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A couple of things have happened over the last week to make me mull over our parenting and educational choices. I’m a muller by nature too, or as Keith succinctly puts it, I think too much.

We recently went out with some friends who are taking the same first steps into Positive Parenting that we are and it was great to talk honestly about what a massive shift it is from the way we were brought up, and the unspoken subtext of how we are still expected to raise our children.

For me, Positive Parenting really started to make sense when I found this site which is part blog, part publication, part community. I think because the way in which a lot of the articles are written really helped me get my head around the difference in philosophy between that and more conventional approaches.

My path to Positive Parenting was, I suspect, a fairly common one: I had been getting frustrated with the way other techniques we had tried had seemed to have a temporary impact on Alfie, only to then lose their steam. Time outs, naughty step, reward charts worked for a while, but then seemed to leave a void where Alfie just stopped caring. I went off in search of a way to “make him care” and instead, came across something that altered my perception totally.

I’m not an expert in Positive Parenting, so don’t ask me what it should mean … but here’s what it means to me:

Pick your battles
There are so many times when my children push boundaries and my gut reaction is to want to haul them back into line. The shame of being judged by complete strangers, the annoyance because you child seems to be the only one who won’t listen but then is that their fault, or mine for having boundaries that make no sense?

Take the age old drama of trying to get your child to walk one way only to see them vanish in the opposite direction. HELL yeah that’s annoying because who looks good running hunched over after a surprisingly rapid toddler? Nobody, that’s who. The only reason you do it is because hunching over means you no longer meet the eyes of the other adults standing nearby.

Of course there are times when you can’t allow your child to run away – mainly where there’s traffic and scissors involved. Sometimes car keys, ask my sister – but then the logical thing is not to set your children up to fail in those scenarios by approaching it differently, certainly not to scream after them when they demonstrate their developing risk perception.

The other logical thing to do is be honest with yourself about how often you really need to exert that control. How often is there REALLY a risk? My friend is incredible in that regard. She allows her boys to ride their bikes miles ahead. My tiny brain is busy screaming “WHAT IF A CAR VEERS OUT OF CONTROL AND CRUSHES THEM?!?!?!” but if her brain is doing that, she never shows it. She helps me realise that it’s my neuroses that are the problem, and my fear of being judged.

Natural consequences, not punishment
This was the hardest one for me, and if I’m tired or in a bad mood, this is still the hardest one for me to hang onto. For so many parents, me included, there is a disconnect between the “crime” and the “punishment” … “if you don’t come here now you won’t get any pudding” … “if you hit your sister, I’m going to make you sit on the naughty step” ... you get the idea. It must be hard for a young child to get their head around rules like these because essentially what we as adults are saying is “if you do something I don’t like, I’m going to do something mean and completely unrelated to you in retaliation”.

It makes a lot more sense to me to explain to my children the natural consequences of their actions … “if you don’t go to bed now, you’ll be tired tomorrow and won’t enjoy school” … “when you hit your sister, it really hurts her and makes her sad. Can you imagine how it would feel if someone bigger than you did the same thing to you? You’d feel really sad, wouldn't you?”

These things make sense to me as an adult, and to my children even with their limited experience of the world.

That doesn't mean I don’t want to grab them round the neck and throttle them on occasions, I do, but that is because toddlers are designed by nature to ensure you never want to reproduce again. Not even after two bottles of pinot and a moonlit walk.

Respecting my child over “convention”
This one sounds a bit odd but I don’t force my children to share: It feels counter intuitive to me as an adult.

If someone came up to me while I was eating lunch and said “ooh that looks nice, let’s share” quite frankly I would be having a stern word about boundaries and buying your own damn lunch. If they then went on to take my food anyway I’d be unleashing a whole world of hurt on them. But then I am a pregnant woman and anyone who would try and get between a pregnant woman and a meal deserves what they get.

Instead, I ask my children if they would like to share. If they choose to give up some prized toy, or their last chip then I make damn sure they are thanked for it and that they know how kind they are to have done so. If, on the other hand, they choose to keep their bounty to themselves then that’s cool too, nobody died.

I take a similar view over my children greeting other people. They have both gone through phases where they would rather bury their heads in a handy parental body part than greet someone and I respect that utterly. I don’t see it as a lack of manners if my children need some time to absorb a new setup and catch their breath before they start to engage with people. I ask them if they want to say hello, of course, but the choice is theirs.

So basically, what it comes down to is making a move from control to guidance. Not easy for someone like me. Not easy at all.

It feels worth the effort though because it fits in really well with the Montessori approach ... and a recent Freecycle haul.

A lady by the name of Mrs Tuson recently passed away and her son has passed on her Montessori books and training files to me. I had to pass a doorstep interview about why I wanted them but I’m actually quite glad that he was so committed to finding them a good home because I’m only a little way through her first training file and already I think they deserve to be treasured.

This is just one tiny paragraph from the Maths file she wrote while she was being trained by one of Maria Montessori’s own pupils so I take them as a pretty direct representation of how the method should be taught.

It articulates perfectly the thing I love most about the philosophy of both Positive Parenting and Montessori learning – that at the very core of learning - and I mean both as a parent and as a child - that it’s the process, not the product that matters.

There are books about every conceivable aspect of planning and executing an early years Montesorri education and me with maternity leave coming up: You know I’m going to be mulling the SHIT out of this subject over the next few months.

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