It is important for our children to know that each of them is precious and unique, and at the same time they need to witness parental integrity as we hold them accountable for their actions to the degree that is possible for their age/stage of life.
Pablo Casals, speaking of children:
“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and never will be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also ask them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been a child like you. And look at your body – What a wonder it is; your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work – we all must work – to make this world worthy of its children.”
When I had my first child, I was amazed at his feats. My husband and I, my parents, and my sister would often put him at the center of our little circle, sitting around just watching him and laughing. He would pull himself up on Papa’s lap and take off his glasses or pull on his nose, and judging by our response, an outsider might think this child had done something genius. To us it was genius. Being privy to the striving of a baby just coming into the world is amazing. They are wide open to learning.
Our attention and devotion didn’t seem to hurt my son. He has turned out to be a responsible, industrious and hard-working man. I am sure also that he knows deep down how loved he was as a child which has given him the capacity to love and be loved as an adult. He was deeply cherished, and at the same time, as he grew, we weren’t afraid to confront him and hold him accountable for his behavior. (I’m sure he could tell you some stories!) We took these opportunities to teach him what would be expected and also made it apparent that we would be standing beside him “no matter what” for the duration,
I am sure all of you have read articles about how parenting has changed over time. Instead of children not being acknowledged, supported and encouraged as may have happened in the days of “a child being seen and not heard,” some parents today are going overboard in their protection. Even in colleges, professors are receiving calls from anxious parents asking about their child’s grades or asking for special attention for their child. That kind of help is not doing the “child” a favor.
Young children should be sheltered from harm and protected from adult information. But starting very young, boundaries should be set for children so they can learn “the rules ” by pushing up against us. Sound fun? Not always. But it is necessary so the child can be firmly and lovingly brought up in the ways of the family and the world, and be fully ready to participate fully as an adult.
Loving our babies “more than the sun, the moon and the stars” is easy for us, so let’s talk about building up their will forces by a rhythmic life and by having them help out with chores. Children can start out by helping to clean up their toys at the end of each day, even when the parent realizes that the child’s “help” is going to make the task last a lot longer. Chores can be doled out appropriate to the child’s age so they can feel the pride of participating in the family every day. Grades children, with their strong feeling life, like to negotiate with parents for the purchase of reasonable items. When a child reaches an age where they are earning an allowance, they can earn the money to pay for them, or as we often did in our family, the child earned ½ and the parents chipped in ½, if it was agreed that this item could be purchased in the first place. Kim Payne talks about the “pester power” of children. Even if your children do not watch tv, they are bombarded with messages about all of the things they need that ALL of their friends have! They need to be taught the value of waiting and seeing if such an item is really needed. If a child gets many of the things they ask for, they are always “jonesing” for more. It is an addiction that can carry on to adulthood if the children are not taught about need vs. want and that they don’t get everything they want. If everything is handed to them, they will not learn to take the initiative in life as is required to be self-motivating as adults.
If a child gets to college and hasn’t been responsible for getting up by themselves, acquiring a job, organizing their study time, etc., they have not been well equipped for life away from home. Better to start early, and allow even young children to do things for themselves of which they are capable. Little children live in their will, so when they see you modeling “good work”, they will desire to participate. Little brooms, mops and the ever-amazing cloth and spray bottle will keep them busy. It may take one hour to get a pie ready to bake instead of 20 minutes, but teaching children the joy of making good food is priceless. I remember my Mom letting me make jelly pies in the lids of jars while she went about rolling out dough for the big pie. She gave me a few little balls of dough and the jelly jar lids (and the jelly) and I made my little masterpieces. They were delicious! The chores will naturally build in complexity as the child’s abilities and interests grow, and I remember baking a lot of meals and desserts by myself when I was in grade school.
Even in the preschool, it is apparent that some children have been encouraged to try putting their shoes on, to work on organizing their cubbies, and some children are more likely to let Mom or Dad do everything for them. Of course there are times when it is nice to dress our children, giving them nice smiles and gentle touch as we button their sweater, etc., but they also need many opportunities to “do it myself” and to care for their things. You may feel like you are showing them how to perform tasks 100 times and I always tell parents that we are “planting seeds”. Some day they will respond to needs their needs on their own, but until then they need to be shown and encouraged. Parents are often surprised that most children 7 and younger (sometimes even 8 or 9) need an adult close by to check up on them and keep them engaged when they are doing a job, but most of them do need this extra ego strength. After 9 or so, children should be able to hear that there is a job to be done, with a time frame in which to complete it, and be able to accomplish the task without much help. The younger the child, the smaller the task, and I would not be critical about the result. Older children can learn to hear a little bit of teaching, like “Wow! You swept the whole garage. Let’s just check back here behind the freezer. Get the broom and see if all the debri is cleared from back there. Now it is all done.” Children with strong will habits have done tasks repeatedly, when finally it lives in their habit life. Don’t despair, your child will get there if you persevere in supporting their practice!
Some parents and I are doing an amazing meditation in our Simplicity Parenting sessions where we hold two pictures of our child in our minds, side by side. One picture is our archetypal child, so beautiful, organized and peaceful, and the other is a picture of our child when they are struggling and out of sorts. This creates the complete picture of the child. We bring the struggling child in, close to our hearts, hold them there, and then send them out again into the world healed. These growing beings, are learning and developing at tremendous speed, and need our calm strength to help them master their lives. When things go wrong, they need us to help them up, brush them off, and send them back out into the world (however big or small their world is for their age and stage) and allow then to participate again. We want to protect these precious beings given into our care, but not from activities they should be learning and doing. The teacher in my training called good parenting “benevolent governance”. Children will not feel secure without strong parents.
When your child completes a task they have been working on, if you are “good-jobbing” which can be our initial reaction, instead we can look at them lovingly and say, “Wow, you worked hard and now all the leaves are raked!” or to a little one “All the toys are in their homes now and you helped put them to bed for the night.” Their hearts will swell with pride when they have completed good work and that truly gives them confidence in their abilities. When they are doing jobs regularly and rhythmically, they don’t need you to say anything, as now they are just doing jobs because “that is what you do”. We want to avoid over-praise and too much compensation for jobs they should easily be able to complete as part of the family, however some older children benefit from an allowance or to be paid for special jobs so they can begin to learn how to manage money. “Our family does….” is an important phrase to start saying to your child so they can experience the pride and joy of growing up in a family where they are deeply cherished and expected to do their part for the good of all.
Says Greeny: I am enjoying life and LOVE my work with Parents! (see above pages)
An Evening with Kim John Payne
Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 7:00 pm
Kim John Payne, M.ED, has been a school counselor, adult educator, consultant, researcher, educator and a private family counselor for twenty-seven years. Do not miss this opportunity to experience Kim’s warm, engaging and always humorous ways!
Join us in the Ginny Boone Oppenheim Festival Hall at The Denver Waldorf School.