Educated by Preschoolers

The image shown below is floating around FB.  The obvious topic is gender based behavioral conditioning imposed by society’s stereotypes, and I imagine that is what the majority of the conversations surrounding the image/message will be about.

When I saw this, and read through the captions, I was able to simply go through the first three paragraphs, with what might be considered appropriate acknowledgement and compassion, but then when I reached the final paragraph, my perspective shifted greatly.

The final statement reads as follows: “What does it say about society when a group of adults could stand to take a lesson in humanity from a class of preschoolers?”

 

It says, if they listen with humility and are open to growth, that they are wise.

There is great value and worth in adults paying attention and restoring the gentleness and wisdom in acceptance and equal value in one another that children are often inherently given to (before they are conditioned by adults to think otherwise).  Young children are no less intelligent or inferior in any way to an adult. We can, if we open our eyes and our minds, learn great things from one another. Universally.

A significant aspect of the concept of truly admiring and acknowledging our children, while in their childhood, is to inherently and intuitively know that children are wise, and able to offer perspective that often reaches far beyond and is much more thorough than adults often find themselves capable of.  Why is this?  I think it comes from simplicity found within a child’s mind, untainted, unconditioned, unscarred.  My ultimate aspiration is to raise my daughter without conditioning her, tainting her, or influencing her to associate anything negative with that which is neutral.  I hope to help her develop her discernment. Her ability to see clearly and discern what is beneficial from what isn’t is already very apparent and is demonstrated in her actions, words, and body language.

A child who has not yet been influenced to think otherwise, will see every creature as valuable, equal of worth, and worthy of acknowledgement and consideration.  Children see differences because their minds are attuned to seeking out patterns.  However, those differences are simply differences, that serve to assist the mind in categorization and recognition, not bigotry.

Coping, Emotional Management, Empowerment, Universal Benefit

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, instead demonstrate 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.

With neuroscience, we can confirm what our ancestors took for granted—that letting babies get distressed is a practice that can damage children and their relational capacities in many ways for the long term. We know now that leaving babies to cry is a good way to make a less intelligent, less healthy but more anxious, uncooperative and alienated person who can pass the same or worse traits on to the next generation.

– 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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

 London smile

 

**** 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.

That Doesn’t Smell Good. Yes it does.

I invalidated my kiddo today.  I didn’t mean to.  And I tried to remedy and repair, as I managed to catch myself, three times (in one day, yes.. I know).
Nonetheless, I did precisely what I try to encourage others not to do.

The incidents were simple, each time my daughter voiced her opinion that something annoyed her (didn’t smell good, didn’t look good, she didn’t like it), and each time I countered that it was fine (did smell good, did look good, no reason to not like it).  Stupid.  Stupid.

The rub is the reason I responded as I did, because normally, I would simply acknowledge her opinion, acknowledge her for voicing it, ask questions perhaps, and let her have her thoughts and feelings (just like I want to be allowed my thoughts and feelings, and the validation of them and me).  But today, for whatever reason, each time she expressed a negative opinion (stated above), it happened to be in public, and in the presence of adults within hearing (and being offended) distance.

Today I decided, in a rather knee-jerk fashion, to allow my need for social acceptance from other adults to supersede my respect and value of my daughter. To me, this is unacceptable.

Each time I countered, I caught myself and was able to restate with something along the lines of, “You don’t think this smells good?  Well, I actually think it smells good, but you don’t. Ok.”  Mind you, this only after my immediate response of, “It does smell good”.

I might as well have told her, “Don’t say it doesn’t smell good, and it’s not ok for you think that.  Stop saying things that others will look at me funny out of assumed insult, where I might end up being embarrassed.”

Pathetic. I know.

What’s worse is… I know. I know better. I know how important it is to validate her, even if I disagree. I know how crucial it is to care more about her than what others might think (especially the general public).  SERIOUSLY.  I am not typically even remotely affected by what others think, why it got to me today, I don’t know. And it did get to me – at the expense of my little one – the one I’m to protect and uphold.

Lesson: Take my own advice and pay more attention.

Thankfully, my daughter allowed me to restate and try to repair each time (but really, I “caught” my error after the first time, why oh why did I repeat it twice more!!).  Yet, I know it is there now, and I can’t take it back… I can only improve.

How many times a day do we, as adults, invalidate our little ones without even realizing it? I would encourage you today to intentionally become aware and if you catch yourself (or hear others) simply countering your little ones, think before you open your mouth next time.  Remember, they are their own person. We have the responsibility to acknowledge their feelings and opinions as valid and worthy of existing – even if we don’t agree with them.

I wonder how many parents of teens would see a complete 180 in their relationships if they decided to zero in on this aspect of interaction with their teens, and make changes in their behaviors toward their teens.

Driving the Point Home

Yesterday we took our daughter to an egg, er, scramble.  The group that put it together was thoughtful and split up the field into three age categories.  She ran with the 1-4 year olds, their parents..and older siblings.  She came out ok, but next year I suspect she will be a bit more aggressive…. oh, what we teach our children from the very beginning.

After the hunt, we went over to the playground for a while.  There is a feature on this playground built for wheelchair fun; there is a long incline ramp, a bridge, and then a very gentle slide.  Needless to say, the kids on two feet and wheels really seem to dig it, including my daughter.  She spent quite a few moments on this particular piece of equipment, until one time instead of going down the slide, she decided to go up.  She did so at the peril of another girl about her age.

The mother of the other child, my daughter, and my daughter’s father were all within arm’s reach, so the girls didn’t end up with any serious injury physically, but the interplay between my kiddo and her Papa that followed is something I want to talk about.

My daughter has a very solid sense of self, she is articulate and opinionated and we encourage this. She tends to see things for what they are, doesn’t follow the crowd too much, and generally just sort of blissfully fits wherever/whatever she’s doing.  She spends most of her days with me, but often Papa is around, and when he is, she is happiest.  Her desire for his attention, approval, interest in her, and general involvement with her seems to exceed her desire for the same from me.  Consequently, she is much more sensitive to his responses toward her.

She listens to his ideas, to his guidance and suggestion, and to his heart, and most of the time, she does so silently. You can see the acknowledgment on her face, if you’re looking for it, and sometimes in her body language and movements, but her acknowledgement of his communications is almost never verbalized (at least not until later).

Russ tends to be very gentle with her, he gets down physically so he is face to face, he plays, he teaches, he leads by example, he shares himself.  Sometimes, however, he reprimands, and it flattens her. He can be too firm, too rough… this is when the impatience sets in. (Can any of you relate?? I know I can.)  But he can also be direct and loving, yet if he reprimands even in this calm and connected state, she just crumbles. And crumbling can look like falling apart emotionally, but it can also look like defensiveness and anger.

The range of emotional response from her toward him is greater and more intense than it is with me.  There are reasons for this, unique to the personalities of all three of us, which I won’t go into in this post, but understanding this is important to understanding why I notice some of their interactions more than others, and why I’m writing about the one yesterday.

After my daughter decided to assume the position to climb UP the slide, and once her Papa realized that it was going to cause a collision, I think he attempted to verbally intervene. I don’t think she responded however, which agitated all involved, and the girls collided. The mom of the girl helped her daughter, who was upset because of the physical “bump” she’d received, and Russ took our daughter aside.  He knelt down, holding her (or trying to), and I assume began to tell her something along the lines of why he thought it was not a good idea for her to climb up a slide with other children concurrently sliding down the same slide.

I watched from a distance, and saw only the body language between the two… He was irritated but seemed to be providing her “Papa kindness” (which means he was not shouting or diminishing her in some way).  He was talking to her face to face, at her height, but she was pulling away from him and wouldn’t look at him.  He persisted, physically trying to get her to stay near enough to him that they could talk by taking her hand, holding her arm and waist, and attempting to have the conversation. She pushed him off, was defensive, and eventually decided she was done and ran off to play on the opposite part of the playground from him.

This is when I walked over to him and asked what had happened.

I got the run down, followed by a papa expressing his dismay that his daughter just won’t listen to him.

I thought about what I’d seen for a moment and concluded that my husband and my daughter need to spend a lot more time together.  He is intuitive and sensitive, and given the necessary amount of opportunity to discover and experience one another (Papa and daughter), together, he would have been able to see exactly what I was seeing. He would have become aware, would have realized his daughter’s plight and need, would have seen the development that had actually occurred (that was masked and hiding from him in that moment), and he would have been able to diffuse the situation immediately in a way that left both Papa and kiddo with positive feelings about self and environment.

He didn’t see however, not this time. He didn’t realize it in the moment, but our daughter was embarrassed. She was embarrassed by him not realizing that she got the lesson in the very first sentence, the first three-five words, or perhaps even in the physical action of either him helping to prevent a major collision (if he did, I didn’t see), or in the collision itself. I don’t think she’s ever climbed up a slide with a kid coming down before… 

I know the signs of not ‘seeing’ soon enough. I have experienced it plenty of times myself when I don’t see – until later – and then I have to repair. Humility is something I seem to be gaining more and more of, as she gets older… And while I suppose this is a good thing, it doesn’t exactly feel so great.

What her Papa and I don’t sometimes realize is just exactly how little can be so much.. He felt he needed to reiterate to her the lesson he knew she needed to get from the experience, not realizing all the while, she had already gotten it.

When he insisted she give him her attention so he could explain and teach (what amounted to her as reprimand), she rejected him. She fought back to hold on to her dignity and he held on because of his reasons.  I suspect those reasons consisted (at least in part) of him genuinely wanting to encourage her social development, increase her knowledge base for the purpose of future self-safety (just a week ago, she was the kid coming down when another was coming up, and she got hurt), as well as perhaps a sense within him of needing to do something because of the other adults around. (I don’t know what his motivations were, I didn’t ask specifically.) The result of the two, each struggling to be heard, to hold on to their own sense of self and need, was a battle that divided them.

They reconnected an hour or so later, but the rift was there and one of them will consciously remember it (the adult), while the other will subconsciously file it away. It will shape future interactions and perceptions, for both of them.

Wisdom comes from screwing things up, and realizing it.  

What if we, as parents, had the wisdom, awareness, and made the choice to step back from the interplay, while remaining engaged, for the purpose of gaining highly valuable perspective?  Doing so would allow our maturity to prevail, our intuition to be heard, and our awareness could do its job. Imagine what might happen in moments of struggle, where we think we are connected and moving toward each other, when in reality each is standing his/her ground defensively for their own reasons and the distance is actually mounting every second that goes by, if we as the parent/adult stepped back far enough to see. 

~  What would we see?

We might see our inner selves shouting, “Hear me! Hear me! I need to be acknowledged and know my thoughts, my feelings, and my perspective is important and valued. I am significant.”

We might see our children silently shouting, “Hear me! Hear me! I need to be acknowledged and know my thoughts, my feelings, and my perspective is important and valued. I am significant.”


Our children are not emotionally mature. Many of us parents aren’t either. It’s our responsibility to give our children an environment safe for them to be emotionally immature, so they can develop at their own pace.  We can give them this environment because of our own maturity. When we, the adults, are aware of ourselves in such a way that we recognize what is motivating behaviors, what is lying underneath our responses and thought patterns, our perspectives change, as do our reactions. When we, the adults, have accepted ourselves fully, and confidently value ourselves, we have nothing to prove… especially to our children (or the other adults standing by, watching).  We also have nothing to have approved, because we know within us that we are ok. We know that we are beneficial and needed.  We don’t seek out that assurance, it is within us.

Our children seek that assurance until their emotional foundation is solid and developed to the point where they have the ability to provide themselves with this assurance, and regenerate it when it is temporarily not able to be found. How many adults do you know who are still functioning somewhere within this same realm of underdeveloped emotional security?

Power struggles with children are completely unnecessary.  And when they do occur, it is the responsibility of the adult to cause them to cease, and not by winning either. Let’s use this metaphor: Adult and child, each has a water gun and they’re playing a game with each other. The game is going well, until their guns run out of water.  They both need more water, there is only one hose, both need the water before the other one in order to “win”.  Where some adults/parents will demand the water first, others will give the water to their kid first, but then double up efforts in drenching (or let the kid win, which does the same for that child’s sense of self that doubled up drenching efforts does).

What if the adult had the wisdom and awareness to cause the hose to “run out” of water?  The game would have served its purpose, it would have been fun, and the battle that might have ensued, where each (adult and child) have a need to get met for themselves, would simply not have existed. The concluding moments would have been a “truce”, where each side respected the efforts of the other, and they had fun.

Perhaps you think this story is simplistic and unrealistic, maybe even childish… But I challenge you to reflect with an open mind on either the last, or the next time you and your child engage in being heard, and getting your own needs met.. You might just discover a SuperSoaker in your hands.


I’d love to have you share some of your own experiences where you were able to “see” what else was going on inside a battle or power struggle between you and your kid.

Here, I Can Do It… You’re Taking Too Long

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.

Nothing more..
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?”

“No!”

“It would have frustrated me… but then again, you are much more skilled at Legos than I am.”

“Yep.”

“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?”

“I dunno..”

“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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.

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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.

 

Responding to Imminent Danger: Physical & Emotional Threat

In a separate post, I discussed the difference between the terms “listen” & “comply”.  Toward the end of my thoughts, I ventured into the ever present, “But what if there is a reason my kid HAS to do what I’ve said, like, oh say, to keep him from plunging 1000′ to his death!”.

Rather than addressing this very important aspect of compliance in the same vein as the value of respecting a request, communicating expected compliance, and discovering what it really is to “listen” all in one, very long winded dissertation… I figured I’d split them up a bit.

From the previous post… continuing –
…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, and the child’s safety depends on compliance. I’ll discuss this in a separate post.   This is when the sound of the adult’s voice, and the tone that is used (that being of imminent danger – the adult is responding out of fear and the kid can hear it, the urgency and importance, in the adult’s voice) is all that is required for the child to comply.

If the parent has established this foundation (their interactions and expectations being worthy of the child’s trust) and level of respect with the child from the beginning (whether from birth or whenever the child comes under the protection and guidance of said adult), they are in a positive position to provide the consistency and stability necessary that in a situation of threat/safety, the child will interpret accordingly and, if they are developmentally capable, respond appropriately. This is giving the benefit of the doubt to the child and his/her intelligence.. but it’s one that the adult has developed from their end and so is reliable; the adult is comfortable and so is the child.  Given, however, humans do not always behave predictably, so I would encourage the parent to be within reach of physically sparing your child harm, in the event they don’t process your words as you need them to.

AND IF THEY DON’T (process correctly), after the danger has passed, please simply reiterate to them what happened in a flat and respecting tone, reiterate your command and the value of their response having matched, and move on (unless they want to talk about it).  Don’t rub it in, don’t demean or diminish. And don’t think this is your chance (while the body is on heightened alert) to teach a lesson… as it will be one delivered and received with an association of fear.

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When my little one was just learning to walk, I took her to the park one day.  At this point (she was not quite 10 months old), she knew many signs that we used to communicate to her.  She didn’t start signing much back until a few months later, but she understood them.  She also understood an expansive list of verbally communicated words.  (We so often do not give enough credit of comprehension to our littlest ones until something happens to forces us to realize just exactly how much they are absorbing and processing.) 

We were walking, hand in hand, just a few feet from our home over to the park (across the street).  I had stopped to grab the mail and releasing her palm for a moment, reached into the box to retrieve the letters.  In a matter of less than two seconds, she’d decided to explore at full speed and, after somehow traversing the curb (didn’t know she could do that yet), she proceeded into the cul-de-sac, dangerously close to the through street.

Now, mind you, I was within reach of grabbing her back and protecting her, but I decided to use my voice instead.  (I’m not sure I actually made a conscious decision either, but that’s what ended up as my response.) I instructed her to stop walking and stand still.  She turned to my face, stopped and stood still, reached out her hand and said, “Mama, come.” 

From that day on, my trust in her intelligence grew and grew, as has my trust in my own regard for her and the value of it.  So, again, while I wouldn’t recommend relying entirely on a little one to process your verbal instruction sufficiently to prevent harm, there is a really good chance they will if you have set up a foundation for them to draw upon, even unconsciously.

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Why do you think we are sometimes compelled to scold or punish our kids when they do something (or don’t do something) that causes us to fear for their safety? What exactly is going on there in the adult’s mind and response systems?

Also, what connections might be drawn between parents who respond immediately to infant’s cries, and a baby/toddler/young one responding immediately to the parent’s communiations?

For additional reading on this topic, please visit Dangerous Situations

Natural Consequence, Results of Actions, Absence of Control

In our home, we don’t teach our kids that there are consequences for their behavior – we don’t fabricate a world for their learning of the negative, or for the purpose of giving them lessons.  In our home, results of behavior occur for the child just as they do for the adult.  Of course, if a result would be harmful or damaging, we buffer, but otherwise we do not.  When a result should occur for the purpose of them learning something, and in fact nothing related really happens, we either simply verbalize our relevant thoughts or we let it be, trusting that the child will acquire the necessary understanding at a later time when the child is ready.

Parenting like this requires trust in the mind of the developing child, openness in communication and raw relating from parent to the child, and a complete lack of fear of losing control – because there is no “controlling” in the first place.

Does this lack of control mean my kids run my home? Actually, to some it may seem that they have too much influence because we choose to accept and accommodate their wants, preferences, and needs as equal to our own. Yet, if someone were to be a fly on the wall, they’d see that this respect we bestow upon the children is returned without force.  I don’t need to control my child because I trust her ability to reason, I don’t fear her making a mistake because I trust in her ability to accept herself and learn through experience, and I am willing to be inconvenienced for the duration of her childhood when necessary.

There are exceptions, when I must enforce something out of practicality.  Even then, however, my prevailing mentality is not to direct but to allow her to explore and learn through her own understanding and experiences.  Tonight my kiddo (4) decided to set a square box (cushioned cube) to sit upon, right in front of the tv.  Initially, I talked with her about the decision as she was too near the tv and the tv isn’t securely mounted as of yet (it’s new).  I asked her to make certain that if she was going to leave the cube to sit on so near the tv that she not bump the stand (or make the tv move) at all.

A few minutes passed and before long, she’d stretched herself between the cube and the tv stand like a bridge, and needless to say, the tv was jostled and wiggling in time with her own movements.  I watched for a few moments, to determine whether she’d correct the situation on her own.  She didn’t.  I stepped in.

I knelt near her, paused the program she was engaged in, asked for her eye contact, and said in a flat and gentle tone, with respect and not condescension in my voice, “Bugz, your feet on the stand are causing the tv to move too much.  There’s a good chance the tv might get damage because of how much it’s moving, and how close you are to it.  I mentioned to you just a few moments ago that if you were going to sit on the cube so near the tv you’d have to make sure not to bump the tv or the stand…  (She reflects, then I continue.)  I see the tv is still moving a bit even after you’ve now taken your feet off the stand.  I don’t want our new tv damaged and this concerns me.”

Her response, “Why does the tv move so much?”

My explanation, “Because the stand is meant to allow for some movement safely that won’t damage the tv, but we don’t have the tv in a good place yet and so it’s not secure.  It’s my job to mount the tv and I haven’t done it yet.  I know.. if it were, then we wouldn’t be talking about it..”

She responds, “Yeah, so can you fix it cuz I want to make a bridge but I don’t want to mess up the tv.”

I simply told her at that point that I wasn’t going to mount it at this time (I’m sick today, the room isn’t ready, the wall isn’t ready… I’m procrastinating… etc, etc.) and that the she was welcome to continue using the cube to sit on, but that it would need to be moved back a few feet from the tv.  She responded with some annoyance and disappointment, but she acknowledged me and picked up the cube, moved it to the center of the room (6′ or so from the tv) and resumed watching her show.  Shortly thereafter, she found herself climbing on the back of the couch, mimicking the cat on the tv, and was quite pleased.

I acknowledged her interest in the physical elements of the placement of the cube.  She likes to climb, stretch, jump, and teeter on things that are entirely not stable but she manages.  She also actively interacts with the tv, as we don’t use it except for education and/or entertainment that she physically responds to/with.  It’s unfair of me to restrict her just because I am too lazy to take care of the reason I am compelled to restrict in the first place.  If I took the time to mount the thing as it is meant to be, or at least set it onto a surface that was safer than what I have chosen, the entire conversation would never have happened.  She knows this.  She knows I have chosen to procrastinate, and that as a result I have had to ask her to forgo something she finds enjoyable.  Yet she doesn’t throw a fit, doesn’t intentionally defy me.. She also (this time) didn”t refuse to respect my request even with my own laziness being the cause, and her being well aware of it.  She chose to acknowledge the real concern I had for preserving the electronic equipment, chose to respect my request because it made sense to her and she happened to value the same that I did in tihs case, and she chose to modify what she could do to suit her desire to use her body to enjoy what she was watching on the tv.

Does she always make these decisions that go my way?  No.  But most of the time she does, and most of the time, I make decisions that go hers.  Though, if I demand something I can almost guarantee her respect and consideration of me, my wants, expectations, etc., become the very last thing she is interested in honoring.  Is an adult any different?

So, I don’t demand, and I don’t control.  I guide, educate, share and communicate very openly, demonstrate empathy and equal respect, respond out of compassion, and gently smile as the amazing things really impress me and the not so great just fade a moment later out of importance.  I screw this up a lot too… but the more I mess up, the more aware I become, and the I can choose how I interact, and what being in the position to parent really means.