When is it time to let go? 7 tips to increase your child’s independence…

Poppet has been showing signs of growing up recently, changing from a little girl to a, dare I say it, young lady?! She has mini strops on a regular basis (which remind me of myself when I was 13, not 7-and-a-half!) and is desperate to have more independence and responsibility.

As our oldest child this is all a steep learning curve for us, so I’ve done my usual and researched lots on how best to allow her more independence without letting go completely.

I have never wanted to ‘control’ my children but do realise that as parents it is the easy default to go to at difficult times (like trying to get out of the house in the morning!) A survey which has tracked more than 5,000 people since their birth in 1946 researched the impact of over-control on children. “Parents also give us [a] stable base from which to explore the world while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote  social and emotional development” said Dr Mai Stafford, of the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Lifelong Health and Ageing unit at UCL. “By contrast, psychlogical control can limit a child’s independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behaviour.”

I would hate for my children to grow up to be ‘contingent children’ (part of our reason for home educating them I think!) but really don’t think this will be the case as our children certainly don’t fit the criteria of depending on others for their happiness or incentive to achieve (although they occasionally make poor decisions which is another sign, but don’t we all!)

I believe that independence is vital, when a child is ready to leave the safe attachment bond they have with their caregivers, and hope my children will all grow up to display the characteristics:

  • self motivated to achieve
  • able to choose activities that they enjoy
  • good decision makers
  • share a collaborative (rather than controlled) relationship with their parents

These characteristics seem to fit so well with home education and the unschooling theory of child initiated learning. Interestingly, independence has to be ‘taught’ to an extent by allowing our children to experience many opportunities of their choosing and providing the following essential aspects:

  1. Love and Respect Of course we all love and respect our children, but it is important to remember to show them love regularly in the little moments and to respect their choices, however odd they might seem to us at times!
  2. Be proud of their abilities However small an achievement might seem to us, it can be a big deal to a 7 year old. Poppet was so excited to complete her first ever mini dressage test completely independently, so I made a really big deal out of it because it mattered to her 🙂
  3. Ensure they understand the control they have over the world Whether it’s negative or positive they need to recognise the impact they have on those around them.  Displaying our emotions can really help them to understand this (and I’ve found that crying when Pickle has really pushed me does seem to make her think!)
  4. Give guidance but allow them to make their own decisions I often find myself explaining possible outcomes but then try to back off so the Ps can make their own choices. Even little Piccalilli at 2-and-a-half is able to make her own decisions, often resulting in the weirdest outfit combinations (a dress with Poppet’s skirt over the top and wellies on the wrong feet today!)
  5. Teach Responsibility Poppet is starting to desire more responsibility within the family so we have discussed with her how she can have this and the tasks she can undertake to help out. She has also started to show more responsibility for her own learning as she is starting to understand that she can achieve things independently now.
  6. Teach Accountability We all get things wrong occasionally and it’s important to be accountable for our own actions. If children do not learn to take responsibility for their mistakes they will struggle to take responsibility for their achievements. I am not advocating punishment when things go wrong, but I am aware that a discussion and time-to-think often work for us.
  7. Encourage Freedom and Exploration (AKA Risk Taking!) This is another aspect which fits so well with home educating as it is so much more possible to give children the freedom to explore when you have the time and space. We spend so much of our time in the great outdoors so there are often risks to take (usually resulting in very muddy children!)

cassi pony

I’m sure some people think of home educated children as being less independent as they spend ‘all’ their time with a care-giver, but I can assure you that this is definitely not the case in our home ed journey! Without the constraints and control of school I have seen my children develop in confidence and with that independence; I aim to do everything I can to continue to bring up strong, independent young ladies.

 

 

Advertisements

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 🙂

11008249_1306023129414649_1958894476_n(1)

 

 

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!

DSC_0009

5 reasons why having CHILDREN (not boys or girls!) will change your life…

I have been thinking about writing this for some time, but because I don’t like the idea of offending anyone I have held off. However, recently so many things have pushed my buttons in relation to this and I feel the need for a bit of a rant and as it’s International Women’s Day, I have linked up with the wonderful Lulastic and her International Women’s Day 2016 blog link up. 

I have three children, who just happen to be of the female variety. At the end of the day they are CHILDREN, and children to a point all behave the same. I get really annoyed when I read the posts about the things only mums of boys would know and wonder if the people who write these really believe these things to be exclusively male traits…

I am not writing this to compete (you won’t hear me saying that spending my days in and out of minor injuries is because I have boisterous girls – although I think it probably is because I have boisterous children!) rather to put another point of view across. I do feel strongly that the posts claiming ‘boys will be boys’ are just reinforcing gender stereotypes – I am fully aware that many are written in jest, but then so was the comment ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’ made by someone I know recently, in front of my three young, impressionable girls, who I am trying to bring up with the strong belief that they can be anyone/thing they want.

I am constantly reassuring the Ps that they (and their friends) can do/wear/be/play whatever they want and I struggle that they already have some of society’s beliefs ingrained, such as daddy needs to mow the lawn, boys can’t wear skirts, girls should have long hair, etc, etc. I think that their limited time in school and minimal television viewing both have had a negative impact on their perceptions of the world. I am also aware that it is impossible to shelter them completely, and they do need to understand the world that they are growing up in, but I do find myself questioning these viewpoints whenever I hear them!

 

Gender inequality is still a major issue in the UK, with women being paid, on average, 20% less than their male colleagues. Really?! The Stinker and I got talking about this and how society sadly still reinforces the idea that women can’t do the same as men, and this starts with people labelling their boys as loud and boisterous and girls as quiet and calm. I am not claiming that there are no differences between males and females (aside from the obvious few!) but it saddens me that people still talk about men’s jobs or needing a man for heavy work. It also saddens me that our government is so lacking in female members and we still have to have a minister for ‘Women and Equality’ in 2016 – surely by now equality should not be a problem!

There are even groups on Facebook trying to address these issues at the basic (children’s) level. Let Toys be Toys and Let Clothes be Clothes are both aiming to allow children to just be children, wearing what they like and playing with whatever makes them happy 🙂

Ok, this has ended up heavier than I planned on it being, but I guess I needed to rant more than I realised!

So to end on a lighter note!

To all the parents/relatives/family friends of young children,

Here are my top five things you should know:

  1. Wherever groups of children are there will be noise, whether it be laughter, screaming or shouting, be prepared for noise!
  2. Child-free spaces no longer exist! We often try to keep our lounge as a grown up room but they always manage to sneak a few toys in or leave random items of clothing lying around (Right now I am sitting on the sofa looking at one sock, a skirt, a pirate ship and a naked baby doll lying on the floor in front of me!)
  3. The clothes are lying around because they love to get naked – at the slightest opportunity children remove all of their clothes, even in the middle of winter!
  4. Your local Minor Injuries Unit nurses will know you very well! We have visited with all three of the Ps on more than one occasion – I was chatting with my cousin the other day about how the Ps are never ill, but she reminded me that we get our money’s worth out of the NHS with our frequent MIU visits!
  5. They will have you tearing your hair out in frustration  one minute and beaming with pride the next. Whatever their gender and personality children will give you all the emotions under the sun and that’s what makes being around them so great.

I hope it is clear that I am not being competitive in any way, nor am I angry with the parents who have written these posts. I think that, sadly, gender stereotypes are so ingrained in our society that many people don’t even realise they are doing it!

IMG_6842

 

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.

IMG_7559x

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.

IMG_7555x

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.

tabx              ctabx

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.

recorderx               IMG_7539x

IMG_7543x

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

IMG_7533x

 

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.

IMG_7526x

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).

20151201_135138x
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)