After not sleeping for 2 years and travelling to the other side of the world with my 2 children under 4 years old, I was low resourced and definitely not responding to my children in the way I wished. The help offered was to ensure there were “consequences” for behaviour I found unacceptable and to use such concepts as the naughty step. As often happens, my children taught me how this was not going to work in the way I had hoped for:
Using the naughty step
My youngest and her sister were arguing over a toy. They were struggling to resolve the conflict. My daughter knew I was watching and whacked her sister and then looked at me and said, “naughty step?”. She was not even 2 years old but had learnt what the consequences were for hitting and was happy with that situation.
I looked for a different approach and first found “Talk so they listen, listen so they talk” by Adele Faber. This follows many of the similar humanist approaches of NVC and PET. Its companion called “siblings without rivalry” is also a winner, especially as the cartoons make it easier for a fogged brain to manage.
Did my children ever hit each other again? yes. This slowly reduced and they learnt other ways to resolve conflicts. I learnt to step in to stop escalation, to listen and reflect between them and for us all to come up with creative ways to move forward. They are now teenagers who, of course, have disagreements but we have skills to support each other when things go wrong.
As my children started school, I soon realised that rewards (stickers, gold stars, certificates) were everywhere, as were consequences and sanctions (placed on the cloud, given yellow/red cars and losing play/golden time). These methods are all about controlling behaviour through power, fear, shame or bribery. They may offer short term compliance, but they create anxiety, fear, shame, de-motivation and dependency on external affirmation. We have a mental health crisis in our teenagers. Psychologists have consistently and continually provided evidence to show that these systems of punishment and rewards have detrimental effects on children’s well-being, especially those who have additional needs or have experienced trauma.
I took my children out of school and created an alternative outdoor learning setting. My children played in the woods and at home. They re-entered education for High School with a love of learning and good mental health. We prepared for the deluge of rewards and threat of punishment. Now that they were older, they could better understand their purpose and hopefully shield themselves somewhat from it. It is not easy to resist the lure of the A*.
For over 10 years I have worked with hundreds of children, all unique. I have deep trusting relationships with the children which has given me much joy. I have found children to have endless empathy if you give them an opportunity to show it, that they have fantastic and surprising creativity to fix conflicts and that acceptance of their strong feelings is often all that is needed. I continue to practice NVC and PET and I have wonderful moments of competency. I continue to use my time machine or rewind button when I do or say things I regret.
Why do I believe this way of communication is preferable? Because my children tell me how much they appreciate it.
“’Concepts around awe and wonder, that’s why it’s set in a wood. The wood is constantly changing. It surprises you each time you go. I was in this week, I’ve had the wood for over 15 years, and this week I saw a new bird.”
Check out this episode of Back To The Garden Podcast where I join the team and Anne Statham (child development specialist). This is a very in-depth conversation so it is split into two parts.
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