Monday, November 10, 2014

8 Steps to Support the Behavior You Desire in Children

This piece came about as a response to a query about discipline and Waldorf ways in a Waldorf homeschooling discussion group. I received many kind notes about its helpfulness and thought you might like it here. I have slightly tweaked the original version.

Many aspects of Waldorf education help life flow with children. While Waldorf kindergartens and nurseries may appear to be child centered, the environment is created by the work, intention and daily carrying of the teacher. A similar practice can be applied at home.

I am often asked about the discipline question. How is it that seems seems to flow easily with children in Waldorf environments, at least much of the time as the teachers seem so calm and relaxed.

I have come to learn that discipline is for adults. It is something very individual, unique to each one of us, in our observation of the child and in reflection/meditation on the behaviors that challenge us. 

Yet there are certain aspects that are shared.

Discipline and our reactions to behavior are about us, and, in doing our inner work we can make room for seeing the child more clearly.

We can clear the space within to meet the child. Discipline in Waldorf education invokes the spiritual world. We are all striving to bring our own most brilliant flame into the world. It is a process. We have help.

Toys sometimes do go to rest when children can not play with them (and each other) with care or children can be given an imaginative picture of how to play with them in a different way. "The horse is going to rest today. We'll cover him with a blanket." 

Then we might turn to the dollies' corner. "Oh, Dolly needs a sweater" and we might turn to Dolly and start to care for her while huming.

The child often will step into the play where we are focused on practical work and then we can remove our self. Or we might provide a basket and suggest that balls may be tossed in here rather than across the room or at each other.

The situations that might call for a time out for some children or parents are the situations in which the child is asking us to take him or her in, into our notice, into our vision, into our heart, our strength; the child is struggling, the child needs us to see him or her and be the grown up. The rule still applies. We can be loving, warm and kind, and firm and understanding as well by taking care to respond to the child's needs, rather than re-act out of our own wounds.

What Does This Look Like to be Warm and Kind, Firm and Loving?

We might bring the child close to us, on the lap, give a back rub, engage the child in positive action to help out or to set the wrong right. If the child is too out of sorts to do this then the child really needs us to help him/her find their equilibrium. Some children may want to go off and be alone, most need guidance to find their calm place. Or it might mean this is a time of day when the child needs to be doing more expansive activity like playing outdoors, have a bite to eat or rest.

Children must be able to regulate their bodies before they can regulate their emotions. If a child is cold, tired, hungry, thirty or on sensory overload, the child will struggle with any emotional stress.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • Is the child hungry, needing food or water?
  • Is the child tired, needing rest or sleep?
  • Is the child overstimulated?
  • What is going on around the child, in the environment?
  • What is living in the child's play?
  • What is going on for the child with this play?
  • What is the child seeking with this behavior?
  • How can we support this growth in a positive way?
  • How can we support the child to work through this?
  • Does the child ned to be challenged with a new task?
  • Does the child need to contribute in a meaningful way, a task to contribute a sense of purpose?
Boys are attracted to sticks and guns. Joan Almon once reminded us that sticks and guns are an extension of the boys anatomy, they point and spray or shoot. We cannot take this away from boys, (that would mean castration!). We can keep guns out of the environment and make boundaries around how the point and shoot unfolds. We might make suggestions about what comes out of the gun, "Oh it's the love gun" Some teachers will carry play through when it involves shooting an animal to skin and dress the animal to feed people with great reverence and awe and gratitude. Some teachers only permit shooting animals not people.

It is the clear, consistent, kept, predictable boundary that the child will accept and respond to. For teachers, it is easier because we see so much and have lots of practice and preparation. We get to ponder it before it happens. As parents, it is trickier because we may not be prepared for what are children bring to us. In finding our clarity, we can set the boundaries for our children.

I have seen children play and play and play out scenes from movies in loud, violent and aggressive ways. The child tries and tries and tries to digest material that is overstimulating him. Remove the stimulation and re-direct to healthy play (often big movement for boys outdoors.) Allow the child the time and space to work through this sticky point without judgement.

Some basics:

1) Understand child development, what does this age/stage look like? what to expect? how to nourish it? what are the challenges the child is facing? For the child from birth to seven, it is about engaging the will forces, taking action and moving through a task. How do we meet the child with playful, active transitions? through movement? What are reasonable expectations for the child?

2) Do the Inner work.  Ask yourself, what was my development like as a child? Where was I hindered? Nurtured? How? What are my fondest memories of childhood? What is bugging me about this now? Am I responding to this situation or reacting? (hint, when we have strong feelings, we are reacting)

3) Create and maintain a strong consistent rhythm to the day, the week, the year. Rhythm is about routine, yes, and also about the quality of the gesture. Is it expansive or contracting? Is it energizing or restful? Look at what time of day works best for each type of activity the child experiences within the context of the day. Put the child's schedule first.

4) Create an environment that is simple, beautiful, safe and worthy of reverence for the child. Within this world, the child may find great freedom to play creatively (with simple open ended toys) and freely. Less is more. Model behavior that is worthy of imitation. When my children were young, we had a small low table in the kitchen with little benches to sit on. Around the age when my child would start exploring the kitchen cupboards at floor level, I provided small pot with a lid and a small pan, a wooden spoon, some nuts (we used chestnuts and Brazil nuts) pine cones and sea shells on the little bench by the table. My children cooked as I cooked. As they grew, they helped chop vegetables from when they were very young, first with a paring knife, then with a chef's knife. I love it when they prepare meals now!

5) Trust the child to take risks and to resolve conflicts with other children. Magda Gerber's books best describe this for young children, birth to three. (it works for older children and parents too) Sportscast what is going on with the children and stay back as long as no one is getting hurt and step in only to prevent hurting. Children have an amazing capacity to work out their own conflicts.

6) Ask the child's guardian angel and your own for guidance.

7) Take care of yourself. It is just crucial to eat wholesome nourishing food, get adequate and restful sleep, spend time in movement and connect with loved ones.

8) Simplify life. Have less stuff. Protect children from exposure to the adult world of media and conversations. Talk less. Have few scheduled activities, very few. Love the activities that you have.

9) Remember that it's okay to be loving, warm and kind, and firm at the same time.

Celebrate each day together.


If you like this piece and would like more, consider the eCourse I am currently offering for parenting called Limits and Boundaries :: Gentle Aspects of Rhythm. Registration for this course will be open until Saturday, November 15th and then it will close to new members to keep it intimate. This is a small, intimate group and the course offers great potential for inner work, to go within and explore who you are and all you bring to your parenting, and to support you to express that consciously, creatively and out of connection with your child. If you've ever struggled with limits and boundaries, this course is for you.

Celebrate the Rhythm of Life 
Harmonious Rhythms ::  Parenting with Soul :: Waldorf Homeschooling

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