Re: creating cohesive cohousing kids' culture
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 4 Jun 2008 08:27:57 -0700 (PDT)

On Jun 3, 2008, at 11:37 PM, Karen Scheer wrote:

Our children range in age from two teeny tiny
babies to one 12 year old who has avoided participating in any way.
Currently, there are 2 girls in the community, 2 & 3 yrs. old; the rest
are boys.

We had this problem as well with the older children not participating. They actually never did to the extent the younger children do, but they were civil (for the most part). Three were older adopted children who eventually went back to their birth parents. The oldest, who was 12 when he moved in, never became a part of the community. The 10 year old, somewhat, but not really. There were no children his age. The six year old, pretty fully; but his values were at odds with the rest of the children (and the adults) -- as well as his intellectual ability.

There were three other "older" children when we moved in who were fairly introverted, enjoying solitary activities at home. They were usually inside and didn't play together, only occasionally attending meals. They were 6 almost seven, at move in. A girl, a boy, and a girl who had a full-time au pair.

We also had the problem with not enough girls.

Our children all go to different schools which doesn't help with bonding. Two 7th graders, a boy and a girl, bonded very well last year. One had moved in at 5 and the other adopted at 9 (?). They went to school and home together on the Metro, and did homework together after school.

8 years since move in, all the children who have been born here, or adopted as infants (under 2), play together very well, pretty much daily in nice weather. The oldest are now 6. Just the normal squabbles. Some play together better than others.

We have been working together to establish simple behavior guidelines
which apply to all situations that we can teach and reinforce, like
"Stop means Stop" and "No means No." Most of the children are too young to generate their own list of "rules." Most of the adults are reluctant
to create a lengthy list of "no's" and would rather the kids learn to
work out the issues with a little guidance from adults.

For non-parents of small children "rules" or even the concept of rules is a problem for us too but not quite so much with the smaller children. It's more of a problem with the 9-10 year olds whose behavior is 'bigger.' They are louder and stronger and physical -- all the time. And want to play soccer where they make a lot of noise. This is really a function of not having places to play that are large enough for them, but also a function of their parents believing that this behavior is both normal and justified.

Others of us want a certain behavior norm in the dining room and living room and in the piazza where adults often sit. The piazza is also surrounded by two and three floors of units into which the sound reverberates. A design to be avoided unless you have behavior norms for adults and children alike.

We discuss rules not as children's rules but as "behavior norms" for everyone. No one is allowed to ride tricycles in the dining room or bounce balls off the ceiling. And we do have on adult, really two, who need the same rules that one would normally apply to children. "Indoor voices" is also a problem for a few of our adults as well -- and they have not a clue.

What has really, really helped is not rules but community discussions about noise, pets, and clutter. Just hearing how much one group or another is bothered by the behavior of another is revealing and results in changed behavior. People who lived in the first floor, for example, had no idea that sounds reverberate and grow louder as they go up the walls of the piazza. Or that anyone cared about the junk stored outside their unit.

One parent expected that his children could behave anyway they wanted as long as they were alone in a room but any adult could ask them to stop when they came in. He had to hear that it put other adults in the role of being ogres all the time to be interrupting their play and resenting supervising his children. And that children who are 9-10 don't moderate their behavior well with conditional rules.

New parents had to hear that people who have never had children are not used to hearing babies cry, are upset by it, and cannot concentrate in meetings. They haven't developed parent's deaf ears. We then arranged childcare during meetings -- one paid person and one adult, usually not a parent.

So just conversation as a community helps tons. We didn't do this when we moved in. We tried to write rules which didn't work at all.

I would also suggest fun activities for the kids, all together, away from the community. Trips to the zoo, picnics, etc. Places where they have to interact but can do it on neutral territory. This gets them away from both the expectations of their own homes and from their own feelings of displacement.

I've heard privately, after other messages on the list, that children and different expectations is a major problem in communities and some have moved out because of it. I think some parents hear "child friendly" as "child centered," and "child centered" as children set the rules by their behavior. The Lord of the Flies approach.

I was in a restaurant last night were two women brought in 4 children, ages 3-6, and did nothing to moderate their behavior. When they spilled water because they were wrestling at the table, one mother would just call the waiter to clean it up. They were yelling and jumping up and down around the table.

Even the six-year-old I was with was appalled. And she is not known as shy and retiring in restaurants or anywhere else. She just stood next to me and watched. A bit alarmed.

Sharon Villines in Washington DC
Where all roads lead to Casablanca

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