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Random Thoughts on Childcare and Parenting


This is a list of some random thoughts from my experiences both as a child and as a childcare worker

Respect

Do you remember the condescending attitude with which you were treated as a child? I do, and I knew back then that I would always take children seriously. I have never told a child to be quiet when grown-ups are talking, I have never ridiculed a child’s concerns or questions (no matter how far-fetched they seemed), and I have always listened to what they have to say.
Children may only be partly our age and size, but they are complete human beings nonetheless and deserve to be treated with the same respect.
(Talking about respect, a lot of people claim ‘My children respect me!’ – According to my definition respect is something mutual; if it’s one-sided, it’s simply fear.)
Baby Talk

From the day we are born you teach us what you call baby talk - which is more correctly termed caretaker speech since it is not a language that was invented by us children but by those who communicate with us. Some parents think that saying din-din instead of dinner or binkie instead of blanket is just cuter, others believe that it is easier to pronounce. However, a few years later you expect us to learn the proper words - which is almost like learning a different language.
Believe me, you'd make life a lot easier for us if you taught us the right words from the start.
Creativity

Children often come up with their own ideas and find the grown-ups unprepared. When a child is wearing a jigsaw box as a hat, building a Playdough tower on a Lego castle or using a spoon as a shoehorn many adults tend to freak and give out to them.
As adults we are told we should think ‘outside the box’ and come up with creative ideas. Therefore we should encourage our children to do the same, rather than telling them how to play.
When I see a child coming up with something new I ask myself two questions: ‘Could anyone get hurt?’ and ‘Could anything get damaged?’ If the answer to both is no, I let them carry on.
Example

You introduce us to many rules - and believe me, the best way to teach them is by example. When you tell us to hold on to the banister when climbing the stairs, to wash our hands before dinner or to say please and thank you you should do the same. If you don't we may think it's not that important and - even worse - that you're hypocrites.
Safety

There is no question that our safety is paramount, but it seems that these days the idea is taken - like everything else - to the extreme, and in a few years we might be strapped into safety chairs at birth, only to be released on our 18th birthday.
It is important to remove all possible hazards and let us grow up in a safe environment, but you should use common sense. For example, not allowing us to balance unassisted on a 10' wall because we might fall and break our neck is sensible, not allowing us to play football in the driveway because we might fall and skin our knees is outright silly.
Permanent Nagging, Structure and Discipline

Talking about safety, permanent nagging is one of the greatest safety hazards of all. A raised voice should be used to get our attention and warn us of an imminent danger when there is no time to approach us in a different way.
Those of us who grow up to the sounds of 'Don't paint in your good T-shirt', 'Don't get fingerprints on the window', 'Don't jump on the couch', 'Don't put the pillows on the floor' etc will stop listening - not out of spite, but as a defence mechanism that enables us to have a life that consists of more than just listening to Don’ts.
When this happens calls like 'Don't put that wire into the socket' or 'Don't put that plastic bag over your head' will remain unheard.

In one of the crèches I worked in I ran a toddler group with perfectly well-behaved children, based on mutual respect. They said please and thank you (just as I did), considered tidying up to be fun and listened when I got serious in order to ensure their safety.
Later management forced me to take a more military approach (or, as it was phrased, ‘apply more structure and discipline’), ban certain fun things and force the children into group activities. I was teamed up with an assistant who was constantly nagging at them, all in the name of safety.
The result was that the children became restless and unruly, refused to tidy up and ignored anything that was said to them. (I do remember from my own childhood how permanent nagging becomes part of the background and how, as a self-defence mechanism, nothing of it is registered at all.)
Right after my group was subjected to this tougher approach the number of accidents quadrupled.


Little Choices

Our schedule is almost entirely controlled by others - from the time we leave for the crèche or school and the time we return home to the time we go to bed. This gives us the feeling that we have no say in our own lives and can lead to quite a rebellious attitude.
Of course you can't always leave it to us at what time we want to attend the crèche or return home. But there are plenty of opportunities to let us make our own decisions - for example, you could ask us what we want to wear and whether we want a banana or an apple for a snack, you can give us a choice whether you or the childminder puts on our shoes when we go home - the possibilities are endless.
And you will find that offering us those little choices will make us a lot happier and a lot less unruly by giving us the feeling that we have some kind of say in what is happening to us; as a childcare worker I have been able to eliminate a lot of ‘challenging behaviours’ with this approach.
Explanations

On our journey to discover the world we have many questions. And there will be questions whose answers you believe us to be too young for to understand.
A child's brain can take in a lot of information, and even abstract thinking develops quite early. You would be surprised at all the things we are already capable of understanding!
Therefore you should never avoid answering a question (in terms that we can understand), no matter how complex - if we understand it you did a great job. If we don't there's no harm done, and we might get back to you at a later time.
Planning v Exploring

We live in an age where childhood is thoroughly planned and organised. In Ireland (and other countries as well, I imagine) pre-school regulations require that all pre-school facilities have their weekly, monthly and annual plans and force the children into certain group activities. There is no space for spontaneity, let alone taking into account the children’s wishes (unless 2- and 3-year olds know exactly what they want to do Friday week at 2pm).
Pre-school children are under 5 years old. At this stage they are still exploring the world, trying new things and taking in all kinds of stimuli.
They can’t focus on anything that doesn’t grab their attention, and they are not supposed to. It’s against Nature.
While painting with the others a child may see the toy tractor and wonder whether it rolls as fast on the rubber mats as it does on the floor. Naturally, he/she will get up and leave the table in order to satisfy their scientific curiosity, and it’s the job of the childcare worker to prevent them from doing so and bring them back to the table.
Unfortunately, while working in the crèche, I was in that situation myself. However, I never went as far as some of my colleagues, telling two-year olds that ‘it’s work time’.
Children, just like adults, learn a lot more when they’re having fun. For example, a boy who loves cars will be more likely to learn numbers by counting the cars parked in front of the house than he does by being forced to listen to a story about ten little sheep.
In my experience forcing children into activities they dislike (or just aren’t interested in at that particular moment) makes them agitated and unruly and crushes their spirits.
Co-Determination

One of the most quoted lines I heard while working in crèches was ‘The children don’t tell us what to do, we tell the children what to do!’
I don’t agree with this. In my opinion we are there for the children, not the other way round.

We are told we live in a democracy. In order to be prepared for this the children learn about it at school. And then, on their 18th birthday, they’re suddenly confronted with the fact of having a say in their lives. I have always believed in letting children make decisions themselves – within reason, of course. And when different children want different things, I take a vote. (In case of a tie, I simply cast my own vote as well.)
For example, it was always a big discussion whether we’d go outside or not. Usually, the vote was something like 6:2 in favour.
After three days I would tell the 6 guys that they’ve had their turn three times in a row and that it was time for the others to get their turn and stay inside. So, apart from giving them an idea of the concept of democracy, I also made them aware of the rights of minorities.


I Told You So

Don't you just hate it when someone tells you 'I told you so'? - Well, so do we. As adults you will give us advice, and there will be times when you are right. However, there is no need to rub it in.
When you were right, and you know that we are aware of that fact, are you strong enough to leave it at that?
Correcting Grammar

You know yourself that being corrected does not feel very nice. It is difficult enough to learn a language (even if it is our first), and once we get a grip of the rules we have to deal with exceptions. So rather than correcting our grammar try to use the correct form in a different sentence, such as ‘I forgetted that it was grandma’s birthday’ – ‘Don’t worry, I almost forgot it myself.’ This will prevent us from feeling embarrassed and patronised.
Compromise

As mentioned before, it is important to let us have some say in our lives, and there are plenty of opportunities to compromise with us and let us practice our negotiation skills. For example, if you serve us a big dinner and we aren't hungry because our friends are waiting we could agree that we finish the carrots and half of the rest.
Mean What You Say

There are not many things that should be written in stone, but once we have reached an agreement you should stick to it. When you tell us you'll take us to the playground after we finished our homework you should do exactly that. If we finish our homework and you don't take us we'll lose our trust in you; if we don't finish our homework and you take us anyway we'll know you're putty in our hands.

Also, don’t make threats you won’t be able to carry out in order to enforce compliance. When you’re driving home and tell us you’ll leave us in the playground if we don’t come along and don’t do it you will lose all credibility.

And another thing: don’t use irreconcilable arguments. When you tell us to do something ‘because everybody else does it’ and on other occasions (when we use that argument) ask, ‘If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?’ your point will be less than convincing.


Left and Right

Left and right could be such a simple thing to learn - but most of you have to confuse us with performances of the Hokey Cokey and similar activities.
Naturally, when you stand in front of us, we mirror your movements. When you sing 'You put your right arm out' and stretch out your right arm we will do the same with our left. And if you turn your back to us to avoid this we will walk around you so we can see your face.
When teaching left and right you should always do it from our perspective. When you dress us tell us 'This is the right shoe for the right foot' or 'This is the left arm in the left sleeve'. When we're driving in the car or riding the bus point out things we can see on the right or the left. Tell us that our 'strong hand' (the one with which we throw, eat, paint etc) is the right or the left one.
Also, you can put a couple of chairs in a line and pretend it to be a train. Then point out imaginary things one might see from the window: fields and cows on the right, cars or elephants on the left etc.
(A little anecdote: a girl put her left shoe on her left foot and asked me: ‘Is this the right one?’. I didn’t want to confuse her or let her think she got it wrong, so, after thinking for a moment, I replied: ‘That’s correct, the left shoe on the left foot.’)
Tantrums

There are two distinctly different types of tantrums. The first one is where we have a good reason - for example, we are separated from our mother for the first time, or we find a creature that is unknown to us crawling in our bed. In these cases we need to be reassured and calmed down, no matter how long it takes.
The second type of tantrum is different and more common. We simply throw a tantrum because we don't get what we want. In these cases there is no calming down, and every attempt you make will convince us that our tantrum was effective, even if you don't give in. And you can be sure that if you try to talk to us - regardless of what you say - our next tantrum will be just around the corner.
The only effective way of dealing with these tantrums is to ignore them entirely. You should stay around to make sure we don't injure ourselves or others, but keep yourself occupied with something else and don't even make eye contact with us.
When finally our high-pitched screaming ceases and we start sobbing or whimpering you'll know we are open to reason again. And if you do this often enough you can be sure we'll give the tantrums up altogether (at least around you, because apparently they don't work).

In case you have an autistic child, however, it might also be a meltdown, caused by sensory overload, in which case the above doesn't apply.


Stand By Your Child

You may have noticed how other parents stand up for their children. Believe it or not, that's the way it's supposed to be.
Since we are only small we have a lot of bigger and more powerful adversaries - bigger children, neighbours, teachers etc. Of course the easiest way for parents to deal with it is to side with the more powerful party and assume your child is in the wrong. But this is not the right way to deal with it. Unless you have a perfectly good reason to doubt our account you should believe our version of events rather than somebody else's.
Santa Claus

Santa Claus is a difficult decision for parents, teachers etc. On the one hand you don't want us to be ridiculed by our friends, on the other hand you want to leave the 'magic' in our childhood as long as possible.
Now here's a novel idea: why not leave it up to us? Santa Claus is hardly a vital issue, so when we ask about him you could just tell us: 'Some people believe in him, and others don't. You'll just have to make up your own mind.'
That way we will stop believing whenever we're ready, without seeking the reassurance of an adult.
Religion

Every child has the right to be happy. But exposing us to religion of whichever kind will induce feelings of guilt and fear in us. If you want us to be happy keep us away from religion.
In my opinion the main intellectual requirements for a child are freedom and guidance, as I have pointed out in this poem:

Childhood

Teach me how to watch and talk
so that I may speak my mind,
show me where it’s safe to walk
till the time that I will find
my own way with watchful eye:
take my hand and let me fly!

And I’ll take you up with me
to the sky, and while we soar
high above the world, you’ll see
things you’ve never seen before
as the clouds are rolling by:
take my hand and let me fly!


© 6250 RT (2009 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig