Tenets of respectful parenting

Basic Trust
Basic trust means believing in your child’s competence and supporting her authenticity. It is believing that whatever your child needs to know, she will learn. In this way she will grow to trust in herself and in you. This will promote her feelings of security and allow her to begin to develop good judgment.

Basic trust also means that you as a parent will learn to trust yourself and your instincts. The foundation of basic trust is built by observing your child in order to understand her and find out what interests her. By observing her, you will discover that she is competent, able to figure many things out on her own, and you will grow to trust her even more.

Often when we are busy teaching a child to grasp a ball, for example, or to stack blocks, we don’t realize what she already knows. And what she knows may surprise us. The question is: what is your child ready to learn? Pumping information into a child not ready to receive it is to convey knowledge that is not useful to her. Your child’s curiosity, interest, and readiness are what count. Observation is the key.

Erik H. Erikson, the famous psychoanalyst and Harvard professor who coined the term basic trust, describes it in Identity and the Life Cycle (International Universities Press, Inc., 1959) as an attitude toward oneself and the world formed during the first year of life based on one’s experiences. He notes that “reasonable trustfulness as far as others are concerned and a simple sense of trustworthiness as far as oneself is concerned” is the basis for a healthy personality.

The environment must, first of all, be safe for your child’s protection and sense of security. In an unsafe environment a parent can never relax to observe his child. At least one completely safe room, or a gated-off portion of a room if the house or apartment is small, is needed where the child can play.

A cognitively challenging environment provides simple, age-appropriate play objects to help a child grow and mature through problem solving during the course of play. For example, I recommend play objects like large cotton scarves and balls for young babies. Toddlers need different challenges such as sand, water, wheel toys, and climbing structures. An emotionally nurturing environment, provided by an attentive parent or carer, gives a child the confidence to solve problems.

Uninterrupted Play
Children play beautifully on their own. They do not need to be taught how to play. Children work out their conflicts in play, which is connected to their readiness. Readiness refers to the ability to solve problems at each developmental stage.

For example, a young infant is ready to reach for and grasp objects near her. A toddler is ready to fill a bucket with sand and dump it out. Note that problems occur naturally in an adequate play environment, where a child may need to figure out how to retrieve a ball that rolled under a chair. It isn’t necessary to create problems. A parent can observe his child’s play and, based on that observation, see what she needs—maybe a new object to play with.

If a parent, instead, interrupts and says to his child, “Let’s roll the ball,” then the play becomes therapeutic for the parent rather than for the child, and the adult’s goal becomes more important than the child’s interest.

Uninterrupted play promotes concentration and a long attention span. When we interrupt a child, we also stop what she is doing, whatever process she may be in the middle of, as she focuses on us. Our interruptions, no matter how well intended, become distractions.

Freedom to Explore
Play groups, where infants and children interact with each other, are desirable. Children have different agendas with adults than with their peers, and they learn from each other. When infants are freely exploring, however, there must be rules. Mainly, children should not be allowed to hurt each other. Once the rules are established and reinforced by the supervising adults, the children can be free to interact.

An Active Participant
It’s fine and healthy for a child to be active, even though it’s not easy to diaper a wiggling baby. Cooperation is encouraged during caregiving times. Your goal is to encourage your child’s active involvement by inviting her to become part of the process. For example, during diapering you can talk to your baby and ask for her cooperation, even if she can’t yet understand you. This sets up the beginning of a dialogue between you that promotes cooperation.

Sensitive Observation
It is often easier to engage in an activity with a child than to sit and simply observe her. But from our observations come the answers, though it takes time to understand one’s child. Parents are so involved with their children that they sometimes lose perspective. Nobody knows for certain what a baby is thinking or feeling, but observing is the best way to tune in to your child.

If, through observation, you can perceive and accept your child at her own developmental level and learn how to understand and respond to her needs, you have a better chance of preventing problems before they develop. Over time, observation skills improve with practice.

Consistency goes hand in hand with discipline. As a parent, you set the limits. A rule is always a rule. Knowing this makes a child feel secure. For example, you may tell your child where she may or may not play ball. Setting limits and maintaining them consistently doesn’t mean that a child will always obey the rules. The important thing is that your child knows what is expected of her. Predictable routines reinforce discipline. Certain issues, such as safety, should always be enforced.

Respectful parenting

What do I mean by respect? That’s what this book is about. If you treat your child respectfully from birth, he may have a better chance of gaining confidence and developing good judgment. This plants the seeds of lifelong security. He learns how to relate to other people in a healthy way and how to realistically, rather than blindly, trust the world.

Respect is a two-way street. Equally important, you as parents have needs, too. Being a parent is the most difficult undertaking in the world, a twenty-four-hour-a-day job that requires your time, patience, and energy whether you are sick or well, in a good mood or not. And the task is no easier as your child grows into adulthood. Often parents are left with residual guilt, feeling “If only I had done this in the beginning . . .”

Implementing consistent routines help parents simplify their lives and develop the ability to recognize when they should step in to influence their child’s behaviour and when to save their energy for larger issues, such as for nurturing themselves.

The term “educarer”, combining educator and carer, means one who educates children in a caring manner. And I prefer to use the word carer rather than caregiver or caretaker because a carer neither gives nor takes. For clarity’s sake, I use the word “caregiving” when referring to an activity such as a “caregiving task” so that it won’t be confused with “caring,” which might be understood to simply mean loving.

A carer puts love into action. The way you care for your baby is how he experiences your love. Everyday caregiving routines, like feeding and diapering, can be educational and loving interactions. These everyday routines form the building blocks of edu-caring and respect. Allowing infants to learn on their own rather than actively stimulating or teaching them is a basic tenet. Children learn all the time, from the day they are born. If we refrain from teaching them, they learn from experience. What we need to do is not interfere, step back, and allow learning to happen. What young children need to learn is how to adapt to their families.

If you begin well, by trying to understand your child’s point of view from infancy, there is a greater likelihood you will continue doing this throughout your life. Many misconceptions exist about babies and small children, and too little knowledge is based on observation and empathy. Observing your child carefully helps you to tune into his unique rhythm and understand his unique needs.

This respectful approach differs from most other childrearing theories in that it is based on the simple concept of observing your child. In our fast-paced modern culture, child development fads appear and disappear like fashions that come in and out of style. Hanging black and white mobiles over babies’ beds, showing them flash cards, putting them in walkers to “help” them walk, all activities that push a child to learn, have nothing to do with the reality of a young child’s day-to-day needs.

Respect. Honour. Esteem. These words aren’t usually associated with young babies. Yet it is widely agreed that these concepts are vital later in life. A child’s personality is largely formed in the first three years. Her outlook on the world is being shaped. Why not engage in a respectful relationship with your child as soon as possible? The benefits will be long-lasting.

What does respect mean, in terms of parents and children? It means accepting, enjoying, and loving your child as she is and not expecting her to do what she cannot do. It means allowing your child the time, the space, and the love and support to be herself and to discover the world in her own unique way. It means trying to understand her point of view.

To respect your child is to believe in her competence and see her as dependent on you rather than helpless. It is to accept and support both her dependence and independence, based on the developmental stage she is in. It is love plus consideration, treating your child as you would treat an honoured guest. To respect your child is to create a little distance so that you refrain from interfering with her experience of encountering life. Respect means setting boundaries for your child and for yourself as a parent, and enforcing these boundaries. It is letting your child know your expectations of her behaviour so that she can cooperate and, thus, respect you. Respect means taking care of your own needs as well as hers. It is nurturing and honouring yourself.

A respectful approach encourages a child’s authenticity, or genuineness, which means encouraging her to be honest about her feelings. It tells a child, “to thine own self be true”. Be who you are. It’s an ongoing life struggle. No society allows total honesty, so we must all wear masks and learn to pretend at times. People lose touch with their real selves. That’s too high a price to pay to fit in.

You may wonder how to encourage the spirit of authenticity. Simply let your child be. Spend time sitting back and observing her. See who she is and what her needs are. Don’t expect her to do what she is not ready or able to do. Let her crawl until she can, on her own, take her first steps. Don’t encourage your child to smile when she doesn’t feel like smiling. If she is sad, let her cry. Don’t expect or demand behaviour that is not genuine. Rather, value what she does.

Children are often expected to “behave” rather than be who they are. In many situations people unwittingly teach children how to be less than honest. When a child cries, she is not asked, “What happened?” but is usually told, “You’re okay.” We do this as a society. The message is: if you are not okay, keep it to yourself. Often, too, with children, conformity, rather than honesty, is encouraged. But perhaps we can learn to let children feel free to express their emotions and, as they grow, learn how to control their impulses.

Positive Parenting Tools

So, what tools and ideas will help your child learn all she needs to know? If punishment doesn’t work, what does? Here are some suggestions. Remember, your child’s individual development is critical in these years; remember, too, that nothing works all the time for all children. As your unique child grows and changes, you’ll have to return to the drawing board many times, but these ideas will form the foundation for years of effective parenting.

Get Children Involved
Education comes from the Latin root educare, which means “to draw forth.” This may explain why children so often tune you out when you try to “stuff in” through constant demands and lectures. Instead of telling children what to do, find ways to involve them in decisions and to draw out what they think and perceive. Curiosity questions (which often begin with “what” or “how”) are one way to do this. Ask, “What do you think will happen if you push your tricycle over the curb?” or “What do you need to do to get ready for preschool?” Children who are involved in decision making experience a healthy sense of personal power and autonomy. For children who are not yet able to talk, say, “Next, we_________,” while kindly and firmly showing them what to do.

There are several particularly effective ways of getting preschoolers involved in cooperation and problem solving. Here are three suggestions:

Create routines together.
Young children learn best by repetition and consistency, so you can ease the transitions of family life by involving them in creating reliable routines. Routines can be created for every event that happens over and over: getting up, bedtime, dinner, shopping, and so on. Sit down with your child and invite her to help you make a routine chart. Ask her to tell you the tasks involved in the routine (such as bedtime). Let her help you decide on the order. Take pictures of her doing each task that can be pasted next to each item. Then let her illustrate the chart with markers and glitter. Hang it where she can see it, and let the routine chart become the boss. When your child gets distracted, you can ask, “Whats next on your routine chart?” (Be sure not to confuse these with sticker or reward charts, which diminish your child’s inner sense of capability because the focus is on the reward.)

Offer limited choices.
Having choices gives children a sense of power: they have the power to choose one possibility or another. Choices also invite a child to use his thinking skills as he contemplates what to do. And, of course, young children often love it when choices include an opportunity to help. “What is the first thing you will do when we get home—help me put the groceries away or read a story? You decide.” “Would you like to carry the blanket or the cracker box as we walk to the car? You decide.” Adding “You decide” increases your child’s sense of power. Be sure the choices are developmentally appropriate and that all of the choices are options you are comfortable with. When your child wants to do something else, you can say, “That wasn’t one of the choices. You can decide between this and this.”

Provide opportunities for your child to help you.
Young children often resist a command to get in the car but respond cheerfully to a request like “I need your help. Will you carry the keys to the car for me?” Activities that might easily have become power struggles and battles can become opportunities for laughter and closeness if you use your instincts and your creativity. Allowing your child to help you (even when it’s messy or inconvenient) also sets the stage for cooperation later on.

Teach Respect by Being Respectful
Parents usually believe children should show respect, not have it shown to them. But children learn respect by seeing what it looks like in action. Be respectful when you make requests. Don’t expect a child to do something “right now” when you are interrupting something she is thoroughly engaged in. Give her some warning: “We need to leave in a minute. Do you want to swing one more time or go down the slide?” Carry a small timer around with you. Teach her to set it to one or two minutes. Then let her put the timer in her pocket so she can be ready to go when the timer goes off.

Remember, too, that making a child feel shame and humiliation—such as a child might feel if she was spanked in the middle of the park (or anywhere else, for that matter)—is disrespectful, and a child who is treated with disrespect is likely to return the favour. Kindness and firmness show respect for your child’s dignity, your own dignity, and the needs of the situation.

Use Your Sense of Humour
No one ever said parenting had to be boring or unpleasant. Laughter is often the best way to approach a situation. Try saying, “Here comes the tickle monster to get children who don’t pick up their toys.” Learn to laugh together and to create games to get unpleasant jobs done quickly. Humour is one of the best—and most enjoyable—parenting tools.

Three-year-old Nathan had an unfortunate tendency to whine, and Beth was at her wits’ end. She had tried talking, explaining, and ignoring, but nothing seemed to have any effect. One day Beth tried something that was probably more desperation than inspiration. As Nathan whined that he wanted some juice, Beth turned to him with a funny look on her face. “Nathan,” she said, “something is wrong with Mommy’s ears. When you whine, I can’t hear you at all!” Again Nathan whined for juice, but this time Beth only shook her head and tapped her ear, looking around as if a mosquito were buzzing near her head. Nathan tried once more, but again Beth shook her head. Then Beth heard something different. The little boy took a deep breath and said in a low, serious voice, “Mommy, can I have some juice?” When Beth turned to look at him, he added “Please?” for good measure. Beth laughed and scooped Nathan up for a hug before heading to the kitchen. “I can hear you perfectly when you ask so nicely,” she said. From that time on, all Beth had to do when Nathan began to whine was tap her ear and shake her head. Nathan would draw an exasperated breath—and begin again in a nicer tone of voice.

Not everything can be treated lightly, of course. But rules become less difficult to follow when children know that a spontaneous tickling match or pillow battle might erupt at any moment. Taking time to lighten up and to laugh together works where discipline is concerned, too, and makes life more pleasant for everyone.

Get into Your Child’s World
Understanding your preschooler’s developmental needs and limitations is critical to parenting during these important years. Do your best to be empathetic when your child becomes upset or has a temper tantrum out of frustration with his lack of abilities. Empathy does not mean rescuing. It means understanding. Give your child a hug and say, “You’re really upset right now. I know you want to stay.” Then hold your child and let him experience his feelings before you gently guide him to leave. If you rescue your child by letting him stay, he won’t have the opportunity to learn from experience that he can survive disappointment. Getting into your child’s world also means seeing the world from his perspective and recognizing his abilities—and his limitations. Occasionally ask yourself how you might be feeling (and acting) if you were your child. It can be illuminating to view the world through a smaller person’s eyes.

Say What You Mean, Then Follow Through with Kindness and Firmness
Children usually sense when you mean what you say and when you don’t. It’s usually best not to say anything unless you mean it and can say it respectfully—and can then follow through with dignity and respect. The fewer words you say, the better! This may mean redirecting or showing a child what she can do instead of punishing her for what she can’t do. It also might mean wordlessly removing a child from the slide when it is time to go, rather than getting into an argument or a battle of wills. When this is done kindly, firmly, and without anger, it will be both respectful and effective.

Be Patient
Understand that you may need to teach your child many things over and over before she is developmentally ready to understand. For example, you can encourage your child to share, but don’t expect her to understand the concept and do it on her own when she doesn’t feel like it. When she refuses to share, rest assured that this doesn’t mean she will be forever selfish. It will help to understand that she is acting age-appropriately. Don’t take your child’s behavior personally and think your child is mad at you, bad, or defiant. Act like the adult (sometimes easier said than done) and do what is necessary without guilt and shame.

Act, Don’t Talk—and Supervise Carefully
Minimize your words and maximize your actions. As Rudolf Dreikurs once said, “Shut your mouth and act.” Quietly take your child by the hand and lead her to where she needs to go. Show her what she can do instead of what she can’t do. And no matter how bright, cooperative, or quick to learn your child is, be sure to supervise her actions carefully. Preschoolers are often impulsive little people and your child will need your watchful attention for years to come.

Accept and Appreciate Your Child’s Uniqueness
Children develop differently and have different strengths. Expecting from a child what he cannot give will only frustrate both of you. Your sister’s children may be able to sit quietly in a restaurant for hours, while yours get twitchy after just a few minutes, no matter how diligently you prepare. If you simply accept that, you can save yourself and your children a lot of grief by waiting to have that fancy meal when you can enjoy it in adult company—or when your children have matured enough for all of you to enjoy it together.

When should you start potty training?

It would be so much easier if there were a magic age at which to potty train your child. You could simply wake up on the morning that he reaches, say, 26 months, plonk him on the potty – and hey presto!

However, every child is different. Some gain the necessary physical, mental and emotional developmental skills as early as 18 months, whereas others aren’t ready until they’re 3 or 4 years old.

Some get the hang of it over a weekend, while others take months. By responding to your child’s signals you can let him set the agenda, so that you’ll both find the transition from nappies to pants as painless as possible.

Weeing or pooing on the potty is a highly complex process. Really, it is. It may not seem very difficult to you, but when you break down the number of skills that are needed to succeed it’s incredible that someone as young as a 2- or 3-year-old could ever master it.

Your toddler has to be able to recognize the signs that he needs to go to the toilet, and then hold on to it long enough to get there. He then has to remember where the potty is, walk to it, grapple with his clothing and pull down his pants – and all this before he even sits down to do his business. Finally, he needs to wipe his bottom, get dressed and wash his hands.

In order for a child to succeed, he has to be physically and mentally ready. Scientists have identified a number of stages your child will go through while developing bladder and bowel control:

1. He becomes aware of having a wet or dirty nappy or clothing. This can occur from 15 months.

2. He recognizes when he is doing a wee or a poo, and may learn the words to tell you all about it. This takes place between 18 and 24 months, or later in some children.

3. He can tell you in advance that he will need to go, with sufficient warning for you to get him to the potty in time. On average, this occurs between 21/2 and 3 years.

4. He gains more control of his bladder and can ‘hold on’ for a while. This takes place from 3 years onwards.

Research has shown that a child cannot voluntarily use the muscles that control his bladder and rectum until he is at least 18 months old. There is a gap of roughly 2 years between the age when a child first starts to recognize that he’s wet, and the time when he can actually hold on and wait before he passes urine. Potty training will be faster if your child is at the last stage before you start; although with perseverance you can certainly achieve dryness earlier, it will be a longer, more drawn-out and, probably, messier process.

A child who is physically ready may still not be prepared to let go of her nappies. Motivation is the key, and a toddler who is becoming more independent and keen to do things for herself will be more interested in going to the toilet like a grown-up than a child who is at an earlier stage of her emotional development. Many children will show strong signs that they are physically, mentally and emotionally ready for potty training before the age of 3. However, at least 15 per cent of children are not potty trained by that age, and 4 per cent still haven’t mastered it by 4 years. It’s important not to panic that your child is falling behind. One research study presented at a European conference for bladder and kidney specialists revealed that for healthy children, bladder capacity increases significantly between the ages of 2 and 3 years, so that by the time they are 3 most children are able to hold on and stay dry for longer periods of time. Your child will get there, in her own time.

In the USA, pediatricians have a saying about potty training: ‘If you start at 2, you’ll be done by 3. If you start at 3, you’ll be done by 3!’

Research is now confirming what parents have known for years: that boys tend to be a little slower to gain control of their bladders and bowels than girls. One study showed that, on average, boys both started and completed potty training later than girls.

According to American research, the average age for completion of potty training (day and night-time dryness) was 35 months for girls and 39 months for boys.

This difference is thought to be due to several factors:

1 Boys’ nervous systems mature later. Girls can begin to gain bladder control from the age of 18 months, whereas with boys it may not be until after 22 months.

2 Women still tend to be the main carers, so boys do not see a same-sex role model as often as girls do.

3 Boys appear to be less sensitive to the feeling of wetness against their skin. But don’t get bogged down in the detail. Every child is different, and if your son seems ready then you should go for it, whatever his age.

Most children will show characteristic signs when they are ready to take on potty training – you just have to be able to recognize these and act on them. If that sounds too much like taking part in a complicated detection exercise, take heart from the fact that some children, especially those with older siblings, can make it very easy for you.

Is your child ready? Many children’s signals are subtler than my daughter’s were. Although there isn’t a checklist you should tick off, there is a gradual accumulation of indicators that your child is becoming physically, mentally and emotionally ready to learn to go to the toilet.

Your child may be ready to start toilet training if:

‘I can do it’ becomes a regular refrain, showing that your toddler wants to become more independent.

He has regular, formed bowel movements, and he may go red in the face and gain a very concentrated expression when he’s about to go.

He has the dexterity to pull his pants up and down by himself.

He’s very interested when his father goes to the toilet and imitates his actions.

He is developed physically so that he can walk and sit down on the potty.

He knows what wee and poo are and may talk about them when you’re changing his nappy.

You may notice that his nappy is dry for longer periods, up to three or four hours. This shows that his bladder capacity and control are improving.

He can understand what you are saying and follow simple instructions, such as ‘Go and get your teddy.’

He starts to recognize the sensations that he needs to go to the toilet and demonstrates this by looking uncomfortable, holding onto himself or grunting. Soon he’ll learn to tell you before it happens.

He may become uncomfortable and complain if his nappy is dirty. He may start to rip off his nappy every time he does a wee in it, which means he can go through ten nappies a day. If this is the case, simple economics dictate that it’s time to reach for the potty.

Potty-training practices have changed considerably over the years. Mothers from previous generations were encouraged to start extraordinarily early, and it was not unheard of to balance babies on the potty as soon as they could sit up, or even earlier. While it is important to balance the advice of previous generations with modern ones, perhaps it is best for all to sense when your child is ready, and then work towards it.

Embracing unconditional parenting

What do you do when a child throws a tantrum? If a child has a strop before bedtime and once things calm down, should you proceed with the normal evening routine of snuggling with her and reading a story together? The conditional approach to parenting says no: We would be rewarding her unacceptable behaviour if we follow it with the usual pleasant activities. Those activities should be suspended, and she should be informed, gently but firmly, why that “consequence” is being imposed.

This course of action feels reassuringly familiar to most of us and consistent with what a lot of parenting books advise. What’s more, it would have been satisfying on some level for us to lay down the law, for the parent to put our foot down, letting her know she wasn’t allowed to act like that.

The unconditional approach to parenting, however, says this is a temptation to be resisted, and that we should indeed snuggle and read a story as usual. But that doesn’t mean we ought to just ignore what happened. Unconditional parenting isn’t a fancy term for letting kids do whatever they want. It’s very important (once the storm has passed) to teach, to reflect together. Whatever lesson we hope to impart is far more likely to be learned if the child knows that your love for her is undimmed by how she had acted.

Whether we’ve thought about them or not, each of these two styles of parenting rests on a distinctive set of beliefs about psychology, about children, even about human nature.

To begin with, the conditional approach is closely related to a school of thought known as behaviourism, which is commonly associated with the late B. F. Skinner. Its most striking characteristic, as the name suggests, is its exclusive focus on behaviours. All that matters about people, in this view, is what you can see and measure. You can’t see a desire or a fear, so you might as well just concentrate on what people do. Furthermore, all behaviours are believed to start and stop, wax and wane, solely on the basis of whether they are “reinforced.”

Behaviourists assume that everything we do can be explained in terms of whether it produces some kind of reward, either one that’s deliberately offered or one that occurs naturally. If a child is affectionate with his parent, or shares his dessert with a friend, it’s said to be purely because this has led to pleasurable responses in the past.

In short: External forces, such as what someone has previously been rewarded (or punished) for doing, account for how we act—and how we act is the sum total of who we are. Even people who have never read any of Skinner’s books seem to have accepted his assumptions. When parents and teachers constantly talk about a child’s “behaviour,”they’re acting as though nothing matters except the stuff on the surface. It’s not a question of who kids are, what they think or feel or need. Forget motives and values: The idea is just to change what they do. This, of course, is an invitation to rely on discipline techniques whose only purpose is to make kids act—or stop acting—in a particular way.

A more specific example of everyday behaviourism: Perhaps you’ve met parents who force their children to apologize after doing something hurtful or mean. (“Can you say you’re sorry?”) Now, what’s going on here? Do the parents assume that making children speak this sentence will magically produce in them the feeling of being sorry, despite all evidence to the contrary? Or, worse, do they not even care whether the child really is sorry, because sincerity is irrelevant and all that matters is the act of uttering the appropriate words?

Compulsory apologies mostly train children to say things they don’t mean—that is, to lie. But this is not just an isolated parental practice that ought to be reconsidered. It’s one of many possible examples of how Skinnerian thinking — caring only about behaviours — has narrowed our understanding of children and warped the way we deal with them. We see it also in programs that are intended to train little kids to go to sleep on their own or to start using the potty.

From the perspective of these programs, why a child may be sobbing in the dark is irrelevant. It could be terror or boredom or loneliness or hunger or something else. Similarly, it doesn’t matter what reason a toddler may have for not wanting to pee in the toilet when his parent asks him to do so.

Experts who offer step-by-step recipes for “teaching” children to sleep in a room by themselves, or who urge us to offer gold stars, M&Ms, or praise for tinkling in the toilet, are concerned not with the thoughts and feelings and intentions that give rise to a behaviour, only with the behaviour itself.

(While I haven’t done the actual counting that would be necessary to test this, I would tentatively propose the following rule of thumb: The value of a parenting book is inversely proportional to the number of times it contains the word behaviour.)

Let’s come back to the hypothetical example. Conditional parenting assumes that reading her a book and otherwise expressing our continued love for her will only encourage her to throw another fit. She will have learned that it’s okay to wake the baby and refuse to get in the bath because she will interpret our affection as reinforcement for whatever she had just been doing.

Unconditional parenting looks at this situation—and, indeed, at human beings—very differently. For starters, it asks us to consider that the reasons for what a child has done may be more “inside”than “outside.” Her actions can’t necessarily be explained, in mechanical fashion, by looking at external forces like positive responses to her previous behaviour. Perhaps she is overwhelmed by fears that she can’t name, or by frustrations that she doesn’t know how to express. Unconditional parenting assumes that behaviours are just the outward expression of feelings and thoughts, needs and intentions. In a nutshell, it’s the child who engages in a behaviour, not just the behaviour itself, that matters.

Children are not pets to be trained, nor are they computers, programmed to respond predictably to an input. They act this way rather than that way for many different reasons, some of which may be hard to tease apart. But we can’t just ignore those reasons and respond only to the effects (that is, the behaviours). Indeed, each of those reasons probably calls for a completely different course of action. If, for example, it turned out that a child is really being defiant there may be an underlying cause to deal with at that time instead of the carrot-stick approach.

Considering in enhancing Children’s Interactions

Interactions with young children are profoundly important for supporting and extending their learning. They are so much a part of the daily experience of both practitioners and children that it is easy to assume that they come about readily and naturally. Our experience challenges this assumption. It would seem that something about the role of educator – as opposed to parent, carer or interested adult – puts pressure on practitioners to say things, and say them in ways, that are sometimes unnatural and often unhelpful. Why is this? Well, research into interactions between adults and young children in a variety of contexts suggests that by adopting the role of educator, adults sometimes force their own agenda onto children at an age when children are often highly motivated and driven by an agenda of their own, and do not welcome the interference!

It is important to examine the interactions that take place between early childhood educators and the children, from 6 months to 6 years, with whom they work. We can start by exploring both adult-led and child-led contexts and ask how interactions in these different situations can be made more natural, more purposeful and more effective – for children and for practitioners. Interactions are so important for young children’s learning and development.

There have been many attempts to identify the elements that lead to effective interactions between practitioners and children. But these are hugely dependent, of course, on the author’s or researcher’s definition of ‘effectiveness’.

In the influential study of under fives in Britain in the 1980s (Bruner 1980; Wood et al. 1980), Bruner describes the challenge of trying to achieve what he calls connected discourse (conversation) to occur. At the time, he and his colleagues were looking for a simple exchange between the adult and child where there was at least a three-element exchange on a single topic: A talks to B, B replies and then A responds to B’s response. Of 9600 half-minute periods observed, Bruner reports that only 2 per cent contained such conversations.

In Tizard and Hughes’ (1984) famous study of the difference between the interactions children and adults have in the home and at school, the authors analysed what they term passages of intellectual search, characterized by persistent questioning on the part of the child and the process of relating the adult’s answers to existing knowledge. They found that mothers were more responsive to the questions of the child than teachers in schools and that mothers built more effectively on their child’s existing knowledge, understanding and language.

The government-funded project ‘Studying Pedagogical Effectiveness in Early Learning’ (DfES 2002a) claimed that effectiveness is a result of the adult and child operating from a shared frame of reference that the researchers refer to as ‘a mutual learning encounter’, which includes not only the relationships and interactions between a practitioner and a child but also between the practitioner and the child’s family.

Around a similar time, Siraj-Blatchford and her colleagues in their report on ‘Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years’ (DfES 2002b) introduced the term sustained shared thinking (or what Bruner termed joint involvement episodes: Bruner 1966) to describe ‘an episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend.’ This research identified that the quality and quantity of episodes of sustained shared thinking were contingent upon the qualifications of the practitioners in the different settings within their study.

More recently (2008), Robin Alexander’s research project ‘Talk for Learning’ has drawn on Gordon Well’s use of the term ‘dialogic inquiry’ to speak specifically about dialogic teaching, which he describes as the exchange between adult and child which formulates the extent and manner of the child’s cognitive development. Dialogic interactions he conceives as collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative and purposeful.

In 2007, Mercer along with Karen Littleton adopted the term interthinking to describe how teachers and primary/secondary age children work together to solve problems, ‘combining their intellects in creative ways that may achieve more than the sum of the parts.’ (2007: 4).

These different terms describing the nature of interactions are not exclusive, but they demonstrate in their different ways how researchers and educationalists have attempted to capture the complexity that characterises an effective educational exchange between a practitioner and a child.

Is there a project definition of ‘effectiveness’ that would adequately describe the findings of research? All of the terms cited above seemed helpful at some level or other in describing the nature of an interactive episode, but most did not offer an adequate yardstick, against which judgements could be consistently made, as to whether an interaction was actually ‘effective’ or not.

There are commonly-held criteria that are used in the judgement of ‘effectiveness’ altrhough there are possible limitations:

For an interaction to be ‘effective’, learning has to be enhanced. This alone might be seen as problematic for practitioners working with young children, as ‘enhancing’ could be appropriate in an adult-led context but sometimes result in overwhelming the child’s agenda when activity was child-led.

For an interaction to be ‘effective’, it has to be enhanced by the practitioner. This may seem obvious. But on many occasions learning is enhanced by other children; by the environment or by the child’s own independent enquiry. In an ‘effective’ interaction between a child and practicioner, the practitioner must make a contribution that benefits the child. The contribution made by the practitioner might be cognitive, emotional, social, dispositional or metacognitive, but if the practitioner intervenes or interacts without any discernible impact on learning or development, then that interaction is clearly unhelpful or unnecessary.

It is important to clarify that ‘something positive’ might not always refer to something cognitive. In keeping with the project participants’ commitment to the development of the whole child, ‘something positive’ might be cognitive, social, emotional, dispositional or, indeed, metacognitive.

How to find a suitable nursery

Childcare can probably be said to be one of the greatest anxieties for parents. How do you go about choosing a nursery for your child? Here are a few factors to consider. You will be familiar with some of them, and while others seem obvious factors, the underlying reasons for them may not be what we would normally consider them to be.

One of the factors in choosing a nursery can be said to be location. You would, in an ideal situation, choose one that is en route to your work place, so that you are not going out of the way across the other side of town to drop off your child, only to cross your path again to head off to work. But choosing a nursery en route does not necessarily mean to pick one nearer your home. If you have to rely on a nursery because of work, it may be a good idea to choose one nearer your work place, so that the time between when you drop off and pick up is minimised. In the event that your child is ill, you can get there quicker to pick up too.

The cost of child care is also a concern. And while we would not want to spend more than we need to, don’t always go for the cheapest option available. Look at what is available for that price. The cheapest nursery may mean somewhere there is cost cutting, either in the form of cleanliness, staff, or materials for play. If it’s not clean, your child gets ill. If there are not enough staff, the children don’t get enough attention. If there are enough things to play with, children get bored. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you go for the highest priced option either. If you have to work longer hours to afford higher cost childcare, then it defeats the purpose.

You may also want to research the potential nursery and see what the rates of pay are like for staff. Higher rates of pay for staff may be an indication of how motivated the people looking after your child may be. Don’t assume, though, that if the fees are high that the staff are well paid; the money may not necessarily filter down to them!

Look for a nursery where you are comfortable leaving your child, knowing that they will be safe, looked after and get enough positive interaction and stimulus. How is your child when left there? Don’t mistake the joy on his or her face at seeing you at the end of the day as a sign of a good day – he or she might be glad to leave the nursery! Look for other cues. Is the drop off in the morning generally okay? If your child generally settles well, then that is a gauge of how suitable the nursery is.

Look for a nursery that offers a range of activities, as children may get bored doing the same things. Some outside space for children to explore is also ideal if you can find it, or if not a nursery that takes children out to play in local parks is also worth considering.

Childcare is stressful for the parents because you worry about your child or children during the time they are away from you, and there is a sense of loss of control during this period of this time. You are entrusting the most precious thing in the world for someone to protect and nurture. But if you take the necessary steps to find the correct nursery, it could do a long way into alleviating the anxiety when your child is away from you.

Stimulating play for toddlers

Question: What’s the difference between a nursery assistant and a football manager?

Answer: One gets paid millions to look after children.

Jokes aside though, looking after children and keeping their play stimulating requires a lot of effort on the part of adults. This is particularly so for those making the transition from baby to young child.

Toddlers may be described in many ways. Some call them terrible (as in “terrible twos”); others call them “terrific” (although I suspect those people do not currently have toddlers in their lives). Most toddlers fall somewhere in between. They are wonderful little people some days and trials on other days.

Toddlers are at an interesting stage of development. They can get around on their own, but they need constant supervision. They understand most of what they hear but are usually unable to communicate their wants and needs effectively. They want to do everything for themselves, but their skills and abilities are limited. They want to try everything, and most of what they do is motivated by an interest in cause and effect. (“Let’s see what happens when. . . .”)

Toddlers also have an abundance of energy. As they enter the toddler stage, some will still be taking two naps per day, but by the end of toddlerhood, many will not be napping at all. This means that a parent or caregiver must occupy the toddler for many hours each day, often without a break. This can be a challenge for most adults, whether they are encountering life with a toddler for the first time or experiencing toddlerhood for the second, third, or fourth time.

In addition to their abundant energy and desire to learn about the world around them, toddlers also have specific needs and characteristics unique to their stage of development. They are not walking babies or watered-down preschoolers. Expecting them to stay involved in activities that are not sufficiently stimulating or are too advanced for their abilities will lead to frustration for the child and the parent or caregiver.

This means parents and caregivers are instinctively doing things that stimulate their children to learn. Talking on a toy telephone, asking “Where are your ears?” as you change your toddler, playing hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo, letting him bang about with pots and pans in the kitchen—these are activities you’ve done countless times without thinking you’re providing a rich learning environment. You are. Running, sliding, swinging, and playing outside are activities which encourage physical development. Playing with playdough, paints, and crayons develops fine motor skills and promotes creativity. Washing hands before meals teaches health. “Hot! Don’t touch!” teaches safety, and a short playtime with friends helps your child learn social skills.

Simply put, toddlers need a stimulating environment and a variety of experiences to help them develop. Activities which emphasize the senses and physical activity will be the most successful. A consistent daily schedule will help your child know what to expect and help him become more independent. He will enjoy repetition of the familiar in songs, books, arts and crafts, and simple games, and he will also be interested in anything new. Try to make a short walk or some outdoor play a part of every day. Be sure to allow your child plenty of free time with interesting things to discover and explore. We all learn best when our interest motivates us to find out about something, and toddlers are no exception.

In many cases, toddlers know how to create their own fun when given the proper materials. Although they require constant supervision, there are things you can do and materials you can provide that will encourage creative and independent play. The first step is to make sure your home is properly toddler-proofed for safety. Many small items interesting to toddlers, such as coins and beads, pose an extreme choking hazard. Make sure such items are well out of reach—an especially difficult task if you have older children in the house, too.

Performing kitchen tasks can be extremely difficult when combined with keeping an eye on an energetic toddler. At times, a one-year-old may be happy just to sit in his highchair or at his own little table with a few toys or snacks to keep him occupied while you work. At other times, he will want to be right there with you, underfoot and into everything. Kitchen cupboards and drawers are full of interesting things that may prove irresistible to your child. Why not provide your child with his very own Baker’s Box? Put together a collection of unbreakable kitchen tools in a plastic crate or small storage box. Store it in a spare cupboard that is low enough for your child to reach. He can use his tools for play or for helping you do some “real” cooking or baking.

The Corby Glen Playgroup

Corby Glen Playgroup is a committee-run provision. It has operated since 1968, moving to its current site, the Ron Dawson Hall, on the outskirts of Corby Glen village, in 1994. The playgroup uses the main hall for play and has access to kitchen, cloakroom and toilet facilities, all at ground floor level. An enclosed outside play area and the adjoining playing field is also available.

Daily Sessions

The children are provided with a healthy snack during the morning and afternoon which will consist of fruit with either toast or a biscuit, milk or water is offered to drink and all dietary requirement are taken into consideration. Water is always available throughout the session.

If the children are staying for the full day then they will need to bring a healthy packed lunch.

The daily sessions consist of ‘freeplay’ periods, adult led activities, messy play, group activities, song and story time outdoor and physical play.

The children will be able to participate in cookery, art and creative activities as well as being able to have quiet periods.

The activities are based upon The Early Years Foundation Stage, observations are made accordingly, and these impact on all areas of planning and play.

The children will make their own choices and decisions and will be encouraged in these area and given the support that they require.


Early Years Foundation Stage

The EYFS is for all children aged between birth and five years. It incorporates The Foundation Stage and Birth To Three Matters, and uses the knowledge practitioners have to benefit the children.

The EYFS combines play, learning, effective practice and welfare requirements as a whole, it is divided into four areas:

  • A Unique Child
  • Positive Relationships
  • Enabling Environments
  • Learning and Developing
The new curriculum takes into account the principles of Every Child Matters which are:

  • Be Healthy
  • Stay Safe
  • Enjoy and Achieve
  • Make Positive Contributions
  • Achieve Economic Well Being
Children who are already in setting will not notice any changes in their care, however, it will be a time of change and review for staff and management. The playgroup will review their practice and implement any changes necessary to improve the care, support and learning that the children receive.

Arriving and Leaving Playgroup

The children will need to be signed in and out of playgroup by their responsible person.

Any changes in collection of the child will need to be discussed with their Key Person.

If a child is not attending playgroup for any reason a call to the nursery would be appreciated.

What to Wear

The children will be involved in messy activities and although aprons are provided sometimes paint etc will get onto clothing, so appropriate play attire is necessary.

If a child requires nappy changing, suitable clothing and spare nappies are requested.


Children are not encouraged to bring toys into the setting, however comfort toys, blankets etc are most welcome to help a child feel comfortable and settle in to the setting. These can be stored in the child’s named pocket to keep them safe. Please inform the child’s Key Person on arrival of any such items.

Due to the nature of children’s play, the play group cannot be held responsible for damage to general toys brought into the setting.

Fundraising Events

The Playgroup is charity based and welcome fundraising ideas and suggestions and champions for such events.

All parents and carers are encouraged to attend fundraising events and are also welcomed at the committee meetings.

Fees structure

Corby Glen Playgroup aim to cater for everybody and allow for child attendance for anything from an to a full day. (care available 8am to 6pm)


Breakfast Club, 08:00 – 09:00
£4.70 includes breakfast

08:30 – 09:00

Mornings, 09:00 – 12:00
£11.10 includes mid-morning snack

Mornings, 09:00 – 13:00
£14.80 includes mid-morning snack

Afternoons, 12:00 – 15:00
£11.10 includes mid-afternoon snack

Full Day, 09:00 – 15:00