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(9) Parents & Kids

 17

 Respect Is a Way of Seeing

Parenting takes place in a dynamic exchange among all members of a family. By living authentically in relation to one another, there is a sense of aliveness and joy that we do not have when we aim to teach, preach, or get others to do what we want.

Joseph Chilton Pearce

The good news is that willing co-operation between you and your child is not only possible, it is a natural consequence of a relationship where there is mutual respect. Respect, like co-operation, is often misunderstood and used in a variety of ways. What do you mean when you say you want more respect from your children? Do you want them to be more willing to listen and learn from you? Do you want more understanding for your own circumstances and needs? Is it fewer arguments you want? Would you like your kids to see that your point of view is right? Do you mean you want admiration and high regard from your children? Or, do you want them to do what you say, no questions asked? Perhaps you mean all of the above. With so many different ways of understanding respect, is it any wonder that it is so difficult to ask for and get it? For most parents respect is a catch-all word that implies many thoughts, feelings, and needs.

What does the word respect mean to you?

The core meaning of the word respect is to look. But to look at what? We propose that to respect another person is to look at what they are experiencing-in particular, to look with respect to their present feelings and needs. When looking at your child, you can always choose your focus. You can look at their behavior from your point of view, from your desires and your judgments. Or you can look at them from their point of view, with respect to how they are feeling and what they need.

Focusing on Misbehavior

When you focus on what’s wrong with a child, it can sound like this: How could you be so careless? I thought you were more mature than that! What’s wrong with you? You know better; you should be ashamed. When you focus on what’s wrong with what your child did, it can sound like this: That was a terrible thing to say. Look what you’ve done! You should know better! When your focus is clouded by your fears about what your children will do in the future, it can sound like this: If you keep that up, you won’t ever succeed. You’re never going to make friends the way you’re acting. When are you going to start listening to me? Parenting that focuses on what’s wrong with children or what’s wrong with their actions relies on a belief that scolding them, making them feel bad, and punishing them will motivate them to act differently. Does it work for you?

 Focusing on Needs

 No matter how crazy your child’s actions may seem to you, from tugging on your pant leg to yelling, hitting you, hitting siblings, or throwing a toy, all that your child is trying to do at that moment is fulfill a need-a need that you have, too. Maybe the need is for attention, consideration, choice, or autonomy. You may not like the way your child is trying to meet his need, but you will have the best chance of connecting with him-and also of helping him find a better way-if you recognize the need he’s sincerely trying to meet at that moment.

The dad in the following story was elated to find he could focus on his son’s needs rather than react to his behavior. Two months into the start of middle school, twelve-year-old Jason was putting on weight. His parents stocked the house with healthy foods but knew that he was snacking on chips and candy at school and on the weekends. His parents didn’t want to put additional pressure on him by saying something, but one night Jason said angrily, I can’t believe I’m so fat! His dad reports that his first inclination was to lecture Jason: Look, if you’d just lay off the junk food you’d lose weight. He was proud of the fact that he kept quiet instead, hoping to hear more from Jason about what was going on with him. Sure enough, Jason continued, I know it’s all the junk I’m eating, but I can’t stay away from it. I crave it after school and it’s everywhere I go. Dad empathized with Jason by guessing his feelings and needs: Sounds like you’re feeling kind of stuck right now? You’d like to find another way to let off steam and relax besides eating fatty foods? At the moment you don’t know what that could be? Tears welled up in Jason’s eyes as his anger toward himself shifted to sadness. Yeah, Dad, I’ve got to do something! Dad empathized again: You sound pretty motivated to change some habits. Jason replied, I am, Dad. Do you have any ideas? Like most parents would, this dad jumped at his son’s invitation to share his opinions and discuss ideas about what his son could do to meet his needs in healthier ways.

 Co-operation Is In Our Genes

 The idea that co-operation is a necessity for life to survive and thrive, and that it is part of our genetic wiring, is put forth by both scientists and spiritual leaders. A natural instinct among animals to co-operate for mutual well-being has been reported by biologists Tim Roper and Larissa Conradt. In their study Group Decision-Making in Animals, they conclude that the natural state of all group-living animals, including humans, is co-operation, not domination. They maintain that Nature has endowed humans with a biofeedback system that includes the release of endorphins, and joyful feelings, when we give to one another.1 These feelings motivate us to continue to give, and thereby to contribute to the survival of the species and more: the thriving or all-around well-being of

each of us. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, also claims that co-operation is a natural response in humans because we are social creatures, and our survival and well-being is inextricably linked with the well-being of others. The impulse to give to others and to cooperate with them for mutual well-being is, thus, grounded in our nature. In his words, “interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law, or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness.”2

A working definition of co-operation that emerges from these perspectives is this: Co-operation is a way of engaging in power with others for mutual well-being.

1. Roper and Conradt, “Group Decision-Making in Animals.”

2. Gyatso, “Compassion and the Individual,” http://www.john-bauer.com/dalai-lama.htm  (accessed December 22, 2013)

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