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Horse whispering for children.


There are so many things to consider when you find out you are pregnant…, where to birth, which hospitals, what names for the twins are just a few. One of the things that my husband and I instantly agreed on was HOW we wanted to bring up these new little people.

An amazing maternity nurse helped us navigate the exhausting early days when we had one twin in hospital and one at home. Her knowledge and expertise taught us a mixture of her own techniques and the usual parenting manuals like Gina Ford and Tracey Hogg.

But the name that will be less familiar to parents that we chose to embrace is Monty Roberts, the man who listens to horses.

Wind back ten years to when my early mid life crisis hit, and as a result my husband and I headed out to a tiny town in California called Solvang. This is where Monty’s farm and teaching facility is based. I was there to learn from the man himself his extraordinary way of communicating with horses using their own language of “Equus”.

Monty Roberts teaches his technique of Join-Up®, a process during which the human takes on the role of the lead mare of the herd. This requires the human to “listen” and respond to the horses body language to develop a relationship based on trust and co-operation rather than the historical techniques of fear and domination which have been used as ways of ‘breaking” horses.

The difference in the terms alone gives you an idea of the opposite approaches to such an amazing fight or flight animal. Would you rather Join-Up® with your horse or break them in?

In his book “Horse Sense For People” Monty gives examples of how he has used his techniques with his own children and his many foster children. So when we found out I was pregnant, it was a natural progression to bring these techniques into our home.

It may not work for everyone, it may seem too far out to some, and to others it may seem common sense. To us it felt right and it continues to give us a way of communicating with our children in a way that is calm (most of the time!) and gives us all a sense of being listened to.

When our children were very small I always told them what was about to happen. There can be nothing worse than being so small and unable to communicate other than crying and having no control over where you are placed and who holds you no- matter how lovingly.

I found nappy changes a time of potential great anxiety and annoyance for our babies. They’re removed from their cot; toy or cuddle to be undressed and have their bottom exposed and wiped unceremoniously with often cold wipes.

I found that when I explained what was happening and gave them a choice – “wriggle and it will take longer, stay still and you’ll be back playing or sleeping or being cuddled quicker. It is your decision” – I usually found they became more cooperative. They understood and made a choice.

Another frequent example I continued to experience was the ‘Park v Coat’ scenario. (Feel free to insert any item of clothing or favourite pastime!)

To go to the park requires a coat.  If you put your coat on we can go to the park and run around.  If you don’t put your coat on we stay home.

No coat, no park. No problem. Even if you are silently crying inside for a Cappuccino you must be calm and show them that it is THEIR decision. Either option rocks your world.

The longer it takes to put the coat on the less time they have to play in the park. It is their choice.

This gives the child a part in the decision that will directly affect how their time is spent.

As they’ve grown up we’ve continued to make ‘deals’ with our children (Monty uses the term “Contracts”, but we felt ‘Deal” somehow worked better with our children). Children have very little power over their own lives, they can mainly exert their power through food (eating/not eating) or clothes (tantrums over what to wear/what not to wear).

Making deals and sticking to them has helped us navigate the “Terrible Twos and Threenagers” with remarkably few tantrums, though now we are heading into the “Frictional 4s!”

Of course I still have times where I throw myself on the floor in despair. Life with toddlers can never be all bunny rabbits and love hearts but I feel we have found a way that helps with day-to-day parenting.

Sometimes my children offer me ‘Deal Mummy?” when they are trying to negotiate a play-date, chocolate or TV.

We have a dialogue, they are communicating. That’s good.

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