It took Covid and immigration to make me realise that I owe many people an apology. I sincerely apologise for being a nonconsensual hugger.
In my journey as a parent and as a parenting coach, I was preaching to the choir about consent. How important it was to ask permission before we touch and never forcing our kids to override their no. Yet there I was, not modelling it. In actual fact, I was modeling the opposite with how I engaged with other adults. Yes, my kids got to choose how they greet, but people who got to meet me… lets just say, I flung my arms open and said “I am gonna hug you, I am a hugger”. I cornered the poor person regardless if they were huggers or not. They could not escape. I became that smelly aunt you tried to avoid. How can a hug be wrong? I am not touching your rear, your private parts with my hands. I am embracing you heart to heart…? It is all innocent?
So where did this start? Growing up, we did not have the choice on how we greeted people. We had no autonomy over our bodies. That uncle with the slobber, the aunt with the onion smell. We had to kiss them hallo. The wrestling and tickling never stopped when you asked for it to stop. Your body never really belonged to you. There was a social contract that you were raised with and that is just how things were. You are a child and adults know best and deserve respect just due to their age.
Physical contact became a social contract of respect and acceptance. If you did not want to touch someone you were rejecting their very being. You were being disrespectful and ungrateful. You were mean and unloveable if you did not hug, kiss or even shake hands hallo.
Due to this, I have one wickedly strong and secure handshake, a bear hug that will make you claustrophobic and a hallo kiss that pretends we have been close since birth.
In honesty, my personal favourite way to say hallo is a hug. I love the intimacy and care that heart to heart connection. The closeness and trust. I am a hugger, but as a hugger I need to learn, grow and change. To me hugging may be the most open and warm welcoming thing in the world but to someone else it may be total disrespect and an invasion of their bodily autonomy.
Now as a hugger, I have always scoffed at people who did not want to be hugged, especially adults. The power play is different than to a child? Is it really? How can you not want a hug? So my attitude was I will not take no as an answer. I will try to touch you, make that physical connection. Good grief i sound like a predator and I was. I wanted my hug and you could not escape. I “respected” the no, by taking my pointer finger and pressing it against the person’s arm and using word play calling it a hug.
Covid came around, and one of the biggest things I missed was hugging. I missed hugging my friends and those I cared for, who do not live with me.
Then we moved and we made new friends, and not knowing the culture, I had to learn to navigate new social norms. Then the penny dropped. Our new friends don’t hug. Being confronted with not getting or being offered a hug, made me feel a bit more isolated. I asked a hug once and it was given, but the body language stated that this is the first and last hug. For the first time I realized that I can respect not wanting hugs. I can learn and grow. I was accepted regardless of physical contact like a handshake or a hug. I was good enough. Just my presence alone was accepted, i did not have to invade space to feel welcome and loved. I just had to be.
It consolidated the knowledge, respecting other people’s boundaries and autonomy is more important than my need for a hug. Now i hug my husband more, he luckily likes my hugs, but my new friends? They teach me intimacy in conversation, reaching out and deep care, you don’t need to be physical to show you care.
I do not want a badge of honour or even praise for realising my abusive behaviour or even for changing my behaviour. It is about realising that we all have that one thing where we throw consent out the door. Where we place our own needs above someone else’s and invade, harm and make others feel powerless. We all need to learn, grow and change.
Me forcing people to hug me may seem like such a small thing, but it is not. It is violating someone else’s boundaries and that needs to stop. It is about consent. Consent is not just about adults asking kids consent for interaction, but about everything in life. Asking and accepting the no. Respecting bodily autonomy. This is not just men or the older generation who needs to learn this. It is all of us. What is the thing you do that violates someone else’s boundaries?
The world we live in, lives by double standards. The standards and expectations of children is much higher than that of adults. This weird world where those with the least mature brain has to behave the most mature and those with the most mature brain does not have to clear the bar at all. Here is a list of 13 things that is expected of children and not of adults
Here is a list of 13 standards enforced on kids, but not on adults:
Going to bed and falling asleep without a struggling to sleep
So often as an adult we also struggle to sleep, even when we are tired. We struggle to switch off our brains and then roll around. We often get up, move around a bit and try a bit later to get rest. Yes sleep is important for everyone, yet we have this immeasurably high standard for kids to meet. They are never allowed to struggle to sleep and get rest. They have to sleep according to our expectations and when they fail to meet that, we get angry, agitated and upset. Yes they need rest, yes they will be grumpy if they do not get enough rest, they know they need the rest as well. The same way we know we need the rest even more so urgently when we struggle to sleep ourselves.
React immediately when they are given instructions
This is the bane of our existence. We want them to be obedient to the degree that we expect of them to react immediately when we request them to do things or go somewhere. Yet when they ask us to do something, we ask them to wait and allow us to finish doing what we are doing. Or we even say no, yet they are not allowed to say no.
Not show their discontent when they feel they have been wronged
I could probably write books and books on this. When a child cries, talks back, argues, says no, rolls their eyes, talks in a snide voice or even screams, they are viewed as naughty. Yet all of these behaviours are a way of expressing negative emotions, disagreement and the way they do it, is due to immature emotional control and also the need to be heard and noticed as a human being.
Do things they do not want to with a joyous attitude and not show discontent
They are not allowed to sigh or show irritation while doing a task or chore. They always have to do it with a smile on their face.
Shop without touching anything
We all shop by touching. We often take things from the shelf to look at and then either buy it or put it back. Kids are often told, you do not shop with your hands while we are holding the shopping in our hands. They are curious, they also want to look and see. Many times kids will show you things, and we assume they want to buy it, just because you are in a shop, when in actual fact they just wanted to show you something they found interesting. When we keep equating showing with having to buy we create our own monster for ourselves, because then they will stop showing interesting things and only show things they want to buy.
Have to hug, kiss or touch people they do not know or do not want to engage with
We as adults do not hug and kiss every person we greet. (now during covid we do not touch anyone) yet for some reason children have little to no choice in how they want to greet people. Do you remember that one sloppy kisser at the family reunion? That person who hugged you that gave you the willies everytime as a child, yet you were forced? Do you hug your boss or colleague or kiss them hello every time you see them? What about the new client who just walked in the door?
Allow other people make use of their favourite possession without complaining
We all have favourite possessions. Possessions that we take care of and will not allow others to use, like our cars, we may allow a select few to make use of it, but man it has to be someone we trust deeply. Yet here we are at playdates and gatherings and force our children to allow other children to play with their favourite toy and if they say no, they are in trouble. Imagine a world where you are forced to share your house with whomever wants to make use of it, or even your car, or anything you own.
Accept physical harm as a means of love (spanking, hitting, smacking)
When an adult gets hit for disobedience from whoever holds the power in the relationship we call it abuse. When a child gets hit by a parent we call it love. The brain of a child interprets the smack from the adult the same way the brain of the adult interprets the smack from another adult. The brain releases the same fear hormones regardless of age, however in a child’s developing brain, it causes more harm than in an adult brain
Eat everything even when they do not like it
As an adult we get to choose to eat what we like and enjoy. Yes sometimes for the sake of our health we eat foods we dislike, yet we have the power to choose which of those we dislike the least and eat that instead of the ones we really really cannot stomach. Yet we strip our kids from that choice
Get up and get over it, especially when thing dramatically change around them
I have often seen and see it now more often than not. We as a society at large is going through a severely dramatic life changing pandemic. Yet we expect our children to be okay and not act out, not regress on certain behaviours, while they are also under immense stress the same way we as adults are. We expect of them to just buck up and carry on and ignore the stress and chaos of the dramatic world events unfolding around them. It impacts them, it impacts them deeply. Any change causes stress and stress hormones, and the smaller a child is, the less life experience they have to deal with it
Always get along with their sibling
I love my siblings. Do i get along with all of them, no i don’t and that is okay. Our kids do not always have to get along with their siblings. The more we try to force it, the more I can guarantee you, that once they are grown up and have a choice of spending time with them, the more they will choose not to spend time with them. Let them build their relationship organically and on their own terms
Never forget anything, instructions or stuff.
We joke that we have “spacial memory loss”. The moment we move to another space we forget what we were going to do there, yet when our kids do that, they are in trouble. We all have lost or forgotten personal belongings because we just forgot it somewhere, yet when a child does that, we immediately brand them as irresponsible, ungrateful and deserving of some sort of consequence over and above the loss they suffered.
Never to get thirsty after bedtime
This one really boggles the mind. This mindset starts from the view that if we withhold fluids from them an hour or so before bed time, they will magically sleep through. And if they wake during the night and want to drink something we view it as wrong and they are not allowed to drink anything, they are just misbehaving and trying to be difficult, they have a sleeping problem… They are thirsty. The same way you have woken up many a night in your life and needed water to drink.
If we have an honest look at this list, it is time that we take a deeper look into what we expect of our children. Start seeing them as whole human beings who, just like us, needs support, understanding and most of all, for US as the Parents to lower the bar we set for them to clear.
3 Things that I wish I knew before I was pregnant. There are so many articles written on what to expect when you’re expecting. However they tend to leave out some bits of information I would have wanted to know before we were pregnant.
The first. Bodily functions.
We are all aware that with increased lack of space we go to the toilet more often to empty our bladders. Where it once felt like it was able to hold litres and litres of urine, it now feels like you need to rush to the loo for every sip of fluid intake. This is not the worst of the bodily functions that they could discuss. Why did no one ever write and warn about the bio-weapon our farts will become. The absolute fear inducing farts that help create the space in the bed for the pregnancy pillow, since your partner will die from the smell of the farts you release. It smells like a bioreactor your body has become from creating a human being inside of you. There is a reason baby store personnel look like they could die and a bit green in the face. The amount of drive-by farts they have to endure on a daily basis is probably enough to make any person want to give up on life.
Now before you run to the hills and decide not to be pregnant out of fear for the smell. There is a very good reason your body does this. The high levels of progesterone that makes muscles relax. Intestines are muscles, so the intestinal tract relaxes too, this increases the time period food remains within your body. Thus increases the gassiness pregnant woman experience. The longer the gas stays, the more bacteria farts (Yes bacteria farts, and that is what gives bodily gasses a smell) gets built into the gas, and therefore your farts will smell horrible. Good news, though, not every person who is pregnant will smell like a bioreactor, but your farts may become smellier during pregnancy and don’t be alarmed about it. Talking about relaxing intestines.
The slower peristaltic movement also increases your chances to become constipated. Constipation adds to the smell… You see where I am going with this? There are ways to manage this and speaking to your obgyn about safe remedies to relieve the constipation is a real win on this topic.
The second. Pregnancy and happiness
Many pregnant people love being pregnant, they adore the feeling and they walk on sunshine throughout their pregnancy. I am happy for them. Yet there are some people, more than you expect, who hates being pregnant, They dislike the way their bodies feel, the way pregnancy impacts their life and just in general do not enjoy being pregnant. Do they love their baby any less? Not at all. It is the experience that affects them negatively, and we need to have room for that.
Hormones are all over the place and many pregnant people dislike the feeling of being out of control. Some have severe “morning sickness” which, btw is not just in the morning, it is all day sickness. Some have all of a sudden have severe reactions to smells they used to love and adore. SOme may have complications during the pregnancy that drains joy out of the experience. Some may have uncomplicated pregnancies, but just do not enjoy being pregnant. When we add societal expectations to the mix and they have anxiety ridden and guilt inducing interactions with the world. From which random stranger will just touch the belly to did I just fart and kill the pot plant at the entrance.
The constant tracking of growth and development, may be joyous for some, but for some it creates fear. Fear that something may go wrong. The barrage of products to look at, to consume and manipulative marketing done towards pregnant people are nauseating. Creating the idea that if you do not do this, or do not do that during pregnancy, you will end up as a failure as a parent.
Being pregnant is not all smiley faces and rainbows for some people and people need to start talking about this. We need to start acknowledging that not enjoying pregnancy does not make you a bad parent, it makes you human on so many levels and that it is totally okay not to love every second of every day of your pregnancy.
The third: Parenting ideologies:
When you co-parent many conversations start with… This is how I was raised. Many pregnant co-parents only start seeing the differences in how they were raised once the baby is born and they are trying to find their feet with the new addition. Before and during pregnancy with the raging hormones and all, is the time to have these discussions. You and your partner have to sit down and actually talk about what your parenting ideology will be once the little human is in your care.
Yes there will be various things you will decide and then once the baby is born, you may have to change tact, however the foundation needs to be there. From the practical to the more nuanced. Like who will change diapers when, who will bath baby, and how will the food and cleaning chores play out. Heads up the person not pregnant will most probably have to step up and take responsibility for various things they have not been responsible for. You need to talk about and research things like breastfeeding (yes it may be natural, but natural does not always mean easy or without its challenges)
You will have to discuss discipline and read up on it and discuss continuously. It is important that both parents, or all involved in raising this baby are on the same page when it comes to the foundational strategies you as a partnership will implement. Many times over the fights parents have about their kids, stems from never having this discussion and assuming you are on the same page. This discussion starts with how and where the birth happens, all the way through to adulthood. Keep talking and reading.
Once a baby is born, the person who was pregnant will take a lot of the child rearing responsibility on their shoulders. You will have to learn to delegate, and not interfere when the co-parent does things with the baby differently than what you would have done. They will change the diaper differently, bath the baby differently and absolutely engage differently, and they have to. You are different people and both are learning. So ideally remember the grace for each other. This is coming from the one who was pregnant, did the research and still put on the first diaper the wrong way around
Parenting can be hard. It can be overwhelming. Add the internet and it all becomes almost a “keeping up with the Jones’” and a failure to thrive as a parent. There is the odd balance between asking the internet and various online parenting groups “How do I parent x or y?” and Oh look at my perfect family. In the meantime our children end up paying a price.
Don’t get me wrong. The internet moms have played a role in our journey as parents. We offer much less sugar at parties. Our kids eat considerably healthier than what they would have if it wasn’t for the internet parents. We even cloth diapered our youngest due to the information we have found from the internet parenting groups. You are reading this because of the internet parents you know. However there is a dark side to the internet parenting groups that is often overlooked.
It is the price our children pay from following well meaning advice that does not get scrutinised or checked. We have started to live in the opinion era and not the factual era. Where we can support certain decisions based on scientific data and in the very same breath continue with outdated practices for raising our kids.
There is this fine balance of giving advice and keeping your nose out of other parent’s business. Harmful practices are advised because, well “I turned out okay’” or “My kids turned out okay.”
In reality the reason the voices that did not turn out okay, cannot speak up, because well, they are either dead or not able to speak up. We hold on to old parenting generational practices that cause deep damage and we allow the cycle to continue and inadvertently pour more brokenness into an already messed up world.
How many adults are caught in a web of eating disorders, depression, anxiety, being abused, drug and alcohol abuse? How many are struggling just to keep going and remain accountable for their actions and their kids? We need to be honest with ourselves as adults and as parents. We are struggling and we are not coping. Why are we not coping? We are not coping because we were raised to live in a world that no longer exists. We were raised within families where everyone gave advice, but everyone kept their noses out of other people’s business, especially when it came to raising us.
You may wonder where I am heading with this?
Our kids are our responsibility and we are quick to say “If you pay my bills then you can say how I should raise my child..” The problem is, our children will hopefully grow up and become adults, and depending on how we raised our children, our adult children may have a deep and lasting impact on the people around them and on the world at large. If we raise children apathetic to the world by the example that we lead we have failed society at large. If we keep our noses out of people’s business and how they raise their kids, we are often allowing the cycle to continue,
So often we centre child rearing as an isolated event. Just the family at the centre, yet we use the phrase, it takes a village when it suits us. We cannot have it both ways and expect a balanced and well rounded human being as the end result. Just look at the adults around us and at the world around us. We did not turn out so great, if we did, the world would have looked far better than what it looks like. This experiment with raising kids has been failing for decades. We need to start doing things differently.
We have access to the internet, so we can actually check if the advice given to us by our online village is safe, correct and good for our children. We can search the internet and give factual information to a parent who asks for support and information. From getting your baby to potty train to how and when to start with solids. How, why and when a child throws tantrums to how to parent them in a responsible way, without continuing cycles of abuse and trauma. We can step away from what my parents did and my grandparents did, so it must work and really start educating ourselves and others on safe child rearing practices.
We do not have to keep up with the Jones’, BUT we have to stop misinformation and dangerous advice given on parenting groups and forums. We have a responsibility as the village to ensure that kids grow up safe, and without years of trauma under their belt before the age of 18.
Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies… There comes an age where our kids start to lie to us. There are many factors that play a role in why kids lie to us and at times all the factors just line up to create a perfect storm of power struggles and misunderstandings. There are developmental reasons for this, but also a societal norm as well as home based reasons our kids start to lie to us or attempt to hide things from us. In this article we will touch on all 3 of those reasonings.
Developmental milestones and lies:
According to Kohlberg and Piaget, moral development happens in different stages and the developmentally appropriate age where kids begin to experiment with lying is in the age range of 5 to 10 years. There are other Early Childhood development Psychologists and researchers that have the view of moral development starting at an earlier age. The age of 3. (If you want to read up on the scholars and research click here for the research article)
For the purposes of this article, we include the age range 3 to 10 years, as that is the current settled science regarding the development of morality.
Piaget identified two different types of morality in his research:
Heteronomous Morality: Which means, morality imposed by authority figures and the outside world, thus morality depends on the consequences and not the intent. Known as Moral realism (5 to 9 years – 3 to 8/9 years according to the latest research)
Autonomous morality: Self-imposed morality, thus the intent outweighs the consequences. Known as Moral relativism. (9 to 10 years – 7/ 8 to 10 years according to the latest research)
According to Grace Point; Early Childhood Moral development article: “Developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg built on Piaget’s work to create his theory of the Stages of Moral Understanding. According to Kohlberg, young children at this age base their morality on a punishment and obedience orientation. Much like Piaget, Kohlberg believed that young children behave morally because they fear authority and try to avoid punishment. In other words, little kids follow the rules because they don’t want to get in trouble. It’s too much to expect preschool-aged children to automatically “do the right thing”.Click here for the full article.
Why is this important when we look at lies? Lies are the beginning stages of how children learn to navigate morality. They measure our reactions to their actions and determine what is good or bad and how to survive this life and how to fit in. When a child feels like they will be punished for what is viewed as a morally wrong action, they will try to lie and side step punishment in that way. There is however another factor that needs to be taken into account and that is the developmental space the child is traversing during the 3 to 7 year age group. In this age group they have an extremely active imagination. Their brains are not yet able to distinguish between reality and fiction. For them their imagination is tangible and real. So even if they broke the mug whilst playing, but in their mind the imaginary friend did it in the playing, they will state that it was their friend who did it, because to them their imaginary friend was the guilty party as they cannot distinguish between fiction and reality. So they are not lying and their words are not morally corrupt, they are not aiming at upsetting you or lying to you explicitly, they are telling you their version of the truth.
The lies we tell and how we react to the lies they tell:
We as parents lie to our children, and we do it so often. We read them fiction or they watch television and we tell them stories about Santa and the Easter Bunny. We use white lies when we are stuck in a corner and sometimes we say we will do something and forget to do it, or hope they forget we said that we would do it. It all adds up.
I can already see the eye rolls when I equated reading a story or watching television to your child as a lie. Unless the story is a historical factual book, fiction at its core is lies, it is a flight of imagination. It is acceptable lies because we as adults and even older children can differentiate between reality and fiction. We can differentiate between reality and imagination, and we enjoy these flights of imagination. The process of these flights of imagination is called “suspension of disbelief”. It is called that because we suspend our need for facts and reality, we deep dive into someone else’s imagination and we celebrate it.
There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned practice and we would be remiss to deny the advantages that comes from reading books to our children, however we need to be aware that we as adults embrace a “type” of lying and for a young child that can be confusing as their language development and brain development cannot make that distinction yet. So when we read Peter Pan to them, they become the lost boys or Wendy or even Tinker Bell, Neverland is real to them. So extending grace for their flights of imagination, their lies for protection cannot be overstated.
I mentioned our lies we tell, by not executing what we said we will do, or by telling a white lie to get out of a sticky situation. They pick it up and as their brain matures and they learn to navigate the world, they will make use of those things. Kids see, hear and then mirror everything. Have you ever instructed your child to tell someone you are not there to answer the door or speak on the phone? Or have you ever told someone on the phone that you are already on your way while still getting dressed? They see it and they will use it too, they will use it on you.
Unless we have never told a lie or instructed our kids to lie on our behalf, we are in a sticky situation when it comes to parenting lies.
Then there is how we react. In the way we react to lies or misbehaviour, we create the space for our children to navigate the difference between wrong and right. This age group, especially under the age of 8, views right and wrong as a moral black and white situation. So there is no room to manoeuvre. If you scream and shout over a glass of spilled water and have the same level of reaction to a broken ornament or when they run across the street, they cannot differentiate between the different types of wrongs and which is the lesser of all the evils, so to speak.
If we react poorly in the early days of their experimentation with imagination, accidents and their difficult behaviour, we create in them a fear of how we will react in a particular situation. So we give them a defence pay-out and inadvertently encourage them to lie to us.
Societal and life:
When a child feels uncertain or out of control they will try to lie and control the situation at hand. It hardly ever pans out in a good way. Ironically if you read some of the pre-teen fiction, it is all about a child lying to adults, while trying to figure out life and the situation at hand.
Society seems okay with lies, as long as it does not cause any damage to a person. Hence “white lies” as a label. We encourage flights of imagination by paying for someone else’s lies written in a book. So in the eyes of society, lies are good when you get paid for it, and lies are bad if you use it to hurt someone else or cover yourself. It is okay if you lie to get out of a situation, because being viewed as rude is far worse than telling a lie to protect someone’s feelings. You see how tricky it becomes for our children especially when they are that young. We punish children for lying, but then when they discover Santa is not real, we make up a new “softer” lie to ease the blow.
We need to own this, this is part of life, and we need to own the fact that our children will pick up on lies, try to lie to us with some success. So how do we parent this? How do we handle the lies our kids tell us?
How do we parent lies?
Be a person of your word: When you say you will do something, do it. Even if they forget that you have said you will do it. Don’t give in on boundaries for the sake of the peace and then hope they will forget about it, they will remember and it will have a huge impact on your trustworthiness in their mind. They will start to distrust you, and they may not even be able to pinpoint why, they will just have a gut feeling of mistrust.
Do not ask your kids to lie for you. It may seem small, but really we cannot ask them to behave in a certain way one moment and then another the next moment, just for the sake of our own convenience.
Be honest and upfront, even when it is uncomfortable.
Own your mistakes and do not make excuses for your blunders. You messed up, fix it, no amount of lies will ever fix the mistake.
During the imagination driven age group, allow for lies. When your kid lies here, you can use the words: “you wish ‘xyz’ did not happen.”, “I will appreciate it if you tell me the truth, when you tell me the truth, I’m able to help you. When you hide the truth it makes it difficult to fix the situation.” or “that is an amazing story, I think you need to write it down. You may become an excellent writer one day.” obviously without sarcasm or snark.
Ask what their intent was, no matter the age of the child. Not accusingly, but inquiringly. Asking why as a genuine question, will reveal far more to you than shouting at them.
Read stories and books and join them in their flights of imagination, that way they learn the difference between a straight up lie and suspension of disbelief.
If you do the seasonal character (Santa/Easter bunny) type of things, make a point of telling them it is imagination and it is fun to do so. Under a certain age, they will tell you that they are real even when you tell them they are not. Celebrate it with a “Yes you really want it to be real and I love joining you on these adventures.” That way you are not lying to them, you are suspending disbelief and you are able to keep the “magic of imagination” alive and well. Not doing so, you stand the risk of tainting your relationship with your child into one of second guessing the words that you say, especially about the good stuff in life.
Watch how you react to mishaps, and even blatant disobedience. If our reaction to those kinds of behaviour is scary, fear filled and punitive, they have no reason whatsoever to tell you the truth. Lying then just postpones the blow up indefinitely and as humans we are prone to choose avoiding conflict or delaying conflict if possible. So create an environment where they feel safe to share the truth, no matter what the truth may be.
Ask them what they think needs to happen when they are caught in a lie: This is especially important when they are older. That allows them to really think of the impact their words and lies have on others. The disappointment and hurt lies may cause etc.
Kids will lie, it is part of their development, and it’s how we parent it that will make the difference. We do not want to raise our kids to be liars, but we don’t want to kill their imagination. There is a fine line, but it is possible to traverse that line if we handle it with guidance instead of punishment. When we engage our children in honesty and sincerity that is when they learn the moral value of honesty, kindness and accountability.
When parents have more than one child, they dream of siblings playing together and sharing life. We envision bright sunny days of imaginative play and fun. We do not imagine them fighting or not getting along.
And then the fights break out and we police. We police their engagements, we police their toys, we police everything they do together. Sadly that policing is the reason so many siblings grows up hating each other.
Imagine for a moment the impact it would have on your intimate relationships with other adults if you had someone constantly polices your disagreements, your belongings and how you interact with said person. You hardly get a chance to do something or figure things out together as a team, before someone swoops in and takes control. It will feel as if you have a third party to your relationship.
This is the impact our interference has on our children when they are building sibling relationships. Our interference creates a space where they cannot get along without a parent present to step in and take control. Their relationship depends on your input. We are doing our children a disservice by interfering all the time. I am not saying don’t stop the biting, hitting, hair pulling or damage that can occur when they get really passionate about something. Absolutely step in when bodily harm is a definite possibility.
What I am saying though is. Take a step back and let them find a solution that works for them. Even when you disagree with the solution. Them being able to strategise together and find their own solutions, enables them to do co-operative team work, faster problem solving and it builds the relationship to the dream you originally had. Siblings that loves each other and are each other’s best friends.
Dear mother and father of a boisterous child, I think of you in the chaos of everyday life. I see your exhausted eyes and uncomfortable smile as your child once again were the one who created havoc in the shops, or at home or at a friends house. I see the flicker of amusement and pride when they do something that you know is not socially acceptable, but darn they executed it so well. I see the fear when they push their bodies beyond the limit of your comfort zone. I see you.
Dear mother and father of the cautious child. I see your worry when you have social engagements and our child does not want to engage with others. I see the exhaustion when social conformity does not seem to be of any relevance to them. I see the caution in your eyes when people ask why your kid is not joining in the activity.
I feel your frustration when you see social media posts that label gender according to behaviour and your child is just not that. I feel the fear and worry you have, because your child just does not fit the box. The what ifs of the future and wanting for your child to fit in, for their own happiness.
I see you.
Here is the reality though. Gender is fluid and boisterous and caution is part personality and part taught behaviour. Sexuality has nothing to do with interest in activities and just because a child is born with certain anatomy, does not mean they have to behave a certain way. A penis does not equal broken bones and wrestling and a vagina does not equal nurture and sas.
So why is there this stereotype? Because it gets socialised into children, here is a link to a video that just shows us how much we use anatomy to socialise our children click here
Due to human nature that is genetically programmed to want to fit in (we are geared for survival and that means if we are part of a pack our chances of surviving exponentially improves). So at anytime our kids does not fit the “social construct” of their genitals we start to panic. We start to fear. That fear tires us out and we feel like we are failing our children.
Do we need to protect our children? Yes we have a responsibility to protect our children, but not in the way you may think we have to. Life is hard, life is tough and it is hardly ever kind to anyone. We will never be able to protect our children from the dangers of living life within the pack we choose to live in. There is always danger, but we can protect our children from ourselves. We can step back and allow our children to be safe to be who they are in our homes and in our company.
We can support them when they climb the highest tree or read the thickest book. We have a responsibility to protect them from arbitrary social expectations that is connected to their assumed gender. We do not have to fear our children being who they are, they will find their space and the less we insert our own expectations of who their true self is, the stronger and more resilient they will be.
Authentic people do not get blown around by the wind, they do not fear the social rejection, because they know who they are, believe in who they are, and they do so, because you as the parent embraced their authentic being. They will find their space and where they belong. They will find their pack and they will not just survive they will thrive.
So NO, Boys do not get broken bones or stitches because they are boys, and girls do not get sassy or hyper emotional because they are girls. Some kids are far more adventurous than others regardless of their genitals and some are far more cautious and sensitive regardless of their genitals. It is called being human. The sooner we realise and embrace this, the sooner we will start raising healthy authentic human beings.
There has been this big reaction about a young matriculant and his art. I am not going to share the video of the person who shared it for various reasons. What I want to address is the way a parent handled this situation, mostly because we tend to parent this way and don’t even realise it…
Just for those who missed the whole debacle, here is what you need to know as it pertains towards this specific incident.
An adult man, saw art pieces done by a matriculant (child) and felt deeply offended and upset and on the surface one could understand why he felt this way. He jumped to a conclusion, and disrespected the child’s work by making a video of it and basically shamed the matric for what he has done. He touched the art work and showed deep disrespect for the art itself.
In the video one can see that there is actually rationales added with each artwork as the theme is controversial.
The matriculant did artwork that is deeply researched and explained in the rationale. His artwork is displayed in an area where there is limited access to it and there was specific warnings put up. He has done everything right. Art is subjective and usually tells the story of how the artist sees the world, or the subject matter. It is a journey and has to be seen as commentary about the world the artist finds themself immersed in.
So what does this have to do with parenting you may ask?
As an adult we tend to jump to “superior conclusions” when we deal with something a Child has done. We tend to do what the man in the video did.
There is a sign stating this content is controversial – Our kids put signs up with their behaviour or just the tone of their voice. It warns us as parents to tread carefully, mindfully and be ready to actually hear what is going on.
Our kids give us their rationale – yet we tell them to stop back chatting, fall in line and that their thinking isn’t as superior as ours. “Mother/Father knows best”
They share their lived experience with us, how it shaped them – and we dismiss their feelings and experiences. We tell them what they have to feel, think and that if only they would get with the program, they will see it our way.
They ask us to not share, touch or just respect them – and we make “videos” and share it with the world. We make it all about us and forget about them
That painful controversial art in the hearts of our children are being battered and abused by us, because we think we know best. We do not listen, we share their stories without their context and the hurt they suffer, ripples to others.
We wonder why our kids stop trusting us. Reactions like this, that is why. Why should our children trust us, when we negatively label their lives and jump to conclusions? We as adults can do better. Our kids are thinking, living, experiencing human beings. If they open the hidden corner of their life to you, the best you can do is, keep quiet and listen and learn. Adults do not always know best
Between the ages of 0 to 24 months a child’s most developed part of their brain is the Lizard brain…Yeah a bit of an unfortunate name, but alas that is what it is called. See picture below for the triune brain lay-out.
Why Do Children Tantrum?
The lizard brain is in control of the survival. Physiological but also external. This part of the brain is also where fight, flight or freeze is located. (Our survival in the great big wild- basically outside of a mother’s womb). When this area of the brain is not triggered, the baby or child’s brain is in limbo and is able to rebuild neural pathways to the rest of the brain.
For a child this young, they cannot discern between need and want, their brain interprets it all as the same. If they need food and cannot have the food, their brain is telling them that they are going to die. Voila child cries and screams to get your attention, so that you respond and baby does not die. When they want a toy, the same feeling of upset triggers the “We are going to die” response and once again baby screams to get what they want.
Delayed gratification development lies within the limbic brain and only starts maturing from the age of 24 months. Thus it is usually recommended that you give a child what they want under the age of 2. We only start practicing delayed gratification and more strict boundaries after they have turned 2.
Biology of a Tantrum
There is also a physiological aspect to the cry that we as parents need to understand as this still plays out in us as adults as well. With the activation of the danger center in the lizard brain the following things happen to the body:
Our body’s blood and oxygen supply route is deliberately changed. Going away from the brain to the larger muscles in the legs and arms. The capillaries narrows in the brain and widen in the muscles during perceived danger. This basically means that any access we had to the frontal lobe has now disappeared and we only have primal instincts to go on.
This results in an actual loss of words. The inability to speak and if we do speak we do so irrationally and almost obsessively repeating the words we have said before the center was triggered.
During this time the ear canal actually closes to only let in low noises. The reason for this connected to when civilization lived in the wild. A creeping lion in the bush will make soft low sounds and our brain needs to be able to hear where it is coming from. When we parent any child of any age during a tantrum, we need to speak to them calmly and in soft hushed voices. They will hear what we say, and the soft calm voice will help them pull back from the perceived danger.
Once our children have calmed down can we try to engage in a short conversation – no more than 3 sentences as to why the boundary is there. Ie, I cannot let you play with the knife. It is dangerous. You can get hurt.
The impact of negative emotions on a child
A child’s main survival instinct is to be close to their parents or primary caregiver. They are completely vulnerable to the outside world, relying on us to help them make sense of the world around them and inside of them. As humans we are wholly flesh and wholly emotions. We use emotions to navigate the world around us. Basically deciding if something is safe by deciding how it makes us feel.
We feel emotions with our whole body, it is not just in our minds, emotions triggers hormones that impact how our body functions. Negative emotions often expressed as a tantrum is something that makes our bodies feel “bad”. Children under the age of 3 perceives this “bad” feeling as a real life threat to them. It becomes a body snatcher as they have little to no control over this reaction. Their brain goes to survival mode and they only know that crying has made the primary caregiver respond quickly. When kids get overwhelmed with the negative emotion, they scream and tantrum.
We see the remnants of the tantrum body snatcher in adults, when we ourselves stomp our feet or clap our hands to draw attention to our frustration or anger. Adults have a fully mature brain and can sense our emotions build up. We should be able to find a safety hatch to redirect our negative emotions too. Kids do not have that – That override switch actually only fully mature at the age of 25.
Why you never walk away from a tantrum
So why should we not walk away or throw a tantrum next to our child when they have a tantrum. Firstly a child has no physical or mental control over how they react. They feel threatened and their brain is telling them that they are actually going to die now. When we walk or run away, or even flop down next to them, expressing the same fear signals they are using. Our kids’ brains interpret this behavior as a sign of danger, we are exactly as scared as what they are.
So fight did not work. They might be immobile or strapped in, so flight isn’t going to work either, the next response then is, freeze. So they fall quiet. The problem is, they are just quiet, still in distress and the hormones that inhibits the oxygen to the brain is even higher. They are now physically preparing to die. This teaches a child that we are unable protect them. There is no reason to trust and believe that this person will be able to protect them.
If you have followed one of these strategies before. I would urge you to stop and rather lean into a tantrum. Allow them to express their fear and anger – remember anger is the gatekeeper of all the negative emotions.
Parenting tantrums in a healthy way
While holding them, if they are not flailing or fighting, whisper calmly that you are there and that you can hear their anger and fear.
Tell them that they are safe and you will not go away from them. They have all the time in the world to work through this emotion. When the tears and crying are done, we can start a rational discussion with our kids.
Join us in our Workshop: Parenting Toddlers (age 0 to 3) Click here and scroll down for more information.
Frequently parents are bombarded with the notion that “baby needs a routine/schedule.” The two terms are often conflated and it can become a mountain parents either avoid or choose to die on, and often to the detriment of the child. Both schedules and routines are needed, however it is how we manage them and engage with it that makes all the difference.
I am a mother who struggles to function within a schedule, but thrives with routine. My eldest is a schedule kind of kid and my youngest is cut from the same cloth as mother. How do we find a balance that speaks to the needs of all the family members?
The first step is to clearly distinguish between the two terms:
Schedule: A schedule is usually an event or activity that happens at a specific time and on a specific date: Things that would be considered as scheduled events are extra-curricular activities or even a birthday party.
Routine: Refers to the rhythm of a day. The happenings of a day have a certain order in which they take place, it happens every day, but the time frame of when can or may be adjusted according to how the day is going. Things that will shape a routine is brushing of teeth or bath time and even when we eat as a family.
(For differently abled families food may be scheduled instead of routine as some families need a set time of when a person needs to eat or even go to the toilet.)
Most, if not all people are in need of routine. Routine creates safety and security. Routine creates comfort even for the most “free-spirited, doing things at the drop of a hat” kind of person. It provides enough structure to a day without confining it to a list of deadlines. Routine is flexible within its ordered predictability. Routines are most often not set in the stone of time – the routine will stay the same, whether you are away on holiday and get to sleep late or whether you have to rise early to go to work.
Schedules on the other hand are a deadline. It is set in stone and often cannot be altered without negative consequences, either real or imagined.
Not all people have the same temperament, needs or even personality. For a person who thrives within order and structure, their routine can become a schedule. This is not always a problem, as they use this to then fight the anxiety and unpredictability that life creates. They hold dear their scheduled routines and this gives them a sense of control and belonging. It only becomes a problem if they cannot function in the event that their scheduled routine has been interrupted.
For some people a schedule can become the bane of their existence and create vast amounts of stress as they experience it as deadlines and things they have to do, something they cannot escape. They need the freedom to be able to embrace the impulse of a moment.
Most families have a bit of both in their family unit and creating space so that the free-spirited individual can find their moments of impulse and freedom and the more structured can find their sense of control is vital. The grey space this occupies is what we like to call “units of rhythm”. It is those measured beats that makes up the melody of life. As music has the ability to impact emotions, so do these units of rhythm.
In our home we make use of timers. We have our units of rhythm up on the wall. There are a few up around the house. There are some that have time slots, and some that just have the order of what needs to happen. The members of the family who need routine to become a schedule have the freedom to make it so, either by setting timers themselves or asking for timers to be set. Those who need routine for the comfort, but the freedom to determine when, there is also room created for that.
One of the first things we do as a family when starting our day is to look at the units of rhythm and discuss the day ahead. We highlight the routine items and we talk about the scheduled appointments for the day. Each person gets an opportunity to offer something that they need to be done, even before we start our day. This has already become the first step in the routine.
How do we manage this when our children are still small and we are trying to figure out what their temperament is? It all lies within communication. Talk to your baby and talk through the routine of the day and the planning. Share the units of rhythm with them. A child in need of a more structured schedule will protest and ask for it. A child of free-spirit will complain at the structure. A child in need of the schedule will ask for times and timeslots. They will want to plan and they will want to schedule. Whereas the child who dislikes scheduling will ask for more freedom, they will even ask for order reversals within a routine, they will enjoy impulse trips to the shops or to visit others, or even prefer to play in between the moments of executing the list of routine events. For them if they eat after brushing their teeth, their wheels will not fall off, they completed the task that needed to be done. Allowing each child to choose the order and time in between each routine activity will be an indication of their temperament.
Kids will want to play in between activities anyway. Children are not supposed to be focused all the time, they need the freedom to manage their own routine order, while we as adults manage the scheduled activities.
Watch out for over scheduling your children, especially the free-spirited child’s time. They need the “non-planned” time to survive within the pressures of society and its expectations. By teaching our children that schedules and routines have a space and we need to accommodate each other’s needs within our family unit, we are consciously teaching them inclusivity and stress management.
To the free-spirited parent, find ways to create breaks within your own routine, so that the looming responsibilities of schedules do not overwhelm you. Plan your day in such a way that there is room for impulsivity and freedom of doing whatever you need to in order to manage your own anxiety that comes from schedules. This will in turn teach your schedule loving child that there is room for impulsiveness and that there is room for structure. The more fluidly our children learn to adapt the less anxiety they will experience growing up.