Good old messy play!

May 29, 2012

Some months ago I was moving some old plant pots about, some of them still filled with compost, and being undecided on where to recycle the compost I put them at the side of the house ‘for the time being’ (you know, the way we dump things in the spare room……).

Lo and behold, I have created a messy play area. My child and his friends from neighbouring houses, aged between 3 and 7, love playing with these pots. They have become quite a fixture. Little spades, cups, diggers, and other things have been added, migrated from the sand pit mostly. Sometimes they like adding water, sometimes they move dirt from one pot to another, sometimes they run up and down the street with a toy wheelbarrow, collecting items (mostly stones and leaves as far as I can see) for their potions or soups. They mix with sticks, they serve up bowls and plates of various delicacies. I’m not always sure exactly what they’re doing, but they are always busy and intent and often working together as a team, like a nest of ants, on an imaginary mission of some sort.

They love it, and I love it too – they’re happy, busy, having fun and engaging in some good creative, natural play. What’s not to like?

Well, apparently, plenty. Not all the neighbours* share my love of the messy play area. I’ve considered moving it (for about 2 seconds) in order to maintain neighbourly relations. I’ve heard objections to painting house walls with old paint brushes and toy brooms, objections to spraying cars with water (?!), and most of all, objections to children becoming wet and muddy.

Now, I don’t know if I use all my empathy muscles up on parenting my child, but I admit I’m really struggling to empathise with this one. There are various types of play and ways to play, and the way I see it is that natural, creative, messy play is one of the best. To restrict this is to curb children’s natural creativity and inclination to play, explore, learn and use their imaginations. So before we restrict, I think it’s worth stopping and asking why we’re restricting, and if it’s worth it.

Usually it’s because we know we’ll have to deal with the mess, so it’s about our own convenience. OK, everyone has a point at which they feel enough is enough, we’re tired, we’ve got a zillion other jobs to do, usually also related to cleaning up after the kids, but think about it. Mud washes out. Their clothes will most likely be going in the laundry basket at bedtime anyway. Unless we’re about to go out, what’s the problem? And we can always facilitate the play by providing wellies, or an old coat or apron for example. Do we really have a good enough reason to say no?

On one occasion the kids emptied out a huge pot of compost onto the middle of our drive. Neighbours looked in wonder as they passed. It took 3 minutes to shovel it back into the pot before we could get the car out. Worth it? I think so. And I’m sure if I’d asked them to do it they’d have done so with enthusiasm.

A few weeks ago, I was in the school playground with my child chatting with another mum at pick up time. There was a muddy patch under a tree. It had been sunny that day and the mud had turned into a lovely soft, squidgy consistency. My child was enjoying making footprints and playing in it. My instinct was to tell him to stop, but I caught myself and asked “How long will it take to wipe some mud off his shoes tonight? And he’ll have to wash his hands when we get home anyway, before he can have his snack.” I said nothing, he had fun, and one less command was issued that day

There’s also the issue of creating a general attitude about dirt. Personally, I don’t want my child to be worried about it. I make a point of using second-hand clothes as much as possible. I never buy anything white, and if it’s given to me it goes straight into the NCT sale. (Why design children’s clothes with white collars and sleeves anyway, and whose idea was it for children to wear white polo shirts to school?!) I think if a child is frequently told not to do things because they’ll get dirty they can become preoccupied with cleanliness, suppressing their natural curiosity and desire to explore, experience things and just, well, be kids.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for messy play, but I think we should ensure these times and places are maximised, not minimised. Worrying about dirt and mess is an adult thing. Children shouldn’t have to worry about getting dirty – there’s plenty of time for that later. For now, they’re children, and their business is to play.

*The neighbour referred to was made aware of this post before it was published.

Perceptions of pressure and blame.

April 4, 2012

One of the greatest challenges when writing about parenting is trying not to upset people.  Parenting seems to be a very touchy subject, an area where people will become fiercely defensive, easily offended.

In a recent article in the Guardian about the government’s proposals to provide free parenting classes for parents of under fives, a founder of one of the courses was reported to have said that “challenging someone’s parenting skills is one of the strongest challenges to their identity”. The article also talks about parents’ reluctance to sign up for courses due to a perception that they are being accused of being bad parents. “Providers have to avoid any suggestion that the courses are created to help bad parents; instead they need to persuade people it’s about “building on their good points”.”

Another article describes how parenting books “leave mothers feeling confused and inadequate.” Parenting authors are accused of “setting the bar too high”.

This perception, that too much is expected of parents, that parents are being accused of having poor parenting skills, was again apparent when I was reading, with some surprise, the comments made on Facebook in response to an article challenging the use of sticker charts, published as a guest post on the excellent Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond, and also shared by other bloggers who I follow, who in turn attracted some interesting comments.

I ‘m starting to see a bit of a theme here, but there’s something about it that bothers me. It somehow doesn’t ring quite true for me.  It seems (and here I’m going to risk upsetting people), to be a bit of a cop out.  It seems dismissive, a failure to take things on board.

“There are much worse things parents could do”, “Oh please, I’m doing my best”, “It’s unreasonable to expect parents to get everything right”, “There’s so much pressure on parents these days”, “It’s not fair to make parents feel guilty.” etc etc

All perfectly true, I’m sure, but is this an argument for using sticker charts, for example? I would have felt much better if readers had responded with comments as to why they think rewards are OK, pointed out evidence that disputes the research behind the case against rewards, or even, and here’s possibly the crux of it, simply said that they realised rewards were not OK, but that they still choose to use them for whatever reason. Fair enough.  Your choice. Just don’t play the ‘don’t make me feel guilty’ card.

I mean, really, where does it stop? At what point is a piece of writing acceptable and useful, and at what point is it “putting too much pressure on parents”? Where do we draw the line?

Articles and books about the negative effects of punishments, about the campaign against spanking, the campaign against the use of controlled crying, pressure groups seeking better childcare for under 3s, campaigns to promote breastfeeding – are these all to be dismissed as simply putting unreasonable amounts of pressure on parents and making them feel guilty?  It seems to me we can conveniently produce the “Don’t put pressure on me and make me feel guilty” defence whenever we find something too challenging.

But there’s another element here for me. We must all be mindful of accepting other people’s parenting choices, yet it sometimes seems to me that this acceptance is not always a two way thing. I once heard a parent comment about another parent’s use of a sling to carry her baby. “I always put my children in a pram and they’re not any less attached to me”. (How do you know? Have you done a comparison study?) But can you imagine the outcry if a sling-using parent made such a dismissive and disrespectful comment about a parent who chose a pram? There’s something kind of unfair to me here. Parents who choose to do things perceived to be ‘the hard way’ don’t seem to be getting their fair share of respect.

Parenting writers provide information and opinions, food for thought. Good ones provide evidence to back up their arguments, or have studied their subject extensively. But they don’t set out to call anyone a bad parent, anymore than mothers who use slings are calling  mothers with prams bad parents. Let’s not dismiss what writers and others have to offer. Let’s  make informed choices and be honest about our reasons for making them.

And so it is with the example of Kelly Bartlett’s article on sticker charts.  The information is there. It’s evidence based stuff. And yes, it challenges a popular parenting assumption, and probably makes life more difficult in the short term.  But if we’re really interested in being better parents, we need to take information such as this seriously, look further into it (there’s plenty more been written on the subject), think about, and not just dismiss it with the defensive “I’m doing my best, there’s too much pressure” stance. And OK, if we still feel unable or unwilling to change this aspect of our parenting that is our choice.

I’ll finish with a quote from Alfie Kohn. He writes in his book, “Unconditional Parenting”, about the different reactions he often gets from parents when he talks about the negative effects of too much praise.

“Some people…..brush off these criticisms, point out (with some justification) that in the larger scheme of things, we could do a lot worse to our kids than express enthusiasm about what they’ve done. Indeed, a lot worse is done to children every day. But that’s not a proper basis for comparison – at least, not for anyone who wants to be the best parent he or she can be. The point is that we can do better.”

Too permissive?

February 29, 2012

I often feel that one of the potential pitfalls of my parenting approach, and something that I constantly need to guard against, is that of too much permissiveness.

Sceptics and critics of punishment-free parenting, positive parenting or whatever we want to call it will often accuse us of too much permissveness, whilst advocates of this parenting style will assert that it does not mean permissive parenting, and I agree with this – it doesn’t.

But I do feel there’s a danger that it can.

Whilst I do believe passionately that a parenting style that seeks to empathise with children, understand their feelings, allow for their capabilities, respect their wishes as much as possible, and move away from behaviour focussed, controlling and punitive methods is absolutely correct, I also think this can leave us treading a very delicate line between authoritative and permissive. Maybe it’s because we immerse ourselves with advice on how not to be too controlling, how to move away from an old parenting style of power and submission, that we’re left in danger of becoming too hung up on avoiding this aspect, and don’t spend enough time thinking about how to avoid being too permissive. Or maybe it’s just me.

Following studies in the 60s, psychologist Diana Baumrind came up with 3 basic parenting styles; Authoritarian, Authoritative,  and Permissive.  You can read more about these here, but the conclusions Baumrind’s studies came to were basically that authoritative parenting leads to happy children growing into happy adults.  Authoritarian is too strict, and permissive too soft.

Now, having read these descriptions of parenting styles, I placed myself as somewhere between authoritative and permissive, (although aspiring to be authoritative) and being slightly alarmed by this overlap into the ‘too soft’ category, I also read plenty of material on the negative effects of too much permissiveness, which alarmed me even more. This excellent article by Dr Laura Markham is a good example.

Now, if I’m not careful, all this could lead to a constant paranoia in my every parenting decision that I am being too permissive.

So what is too permissive? It can all get very confusing.

For example, Naomi Aldort writes in her book ‘Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves‘;

“A child cannot experience the parent’s love while being controlled by him/her….Even what some parents call ‘natural’ consequences is mostly parent-imposed and therefore causes the same harm and mistrust as punishment. If is is natural, it occurs on its own. For example, a father told me that the ‘natural’ consequence of his son not finishing his chores is that he will not go to his friend’s house, as he now must stay home and do his chores. However, if a child was expected to wash dishes and didn’t, the only natural consequence is that the dishes are dirty. Cancelling his play date is a punishment imposed by the parent against the child’s will…..the child who neglected the dishes may choose, after you express your feelings, to wash the dishes before going over to his friend’s; however, such choices must come from respectful communication of the people involved and based on their authentic preferences. You can kindly offer to wash the dishes or find some other considerate solution. You can also find out why the chore wasn’t done, and you may discover some need for change in the work loads or expectations….When you offer to help, the child learns to offer help unconditionally.”

OK, I can see what she’s saying here, but what does this all mean to us as parents in practical terms? Does this mean that any means we employ to get our child to do what we want, and what we think they should do, means we are not being ‘authentic’ and that our child’s compliance is not ‘authentic’? Or, on the other hand, by offering to help with the dishes and not enforcing any consequence are we failing to enforce our limits and to be sufficiently demanding and assertive as a parent,  failing to set boundaries and limits with consistency, denying our child the ability to learn self discipline, self regulation, etc etc? Aargh!

Aldort’s suggestion of finding some other ‘considerate solution’ or finding out ‘why the chore wasn’t done’ brought to mind Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk“, in which they give lots of practical advice on problem solving and finding solutions that work for both parent and child. However, they do allow that natural consequences and letting a child ‘experience the consequences of his misbehaviour’  is sometimes necessary, where all else has failed. Examples include refusing to continue to allow a child to borrow things  if they fail to take proper care of them,  and getting a child who is late home for supper to make his own.

Meanwhile, Alfie Kohn’s principles of Unconditional Parenting include, amongst other things, “Reconsider your requests”, “Put the relationship first”, “Be authentic” (that word again!), and “Don’t be rigid”.

In the end I think it all comes down to the usual answer; that there is no easy answer. Parenting is not an exact science. All this advice is open to how you interpret it. And every parenting decision we make has to be treated individually, within its own context. So I guess I’ll just have to carry on being paranoid,  sorry, mindful, about being too permissive.

In my attempts to be mindful I try to keep these two basic points in mind:

If I feel I’m allowing my child to do something against my better judgement then I’m probably being too permissive. I think this is a good rule of thumb, for example for things like too much TV, too much junk food, or allowing my child to stay longer at the playground when I know he’s tired and hungry and a meltdown is imminent!

I make sure I have a good reason to say no. This is useful not only in challenging my own motives, but in providing an explanation for my child.

What about you? Which of Baumrind’s categories would you place yourself in and how do you guard against too much permissiveness?

Should we let our children play with guns?

February 22, 2012

Every parent of boys knows it.  They want to play with guns.  You just can’t stop them.  They’ll make guns out of sticks,  lego, bananas, anything really.  Distasteful to adults, do we try to stop it, forbid it, or just go with it?

Before I had a child I would probably have said, forbid it.  Now, I’m not so sure.  After all, they’re just playing.  What’s distasteful to adults is just a bit of harmless fun to a child.  It’s distasteful to us, because we understand what real guns are for, and what death is.  A young child doesn’t.  So my issues with attempting to prevent this type of play are:

1. We are attempting to force our adult perceptions on a child.  Just because we don’t like guns, doesn’t seem to me a good reason to attempt to stop what is clearly quite normal behaviour.  Boys have been playing with guns for centuries.  As long as no-one’s getting hurt, what’s the problem?  I think it’s a bit of a leap to assume that allowing them to play with guns is going to lead to them becoming involved in gun crime later in life.

2. I believe making something forbidden can increase its value in the eyes of a child. Whilst I don’t necessarily want to try to discourage my child from playing with guns, neither do I want to encourage it, and trying to forbid it could well back fire (no pun intended).

3. Children’s play is telling us something.  They express themselves through play, work out issues they have.  Trying to suppress a child’s instincts never works.

Having said all this, I have not yet succumbed to buying a toy gun for my child, but he can imagine all he likes with sticks etc.

Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting, writes “Pretend guns (the kind you make with your finger or a cardboard tube or a stick) allow children to create games and rules and play out the themes important to them…….On the other hand, toy guns, especially realistic ones, tend to restrict children into playing in very limited ways.”

Of course, guns are not the only type of aggressive play that boys, and girls too, often like to engage in. Wrestling and play fighting is also common, and another area parents often seem uncomfortable with, either because they don’t recognise it as play, don’t like the idea of fighting being allowed – another example of our adult perceptions being applied, or they’re worried someone will get hurt.  I actually really enjoy watching this type of play as children seem to enjoy it so much, and it seems so natural.  It always makes me think of nature programmes on TV showing tiger or bear cubs play fighting.  OK, sometimes someone might end up taking a bit of a bump, but I’ve never seen anyone get seriously hurt.

So are we being over protective?  I think if we watch carefully enough we can learn to quickly distinguish between real and play fighting, and to know when an adult needs to step in if things are getting out of hand.  Too often I think we step in unnecessarily.

Cohen writes of this type of play “They aren’t just practising aggression, they are practising restraint and control as well.”  I think children would really be missing out on some important developmental needs if they were forbidden this type of play. If we’re really worried about it we can always join in!

Cohen goes on to write “I don’t believe you can or should ban all aggressive play. Children need to come to terms with aggression – their own and others’ – and if we don’t let them do it through play, they will do it in real life…..Good creative play….does not make children violent, no matter what kinds of aggressive games they are playing.”

This was first published as a guest post on Free Your Parenting.

Helicopter parenting

January 25, 2012

I fairly recently came across this term in a newspaper article and must admit I liked it.  I might be a bit slow – maybe it’s been around for a long time already – but I’ve never heard anyone use it, or seen it before. I think perhaps it’s used more in the States.

However, I more recently read part of a forum thread on Mumsnet in which someone had asked what the term meant.  Answers ranged from parents who are constantly phoning their son or daughter’s university to complain about something or argue about grades, to parents who follow their child up into the structures at soft play centres.  I felt slightly affronted by this latter example.  I have frequently been seen at the top of soft play structures.  Do people think I’m a helicopter parent?! (actually, it was always either climb into the structure with child or put up with him doing some helicoptering of his own – around me at my table with my unread magazine).

So I guess the term can be whatever you interpret it to be.

I think the first thing that comes to my mind is over-protective parents.  Not just in terms protecting children from physical harm, but also wanting to protect them from, well, everything.  Parents who are constantly stepping in and interfering with children’s play – trying to settle all their differences for them, trying to direct the play too much, not just letting them get on with it.  Of course, younger children especially, often do need the help of an adult, but often they don’t.

Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D. gives some excellent tips on when and how it may be necessary to step in, in his book, “Playful Parenting“. He also quotes Jeffrey Trawick-Smith;

“Children need to get into arguments to learn how to resolve them; they must be excluded from groups to learn play group entry skills. They must play with disagreeable peers and bullies to broaden their repertoire of social strategies. They must have play ideas rejected so they can learn to become persuasive. When adults intervene too quickly in conflict, these opportunities are lost.”

I think this type of over-protectiveness stems from our, well, protectiveness; a natural feeling for a parent to have towards their child.  But I think it also comes from a lack of faith in children’s abilities, and often in their intentions.

But as well as basic over-protectiveness, the term ‘helicopter parenting’ also brings to my mind a type of parenting that seeks to exert what I see as excessive control over a child.  Maybe it’s a genuine wish to keep them from physical harm, but often I suspect it’s more about keeping them clean, for example, or just quiet. I am frequently in a situation where I hear other children being told not to do something that I am allowing my child to do.  Play fighting and wrestling is the most common, but also things like climbing on a wall, having a pillow fight, splashing in puddles, walking through or playing with mud, piling bark chippings on the bottom of the slide (I actually take some secret pleasure in allowing my child to do this and pretending not to notice the the disgust on the face of the mother of the little girl in the pretty white dress at the top of the slide).  I make no apology.  Children’s business is to play. They learn through play, explore the world through play, learn to be safe through taking risks, find their limits.

On the safety issue, Cohen writes;

“Children have very good judgement when they are allowed to use it, but often they haven’t gotten much of a chance, since we are always telling them what they should or shouldn’t do. Most of us worry much more about danger than we need to, especially if we are going to be right there playing with them…..Of course, as parents, part of our job is to pay attention to basic safety, but sometimes we use safety as a good excuse for our own insecurities and inhibitions.”

But is helicopter parenting a modern phenomenon or just a modern term?  What does the term ‘helicopter parenting’ mean to you?

Ba humbug!

December 20, 2011

While other parent bloggers are writing about Christmas recipes, making decorations with  children, and other pleasantries, I am going to be a complete Scrooge and write about my top three pet hates at Christmas.

1. Chocolate in advent calendars.

Whose stupid idea was this? When I was a child we didn’t have these.   I used to love coming downstairs to open the next door on my advent calendar and see the little picture behind it.  My child has one like this and is equally enthralled with it, and with the visual countdown to Christmas it provides.  When you put chocolates in them it just becomes all about the chocolate and nothing else.  What’s the point?  Why not just buy a normal box of chocolates and give them one every day?  This has ruined what was a lovely Christmas tradition for children.

2. My child being repeatedly asked by other adults, “Have you been good?”

There is no such concept as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour in our household so I’m not sure my child knows what people mean when they ask him this. He always replies ‘yes’, but with a look of confusion and concern.  Has he measured up to these mysterious adult standards?

I would never threaten my child with the non occurrence of a happy, anticipated event. This would go against all my parenting beliefs.  So I wish other adults would stop assuming otherwise.

My son needs to know that he will receive a visit from Santa no matter what. Nothing he can do will make him a ‘bad’, unworthy person.

3. Christmas music.

It’s bad enough that all the shops and various other public places that have a sound system subject us to the same intensely irritating inane nonsense every year, year in year out, for three months of the year (that’s a quarter of my life I have to spend trying to avoid it), but now I find my child’s school teaching the kids to sing it too.

Furthermore, as my child’s school is a non-faith school I had assumed this was down to political correctness. However, last week I attended the school’s annual visit to the local church and found that they were singing about the birth of Jesus, just in silly songs. If they are going to sing about this then there’s no excuse not to sing some traditional Christmas carols.  Who says children want more modern stuff?  Who decided this?  An adult.  I used to love Christmas carols and I’m sure today’s children would too. They’re timeless.  As with pet hate no.1, this is another needless ‘update’, ruining another lovely Christmas tradition.

Does anyone else have any pet hates at Christmas?  Go on, have a rant!

Having got all this off my chest, I would like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas.

Please, thank-you, and sorry.

December 15, 2011

“Say please”, “Say thank-you”, and “Say sorry right now!” are words we hear adults saying to children all the time.

Getting our children to say these words is not just about teaching good manners; we really want them to be thoughtful, considerate, grateful, polite, and respectful.  In other words, we want them to mean it.  That’s the difficult bit.  It may be easy enough to get children to parrot certain words, but I’m sure we all get the feeling sometimes that they don’t really mean it, and the words become somewhat hollow if we’re having to prompt them every time.  And do we really want to teach them to say things they don’t mean?

Here’s my take on it:

  • Please

It does irritate me when my child makes me feel like a servant.  “I’m hungry”, or “I want….”  instead of “please can I have” is something I hear everyday. I try to remind him, respectfully, to say please, but I don’t do it every time – it’s irritating having to say it over and over, to me and probably to him too.  More importantly, I try to say please to him, and let him hear me say it to other people – this is how I believe he’ll really learn.  The good news is, he nearly always says please to other people, so something’s working!

  • Thank-you

I always feel slightly ashamed if someone gives my child something and he doesn’t say thank-you. My response is either to say thank-you myself, on his behalf, making sure he hears me, or sometimes I’ll whisper a reminder in his ear.  When I do this, I find he is always very eager to say thank-you, indicating to me that he really just forgot in the excitement of the moment, his focus having shifted quickly to whatever he has received.  I don’t want to make him feel bad about this, but just help him with a gentle reminder.

  • Sorry

This is a tough one. I used to make my child say sorry if he hurt or upset another child, especially when he was in his rather aggressive toddler phase.  I thought it made him take responsibility for his actions.  Then I decided that this wasn’t working. He said the word, but didn’t mean it.  Future behaviour was unchanged.  Worse, he seemed to think it magically cancelled out his previous actions.  He could do whatever he liked then say the magic word and everything would be OK.  Also, forcing him to say sorry when he was upset, having a bit of a meltdown, and clearly didn’t mean it not only felt punitive, but pointless – he wasn’t in any state to be learning anything from this.

Removing him from a situation, helping him to calm down, then talking about the effect of his behaviour on others, and showing him ways to make amends when he is ready, I have found much more effective.

Also, as with please and thank-you, modelling the behaviour you wish to see is always the most effective way of teaching a child. I am not afraid to say sorry to him when I have been snappy, have jumped to a conclusion, or have just made a mistake. I don’t think our children need to see us as perfect, just as human, and ready to admit when we’re wrong.

Now that my child is nearly five, I’m finding these methods are starting to pay off.  He frequently remembers to say please, thank-you or sorry without being prompted, and I can sense that when he says it he really means it.  This makes me feel so proud of him. One genuine unprompted thank-you makes up for fifty forgotten ones, a true expression of regret is a true achievement in terms of a child’s emotional development, and I’m confident there’ll be more and more as he grows, along with his growing sensitivity and ability to empathise with other people.

Socially acceptable?

December 5, 2011

This week I have been reading with interest about Milli Hill’s (aka The Mule) petition to ask Amazon to stop selling books that advocate the physical abuse of children.  The petition has garnered over seven thousand signatures at the time of writing, as well as considerable press coverage in the States.

In posts on her blog, Milli Hill quotes some shocking passages from one of the books she is objecting to, leading to strings of comments from outraged readers.

Whilst smacking and corporal punishment are still used by many, it has been banned in many countries, and the level of interest Hill’s petition has attracted seems to indicate an encouraging trend towards smacking being socially unacceptable.

However, all this makes me wonder; will there ever come a time when other common parenting practices, now widely used and accepted, will become socially unacceptable?   How much evidence against them does there need to be before we start to turn our backs on certain methods?  How much neuroscience needs to be presented to us before we can ask Amazon to ban books by the likes of Gina Ford?  How many psychological studies before we can ask Channel 4 to stop airing ‘Supernanny’?

Sadly, I think perhaps it’s not just a case of evidence, it’s what speaks to people clearly.  It’s what’s in your face. The idea of physically harming a child is abhorent to many.  But what exactly is it we are objecting to?  The main objection seems to be that it involves inflicting pain on a helpless dependent that looks to us for love and care.

So this leads me to the question, what is there to object to in the use of, for example, ‘time outs’ to control a child’s behaviour?  And I came up with pretty much the same answer.

Physical pain is not the only type of pain.  There’s emotional pain too. Time outs, and its many variations, are used as method for changing a child’s behaviour because many deem them effective.  This perceived effectiveness is the result of pain inflicted on the child.    Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D. write in “Hold On to Your Kids, “The withdrawal of closeness….is such an effective means of behaviour control because it triggers the child’s worst fear – that of being abandoned.”

Also, many would argue that consistently causing a child emotional pain like this is worse than smacking.  We know the physical pain inflicted by smacking does not cause any lasting physical damage, yet emotional pain, at such a vulnerable age, can have far reaching effects.  So why do we object to physical punishment but not to non physical punishment?  The absence of physical pain or visible injury does not make a punishment OK.

Parents may be starting to turn their backs on some old methods, but the replacements being peddled by parenting ‘gurus’ are not alternatives, they’re just a variation on the same old theme.

Don’t succumb to the pressure

November 21, 2011

When I became a parent one of the many ‘Congratulations’ cards I received was from an aunt with a sense of humour.  In it she wrote, ‘My advice – don’t take any advice’. I laughed at the time, but now I look back at this as the most sensible piece of advice I was ever given.

I’d say the single most important thing I’ve learnt as a mother is to trust my own instincts. To not allow myself to be talked into anything, pressured into anything, or made to behave in a way that is against my better judgement as to what’s best for my child.

But when we choose to parent our children in a way that is not the most commonly accepted way in today’s society, this can be hard, we can sometimes feel like we’re swimming against the tide, and this can lead to feelings of isolation and self doubt.

Overcoming these feelings, and learning to tune out negative thoughts – your own, and those you perceive others may have about you – is an important skill. 

Many parents admit that they feel embarrassed, or that everyone is watching them, when their child has a meltdown in public. It follows that how we handle our child in these situations is likely to be at least in part influenced by these feelings. – What is everyone thinking?  What does everyone think I should do?  Everyone thinks my child is badly behaved, or that I’m a bad parent.

These thoughts are not helpful to you in finding the most appropriate response for your child, particularly if, like me, you parent without the use of punishments, threats or bribes.  ‘What that child needs is a good smack’ – is a comment guaranteed to set your own adrenalin levels soaring, making you less able to be the calm, understanding parent your child needs you to be.  But this is at the extreme end.  Even without hearing comments like this, we still feel the pressure to be seen to be punishing our child for their perceived ‘bad behaviour’.   We must be seen to be doing something, and that something must be a widely recognised response.  Yet strangers, and even friends and family members, don’t have the level of understanding you do regarding the reasons for your child’s behaviour and their underlying needs, nor the knowledge you have as to what works best for them.

It takes practice and time, but once you have learnt to identify this type of perceived pressure as unhelpful and unimportant, you are able to pay more attention to your own thoughts and to your child, and better able to use your judgement regarding your child’s needs.

I think many parents allow themselves to be governed by this pressure in deciding how to parent, and sadly dismiss their own instincts as being the wrong ones.

I would be interested to hear how others feel on this subject.  Do you ever feel judged or pressured, and do you think this affects the way you parent?