Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A Little Victory for Gentle Parenting

I research for a living. I like to research. I don’t like to do anything without researching it first, and parenting is no exception. Parenting is a slightly terrifying responsibility. All of a sudden (well, ok, after nine long months followed by nine even longer hours) a baby is thrust into your arms and all of a sudden you’re a parent. I had researched the birth lots, but hadn’t really given too much thought to what we would do after that.

Then I had a newborn, and a new full time job as a breastfeeding mother, and the associated eight hours of sitting that comes with the role. Sure, for the first few days I gazed lovingly at my daughter’s tiny fingernails, her wrinkled legs and her cloudy eyes. But then, I started reading parenting blogs and sites. And there are so many of them to read, I found myself spending hours a week scrolling through blogs on my phone.

I’m sure a lot of what I read faded to insignificance as soon as it was digested by my bleary-brand-new-mother-eyes. But some of it took hold, some of the information I read has helped to shape the way I parent my daughter. Some of the blogs forced me to questions myself, and do things differently. Others helped me to realise I was right, and that I should continue following my instincts.

The blogs I read were passionate and personal, but included research and science. They were written by experts and parents alike. They all offered ideals - confident, happy, loving children - and ways to achieve them. And, for the techniques I chose to adapt, I hoped to hell they would work.

I must admit, I have at times doubted myself. What if not shouting at my daughter for pushing, causes her to be an aggressor her whole life? What if she actually does become one of those much-dreaded 18 year olds who still sleep in their parents’ bed? What if she fails to understand that I love her unconditionally, and instead thinks I do not love her enough? But, each time doubt entered my mind I would push on, putting my faith in the parenting style, the theory, my instincts, and the blogger who shared with me their story.

I don’t remember where, but when Ebony was just a small baby, I read that children should learn to say please and thank you by imitation, not by instruction. If a child says please and thank you simply because they are told to, they may not say it when not told to. If a child says please or thank you because they are copying a parent, then they will consider it a normal part of everyday life and will always do it.

I told my mum about what I'd read. She looked concerned. Clearly, she was worried about having the rudest grandchild of all her friends. She didn’t think it would work, and she thought that the way she did things had worked just fine (everyone always thinks this, even when it is far from true. To my mother’s testament though, I do always say please and thank you).

And so, ever since Ebony learned to talk, I have said please and thank you for her. I have not once asked to her say it. I look after my daughter full time, and though she spends time with other people, I am the person she spends the most time with. Every day she sees me say please and thank you to the people we encounter. I hoped that she would learn through imitation, though occasionally wondered whether it would really work.

Well, it did. For the past few weeks, my daughter (who just turned two) has been saying please and thank you AND you’re welcome! It came out of the blue, but is now a fixed part of her vocabulary. I’m so pleased, and I’m so glad I trusted that it would work. And I’m so glad I was never the parent who refuses to hand something to their child until they say thank you. And I’m so glad that, in spite of not being that parent, and in spite of my mother’s fears and my own doubts, it actually worked.

So, to those worrying that playing the long game might not pay off - that years down the line you’ll be stuck with a rude, aggressive, bed-sharing adolescent - worry not. Here’s hoping this is the first of many victories for gentle parenting.

17 comments:

  1. that's really interesting, I don't think I've ever told Wilf he has to say please or thank you or he wouldn't get something but I do recall having said 'do you want to say thank you' when friends/relatives have given him something..although he probably had no idea what it meant. I did notice when Wilf first started talking he would go along saying 'sorry! sorry!' to people on the street as that's what I must do in that awfully British way 'i almost bumped into you 'sorry!' sort of thing.

    I think with the pushing thang, I dunno..we've not experience much of it (luckily) but the other day we were in a situation where an older boy was really pushing and hitting Wilf and Wilf didn't retaliate although I could see he wanted to (at one point he went up to the boy when he had his back turned to him..almost pushed him over and then thought better of it) and ended up taking his frustration out on a baby! he kicked this little 8 month old! so I will say 'that's NOT what we do, pushing is not nice is it' and hopefully he knows I mean that the other kid was out of order for pushing him too…it's so difficult sometimes! xx

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    1. Haha that's so sweet "Sorry! Sorry!" It's definitely important to explain why pushing isn't ok, I have to do that with Ebony, explaining what she can do instead. Most of the time it works, not all though x

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  2. For what it's worth, the only teenagers I've known to sleep in their parents' beds it's been mutual and quite a sweet (and occasional!) thing. There is so much value to modelling the kind of behaviour we want them to have. Counteracting aggression with aggression is illogical. While that kind of parenting may "work" in the short term, it manages the behaviour out of fear rather than growing empathy for others in the long run. It sounds like you're doing a lovely job with Ebony. It's a good reminder for me as lately I've been so stressed and tired I've reverted to parenting out of learned habit rather than by instinct.

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    1. I think everyone reverts back to learned parenting at times, I am always a worse parent on days when I'm tired or stressed. x

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  3. Like you when I was pregnant and for the first two years of F's life I read and read, blogs, books, psychology journals and inherently I feel I understand the working of child development and what I should and shouldn't be doing. But sometimes when under pressure of if I loose my cool, I will revert back to probably how I was parented, and I can see how the affects of that in me possibly weren't the best. With F I always state to be gentle with people rather than say don't push as I want to try and use positive reinforcement, saying that me and my husband don't have the same parenting style so I can be a bit tricky. This is a great reminder for me to go back to the book though as I think the age of three is quite a tricky one to navigate x

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    1. I like the idea of saying 'be gentle' rather than 'don't push', I think I'll try that. I think everyone loses their cool sometimes, I guess the important thing is to acknowledge it afterwards. All we can do is our best x

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  4. We've never pushed the 'please and thankyou' either.... everywhere we go people comment on how polite the girls are, so it must be working ;0

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  5. I don't with-hold things from my children but I do always say, please and thank you in front of them...so if they take something and don't say anything I will say, 'thank you' and they usually then repeat it...they are great now they are older at saying it themselves and my 2 year old naturally says it in lots of environments, I think from hearing the older two! I do love hearing polite children!

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    1. Haha, ah that's lovely that the youngest is learning from older siblings. x

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  6. Great post and with some really valid points. It can be areal mind field but the main thing to do is what feels right to you. I often feel I have to push more than I should to be able to bring up my son they way I see fit - my partners parents seem to want to disprove or be unsupportive of everything I do such as extended breastfeeding or that fact we still co-sleep most nights and he is three and now he goes to Steiner Kindy it felt like all I was doing for months was trying to justify my actions to them and it's exhausting to say the least but you know best, your daughter will turn out with excellent manners because you have good manner and by being there for her she will always feel loved :)

    Laura x

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I feel like that too sometimes, that I'm being judged for the way I choose to do things. I would love to send Ebony to a Steiner Kindy, but there isn't one near us. x

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  7. This is really interesting. Recently my daughter was criticised for being 'too polite' at nursery as they felt it was a sign of lack of confidence. I was so shocked - Joni is naturally incredibly polite and i'd like to think that this is completely down to learning through example, she is also very confident. Its crazy how other people think they can raise their child better than you can isn't it?!

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    1. Criticised for being too polite?! That's crazy. How ridiculous to assume it is directly linked to confidence at such a young age. x

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  8. That's fantastic. I hadn't thought much about how I would handle this (Bagl has very limited speech so I say it for him anyway), but I do remember hating it when my parents made me say please and thank you. Think I might give this a go. I'm never sure about what to do about sorry, again I hated being made to say it and I don't think children should say it unless they really understand what they are saying. But other parents might not see it like that! Gentle parenting can be quite hard at times. But I believe it works too, amazingly despite not letting Bagl cry and 'pandering' to his desire to be around me a lot, he's not especially clingy (but is being clingy such a bad thing in a small child?) and pretty independent.

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    1. Sorry is a tricky one, I think the societal pressure pushes parents to get their kids to apologise. I usually apologise to the child in question, and sometimes Ebony will repeat it, but I wouldn't want to ask her to say it. I used to be made to apologise as a child, and I never meant it, if anything it taught me that saying sorry gets you your own way (the toy/not to be grounded/someone to like you again), and there was very little value on the meaning of the words. I only want Ebony to say sorry (well, to say anything really) if she truly means it. x

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  9. I cant actually remember what i did with mine in terms of please or thank you - i was pretty amazed when I met my husband that his kids NEVER said it aged 6 and 9 - I used to cringe a lot quietly lol - and he was amazed that my daughter would put her shoes tidy and was so polite etc - yet his were treated like they were in the army whilst my approach was totally different ( it wasn't called anything in those days ) - my daughter will still jump into bed with me for a read/cuddle/watch the ipad and shes 18 :) ha ha i fail!!

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