Saturday, July 09, 2005

Letting go as children grow

I loved Deborah Jackson's "Three in a Bed" so I had high hopes for this book. NB it is the updated edition of "Do not Disturb".

The best parts are derived from - or directly quoted from - Alison Stallibrass's "The Self-Respecting Child", an absolutely splendid and unpretentious book written by a playgroup leader which has been on the shelves of my mother's house since the mid1970s. So I had already encountered those.

There is far too much primitivism in the book. The treatment of children in primitive tribes is romanticised, as if lacking the material trappings of modern society makes it easier for parents and children to interact. There are many quotations from starry-eyed anthopologists. Such primitivism is anti-rational and anti-knowledge, I think, as if progress has jeopardised the nourishing interactions between humans, and we were all better off when we spent all day growing food and washing clothes in rivers.

It's certainly true that in a pre-industrial culture where everyone has to work all the time, it's likely that children will be invited to do their share as soon as possible. But there's absolutely no reason why a western family shouldn't let children help chop vegetables/do laundry etc etc as soon as they show interest. Children mostly seem to want to join in with the activities around them. It's not being a pygmy which makes it possible for children to contribute to the family tasks as they want to.

TV is seen as bad (surprise) rather than just another medium for learning. And family celebrations of the seasons are promoted hard, I'm not sure why. So there is just a hint of nature-worship here (where books are natural and televisions aren't, of course). Maybe there is tremendous value in marking the passing of the year with family rituals and celebrations; I suppose I just choose mine from my culture (Christmas; Easter for new handkerchiefs and easter egg hunts; November 5th for fireworks and burning effigies of revolutionaries) rather than solstices and things.


Good ideas:

Not interrupting our children when they are in the middle of something

Designing our lives so that adult schedules impinge as little as possible on children, but also so that we can do what we want as well.

Stopping a child doing 'dangerous' things like climbing stairs prevents them developing physical grace and confidence. Stopping them doing dangerous things like drinking bleach is a good plan, however.

Allow a child mental and physical space to play, learn, think, be creative

Reacting to a child's actions honestly and specifically in a good plan. Rewards are silly.

"We owe it to our children to convey the rules of our culture, although we may expect them, as they grow, to question those rules"


So there is some good stuff which leans inthe direction of common preference finding, and respecting a child's autonomy, but I learned less than I hoped from this book.

2 comments:

Luci said...

I would think being a pygmy would actually interfere with children helping with household tasks, such as putting the groceries away on a high shelf.

Lovely essay Emma:)

Jabbermommy said...

Such primitivism is anti-rational and anti-knowledge, I think, as if progress has jeopardised the nourishing interactions between humans, and we were all better off when we spent all day growing food and washing clothes in rivers.

I think some forms of progress are a hindrance to human interaction, because they've created a need for instant gratification in the most advanced cultures. Nurturing a child towards true independence takes years, and I think we're conditioned to want it now, now, now.

Very good essay, and very good blog, I'm enjoying it immensely. I've also linked to you from my blog.