This post was originally posted on my Willow Play School blog on March 18th, 2020.
Resilience (noun): A human ability to recover quickly from disruptive change, or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.
Well it's been an interesting week to say the least. We've closed our home school doors to others temporarily, and have also cancelled Novalis playgroup gatherings for the next two weeks. We are doing all this in hopes of helping to flatten the curve.
I have been contemplating how best to approach my last blog post on conscious parenting inspired by Waldorf philosophy and Kim John Payne's Simplicity Parenting principles. I've previously written about and shared our experiences and recommendations for simplifying environment and building a strong and simple rhythm, which leaves us with:
Soothing overscheduling to bring moments for Being into all the Doing
- And -
Unplugging: Reducing the influence of adult concerns, media and consumerism on children and families to increase resilience, social and emotional intelligence.
There's a lot to unpack there.
Firstly, I think modern mothers feel immense pressure to schedule a lot into our children's day, lots of playdates, meet-ups, recreational sports, lessons, running errands, activities etc. All this can result in packed schedules where we are rushing and not taking the time needed to connect with each other. To be as well as do, and develop a deep inner sense of calm which comes with introspection and being conscious of what is here, now. If you find that it gets to a point of too much pressure, stress and overwhelm, please take it as a critical cue to slow down and simplify. When you disconnect from busy schedules you have an opportunity to reconnect with each other. Rest and quiet times are imperative, and be sure to leave plenty of unstructured time for free play.
Now, consider the following:
"There is an undeclared war on childhood,” says Kim John Payne, psychologist, founder of the Simplicity Parenting movement, and author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. When Payne was in university, he worked and lived in a group home for gang-rescued and violent youth, and later worked with refugees from war zones. At a lecture given by one of the early researchers into trauma response (what would become known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)), the speaker described symptoms of combat veterans: controlling behaviours, over-active fight-or-flight response, difficulty with new things, obsessive patterns of behaviour, an inability to dress appropriately for the environment (e.g. when it was cold, they wore t-shirts), and an inability to properly taste food (thus seeking high stimulation foods that were extra-spicy or MSG-enhanced). “I was struck by how he was describing the kids in my group home.” Later, Payne established a practice where even more surprisingly, though his clientele consisted of mainstream children apparently living comfortable western lives, kids were appearing at his door looking much like PTSD victims. To his alarm he realized, “There was nothing ‘post’ about it in these kids; it was ongoing.” The constant layering of too much on top of too much became too difficult to process; a phenomenon Payne calls a cumulative stress reaction. “The highly stressed, fast-paced, too-much, too-sexy, too-young, has become the new normal. It forces kids into a stressed zone.”
So what are some ways we may be able to reduce the stress in our children's lives?
Limiting exposure to media/screen time and consumerism
Sharifa Oppenheimer points out in her book "Heaven on earth: a handbook for parents of young children" that "excessive noise and lack of coherence, as well as facial displays of anger, alarm and indifference all common in children's media - produce stress".
"Research as revealed that violence on television plays an important role in communicating the social order and in leading to perceptions of the world as a mean and dangerous place [...] it is not just violent programs that stimulate aggressive behaviour. Frenetic, hectic programming that creates a high level of arousal in children can also create the same effect". And mainstream news media particularly inundates viewers with negative messaging and images that are very stressful even to adults.
I am not ever here to passively judge parents who do incorporate regular screen time but rather to share knowledge provided by child psychologists, teachers and scientists on the detrimental effects it has on children's mental/cognitive development, so we may weigh the information and make our own personal and informed decisions.
I am strongly of the belief that young children have such rich and vivid imaginations that by providing them with simple tools they can create their own worlds of wonder more satisfying and enriching than any media program.
Limiting the influence of Adult Concerns
Children inhabit a dreamy world, let them believe in fairy tales. Be careful and mindful of what you bring into their beautiful world. We are their guardians and gatekeepers. The world is not always a bright and happy place, we know as adults there is so much suffering and hardship. But our children are only children once, so let them be children, let them be little and innocent, let us be protectors of their childhood. Letting them live their early years in magic and bliss is not setting them up for failure, but equipping them with the mental and emotional tools they need to develop the resilience to cope with stress throughout their lives.
This does not mean keeping them ignorant to dangers or preventing them from experiencing stress and/or trauma such as falling from their bikes or losing a pet or family member. These experiences will help them grow and build resilience. My children know not to open the door for strangers, or run off in public where I cannot see them. These are all important lessons you can teach, to help them to be safe while navigating the world. It‘s not about filtering life, you can’t and shouldn’t want to. It’s about reducing their stress/anxiety by filtering out the adult world.
Won't they be too sheltered? How will they be able to cope with "reality"?
As a homeschooler and a Waldorf one at that, I get this question all the time.
We are laying foundations I hope will carry them through all the hardships in their lives. We want them to be strong, resilient, courageous, compassionate and caring individuals. "Toughening them up" by early exposure to harsher realities does not personally make sense to me because cortisol, the stress hormone is detrimental to brain development and leads to increased risk for mental illnesses. A foundation grounded in security and goodness is stronger than fear/apprehension. Security and a belief in goodness is harder to achieve when bringing about adult anxieties at an age when they cannot be healthily processed.
All humans, children or otherwise are better able to cope with adversity if they are coming from a place of inner strength and security as opposed to fear.
There will be a time to have all the difficult conversations. But a 2 or 5 year old does not need to hear or overhear conversations about the violence, climate change, environmental destruction and pandemics happening in the world right now. They will not be better off with the information, they are more likely to feel anxious and insecure.
You can however lay foundations for addressing these issues, here are some ideas:
Humanity's inhumanity (violence, killing, crime etc): model kindness, compassion and generosity.
Climate Change: go on lots of nature walks, garden, plant seeds, tend to them. Rescue or help care for animals, watch the birds, recycle and compost together. Let them engage with and LOVE the earth. It is human nature to protect what we love.
and of course:
Pandemic: teach them a washing hands song, wash hands together and make it a frequent part of your rhythm, tell them a story or provide a sensory experience to demonstrate the effect of hand-washing (try: pepper and soap experiment).
Do not try to provide scientific explanations to the below 7 age group, they are not able to intellectualize and mitigate the way we do.
My children currently know nothing about the Covid-19 crisis apart from needing to frequently hand-wash and take a short break from our friends. They are so cheerful it warms my heart and helps me stay grounded as well during this precarious time.
Children need to believe the world is a fundamentally good place. We cannot achieve this by allowing them to be bombarded with negative images and stories. It is difficult to build and encourage compassion if the core belief is that the world and people are inherently scary or bad. Children feel the world, they do not think it. By reducing adult anxieties and concerns we enable young children (0-7) to feel safe and secure, so when they are confronted with and exposed to these challenges they are hopeful, not cynical, and rooted in a strong belief in goodness.
True, Kind, Necessary and Securing
Lastly, I want to share a really useful tool/filter for speech from Simplicity Parenting:
”Kind. Is it kind? If what you’re about to say has passed the first filter – it is true – it must still pass a test of compassion: is it kind? Some things that are true still don’t need to be said, if doing so would be hurtful. Bullying wouldn’t exist if children used this filter, but adults have to model and reinforce it first.
‘Is it necessary?’ will be most helpful in guiding your own speech. As your children begin to notice that you’re saying less, they’ll listen more.
There is so much going on in the world that we could possibly speak about in front of our children, but will it result in them feeling secure? Certainly, we can’t protect them from world tragedies, but we can filter what we share with them so that what we say will give them a feeling that they have a safe base here with us, their parents”
This concludes my series of Simplicity Parenting inspired posts. I hope you found them interesting and/or insightful. I will move into seasonal and crafting/DIY posts next with Creating your Spring Nature Table and Spring Crafts (Wet Felting Easter Eggs, Spring Window Sihoulettes, Waldorf Pocket Doll etc)
As always, I'd really love to hear your thoughts (leave a comment below).
How have you been coping with the stresses of Covid19 and/or changes in your lives because of it? How will you be using this time to unplug from worries and reconnect with each other?