Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Children Need To Feel Safe

Last year my granddaughter, Crystal, went to Kindergarten. Her first day at school was also her first soccer practice, which took place a few hours later at the school's playground. She was already on sensory - or new people and place - overload when we walked across the street from my house to the school to meet her coach and her team mates.

Most of the other girls were taking this first practice in stride, playing on the grass or playground equipment and happily waiting for the instruction to begin. The coach and his assitant each had a little girl on the team. They started the girls playing a chase game and generally gettiing to know each other. Gradually they stared giving some rudimentary instruction.

The orther girls listened and responded to what the coach told them to do. But Crystal kept looking over at me and her mother and waving, as she jumped up and down and shot her hands into the air above her head. The coach noticed this jumping behavior and tried to engage Crystal's attention, but she could not listen to him at all. She had no idea what she was supposed to do or where she was supposed to go. She looked happy enough - for a jumping bean.

I particularly noted the way her hands shot into the air above her head, fingers splayed open, as if she was a conduit for some sort of electric charge. I had observed this behavior before when she was excited about something and wanted to get my attention, but never to this extreme. Later I shared this behavior with my cousin, Marcia, who is a Healing Touch Therapist. She told me that Crystal needed to know she was safe; that when she displayed this behavior she was trying to discharge the extra energy coursing through her body caused by the fear of a new situation and the inability to manage and control her world.

The other girls seemed more at peace with this situation, more able to take in the instruction and practice the new skills being taught. I realized that Crystal was just too overwhelmed to take in anything the coach said and that was ok. I had to struggle with my own need to have her be like everyone else, instead of the unique and special and sensitive child that she was.

My cousin taught me to say directly to Crystal or send her the message telepathically: "You are safe. I will keep you safe. I am here to help and support you." Now I offer that kind of loving support whenever I think of my grandchildren, whether they are with me or at home with their parents.

Recently I went to the park with Crystal. She would run around and play on the slide or climbing apparatus, then come running over to stand in front of me. "You are safe," I told her. "I will keep you safe." Then off she would run to play again.

You can read more of Saralee Sky's articles about parenting in her online newsletter, Nutsense, on her web site:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Children Learn When They're Ready

Recently I was with my grandchildren at the school playground across the street from my house. Crystal (6) and Jordan (4) rode their bikes over and were tearing around the basketball area. Jordan was riding his tricycle and I tried to encourage him to use his pedals instead of pushing it around with his feet on the ground. He would comply while I was watching, but soon go back to zooming around by pushing the bike with his feet on the ground. I had to admit he could go a lot faster his way, but I thought it was important for him to learn to ride the bike the "right" way. He disagreed.

Crystal meanwhile was riding all over the place on her two-wheeler, but she still had her training wheels on. I watched her taking sharp corners and pedaling very fast and decided it might be a good time for her to learn how to ride without the training wheels. "Would you like me to take off the training wheels?" I asked her. "I could go home and get a wrench."

"OK," she said.

I ran back home across the street, came right back over with a wrench and proceeded to take off the traning wheels as the kids both watched. "OK, Crystal, get on the bike and I'll hold it for you," I said. "I want to be sure your seat is high enough."

She shook her head "no".

"No? Why not? Just get on the bike and I'll hold it for you. I won't let go."

"Hm-mmm (no). " she shook her head again.

"You don't want to ride without your training wheels?" I asked. "Are you sure?"

She nodded her head "yes".

"Do you want me to put your training wheels back on?"

Again she nodded "yes". So I did. She started riding again and I was left to ponder what had just happened. She had taught me something. What, exactly, was it?

She was willing to let me remove the training wheels, but she was not ready to actually get on the bike and try to ride. Perhaps the process of removing the wheels showed her the possibility. Perhaps it was scary for her looking at the bike minus its little wheels. Perhps she was just not ready to try to ride without them.

Now my question is this: should I wait until she tells me she wants to try and ride without the training wheels? Should I ask her from time to time? And what about Jordan? Does he absolutely have to learn how to use his pedals? How does this child-centered learning actually work?

I read in my favorite magazine, Life Learning, that when we completely trust our children, they will learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it. I believe this yet at the same time it totally blows my mind. Totally.

More of Saralee Sky's articles appear in her free online parenting neswletter, Nutsense, on her website: