From where are, and where we’ve come, we are all connected, here, on level ground.
I read an article today on Elephant Journal, of which I’ve linked below. The author is a mum of a young girl, who while endeavoring to support fellow parents and children, came into her own moment of awakening recently. This gained insight not only opened her eyes, but reaffirmed much of her intention to parent gently, with respect, and in reverence of the little person in her care.
It’s not too often I come across a truly kindred spirit in the world of parenting, living with children, nonviolence, empathic connection, etc., but when I do, the smile doesn’t leave my face for days. Today, Shonnie Lavender has brought me such a smile, and my gratitude is spilling out.
Recently, with my pregnancy, the continued work on the house renovations, travel, holiday events and activities, and the general sense of such “a lot”, we’ve had more of a challenge remaining connected than is the usual flow. Life is about change, movement, growth, expansion, and experiencing. Sometimes we get caught up in the whirlwind of all of it and forget to choose our actions and reactions thoughtfully and with intent to benefit. This article speaks to this for me, as well as reaffirms the beauty and value of revering our little ones, and their incredible journey of childhood.
“Mentally, it’s much easier to parent by merely replicating what we experienced as children. It’s what we know and it comes “naturally” to us. But I’m not content to do things because they’re easy. I intend to build a relationship that is mutually-respectful, no matter what. A year after I first discovered my habit of usurping my daughter’s power, my belief in my own superiority still shows up on occasion. Whenever I notice that I’ve treated my daughter’s authoritative voice as less valid than my own, I look for ways to restore the balance of power in our relationship.
When I wrote vows to my daughter a few weeks after she was born, I promised to take a conscious path as her mother. I committed to do what I could to allow her to stay in touch with her true self, to trust herself and to live as she was meant to live, not just the way I thought she should live.”
We educate our daughter independently, in a manner that is driven by her curiosity and interests. This method works beautifully because it inspires, encourages, and ignites her (and us), it also requires relevance be at the root of our activities, which means her mind is ready to receive and expand.
This is what learning looks like in our home
Yesterday, for whatever reason, instead of flowing with her, I screwed up everything. Instead of observing, I became utterly blind and unaware. Instead of listening, I only heard my voice. Instead of noticing and being, I demanded and shoved. Instead of a joy filled opportunity with her, where her intellect is ablaze, her inexperience a delight, her growth a wonder, and her little Self is safe, I came down like a wrecking ball and smashed her-in the name of accomplishing an agenda I apparently had, which I went on about through force (forcing). Something in me was very off yesterday….
I’m not afraid of her progress being insufficient, not worried by external judgment, and not unimpressed in the least with what she can and cannot do, does and does not yet know. On the contrary, I’m continually impressed, continually in awe, and consistently filled with joy at the wonder of how her mind and body develop. How she directs this development, how she flows and determines her fluidity, is something I revel at observing and having the privilege of being a part. None of that was at play yesterday, and the real trouble here is that I am uncertain what was at play within me – it was a reckless reaction, and one that I regret deeply. The entire experience was a mess, a distorted and negative malformation of what is usually a beautiful, complex, intriguing, and fluid expansion that she and I share together.
My daughter is 8 and academically, with few exceptions, functions at about a year/grade 6 (11-12 years of age). She carries conversations with educated adults, at her initiation, that leave them (and us) with an obvious reverence in their smile, along with an expression of captivation and satisfaction. She resolves things for other kids, invents her own solutions, and is a confident and capable, peaceful little spirit. She does not struggle to keep up with her peers, does not find academic growth challenging, does not have issues with self esteem, and does generally interact positively with all of us, except when her mama flattens all that. I don’t know why I was so intent on her cooperation and delivering of results yesterday, as we worked through a new mathematical concept that was clearly not one her natural development has so far opened a door. I thought it was a simple concept, and in one sense, she did too, but the connection wasn’t an organic one for her, and my pushing of it was the worst possible thing I could have done to support her.
So, today as I write this lament, I am re-awakening; I remember now my purpose, my intent, my work. I am reminded of the value of non-violence, of gentleness, of empathic connection, of listening. I know all too well how awful it feels to have someone force learning upon a little soul – which never results in learning; I experienced it over and over as a child. Yesterday, my little one, broken in spirit, had tears dripping from her eyes because of my recklessness. Instead of flowing with her, I snapped and threw TNT into her stream. I suppose I can find an explanation or two for my behavior, but doing so would harm even more than I have already succeeded at damaging. So, I will leave all justifications where they lie, and instead pick up today with eyes and ears open, and hope that she will grant me grace and forgiveness.
And when she is ready, the concept we tried to sort through yesterday will come, without force or expectation, but instead a natural clarity, in gentleness.
This is my baby, thriving in her accomplishment, learning with every single step and breath
I received a comment from a reader today that relayed their concern over how shielded and protected our ‘parenting’ approach might seem to be. The concern was primarily that providing such a regulated environment for a young child could be a disservice in that the child would be rendered unprepared when the harshness of reality came knocking on their door.
I wanted to address this reader’s genuine concern because it is one that I am presented with frequently from those who do not have the benefit of seeing what it’s like to spend “A Day in the Life of… Us”. 🙂
The gist of the comment offered is as follows:
“…in an ideal world, no child would ever feel any stress, but the world is far from ideal… I am worried, you seem to be obsessed with making everything just wonderful for them. Not that there is anything wrong with that as such, but I am a bit worried about how you will react when something terrible happens to them, that you cannot do anything about? Say when a boyfriend/girlfriend dumps them, or a pet/relative/friend dies.
Children are naturally resilient, they have to be as they have to learn that bad things sometimes happen that cannot be avoided…. I am NOT saying that suffering is good… But perhaps some gentle adversity as they grow up might help them to withstand something really bad when life sometimes really hurts?…”
I very much appreciate opportunities to talk with others who can see why the approach my partner and I have chosen to employ in creating the environment for our daughter’s childhood can be so wonderful and beneficial, while questioning whether it is realistic.Many have inquired, and some have outright informed us that our refusal to punish, and refusal to diminish, will lead to a child that is full of her own importance, doesn’t care about others, and doesn’t think authority is anything worth considering submitting to. We run into similar concerns when others discover how we educate our children. Our curiosity driven, child-led environment, unconcerned with expectations or requirements to be part of the “norm” really seems to rattle some people. Our focus is in the full development of the whole human, without expectation of a set timeline or specific outcome. Cheerfully, every once in a while we run into those who genuinely understand the benefit of a peaceful, respect giving, upholding home that honors one another as equals, and reveres our children’s childhoods, yet they still worry children from these homes won’t be able to cope in the ‘real world’.
There is a simple quote, reiterated and slightly shifted from one person to the next, but the idea is that rather than accept that which is not beneficial to life and living things, and force the mind to learn to cope and manage, insteaddemonstrate through one’s own behaviors and choices, a reality that abandons that which harms, and reinforces that which is universally beneficial. ~ In other words, be the change instead of the victim of circumstance: go and create the world we want to live in.
Granted, this way of thinking is one that is full of ability, proactive thought, action, and empowerment. It isn’t for those who feel they have no real capacity to impact the world around them. Well, maybe it should be for them the most, but such a way of thinking has to be developed. In our home, I think we choose to live the way we want life to be, as much as we can. In our case, it is an intentional and conscious choice much of the time, but I think maybe it’s become sort of second nature because living with these truths for us is what provides harmony and peace, where otherwise difficulty and negative experiences would overwhelm and take us under.
Recently, and throughout our history as a species, some humans have known intuitively that it is harmful to cause a newly formed mind to cope with that which surpasses the presence of connections necessary to support such experiences. Those that don’t seem to have an inherent sense of this concept have observed and chosen to become educated in understanding that the human child’s mind is “under development” and that causing it to deal with experiences it is not yet equipped to grasp causes development that is inevitably malformed as a result of the cocktail of negative chemicals overwhelming the neurological environment in which the connections are forged.
– There are many articles that discuss this understanding, and I want to encourage you to educate yourself if you are interested.
One thing that many adults do not seem to realize, especially in Academia, is that children by nature do not need many of the “lessons” we give them, but would gain and develop so much more thoroughly and effectively if we got out of the way and let them explore, discover, and adapt in their own time and space. This method is espeially successful if we walk along side them, providing them insight and security on their journey of developing Self. One example that is relevant in our home currently is the concept of bigotry and racism, as well as religious discrimination and indoctrination. My 6 year old has no concept of there even being anything out there when it comes to humans of a different skin color, gender, or class, any more than she does of a dog having white, black, brown, tan, red or yellow fur. In fact, she has so little awareness of anything negative along these lines (our differences) that any time we have seen her exposed to retellings related to any of these concepts, she simply responds to the ideas of cruelty, injustice, and inequality; she has no concept of there being an external human rational for the harmful behaviors.
Slavery, oppression, punishment, torture, war… These things are not something we prefer to have her exposed to yet, but much like religion, it’s inevitable it will come NOT on our timeline, a timeline dictated by her demonstrating she has attained an emotional and intellectual development to be able to think through things without a resulting negative or damaging impact on her whole perspective of her world. And so, when they come before she is able to really grasp them in a beneficial manner, we sort through them the best we can, offering encouragement to her to ask questions and think out loud as much as she feels like doing so. We don’t say much in these instances, we absorb her experience and do our best to get out of the way of her thoughts, and allow her to form these most valuable connections in a safe environment.
My hope is to encourage adults to recognize that children are constantly observing and absorbing everything around them, and the input stream is a continual source of information their minds use to form thoughts and responses that shape their existence and who they are.
In our home, our focus is harmony and security, respect and consideration, integrity and gentleness. We all have difficult days, moods that are just not helpful to self or others, and struggles, but when we demonstrate concern for one another, a concern that comes from a genuine appreciation and mutual, equal value, those emotional struggles (often a result of physical or logistical challenges) become opportunities to grow and gain, instead of feeling defeated or ineffective and powerless. When shame, guilt, manipulation, and false consequence are not part of the equation, in their place can be honor, integrity, compassion, empathy, consideration, and kindness.
So, how does this work? How do we know it will work?
Well, we’ve seen the outcome to some degree already in our own home as well as others, but honestly what it comes down to is trust. It takes a rooted and renewable trust… Trust in the process, trust in the science, trust in the knowledge, and trust in the child and their mind’s natural course of development. It takes trusting that they will gain and obtain throughout their life all that they specifically need to live their life, not that which is necessary to live the life of others.
If a child is allowed to obtain in his or her childhood that which they will naturally absorb and integrate into their being, these experiences will shape their mind in such a way that it will cause them to have what they need to navigate their existence, from the first moments of consciousness to the last. Again, knowing this, trusting this, and getting out of the way to allow the natural course of this development to occur is something that doesn’t come to many of us easily. We worry because of what we have been through and how our minds have managed those experiences – we are tainted, and justifiably so. The deepest challenge is to override our own mental conditioning (sometimes at a very deep and integral level) and not allow our own challenges to become those of our children. Instead, we work to empower them to build their own world, and build a world where benefit and compassion are far more common than self serving and violence.
To address the specific concerns of the original comment, and to tie in the concept of “trusting the process”, I will share a bit about what my 6 year old specifically (only discussing her life here, not any other children that have been a part of our home) has experienced and sorted through so far in her 6 years with us. None of these experiences were manufactured by us intentionally, each of them has forced us all to grow, and quite some percentage of them we did our best to shield her from the full blow of because her mind is not yet developed enough to be able to manage them in a way that causes her healthy growth.
At two years of age, my daughter was required to adapt to losing her big sister while simultaneously being moved to a new home, which for months was in a state of transition and change (literally, location change – new surroundings). Her father and I remained the only constant, along with her dog and some of her most important possessions. The result? Monsters… They came to our house, lurking around every corner it seemed. We watched a little girl, previously unafraid of anything and totally calm and secure, suddenly exhibit great fear, dread, threat, and anger.
After a few weeks of this, her father devised a solution. He walked along side her through that which she had to face (in spite of our efforts to protect her from having to cope with things beyond her developmental abilities). He walked along with her, and when she saw those monsters start coming for them, she told her Papa and, after getting the full descriptive run down of each one from his little girl, he simply ate them. With peanut butter, ketchup, mustard, cheese, and salt and pepper on top. Eventually, she decided she could do the job sometimes herself when her Papa was not available… that happened about the same time we made a very hard decision and chose a home to stabilize us in, even though a good option had yet to present itself.
At four years of age, our daughter was exposed to the idea of us adopting a sibling for her and bringing an addition to our family. She experienced the whole process, from interviews, to exams, to training, to our private conversations. It took 18 months, but finally a young boy joined us. 6 weeks later, after we had all started to attach, especially our daughter, we had to disrupt the adoption and could no longer be a home for this boy. The primary reason? Somehow, in spite of the highly involved social workers and their expertise, they missed something crucial: this boy was entirely not capable of being in a family with another child, especially one younger than he. Not only were his behaviors threatening and his volatility damaging to our daughter and to our home, but him having to witness our positive and supportive, gentle treatment of our daughter (which was a stark contrast to his own experiences through his childhood) caused him so much pain, and at such a deep level, that the exposure was determined harmful to him (and to us). The adoption was canceled. And so, my then 5 year old had, at that point, had effectively lost two siblings, one that had been there since her birth, and one that had come from great intention, effort, and hopefulness.
Simultaneously, my daughter was presented with another intriguing challenge: her father was diagnosed with a stage 4 Melanoma, unknown initially whether it had spread to his Lymphatic system, unknown whether it could be resolved, unknown whether it would (or ever might) return, or if his life might be in jeopardy. She watched as we grieved, as fear consumed us, as we denied, raged, ran, scheduled exams and surgeries, and went through an emotionally charged experience such that our union was ripped apart and our life as we knew it was literally smashed to pieces. She watched while we did our very best to not allow fear to fill her mind, and did our very best to keep the full extent of the concern from becoming her burden to bear.
She then watched us rebuild, return, restore, and renew. She’s still watching this process.
Now, at 6, she is contemplating the impending loss of her Nana, her canine companion that has been by her side from the moment she was born in our bedroom. This sweet soul, and member of our family, still tries desperately to play with her 6 year old charge, in spite of a lack of mobility and loss of sensory function. We are all here, supporting and loving her, as she finishes her time with us and makes her way to her place of rest.
In the last 5 months, I have become pregnant twice, and twice have been presented with a situation where for one reason or another, the pregnancy did not continue beyond barely knowing about it. My daughter was aware each time, as symptoms were impossible to cover – she is empathic, as well as empathetic… she knew something was up when Mama stopped playing with her while simultaneously renovating our house. (Yes, I am renovating our entire house, myself, on top of everything. This is why the choice I mentioned to “stabilize” in a home, in effort to put an end to the monsters, was such a challenging one. Three years later, I’m about 70% done with the renovations that were supposed to be cosmetic and have become everything from structural to plumbing and electrical, to finishing, and without a reliable pool of professionals or local materials source to rely upon). We still are not entirely certain of the full reach of these losses for our family, particularly our 6 year old. However, signs that it impacted her more negatively than we desperately hoped against, appear now and then, mostly in the form of her stating she doesn’t think she’ll “ever have a sibling because there is no way for her to have one that seems to work”. She’s now resorted to sometimes informing us she doesn’t ever want a sibling, while other days begging for one, and still other days being outright angry with us for yet having provided her a brother or sister (that is still a part of our family anyway).
Along the way, my daughter has grappled with unkind children, children who have been abused and therefore harm others, unkind adults who diminish, witnessed children and animals being poorly treated, attempted to understand the benefit of the relinquishment of her fish, the death of family members, and most recently the continued absence of her father, as he struggles to balance work with living. You know that move I mentioned we chose to make a few years back? We made that choice out of necessity for career reasons, in order to provide us with a quality of life we thought to be impossible without the relocation and career shift. That very decision now renders me a single parent most of the time, and my child and her father, as well as he and I, find ourselves scrambling to make the most of every single second we have together because there are so few (not to mention the additional awareness of the fragility of life that greatly impacts this desire for togetherness).
So, now my daughter, at 6 and half years earthside, is intimately observing the strain and stress her parents are experiencing, facing her own grief and continued dread of her father’s absence, trying to grasp and deal with the impending death of her cherished canine companion, and somehow stave off resentment in the shadow of the loneliness the absence of a sibling has cast, as we work to better our life. So much for protecting her from having to cope with anything before she is really ready.
Or maybe not…
She now observes and absorbs our actions and conversations as we once again open our minds and commence our search, and resume our journey. For now, we are generating the life we want to live, instead of living the circumstances that . She is now taking her own steps, no longer being in our arms all the time, and we are all walking side by side, together, arm in arm.
This is real life.
**** When we force children to cope, we cause defensive and non-productive mental connections to be made. The neurological science that explains this phenomenon is actually very clear and simple to grasp. In the place of children having to figure out how to cope, instead we walk along with them through what comes, and protect them from that which is more complex than they’ve developed neurological processes to comprehend. In so doing, we allow them the natural environment necessary for their minds to make the connections in a timeline and course of development that doesn’t harm or cause fear or threat. When those positive and effective connections solidify, instead of a defensive, protective response generated by a replaying of threat and negative chemicals being released in the body, the mind provides a proactive and beneficial alternative. That alternative empowers our children to seek positive options, and advance and improve their world. The result is an empowered mind that will change our world in ways that lead to universal benefit.
Yes, you heard me right. Last night, my little one came to me with all the sincerity and gentleness she could muster (I’ve been sick, she knew I was exhausted), and asked if I would be willing to get her “princesses” (Polly Pocket collection) out for her. She wanted to play with them with her Papa before she went to sleep.
I collected this, um, collection about two months ago and put them up because there are so many pieces that she was having an impossible time managing them. Everything was consistently strewn, which just caused her and me frustration. (Not to mention the pairs of shoes that were no longer pairs.)
I think Polly Pockets are intended for kids about 6 and up. My Bugz inherited these about a year ago and she seemed to dig them, even if they drove her nuts not being able to dress the dolls and such without assistance. But eventually, it just got overwhelming, so I put them away for a while.
Last night, she presented this request, and instead of heaving a big sigh (which, I try not to do because well, it doesn’t feel good to have someone sigh or roll their eyes in exasperation at me… so why do it to my little person), I smiled. I looked at her for a moment, to determine if she was serious or just grasping for something to stall the sleep sequence (she’s recently become reluctant to go to sleep – something I’ll address in another post).
She was serious. She’d already spoken to her Papa to get his agreement to play the activity with her, and she a scenario going in her head for the princesses to play out. Though I knew she was tired, I saw a chance to honor her choice to genuinely request (instead of whine), and respect and grant her desires. Even though I thought there might be better uses of time, it didn’t matter, she is her own person and this is what she felt was valuable at that moment… I had the pleasure of saying “yes”.
There was one caveat, however. Her room was rather untidy (like, the floor had gone missing) and I knew that if we tried to add anything to it, it would just frustrate and ruin the experience. I have been meaning to get to her room for a week or two now, but with all the traveling and randomness of our present life, and my excellent ability to selectively procrastinate, I hadn’t worked with her on it. So, what a great opportunity (I hoped) to give her exactly her little heart’s desire, AND get her room cleaned… at 10pm, while hacking up a lung. – This is when I laugh, the kind of laugh that warms the entire room.
I told her, and I quote, “I would be happy to get your princesses out for you, however I think your room has to be clean first, or you won’t be able to find a place to play with them. Would you be willing to work with me (note: “work with me”, not, “help me”) to pick things up to make room for the princesses?”
And she did. She found it tough at the beginning, not knowing what to do and quickly becoming overwhelmed. (How many times have you told your older kids to clean their room, a power struggle ensues, and nothing gets cleaned? There is likely a really good reason…)Rather than run her out, tell her to just keep trying (which is defeating in a situation like this), or enter a battle, I have found it very successful to simply give her a task. In our case, I asked her to start by rounding up all the shoes and putting them in her closet. Later, I asked her to organize them in the closet by shoving them to one side, but initially just getting them in there was a step she could manage with confidence and success.
As I worked on the various miscellaneous stuff that would overwhelm any kid, I continued to make little piles and ask her to do certain actions with each. She continued to help, then yawned a bit and sat down. I asked her if she was tired. Yes. Did she still want to play princesses tonight? Yes.
Now, here is where some parents would respond with, “Well then, you have to keep cleaning.” In our home, bribery and coercion are tactics that are avoided as much as possible. So, instead of saying something like this, I simply acknowledged her fatigue, and I continued cleaning and organizing while she relaxed. No expectation of her, no shame imposed on her need for rest, and no resentment coming from me.
Within a few moments, she happily resumed working with me; she saw something that sparked her interest, that she knew she could succeed at, and she jumped right in. Within 10 minutes we had completed the task together, one that would have taken her hours alone, one that she would not have succeeded at because of her current neurological development. And one that, had I insisted she do alone (after all, she did make the mess alone), would have diminished her and left her feeling a failure (sometimes parents force the issue believing they are teaching responsibility… that’s not the lesson that is received however, and the child does not come out the other side with more self esteem or confidence).
Her room was spectacular! She was beaming with pride, accomplishment, and self satisfaction. She was also exhibiting gratitude, as was I.
Papa came, princesses were unearthed, and I went to relax with my lungs.
I don’t know when they finally drifted off to sleep, but I don’t care either; thankfully our schedule allows for this. More importantly, I trust that she will now forever have the memory of being safe enough to ask Mama for something that really mattered to her, being valued enough by Mama to be granted her request, being capable enough to work with Mama to complete an important task, being cherished enough by Papa to be played with (even when we’re all tired), and being unconditionally loved so much, that her sleep could come gently.
The other day, we were at a friend’s house and Bugz was playing with the family’s set of Legos. They have a child who has a fetish (they have thousands of Legos), and a truly rare talent. I don’t know how this kid builds the stuff that is produced, but it’s awe inspiring.
Bugz has never shown much interest in blocks, Legos, or other like toys, yet she routinely builds and invents, engineers devices that serve some purpose which is almost either always self evident, or obvious with only a slight explanation. Legos? Well, not so much. At least she doesn’t play them with me. She will sit for an hour with her Papa and play with them, but not otherwise. Maybe it’s me…
That said, this day, she’d wandered into the play room where all this family’s Legos are kept, and she actually started to play with them. She wasn’t exactly building anything, but she had rounded up all the human-like figures and had slipped into the realm of Legoland.
After she’d been occupied for about 20 minutes with the Legos, it became time for she and I to return to our own home. I began the alerting sequence (more on this in another post), and in the process, the mother of the family noticed Bugz was struggling with attaching a set of crutches (or some like assistance device) to one of the little Lego people. I noticed too. I stood silently and watched her struggle. Bugz looked up at me and explained that she was having a hard time figuring out how to get them to stay where she assumed they should. I acknowledged her plight. I replied that I assumed I would find it also a challenge.
She continued in her attempt and I continued in my silent support.
A moment later, the mother of the family whose home we were in, knelt down and took from my daughter the toy she was struggling with. This woman did so stating, “Here, let me help you. I can do it”.
I watched my daughter deflate at first, become confused, then annoyed.
A moment later, “Here, Bugz, I think it’s done. You just have to know how to do it.”, so says this adult, while attempting to shove the toy back into my now disinterested daughter’s hands.
“I don’t want to play with it anymore.” Bugz then got up to leave, but hesitated when the mother in question spat out an sarcastic, “Well, uh, I, humph… ooohhhkkaayyy.”
About this time, I stepped in, ignoring the adult, and knelt next to my standing daughter. I told her that I thought it was pretty cool she’d assembled the Lego people she had, and that she had been working with them. She reiterated she didn’t want to play anymore, and I simply acknowledged her, knowing the lack of benefit if I’d gone any further at that moment (with the other mom right there).
All of this happened in the span of less than 90 seconds.
We departed, Bugz was mad. She wasn’t stating why.
When we got home, I sat down with her, face to face, to have a conversation about her feelings. She was mad. Mad. I asked her to help me understand why. She couldn’t. She was just mad.
I knew why… so I led her a bit.
“Bugz, was it frustrating to not be able to get those crutches thingies on the little Lego guy?”
“It would have frustrated me… but then again, you are much more skilled at Legos than I am.”
“So, would you have liked me to have helped somehow?”
“No. It was hard though. They didn’t fit right.”
“You’re right… I think the crutches might have been meant for a special Lego person, different than the one you had chosen.”
“Oooohhh…. Yeah, there was one with a cast on its leg. Maybe that would have been the match.”
Pause… (She spent a moment thinking to herself.)
“Why didn’t you want to play anymore with the Legos after (name of other mom) decided to show you how to force the crutches to stay on the Lego person you were working on?”
“Did you like that she decided to take care of making them work instead of letting you figure it out?”
“I couldn’t get them to stay on the blue one. I would have tried the guy with the cast on his leg. She made them stay on but it wasn’t right… That’s why I couldn’t get them to… Why did she take it from me?”
“She didn’t trust that you would be able to do what you wanted to. She didn’t trust your ability to play and solve what you wanted to. She thought you needed her help. Did you?”
“No. I didn’t want her to do it for me. I didn’t know why it was stuck and not working…”
“Would you have wanted me to help?”
“No. I could do it. I don’t like that she came in… and I don’t want to play with those Legos ever again!”
“I understand. I don’t think I would have wanted her to take the toy and do it for me either. I think I would have eventually figured it out, or done something to fix it, or just decided to do something else.”
“I think your skill with building and tinkering is really cool, so does your Papa.”
“Yeah, I built him a Navigator Rabbit. He has it in his truck… If you stick it in the cup holder, and move the arms here (shows me) and there (shows me) and then – – -, and it will tell him, ‘Turn right there’, and – – – it will help him know how to get back home to me..”
– Conversation concluded. –
Lesson: Don’t undermine the confidence and self esteem in your child by stepping in, unless you’re asked (or there is a question of safety, perhaps, and then still, do whatever you do with the utmost respect for their ability). All you’re proving is that you, the adult, don’t think they’re good enough. Why would you do this? Seriously. Does the adult have something to prove (besides demonstrating their impatience, perhaps)?
It’s deflating, it’s undermining, it’s destructive to the spirit of the little person. Instead, given the opportunity to determine what their OWN solution will be, that little person will develop another strong and solid link in their chain of self confidence and assurance.
Why crush a child’s spirit? Why interfere? It causes them to resent that “assistance” and the person who didn’t trust them to succeed.
This is a common response from parents and older siblings, and it’s so damaging (and so easily avoided). Jump ahead a few years and watch what happens when that same parent behaves this way toward his/her teenage (or worse, pre-teen) child. And we wonder why so many parents have so many struggles with their teens. Honestly, it’s not complicated. Stop smashing your little ones, uphold them and honor them for all they are and all they do, respect their autonomy and value, and acknowledge fully all they accomplish and learn – fully admire their development right where it is, right then, right now.
And DON’T STOP when they become old enough to oppose you. Whether that happens at two years, ten years, or 16. Value that confidence and ability in them, know that your faith in them helped put it there. You don’t want a kid that agrees and follows, complies with everything, and doesn’t think for themselves. You don’t. It’s not easier. It’s not better. And if you think this is what would make your life easier, if your teen or pre-teen would just “pay attention and do (whatever it is you want/don’t want them to)”, you’re wrong, and YOU are the problem – fix it by starting with yourself and learning what you did to create the environment and dynamics now unwanted.
Would you take a few minutes today and make a list of whatever comes to mind that your child(ren) possess a unique or individual skill/ability for. Something exception, something simple. Then, make a list of some things they’re struggling with. After each line of struggles, explain directly WHY you have faith in them to solve their own struggle to their own satisfaction (not your way).
Now, give them the list (or speak it to a younger child over the next day/two). Say nothing more. Expect nothing. Just observe and keep your responses to a limited smile and nod, eye to eye, if the child responds at all.
Wait (an hour, a day, a week… maybe months).
– You’ll see.
Would you take a moment right now and create your list? Would you share it here?
What about an experience you’ve had where you’ve observed the response of a child who has been the recipient of an adult who has ‘stepped in’ where the child would have otherwise succeeded/or not (to their own satisfaction) on their own. Put yourself in the position of that child… What feelings does it evoke within you? Can you imagine now how you – being that child – might feel if, after speaking your opposition to the diminishment, was then also told that opposition was wrong/ungrateful/rude/inconsiderate/disrespectful (or any other slew of condemnations adults might throw)? Do you see what we do to our children when we tell them we don’t have faith in them? Do you? So… just don’t.
Wow guys! You all started speaking, and at the same time! I can’t tell you how big the smile on my face is tonight as I attempt to respond to the comments (most of which have triggered yet another post on the horizon, so please, keep your experiences and understandings coming). I experienced a rough situation tonight that, for a myriad of reasons, I can’t elaborate on at this moment… but reading through the responses to the “Why We Don’t Punish & What is Discipline” is healing. I want to share a bit about our day, however, in hopes of sharing my smile with you.
My younger brother is getting married tomorrow; my daughter is his flower girl. My daughter has been 4 since mid October. I still slip once in a while and refer to her as three, and I hear about it from her when I do. “Mama.”, says my little coherent. “I am 4. Do you not remember my birthday? It went on for a month Mom. We are still celebrating! I want to celebrate everything, always. So please remember to stop forgetting that I am not three now. And soon…!!! I will marry Papa too (wedding theme abounds of late). So, but you have to be 4 at LEEEAST, or maybe 7, to marry somebody. But I think 22 is really old. It’s big. Are you that old??” I hear this same line of thought about three times a week and it never ceases to make me smile.
Yesterday we traveled the 5+ hour drive from our home to my brother’s. Today, she awoke way earlier than I thought she would (have mercy – I should have gone to bed earlier last night) and kept her Grandma (staying with my parents) going for the better part of the morning. But, by 11am or so, she started whimpering and just being sort of whiny. At first I assumed she was hungry (we are going through the “hunger satiated after bite two – until 20 minutes from now” development segment), and so when she turned down an offer of food, I didn’t think much of it, until we got in the car to head to the wedding venue. She was exhausted. That didn’t make sense. I asked if she was hungry. Nope. Just thirsty. Ok… but then suddenly I knew I needed to observe her for a moment longer (you know, the parallel sensation somewhere in your core that if you pay any attention to it at all, you realize just how much you can perceive and understand about the world and people around you). Sure enough. I took her hand in mine and waited a moment, touched her neck just under her chin, and could feel her body temperature rising. She was succumbing to a pretty significant attempt by the “yucky germs” and when asked how she felt, she replied (that) “The white blood cells in my bloodstream, and the big, tough antibody guys are gettin’em Mama.. But they’re really having to work hard and it’s making me so tired. But I can heal. My brain has told my body to get hot on the inside to fry those germs away. But my head hurts and I don’t like how I feel and so I think I don’t like these germs.” Followed by, “Where’d they come from anyway!” – My kid has a current thing for anatomy and instead of ending a fever with Tylenol, we hop into a hot bath and help the body do its job to restore health.
Fantastic, I’m thinking. It’s dress rehearsal for my bro’s wedding, there’s supposed to be a dinner after that, we’re in a hotel in the middle of the mountains in Colorado (though, mind you, it’s warmer here than we’re accustomed to at home), and we have nothing but travel and more travel, oh, and a wedding tomorrow… Eyes watering, flushed, pale and gray.. and I somehow expect this little thing to play grownup tomorrow, at the grownup’s party, and like it to boot. Yeesh… Ok. Time to step back and re-prioritize. Time to ask the kiddo what she thinks about everything.
Upon inquisition, she offered that she was pretty sure her body was strong enough for her to practice for her uncle’s wedding. Besides, she really wanted to throw flower petals around so she could go collect them and plant new flowers. 🙂 So, I let her participate as much as she decided she wanted to. She did pretty much exactly what everyone asked and wanted, and then some. She was brilliant and excellently cooperative, attentive, and even showed a ton of compassion and patience to another little one that was there (1 year old). Then, the eyes started watering again, the fever began to climb, and my little Bug asked for arms.
She slept through dinner.
Then, instead of going to bed, we took a hot bath. She reported it being very helpful, and after tolerating me putting her fragile locks into rags for the purpose of hair preparation for the festive event, she and Papa snuggled up and went to sleep. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Eventually I’ll post about the part of today’s experience that I can’t discuss yet.. But to give you some insight into the positive side of it, basically it’s as simple as this, even though my daughter was miserable, sick, exhausted, and generally really miserable, she chose to be involved tonight and she did so not because either her dad or I told her she had to, or kept pushing and prodding her to cooperate, she chose to (and I know this because she communicated her preferences directly to me) be involved because she thought her uncle and future aunt would value her being there. She asked if they wanted her there, and if so, she’d be there, says the brave little Bug. And while there, she did her thing, we played, we rehearsed, we ate hot chocolate and marshmallows (and so did half the group, as she went on a mission of marshmallow sharing madness). Her willingness to learn what the adults wanted her to do, follow instruction, and just generally totally be “there” in spite of how she felt (or what her curiosity suggested she check out), all came from her. She had no fear or even remote concern of me or her Papa punishing or scolding her for not performing or conducting herself in some way we (or the other adults) expected. I don’t think she even comprehends this sort of scenario because every time she sees it with another kid/parent, she flips, asks a ton of questions, and demonstrates sorrow at the other child’s discomfort.
I don’t have to threaten. I choose to explain.
I don’t have to give ultimatums. I choose to allow her autonomy.
I don’t have to punish. I choose to allow her choices to result as they will, and to stand by her as she experiences those results and learns what to do with them.
I ask for her involvement in our shared life, I explain the details, I educate her as much as possible about the whys/whats/whens, and I have no fear telling her that the only reason something is expected a certain way is because Mama is being intolerant at that moment/about that subject, or some other adult is focusing on themselves and forgetting to see the world through her eyes too.
Does she know when compliance is mandatory? Yes. She understood this at about 13 months.
Does she know that if compliance is mandatory and she chooses to refuse, that her mom or dad will step in one way or another? Yes. She knows we will do what is necessary to keep her safe and to keep us sane in dangerous or extremely stressful situations.
Does she know that we trust her with the choices and information she currently has? Yes.
Does she know she has the right to refuse our requests, just as we have the right to refuse hers, and that compromise and flexibility are highly valuable skills and traits to develop? Yes. But she also knows my love, my grace, my compassion and empathy, my understanding that the world is massive for her right now (like it’s really any smaller for me).
Why does she work with us when we ask? Because she knows deep within her that we honor her and accept her entirely just because she exists. AND because we work with her when she asks..it’s a two way street. She feels good and secure inside when she knows that our family is sharing our lives together in harmony.
Yesterday I talked about the concept of how our society uses the term “Listen” with our kids. In our home, we use ‘listen’ differently than what I have observed in the majority of families with whom I’ve come into contact. In our home, when one of us says ‘listen’, what is actually being said is, “Please stop a moment, I want to share my heart, the thoughts that are really big in my mind right now. Please, look at me, hear me with your ears, and hear me with your heart. I want to connect. I want your acknowledgement. I am needing your validation of my feelings and thoughts at this moment/on this topic. And once I finish sharing my thoughts, I want to receive your response and share a conversation about this…”.
So, you won’t hear us say “Listen to me” unless it’s important and we expect to have an in depth conversation (kid to adult, kid to kid, adult to adult). Further, the “listen to me” aspect will be with a “please” because it is a request. Always.
In limited instances however, you will hear one of us say, “Please do/don’t _____________; I expect you to comply/expect your compliance.” Then, immediately following (or as soon as possible), we will provide a concise explanation for the expectation if it is beneficial or requested.
When a communication is delivered in our home without the “expectation of compliance” as a part of the entire message, everyone knows that a request is being communicated. Everyone also knows they have the right to deny any request, or grant any request. This is universal; there is no double standard where the parent can deny a request but the child can’t, for instance.
Do we always interact with this concept being the underlying and motivating factor? Are we explicitly consistent? No. We (big people and little people) screw it up sometimes. Humans ability to use manipulation is uncanny… And we are not perfect, nor do we intend to be. However, each person (and dog) in our home knows deep within them the value we hold for one another, as well as the value of consistency and forthrightness. We each know that it does not feel good to be on the receiving end of manipulation, and it is our responsibility to make the conscious choice to not allow ourselves to be in the position of delivering an attempt at manipulation.
Sometimes we fail. When that happens, acknowledgement is what makes the difference.. That acknowledgement begins as an internal acceptance of something that requires adjustment, followed by that same awareness being communicated outwardly to all involved.
When compliance is expected, the communication is never delivered as a request, it is always delivered as a command, and phrased in the format the child is accustomed to.
The command is always communicated with the expectation of compliance as a part of the entire communication. The “comply” aspect is not one that is resorted to (or tacked on) in the event the child doesn’t give the adult what is expected/wanted. This is crucial.
Our communication doesn’t look like this – Kid, I want you to do/not do something. Kid hesitates.. doesn’t choose to do as the communication indicates. Ok Kid, since you didn’t decide to give me what I want, I’m going to now say, “comply”.
This sort of approach is unfair and does not uphold the child. Why? Because the adult is retaining an upper hand that they perceive they have due to their size/age/status/etc. By phrasing as a request what is actually a command for which compliance is expected, they are being manipulative.
When the child, who interprets the communication as a request (because it wasn’t clearly delivered as a requirement initially), and chooses to deny it (for whatever their reason), is then forced to accept that the autonomy (self-governing) and right to choose he believed was his was actually never there, he can experience everything from confusion, to betrayal, to a much decreased sense of self. When the adult uses manipulation and then resorts to dominance to force compliance, they are stripping their child of his autonomy. It’s insulting and demeaning, and undermines the child’s internal reasoning and sense of self.
That said, there are instances when the adult cannot fully articulate the entire phrase, including something along the lines of “compliance is expected”. These sort of instances might be when walking in the city and or parking lot and the child is suddenly in some sort of danger. In times like this, the adult often cannot sputter out much more than a “STOP” (or other imperative) in time to prevent harm, and the child’s safety depends on his compliance. I’ll discuss this situation in a separate post. ~>
In the mean time, what scenarios can you recall when you and your child successfully interacted on an almost innate/intuitive level – where they sensed your dire need for their compliance, and they granted it (whether threat of physical or emotional harm – which is equally valuable). Please share your experiences.
This morning my almost three year old found the “pupcake” pan.
Well, it was empty and therefore needing filling, and what better way to complete that task than to find a bunch of little things to sort into the empty cups!
We decided on rocks, as we have a large amount of them currently in what we are calling our backyard (that is all rock).
Bugs and I went out on a hunt for the most interesting, most lovely, most colorable rocks. A few minutes later, she had a basket (actually it was Kevin’s nest – Kevin is her most favorite bird) full of “interesting treasure” to sort into the 18 or so cups awaiting her attention.
Two hours later, still interested in this activity, she decided to put all the rocks on the floor and declare the pan’s need to be empty, from there on, and for the rest of the day. “It’s tired of the treasure rocks”, she explained.
Another 30 minutes or so, and about 1/2 dozen “oh!”, “ouch!”, and “yeeeawww’s!” later, I asked Bugs to clean up the rocks and told her that I’d help, and that my feet and knees just couldn’t take it anymore. She was watching Oswald (the blue octopus) and sorta half way acknowledged me.
I muted the tv and asked her to tell me what she’d heard me communicate. “Your knees and my treasure don’t have enough room for each other in this spot.”
A moment or two later, I knelt down next to where she was standing and started to pick up a few of the rocks. As I began, I said, “Bugs, are you going to help me pick up these rocks?”
“Yep!”, she chirped, while dropping to the floor to begin gathering.
We made it a game of “Bugs has amazing spy eyes that can see little, teeny rocks MUCH better than Mama;s eyes can”, and she found quite a few I missed, in fact.
Through this experience, she was able to become aware of the value of cleaning up after scattering the rocks everywhere. She learned she has a great eye for noticing little things. She also remembered that when she focuses on something, she succeeds at what she intends to accomplish.
She was happy to see the rocks had returned to their homes and felt no disappointment at the dismantling of her collection (is this encouraging a respect for the environment, at a very early and simple level?).
Win, Win, and Win. Can’t beat that.
The pan survived, and that’s a light house rock, by the way.