Adults behaving badly

April 11, 2015

I was lucky enough to grow up with one of those free-range childhoods we now only reminisce or campaign about. Outdoors playing with the neighbouring children, in and out of each other’s houses and gardens, or mostly playing out in the surrounding common areas.

So it is with satisfaction that I see my child often enjoying a miniature version of this childhood, with spontaneous play occurring regularly at the end of our little cul-de-sac in the city suburbs, with the mixed genders and ages a fascinating reminder of the scope and range of possibilities in children’s play and their natural capacity to get along with each other.

One thing I was always taught, and that seemed a universal rule held by all parents, was that it is never OK to exclude other children from play. It was a free-for-all, everyone on neutral ground. If I was playing with Becky, and her younger sister Catherine wanted to join us, it was not acceptable for us to say no. We had to find a way to include her. Back gardens were not fenced off areas awaiting exclusive invitation, but merely an extension and diversion of the general territory. If parents decided they didn’t want children in their back garden at a given time, all children were told to go play elsewhere. And there were always plenty of other places, so that was fine.

So you can imagine my surprise last summer when my child, playing happily outside with his friends from next door, with whom he has played since toddlerhood, is sent running inside in tears to inform me that another child and his mother have come out and invited his friends round to play in their back garden, but have told him he is not invited.

Assuming, in my naive innocence, that my child must have made a mistake (for what sort of adult would behave like this towards a 7 year old child, or condone this behaviour in their own child?) I go outside to see what has happened and am immediately set upon by the mother in question, who has not been quick enough in her retreat, with the most offensive and abusive verbal attack I can ever remember having experienced. This was swiftly followed up by the Dad, standing shouting abuse at my husband and I on our drive, in front of our child, deaf to anything we had to say, including our civil invitation to come inside and discuss things quietly and calmly.

Our child has shouted at their younger child on a couple of occasions. This was their response, and woe betide anyone who dared to question or challenge it. Our gentle parenting methods, as alien to them as their naughty steps and rewards charts are to us, must, in their minds, surely be to blame. Have you noticed that when a child doesn’t behave well, the automatic assumption is always that it must be the parent’s fault? I find that curious, but more of that in another post…..

Now I have long since resigned myself to the extremely depressing fact that there are a lot of very unpleasant people in the world, and have found my own way to live with this. But when such a glaring example of this unpleasantness affects my child, extremely sensitive to any hint of rejection and exclusion, it is very difficult to live with, especially when it is right on my doorstep.

child alone hopskotchI know things are not quite how they were when I was a child, although there’s not really any need for them to be any different that I can see, but in what universe is this acceptable? It simply isn’t. There can be no possible justification for it. Never and nowhere is it acceptable to take a child’s friends out from under his nose in such a way, and in doing so, to teach children that this behaviour is acceptable. The example set, the role-modelling here, is appalling.

Naturally, I have observed my child’s behaviour around this younger child very closely since this incident. They play very happily together, always pleased to encounter each other on the street, as well as in the school playground, or out and about. They have forgotten and forgiven and moved on you see, as kids do when left to their own devices and not interfered with by adults with their grudges and their judgements.  They’d make very good role-models for some of the adults on our street – oh the irony – if those adults would just pay attention and give the matter some thought.

But sadly all this seems to be lost on them. Further attempts at exclusion have since been made, some successful, some not. Just yesterday our child was left alone on the street, one minute with friends to play with, the next excluded, left only to listen to the sounds of laughter and play on the other side of a fence.

Perhaps I’m out of date with play etiquette? It seems it’s not just common courtesy that’s a thing of the past, but common decency, respect and consideration for the feelings of others.

I can only try to explain to my child the truth that I had hoped to keep longer from him; that not all adults have learnt to behave well or do the right thing. Sadly some people are just “not very nice”.

I tone it down for him of course, but in my own mind I find their behaviour utterly despicable and at times feel physically sick at the prospect of having to share the end of our once happy little street with them, and the world with such truly horrible people.


It’s my stuff

March 27, 2015

As my child gets older, naturally there are more and more things he is able to do himself, like getting his own shoes on, being able to reach things out of the fridge, pour his own juice, that sort of thing. And he loves being helpful too, so it’s not just about what he can do for himself, but what he can do to help around the house too.

autonomyI can see how important it is to him when he accomplishes these small things, and yet at times it’s a struggle for me to accommodate his eagerness. It’s all very lovely, but the trouble is, he’s quite clumsy, and a little too eager at times. He also likes to do things his way, and is not too receptive to suggestions. On top of this, he can get very frustrated and upset when he can’t manage something he wants to be able to do.

Normally, I like to think I’m pretty big on the idea of letting my child figure things out for himself and discover things for himself. I try not to jump in too quickly if he’s playing with some friends and they can’t agree on something immediately. I try to encourage him to find his own way down the climbing frame rather than have me lift him. If he’s about to jump off a wall that I think might be too high, instead of just saying no, I ask him to use his judgement. He’s pretty cautious really and generally gets it right without me having to place my own restrictions. It all seems pretty obvious to me. I mean, most parents wouldn’t just tell their child the answer to the maths problem they’re trying to figure out, would they? And I’m pretty easy-going about him getting himself dirty, loving to watch him play and explore freely without being encumbered by my adult concerns and restrictions.

But when it comes to him showering cornflakes everywhere, or packing the bag with the sandwiches at the bottom, this child-led approach doesn’t seem to come so naturally to me. For a while, when he first started being more self-sufficient, I’d often find myself trying to find a nice way to stop him and tell him I’d do it, keen to either avoid an upset, a mess, speed things up, or just have things done my way. (now, where I have already mentioned this trait?) But I soon realised that however I phrased it, he was missing out on feeling capable, helpful, valued, involved, respected, and from learning to do these things on his own. More importantly, I also realised it was my stuff, and allowing my stuff to get in my child’s way just wasn’t fair.

I remember this dawning on me one summer day when we were getting ready for a day out. I’d gathered together all the things we needed to take out with us, and pulled out one of the rucksacks ready to pack the things into. I always pack things in a particular way, remembering what went where, in which little pocket I’d put the sun cream, rolling up the swimming towels neatly so they took up less space.

Then when I came out of the bathroom, my child announced cheerfully, “I’ve packed the bag mummy”. As I looked at him, so very pleased with himself, so eager for my approval, so keen to feel useful and part of the process, I realised I needed to take a deep breath and let it go. What was more important? My child’s feeling of self-worth and ability, or that the bag was packed just the way I liked it?

So much of parenting is about being aware of our own stuff, and not just the big things like how we react when our children make us angry. It’s all the seemingly little things too, like how we feel about them getting messy, or taking risks, or not wanting to store their toys just the way we would have. And so often, we let our stuff get in our child’s way, or in our own way forward as parents. Plus we risk making our stuff our kids’ stuff.

So every time I identify something that’s my stuff, however small, like being overly particular about how to pack a bag, I feel my self-awareness is my child’s gain.


Is common courtesy a thing of the past?

January 29, 2015

Much has been written about last week’s story of the parents who received a ‘no-show’ invoice after accepting a party invitation for their son and then failing to attend. This rather petty squabble between parents has managed to hit national news and capture the attention of many, with most reports, comments and articles I’ve read seeming very much to take the angle that sending such an invoice is really quite ridiculous.

But whether or not that’s the case, doesn’t anyone else think Mrs Lawrence has a point? She may not have chosen the best way to make her point, but I think she has a very good one nonetheless.

rsvpNewsflash: Accepting an invitation to a party then not showing up is rude. Sorry, but there it is. Or perhaps the craziness of kid’s parties nowadays, that this little episode has set everyone squawking about, includes the decline of basic social norms, the loss of societal etiquettes that include consideration of other people. The excuse the parents gave for the no-show was, frankly, lame. And no apology or explanation to the host either. Not OK.

And yet these parents appear to be so totally unashamed of their behaviour that they are willing to talk to the national press, brazen-faced pictures of father and son with the offending invoice appearing everywhere, with a video to boot, as if they are entirely the victims here, the fault all on the side of the parent who had the nerve to remind us all of those seemingly long-lost laws of common courtesy.

The inclusion of the child in the photos and video I find particularly inappropriate. What kind of lesson does this teach a child?

Because when adults behave badly, they teach children to behave badly too. We can’t be perfect all the time, but really, let’s try to be a little more mindful of the kind of role models we’re all providing for the next generation. Let’s try to teach our children about being considerate and respectful towards other people, about resolving issues using a little emotional intelligence and maturity, and yes, a little basic common courtesy.

But coming back to the general squawking about kids parties, Zoe William’s article in The Guardian is a great example of this. She complains not just about the cost of hosting the party itself, including the venue, the entertainers and the party bags, but the cost of buying presents when you’re invited to one. Well boo hoo. Here’s an idea – how about you don’t spend £20 on a gift voucher from Next for Christ’s sake, and just get a book online for less than a fiver? When Ms William’s ready-made £3-a-piece party bags failed to arrive, she went shopping in John Lewis instead. “Don’t even ask how much that cost”. Really? John Lewis? Sorry, but I’m struggling to have much sympathy with such middle-class lack of resourcefulness and imagination. How about trying Poundland? Or better still, we all just stop doing party bags? Whose idea were these anyway and when did they start? A bag full of rubbish the kids will immediately break or lose in their quest to get to the only thing it contains that they really want – the slice of birthday cake.

People will just go along with these things whilst bleating about ‘pressure’ and ‘guilt’. The only thing forcing parents to spend so much time, effort and money on kids parties is the parents themselves.

And how does all this excuse Mr Nash’s behaviour?

When my child was in reception one of the parents invited the whole class to a party. She later told me that only half those people bothered to even reply to the invitation, which clearly stated RSVP. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I think that’s just shocking. You may think the parent was mad to invite the whole class, but that’s not the point here, not an excuse for rudeness.

Similarly, the cost of the party Mrs Lawrence chose to host is not the point. Yes, in choosing to host a party you take the risk that you end up paying for more people than actually turn up. That’s always a risk with any party. But it’s a risk because people can simply be downright rude and inconsiderate, and for this there really is no excuse.


Positive reinforcement? Gotcha!

August 4, 2014

There are many silly and misguided things in place at my child’s school in the quest to encourage desirable behaviour. There’s the enduringly popular classroom happy/sad face chart; public shaming made pretty for the teachers. And whenever I’m invited to attend an assembly I come out feeling distinctly nauseated. It’s just one reward after another. It’s all about rewards. Everything. They’re really working hard on raising the next generation of ‘What’s in it for me?’s. 

For example, each class gets points for ‘lining up nicely’ at playtime. Each week the points are totted up and a winner announced in assembly. An extra 5 minutes playtime is awarded to the winning class. Groan. I could write a separate post just on this, but the message going out about what’s desirable and what, by default, isn’t, is the first point that springs to mind. 

Then there’s the Star of the Week awards and Golden Book awards. Not sure of the difference between these awards, but in any case, whenever my child receives one he rarely knows what it was for, so how exactly does it encourage him? Encourage what

congratulationsWhich brings me to one of my favourites; the Gotcha Card. If a teacher notices a child behaving particularly well in the corridor they make a note of their name (secretly), and lo and behold, at some date in the future, the child receives, by surprise, a Gotcha Card in assembly. 

What a load of tosh. 

First, if we want to reinforce a particular behaviour with children we need to do so at the time. A child doesn’t have the capacity to reflect on or even remember what their behaviour was in the corridor at some unknown time in the past. Just as unrelated consequences (aka punishments) given out or enforced days after the offence are ineffective in stopping undesirable behaviour, so rewards given out after the fact are ineffective in promoting desirable behaviour. I’d have thought this was fairly obvious.

And no need for me to cover the bit about how extrinsic motivation decreases intrinsic motivation and actually makes the child less likely to repeat a particular behaviour, since in this case the child doesn’t even know what behaviour they’re supposed to be repeating.

Why not just comment on the child’s behaviour at the time, for Christ’s sake? Oh, of course, just as the happy/sad face chart has to be on public display, so do the Gotcha Cards. Presumably it’s supposed to encourage the other children to try harder, although they’re probably all left feeling as confused as the recipient as to what exactly needs to be done to earn this particular reward.

Just a nice little reward for the child? Yeah, I’m sure it gives them a brief feeling of gratification….but at the expense of all the other kids.

My child complained to me that he has never received a Gotcha Card, expressing feelings of injustice, since, he says, he always behaves well in the corridor.

“I know you do”, I replied. “Perhaps a teacher just hasn’t been there at the time to see that. You’ve just been unlucky.”

He didn’t buy this. “Lots of teachers have seen me” he says.

Of more concern to me are his evident feelings of futility, that whatever he does isn’t good enough, that he’s not a ‘good’ child, like the others getting those Gotcha Cards. He’s a failure.

Might as well give up and start running about screaming and doing cartwheels in the corridor. Sod it. 

So to whoever came up with this idea at my child’s school – Gotcha!

Gotcha coming up with yet another idiotic, misguided, poorly thought out scheme that will do more harm than good, will gratify the minority at the expense of the majority, and will achieve precisely nothing.

 

See my other posts for more about my views on rewards.


The power of role-modelling

July 21, 2014

My child has little patience when it comes to accomplishing a challenging task. He becomes quickly frustrated, and is apt to throw things down in a rage. The plastic coating on his bicycle helmet has several cracks in it from being thrown down onto the road during the process of learning to ride a bike. We’ve all encountered adults who still behave like this. So childish, we all tut. I don’t wish my child to become one of these adults. So how do I help him develop the patience and emotional regulation he needs? 

Time-outs, lectures or sticker charts don’t help children develop these traits. How could they? It’s all about role-modelling, the most powerful tool we parents have at our disposal. 

I recently bought my child a loom band kit at his request. He’d seen his friends making things with loom bands at school, so he set to work right away. But his fine motor skills aren’t the greatest, and he quickly became frustrated in his weaving attempts. Luckily I saw this coming and managed to rescue the box before several hundred small coloured rubber bands covered the kitchen floor. But I knew he’d be disappointed if he didn’t manage the task, he’d been so excited when I gave him the box, so I decided a little encouragement and guidance was in order. But first I had to figure out how to weave a wristband myself! Not the kind of thing I excel at myself.

My child watched as I followed the instructions carefully, becoming excited to see the end product as I neared completion. When it came to removing the band from the loom board, a couple of the bands somehow popped out and fell to the floor. He immediately started to angrily express his disappointment in his usual dramatic way. I was irritated and annoyed by his behaviour. I was the one who’d done all the work, after all. But stopping myself from reacting, I managed to speak calmly instead. 

“This is the first time I’ve made one of these, so it might go wrong, but I’m going to keep trying. It might not work out, but I can always start again if I have to” 

My child looked almost surprised and a little fascinated. He immediately stopped his remonstrance and continued to watch my attempts to salvage my work. The wristband was a little small, having lost some bands, but my child grabbed at it delightedly. 

“It’s a little short, but it’s my first attempt. Now I know how to do it, I can try and make a longer one next time”, I added.

He rushed off to show his Dad. 

“Mummy made this wristband. We’re going to try and make a better one next time.”

 The next morning I came downstairs to find all kinds of colourful creations and a very satisfied child.

mirrorThe importance of role modelling simply cannot be over-estimated. It can be applied to anything we wish our children to learn. We can model sharing by letting our child see us sharing with friends or other family members. We can use a disagreement with our partner to model how we talk calmly and respectfully with each other to sort out our differences. From acts of kindness, to healthy eating, the possibilities are endless. 

Kids are such little copycats. From when they’re very small, we hear our own words echoed back at us, see our habits and mannerisms develop in our children like a mirror. But we need to remember this mirroring doesn’t stop as kids get older. It may become less immediately apparent, but make no mistake; role modelling is so powerful it can be dangerous. Shouting or smacking are obvious examples, but we need to think about every aspect of our behaviour as adults. Children really do learn by example. 

So when we reject conventional parenting methods, and strive to understand the widely misunderstood application of the word ‘discipline’, we model compassion, respect, patience, empathy, and problem-solving, instead of control, power, bribery and manipulation in our fruitless attempts to teach what can only be taught through modelling, and developed over time, not overnight.

“Do as I say, not as I do” won’t cut it. Be the person you want your child to be.


Affection, not anger

May 12, 2014

When I picked my child up from his Woodcraft session last night he was horrible. I don’t know why. Maybe something had happened at the session to upset him. Maybe he was just tired. I thought about how it was going to be a nightmare getting him to bed. He was sulky, stroppy, rude, and a little aggressive. He was rude to my friend whilst we were giving her a lift home. 

Luckily she’s a good friend and on the same page as me when it comes to responding to my child, so I didn’t feel that usual pressure that can be felt when you feel you’re being judged, your child is being judged, and you feel you have to respond in a way that’s expected of you.

 And that way is so deeply ingrained in me I’m still fighting it all the time. I was angry, but had the presence of mind to be silent for a few moments before I spoke. It’s not an emergency. There’s no rush to respond. I spoke to him about it, asked him if he could tell me what was bothering him (he couldn’t), reminded him that it was OK to feel upset or cross, but not OK to be rude. 

But then there’s that part of me that still says I must show my child how angry I am, I must stay angry with him, I must make him feel bad about his behaviour, anything less would be letting him ‘get away with it’. 

Mother Holding Child's HandI thought hard about this whilst we drove home. Then I thought about what my goal was – to let him feel loved unconditionally whatever his behaviour. 

But won’t this make him think it’s OK to behave in this way?And then I realised what rubbish this was, how this was the old responses talking. He already knew his behaviour was wrong. He already felt bad about it. There was really nothing left for me to do here other than help him to feel loved, supported and understood, and to move on. Shaming or scolding would really not be helpful or necessary, and would only make him feel worse than he already does.If he’s behaving badly he must feel badly. He needs love, not anger. 

So we made it through bedtime with affection, not anger. Using playfulness, not threats. Showing love, not disapproval. It was remarkably effective and so much better than the alternative. Bedtime was not a nightmare, because I’d been able to let go of my anger, and free myself of that pressure to act, to punish, to teach my child a lesson that didn’t need teaching. We reconnected, and I felt my child had learnt a much more powerful lesson than any punishment could teach, and I’d reminded myself of the folly of thinking that if I make my child feel bad he will suddenly see the error of his ways and somehow mature more quickly.


Bad loser

April 28, 2014

To the woman sitting at the next table to us at the leisure centre yesterday:

My child is a bad loser. He gets very upset if he doesn’t win. At anything. I know this, so I was prepared for a lot of fuss if he didn’t win a prize in the raffle. I knew what responses I needed to give, and I knew the poor responses I can sometimes give when I’m out of patience, so I’d mentally prepared myself for the storm to come.

comfortYou may think he was making a lot of fuss about nothing, and that by failing to tell him so, I was encouraging this. But it wasn’t nothing to him. If I’d said, “Don’t be so silly, stop making such a fuss” would this have made him feel any differently? Would he have said, “OK, actually you’re right Mum, I’ll stop crying now and forget about it”? Really? I don’t think so. So I validated his feelings – it’s nice to feel someone understands and is on your side when you’re feeling upset isn’t it?

You may think I should have corrected his unreasonable claims that he never wins anything. But in the midst of that upset the rational part of his brain wasn’t functioning – my reasoning would only have fallen on deaf ears. He was merely expressing how he felt at that moment.

You may think his behaviour was bad behaviour that needed to be punished or corrected. But I don’t see it that way. He was expressing his feelings, that’s all. They’re his feelings and he’s entitled to them, and I can’t make them go away. He was not pretending to be upset. He was. I wish he wouldn’t get so upset about these things, but he does.  Since he can’t really help how he feels, to punish him would only teach him to suppress, not deal with, his feelings, and that the way he feels makes him a bad person.

You may think I should have tried to cheer up or distract him instead of just allowing him to cry for so long. But this too would only brush his feelings under the carpet. If I had scolded or distracted him and stopped the crying sooner, this may have been desirable for me, it may have made me feel better, but it would have short-circuited my child’s ability to really deal with his feelings. The best way for him to learn to deal with these upsets, to develop the maturity and emotional intelligence we often wish children had, is to experience them fully. Then move on, in his own time. And you know what? That’s exactly what he did. Outside, in the car park, the bit you didn’t see. He dried his eyes, sighed, and starting talking happily about something else. He never mentioned it again. He didn’t even feel the need to tell his Dad about it when we got home.

You may think this was proof that he wasn’t really upset – a common misconception about children. They experience things very much in the moment you see. They can swing from one extreme of emotion to another very rapidly. He was very upset at that time, he is not yet able to regulate his emotions, but as he was allowed to express and feel this upset, this enabled him to fully get over it and move on, And that’s what he needs to learn to do. In the meantime, I just need to be patient and be there for him. A loving, accepting presence.

So if you were surprised or puzzled by my responses to my child, I hope this explains where I’m coming from. The responses may have seemed unusual to you since sadly, as a society, we have for many years misunderstood children’s developmental needs, and change is slow in coming about. Old responses and assumptions get passed down from one generation to the next, and it’s difficult to break that cycle. But even though my approach goes against the way I was brought up, and can attract the attention of strangers, I’m completely confident that it’s the right thing to do, and the right thing for my child.