Author Alison Canavan: Enjoy your kids when they are young

Alison Canavan with her son James, who is now six. Picture: Brian McEvoy

Helen O’Callaghan on the launch of Barnardos Big Toddle, Ireland’s biggest fundraiser for under-fives.

Alison Canavan misses her son’s toddler years. James is six now, but the model and author recalls the times she wished her little boy would grow out of a particular stage.

“Now I look back and think ‘sure, wasn’t it great fun’. My friends have children at that stage, where they’re into everything and getting into trouble. My sister has just had a baby. I’m always saying to mums it’s such a short space of time — though it can feel like eternity — so enjoy it.”

Canavan is supporting Barnardos Big Toddle – this month and next, up to 50,000 toddlers nationwide will lace up their boots and toddle a half-mile sponsored walk to help children their own age. 

Sponsored by Toddlebox, it’s the biggest fundraiser for under-fives in Ireland and has raised over €3.3 million in support of Barnardos Early Years services. 

These services ensure some of the youngest children Barnardos works with are well prepared for transitioning to ‘big school’, so they get the best possible start in life.

“Barnardos makes such a difference in families’ lives, in an unobtrusive, very supportive way,” says Canavan, who recalls a personal low point when James was a baby. 

“As a single mum, I went through some lean times. People need to be lifted up sometimes and this is what Barnardos does. I’m just such a big fan.”

To launch the Big Toddle, Barnardos organised a panel discussion – hosted by Canavan – with panellists TV presenter Sybil Mulcahy, dietician Sarah Keogh and Jenna Russell of Barnardos Early Years. 

Topics included eating, behaviour and routine. Keogh said she always keeps in mind what she’d like her children to be eating aged 15. 

“The kids know in my house, if you don’t eat what’s in front of you, you don’t eat!”

When it comes to tantrums, knowledge is power, pointed out Russell. 

“Parents are [often] unaware this behaviour is perfectly normal, a knock-on effect from the flood of strong emotions their child is experiencing coupled with the fact they don’t know how to self-regulate,” she said.

Mulcahy also urged looking at context of child’s behaviour: “If, [at 6 or 7pm] they’re screaming, it’s 100% because they’re tired and it’s their bedtime. Often parents think their child is acting out but really it’s because they’re tired.”

* Childcare groups/families can register for Big Toddle at or phone 1850 222 300 — receive free fun pack with everything needed to organise your Big Toddle.

Top tips

* Time passes quickly – take every opportunity to give them a big hug.

* Bring three pairs of trousers with you on every outing.

* Forget nice furniture, cream carpets or cream couches, advises Barnardos panel – they’re “going to get wrecked, peed on or get chocolate stains or purée put on them”.

* Never cook them something different to what you’re cooking for rest of family.

* Watch portion sizes – their stomachs are the size of their fists.


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