Telling my Son the Truth about Santa

For some reason, Christmas time seems to elicit controversial essays from me.  Take my one from a couple of years back, pitching Jesus against Santa – yikes!    I’m not one to deliberately stir things up but I’m also not the type to be insincere or to go along with things I don’t believe in.  So, before I proceed with this one, I just want to reiterate that my essays are personal and I endeavour only to offer a perspective on the topics I write about.   I don’t claim to know all that is right or true about parenting or life…or Santa.

Disclaimer made, I’ll admit right now that there is a lot about the way we celebrate Christmas in these current times that doesn’t sit right with me and Santa has always been one of them.  Here are just some of the reasons I’m not so fond of him from a soulful parenting perspective –

* When people talk about Christmas with children, it usually gets reduced to the question “what do you want Santa to bring you?”  Christmas can be so much more than that but it’s upto us adults to show the children in our lives where the meaning of the season lies.

* The comments children get from adults about Santa not coming if they don’t behave themselves.  I have intentionally avoided saying these things but other adults take the liberty of saying them to my boys.  Christmas is not a time for manipulating our kids into behaving in a way that suits us or causing them to question their worth and deserving.

* The older our children are when they realise Santa isn’t real, the more of a fool they will feel, the greater their sense of having been betrayed by us, their supposedly trustworthy parents.

* The potential for ridicule of believing children by peers who don’t believe.  At some point, our kids unfortunately become targets of those who are in-the-know if they believe in Santa.

My perspective is skewed by the fact that my parents never led me to believe that Santa was real.  Our family played the game enthusiastically, putting out milk, cookies & stockings on Christmas Eve and the story of it felt just as magical to me as it would have if I’d believed in it.  We let our imaginations go there.  My husband, on the other hand, remembers the wonder of having believed throughout childhood and didn’t want to rob our boys of that feeling.  So I have been going along with the whole Santa palaver while also working on changing my husband’s mind, trying to help (make) him see that Santa gets in the way of a more meaningful Christmas.  This year, I appreciate that he agreed to telling Jake (7 years old) the truth about Santa since it obviously meant so much to me.

Strangely enough, once he said that, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to tell Jake anymore.  What if I was robbing him of the excitement of Christmas?  Having been so certain for so long, I wavered.  But a moment came up this week when I was alone with Jake and I felt myself being pushed to fess up.  I even got nervous like I do when I have big news to deliver to someone, such as when I handed in my resignation from teaching.

I began by swearing Jake to secrecy before telling him – he couldn’t tell anyone, not even his brother, Thomas (4 years old), or his friends.  Which may have been pointless since, only a month ago, he shared the secret we had planned for my husband’s birthday with his whole class for morning news.

His first question on hearing the revelation was, “So it’s like a legend?”  I thought “legend” was a bit grandiose, but ok.  Then, predictably, “So where do the presents come from?”

I gave him an abbreviated history of Saint Nicholas.  I said that parents carry on the kindness of Saint Nick by filling stockings for their children.  I assured him we would still fill his stocking for him but I also offered him this – “Would you like to continue the kindness by helping Dad and I to choose presents for Thomas’ stocking, now that you know?”  Jake nodded enthusiastically and wanted to know when we could go shopping.  He had a new reason to look forward to Santa coming.

Something that didn’t occur to me before telling him the truth was that I would be roping Jake into lying for others.  “Remember, don’t tell Thomas.  Don’t tell your friends – it’s up to their parents to tell them when the time is right.  Just go along as if you believe”.  I hadn’t thought that the truth could turn out to be a burden of sorts for him.  The following day, we spoke about this further and I told him he didn’t have to lie when someone directly asked him if he believed in Santa but not to announce it to other kids.

After telling him the truth, I asked Jake, “So, how do you feel about the news?”  During our discussion, I thought I had detected some disappointment.  But his response surprised me.  He told me he was grateful that his Dad and I had filled his stocking up for “7 whole years” and thanked me very much.  I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked very much by him before.

Now that the “legend” of Santa has been corrected, my conscience is clear (at least in regards to Jake) and I’m relieved of having to come up with convincing explanations for the unexplainable (eg. “how does Santa get down the chimneys when he’s so fat?”).  And, most importantly, I have made room for more gratitude and generosity in Jake’s experience of Christmas.  I think it will be a little more soulful for him this year.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Afraid of the Dark – Praying with Children

Did I just hear one of my boys call my name?

I look at my clock with blurry vision.  3:54am.

“Mummy”, I hear Jake call in a shaky voice.

I get out of bed and pad down the hallway to his bedroom.

“I’m scared”, he murmurs when I reach him.

I crawl into bed with Jake and asked him about his fears.

 

Bad dreams, fires and intruders have been his main concerns lately.  One evening, as we were putting our boys to bed, my husband had to take him downstairs to show him that the front door was securely locked and there was no way for someone to get into the house.  Last week, I had to reassure him that our smoke alarms are loud enough to wake us if they go off while we’re asleep.  But I know that, when we’re in a state of fear, we are unable to be reasoned with.  Our brains have been hijacked by our fear, unable to gauge the unlikeliness of the possibilities that terrify us.

As I held Jake, I remembered the terror I used to feel as a child, lying in my bed, listening to the sounds of the house, convinced that someone had found a way inside.  In the dark, my imagination was my worst enemy.

Even at forty years old, the dark still has a way of bringing out my fears.

I listened to Jake until he felt he’d told me enough about his scary dream then I just lay with him, chatting a little.

After ten minutes, it was time to extract myself.  Remembering my own childhood middle-of-the-night anxiety, I wanted to hold Jake ‘til morning so he could relax and fall asleep in a sense of safety.  But I knew that this wasn’t going to be the first time he’d need me to comfort him in the dark and I didn’t want to set a precedence for sleeping night after night squeezed into his single bed together.  I told him he could leave his lamp on for the rest of the night if he liked and suggested he read for a while to make his eyes tired.  I also reminded him that, at any time, he can choose his thoughts and that maybe he’d like to have a happy memory or wish ready to think about whenever scary thoughts come to mind.

But I felt helpless.  I couldn’t make his fear go away.  I couldn’t tell him for certain that, if he fell back to sleep, the bad dream wouldn’t come back.  Or that we will never have a fire in our house.  Or that someone unwanted won’t ever find their way in.

So I offered to do for Jake what I do for myself when my fears are running amok.

“Would you like me to say a prayer with you?” I asked.

Jake nodded.

I began my prayer by asking that Jake be protected from bad dreams, fires and intruders.  But I realised that this prayer would not be enough to settle Jake’s mind.  For, while we can tell God/The Universe what we’d like, we cannot tell It what to do.  So I continued my prayer by asking for Jake to know that God is always with him and for his scary thoughts to leave him alone, replaced by happier ones.  Essentially, it was a prayer for him to see things differently – without fear – one I’ve learned from A Course in Miracles.

“Does that help?” I asked, uncertainly.

Jake smiled and nodded.

I didn’t know if Jake experiences relief through handing things over in prayer like I do but, the next morning he said to me, “can I call you in the middle of the night whenever I get scared and we can say a prayer together?”

“Of course”, I said.  “Anytime”.

 

CONCLUSION – PRAYING WITH CHILDREN

Spirituality without a Higher Power of some sort is kind of in-vogue at the moment.  The power of the Self is revered – inner strength and manifesting etc.  And, yes, we are magnificent, powerful beings.  But that magnificence is God-given, an extension of Himself within us and, when our humanity is not enough to get us through the situation before us, we can call on that magnificence for help.  Not necessarily to rearrange the chess pieces of our lives to our liking but to rearrange our thoughts for Love and peace.  Time and time again, I have found this prayer – to see things differently – to be the most powerful one I say, easing fears of every variety.

Turning to prayer for support is a relatively new idea for my boys.  Our prayers are normally of thanks and for guidance.  (You may find this essay about introducing our children to prayer helpful)  But I want my boys to know that The Universe is a friendly place, unfailingly supportive of them, even when they are feeling most confused and vulnerable.  Praying is an act of faith, an acknowledgement that, while I don’t see the big picture right now, I trust that the intentions of The Universe are wise and loving.  If my boys know that I am willing to lean on that understanding, maybe they will know that they can lean on it also.  This is the gift that I hope to have given Jake that dark night.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why We Don’t Need To Teach Values To Our Children

I met a group of friends for coffee last week.  Our gang of 7 year-old boys go to school together and, after dropping them off one morning, we met at a local cafe.  Conversation turned to the dreaded teenage years.
“Isn’t there a part of their brain that kind of shuts down and renovates itself in adolescence?” I asked.  “Reasoning or impulse control or something?  If that part of their brain isn’t really functioning, what hope do we have?” I said, only half joking.
We all exchanged despairing looks, imagining the trouble our teens might get themselves into, remembering some of the trouble we got ourselves into as teens.  After a while, another mum suggested that perhaps the best thing we could do to help our future teens stay “on track” was to teach values to our children.

Our theory was that, if our children are raised to have kindness, respect and value for life, for example, these things will be ingrained in their way of thinking and making decisions for life.  Brainwashing – for the good!

And the interesting thing I’ve realised is that we don’t even have to teach these values to our children.

 

THE REASON WE DON’T NEED TO TEACH VALUES TO OUR CHILDREN

If we look at the values listed above, they are all expressions of Love.  Since we have each been created by a loving Universe, Love is already in us, it doesn’t need to be taught to us – including our mischievous 7 year-old boys and impulsive teens.  Good news, right?!

This, of course, does not mean that our children will always behave in loving ways!  But what it does mean is that we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love.  Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right.  As much as they may argue with us or justify their actions, there’s a part of them that immediately feels the discomfort of having strayed from their true nature.  I suspect that the more extensive their efforts to defend their behaviour, the louder that voice inside of them is crying, “I wish I hadn’t done that”.

My experience is that our children have an internal sense of right and wrong (or Love and fear, as A Course in Miracles would say).  They don’t need to be told that what they did was wrong, they already know.  If this is the case, how should we respond when they do cross over to the dark side?  Here’s what I’m practising…

Without judgement, I direct them inwards to that uneasy feeling of having strayed from Love.  For example, instead of saying, “It’s not right to hit your brother”, I might say, “How do you feel after hitting your brother?” or “How does hitting your brother make you feel?”  In these moments, I often get a silent thumbs down in response, but that’s enough.  He gets it. I don’t need to launch into a sermon, punish him or force him to apologise (you can read more on not making our children apologise here).

As Jake is getting older (he’s 7 now), I’ve also started talking to him about how he felt in the moment before he hits.  For example, “when you knew you were going to hit him, how did you feel about what you were about to do?”  Here I’m helping him to recognise that he always has that voice inside him that knows what he should do, telling him quietly how best to respond to a situation.

 

OTHER WAYS WE CAN EMPHASIZE VALUES TO OUR CHILDREN WITHOUT TEACHING THEM

There are things we can do to create a Love-based culture in our homes, to marinade our children in Love so that it seeps into their being from the outside as well as nurturing it from the inside.

As always, we can be examples of Love ourselves, exhibiting it in our own behaviour.  Our children’s eyes are on us all the time and there will inevitably be times when our example is far less than exemplary but there will also be many times when we are able to show our children what Love looks like in powerful ways.  Most powerfully is how well we show love to our children, including when their behaviour rubs up against our own sense of right and wrong.

We can talk about Love-based values, keeping them explicit and alive in our homes through conversation.  In our house, we often refer to The Golden Rule and talk about the “ripple effect” of our behaviour on those around us.  “What kind of ripple effect do you want to have?” I asked Jake the other day.  We rarely use words like right/wrong or good/bad in these conversations.  We talk more about making decisions that help everyone involved to feel good.

 

IN SUMMARY – A NEW METHOD FOR VALUES EDUCATION

So, instead of teaching values like we might capital cities of the world, trying to drum into our children “knowledge” of right from wrong,  we can trust that our children already know.  The most helpful response we can have to their behaviour is to help them tune into that knowing.  But doing this is not simply a strategy to make the teenage years easier for us or to put our minds at ease.  Ultimately it is to empower our children to be a force for Love in the world.  Our children and teens will still make decisions we wish they hadn’t but they will feel that pull of Love within and learn through their decisions.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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My Secret to Managing Sibling Conflict

I hear shrieks, followed by two sets of footsteps racing up the stairs to get to me first.  My boys burst into the room, words falling out of their mouths before they even reach me.  I had been happily minding my own business, making my bed as I listened to a podcast, but now I felt myself quickly fill with dread.  I knew they were coming to ask me to resolve a dispute that I didn’t even see and that I already knew would be impossible to get to the bottom of…

 

School holidays have just finished here in New Zealand.  As we were saying goodbye to our friends at the end of last term, I noticed an almost universal parental response to the impending break – they were looking forward to having more time with their kids but they were dreading the sibling conflict, which seems to escalate to new heights when our children have so much time together.

Last year, I wrote an essay called Snatching Squabbling & Slamming Doors – Siblings!  In it, I exposed the parental desperation around sibling conflict.  A lot of people related to the examples I gave –

…next minute…there’s shouting – no, roaring – and Jake has evicted Thomas from his bedroom.  Thomas is banging on the door, crying that he wants to be let back in.

Or…Thomas has decided he wants the toy car that Jake’s got (even though his fists are already full with 3 others) and the snatching and squealing begins.

Or…Jake begins to slowly wind Thomas up, taking advantage of his 3 years senior.  He argues, manipulates and competes with Thomas, who just can’t keep up and ends up hitting Jake in frustration.  And, of course, Jake comes running to report to me, very indignantly, that Thomas hit him.

Or…(and this one takes the cake)…we’re in the car and Thomas starts wailing “I don’t want Jake to look at me!”

In my essay, I admitted that I didn’t know what to do and concluded that I just had to ride it out and trust that, as they got older, they’d better be able to manage themselves.

 

MY SECRET TO MANAGING SIBLING CONFLICT

Well, I’m pleased to report that, now that my boys are a year older (4 and 7 years old), things are improving – considerably.  I put it down partly to their maturity and partly to my consistent message that we treat one another with respect & kindness.

But I have also discovered a secret that helps me to lead my boys more easily to a resolution.  It prevents the situation from spiraling downward into an impossible confusion of interjections and tears, as it once seemed to do inevitably.  Want know what my secret is?  It’s this –

Don’t take sides.

Have you noticed how sibling conflict quickly turns into a jostle for Mum or Dad’s attention and affirmation?  Our children come racing to us, wanting to be the first to have their story of mistreatment heard.  They want to be told that they are the one who is “right”.  Well, if one of them is “right”, then the other is “wrong”.  If we play the role our children want us to, someone is always judged.

But, as a soulful parent, I stand by my boys through all things without judgement (well, ideally, anyway).    My job in any situation is to be there for both of them, supporting them each in the way that they need to be supported.  Doing this takes enormous intention and patience on my part because often my brain insists that there is one boy who “is clearly in the wrong”.  It wants to pick up a wig and gavel, make an authoritative ruling and get onto the next thing (usually the next item on my to-do list).

But, if I don’t intervene by declaring who is victim and who is perpetrator, if I don’t order a “fair” solution to the situation, what do I do?

I upskill them.  I take my boys through a process which gives them the skills to express themselves, manage their emotions, problem-solve and work with others.

This process is less a step-by-step how-to and more of a conversation that is adjusted for the individuals and the situation at hand.  You could say I have found some rules for these conversations that help me to shape the discussion so that it is constructive (instead of becoming a cauldron of complaints, blaming and frustration).  Here are the rules I have set for myself when managing sibling conflict –

 

Managing Sibling Conflict: Rules of Engagement (for Parents)

* Take no sides (already explained).

* Give each child a chance to explain their feelings and have them acknowledged by me.  Usually, I do this with each of them separately because their sibling can’t help but interject if they disagree.  Feeling heard helps them to calm down too.

* Get each child to focus on their own behaviour and what they can do in the situation, not what their sibling did or should do.  For example, we discuss the impact of their behaviour on the other and prepare what they want to say to their sibling.

* Help the siblings to come together to problem-solve.  Having coached them each already, I get them together and become the mediator for their conversation.  I don’t usually put any ideas forth myself, I say as little as possible.   I just help them to take turns to tell each other what they have to say and to listen to each other.  The goal is for them to learn how to communicate well and to come to a resolution together.

After months of this kind of coaching and mediating, we’re beginning to see the reward.  These holidays, I have heard both of my boys try to use the skills I’ve been teaching them on their own, without stepping into my courtroom.  Having practiced the skills so many times, they’re getting the hang of how to express themselves, listen to each other and problem-solve together.  I am freed of my judge’s wig and gavel.

 

IN SUMMARY – SIBLING CONFLICT COURT ADJOURNED

Of course, this is not the secret to eliminating sibling conflict altogether – arguments are normal!  But, when I don’t take sides, my boys learn the many skills of managing conflict themselves.  I intend to eventually be made redundant.

Personally, it is an enormous relief to realise that I do not have to get to the bottom of every argument, to determine who’s right or wrong and what the “fair” resolution is.  Instead of wading through all the details, trying to excavate the “truth”, all I have to do is to help them find a way forward.

This makes each situation more positive for my boys too because, regardless of their role in it, they can both rely on my affirmation and support.  They don’t have to compete for my allegiance as they once did because I no longer take up the role of judge.  I give them the power in the situation instead of wielding it myself.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Check out this great book, Siblings without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (not an affiliate link)

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I Thought “Mother’s Intuition” Wasn’t Real…

Amongst all the advice given to me when I was pregnant, the best was this – listen to your intuition, you know what’s best for your baby.   I was quite looking forward to experiencing this thing called “Mother’s Intuition”.  To be able to instinctively know what to do would be very handy, especially when it came to caring for a tiny human being who couldn’t speak.  I imagined being blissfully in-tune with my baby, able to know and meet its every need.  We would be happy and content together.

Then I had Jake – and the picture was very different.  I was tired, overwhelmed and confused from the beginning.  Jake seemed to cry constantly as a newborn.  I found the sound of his cry distressing – he was depending on me to meet his needs but I didn’t know what, of all the possible things, he  needed.  When I breastfed, it didn’t look at all like the peaceful scenes of bonding on the pamphlets the hospital gave me – I was awkward & stressed, unsure if my technique was right or Jake was getting enough milk.   Every tiny baby care task seemed enormous because I’d never had to change a nappy, get a burp out or strap a baby safely into its carseat before.  And how could I help him get to sleep?!  Nothing seemed to come naturally to me.

Where was this mother’s intuition when I needed it?

I concluded that mother’s intuition must be a myth.   Or maybe I just wasn’t a “natural” mother.

So I approached caring for my baby in the same way I did everything else – with lots of mental work.  I followed my midwife’s advice to write down the details of Jake’s feeds, sleeps and nappies to try and find a pattern (there wasn’t one).  I read copious books on baby care, trying to follow them to the letter.  I’m good at following a plan…but my baby wasn’t.  I watched a dvd on “tired signs” to learn how to tell which stage of tiredness/alertness Jake was in so I could put him to bed at exactly the right moment that he would drift straight off to sleep.  But the signals were so subtle I couldn’t even spot some of them on the close-up dvd footage, let alone in my own baby.

Looking back, I can see now that it wasn’t a case of mother’s intuition not being real.   It was just that Id’ never learned to value my intuition, let alone how to use it.  Like most people, I was taught to approach tasks with determination and plenty of brain work – planning, organising, analysing…  That’s how I had done everything in my life.  My thinking skills had earned me a degree and helped me to plan for and assess my students in my work as a teacher.  They were valuable but…

our souls speak in feelings.  The few times I had experienced intuition before motherhood was when a deep, still knowing had unexpectedly come over me about big, difficult decisions I had to make, such as to leave teaching.  Our souls also speak with physical feelings, such as goosebumps and gut feelings.

As I’ve become more familiar with the ways of the soul and, when I’m living in that intuitive, feeling space, I get spontaneous, seemingly-from-no-where ideas quite regularly.  They help me in many ways, giving me little nudges in the right direction, including in my parenting.  My intuition will tell me the question my son needs me to ask him or tell me to give him a hug for no apparent reason.  There is no doubt that my intuition is a valuable parenting tool.

So, I know now that intuition is real – and powerful.  I do, though, question whether it’s “Mother’s intuition”.  I believe this intuition is available to Dads, children and everyone else also.  A mother may use it to help her in her parenting role but it’s there to help anyone in any situation.

So, how to use their intuition is one of the life skills we need to encourage and teach our children.  In some ways, it’s smarter than our brains.  Up close to our circumstances, our brains see the confusion of pixels that make up our lives.  Our intuition sees the bigger picture, it has clarity.  I want my boys to have a connection to their intuition that they can use just as effectively as their cognitive skills.  Here are some simple ideas for nurturing intuition in our children (and ourselves).

 

3 WAYS TO NURTURE INTUITION IN CHILDREN

  1. Value their intuition and ask them to use it. By default, we tend to ask our children what they think about something. But we can also ask them to feel a response. eg. “what feels right to you?”, “how does that feel?”
  2. Get them involved in mindful and non-productive activities. Sensory activities, like playdough and painting are good examples. These activities give our children a chance to stop thinking so much and be present so they can sense their intuition.
  3. Encourage them to notice their body’s signals. If we share our own experiences of intuition eg. “That gave me shivers”, they will start noticing and sharing their own.

 

IN SUMMARY – BETTER THAN INSTRUCTION MANUALS

While we complain that babies don’t come with instructional manuals, The Universe has given us something even better – our intuition.   It will answer any question we have – but we must be willing to ask and ready to listen.  My essay 3 Questions Every Parent Needs to Ask Themselves shows how I am learning to communicate with my intuition to know how best to respond to my children in any given moment.

It takes discipline not to allow my thoughts to carry me away from my intuition.  Typically, I get stuck in my head and can become too overwhelmed by my thoughts to hear my intuition.  But, the more I still my mind and feel my way through life, the more relaxed and trusting I become, knowing I can depend on myself to be the mother my boys need.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Raising Well-Rounded Kids

I love walking long the beach admiring the shape of the driftwood.  I love the irregularity of each piece.  I love that no two pieces are the same.

I wish we would appreciate our children the way we do driftwood on the shore.

You see, there seems to be a gold standard for human beings that we call well-rounded.  At sports and school prize-givings, there’s usually even an award for “best all-rounder” or something of similar effect.  Well-rounded is a vague kind of a term, suggesting that the person to whom we can attribute this quality is fully developed in every desirable trait and ability.  They are complete in some way that those of us with pieces/qualities missing are not.  From childhood, we are given the mistaken impression that being well-rounded is favourable and actually possible.

 

DEFICIT-BASED PARENTING

Believing our children should be well-rounded leads us to a deficit-based approach to parenting.  The aim of this approach is to fill in the perceived gaps of our child.  They’re a little behind in maths, so they get sent to private tutoring in the evenings, even though they’ve just spent 6 hours at school.  They’re not very socially confident so they are bombarded with playdates and social activities as if over-exposure will make them feel differently.  Yes, we need to support our children where they struggle but we don’t need to change them.

With a deficit-based approach, it’s almost as if we’re trying to protect our children from the pain of being themselves.  We justify our choices to our children and to ourselves by declaring that what we’re doing is “for their own good”.  I remember being sent to netball and tennis lessons despite my lack of co-ordination and complete disinterest in sports because it was apparently going to make me fit in better socially (New Zealand is a very sports-based culture).

Our children can sense when we’re treating them like a project, tinkering away to improve them.  And the message it gives them is this: You’re not good enough as you are.

 

STRENGTHS-BASED PARENTING

Imagine if, instead, we took a strengths-based approach to parenting.  We would use those hours after school and in the weekends to encourage our children to do the things they love and are good at.  We would use that time to fill our children up, not to fill in their gaps.  When doing what they love, children experience joy, they see all that they’re capable of and they catch a glimpse of their own potential.  In this way, their self-confidence grows.

It is my understanding that the spiritual role of parenting is to help our children to be themselves (you can read more about that here).  We do not get to shape and mould them into who we think they should be.  Instead, I see it as my job to honour and empower my boys to be authentic so that they can be the people they are intended to be.  We’re all purpose-built, perfectly-shaped for the lives ahead of us, including our children.

Imagine each of us is a piece of wood.  No piece is the same.  There are rough bits and smooth bits on all of us.  If we equate being well-rounded with being the spherical shape of a ball, the wood (the person) must be sculpted from their irregular form into a perfect sphere.  Chunks need to be taken off, gaps need to be filled and everything sanded down to make it regular and smooth.   At the end, their original shape is nowhere to be seen.  The person becomes unrecognisable and no longer themselves, difficult to pick out because they are so similar to everyone else.  This is what trying to make our children well-rounded does to them.

We are all most happy when we feel able to be ourselves.  If we raise our children to be themselves, they won’t need to well-rounded I’m not saying we shouldn’t equip them with the essential skills they need in life, just that we need to stop expecting them to be all things and to be all things well.

Besides, I haven’t met anyone who is truly well-rounded.  Are you?  I sure as heck am not!   Yet so many people are miserable trying to become so by carrying on the gap-filling habits that their parents (and society in general)  started in early life.

 

CONCLUSION

If we raise our children to be themselves, they’re going to be well-equipped for their particular futures.  They’re going to go into occupations that use their natural strengths.  If they struggle with maths, it’s unlikely they’re going to choose to be a statistician or engineer and it’s not going to matter that they only just scraped through their high school maths assessments.  Let’s just appreciate our kids as they are and stop burdening them and ourselves with the mythical notion of well-roundedness.  Instead let’s support our beautiful, oddly-shaped children in being authentic, passionate and confident.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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3 Questions Every Parent Needs To Ask Themselves

THE BOY I COULDN’T FIGURE OUT

I distinctly remember the moment when I used my intuition intentionally for the first time with a child.  I was a primary school teacher and I had a boy in my class – we’ll call him Ryan – who was a complex child.  He was exceptionally bright, very friendly and had a good sense of humour yet every day he poked, niggled at and generally annoyed his classmates.  It was virtually impossible to get a straight answer out of him about why he was treating his classmates this way.  Whenever I asked him about what was going on, his clever mind would try to formulate the responses to my questions that would land him in the least amount of trouble.  I just couldn’t figure him out.

One morning, Ryan had just upset another classmate and we were going round in circles (again), trying to determine what had happened when I felt my mind almost stop.  Normally when I was teaching, my mind was in 28 places, trying to keep an eye on what each student was upto.  But, in this moment, the other children in the room faded away and my attention zoomed in on Ryan.  It became peaceful inside me and I let my resistance to his behaviour go.  I asked myself, “What does he need in this moment to be able to tell me why he’s upsetting the other children?”  And it came to me in an instant – give him the start of a sentence to finish.  Suddenly I understood that he had so much happening in his mind that he needed help to zero in on the information I was asking him about.  If I started a sentence for him, it would take his thoughts to the place where the answer was and all he had to do was finish the sentence.  To give an example, a sentence starter might be something like I poked Ben because… or I wanted Ben to… Each time, I could adjust the sentence I gave him to the situation.

Somehow, finishing the sentence was easier for Ryan than answering a question.  It didn’t allow him to go off on tangents or hide what was really going on with words. From then on, if I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, I carefully spoke or wrote the start of a sentence or two for him and he finished them off.  Being able to get the information I needed about his behaviour helped me to understand where he was coming from and how I could help him.  The rest of the school year was a lot easier.  That one moment of asking my intuition for what I needed transformed the dynamic between Ryan, me and the rest of our class.

I now use getting present and inviting my intuition in (like I learned to do in my classroom that day) in my parenting.  It especially helps me to respond appropriately to difficult situations with my boys.  Although I sometimes share with you strategies for approaching specific situations in a respectful way (eg. to discipline or to respond to an angry child), I prefer to use my intuition than to lean on a process or strategy by default.  Over the years, my best responses to situations have come to me in the moment when I’ve had no plan for how to approach them but my heart and mind have been open to really seeing what’s going on.  The trick is to ask ourselves the right questions.

 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

The questions we ask ourselves have a lot of power, they reflect our intentions.  Imagine, for instance, you have asked your child to help with the housework and they are flat-out refusing – rather loudly and aggressively.  If we ask ourselves “how can I get them to do what I want them to?” (just quieten down and pick up the vacuum cleaner, for goodness’ sake!) we are not approaching things with a spirit of respect and co-operation so we’re probably not going to hear much from our intuition.  It doesn’t want to be complicit in controlling our children.

As I’ve used my intuition more and more, I’ve found that there are 3 questions I tend to ask most when in a difficult situation with one of my boys. These questions help me to understand what’s really happening and what is needed from me in the moment –

 

“What is my child needing right now?”

Our intuition is likely to reply to this question with something like – acknowledgement of their point of view;  help to manage a big emotion; to learn where a boundary is; to tune into their values…  In the case of the child refusing to vacuum, they may need acknowledgement that they don’t like vacuuming and help to manage their anger about having to do it, for example. When I ask this question, I can see that that the child is not being naughty but has developmentally appropriate needs.

 

“What can I do to meet that need?”

Our intuition is super-creative, shiny with brilliance we probably wouldn’t tap into using our rational minds on their own.  It’s able to synthesise the various aspects of a situation to offer simple and effective solutions – like giving Ryan a sentence to finish.  It wants to help us empower our children.

 

“What belief about myself, my child or the situation has triggered me so much?”

Yes, we have to turn the questions on ourselves too, especially if we notice that we’re having a strong internal response to the situation at hand.  Infact, this question should probably be asked first as a way of clearing the air before responding to our child.   It might be that we believe children should always do as they’re asked and should never speak back – because that’s exactly what our parents used to say to us.  If we have that belief, we’re not able to see our child’s need, only our own sense of being disrespected or out of control.  But, once we are aware of our trigger, it no longer has control over us because we can choose not to let that limiting belief parent the child but our Love to parent them instead.

 

CONCLUSION

See how differently we respond to our children when we get present and ask our intuition the real questions, rather than simply trying to figure out how to get our child to do what we want them to?  Suddenly the situation is transformed from one of confrontation and competition, our child and ourselves each trying to get our own way, to one of compassion, co-operation and truth.  In this way, we can recruit both our brains and our souls for our higher purpose as parents – to love our children as they are and to lift them up.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Confident Kids – Risk, Fear & Failure

I was not a confident child.  I hung back in social situations (if I hadn’t been able to avoid them altogether) and I always worried about failing tests at school, even though I had a history of achieving well.  When I became a primary school teacher, I taught children who reminded me of myself as a child.  Sadly, low confidence was quite “common” amongst the 7 year-olds I taught.  For some of my students, it was a struggle even to begin a piece of work for fear of making a mistake. As a teacher, I just wanted them to care less and give and things a go but, at the same time, I understood the anxiety that they felt.

When we worry about our kids not being confident, we worry both about the anxiety they feel and that they will miss out on valuable experiences – experiences we know they really would enjoy and experiences they could learn from, if only they could forget their self-consciousness for a moment.  We feel how much they’d love to play that birthday party game but they’re too unsure of themselves to join in.  We know they need to develop their literacy skills but they won’t give new words in their reading a go, appealing to us to tell them instead.

So, I’ve been thinking lately, what is confidence? Of course, the first thing I did was Google the definition and this is one I came across –

a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.

This seems like a useful summary of confidence but it doesn’t give much clue as to how one gets to that place of appreciating their own abilities and qualities in the first place so they can feel self-assured.   In fact, I realised, childhood is inherently an experience of trying things without knowing one’s own abilities or qualities!  We sit here in the relative comfort of adulthood, largely operating within the  comfort zones we’ve established for ourselves, based  our abilities & qualities.  Meanwhile our children are being stretched into the unknown daily.  Childhood is risky business!  Why do some kids thrive and others recoil from these challenges?

I think I struck something when I realised that the difference may lie in their relationship to failure.  Every new experience comes with it the potential to fail.  I’m using “fail” in a very broad sense here.  It includes trying a tricky maths problem at school and getting it wrong.  It includes being excluded by a peer group in the school playground.  The list goes on.  Those who are comfortable with the potential for failure within a situation have the confidence to try it.  Those who believe that failure is disastrous, cower from the experience.

 

A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH FAILURE

Low confidence is likely to be a trait we can attribute partly to nature and partly to nurture.  I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we can turn a very anxious child into a confident one overnight.  But, I do think we can nurture a positive relationship with failure within our children that will make them more willing to give things a go by teaching them these things –

 

Fear of new things is normal – Presumably, fear of new situations and what could “go wrong” is a biological mechanism, designed to help us keep ourselves safe.  We all experience it.  If we’re honest with them about our own fear, our children will be more accepting of their’s.  For example, when I facilitated my first workshop this year, I told my son, Jake, that I was scared because I hadn’t facilitated a workshop before.  (Bless him, he offered to come with me for support – but it was after his bedtime.)  We can also help our kids to become more comfortable with their fear by responding sensitively to them when they are fearful.  Sometimes, we try to convince them there is nothing to be afraid of or we dismiss their feelings with comments like, “You’ll be fine”.  These responses gives the message that there’s something wrong with them for being fearful and that we’re really not willing to support them in their fear.  Acknowledgement and a hug of reassurance is much more useful – and so easy to do.

 

Some risks are worth taking – As I said earlier, one of our main concerns about our child’s low confidence is that they will miss out on an experience which is fun or from which they may learn something valuable.  Seeing us take risks because we believe in the benefit provides them with a great example.  I was nervous that I might not be able to explain myself clearly at my first workshop and that it might not being well-received but I went ahead anyway because helping parents and children was worth it to me.  If we can help our children to see the benefit of taking a risk, they may be more willing to take it.  I think we have to be careful here, though, not to project benefits onto situations that they don’t genuinely feel.  When stretching them out of their comfort zones, it is better to do so in situations that they are motivated by eg. going to a pool party even though they’re not confident in large groups because they love to swim, rather than taking them to an event they’re not interested in.

 

Failure is OK, good even – If we respond positively to our own failures as well as our children’s, taking the chance to fail will feel less risky to our children because they know our support and acceptance will be there whatever happens.  A term we often hear these days is to “fail forward”, meaning to look for the opportunity to learn and grow in our failures.  Failing forward shows our children that failure is not failure at all, it shows us the way ahead.  When they experience failure themselves, we can help them to reflect on what went well and what didn’t and to learn what to do differently next time.  This gives them some optimism, resilience and willingness to try again.

 

I think that confidence is a multi-faceted thing and that giving our children a positive relationship to failure is only one part of it, but a very powerful part.

 

CONCLUSION

Failure is inherent in growth and living fully, unavoidable.  Trying to avoiding failure is pointless, exhausting and anxiety producing – the opposite of meaningful, invigorating and confident.  If we can help our children to approach risk with a sense of fun or growth, they will feel a lot better about giving things a go.   As soulful parents, we want to empower our children to be themselves and to take the risks worth taking.   One way we can do this is not by removing the potential for failure but removing the pain of failure to give them a little more courage to step into the unknown.

 

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. – e e cummings

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Pocket Money, Chores & Values

When Jake was 4 years old, he enjoyed looking at bargain shops, especially perusing the toy aisles and all their strangely fascinating plastic junk.  Inevitably, each time we went into a bargain shop, he would want me to buy something for him.  I never did.  He had enough toys.  Also, I wanted to teach him that we can’t buy everything we want and happiness isn’t found in our material things. I figured it was time for Jake to have some pocket money both so that he would stop pestering me to buy him junky toys and to learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees”.

It seemed logical that he should have to earn his money by doing jobs because that’s how things generally roll in the “real world”.  So, I would give Jake a job to do each weekend to earn a little pocket money, such as helping to clean the car or wiping down the bathroom vanities.  There were also chores I expected him to do purely as a contribution to the family, such as emptying the cutlery rack of the dishwasher and taking his plate to the kitchen bench after eating.

When I first told Jake that he’d be getting pocket money, his eyes lit up.  And, at first, he enjoyed the responsibility of doing jobs that, until then, he’d only seen adults do.  You can probably predict what happened over time, though.  He started refusing to do jobs unless he was paid for them and, eventually, any jobs at all as he decided that not having to work was even more favourable than having money to spend.

It was time to reconsider our system.  I asked other families how they approached chores and pocket money with their kids.  It seemed few had settled on a system that they were really happy with and many had experienced the kinds of bumps I had.  Then I realised that the point was this – what did I want doing chores and having pocket money to teach Jake?

There are many different concepts we can teach our children through chores and pocket money but it gets confused when we try to teach all of them through one system.  When we narrow the outcomes down and get specific about know what our intentions are, it becomes a lot clearer how to go forward.  Here’s what I decided –

I wanted Jake to do chores to develop a sense of his capacity to make a contribution and to learn practical life skills.

I wanted Jake to have money to learn how to manage it.

I was willing to forgo trying to teach him that money is earned or to develop a work ethic through chores and pocket money in order to focus on contribution, life skills and money management.  There are plenty of other ways he can learn about earning money and having a good work ethic, such as through the example my husband & I set and through the discipline he needs for his school work and sports practices.

So, I realised that, to achieve the aims we’d settled, on, I had to separate the money from the chores.  Now, just as Jake does jobs to share in the family’s workload, he also shares in our family income.  While the money and chores are no longer linked to each other, they are both linked to his position as an equal member of our family.  This reflects one of my essential spiritual values – that everyone, regardless of age or any other factor, is equal and must be treated as such.

Now that he is 4, Thomas is old enough to also be involved in our system.  I have recently made Jake and Thomas each a visual “Helping Chart”. We’ve scrapped the terms “chores” and “jobs” to make it explicit that the tasks they do are to help our family.  On the chart are the ways they help in the mornings, the ways the help in the afternoons and the ways they help ocassionally, as needed.  Thomas does tasks likes feeding the cat and getting the mail from the letter box.  Jake vacuums and empties the bottom rack of the dishwasher.

One new addition to our routine is that Jake and Thomas each help me to make a meal once a week.  I let them choose what they’re going to make (I fear we may be eating more pasta than I can take!).  One side effect of giving them this responsibility has been that it gives me a little extra one-to-one time with each of them.  And, all going well, in a few years, my husband and I will be able to sit back with a glass of wine while our boys take care of dinner.

 

HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD KIDS GET & WHAT DO THEY SPEND IT ON?

Then there’s the question of how children spend their money.  I’ve always been quite fond of the 3 jar system in which a child is given 3 jars, labelled “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”.  They put a third of their money in each and use it accordingly.  I guess I thought the jars were cute (particularly when you’re looking at Pinterest)  But, when it comes to saving and giving, I think life will teach them better about this than being forced to save or to give.

Having a jar for giving makes it an obligation, not a genuine act of kindness.  I prefer to invite my boys to share their money when opportunities naturally occur rather than to insist on it.  Our local hospital has been appealing to the public to donate new Winter pyjamas for children who arrive at the hospital without them.  So, last weekend, I took Jake and Thomas shopping to each choose a couple of pairs of pyjamas which we then delivered to the hospital.  The day before we went, I explained to them what we would be doing and why and I suggested that, if they wanted to, they could use some of their own money to help pay for the pyjamas.  I left it for them to think about.  The next day, before we left to go shopping, I asked them each what they had decided.  They were both adamant about their decisions.  Jake wanted to give some of his money.  Thomas didn’t.  I acknowledged Jake’s generosity but I didn’t praise him or judge Thomas for not contributing.

As for saving, already, Jake and Thomas have both found themselves in the position of having spent one week’s worth of money on something small and later wished they had saved it so they could buy something more satisfying.  Equally, last year Jake had his eye on a small Lego set.  We put a picture of it by his money box and he saved up until he was able to buy it for himself.  He learned about delayed gratification and prioritising how he spends his money.

Most of me believes that it is their money to spend as they choose.  However, I have put my foot down when they’ve wanted to buy really unhealthy food.  I couldn’t bear to watch them consume a whole chocolate bar after the efforts I go to give them a nutritious diet.  I’m unsure if I should be restricting their spending in any way so I’m still mulling that one over.

How much pocket money they get isn’t, I think, too important.  We’ve chosen to start small.  4 year-old Thomas gets $1 a week.  7 year-old Jake gets $2 a week.  They have no need for more money and they can learn just as much about handling money at the bargain shop as they can at a department store.  Making mistakes and learning lessons when the stakes are low is good practice for when the stakes are higher.

I can imagine that our system will have many reincarnations as the boys get older. Thomas will not be happy if he’s still only getting $1 a week when he’s 13!  And that wouldn’t be enough to teach him what I’ll be wanting him to learn at that stage. Certainly, by the time they’re in their teens, I anticipate that we’ll be giving them quite a significant amount of money with which to budget in order to learn money handling skills.  Perhaps they’ll have to use it to buy their own clothes and entertainment, really having to separate their needs from their wants.

 

CONCLUSION

I don’t think that there is one right way to manage chores and pocket money.  My lesson has been to let our values guide me and get clear about what are the most important things I want to teach my boys.   I have chosen to use it to pass on spiritual values such as their sense of belonging and contribution and to develop some early money handling and practical life skills.  As my boys get older, my intentions may well change and the system itself definitely will to make it age-appropriate.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – There are a number of books available about how to manage money and chores with kids.  There are many also that about values that relate to money, such as gratitude and non-materialism.  I am hoping to read some of them and have just started reading The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber which is great food for thought. (I am not an affiliate for Ron’s products)

 

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It’s OK to Let our Kids “Get Away With” Bad Behaviour

Before having children, if I saw a parent allowing their child to do something I didn’t think they should be doing (like being disruptive in a waiting room or talking back), I’d immediately judge the parent in my head. “They shouldn’t let their kid do that”, I’d think.  Or, the rather self-righteous, “I’d never let my kids do that”.

Of course, once I became a parent myself, I realised that it is not actually possible to get our children to behave as we think they should all of the time.  Short of manhandling them, sometimes there is nothing we can do that will stop them from doing something they shouldn’t or make them do something they should.  And, unless safety is at stake, such as they’re about to run out onto the road, I won’t physically restrain children.

It has only just dawned on me fairly recently, though, that I can choose to let my kids “misbehave”.  Sometimes, I can decide not to even try to change their behaviour when they’re doing something I think they shouldn’t.

 

WHY DID I THINK I HAD TO CORRECT MY KIDS EVERY TIME?

Letting go of the need to respond in some way to every behaviour I deem inappropriate has been a slow process for me.

Part of it is because I’m conscientious.  I thought it was upto me to teach my boys everything and that I had to be consistent in doing so.  I forgot that, by nature, children are essentially good and I can trust that their good will come through without my constant management.

The other reason is that I thought everyone was watching me, judging me like I used to judge other parents.  And, actually, some people are.  But the difference now is that it has come to my consciousness that my relationship with my boys is more important to me than what others think of me.

The big realisation is that my kids are not a reflection of me.  The way I treat them is.

 

WHY WOULD I CHOOSE TO LET MY KIDS MISBEHAVE?

If I called them up on everything they did that I didn’t think they should, my boys would quickly feel that I was picking on them.  We parents use a lot of sound reasoning to justify insisting on something – “it’s for their own good” or “they can’t get away with that” or “they need to learn that…” – but I don’t want my boys to feel that they are under the microscope all the time.  

Although I use respectful strategies to manage my boys’ behaviour and to teach them, when I use the strategies, they know that they are being corrected in some way.  If they are to know that I love them unconditionally, they can’t be feeling that I’m correcting them more than I am accepting them. I need to allow them space to manage situations in their own way as often as I can.  And, as I’ve said, I believe that kids are essentially “good” – until we tell them otherwise.  My boys are great but some days I have wondered if I’ve undermined their sense of worth a little by trying to teach them too many things in one day.

So, particularly when there are other factors involved, such as the child is tired or emotions are high, we can choose to just let it go.  At these times, insisting on certain behaviour is fruitless – our children resist our boundaries and we resist their resistance!  It only serves to separate us from our children rather than teach them (as good discipline is intended to do).  Perhaps in each circumstance we can ask ourselves – in this moment, will correcting them actually help our child or push them away from us?   If we get present, the answer will come easily.

Parents feel better, too, when we don’t try to uphold every expectation we have.  It’s stressful feeling that we have to teach our children everything and we have to teach them now.  But, as you will see below, we don’t have to do that.  Now that I’ve decided that turning a blind eye is a perfectly acceptable parenting strategy to use sometimes, I can relax and enjoy my boys that much more.

 

HOW KIDS STILL LEARN WHEN THEY MISBEHAVE

The marvellous thing I’ve realised is that, even when we choose not to do anything in the moment, our children can still learn what they need to learn in the following 3 ways –

  1. Follow-up after the event – when they’ve settled down, we can discuss with them why what they did wasn’t respectful or a good idea etc. We don’t have to be judgemental about it, we can simply point it out to them and have a conversation about it. Or we can choose to say nothing.
  2. The unfolding of natural consequences. Often, life teaches our children without us having to do a thing. eg. an irritated member of the public asks our child to stop running in the shop (although I don’t condone strangers giving children a telling off, their polite request to “stop doing that please” is often much more effective than mine.)  Natural consequences can unfold in a myriad of ways.
  3. And if numbers 1 & 2 don’t happen, we can choose to do absolutely nothing other than being a good example to our kids – they don’t see me playing tag in the supermarket queue.

 

This more relaxed approach to our children’s behaviour is for negotiable boundaries – those ones that aren’t important enough to be insisted upon every time and around which there is room for compromise.  Non-negotiable boundaries I insist on consistently, using my 6-step method (available here).

 

CONCLUSION

Ignoring bad behaviour is not my main parenting method.  But I’m giving myself and my kids a break.   We don’t have be constantly tinkering with our children like old cars, trying to fix them and their behaviour.

On Wednesday, I went to the supermarket with both of my boys – something I usually try to avoid.  Thomas was boisterous, hollering from his place in the child’s seat of the trolley and throwing his gumboots around.  Jake, who insisted on pushing the trolley, had rather questionable steering skills and was egging Thomas on in his unruliness.  The noise and disruption was driving me nuts so presumably it was also irritating the other customers in the shop.  But I could see that Jake and Thomas were both tired and not in a frame of mind take on board my requests to settle down.  I got plenty of stares from the other shoppers and wanted to be respectful of them, but Jake and Thomas weren’t being naughty, just annoying.  And that’s the thing – so many of the times I would’ve corrected them in the past they were actually just enjoying themselves.  So I tolerated the disapproval of the other shoppers, my boys had a ball and we got through the shopping far more easily than if I’d tried to insist they settle down.

When a parent, sits back as their kids do something socially unacceptable, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t care, it could be because they do care.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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