons, nothing happened. For £7.99 I didn’t think that was great value for a toy that was now just a small and basic lump of plastic, to be honest.

We still have that one, don’t ask me why we kept it, but we took it out of circulation and put it in a box somewhere after we bought him his second Cory Carson toy car. I think I probably held onto it in case he lost his second one and we needed to give him something while we ordered another. Cory was that essential by this point.

I agonized for several months over whether to buy a second one, because it seemed like these had a design flaw against baby dribble, and I didn’t want to throw good money after bad at this range of toys. But I couldn’t be 100% sure we hadn’t just bought a dud. £7.99 for four weeks of functionality wasn’t great value. Ultimately, though, I knew it would make Jellyfish happy to have more of them, and he was older now, so maybe the same issue wouldn’t arise.

We got the second orange Cory Carson car when Jellyfish was around 16 or 17 months. When we bought this car as part of a set, we also found another issue…

The Chrissy cars are not all created equal

He was still in love with these little cars (and he still is). He loves the TV show. He adores the characters. His favourite is Chrissy. So I bought him the Cory and Chrissy set. Our set included Freddie and Hallie, too. There wasn’t any good information about this set and I thought (being a reasonable person) after searching for any reviews online and finding nothing, that the Chrissy cars must all be the same.

The Chrissy cars are not all the same. If you buy Chrissy in a set, there’s a good chance she won’t be an electronic one, she will be a half-sized one with a big hole in the bottom proving she is hollow inside. She will not work on Smart Points and will not inspire any of the other toys to talk.

So we had to buy another one of these cars and as you can see in the picture above, we ended up with one electrical one that talks and lights up (on the left) and one that doesn’t do anything (on the right).

How to tell between the talking and non-talking Chrissy car

Counter-intuitively, the small Chrissy toy (that doesn’t talk) has “Chrissy” written across her bumper just like all the other toys (Cory, Freddie etc) have their names on their bumpers. The big Chrissy toy that actually talks has nothing written across her bumper.

I bought the talking one for €8.99 from Littlewoods after discovering that the first one we bought in a Cory and Chrissy set was actually the small, non-electronic one. Before that, I didn’t know there was any difference between the Chrissy cars you could buy, and it wasn’t very clear from the product descriptions for the various toys, all they said was that the Chrissy in the Cory and Chrissy set was “miniature” not that she didn’t do anything.

The electronic talking Chrissy is the same size (actually, bigger) than the talking orange Cory car, so brother and sister have a bit of a perspective issue when playing with them side-by-side. As far as I am aware, you can only buy a talking electronic Chrissy separately, and not in any of the bundles with any other cars.

Pros of buying a talking Chrissy:

  • The phrases are a really great selection. She has a good range and the timing and delivery of the lines are really spot-on.
  • If your little one’s favourite character is Chrissy, you will probably want to get this to add to your collection.
  • When you put the talking Chrissy on Cory’s head, and vice-versa, you get to hear some spontaneous extra phrases from both of them.

Because of the confusion around the talking/non-talking versions of Chrissy, I don’t see the talking one being on sale for long because people don’t have enough information to understand that she’s different to the smaller one available in the sets of cars. This is a shame because Chrissy is the best character in the opinion of my toddler.

Other characters

We also have Freddie the Firetruck and Hallie the Helicopter. They are available as part of a set with Cory and miniature Chrissy. If you want all the other Bumperton Hills characters, you will probably end up with more than one Cory and mini Chrissy.

Freddie is really good, his ladder is a moving part that lifts up and down. He has additional phrases when you place any other character on his head. However, his side button which makes his siren light up stopped working fairly early on.

Freddie’s movable ladder.

Hallie was a bit of a reach in terms of design. The wheels are tiny so she doesn’t really roll around as well as the other characters. Her helicopter blades are supposed to spin when you press a button (that I think is spring-operated) but this stopped working within a few weeks of getting her. You can still flick the propeller around with your finger but not with the button so some of the magic has been lost.

Compatibility with other toys

Obviously, it would be completely weird to play with one toy in isolation of all the others, and that’s not how babies/toddlers play, so we have seen how these toys work with a range of other toys in our house.

The Toot Toot VTech range are the right size to fit the Ikea toy car garage. You can fit four Toot Toot Cory Carson cars on the top of the garage and they will go down the ramp (but Hallie will stop the moment she touches carpet as her wheels are small).

You can also fit them in the back of the Vertbaudet dump truck (which is marketed as a beach toy but we keep it at home), and they work well with the Mega Bloks fire engine. Jellyfish particularly enjoys putting Freddie the Fire Truck in the back of the Mega Bloks fire engine, presumably because he’s imagining he has Freddie and his mum.

If you have a pop-up toy, you can put the Toot Toot cars on top of the pop-up areas and they will hold them down or flick off at random, which Jellyfish found very hilarious to do several times as he was approaching his second birthday.

They can be put on the seat of the BabyLo rocking unicorn to take them for a little ride.

Jellyfish particularly loves lining them up and parking them on flat surfaces. The TV table, the windowsill, the top of the (switched off) radiator, the bottom step of the stairs.

If I supervise and open the stairgate, he also likes taking them for a drive up the stairs, by picking them up one at a time and putting them on the next step up. This takes a very long time and when he gets to the top of the stairs, he picks each car up one at a time and moves them back down the stairs again.

And this is why I have so many mixed feels about this set of toys. He enjoys playing with them. He adores them, in fact. And I think that’s why it bothered me so much when they stopped working properly.

More electrical issues (solved)

From the second lot of toys I bought (Cory number two, Chrissie number two, Freddie and Hallie), every last one of these toys seemed to stop working properly 6 months into having them. All of them suddenly developed the exact same electronic fault (which is different to the issue we had with Cory number one, where he just shorted out or something).

They got stuck like a broken record repeating a couple of seconds of one pre-recorded sound over and over again, and sometimes they got stuck on the first half-a-second of a sound, repeating it at high speed with a very rapidly flashing light until you turned the toy off.

When this happened to one toy, I thought we must have dropped it one too many times. But then they all stopped working in such a weird way.

Luckily, this wasn’t an electronic fault at all! Phew! They just needed new batteries. We changed the batteries and the cars started behaving themselves again, although Hallie’s propeller still doesn’t work when you press the button for it.

These toys say they’re suitable from age 1+, and it’s true from a safety point of view (there are no small parts to choke on). However, from a playing point of view, they are not robust enough for one-year-olds who dribble and suck their toys a lot. They will not stay fully functional for very long. And at their current prices, that’s a lot of money to pay for a set of plastic cars.

They are also the ideal size to get lost under the sofa. A lot. And as you can see from my photo of Cory, the details are all painted on, and this comes off under heavy use from a toddler (see especially the scuffed white area around the orange lights at the bottom).

On the plus side, however, most of the range don’t use up their batteries very quickly even if your child plays with them for hours every day.

Chrissy takes 3 L1154F (AKA AG13 or LR44) (weird silver circular batteries) which may explain why her batteries run down faster than the other toys and also makes it more annoying when you need to change them because you’re unlikely to have a pack of these sitting around in your house, because what else takes them?

You can buy the batteries for the VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson Chrissy car here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon.

All the other cars we have (Cory, Freddie and Hallie) take 2x AAA batteries but it’s anyone’s guess as to what the others in the range take.


They are very, very safe. The battery compartment is protected by a cross-head screw that you could possibly open with a coin but a small child won’t be able to get into the batteries.

The wheels don’t seem to come off no matter how much they get chewed (unlike a non-VTech toy car we bought from Hamley’s that I’ll review separately).

There are no places in the electronic talking toys for a child to get their fingers trapped (I suspect it is possible with the smaller non-electronic Chrissy if you give her to a very young child with small fingers).

The only potential issue we’ve had (which has happened a few times) is Hallie is an awkward shape and when Jellyfish drops her on his foot, she makes him cry. None of the others seem to have this issue, he’s dropped them on his foot loads of times and doesn’t seem phased by it.

Alternatives to the Toot Toot Cory Carson range of cars

If you’re on a serious budget; I recommend the £4-£5 ASDA set of four plastic cars, instead. These are roughly the same size as the Toot Toot cars (and also fit well to supplement playtime with the Cory cars if you have two-under-two, twins or other multiples and need more similar toys to the Toot Toot ones but maybe don’t need them all to have bells and whistles). The ASDA cars are not electronic, the wheels turn and that’s about it but they are also suitable for going underwater so they have that as an advantage over the Cory cars.

As you can see in the picture below, the ASDA cars are slightly smaller (and the plastic is thinner, they feel cheaper) but these two sets of cars play very well together because the wheels are identical sizes. ASDA is Wal-Mart in the US so you might find these cars in there, too, but I don’t know. It’s been about two years since I last went to America.

Top: The ASDA four pack of toy cars. Bottom: The VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson cars.


Buy the VTech Toot Toot Cory Carson cars if your child adores the TV series and if you have the money to spend. They’ll get some enjoyment out of them even if the electrical components fail. Otherwise, they are perfect for older toddlers/preschoolers rather than 12-month-olds. Personally, I would have waited until Jellyfish was over 15 months before buying these if I’d known they weren’t dribble-proof. Waiting a little longer could save you money on buying replacement cars.

You know your child best, and if your child doesn’t dribble a lot and suck everything in sight, perhaps your toys will fare better than our first one did.

I would not recommend buying these for autistic children because the design is not robust enough and you will have a LOT of meltdowns when the toy doesn’t do what it did yesterday, and you will be running out and buying a LOT of replacements.

The bottom line is, I would recommend these for 15 months and over, if you keep on top of the battery changes. We will almost certainly end up buying more of them one day because Jellyfish is so in love with the Cory series and with all the characters. If you need more cars to play with that will fit the same size of playsets as the Cory Carson cars, get the cheap ASDA ones as well. If you’re on a budget, just get the orange Cory and supplement playtime with the cheap ASDA cars.

This is my honest review of products I paid full price for, from four different retailers, and all opinions are my own thoughts and feelings, all photos in this article are taken by me of the toys we own. Your mileage may vary. All babies are different.

You can find the Toot Toot Cory Carson range on Amazon (US) and UK Amazon or in your local shops such as Littlewoods, Sainsbury’s, Argos etc.

Note: These are called Go! Go! Cory Carson in the US.

Birthday toys for toddlers! Our favourites

It’s Jellyfish’s second birthday tomorrow, and we are all very excited! The weather might be overcast and a little rainy this week, but since we love the outdoors, we planned some trips anyway. Over the Bank Holiday, while nursery was closed, we took him to two beautiful Donegal beaches at Buncrana and Rossnowlagh.

Jellyfish’s favourite trip was to the playpark at Festival Play Park Buncrana. He especially liked the amount of slides they have. We wrapped up warm and took a little walk down to the sea, which is easy to get to from the play park.

After splashing in the water, we headed back up to the grass beside the main road and got some snacks from the food truck. Jellyfish was overjoyed to get an entire slice of banana cake all to himself (top tip: break bits off for them so they have a hand-sized amount to eat), while my husband and I both enjoyed delicious fresh-cooked bagels.

For the big day, we got him some toys he’s sure to love! There were so many great options available and it was hard to choose, but we didn’t want to overwhelm him with too many things, either. He’s so lucky to be a summer baby and get his choice of outdoor and indoor toys. Here are my top five picks for toddler birthday gifts this summer:

1. The Little Baby Bum Wiggling Wheels on the Bus

Image sourced from Littlewoods

Our toddler’s favourite cartoon is Little Baby Bum, followed by Cocomelon as a close second (they’re identical nonstop nursery rhyme shows), and he already has the singing storybook, so the Wiggling Wheels on the Bus toy is ideal, especially as he’s going through that phase where he only wants to play with toys that have wheels. It’s €21.99 from or £16 from UK Amazon (but don’t forget to add on the new import tax if you’re buying in Ireland).

2. Chicco Next2Stars Light Projector

About to turn two, our toddler isn’t quite settling by himself, yet. This night light projector was recommended to us by his crêche, who have a similar one. It’s better than many of the others because it has a selection of lighting effects (night time projection, soft projection and night light) as well as a range of sounds (melodies, nature sounds and white noise). Even more awesome, this one has a sound sensor which will activate the soothing music if your baby cries! I’m definitely looking forward to this arriving. Available here at for €28.99.

3. Toot-Toot Remote Control Cory Carson

Image sourced from Amazon

This is the newest toy in the Vtech Toot Toot Cory Carson range and I just know our toddler is going to love it! He already has a few of the little talking SmartPoint Vtech Toot Toot Cory Carson cars (which I’ll review separately) and he’s watched the show on Netflix about four times (dear Netflix: More please), along with all the mini-movies they’ve made to accompany the main series. The idea that he can press buttons and make the car move will be a precious moment of discovery and I cannot wait for him to see this.

€29.99 from or £22.99 from UK Amazon (plus import fees).

4. Little Tikes Cosy Coupe

Image source: Amazon

The iconic Little Tikes Cosy Coupe is the worldwide fourth best-selling car of all time (behind three cars for grown-ups), according to Smithsonian Magazine. I remember half my neighbours having these when I was little, and my sister, almost six years younger than me, had one as a toddler, too (I had a BMX). While we’re all obsessed with the latest trends and advances in toys, the Cosy Coupe, first released in 1979, is an evergreen favourite, selling tens of thousands every month!

My toddler’s crêche have a little row of about five of these parked in the play area for the tots to use. I am not actually getting one of these this year, as we live on a hill (disaster) but he adores the ones at his crêche and I would recommend this to anyone who has the space for their little ones to ride around in it, Flintstone-style.

For smaller children, the latest Cosy Coupes have a removable floor so you can push them around instead of them needing to co-ordinate their feet to move it themselves. They are now available in a range of colours and styles, including classic red-and-yellow, dinosaur-style, police car, or pink-and-purple.

You can literally buy these anywhere that sells big toys, such as (€64.99), IE Argos (€65), UK Argos (£55.00), or it’s £49.99 at (but I would recommend buying it from somewhere you can collect from such as Argos, or somewhere with a flat delivery fee, as shipping will be costly on such a big toy). From where I live in Ireland, it’s very easy to click and collect from the UK Argos site.

5. Smoby Be Move Trike

Another top pick for outdoors is the Smoby Be Move Trike which is suitable from 15 months to 3 years. This is a convertible toy that can go from being parent-controlled (with a handle at the back) to being toddler-controlled with the pedals on the front wheel. Grandma and granddad have bought this for our toddler to play with at their house and I just know he’s going to adore it!

Available at for €59.99.

I can’t wait for tomorrow, to see his face when he gets his new toys. At this age, I give him toys one at a time so he has a chance to play with each toy before he opens the next one.

What are your best toddler toy recommendations? Let me know in the comments!

Breastfeeding with hyperemesis gravidarum

This article will talk about how I have continued breastfeeding with hyperemesis gravidarum. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a debilitating form of extreme morning sickness which affects 1-2% of pregnant women. If left untreated it can be deadly.

As well as the physical problems, one difficult aspect of having hyperemesis gravidarum is the absolute lack of support or sympathy most people have, including midwives and nurses. The two most common things I was told during all three pregnancies were “Have you tried ginger biscuits?” and “It’s just morning sickness”. When you have hyperemesis gravidarum, these stupid comments are not helpful and when you hear them enough, it starts to really get you down. Add breastfeeding and you get comments about how stupid you are. You do you.

If you are still breastfeeding when you fall pregnant again, you might be wondering how to continue breastfeeding your baby through this difficult time (or whether to continue). I was amazed there was no info about this online, so now I’ve been through it, I decided to write this article, although it’s taken a couple of weeks as, even though my latest HG has subsided, I’m still exhausted from throwing up so much. Also, I find it difficult to discuss this due to the trauma surrounding my first pregnancy (TW).

Choosing to stop breastfeeding completely is also an option for some. It wouldn’t have worked for us because my little one wouldn’t take a cup at all at the start of this pregnancy, although he now does.

My history of hyperemesis:

  • Pregnancy 1: I was in and out of hospital, developed Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (this is a life-threatening development of untreated or treatment-resistant hyperemesis gravidarum) and nearly died. At that point I couldn’t even keep down little sips of water, I was dizzy, confused, unable to walk more than short distances or stand up for long (these are symptoms of a medical emergency, get help if you develop these amid severe vomiting). The hospital were shockingly ignorant and negligent but my GP was really good about continually pushing the hospital to sort me out. I had to have an emergency TFMR without anaesthetic which traumatised me and I have never been able to come to terms with losing this baby.
  • Pregnancy 2: It was so much less awful than pregnancy 1, that I didn’t even know I had hyperemesis gravidarum. I thought I had normal morning sickness until I got diagnosed at my first antenatal appointment by a very stern Chinese doctor who told me (through a translator) that I had to eat more for the baby because I’d lost 6% of my body weight. I was sick with this pregnancy until I was 21 weeks pregnant and only tore my oesophagus twice, and some days I could even get out of bed so I didn’t think I had HG. Given our previous terrible experience, I had stockpiled anti-emetics when I’d been in America. When I got the positive pregnancy test I thought I was prepared, but actually, I couldn’t swallow down the tablets and they tasted extra bitter (my tongue got over sensitive; they were usually tasteless, I was also using them for travel sickness) and made my nausea worse so I stopped trying them after the first two weeks. This pregnancy culminated in my healthy baby boy born late 2019.
  • After he was born, problems that had been caused by my hyperemesis continued to manifest. You lose 300-500 calories per day from breastfeeding, which means that even if you eat normally, you will struggle to get back to a healthy weight after hyperemesis. I became clinically underweight a second time when he was about 8 weeks old and had to be referred to a dietician who put me on a weight gain plan. I had to fight really hard to get enough food in (and I wasn’t dealing with hyperemesis by this point). I’m not saying this to put anyone off breastfeeding after hyperemesis, but be prepared to eat a LOT of peanuts/peanut butter to get that weight back on.
  • Pregnancy 3 (my current pregnancy): The hyperemesis gravidarum hit me like a shovel over the head at 6 weeks pregnant. I mostly couldn’t move from the sofa and struggled to care for my now-toddler (thankfully my husband was here to do it). In 8 weeks of HG my weight dropped to 7 stone from a comfortable 8.5. That’s 10% of my body weight. My BMI went from a comfortable 19 to a dangerously underweight 16. So it was becoming a matter of survival to eat and drink. My hyperemesis gravidarum has vastly improved and now, at 16 weeks pregnant, I’m only being sick 1-2 times per day, but more than that, I’m able to eat food. For me, the nausea and stomach cramps are always a bigger issue than the vomiting because they stop me eating, so I’m glad they’re gone now.

What happened to my breastfeeding when I got hyperemesis gravidarum:

  • At the start of this pregnancy, I was feeding my 18-month-old baby about 5-6 times per day around the clock (he also ate solids but breastmilk was his main drink as he didn’t like his cup).
  • My milk supply reduced. One boob gave up completely around 9 weeks pregnant.
  • Boobs got sore. Feeding became agony again, akin to when my LO was newborn (undiagnosed tongue tie).
  • Baby started self-weaning and signalling for his sippy cup, presumably because milk supply was so low.
  • My baby got clingy as my milk supply reduced. More cuddles were needed and an understanding that he needed me to physically be nearer to him than usual, so I spent a lot of time lying down next to him while he played.
  • It was very hard to stay hydrated anyway, but with breastfeeding on top, it created an added dimension.
  • My stomach has shrunk (this is a known side-effect of anorexia, so God knows why doctors don’t know this can happen after hyperemesis gravidarum), making it impossible to eat full portion sizes now, two weeks after most of the vomiting has stopped, so I am trying to eat more but I physically don’t have the room to do it as well as I would like.
  • Due to the amount of weight I had lost, and concern that I had a responsibility to the baby in my tummy as well as my one-year-old, I didn’t fight hard to continue the BF relationship as it was at the start. I unwittingly ended up doing “don’t offer, don’t refuse” to cut down the number of feeds, although I didn’t intend to wean him and I am still feeding him.
  • Anti-emetics are generally unsuitable for breastfeeding. They’re also impossible to get hold of where I live.
  • The maternity care here has so far been a bit primeval and no professionals have helped with the HG.
  • At 16 weeks pregnant, I am still breastfeeding my baby once daily, for the first middle-of-the-night feed, and he drinks from his sippy cup for his second wake-up.

Tips for breastfeeding with HG:

  • Focus on the connection with your baby, not the “how” to get that connection. Breastfeeding is more than just nutrition, and its the loss of connection as your milk supply dips that can make it so hard. Plenty of cuddles, gentle words, understanding and love for your LO, from you and from any other caregivers.
  • Don’t guilt trip yourself. Whatever breastmilk your LO gets is better than nothing. Stress is bad for your pregnancy and it will also make your hyperemesis worse.
  • Don’t be afraid to unlatch and regroup when you need to. Boobs are super sensitive during pregnancy.
  • When boobs are sore, go back to basics and use Lansinoh or other nipple balm remedies such as ice compresses or cabbage leaves.
  • Leave your bra off. No one is looking. If they are, they can get lost. I found this made a huge difference to the soreness and also improved my nausea a bit, along with having absolutely nothing around my waist (I started in maternity dresses at week 6 with Jellyfish because I had an ovarian cyst the size of my fist in there too and it was very uncomfortable).
  • If you don’t have the energy for your usual breastfeeding positions, try and master feeding while lying on your side. Use any amount of pillows or cushions to get the positioning to work.
  • I was too sick to work even from home. If you can, get signed off and get sick leave from your employer. If not, find out if you can claim welfare.
  • Don’t do anything that isn’t urgent. Let it all go. The washing machine’s powder drawer will be fine if you don’t clean it for four more months.
  • Don’t worry about forcing down the prenatal vitamins. In China, where I was pregnant with Jellyfish, women don’t use these (prenatal vitamins aren’t even sold in shops, nor are any other vitamins) and they produce healthy babies. Prenatals are much less important than we are told. Focus on hydration before anything else.
  • Take little sips of bottled water or juice instead of gulping down a big drink.
  • Keep track of how much water or juice you’ve drunk in a day by changing to a new cup when you finish. On very bad days I couldn’t finish a full mug of water.
  • Between feeds, when you get a moment to yourself, I recommend relaxation with a meditation video. My favourite ones are yoga nidra, a type of yoga that focuses on mindfulness relaxation.
  • I have found with all three of my pregnancies (all of which were HG) one specific food group was easier to eat than others. In my first and second pregnancy, carbs were what I could keep down (plain rice, plain pasta, plain bread), I struggled with protein and I developed a complete aversion to every green vegetable on the planet (and some colourful ones). In my current pregnancy, protein has been the thing that has stayed down (in small amounts).
  • Don’t worry about what you’re not doing, not eating etc. You will make up for the lost calories/nutrition/prenatal vitamins later. Hopefully, your HG won’t last the whole pregnancy, but if it does, you will have to do a lot of extra eating after the birth if you’re planning to breastfeed your newborn.
  • Ensure you get as much rest as you can, and don’t be afraid to depend on anyone else in your life (or get LO into daycare, if you can get him there. I was too sick to drive) to get you through this time.
  • Don’t be afraid to put the TV on for your LO. It won’t ruin their development.
  • When the hyperemesis starts to ease off (hopefully around 12 weeks, I hear this happens for some women), you will need to gradually build up to eating full-size meals again. Eating five meals a day is often recommended, but I find it’s hard to fit them in around a toddler and anyway, my stomach has rarely finished digesting the last small meal in time for the next one. Your mileage might vary so try eating little and often.
  • If you can eat it, Bombay Mix (and similar mixes such as the barely-spicy London Mix) is about the most calorie-dense food I have come across at over 500 calories per 100g. Otherwise peanuts are also very good for calories, or peanut butter.
  • Find a hyperemesis gravidarum support group e.g. on Facebook or one of the parenting sites (babycenter, mumsnet etc) if you think that will benefit you. Different groups have different group culture, so find one that works for you.
  • Don’t panic if you get to the magical 12 weeks and your hyperemisis isn’t gone. Mine never is. I’ve never yet suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum for a full pregnancy.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN STOPPING BREASTFEEDING. I can’t stress this enough. But there is also no shame in continuing to breastfeed. Ultimately, you have to do what is right for both your babies and yourself. Good luck.

DIY chalkboard magnets crafting

So after I did my chalkboards (tutorial here), I had some very small offcuts of chalkboard stickyback vinyl just sitting around, looking sad and lonely. When I got another Amazon delivery, I finally had a box I could turn into these super-cute DIY chalkboard magnets!

If you want to make your own, you will need:

Chalkboard stickyback vinyl (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

Some cardboard (the corrugated brown stuff works best)

Magnet tape (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)


Chalkboard pens (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

You can make the little chalkboards by following my easy DIY chalkboard tutorial. For magnets, make them small (2×3 inches or 5x7cm rectangles work perfectly but other shapes and sizes are also good).

Write a cute message on your tiny chalkboards. If you suck at calligraphy/lettering as much as I do, draw the outline of your chalkboard onto a piece of paper first and plan out where to place the letters. My first chalkboard worked perfectly first time and all the letters went exactly where I wanted. The second one took about 7 attempts of cleaning it off and starting again because I just kept messing it up. Drawing out a plan helped me a lot.

Let the chalkboards dry thoroughly before doing anything else with them. This should take about 5 minutes. I made a little door sign for my baby’s bedroom out of a slightly bigger piece at the same time (I’ve skewed the bottom line to the left slightly on the room sign as he is getting a brother or sister in 6 months’ time so I will want to change it to “little ones” but not yet):

Once you have the chalkboards ready, turn them over and cut 3-4 strips of magnet tape (you might want to use less but I like them to stick really well to the fridge when they’re holding up baby art). The magnet tape should be about 1cm smaller than the edge of the magnet. Peel back the protective film and stick the magnet tape onto the back of the chalkboards. Press down firmly.

Voila! You’re ready to put up some baby artwork. Or a shopping list. Or your favourite postcard. The sky is the limit!

You could even use these for gifts, although I will say I’m not 100% happy with the finish, because it scratches easily. To figure out how to make these into gifts, I will do some experimenting with varnish spray to see if it preserves the writing. However, the flipside of that is once the writing has been fixed to the chalkboard, there’s no option to wipe it off and change it to something else.

I loved making these chalkboard magnets for the versatility and they’re an easy way to bring a classy look to your refrigerator. I’m using mine to display baby art that my little one made with these Crayola Finger Paints (here in the US, in a bigger pack).

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