Monday, June 25, 2007

Third way parenting

Heh. Here's a way of articulating it:

1) try to discipline our children so they do what we want and they don't always get their own way. This requires naughty steps, hitting the children, telling them off, praising the good and ignoring the bad - whatever discipline steps the mum takes, it's basically behaviourism a la Skinner - we are trying to alter who our children are and what they want by the provision or withdrawal of affection. And that's the standard kind of parenting.

2) let our children do whatever they want. disaster. Ends up with burnt out mums having breakdowns, years and years of self-sacrifice with more and more resentment under the surface, mum getting to the stage where she doesn't even really know what she'd prefer herself, she's got so used to servicing the desires of her children. Also very likely to end up with children who find it almost impossible to interact with other children or adults because they don't comply with every request. Likely to be called "spoiled brats".

3) consentual parenting. Unconditional parenting. Natural parenting. Taking children seriously. All sorts of trendy words for closely related philosophies which suggest finding common preferences. there's a battle where child wants a and parent wants b. In standard parenting a happens with a tantrum, or with mum getting hit and bit. In bratty parenting b happens with mum feeling angry underneath. In the third type of parenting, parent and child work together to find either a way of a or b happening which both are happy with, or discover c, which actually both are happier about than either was about a or b. It can happen with pre-verbal children, you just have to get good at reading their cues and offering possibilities in ways they understand. the parent is responsible for helping their child interact with society in constructive ways (ie not becoming a brat), but through reason instead of discipline.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Politicians get it wrong

So.. the teachers are saying that testing school children every five minutes is worse than pointless, but both the DfES and the opposition say that they think it's an important way of ensuring standards;jsessionid=LW5ZPXF1YA22NQFIQMGCFFWAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2007/06/10/nexam110.xml

Hint: teachers - you should all simply refuse to administer the SATS.

Children playing in fridges

Mother of a toddler says
"what do I do? My child keeps playing in the fridge"

I think it's a really normal phase for a child to be interested in emptying things out of the fridge.

In this situation, I would get to the fridge quickly, and quietly remove eggs, anything liquid in an open container, and put them somewhere cool (sink of cold water for open milk cartons maybe?) and then I would turn the fridge off and give the child a LARGE tupperware container or washing up bowl to put the food in.

At first, you may well have to help with putting them into the bowl rather than having them strewn across the floor. Encourage child to experiment with tasting butter/cheese/vegetables/fruit (some children like eating raw onion, garlic, brussel sprouts, cabbage at this age...).

When all the food is out of the fridge, help them put it all back. Rinse and repeat.Honestly, if it wasn't for these sorts of passing interests in our children, we'd all have fridges full of archeological specimens we'd forgotten all about... (or maybe that's just me)

(and think in your mind that this exploration is not likely to last more than a month. It might be significantly less time. Anything really perishable can go in the freezer for a couple of hours)

"no, this is a terrible idea. Children should not explore in fridges"

Why are there forbidden zones which a child should not be helped to explore safely?

...those no go areas vary from person to person. For some people it's going in the fridge at all. For some people going in the fridge is ok, as long as it's with the parent controlling what they do in it (and I'm in that camp to an extent, since I'd quietly remove open yoghurt pots before the child noticed), but for some mothers the whole kitchen is a forbidden area and the child is left crying outside a stairgate.

... which means that the "need to leave alone" is not that the child needs to leave it alone for some rational universal reason.

Speeding lorry advancing at 40 miles an hour - every parent would see the middle of the road as a no go for their child at that moment - the child needs to leave the middle of the road alone in order to stay alive, and parent would be right to force their child back on the pavement in the heat of that moment. But the fridge scenario is not black and white at all.

It's a fridge not a toy. I can't see any rational person entertaining their
child by letting them into the fridge. And it has nothing to do with road safety.

If a child is really keen to get in the fridge and play with the objects in it, I think it is better to find a way for that to happen which makes both parent and child happy rather than to make child very distressed over what is actually parent's arbitrary limitation.

There are all sorts of ways of keeping the food cool while playing in and around the fridge. I'd slip meat into the freezer as soon as it came out of the fridge. I'd probably grab a bag of Tesco economy frozen peas out of the freezer (like about 60p worth of peas) and use them to form a cool cushion at the bottom of the container the food was going into. If this game looked likely to be played tomorrow as well, I'd make a HEAP of ice cubes that night so I could keep the stuff cool for no money at all. The child might even get more interested in the ice cubes than the food, at which point the fridge could be filled and shut and turned on again.

That's just in a 2 minute brainstorm. If this was a real situation in my house, I'd be putting a lot of creative energy into making a good solution for everyone because a) tantrums are exhausting for everyone, children and parents and b) what an opportunity for a child to learn all sorts of things about colours and shapes and textures and tastes and counting and stacking and... so many things our children do can be embraced as learning opportunities rather than things we have to stop them doing and c) it'll be a passing phase. The more the parent helps their child explore whatever the phase is safely and fully, the less likely the child is to want to go back to it again and again and again, when parent's back is turned, eventually finding a way past the fridge lock and destroying a week's worth of groceries.

And no, road safety has NOTHING to do with fridge locks or household safety - that was exactly my point! There's a black and white "children must not be left in the path of speeding lorries". There is no clear right and wrong here - there's no obvious "children mustn't play in fridges because they'll die" - there are only the limitations of their parents' willingness to make it possible for them to explore in this particular environment.

And as for toy/not toy - that's an arbitrary distinction too, as every child (along with any adult who has ever put a 1 year old on a kitchen floor with a metal saucepan and two wooden spoons) knows.

Quote of the month

"I think Montessori isn’t considered proper education - it’s a bit faddy. Nowhere near as faddy as the national curriculum and sats if you ask me. "

home education cartoons

These are just lovely!!!

(found via Carlotta's Dare to Know blog)

Friday, June 08, 2007

exams are not important

"But how will your home educated child get proper qualifications?"

...rather begs the question of whether those qualifications are worth getting. GCSE Physics has become political and, according to one physics teacher, isn't actually about physics at all:

Not a GCSE I'd want to touch with a bargepole... rather like the recent incarnation of New Scientist (which should berenamed New Environmentalist)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

John Bowlby

I've occasionally heard John Bowlby mentioned in "Nurseries are all evil" conversations, so I thought I'd read for myself.

I recently finished "Childcare and the Growth of Love" which was first published in1953. It came out of the context of the end of the second world war, and was the easy-reading version of a UN report on homeless children. There were many children displaced or orphaned during WWII in Europe, and Bowlby was one of the people who studied the effects of different kinds of upheaval.

Not surprisingly, the studies of the time all showed that children are happier at home than in an institution, even if their parents are pretty unsatisfactory, and they are better off with continuity of care in a foster home or orphanage than having lots of different careworkers. So "families" in orphanages were seen as one partial solution. This was all pretty shocking at the time - less than 10 years earlier than Bowlby's studies, children were regularly being evacuated from London and other major cities without their parents. Their physical safety was the main concern, but the emotional damage of such enforced separation had not really been taken into account. Nowadays, of course, it's taken as read that the babies in Rumanian orphanages who were only looked at when it was feeding or nappy changing time would be emotionally, physically and intellectually stunted.

Bowlby quite reasonably concludes that the best place for a child to be is with its parents, and that the state is better placed putting its welfare resources into supporting families rather than whisking children away into institutions, and my understanding is that that is now well entrenched in welfare provision, certainly in the UK.

But he then makes this extraordinary non sequiteur. Children are best brought up in their homes (agreed) so, says Bowlby, mothers shouldn't be going out to work, but should be staying at home with their children. He was, of course, writing at just the moment when thousands of men were being demobbed and needed employment, and I think that must have been the motivation behind the judgement, because his evidence was quite clear that living in an institution is bad for children, and that foster homes are a poor second to the real family home, but his evidence didn't actually show that day nurseries or child minders are a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong. I think day nurseries and child minders may well be a bad thing for small children, but Bowlby doesn't show it, at least, not in this book. Suggestions for further reading in the comments please...

Children mirroring parents

"he kicks, he nips, he shouts, he bites, has the worst tantrums I have ever seen and doesnt listen to a word I say!!!"

He sounds really really angry. Here's what I'd be doing:

1. concentrate on what is making him so furious, and do whatever you can to a) help him do the thing he is struggling with, if it's safe or b) offer something he'll enjoy even better. It's much easier to persuade a toddler into a car seat if you've found out why they don't want to go in it and solved that problem (you want to hold Thomas the Tank Engine all the time while you're getting in??? Oh - ok then! Smiles all round). Someone is more likely not to have any problem leaving the playground if you're suggesting a minimilk from the icecream van on the way home...

2. be very very careful about your responses. Children mirror what their parents do, a lot. I'm not suggesting you're hitting him for a moment, but when you write

"I try and give him trouble"
"I shouted for him to come here several times"

... he might be learning to shout back because that's what people around him seem to do when they are in a situation they don't like. (but maybe I'm reading your words wrong - that was just the interpretation that jumped out at me.

3. You seem to be telling him a lot that things are "naughty". Naughty is just a word, and your child isn't even 2 yet, so he isn't exactly fluent in English yet, let alone being well practised at abstract reasoning. Use as few words as you possibly can to explain what the actual problem is, and to show him without punishing. Punishment is completely meaningless to a child of this age - all they'll see is an arbitrary withdrawal of mummy's love until they do something magic like say "sorry" (whatever that means - just another word). That's why putting him in his room isn't making him penitent - it's just inexplicable, from a child's point of view. If he's reaching for the hot oven, you could say "NO!! That's naughty! Come here at once and listen!" Or you could say "LOOK OUT! Hot!" and then go with him and put your hand near the oven so you can feel the heat without burning and encourage him to do the same, and do safe experiments with the hot water tap and lit candles and things so he really understands the concept of hot. There isn't actually anything "naughty" about exploring the world. Our children just need our help to do it in a civilised and safe manner.

4. Playdates just aren't a time for mums to relax at this age. You need to be down on the floor with the children at all times, helping them interact in a friendly way with each other, making sure both of them have access to toys they want (here's a car for billy and here's one for Jake, look that one's green and this one I've got is red - do you want the red one?). Avoiding toddler conflict requires running pretty constant interference, and I think we are much better helping our children to learn to interact in a civilised manner by being there helping them on the spot than by telling them off afterwards for getting it wrong.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Almost enough to make one turn to religion

... clear instructions for making a paper boat, with optional bible study...

Children as prisoners

I used to go off on enormously long bike rides as a child. The only rules were that one had to give an estimated time of return and one was not permitted to go on one stretch of very busy road with very blind corners. No bike helmets, no molbile phones (they were the size and weight of bricks in those days, anyway, if they'd even been invented)

By the age of 14, I was travelling 100 miles to London every Saturday for the professional training of my choice. Train, 2 tubes and a walk, or train and bus, or train and bus and walk - I got pretty confident at getting to my destination in different ways. Alone.

That sort of thing happens less and less in the UK.

I wonder how parents can now maximise the chances of their children having such freedom? Immediately springing to mind are:

Becoming properly informed about the risks of various activities, the risks of car accidents, bicycle accidents, random abductors etc.

Buying child a mobile phone as soon as they are able to operate one. (maybe - I see problems with parent being a virtual presence there, actually)

Become accustomed to taking their children seriously, so that requests for independent adventures can be rationally approached.

It's all just an extension of parents who don't help their children learn to walk on 6" high walls when they first show an interest aged 1 or 2 because it's "dangerous"

This is somewhat half baked but I have other things I want to do now, so I'll use the old "I should edit this but the baby just jumped off the top of the kitchen cabinets" privacy-violating get-out clause...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ideas for helping a very physical child

Boisterously physical - as in, climbs all over his mother and kicks and has cracked her two front teeth. By accident, presumably.

I suggested:

Find LOTS of opportunities for climbing - trees? playgrounds? softplay? walls? Round the living room without touching the floor? (I used to love that game) If in doubt, scatter more cushions. And a good pair of reins can function like a climbing harness.

Sounds like he needs rough and tumble. How about swinging him round and round by the arms/feet/one arm and one foot? (hint: keep your gaze fixed on one spot and then whip your head round fast to get to that place again, like a dancer - then you won't get as dizzy as him)

Buy a cheap old mattress for bouncing on. Those child's trampolines are good too.

Pillow fights.

Are there any uncles or other relatives who might enjoy a good old rough and tumble?

In all your hours and hours of free time (*chortle - oh no, that's just in the parallel universe where you have a time machine*) might it be worth learning some kind of judo or wrestling or tumbling or something? Then you would know how to fall well and also how to help your child land safely

I think that Lawrence Cohen book called Playful Parenting has stuff about safe physical play, but I can't actually remember if it gave clear guidelines for wrestling. Might be helpful an