Parenting for Partnership, LLC
Beyond Good Parenting: The Art & Science of Learning, Context, & Partnership
by Martin Dutcher
www.Paren)ngForPartnership.com Copyright © 2008-2011
Parenting for Partnership, LLC
“The Skinned Knee Incident”
Washington, D.C. One afternoon I was at the Lego table. I was 24 years old. I was almost ALWAYS at the Lego table, surrounded by three or four or five three- and four-year-olds. This was my fifth year “teaching” at a small community preschool in Washington, D.C. I heard someone wailing. Richard came in from the backyard play area. He was crying loudly and asking, “Where’s my mom!?” His mom was one of the three teachers at the small community preschool. “She’s not here now, Richard. What’s happening?” “I want my mom!!”, he was crying and almost yelling. I could see that he was holding his knee and there was blood running down his shin. “Well, she’s not here – what happened?” I asked as I stooped down and moved closer. “I fell down ...”, he managed to say while continuing to cry. “... On the sidewalk. It huu-rts!!” he cried. “I can tell,” I said warmly. Then I added,“That’s good.” I was surprised that I said that. Of course that didn’t help him get what he wanted, and he cried more loudly and adamantly, “I want my MOM!!!!” I moved a little closer and sat down on the floor. “Richard, she’s not here now – she'll be back in a little while ...” and added, “... I meant that it's good for it to hurt since you fell on it on the cement and broke the skin.” He started to make eye contact with me but was still crying and catching his breath. “Come here and let’s take care of it!” I said with as much eye contact as I could get. He came over to me. “Let’s take a look …”.
Parenting for Partnership, LLC “It’s BLEEDING!!!” he cried louder, after seeing the blood. “Yes, it IS!” I said, and added emphatically, “And that’s good too!” He was looking at me, and still crying but I did have his attention. “Richard, your knee is working perfectly right now, and I can tell it really hurts. Hurting is how your knee makes sure that you take care of it right away – that’s why I said ‘Good!’ when you told me it really hurts!” This was a new experience for the both of us. Perhaps he had never had someone treat him like he was fine and nothing was wrong, just that his body was asking for attention - that everything is not only okay, but going quite well despite the pain, despite the blood, and despite that his mom was not around at the moment. And I had never tried speaking and acting like that … I didn’t want to seem uncaring and cold. But I noticed that, in responding that way, my caring was very real in a new way. In those moments, I didn't care how I appeared to anyone else, as I was focused on Richard. Then I said, as Richard was crying and still looking for his mom, “Richard, bleeding is a way our body takes care of cleaning and protecting itself when part of it is broken, so that’s why I said ‘Good!’ then too. Your body is doing just what it should be doing – it is really working the way it’s supposed to, and so are you! Good job!” “How much does it hurt now?” I asked. He looked at me quizzically. “I mean, is it THIS much,” moving my hands far apart, “or THIS much?” moving them closer together. We walked into the bathroom to wet a paper towel. “It’s THIS much!” he said and moved his hands as far apart as he could while crying more intensely. “Thank you for letting me know” I said. I asked him the same thing again a minute later. “It's this much!” moving his hands far apart. As he showed me, his crying lessened as his hands were far apart. Then his crying almost stopped. He was paying attention to his injured knee. I got ready to put a cold, wet towel on it, which I told him I was going to do. He pulled 3
Parenting for Partnership, LLC back and started to wince before I touched the wound. “Well, we’re going to help your body now by checking it and getting any dirt or sand or cement out of it, okay?” “O-ka-ay,” he said, sobbing a little. After wiping it clean I said, “Let’s take a look. Wow … that looks pretty clean! How much does it hurt NOW?” I wanted him to just feel his injury while lessening his fear, and he did. He began feeling pain without reacting as if was something wrong. He stopped crying, and moved his hands closer together. I asked every twenty or thirty seconds. And every time I asked I emphasized “NOW”, implying that it might have changed one way or the other. His hands moved closer and closer together, and in one or two minutes the pain disappeared. Then I let him know he really did a good job getting help, and I’m glad that he let someone else help him when his mom was not available. This whole thing only took a few minutes, and when his mom found out what happened she was amazed that he was over it so fast.
The “skinned knee day” marked the beginning of my realization, from that moment on, that my life would become about observing children in preschools, childcare centers, and with their parents. I began looking for the answers to several questions, starting with these: 1)Why aren't all of our children excelling in our schools? (In my thirty plus years of working with children I never encountered a stupid or lazy child, nor any child who didn't love to learn more than anything else.) 2)Why do our children (sometimes or frequently) continue to behave in ways that don't work? (I never encountered a young child who didn't look for and find a way to resolve any problem in my classrooms)
Parenting for Partnership, LLC 3)What possible roles as parents can we come up with to replace our typical unsatisfying ones - critic, enforcer, martyr, and/or lecturer? 4)What difference could new and creative answers to these questions make in our families and communities?
I started speculating: Perhaps we have we have inadvertently adopted an outmoded or erroneous view of how learning happens. Perhaps we so focus on looking for the right answer – a magic bullet – to get our children to behave the way we want them to, when there is no such answer. Perhaps it is because early in our lives, that in order to fit in, we learn to hide our true abilities and an innate sense of being personally responsible – that when everyone else is playing a “blame game,” it is not safe to do otherwise. Or perhaps there is some automatic way of thinking that has evolved that has us look at life as “you or me,” or “us or them.” Or maybe a mix of all of these. You may come up with a different explanation. It doesn't really matter. We are, as a human family, becoming more and more aware that we are all on this small planet together no matter what point of view we adopt. Maybe what matters – what makes the difference - is the way we interact with our young children every day, whether we are a parent or a teacher, mentor or coach. If our young children were to grow up in an environment in which every event or every circumstance were seen as a learning opportunity rather than a problem (to be blamed on oneself or someone else), maybe the answers to the four questions above would be revealed.
Parenting for Partnership, LLC
About This Book
Beyond Good Parenting is a result of what I have learned over the last thirty years – in my work with young children, with parents, and with my own children. It also includes useful, thought-provoking old and new information from my own reading and research over the years, from ancient writings up to and including the latest in neuroscience reveals about human development and learning. Beyond Good Parenting, however, is written to be a practical guide for turning struggles, upsets, and apparent shortages of love and appreciation in a family into learning opportunities. It is not meant to be an academic study or a new “right way” to parent. And rather than teaching readers tips and strategies for avoiding behavioral problems and issues, it is about taking advantage of them and having them contribute to you and your child's relationship: it is learning about respect, appreciation, communication, generosity, listening, learning, and partnership. These are the things that last. These are the skills and attributes for purposeful and successful living in the world both now and as it evolves. This creates a social learning environment that goes beyond what we attempt to teach, beyond what parenting courses and workshops can provide, involves us (parents) as learners too. After all, we're in the same boat. This book's focus is primarily on behavior. That's because behavior seems to be our most complex and biggest challenge to our happiness and success – whether it is our child's behavior, our own behavior, or our spouse or partner's behavior. And behavior is especially important with regard to our young human beings, as we parents live with them 24/7. It is now becoming accepted that our most basic social learning starts at least as early as 6
Parenting for Partnership, LLC at birth, and that much of our later learning and performance are strongly influenced by what happens in these first few months of life. Thus understanding early learning, in all areas of babies and young children's lives, is a key piece in the understanding and the nurturing of great social behavior. My experience with parents and parenting tells me that we parents always do the best we know how, the best we can in the moment - and our children behave the best way they can, given their innate survival design, current circumstances, and feedback from important adults. My purpose in writing this book is to provide a fresh view of the “road” of parenting, and how to “drive” the car down that road and get where we really want to go. The results promised for parents who engage intentionally with the contents of the book are these: a dramatic increase in affinity, satisfaction, and the experience of working together, and a dramatic decrease in areas of struggle, resentment and dissatisfaction with regard to being a parent. And this means a huge increase in love, respect, and intimacy too. As I mentioned earlier, this is not an academic text, but its contents are intended to be consistent with the latest in early childhood growth and development, family and social psychology, and attachment theory. It is also consistent with the many “schools” of educational and social philosophy such as Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf Schools) and Maria Montessori, but at the same time, does not require an understanding of or agreement with any of them. It stands on its own. It is not about them or even about itself: it is about you and your child. I will take some freedom in redefining old terms, reinterpreting old concepts and creating or adopting new distinctions (tools) as well as simplifying relevant information that has been
Parenting for Partnership, LLC well-written by experts in related fields. My intent is not to come up with the right or better answers or the truth about parenting. Rather, it is to offer a way of viewing parenting: a way of thinking about, and a way of interpreting what we are experiencing, that empowers us in our own learning and our child's learning. Using my driving a car analogy, this book clears the windshield, puts our hands on the steering wheel, shows us which pedal is for the gas and which is for the brakes, and teaches how to use the rear view mirror to learn from where we've been. It is not meant to replace anything that works for you and your child. It is meant to provide a view from which you, as a parent, can always move in the direction of your heart, your mind, and your purpose - in partnership - with your children. This book is for good parents, healthy and successful parents – parents who, like you, are willing and able to take the time to read a book about parenting. It is for parents who may feel like they really don't need a parenting course. If this is true for you, I want you to know I know that you don't need it. It is not about what you need but about what you want or want more of. Most of you are already doing good if not great work as parents. But whatever your assessment is of how your parenting is going, I assert there is always more satisfaction, joy, adventure, and, yes – even challenge – available. This book is for you if you ever find yourself yelling at your one- or two-year-old, or find yourself blurting out something your mom or dad said to you that you thought you would never say. It is for you if you are concerned about “the terrible twos,” about your child adjusting to child care or kindergarten, or doing well in or out of school – even if those events are only on the
Parenting for Partnership, LLC horizon for you. It is for you if you think that something doesn't add up regarding how brilliant our children are and yet how many struggle in certain subjects or at certain times in school. It is for you if you find you and your partner disagree about how to handle your child's behavior, if you feel like your partner is undermining what you are trying to teach your child, or if you think you and your spouse or co-parent should be consistent with each other in how to discipline your child. It is for you if you feel you must sacrifice any important part of your life for the good of your child. It is for you if you are a teacher or administrator or are around large numbers of children and/or parents. It is for you if you employ parents or adults who are about to become parents. It is for grandparents, whether you are raising your grandchildren yourselves or whether you are supporting, or attempting to support, your children raising them. It is for you if are concerned about the quality of life in your community. And it is for parents who are or are considering providing support for parents who need assistance, whether its an occasional babysitter, a good listener, or a coach. Beyond Good Parenting is not about learning new tips and techniques. After all, we don’t like people to “use” tips and techniques on us. While they may work at first, especially with young children, they will not only soon stop working, but our brilliant children will turn them around and use them on us – frequently resulting in huge upsets. There is no one to blame for our current focus on trying to find the “right answers.” It is a goal we have been taught to value over the most important and influential years of our lives. Once we begin to see how search for “the right answers” operates in our lives, we can begin to learn some new ideas, and begin to build a partnership based on love and respect and support. We can give up resorting to the use of threats and force without giving up being in charge, and 9
Parenting for Partnership, LLC without having to sacrifice anything in life that is truly important to us. You will discover that you couldn’t have chosen a better partner in life than your child – no matter how it seems at the moment. By partner, I don’t mean you are equal in decisionmaking. As silly as it would be to let your three-year-old decide what groceries to buy, I have seen that happen - and typically by a well-educated, well-meaning parent. By partners I only mean that you work together, each as he or she is willing and able, to have your family life go the way you, each of you, want it to go. In my conversations with parents about their young children, I have found it common that many are surprised when I say that their children really want the same things – the same quality of family experience - that their parents want. This is a wonderful and frequently overlooked opportunity of being a parent. Consider that everything you say and do, and the way you do them, is going into that amazing brain of your young child even if the vocabulary is not yet known to make some meaning out of it. Your children are designed to be listening, observing, touching, and, like you, to make meaning out of their experiences. As you read through this book, you will find out why your children resist you and your demands, requests, and/or suggestions. You will find yourself replacing old and unsatisfying parenting roles with new roles, ones that work, that build respect and relationship as well as cooperation. If any of this makes sense to you – if you want it – this book is for you. In the section called About My Journey I give you a very brief background on my 30+ years of activity with and study of children, learning, and parenting – and related fields. In Beginning Your Journey (part I), you will set up an intentional journey going forward
Parenting for Partnership, LLC from right now. It means you do some “work”: observation, discussion, and thinking about your future. In essence, you will be noting where you are in your journey, what is happening and what is not, and which direction you want to go. In my driving a car analogy, you will “put yourself on the map.” You will review where you've been and how you have learned to “drive.” And you will set your destination objectives. For any of us to get from one place to another, we need to know both where we are and where we are going– and both are up to you to say. Part II addresses the uniquely powerful relationship between you and your child. You are way more powerful than you realize. This particular unique relationship exists during the first two to four or so years of life and can impact you and your child's relationship forever. We will look into why and how the way you relate to your child during the very first year of your child's life, including the way you talk to him or her, makes a huge difference. Part III is about our human neurological structure and design function. We will look at why we sometimes (if not frequently) feel confused or upset, why we (and others) react the way we do, and how memory works. Finally we will distinguish a “hidden dilemma” of parenting. Part IV deals with a few aspects of early learning with regard to our role as parents. And it is about how our very young children are designed to learn – how very efficiently and very rapidly. It reveals how we adults may inadvertently get in the way of our children's ability to absorb, process, and use information and develop great skills very early. Once we see how we do that, we can also begin to see how very able they can become in many ways – far beyond what we might consider good skills. In Part V we take a look at how people and events occur for us in the present: how we see them, how we feel around them, and how they influence our behavior (whether positively or
Parenting for Partnership, LLC negatively). This influence is due to an unnoticed “environment” called a context. We explore how contexts work, and how we can use them to shift the way we deal with our children, ourselves, and our parenting. We then look at a huge and ancient paradigm, or super-context, that is at the core of why we feel that correcting our children is one of our most important parental roles (if not the most important one). We'll see how we can learn to become aware of its impact on our feelings, thoughts, and actions, and then replace it with a new context, in which we can begin to have seemingly magical results in our relationships. It is this information, with practice using it, that allows a resolution to both the first and the second dilemmas we revealed. In Part VI we begin to become more aware of and use our several languages – verbal and others – to create certain contexts intentionally in our family and around us, ones that lead to behaviors and conversations that enhance our relationships and create partnership. Then, in the light of the new super-context, we will review what we have learned about the disciplinary techniques we've picked up along the way, and discuss a few myths about motivation and teaching. We will begin to examine the impact of the old and the newly created contexts on our daily interactions. We will learn to shift into a new paradigm at any time. We will see how every choice, every behavior, has a consequence, and virtually all learning is dependent on consequences – that is how we human beings are designed. But somewhere along the line we learned to turn consequences into personal affronts, obscuring the inherent opportunity for our children to learn. This leaves us with only our old strategies of force and manipulation. We then learn to discern the inherent learning opportunities, relieving us from having to spend so much time and energy on the activity we call discipline. Part VII sums up what we have examined and explored so far. At this point, what
Parenting for Partnership, LLC parenting means may look and feel entirely different to you. You may find that your role or roles have shifted in ways that allow you to be or feel more at home with yourself, and your children to be more themselves – with a great deal of appreciation both ways. In the two addenda, I share a few more stories and examples that I hope serve to stimulate you and your imagination, and thus see more ways to be yourself, deepen the love and respect between you, your children, and others in your lives, and make every day a both engaging and satisfying experience of family. So maybe all this sounds really good to you – I hope so. But it may be sounding “too good to be true.” Haven't you heard, probably many times, that if something sounds too good to be true, then it is? Well, certainly there are a lot of anecdotes about the truth of this, but there is another way to look at it. Just maybe, sometimes, when something sounds too good to be true to us, it could also mean that it is offering something beyond what we already know. That means we'd be breaking new ground, and breaking new ground is challenging. This work is challenging. It is not going to make parenting a piece of cake, already baked and sliced. And it is not going to give you more control over your young children or give you more power over them. In fact, just the opposite is going to happen. You are going to be learning how to give your child more and more power. Only a very powerful person can give power away without losing it, and that person is you. And in this process your children will be learning, through practice, how to be really responsible - to honor themselves, you, others, and their environment – at a very early age. And you will discover how wonderfully able and powerful you are, as a parent, at the same time.