Archive for the ‘respecting children's space’ Category

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.


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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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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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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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