Are We Doing It All Wrong?

 

 

Here are some great links this week to make you stop and think.  Let’s all be the change we wish to see, advocate for our children, and keep the momentum I see happening in so many places at the grass-roots level in different states keep going.  This is how change often happens in the United States.  Be the change!

 

Do American parents have it backward?  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-grossloh/have-american-parents-got-it-all-backwards_b_3202328.html

 

This article is a MUST-READ for all parents of small children.  Children do need rhythm, repetition, time to be outside, time to play in an unstructured manner.  They do not need lessons, or rigid adult-created games.   The adult is there primarily to “un-stick” play and to guide, to provide help for the ideas the children create, to have the environment and the rhythm in place.   Read more about the differences between what the differences between academic and play-based preschools bring here: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2012/06/dont-let-your-preschoolers-forget-how-to-play/ Continue reading

Attachment And Individualization

I think as homeschooling families, one of our  main goals is always the connection of the family and how we stay attached to each other in a society that sometimes doesn’t seem to value that at all.  Some of the homeschooling families who read my blog, many of them, are also what has been termed and made popular in the common literature by Dr. Sears as “attachment parents.”

But what I want to talk about today is the development of the independence of the child  within the context of attachment.  I don’t think attachment and becoming more of an individual, more independent and more capable are mutually exclusive at all – we can still be attached but have separate psychological identities.  In fact, I would argue,  in order to become an adult that has a meaningful role within their own family and and as a citizen of the world, this has to happen.  We have all heard the jokes or seen instances of people whose adult lives were totally enmeshed with their parents.  It is funny for a television show, but not so funny in real life.  Enmeshment prohibits a child and an adult from reaching the fullness and freedom of who they are.

I think healthy attachment starts not only with connection, lots of connection and including but not being limited to extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but with loving authority and boundaries.  I think if you have read this blog for any length of time I have made that abundantly clear.  I think I have also talked a fair bit about boundaries.  Boundaries, in its essence, is not just how “strict or loose” your parenting style is; it is about how you GUIDE your child to HEALTH as a growing, developing SEPARATE individual.  It is also about creating balance, and creating opportunity for right growth, especially for those children where self-growth and self-development are not initiated.

Separation, to me, starts around the child is age three and says “I” for the first time.  That is the beginning, the spark of recognition that “I am myself.”  I may not know or understand all that means yet, but I am me.  Bernard Lievegoed, author of “Phases of Childhood,” marks this as a stage of self-awareness.  This can also be a phase of negativity from the child; by pushing against the outside world the child begins to develop the self.

It continues with the six/seven year old change.  Some parents write me and say, “My child went through the six/seven year old change.  They slammed doors, said they hated me, said that I was not the boss of them.  Then they were done.”

Okay, but let me put this out to you:  the six/seven year old change, to me, is not just about “you’re not the boss of me.”   It is about finding a psychological identity that is separate from parents – that they have a role in the family or at school, they know what that treasured and valued role is, and that they do  feel accepted and loved but also a bit “separate”, a bit ready to take a view on something…there is a shift toward the child having real opinions about the world, that may be different than the parent’s view, and that in this view that the child has a continuous self and therefore can participate in learning.   At this stage, children in the six/seven year change usually  also are interested in having friends, being a friend, in having community outside of their family.  I think many times this is neglected and not mentioned in Waldorf Educational literature, because the assumption is the child is at the school in community.  I think this is an important point for homeschooling families when looking at the development of their child.  To me, turning outward toward community and peers and not just within the family, is a hallmark of the six/seven change.

This process can take up to a year and a half, I think especially for sensitive children who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be around  other children, or just children who develop a little bit slower.  They may not be as interested in peers until the nine –year change, but then I have personally observed that that change may be a much more difficult one than the six/seven year change.

I think one way we can gauge where are children are in the six/seven change is to look at their play(see the many, many back posts on play on this site about how play changes during the six/seven year old change), and to  look at their drawings of human beings, a house and a tree.  Here is an interesting, brief look at drawings made by two thousand German five and six year olds prior to school entrance, comparing drawings made by those who did and didn’t watch media, those who did and did inhale passive cigarette smoke, and those with psychological disturbances:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/RB13_2rittelmeyer.pdf  There are whole books on working with children’s drawings in Waldorf Education; you can check Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop for those titles.

For the nine/ten year old going through this change feels utterly and sometimes desperately alone, apart from humanity, out of the Garden of secure family.  They have an experience of self and it is a tragedy; there is no shelter of the family or of being with friends. Therefore, I believe firmly that children who do not have a strong sense of community and belonging built up through early childhood through family, extended family and strong friendships can have an even more fragile nine year change.  Boundaries and loving authority can also make this change better, along with loving connection.  The child is becoming an individual.

From the viewpoint of Waldorf Education, three things are traditionally seen as helping a child become an individual:  childhood diseases, what author Edmond Schoorel in his book “The First Seven Years: Physiology of Childhood” calls “naughtiness” (which made me chuckle!), curiosity, and we develop memory.  One that Schoorel mentions briefly, and that Bernard Lievegoed discusses further is that of the force of antipathy.  “Very often there is the tendency to concentrate only on positive feelings.  This is impossible.  It destroys  the drama, the basic law of feeling.  Any attempt to present only positive feeling results in superficial sentiment.  Feelings are brought forth from contrast and the nature of their polarity…It is not a matter of guarding children  from negative feelings or denying them as such, it is a matter of presenting the feelings as opposites in the correct way.” (Lievegoed, page 170).

I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I do want to leave you with a few teasing comments by Edmond Schoorel:

  • “Children do not need to understand everything; it is even better when they don’t..It is essential for children to have the opportunity to ask questions; yet they do not need answers on the level of their understanding.  Mysteries are interesting because we do not have an answer.”  (page 260)
  • “When children have too little curiosity, we face the question:  can we stimulate curiosity?  I think that we can do this only in an indirect way.  When weakness has to do with the child’s constitution, we may have to work with movement development.” (page 248)
  • “Naughtiness can be a first exercise in waking up.  With naughtiness, the child turns away from the order of which he or she was a part.  It is a first step toward freedom and individuality.”  (page 246)

And this process of connection to others, and connection to ourselves,  continues as we grow and change throughout our lives. And sometimes we realize, yes, our circumstances and such may have been specific to us, but the tumult of different ages was by no means unique but being part of the human race.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Boundaries

Friends, I have been hearing from a lot of you recently via email and many of you are struggling with boundaries in your lives.  I am not a counselor, and I am not a psychologist, but I wanted to tell you a few things I have learned about boundaries along the way in the experience of my life and I hope it will be helpful to you. I encourage you if you are having challenges with this to go and talk to a qualified counselor.  This can be so helpful in getting your life, your family and your parenting going the way you want it to!  What a wonderful way to start the New Year!

Boundaries, to me, are a skill that many of us have to learn.  Perhaps our ability to set boundaries was damaged in childhood or early adulthood.  Perhaps we are not even sure what a boundary is or why we would want boundaries.  Or perhaps we have too many boundaries and have erected relentless walls in order to keep the world out.

Yet, healthy boundaries are so necessary.  A boundary is something we set in order to separate ourselves from other people; it tells us how far a person can go with us and how far we can go with another person.  It keeps us from becoming enmeshed with another person:  enmeshment is a complete state of feeling so empathetically with that person that we take on the other person’s feelings, responsibilities,challenges and problems completely and wholly as our own.   As parents, we are separate from our children; we are different people. And, boundaries not only separate us from our children, but it also shows how we are linked together in familial roles.  We are linked together, but we are not the same.  We are the adult.  The relationship is not an equal one.  We have more experience and more guidance, more logic and reasoning to bring to any situation.  We also have a duty to honor the developmental stage of our child and we can do this with boundaries.

Relationships without boundaries cause dependency and stunted emotional growth for both ourselves and the other party involved.   If we have too many boundaries, no one can get close to us at all and we end up isolated and alone.   With good boundaries, we learn to develop an appropriate sense of roles amongst family members and the other people in our lives. We learn to respect ourselves and others.  We can trust and listen not only to ourselves, but to others.

Specifically in parenting, boundaries allow children to feel safe and secure.  Boundaries helps children learn self-control and how to function with people outside of their immediate family. Parents who set good boundaries for themselves and for their children are modeling for the children, how, in turn, to set emotional and physical boundaries for themselves.  If we can be calm as a child tests out what the boundary and line in the sand actually is, then we are modeling for our child how to handle this in their own lives.   We help them learn how to function in the world.

For parents who have trouble setting any boundaries for their children, out of “respect” for the child,  I often will ask the parent: Continue reading

The Essential Soul Tasks Of The Early Years

Dearest Friends,

During my time of moving houses, I have had several very important issues swirling about in my head with no opportunity to write them down until tonight.  So, you will be seeing some deeply thought and deeply held posts coming from The Parenting Passageway over the next several days.

One thing that I was thinking about fervently was the essential soul tasks of the small child.  If you have been a long-time reader of this blog, I hope over the years I have convinced you of the utmost importance of the physical development of the small child through time and space outside.  We think of a very tiny child of ages birth through three as struggling through space over time to achieve being upright, then progressing to speech and from speech flowing into thought.  During the Early Years, we also develop our  twelve senses, and I often think of such things as the awareness of our bodies (what is us?  what is others?).  This is done through work and also through imaginative play.

But on the soul level, there is a very important task for this age, which is relating to others, and how the child finds their place within a group.  The small child’s experiences with trust of others, belonging with others, finding safety and acceptance of others and within others is all part of this experience.  So is the reverence that we often cannot fully see until we stand present with another.  I have had the wonderful experience of my almost three year old and his very best friend on earth whom I shall call Little Friend.  He and Little Friend adore each other; they run to see each other in the utter thrill that only two best friends can share and laugh in joy.  They chase “moonbears” (their code name for grasshoppers) through the grass, wonder at each spider web and bug, and show such deep reverence and awe at each step of Creation.  It is amazing to watch and it has shown me the deep ability of the small child to love outside of his own immediate family.  For some of you, this is a moment of “Duh!” and for some of you this is a moment of thoughtfulness.  If you can think back to your smallest days, where did you feel safe?  Where did you feel loved?  Where did you feel you belong?  Where were you part of a community?  Did you feel accepted and loved or on the outside?  Why?  How would you answer these questions about your own children?

I have received three separate emails this week asking about five or five and a half year olds and finding the balance of being home and the need for friends (or not).  I think many homeschoolers would say there is no need for interaction outside the family per se; especially perhaps for those with larger families.  But for those with smaller families or children who are close to age six with only a baby perhaps to “play” with, the question remains…  And then people tell me they have tried to look for community and nothing that resonates with them is available, so what do they do?  Do they do classes?  How do they meet people?  Is playing with a friend once a month or once every few months enough? Continue reading

The Older Baby Who Can’t Be Put Down

 

I had a really sweet first time mother write in and ask me about her older baby who wants to be held all the time.  Do you all remember that stage with your very first child?  When there were no other children around?

 

Her question involved another aspect as well:  that of parenting alone for long hours on end and how to get that break when, as the parent, we are just about to lose it.  I think many of us have been there, and I wanted to provide some encouragement.  Perhaps you all have your own experiences to add in, if you can remember that far back to your first child and that sort of mobile and needy one year old stage.

 

Dear Sweet Mama,

,
I think it is really common for an infant of birth through even three year of age to want to be held frequently. In some cultures, infants don’t even touch the ground until the baby turns one year old.  In our society,  many parents use slings, particularly putting your older infant on your back, as a solution to this dilemma. I am a huge fan of slings, particularly wearing an infant or toddler on my back so I can go about my own work – which is work around my home or garden.  Some families are really lucky and have a lot of other adult family members around.  But in American society, most of us are not that lucky.  Often we are the only ones home alone with an infant for long stretches of time.

 

So, this leads to another point….

 

Attached infants can also learn to be happy and not be held 24/7,if you work in short spurts and think ahead about the environment you are setting up for this.  For an older infant or child who is used to being held a lot,  it takes time to know that this is a rhythm, a pattern and an okay place to be.   Sometimes tying it to some particular task you are doing can be successful for the little one who is truly not used to it.  So, maybe you would like to start with putting your infant down whilst you unload your dishwasher. Take the silverware out in case your older baby can pull up and get into the sharp silverware and set them down on a blanket whilst you are unloading the dishwasher.  Sing to them heartily!  Smile at them!  Think about distraction and including them whilst they are down there. Or, set them up to play with a small tray of water on a sheet or in the sink whilst you unload the dishwasher or in the sink.  You have to think of distraction,  and also be cheery and confident they can survive without being held for ten minutes so long as they are safe.

 

You can also get down and play with your child on the floor, but I think what most parents are striving for is to have their hands free for a few moments and have their baby not be wailing. 

 

As far as what to do when you are ready to lose it….We all have moments like this in parenting, especially I think with the first child.  If your infant is in a safe place where they cannot hurt themselves, you can set your baby down. Your baby will cry, you may cry too, but again, if your baby is safe and you are nearby,  they are not going to die by crying. Sometimes too,  just changing the scenery by going outside together, setting your baby down in the grass, or taking a walk together, can also diffuse the moment.

 

The bigger issue is to think about prevention, and also to have that plan for what you are going to do when those inevitable moments happen.  Think about and plan within your family’s schedule what breaks you need throughout the week, make sure you are eating and sleeping well (nap when your baby naps! for the whole first year or even the whole first two years if you can get it!) think about who you can call to talk you off the ledge at that moment, keep reminding yourself what is normal for that age so you are not expecting too much, love your child, get outside, form a community, pray and develop yourself through your own inner work (religion, spirituality, whatever you call it and whatever it is to you) and enjoy your baby.  We were not meant to take care of a baby all  alone for hours on end – I don’t believe. Community is so important!

Again, make sure you have someone you can call in the moment – a friend, a family member – who could come if you called or you could at least call any day or night. And communicate with your spouse – parenting is hard work, and it is important you have at least some time to yourself each week  for a few hours, if not a period of time each day. Parenting with a partner should be just that, working to create a family culture together.

 

Many blessings,
Carrie

Nourishing Your Toddler

I wrote this post quite a while ago regarding the years of birth through age two and a half or so here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/10/getting-children-into-their-bodies-part-one-birth-to-age-2-and-a-half/.  I am still quite happy with this post, but I wanted to add some things here as just gentle food for thought…

Every day, do as much as you can to protect the senses of the small infant and toddler.  We are such an overstimulated society; I think the phrase “eye candy” really sums up how our culture has a visual emphasis.  We practically overdose our senses, especially our sense of sight, on things that are not true to the reality found in nature, the most beautiful and wondrous of our Creator’s work.  If we look about our homes and simplify them into simple scenes where our toddlers can participate in truly meaningful work, where there are simple open ended toys of natural materials, then we have gone a long ways toward promoting the health of our child.

Often we mistake what our small toddler needs and in place of time, space and stability we try to provide new, exciting, stimulating.  Yet, the capacities of our small toddler will flourish with a slow, rhythmic, protected introduction to life.  Develop your own peaceful soul, your own simple ways of being, and your child will be enveloped in this goodness.  Smile at your toddler, love your toddler, tell your toddler every day how strong and helpful they are, wonder and marvel at insects and the sunrise and the wind together.  Your children imitate not only your actions, but your thoughts.  Be brave, be wise, be beautiful!

And work on those lower body senses.  The sense of touch, the sense of life (how do you feel?  Can you even tell if you are not feeling well or do you just ignore that  and move on?), the sense of movement and the sense of balance.

Every day, no matter the weather, spend hours outside in the morning and the afternoon.  There should be opportunities for your toddler to stomp in puddles, in creeks, play in the mud and the sand, walk on forest trails and on the beach, and fully inhabit his home, his yard, his street.  Every day!  Outside time should be the priority for this age, along with meaningful work.

The shift in toddlerhood occurs because toddler energy needs form.  Many mothers will jot down a rhythm to each day the night before.  There must be a plan, and you must be the creator….see this for the wondrous opportunity that it is, and not a burden.  You can do this and it will be just right for you are the expert on your own family.

Many blessings and peace,

Carrie

More About How To Create Meaningful Work For Toddlers

 

“We have to remember that there is nothing more “enriching” for a young child than exploring his own world of home, filled with natural playthings and the work of caring for a family – housework, laundry, cooking – and exploring his own backyard.” – From Sharifa Oppenheimer’s “Heaven On Earth:  A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, page 19

 Liza wrote such a beautiful post here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/06/28/guest-post-meaningful-work-for-toddlers/  and I hope it was inspiring to those of you who have toddlers as your oldest children and you are trying to create your family life “from scratch”.  I have a few things I would like to add as well to this meaningful post. 

 If you are wondering where to begin, Continue reading