In the early years especially, we shape our children best not by training and correction, gentle or otherwise, but by ACCEPTANCE of them and MODELING who and what we hope they become.
They will imitate us without question. This is probably the most powerful law of childhood.
So it is on our shoulders to be mindful of who and what we are, and strive to give them only the best to imitate.
But this does not require us to do much to or say much about them or to them directly.
In fact, the less we correct, silence, shut down, or criticize their instincts, the better we equip them to like and believe in themselves. And the better they are able to do that, the better they are able to like, accept and believe in others.
And if you’re able to like and accept others, you are able to LEARN from them. This means we have helped to make their worlds big, their opportunities and growth potential limitless, and their joy settled deeply and immovably inside. What better gift could we give?
When I am intervening fearfully, exhaustedly correcting and redirecting their behavior, quieting them, responding with exasperation, what am I giving them to imitate, but fear, exhaustion, constant criticism of others around us, and exasperation with life and experience?
My children ache for a happy mom. For a happy, peaceful life. They ache for goodness. For rest.
I ache to give my children the ability to REST well, and to LOVE OTHERS well.
The very best, most powerful way I can do this is to BE deeply at rest with them, in acceptance of them, and in acceptance of myself, and to DELIGHT IN and love them well.
They will then have nothing to imitate except rest and love. What a tremendously world-changing state of existence that would be.
Of course, it’s still true that children will probably behave in a way that is not just annoying to me, but truly unacceptable. For example, hitting or harming another person. Am I suggesting we must sit back and smile, accepting even this instinct (or is it a learned imitation from us or another source?) with no correction?
No. Certainly not.
But if we begin from a place of rest, acceptance, and love, isn’t it likely we might find ways to intervene that don’t model anger, criticism, and fear? Ways that still embody beauty and goodness? Ways that, if our child were to repeat EXACTLY what we did in that moment, we might be glad to see them behave like us?
Addie wants the girl in front of her to move. So she pushes past her impatiently and knocks her over. The girl is hurt and crying.
First? I pause and realize I have done or nearly done This to her more times than I can count. Pushed past her, too occupied with my own to-do list to slow down and wait to move at her pace. So this behavior is, likely, an imitation already.
Second, think what do I want my child to do in this moment? —
I want her to be compassionately concerned about the girl. To apologize for hurting her.
So what should I do?
I could gently and firmly instruct her to do that. “Addie! No, honey. Go back and see if she’s okay. Tell her you’re sorry.”
Imitated? That looks like my daughter telling me no. Ordering me around. Hmm…. Sounds familiar, right?
So, what if…..?
I immediately jump up and attend to the girl with great compassion, concern. I might apologize myself, “Sweetie, I’m so sorry. Are you hurt? What do you need?”
What if THAT is imitated?
That looks like my child immediately going to a child who’s hurt, by her action or any one else’s, with great compassion, concern. It looks like her apologizing and asking what she needs to feel better , not because she’s been commanded to, but out of genuineness. Because she’s seen it done.
Surely, it would turn our worlds upside down to change this. To become so aware of our own movements, actions, reactions. To endeavor to become people in every moment that behave as we want our children to, rather than just trying to TELL our children, coerce or punish them to motivate them to behave how we would like them to.
Because isn’t that, in essence, the root and definition of a power struggle? A parent demanding that a child do what they’re saying…. And then the child doing exactly the same thing?
So when you find yourself wanting to shout “DO AS I SAY!”, remember instead that she will do as you do.
She will be what you are.
So act accordingly.
Hard work, yes. Perfection is not likely. Creativity will be vital.
But the results are deeply guaranteed, because there is no law more cemented into reality than the law of a child’s instinct to imitate.
And, as parents are so often concerned with maintaining authority…
We’re talking about real and immense authority here: Much more than just the authority to boss another person around.
The massive authority of having another human being driven to be like you in every way.