A mom wrote in response to the original post “The Need to Know” (the original post I wrote can be found here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/12/31/the-need-to-know/ ) and talked about how her first child was very verbal and thrived on lots of explanations. She recognized she has explained many things to this child and she also recognized her second child doesn’t seem to need all this. This led to the question below, that I wanted to share with you all:
As I was pondering all this, I thought about the future, and how it may be possible that I would have both older and younger children at the same time, and how the younger children might end up hearing explanations given to the older ones… I wonder how one would work out the differences in parenting that would be given to all the children and how to keep the younger ones from getting involved in the more grown-up conversations of the older children.
This is a great question, and I have several thoughts on this and other matters after reading her comment.
My first thought actually is in relation to the first child’s verbosity. I am not trying to make generalizations here, but I have heard this MANY times from mothers with first daughters (not all mothers with first-born daughters, but certainly many). We are a gender that revolves around feelings, words and explanations, and relationships, and since the first child has no older siblings to imitate and pattern off, they only have YOU to imitate. This is, as mentioned above, at least partially a gender issue for these first time verbose children, as I have not only heard this from many attached parents whose first child is a girl but I have also heard this from mothers who have had two, three or four boys and then they have a girl! These parents are blown away at how verbal, and explanation-seeking and different these girls are from their boys. However, this can be not only a gender issue but also a parenting issue and a parenting challenge as well.
If there is a chance that our girls, especially our first girls, are geared toward being in their head early and being very verbal and over-involved in adult matters early, I think that it is even more reason to STOP TALKING SO MUCH. Girls tend to take everything you say and remember it and think about and come back to it. A child under the age of seven, and even under the age of 9, does not need this awareness. Period. It does nothing for most mother-daughter relationships except provide the child with lots of words to press against and strong emotions to ensue.
But I digressed for the moment -back to the original question poised above! The way that this works with older and younger children in the same household is that as your child gets older, you can actually say to the older child, “Honey, please take your little sister into the other room and play for a few minutes while Daddy and I talk.” This is certainly hard to do with a three or four year old, but not that hard to do with a seven or eight year old.
If there is something that you need to discuss with an older child, but not a younger child, chances are the younger child will go to bed before the older child and you will have a chance to talk without the younger child present.
As all children in the family grow and give up naps, there is a better chance of them going to bed at an early hour and you having some time to spend with your partner to talk about things without the children present. There is also a better chance at this stage that you will be able to have some time away from your children to spend with other mothers without the children present. This will feed your soul, and will keep you from overloading your children with adult information and questions.
Lastly, though, I want to point out that even 7, 8 and 9 year olds do not need to know everything going on all the time and decisions are still the responsibility of the parent. One example that came quickly to my mind was the election. I saw during the election how the public schools made a huge deal about the election, held mock elections and really talked about the election and the candidates. The result of this for many of the 7, 8 9 and even 10 year olds I saw was either complete joy or tears on election day, not understanding how their friend and their friend’s family could like one candidate and their own personal family did not , not really understanding how all this worked but feeding off the emotions everywhere– this, to me, underscored how again society takes a 7, 8 and 9 year old and tries to put them into the position of an adult – this time the position of a voting adult!
Steiner talks about the age of reasoning starting at age 14. When my great-grandmother was 16, she was married, working with her own business and starting a family. This may not be ideal in this time and place, but I do think the way we often treat small children is like adults in this country but then we micro-manage and over-manage our teenagers when they are supposed to be making decisions, (even in the area of small decisions where making a mistake is not harmful!). This is rather baffling – teenagers are at the beginning of logic and reason, but this is still the time to gain experiences and reasoning skills – but not at the age of 7 or 8 or even 9.
Small children deserve to be treated with respect and delight; please do not dump the adult decision-making process on them at this point. That is your job as a parent.
So, hopefully this not only answered the question but also provided a bit more to ponder and meditate on. Are you treating your 4 year old like a 9 year old? Are you treating your 9 year old like a 16 year old? Are the tools and explanations and choices you are providing appropriate for the age of your child?
One place to garner more information is through the wonderful compilation of Steiner’s lectures in “Soul Economy’. These lectures really do trace the birth through teenaged years and provide many practical points of knowledge for you to take away and use in Waldorf homeschooling and in life.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.