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Rewilding practices for families

Motherhood is one of the most contentious things to write about and I've mostly avoided it until now but I've come to see that it's absolutely okay to share the things that have helped us on our own journeys. We are all going to have our own way of doing things, our own unique circumstances and perspectives and reading someone else's doesn't take away from that.


Personally, I love to read it all, I'm open to learning for life! I accept that I may change my mind and my way of doing things and in fact what a bloody gift that is as mothers and parents!


All around the world, there are cultures that do things in different ways but with one key theme at its core - nurture. There are very few exceptions to this outside of the W.E.I.R.D cultures (Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic - more on this in my recent post on baby carrying). There is no hard and fast, cut-and-dry 'best' way of parenting, so all we can do is continue to undo our conditioning, break our generational patterns and listen to our intuition. For me learning about our ancestral past through the lens of anthropology supports me in undoing my conditioning. I get to see how things have always been done, long before things got so heartless and hard.


I have also found that there is no greater teacher of wildness than our own children. They come into the world wild. They arrive bearing their ancestral heritage clearly for all to see. So it is of the utmost importance that we protect their wildness and let them show us the way back to our instincts. Otherwise, it is us who gets in their way. If we aren't consciously undoing our conditioning then we are simply imprinting our domesticity onto them and dulling their wild souls.


Modern parenting is often in direct conflict with traditional, ancestral parenting and of course, every culture has its way of doing things no two cultures do things the same but there is a lot of crossover and often a whole lot of nurture, something which is notably absent in our Western parenting paradigm. Nurture which we now know is paramount to the health and well-being of our children mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.


In this post, I share some of the rewilding practices that have been gifted to me by Dolores, Mother Nature herself, wild mamas I am privileged to know, my own instincts and some incredible anthropological writers and researchers.


This is the first in a what I hope to be many part series to be shared on my Patreon page! I hope you enjoy!


Autonomy


In Hunter Gatherer and traditional communities around the world, the notable difference in approach to parenting is that here many parents hover over their children directing their every move whereas in more traditional cultures children and young babies are allowed to be much more autonomous. As a consequence, these babies and children are calm, strong, smart and aware of risk.


Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, studied the Ye'kuana people of the Amazon and discovered many incredible and surprising things about their children. One of these was that babies and children played around pits, with knives and with bows and arrows and were almost never injured or hurt. Western children are hurt at a vastly increased rate.


I hear from friends who work with young children that children today are even forgetting basic instincts like putting their hands down on the ground to catch themselves when they fall because their parents are always trying to stop them from falling or catching them when they do.


Our babies are children are often massively overstimulated by the amount of stuff, noise and commands that are directed their way. Michaeleen Doucleff, author of Hunt Gather Parent, What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About Raising Children, talks about how frequently we command our children and how much more conflict this brings into our lives.


She has a practice which involves setting an alarm for 20 minutes at first and limiting yourself to one command during that time. Resisting telling your child anything at all: how to be, what to say, what to do, what to eat. Just letting them be. EVEN if they break the 'rules'. And if they get into a seemingly unsafe situation, if possible, waiting before intervening to see if they can work it out.

I LOVE this one. It promotes peace and quiet in our home and confidence in Dolores.


Another thing to notice is how often you suggest or decide what your child should do. Notice if you can let them lead. And most importantly remember that we don't have to be 'doing' all the time. Often if I let Dolores be, she'll just be, which is really calming for us both.


I like to think about how things would have once been. Jean's study of the Ye'kuana helps this vision. She talks about how the mothers would all be preparing food in the kitchen hut whilst all the crawling babies and children were playing, crawling, toddling about. They would come to their mums for food or sleep when smaller and toddlers would crawl into floor beds to nap. I used to feel I had to be constantly present with her and this allowed me to take a different view. So these days at home, I read, prep food, clean etc. and just let Dolores be. If she needs me I give her my presence or I pop her in the carrier and carry on, otherwise we're just co-existing quietly. And other times she's upset and having big emotions and it's all a lot harder but for the most part, it's bloody lovely.


Practice:

Let your child be for chunks of the day. Resist the urge to say or do anything unless absolutely necessary.


Risky play and exploration


Closely related to the above so follows on fairly smoothly. None of us wants our children to hurt themselves but often this can lead us to protect them so much that they don't understand how to navigate their environments. It is so important right from the very start as soon as babies begin to be mobile to let them try things without intervening unless there is a genuine risk.


They develop strength and resilience from falling, tripping, tumbling and trying again. Their body holds the memory and they try something else. Dolores has shown me time and again that children have SO much more capacity than we tend to give them credit for.


The baby who is allowed to explore climbing becomes the toddler who can safely navigate heights who then becomes the child who can safely climb trees.


Using words like 'be careful' as tempting as they can be is also unhelpful because they cause the child who is probably quite safe to suddenly doubt their ability and potentially stumble more from fear. It's best to say nothing at all in most cases and just trust them to work it out and if needed to consider language that actually helps them to reflect on their environment for example: 'can you see that you're close to the edge there?' is one we use often.


In our culture, we tend to stand in front of babies who are learning to walk but in many traditional cultures, they stand behind. The babies feel more confident because they believe they are walking on their own but they are still supported by the parents. I love this one a lot!


Jean Liedloff talks about how in Western societies we actually tell kids how to hurt themselves: 'Be careful up there you might fall off' - they hear 'fall off' and do it rather than having the innate kind of confidence that babies and children tend to have before we intervene.


Practice:

Trust your child's abilities, step back, pause and see if they can work it out. Little tumbles are infinitely preferable to a kid who can't use their body.


No praise no punishment


This is a pretty standard gentle parenting trope but it turns out it's also the way most people parent around the world in more traditional cultures.


Modern Western parenting dictates that our children need praise and rewards to encourage them and punishments to reprimand them.


Recently a woman at the park asked Dolores if she had a star chart for going to the toilet when she learned that she was almost toilet trained at 21 months. I couldn't help but laugh inside at the idea that she would need a sticker to make her go to the toilet. She goes to the toilet because she needs to go and prefers doing it there than on the floor (most of the time!!).


I personally also don't use 'good girl' because to me it's always felt more like the kind of thing I would say to a dog and not a child but the research says that this and other kinds of praise create extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation. Excessive praise has been linked to low self-esteem and a decreasing motivation to help.


I was raised to seek praise and validation and as an adult it meant my whole identity and self-esteem was based on what others thought of me. I still fight this one today and I don't want this for Dolores. I want her to act because she wants to not because she's seeking validation from me or fearing punishment.


So in our family, we try to avoid, well done, good job, good work, good girl etc. Instead we simply let her act for acting's sake. She walked because she wanted to, she helps to be helpful, she says please and thank you because she hears us do it not because we are her voice. She knows she's valued because we value her contributions. She doesn't need to be told she's a good girl because she's inherently good regardless of behaviour. I want her to know she is loved regardless of her behaviours, moods or actions.


There's a beautiful story in Hunt Gather Parent about how children in a Maya Village in Mexico are the most helpful children in the world from toddlers to teens and the main moral of the story is that the children are asked to help from a very young age, only asked once and not made to do anything. And their contributions are welcomed even if they aren't at all helpful and in fact, most of us know that toddler contributions are often the opposite of helpful. The mums know that if they let their toddler throw laundry all over the place trying to help at 18 months then at 2-3 they'll be hanging out the laundry. They play the long game. They also don't verbally praise their children for helping, it's just expected and the children get the reward of feeling like a valuable member of the family and community which is ten thousand times more motivating than a 'good job' or a sticker. Belonging is all we ever really want from birth through to the end of life.


Punishment is more clear cut but the research both scientifically and into traditional cultures is really interesting. It just doesn't work. NOT even on teenagers?! Which is really, really interesting to me. What does work is ignoring the behaviour completely, at most just saying something like 'Ouch that hurts' and then just walking away for a bit. And then sometimes, in fact, more often than not just letting it go completely and sometimes at a later point using dramas or another approach to teach the correct behaviour.


It's certainly not always easy to do though. When Dolores hits, bites or slaps me or others I often have the initial reaction that I want to say something because I can feel myself getting frustrated but I try to catch myself and breathe. She's not doing it with the intention to harm. Children under 5 and to a lesser degree 7 just don't have the brain circuitry to know what they're doing or manage their emotions. So we work together to regulate first and foremost and then later on in a peaceful moment figure out what she's feeling and maybe model alternative behaviours. (Also just to be clear I'm NOT a perfect parent, that doesn't exist but I do set my bar high because I want that for Dolores, so I try and when I fail I repair).


The whole chapter on Intuit parenting in Hunt Gather Parent is eye-opening and inspiring. Their way of dealing with difficult behaviour is amazing. They just stay incredibly calm ALL the time. There's no talking, negotiating, lectures, explanations, shouting, nothing. Just calm to model calm. They simply turn away from slaps and hits and breathe. They know that children will eventually learn how to behave well and they expect them to hit, bite, slap, shout, ignore and have tantrums. They expect it, they don't react to it and then in a peaceful moment later on they play out what they call 'dramas' to model the correct behaviour with the child. They are the least angry culture in the world as a result.


One of the stories she shares highlights quite how different cultures can be. An Inuit toddler comes bounding through the living room, and knocks a coffee off the arm of the sofa and onto the floor. No one reacts. One of the elders picks up the kid, cuddles them and says to the adult 'Your coffee was in the wrong place'. HOW different that would have played out in my household growing up. I remind myself of this story often!!!


Practice:

Notice the urge to praise (if there), resist. Use a facial expression if necessary. Notice the urge to punish (if there), resist. Pause, breathe, let it go, stay calm.


Naked time


Naked time is Dolores' favourite time. She announces it regularly and strips off. She's always preferred being naked and we encourage it at home and in our garden.


We came into this world naked and it is how we get the most out of being a human in terms of temperature variability, foot development, our walking gait and so much more.


I was skin-to-skin with Dolores every day from birth until 4 months. Around then she stopped wanting to be still on me and so now it's just the odd moment here or there after a shower. It's incredibly and profoundly beneficial in every way. Our bodies regulate everything from temperature to nervous system to heart rate just from being skin to skin and this goes for adults too. We need to be naked. Often.


For babies, it's also much much more healthy. Particularly when learning to walk. A baby's gait is hugely influenced by nappies and footwear. Ideally, newly walking little ones should be naked and barefoot as much as possible.


We are meant to be exposed to the elements. One of my favourite rewilding practitioners says often: wear one less layer than you think you need to allow your body to work. We should be working to stay warm. There's loads of research and knowledge out there now about temperature variability and it's become really trendy. Ice baths, saunas etc. We can do our own version day to day by just wearing fewer clothes and letting our bodies do the work. It's really healthy for our bodies and our children's bodies too.


It also means that we get to absorb the maximum amount of vitamin D from the sunlight we are exposed to. Most of us, especially children due to the guidance around suncream, are vitamin D deficient. Our skin is magic. If we eat the right foods and expose as much of our skin as we can (including not wearing sunglasses or UV protection lenses) to the sun all year round morning and afternoon then our bodies work with the sun to create natural sunscreen and we absorb the amount of vitamin D we need to function well. More on this one in a full post I think! It's magic.


Practice:

Let your baby or toddler be naked as often as possible. Talking/signing toddlers who can communicate temperature can be trusted to convey their needs. They often run much hotter than we do. This always amazes me with Dolores!


Natural Movement


Our bodies are not intended to be sedentary. We are not meant to sit and sleep on soft furnishing. We are meant to be barefoot, walking, hanging, swinging, sitting and sleeping on the floor, squatting to do our daily activities, squatting to go to the toilet and so much more. I have shared a lot about natural movement here and for me, I'm more motivated than ever to move often and in all sorts of ways so that Dolores doesn't come to think of sedentary sofa life as the norm.

Katy Bowman in her beautiful book, Grow Wild The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More, says that children have never moved less than they do today. That makes me really very sad.


Thankfully we live on 300 acres of farmland and I had a baby who has had to be walked often since birth. She is only just at 2 beginning to occasionally nap in the bed, until now I've walked her to sleep anything from one to 4 times a day. It's been exhausting on little sleep but I'm beyond grateful for her getting me out and about. The blessing of a small house is also that she asks to go out for walks multiple times a day and I'm almost always happy to take her up on that. I know it's not that easy if you live in a flat in a city or on a busy road but we've got to get moving more.

I recently shared a post all about baby carriers, prams and other baby containers and how they impact our children's bodies, so I won't go into huge detail here other than to say that babies have always been carried in arms and with wraps and the benefits are infinite. Toddlers have always walked long distances as soon as they could and been carried in arms and in wraps when they needed breaks. Carrying our children, in arms particularly, is an essential movement nutrient that both we and they need.


Practice:

Move more, sit on the floor, eat on the floor, walk often, carry in arms, squat as often as you can and definitely when going to the toilet, change position often if working seated, hang and swing (babies and children included, they're amazingly strong if we let them be).


More content like this on my Patreon page: https://patreon.com/wildwomanclub.

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Carly x



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