Thank you for posting the excerpt from Summerhill. I'd like to get that book. My son attended a democratic free school a few years ago (he is now 8) and it was delightful. Unfortunately it had very low membership, we lost a few kids due to scheduling conflict with their other programs, and the school closed instead of growing. I cried. The freedom inherent in that environment was wonderful for my son. I realize, as confirmed in this quote, that we inherited a lot of crazy, materialistic ideas from our parents' generation. My dad, for instance, used to half-jokingly refer to us kids as "subhuman" because we were not earning our keep. And you see it in politicians. The other day in a debate, Newt Gingrich was actually suggesting that union school janitors be let go, and instead, the school children could do the work cleaning their school, earn money and "begin to rise" -- to me this reflected a worldview that earning money is a child's goal and a child's way to rise up....It was not a foreign concept to me at all, but I don't think it's right. I think they need to be earning other things at that age.
My son (8) is just now starting to earn money because he wants to save up for toys that he has his eye on. It was his own idea. He is selling his own homemade bookmarks (he's quite the artist), and he is thrilled to do it because he's working toward a goal. But I never pushed that on him.
Thanks for your post.
This used to be a big issue for me, too. Then I read something that helped me to appreciate my kids' perspective. It was from A.S. Neill's book Summerhill, about the well-known democratic school in England:
"Adults find it very hard to realize that young children have no regard for property. They do not destroy it deliberately--they destroy it unconsciously. I once saw a normal, happy girl burning holes with a red-hot poker into the walnut mantelpiece in our staff room. When challenged, she started and seemed quite surpirsed. 'I did it without thinking,' she said, and she spoke truthfully. . . . .The fact is that adults are possessive about things of value and children are not. Any living together between children and adults must therefore result in conflict over material things. . . . The argument of the disciplinarian who says that children must be compelled to respect property does not appeal to me, for it always means some sacrifice of childhood's play life. My view is that a child should arrive at a sense of value out of his own free choice. As children leave the stage of preadolescent indifference to property, they become respecters of property. When children have freedom to live out their indifference to property, they have little chance of ever becomig profiteers and exploiters."
And Neill says this about the food issue:
"Akin to punishment is the parental demand that a child should not bite off more than it can chew. Literally--for often a child's eye is bigger than his stomach and he will demand a plateful that he cannot consume. Good parenthood is the power of identifying oneself with a child, understanding his motives, realizing his limitations, without harboring ulterior motives or resentment."
So yes, I've tried to make sure the kids don't have so much stuff they're overwhelmed, and I've organized it well so that everything has a place, and I do ask them to help me pick up mid-day and before bed. My eight-year-old nearly always helps, my six-year-old sometimes does, and my four-year-old often refuses. And it's all okay. Stuff does get broken sometimes, and I do remind them that leaving something on the floor may result in breakage. And I may or may not replace the broken item. And sometimes, if I see a pricey toy left in the middle of the floor, I just pick it up myself. And I expect that occasionally, the dishwasher door may get a big dent in it, or someone may leave an uncapped marker oozing on the couch, or whatever. I no longer take it personally, in other words. I have come to believe that the nagging I used to do did nothing to help them develop a sense of "respect" for stuff. In fact, their lack of concern with material stuff actually shows that they just aren't that materialistic. DH still gets upset when the kids leave their money lying around, but the truth is that they don't seem too upset if they lose a few quarters. Which is, in a way, a good thing.
I realize that this is an entirely different way of looking at things, but it has vastly improved my relationship with my children. I think they feel more respected. I mean, I wouldn't want DH going on and on every time I leave a yard rake out in the rain, or if I break an expensive handmade coffee mug because I'm juggling too many things in my hands. Because MDC types (I'm included) tend to have such a strong sense of social justice, and such an aversion to waste, I think it's easy to feel it's our job to teach this to very young children. But I now think this can't truly occur until the right amount of brain development takes place. For example, my eight-year-old has recently become more conscious of his belongings, of not wasting food, etc.
Edited for typos.
We take care of our own stuff and expect the same from the kids. We don't have a ton of toys but we do have plenty and we are always reinforcing that you put things in their place, keep all the pieces together etc. If something gets wrecked or drawn on I tape it or wash it or whatever, or ask my 5yo to do it herself, so she hasn't got the idea that type of behavior is OK.
DD is only 5 so I still keep an eye on all her stuff. I do make her round everything up at the day home, pack her backpack the night before, make sure to take her pack with her etc. I try to make as much of this as possible part of the routine.
For gratitude we haven't done as much as maybe we should but we do "appreciations" at family meetings where we go around the table and say thank you to at least one person for something during the week. Hannukah and birthdays we write thank-you notes. So far it's going pretty well.
FWIW I use timeout but not generally to deal with cleanup. If something doesn't get cleaned up, then it has to be done later, and fun activities are going to get pre-empted. I say you have to use the right discipline tool for the job. I will give timeouts for disrespect (5yo only, 2yo is too young) I don't think this is teaching mindless obedience - DD is allowed to question authority plenty as long as she does it politely.
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