Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Loving and letting be..

My Dad has been conducting a spirituality course with myself and a bunch of my friends over the last 4 weeks and last night was the last one and it turned into a really interesting conversation about "what is love?" and "does love sometimes need to be tough?" and other such interesting questions.  It resonated a lot with me because only last week I started giving my 9 yo dd more space to explore the way she interacts with her 12 yo brother and I found it a really hard thing to do.  Like a lot of parents I always want to children to be happy and to get on with each other but I began to question myself:

Does my desire for that to be the case stop either of my children from being themselves in that relationship?

And I realised that yes, my desire does stop my children exploring that relationship for themselves and this one example which happened last week was a point in case.  My dd wanted to watch a certain with her Dad and ds didn't want to and was trying to offer alternatives. Dd put her foot down and didn't want to compromise and so ds got upset and came into see me, with dd traipsing behind.  I cuddled ds, heard the story of what had happened from him and then from dd.  My son is an easy-going child so I could easily have got him to do something different with me and sent dd off to watch her film with my husband, but I stopped and wondered:

how long will my son remain easy-going if I let his sister get her own way a lot?
how would that work the other way round?
why am I trying to solve a problem which isn't mine?  it is my ds and dd's issue?
what disservice am I doing to both ds and dd in solving their problems when actually neither of them have explicitly asked me to?

My dd did then sort of ask me to solve this problem but looking at me with her gorgeous puppy-dog brown eyes  she has and this is where my desire to make everything ok for her normally kicks in.  However this time I didn't.

I vocalised that her brother seemed upset and waited.  And waited a bit more (whilst so desperately wanting to fix the problem by giving loads of different scenarios which could work) and watched her struggle with what she could do.  She's used to me fixing the problem for her and that is my "fault" but left to her own devices she eventually agreed to a compromise film.  If she had stuck with her original plan to watch her film, thereby excluding her brother, that would have been an equally valid choice but with differing outcomes.  She will never know and neither will I.  I do know though that my ds appreciated that his sister had come to this decision herself and when asked later he said that it felt more genuine and sincere to him.

Love isn't fixing problems whilst removing someone else's chance to fix their own
Love isn't always relying on one sibling's goodwill whilst allowing another sibling to get their way
Love doesn't mean always liking a child's behaviour
Love is letting a child grow up and learn about their relationships for themselves and letting them struggle with the consequences of their actions/words

Having just written that list it has occurred to me that this resonates with an article I read in the Independent a few weeks ago.  Read Peter Gray's article "Give childhood back  to children" here.  His premise is that children need more time to play to be happy, productive and moral citizens and that our education system is not allowing this through too little play and too much homework.  However he talks about play allowing children to "think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions."  He states that in hunter-gatherer societies children are allowed to explore away from adults all day long thereby practising the skills they need to become effective adults themselves.  This is what resonates with me.  Children sorting out their own issues away from adults.

Again another article seems to echo a similar theme here.  As part of an experiment a school in Auckland ripped up the playground rulebook and allowed children to skateboard, climb trees and play with "dangerous" equipment such as old tyres and pipes during playtime.  The incidences of bullying, injuries and and vandalism dropped whilst overall behaviour and concentration of the children increased.  It also resulted in the school needing less adult supervision during playtime.  The Principal said "We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over."  Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences so "the great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it's more dangerous in the long-run".

I am wondering whether the development of the frontal lobe also occurs when children are not overly supervised by adults?  Children need to make their own mistakes whether by falling over, knocking someone else over, upsetting a friend or sibling, seeing the consequences of their own actions or words, etc..

Peter Gray states that "play is a means by which [children] acquire social skills and practice fairness and morality."  When children play there is always the ability to stop playing and this power to quit is what makes play "the most democratic of all activities" because this leads to negotiation and compromise if the game is to continue.  This in turn develops empathy (the ability to see the world from someone else's viewpoint) which is essential for the development of friendships, relationships and co-operative work partnerships.

Obviously if and when children need extra help in any of this situations there are wonderful techniques such as those in books like "How to talk so kids will listen", "Parent Effectiveness Training" or in any Non Violent Communication book, which will help us help our children learn valuable conflict resolution techniques. Once learned though we are then free as parents to leave our children alone to sort out their problems themselves, which means not always rushing in to fix any issues they are having, even if we really, really want to!!

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