Toddler myths busted by a gentle parenting guru….
This post is courtesy of our Guest Blogger, who will be blogging regularly for our site.. Alanna Casey is a technical writer, turned stay at home mom.. raising an HCS and also expecting her second child, a daughter, in October..
By Alanna Casey
I’ve known that my three year old son, Liam, is highly sensitive for almost a year now. The signs were there all along, but I didn’t put the pieces together until a few key events gave me cause for concern, and a mom in an online support group had talked about Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Child. Since then, I learned five significant things that I would like to share:
1. It’s not your fault.
At conception, many things are certain about your child, such as gender, eye color, hair color, and skin color. By birth, your child is wired with a specific temperament. Your…
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Recently a popular unschooling facebook group had posted on their wall a homeschooler’s article on ditching the tv and the dangers of screen time. This piece stirred up quite an emotional response in defence of tv from the group members, much to my surprise as I have always understood unschooling to be a way of raising and educating children which engages children in learning through exploration in ‘real life experiences’.
I began my parenting journey with a ‘No TV’ ideal and managed to follow this through well at the beginning at least. Up until Ulysses reached 18 months old our family ditched pretty much all screen time including tv, computer games and visual online media. At this time we introduced a few Disney films such as ‘Tangled’ and we also began to watch YouTube videos online as a guide to help us in the kitchen with learning about juicing. To our surprise, Ulysses became fascinated to watching these juicing videos repetitively. At the time we reasoned that as this skill was being transferred practically in the kitchen in real time, it was not a problem and served as an educational tool. The problems then occurred as he grew older and one video and film lead on to many more. It gradually crept in and encroached upon much of the time he use to spend exploring outside in the real world. Behavioural changes including increased aggression, reduced attention span and increased hyperactivity also became more and more apparent as he transferred from watching screen time to other activities in a slower paced, real time.
Ulysses is now over three years old and the addiction has continued on and off since that time. At points he will be glued to the screen for hours on end if I do not set boundaries, resulting in walking away in a groggy mood, rubbing his eyes. Before screen time came into his existence he was never reluctant to go outside and play like he oftern is now. Some people have suggested that these changes could be due to normal developmental stages. In my experience this has not been the case as during the periods we have managed to have with very little or no screen time, the behaviour reverts back to a more balanced state.
TV and screen time can be used for different purposes for example, as an electronic babysitter for those struggling with lack of support and time to themselves. It has also been claimed that TV need not be harmful and may be used as a useful educational resource. This point does have some truth in I agree however, in ny experience I have found that during times when our Internet and screen time was inaccessible, either because it wasn’t working or we were visiting family, Ulysses was more likely to step back outdoors or into playing by using his imagination and connecting with others.
Through movement and active play children’s learning capacity is enhanced much more than when they sit sedentary such as at a desk or in front of a TV or computer. Yes of course we can access materials and information via a screen that we might not otherwise be able to but is all this really necessary for young children, especially below age seven when there is such a rich variety of other learning opportunities such as museums, farms, libraries ect.
It’s a bit of an old fashioned statement but one that definitely still rings true that before TV kids use to have to use their imagination to entertain themselves and their learning did not suffer, rather their creativity was improved as a result.
Here are some more great reasons to beware of unlimited screen time:
- It can interfere with your child’s sleep/wake cycle and leave them tired.
‘several research groups have shown that applying a magnetic field (EMF) of a half a gauss or less, ….will increase or decrease production of pineal melatonin and serotonin ( sleep hormones). Other groups have observed physical changes in glands (pineal) cells in response to such fields, These experiments were controlled for illumination…’ (The Body Electric by M.D Robert Becker. P249)
- EMF exposure from devices such as wifi, TV and computer games can negatively impact your child’s immune system, especially alongside other factors which accompany screen time such as sitting sedentary for too many hours in succession without exercising the body in between.
‘Most city dwellers continuously get more than a tenth of a microwatt from television microwaves alone. This may be especially significant, because of the human body’s resonant frequency. This is the wavelength to which the body responds “as an antenna”. Next to ELF (extremely low frequency) range, it’s perhaps the region of the spectrum in which the strongest bioeffects may be expected. The peak human resonant frequency lies right in the middle of the VHF television band.’ (The Body Electric by M.D. Robert Becker. P311).
‘Nowadays, the first thing a kid will do in the morning is put on his or her shoes and the last thing at night is take them off. So they are ungrounded pretty much all the time, and this constitutes, I believe to a lot of the new health and emotional problems that kids have today, and it’s another factor to add to the list of causes such as junk foods, lack of exercise, and being exposed to EMF pollution from long hours of television, computers and video games.’ (Earthing by Clint Ober, p112).
- Watching media can influence how a child’s brain will develop and create such issues as hyperactivity and possibly even language delay. Watch for the following video link to find out more:
The truth of the matter is that many parents, like myself have become reliant on these technologies to supplement missing ‘needs’ in their lives. This could involve substituting wildlife documentaries for a disconnection with nature, soap operas for a disconnection from a true community and emotional support and perhaps watching comedies to reduce stress levels caused by our un-family friendly, work orientated culture.
So could there be a healthy balance for kids watching screen time? Perhaps for older children but not likely in the younger first five years of life when the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred and needs and wants often cannot be differentiated. Through experience I have found that adverts are not the only part of TV with subliminal messages. Thomas the tank engine comes to mind as one example when children are encouraged to accept authority without question.
With grace and truth we can learn to recognise and accept the true costs of allowing kids to reside in a virtual world and let go of what is not serving their long term health and well being. I am certainly not an advocate of controlling children by making something forbidden as this only serves in making that something even more alluring as well as conveying the message that you do not trust them, harming their self image.
I do however, believe in setting safe boundaries rather than being totally permissive. In the case of limiting TV and/or screen time this will serve to both protect the developing brain and minimise electromagnetic stress on their mind and body which can negatively impact the immune system. By encouraging kids to engage in real play through movement, human interaction and using their imagination, we can begin to release screen time gracefully by crowding out the old with new endeavours. Until we reach point all we can do is the best you can to balance screen time with real living and being the change you want to see in your child by reducing or eliminating your own screen time.
Education is something I excelled at both as a young child and into my early adult years. I was one of those students who never had to study very hard to pull the good grades out of the bag. Why then having been through the education system myself would I choose not to do the same for my child?
I believe learning is so much more more than just academics and exams. Despite doing well at school, having suffered from bullying and stifled creativity I feel my younger years could have been spent much more wisely had I had the freedom to explore my own potential rather than being pigeon holed into structured and categorised learning system which was nearly always disconnected from nature and life itself.
Now my little one has turned three I am often asked that question, ‘Does he go to nursery yet?’ When I reply I am reluctant to use the word ‘unschooling’ as people have a hard enough time getting their heads around homeschooling. Nevertheless I attempt to explain the natural learning path I have chosen to walk down with my son and the questions go a little something like this, in no particular order….
- How will he learn social skills and socialise with other kids?
- How will he learn the three R’s?
- What will you do if he wants to go to school/college/university or take exams?
- How will you keep him busy?
- How will he get a rounded knowledge of all areas and what if there is something you don’t know how to teach him?
- Isn’t the full time, stay at home educating role only for those parents who can afford it?
Perhaps the best way to describe unschooling is to to define how it is different from homeschooling. Unschoooling is very much a child-led approach, and this does not necessarily mean letting your child sit in front of a computer all day long! Far from it, unschooling parents tend to make a great effort to ensure their kids get out and about everyday.
Children are natural explorers and have an innate desire to learn whatever captures their interest. Homeschooling is much like transferring the set curriculum taught in a school from classroom to home. Unschooling on the other hand involves taking a child’s lead in their current interests and providing them with the resources and opportunities to discover more about that theme/topic for themselves. This capitalises on the fact that children, and in fact all ages learn best and most efficiently when they are engaged fully with interest in what they are discovering. Like the public school system, homeschooling can often employ rigid, scheduled and ‘age appropriate learning targets,’ whereas unschooling treats a child as having unlimited potential and possibilities and gives them a flexible and unstructured way to learn within their capabilities and without pressure.
Unschooling acknowledges that life is a school with learning opportunities everywhere you go and in everything you do. In a ‘school without walls’ a child will learn…
- Maths as they go shopping.
- Geography as they travel.
- Literacy as they read books from a library and language as they communicate with friends or loved ones in a letter or electronically.
- Science as they explore nature and animals. Rock pooling, farm visits, cooking, wild food foraging and camping are all great opportunities.
- History as they visit museums and explore sites of interest such as castles and roman ruins.
- Music from going to festivals or observing a talented relative or friend play their instrument.
- Religious education as they both mix with people from different faiths in groups or out and about and visit different places of worship to occupy a rainy day.
- Design and technology through free play with different materials and access to computers.
- Physical education through regular activities such as swimming, tennis, yoga and football in the community.
Furthermore with the advent of the world wide web as a self-directed, educational resource, no question will remain unanswered.
So now back to those common concerns and questions often asked of the unschooling family.
- Socialising: A child is far more likely to connect to people and learn social skills in a setting where they feel at ease and where they enjoy spending their time. Whether it be at the park, in a group with a shared interest or simply visiting other young family members or friends, there is a big world outside your front door that is difficult not to interact with. It interesting to note that children of the same age rarely socialise well together (as found in the usual classroom setup), they actually learn far more social skills and indeed other skills from older children who are able to demonstrate their next stage of development. Also having the opportunity for older kids to interact with younger children helps them develop their nurturing qualities and important virtues such as patience.
- Reading, writing and arithmetic: Words and numbers are found everywhere you go, not just in a classroom. Many children, especially boys are not mentally ready for formal or structured learning and trying to teach them this way can, and often does, set their comprehension back rather than if they were allowed to pick these skills up naturally at their own pace. Some examples of how a child is exposed to numeracy and language in daily life include: road signs, posters in a shop, watching films, reading menus in a cafe and working out transport timetables.
- Gaining qualifications: Exams and structured schooling are not one and the same thing. At any time your child can, having never attended a school, choose to enrol for any number of exams they feel they wish to gain in order to further their future career path.
- Keeping busy: The problem with keeping balance for our children in the modern world is not so much under-stimulation as it is over-stimulation. Too often parents and children do not spend any quality time and get to really know each other due to hectic, over scheduled timetables and time pressures. When you dedicate time to the unschooling lifestyle, life takes a natural rhythm and balance. Too often in trying to make kids achieve everything to survive in the corporate and consumerist world, we forget to teach them the basic skills of self-sufficiency. Such skills can be gained through simply helping with household chores, learning to cook, look after pets, grow your own food and taking part in meditation which develops a spiritual awareness so you can learn to balance yourself in both body and mind during times of stress. All too often schools neglect these vital areas of education. The main focus in unschooling is unstructured learning although, structured learning can also play a part should a child wish to master a certain skill. For example, a music class or gymnastics club. To keep learning opportunities ever present sometimes it requires thinking outside the box such as engaging in volunteering opportunities. As long as you you look hard enough you will always find a way.
5. Mentors and general knowledge: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to teach magnetism and how plants grow. Every parent who can read, write and count has the ability to be a learning facilitator for their own child. When the time comes that your child expresses an interest in a topic you have little knowledge of then it may be time to draw upon other people as mentors for your child; friends, relatives and professionals in that area can all engage with your child to help them learn more. For older children the internet provides such a vast array of learning resources much like a virtual classroom. It has been said that ‘it is better to be a jack of all trades than a master of none’ if however, you look at earning potential in society is it not the ‘master of one trade’ who achieves the most success? Perhaps we should concentrate less on children obtaining a good general knowledge but rather help them find what they excel and are passionate in and follow this to it’s greatest potential.
6. Money matters: Choosing to be a full time parent and learning facilitator for a child/children is a choice not a luxury. In a society that requires both parents to work full time to keep up with the Jones’s, sacrifices have to made and it’s not easy. To bypass relying on paid activities you must get creative. A typical week for us involves watching the digger construction sites, trips to the park, gardening and growing food, trips to the beach, library, free museums and local festivals and a free play visit to the creche once a week where my husband works. Volunteering with animals and a forest school inspired playgroup are soon to be part of our schedule. A garden is an absolute necessity for us and we sacrifice the size of our property and number of bedrooms to ensure we have access to outdoor space at all times. With money to spare unschooling can be made a little easier for example, taking advantage of off-peak tickets to nearby tourist attractions whilst other children are attending school. At the end of the day though children need interaction and exploration to learn, which doesn’t cost a penny.
Some may argue that I’m taking away the privelidge of education from my son at an age when he does not have the choice. I know my son better than anyone else and I observe that he does not enjoy large groups and being controlled, two main aspects of both a school and nursery environment. For these reasons I have decided to let him make the decision as he grows older whether he wishes to try school or not. Like the Spartans and other ancient cultures, I believe that a young child below the age of seven needs to be close to their primary care givers and allowed the freedom to just play, discover and explore, letting their imaginations run wild and free.
Following the natural parenting path isn’t easy, especially when your child becomes ill and you must decide which is the best course to ease their suffering. Although I use to work as a nutritional advisor in the field of testing for food intolerances, I am not a medical doctor or any other certified practitioner of heath care. As a natural mama I do have experience of using natural remedies on my child to ease the transition through various forms of healing crisis.
Medical science has done a great job in providing the technology needed to deal with accidents and emergencies which are man-made e.g. surgical methods to prevent life threatening bleeding caused by a car accident.
Holistic or natural therapies and remedies deal with the whole organism in striving to combat dis-ease whilst modern conventional medicine only ever looks at the individual parts of the body/mind system in a separatist, mechanistic model. Furthermore, naturally occurring exposure to germs, and infectious diseases play an important role in helping to develop and strengthen our immune system for maintaining future health.
For these reasons I have opted to not administer any drugs, vaccines or other man-made chemicals to my child’s developing immune system. I view fevers, childhood diseases and other imbalances as a positive sign that the body has reached critical activation point in toxic load and has now activated a healing purge or ‘crisis’ to allow the body to cleanse the poisons
Instead of using drugs to suppress these important healing symptoms, there are a host of natural remedies and therapies available which do not cause the liver to become overburdened and exhibit more negative side effects.
Below are listed a range of common health complaints alongside some natural remedy suggestions. I recommend that you always talk to a health care practitioner of your choice and do your own varied research before trialling any new remedies. Above all else I trust my own instincts and observations whilst trialling new healing remedies or therapies:-
Asthma: Turmeric and ginger root, Fresh unpasteurized apple juice, Salt pipes, Yoga breathing exercises (for older children 3 yrs plus), Breathing in a steam shower room with eucalyptus oil (to open up the airways during an attack), Chiropractic/Osteopath/cranial sacral adjustments. Elimination diet* (led by a natural health practitioner)
*The main culprits which cause intolerances or allergic symptoms in the diet are: wheat, dairy, sugar, yeast, MSG and other artificial flavourings, additives and preservatives.
Allergies (non-life threatening): Freshly prepared nettle tea (contains naturally occurring anti-histamines), Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (taken diluted in water), Chiropractic /Osteopath/cranial sacral adjustments. Elimination diet* (led by a natural health practitioner)
Autism: A complex condition often triggered by heavy metal poisoning from the mercury in dental fillings and/or the mercury added to vaccinations. A heavy metal detox under guidance of a qualified practitioner is paramount to healing the body from mercury poisoning. A natural and safe combination for children to take combines coriander/cilantro herb with the algae called Chlorella.
Constipation: Chia seeds, Flax seeds, Prunes, Apricots, Pears, Figs, Psyllium husk, Aloe vera (in a juice), Probiotics (found in all types of natural yoghurt including vegan coconut yoghurt), Sauerkraut Abdominal massage with lavender oil, Warm bath, Increase water consumption, Physical exercise, Reflexology, Elimination diet* (led by a natural health practitioner)
Colic: Fennel, mint and chamomile tea combined and left to cool to tepid temperature. Baby wearing in a correctly supportive wrap or sling, Switching from formula milk with soya or cows milk to donated breast milk or Goat’s milk as a second best option to human milk, Sound and movement vibration (e.g. riding in a car or dancing and singing to baby)
Congestion/mucus: Turmeric root powder added as a large pinch to homemade lemonade (add a natural sweetener instead of sugar), Neti pot cleansing with sea salt water.
Eliminate mucous producing foods: bananas, wheat, dairy foods such as ice cream, yoghurt and butter; soya, deep fried foods, corn, chips/crisps, cakes, unstable oils such as sunflower and safflower vegetable oil, jams, cereals, biscuits. Increase foods that eliminate mucous such as: green vegetables, ginger, turmeric root, garlic, grapefruit, bamboo shoots, oranges, onions, celery, cauliflower, lemons and limes, asparagus.
Cough: Raw honey mixed with turmeric taken on a spoon.
Cradle cap: Extra virgin coconut oil rubbed on to affected area.
Diabetes: Cinnamon, stevia and xylitol for balanced sweeteners which will not spike blood sugar level. Incorporate as much of the raw food diet as possible to the daily diet.
Eye infection: Breast milk squirted into the eye directly.
Ear infections: Olive oil poured into the ear canal whilst head is turned to the side.
Fever: Camu camu berry powder mixed with water and a little natural sweetener in a drink.
Flu: To nourish and heal the body use a liquid diet of green smoothies/juices freshly prepared from organic produce in a low speed RPM blender/juicer. Raw garlic and ginger can also be taken chopped up in small chunks and swallowed like a pill.
Rash: Pure Paw Paw ointment (made from Papaya fruit)
I hope these suggestions help relieve any uncomfortable symptoms. Do remember these healing modalities are not a ‘cure’ for the dis-ease but rather act to buffer and comfort the pain and unpleasant symptoms of healing.
As ancient tribal wisdom and quantum physics all agree, ultimately the root to all dis-ease is first created in the mind through mental disturbance and emotional stress and so can not be ‘cured’ in the long-term by simply treating the physical body.
Techniques such as emotion freedom technique, progressive and attachment parenting methods and other types of emotional therapy are great ways to get to the root of any diseases. (For more information on this see my blog on ‘Mental invitations: the real root cause of disease’).
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?…You’re reflection and based upon how you view your reflection will determine how you behave. Perhaps you use your mirror to apply make-up, straighten your hair and pluck any unwanted hairs before observing your outfit and accessories, making sure you are comfortable with what you see before embracing the day ahead with confidence that you look good….but how do you feel deep inside?
Did you choose your style, dressing the way you truly wanted or did you surrender to societal norms selecting smart clothes and shoes for work, minimal jewellery and discreet make-up in order to conform. For that matter did you surrender your dream job to go and work somewhere which would pay your bills and give you perceived ‘security’?
Is your reflection of who you have become what you thought it would be 10, 20 or even 30 years ago? What changed? What part of you might have been lost?
When the lake is still your reflection is clear, but throw a stone into the lake and you reflection becomes distorted, if you keep on throwing stones, clarity will evade you. Let’s compare the stones here to all that ‘noise’ we hear around us telling us what to do and how to act and all those feelings associated with that noise, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and fear; if however, you allow the water to settle and become quiet, a clear reflection of your true self will be presented.
When we move away from the mirror or the lake do we stop seeing our reflection? Absolutely not, in reality we now come into contact with the mirrors of our inner world, the world we like to hide and distract ourselves from. How many of us find it near on impossible to sit still and quiet without any distraction such as a book, film or even just running through our ‘to do’ list in our heads rather than remaining quiet by stilling the mind?
Everything we see in others can teach us something important about ourselves, perhaps something we wish we had as an attribute, or even worst something we do not like about ourselves . As a parent we are now given a unique opportunity to experience a completely unbiased and sometimes, painfully true set of reflections directly from the one’s who we cherish the most.
One of our greatest teachers is our two-year old son, but what can someone so young teach an adult you might ask? The answer is everything you have hidden away under the layers, over the years. They will reflect your anger, loneliness, sadness, despair and even your greatest joys and loves. They will reflect honestly every time, without prejudice. When you become angry and sad they will test you further and push all your buttons, reflecting straight back at you, the anger and sadness they can feel and provoking in you even more anger. When you laugh, they will laugh with you, reflecting your joy. A child will also teach you about time, reflecting back to you just how little time you believe you have and your inability to slow down and just be. They will also repeat things over and over, driving you crazy and reflecting back to you your impatience and your ego, ‘I know/have done this already, can’t we move on now?’
Children love to enquire, asking you questions about life and engaging with you by inviting you to see the world through their eyes rather than your ‘all-knowing’ eyes. The reflections are subtle and one of the most prominent reflections they give shows how adults are rarely present in the moment. Children are present all the time, showing imagination, creativity and amazement at every detail. These attributes flourish in the present and diminish in the past and future where most adults find themselves dwelling. Surely adults cannot afford this luxury of being present as they have responsibilities to concern themselves with and money to earn for their family?
Yet all we have is right now, it’s not about quantity, it’s quality and if we learn to be truly present in the precious moments we spend with our children then they will demand less of us. So next time you see your child run to the computer when you ask them a question, ask yourself what is this reflecting back to you, do you often multi task and talk on your phone whilst having ‘quality time’ with your child?
Unconditional love from a child is pure, they smile, make you melt and their innocence can make the most hardened person laugh. Their giving is endless and if you share unconditionally with them they will demonstrate this to others they come across. We were told many times by other parents that ‘not sharing’ phase was inevitable yet nearing on 3 years now it still hasn’t arrived.
If you teach your child possession, not allowing them to share what you deem to be ‘yours’ and demonstrate fear of loss, you may miss the reflective teaching when your child snatches from another and they may grow to become possessive, believing in separation and inequality rather than infinite abundance and connectedness.
A child is never innately violent and spiteful. These traits have become a reflection of what they are seeing around them in their environment; somewhere they have seen this violence play out and they imitate what they’ve witnessed. In our family we once watched The Bee movie, there is a part in the film where the bee playfully slaps the other bees in the hive. All of a sudden soon after viewing the film our then 20 month old son began slapping us around the face. We then began noticing similar behaviour in other animations he was exposed to and even though it was only playful banter we had to accept the responsibility for exposing him to a behaviour he was not yet able to comprehend yet. Thankfully with love, patience, acceptance and surrender we have now overcome this phase.
We live in a fast paced, stressed society and when you have had a tough day and are perhaps feeling exhausted and wired the last thing you need is your child playing up. At this point you must realise that your child doesn’t discriminate between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of behaving, they simply feed off of your energy and reflect it back to you no matter how hard you think you may be covering it up. If you can detach yourself and notice the feelings and reflections, you will see it is not personal. The sooner you can re-set your mood to positive, the sooner your child will follow suit. Maybe a soak in the bath, a short meditation or walk or a tasty meal will help you achieve this, whatever you do though remember to first change yourself rather than trying to change the child’s behaviour. As Mahatma Ghandi famously said ‘be the change you want to see’.
The teaching of reflections isn’t permanent and simply reveals your current transitional state. The more present you can be around your family, the less reactive you will become and the happier you will all be.
Ultimately you create your reality and if it is not the reality that you wanted then the teaching of reflections can guide you to remove the very obstacles that you yourself have placed in your way. By demonstrating to you via the behaviour and mood of those you attract into your life and who share your life with you, you are given the opportunity to grow and learn about yourself using compassion as your guide.
Reflective teaching is simply like attracts like, the difficult part is sometimes accepting who we are when the behaviour we have attracted into our world is negative, we cannot possibly attract negative things into our lives? Well we do on a daily basis and we end up blaming others and passing our responsibility on to others as well as circumstances for its presence. When we practice with compassion we recognise that we are all reflecting our pain and pleasure simultaneously, that we all have mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome, especially you could argue when it comes to parenting. Ultimately compassionate parenting is about honouring the reflective teaching of your child and accepting responsiblity for that regardless of you judging who’s right or wrong, good or bad and simply surrendering and accepting what is before you. If you can meet the reflection with an open heart you will be amazed at what it will reveal about you.
Be present and open to witness the magic occur.
(Co-written with Matt Allen http://www.theyogahealthcoach.co.uk)