I often feel that parenting is like a walk across a tightrope. For each aspect of parenting, there seems to be a continuum between two opposite ways of doing things. Since last week’s post was about diet, take spoon-feeding and its opposite, baby-led weaning, for example. There are pros and cons for both and my approach when introducing my boys to solids was to do a bit of each.
To keep my balance on this parenting tightrope, I need to find the mid-point between the two extremes of each matter, skilfully judging whether to lean a little more this way or that, taking each step with intention. If I lean one way too much, I’ll fall off. These are the matters I’ve been struggling to find my balance on of late –
Giving My Children Space to Learn for Themselves vs Being a Teacher/Guide
When my boys are facing something new or challenging, I try to allow them the space to discover what they need to know for themselves. Through asking questions, trying things out and learning from their own mistakes, there is a lot children can work out on their own. I think it’s easy for us to interfere with their self-teaching processes and to undermine them by taking over. It pains me to watch parents coach their children on how to play on a playground. But, on the other hand, there are many other situations when I have wisdom born of experience that could help my boys. For example, friendships can be difficult for children to navigate on their own and there are times I find myself coaching my son through challenges with friends, brainstorming with him possible solutions to difficult situations.
How do I judge when to step in with a bit of guidance and when to leave my children to learn for themselves?
Teaching My Children to be Considerate of Others vs Becoming a People-Pleaser
I think it’s important for people to be able to see beyond themselves and to be aware of how their actions impact others, either positively or negatively. In our home, we talk with our boys about how their behaviour affects others, calling it the “ripple effect”. A typical scenario – one of them hits the other, the other cries and I get stressed trying to deal with two emotional boys. I point out (afterwards) the flow-on effects of the hitting as an example. Equally, when one of them shares a toy, making the other one smile broadly and they go on to enjoy an hour of playing happily together, I use that as an example too. But there are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like. I worry I could over-emphasise consideration & kindness as I raise my boys, to the point that they may believe, as I did for many years, that other people are more important than they are and that it’s mean & selfish to do what’s best for themselves if it might upset others. I want my boys to know that they are equals with everyone and there are times when it’s appropriate – good, even – to act in self-interested ways.
How do I teach my children to judge whether to prioritise themselves or others in a situation?
Giving My Children Treats vs Creating a Sense of Entitlement
I like to treat my boys sometimes, just because it’s fun and I love them. It might be a surprise outing after school, a new book for the school holidays or something yummy in their lunchboxes. The catch, I find, is that, often, when I give a treat, they expect it again next time. “Are we going anywhere after school today?” “Can you buy me this book?” “I don’t like these crackers, can I have a cupcake like yesterday?” It’s a give-an-inch-they’ll-take-a-mile. Unfortunately, I always think twice about giving my boys treats because I’ll likely have to face pestering tomorrow.
How do I give my children treats in a way that doesn’t become entitlement or “spoiling”?
HOW TO KEEP BALANCE
There is a time to stand back and let our children discover for themselves. And a time to use what we know to teach and guide them.
There is a time for our children to be considerate of others. And a time to prioritise their own interests.
There is a time to treat our children. And a time not to.
I’m sure you have your own tightropes to walk as a parent.
You may have noticed that, as a tightrope walker eases themself along the rope, their weight is not perfectly centred for the entire walk – it’s not physically possible. So they do a lot of correcting as they go.
But a tightrope walker doesn’t have the time to do the maths and figure out precisely how far to lean, as they begin to wobble. They make these decisions in the moment, based on the feel. With concentration and full presence, when things feel wobbly, they know instinctively how to correct their balance. As parents, we can feel our way along the rope also. To notice the wobbles and know how to stabalise, we need to concentrate and be fully present, both with ourselves and our children.
When I have been maintaining my personal spiritual practice and I’m present with my boys, I am tuned-in and I find that I know what to say or do much more easily. It usually comes to me in the moment that I need it. If I am teaching one of them something new, I sense what I need to say and I know when I’ve said enough & should leave the rest to them. If I am talking with them about how their behaviour negatively impacted others, I find a way to validate their needs and wants as well. If I’m deciding whether or not to give them a specific treat, I can feel whether this treat is a good idea or not.
I also want to add that every family’s centre is in a slightly different place, which is why being tuned in with ourselves and our children is so important. Centre is not exactly half-way between two opposite ways of doing things, it’s actually the place that feels right. To give an example, I would say that, for my family, there is more standing back and allowing my boys to learn for themselves than explicit teaching.
IN SUMMARY – THE CIRCUS IS COMING TO TOWN!
Actually, parenthood can feel like a full-blown circus at times, with a sense of anything-could-happen. But that’s not all bad – there’s a lot of fun and spontaneity in life with children, the performers have well-developed skill and creativity. As parents, our greatest skill and creativity comes from parenting not only with our bodies and minds, but with our spirits too.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What tightrope are you walking at the moment? Comment below
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“When you are kind to others, it not only changes you, it changes the world.” – Harold Kushner
One morning, not long after dropping my son, Jake, off at school, I got a text message from my friend. Jake and her son, Sam, are friends also and go to school together. That morning, Sam had been feeling upset and was reluctant to be left at school. When Jake saw how his friend was feeling, he took care of him and tried to cheer him up. “Jake is such a lovely kid and you should’ve seen it”, the text said.
I really appreciated the text because I needed to be reminded of how kind Jake actually is. Lately, I feel that I’ve spent a lot of time refereeing arguments between my boys and I had forgotten how caring he can be. But, when I read my friend’s message, I could just imagine Jake’s manner – the gentle one he uses to comfort his little brother, Thomas, when he’s hurt or when he’s helping Thomas to put his shoes on.
Coming from Love, kindness is intrinsic in us all. We are born spiritually aligned, with a sense of oneness that wants to be expressed through kindness. In support of this, we are biologically wired to be kind – think of the natural high both the giver & the receiver feel when an act of kindness has been performed.
Although born ready for kindness, we quickly have experiences which can cause us to behave in less-than-kind ways. Contending with other children who want the toy we have or parental pressure to do well at school, for example, can create a threat to us. At these times, fear kicks in and survival of one sort or another becomes more important than kindness.
As parents, though, we can help our children to exercise their kindness muscle, to build its strength so that it is stronger than fear. And we’ve got a head start with this job because, really, we all want to be kind.
5 WAYS TO NURTURE OUR CHILDREN’S KINDNESS
Be an example of kindness. I know, I write that we should be an example a lot! But our example is our most powerful tool as parents. Firstly, we need to show kindness towards our children. As obvious as this may seem, it can be hard to do at times, especially when we’re feeling under-the-weather or pressured in some way. For me, the way I talk to my boys isn’t always kind. I can slip into a slightly ranty, instruction-giving machine at times and that is something I’m working on. Our children also need to see us being kind to others – even little kindnesses like stopping to let a car into the flow of traffic or holding the door open for the Mum with the buggy provide a great example to our children.
Acknowledge and appreciate our children’s kindness. By noticing and thanking our children for their kindness, they see that it makes a difference. I thank my boys for kindness they show to each other or other people, as well as to me. I try not to praise kindness as this encourages them to be caring for the wrong reasons – it becomes approval-seeking instead. (My post Overusing Good Job elaborates on this.)
Look for natural opportunities for our children to be kind. These arise all the time. At a birthday party, we may suggest our child invite the shy one to play with them. When they come home from a party with a goody bag of sweets, we may suggest they share some of the sweets with their brother or sister. I try to present these as opportunities to be kind, rather than as expectations so they can feel the joy of kindness, not a sense of obligation. By practising kindness, we make kindness a habit.
Be kind together as a family. We have some family Christmas traditions that help our boys to think about what they can give, not only what they might get. Leaving candy canes for people to find around the local shopping mall is a particularly fun one. But, kindness is great any time of year. When Thomas is a little older, I’d like our family to get involved in helping a particular cause on a regular basis and am on the look-out for one that we all feel passionate about.
Talk about kindness. In our home, we use the word “kindness” daily. It is one of our family’s highest values. When talking with my boys about their behaviour, I tend not to say it is “good” or “bad” but to discuss with them whether it was respectful and kind. We talk about kindness people have shown towards us and acts of kindness we witness that don’t involve us. We talk about how good it feels to be kind.
IN SUMMARY – KINDNESS IS WIN/WIN
Kindness comes easily to children and adults alike. I know it doesn’t always seem this way but, with a little faith and nurturing, our children will surprise us with their small acts and large gestures of caring. The form kindness takes is of less importance than the fact they cared enough to offer it.
Last weekend, Jake made me an “I love you” card, decorated with 18 hearts and declaring that, not only am I the best Mum ever, but my chocolate chip cookies are the best ever. It made my day to get it and I could tell by the way he presented it to me that it made Jake’s day to give it. Kindness is win-win.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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