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(16) Parents & Kids

Four types of parenting styles

PK16

Clarify Your Purpose

When thinking and thought become more and more automatic, perception becomes less and less adapted to the particular situation.

- David Bohm

 The first, all-important step for each of us is to determine what we want and what we’re parenting for. The following three exercises are offered to help you clarify your purpose for parenting. Please take your time with the exercises and see what you discover about yourself.

 Exercise 1: What do you want for the long term?

 Focusing on the long term puts present actions into perspective and often brings what is most important to you into sharper focus. Two questions can help you get clear what you are parenting for.

 Guiding Questions:

 What qualities do I want to see in my children when they are adults?

What kind of relationship do I want to have with my children, not only now but in the long term?

What do I notice when I sit with these questions and my answers?

 Exercise 2: What will you do?

 Please review the qualities you listed in Exercise 1 that you want to see in your adult children. Now apply your list to yourself and you will see more clearly exactly which traits you want to be modeling for your children now.

For every quality you listed as something you value and want to see in your adult children, turn it around to reflect the quality or values you want to live. For example, if you said that you want your adult children to be honest, turn it around, and say I value honesty; I want to tell the truth. If you want your children to care about their health, say I value health; I want to care about my health. These statements can be touchstones to remind you of your purpose and your practice.

 Statements of Value Statements of Intention

 I value… I want to…

Next, let your statements of values and intentions lead you to more specific actions you can take to support each value.

Specific Actions - I Want to Take

Explore Together: Choose Your Purpose

Exercises 1 and 2, above, can be used for children eight years of age or older to help them find their own purpose. Younger children, or anyone in the family who prefers, can make collages or drawings to show how they see themselves in the future, what is important to them, and what actions they can take to live from their values.

When all members of the family have finished these activities, share them at a family meeting.

Option: You can compile each family member’s purpose into one family collage, mission statement, poem, or other creative format.

Exercise 3: What is working?

No doubt you are already taking actions that serve your intentions. The following exercise is to draw your attention to what you are already doing that works to support your intention and create the results you want. Acknowledging and celebrating what works is one of the powerful, life-enriching practices parents can use to contribute to their own clarity, self-support, confidence, and balanced perspective.

What am I doing now that supports my values and intentions?

The secret of life is three words: change through relationship.

- J. Krishnamurti

Choose to Think in Alignment with Your Purpose

Our thought processes determine what we see, what we experience, and how we act. They filter and frame our interaction with the world and everything in it, including ourselves and our loved ones.

You might wonder, how do I choose my thoughts? Don’t they just happen?

 Thoughts arise, and moment by moment you choose which you invite in and entertain. You are the editor of your thoughts, and you can learn how to direct them to support your parenting purpose. Anyone who chooses to focus on thoughts of who’s right and who’s wrong, what’s fair and what’s unfair, who’s bad and who’s good, will inevitably spend essential time and energy analyzing, judging, blaming, and criticizing. When you give your energy to analyzing, judging, blaming, and criticizing, you are in a sense voting for conflict. The consequence is that by assuming a conflict-ready stance, you distract your own attention from understanding and meeting the needs that your children are expressing through their behavior.

If you entertain thoughts that people are doing things to you-for example, that your child (or anyone else) is manipulating you, taking advantage of you, ignoring you, or disrespecting you-you will often feel annoyed, irritated, and angry. However, when instead you think in terms of the needs that you and your child are trying to meet in every action taken, then you are more likely to feel compassion and connection. And you are much more likely to take action that contributes to your child’s well-being as well as your own.

Your thoughts about your children determine how you see them and how you treat them. If you see your children as untrustworthy, you will tend to limit opportunities for them to make decisions and learn about trust. Also, when you say to your children, I can’t trust you, they are likely to take that message to heart. If instead you see your children as capable of handling life, you will convey your confidence, treat them with respect, and give them lots of opportunities to make decisions for themselves. Imagine the best for your children; give them the gift of your confidence.

Environment Is More Important than Genes

The new field of epigenetics studies how environmental signals affect and even control the activity of genes. It claims that the operations of the cell are primarily affected by and molded by the cell’s interaction with the environment, rather than by its genetic code. The environment of a child-made up of family interactions and the behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes of parents-directly affects the child’s subconscious mind and behavior, perhaps throughout their lifetime. This is because children’s subconscious is very suggestive to what parents say-and the subconscious takes in all information as fact. When parents make comments to children, like you’re lazy or you’re mean, these comments are downloaded into the subconscious memory as the truth and then shape the behavior and potential of the child throughout their life, unless an effort is made to reprogram them.*

* Lipton, The Biology of Belief.

 

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(17) Parents & Kids

A message to parents from your child's teacher

PK17

Choose to Act in Alignment with Your Purpose

 What is required for effective change is continuity of sincere effort to release and let go of inefficient thought patterns from the past.

 -Doc Childre

 One of the actions you can choose to ensure more co-operation than conflict in your home is to encourage your kids to make their own choices whenever possible. Their choices and the lessons they learn from them will be the best teachers they have in their lives. Parents overlook needs for choice at great peril-their own and their children’s.

Choice is at the core of human experience at any age. This deep longing to choose our own purpose, beliefs, and actions, no matter what age we are, is fought for and defended in every home, particularly by children whose parents overlook their vital need for autonomy. Opportunities to make choices typically increase with age and experience.

The total dependence of infants gives way, day by day and with increasing momentum, to a desire to make choices for themselves-choices about what and when they want to eat, explore, and express themselves. The maturing process is about growing the ability to make choices for oneself, and it is crucial for their development that kids at early ages have many opportunities to make choices and to learn from them. To appreciate what a child experiences when choices are absent, just notice your own responses when someone says to you, you can’t! You must! You have to! Do it because I said so! Or if you don’t do it, you’ll be sorry! Do you want to co-operate? You can bet that your kids have the same reaction to these messages that you do, and probably twice as strong because they haven’t had dozens of years to get accustomed to them. There are several reasons parents think and do for kids rather than give kids choices about how to think and do for them. One reason is that they want to see things done in certain way-neatly, efficiently, and precisely. Another reason is that it takes more time and patience to let kids do things for themselves.

Rushed and harried the way most parents are these days, they find it easier and quicker to just take responsibility and do whatever needs to be done. All this thinking and doing for kids limits their opportunities to make choices and to get things done using their own brain and muscle power and creates resistance and conflict. Without these opportunities, it is difficult for them to see themselves as capable and competent in their world.

One mother we know remembers sharing opinions with her parents and hearing back, Oh, you don’t believe that! You shouldn’t think that! At an early age she learned to keep her opinions to herself, and even as a grown woman she still doubts that anyone will appreciate them. Such limitations on a child’s way of seeing the world can have severe consequences in adult life.

Help your kids become aware of the range of choices they have and convey your confidence that they can handle more choice about their lives. To further exercise their choice making muscles and to learn what works and what doesn’t, invite them to participate in making rules, agreements, and plans that affect them. Let your kids know that they can rely on you to help them make adjustments when needed and that you are willing to learn along with them as they go.  

When you talk with your children about choice, be aware that many young people, especially adolescents, feel confused, irritated, or angry when they hear adults talk about making choices. Most kids know that parents, teachers, and other adults make most of the important decisions for them, and their choices often seem limited to just two-to comply with the decisions that come down or to rebel against them. Most kids’ experience is of living in the midst of a seemingly endless number of rules and expectations that often don’t make sense to them and don’t honor their desire and ability to make choices for them. They might not believe that they have any control over meeting their own needs. They may need a great deal of empathy for the gap between the autonomy they would like to have and the limited number of choices they have been offered by adults in the past.

 Summary

Choose to choose. Determining your purpose for parenting is the first step to reduce conflict and create a flow of co-operation at home. From that point on, it is a matter of learning skills and making daily choices about how to think, listen, acts, and talk. We hope this key has expanded your awareness of the areas of your parenting life you have choices about. We also hope that you feel inspired to introduce your kids to an ever-widening range of choices-so that they sense themselves as full participants in their lives, and so they will enter adulthood as competent and confident choice makers.

 Daily Practice

Take time daily to reflect on your purpose.

Remember your intention for your interactions with your children.

Notice should and have tos and translate them to things you want and choices you make.

 

When we  understand the needs that motivate our own and others’ behavior, we have no enemies.

-Marshall B. Rosenberg

 Key 2 • See the Needs

• All behavior is an attempt to meet a need.

• Children are always doing their best to meet their needs.

• You are responsible for meeting your own needs.

• Feelings are messengers of met and unmet needs.

• Children want to be heard and understood.

 Why do we do what we do? Why do our children behave the way they do?

Sometimes, of course, it’s easy to understand why people do certain things: Ask a child why he eats, and he’ll say he’s hungry. Ask why he wants to go out with his friends, he’ll say for fun, to play. And why he asks so many questions? Because he wants to know some things. But ask him why he hit his little sister or why he doesn’t want to go to school today, and he’s not so clear. He’s likely to say, Cuz she’s stupid, I hate her, or School is dumb! Parents often react to statements like these by discounting them: You don’t mean that. That’s ridiculous. That’s not the problem. Or they reprimand their child: You shouldn’t talk like that. What a terrible thing to say. When kids hear this, they will try to defend themselves or they will shut down. And parents will be no closer to understanding what’s really going on. Nor does it help to ask who started this? Or whose fault was it? You’ll just get more accusations and more strife. This confrontational way of determining who is wrong, who’s to blame, and who’s deserving of punishment is upheld in homes, in schools, and throughout our justice system. It persists even though it rarely leads to understanding the deeper motives for actions. Without knowing the deeper motives, you can never really resolve problems or conflicts; you can only put temporary patches on them.

Children, of course, pick up on this approach to conflict and are quick to point the finger of blame: It’s her fault! She started it! She should be punished. They, understandably, do what they can to protect themselves from blame and punishment. One strategy for this is lying. In fact, we have found that the main reason children (and people of any age) lie is that they don’t feel safe telling the truth and they want to protect themselves from being punished. Assigning blame does not solve anything, and when parents assume the roles of judge and jury, determining who is to blame and what’s to be done about it, they perpetuate an ongoing blame game at home, where accusations, fault-finding, and name-calling become the norm.

 

The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

-Marcel Proust

 How sad this is, when what every child wants is to be seen for their good intentions and acknowledged for their best efforts. When they are seen with respect, they feel safe. This is especially important when their actions don’t turn out so well. When a child feels discouraged, distressed, sad, fearful, or confused about something, it doesn’t help to give advice, blame, criticize, shame, or punish. These responses only add to the misery and fear; they don’t help kids understand the situation better or learn from their mistakes. When children come to expect these fear-inducing reactions from adults, they decide at some point to find someone else to talk to or they shut down and don’t talk at all.

What kids do want, when things go poorly, is someone who listens, accepts their feelings, and recognizes their good reasons for doing what they did. Listening, accepting, and understanding foster self-reflection and learning. When you fulfill your kids’ needs for being heard, accepted, and understood, and you allow your kids to reflect on their actions, you send a message that they are competent and resourceful and can learn from every situation. When children receive respectful, empathic listening and feel the relief and hope it brings them, they will come back to talk to you next time. Eventually they will be open to hearing your thoughts and seeking your advice.

 

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(18) Parents & Kids

 Facebook Parenting: For the troubled teen.

PK18

All Behavior Is an Attempt to Meet a Human Need

When you make that one effort to feel compassion instead of blame or self-blame, the heart opens again and continues opening.

-Sara Paddison

Just imagine how you might interact with your child and with everyone in your life, if at each moment you saw that all of their actions were their best attempts to meet their needs. Human beings share basic survival needs that include air, water, food, rest, and safety. In addition to these basics, we also need love learning, friends, play, some degree of autonomy, and more. Since people everywhere have these needs in common, it is possible to understand what motivates other people’s behavior even when lifestyles, beliefs, languages, and age are different. This understanding increases compassion for others even, and especially, when we disagree with their actions.

You will also find a list of needs at the Center for Nonviolent Communication website (www.cnvc.org). There is no definitive list of human needs; the criteria for any list of  needs is that it includes life essentials that are common to every human being, separate from the various strategies people use to meet their needs. Probably the main reason parents are afraid of listening to what children want is because parents don’t understand the difference between a need and a strategy for meeting a need.

They are afraid that if they listen to a child’s desire for a video game, or a new toy, or to stay up all night, they are setting themselves up either for a fight or for giving in and providing the child with whatever is wanted. So let’s get clear that a new video game is not a need; it is a strategy for meeting needs, which might include the need for relaxation, competency, or fun.

Since the main criterion for universal needs is that they are shared by everyone on the planet, and clearly there are people who get along quite well without video games, you can easily determine that video games are not a need. Likewise, talking on the telephone for hours every night or watching cartoons in the morning before school are not needs. Having friends over every day after school is not a need. Everyday language obscures the distinction between needs and strategies. We say I need you to eat your broccoli or I need you to take a bath right now. Or we say I need an iPod. However, having a child eat broccoli is not a need and neither is buying an iPod. Eating broccoli is a strategy a parent has for meeting the body’s needs for nutrition; buying an iPod is a strategy for meeting needs also, for fun, entertainment, relaxation, or belonging. The things that children ask for daily with great urgency and drama are most often strategies for meeting a need.

The reason this distinction between needs and strategies is so important is that practically all conflicts, arguments, fights, and power struggles-with children and everyone else-are fights over strategies and can be resolved, if not prevented, when a parent respectfully focuses on the needs behind the strategy.

A typical strategy-based argument:

Child: I don’t want to go to bed now.

Parent: But you have to go to bed now. It’s your bedtime.

Child: But I’m not tired.

Parent: But you will be in the morning if you don’t go to bed now.

Child: No I won’t.

Parent: Yes you will.

Child: No I won’t.

Arguments like this leave the child frustrated and unheard. The parent is also not being heard for the needs that would be met by having the child go to bed at a particular time. Without understanding and respect for everyone’s needs, conflict will likely persist.

If parents first listen respectfully for their child’s needs before expressing their own needs, as in the following example, the result is often more connection, understanding, and opportunities to co-operate.

Child: I don’t want to go to bed now.

Parent: (guessing the child’s feelings and needs) you’re having fun playing and want to continue?

Child: Yes, and I’m not tired.

Parent: So you’d like to go to bed when you’re tired?

Child: Yes.

Parent: Is there anything else?

Child: No.

Parent: Can I tell you why I’d like you to go to bed now?

Child: Okay.

Parent: I’d like you to be rested and ready to wake up in the morning for school. I’ve noticed that when you stay up after nine on school nights, you’re tired the next morning. Do you hear the need I have?

Child: That I’m rested and want to get up in the morning.

Parent: Yes. Thank you for hearing that.

When both parents and children are heard in this way, there is frequently a shift in energy, an openness to move towards the other, a willingness to find a way to satisfy both of them. The child in this example may be more willing to go to bed soon. Or the parent might be willing to let the child play quietly for a set amount of time before lights go out. A parent’s respectful listening does not mean agreement with the child, and it certainly does not mean giving children (or anyone) everything they ask for. If you would like to save yourself endless arguments, battles, and power struggles, learn to differentiate a need from a strategy.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.

-Marie Curie

 Explore for Yourself

Wherever you look, you can see people attempting to meet one or more of their needs. We invite you to look at your own life with this respectful perspective and see if it brings new insight.

When you call a friend to talk about something that is troubling you, you usually want to meet needs for understanding and empathy.

When your partner says, at the end of a long day, I don’t want to talk about it or deal with one more things today! You can guess they have a need for rest.

When you see your child working on a puzzle with rapt attention, you might guess she is meeting needs for learning, perhaps also for competency, and maybe, too, for relaxation.

When your child tells you a joke, he is probably meeting a need for humor and play, and also, perhaps, for connection with you.

When you ask your two-year-old to put away his toys and he says, No! What need do you guess he is trying to meet?

When your twelve-year-old daughter says she has to have the latest style of clothes, what need is she trying to meet?

 Children Are Always Doing Their Best to Meet Their Needs

Every moment of every day, your children are doing their best to meet their needs-the same needs that you have. With this understanding of behavior, habits of judging kids’ actions will naturally give way to respectful understanding and compassion. You are also, at each moment, doing the best you can to meet your needs. With this understanding of your behavior, self-judgment can give way to self-respect and compassion. When you focus your attention on your needs, you are able to communicate about what is at the heart of your concerns. You will connect more easily with others, since needs are the same for everyone at any age. Human beings are wired for well-being through a system of continual needs-messaging. At times needs will announce themselves loudly: I need food! At other times they whisper in the background, I feel confused: I don’t even know what I need. I guess that means I need more clarity. Life delivers these messages so you can be alert to what you need and find skillful ways to fulfill your needs.

 You Are Responsible for Meeting Your Own Needs

While you can ask others if they are willing to help you, you are the only one responsible for meeting your needs. This can be sobering news. It is also empowering, because it means you are never dependent upon any one person to meet your needs. It is helpful to be clear about this because thinking that another person or a group of people are responsible for your needs has at least two unfortunate outcomes. The first is that you can waste a lot of time waiting for certain others to do things for you when you could be busy finding your own solutions.

The other unfortunate outcome of expecting others to fulfill your needs is that whenever you think in these terms-that others should, have to, or must do something for you-people will most often hear a demand, which makes giving to you less likely. Demands provoke power struggles and are a major obstacle to joyful giving and willing co-operation.

 Explore Together: What Do People Need?

 What do people need? Why do you do the things you do?

During a family meeting, ask your family if they will explore these questions with you. There is no definitive list of universal needs, and yours may vary from another person’s to some degree. However, these lists will have more similarities than differences if everyone applies the litmus test of needs: Is it a need that everyone has? If not, it’s likely to be one of many strategies for meeting a universal need. For example, play is a need; a video game is one strategy to meet that need. Learning is a need; reading is one strategy for learning. Rest is a need; forcing your child to be in bed at eight o’clock is a strategy for meeting his need for rest, or yours.

 Explore Together: Universal Needs List

Make a list of universal needs and post it in the house where everyone can see it, refer to it, and add to it. This list provides a common vocabulary for respectful and compassionate communication, for understanding the motivations behind each of our actions, and for shared exploration of human needs.

 

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(19) Parents & Kids

 Consequences of Stressed Parenting

PK19

Feelings Are Helpful Messengers of Met and Unmet Needs

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.

-Ursula K. LeGuin

Feelings play an important role in your needs-messaging system. Feelings are like the panel on your dashboard: they alert you to whether your needs are being fulfilled or not. Pleasurable feelings such as happy, satisfied, and joyful give the message that needs are being fulfilled in that moment. Painful feelings like sad, upset, and frustrated give the message that some needs are not being fulfilled. Paying attention to your feelings and listening to their messages will give you important clues about your needs. Paying attention to the feelings of other people will give you important messages about how they are and, if you look further, about what they value or need.

 Explore for Yourself

 Think of a time when you felt joyful. What need was fulfilled that stimulated that feeling?

 Think of a time when you felt frustrated or disappointed. What need was not fulfilled and was calling for your attention?

 Think of a time when your child felt delighted. What need was being fulfilled at that time?

 Think of a time when your child felt very sad. What need was not being fulfilled that gave rise to that sadness?

 Children Want to Be Heard and Understood

If your child lashes out at a sibling or at you, they are screaming, I have some unmet needs! Blaming or scolding them will only add to their pain. Instead, you can take time to listen respectfully to what’s going on underneath their pain by hearing their feelings and needs. More than anything, children, (and all people) want to be heard and understood for what’s really going on. When your child screams because another child took her toy, you could guess that she wants consideration or more control over her toys. Either of these guesses (whether silent guesses or out loud) will bring more connection with your child than if you judge her reactions as inappropriate, over reactive, or immature because you’re thinking that she should share.

Seeing needs leads to more effective actions, while being blind to need can lead to actions you may well regret. If you feel irritable and tired at the end of a day and recognize that you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast, your need is most likely for nutrition. With this need clearly in mind, you can prepare something that will be nourishing. However, if you feel irritable and tired and don’t look for the cause of those feelings, you might, without thinking, grab a candy bar or snap at your child.

Sadly, it is uncommon in our society to think in terms of feelings and needs. Few people have a vocabulary of feelings that extends beyond mad, sad, glad, and frustrated, and most people have been taught that having needs reflects badly on their character, that it indicates they are selfish or needy. A common belief is that a strong person doesn’t need anything and a good person puts her or his needs last.

People who don’t know that they have needs, who believe that it is unacceptable to have needs, and who have a limited vocabulary for talking about feelings and needs often act in ineffective and even destructive ways.

 Explore for Yourself

 Think of a time when you knew what you needed and chose to do something to meet that need.

What was the need?

What did you do to help meet your need?

How did you feel?

Think of a time when someone told you what would help them meet their need and you were willing and able to help.

What was their need?

What did you do to help meet their need?

How did you feel?

What needs of yours were met?

 Summary

 The fact that all behavior is an attempt to meet a need takes the mystery out of why children act the way they do and introduces a needs-focused approach to parenting. With this focus, parents can help kids learn to take more responsibility for meeting their own needs. Feelings are recognized as messages about whether or not needs are being fulfilled, and when parents have the skills to identify feelings, link them with the needs behind them, and strategize ways to meet them, children feel heard and understood.

 Daily Practice

When you see the needs at the root of behavior, respect and co-operation will increase. While observing your children, your co-workers, or characters on TV, ask yourself, what needs are they trying to meet with what they’re doing?

Observe your own actions and check to see what needs you are meeting. Ask yourself, what needs am I trying to meet with what I’m doing? To develop an awareness of what’s going on with you, at different times in the day, stop, and ask yourself, what am I feeling now? What needs are present?

 

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(20) Parents & Kids

Jerry Seinfeld Analyzes Modern-Day Parenting

PK20

Key 3 • Create Safety, Trust, & Belonging

 Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them.

-Bill Ayers

 Key Concepts

• A child needs emotional safety to grow.

• Your actions affect your child’s emotional safety.

• See from your child’s point of view.

• To sustain emotional safety, seek connection-first, last, and always.

• To maintain safety, trust, and belonging, nurture family connections.

A child’s presence is a gift he or she is giving to a parent. A parent’s unconditional acceptance and appreciation for that gift completes the bonding process that is essential to an infant’s sense of safety, trust, and belonging in the world. When needs for unconditional love and acceptance are met in infancy and early childhood, a message ripples through a young life to form a foundation of self-acceptance: I am accepted by others; therefore, I can accept myself. Safety, trust, and belonging needs are met first by the family and then in an ever-widening arc that extends to peers at school, other community members, and eventually to co-workers and the larger world. With unconditional acceptance at home, kids are much more willing to learn from and be guided by their parents rather than try to meet needs for acceptance outside the home. Family substitutes such as cliques and gangs are usually last resorts for young people who are desperately trying to find a way to meet their need to belong, somewhere. The need to belong is so powerful that meeting these needs somewhere is much better than nowhere. This key will show you ways to make home your child’s number one place to belong.

I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than real, unconditional love.

-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 A Child Needs Emotional Safety to Grow

At the foundation of all human needs are those for food, water, shelter, and physical safety. These are indisputable needs the world over. Babies need to be dry and warm, well fed, clothed, and protected from physical harm, and they communicate their needs loudly. Creating safety and trust for your children, however, goes far beyond meeting physical needs. Recent brain research establishes the importance of a less commonly recognized or talked-about safety requirement-the need for emotional safety. When infants or children of any age experience a physical or emotional threat, they become anxious and afraid. Hormones are secreted that automatically shut down the thinking, learning, and reasoning zones of the brain to prepare the child to defend himself or to run away from the danger.1 These are very primitive fight, flight, or freeze responses that

are triggered daily in the lives of children who don’t feel safe. When, from very early ages, major portions of the brain shut down under emotionally stressful conditions, a child’s brain development, success in learning, and ability to relate to others can be seriously affected.2

 • Your Actions Affect Your Child’s Emotional Safety

Some of the experiences that children interpret as dangerous include adults raising their voices, name-calling, comparing one child’s mistakes with other children’s successes, threatening punishment or consequences, shaking, hitting, and spanking. These highly charged ways of interacting cause children to question whether they are safe and secure with the people who care for them. Without a deep sense of safety and trust, they are cautious and hesitant about investigating their world.

They are often full of self-doubt in the face of opportunities to explore and learn. They are often afraid to ask questions or take risks, and prefer a limited, safe range of options and strategies for meeting their needs. When children feel emotionally safe, they are relaxed in their world and are excited to investigate it. They explore, ask questions, take risks, and remain open to a wide range of ways to meet vital needs. Joseph Chilton Pearce and Michael Mendizza3 take this point one giant step further. They say that it’s not only what we do but also our state of mind and heart when we do it that children pick up on. They claim there is no difference between the state of one’s consciousness and the environment created by that consciousness. If a mother prepares a meal for her family every evening, all the while feeling angry about what happened at work that day and resentful that she is spending so much time cooking instead of doing something more interesting and fun, what will her children learn from the experience of eating meals together?

What will they learn if, instead, she sings a song and thinks about how cooking this meal meets her needs to nurture her family and spend time together? Whatever you do, children will remember most of all the state you’re in-the quality of aliveness, the joy or lack of it.

• See from Your Child’s Point of View

Your kids want you to see them for who they are and what they can do. Recognition of their challenges and celebration of their accomplishments shows that you care and strengthens the bond of trust between you. To understand what needs are foremost and pressing at each stage of their lives, it is helpful to be aware of the developmental stages your kids are going through and to notice what is uniquely true about the child in front of you.

 Understand Developmental Stages

An infant’s brain is not fully developed at birth. In fact, it is now believed that some parts of the brain aren’t fully formed until the early to mid twenties. So we all grow into our adult thinking capacities at our own preprogrammed pace. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are self-absorbed and gradually develop the capacity to consider others. Developmentally they aren’t ready to share toys, take turns, or to see another person’s point of view. They have no way of understanding how long ten minutes or an hour is, and of course they have very few years of experience in the world to draw upon for making sound decisions. If you expect adult thinking and behaviors before your child is developmentally ready to perform them, you threaten her sense of emotional security and undermine her ability and desire to trust you. Out of love for you, your toddler will make her best attempt to share toys or to understand another child’s feelings; however, when she is unable to sustain her effort, she will feel confused and discouraged because she wants to do something she isn’t yet developmentally able to do. Neither threats nor bribes can affect her actions. They only make her feel helpless that she can’t do something you want her to do.

Trying to meet parents’ expectations but not being ready to do so is a common experience for kids from infancy through their teens. Drinking from a cup, eating with a spoon, and tying shoes can’t be done before brain and muscles are ready. A child expected to read before specific physical and conceptual readiness is in place may be excited to learn the skills. However, if he is judged or teased on his performance and called lazy or stupid for not doing well, he will feel discouraged. He is interested and smart; he just isn’t ready for what is being asked of him. Teens go through their own stages. They need consideration and respect for the challenges they face and their timetable for maturing. Many parents deal harshly with what they view as the poor judgment of their teens. Judgment, however, is a capacity that they grow. The young person’s brain needs a chance to mature into making sound judgments. Teens need practice and a parent’s patience with missteps along the way. If you heed developmental cues and take your lead from your children about what they are ready to do, you will ensure that they will feel safe and ready for the next steps in their growth process.

1. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence.

2. Allan Schore, Affect Regulation, and the Origin of the Self.

3. Mendizza and Pearce, Magical Parent, Magical Child.

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