Imagine: My 15 week old is beside himself, screaming and choking in hysteria: he loathes the car. We have just visited the local library; this is just my 3rd trip out of the house in as many weeks to try to spare my young baby the agony of car-travel. My three-year-old darling son (DS) is sitting in quiet shock next to his screaming baby brother. These days car trips are equally stressful for all of us.
We now arrive back at home and I pull in front of the electric gates. Thank God we have arrived. I reach for the gate remote control – it’s missing.
I turn to my DS and quietly ask him, ‘Do you know where the gate buzzer is?’
I remember he was playing with it before we left the library car park. His eyes are wide open as he shakes his head at me. I quickly run over in my mind how easily I can unload the kids and car from the street and jump the gate to get inside. But DS speaks again.
‘You can use my phone, if you like.’
I sigh with relief. Baby boy is still screaming, but I smile at DS and reply.
‘Thank you darling. I’d love to use your phone’.
And he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the remote and passes it to me.
There’s one phrase we use a lot in our home, and it’s “Play along”.
My DS is a very imaginative child, maybe more than some of his friends but not unlike many other three-year-olds, I’m sure. We play along with his stories, characters and imaginings not because he is highly imaginative by personality, but because he is living in his age-relative world and I do not want him to step out if it earlier than he is ready.
You may have heard of Steiner schools. Rudolf Steiner (1864 – 1925) whose philosophies have greatly influenced the way we live today, developed an education system that nurtures and enlivens children within their natural developmental stages. Steiner Educators believe that children should not be rushed into adult consciousness but allowed to savour their childhood. To quote the Steiner child care provider Fingerprints:
“During the first seven years children are physically forming and live very much in their imagination. This great capacity to enter into imaginative pictures is a good place to begin the process of learning. Steiner teachings strive to support the development of well-rounded human beings who are able to feel deeply and broadly, think penetratingly and clearly, and then to act rightly out of conscious and free choice.”
This philosophy used at home is a great tool. I find that joining in with DS’s stories and playing along, we both learn. By using imaginary characters and voices, I learn why he’s afraid to sleep alone in the dark. He learns all about volcanos, space and fire during daily conversations with ‘the sun’. We both learn how to choose healthy food at the supermarket by pretending to be grocer and customer.
For most of the day that is spent with parents, young children are subject to living in an adult world and are surrounded by adult responsibility. I believe we sometimes forget to look at the world from a child’s perspective.
You may have heard of Montessori schools. Dr Maria Montessori (1870-1952), whose research, findings and recommendations has changed the lives of parents and children for over 100 years, presented a very simple idea that can be effectively applied to all children:
When children are placed in an environment that is set-up with activities designed to support their natural development, children have the power to educate themselves.
Montessori schools are subsequently set up to provide child-size resources so rather than live in an adult world, they can explore a world that is within their level of understanding and physical reach.
A Montessori kindergarten teacher loaned me her book on Montessori style activities two years ago and although I can’t remember the name of the book, I remember this piece of advice:
Rather than help a a child develop skills that are needed for performing a future task, teach them what they need to know and skills appropriate for now. When they get to later, they will easily learn what they need to know, using their previous education as a foundation.
An example is maths. Rather than teach children to recite one to twenty as a foundation for the mathematics they will learn later in primary school, teach them what they need to know now for applying to their current life and way of living – such as counting the vegetables on their plate, or ‘twenty more swings until we hop off and go inside’. Another example is art: rather than teach them how to draw circles and figures that will be the foundation for adding more complex artwork later, teach them to express themselves creatively using their own ideas and imagination – such as by mixing colours and using different tools, textures and strokes, and likening their artwork to objects they are familiar with in their daily life.
Our Parenting Idea:
If we need DS to help us, or we need him to answer a question, we observe what he is doing first. Rather than demand he leave ‘his zone’ and join ours, we tailor our request to meet him on his level. For example, we explained to DS via a conversation with his toy car that it hurt when the car drove on our arms, and we asked the car politely, ‘could you drive on the ground like a real car?’ Doing this, we had a great response from both the car and DS.
We regularly praise DS and show we are proud of what he can do, to help him live happy and self-sufficient life NOW. We realize that he can’t understand that we are dreaming that he will one day be able to do more.
A parent with a strong focus on the child’s future abilities might result in the child always striving for a future perfection and not believing they are enough now.
Think of how often your child asks you a question on why they need to do something, and your reply talks about the future: ‘Because one day you will be …’ It may be more helpful to explain how the current activity helps them right now, and help them fully develop the skill for how it relates to their present life. Explain and assist them to believe with you that they are behaving perfectly, for right now. Because… all we really have is now.
You may be wondering the end of our remote control story?
After using DS’s ‘telephone’ to open the gate, I returned it to him and thanked him. When we had all hopped out of the car, he walked around the yard holding it to his ear, pretending to chat to his friend about his trip to the library. When the pretend conversation ended he updated me on his friend’s day. Then passed me the phone – now a remote again – and agreed that it should go back into the car. And he thanked me for letting him play with it.
Day by day we aim to repair our bodies and have trust, faith and optimism for the future. You can join me as I walk to wellness in the private facebook group Joanna Haley Homestead (Journey to Wellness)
Joanna Haley, Author