It recently occurred to me that with the number of posts I write about the rivalry between my children, it might be easy to conclude that the respectful parenting methods I have adopted to help manage their rivalry over the years have been completely ineffective, otherwise, why would they still rival?
When do children develop empathy – I mean true empathy? I have always considered empathy quite a complex emotion. According to Psych Central, to empathise with someone is to understand what another is feeling or, more properly, to understand what you would feel like if you were in their situation.
Considering the feelings of others and showing them support through words or actions is a concept that even adults sometimes struggle with. Often our life experiences help to strengthen our empathetic nature, particularly experiences of hardship. Empathy in children is therefore not something I have really paid too much mind to, confident that this, like many of my children’s blossoming traits, will develop over time. Continue reading
Having been a teacher for 12 years, I had always thought I would have a distinct advantage over other parents who had not trained in this area in giving my children a leg up in their education. After all, I knew all the little tricks for learning, I knew what needed to be learned (or I thought I did) and I knew how hard it could be for a child who was behind in their work and could never seem to get on top of things. I was determined that my children would begin their schooling half-educated and ready to hit the ground running, not having to struggle through.
So after the birth of my first daughter, even though I had switched to mother mode and was to take a year’s leave from teaching, I just couldn’t quite separate my role as a teacher from that of a mother. I religiously read to my baby, showed her flashcards naming all the objects, got little foam letters for the bathtub to spell out her name, went through all the shape names as we poked them through the shape sorter and on it went. I even went so far as to order the ‘Your Baby Can Read’ program and for a little while, plonked my baby in front of it as if it would somehow miraculously teach her to read. Oh dear, how wrong I was!
I have since learned that teaching is not in the role description of a parent – at least, not explicitly. I am not employed by my babies to teach them the alphabet, maths, or even how to walk, talk or eat their food. My role is as a guide only. I am here to provide them with an environment which provides them with safety and security as well as the experiences for them to learn for themselves.
My children are best served by me sitting back and observing. Showing them how to do things instead of trusting them to work it out for themselves, insisting they point out the red sheep in the book we are reading together, involving myself in their play by showing them how tall I can build a tower of blocks or interfering in their daily struggles and challenges not only pressures them to do more and know more than they already happily do but also robs them of the opportunity to develop even more important life skills such as perseverance, hypothesising, resilience, forming conclusions, risk taking, cause and effect and the list goes on.
Like Magda Gerber once said:
“Be careful what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning.”
A child who is not taught, gains the opportunity to experience the self-pride and confidence which comes when an achievement is made all by themselves. This can only serve to foster a lifelong love of learning which is paramount in arming our children for the lifetime of formal learning they will gain at school or in the workforce.
There is one thing we can be sure of with our children and that is that they are all born with an innate desire to learn. If I don’t show my children how to walk, will they never take those first steps in their lifetime? If I never teach my child the alphabet, does that mean they will never learn it? The thing is, a child’s desire to learn is far stronger than our need to teach and when the time is right for them, our children will seek out the knowledge they wish to continue to grow and develop at their own pace.
I have also discovered that there is nothing more joyful than watching your child persevere through frustrations, only to eventually triumph and complete the task they had set out to do. Jean Piaget wisely pointed out:
“When you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.”
And when you see the smile light up on your little one’s face when they make the discovery or accomplish a task you will soon realise the importance of Piaget’s message. It is especially affirming when they immediately re-enact a struggle they just made it through as if to reassure themselves that they can do it and will continue to be able to do it when they need to in the future.
I now know that being present whilst my, now two, children are at play is all I need to do to ensure they learn all the vital skills they’ll need to be well-equipped for their lifetime of learning. In doing this, I also realise that they’ll actually learn far more than if I had continued to try to teach them everything at every opportunity.
Ok, so here I am; mum of 2, wife of 1 and teacher of many. Yep, for 12 years I have taught countless children the health benefits of sport and exercise and the intricacies of solving algebraic equations. I was confident in most aspects of my chosen career and found the role of guiding students through these subjects came very naturally with few frustrations.
You could say I was organised in my approach, spending hours creating lessons that would engage students and activate their minds. I could relate well to the students and found many of them came to me for advice and treated me somewhat as their confidante. I was able to listen to them and guide them through their problems.
I always delighted in seeing these students (often they lacked self-confidence and trust in their own ability) come out of their shells over the years of schooling and succeed in reaching the goals they had set, big or small. It was not uncommon for students to return to school, years after finishing, to fill me in on where life had taken them. These were the special moments. The rewards of teaching that made it all worthwhile.
You see, I was not a confident child. I was the child who cried everyday of Kindergarten and Preschool when my Mum dropped me off. I would cry when it was my turn to ‘steal the cookie from the cookie jar’ and I would cry when I had to lie down on the little floor beds to have a rest because I felt embarrassed and vulnerable.
As I grew, I continued to lack confidence in everything I did except for playing sport. It was the only place I felt I could do anything. I guess this steered me down the path of my chosen career. Even as an adult I have some confidence issues when socialising or when speaking out about a subject for fear of criticism from my peers and even as I write this blog, I wonder what people will say and whether they will like it. But this is part of who I am and I have always been able to draw on this to be able to speak with the eyes of compassion to the students I see struggling with the very same issues I had when I was their age. It has never stopped me achieving everything I have wanted in life and if anything, has driven me to try harder to do everything perfectly.
So, when I became pregnant, I was outwardly nervous (as most new Mums would be) but quietly confident in my ability to rise to the challenge. I listened politely as friends, family, colleagues and even strangers warned me about how difficult it was raising children and thanked them for their well-meaning advice and strategies for managing parenthood.
Inside I was thinking, ‘how hard can it really be? I can do this. I am a good teacher; if I can manage to teach upwards of 150 students at any one time and do a reasonable job in steering these young adults through their daily struggles then surely I can manage one little child and guide her through life challenges with poise and confidence . Right?’
And so, as my daughter began her life in this beautiful world, I naively began my journey into parenthood. I soon discovered that no amount of teaching, organising or advice could have prepared me for the ride I was about to take. My experiences of parenting have made me question the commonly dished out advice of ‘Trust Your Instincts’ and steered me down the wonderful path of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) whose founder, Magda Gerber, said this
“I believe that, no matter how much and how fast the world changes, a well-grounded, competent, and confident person is best equipped to adapt to it. This is our goal”.
~ Magda Gerber
Confidence. If I could ask for my children to have anything at the end of their childhood, it would be confidence. Confidence to succeed, confidence to fail, confidence to cry, confidence to admit mistakes, confidence in all they do.
Whilst I had succeeded in helping some of my students find the confidence they had needed to forge forwards in their lives, I now had to stop and consider how I could do the same for my own children. Were my instincts good enough? Answers did not come quickly or easily, but over time I have been lucky enough to discover the parenting philosophies of Magda Gerber. A lot of who I am now I owe to a RIE teacher Janet Lansbury whose teachings on Elevating Childcare are simply inspiring.
I hope that I too can inspire even just one person through my future blogs, highlighting my personal discovery of RIE and how it has changed my family’s lives.
You might also enjoy reading:
Rebuilding a Child’s Confidence ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
A Beginner’s Guide to RIE Parenting ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)