Before having children, I was a primary school teacher. For me, it was an enormous privilege to have such a significant role in the lives of the children in my class and I took the responsibility seriously. I wanted my pupils to enjoy their year with me and to see them thrive. It broke my heart if any one of them was struggling in some way – academically, socially, emotionally… And if a parent had any concerns about their child, I wanted them to raise it with me so we could deal with it quickly, together.
Now I am a parent, my heart breaks over my own children’s struggles (broken hearts everywhere!) At one point, my son was being bullied by another child at kindergarten. Sometimes he would cry in the car on the way home from kindy and he lost some of his natural spark for a while. But my husband and I raised it with the teachers and kept in regular contact with them over the situation and gradually things settled. But, until they did, I was torn. As a parent, I just wanted the other child kept away from my son. As a teacher, I knew the other child was entitled to be there too and had social skills to learn that he couldn’t if the two boys were simply separated.
As a spiritually-led parent, my commitment to Love applies to everything. I want my boys to see me treating everyone with respect, including their teachers, other children (even those they may be having trouble with) and themselves. Bearing that in mind and with the benefit of having been in both positions (teacher and parent), here are some principles I use to help me approach a teacher with a concern –
Build a relationship with your child’s teacher. When I was teaching, I worked hard to build open relationship with parents. I nurtured those relationships in various ways but it was easier when parents made an effort too (I had about 28 sets of parents to connect with, they each only had one teacher). Some parents just came into the classroom occasionally before school for a brief chat with me about nothing in particular and that helped. We built a respectful, trusting relationship which made it easier for either of us to raise issues about their child.
Remember that most teachers are hard-working but none are super-human. As a teacher, I worked hard to meet as many of my pupils’ needs as I could. I had my finger on the pulse but I couldn’t see everything that was going on in the playground or read my pupil’s minds. And there just weren’t enough hours in the day to attend to every need I saw so I was constantly prioritising (and feeling guilty). So, before approaching our child’s teacher, let’s make sure we have perspective. It’s easy to be judgmental about what a teacher “should” be doing but, as parents, we have to be realistic and fair too.
Avoid gossiping with other parents. It’s one thing to run our concerns by another trusted parent to get a sense of whether we have things in perspective or not but it’s another to gossip and analyse the teacher together behind their back. And to do this in front of our children can undermine their relationship with their teacher.
Make an appointment when bringing up a new issue. Although teachers are usually around for parents to talk to before and after school, it is better to make an appointment to see the teacher for anything that is more than a little niggle. An appointment will allow you more time and privacy to discuss what’s on your mind. Giving the teacher an idea of what you want to discuss in advance allows them to prepare themselves for a thorough discussion. For example, they may have assessment information or notes they’ve kept about social issues to review and bring to the meeting. Giving the teacher time to prepare will result in better outcomes for your child.
Ask the teacher for help, rather than make a complaint. When something’s not going well for our child, our emotions can be high but it’s important to go into the meeting with an attitude of “let’s work on this together” rather than “this isn’t good enough – what’s going on?!” etc A teacher who feels attacked may, understandably, become defensive which won’t help to resolve the situation. What we really want, is for the teacher to understand where we’re coming from then to collaborate on improving the situation.
Have patience and keep in touch with the teacher. When I was teaching, I didn’t always have a solution to offer on the spot of the first meeting. Sometimes I wanted to mull it over for a while and get back to the parents. Sometimes, I had to try out different things to find what would work to solve the issue. But I always wanted to resolve the situation. The parents and I would regularly check in with each other to review how things were going.
Try twice before going higher. If you feel that the issue you have raised with the teacher is either being ignored or the teacher can’t manage it on their own, you may need to consider getting a more senior staff member involved. I think it’s fair to discuss the issue twice with the teacher before asking to bring in someone higher. If we feel the need to involve more senior staff members, it should be with the teacher’s knowledge. Best practice is for the teacher and the senior staff member to both attend that meeting.
IN SUMMARY: IT’S ALL IN THE RELATIONSHIP
Parents are the experts on their child. Teachers are the experts on the dynamics of their class and the skills & knowledge of teaching. When we have a concern for our child, we want to bring together all our expertise to solve the situation quickly.
The quality of our relationship with the teacher will impact how well things go when we raise an issue. If we go storming into the school or centre like dissatisfied customers, throwing our weight around, we are not being advocates for our children but for our own egos. At the other end of the spectrum, I know that some parents avoid talking to teachers due to negative experiences they had as a child at school. As I often say, we are all spiritual equals, regardless of the position we have within any social structure or institution, and, bearing that in mind, we parents are entitled to raise issues and bound to do so respectfully. I hope, firstly, that you never have to use these guidelines but, if you do, that they provide a starting point to help you begin.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS:What kinds of concerns have you raised with your child’s teacher? Share in the comments below.
I came across Christina Fletcher of Spiritually Aware Parenting online, through our shared passion for seeing children thrive mind, body and spirit. Her website is full of great resources for parents wanting to honour and nurture their children’s spirituality. When Christina invited me to contribute a guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.
Here’s the link to my guest post, Co-operation Instead of Control. There are times when we just need our children to do what we want them to. This post looks at how to get them to do those things in a way that is respectful and encourages them to think beyond themselves…and maybe even want to help.
Giving our children screen time is something we parents can feel uneasy about sometimes. Seeing my boys staring at a screen in that zoned-out state makes me uncomfortable. The media regularly reports on research that shows screen time can contribute to attention issues, obesity and violent behaviour, among other things. I take all this on board but I am of the opinion that there is very little in life that is all bad or all good. Most things have the potential to be both and it’s how we use them that is important.
The reality is that our children have been born into a screen-centric era. Technology is used to communicate, entertain, do business and so many other things. I think it is less important to raise our children screen-free than it is to raise them screen-savvy. Use of technology is unavoidable and as parents, we need to teach them to use it thoughtfully.
My boys, aged 3 and 5, only watch children’s programs. They don’t play games because they’ve never asked and I’ve never shown them. Sometimes, I’ll search the internet with my eldest because there’s something he’s interested to find out, – such as, the answer to a question that arose at school, or how much pocket money he needs to save for the Lego set he has his eye on. Since my boys are so young, I perhaps haven’t encountered yet some of the issues you may have if your children are older. Even so, I hope today to offer food for thought to help you determine whether the attitudes and behaviour around screentime in your home are right for your family or need adjusting.
GOOD USE OF SCREEN TIME
So, here are some of the good reasons for children to have screen time, taking into account the needs of the whole family.
The child is at ‘breaking point’ in some way. When I can see that one of my boys is exhausted and struggling to cope, I find a bit of screen time gives him a chance to rest physically and a break from coping with the day.
The parent is at ‘breaking point’ in some way. When I’m feeling that my resources for coping with my boys have run out (perhaps because I’m underslept or they’ve been bickering all day), screentime can give me a break to make sure I don’t take my mood out on my children. (This relates to a recent post, Why Am I Shouting At My Children?!)
For enjoyment. Amongst all the motivations we have for our parenting decisions, we can at times forget that enjoyment is important too. I love to cry over Long Lost Family and my boys love to join in with all the Paw Patrol songs and catchphrases.
For the parent to get stuff done. This is a practical one, especially for those with younger children. When I’m packing for our family to go away on holiday, for example, I find it almost impossible to get done with the boys around so they might get a bit more screentime than usual.
As a practical motivator. In the mornings, my boys are allowed to watch tv once they are completely ready for school or kindy, including bags packed and shoes ready at the door. It provides incentive to keep them moving so we can get out the door in time. I think screen time should be used for mutual advantage when possible.
As a point of discussion. Programs and movies especially provide good material for discussion and we can talk with our children about them just as we might when reading them a story. The possibilities are endless. For example, we can discuss characters’ motivations & emotions, ask our children what they would’ve done in the same situation or which character they would want to be friends with & why. As they get older and are using the internet & social media there will be lots to discuss about how to determine if information is valid, what advertising is trying to do and how to use social media positively (but this is a whole other post!).
REASONS NOT TO USE SCREENTIME
Before I write this list, I put my hand up to doing every single one of them…more than once.
To avoid dealing with difficult behaviour. Needing a break sometimes is one thing but avoiding dealing with real issues is another. Sometimes getting to the bottom of our children’s difficult behaviour or sibling arguments can feel too hard and we know a bit of screen time would diffuse the situation for now. But, for a long-term solution, we have to figure out what’s happening and provide the necessary guidance for our children.
To soothe an upset child. Sometimes I find it hard to deal with my youngest’s emotions because he doesn’t have the language to explain all that’s going on for him. It is tempting to turn the tv on to distract him and allow his emotions to settle. But, by doing this, I teach him to avoid his emotions. I don’t want to teach my boys to soothe or distract themselves with the screen (or other things like food). Our emotions are important indicators of what’s going on for us and I want my boys to have the strength to face theirs.
Instead of play, physical activity and quiet time. I’ve heard it said that play is the work of childhood. It has so many benefits to all aspects of a child’s development – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. No one can argue that screen time isn’t sedentary (that’s often part of the appeal!) so it needs to be balanced with activity. I also think it is essential for children to have quiet time alone each day to connect with themselves for their spiritual well-being (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness) Screen time should be as well as these things, not instead of them. If our children are bored, it is not the time to turn the tv on but to encourage one of these things.
TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME
It’s all very well to be clear about when we’re happy for our children to have screen time and when we’re not but we parents are just one side of the equation. Our children have their own intentions around screen time and they often don’t match ours. This can result in some difficult behaviour. This is what works in our house…for now.
Have clear guidelines for when and how long children can have screen time. When the rules are clear, consistent and fair, there is less arguing over them, the children just accept them. My boys are allowed screen time twice a day for 30 minutes at a time. I expect this to change as they get older.
No fussing allowed when it’s time to turn the screen off. We used to have loud whining, stamping and crying whenever it was time to turn the tv off and I dreaded having to announce that time was up. So I explained to my son how unpleasant & disrespectful his behaviour was and asked him not to do it. He kept doing it so I introduced a new rule – if you fuss when it’s time to turn the tv off, there’s no tv the next day. He missed out once…no fussing since.
Monitor the content and how it impacts our children’s behaviour. When my eldest discovered Star Wars, he started wanting to watch it. I’ve never let him watch a real Star Wars movie but I figured the Lego Star Wars movies would be child-suitable. Well, they weren’t suitable for him. After watching them, every interaction with his poor little brother was a reinactment of what he had seen. He made violent threats, rough and tumble got too rough and he wasn’t respecting his brother’s requests for him to stop. We gave him the chance to improve his behaviour but he didn’t so he’s no longer allowed to watch Lego Star Wars.
Be the example of moderation. Nothing speaks louder to our children than our example. If they see us glued to our screens, unable to get out attention, they will consider that the norm.
IN SUMMARY: KEEPING SCREEN TIME IN PERSPECTIVE
I wrote this post because I don’t think we need to feel bad about screen time in our homes but we need to be intentional about it. My intention is for my boys to be able to use technology as one of many tools for enjoyment and learning in their lives. Because they are young right now, I mostly manage their screen time for them but, as they get older, I hope they will develop an attitude that helps them to manage it positively for themselves.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS:What are your tips for keeping screen time positive and manageable in your house? Share in the comments below.
It was early in the morning. I hadn’t been up for more than ten minutes but I had already shouted at my boys three times. Having been a teacher, I’m usually pretty good at what I call “professional calm” – the ability to avoid getting wound up in the emotions of the moment and respond calmly to a situation. Normally, I’m a minimal shouter but there was no sign of that woman on this particular morning. “Why am I shouting at my children?” I wondered.
When I find myself shouting, it is a signal to go inwards, not to blame my children – even when they’ve trailed mud over the newly-cleaned floor. My shouting is a prompt to ask myself what’s going on with me that I can’t muster up my professional calm in this moment? Often just knowing why I’m really shouting, seeing that it’s not really about my boys at all, helps me to regain perspective and stop taking whatever it is out on them.
REASONS WE MIGHT SHOUT AT OUR CHILDREN
Here are some of the main reasons I shout. What makes you shouty?
I’m tired. This is the main reason I shout. When I’m tired, I become hypersensitive and my tolerance level plummets. Something that would’ve been irritating on a normal day, like Thomas pouring my drink into his cup ‘til overflowing while I’m not looking, becomes infuriating when I’m tired.
I’m overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed by all I need to do, any added demand, such as being asked for another snack, feels like harassment.
I’m triggered. Sometimes, my boys hit a sensitive spot and my ego comes out roaring. Eg.“How dare he disrespect me!” Being disrespected hits a tender place for me. I question my worth and I spiral downwards within – and loudly without. (See my post How Our Children Raise Us for more on being triggered by our children.)
My children are doing just the thing that winds me up. Thomas has a squeal perfectly-pitched to grate on my nerves. My reaction is almost a biological response rather than a mental/emotional one. He usually squeals when being provoked by Jake. Thomas’ squeal and Jake’s aggravation are a lethal combination that sends me bananas.
I’m in a rush. You don’t need to be told that children have a completely different sense of timing to adults. (The joys of not being able to read a clock.) I hate being late and lose patience when my boys are slowing us down.
I’m preoccupied. Sometimes, there’s an issue with my boys that I haven’t taken the time to get to the bottom of because I’m in the middle of something. Perhaps I’ve called out to them to stop arguing over a toy but they actually need some help to come up with a fair way to share it. Without my guidance, the arguing gets louder and more aggressive…and so do I. Sometimes, I’ve just got to put my plans on pause, get present, and deal with the issue properly.
HIT THE RESET BUTTON
The magic is that, in any situation, we can choose again. We can hit the reset button and respond differently, without shouting. When time is short, I simply take a breath. With that breath, I imagine shedding my upset self like a snake sheds its skin, leaving only the Loving part of myself remaining. I return to the situation with her instead. Just the intention to approach the situation with Love makes a difference. (We can teach our children to do this too.) When I need more than a moment to make the switch to Love, I turn on the kettle and the tv, giving us all a 10-minute break to diffuse the situation. My professional calm returns and I continue – without shouting.
Yesterday, the boys and I were in the car and it was a case #1 and of #4 in combination. Having been working on this post, I was determined not to shout. Being in the car, there was no kettle or tv in sight. So, I stopped the car, told my boys I would drive again when Thomas had stopped squealing & Jake had stopped bothering him and got out. I stood quietly on the pavement until I felt calmer and was sure the kafuffle between my boys was over. It was a quiet drive home.
RECOVERING FROM OUR SHOUTING EPISODES
When I have shouted at my boys, I always apologise. When they shout, I tell them that they can express whatever they have to say but must do so respectfully. Same goes for me. Whatever the reason I’m shouting, my spiritual beliefs insist that I always treat others with love, knowing everyone is worthy of kindness and respect at all times. I only apologise when I’m ready, though, able to be sincere. (See my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
It doesn’t feel good to have been the shouting mum, it’s not how I want to be. So I also have to forgive myself. I don’t want to carry my guilt around with me, it will only sour the next moment. Having a shouty moment – or a shouty day, even – doesn’t mean we’re bad people or bad parents. It just means there’s something going on for us. It shows us that we need a little TLC of some sort – we all do sometimes.
A journey in the car with the kids in the back can go many ways. Sometimes, we feel harassed by incessant squabbling that we’re not able to get to the bottom of because we can’t see what ‘s really going on. Other times, we get to quietly listen in on the conversations between our children and feel our hearts flutter with what they say. This is a story about the latter.
It was a Friday afternoon. Thomas (almost 3 years old) had been to kindy and Jake had been to school. As I drove, they were exchanging notes on their days – sandpits, train sets, playground adventures and friends. Then, totally unprompted, Thomas said, “I’m grateful for kindy”. Fortunately, we were stopped at traffic lights, otherwise I might have driven off the road. Even Jake realised that this was a momentous moment for our family – “Mum, Thomas just said he’s grateful for kindy!” This was the first time we had heard Thomas spontaneously share his gratitude.
Gratitude is important in our family. We have a few simple habits – rituals – to help us keep gratitude active in our hearts and minds. When tucking the boys into bed at night, we each share something we’re grateful for. This year, we also began a gratitude jar. Every Sunday night, we each write something we’re especially grateful for from the past week on a piece of paper (we each have our own colour). We then fold the pieces of paper up and put them in the large jar that sits in the hall. The idea is that, on 31 December, we’ll each have 52 special moments to reflect on and appreciate. If it’s been a tough year, we’ll realised there has still been lots to be grateful for. If it’s been a “good” year, we’ll appreciate it even more. We also get to think about the things we have written on our pieces of paper every time we walk past the jar in the hall.
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough”. – Meister Eckhart
GRATITUDE AS AN ANTEDOTE TO ENTITLEMENT…AND SO MUCH MORE
Of course, there are plenty of times when it feels like the “attitude of gratitude” I’m trying to cultivate has disintegrated to dust. On that Friday afternoon, Thomas and I had picked up Jake from school and surprised him with the news that we were taking our scooters to the skate park. Currently one of Jake’s favourite hang-outs, he was thrilled. But there was no “thank you” on hearing the news. In fact, his first words were, “can we get ice-creams too?” *@?#! When our scootering was finished and it was time to go home, he kept whining, “why can’t we stay a bit longer?” I found myself recycling my mother’s sentiments – “I’m not going to take you for treats if you’re always going to ask for more. Why can’t you appreciate what you have?!” (In Jake’s defence, he did thank me afterwards and is often very appreciative of his own accord.) Then I grumbled to myself, “I don’t know why I bother doing nice things for them, it’s never enough. How did they become so entitled?” I want to be able to treat my boys sometimes without them expecting it all the time.
We can become a bit complacent about gratitude these days. It’s been a bit of a buzz word for a number of years now and every gift shop has items with sentiments of gratitude on them – mugs, prints, journals, ornaments, magnets… (I do like the quote “When I count my blessings, I count you twice”, though.) But gratitude is powerful – it cultivates real joy and empowerment. On one occasion when entitlement was in full swing, I said to Jake, “When you’re grateful, you’re too busy enjoying yourself to think about what else you want and it helps you to notice even more things to be grateful for”. Gratitude gives us a sense of our cup running over and, in turn, our capacity to be generous, creative and forgiving, for example, expands.
So, gratitude is not just a temporary pick-me-up technique. Gratitude helps us to tap into the abundance (in all senses of the word) that is available to us and our own capacity to serve. I imagine how I would have felt as a child to know that I had so much myself and so much to give. I would’ve been happier and felt more powerful.
BUILDING OUR CHILDREN’S ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Here are some quick ideas we can use to start building our children’s gratitude.
Create regular opportunities to share something they’re grateful for. Get the whole family involved in quick, simple moments of gratitude.
Be a grateful example – when I’m grateful for something, I sometimes share it aloud, in the moment. I try to point out a variety of things I’m grateful for. My boys pretty much stick to toys, outings and unhealthy food at this stage, but I try to include acts of kindness, beauty in nature, health and other people, for example.
Encourage genuine appreciation instead of polite thanks when they receive something (eg. a gift or help). This is hard and I haven’t yet discovered the best way to do this. With young children, it can be difficult to get a genuine “thank you” from them of their own accord. When it comes to gifts, after each birthday party, I help Jake to write thank you notes. We discuss the effort each person has gone to to select the gift for him and include in the note one thing he likes about it.
When my boys are behaving in an entitled way, I’ve started saying, “Put on your gratitude glasses”. I think I’ve lectured enough for Jake to know what I mean. It’s a fun reminder rather than a disapproving instruction to choose gratitude.
Avoid calling our children “ungrateful”, as if they have done something wrong. This turns them off gratitude because it seems like something they should be rather than what it really is – a choice to live in fullness, joy and service.
IN SUMMARY: PLANTING THE SEED OF GRATITUDE
Entitlement seems to be a modern-day parenting issue that is difficult to navigate – ironically, a case of external abundance and internal lack. My hope is that a focus on gratitude can do something to offset it. We can’t make our children be grateful but we can demonstrate a life of gratitude and invite them to share in it with us. Hearing Thomas announce that he is grateful for kindy, is reassuring. Perhaps all those things we try to teach our children don’t just go in one ear and out the other. Even if we don’t currently see any evidence of our children taking it on board, they are absorbing it. We have planted the seed.
When Jake was a pre-schooler, I often noticed him hanging on to things after giving him a firm word or disciplining him in some way. He seemed uncertain how to interact with me, unsure whether I was still upset with him or not. So my husband and I started making a point of telling him that it was “finished” once any discipline had been dealt with. We would then continue as normal, ensuring our manner with Jack was back to usual, not angry or upset in any way. This was to show him that the incident was over and no hard feelings remained. Looking back, I can see that this was a precursor to teaching him about forgiveness.
Last week, the long school holidays were getting the better of us both. It felt to me that Jake wasn’t listening to much of what I said (unless the word “chocolate” featured) and I was tired of being patient & consistent. I ended up shouting in exasperation. Later, as we both sat at the table having morning tea, we exchanged apologies for our behaviour. Jake kept repeating his apology despite my acceptance and I realised that I had never spoken explicitly about forgiveness with him. So, I reminded him of how I used to say “finished” after a telling-off so that he knew it was over. “When we forgive someone, we decide that it is finished, we decide not to keep feeling upset with the other person”, I told him.
That was enough for one morning but our chat made me realise that there is so much for a person to learn about forgiveness. Many adults struggle with it. And perhaps it’s because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is – a gift to ourselves.
4 CHARACTERISTICS OF FORGIVENESS
Having given it some thought, I’ve come up with four characteristics of true forgiveness that we can aim to pass on to our children. They may not grasp it all at first as forgiveness can look different on the outside than it is on the inside. From the outside, it sometimes looks like politeness or forgetting but it’s neither of these things.
1. We forgive for our own benefit. Forgiveness is not saying “it’s Ok” but, rather, “I’m OK”. Ultimately, it is a choice not to let whatever happened hurt us anymore. I have seen people who are almost defined by the event they refuse to forgive – often bitter, vengeful and hard, their non-forgiveness is apparent even when they don’t realise it. Yet the people they won’t forgive have likely moved on and are unaware of the resentment harboured towards them. Those who won’t forgive don’t see that their forgiveness is for themselves and that they suffer most for their decision not to allow it.
2. Forgiving is not pretending it never happened. When we forgive, we are forgiving the person, not their actions. We let go of our resentment towards them. What happened may still upset us when we think of it but we no longer see ourselves as the victim of a personal attack. With time, we may even recognise the gift hidden in the experience – something we needed to learn about ourselves. I think this is what is meant by the phrase, “forgiven, not forgotten”.
“Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were”. – Cherie Carter-Scott
3. We can’t force someone (or ourselves) to forgive. A list of reasons to forgive is not going to make someone forgive because forgiveness does not happen through logic – it happens through love. Taking a moment to see the humanness of the person whose actions hurt us can help open us up to forgiving them. When we recognise that the other’s hurtful behaviour was caused by their issues & misconceptions, we realise that whatever happened wasn’t about us at all. It then becomes easier to forgive because we know we can relate – we have issues & misconceptions of our own that affect our behaviour. Seeing that we are all ultimately the same enables us to be compassionate instead of judgemental and willing to forgive.
4. Forgiveness doesn’t require an apology. Just as whatever happened to hurt us wasn’t really about us, forgiving isn’t really about the other person. Because it’s not about them, we can choose to let forgiveness in at any time without an exchange of words. When we do receive an apology, it is an invitation to forgive, a reminder that the power to do so is in our hands. We simply decide that we are open to forgiving and allow Love to do the rest.
HOW TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT FORGIVENESS
Having defined “forgiveness”, the big question is how to teach our children about it. We want them to really understand what it is so they don’t just go through the motions of forgiveness because it is expected of them, to appear polite. There are a number of things we can do towards giving them a full picture of forgiveness –
Forgive our children. Once our children have offered us an apology for something or been through the consequences of their inappropriate actions, it is over – I repeat, OVER! Often I have seen a child put through the consequences & offer an apology and still have to endure 10 more minutes of lecturing or suffer the cold shoulder for the rest of the day. What’s happening in these situations? – their parents haven’t forgiven them.
Let our children see us forgiving others around us. There are many small acts of forgiveness in a day for our children to witness. We forgive their siblings when they shout at us. We forgive our partners for being home late. We forgive the shop assistant who over-charged us and had to put us through the lengthy paperwork required to refund us. When someone offers an apology to us, our children should see us accept it with a “thank you”. (Accepting an apology is not forgiving them on the spot, just appreciating their acknowledgement that they have hurt us). We can also talk to our children about the compassion we have for those who have wronged us. Eg. “The shop assistant made a mistake when he was adding up our purchases, we all make mistakes sometimes”. This shows our children that forgiveness comes from Love, and that judgement has no place alongside forgiveness.
Notice and talk about it when we see that our child has or hasn’t forgiven someone. We can talk with our children about how they feel to have let go or to be holding on to their resentment. This will make them more aware of how their choice to forgive or not impacts themselves.
Don’t expect our children to forgive straightaway. Often they will need time to allow the emotions of the situation to pass before they’re able to forgive. (This is true for adults too.) If they’re not yet ready to forgive a playmate, suggest they play apart for a while. If they are offered an apology, they can receive it with a “thank you” and forgive when they are ready. (You may also be interested to read my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
Suggest your child pray for help to forgive if they’re finding it hard. Logic changes the mind, Love changes the heart. While we choose to allow forgiveness in, it is a matter for the heart. Prayer opens us up to receive the love we may need for the task. This suggestion is probably suitable for school-aged children but we can say a prayer to help our younger children along.
IN SUMMARY: THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is, I think, one of the most important spiritual and life skills we need to learn. Yet, it is something easily overlooked by parents. It would be easy to teach our children to graciously accept an apology without addressing the inner process required to truly forgive.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When we refuse to forgive, we are really refusing ourselves freedom – the freedom to live with openness and joy. Like any skill, we get better at forgiving by practising it. When children forgive the child who called them a hurtful name, the parent who punished them unfairly, the teacher who overlooked them for an opportunity, they’ll more readily forgive the more painful experiences that are a part of life.
It is not weak to forgive. It makes us stronger. We can travel further if we’re not lugging our resentments around with us.
If you’re not in New Zealand, children here begin school when they turn 5. The Summer school holidays are ending and it’s back-to-school this week. Children under 5 can go to an early childhood education (ECE) centre. Kindergarten is one type of ECE centre.
Jake (5 years) goes back to school this week and Thomas (almost 3 years) has just had his first days at Kindergarten (kindy). For some children, these transitions are smooth-sailing. For others, they are very stressful. Jake amazed me with his effortless start to school last year. Thomas has been sticking close to me while we’ve been at kindy and has been upset while I’ve been gone. Having been a teacher myself, I have the benefit of understanding these transition stages from both sides so wanted to make a list of my best tips to help parents. Most of them are common sense, really, but it’s helpful to be reminded of them.
Be sure of your decision. As a parent, check that you are feeling good about your choice of school or ECE centre. When choosing a school or centre, remember that none will be perfect but, if it generally feels right, trust that feeling. When deciding on the right time for your under-5 to begin ECE, remember that there also may be no ideal time – you’re weighing up so many factors which may not coincide perfectly. So, again, trust your feeling about the timing. This is my first tip because settling in can be a difficult process for some families and it is much easier for you to be strong for your child when you are confident in your decisions.
Build familiarity before school/kindy starts. Most schools and ECE centres offer the opportunity for you to visit with your child before they officially begin. During his kindy visits, Thomas had a chance to connect with the teachers and discover some of the activities that he would be able to do when started kindy. While Jake is returning to the same school, over the last few weeks of holiday, I have organised a few playdates for him to reconnect with school friends. There are also little ways to add familiarity to your child’s day once school/kindy starts. For example, pack lunches with food your child has had before and likes.
Address the practicalities. Depending on your child’s age, this means different things. It includes giving them clothing and equipment they can manage independently. For example, a school-aged child needs to be able to take their shoes, coats and hats on and off themselves. Make sure your child knows what happens for toileting. At school, do they know where their classroom’s closest toilet is and what they have to do to let the teacher know they need to go (teachers have a variety of systems around this)? At kindy, I showed Thomas where the change table was and explained that a teacher would change his nappy when he was at kindy. By addressing these kinds of practicalities, we can eliminate them as stressors, which is particularly helpful for a child who is anxious about their new beginning.
Acknowledge and allow any anxious feelings your child has. If they are old-enough, give them an opportunity to tell you how they are feeling about starting or returning to school/kindy. One question to ask is, “Is there anything you’re worried about?” This question is better not asked just before going to bed, incase they lie awake worrying. Choose a time when they are relaxed and calm. Without dishing out a list of instructions, it may be appropriate to discuss simple strategies for dealing with some of their concerns. But, most importantly, show your understanding. Life is full of new beginnings which can create anxiety in all of us. Your child’s anxious feelings are normal and they need assurance of this. Also, allow your child their tears when it comes time to leave them at school or kindy. Telling them off for crying or offering rewards for not crying when you leave adds the pressure of holding themselves together in an already stressful situation. As a parent, their tears and hysterics can feel embarrassing and over-the-top but we need to tuck our egos away and be their support.
Talk positively about school or kindy. If your child sees that you feel positively about school or kindy, they will feel assured that it’s a good place to go. Talk with them about what they are looking forward to. It may be learning to read, playing on the playground or seeing a friend. Talk about teachers and children you met while on your visit – their friendliness, kindness, sense of humour.
Pray with and for your children. If you’re a praying family, this is a great tool for both parents and children. As Thomas has been settling into Kindy, I have prayed each morning that he feels safe and enjoys himself. I ask that the teachers are tuned in to his needs. On Jake’s first day back to school, we will say a prayer together. We have a 12-minute drive to school and often pray together on the way. I have a motto which I apply to many things, including prayer – “begin with thank you”. In this case, Jake may be grateful to see his friends or to play on the playground at lunchtimes. We will pray for support over anything that’s worrying him about returning to school and just for a great school year generally. Praying with our children, shows that we have faith that The Universe is with them, supporting them. I hope my boys will develop a sense of God being everywhere they go, including the classrooms and playgrounds of school.
Remind your children of techniques they can use to manage their feelings while at school. This tip may be more for older children. Which techniques they use don’t matter and will depend on what you have taught them. For example, you can suggest that, when they are feeling anxious or lonely, they could take a few mindful breaths to calm down or say a prayer to remember that God is with them. These little things can help prevent them from descending into overwhelm or panic.
Create predictability around drop-off and pick-up times. As I write this, Thomas is into his third day at kindy. I have ducked out to give him an hour without me as part of the transition process. Before kindy this morning, I told him exactly when I would be leaving and when I’d be returning. I left exactly when I said I would and will be back at kindy in exactly 29 minutes. This builds his trust in me so that he knows I will always return when I say I will, making him happier to be left at kindy. Another way to create predictability for your child is to develop a drop-off routine over the first days/weeks. It may be that you stay with them while they put their things away, read a story together in the classroom/centre, hug and kiss, then go. If your child has trouble at drop-off time, enlist their teacher’s help. When I was teaching, I gave anxious children a job to do once they had said their goodbyes to keep them busy and give them a sense of belonging.
No long goodbyes. If you say you’re going to go after reading one story – go! It is heart-wrenching when we see our child worried and upset but it is more confusing for them and prolongs their anxiety if we don’t leave after saying “goodbye”. They may also learn that, if they’re dramatic enough, you’ll stay longer – using your empathy against you! Remember, your child is in good hands – teachers are used to managing separation and want your child to be settled and happy at school just like you do. If you’re anticipating “a scene” when it comes time to go, let the teacher know so they can be on-hand to comfort your child while you leave and settle them in.
Make and take time to settle your child in. I can see that Thomas needs a gradual easing into kindy. He hasn’t been left with people other than close family before and is finding the separation from me difficult. Currently, I’m leaving only for an hour each time and staying with him for the rest of the session because he has been upset without me. I have cleared my calendar so I can do this. Once Thomas is more settled during his hour without me, I will gradually lengthen the time I stay away until he can be dropped-off at the start of session and picked-up at the end like usual. While he needs to learn how to be at kindy without me, I also want to avoid him associating kindy with feeling distraught because I’m not there. He’s very happy when I am there, playing and building positive associations with kindy. We’re aiming for more happy, settled moments than, upset, anxious ones. For most school-aged children, this slower settling-in process won’t be necessary because they’ll be older and likely to have attended an ECE centre where they’ve adjusted to staying without their parents.
I hope there’s something useful here for you and that your children’s transition into school or kindy is a happy one.
Thomas and I had a few items to pick up from the supermarket on our way home. Always eager to help, Thomas likes pulling the wheeled basket along behind him and eating the free fruit the shop puts out for kids. The two of us usually have fun together at the supermarket.
When we got to the supermarket, there were no wheeled baskets and the fruit box was empty. You can probably guess how the rest of this story goes.
Thomas, being 2, insisted on carrying the regular basket with only handles himself. It was awkward and heavy for him but I gave him a chance to try and to see for himself that he couldn’t manage it. Uncharacteristically, he was getting himself in knots over it and our shopping wasn’t getting done. In the end, I had to insist that I would carry the basket myself. I was ready for crying and complaints but not for what came next.
Tears, screaming, pulling at me and the basket. He had himself in hysterics. I am not exaggerating when I say the whole supermarket could hear Thomas – and I could sense their ears listening. I needed the few items on my shopping list and I knew it wouldn’t take long so I forged ahead.
But I had a choice to make about how I was going to forge ahead – with love or with fear. I chose love. And I mean self-love, not love for Thomas (bless him). He was in no state for reason or, even, comfort. He just needed his moment. So I mentally detached myself from Thomas. I detached myself from the shoppers and the staff. I detached from my embarrassment. “My child’s behaviour is not a reflection of me or my parenting,” I told myself as I charged down the aisles on my mission to get our essentials and get out of there. (Well, limped, really, as Thomas was semi-attached to me – but with the conviction of charging.)
I sensed the discomfort of the staff and shoppers at being witness to the scene I was responsible for. My strength was wavering as I was heading for the one last thing I needed when…a stranger came up to me and said, “Excuse me, can I give you a hug?”. She gave me a firm squeeze and said I was doing a good job. With her kindness and understanding, I was fortified enough to finish my job with composure both within and without. I am so appreciative of her support and, whoever you are – thank you, enormously.
I headed straight for the self-check-out as standing in queue wasn’t an option. Like the parting of the red seas, people made room for me and my red-faced child. A staff member pointed me to the next available check-out. The customer at the check-out next to me offered to scan my groceries through for me.
The whole ordeal felt like forever but was probably under five minutes, due to everyone’s effort. They and I both wanted us out of there!
By the time we got to the car, Thomas was hitting me in his frustration and overwhelm. I simply told him, “no hitting, hitting hurts”. He wasn’t in a place to receive any lessons. I figured I’d let him get it out and offer him comfort when he was ready to receive it. (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions)
So I had the joy of driving home with Thomas screaming in the back seat. By the time we pulled up outside our house, he had quietened somewhat but told me he wanted me to keep driving and to listen to “Yellow Submarine”, which we’ve been playing a lot of in the car recently. So I ended up reversing back down the driveway and cruising around the suburb with “Yellow Submarine” on repeat. I looked in my rear vision mirror and Thomas was happy in the back seat, pretending to play the trombone along with the music. He was reset.
That morning, I had listened to a podcast interview with Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The Universe Has Your Back as I was filling lunchboxes. The interviewer had asked her, “How do you know the Universe has your back?” This is how I know – the hugging stranger, the eager helpers at the self-checkout, Ringo Starr. My quick stop at the supermarket didn’t go the way I would have had it, but there was help for me everywhere I turned. I love the title of Gabby’s book and it is a truth I want my boys to know.
Looking back over most of my adult life, it seems to have been one long effort to let go. To let go of the things that hold me back from being my naturally loving, creative, peaceful self. Things like self-doubt, fear of other people’s disapproval and expectations that I should be a certain way and life should go a certain way. While I have loosened my grip on these things over the years, I still drag many of them around with me. I used to think it was just me, that I was over-sensitive, but I have realised that most of us, if not all of us, have things to let go of.
THE BAD NEWS – You will probably mess your children up
Thinking about this recently, I wondered, “how do we end up with so much stuff we need to let go of?!” It seems we spend the first 2 to 3 decades of our lives gathering limitations of various form and the rest of our lives trying to shed them. “Where did it all begin?!”
It all begins with our early life experiences. We so often hear about the precious “early years” of childhood during which the brain is wiring itself at super-speed. This formatting continues at a reduced (but still rapid) pace throughout childhood. For most of us, our earliest, brain-shaping experiences are with our parents. This means, now that I’m a parent, I’m configuring my children’s brains and probably messing them up in some way as I go. I’ve been a far-from-perfect parent. This feels like bad news.
Before I had children, I hoped to be a wise, sensitive parent whose children would be well-adjusted and empowered in their lives. I was determined that my parenting wouldn’t leave them with “issues” that they would have to work through as adults.
Well, that got off to a poor start with my first-born’s difficult birth – my midwife said the stressful labour he experienced might explain his “unsettled” behaviour as a newborn. So he had issues before he was even out. Then, there were the times I left him to cry himself to sleep as a baby because I had done everything I could think of and the book said he was probably overtired, needing to unwind on his own. Attachment parenting advocates would say that, in doing this, I damaged his trust in me. Jake’s only 5 years old now but, there have already been many situations that I haven’t known how to handle and have had to guess my way through.
THE GOOD NEWS – But it’s ok
Having said this, there is some good news. I believe that we are lovingly and deliberately matched with our children. We are matched with the purpose of providing each other with experiences that help us both to learn what we are here on this “earth school” to learn. I first met this idea when reading Caroline Myss’ book Sacred Contracts and have since come across it many times.
Some of this learning that we offer one another happens through the joyful experiences we share together. But some of it happens through the challenge we create for one another. Sometimes we need to create difficulty for our children because it gets their attention, forces them to look at themselves and discover what they need to see. We could almost say that it is our job to mess our children up!
Of course, I’m exaggerating when I use the phrase “Mess our children up”. What I’m saying is that we will inadvertently step on their tender spots to bring those places to their awareness so they can find the learning and heal. A child’s relationship with their parents is their first relationship in the world. They will meet their personal challenges initially with us and will repeat them in future relationships until their learning is done.
And, apart from any divine purpose to the difficulties we create for our children, there is just the fact that we parents are human beings. We are doing the best we can but we’re not mind-readers and will unintentionally do things that upset our children in some way.
PARENTING TAKES COURAGE & LOVE
I’m not suggesting we be as difficult as we can with our children so they will learn lots! I’m not saying it’s okay to be careless with their spirits to “toughen them up”. The point I’m making is that we need to accept that we’ll unconsciously and unavoidably create some sort pain in our children, designed to awaken them to the love and wisdom they are here to realise.
We cannot parent properly if we are in fear of the issues we might create for our children. In fear, we would be unable to make parenting decisions, afraid of doing the wrong thing – immobilised and ineffective. That’s why parenting takes courage. We have to get on with it as best we can.
If we’re going to mess our children up, lets at least do it with Love. All the love we extend to our children can be part of what helps them to recover from our parenting “mistakes”. (Which will turn out not to be mistakes at all.)
Bear in mind, also, that it is not upto us to figure out what the lessons are that our children are here to learn in life. They will recognise them for themselves, most likely when they’re older.
And let’s keep perspective on all of this. It does not mean our children have no chance of being well-adjusted and empowered or any of those things that we want for them – they have a high chance if those are our intentions. There’s lots that we, as parents, will do well and plenty of learning that will happen through joy also.
OUR CHILDREN MESS US UP TOO!
It can be helpful to remember that our children are here for our own learning as much as we are here for theirs. It can feel as though they are our chief button-pushers as they trigger unfinished learning in us. Our spiritual equals, they will return the lesson-giving favour! (You may be interested to read my post How our Children Raise Us.)
IN SUMMARY: YOUR IMPERFECT BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH
It is likely that, someday in the future, we will be having coffee with our adult child, listening to them tell us about how something we did or didn’t do when they were young has been an issue for them for many years. It may be something we thought we had handled well. It may be something we had struggled to manage at the time. Either way, it doesn’t matter. We will likely wish we had done something differently to minimise our child’s pain, we may want to apologise. But we will also be able to accept it, knowing that we did our best to parent from Love and that our child is learning what they are here to learn.
And, if we’re holding something against our own parents, let’s find a way to forgive them. Just as we are doing our best, they probably did to. Let’s extend the compassion to them that I am suggesting we give to ourselves. It will enable us to let go and our own lessons will reveal themselves.
At the end of my last post, Discipline 101, I promised I’d share my best discipline technique with you so I’ll jump right in.
Here it is –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We all want a magical, quick-fix strategy to manage our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies that is needed.
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we are experiencing with them (not on the phone call we just finished or where we have to be in ten minutes’ time). Our total presence with our children enables us to tune into them and to see what is really going on. Without presence, our ego gets loud – “he’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts in our heads. “He’s not getting away with it!” With presence, our Love asks, “what is he needing from me right now?”
Two very different responses will come from these different kinds of thoughts. The ego will likely make a declaration of our authority and perhaps an arbitrary removal of a ‘privilege’. Love might acknowledge how our child is feeling, offer a comforting cuddle and, when they’re ready, an appropriate follow-up. (See my post, No Such Thing as a Naughty Child)
I’m not a fan of using strategies thoughtlessly, but some good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve been able to reuse selectively in the future. One such technique is my “try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to myself or someone else. Jake went through a phase of putting up big resistance when it came time to set the table for dinner. I started feeling a sense of dread when I needed to ask him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for Jake to set the table had evoked a shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stamp of the foot. He had struck me in a moment of presence and I realised it was upto me how things would go – whether I escalated the situation by arguing with him both about the way he had addressed me and the setting of the table or whether he accepted his job and did it, albeit grudgingly. I recognised that all he was needing was a bit of understanding that he didn’t want to set the table – he knew the expectation wouldn’t change. So I said to him, “try that again”. He looked at me, puzzled. “Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I said. He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”. “I know it can be annoying to be interrupted from your play to set the table”, I commiserated then continued, “ it still needs to be done so we can eat our dinner”. He went ahead and set the table. Through presence, I had reminded him to speak respectfully to others, given him a chance to say what he had to say and got him to set the table. Now, I just say, “try that again” when he speaks disrespectfully and usually the situation is diffused because he’s being polite and I’m listening to how he’s feeling. So simple, yet I don’t think I would’ve thought of it had I been trying to “figure out” what I should do when he refused to set the table.
I regard presence as an essential personal and parenting skill (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness). It helps us to discipline effectively and with Love. In any moment, disciplinary or otherwise, it allows us to really see our children and recognise what is required of us.