Friday, October 31, 2008

random thoughts about consentual living

I believe that there are mutually agreeable solutions to family conflicts, which often involve everyone involved changing their minds about what outcomes they would like as whatever situation goes on. That good ideas for problem solving are good ideas whether they come from the adult or a child or through the actions of a pre-verbal child or from a completely anonymous stranger on an email list. That we are all fallible so that parents laying down the law might well be wrong, and in knowedge of that potential wrongness it's imperative to take our children's ideas into account just as much as our own.

And I also believe that such a non-coercive and optimistic family dynamic is in a positive feedback spiral - as families get more practice at consent-based living, they get better and better at it.

And I also believe that sometimes the people involved can't find a solution to a particular problem in real time and someone gets hurt. But everyone knows that it wasn't because anyone was being Wrong or Naughty necessarily, it's just that the people involved couldn't think fast enough that time. Which gives one the optimism for next time to a) [shrug] and b) have a think about non-coercive ways out of similar situations in the future.

I'd much rather expend my energies with my family on finding mutually agreeable ways to act than on laying down the law.

"My Child Refuses to Put Their Clothes on in the Morning, What Do I Do?"

IMO, every time one forces clothes onto a child who does not want them, it makes it harder next time. Maybe some people have children who easily cave under being forced to do something, but my experience of human interaction is that forcing someone to do something is a great way of ensuring that they don't cooperate well with you in the future. For sure, you win today's battle but at what cost to your future interactions?

There's also a problem with a parent saying "this is a boundary which simply must not be crossed. Children must wear clothes and the matter is not up for discussion". The problem is that for that parent, going out semi-dressed or not at all dressed until child is willing to put clothes on is a complete nono, but this opinion is not universally accepted by other adults, let alone necessarily by the person's children. For pretty much any moment where a particular parent says "but what if they want to do X [insert unspeakable taboo here]???" another parent somewhere will be able to say "oh yeah, we had that. We resolved it amicably by doing X, or by doing Y, or by going to the cake shop or whatever".

Every time a parent is saying "NO! That goes beyond the pale", they need to be aware that they could be wrong and their child could be right. Even if they plough on and force the child into snow suit and gloves against their will, they should have the humility to realise that they may be imposing this suffering out of their own entrenched theories about the world rather than because they are correct in their interpretation of what is possible. Even "child wants to walk on narrow wall over 8 foot drop onto concrete" could be possible with foresight and the right equipment. It might not be possible today, but it might be possible to come back later with the right kit (and yes, I am descended from mountaineers :-D)

My child wants to write on all the walls and windows

Might be quite important not to keep permanent markers in the house for a while then.

Pen on walls is not self-evidently wrong, although a lot of people are uncomfortable with it. It might be seen as a muralling opportunity, or the child's own choice about how to decorate certain areas of the shared living space, or as not really different from covering the walls higher up with children's art work and stuff.

But if parent is uncomfortable with the idea, for whatever reason, then there are highly attractive alternatives. Pen on windows and wipe off with a cloth is a great game. Another good one is going to one of those print and colour pages on a children's website, and do the colouring with felt tip on the computer screen, then wipe off with a damp cloth. Drawing on white bed sheets is also really fun. That's a biiiiiig canvas. And it all comes off in the wash. Colouring in a frozen screen on a DVD, or attempting to colour as it goes along is fun too, and cloths work equally well for cleaning the screen later. (heck, how often do many of us clean our screens or windows without such motivations?!)

Crayola washable pens are your friend :-)

I think the question at root of all this is whether you want your house to look like a civilised adult centred house or a child centred space. If the latter, then have at it with the drawing implements. If the former, then you need to work out carefully which aspects of the house you'd rather weren't written on, and how to make the ok bits really attractive for colouring, so that the chippendale furniture just isn't an issue in the "where shall we draw next?" stakes.

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