Jamie Colston

Facilitator, Catalyst, Coach, Parent

"Jamie has vision, strong organising capabilities, and the energy to make things happen. He is a tireless advocate of young people and the innovative contribution they can bring when given the opportunity. He is an innovator and a role model, always deepening his own professional practice as a change agent and facilitator, and on a personal level embodying values of openness creativity, and courage."

Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney, Founder, Embercombe

Filtering by Category: Parenting

Boundaries: Exploring lines in the sand, castles with moats and fast flowing rivers

A big topic in my life currently and one which relates in both professional and personal life. Today was the first day of the Garden, there was a plan and two children to focus on which was a great opportunity to build quality relationships immediately.

The start of the day went off plan pretty much immediately due to a play accident. However, it created the perfect opportunity to do some Hand in Hand parenting special time with one of the girls. I had only met the child a few minutes beforehand so I explained the concept of special time and invited her to lead me in whatever activities she chose for 5 timed minutes. She accepted and we played tag, me with my eyes shut, just using my ears and I allowed her to escape being tagged the majority of the time. This, to me, is an important part of playing games with children. When building relationships with adults, who hold a lot of power most of the time, it is important that children have the opportunity to feel powerful. This helps them, in my experience, feel like they can speak up at times when they may feel the balance is not on their side.

After we finished playing, she asked for one minute more and I explained that with special time it is important that we have our set time and that this will happen each week on a one and one basis. I explained that the other child would be back shortly and we needed to prepare for playing together as a group. She understood and the other child reappeared at that moment.

The rest of the morning was intense adult led play, which the children asked for, with me offering various opportunities for them to lead. At one point I began to tire and noticed a perceptible drop in energy in my body. I therefore made a clear boundary that I needed some time out and that they needed to lead their own play up until lunch. One girl continued to request more tag and I explained that I needed to rest and that I would play more later in the afternoon. We chose some books to look at and slowly the requests stopped for a short while. They then started again and I needed to work out whether I needed to hold the boundary for the sake of clarity or whether it was still true for me that I needed to hold the boundary in the face of the request for connection. I could see that she was struggling to self-initiate continuous play and I checked in with my own body to see if I could, without going against my internal feelings, go back to joining in. I decided I could and played for 20 more minutes.

The afternoon went very quickly compared to the morning and the children, on suggestion after lunch, went on a self-organised nature hunt and came back for stories 30 minutes before home time.  We completed the day with a closing circle and reflections on the day which mostly the children felt shy about, but which they took turns at coming to sit with me for, whilst the adults shared.

At only a couple of points in the day was it necessary to impose a safety boundary, which occurred when the girls got tired, hungry and irritable. At which point I stepped in, moved close to them and held on to the object which was causing the heated exchange which was about to escalate. I explained I would hold on to it until the problem was resolved. I fed back to them what I was seeing in simple language and had a guess at how they were feeling about it. I asked them calmly and quietly to use words if they could and whether they had any solutions to the issue.

On reflection with the parent at the end of the day, I shared my experiences of boundaries and self-leadership and this echoed part of an experience that was happening at home too. This made me realise that this gently approach to exploring boundaries with this girl was the right call when we had a small group to work with and that it would be a continuing adventure.

Tonight I am recollecting these thoughts and many other experiences with my own children and other children and I notice that it is the same with our adult relationships too. These days I feel mostly clear with boundaries, where at other times in my life, I have had a difficult relationship to setting them and/or maintaining them. As I deepen my own journey and process, I notice that boundaries are an edge, a place for learning, which means that they shift as time moves on. I also notice that it is important for me to have a moment by moment experience with them as my own body energy system changes almost constantly and the awareness I have of this phenomenom means that I can notice more and more the importance to staying true to myself whilst also being aware of when a boundary may lead to disconnection from myself and others.

Today I could have enforced a rigid structure, set a tone for relationships forthwith and kept a sense of connection to a clarity of “this is how we do things”. Instead I chose to notice the moments, lean into my sense of what was needed, and be guided by what my body system was saying and my intuition of the situation.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. In every moment, every opportunity, we have a choice and this choice helps children understand the world. With each person they meet, they will learn something new, some of it will be positive and life affirming and sometimes it will be more challenging.

My invitation is to consider what boundaries you hold with your child? What ones do you hold with your close family and friends? Are you rigid with some and not with others? Are you consistent or do you notice that you have more fluidity with some people? Most importantly I think, what are your expectations of your child and their sense of your boundaries? Are these expectations ambitious or fair? Do you respect their boundaries?

I often think it is less about what we teach and more about what we model every day. We are all human and we don’t do it perfectly every time or even most of the time. Do we tell our children and our friends “hey, I wish I had done that differently!” when the wisdom of our body or our mind is letting us know that.

Special Play Time: Being invited to bring every bit of yourself to the party

So I imagine that this will be one of many reflections on special time play, one of the Hand in Hand parenting tools which are part of the Garden framework. However, I could not miss the opportunity to write a piece on what happened at the end of the week, when I had completed my work with the Garden children and started parenting my own.

Having done a few SPT sessions with the Garden children, I was feeling pretty good about the impact it had on our ability to be connected and play well together. When I arrived to my own kids on Thursday evening, I expected that they would need some good quality SPT as they had been with a friend and forest school leader for a full afternoon for the first time. However, they totally surprised me by being really sweet and joyful from the moment I walked in the door (this is a very rare experience, so much so that I am expecting fighting, or aggression towards me personally).

The next day we started the day well, and then left home for Bristol to spend the day at the Garden with the main aim of me getting to have some adult conversation time with the team and the kids getting to roam free and play. After we arrived, I spent some time feeding the children and trying to make and drink a cup of coffee without too much hassle (never had much luck with this when there are more than two children about). The children went off into the garden and five minutes later my daughter runs down and says her brother is stuck in the tree. I put my boots on and ran up, hearing cries for help and managed to catch him as he dangled upside down from a tree branch.

At this point his whole mood shifted completely. He was incredibly upset, demanding to go home and then the aggression started and the blaming. “You should have been here daddy” “You’re a rubbish dad” “I hate you” and so on and so on, interlaced with hard punches. Luckily for me and him, I had just had a week of great practise and results so I immediately found a way to slip in some special time which meant that he got to be really powerful in a time when he was feeling most helpless. I told him he could tell me to do anything which didn’t involve hurting me or others and that wasn’t inherently unsafe.

He started off by asking me to roll in the mud over and over again. And then when I stood up with mock anguish completely covered in mud, he told me to rub more mud all over my face. Then we moved down the garden and he asked me to run down the muddy hill which I did, feigning falling over. To which he responded with joy and laughter. We moved to the pond where he told me to get in with all my clothes and shoes on. At this I stopped him and explained that I would not ruin my shoes for the purpose of the time together so we agreed that I would take off my shoes and roll up my trousers. I then got in and had to stay there for as long as I felt it was bearable and then again and again. Finally, (5 mins in total), we completed and got back up to the fire pit, where his sister took over from where he left off.

Now normally, I am not that all in. Not that committed to the process. In doing it this time, from a primed and prepared place, having spent a lot of time reflecting on the power of the process, I realised something big. Being all in and being that committed makes a massive difference and my kids have a different idea of what that kind of commitment is, which makes me feel really happy sitting here, writing this up. Because they have that experience and that modelling on the very good days of me being a parent, they will be able to offer that to themselves and others at any point in their life.

This week, I have been all in, in most moments of every day. I have changed my sleeping patterns, been awake at 6am, been 100% present to the needs of the kids and myself when I have needed it. I have written reflections most days, written blog posts, decreased my internet time, looked after myself with good home-made food and trips to the sauna and watched a film. I have turned up. And that has made this week great. It has also meant that I now understand what I need to do in those moments that are most challenging. Stepping into them as much as I can, supports me and those that I am in relationship too. Expectations are the greatest cause of negative emotions and what really stop us connecting in the moment with what the emergent needs of a situation are.