My child's not lost.
When my 14 year old was 5 and we lived in East London she started playing in the street outside our house. This wasn’t a decision that just I had to be happy with. As her step-mother she already had two other parents. We were all in agreement. There had been a rigorous risk assessment. We took into account her personality, who else would be with her and the fact that our street was one-way. I believe in giving children enough information to arm them, but not enough to scare them. As such, she was told to stand back by the wall if a car went past: to stop any unscrupulous people from pulling her from the street (something that she was told is rare, but does happen). She was also told not to go into anyone else’s house, without permission first, as we don’t know all the neighbours well enough and needed to be able to look out the window and see her at anytime, so we wouldn’t worry. Look out of the window I did! In fact, that first year I pulled a chair up to the window like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
By the time she was 7 she was insistant on sitting on a different part of the bus and by 9, at her mothers, she was walking home from school. None of this means that as a teenager now she has more freedom than all of her friends, she doesn’t. Some things they do we aren’t comfortable with, but she knows we trust and believe in her, so doesn’t take our negative responses too hard.
I am a reader. I also have a background in nursing and have nursed on wards, intensive cares, in operating theatres and in schools, nurseries and homes. I have also been lucky enough to work here in the UK in the NHS and private sector, but also in Australia and Ghana, West Africa. If I haven’t met enough parents that way… I have also worked for a nanny agency babysitting in hotels and houses (in well to do parts of London) and worked as a ‘Good’ Ofsted rated childminder in my own home. Did I say I was a reader? Apart from the multitude of books required to qualify in the things I am qualified in, to have both these experiences and to take charge of an intensive care unit, I also believe in self development. As such I am well read about marriage, step-parenting, attachment parenting.. you get the general idea.
When pregnant for my third and successful time I was put on bedrest: which involved reading. Then in opening a community hub, with my baby and hearing about the home-schooling community.. well that required more reading. You can only learn so much from books. Now, unschooling my previously attached daughter, I was pregnant again and I realized that if I and my son were going to survive… well then Emma wasn’t always going to get what she wanted from me all the time. This was very hard, but it was another important step in my parenting journey. It soon became clear to me that I would not physically be able to attend to my child’s every need every moment of the day. She would have to wait sometimes. She would have to entertain herself sometimes. She would have to delay gratification. This wasn’t a conscious parenting choice; it was just our reality. As it turns out, it was a pretty good thing!
One of the things that first got me into home-schooling was wanting my child to be far less externally motivated than I was. It wasn’t until she was a baby that I learnt about schemas; the deep primal urges that children have to throw, mix things or move their bodies. Learning about them helped me make sense of the previously intense interactions I had seen between children… and the parents stopping them.
Of course, children shouldn’t be able to do what ever they want, but calmly, without judgement, swapping food for a ball, or messy play really works. I don’t really play with my children, but I do pay attention to what each child needs and follow their lead. It is then that the parent/child relationship grows into one based on trust and understanding.
Emma (nearly 6) had to be followed as a toddler and pre-schooler as she found it difficult to control her emotions. If Ben (aged 3) is followed then he plays up to me refusing to interact with the world around him, or even walk. They both benefit from working out their problems with each other, without outside help and as such have one of he best sibling relationships I have ever seen. Emma is also more open to learning after an event rather than in the heat of the action.
When I think about what I want for my children? I want them to feel secure. I want them to be confident in their own abilities. I want them to struggle through things, work them out on their own, ask for help when needed, and bounce back when things go wrong. I want them to be determined and resilient. In order to do all of this, sometimes I need to do nothing. Some people call this benign neglect.
I need to give them the chance to fail. I need to let them fall down, but be there to pick them up. This is what separates benign neglect from just plain neglect. As soon as my children call for me I drop what I am doing and as soon as I can I return to it, so they also learn the importance of self actualisation. The top of, and often most neglected part of, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College and author of Free to Learn, says anxiety and depression; even suicide is increasing. And it's all because children feel "their sense of control over their lives has decreased".
Leadership expert Dr T Elmore points out that parents who are able to focus on what they want for their children tomorrow, not just today, produce better results. He believes, like myself, that parents are failing our children today -- coddling and crippling them -- and keeping them from becoming the leaders that they are destined to be.
We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. The media enforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to protect them. Today’s world is safer than it has ever been and thanks to the internet they are more at risk in their bedrooms. In America there is only a one in 300,000 chance of being kidnapped and the figures are negligible in the UK. Then the perpetrator tends to be someone the victim knows.
We have insulated our children from healthy risk-taking behaviour and it’s had an adverse effect. Psychologists define risk taking activities as playing at great heights, or at high speed. Playing with harmful tools, or near dangerous elements. Rough and tumble play and playing where children can disappear from sight or get lost. Something I frequently did in childhood with a cow bell calling me home for lunch. They have discovered that children protected from risks frequently have phobias as adults.
Children can recognize themselves that not everything is safe. They can learn about risks and use their own initiatives through play. Taking risks not only aids a child’s development, persistence and learning, but it also helps foster beneficial personality traits such as creativity. A young child wandering in the safety of the park who knows where his mother is learns ‘I am trusted, I am capable and I can do it’. It is no coincidence that they wander further away the closer you get to them, sometimes turning and running hoping to be chased. If they have been instructed on not leaving the park, or talking to strangers and you know their personality to be wary of cars: then over the years of their life why not allow them more and more responsibility? First Ben wandered, but was taught to ‘stop’ when called to with a hand up in sign; then to go where he can be seen so I could sprint to him if need be and now he can be out my sight, in a familiar place, behind a tree or over a hill as we both know how far away we feel safe with his being. For some children like Emma that would be a bad idea, but then at the same age she would have already been using sharp scissors alone having already moved through the steps of parental supervision that her brother hasn’t yet.
I do not want to role model rescuing my children. 1 in 4 women have been the victim of domestic violence and the Karpman triangle clearly illustrates the key role ‘rescuing’ plays in the dynamic of conflict between two people. In short there are 3 points on the enabling triangle including: The persecutor, The rescuer and The Victim. If I don’t teach my children to resuce people and rather ask if they need help; then hopefully they will be able to stay away from those who wish to persecute them. And if not well then hopefully they will have enough self esteem to know that they can get away from them.
Danish Kindergarden’s understand this perspective. They point out that children generally do not climb beyond a height with which they feel comfortable, nor do they like pain and fear. Parents feel the most important things for children to learn in early years settings is self-worth, independence, consideration for others, and tolerance in order to develop into a whole person.
Children’s confidence is developed by them having the freedom, time and space to learn and demonstrate independence.. My child is not lost.