Before A was born, and while she was in her pushchair, I used to stride around as quickly as I could. It became such a habit that, now she’s too big for the pushchair, our progress through town goes, “Mummy, you’re walking too fast,” “Sorry, sweetheart, is that better?” If she holds my hand, I can stick to her pace for a while, but once she lets go, I’m striding off again.

Slowing down seems to come naturally to other parents, but not to me. I have to concentrate to keep myself from speeding up again, which leaves me chafing with impatience the whole time. I’m used to thinking as I walk, and walking itself is such a dull thing to think about.

Last week, I discovered a way to slow myself down, while entertaining A at the same time. We’d just been to the shop, and as I walked into the flats with a tub of glacé cherries in one hand and my keys in the other, a playful impulse struck me. Could I walk all the way up the stairs with the cherries balanced on my head?

A watched with delighted giggles as I put the tub on my head and started up the stairs. To stop it falling off, I had to keep my head steady, which meant taking every step very slowly and carefully. Halfway up, I realised I was moving at something close to A’s pace, without any of my usual impatience. And she was still laughing her head off at the sight of me carrying my shopping on my head. I think I might be onto something here.

I’m not a very good parent. I believe it’s important to respect my daughter, but after I’ve explained several times that touching those cakes will cover them with germs so no-one else wants to eat them, I tend to fall back on shouting, “Because I say so, now do as you’re told!”

Still, I do try to approach parenting as a collaboration rather than a battle, and something that happened the other week made me realise how different that is from the way I was raised. My mum came round while A was at nursery, bringing a borrowed carpet cleaner to give the living room carpet a much-needed clean. A had played at cutting up paper, and left the bits scattered on the floor; not knowing which bits she wanted to save, I transferred them all into a margarine tub while my mum tidied up the toys with an obvious home.

She held up a couple of empty crayon packets, and asked whether I was saving them. “I’m not,” I said, “but A might be.” Sighing heavily, she told me I mustn’t encourage her to save every random piece of junk that crosses her path, otherwise she will grow up a hoarder.

But I’m not encouraging her to save junk. Every few weeks, we tidy up her bedroom together, and I explain that there’s only so much space, and perhaps she needs to decide which of her bits and pieces she really needs to hang onto. What I am encouraging her to do is take responsibility for her toys and decide for herself what she wants to keep. I think she stands a better chance of having a healthy attitude to her possessions that way than if I snatch the decisions out of her control.

More importantly, I’m encouraging her to trust me. I want her to go to nursery, secure in the knowledge that I won’t use the time while she’s out of the house to sneak things into the dustbin. I haven’t forgotten how it felt to come home from the shops and find the cardboard box that was my house and my boat sitting on a pile of rubbish at the gate; that’s one thing A will not be going through at my hands. As long as she trusts me and I respect that trust, I don’t really care if she fills her bedroom with crayon packets.

This is a guest post from Harry Cheetham, son of blogger Tracey Cheetham. We so rarely get to hear children’s voices outside of patronising “kids say the funniest things” programmes and articles so I thought Wild Rumpus could provide a place where children could speak without being ridiculed or patronised.


My Mum asked me to watch Prime Minister’s Questions with her this week. We both had swine flu and were lying in her bed watching TV.  When she saw it was time for PMQs she wanted to put it on but I didn’t.  She asked me if I would watch it with her so she could put what I thought about it on Twitter, she likes Twitter and talks to people on there every day. 

It was funny to see the men shouting at each other. They were rude and kept shouting when someone else was talking. I would get into trouble at school for that.  I didn’t understand what they were on about much and my Mum had to tell me. I asked her lots of questions. She wrote them on Twitter for people on the Internet to read and told me what she thought and what people said.

I want to watch it again but I am at school when it’s on.

This is a transcript of Harry’s comments/questions:

He needs to stick his hair down (Jamie Reed) #harrypmqs #pmqs

I was just told to be quiet, so Harry can hear what’s going on! #harrypmqs #pmqs

How does the Speaker choose who speaks? If he’s got a list, what if someone else comes up with a good idea? #harrypmqs #pmqs

Why do they always shout? #harrypmqs #pmqs

It’s a bit rude isn’t it? #harrypmqs #pmqs

What’s point in all those ppl being there if only a few get to talk? [To hear answers] Why so they can go & tell their wives? #harrypmqs #pmqs

They might be being careful what they say because the cameras are there. #harrypmqs #pmqs

I bet they all go home & tell their kids not to be rude! #harrypmqs #pmqs

Say please!!! #harrypmqs #pmqs

[You’re sounding like the manners Police!] Well, they’re being rude, shouting! [This is quite good] *That* is good? #harrypmqs #pmqs

Why do they move onto another subject before the question has been answered? #harrypmqs #pmqs

Does he just answer the questions or does he actually do what they ask as well? #harrypmqs #pmqs

Is that where tax goes – to paying them? #harrypmqs #pmqs

I hope Tracey was able to answer Harry’s questions; I know I would not have been able to answer all of them.

This is a guest post* by Sarah Brykczynski who writes at Moonbeam Disco.

I’ve been told I have far too many rules in my family, and I’ve also been told that I don’t have anywhere near enough.

In my family there are lots of rules but they can basically be broken down into two categories, rules that keep us safe, and rules that keep us functioning as a family. The first category would include not leaving things in high traffic areas of the house where someone could trip and fall. The second category would include not ever hitting each other. When we are angry we might sometimes yell at each other, but we always choose words over hands.

Some of the safety rules that we have just apply to our son, because he is after all not even four yet.

For example, a safety rule we have is that preschoolers only use dangerous tools, like sharp knives, with an adult. These tools are only ever used with hand over hand supervision. They are used often and thus far he’s not cut himself while helping me slice cucumbers, nor burned himself while helping assembling his police station made from plastic bottles and containers.

My child wants to be able to do everything I can do, and I’m teaching him how to do it safely, to the best of my ability. I’ve not meet very many parents that share my perspective on how important it is to teach children how to do things safely and properly.

In my opinion this world is filled with dangerous things; this doesn’t mean you must avoid these dangerous things (like stoves and sewing machines and power tools) you just respect the heck out of them and follow all the safety rules.

This doesn’t mean my child has free access to these things, but he has used them, and he is learning how to use them properly. There are also some safety rules that apply just to the adults. For example, dangerous tools are always put away safely after use, so after using the hot glue gun unplug it and put it back in the arts and crafts drawers.

There some rules I thought only applied to my son that it turns out apply to me too.

One our most important safety rules is the “STOP” rule, and it’s just what it sounds like; if someone screams “STOP!” at you then you stop whatever you are doing immediately. The stop rule is a very, very serious rule that only ever applies to incredibly serious situations.

For example, if I saw my child about to smear chocolate all over the couch I wouldn’t yell “STOP”, but if I saw my child about to run onto a busy street I would yell “STOP!” It is because of this that the stop rule is effective. 

But somehow when I try to explain this the idea does not get across to most people. Yes I let my almost four-year-old walk independently down the street with me (i.e. not holding my hand) next to traffic because I know that if I yell “STOP” he will.

So what happens if he doesn’t stop right? Well, I honestly don’t know because it’s never come up. (Also I know my son very well, and if he’s over tired, over hungry, or just in a kind of mood where I think it’s possible he might not stop then I don’t give him the opportunity, we hold hands instead, and I don’t think he’s ever had a problem with this.)

The way it goes is that he if is about to do something incredibly dangerous I yell “STOP” and he stops, then asks “why?” I explain how what he was about to do would have dire consequences.

I’ve been told “Well that would never work with my child, no matter how many time I tell my child to stop something, my child just won’t stop.”

And I usually have to bite my tongue; because this is not some kind of a control measure used to prevent children for “misbehaving”, but so many families use it this way.

This is a safety rule that ensures a child’s safety and freedom. I mean, if you yell “STOP” and the child asks why and the answer is “because it will make a big mess” (as opposed to “you could end up badly hurt, even in hospital”) then it will not be an effective safety rule.

The whole system is based on trust.

I trust that he will respect this rule and he trusts that I will enforce this rule to keep him safe.

If you can’t trust your child or your child can’t trust you then the whole system falls apart.

I can hear all those skeptics saying “But to trust such a small child especially in matters of his personal safety is negligent because he only needs to not listen once to be seriously injured or even killed.” Well, I agree with the last part one hundred percent and so does my son. He takes our rules very seriously.

As for the other sort of rules, they are important too, and they ensure that we can all live together in harmony. While failure to comply with these rules do not have dire consequences, they nurture the trust and respect we treat each other with. We don’t have any family functioning rules that only apply to preschoolers. I think of these more as social survival rules, rules like we don’t messy with each other’s stuff. So preschoolers wouldn’t crayon on a wall, and adults wouldn’t recycle paperwork without consulting the owner of the paperwork. 

 My son has stuff, and he knows what is his. I have stuff, and he knows what’s mine. I know that if he is using his scissors to cut up his papers, I can be in another room without fearing he will start cutting up things that are not his. If he finds something that he wants to cut, and it’s not his, he will ask me “Can I cut this?” because he understands. Why is it sure a hard concept to grasp that children (and their property) deserve the same respect adults (and their property) do?

 Why is it so hard to see that my rules work really, really well for my family? And why do complete strangers feel they are obliged not only to try to undermine our rules but also question our ability to care for our child because we trust and respect him? 

*This blog was set up to talk specifically about issues in the UK as the conversations on the internet regarding gentle/natural/unconditional parenting do generally seem to be dominated by the US and Canada. However, guest posts from outside the UK are acceped if they are generic in nature rather than discussing issues unique to that country.

One of my favourite poets is Adrian Mitchell, the late “Shadow Poet Laureate” who died in December 2008.

Mitchell is best known as a political poet, but many of his poems were concerned with family, friendship and love. This includes a number of moving poems about his parents, with whom he clearly had a happy, loving and warm relationship. (He wrote a response to Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse which begins: “They tuck you up, your mum and dad…”)

Along similar lines, I loved this poem from his final collection (Tell Me Lies: Poems 2005-2008):

Early Daze

I was born on the Moon
On a sunlit night
it was Saint Diablo’s Day
My Egg cracked apart
with a happy heart
I dived into the Milky Way

I was found in that bath
by my Father and Mother
A Unicorn and a Dove
They took me to their home
In an ice-cream Dome
And all they ever taught me was to do with Love
And everything they taught me was to do with Love

I’m not a big one for new year resolutions, but if I had one ambition for the coming year it would be for our children to be able to say at the end of it, of me and E, “all they ever taught us was to do with Love”. Easier said than done, alas…

Our pace of life, especially when in the company of more conventional parents, is noticeably slower than most. Whenever I’m in the company of time-out using, school-using, toddler-taming people, I always feel like I’m being hurried along a bit. I ignore this feeling, of course, because I’m one of those annoying obstinate, opinionated people who has the courage of their convictions, but it’s there nonetheless. I feel hurried, not just in that moment of that day, but in life in general. There’s a real feeling I get around conventional parents; they seem to always have somewhere else they have to dash off to; they always seem in such a rush to get to the next stage in their children’s development; they always seem to be in such a hurry that they hardly notice the child it’s all supposed to be for. And R and I just sit and watch them from our nice, calm bubble, and we really do seem to share the same complete refusal to be rushed I have blogged about many times before.

I’ve noticed that maintaining the ideals of peaceful, non-coercive parenting is much easier when we are on our own. After some contemplation, I’ve decided that this is because of the time-pressure put on us by other people, that is absent when we are alone. If we are on our own, and R is having what I, for want of a better word, often call a “meltdown” or an “episode” (because I will not use the word “tantrum”), we can take our time. R can take as long as he needs to work through whatever it is, and to scream as much as he needs to, and I can take as long as is needed to hold him, or just be present, or softly speak reassuring words to him, tell him that I love him, and whatever else is appropriate at the time.

If this happens when we are in a cafe, shop or park where other people are, even though the process of the “meltdown” is the same, and we need to do the same things, there is an unspoken (or sometimes tutted) time-pressure there. This is even worse if we are in a more obviously parenting or childminding setting, like soft play or the park, for instance. The presence of other people, and especially other parents or parent substitutes, brings with it eyes to look at you, and ears to hear you, and an immense pressure to ‘deal with the situation’ (ie support and love your child) as quickly as possible, and return the child to its more desirable seen-and-not-heard state.

The result of this is that those wonderful peaceful parenting ideals sometimes get a little squashed in the rush to get those eyes and ears off you; to no longer be the focus of so much (usually negative) attention. Sometimes in a situation like that, all those phrases I hear trotted out so many times by the time-out and bribery users, come into my head, and almost, almost out of my mouth. I start to think, it would be so easy, and so much quicker.

But I don’t want R to learn that his “moments” are unacceptable. I don’t want him to think there is any part of himself he cannot express, because it would draw disapproval or embarrassment, especially from me. I don’t want him to feel that he has to somehow rush his “meltdown” because he is inconveniencing other people. This is where I have to try and block the other people out, and just focus on R and what he needs in that moment, and take. my. time. This is when the contrast is sharpest, between the rush rush must get on can’t stop world of the conventional parents and me with R in out little bubble, trying with all my might to keep calm, slow down, focus, and make sure he knows I love him.

It doesn’t always work. I get embarrassed, not because of R or anything he is doing, but because of the other people. Even at home, I’ve used some kind of coercion (“Do you want to go and see Jane?” “Yes.” “Well, let me comb your hair, then.”) when we’ve been in a rush to get somewhere. But there it is again – the time pressure; and I realise then that I’ve been putting that pressure on myself, not even waiting for someone else to do it. Those are the times when the conventional-parenting-speak has come out of my mouth before I’ve had the chance to take a breath, and stop it. And I almost always immediately say something like, “Oh sorry, mummy’s talking rubbish, just ignore me!” and we have a laugh about it.

So, it takes time. Time to really be with R; time to ignore the nay-sayers; time to think before regurgitating conventional-parenting-speak. Time is the most important thing we have together, and we do our best to take it. Every day we take………….our………………………………time.🙂

Lately I have began to think more and more about my daughter starting school (and in fact my son one year after). In all honesty the more I think about it, the more I dread it! My husband does too infact!

I hated school! As a preschool child, or so I have been told, I was very intelligent, but wierd! My first memories of school are of crying because I didn’t want to sit down in assembly. The work in school, I found boring and unchallenging.  All the other children knew each other but I had moved there from Carlisle so didn’t know anyone and had a funny accent.

My husband had worse experiences of school. He was bullied and excluded by the other children, yet although the teachers noticed, they did nothing about it.

What bothers me now about school is the emphasis on achievement even from the foundation stage. The whole importance of conforming and not recognising children as individuals. I think young children should learn through experiential learning rather than following a curriculum. Even before I had the children I remember learning about schools which didn’t follow a curriculum but followed a humanistic and holistic approach to learning (I can’t remember the name though.) I thought what a good idea this would be and how I would have loved to learn in this way.

As much as I try not to also, I am terrified about my children being bullied. It is impossible not to be, there are so many horror stories and teachers are afraid to do anything these days.

I have done my best to socialize my children. They have lots of friends and my days off are spent either seeing friends, in playgroup or in the park or soft play. Hopefully they will learn to socialize and to stick up for themselves. However I still have this worry!

In an ideal world I would love my children to go to a small independent school such as a Steiner or Montessori school but even if there were any round here I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

So Homeschooling is the alternative. The fact I would even consider it is pretty mad. You see I am pretty much Miss Mainstream. I read New magazine, watch Xfactor and the soaps and shop in Primark (and Topshop when funds allow).  Nor am I by any means middle class. My children were formula fed, they eat chicken nuggets and smiley faces. I am not a person who one would even imagine would consider anything so radical as homeschooling. Most people who know me would think I needed sectioning or something to even think of the idea seeing as most of my Facebook statuses consist of things like ‘OMG how long til bedtime?’ or ‘aargh these kids are driving me mad’.

However they are my babies and I want the best in life for them. I want them to be happy, confident and enjoy life so I dread sending them to main stream school.