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Hello to you all and many thanks to Ruth for adding me as a contributor to this fabulous blog :-). In this post I would like to write about my parenting approaches.

Firstly, I hope you guys will not think I am something of a fraud who does not belong here when I say I began my parenting life, with both of children very much traditional and routine orientated.

When I had my daughter (now 3) I was at a real loss as to how to get her to sleep at night. She would sleep all day and scream all night unless held. I therefore turned to the dreaded Gina Ford and Baby Whisperer for advice on ‘getting my children to sleep though the night’. For both my daughter and son (born 18 months later) we had set times for meals and naps as this is what has worked well for us although the children were not forced into any routines. We more fell into a good routine once I returned to work when my youngest was 13 months. In addition to this I have always had set bedtime with the kids in their own rooms. Again though this has never been an issue for my children as they both seem quite lazy and fond of sleep like their mum :-).

So now you may say ‘what is she doing here then?’ Well I would say, where I fit in here is more likely with ideas of discipline (or as some would say lack of it) and education and learning.

I studied a Psychology degree at university and have taught Psychology as a subject and always, even before having the children had an interest in developmental and educational psychology. I knew that while positive reinforcement worked as a means of behaviour control it was not a long term solution. I knew that lack of unconditional love can cause serious problems in later life. I knew that children should not grow up believing they will only be accepted if…

However when my own children got to an age where it was necessary to consider discipline to begin with I approached this using learning theory and behaviourism techniques such as ‘time out’, ‘reward charts’ and positive reinforcement. I think this was down to the fact that it had been ‘drilled’ into me by playgroups, health visitors and SureStart that this was the only way to discipline without smacking (which I am very anti). However, in my heart I knew that this was not the right way to go about things in the long run as it does not encourage any moral development or allow a child to see WHY they shouldn’t do something. The use of these techniques caused me to feel like I was constantly on my children’s case, I felt stressed and anxious and did not like myself for the way I spoke to my children.

I began to read Ruth’s Twitter posts and blog and so much of it made sense. I had already read about unconditional and attachment parenting in books and online forums and although that route had not been for me in terms of bed sharing and anti routine (although of course I have nothing against this it just doesn’t match my obsessive personality) their ideas of education and discipline have always been of interest to me.

I also became a little stressed out about developmental milestones, manners and saying please, sorry and thank you. My instinct told me that these would come naturally through observation. However when I saw friends talking about what their children could do (mainly children who went to nursery or childminders) or who hounded their children about manners I began to think maybe I was raising ignorant children if I didn’t do the same.

As for developmental milestones ; I remember buying Gina Ford’s book about Toddler Years and seeing all these things my child *should* be doing such as taking sips from a cup at the table whilst eating, making attempts to get undressed, using the potty, drinking from an open cup initially I worried as my daughter did not do these things.

Now however, I realise (although I think I knew all along) these things don’t matter at the age of 2 or 3. What matters is my daughter is unique, confident with both adults and children, inquisitive and adventurous. I feel a sense of pride when I see her scaling a climbing frame that many children double her age would struggle with or when I see her dribbling a football with the skills of a pro or asking question after question confidently to adults such as playgroup leaders and mummy friends (although maybe they find this annoying he he). These are the things that really matter at 2 or 3 not being forced to use table manners and saying please and thank you.

I will end this piece by saying one of the ideas I believe in strongly is in allowing children to act ‘age appropriately’ (term taken from Ruth I think). I have always let my children loose in restaurants and open spaces (so long as it is safe) and have not chastised them for running too much or being too loud. Myself I am a very lively person who can’t concentrate on things or sit still for a long time. I may had be considered to have some form of ADHD if I had been a child nowadays and not in the early 80s. My Mum said I would never sit still at playgroups during singing or story time or in assembly at school and I still feel a sense of unease in large staff meetings at work where we have to sit and listen, I am very claustrophobic and somewhat neurotic. My daughter, it seems, is exactly the same so far be it me to criticise her when if we are who we are is really down to nature it is essentially ‘my fault’ she is this way.

I would like to add I am not an experienced writer and have not written long pieces for a long time so I hope you can follow this even if the standard is not great! I will improve :-).

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I’ve heard some people who parent gently say “I don’t need experts, I just trust my instincts”, or “you should never learn parenting from a book”. Well, I don’t entirely agree.

My childhood was abusive. As a result, I had no good model for how to parent, and my “instincts” were shaped in pain and fear. The only instinct I did have was that I didn’t want to parent how my parents did. I knew I didn’t want to smack, ever. I also knew I never wanted my child to cry himself to sleep. Beyond that, I knew nothing.

I even, initially, liked experts like Jo Frost (Supernanny) because she “got the children to behave without ever smacking them”. Given this was a vast improvement on my own childhood, I watched her programme avidly while I was pregnant. Until, once, I saw her really hurt a child by dragging him by the arm to the naughty step. That really upset me and at that point even my dimmed instincts told me “this isn’t quite right”.

I looked to Gina Ford, and her Contented Little Baby Book. The version I had was one of the early ones where she talks about leaving small babies to cry, and about weaning from breastfeeding as soon as possible. The tiny amount of instinct I did have told me this wasn’t an expert I wanted to follow either, and when I learned about her attempting to sue a parenting forum because one or two of its members had said unkind things about her, I knew I wasn’t going to take advice from a bully.

I looked at The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg. It seemed gentler, but even then, something about it wasn’t quite right. It was the story of the woman who was “still” breastfeeding her two year old behind her husband’s back. My instinct said “what a horrible man”. Tracy said it was the mother’s fault, and that breastfeeding a toddler was wrong.

It wasn’t until after I’d given birth someone recommended the Sears’ books to me, in particular The Baby Book. Although the heteronormativity, and classism in the book really got to me, the majority of their actual information on babies rang true to what little instinct I had. Being able bodied meant I was able to use a sling, and this stopped my baby’s near constant crying.

Learning that bedsharing was not only okay but might even be a more “instinctive” way to parent was a huge relief to me as I’d been doing it “accidentally” already, and feeling terribly guilty for doing so. My then husband set up a side-car arrangement with the cot fastened onto the bed. Gradually me and the baby ended up sleeping in the spare bedroom together, as things between my then husband and I became strained (various reasons).

I read more books which resonated with how I felt. Unconditional Parenting in particular hit a nerve with me. Of course! Punishments worked in the short term, but in the long term tell the child nothing of the “why not”. Putting a child on a naughty step for hitting, for example, tells a child that hitting is undesirable behaviour, but doesn’t try to understand why the child hit out in the first place, and usually doesn’t attempt to tell the child why hitting is wrong. Extrinsic (external) rewards also don’t teach a child why something is right. A sweet or a star on a chart won’t teach a child why tidying up is a good thing. It may get the child to tidy, but doesn’t explain why (because it’s easier to run about on a clear floor, it’s not right for Mum to have to tidy everything, it’s dangerous to have toys lying around, and so on).

Kohn also argues that children view punishments as withdrawal of love, and rewards as bestowing love, whether or not that is our intention. So in the examples above, we’re saying “I don’t love you when you hit. I love you when you tidy”. We shouldn’t be using love as a bargaining chip.

Kohn’s book, and other similar “experts” resonated well with what I was trying to do; give my child a relatively happy childhood, help develop his internal moral compass, help him to grow into a happy adult and so on. I sought out other books that worked along these lines.

I was starting to learn that I did have instincts after all, but that they’d just been hidden away. Personally speaking, I did need the experts to help me, but only to an extent. My instincts and the right “experts” work in tandem to help me parent.

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