I was sitting next to a Dad recently who was holding his newborn baby on his chest. Here was this beautiful little baby, making cooing sounds as only newborns do, moving his little fists around and scooting up on his Dad’s chest. We were both just naturally quiet as it is awe inspiring to watch a new being trying to worm and wiggle their way into the world. This baby was taking in all the sights and sounds, textures and smells, as he was learning about the world. His reflexes were hard at work now, but as he grows, imitation will become his main way of learning. Being a parent can be intimidating because we provide the environment where the baby learns and are the models for imitation. But as I looked at this baby, being held so carefully in Daddy’s arms, I felt he had a wonderful beginning.
I always think of this quote, by Pablo Cassals, a Spanish Cellist, when I am in the presence of a new baby:
“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and never will be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also ask them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been a child like you. And look at your body – What a wonder it is; your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work – we all must work – to make this world worthy of its children.”
Being in the heart of a loving family will do a great deal to teach children about the divine in him/herself and in others. The way you respect and accept your child’s uniqueness, chat with them about their day, share meals and celebrations along with daily household chores, will provide them with the knowing that all human beings have a spirit, a divine aspect, that is honored and respected in their home. Knowing that your child has come into the world with the possibility of fulfilling great deeds, big or small, will change the way you interact as family. The knowledge will reside in your hearts and affect the fabric of daily life. Showing your loving support will allow trust in your child that you care deeply about them and they will want to please you. Sitting at their bedside at night with quiet warmth, or happily listening to them at the kitchen table while they tell about their day, will make them know they are cherished. That is an essential in relating to your child. Then what?
Waldorf teachers will always tell you, and it is sooo true, that the rhythm and routine of your daily life will do much to allay the need for disciplinary practices. If your child is in the habit of getting up after breakfast and bringing their dish to the sink, then they will do it easily. If they are in the habit of getting on jammies at 7, brushing teeth, getting a drink of water and reading one story, then we only need you to sing, “Here we go, ho-ho-ho, hopping along, singing our jammy song” or some such thing to get them into the nighttime routine. If there is a strong rule about sleeping in one’s bed and all has been done to make them comfortable (tucked in, lovie alongside, etc.) then your child will be more inclined to go to sleep easily. If you don’t have routines, make them (at least one at first) and try them dutifully for one month, the time it takes to create a habit. I just know that things will go more smoothly at your house. Even though you may not feel that you know that much about child care, you are the expert in your home, the master. If you teach your children with the confidence that you know what you are providing is the best for them, they will listen. Teachers find that children who come from homes without strong routines are hyper-alert when they arrive. They are not trusting of the unfolding of the day as they don’t know what routine is. They tire more quickly than the others. But as time goes on, they trust the day knowing that they will hear story, play outside, eat snack, and don’t need to wonder what will come. They relax into the day with confidence that the adults know what they are doing. If you want to email with me about the trying times, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. (If you want a sit down session, and you live close to or in Denver, I will charge $25 per hour.)
After all the reading and research I have done on discipline, which was helpful, I have learned only one thing that has been life-changing in my practices, and when I tell people about it, they seem a little disappointed, maybe because it is not a magic panacea for perfection in the home and requires hard work. But if there is anything I can tell you about teaching children (discipline) that would help – listen to this – ta-da-da-da-ta-da (the horns) – WHEN (not if) your child displays behavior that you want to change, be happy, look forward to it, and say, “Yeah, my child has provided me with a teachable moment!” Children continually provide us with these prime teachable moments. Even when my children were teenagers when the stakes for misbehavior are greater, when they got “out of line” I said to myself, “Yeah!! I think we are going to have some big-time learning going on here tonight ,” and I jumped on the opportunity for teaching and learning. With this change of attitude, which you will have to remind yourself about continually at first, you won’t be so stressed or disappointed when your child throws things, spits, colors on the walls……Just like the newborn who waves his arms around, your child needs to test the world and their limits in it. They will continue to do this the entire time they are in your care, so best be ready to meet this challenge.
When we are pregnant with our first child and see a friend’s child being “out of control,” we imagine employing excellent parenting skills, and having a much better outcome. It just may happen that we give birth to a quiet soul, but even then the challenges do come. My first child, a son, was an only child for 10 years. He is a quiet, thoughtful person. We only had to tell him once to stop doing something, and budding little intellectual that he was, he appreciated an explanation. Later on, with my two girls, one year apart, the excitement was exponential and sometimes I felt I could hardly keep up with them. This is when I needed to employ the “one step ahead” approach. Even with my son, and other quiet children, they have a lot of learning to do, and we were happy to provide that for him. Imagine a preschool where no one cried, wet their pants, fought over toys, colored on the table, missed their Mommy……. That is a preschool that does not exist. Just as there is no home where milk is not spilled, children don’t whine, siblings don’t argue…..So let’s be prepared for that and actually LOOK FORWARD TO IT, if you dare, as a Teachable Moment.
Sometimes parents employ extraordinary means to provide their young charges with wonderful home environments except to expose them to other children. Then when their child is ready to join other children in preschool they find that with such protection their child is not prepared for what is required to get along with others. That is fine with the preschool teachers because we have all year to teach the children to learn how to be friends. But if you have provided your child with a totally peaceful environment with no opportunities for struggle or learning to play with other children, then you need to have courage when they go to school and somebody pushes, pulls or socks them, to not overreact, but consider this a teachable moment. I know how it feels when “That Child” has hurt your child or won’t play with them, etc., but the teachers can tell you that these are learning experiences that your child needs to have to become a well rounded person. Children who push, pull or employ some other less-than-ideal method are not doing so because they are a “mean child”. This method is all they know at this stage. They will be learning new ways. At school, and at home, children should be allowed to try work out their issues with others by themselves, but when young, grownups should be close by to help them if needed, and of course to redirect if someone is about to be hurt. Bold children need to learn some restraint, and if your child is shy or not used to other children, they will be taught to say, “Stop that! or I don’t like that!!” Of course the teacher needs to know if you feel someone is picking on your child but know that by providing a “perfect world” for your child, they will be denied the opportunity to become socially skilled. While your small child is at home, it is helpful to expose them to children of friends and acquaintances. When I would learn of an incident at school involving my child, I was proactive to find out what was going on, but at home with my child, I would objectively ask, “What did Timmy do? What did you do? What did you feel? What could you do if that happens again? I never wanted my children to feel victimized. Even when they were little, in preschool, I wanted to leave them with the feeling that they had power in situations – power to tell others no, and power to tell the teachers if the other children didn’t listen.
– little o photography
My favorite way of handling little spats in the classroom (Peace Rose) was described in my previous article, Essentials for Living With Young Children. Check it out as it can work like a dream with children who can express themselves. For younger children who are not too verbal yet, you can do the talking for them. If Jane has the toy and Henry wants it, you can say, “Jane, you are playing with the doll and you would like to have it longer. Henry, you would like the doll.” And then you need to decide what will happen next, say for instance, “Jane you play with the doll 3 more minutes, and then it will be Henry’s turn. Henry, you play with this doll or come help me bake the muffins.” If Henry slumps down on the floor crying, you might say, “I’m sorry Henry. I can see that you are sad. You wanted the doll. Come along with me now and when Jane is done with the doll, very soon, we will come and get it and play a game. At school the child usually comes and helps you. At home sometimes the child cries more (lucky us!). Then we can just say, “I’m sorry Henry but that is the way it is going to be.” In three minutes we can tell Jane that it is Henry’s turn to play with the doll. He may take it, or refuse it, but Henry is learning how to share with others, believe it or not. The more exposure the child has to being with others and the boundaries involved, the better they will become with the consequences of not compromising. It takes time and it can be nerve wracking, but remember that when you provide boundaries for your child you are helping them. Children who get to do whatever they want are really not being treated well. They are being denied the opportunity to learn. Struggle is not easy sometimes for parents to watch. I even tell my grown children, “I always feel a little pain when I hear of a struggle that you are having, but I know you will have struggles, and inwardly I know you are becoming a stronger person by these experiences.” There is a fine line with showing compassion “I’m sorry that you are sad, Henry” which supports people, and not being strong enough to allow Henry experiences that will help him, “OK HENRY! Here! Have the doll!” Poor Henry, he will have a hard time with his playmates and eventually colleagues if he is not allowed the hard work of learning to be with others in the world and solve conflict. My hope is that all of you us are teaching our children how to handle conflict since the children will be our future world leaders.
Working together as a team is imperative for teaching our children successfully. Sit down and create some goals for your family. Outline with your partner how the difficult situations in your home (bedtime, sharing, whining, etc.) will be handled and stick with it. Spend 5 minutes a day contemplating how things are going and then share for 5 minutes each day with your partner. Rethink if things aren’t going well. Express gratitude that your children are doing as well as they are. Have a conference with your child’s doctor, teacher, etc., if you feel that your child may have an issue that needs support. However, it is very important not to compare your child/your family to another child or family because each person within a family is unique therefore creating unique dynamics. Be proud of your child and your family, knowing that there are things to work on in every family. If someone says your child is, say, frisky (and they are) just laugh and say, “Yes they are”. Embrace and be glad that your child is who they are. Perhaps your frisky child provides a lot more fun for your family than the neighbor’s child who sits all day at the piano. Each family is unique. Celebrate that! Take time as a couple to be together and try your best to be kind to each other. I was definitely not as kind to my husband when we had a houseful of children bustling about because we were busier and more stressed. Do your best to laugh and have joy, even at the busiest times. If there is no dinner because your appointment ran late, just make soup. If your spouse needs to travel again, and there is no way around it, plan a camp-out in the living room. Do your best to have joy, and when stress comes, you might just want to take a walk away from the house to calm down. During hard times I use to love to take a drive in the car and I would say to myself, “and I may not come back!” Don’t worry, there will be a household of people awaiting you when you get back to rejoin. For everyday problems, keeping in touch with your partner, friends and family will keep you grounded. If you think you may be experiencing an ongoing issue, like depression, seek professional help. You are too important to do this alone, and the ramifications on others is too important as well. Important jobs require significant support. Get it.
I use to say to my assistants, “Put on your golden cape when you are around the children,” meaning to try to bring your highest self, not the one that wants to please or can’t set boundaries, but the strong grownup that your child’s highest self desires, the one that will bring your child the most benefit. Tell your child little stories full of life’s lessons. They are easy to make up on the spot. Your child will love your stories, and the more you tell them, the more natural it will become. In this way they will not feel they are inundated with words when they make a mistake, “How many times have I told you not to throw your glass of milk! Instead, as you are wiping up the spilled milk (with them) you might tell them, “Did I ever tell you about the time” and go on to tell a related simple tale with a small consequence, for instance, let’s see…. Did I ever tell you about the time a little girl with brown hair, about your age, who lived on a farm, a long, long ago, threw her glass of milk across the farmhouse kitchen? All of the milk splashed in every direction and she and Daddy had to wipe it all up. It took a long, long time to clean because it got in every corner and crevice, sort of like it is taking us a long time.(keep cleaning the whole time as you ever so slowly tell the story) Well, that day the brown and white farm cow, Bessie, got sick and could not give any more milk. For two weeks the little girl had to eat her cereal with no milk, and she and Daddy could not make pudding or hot chocolate (or whatever your child likes). Finally Bessie the brown and white cow got better and the little girl was so happy. Her Daddy said, “I wonder if Bessie will give us some milk? If she does I hope we take very good care of it. The little girl said, “Yes, yes, let’s go see if she has some milk for us. And the little girl went to see Bessie the Cow, and when no one was looking she bent close to Bessie’s ear and said, “Thank you for your wonderful milk, Bessie the Cow.” And Bessie said, “Moooo, Moooo” (that means you are welcome in cow language) and then the two of you can laugh. When we told these tales in the preschool, say if we saw that perhaps Erin hit Jacob, we may have told about “this other child in the kindergarten at the big school” doing something similar, and the consequence, and Erin (or whoever you are telling the story about) will almost always say, “I would NEVER do that!” We tell the stories every day for all the children (not just for Erin that day) because growing up requires a lot of support. It takes a long time to attain the forces and skills to “behave”. Older children will need more veiled stories of course. The teachers use to whisper to each other, “How many times do I have to……” and the other would answer “100. And if that doesn’t work 100 more!” Humor helps a lot when you are working with children.
Well, I hope that stirs the pot and starts you thinking. I hope my experiences help support you on the most important job which is parenting. You don’t need to climb in bed at night wondering if you are doing your part in the world if you are trying your best to parent well. Take that 5 minutes a day to look at how you are feeling as a parent and 5 minutes a day sharing information with your partner. If you don’t have a partner, pick a friend or your child’s teacher, to compare notes with. It is so important, and I bet you are doing an amazing job. No one is perfect, so just commit to continue working on doing your best. I love working with parents, and being one, because it is a such noble job. As my Dad use to say, “Wake up and let your feet hit the ground running. Do your best each day!
Most of the fabulous pictures in my blog have been taken by Brianna Doby of little o photography, a former Waldorf parent and Mama to two beautiful children. You can see her picture here. Brianna is a professional photographer, but some of these photos were taken in my classroom. She just quietly slips in, making friends with the children, chatting with them, showing them her camera, waiting for “those” special moments, and the ultimate outcome is precious pictures of relaxed and happy children. Look at her website, little o photography for more information.