I’m all for attachment and gentle parenting, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what these labels mean to me. I think it’s more than I can write about in one post, so I’m going to write a series. This first post is about the ‘gentle’ aspect, and about respect.
We’ve heard often enough about respecting your elders. I think the automatic assumption that follows is that elders respect their ‘youngers’ regardless, so it doesn’t need to be said. I don’t agree: I think it does need to be said, and said loudly.
This notion of respect ties neatly in with the one of gentle parenting: the terms respectful and gentle are almost interchangeable in this context.
There is some repetition in the list (to a tiny baby, is there really any difference between asking and telling?), but the overall picture is one to really make you think. When I first read it, I was so glad someone had put into words how I think babies ought to be treated. I know I’d hate to be hauled out of my chair without the hauler first looking at me and making their intentions clear. Even if I didn’t particularly want to go, I would at least be prepared for what was about to happen. I so often see babies and children pounced on by their parents or carers who then admonish them for the resulting howls of protest. I want to stop them and say well, s/he’s got a point; wouldn’t you be howling too?
I think the key is actually engagement; to make eye contact and get the child to turn his attention to you and what you want him to do before doing it for/to him. Then at least he is prepared for it to happen. The list also suggests asking permission before taking an action, something I can see working with an older child, although that in itself could elicit howling – I’ve yet to experience the toddler tantrums! I think the concept of asking permission from a newborn if you can pick her up/change her nappy etc is taking it a little bit far, but I do think explaining what you’re doing and talking quietly about what you’re doing to her is important. Not only are they reassured by the sound of your voice, they will come to understand what you’re saying and know what to expect next in the routine.
For me, one of the most salient points this week was the final one about taking something out of your child’s hand. I had to stop the Muppet’s (18 year old half-)sister from snatching something away from him. I think it was a dinner knife, after she’d put him in his high chair and he’d reached for the shiny thing. Ok, it wasn’t something I’d let him have (though don’t panic, it wasn’t a carving knife or anything!) but neither would I have just wrenched out of his hand from behind, in passing. He was suitably indignant and shouted until I bent down to him and explained that knives are sharp and could hurt him. His sister said what’s the point in explaining, when he doesn’t understand? And yes, I could have said something nonsensical about the trees being blue to the same effect, but it don’t think that’s the point either. The point is taking the time to come down to his level, making eye contact, talking reassuringly, and showing him that you’re acknowledging him and his feelings. It’s ok to feel upset at having something taken away from you, but it doesn’t have to feel like the end of the world. And a little cuddle then a curiously bouncing rice cake made life rosy again.
Another incidence this week that made this list relevant happened at a baby group we go to. I think most parents there are like-minded, and generally follow the attachment parenting path, but I was quite taken aback by one mum’s treatment of her little son. He tried to take a toy out of a younger baby’s hand and his mother’s response was to reach across the play mat and drag him back by his foot. He protested loudly and burst into howling tears as she attempted to restrain his wriggling on her lap, and told him off sternly – more by now for crying than his original misdemeanour. I felt so sorry for him because it really wasn’t his fault, and from my perspective it could have been dealt with in a much more gentle way. I know it’s always easier to be critical from the outside looking in: the mum in question did look a bit frazzled, and perhaps taking the toy was the last straw that broke the donkey’s back. It is important though to bite your tongue sometimes, or count to ten and take a deep breath.
We’ve been going to this baby group for a few weeks now, and it’s become quite clear to me that the babies who are treated the gentlest are the most calm and contented. I think that’s probably a very general statement, because no doubt some babies are calm by nature, but I think the nurture here plays a big part.
The main point of this gentle and respectful parenting malarkey is that we’re showing our children how to treat others – and themselves – with respect. If we treat our children roughly, they think it’s normal and treat others in the same way without a second thought. At the risk of repeating the overused buzzword, we have to help them be mindful – aware, empathetic, gentle – people, who will help make their world a kinder place.