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Parenting in the pre-school years.

Becoming a parent changes one's life forever with joys and challenges. The unique, innocent, beautiful child now a part of our life brings us, with warmth and openness, with love and sunshine, new and precious gifts. These include some of the most profound and rewarding experiences a human being can have. We are thrilled and enchanted.

We wish, of course, to give them in return strength, love, guidance, and all that is good and right for their development. Consciously given care in the early years of life provides a foundation for the later flowering of the spirit. Yet few of us are really prepared for the enormous responsibility of raising children. And instant wisdom doesn't come with the birth. So, struggling with fatigue, concerned over finances, and trying to find time for ourselves aod the rest of the family, we need to educate ourselves as parents. Today, because our culture is in many ways downright hostile to a wholesome childhood, this task is especially difficult.

In raising children we are given a ringside seat for observing human development aod the evolution of humanity. (At the same time of course we are constantly in the arena helping the process.) The awakening to self and world is a lifetime process and involves continually changing states of consciousness. In the first deep, trusting look and smile of the infant; in the triumphant glee in learning to walk; in the tilted, tousled head and teasing look as the child shows off how it can run; in the erratic defiance of a two-year old establishing its separate identity; in the wide-eyed innocence with which the child looks to you to mirror its enthusiasm for life; and in many other momeots there are glimpses of the spirit shining through the little body it is trying to master. An uoderstanding of this amazing process will help us follow it with joy, confidence, and gratitude. It will help us help our children bloom.

Compared with animals, which are thrust into life capable of quickly attaining maturity, the human baby is helpless, requiring long periods of protection. But the higher human faculties which distinguish us from other creatures ripen only with care and time. The sensitivity and vulnerability of the infant is obvious: the soft spot on the skull is not closed over; the infant responds with fear and crying to glaring light and loud noise; the digestive system struggles for balance. The infant asks for quiet, protection, warmth, and love.

The infant needs one primary caregiver, preferably the mother, who gives the rhythmic physical sustenance and love with which it can thrive. A loving, protecting and reliable adult provides a nest of security for the infant, and inspires a bone-deep confidence that its needs will be met, that there is a benevolent higher power on which it can count. A child so nourished can then bring its own self-confident warmth into the maturing process. It develops a faith that can reach out toward higher sources of guidance and inspiration throughout the journey of life.

The insecurity and neediness of so many people today may stem from their not having received a warm physical/soul welcome in the first years of life. And, of course, it is very difficult to give as a parent what one has not received as a child. Selfhealing is crucial for the parent who was deprived as a child. But we need not despair. There is always hope and a possibility for change. A courageous spirit can do amazing things with what life brings. And our children come with a great wisdom to aid us in our growth and transformation.

The physical body teaches the child. It learns through the senses, through encounters with the world, awakening to self-consciousness. As my five-year old grandson smears a hand along the wall, I sigh over the fingerprints, but know that he is experiencing his "borders."

It is important that the growing infant be given freedom in a safe and appropriate environment. It should be able to crawl, explore, touch and taste. Above all, it should learn to stand upright and walk out of its own powers, and not be propped, propelled or "baby-walkered" into premature uprightness. An individual's sense of self-mastery and well-being is deeply affected by this deed of achieving human uprightness by itself. Of course we are on constant patrol while the child works at learning to use its body!

But incredible growth is taking place. The child is mastering itself in space. Also, active hands and developing speech are teaching the brain in leaps and bounds. True, it is a bit like having an adorable, sweetly-crazy scientist on the loose, examining everything. The child messily experimeots with up and down, warm and cold, soft and hard, squishy and not-squishy, what breaks and what doesn't, as well as with our reactions to these experimeots. These myriad experiences give an experiential basis for concepts to come later.

The child's senses need enlivening and experience. In today's fastpaced, electronics-filled culture, however, there is a huge problem of sensory overload for young children. Not only can the senses be overwhelmed, but they can be patterned with a craving for sensation. This can create a foundation for the restlessness and the craving addictions we see everywhere. A well-meaning couple left their baby from the first month on with a young nanny. The nanny, to "lull" the child to sleep, put it on top of the clothes dryer. Today at age five the child has multiple problems with irritability and nervousness. Sometimes children ask more than we can give them, but no machine can meet human needs.

Most children now spend hours each day in front of the television set. For the young child everything is "real", including the insane presentation of the world on television. It must accept this view of the world or become hardened to it. Worse yet, the child is terribly shortchanged in its own imaginative development by having thousands of images thrust into its growing psyche and brain. It is deprived of the opportunity to create mental pictures out of its experience. Television can also contribute to physical and mental restlessness, precocious sensual development aod to an inability to enjoy natural life. By sapping the will and lessening native creativity it can greatly uodermine later capacity for individual thinking. Many books such as The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn document the great influence of television on children. Parents need courage to look carefully at this pervasive molder of children's minds and world view, and to review its place in their family's life. At the least, the television should be moved to a room where it does not dominate family life. It simply is not healthy.

Young children place constant demands on parents and it is of course tempting to have them immobile before the television altar. We can be clam, coherent and firm with them on this issue one day, but "ah" they try us again. Children have an uncanny knack of knowing our weak points and our fatigue index. They can pressure us with the most irritating behavior at just the wrong momeot. In reality, this shows how much they need us as the rock at the center of their existence. They are constantly testing to see if we are still there! During the years they can't control themselves, they need us as their home base as they grow and learn about the world. Children are full of will, but it is an instinctive and unseasoned will. They need us to guide it aright in decisions about watching television as in other realms.

To help guide the child, rhythm and routine are a saving grace in a household. When there is a regular rhythm in daily life all manner of discipline problems can sort themselves out. When the same thing happens predictably in a basic routine each day, the child feels a safety and security. Also, repetitive gesture is one way we teach the child. We need to model how we want things said and done, over and over!

Children can be calmed by rocking and singing. Water-play helps, too. You can give a restless child a bath or have it play at the sink with you. And nature is the child's greatest baby-sitter. Play with sand and water is the first lesson in ecology, in loving the earth.

In our society, we are inundated with physical material sensations but are starving for nourishment for our soul, our inner life. A rich and vital inner life of feeling, imagination, and moral impulse is essential to our health and well-being. But machines cannot bestow this. The soul is fed through nature, and through beauty and art, through joy, language, stories, music and love, all conveyed from one human being to another. The child especially needs its inner life nourished as well as its physical. Thus the human bond between parent and young child is particularly critical today.

My 75-year-old mother would often hold and rock my youngest son, then three, and sing to him. The child snuggled his silken curls to her shoulder with a look of utmost bliss as she sang in an uneven, aged voice. "The little boy's name is Colin, Colin Michael is his name." Simple and repetitious, it affirmed his being with Grandma's warmth in a way no musically sophisticated recording could ever approach. Having "lost our voices" in an electronic age, we don't realize what is lost to the children. No matter what the quality of our voice, the young child delights in our gently given offering.

The young child needs and seeks repetitious rhymes aod stories. The brain is being refined and differentiated aod speech is a key building block in the process. Thus nursery rhymes, little made-up poems and songs, even silly songs are important for the child. Singing charms and enchants and can lift and change a mood like magic. When we read to children, we can be conscious to pronounce our words with care and clarity without over dramatizing.

Young children learn primarily through imitation. This is one of the most awe-inspiring and appalling facts for parents to assimilate. It means that we pass on not only our good qualities, but the whole package. How sobering! We can, however, take the sense of responsibility (even guilt) engendered by this realization and use it as a prickly remioder to improve ourselves. We can clean up our language, work on our temper and our temperament, improve the beauty of our home environments. We can discipline ourselves to meet our children's true needs. It has deep rewards. We become a better person and they thrive through our effort and sacrifice.

Rudolf Steiner gives us a most heartwarming thought for parents and teachers. It is not, he says, what has been brought to perfection in us that teaches the child but our striving toward higher goals. This strengthens children for life. Our destiny and that of our child are deeply entwined. We belong together. Our children come as teachers to help us to realize our higher potentials.

Parents of young children today face may challenges. A parent working an outside job in addition to parenting can find it nearly impossible to meet needs on all fronts. A parent home alone with children may also feel isolated and lonely while trying to do a demanding job. He or she can feel that nothing is ever accomplished and that there is no acknowledgment for anything achieved. For the person with the heroic, almost superhuman task of single-parenting, the isolation and frustration can be greater.

Creating a social network with other parents can help all involved to meet these difficulties. Self-healing; deepening our uoderstanding of our children and their development; and following a spiritual path also can help parents meet the challenges of their lives, and contribute to a sense of fulfillmeot.

There are excellent support networks in many places, including in most Waldorf school communities. Parents with similar values share child care, giving each other a welcome break from his or her children. They join together in study groups, festivals, classes and workshops, thus enriching their lives with necessary diversity and balance. This working together of frieods who take parenting as a serious mission can inspire those involved. It can uplift others as well.

Today many young couples are dependent on two salaries. When a child comes they find there is no economic flexibility to allow either to take on a major parenting role. But in many cases it is possible to allow the mother to remain at home, to devote herself to giving the child a healthy start in life. Many families are doing it and with admirable ingenuity. They scale down their former life-style and develop thrifty household economics. They start small home businesses, take in other children, do tutoring, etc. to allow the mother to be there to raise the child. This takes a deep commitment, a willingness to sacrifice time, money, and perhaps some social status. But for the child and parents it is an unequalled short-term and long-term investmeot.

The small child comes into our life like a fresh and capricious breeze. This wooder-filled soul comes in utter trust that we will give it what is good and true. With uncooditional love and devotion it seeks to emulate us, absorbing all we bring, spoken and unspoken, deep into its being. We are like gods before it, the sun shining at the center of its universe.

Before the child we are called to stand in our trust humanity. We are asked to be all that we can be. What a responsibility! What a privilege! We can only be moved to humility and to gratitude.

Please know that the time of early childhood is brief. Let the child teach you anew the joy of discovering the wooder and beauty of the world. For you as a parent this is one of the most challenging times of life, and one of the most wooderful. Take time to enjoy the precious momeots, to love your little one. The future of humanity depends on such deeds.

Some excellent books for further study

are Rahima Baldwin, You Are Your

Child's First Teacher; G. Davy and B.

Voors, Lifeways; and Rudolf Steiner, The

Education of the Child.

Nancy Poer is the mother of three sons

and three daughters, all Waldorf

educated. She has been a Waldorf

kiodergarten teacher and a special

subjects teacher in the upper grades. One

of the fouoders of Rudolf Steiner College

in Sacrameoto, Nancy has been on the

faculty there for sixteen years. Three

years ago, she helped fouod the Cedar

Springs School in Placerville, California.

Nancy lectures widely on parenting and

educational issues, is well known for her

painting and also for her "threshold" work

with the dying.

Reprinted with permission from Renewal,

Vol. 1, No. 2. This journal for the

Association of Waldorf Schools of North

America is available with membership

from AWSNA, 9311 Bannister Rd., Fair

Oaks, CA 95628.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Poer, Nancy
Publication:Special Delivery
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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