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Archive for the ‘child-centred living’ Category

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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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I just wanted to share a couple of links. The first is a truly amazing and inspiring piece of writing about Parenting in Freedom, and the second is to do with home education in England. It gives a very good overview of the current crisis in home education in England, and I thought people here might like to read it, to see what all the fuss is about in case they’re not already aware. I am planning a post about the current issues but until I manage to get that done, Elective Home Education in the UK, a brief history? is a very good place to start.

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Something upset me yesterday at soft play (again – why oh why do we still go there?) – my son’s hair is getting quite long now, which hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice, and people frequently say it needs cutting. That’s just water off a duck’s back. I have asked R several times if he would like me to cut his hair for him, and the answer is always the same – No, he wants to grow it long. So I’ve asked if he would just like me to trim his fringe for him. The answer is still No, he wants to grow that long too. So, that’s the end of the matter as far as I’m concerned. Until such time as he says Yes, he would like it cutting, it will remain uncut. My family have suggested I do it anyway while he is asleep, but I absolutely will not sneak about in the night doing something to his person that he has expressly said he doesn’t want doing. I just won’t. It is dishonest and disrespectful, and aside from anything else would seem very wrong.

So, back to soft play this morning. R’s hair was mentioned several times by several people. We had the usual boring conversation about how he won’t let me cut it, and how he’s said he wants it long, and how neither of us are particularly bothered about it. Still the comments persisted, and at one point it actually felt quite threatening, with one of the women saying she had some scissors in her bag and would do it now for him. I actually had to move away from her. R just looked a bit bewildered by everybody going on about it all the time, and I said something jokey about not coming here anymore if people were going to start threatening us with scissors. But really, I was upset. As I’ve said the bottom line for me is that R has said repeatedly he doesn’t want it cutting, so I won’t cut it. It’s a simple as that. But it seems for most people the idea of actually respecting your 3-year-old’s wishes is absurd, and they think I should ignore what he says and cut it anyway. I really wish it wasn’t even a topic for conversation. I really wish it mattered as little to other people as it does to us; but this letting his hair grow seems to be taken as some kind of sign by people – a sign of otherness, of difference, something that sets us apart, and they’re all desperate to cut it so we can be the same again, and they can feel comfortable with us. It’s bizarre.

Anyway, my point is, our hair – yours, mine, our children’s, is ours and nothing to do with anyone else. Nobody has any business making anybody else (and that includes children, of course) feel pressured to cut it, don’t cut it, dye it, don’t dye it, tie it back, cover it, or anything else. There have even been stories of schools refusing admission to 5 year olds because their hair is ‘too long’. This morning was a vivid illustration of the way people think they can act for and on behalf of children without their consent. People also have no qualms about commenting on the appearance, demeanor, personality and everything else of children, as though it’s any of their business. One of my old friends’ son came home one day at the age of around 11, having been to get his head shaved without telling her what he was doing. She was plainly disgusted with him and told him he looked like a “thug”. What a message to send to the poor child. All that disapproval, along with the brand new label of “thug” on his young shoulders, where it didn’t belong. All he had done was shown a bit of autonomy, a sign that he could think for himself, and look where it got him. I don’t think for a minute that he was seeking her approval by doing that, but wouldn’t it have been nice if she could have reacted more positively? As with my own son, even at the age of just 3; it’s his hair, and his decision.

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…who scowl or tut or comment at my son and I when we are in town, at the shop, or anywhere else out and about…

– If my son wants to go on his hands and knees and crawl along the pavement instead of walking, I am going to let him, and we will have a laugh pretending he is a dog and I am taking him for a walk, and you will just have to walk an extra few inches to go around him so as not to step on his hands. You will get over it.

– If my son wants to play on the toy keyboard in the Early Learning Centre, he can do so, even if it is pink and you think that means it’s just for girls.

– Likewise, if he wants to play with the (pink) pram and doll in the Early Learning Centre, he can do so without people laughing at him and making comments about his “feminine side coming out.”

– If my son wants to take his shoes and socks off in the supermarket, so that he can feel that lovely smooth, cool flooring beneath his feet as he runs around, he can, and it is none of your concern.

– If we want to stroll along at a snails pace, discussing what flavour lollipop we shall have, and studying a fly that has landed on a shop window, we will. We will not hurry up for you, and we will not get out of your way. If you are in a rush, that is your problem, and you will just have to go around us, preferably without the accompanying eye-rolling and tutting, if you can manage it.

There are many other examples I could give from when we have been out and about and being ourselves (shock!), instead of fitting into whatever “mother and toddler” boxes people have in their heads. We are not what polite society expects. We are letting the side down. We are doing it our way, and screw you and your pathetic, pointless rules.

Yes! We are often scruffy, and our feet are dirty. Yes! I forgot to comb R’s hair this morning (somehow, I think he will overcome the trauma of this). Yes! We don’t care what you think. Why on earth should we?

We are madly in love, and learning about each other, and we are best friends, and finding out about the world. We don’t follow your rules, and we have no rules of our own. We are living by our principles and letting our instincts guide us. It’s wonderful! I have not showered for days. Nobody, unless they are a coal miner or something, needs to shower everyday. Why do people do it? Because other people do it. Follow the herd. Don’t think.

We are thinking, and we are living. While you tut and roll your eyes, and adhere to your narrow-minded tick-box view of the world (and especially children) you are not living. You are just not dying, that’s all.

We are free and you are not. Now leave us alone.

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