Monday, February 11, 2013

Forced vs. Natural Milestones

As parents, we hear what “experts” claim to be average ages that children meet milestones in our culture. We then tend to compare our children to these averages and push them to reach them out of fear that they aren’t living up to the cultural norm or standard. When many people first discover Radical Unschooling, in which a family lives in a partnership paradigm, they may become fearful when their children aren’t reaching milestones that children raised in an authoritarian paradigm are. This sometimes causes parents to drop the option of Radical Unschooling all together out of fear that their children will be left behind, or never reach their potential. The truth is, there is a very different curve to look at as parents who respect children in their natural learning and growth. Children raised in partnership have a completely different range of normal, or average than the cultural norm, and it is so important to realize this so you stop comparing your children to those raised in a paradigm that has unrealistic expectations of what is thought of as normal.

I have compiled research, from over two-hundred Radical Unschooling families who I have worked with, to share what the averages for natural readiness for learning and growth looks like in a home where the child’s autonomy, choice and freedom is respected. The answers may surprise you!

Child Carried or Worn by Parent:
Controlled/Authoritarian approach: – 3 days old – 3 months old
Natural/Partnership approach: Birth – 3 years old
*A baby’s desire to be held close by a parent is innate and strong. In our culture it isn't generally promoted or respected. It is thought to damage a child and make them too dependent. However, this is untrue. In fact, a child who is worn until they are crawling or walking has their dependent needs met, and therefor become more innately independent once their dependent needs are respected and met . This is an average of how long a child is worn/held/carried in a parents arms, rather than spending their time in a baby seat/contraption.

Controlled/Authoritarian approach: 6 months – 12 months
Natural/Partnership approach: 3 years – 5 years old

Solid Food as a Regular Source of Nutrition:
Controlled/Authoritarian approach: 6 weeks – 6 months
Natural/Partnership approach: 12 months – 2 1/2 years old

Sleeping Through the Night:
Controlled/Authoritarian Approach (crying-it-out or other “gentler” parent-led methods) - 6 weeks – 4 months old
Natural/Partnership Approach – 2  1/2 years – 4 years old

Using the Toilet /  Potty Training:
Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 18 months – 2 1/2 years old
Natural/Partnership Approach – 3 years to 5 years old

Needing Help Getting Clean in the Bathroom:
Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 2 years old -4 years old
Natural/Partnership Approach – 5 years to 7 years old
*This is not to say that the children raised in the authoritarian group were actually clean. In my studies the parents refused to help them after these ages and the kids were left to do it for themselves.

Sleeping Alone in Separate Room From Parent :
*In my research I found the biggest contrast in this particular comparison. Children left to cry-it-out, or with parents who used other methods of gentler sleep training were not respecting their child’s desire to be close to them at night. They in fact, ignored this need, often times out of fear of what others would think of them.
Controlled/Authoritarian Approach – 2 weeks old – 6 months old
Natural/Partnership Approach – 8 years to 13 years old

Reading & Writing:
Controlled/Authoritarian Approach - 5 years old -7 years old
Natural/Partnership Approach - 9 years to 14 years old

As you can see, there are vast differences in ages that children reach milestones when they are respected in their needs/desires, compared to the cultural norms, or the authoritarian paradigm.
It is important to understand that when children are respected in the natural process, they DO reach milestones and grow – but it is when they are truly ready to do so. When forced or coerced into milestones and growth before they are naturally ready,  it is not without consequence for the child, as well as the parent/child connection.

In my work, I have noticed many short and long-term negative side-effects of parent-forced “milestones.”
Observed Psychological Effects Of Children Raised in an authoritarian paradigm:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Hesitant or apprehensive about anything new
  • Unsure of themselves
  • Aggression and hostility
  • Bouts of excessive anger
  • Poor relationships with others
  • Engaging in drugs and/or alcohol
  • Self-destructive
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Eating disorders
  • Failure to thrive
  • Panic attacks
  • Repeated self-injury
  • Paranoia
  • Loneliness
  • Sense of dissociation
  • Bad dreams/Night Terrors
  • Intense and Irrational Fears
  • Headaches and stomach aches
  • Self neglect
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Stuttering/Tics

When children are respected and supported in their natural learning curve, they grow up, whole, healthy human beings.
There is a large range of what is normal for milestones through a child’s various stages in life. If parents can support these stages with love, compassion and partnership, children will not suffer negative side-effects of forced milestones later in life. When we respect a child’s natural growth, it is truly an investment in their emotional and physical well-being. Yes, it takes more time and effort to work in partnership with our children to honor their natural readiness for each of these milestones, but it is an investment in who they become for the rest of their lives. When we follow the authoritarian paradigm and focus on the parents needs for ease, convenience and control, it does damage that the child will forever carry with them. Most of us are living examples of this! Let us take the time now, to honor the wide-range of readiness for each stage in a child’s life and in doing so, we give them the greatest gift we can give another human being – the gift of feeling whole and happy in adulthood.

When my children are grown, they will not need to spend their adult years healing from the first two decades of their lives.
~Dayna Martin


Kristi said...

HI Dayna,
I have been a long time reader of your blog, not sure I have posted before though. Anyway, Hello! I love this post because I soooo agree with you. We are homeschoolers that are somewhere between homeschooling and unschooling. We do homeschooling with some set curriculums and some not. We follow our boys' lead (they are twins who are 12) with interests. We also have a 4 1/2 yr old daughter and it's amazing what she has learned from wanting to learn it HERSELF not because it was forced on her. She walked up to me with her name on a piece of paper, lol. No one taught her, she just wanted to do it. She still sleeps with us most nights, unless she wants to sleep with her big brothers. She self weaned at 3 yrs old. It's amazing how if you let nature take it's course how your kids will have such confidence and self esteem. I remember when my boys were younger, being in the rat race of the comparison game. Never again! And we are all so much happier now. :)

Laura said...

Love this post Dayna. My daughter weaned at 5 and didn't sleep through til nearly 5&1/2. My sons are 3&1/2 and 3 months and we are tandem feeding and co-sleeping. Also unschoolers. I sometimes forget that people consider the way we do things odd. It feels so natural to me. This post is lovely and very validating. Thank you :) x

Anonymous said...

Dayna, You recently mentioned that your eldest son has a girlfriend now. I am not certain how old he is, but it made me wonder how "limit-free" your parenting will be when sexual activity enters the equation. Thanks for all your insights!