Friday, 17 June 2011

Patience

Patience is a virtue, so they say, but is it one that can genuinely be worked towards?

Joyce of Joyfully Rejoycing has started a new project over at  I Will Always Be There For You, a window into what radical unschooling can look like, the unconventional moments we might share with our kids. You can see Sprout in her post today The King Of Flour, about the fun evening we had that sprang from Sprout's artistic (and messy!) curiosity about flour. An evening where in a different life we might have got angry, but we didn't. From our perspective, there are two facets to this: a calm reaction to what could have been a kind of 'trigger' situation, and seeing the possibility of taking a moment and making it joyful, fun, and memorable.

I already looked here this week at that second facet, the places that Sprout and Squidge's curiosities take us. So the flour post is very timely in regards to that first facet, the calmness, in a week where three different people have commented on how 'patient', or 'calm' I am. Now, it will probably tell you something that, when I related these comments to Gruff yesterday, he laughed so hard he almost choked on his coffee.

I am *not* a naturally calm person. I was brought up in a family where we were often shouted at and routinely smacked. Nature or nurture, I had a volatile temper. We have never, and will never, smack our children, but I have shouted. Lots. And then a good while ago, after watching a friend who never seems to get angry with her child and thinking how I'd love to be more like that, I made a conscious decision to try and stop. Stop shouting. Stop scaring my kids when I'm one of the two people they trust most in the world. Not only does shouting not 'work', but it damages these two amazing little people here...



...*and* damages my relationship with them.

At first I made the mistake of just trying to stop shouting, and dealing with my anger another way, deep breaths or leaving the room. This did. not. work. Doing this just left me feeling helpless to deal with whatever was going on; after all if I couldn't respond to the anger-inducing situation and really let them know I was angry, what was I supposed to do?

Instead I started looking at what I was getting angry about. Were these situations genuinely 'anger-inducing'? Or was it me? The major things that upset me were when the boys hurt each other, or went out of their way to upset each other. In addition Sprout went through a period of being very angry himself, and taking it out in a violent way on me. When I really looked at it, the things that were making me angry were symptoms of something else. One friend lent me some wise words: Remember, to a small child, hitting *is* a language.

Once that light went on in my head, it became much easier. When Squidge hit Sprout, it was because he was unhappy about something or struggling in some way. When Sprout hit me, it was because he too was struggling with some aspect of what was going on, and he didn't yet have the cognitive ability to work it out nor the vocabulary to let me know. It made it so much easier to separate their behaviour from the actual problem, then I was free of the anger and free to deal with the situations as they arose, and address the root cause, whether it was that I'd spent too much time with Squidge one day leaving Sprout left out and frustrated, or we'd had a week pottering round at home and forgotten that Squidge feels frustrated if he doesn't go a bit further afield at least once every few days. I could still let them know that it's not okay to hurt people, while at the same time looking at why they had done that in the first place, and identifying cues that *I* was missing. I found wonderful advice here on how to continue doing this in the times that I struggled with most - the times when Sprout was so angry and frustrated over something that he was repeatedly hurting me.

As I've practiced more and more being calm in situations in which I would previously have shouted, I've found even my frustration at other things has completely disappeared. Things like spilled milk that I wouldn't ever have shouted about, but would still have frustrated me inside, don't even raise an ounce of frustration any more. If something's an accident, it's an accident. My time with my kids is too precious to even worry about those ones. For anything deliberate, there's always a better way of dealing with it than getting angry, whether it's talking to them about why it's not okay to do something, or with other things turning them into a joyful moment in our time together, such as the evening of flour :)

I still do shout, sometimes, but it's always short-lived now, and it's getting rarer as the more I consciously aim to be calm the more it seems to come naturally in a given situation. Our home is noticeably calmer now. And the less time spent by me doing this...



...the more time there is to do this...





...this...



...this...


...and this...


And I think I can now say, yes, you can work towards patience. If I can do it, anyone can!

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