The Children’s and Teen Health Summit

I am so excited! My friend sent me a link to some free presentations around children and teen health and parenting issues, although many of the topics would be of interest to non-parents too! There are new presentations available every day for a week and we are currently on day 3. Each talk is available to watch for 24 hours but there is also the option to purchase all 30 presentations. I started listening to a couple yesterday and just had to share. I feel that parents can be so easily convinced to do things a certain way to make sure they are seen to be doing a good job and bringing up well-behaved children, or simply because they lack the confidence to follow their own judgement, but really, we need to look deeper within ourselves and question what is really best. We must be responsible for our own lives and health and be aware of the impact our choices have on our precious children which means questioning the brainwashing information that is all around us that we often blindly accept. Many of the talks discuss hot parenting topics such as unconditional love, our expectations of our children, learning and education, relating to our children, attachment, family life, diet, pregnancy and health and well-being. Yesterday I listened to Naomi Aldort, author of “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” and found very much in line with my existing attitudes. It talks about how to change our behaviour as parents in order to change our children’s behaviour. However, she points out that this is not about manipulation but about allowing the child’s natural unfolding of the mind through nurturing, which results in natural co-operation without the need to control. Parents who say their children are behaving “badly” are more likely to behaving in a way that is provoking this “bad” behaviour due to their own experiences as a child or their idea of what it means to be a parent. When we address this our children will show dramatic shifts in behaviour and life is more harmonious all round! She also touched upon the topic of household chores, which I found quite amusing being subject to a rota of chores myself as a child! Could you stop telling your child to do chores completely? This morning I listened to another discussion, “The Fearless Parent” with Louise Kuo Habakus. This particular talk touches on plenty of health issues including illness, homotoxicology and vaccinations, but the theme is that as parents we should be making informed choices and educating ourselves on ours and our children’s health. It is about putting you in the driving seat and making confident choices without fear. One topic which really interested me was wifi. I have known for a while now that EMF radiation can be damaging but it really hit home just how damaging it could be and how much more vigilant we need to be with reducing our exposure. Children absorb up to 10 x radiation than adults due to immature skulls that facilitate absorption. There have been links to leukemia, brain tumors, infertility and neurological problems. Other countries in Europe are starting to ban wifi in schools whilst we are ignoring the warnings and exposing our children to more and more of this radiation, through mobile phones, tablets, wifi and more. It baffles me why a toddler needs to play on a smartphone anyway but sadly I see it all the time. If I told you that EMF radiation from these devices has been classified as a group 2b possible carcinogen (cancer causing) and that this classification is the same level as exhaust fumes, lead and DDT pesticide, would you think about taking steps to reduce your child’s exposure? You can switch off the wifi in your house, turn off your mobile phone and set limits on their own time on these devices and you WILL be making a positive change and reducing their exposure levels. Yes it is all around us, but we can take measures to reduce their direct exposure. Just like you wouldn’t want them standing behind a car exhaust breathing in all the fumes 24/7 but you would probably be happy for them to walk around a busy town with lots of cars…the closer they are to to point of radiation the more effect it will have, so start in their home environment.

Having a look at the schedule it looks like there are loads of interesting topics coming up that I am desperate to hear. Day 4 there will be a whole talk regarding the EMF radiation I have discussed. To access the presentations click here. If any of the talks resonate with you I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Controlling our children with praise and rewards

It may be fairly easy to understand why some parents do not agree with punishment, in any form, because they believe it to be disrespectful to the child, damaging to a child’s self-worth, damaging to the parent-child relationship and ultimately, ineffective in the long run. Teachers will be familiar with the temporary compliance that punishment may bring but do the ‘troublemakers’ ever realise why their behaviour is wrong and start to make better choices? Or do they display anger and rebel further in the future? The child feels controlled and isn’t involved in their decision making, meaning they are less likely to make good ones in the future. In any act of defiance, any tantrum, any unacceptable social behaviour, there should be an opportunity for the child to learn. How can they do this when we work against them rather than with them? All they really learn is to do what they are told or suffer. These consequences only make the child interested in how their actions affect them and therefore do not learn to see other people’s point of view in order to become compassionate, moral decision makers. The research is clear as day; punishments don’t work. It seems obvious to me that we need to work with children, taking the time to understand them, and resist the urge to control these situations, if we want them to grow up to be ethical, confident, sociable adults with good thinking skills.

However, it might be harder to understand why anyone would think that offering their child praise, a form of reward, could be damaging in similar ways. After all, how can something that is intended as positive encouragement and often given with love, do anything other than boost self-confidence and motivation? I have been really interested in this topic since it was first brought to my attention during my Montessori studying and I have recently finished the book ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn, which puts a lot of emphasis on the negative impact of positive praise. I am sorry to say, particularly if you are someone who goes out of their way to avoid punishment but focuses instead on the ‘good’ behaviour, that verbal praise, along with tangible rewards, is actually just the other end of the same spectrum.

When we tell our children that they are ‘good’ for behaving in a certain way we are telling them that we approve of them for behaving in that way. Despite how we dress it up, we are making sure that we are still in control of their actions. Just like when we punish them for doing something we disapprove of, we are conditioning our children, in a similar way to how we would train a dog. We are giving them the message that we will only love them if they please us and do as they’re told. I know what you are thinking; of course I love my children regardless of how they behave! But it isn’t what you, the adult, knows. It is what the child hears. Being condemned when you do this and praised when you do that; you have to earn my approval, acknowledgement, attention…you have to earn my love.

Montessori disagreed with any form of reward or punishment and children were viewed as having the best intentions from birth; children are not born ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. When we suggest that a newborn baby is ‘good’ – something that so many people said to me when Poppy was younger – we are saying that there is a possibility that they can be ‘bad’, which for a child who has no understanding of the world or social interactions and is only behaving on their most basic human instincts, is a ridiculous thing to suggest. Labelling a child as good or bad we are merely gauging how much of an inconvenience their complex behaviour is to us without understanding the reasons behind it. I find this baffling that we are not interested in getting to know our children better but instead want to tell them how to be to fit in with us. Being eager to learn about my daughter as an individual and unique person I agree with Alfie Kohn who advocates ‘working WITH’ strategies in favour of the ‘doing TO’ approach to raising children.

We should be cautious of manipulating children in any way to comply with what we want. Encouraging a child to be obedient, either because of a fear of punishment or a desire for praise, may backfire when they become old enough to be influenced by people other than yourself. Everyone knows of a teenager who had been good as gold all their life, until one day they got in with the wrong crowd. They might appear to have changed their behaviour drastically, but in fact they are likely to be complying, as they always have, to somebody else’s rules. They are basing their actions on someone else’s judgement and lacking the confidence to follow their own minds, because they have never learnt how.

But there are more reasons to avoid rewards and verbal praise and you may find yourself more able to relate to this information as you read and reflect on your own life. Humans are intrinsically motivated to learn. Babies and children have an overwhelming urge to explore the world and find out how things work. They do not need anybody to tell them that they are doing a good job at splashing in puddles or that they are a good boy for putting the puzzle piece in the correct hole, the discovery they have made is satisfying enough. If we offer them rewards they get the message that what they are doing is something that they wouldn’t want to do, otherwise we wouldn’t have to bribe them. Instantly, their interest in the task declines. Thereafter the effort they put in is a means to an end, the end being praise, because unfortunately, the more a child gets the more they will want. That means that despite their innate desire to learn independently, if they are constantly being told that they are doing well – a quick, easy and satisfying assurance- they will become reliant on this reward and act in order to gain more approval rather than being driven by their intrinsic motivation. This is a key aspect of the Montessori approach, where concentration on their work is fundamental to their development and praise of any sort is seen as an unnecessary distraction. Both Montessori and Alfie Kohn suggest, and it has in fact been proven, that work motivated extrinsically is of far lower quality because the person becomes more focused on achieving recognition than they do on the task in hand. I notice this in Poppy already and when she is really focused on something I daren’t say a word for fear of breaking that vital concentration that is visible evidence that her brain is developing as I watch her. A quick ‘well done’ is enough to draw her out of her own learning and suppress her ability to think for herself. A child who is being conditioned to behave according to their parents or teachers standards, simply notices how the adult perceives their work or play and then alters it to suit the adult. True child-led play is an incredibly valuable, natural part of growing up that we cannot afford to interfere with.

water concentration

We can apply this degeneration in quality of work to the workplace as well. Alfie Kohn cites very interesting research that shows how incentives in the workplace do more harm than good whilst intrinsic motivation improves the quality of work being produced. And what happens when the rewards are no longer there? In a workplace you might see employers disengaging because they don’t see the point if they aren’t being acknowledged for their hard work and at school grades are a fine example of where rewards fail to encourage long-term commitment. I myself worked very hard short-term to get top marks at school, and yet didn’t internalise any of the information, nor did I feel genuine interest in anything I was studying. I took the easiest route to what I had been conditioned to think was success, which meant cramming in information, memorising it as if it were lines for a play, regurgitating it all under exam conditions and having nothing but a piece of paper with a meaningless A on it to show for it afterwards. Similarly, if a child becomes confident of how to gain rewards, even verbal ones, they are likely to take the easiest, most tried and tested route to do so. They won’t take risks or think outside of the box, because they see no point when they only have one end goal in mind – reward. This results in them missing out on a lot of learning opportunities considering exploration and discovery are key to learning. For example, imagine a child takes a drawing of a rainbow to their teacher who instantly says “Good girl! Clever girl! You drew a rainbow!” The teacher ends up with a picture of the same rainbow for a week. In the meantime the child could have been exploring how to draw different objects or use different materials. But moreover, is this the sort of adult we want our children to grow up to be? Taking the easiest route to self-gratification?

So it seems that there are many reasons that praise and rewards are detrimental to a child’s development, and on top of that they have been proven to be as ineffective as punishments in what they supposedly set out to achieve. Of course, there are times when you feel that you naturally want to give your child encouragement and the good news is that you can offer something constructive that will not only help the child to reflect and feel proud of themselves but also ensure that their intrinsic motivation remains as strong as ever. It might seem difficult to get your head around, and impossible to change a habit passed down through generations, but instead of focusing on the details and what not to say, try to focus on working with your child and avoiding all elements of control. If this is in the back of your mind at all times it might be easier to banish the praise forever because it starts to feel so wrong.

There are plenty of ways to show children that you are interested in their actions or efforts without showing judgement. Asking them questions is one of the best ways to do this whilst allowing them to reflect on the situation and learn about themselves. For example, “How did you paint those animals? They are really detailed!” or “I noticed that little boy appreciated your help just then, how did that make you feel?” You are simply observing but inviting your child to think. It might not feel natural at first but soon it becomes a part of everyday conversation and brings you closer to your children. For the big achievements there are phrases that can be used to share your child’s happiness and boost their confidence. For example, a simple, “You did it!” allows the child to reflect on their achievement, keeping their own goals as the motivation for their efforts. It says, “You did what you were trying so hard to do for so long. You must be really proud right now” in one little phrase. When your child has behaved in a way that is convenient to you and you would usually shower them with “Well done!” and “Great job!” try commenting on the effect their choices have had. For example, they are ready to leave the house on time; “You are ready to leave, which means we will be on time to collect your brother. He will be so happy!” Again, the child is able to reflect and learn how their actions have consequences on others. There are many alternatives to praise and rewards, and I have included some links below to help you get started. But one thing to also consider, is do you need to say anything at all? What are your reasons for saying it, and will it benefit the child?

If this topic has made you re-evaluate your approach to parenting then I urge you to read Alfie Kohn’s ‘Unconditional Parenting’ which highlights many aspects of what it means to show your child unconditional love and why you should relinquish control. One thing is for sure, verbal praise is not something to be used to enhance a parent’s unconditional support and love for their child, because in reality it equates to completely the opposite.

Read more here:

Montessori rewards and punishment

Alfie Kohn – Punished by Rewards?

Alfie Kohn on praise

Alfie Kohn – Five reasons to stop saying “Good job”

Alternatives to praise:

What to say instead of praise

Alternatives to “Good Job”

 

 

Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

montessori bedroom
Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

One step forward, two steps back

Following on from my last post about our new sleeping arrangement I am calling out to anyone who has tried anything similar. For advice, reassurance, wisdom…As I said before Poppy was settling herself to sleep without feeding fairly often in her new room. During the evenings I simply had to go in and put my hand on her back and give her a little shh and she was back to sleep. Leading up to her middle of the night feed she was a little harder to settle and she always cried more if Tim was settling her, but it was a frustration cry and she went back to sleep without my heart breaking.

The night I published that post everything changed! Tim just couldn’t settle her. She cried but it got more and more intense until I went in and she started to settle again. One time she had got herself too worked up and needed the boob to relax again. I ended up waking up at 3.30am that morning, listening to her cry as Tim attempted to get her back to sleep (I had aimed for no feeds before 4am as she had a late one at 11.30pm) He eventually succeeded only to hear her wake again 15 minutes later. This time she didn’t accept him and I had to step in. She woke up fully and started smiling at me and stroking my face (“Aww how cute!” you say…not at this time in the morning!) There was no convincing her it was the middle of the night so I tried to feed her into drowsiness again. Long story short I got her back to sleep at 5.30am and fed her more than planned, and by the time she was asleep I was too wired myself to go back to bed. So yesterday I was a zombie. Last night I had to decide what to do, seeing as she refused Tim again twice in the evening and I ended up feeding her at 9pm. With Tim away all weekend I needed sleep so I pondered weather sleeping in her room would be enough to give her the comfort each time she woke and stop her getting herself worked up to the point that she needed to comfort feed. After all I knew she could fall asleep without the feeds, but she still needed a little support. I gave it a go, and our night was even worse. I was so tired when she woke up I could hardly be bothered to try (hence why I moved her out of our bed in the first place!), and her cry just didn’t sound like that frustrated cry, it sounded more distressed, and I cannot listen to that for too long without feeling like the worst mum ever. Coupled with the fact that she was putting her hands down my top I felt like I was completely suppressing my natural response and not listening to her. So I gave in, multiple times, and fed her throughout the night. I convinced myself that she must just be hungry, but her fluttery, lazy sucks proved otherwise! She decided it was time to get up at 5am, and as well as that her morning nap is all out of sync for the second day in a row. Back to square one?

Feeling confused, annoyed, disheartened and guilty. Go with the flow and hope she decides to play ball again sometime soon? Or push on through the heartache knowing that at least I am there with her as she cries? But what if she just doesn’t stop?! Is this her way of telling me “Yes I figured out your plan, and I gave it a go, but I don’t like it so you had better stop right now because I’m not having any of it!” I have had enough of thinking about who needs what…I have no idea what I need anymore, apart from a strong coffee.

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