The Unconventional Lessons That I’m Teaching My Child
And why I think it’s important for my child’s happiness to (sometimes) break the rules.
Kids, ay? Parenting is a minefield. I am no expert, and I have my good and bad days – but what I do know is that some of the lessons that society has been taught from previous generations are outdated and wrong – and I feel that my child deserves better. As parents, we all want our children to have the world and more, and for them to have a better life than what we did as children. I am determined to give my son the best life I possibly can, and I want that to lead into him being a happy, healthy adult that is kind, respectful, loving, empathetic and understanding.
So, how do I do this? How do I avoid him going through the same things that I did? How do parents take on the enormous responsibility that is raising our kids right?
As someone who has experienced childhood trauma, it is incredibly important to me to teach my own son how to love himself, and to do my best to teach him the lessons that will help him become resilient, confident and brave. I love writing children’s stories for this reason – I want to help children to understand the world around them and accept themselves for who they are, as well as be unafraid of the world around them.
And more than anything, I want my son and the children who read my stories to feel free, safe and happy – because that’s what every child deserves.
And if this means teaching my son ‘unconventional things’ or maybe breaking a few rules – then so be it.
Here are some of the ‘unconventional’ lessons that I’ll be teaching my son.
Make as much mess as you like
My mother was taught that it was vital she clean up after a mess was made, and she found it hard to break the habit. Our house was immaculate, and even if she was exhausted she would still clean the house from top to bottom everyday without fail. When I had my son she taught me to put myself first, that the cleaning will always get done eventually and that the most important thing was that my son was happy and enjoying his childhood, which passes so fleetingly. She said that I’ll blink and he will be older and I will miss the mess and the chaos that comes with raising an energetic boy.
I know she’s right. Nothing compares to the pure joy and excitement on my son’s face when I get the paints out, or we build a huge train track together, or when we make funny shapes out of play doh or sand. As a child some of my favourite memories are some of the messiest ones, such as making things from play doh with my little sister, or making flowers out of coloured paper for my mum, or painting and drawing pictures on a big roll of paper with my family – and I really want my son to have the same experience.
We spend so much time teaching our children that they must tidy up, that they have to get rid of all the ‘mess’ – but it’s not mess to them. I’m not getting rid of clumps of play doh – I’m destroying my son’s castle that he spent hours making, and I am not tidying up a pile of tracks – I’m getting rid of the best track in the world, that spirals round and makes him laugh each time trains crash and fall off the bridges, and I’m tidying trains that he spent ages connecting together. Is it really a big deal if there’s toys everywhere? Is the sky going to fall if I don’t clean up? No, but my son will be happy if I don’t – and that’s the best feeling in the world, much better than a perfect house.
Messy play is also incredibly beneficial to your child. According to the Goodstart Early Learning, it encourages children to learn and develop their gross and fine motor skills, co-ordination and concentration, and allows them to explore, discover, negotiate, take risks, create meaning and solve problems. Messy play encourages self-expression, self-esteem and develops social, investigation and physical skills.
You can share if you want to
I do encourage my child to share, but I never force him. He has just turned three – so it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t want to share something. He will learn this skill over time. I want him to trust his gut feeling. If he’s apprehensive about letting an over-excited child play with his brand new toy, then that’s OK. Surely I should be proud of him for being so cautious and wanting to look after his possessions? Isn’t it rather wise of a child to be cautious about sharing something, even though they are constantly taught that sharing is kind and the right thing to do? I remember sharing things in school, thinking it was the right and kind thing to do, and I’d end up having them broken or stolen. Sometimes the most well-intentioned lessons are not as great as they seem. I’d rather my child trust his instincts, and know that I trust him too. I know that he would share a toy with a friend if he knew it was the right thing to do, and if not, then I will support him all the way.
You don’t have to do what the other children or adults are doing
Children are encouraged to actively join in with what everyone else is doing when they’re at soft play or a group outing. The kids that cry and refuse are the ones that stand out – and in some cases when a parent is internally cringing and wishing their child would behave like the others to stop the judging mums from staring and whispering – it’s the crying child that ends up feeling humiliated and being punished for being shy. My child isn’t shy, and normally I don’t have this problem, but I was a shy child and I can imagine my mum found it really hard because she was surrounded by other parents that had too many opinions. I will never ever be a judgemental parent, or rude about another child – and if you are this sort of parent then shame on you. If you see another child screaming and crying, or hesitant to participate in an activity – never EVER judge, or be rude, or be smug because your child is ‘behaving’. I was a shy child, and it was hard, so as a mother I promise to never ever make my child feel weird for not doing something they don’t want to do, and I promise that I will never judge or be rude to other mums who may be struggling with their child.
Want to have a full blown meltdown? Bring it on! It’s OK to feel sad or angry
Kids have bad days, just like adults do. They need to blow off steam and they get frustrated every now and then, just like adults do. Kids get cranky and tired and have sad days – just like adults do. Is it right to punish them? Is it OK to expect them to act differently to us adults?
My son is a very well behaved boy. When he has a meltdown it is hard, but I know it means something is wrong. Shouting or crying will only make my child more anxious and scream even louder – so whilst the other parents look at me quizzically and wonder why I’m not telling my child off, I ignore those stares and I sit and hug my child instead, and I tell him that everything will be OK. And guess what – my method works. My son calms down quickly and feels much better after a mummy or daddy hug. So if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like a kid having a meltdown then I have one message for you: grow up and learn to be patient. Kids get distressed and have bad days, just like adults do. Get over it. Emotions are complicated and my child is still learning.
I will never make you hug anyone you don’t want to, and you’re allowed to stand up to an adult if they are upsetting you, or doing something wrong
Hugs, kisses and affection of any sort are never forced in my household. I ask my son if he wants a kiss, or a hug – but if he says no then that’s OK. The rest of my family also respect this rule. If my son doesn’t want to be touched then I will respect that, and expect others to do so as well. I want my child to know that how he feels matters, and that him saying ‘no’ is enough; his voice is heard and it matters. He is not being irrational or rude or silly for being uncomfortable around someone, or not wanting his personal space invaded. When he says no, people should listen. Like I have said before, I want him to know that he matters, and that I trust him, one hundred percent. I want him to trust his own instincts as much as I do.
All my life I have been told to respect adults. And for the most part I agree with this. You should respect adults that love and care for you, because it is their job to look after you and they want what’s best for you. Adults that are good and kind to children deserve respect – they have earned it from the child by being kind and going to the ends of the earth for them, by teaching their child right from wrong and loving them unconditionally. Yes, you should respect adults if they earn it and if they are good people – but what about the bad adults?
Not all adults are good and not all adults can be trusted. It is so hard for a child to trust their instincts around bad adults when we are drumming into them that they must respect all adults no matter what, yet offering no explanation whilst simultaneously expecting them to earn our respect. How is this OK? We keep telling our children to go to their parents or teachers if they see someone doing something wrong or bad – why are adults exempt from this rule? Why on earth are we teaching children that adults can do what they want, yet children will be punished and accused of rudeness when speaking out against something they know is wrong?
I speak from experience – teaching children to completely respect all adults no matter what can be a dangerous lesson to teach.
I personally will teach my son that his voice matters, that I will always listen to him and choose his side no matter what. If he tells me an adult is bad, or did a bad thing, I will listen and I will choose him over anything else. I want him to know that Mummy will do everything she possibly can to protect him and keep him safe. If he knows that an adult is doing something wrong, or is bullying him, then he can stick up for himself and tell that adult no or to stop, and I will defend him also.
There are no rules when it comes to what you play with and what you wear. I love you for who you are
My son is a typical boy. He likes trucks and cars and trains and dinosaurs and has little interest in toys that are designed for girls – but I really wouldn’t care if he wanted a Barbie, or a dolls’ house, or to wear something pink. He can do what he likes. He’s happy, he’s healthy, he is kind – and that’s all that matters to me. I want him to know that I will never try to control him and that I love him for who he is, no matter what. Some of the rules we’re expected to follow are old and detrimental to a child’s health. I would never dream of not letting my son be himself, enjoy the things he loves, or be who he wants to be. I am so proud and happy to be a mum and have such a wonderful beautiful child – I will never ever stop him from loving himself and being happy. If pink frilly dollies were what made him happy, then I’d buy him a whole set of them. If he tells me he wants to wear dresses one day and is more comfortable in them, I will take him shopping and we will pick things he likes together. This whole blue for boys and pink for girls is nonsense. Let children be who they want to be. Let children love themselves and be proud of who they are. Let children be happy.
We are all doing our best to raise our children. Parenting is not easy and no parent is perfect – but as long as you love your child more than life itself and you are trying your very best to let your child know that they are strong, smart, loved and perfect just the way they are – then you are doing a fantastic job. The only thing we can do as parents is learn from the mistakes of the past, be kind and patient with our children, and to support one another on this insane, difficult yet wonderful and highly rewarding journey.
What lessons are important to you? Are there any lessons deemed ‘unconventional’ that you’re teaching your child? Are they inspired by your experiences and/or childhood? I would love to see your responses!