I have just been sitting on a grassy hill, under pine trees and in dappled sunlight, watching my four year-old play in a dam of icy water. (Yes, this is an old picture.)
From time to time, as he walked in the squelchy mud, he wobbled and corrected his body position. He often slipped, fell into the water, laughed, made eye-contact with me for reassurance that he could manage, and stood up again. He asked me to throw pine-cones into the water that he fetched for me to throw again. If he couldn’t reach them he attempted to use sticks of various weights and lengths to drag them back. Eventually, he found a stick correctly weighted and at the right length for him to consistently achieve his goal.
He was shocked by the temperature of the water (using eye-contact to make sure that I wasn’t worried) and simultaneously undisturbed by it – returning time and time again to greater depths until he felt uncomfortable. And then he went no deeper.
He learned. He learned. He learned. He learned. He learned.
I didn’t teach a thing.
What he was learning were non-conscious patterns of behaviour that will help him through life. These are different from unconscious behaviours like breathing, blood circulation or fear responses. Non-conscious patterns of behaviour are learned behaviours that form the base of intuition and self-trust. When you truly know how to manage, you know, you know how to manage. When you have made enough mistakes, you stop making them. When you have repeated the same mistake enough times, you stop making it. The more often you do this in one setting, the faster you spontaneously learn in another and the more efficient your brain becomes. And the easier life is to navigate.
Old fashioned play, like this, along with high levels of nurturing, firm boundaries, meaningful chores and rituals/stories/routines, are the foundation of true maturity.
It is very difficult to teach maturity using the conscious brain as a portal. As uncomfortable as it is for many of us to accept, consciousness merely interprets what information the rest of the brain feeds it. Or as David R Hawkins says in this book, Power v Force, “Consciousness is gullible, it believes everything it hears. Consciousness is like hardware that will play any software that’s put into it.”
(This does not mean that some top-down, consciousness first, learning is not useful. It is merely that it is much harder and stressful for the brain to learn this way and we are unlikely to become mature via the conscious brain.)
Prior to us leaving the dam, I gave three or four time warnings that we were about to leave. When it was time to go, there was no tantrum or fuss. His Playful Brain System was already alert that a change was imminent – he had imagined and accepted the transition before it happened. That information had had time to be fed into his consciousness. His conscious brain wasn’t shocked by a sudden change in focus. He also knew that what I said would happen: he’s used to my words and actions matching.
Parenting with human biology is so much easier, than trying to enforce how we want the world to be – whether we be traditional, attachment, freerange or super nanny parents, or some confused mixture of the lot.
Parenting according to one method or expert can lead us to bratty, narcissistic children, or those full of bravado or bitchiness, or sad children for whom perfection is the only acceptable level of achievement. Often we keep going, following blindly what the ‘experts’ say, and trying to ignore that our kids aren’t quick to get over their tantrums, or seem sadder than we expected, or less mature than we intended them to be. Sometimes other people reassure us that things are just fine, because that makes them feel better about themselves – or their kids are the same.
We can keep doing what we are doing and ignore the tap dance of discomfort the rest of our brain is doing on our consciousness.
Or we can change our approach.
Of course, that takes great courage and can involve the shattering of dearly held beliefs.
I’m leaving the final word to David Hawkins:
“If life is viewed as a teacher, then it becomes just that. But unless we become humble and transform them [experiences with unexpected outcomes] into gateways to growth and development, then the painful life lessons we deal ourselves become wasted.”
For more innovative and science based information on parenting, in particular tantrums, you could go and buy my book – All About Tantrums: Why we have them, How to prevent them, What to do when they happen. There’s the link riiiiiiiiight there: https://www.createspace.com/3893965
‘All About Tantrums’ is also now available for Kindle.