Children and Choices

girlwapples.jpgA mother wrote:
I am just starting to learn more about Waldorf teaching philosophies. I always want to do all in the best interest of the children. Is it wise to let children select the “one they wish” or for me to decide for them. I am confused with this as I have heard different things from various teachers I have talked to around the country (non Waldorf teachers).
Many thanks for your help!

Rahima responds:
While the photo above exaggerates the point, not giving young children so many choices is not only counter-intuitive in our culture (“Poor children! At least there’s some area where they can have control!”), but perhaps even somewhat un-American (“What about liberty and freedom?! I don’t want to be authoritarian!”), not to mention at odds with some popular parenting approaches today, which want children to choose and then experience the consequences of their choices.

What might we do instead of giving children so many choices, and why? The “ideal” would be to have home life flow so rhythmically and smoothly that your child would know what was happening and what was expected without having to make it conscious, as bringing things to the young child’s attention by asking them what they want to do or which they want replaces their dreamy, free-flowing consciousness with the level of awakeness of an older child. It also calls into play the emotions–asking for his or her likes and dislikes rather than letting the child float along in the ambience of “this is how things are; I don’t have to worry about them.”

If you think about it, choices can be overwhelming instead of empowering. In fact, recent studies with adults have shown that having so many choices takes energy from us each time we have to decide something. This is even more true for a young child, especially if we bring choices first thing in the morning or when they’re tired: “Do you want cereal or eggs for breakfast?” “Wah!….I want pancakes!!…..” and a meltdown follows.

Pointing out a more esoteric connection, Steiner relates that appealing to children’s likes and dislikes all the time through choices not only strengthens that character trait, but also can later result in unclear thinking (ie thinking that arises from likes and dislikes, which can be narrow minded or bigoted).

Here’s another angle: It’s snowing and your child declares, “No! I’m not going to wear my coat today!” A Waldorf-oriented approach would also pass on the “logical consequences” involved in your saying, “You can either wear your coat today or catch cold.” Rather, this is a nonissue because you’re the adult and are responsible for your child’s health (or nutrition, or being careful with something, or whatever the issue might be). You know that, “We don’t go out without our coats on.” and, hopefully, that certainty will prevent this discussion in the first place. Besides, young children don’t really know when they’re cold because they don’t penetrate their limbs enough to give an accurate report (this is why feeling a child’s hands can give you a good indication whether they’re warm enough).

Where it can be helpful to give choices is to say two things that both result in what you want to have happen. It’s time to go and your child is resisting, so you say, “Do you want to hop to the car like a bunny, or do you want to fly like an airplane?” Either way, you’re on your way. Or you can let a child choose (appropriate) clothing–but try putting it out the night before, not asking her when she’s barely awake and things are rushed in the morning.

Food for thought–I hope some of the above illustrations have been helpful!

The L.O.V.E. Approach to Discipline

The L.O.V.E. Approach to Discipline
Workshop by Cynthia Aldinger

Learn about this practical, multi-faceted approach to child guidance based on listening, laughter, order, objectivity, versatility, vulnerability, energy and enthusiasm.

Cynthia is the founder of LifeWays North America, and this popular workshop has been offered throughout the country. The workshop deals primarily with young children, toddlers through age nine.

Add to cart

Parenting with Spirit: 3-Workshop CD Set

Parenting with Spirit [3-workshop set]
Three Workshops by Cindy Brooks and Joya Birns

These three workshops explain and further develop the themes in their book, Parenting with Spirit: A Waldorf Guide for the Three Phases of Childhood.
The first CD covers “Working with the Spiritual World.” In this workshop, Cindy and Joya focus on the reality of spiritual guidance and ways to connect to this source of inspiration and support in daily life. Working with music, meditation, discussion and artistic process, they develop a practice for ongoing dialogue with the angelic realm.

The second CD on “Waldorf-Inspired Communication and Empathy Skills” covers how children develop through the three 7-year periods and ways to work with developmental forces in parenting. The focus is on discovering how age-appropriate communication and mirroring can improve the parent-child relationship. Discussion time is included to assist with practical application.

The third CD focuses on boundaries, tolerating negativity and Waldorf-inspired discipline strategies for each 7-year period. Discussion time is included to help with practical application.

Order the 3-CD set and save!

Add to cart

Also purchase the book Parenting with Spirit: A Waldorf Guide for the Three Phases of Childhood

Add to cart

Regarding the book:
Cindy and Joya have written a much-needed book describing the three phases of childhood and ways in which effective parenting skills change in response to children’s changing levels of development. The seven-year phases of development are described in the chapter on “Working with Developmental Forces in Parenting,” as well as ways to influence children when they are centered in imitation (bith-7), admiration (7-14) and individuation (14-21).

The next chapter, “Discipline Skills for Parent-Child Conflicts,” focuses on age-appropriate communication skills and strategies, and ways in which these need to change as your child grows and matures. Working with the spiritual world is also discussed, along with tips for co-parenting and single-parenting. The book ends with extensive appendices on therapeutic stories, suggested reading, and community resources.

I highly recommend this book! It is short–only 60 pages, spiral bound–but it’s hard to find this information in such a concise, clearly written format! –Rahima

About the authors:
Joya Birns and Cindy Brooks co-lead the monthly support group at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School (“Parent Circle”) and various workshops for parents. Joya previously taught early childhood and handwork classes in three Waldorf Schools and has worked with parent groups since 1982. Cindy received her MA in transpersonal psychology from Antioch University–Seattle in 1990. In 1995 she completed a two-year training in sandplay at the Child Therapy Institute of Marin and was licensed as an MFT in California in 1996. In 2003 she graduated from the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training and has worked with the Care Group at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School since 2003.

Parenting with Spirit: Working with Negative Behavior

Parenting with Spirit: Working with Negative Behavior in Children
Workshop by Cindy Brooks and Joya Birns

This workshop focuses on boundaries, tolerating negativity and Waldorf-inspired discipline strategies for each 7-year period. Discussion time is included to help with practical application.

This workshop accompanies and expands on Chapter 4 in their book, Parenting with Spirit: A Waldorf Guide for the Three Phases of Childhood. Other recordings of Parenting with Spirit workshops that we offer include “Working with the Spiritual World” and “Waldorf-Inspired Communication and Empathy Skills.”

Add to cart

Parenting with Spirit: Working with the Spiritual World

Parenting with Spirit: Working with the Spiritual World
Workshop by Cindy Brooks and Joya Birns

In this workshop, Cindy and Joya focus on the reality of spiritual guidance and ways to connect to this source of inspiration and support in daily life. Working with music, meditation, discussion and artistic process, they develop a practice for ongoing dialogue with the angelic realm.

This workshop expands on Chapter 5 in their book Parenting with Spirit: A Waldorf Guide for the Three Phases of Childhood. We also carry two other CDs from their workshops on Parenting with Spirit: “Waldorf-Inspired Communication and Empathy Skills” and “Working with Negative Behavior in Children.”

Add to cart

Standing in the Heart

Standing in the Heart: The Brain of the New Intelligence
Workshop by Claudia McLaren Lainson

Our children are coming with a heart knowing that requires us to meet them with our heart if they are to recognize us as authorities, guides and pathfinders. Making the changes these children need requires our moving into the new intelligence. Who are these children and what changes do I need to make in myself to meet them?

Add to cart

Creativity and Discipline

Creativity and Discipline–Discussion Session
Workshop by Regina Mason

Regina continues with the discussion of ideas covered in her keynote, “Fostering and Preserving your Child’s Creative Spirit.” Topics considered include: Where does true authority come from, especially when you’re trying not to be authoritarian? In homeschooling how can we move gracefully between the rolls of “parent” and “teacher,” and how can child-led learning succeed without creating childhood “tyrants?” What is discipline beyond the definition of punishment? Based on participants’ questions.

Add to cart

Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline
Workshop by Susan Kaplan

Discover pathways of balance and congruence. Learn the difference between punishment, positive discipline and guiding with connectedness. Susan explores how old family patterns, parental style conflicts and stress can weaken your vision. Nurture your hopes and dreams and learn skills to bring your values alive.

Add to cart