Overcoming the shame of not going to school, and progressing education activism.

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I’m going to write about something quite painful today.

Painful, but important.

I’m going to talk about the shame that you can feel for doing something different to what others expect, to what you yourself expect. In this case, I’m going to talk about the shame of not going to school, of your children not going to school, of home education, but really this could apply to lots of different examples of diverging from the social narrative of ‘normal’.

As we live and grow, we internalise a lot of norms and values around us. They come to be the barometer by which we measure our selves and others, the indicators of good and bad, right and wrong, winning and losing. They tell us what we think we need to know to make the ‘right’ choices and to get life ‘right’.

There is a very strong social message about schooling, how important it is, the bad things that will happen if you don’t do school right, or heaven forbid if you don’t show up. This story is told through politics, through families, through international development strategies, through schooling experiences and school rules. The telling of it is pretty relentless, and any challenges to it are likely to end badly. We are told this story by people we love, they were told this story too, we’ve all been told it many, many times.

The story runs a pretty tight binary as well: school = good, not going to school = bad. There isn’t really any grey zone in the popular narrative of this.

The problem with social norms and values is, sometimes – maybe often times – their foundations are a bit shaky. They may come from a place that we don’t even know, a time generations before our own births. They may have been dreamed up by people without our best interests at heart. They may originate in other ideas that today we would totally disagree with. Only thing is, because of the way we learn and internalise norms and values, we can believe these things to be truths, that they tell us what is natural, what is normal, what is essential. When we think of them as ‘truths’ rather than as ideas, it can prevent us from thinking critically about them, from challenging them. When we believe in them and they are the basis of how we see ourselves and others, it makes it difficult to say, or to even realise that we can say: “Is this actually true?”

And if through circumstance, because our own critical thinking has been unlocked somehow from the standard model of norms and values – maybe because of our actual needs and being, or the needs and being of someone we know and care for, or because we are presented with information that radically challenges/undermines the norms and values around us, it can be painful.

It can be painful, and it can be scary.

And if we decide, on the basis of this information, to actually start living in a way that contrasts with the general social norms and values, although consciously we can know what we are doing makes complete sense to us, the subconscious internalisation of the norms and values that tell us it is wrong, risky, deviant, bad, can mean that we experience shame in living in a way that is most true to us.

We can feel shame or fear, even though we know what we are doing makes sense. Even though we know that based on the information we have, it is the path worth walking. We can know this on an intellectual basis. In terms of our heart though, we can still hurt by going against the norm. We can feel fearful, anxious. It can diminish our sense of self worth and challenge what we know of ourselves.

Lets talk about what happens when we move away from the education system, to create something else.

It is well documented, in many many places, that the existing education system that we have in the UK, is highly problematic. This is told to us by teachers, by educationalists, by headteachers, by psychologists, by students themselves, by parents, by mental health campaigners, by people from other countries with different systems, by people involved in alternative models education.

It makes complete sense to get to work on this. It makes complete sense to want something different for your own children, for society. It makes complete sense to do work to maybe change the system, probably to create something entirely different.

It makes sense to not want to send your children into the education system. It is a very rational and meaningful conclusion to reach.

Despite this, for the reasons given above, actually doing this work, making the decision as a family that you will do something other than school, to home educate, to manifest a new and different system of education to what currently exists, can cause us pain.

We learnt for lots and lots of years that not going to school was deviant, risky, likely to result in FAILURE. Even though we know that the existing system is troubled and flawed, deeply embedded in our subconscious is the feeling that not going to school is bad, and will result in bad things happening to us, and overcoming that feeling, the creeping sense of shame, can be a daily challenge.

There are certain things that I find helps with overcoming this feeling. Even as I write this now I can feel it lingering around my heart. That I am even writing about ‘not going to school’ triggers a little adrenaline. And the reality is that until we reach a point where there is a general awakening and acceptance across society that our education system needs radical change – a shift in the narrative, norms and values about schooling – we are likely to always feel a little of this. So what can we do to help?

For this I take guidance from other movements that are working at overcoming false social beliefs, norms and values, where something is being moved out of the ‘deviant’ and into the light.

Lets take the LGBT+ movement, for example. Being gay used to be a criminal offence, in our very recent history. Being trans has only in very very recent years started to gain socially transformative traction. What can we learn from the progress of LGBT+ folk that might help us in our own work?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. This can be a painful process, there is no way around that. We need to find ways to sit with that discomfort, to feel it, whilst knowing that it isn’t telling us that something is wrong.
  2. Self-care is important. Sometimes its worth putting ourselves out there, other times it makes more sense to work amongst ourselves, with like minded people that enable us to make progress rather than answer for and explain ourselves constantly. Community matters. Sometimes we need to just focus on ourselves and our own immediate families needs and to forget the wider context for a while.
  3. Being visible helps in ‘normalisation’. Showing up, sharing photos, living ‘without shame’ even if we feel scared inside, makes a difference. It gives others courage, it demonstrates another way, it fundamentally challenges peoples beliefs which can cause tipping points in progressing social norms.
  4. We can organise, cooperate, and support each other. There is a risk with trail blazing that the internalised/subconscious feelings of being deviant can prevent us from being open, honest and loving to each other. It can make us feel easily threatened and defensive. If we can move beyond that to working together, that has great potential consequences.
  5. We can educate ourselves to reassure ourselves that we are not alone. There is a long history to educational activism. People have been working on these issues in different ways, around the world, for many years. Connecting with that work, learning from what has already happened, what has already been thought about and done, can give us context to what is happening now and encourage us that we are not by any means the first or the only ones on this path. Knowing the history of the education system, alternatives to schooling, the history of childhood, can inspire us and help us reframing our own norms and beliefs.
  6. We can be compassionate and empathetic to those around us who may be unaware of the issues, who don’t understand life without school, or who feel stuck between a rock and a hard place because for whatever reason, separating from the existing education system isn’t an option at this time. School vs not school is a binary concept that is unhelpful, and frankly, unrealistic in the current circumstances> Because of the nature of the issue there is a lot of grey zone, it is’t as simple as black and white, right and wrong. Being aware of that can help mitigate the sense of frustration that things aren’t moving quickly enough, or that people just ‘aren’t getting it’, and frees us up to do what we can, from where we are, with what we have.

Keep on keeping on folks, wherever you are in your journey, however your work looks, small acts add up. And remember, if you’re not going to school, you are not alone.

Attachment parenting anti-intellectual? It’s a social justice movement.

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I’ve just read an article by Hadley Freeman about attachment parenting, and it makes for interesting reading. I will be the first to admit – attachment parenting is a messy subject, actually, all parenting discussion is messy. Same thing goes for education discourse, things get complicated, fast.I thought I would pick up on a few points, though, with a view to moving things forward.

First things first, I believe the Sears definition of ‘attachment parenting’ is dated, and I do not personally identify with it. As Hadley points out, Sear’s was coming from a patriarchal place. Let’s leave his definition in the 20th Century, where it belongs, and instead refocus on where attachment parenting currently fits, amongst intersectional and third wave feminism.

Early on in the article comes the line: “this is the approach of the moment, just as Gina Ford’s more scheduled method (strict bedtimes, an unbreakable routine) was a decade ago; to a certain degree, it is the reaction of a new generation of parents against Ford and her ilk”. So, is attachment parenting a reaction against Gina Ford et al?

Yes and no. In my experience, attachment parenting isn’t a reaction, as such. The majority of parents that I know who relate to attachment parenting, actually found the name after they were parenting in that way, not before. They didn’t research ‘parenting methods’ and then pick one, they were already parenting in an ‘attachment parent’ type way before they new it even had a name. They were doing what felt right to them in terms of listening to and meeting the needs of their baby.

However, once these parents realised that their behaviour towards their baby was not the social norm, they then sort out to find out why, and if they were alone. In doing so, they came across parenting theory, which included discovering attachment parenting and Gina Ford.

The problem with Gina Ford is that she represents a very authoritarian, oppressive parent child model. Attachment parenting gives people a voice, agency and personhood from birth. Gina Ford promotes a view that babies are the property of the parents, and encourages parental domination in the parent/child relationship. In terms of intersectional feminism, that is a very big issue.

Which leads us on to the anti-intellectionalism/anti-science claim made about attachment parents in Hadley’s piece.

In my experience, the absolute opposite is true. Attachment parents discover attachment parenting via critical thinking. They are questioning social norms to do with parenting – that are historically rooted in oppression – and looking to find out whether there is any evidence based justification for them. For me it has triggered intellectual consideration of whether it is ‘natural’ for young people to be subjugated to adults, and why and how that subjugation is socially constructed. Is there any good reason why I, as an adult, shouldn’t respect and listen to a child?

We live in a society that still refuses to accept that hitting a child is wrong, as we once refused to accept that hitting a woman was wrong, and demand scientific evidence to prove so. We refuse to provide full protection under the law for children to be free from being hit in their homes by their parents. The second class citizenship of children is so deeply entrenched in our mindsets and belief systems, that we have to provide scientific research to defend the view that isolating a person in room, distressed to the point of vomiting, is wrong, because on the basis of their age, people feel that it is acceptable and justified and some call it sleep training.

Is there an attitude of enlightenment amongst attachment parents as claimed in Hadley’s piece? I would say that feeling comes with time – the more time you experience a parent child relationship that is based on respect, trust and empathy, the more enlightened you feel about the importance of children’s rights, and aware of the normalised marginalisation and social injustices experienced by young people on a daily basis. It is the same sense of enlightenment that you experience when you realise how patriarchy has impacted society, how racism has impacted society, how sexism, and all other embedded discriminations impact us.

Does attachment parenting offer a set of rules for parents to follow so that they can nail parenting ? No. There are no rules – there is just the persistent intention to care for and respect your child as a person, in a socially just way. It so happens that that care often manifests in behaviours associated with attachment parenting – sleeping with your babies/children, breastfeeding longer than average, slowing down to a child’s pace and gaze, carrying your baby both for comfort and reasons of practicality. But none of these behaviours are essential. In fact, no two families for whom attachment parenting resonates looks the same, because every child is unique, every family member is unique, and attachment parenting is shaped entirely by that.

Contrary to the view posed in the article that a downside of attachment parenting is that it promises parents total control and responsibility over how a child turns out, I would argue the opposite. Attachment parenting is about creating the space for a person to feel respected for who they are, in all their individuality, from birth. The idea is that by experiencing respect, empathy and their voice being heard from day one, a person will not only feel free to be themselves, but also see the importance that all people experience that same freedom.

I do agree with Hadley that parents have never been subjected to so much advice from so many different places as they are now. This to me highlights the state of flux the parent/child relationship is currently in. We are evolving beyond patriarchal models of the family – and by patriarchal I mean family models in which adults hold dominant roles and children submit. But the transition is a messy one, complicated by many factors such as other social constructs that act as barriers to family members feeling respected, and that their needs are being met.

Hadley states that “there are times when attachment parenting seems to have made some women feel worse” and in this we are in agreement, although perhaps for different reasons. Parenting in a respectful and empathetic way can be triggering to parents. It can result in deep reflection of their own experiences in childhood and relationships, which may cause discomfort and identify trauma that had previously been hidden. It also highlights the very problematic nature of our society’s relationship with children, for example the issues with developmentally inappropriate institutional, industrial models of childcare and education that negate children’s rights. The experience of attachment parenting highlights how ill suited our society is for families to care for each other, and how poor work life balance can be.

Our society is not built to afford respect and personhood to young people – in the same way that it once wasn’t/still isn’t built to afford respect and personhood to women. There was resistance to women’s emancipation,  and there is resistance to the emancipation of children. The idea of sharing privilege can be perceived as inconvenient and threatening. It requires people to confront uncomfortable truths. We are in a position where we need to reconstruct our social norms and institutions to be inclusive of the youngest members of our society, and that is essential but painful and tiring work. Attachment parenting makes parents aware of the issues that we face. But if we want to create positive social change, I think that’s a good thing.

Consent is absent in the education system – why aren’t we talking about it?

The concept of consent has rightly received increased attention in recent years. Last year the Education Select Committee published “Life Lessons: PSHE and SRE in schools” a report raising frequently the issues around consent, and people’s understanding of what it actually means. It included this quote from research produced for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner:

“young people generally understand what is meant by giving consent to sex, but have a very limited sense of what getting consent might involve. Young people are able to describe what consent means in theory, but real life contexts make a significant difference to their perceptions of what non-consensual sex looks like.”

The thing with consent is that it isn’t really about sex, and persistently linking the two things effectively misses the point. Consent is about an person’s right to ownership and control of their own body and mind. It’s about a person knowing that they have agency, that they are entitled to determine and defend their own personal boundaries. That they get to decide what happens to them, and how. Consent is the act of a person agreeing that they are willing to participate in something.

And perhaps that is the reason why consent education in schools (if it happens at all) is often so tightly linked to sexual contexts – because addressing the meaning of consent fully, in a school environment, is problematic, as it raises the question of how consent is – or isn’t – experienced in school.

Where can consent be found in school? Students (until the age of 14 when they have some very limited and structured options regarding subject choices) have no, or very, very marginal influence over what they do. They can not opt out of class, they can not determine for themselves what they would like to learn about, or how they would like to learn it. They often have very little freedom over how they experience a lesson, where and how they sit during it, or how they might participate. They have no chance to say no. That is an environment without consent.

They can not decide to not attend a lesson with a particular teacher, even if that teacher has mistreated or abused them in some way. From personal experience I can say, having been on the receiving end of abuse from a teacher, despite complaining both in person to the head teacher and a complaint being made in writing to the school, no action was taken to protect me from that teacher, and I was forced to continue with their class despite the fact that doing so was highly stressful.

Not only are students deprived of opportunities to actively consent to their experience in school, there is a system is in place for them to be punished for noncompliance. Opting out is not an option without the threat of shaming/punishment. You can not even choose to disengage within a lesson to which you have not actively consented in the first place, your attention is required and not providing it results in punitive consequences.

Just think for a moment about this: if a child in school says, no thank you, I don’t want to do that, is the response to that request usually a person modelling the definition of consent?

Is it surprising then, considering that children are socialised in a non-consensual and punitive environment for 12, highly influential, formative years of their lives, that while intellectually they may understand the notion of consent, they have little practical awareness of how to apply it to their daily lives? Is it surprising that people of all ages struggle with the concept of consent and personal autonomy, when they have been deprived of it in the very environment in which they believe to have been educated?

If consent matters, why doesn’t it matter in school, and why aren’t we talking about it?

Curious parents discover unschooling.

In this video, André Stern describes how he came to never go to school:

“I never went to school, because of a decision, or more precisely, an attitude of my parents. The attitude of my parents is pretty simple to summarise. They have always been very curious, and their curiosity led them to ask themselves a question: “What will be the next natural step within the spontaneous development, within the spontaneous disposition of the child?”

Curious parents ask questions a lot. A person might not even realise their level of curiosity before becoming a parent. Being in a position where every day requires you to make an infinite number of decisions that directly effect the lived experience of another human is a sure fire way to reveal a person’s level of curiosity. Responsibility can enhance curiosity.

Curious parents like to know what, who, when, where, why and how. They like to explore situations, not only through their own lens, but empathetically through the lens of their child’s experience.

We live in social construction, and curious parents will be questioning that construction  and identifying areas that may require improvement. For some curious parents, the very experience of living with and witnessing the development of a person from birth will ignite their curiosity so much that they will want to be present in that experience every step of the way.

What curious parents will quickly discover is that many of the social constructs that effect people from birth do not work in the best interests of those people. Depending on their time and inclination, they may be drawn to research into how things got constructed that way, the historical roots and the reasons for us living in a society with a tradition for marginalising, trivialising and silencing the voice, needs and individuality of humans from birth.

As time goes on and the start of ‘formal education’ approaches, curious parents will notice that a standardised, authoritarian, institutional setting is not in keeping with children’s natural behaviour of curiosity and learning.

They will have watched and partnered with their child in their earliest communications and in their development of rolling, crawling, walking. They will have observed them in their development of speech, witnessed their vocabulary extend and expand. They will have seen their capabilities unfold, uniquely over time.

And they will have realised that what a person needs to continue in that growth is a supportive space, not schooling.

From there, their questioning will develop to consider how as a parent they can hold that space, how can they build community around the concept of that space.

Their curiosity will lead them to discover unschooling, and from there, the possibilities are endless.

 

What can the EU Referendum result tell us about the future of parenting?

Brexit and Authoritarianism 

Eric Kaufman, a professor of politics at Birkbeck College at the University of London, picked up in this article about the British Election Study’s internet panel survey of 2015-2016, that showed that the common theme among Leave voters was authoritarianism.

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The data shows a strong correlation that can be used to identify the majority belief system of the group vote Leave. A belief in the appropriateness of the death penalty, as you can see from the graph above, is a very strong indicator of a person’s likelihood to vote Leave. This is just one of the measures used in the survey that demonstrates the high correlation of authoritarianism and the Leave vote, which shows consistently regardless of income.

But what does that have to do with parenting?

In the 1990s political scientist Stanley Feldman devised a list of four questions to measure authoritarianism. These questions related directly to the respondent’s attitude towards children:

  1. Please tell me which one of the following you think is more import for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one of the following is more important for a child to have: obedience or self reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one of the following is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one of the following you think is more important for a child to have: Curiosity or good manners?

A respondent with authoritarian tendencies would answer that the most important things for a child to be/have was respect for elders, obedience, to be well behaved, and to have good manners. Holding these beliefs about children is therefore a strong indicator for a Leave vote – as Eric Kaufmann commented on Twitter, the desire for child obedience correlates strongly with a Brexit vote.

On the flip side, those showing anti-authoritarian views are more likely to have voted Remain. Their views on children? They are more likely to hold beliefs that its more important for children to be independent, to be self reliant, to be considerate of others and to be curious. This is a view that positions children much more as people in their own right, rather than the property of adults. It is a more progressive view of children, more in keeping with children’s rights, with more space for their voice, individuality and agency.

Firstly, it is important to highlight that this isn’t an exact science. Not all Brexiters will hold authoritarian views, and not all Remainers will be anti-authoritarian. So in each group there is of course variation.

However, the data shows a strong correlation from which it is possible to draw some interesting conclusions.

The EU referendum saw a greater turn out than the 2015 general election, and viewed through this lens of authoritarian attitudes to children versus anti-authoritarian views it might just help us to get a snapshot of parenting philosophy in the UK.

On the basis of the results, taking into consideration the reality that there will be some variation on each side, it seems probable that there is almost a 50:50 split between authoritarian and anti-authoritarian beliefs about children in the UK – -51.9% of people voted Leave, 48.1% voted Remain.

What does this mean for parenting of the past, present and future?

What is most interesting in this regard is what happens when we compare the British Election Study results with the Lord Ashcroft Poll which looked at voting intention based on age.

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The group most likely to hold authoritarian beliefs about children are the over 65s, with 60% voting Leave. For people aged 45 and over, the majority still hold authoritarian beliefs. This makes sense from a psycho-social perspective – the older a person is, the further back in history their experience of parenting and childhood, and the further you go back, the more patriarchal society has been. The older you are, the more likely you experienced authoritarian parenting yourself, and internalised a very oppressed experience of childhood.

However, as soon as we drop under age 45, the balance starts to tip the other way, and those who may hold authoritarian beliefs about children start to become the minority group.

The majority of 25-34 year olds – 62% – showed voting intention to Remain. This indicates that the majority of that group do not hold authoritarian views about children. Interestingly, the 25 year olds in this group were born at just about the same time as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was created. They’re lived experience has been in a society where women have experienced greater equality, gay rights and other social justice issues have had more mainstream presence and it has been more of an everyday experience for people to be themselves and believe in their human rights.

People in this age bracket may be having a unique experience whereby their experience of childhood was characterised by authoritarian views of children – as all of the people in generations older than them were by majority more authoritarian, but their own views about children and childhood have undergone transformation. Their views are probably in discord with their parents and grandparents, with the generations preceding them.

When we drop down to the youngest age bracket, the 18-24 year olds, we can see something very encouraging. 73% showed voting intention to stay, suggesting that the significant majority of this group do not hold authoritarian beliefs about children. In fact, this group is proportionally more anti-authoritarian, than the 65+ group is pro-authoritarian. This suggests that the parents and future parents in this group are most likely to believe in children as people not property, to respect children’s individuality and voice, and to encourage curiosity over obedience and conformity.

Parenting more aligned with children’s rights is likely to have become mainstream and the normal way of life for the majority of parents and families once the current 18-24 year olds are parenting.

The future looks bright.

Patriarchy: penis not required.

A Mumsnetter shared Fear of Women, Attachment to Schooling on the Mumsnet feminist theory page, and it resulted in quite an interesting thread. There was plenty of interesting criticism, but I’m going to focus one one element, which I think was a misunderstanding.

While the original poster understood the references I was making to patriarchy and power dynamics within schooling (as a teacher they were familiar from their own experience with what I was talking about regarding the inherent patriarchal nature of school), there seemed to be a lot of confusion in the thread from other posters around my use of the term ‘patriarchy’ to describe something that didn’t refer to the behaviour of ‘men’ specifically.

I thought I would write about what I mean when I use the term ‘patriarchy’ to clear that up.

Patriarchy isn’t something ‘men’ do. 

When I say patriarchy, I am using it as short hand for a power dynamic. I am not using it to describe men, or suggesting that patriarchy is something enacted only by people who identify as male.

People of any gender identity can behave in a patriarchal way. It literally doesn’t matter at all what form their genitals take, anyone can reinforce, normalise and/or behave in patriarchal ways.

So what is patriarchy then?

I use the term patriarchy to describe:

  1. A type of oppressive power dynamic in relationships.
  2. A type of oppressive power dynamic informing the structure of institutions/systems.

Relationships

Patriarchy is enacted in a relationship when a person believes that they are fundamentally more entitled to their human rights than the other person/people that they are in the relationship with.

Patriarchal behaviour diminishes the experience, voice and agency of the other person. It renders them as less of a person than the person behaving patriarchally.

A person behaving patriarchally acts as if their opinion matters more, that they are entitled to do things to the other person/people without their consent. They believe themselves to be a fundamentally more important person, to be superior to the others. Their behaviour diminishes the autonomy and status of the people they in relationship with.

Institutions/systems

Patriarchal systems reinforce the concept of patriarchy, by creating an environment in which some people are treated as people more than others.

If we take the school environment as an example, one manifestation of patriarchy is students having to use sub standard toilet facilities, while the adults in the space are afforded higher quality toilets and privacy.

Patriarchy is visible in school when teachers assume privilege and authority over their students which requires that students are restricted to a submissive and inferior role.

Patriarchy in relationships and systems is in no way limited to school environments or teacher student relationships. The patriarchal model for relationships and systems is normalised and well embedded across virtually all of society, particularly in the family and in the relationships between parents and children, but also in work environments, and in Government. We live within a patriarchal system – schooling is one aspect and manifestation of that.

Why use ‘patriarchy’ if you aren’t talking about men specifically?

Historically, patriarchal behaviour has been seen as a key characteristic of male identity. Traditionally men performed patriarchy.

Now, patriarchy is not owned by men. It is a power game that can be played regardless of gender. Take Miss Trunchbull for example. It’s the action of oppression that identifies patriarchy, not whether someone has a penis or not. So, regardless of any perceived progress in terms of gender equality or any other social equality, the dynamic of ‘power over’ – patriarchy – remains, and continues to be normalised and perpetuated across society from birth, into infinity and beyond.

To deconstruct patriarchy,  we first need to recognise it as being, fundamentally, the misuse of power over others. We then need to deconstruct that misuse of power from our relationships and systems, and replace it with something rooted in mutual respect and dignity.

Traditional childhood, microagressions, and children’s rights.

– This article first appeared in the Herts and Essex Observer.

I first came across National Children’s Day a couple of years ago when I was researching children’s rights, and what campaigns and initiatives existed in the UK to promote them.

The Department for Education is supposed to make sure everyone knows about (and respects) children’s rights, but they haven’t been, shall we say, proactive in doing that, so it’s left to everyday folk like us to spread the word.

National Children’s Day is an annual day dedicated to promoting the need to protect the rights and freedoms of children. This year it is focussing particularly on how adult well being is important for children’s wellbeing. It took place on Sunday 15th May.

If you want to know what children’s rights are, just Google the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its pretty comprehensive, and the UK signed up to the Convention 25 years ago. It’s a long list of articles that can be summarised as follows: children deserve to be treated like people, with dignity and respect, they deserve to be listened to and included in decision making and life, and they deserve to be protected from harm.

Which makes sense to me. Obviously children deserve to be treated as people, just because they are young doesn’t make them any less than anyone of any other age. Treating them like second class citizens would be age based discrimination.

I live in a bit of a children’s rights bubble. In our family we work really hard at respecting our own children’s rights, and our approach to home education is centred on children’s rights, so all in all children’s rights have become pretty normal for us.

As parents we actively challenge our own beliefs about children and parenting in order to overcome inherited views that don’t take children’s rights into account, stemming from historically rooted views of children being inferior and subordinate to adults.

What is quite cool to see is when our children, having experienced their rights as much as has been possible from birth, understand them in a really practical and every day sense. For example, in the supermarket the other day we were getting new swimming costumes. My daughter liked one with princesses on, I fancied one for her that was kind of retro with blue and white stripes. She reminded me it was her costume, going on her body, not mine, and it should be for her to choose which one she liked.

Fair point. We got the princesses. It’s a small thing, but it matters. She’s a person, not a doll for me to dress up, and it was a good reminder. I am really glad that at 6 years old, she knows her personal boundaries and has a strong sense of self to enforce them.

As an adult, it’s really easy to overrule and be overbearing to children. It can be easy to get caught up in what we would like for them, rather than what they actually want and need themselves. I have to make a conscious effort to keep myself, as someone bigger, with more access to resources and influence than them, in check, so that they can live their lives the way they need to, as individuals with a different view on the world than me.

As I said, it’s a bit of a bubble I think, this existence. A friend was saying to me the other day that at school, her son wasn’t allowed to eat the apple in his packed lunch before his sandwich, because that wasn’t the ‘right way’ according to the adults. That’s kind of the opposite of respecting children’s rights – controlling something so basic as deciding what order a person eats their food in. Not even giving a person the freedom to eat their own packed lunch in the way that they want to and feels right to them.

When people are deprived of personal autonomy, it can lead to them being overly dependent on authority figures and/or using disassociation as a coping strategy. When this happens consistently over childhood, it informs peoples belief systems and becomes very deeply entrenched and internalised. Not ideal if you want a society full of free and critically thinking, empowered people with a strong sense of self. The apple is just one tiny example of routine, every day, socially normalised microagressions against children. They add up.

It seems to me that the traditional model for childhood serves to disorientate us. We get confused because people tell us there is this one right way to be, or that we should be doing things this particular way, that we should look, think or behave in a particular way that we have been told by someone with power over us, even when that might be in direct conflict with what we actually think, believe or need ourselves.

Very early on we are encouraged not to listen to ourselves or trust ourselves, or just be ourselves. Its like we get born, and then there is an 18 year period of being spun around and around in preparation for an epic game of pin the tail on the donkey, and we stagger off into adulthood, dazed and confused.

If we just respected children as people from the get go, we could avoid that whole spinning process. They could just be themselves, totally, from day one, and figure out how to live in the world as themselves, rather than spend a bunch of years working out how to get it ‘right’ so that they can fit into something that they don’t entirely understand anyway, only to then spend years trying rekindle self-love and find their authentic selves in adulthood. I’d rather we never became distanced from those things in the first place.

To find out more about National Children’s Day, visit www.nationalchildrensdayuk.com