A Question of Control

Here’s a somewhat reworked piece that I wrote on my forum in response to a member wondering whether she was being too controlling of her children. She has three little girls – a pair of twins and another child, all under 5. Her children demand that she bring things to them – and then reject what she brings. They say what they want to do all day long – and she finds herself following them.
I don’t think you are being too controlling – I would even gently suggest you are not being controlling enough!

Your children are too little to be “told” that books shouldn’t be ripped – they must learn by example. And so I would suggest that books live on a high shelf and only come down when you are looking at the books with them – and you are holding the book and guiding how it is looked at. Our precious books lived on a high shelf until my youngest was about 5 or 6. After that, they knew how to handle precious things. Books are not junk to be torn and drawn on – they have beautiful stories in them.  So much of what one wants to do out of Waldorf has to do with cultivating a feeling of reverence in the soul of the child – and to create the right mood for learning. Allowing children to destroy things only destroys such feelings and never allows the right mood to develop. To allow a child to destroy is to allow something within that child to be destroyed. Exuberance is one thing – destructive behavior is another. But…. at this age it cannot be left to the child to determine how to act. And so the mother must create (or control if you will) the environment and help the children learn. No child comes to earth understanding how to live as a human being – this is something we must  start to learn as children (and continue to refine all our adult lives!)  and is the most important lesson of all. It is a major reason why I am so in favor of homeschooling – because the family is the right place for such lessons to unfold. For some children such lessons are learned slowly – others really do seem to already know how to act.
Out in the garden the children can mash and build and destroy in the sandbox – no harm is done. But they need to learn to not hurt plants and animals – and can never be assumed to know how to do this when they are under 5 or 6 – or even older for some (especially those who have impulse control issues). “Look at this lovely tree – let’s watch how the wind dances with the leaves” – no moralizing (“you must not rip tree leaves”). Speak to what lives in the child’s soul – the innate sense of Oneness.  To be One is to completely empathize with the Other – including if the Other is a tree. Thus is laid the moral foundations for life.

As for puzzles, I would suggest you thank your friend warmly – and put them away.. No tiny child needs 15 puzzles! This creates the kind of “more, more, more” situation which, again, is absolutely counter to what one wants to achieve! I would also gently suggest that you think long and hard about having  any puzzles for such tiny children anyway. A puzzle has one right way to be done. One has to develop a kind of linear thinking to complete a puzzle which is totally at odds with the kind of free flowing picture-based thinking that should be allowed to live in very young children. Logic and linear thinking are great – but they are the domain of much older children and adults. Tiny children  should not be pushed into acquiring this kind of thinking until it unfolds naturally, when they are ripe.

Back to your relationship to your children’s play, Forum Member X –  I would never get into “bringing the children” their entertainments – you do your work and that’s that. On occasion you could find times to play with them or read to them. Otherwise they follow you around – and if they don’t join in, then they can get their things themselves. You could have a special time when you are involved  with them doing things like cutting up, drawing etc. Otherwise it’s dollies and blocks and the few other things they have free access to. Everything else comes out only when you are involved and you are carrying the situation. (and when Mama is having a rest that is also not a time for fetching and carrying – they are not too young to start to learn that).

You are not there to fetch and carry for your children – remember – it’s child inclusive, not child centered!! This is a huge difference! And with three tiny ones, I strongly suggest you consider what that means and implement it before you become exhausted!!

You do – they join in or are in your aura, your place of work. You create, carry, transform, and ensoul the home. They learn via your actions and your mood. This stage will not last – but if you want the years to follow to run smoothly I strongly suggest you turn things around and make sure that you do – and they follow. Then they will have a template as it were to build upon – they will know that “this is how we look at books;” “this is where the toys live;”  “this is what Mommy does and what we do”- not because of your words and their premature choices and so-called freedoms…. but because what you have done is imprinted upon them. This is just what the article (we read on the Forum)  by Michaela Glockler is about. Morality (which can be understood as a sociable way of living with other human beings) comes through activity in the young child, from her having her parent (or teacher) work in the right way with her, establishing what is good, true and beautiful. Then she can work on that herself as she grows older. When real freedom and choice start to appear at adolescence then she won’t flounder – she has something upon which to build and to push off from, to find her own individuality and real freedom.

So rein those little girls back in! Set up just a few select things they can play with – and find ways to engage them in your work. No choices – “We are in the bathroom now – let’s fill the tub with bubbles and you scrub the walls”. It is no wonder they prefer to draw – they are seeing whether you will give them what they ask for. This is interesting – Mommy says she wants us to help her in the kitchen – but when we say we want to draw she gives in…. This sounds like manipulation – but it’s not. But it is the way that little children learn about the world, themselves and the adults around them. They need to test and they need to learn where you begin and end and where they begin and end.
 If all of this makes sense to you and is the way you now wish to work with your children,  don’t expect your relationship with them to transform overnight! They will perhaps scream or fuss or refuse. That’s fine. You carry on – there’s no harm in the children having a fuss when they don’t want to do something. You just carry on. Reach out to them from your heart as you continue with your tasks about the house – be at peace and do not get into their “stuff”. This is not about you . It is about three tiny little children learning and growing – and throw out any AP notions you might have that some crying is harmful for children of their age. It is not – it is how they learn. Do not feel you have failed your children if they cry. They are not babies lying alone in a crib at night – they are toddlers and young children learning to deal with their frustrations and pain – and learning how to be social and part of a family.
 At their age they are entering the most powerfully compelling time of imitation  which comes to the fore at about 5 years of age – trust in that. Just keep on scrubbing that tub and perhaps do something interesting like starting to whisper a story. Chances are they will have to quiet down because they will be interested to hear what you are saying – and then they will forget about screaming. However…. as two of them are twins, this could
take a long time as they might support and reinforce each other. But don’t give up! You don’t want 7 year old twins who are demanding and refuse to do as you ask! As horrible as that could be for you, it could be 100% worse for them. No child wants to be unpleasant to be with.

Posted on March 24, 2008 in Kindergarten (and pre-K)

  • Anita Wright says:

    Thanks so much for sharing that. We have had similar issues here and I have struggled much with a 6 yr old who wants to do what she wants when she wants and a 2 yr old who seems to be following big sisters lead 🙁
    Not having many waldorfish friends in the area it’s easy to feel guilty that they don’t have enough or that their discontent is a sign of lack when really it’s a sign of too much.
    Thanks again for your wise and motivating words.

  • Jennifer says:

    I thank you too. I am homeschooling my 1st and K, and my 2 yo has been enjoying too much freedom as I try to “keep peace.” But that’s not doing her any favors long term (or the rest of us). A bit of crying is fine – but sometimes we need to be reminded that it is in overcoming those frustrations of learning that she will learn how to rely upon what’s in her to be at peace, and not what’s going on outside of her. Now, maybe some halfway ear plugs for the first week!

  • Colleen says:

    I so appreciated hearing your gentle reminders of how less is more. I have four children, the younger two being 4 and almost 2, and after reading your blog, I was remotivated to apply what I’ve known in my heart is the best way to parent. I was becoming frustrated by my younger children’s demands, and also the “artistic expressions” on my walls and furniture. I will apply the “check out system” to the crayons now, and know that I am teaching respect for the art as well as respecting other’s property! Thank you again for your wisdom and practicality.

  • donna says:

    Thank you all for your comments – it really does help others to read not just my words, but to also read the feedback from others – so let’s hear more! Sharing anecdotes from one’s own family life are also always welcome here.

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