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Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

I could write about SureStart and get all political, discuss the problems I have with Every Child Matters and the DCSF, and Ofsted (the body that inspects SureStart). I could write at length of how it really doesn’t resonate with the values I have for my own child, and how I even find some things they say more than a little sinister.

But instead, I’ll say just two things. Firstly, this is how SureStart describes what it is all about:

It is the cornerstone of the Government’s drive to tackle child poverty and social exclusion working with parents-to-be, parents, carers and children to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of babies and young children so that they can flourish at home and when they get to school.

I could go through that with a fine tooth-comb and pick out the things that makes me wary of it. But instead, I’ll say just one thing: where’s the “happy”? Because it takes a good dose of happy to “flourish”, whether at home or “when” (and shouldn’t that be “if”?) a child goes to school.

However, despite this, I did take my child to my local SureStart children’s centre on a few occasions. In fact, I even volunteered for them for a short while (and that is another story). But this is why I finally stopped going:

SureStart runs lots of “themed” play sessions. Unlike traditional “Parent and Toddler” groups, which tend to function more on a “benign neglect” basis, SureStart play sessions tend to be a lot more hands-on, and every available moment is spent with the parent interacting with their child, one on one.

(In fact, it’s the reason our local SureStart doesn’t have adult chairs; it forces parents to sit on the floor. Chairs are available for parents with disabilities, but they have to be requested. A breastfeeding “comfy” chair, costing £500, was purchased by our local SureStart, but it’s only of use for those with young, small babies, as the arms are so high that it’s uncomfortable for feeding an older baby or a toddler. But still, it ticks a box.)

One of the sessions they run is called Musical Mayhem. Now, I like mayhem. I like music, too. So I took my toddler, then about eighteen months of age. We started off sat cross-legged on the floor, and the Play Leader got a box full of percussion instruments out. Each child was to walk to the centre of the circle and pick an instrument. B picked a small drum. Then the Play Leader put on a CD of children’s nursery rhymes and themes from well-known kids’ TV shows, and all the children that were able, played along; those that weren’t, their parent did.

So far, so good; not very “mayhem” to my mind, but everyone was enjoying themselves.

And then, the session ended, after about fifteen minutes. The children were to return their instruments to the centre of the room for the next session to start, which was to be dancing to the same CD, singing along. However, my child, and another little boy who looked slightly older, did not want to return their instruments.

They were enjoying playing them and making noise. It was a lot of fun, and they were happy. I realise SureStart doesn’t do “happy” in its mission statement, but it was enough for me.

They went off together into the corner of the room. At eighteen months of age, I’d not have expected interaction like this; it’s the age of “parallel play” after all. But here he was, actually interacting with another child. They swapped instruments. Yes, at just eighteen months of age, my child was learning, by himself, to share, to an extent. SureStart might not care about “happy”, but they do talk about “social development”, or so I thought.

They played with each with the other’s instrument, and then their own again, raising a rumpus and dancing around. “Physical development”, much?

And of course, they learned about the different instruments; the shape of them; they learned that a drum makes a “bang” sound, that it is made from a kind of stretched skin; but that a triangle makes a “chime” sound and is made from metal. “Intellectual development”, at all?

But the Play Leader didn’t see that. She saw two naughty little boys who weren’t obeying the rules. At first, she was like the long-suffering school teacher; “come on boys,” with a smile, hand held out; “it’s time to sing and dance now!”

But when they didn’t listen, she looked at me, and the other little boy’s mother, and made it clear with a glare we had to take the instruments off them.

I thought of how much more they could have learned if they’d been allowed to play along while the others sang and danced. They might even have played for the others, to assist them with their singing and dancing. Think how the “intellectual, physical and social development” boxes could have been ticked and those particular Key Performance Indicators met, for SureStart! But for me, even more than that, think how happy my child, and his new friend, might have been!

But instead, I had to soothe my crying toddler while taking the musical instrument from him. He was upset for the rest of the session, and didn’t join n the singing and dancing. His “physical, social and intellectual” development was nowhere to be seen for the rest of the session. Eventually I walked out with him because he clearly wasn’t enjoying it. I’ve not been back since, either.

See, here’s the deal. SureStart’s aims? Problematic, to say the least. But more than that; without happiness, none of it will ever happen. Certainly not for every child. And I thought Every Child Matters?

 

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Think about the way things have changed even just in the last 10 or 20 years, regarding how we talk about disabled people, how we treat the elderly in society, how REAL change has happened, and all the better for it.

Now consider these statements and imagine they were said to one of those groups in society.

‘He should not be doing that.’

‘He needs to shut up.’

‘Give her a good slap.’

‘You’ve got to let them know who’s in charge.’

‘What is it then male or female? Can’t tell with those clothes.’

‘What have you done to him?’

‘Isn’t he a bit big to be in a push chair.’

‘If she does not like it MAKE her eat it!’

‘If he cries at night just ignore the cries.’

‘Don’t hug them every time they feel sad, they will become dependent on you.’

‘Ewww do you HAVE to feed them in public?’

‘Her favourite food? Oh well why don’t you just give her any old thing?’

Except all these things were not said to an elderly person or a disabled person. All these comments have been made to my children or to me about my children, in a city which prides itself on being tolerant. They are cruel comments, they are hurtful. If as I suggested at the start they had been said to a disabled or elderly person there would be outrage. For some reason there still exists the belief that it is ok to talk to children or about children in this manner. It is not! The ‘what have you done to him’ comment was made by someone who actually stopped in the street and peered at my son who was at the time bandaged up due to eczema. It still makes me feel shaky thinking about it, and my son still remembers it. I don’t know any other better way to put this that children are people too, a bit of a tired phrase but a simple truth that is sadly and often overlooked.

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This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago after a particular incident in our local supermarket:

There’s a man lives on our street who is one of those people who comes up and talks to you as though you are great mates, even though you don’t really know him from Adam and don’t like him much either. He irritates me but I manage to ignore him for the most part. However, he is also one of those people who thinks they are really good with children, and that all children love him, and is totally unaware (or uncaring) of how children actually feel about him.

I don’t know what it is in particular about this man, but R does not like him. And he is scared of him. If he stops and talks to me, R stares over my shoulder and will not look at the man at all, and when he’s gone R tells me in hushed tones, “That man talked to you!” as though he had committed a crime.

Yesterday we were in the supermarket getting the weekly food shop. R was sat in the trolley perfectly happily and we were chatting and playing as we went round. The man was also in the supermarket and we went past him a couple of times as we went through the aisles. He can never just smile and nod like a normal person-who-lives-on-our-street-but-doesn’t-even-know-my-name would, he always has to try and have a full scale conversation – but we were shopping so I was pleasant but just kind of carried on and left him talking to himself. Each time R intoned, “That man talked to you!”

We got round to the checkouts, and guess who arrived just after us and got in the queue behind us? Yes, The Man. R was still sat in the trolley, unfortunately facing outwards, so facing the man, and I was busy loading the shopping onto the conveyor belt. The man (who thinks he’s brilliant with children, remember) started poking R in the arm to try and get his attention. R looked away and looked like he was about to cry. Then the man came round to where R was looking and started pulling faces centimetres away from his face. R screamed and cried and asked me to get him out of the trolley. So of course I did, and tried to comfort him. The man conveniently decided to go to another queue, having caused the trouble. I gave R a big hug, but couldn’t take too long as the queue was growing, so I was carrying R and loading the conveyor belt one-handed. R would not let me put him down so I kept hold of him throughout the whole transaction, and thankfully had a very helpful checkout operator, who helped with the bagging and everything.

After we had all our shopping, R had calmed down a bit and said he wanted one of the scotch eggs we’d bought. He wanted to go back in the trolley, so I put him in and started rummaging through the bags looking for the scotch eggs. Would you believe it (I couldn’t) the man came up again, and started pulling faces at R! He stayed further away this time, but R did not look happy at all, and the man said huffily, “Who’s mardy, then?” and walked off.

Seriously. I was fuming. You upset him in the first place, and then you come pulling faces and talking about how “mardy” a little boy is? If someone came up to me and started poking me and pulling faces just inches away from my face, I think I could probably be excused for punching them. Why do people think it’s okay to do that with children? They have personal space, and a right to privacy, and a right not to be harassed in the street, just as much as anybody else does.

I came home and told DH about it (because I was still fuming), and he said next time I’ll have to tell the man. I nearly did say something, but everything polite I could think of to say sounded like I was making excuses for R. Stuff like, “Sorry, he just doesn’t like people in his space.” I couldn’t bring myself to say that because it makes it sound like it’s R’s problem when it isn’t. If people don’t poke him and gurn in his face, he’s fine! If people don’t expect him to instantly love them just because they’ve decided, completely erroneously, that they are “good with children”, he’s fine with them! It’s the man’s problem, not R’s, but I couldn’t think of a way of saying, “Please stop harassing my child,” that wouldn’t come across as hostile. I very nearly blurted out, “Stop it, you’re scaring him!” which should have been obvious anyway to anyone with a modicum of awareness of others, but just stopped myself because I thought it sounded a bit hysterical.

Anyway, next time, and I’m sure there will be a next time, because this man is so completely oblivious, something will be said. I’m not having him upsetting my child, just because he wants his little, “eee I’m good with the kiddies, me” ego boost. Tosser.

I respect my child. It’s such a shame that it seems to be too much of a stretch to expect other people to, as well.

For the purposes of this blog, and gentle, normal parenting (and huge thanks to Ruth for setting it up, by the way) I’d like to expand a bit on this theme. I’m always aware in situations like these that some more conventional parents or non-parents may be thinking my son is “spoilt” or “mollycoddled” by my respect for his needs and wishes.

It’s an attitude that I come across an awful lot – thankfully most people are too polite to actually say anything, but a surprising number do. It always reminds me of the time when R was a baby and my mother told me I was “spoiling” him by picking him up when he was crying. Apparently I should have just left him to cry for a bit, to see if he really was upset, or if he was just pretending, or something. I ignored her and continued to pick up my baby wherever and whenever he cried, and I see what I do now, attending to his every need (those that he can’t or won’t attend to himself) and respecting his wishes at all times, as an extension of that. He is in no way “spoilt” because of this. It’s called respect, plain and simple. If in doubt I always ask myself how I would react if it were an adult who needed my help, or attention.

This idea that attending to childrens’ needs is somehow spoiling them stems from the all too common idea that children are inconveniences to be managed, rather than what they are – human beings to be raised. It’s all around us in society, in the pregnancy and baby magazines, on the TV – the prevailing notion that children can be a bit sweet, yes, but ultimately they’re just a big pain in the arse to all involved who can’t wait for them to just grow up.

The idea is also often expressed that attending to childrens’ needs, and giving them attention, is like some kind of mindless chore that has to be done, but should be got out of the way as quickly as possible so that the adults can get on with the important stuff. I see it completely differently from that. The times when R needs attention, or some kind of “special treatment” (as many people might see it) are great opportunities for bonding with him, getting to know him a bit more, strengthening the connection between us, and of course ensuring that he feels safe and knows I’m always there to help him.

The incident in the supermarket led me to a greater understanding of my son, his personality and his needs. This understanding did not come until much later when I was thinking about it, but in a strange way it makes me almost grateful that it happened, because now I have that knowledge, that extra bit of being-R’s-mum know-how, if you like, and it’s been really helpful to us and to our relationship, as we’ve encountered similar situations since. Unfortunately situations like this are quite common because it remains the fact that most people just don’t respect what children say, want or need. The most recent time this happened, in the supermarket again, R actually very politely asked someone to stop talking to him, but still they kept on rabitting away, so he got upset and we had to have cuddles again, and I loaded and paid for the shopping one-handed again – I’m getting quite good at that now!

Anyway, sorry to ramble on at such length in my first post here. This total lack of respect for children in society in general is a subject I shall come back to again and again, I should think, so I’ll save all the rest for another time.

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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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