Giving Teachers Permission to Have Fun

“The pain of containing people who are disengaged is more than the effort it would take to reconnect with them” (Sir Ken Robinson, 2011)

I decided to enter the teaching profession after spending a couple of years after high school working as a travel agent. I was looking for more in a career and figured that teaching was one of only a few occupations that offered opportunities of spontaneity, flexibility, fun, laughter and autonomy in ones’ day. Coming from a family of teachers, I felt I was adequately informed as to the role of a teacher and despite initially fighting the inclination to sign up, at age 20 I began my study at teachers college.

15 years on, in my current role, I am meeting more and more teachers who are increasingly feeling despondent with the role. They are frustrated with high class numbers and squashed timetables that include numerous extra curricular add ons that directly impact on their ability to ‘keep it simple’. And most recently, they are under increasing pressure to teach to targets rather than to the children in front of them. Instead of looking at the class they have and the varied developmental levels contained within it, they are expected to move children towards a national standard, rather than celebrate the strengths a child brings to the class.

The New Zealand national curriculum was heralded as a leader at its conception. It was to allow teachers to teach students of the 21st century. A focus on thinking skills rather than knowledge content. Recognition that our future population will be needing skills that will allow innovation, flexibility and inquiry, rather than the ability to recall a vast bevy of facts and figures. Encouraging our kiwi learners to become forward thinkers able to problem solve, hypothesise, invent and create. This curriculum is still current…….it is still the curriculum legislated that teachers in New Zealand mainstream schools must follow. So why then do teachers feel they have to be permitted to teach in the way that the curriculum allows for?

When teachers discuss with me their concerns for their practice, there are some common themes that repeat. Lack of fun, lack of spontaneity and the inability to allow children to be in charge of their own learning. No time for those teachable moments that just appear in the day, because if the timetable is deviated from the stress in trying to ‘catch up’ is too great. Finally no time in the day to teach to individual developmental levels, especially addressing the ever increasing lack of school readiness in children beginning school.

So what is the alternative for teachers? To keep on keeping on, using the same methods of classroom traffic control (task boards) and programming (group rotation) to marry with the innovative curriculum we currently have? It appears that when the NZ curriculum was introduced, there was simply a lack of in-depth communication with the grass-roots of the NZ education system in how it would look in the classrooms. School managers and Ministry officials participated in the rounds of professional development associated with its introduction. The expectation was that these school managers would then provide the same professional development to classroom teachers. In many schools this did not happen to the extent that it initiated a change in practise in the classroom program and child-management. There became a large chasm between current teacher practice and future expected teacher practice.

And all this before the introduction of the highly controversial national standards. Despite the NZ curriculum, national standards were rolled out, a direct contradiction to the ideals of the curriculum. As predicted these standards have become the reason for many decisions teachers make in relation to their planning and assessment practices. The very philosophy of the NZ curriculum has been lost in the translation of the national standards. Just as NZ was on the verge of shaping children’s learning to be futuristic, flexible and skill-based, the national standards have necessitated a sharp u-turn back towards the archaic approach of filling up students with knowledge. Many would argue what is wrong with knowledge? Isn’t this why students are sent to school? To learn more? But what if this knowledge taught is at the expense of teaching students how to think?

Thinking skills are now more fundamentally important than being knowledgable in a variety of subject matters. It is mooted that the students we have in our classrooms today will be employed in occupations that have not yet been invented. Students will be working with technology that we have no ability to conceive at present. Traditional labour jobs of yesterday may look vastly different in the future. Students now will have numerous occupations and careers in the future, in contrast to our parents and grandparents who worked the same job for 40 years. How then can we as teachers possibly equip our students for this future by teaching them knowledge that will outdate itself before they finish high school? Instead, we can teach them to think. To access information. To query. To create. To problem solve. To ask questions of their world and the people in it. To inquire.

All this is possible within the framework of the current NZ curriculum. This curriculum gives permission for teachers to deliver a different programme in their classroom. One that is more relevant to today’s students and our future leaders than ever before. Yet teachers still feel they have to teach as they have always done. School managers are indirectly reinforcing this by keeping on keeping on, rather than examining the needs in their classrooms. Children that are disengaged, children lacking in motivation, children struggling to access level one of the curriculum. If teachers were to be courageous and revolutionise their teaching program, would these children continue to be disengaged? Would there be a lack of motivation in the classroom, if children were suddenly encouraged to explore themes relevant to them? If the teacher and school communicated to their students that their thoughts and ideas were important and worthy of further investigation? By teachers working alongside students, instead of operating a top-down fill-up-the-vessel approach, the skills children would then be exposed to develop would be numerous.

Teachers need to move away from compartmentalising the curriculum and exploring ways that students can experience all the skills needed (such as reading, writing and numeracy) within a real-life, relevant learning context. It is ok to run reading or writing programs alongside an inquiry focus. In fact reading and writing should be as a result of the inquiry, not separate from. A classroom timetable should not itemise curriculum subjects in compartments, of which one is inquiry, or discovery learning as a ‘topic’. The day should be inquiry-based, with reading and writing arising as a need or tool from the direction the inquiry focus is taking. Numeracy should, wherever possible be integral to the process as well, providing relevance to students in the application of their maths knowledge. If a daily timetable was fluid, inquiry-based, rather than compartmentalised, surely flexibility, spontaneity and fun would ensue?

Classroom teachers need to truly question why they signed up for this job. For me, the autonomy I had in the classroom, the ability for me to control my day was an attractive component in pursuing a teaching career. This is still possible for teachers today. Flexibility and spontaneity was another attribute of teaching that was attractive in signing on. This, again, is still possible, given the current NZ curriculum. Fun with children, was at the very core of my desire to be a teacher. Are teachers having fun now? Are they truly relaxed in their classrooms, learning alongside their students, modelling the very joy in exploring and discovering new learnings? If not, is it time for teachers to be asking why not? And what needs to change for teachers to be having fun alongside their students again? What needs to change in order for the classroom to be future-focused? And who is preventing these changes from occurring? Because the legislation is there for it to occur. Teachers just need to remember that they have permission for this change to occur. The NZ curriculum says they can.

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Astronaut Jumping

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There is numerous literature and research around the importance of a healthy attachment between mother and baby in the first few years of a child’s life. Publications and media in general consistently refer to ‘mother and child’ and the bond that is so very important in those crucial first few years. Anyone who learns about attachment theory, or understands the importance of a healthy attachment can attest to the research behind it, and the resultant problems that occur if this relationship is fractured in some way. However, what is not publicised of equal importance is the role Dads play in the healthy development of their children – and in particular their set of skills they can add to the mix in contrast to the skills offered by a competent mother. Too often, a father is seen as the second-best option in raising their children, rather than an equal, but different, option. Dad’s offer things to their children Mum’s cannot. Mum’s offer things that Dad’s cannot. Surely by having the best of both, the child is exposed to a cocktail of experiences and skills from which to form impressions of their world around them.

Today was our day to have everyone at home. I say this in almost a celebratory manner, as given the busy nature of our lives, Sundays are so precious in our household. Add to that a rainy day we found ourselves spending more time together in closer confines than we have done in the past few weeks. While this could sound nightmarish for some (children + rain + full household), it allowed me the opportunity to really appreciate the kind of father my children are privileged to have. Today we ‘tag-teamed’ so that the children had the best of us throughout the day. This is not to say it was a day filled with roses and butterflies. There were moments in the day when we all took our various corners for some individual ‘me’ time. But in the moments when we all came together, the laughter and relationship building that occurred was fantastic.

Typically, my role of Mum is to ensure everyone is fed, watered, cleaned and schooled. I ensure routines are in place and adhered to. I monitor intake of healthy foods. I remind of manners and walking in the house and tidying bedrooms. I do baking with, colouring alongside, singing and dancing in the lounge. I enforce homework and sign permission slips. I paint toenails and brush hair. I administer first aid, cheer on sidelines and give cuddles and kisses throughout the day. This role is hard-work and often a thankless job. It also demonstrates one side of life for my children. But not a completeness that is needed for their total well-being and development.

Today, after having their showers, my husband and I were drying the kids in the lounge by the fire. As usual, I was on drying and dressing duty. Dad was on transportation. This involved wrapping said child in four corners of the towel and ‘helicoptering’ the child to Mum, the dryer/dresser. Amidst squeals of delight, said child arrived ready for pyjamas. As one child was dressed, Dad was then on hand to facilitate the helicoptering of said child in flying circuits through the dining room and kitchen. As the second child was dressed, pleads to be included ensued. Muscles were starting to feel the strain, so the helicoptering was then changed to ‘astronaut jumping’. This involved Dad assisting the ‘astronaut’ to bounce high, as if they were walking on the moon, from floor to dining table (shock horror feigned by Mum), from dining table to wall……run along the middle of the wall to then ‘bounce’ through the kitchen……flip off the bench-top and land safely on the earth again. The laughter was simply contagious. Multiple requests to astronaut jump continued, until Mum had to intercept suggesting Dad really was pooped. Distraction into a clean-up before dinner was successful and the celestial activities were put to rest for the night.

What child would not want this experience with their father? And I happily admit, this is not something I could easily offer my children in their father’s absence. Watching this tonight made me consider the large number of solo-parent families who are not in a position to be able to offer these experiences for their children for various reasons. Yes, there are many Dad’s out there who do not take up their responsibilities at the point of conception and fail to appear in their children’s lives. That is a topic for an entirely different blog. There are many separated families existing, however, at the control of the mother. At the point of separation, for most, it is assumed that the children will continue to live in their mother’s care. What is up for negotiation is the amount and type of contact the father will have in the future with their children. There are many mothers who do not value the tremendous contribution their ex-partner can play in their children’s lives. They invariably get caught up in their own ‘stuff’ that they limit their children’s opportunity to experience the best of both their parents. The children become a commodity from which the mother can trade from. Children can’t exist on fortnightly weekend visits, or once-a-month arrangements. Furthermore, the relationship a child has with a step-father cannot, ever, be assumed to be the same than that of their relationship with their biological father (providing the relationship was a healthy, happy one prior to separation).

At the end of the day, a child needs to be able to feel secure in having a relationship with both their parents. If this means that, despite the relationship break-down between husband and wife, mother and father continue to work together on a daily or weekly basis to parent their children, then this is what needs to occur. From a child’s perspective, they need both parents in their lives in order to have all their developmental needs met. Children need a cleaner, cook, taxi-driver, homework enforcer and nurse offering cuddles when (and sometimes when not) required. But they also need an ally in war games, pilot in flying, muscle to be lifted up high and above all else……..the experience of astronaut jumping. Feeling the lack of gravity while held firmly in their daddy’s arms. Childhood at its best.

 

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Well That Didn’t Work

There is no such thing as the ‘perfect parent’. In fact Im sure that if someone started to profess that they had all the answers, they would, in the same breath, be handed a shovel ready to dig themselves a hole into which they would never be seen again. And although some of us have more experience than others in dealing with children and their behaviour, at the end of the day, sometimes we just get it wrong. And more often than not, it’s with our own, rather than other peoples’ children.

I ran into an example of this today. Master 3 is fiercely independent. I was a fool to ever think my baby of the family would be the easiest. At 6 months old he refused to be fed, opting instead to hold the spoon and feed himself. Nothing has been the same since……. There are many moments in every day when I have to decide what is worth the battle and what is not. Today it was more than apparent that a daytime nap was required. (I have also been fortunate enough to have co-created children who have an allergy to sleep). So for me to realise this was a battle I was going to have to have, was a significant decision in the day.

So the theorist in me kicked into gear as we left the supermarket for our drive home. We live ten minutes out of town, and I quickly decided this would not be a long enough stretch of time to try the least intrusive method of sedation – the-falling-asleep-in-the-car strategy. So I quickly plotted the longest route home and began the journey. Observing from the corner of my eye the rapid decline in energy levels I felt satisfied I was onto it and the right approach had been taken. However, as I headed into unfamiliar terrain, a little voice began…..”what’s that sign say Mum?”…….followed by “and that sign?”…..”the road is twisty isn’t it”……..”I think we’re going fast”…..”we’re going fast cos things are melting in the boot aren’t they?” My hopes of this strategy working were quickly fading. As we turned into a road near home (15km and a quarter of a tank of petrol later) silence took over, and eyelids fell. The car slowed and we crawled to home, my hopes renewed in success.

I arrived at our house, raced inside and pulled curtains, turned down bed and strategised for the swift relocation from car seat to bed. Un-clipping seatbelt – so far so good. Lifting child from car – success. Carrying through house – on the home straight. Lowering child to bed…………..and eyes wide open! Scream goes up “Im not going to beeeeeeeeeed”. Strategy absolutely failed.

It’s at this point that I would be advising parents to try other forms of supportive approaches to managing a child on the brink of meltdown. However, to top it off, I was particularly exhausted and in the back of my mind I was envisaging all the frozen foods in the boot of my car melting in a big heap amongst the other purchases we had made earlier. So my supportive approach was fleeting. It was clear we were going to go head-to-head in a battle of wills. And I knew that it would be mother-suicide if I did not accomplish the goal of sleep.

Cue the grumpy mother no-nonsense approach. I offered a choice – he could lay down for cuddles with Mum, or I was leaving the room and shutting the door. No clear choice was made. So I was to go through with the threat. As I walked out of the room, the cries got louder and the fists beat harder into the bed. I hung around out of sight by the door, listening to the tones of the cries, wondering if the message had got through. But, I was not off the hook that easily. The door was opened and the high-pitched protests became geographically closer. I moved back to the room and physically returned him to his bed. He really was past the point of all negotiation, but I continued to persist. I suggested that if he remained on his bed the door would stay open. If he moved, the door would shut.

This seemed to work initially. While the protests did not cease or quieten, he did remain on his bed. In hindsight, this may not have been due to my skill in ultimatums, but rather the sheer exhaustive state he was fast moving towards. As he quietened further, I foolishly thought it was my opportunity to try to calm him again. Lying next to him in bed only served as a further catalyst. Suddenly he escaped off the bed and made a dash for my bedroom. Grumpy, no-nonsense Mum was quickly turning into dont-mess-with-me, had-enough-of-this Mum. Extracting him from the middle of my bed, I really did think this child was never going to sleep. And my groceries were definitely melting by now…..I was sure of it.

So time for no-more-nice-Mum. Put firmly on the bed, he was told that was ‘IT!’ “Enough” I bellowed, and the default pointed finger came out. “Mum is the boss, and you are in here until you sleep”. I then exited the room for all involved and their safety. Crying continued and I began to unpack the groceries. Slowly but surely the volume decreased and I was told “I need to tell you something” from the doorway. I guided him back to the bed, where he climbed in for cuddles telling me he “felt better now”. Sure this was code for ‘I’m still not going to sleep’, I volunteered a peace offering in the form of a banana. I was sure this would seal the deal, as sheer exhaustion was painted all over his face. The offer was accepted, banana consumed and teddy located. Lots of kisses and I love yous, and then he rolled over and went to sleep.

Peace reigned. Not text book by any means. Certainly not the pathway I thought we would take as I began my little journey leaving the supermarket. The dreaded pointed finger made an appearance and ‘IT’ was referred to. Not my most model mother moment, but it happened nevertheless. But, goal achieved…….Mum 1, Son 0. While I don’t profess that this is my favourite approach to managing my son, I am certainly not going to beat myself up that I misjudged or got things wrong. I’m not perfect, and neither is the next parent. All I can do is say, ‘we’ll that didn’t go well’ and reflect on how I might do things differently next time. Whether next time means a different approach or not, sometimes it’s good just to say as a parent Im simply doing the best I can in the moments I’ve got. That should be perfect enough for me.

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Ghandi At Bedtime

I often have my most deepest discussions with my daughter in the precious few minutes with her before the lights go out for the night. As I crawl into bed for cuddles before she goes to sleep, we find ourselves talking about quite deep and meaningful topics. A few weeks ago, following attending a friend’s baby’s christening, my daughter was introduced to the concept of religion and the after-life. Other nights we have chatted about her role as a big sister and role-model. When occasion warrants it, I help her make sense of the complicated nature of her older half-brother and his biological mother’s family.

Tonight’s discussion was no different in terms of depth, as my 6 year old daughter was introduced to one of the ‘Masters’ – Ghandi. It was in a brief comment she made about being mean to mean people, that I seized my opportunity to expand her values base and have her consider a different viewpoint of the traditional saying ‘an eye for an eye’. When I questioned her as to why she thought mean people should be treated meanly, she responded by saying ‘because people say that’s how they’ll learn their lesson’. Cue the perfect introduction to Ghandi. Fortunately, earlier in the weekend my daughter and I had completed our ongoing art project and had discussed the power of words and the messages contained within them. I had chosen to place on my canvas Ghandi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world”. I reminded her of this and asked her what she thought this might mean. Naturally she had not stopped to consider its meaning (being 6 years old, why would you)! So our nighttime pre-sleep cuddle had turned into a wonderful moment to teach y 6 year old the value of kindness.

In explaining to her what Ghandi had meant, I reiterated to her that ‘mean’ people need more kindness in their lives for them to ever understand a possible alternative way of living. If we want more kindness we have to be kind. If we want more honesty, we first have to be honest. If we want more love, we first have to be loving. This was a simple concept she could understand. It wasn’t a long conversation, but one that will generate some connections for her as she comes across how other people comment on dealing with ‘mean’ people. It won’t be the last conversation we have about kindness. The mere fact we have a 3, 6 and 14 year old sharing the same facilities in our household necessitates many revisits to the concept of kindness. In this instance though, my daughter was given a glimpse of the more global picture of kindness, through the words of one of the great leaders of the world.

As I considered our discussion long after she had fallen asleep, it made me really appreciate those precious few moments before bed. Too often, parents are either distracted, exhausted or disengaged and eager to get kids to sleep (or have kids put themselves to bed) that this prime opportunity for one to one time before sleep is not capitalised on. By setting this up as an expected routine on a daily basis, conversations, such as the one I had tonight, will occur with ease. And as we have experienced, as they grow older, the tone of the conversation changes. Instead of Mum or Dad being the disseminator of knowledge, the child begins to share and question more. We now find that, although we don’t offer the ‘cuddles’ we once did to our teenager, the conversations we continue to have prior to bedtime are often the most complex and values-based we have ever had. We continue to reiterate our family values to him, often in direct contrast to the complex themes he faces with his peer relationships and societal expectations. These conversations give strength to the core of his upbringing and, we hope, will allow him informed choice as he faces the many challenges yet to come his way.

And as for my daughter, tonight has been one of many opportunities she will continue to have before bedtime in meeting the ‘Masters’ of humanity. Learning words to live by and beginning to notice how they might relate to the world in which she exists in.

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Conveyor-Belt Learning

Each year I grow increasingly concerned as both a mother and educationalist about what lies in store for our boys within the current education system. There is something quite depressing happening in our classrooms. Boys are becoming disengaged and unmotivated to participate in activities on offer, and as a result become the ‘behaviour problems’ that attention then focuses on. So as teachers we must start asking ourselves what’s happening for our boys in our classrooms?

Prior to the introduction of National Standards in New Zealand, new entrant teachers would generally have 5 year old boys arrive in their first day of school and recognise that these boys were not school-ready. Many were happy to be at school to eat their lunch and rip around the playground. Others fixated on the blocks, or marble-run game in the classroom. Some enjoyed the physical games, card games and maths activities. And a few cottoned on to the idea that they were in a place where they had to pick up a pencil and write, or began to feel their success in accessing stories and text. There did not seem to be the ‘rush’ that is apparent in today’s junior classrooms. Teachers now are expected to have children progress within their first year of school to meet the ‘standard’ after 1 year at school.

But what happens when these boys who arrive at school not developmentally ready for learning meet a teacher frantic to ensure progress happens? Frustration occurs on so many levels and for all parties involved. The first frustration is that of the teacher. A competent teacher will realise the mismatch between actual ability and expected achievement and feel frustrated, firstly, with a system that is so out-of-touch with the children realistically existing within it. A subsequent frustration is the lack of resource, of which is mostly time, for the teacher to begin to spend with children who need to meet the standard in one year.

Little consideration is given to the link between boys misbehaving and the impact the national standards have had in their behaviour. The first thought of teachers is that they have a boy or boys in the class not following the rules and being disruptive in class. But what if the behaviour displayed by the boys is a communication of their frustration around what is expected of them in their first year? While the teacher is focused on the pressure in pushing achievement, the boys are reacting to the pressure by not engaging in the activities expected of them.

Generally the activities expected of boys in the first year of school are to support the growth in writing, reading and maths knowledge. The inevitable is beginning to happen in that teachers are beginning to teach to the standard, rather than deliver the NZ Curriculum. For boys to be reading at Green Level at age 6, they need to get a fair move on when they arrive at school. For children that have been exposed to a rich variety of text and are interested in what text has to offer them pre-school, achieving to green level is fairly reasonable. But for those boys who are operating developmentally at age 2,3 or 4, the idea of spending time sitting reading or writing for anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes is unfathomable. In fact, it then becomes far more entertaining to wander around the classroom annoying and interfering with others than it is to complete a colouring activity or written task.

Teachers need to really reflect on what the true impact National Standards are having on their teaching and management of boys arriving at school developmentally not ready. Should teachers continue to battle, pressure and drag children towards an illusive level of achievement? Is this ensuring boys are going to school everyday with enthusiasm and excitement towards the day ahead? Is this tunnel vision (eg knowledge-based literacy and numeracy skills) really going to equip these boys with life-long skills such as problem-solving, self-management, curiosity and imagination? Are we teaching the whole-child, or are we adopting the conveyor-belt approach to churn out children who have knowledge but no passion or love of learning?

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10% Days

Some days seem to drag by and some fly by in a flash. Today felt more like the latter. Not necessarily due to the 4.52am wake up by my 3 year old. Not even because, despite being Saturday, my husband is at work and its a solo-parent day. I suspect the feeling of drag that chased me all day was due to the temperament of my son and the culmination of several days of early starts and no daytime sleeps.

I am not fortunate enough to be a stay at home mother. I work four days a week so I relish my Friday ‘Mummy Days’ with my son. Yesterday was one of those days – but although we both enjoy the time together, for some reason my son woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I just knew it was going to be one of ‘those days’. Hyperactivity, silly noises, then melting into tears at the smallest frustration. We managed the day yesterday with plenty of distractions, including the shopping, painting, jigsaws, lots of food breaks, and the school pick up run which can kill at least an hour!
You can imagine my relief when my little bundle of fire gently fizzled off to sleep, with me thinking tomorrow would be a much easier day. Sleep cures all.

Unfortunately it was not to be. And given that it was Saturday I had the further complication of Miss 6 at home, tired from a week at school. For 90% of the time these two are inseparable, and best friends. The creative games that occur between the two of them are wonderful. But today I struck a 10% day. On these days Master 3 finds every single thing that his sister does irritating at which point she delights in only doing it more. On several occasions they have been sent to their corners to calm down.

Perhaps my biggest error in judgment made today, though, was the decision to take all three (14 year old included) to do some shopping after lunch. Logically, I thought, this would use some of the hours that seemed to be moving by at half the normal speed. But on a 10% day logic does not work. In fact there is no rhyme or reason to what behaviour will follow.

We started well, and even successfully managed to navigate through the store with Master 3 year old in charge of one of the kids-sized trolleys. With only a few minor traffic violations we managed to select all the items we had gone in for (albeit decisions made in haste) and head towards the check out. This was when it all turned terribly wrong. Master 3 requested an ice cream, to which he was told no. In his eyes this was unacceptable. Coupled with the fact that I had now taken charge of his kid-sized trolley, due to careless driving (ramming his sisters trolley), he had had enough. It was that moment when you realise exactly how loud children can become in a store packed with people. It also demonstrated to me that my 14 year old has developed amazing skills in detaching from any association with his family in these moments. He became a ghost. My daughter was relied upon to hold my handbag as Master 3 (with me holding on tight) melted loudly into a mess on the floor.

So we waited it out. When Master 3 had calmed down and realised that he had no option but to walk his trolley to the parking spot and follow his family through the check out he began to comply.
Trolley parked, walking (avoiding being dragged) to the most available operator with the shortest queue (it is amazing how one can judge length of queue in split second emergency moments).

At this stage, my objective became simply to get through the checkout swiftly, with least amount of noise and with no chocolates, lollies or drinks (as they are lined up before the operator) damaged in the process. Turns out, this objective was beyond reach on my 10% day. Master 3 had not forgotten his original request for an ice cream, and as it became more apparent this was not going to happen, he became louder and louder protesting he was not ready to leave. He was given a warning to hold Mums hand, or he would be leaving the shop sooner than anticipated. Meanwhile, 14 year old was given an impromptu but life-saving lesson in the use of my credit card, and 6 year old was told to stay with her brother in case he needed me and could send for help. Amazingly, I do believe the checkout operator was oblivious with what was about to go down. As the protests became louder, the hands began to squirm and grip lessened, I adopted a rugby-ball hold and Master 3 was escorted (under arm) loudly from the shop.

We use a Time Out procedure in our house based in The Incredible Years programme. The focus of this is to allow the child to have a space to calm down. It is not a punishment. It is a way of teaching children to manage themselves and their emotions. So time-out ensued in an outside doorway of the building the shop was situated in. Master 3 was told he was in time out to calm down and would need to be sitting and quiet before he could move. I then stood with my back to him (and eyes in back of head on full alert) while he screamed, kicked, pinched and punched at the world around him. He was completely dysregulated. Fairly typical for a 3 year old who is learning to make sense of what he is and isn’t in control of. In this case, he was not in control of buying ice cream when he wanted it.

The stand off continued. The looks by passers-by varied. Some were of bemusement, others confusion. Pleasingly I did not seem to have looks of disapproval. Finally, Master 3 seemed to calm his body enough to be able to stand up and join me in returning to the shop. Of course, this was the one day when the checkout operator was struggling to remove the security tags on the clothes and my son and daughter were stuck at the counter!! When I was able to pay for the purchases (and recover from the shock of the total price – clearly price monitoring was not an objective in the afternoon ordeal), we left the shop in one piece. Master 3 continued to protest loudly all the way to the car about the illusive ice-cream…….but realised he either kept up, or would be left behind.

In all of this were so many wonderful learning opportunities for my son. Another experience (because it won’t be the only one) in which he has learnt he won’t always get what he asks for. Another experience in which he has learnt that when faced with not getting one’s way, crying, screaming, kicking and pinching will also not change an adults mind. That when Mum says no, Mum means no. That when he does behave like that, he will be put in a place to sit and calm down by himself and that he is expected to be calm before joining the rest of his family again. And for that matter, he is having many repeated learning trials in the art of self-regulation.

And the side-effect of today’s events? My 14 year old was being given more reasons why he shouldn’t plan on being a father any time soon (significantly younger siblings are fantastic contraception). My 6 year old also shared the very same lessons her brother experienced….but from observer position, rather than participant this time round.

For me……….while banishing thoughts of embarrassment ‘in-situ’ ……. I congratulated myself for managing to get through the incident without giving in to keep the peace, and for being able to get out of the shop without major (and possibly costly) damage!

Here’s hoping tomorrow brings one of my wonderful 90% days. But then, husband’s day off tomorrow, so it is more than likely it will be!

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Endless Energy

I often wonder what it would be like to have a camera recording the antics in our household at nighttime, when the rest of the hemisphere sleeps. In fact, if it were a night vision, movement activated camera, it would be working overtime most nights. My children very rarely sleep through the night without waking. I, on the other hand, believe I have got the art of responding to child requests without actually waking completely down to a fine art. Except, in cases of extreme exhaustion. At which point I am not responsible for the default mode I slip into.

What I am amazed about is the endless energy my children seem to have, despite their disturbed sleep. Last night was a particularly bad night, with my son waking almost every hour. He was not content with just me being awake with him. At 4am he decided it was time for his sister to wake up as well. So in an effort to have at least one child sleeping slightly longer, I climbed into bed with my son to settle him and buy a few more precious moments of sleep. However, the moment my head reunited with my own pillow an hour later, the sound of tiny footsteps down the hallway brought about a change in my usually calm, reasonable demeanour. My logic and knowledge around how I should respond to what was amounting to a 3 year old exerting his will at a ridiculous hour, could not compete with my utter exhaustion. When it was clear his argument for waking was to check on the location of his bubble mixture, I went into default mode. There was no text book response to this. Instead, he was ordered to return to his room. His protests and tears no longer had effect. He was told how cross Mummy was and that it was in his best (safety) interests to find his way back asap. For added effect, the default single finger-wagging also ensued. This, upon reflection, should be a warning sign to any members of my family. Hand on hip and finger wagging means Mum has reached the point of no return.

Of course it was at this point that my husband came to, and heard my less-than-censored rhetoric following our sons departure from the room. It was perhaps when I suggested what my son could do with the bubble mixture, my husband realised it may be important for family safety to get up and let me sleep.

Which brings me to my original amazement. After managing to sleep following the shift-change with my husband, I was woken to the sounds of squeals of delight and laughter in our living area. The same children who had utterly exhausted me in the night with their disturbed sleep and illogical requests about bubble mixture were happily playing as if they had slept like angels. I, on the other hand, emerged from the bedroom with visible bags under my eyes, feeling like a train wreck. I could not fathom how the children sustained these levels of energy. It just simply was unbelievable. What I did know was the the day about to begin would be a long one. My energy levels were exhausted and my ability to respond to the children in a positive and responsive manner would be seriously stretched for that day.

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