Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trying to explain TCS in public...

I would prefer a certain course of action. Someone else in my family would prefer another one. What do we do?

Child-rules parenting (ick) goes with the child's preference until parents totally burn out and the monster they have created has to go and learn to navigate around others' needs, but starting aged 21 rather than aged 2. Nice one, laissez faire parents.

Totally authoritarian parenting always goes with the parent's preference, keeping child locked in cupbard under the stairs in between times until child leaves home aged 16 and doesn't invite the parents to their wedding. Nice one, parents.

Most of us live much more in a way that sometimes the children get what they prefer and sometimes we get what we prefer and everyone is pretty easy going, so family life bumbles along pretty much smoothly, with occasional child melt downs when we, for whatever reason, feel we have to put our foot down. Even UP keeps the authoritarian trump card that sometimes, says Mum, it's just got to be how it's got to be.

TCS is none of the above. The crux of TCS is that parents are fallible. Not just parents - all of us. TCS is an application of critical rationalism (of which Karl Popper is the most famous exponent) to family life. It's not a method, it's not a how-to guide, it is a philosophy.

So in just about everything where I want my child to do something they don't want to do, I have to stop and say "but I could be wrong". Every parent could make a list of absolute non-negotiables where sometimes, says Mum, it's just got to be how it's got to be. But that list completely varies from parent to parent. Jill might have tooth cleaning, sitting at the table for meals and bed times as non-negotiable, while Mary is unbothered by those but insists on baths every night and always wearing shoes outside. So, if Jill says toothcleaning twice a day is vital but Mary is happy to trust to good diet, plenty of water and breastmilk rather than juice or fizzy drinks, and regular hard-cheese snacks, and providing info and equipment to encourage tooth cleaning rather than forcing it... how do you know that your personal take on it is right? Sure enough to hold your child down kicking and screaming to inflict twice-daily brushing on them? Sure enough that you refuse to buy your child a desired toothbrush because all that is a waste of time? TCS is about being aware of one's fallibility within the parent-child relationship.

Because we are writing on t'internet, it all looks very wordy, but really it isn't about endless discussion - a lot of it is non-verbal.

Time is a big factor. The idea that something must happen NOW is a big trigger for conflict in many families, where if one was able to give up the agenda, one might well find that what one was hoping for (walk the dog?) happened anyway, in a completely happy way just because one let go of the idea and went with the flow. Or sometimes, one might find that something else is happening (playing in the garden with dog jumping around?) which is fine for everyone too. I think a lot of TCS families find life best if they build quite a lot of unscheduled time into their lives, but I may be projecting from what happens to work best for me and mine.

Something else within critical rationalism is the idea that, in an area where we have previously been coerced, it is harder for us to respond creatively another time. If someone forces me into an unwanted coat then, next time we go out, my rage and humiliation at that previous experience might well lead to me resisting the coat again. Or my learning to comply with wearing the coat might interfere with my ability to recognise my own cues of warmth or chilliness. Forcing someone to do something constrains their learning in that area (this is something unschoolers know well. You can lead a horse to the educational water all you want, but it's only when they are thirsty that they'll drink it and, when they are thirsty, they'll walk to the water themselves without needing any top-down leading whatsoever). So forcing our children to do things against their will, however sugar-coated, is counter productive to their learning. If we can't persuade them (verbally or non-verbally) we are better to suggest something else or listen to their suggestions rather than forcing them.

Another crucial thing is that one doesn't practise TCS because it produces a better product. One practises it because one has been persuaded that it is the morally right thing to do. My impression of TCS families is that their children do tend to be just wonderfully good company and free-range children in the very best sense. But there are some children who, by nature of their personalities or SN, almost demand to be Taken Seriously or parented Unconditionally. They don't respond to rewards and punishment because they just don't get those social cues, and so their parents have either become massively coercive in order to attempt to contain the energy of their wild children, or else they have turned to some form of TCS or UP as the only way they can live relatively peacefully with the SN whirlwind of their child. And that child probably won't be doing brilliantly well at sleepovers, but that doesn't mean the parents have misjudged things by following the UP method or by assimilating the TCS philosophy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

thoughts about state surveillance of families

Questions we should be asking the State:

Are all parents are to be viewed as potentially guilty of child abuse until proven innocent by having their children inspected by state employees?

Would this have saved baby P/Victoria Climbie/the Eunice Spry children?

Is regularly seeing adults outside the family, be they state employees or not, an effective way for child abuse to be spotted or prevented?

Is having a state-run universal child surveillance system effective? legal? ethical?

What understanding of the relationship between State and family is implicit in the idea that all children need to be seen by state employees to safeguard them from their parents?

Is the best way to ensure that all children are safe and well to ensure that they are all seen by "child professionals"? Should every child have regular safe and well checks, or only the ones who do not come unto contact with state-employed and state-trained child professionals on a regular basis through state school, NHS or similar?

If children are at private schools, or seen by private health practitioners, or members of some sort of community group (guides, church, ballet/music classes, whatever) is that sufficient for safeguarding purposes?

Of [i] course [/i] most children see adults outside the family lots, whether they go to school or not. But not all. And if someone has a child whose SN mean, by definition, that they are going to be best off being quietly at home with their family a lot of the time, should those families be subjected to preventative surveillance (which would, on its own, be distressing to the child as well as contravening whichever thingy it is about the right to a private family life unless there's reason to believe that wrong doing is occuring)?

My rant:

I'm all in favour of living in a society where we care for others and offer support, I'm less in favour of living in a society where the right to private family life is bulldozed because of some idea that a safe and well check will prevent child abuse. I need more evidence that such checks do more good than harm before being happy to consider giving up a fundamental civil liberty.

I think it is often easy for those in Children's Services to forget how much harm they do simply by investigating and invading the lives of innocent families.