Lani R Hill, co-founder of the nascent Children’s Movement [link to interview on THHP?] proposes that parents and teachers see themselves more as “soul guides.” Soul in this sense means simply the essence of that child’s being. What are his or her core traits and characteristics? And how can we as parents help foster the development of those traits?
Our job as parents (and teachers)
The more I give parenting courses, the more I find that I want to share with parents that our real task is not so much to learn tips and tools for getting kids to do what we want or even need them to do but rather to see what our child’s true essence is and to observe and listen to this child deeply in order to know what s/he most needs from us.
Our task is NOT to mold or tame
Children are not wild creatures to be tamed or unformed blocks of clay to be molded. They arrive as full beings. My friend and parenting coach Eliane Sainte-Marie teaches parents to be on the same team as your children, to approach parenting more as being a guide for someone in an unfamiliar culture. The person – in this case, our child – is not stupid or ignorant, but is simply uninitiated into how things work in this new land of becoming an adult.
Our child gives us all the cues we need
Following Elaine’s approach, the child simply needs a bit of information as she grows. The more a parent can trust the child’s inner wisdom to know what she needs, the more confident and competent the child becomes. If we listen and observe closely as we do very keenly with an infant, we will hear in our child’s voice and tone, see in our child’s behavior, feel in how our child is in contact with us what it is that he or she is most needing.
Yes, children do need discipline – they need us to be disciplined.
This does not mean that children require no discipline. One child will clearly communicate that she needs tighter clearer guidelines while another child needs only a stern glance from the parent and knows what he needs to do and the next child actually needs a hug and connection when her behavior seems to suggest the opposite.
We adults need to be disciplined in things like thinking before we speak, saying what we will do and acting consistently, unplugging our own electronic devices, breathing before we raise our voice and much else.
Ask don’t tell
One of the most frequent feedbacks we get in our parenting courses is that asking questions, that is questions hands the responsibility to the child and is more relaxing for the parents. One mom shared how simply asking her 3-year-old if she did want to go to her grandmother’s. Yes, she did. So what do you need to put on to go out? She and the other parents in the group had the experience that simply turning all their reminding, nagging and endless repetition of tasks to be done into a question had a surprisingly pleasant effect. It seemed to take the power struggle and hassle out of the situation and the child was more engaged.
This is supported by brain research in that the brain starts scrolling through its data base when asked a question, but becomes more passive when told to do something.
Your child might be crying more easily, whining or mouthing off, using aggressive language or other expressions which provoke a parent to “lay down the law,” when what the child is most needing is encouragement in some form. When we keep in mind that a “misbehaving child is a discouraged child,” we can reach for reserves of compassion and understanding which will guide the actions we take with our child.
Support your child in reflecting on the situation by looking ahead for a solution.
“Can you think of another way to handle it next time?”