In the last two years, but especially in the last two months, I have undergone some huge changes in my thinking about parenting and education.
I have come from being a person who had strict rules and incredibly high standards to being a person who will never again use a smack or a 'naughty spot' and who doesn't really care if the kids don't get bathed this evening. I have come from rolling my eyes whenever I heard about homeschooling, to feeling incredibly enthusiastic about it and wishing I was doing it right now... for everyone.
It began because of Bright Eyes, our son's autism and the therapy we chose for him - Relationship Development Intervention. In the end, it has been more a therapy for us than for him.
We had to get to a point where we accepted what we had done with Bright Eyes so far had not worked, and was not going to work. I’m talking about the regular parenting things like naughty spots and reasoning and explanations and smacking and time outs and all the regular 'discipline' things we had done with our daughter.
We had to completely change our tack with him. We also had to look at our attitudes of how we perceived our children, what we expected from them and why, and what our basic presumptions were.
I realised that I came from a point of view where even though I loved them, I saw the children as unimportant, impositions and also a source of pride and status. What they did reflected on me. If I could make them behave, I looked better and got more kudos as a ‘good parent’.
I also wanted them to go away and leave me alone when I was doing most things because they took up time and energy and nothing was as efficient. I also saw them as naughty and gave them consequences accordingly.
So back to Bright Eyes, whose behaviour at the age of three was completely appalling. He threw six to eight major tantrums a day, never listened, yelled and screamed and was impossible to manage with my regular control techniques.
I needed other ways to deal with him, so I started reading.
One important book was ‘The Explosive Child’ which taught me to relax and realise that there are many things that just don’t matter. It also taught me that punishments and time outs put up power struggles. It is far better to see the child as a partner in solving the problem.
RDI taught us to take a far more interactive approach with all the children. We command less, and invite more. We do more things together, we slow down, we get rid of things we don’t need and that cause stress. We enjoy our company together and choose less pressurised lives. We don’t worry so much about things that make us appear good and acceptable - like having pyjamas for example (Bright Eyes sleeps in his clothes). We seek alternative solutions to difficulties that come up. Most of them can simply be solved by taking more time and not making everyone go on my schedule, which I have to admit is fairly pressurised.
I started to use the different things I had learned from RDI and the other books with my daughter too. I had always found her to be clingy, needy and able to throw absolutely enormous tantrums. Seeing her as a partner in problem solving our difficulties, and giving hugs instead of time outs was actually far more effective in really solving the problems. She has become less needy and much happier (and has consequently made me happier).
However, I was still not really getting it. All last year I was incredibly depressed and swore all the time in my head. I cried and cried every week because my son was so very difficult. RDI, slowing down and doing all this stuff so very difficult. It didn’t feel right to me, and it didn’t feel like I was useful or fulfilling my potential.
At the same time, I was so worried about Bright Eyes going to school in a year’s time. I just couldn’t see that he would cope at all, and I didn’t see that teaching him to sit in a classroom and stand in line would help him in his life when his problems are more complex than that.
Lots of people who do RDI also seem to homeschool their kids, but the thought filled me with utter dread. I thought I’d better look into it though, as I would seriously do anything possible to help my little boy, so I asked a lady I know if I could read some of her books about homeschooling.
She brought a whole stack around and I went through them and had a mini-conversion experience.
The reading I did changed my whole attitude towards all the children. I can’t exactly say what it was that changed me. Perhaps the idea that learning will happen, even if I just relax and don’t feel all the stress of having to do something.
But I did have an incredible change. The swearing went away. I have more energy. I have miles more patience. I have been enjoying them so much. We went through the summer holidays just having fun and being together and enjoying each other. At the same time I could see my daughter ‘learning’ all through the holidays in the ways the books talked about.
I thought, “It could be like this all the time. There’s no decree from heaven that says you have to go to school. There’s no moral rule of the universe that says going to school is the way you must learn."
Having the idea that Bright Eyes didn't have to be 'ready' for school has also helped me relax with him and let him improve at his own pace. He will be ok if I allow him room to process everything and move ahead as he is ready.
I then started to think through the ideas of: rewarding and punishing, grades, learning what you want to learn, learning in fits and starts rather than with steady progress... all sorts of things.
I have started to relax much much more with all the children. I feel a little bit like a weirdo hippie, and I'm a bit nervous because the way I've done things has been changed, but I have had such an attitude shift towards real joy and better relationships with the children, and also with my husband that I just don’t think I believe in compulsory traditional schooling anymore.
I am of course in the first flushes of a new idea, and I rarely do things by halves, so I am enthusiastic – most likely annoyingly so. I am just so pleased to be at peace, happy and enjoying the children, and seeing good results from what I’ve been trying out.