What happened when I started saying “I understand”? – 5 steps to validating children’s feelings.

Pickle is an anxious, sensitive little soul.

She was the most chilled out baby (For the first five months of her life lots of people didn’t realise she existed as she slept so much!) but as soon as she hit toddlerhood – Is that a word? It’s definitely a stage! – she became difficult, defiant and easily distressed. At the time she spent two days a week with a fantastic childminder, who commented on the fact that in her many years of looking after little ones she rarely saw 2 year olds who struggled so much with embarrassment…

We have spent the past 5 years swinging from feeling resentful to feeling complete and utter panic and worry at what the future holds for our angry young Pickle. We have tried many different ways of dealing with her behaviour, some of which seem to help for a short period of time, but essentially any attempts to ‘control’ or ‘curb’ her just end up upsetting her more and therefore upsetting everyone.

I first read about ‘positive/peaceful/attachment parenting’ when the big Ps were little, and tried to incorporate some of the principles into our daily life. But it has only been the past year (since starting to home educate) that I have completely recognised the value of bringing our children up in a household where they feel valued, listened to, important. I realise that all of this pivots around me (and the Stinker) and how we behave toward the Ps.

The following quote sums it up for me in a much more eloquent way than I could explain it:

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a parent or teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
-Dr. Haim Ginott www.ahaparenting.com

So, I’ve been trying so hard to be positive and respond in a sensitive and calm manner to any issues that have arisen recently. It is hard! But responding to their shouting with shouting just results in… you’ve got it… more shouting!

I have been reading a lot about the importance of validating our children’s feelings a lot recently (like this amusing and thought-provoking take on it over at Lulastic) and completely agree that they, as small human beings, deserve to be valued and listened to. That doesn’t make it any easier! It is all too easy to revert to your own childhood (I’m not saying I wasn’t valued or listened to, but it was still the time of children ‘doing what they were told’!) and to respond with a curt “Don’t be so silly” or “No you can’t…”

I am trying hard to change my responses to “I understand…” and “We could…” – in fact I think the Ps are finding me quite hilarious and I’ve even noticed Poppet responding to Piccalilli in the same way!

If faced with an angry outburst or defiant moment I find the following five steps seem to work best for us:

  1. Take a deep breath and say to myself “It’s not about you” (even when the anger is aimed at me!)
  2. Respond with “I understand that you are feeling angry about…”
  3. Offer solutions to the problem and offer hugs
  4. Don’t take it personally if the solutions and hugs are ignored
  5. When the situation has calmed down talk about what happened and how we can avoid it happening again in the future

Of course I know this is not going to stop difficult situations from arising again but it has definitely diffused any problems that we have faced recently and we have been enjoying time together in the spring sunshine 🙂

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Am I going to survive if I have to spend one more day answering random questions?!!

Are we doing the right thing?

Are they learning anything?

Will they succeed in life without having gone through the education system?

Am I going to survive if I have to spend one more day answering random questions?!!

These are just some of the questions I ask myself on a regular basis. As much as I know that (in the current education climate) we are doing the best thing for our family, it is still a radical decision to go against the norm. I’m not saying we’re radical (and maybe that makes it a bit harder still), but to choose to do something different is definitely seen as a bit radical or alternative.

Today has been a tough day. Piccalilli was ill yesterday meaning we had to cancel yesterday and today’s plans (which I’d thankfully not told the big Ps about), meaning I have not had a chance to unwind and chat to adults! The Stinker was late home last night meaning I had to do the whole bedtime routine alone (I know lots of people do regularly!) and also had less time with him to relax.

I’m feeling the need for a bit of me time and the weekend can’t come round soon enough – I’m actually off into the city with a friend for lunch and a museum trip 🙂

The thing is I know my questions will probably not be answered anytime soon:

Are we doing the right thing? We hope and really believe we are but there are probably many ‘right’ ways of doing things on a spectrum. We’ve hopefully chosen the best-fit for us at the moment.

Are they learning anything? Well I like to think that they will learn through life and any extra little snippets I can provide them are a bonus!

Will they succeed in life having not gone through the education system? Again I like to think that there are many ways of succeeding and academically is not the only way. Saying that, many home educated young people go onto university and achieve much in their lives apart from academic qualifications.

Am I going to survive if I have to spend one more day answering random questions?!! Let’s hope so as the majority of them come from my own brain!

Wish me luck!

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When saws are involved in sibling rivalry, this happens…

This weekend was mainly fantastic and mostly spent outside enjoying the garden and local park, but the sibling rivalry between Poppet and Pickle is definitely at boiling point at the moment.

When we decided to have our first two children close together we didn’t expect it to happen quite so quickly, so the fact that they are 12 months and 3 weeks apart wasn’t planned! In the early months it was unbelievably hard work but has definitely got easier as they have got older.

When they are out they usually form a formidable little team (often with Piccalilli tagging along!) and people often comment how they appear more like best friends than sisters. At home they alternate between being thick as thieves (usually when no adult is around and they are plotting something) to fighting like cat and dog when we are around.

Pickle is still going through a period of deschooling (getting school out of her system) and craves our undivided attention. This means that weekends can be great in the sense that we can share her between us but difficult because she struggles when one of us wants to do something special with Poppet.

So when Poppet decided she wanted to collect some sticks to make her own Stickman, Pickle initially wanted to be involved. When she realised it meant going outside to find the sticks she decided against it and disappeared inside to practise handstands!

When Poppet returned with sticks and Pickle realised that the Stinker was going to help her to use the saw her heckles went up and she demanded attention. For a moment I thought the situation was going to escalate beyond the usual sibling rivalry and arguing when she started trying to grab the saw… Luckily I’m getting better at handling these situations so rather than screeching ‘Stop!’, I managed to distract her with the calm request of help to make the dinner (one of her favourite activities) – phew, that was nearly another trip to the local MIU!

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Poppet and the Stinker made the most wonderful Stickman and all limbs remained intact. So this time round the result was peace and harmony 1 : sibling rivalry 0!

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Blood, Blogs and Brownies :)

This week is my chance to have a break as the Stinker is off work. But, of course, I’ve packed it almost completely with trips away and activities to keep the Ps busy!

After a fun-filled, hectic long weekend away with family and friends, I was quite glad when today brought minging weather and an excuse to just stay at home for the day.

I spent the morning painting (Our whole house needs an update so still loads to do!) while the Stinker amused the Ps with retro computer games! It all ended in tears when Poppet pushed a chair into Pickle and split her eyelid open – apparently blood everywhere but I was luckily in the shower so missed the whole event! Luckily it had stopped bleeding by the time I got downstairs (after being screamed at hysterically by Poppet that I was needed – cue end of relaxing shower!) so I still managed to get out of the house to do some shopping and sitting in our local cafe on my own…

… almost.

I knew I would see someone I knew, as that’s what happens when you live in a tiny town, but I was lucky that the person I bumped into was a good friend (and actually the friend who had given me the voucher for the cafe as a birthday present last month!) So we enjoyed a cuppa and catch up together and when she and her daughter left I had another cuppa and a yummy piece of gluten free raspberry chocolate brownie – yummy 🙂

I enjoyed just sitting quietly (while other people had to deal with their children), thinking about friends and family and our current journey in life. I doodled a bit and made a few notes relating to my plans to start another blog. But mainly I just drank tea, ate cake and relaxed.

I returned home to a very relaxed scene (all watching a film), so left them to it and made dinner. It’s been a very relaxed day, despite the ‘Attack of the Poppet’ incident, and I hope we can have a few more days like it before the Stinker goes back to work next week!

 

The internet, ice and irritability – a usual day!

Today has been a mixed day for us; I didn’t sleep well last night due to a snuffly nose so I was entirely to blame for the negative parts to our day!

The Ps are getting very excited about the week to come as it consists of the Stinker being home, a couple of sleepovers and lots of fun day trips and get togethers (if everything goes to plan that is!). I love that they are so happy about seeing family and special friends but, when you’re feeling a bit under the weather, the excitement of three small (but oh so loud) people can be difficult to cope with! I have tried to remain calm and find some moments of sanctuary in the sun today (My attempt to complete a Headspace meditation was however completely unrealistic!) but I did lose my temper with the big Ps a few times about silly things 😦 Poppet actually went off quietly at one point and came back about 45 minutes later with a little owl she had hand sown and a card apologising for being rough with Piccalilli! I of course then apologised to her for overreacting and, after a big hug, we moved on.

I’ve been asked by a few people what a typical day looks like for us. I think it’s changed since I last wrote about A Typical Day and today was more like our current ‘usual days’, without any real ‘structure’ but with a lot of natural learning happening. I guess this is because the big Ps are now much further away from the school way of thinking and I’m also much more relaxed as I have been reassured, by spending time with fellow home edders, that they WILL learn without being forced to do so (also with the fantastic resource known as the internet, which we use daily to answer at least one question – today it was “How do magnetic drawing boards work?” following our discovery learning a few days ago.)

Although I was slightly irritable, the good parts of today were fantastic (as shown in the following photos):

Pickle and Piccalilli spent a lot of time in the garden finding ice and crushing it, looking through it, seeing if it floated in our stream, watching it melt ~ generally learning through discovery again.

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They all enjoyed playing with the trundle wheel that the Stinker has borrowed from work! They competed with each other to see who could go the furthest distance and lots of maths talk came from this.

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When we were all feeling in need of some quiet time this afternoon (Should that say I?!) they all got out the tablets and played various different ‘learning’ games.

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Poppet also practised her recorder and did a little bit of music theory, while Pickle revisited magnets and used the magnetic drawing board some more.

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Oh, and Piccalilli tried to squeeze a baby doll into a backpack! She learnt that it is possible if you persevere!

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Snakes, rats, oxen, tigers and… ponies!

After a difficult day with Pickle yesterday (a common occurrence at the moment!) and a very reassuring and motivating chat with some fellow home edders (more experienced so full of wise words) I decided that we were all in need of a very different day today.

I have realised recently that I often try to do too much and please too many people. Yesterday we went to a home ed meet up and celebrated the Chinese New Year. While there, a warm-hearted tiger reminded this snake that I didn’t need to think so much about other people and unless I was happy then I had very little chance of making others happy. When we decided to home educate my aim was to be as autonomous* as possible (without losing our bedtime routine because I really need some time without my children around!) I know that I like to have some level of control in my life and have been guilty of trying to control the Ps (completely impossible with a stubborn rat, persistent ox and charming snake to contend with!) However I am also fully aware of our reasons for home educating (another post that I will write one day) and check myself regularly when I notice the ‘teacher’ in me coming out!

So today was all about me taking a complete step back and having NO expectations of myself or the Ps. I had to accept that I might not get all the laundry done and the Ps might not put their clothes away but I was adamant that we would have a different day…

And it really worked. When the big Ps awoke I calmly explained that we had visitors arriving in an hour and pony club this afternoon and I left it at that. Pickle didn’t want to get dressed before breakfast whereas Poppet got straight into her jodhpurs! Pickle disappeared downstairs while we were getting dressed and was very pleased when we arrived to announce that she had managed to spread butter and Nutella on a piece of bread for herself! While the rest of us ate breakfast Pickle got the drawing board and a magnet (they have been enjoying playing with magnets recently) and realised that she could use the magnet to draw with. They all proceeded to get very excited choosing different fridge magnets to see the different marks they made (“It must be filled with iron or steel filings” pronounced Poppet). I very quickly felt reassured that they are learning all the time and an autonomous approach is definitely the one for us.

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Following breakfast and science (!) I told the Ps that we were going to be joined by a couple of friends and their 2 year olds shortly. Pickle decided it was time to get dressed (no prompting or fussing which is our usual routine), Poppet joined her upstairs to put their clothes away (again no prompting), our friends arrived and we had a lovely morning playing playdough and chatting.

After our friends left Pickle and Piccalilli decided they wanted to play in the garden while Poppet wanted to finish her playdough model of a chair and to help make some lunch. Everyone was happy, including me 🙂

After lunch we started to get ready to go to the city farm for pony club. I allowed 45 minutes preparation time (more than double what I would usually allow!) during which time Pickle happily got changed into her jodhpurs, all three Ps hid from me and I didn’t once get stressed or raise my voice because I knew we had plenty of time to spare. Our drive was fun with lots of singing (more Annie!) and even the loss of my car keys when we arrived didn’t upset me (it did worry me slightly but we found them eventually so all was ok).

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No jodhpurs! (This is actually from last month – afraid I forgot to take pictures today cause I was so chilled!)

The big Ps did fantastic riding and all was calm, so when they requested hot chocolate and a film upon returning home the answer was a resounding yes. It gave me an hour to reflect and sort our dinner…

The conclusion… As much as we possibly can I’d like to continue with the autonomous approach to home education. Our children are bright, naturally inquisitive creatures who will flourish I am sure of it 🙂

 

*Autonomous education – A process of learning which when employed by home educators goes much further than schools using the same term. In short by autonomous education home educators mean that the child leads the education and the parents become the child’s facilitator. The child chooses the subject, method and context of any learning that is undertaken. It is believed by those who espouse it that this is a far more efficient, child centred method of education than any that coerces the child to learn by imposition. (Home Education UK)

Fun with frogs and fire…

… but not at the same time!

On Sunday Poppet, Piccalilli and I had a fun afternoon in the garden while Pickle had a quiet day helping the Stinker with cooking and chilling out in the house…

I’ve been gradually clearing the stream at the bottom of our garden over the past few weeks (a difficult task with all the rain but desperately needed doing to avoid flooding!) and the Ps have been showing increasing interest in it. While I excavated silt, mud and leaves Poppet decided to rescue the worms that were ‘drowning’… She said they would be happier in the wormery that we started a few weeks ago!

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Piccalilli sat happily cleaning toys and shells in the stream, occasionally falling in! She also went off to find some sticks to play ‘stick poo’ with! (She’s loving the Stickman story at the moment.)

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When we found a frog with a broken leg Poppet wondered what we could do to help. We decided that the only thing would be to put it somewhere sheltered in the hope that a predator wouldn’t find it.

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Both girls were intrigued with the fire lighting process and Poppet was keen to toast marshmallows but unfortunately we didn’t have any.  Instead I sent them up to the house to request hot chocolate from the Stinker. The message got slightly lost in translation and they stayed in the house meaning I never received my hot chocolate! At least I had the fire to warm me 🙂

Saying Goodbye – my tips for helping children deal with the death of a pet :(

The end of last week dealt us with the challenge of nursing a sick pet and finally having to say goodbye.  Of course when you get pets you are aware that at some point they will die (unless they are a tortoise, like our other pet Tiggy, who will probably survive us all!). But, I was still not prepared for how to deal with it.

One morning last week I discovered one of our chickens (actually my favourite, Blueberry) collapsed. I showed her the water and food in an attempt to get her to drink and eat but she was extremely weak and not at all interested. I decided to bring her up to the house where we fed her water and yoghurt with a calpol syringe (not calpol though!) for a few days. At times she seemed to be pepping up but on the second morning she was even more lethargic and we decided to take her to the vet. At this point I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be coming home so I prepared the Ps for this outcome and we headed to the vet. Obviously when you home educate your children it’s impossible to do things like this without them, but it is also an important life lesson (and as Pickle is interested in working with animals when she grows up she was actually quite excited about her first visit to the vets!)

The inevitable happened and the vet and I concluded (with the 3 Ps listening on) that the fairest outcome would be to euthanize Blueberry and say goodbye 😦  The vet left us for a few minutes and we all had a cuddle; Poppet and I both had a little cry while Pickle held it together and Piccalilli just kept kissing Blueberry! Now I know some people will be reading this thinking “It’s just a chicken” and I even said to the vet that I didn’t know why I was getting upset over a chicken, but as she said: she’s a pet with her own personality who became a part of our family.

We returned home where Pickle disappeared off and I realised she’d gone off to have a cry – she is very private about her emotions and when I went to give her a cuddle she initially didn’t want me to see her crying but I explained that it’s ok to be sad because we all loved Blueberry. She then decided that Blueberry had gone to be with Great Gran Audrey because she had loved birds 🙂

I feel that learning to deal with death is an important life lesson and these are my top tips on how to cope with this tricky time:

Don’t hide your own feelings. If you feel sad don’t worry about showing your children. If you don’t feel sad, make sure you respect their grief and help them to express their feelings – they shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty and should feel proud of themselves for their level of care and compassion.

Involve them. Where possible let them be a part of the process and give them a chance to say goodbye if you decide to euthanize your pet. Obviously not everyone would want to take their children to the vet with them, but it definitely helped the Ps to see the vet trying her best to help Blueberry.

Reassure them that they weren’t responsible in any way. They also might need reassurance about significant others in their lives. The evening after we said goodbye to Blueberry, Pickle had a big wobble at bedtime so we had a long chat about her feelings and worries.

It can also help to think about the developmental stage of the child involved as their comprehension of death changes as they grow up:

Birth to two years

  • no real understanding of death
  • can sense emotions of those around them
  • may show some signs of irritability
  • need reassurance and usual routines

Two to five years

  • do not understand that death is irreversible and struggle with abstract concepts such as ‘heaven’
  • pick up on emotions of those around them
  • may show irritability or regression
  • will usually ask lots of questions but only capable of showing sadness for short periods of time
  • need reassurance, usual routines and concrete words (avoid “Blueberry has gone to sleep”)

Five to ten years

  • begin to understand the finality of death
  • might be very fearful or fascinated
  • could display aggression or somatic symptoms
  • will need to talk and be able to ask questions
  • stick to concrete words

Ten plus

  • more aware of the finality of death
  • often less willing to open up
  • Somatic symptoms and anger or guilt
  • will need to be given time to discuss their concerns

We are all missing Blueberry but I think the Ps have dealt very well with the experience.

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Blueberry before she was ill.

The most important thing when making solar powered toys is…

… to wait for a sunny day!

The big Ps have been really enjoying learning about where energy comes from, so I thought it was the perfect time to tell them about the solar powered toys I’d bought for them to make.

In some ways it was the best time as they were so enthusiastic about making something that is ‘green’ after they have been learning all about renewable energy. In many ways it was the worst possible time: I have been feeling under the weather today; Piccalilli was having one of those days where she just wanted to be picked up (not easy when you’re trying to make an intricate robot!); one of our hens has been poorly so she’s in a box in the dining room requiring regular water from a syringe; there was no sun!!

Anyway, we did it and it looks great, but we have no idea if it works or not!! Let’s hope for a sunny day tomorrow 🙂

Learning to tie shoe laces in 10 minutes… honest it is possible!

Recently Poppet has mastered the art of tying shoe laces. She’s been able to tie knots for over a year but bows were a write-off at that point! Last week she learnt to do her bows in about 10 minutes!

‘How is this possible?’ I hear you cry. Well, here are my three top tips to make this challenging task a lot less stressful (for child and parent!)

1. Wait until they’re ready!

Over a year ago Poppet first asked if we could teach her how to tie laces. So we dutifully bought her a fake wooden shoe (well, she didn’t have any real ones with laces – they’re all velcro these days aren’t they?!) and showed her how to do it.  After a lot of tantrums (from her and us!) the wooden shoe was relegated to an under bed storage drawer and forgotten about. When she said last week that she wanted to learn to tie laces again we had a little hunt and luckily retrieved the shoe!

2. Make it fun 🙂

There are lots of ways to make learning fun and with lace tying it’s actually remarkably easy:

  • Before getting on to actual lace tying, spend some time playing lacing games – cotton reels or beads on laces and lacing cards are great. You don’t have to buy lacing cards as it’s easy to make your own (although the Early Learning Centre ones are strong, cheap and colourful), but the most important thing is to have a firm, fray free end to your laces.
  • Try tying on a large scale – we had a go with skipping ropes in the garden. It was fun and we had a lot of laughs getting out of the knots we found ourselves in!
  • There are also some cute rhymes (some of which I remember from 30 years ago when I learnt to tie laces on a cardboard picture of a shoe with holes punched in it!) The rhymes mainly seem to revolve around bunnies but, with a bit of imagination, I’m sure they could be adapted to suit any child’s interests. We stuck with a version of the bunny rhyme from my childhood: Over, under, around and through, meet Miss Bunny, pull her through.
  • If you need to model the process it can be best to sit behind your child with your arms around them – Poppet found this hilarious!

3. Stay calm!

I know this can be easier said than done, but I would say that if things are getting too stressful then maybe your child isn’t quite ready.

Good luck and let me know if you beat our 10 minutes!