I sent my son upstairs to get dressed for school.  It was time to put his favourite shorts and t-shirt into the washing machine and I was wondering what he would find to wear instead.  After a while, he turned up in the kitchen all dressed…in his Ninja Turtle onesie (yes, pyjamas).

“Have you seen what Jake’s wearing to school today?” my husband and I asked each other later on.

“Do you think we should let him wear it?”

We were concerned that Jake may get teased by some of the other children and we wanted to protect him from the potential humiliation and hurt.  However, it’s important to us that our boys make authentic decisions, not decisions based on what other people might think.  So we decided not to question Jake about his decision and, with some trepidation, I dropped him off at school in his outfit of choice.

 

With all the best intentions, it’s easy for us to over-protect our children and we do so in many different ways.  We just want them to be happy and, mistakenly, we believe that smoothing the bumps on their road through childhood will make it a happier journey for them.  Protecting them from negative possibilities may, in the short run, be easier but it doesn’t prepare them for adulthood, in which there is no-one smoothing out the road for us.  Adults have to navigate all the potholes, hills and bad drivers themselves.

Ultimately, our children’s long-term happiness is compromised by our over-protection.

 

WE DON’T WANT TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THE GOOD STUFF

Taking risks, making mistakes, getting up again – this is the stuff of life.   It adds flavour to our experience and it’s “character-building”.  If we protect our children from these ups-and-downs, we deny them valuable opportunities –

To learn lessons  We learn our lessons best by making mistakes for ourselves, rather than being warned about them by someone else.  How often do we watch our children ignore our advice only to end up thinking, if not saying, “You should have listened, I told you so?” – hundreds!

To strengthen their resilience  Through stumbling, we learn how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going.  If children don’t get the chance to trip over the stuff of childhood, they’ll struggle to recover from the inevitable challenges of adulthood.  Resilience is a learned skill and, like any other, developed through practice.

To develop their judgement  The only way to develop good judgement is by using it.  Children need the space to practise making decisions for themselves without us coaching them and interrupting their process.   Any decision that doesn’t turn out well teaches them something that will help them to make a better choice next time.

To have a sense of agency  Our children’s lives are their own and it’s not for us to interfere any more than is necessary.  In conjunction with The Universe, they each decided to live a life on Earth and we need to allow them the space to follow their instincts and have the experiences intended.   I want my boys to feel empowered and to understand that their lives are ultimately their own to shape and, to do that, I need to get out of the way!

To deepen their trust in the world  Over-protecting our children doesn’t communicate our faith in them or in The Universe.  As a parent who understands that we are spiritual beings, part of a greater whole, I know that we each have all the wisdom that we need within us and that The Universe is helping us along.  By controlling their lives, we give the messages to our children that they can’t handle it and The Universe won’t support them.  This sets them up for living in fear, rather than faith, which is a stressful way to live.

To have fun  The fun stuff can be risky!   When we teach our children to be over-cautious, they can become risk-averse and miss out on lots of fun.  We’ve probably all stood on the sidelines of a super-fun activity that our children have refused to participate in.  We feel sorry to see them miss out on a good time.  This happens sometimes for all children but, if it happens regularly, it’s worth considering whether we have been over-protective or if it’s just that our child is more tentative by nature (and, if they are, that’s ok).

 

IN SUMMARY – THE AMBULANCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CLIFF

Protection is a part of our parenting role but it is a smaller part than I first thought.  I have slowly loosened my grip and am increasingly willing to let my boys take calculated risks.  I would not let my 3-year-old cross the road by himself but I give him free reign at playgrounds.  It’s not easy, my heart is in my throat as he navigates trickier equipment and higher heights each time but, if it’s not life-threatening, I let him do it.  I’m sure, that I’m becoming more resilient as he is.  And I can see that he’s actually really good at judging his own capability.

Our job is not to smooth the road for our children but to enable them to choose their own path and weather the bumps.  We’re not so much the police who cordon-off dangerous areas to keep our children safe as much as we are the paramedics who arrive to help them recover from an accident.  When I find myself wanting to tell my boys to “be careful”, I stop myself to decide if it’s really necessary.  I often end up saying “that looks like fun” instead.

As for Jake – he wore his Ninja Turtle onesie to school three days in a row until it was time for it to go in the washing machine too.  If anyone had been unkind to him, he obviously didn’t care because he didn’t tell me.  I was so proud of him for being himself and so pleased I hadn’t tried to talk him out of doing what he wanted to.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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“How Can I Make My Children Listen To Me?”
Short answer – I don’t know exactly.
But I do have some strategies from my days as a teacher and my own parenting to share with you which may increase the chances!

When some of my readers told me that they struggle with getting their children to listen to them, I knew it was something that almost every parent can relate to. Because I certainly can! When our children don’t listen to us, situations can quickly escalate. A simple reminder that it’s time for them to do their homework can rapidly become a shouting, stomping affair (and not just by the children!). So, I decided to do some thinking and see if I had anything useful to offer…

 

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING WHEN OUR CHILDREN DON’T LISTEN?

I took a moment to think about what’s happening when our children “don’t listen” and I realised that there are two main scenarios –

1. Our children really aren’t listening, they’re zoning us out (how dare they?!)
2. Our children have listened but they’re not doing what we have asked them to do.

In our house, it’s usually the later (although I understand that, as they reach adolescence, children become more certain that what their parents are saying doesn’t actually apply to them and they nonchalantly ignore it much of the time). I don’t take it very well when my boys don’t do as I have asked. I feel frustrated and disrespected. But when I questioned myself, Are my boys really disrespecting me when they don’t listen? I had to conclude that, no, they’re actually not disrespecting me – it’s just that they don’t agree with me.

They don’t agree that they should turn the tv off to leave for school – they just want to see how the program ends.

They don’t agree that they should wear tidier clothes for our special family lunch – they like this t-shirt.

They don’t agree that they should come and set the table now – there’s playing to be done and setting the table is such a draaag.

When I remember that my boys usually aren’t meaning to disrespect me by not listening, it diffuses my emotion because I know it’s not personal and then I handle the situation more calmly. I can aknowledge that my children have their own concerns and opinions that deserve respect. Who’s to say their interests are less important than my own? As inconvenient as it sometimes is, they need to have a say in their own lives. As soulful parents, we understand that our children are not ours to control and we are bound to at least take their point of view into consideration. After truly considering it, we can then fairly decide whether to insist on what we’ve asked for, compromise or allow them their way.

What I’m getting at here is that our relationship with our children is a relationship between equals. True respect doesn’t see age. Sure, there are times when I am certain that I know best – I’m the one who can read the clock and I know that, if the tv isn’t turned off now, we won’t get to school in time. But I don’t want to be heavy-handed in my authority or use my age over my children. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter what they wear to the family lunch – my family will just be glad to see them, chocolate-stained Star Wars t-shirts and all. We do not lose our power when we decide to allow our children their way – we are more powerful for sharing it.

 

5 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILDREN LISTEN TO YOU

How we approach things really depends on the scenario and the age of our children. But here are 5 general steps for increasing the chance of having them listen to us when it really is for the best, beginning with the way we tell them what we want –

1. Get their attention
Often, I can’t be bothered trudging upstairs to my boys’ bedrooms so I holler instructions to them from the kitchen as I chop the onions. Then I wait for the response – none.
The key is to get our children’s eye-contact before telling them what we want them to do so we know they are engaged. Looking into our eyes, they can’t pretend to themselves or to us that they haven’t heard. This may require us to make the effort to go up the stairs and maybe to temporarily remove distractions (such as toys or screens) to get our children’s attention. For young children, physically getting down to eye-level is helpful too.

2. Insist on a verbal response
When our children reply, they’re acknowledging that they have heard us. Sometimes, “ok” is sufficient. Sometimes, they need to tell us more, depending what it is that we have said to them.  Again, they can’t deny hearing or understanding our message if they have responded appropriately.  And it’s just good manners to respond when someone speaks to us.

3. Give them a chance to share their point of view
If they disagree with us, our children need to be able to say so. It is an important life-skill to be able to express a point of view that differs from someone else’s. Also, when we take the time to listen to what they have to say, it shows them that we care about their perspective and feelings. Disagreement doesn’t have to become an argument. If they do start arguing back, I tell my boys, “you can tell me what you have to say but do it respectfully”. When we hear our children’s point of view, we might find that we’re actually happy to accommodate them or are willing to compromise. All these things strengthen our relationship with them and, when we still insist on them doing what we have said, they are more likely to do it, having felt acknowledged.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. – Steven Covey

Note of caution: With some nimble-tongued characters, it can be a slippery slope of persuasion and excuses not to do whatever has been asked of them. Be on the look-out and don’t get sucked in. If, after hearing their persepctive, I still want my son to do as I asked and the attempts to change my mind continue beyond reason, I just say “I have listened to you but I am not changing my mind”.

4. Explain our reasons for what we have asked them to do
When we decide that we are not going to change our mind, it helps for our children to understand our reasoning. “I don’t have to justify myself to my own kids!” I hear more than one of you saying. 😊  Giving them our reasons also shows them that we’re not being arbitrary or simply pleasing ourselves. Our children may even agree with us in the end. My son doesn’t like being late to school so, if I point out that he may be late if he doesn’t turn the tv off now, he’s usually happy to co-operate.

5. Use the sliding scale of insistence
When I have heard my son’s point of view and still want him to do as I asked, I begin lightly, with the assumption that he will now do as asked. For example, I might simply say, “So, come and set the table now please”. If he doesn’t, I gradually up the stakes – “If you don’t come and set the table now, I will have to take that Lego away until it’s done because it’s distracting you from doing your job”. etc. I try to use natural consequences as much as possible and not to manipulate. You might find my post Discipline 101 helpful here.

This 5-step process might sound like a bit of a palaver when you just want your kids to stop jumping on the couch. In some situations, you will zip through these steps in just a minute or two. But it’s helpful to have the structure in place, practised for when there are larger issues to be resolved.

 

IN SUMMARY – GIVING EVERYONE A VOICE WITHOUT GETTING LOUDER

Often, when we complain that our children are not listening to us, we’re really complaining that they’re not doing what we’ve told them to do. This erks us on so many levels! We tend to increase our volume to get our message across – and they do the same! But using a process like the one I’ve suggested respects and empowers both ourselves and our children. The final decision does rest with us, the parent, but we have to (and want to) take our children’s point-of-view seriously. Creating an atmosphere of co-operation instead of control in our homes reduces the amount of struggle and increases everyone’s willingness to help.

My son has actually told me a few times that I’m “always right” which I like to jokingly remind him of from time to time. But, when I take everyone’s perspective into consideration, I am doing the right thing.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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“Mummy, will you play with me?”

I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this.  Actually, Thomas (3 years-old) just commands, “Play with me!”  And why shouldn’t he?  That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do.  But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals & clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go and earn a living…(I won’t continue in case I overwhelm you!)

Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day.  I didn’t realise that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven.  Or struggle to engage fully in re-enactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up.  Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realise that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.

So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me?  It fills me with both tenderness and guilt.  When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me – which I love.  But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes” – can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches?  Don’t you know how much I have to do?! – which I hate.  It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right.  And perhaps I won’t.

 

REMEMBERING THE VALUE OF PLAY

When we play with our children, we affirm them.  We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter.  Having fun together is also a natural way for people (of any age) to connect.  When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organising and instructing them – “go and put your shoes on”, “where is your reading book?”.  We find out lots about our children when we play with them too.  We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view and become privy to their dreams.  When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.

There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behaviour has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason.  Then, thinking about it further, I’ve realised that I’ve been preoccupied and, among other things, haven’t played much with them recently.  When I go back to prioritising play time together, their behaviour often becomes easier.  They needed us to connect.

Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality play time into each day –

 

5 WAYS FOR BUSY PARENTS TO PLAY MORE WITH THEIR CHILDREN

  1. Remember that every little bit counts A short time spent playing together is better than none.  When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say “yes” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
  2. Play something you & your child both enjoy Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should.  It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and I wasn’t really doing much.  He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on – play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Lego, I even wrote a blog post called 6 Life Lessons Lego Taught Me.  I know I can be present and good company when we play Lego.
  3. Build playtime into the daily routine When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it – it’s just what we do.  In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some play time to connect.  When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6am, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast.  After dinner every night, we have “5 minutes play time” for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
  4. Plan an extended play time together occasionally For me, this works best in the weekends.  I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with my them.
  5. Initiate play on your own terms If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished it’s cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I try to join in with whatever my boys are playing while it suits me.  If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest an activity I think we’ll all enjoy to do together.  So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.

 

IN SUMMARY – TIME WELL SPENT

Playing with our children is obviously not unique to soulful parenting styles.  But it is a great way to practise some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present and building loving relationships.  I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates – playing with friends, siblings and on their own is really important – but it is a special part of our role and worth making time for.  I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun.  And I never regret spending time with my boys, it always feels like time well spent.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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For Annie

As I take a moment to stop and watch my boys play or sleep, drinking them in in the way that mothers do, I sometimes wonder Do they love themselves?  They appear happy in their lives, they’re certainly proactive about standing up for themselves, they do the things they enjoy…it looks like they love themselves but I don’t know if I can really tell.

The sad truth is that, although we arrive in this world aligned with Spirit, knowing that we are loving and lovable, at some point, that changes for most of us.  Immersed in a society that is quicker to criticise than to encourage, we start questioning our own lovability.  As a parent, I often doubt my ability to prevent that shift from happening…but I have to try.

I recently found myself in a pattern of criticising more than encouraging my boys, especially my eldest, Jake.  I’d been a bit unwell so my tolerance level was low and my ability to hold my tongue had disappeared almost entirely.  After a few days I realised, Oh my goodness, I’ve been picking on my own son!  I had fallen into a pattern of regularly judging, prompting and correcting him.  Poor Jake couldn’t do anything right – “you didn’t say ‘thank you’”, “stop using your fingers, there’s a knife right there!”, “if you kept your room tidy, you wouldn’t lose your Lego in the first place!”  Given the way I was speaking to him, He must’ve thought that I considered him hopeless and, maybe, not loveable in some way. That thought horrified me.  The way we treat our children shows them how to treat themselves and I did not want him picking on himself like I had been.  I have to show him what it really means to love.

 

WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?

Self-love is not building up our egos with a c.v. of external “successes” to make it feel worthy of love.  It is connecting with our true essence which is love. Self-love is about the way we regard ourselves and the way we treat ourselves, knowing we are inherently loving and loveable.  A simple way to explain it to a child is to be your own best friend – appreciate yourself, care for yourself, extend kindness to yourself just as you would a friend.

I’m going to be my own best friend, stick with me till the end. –  Jewel

 

HOW TO LOVE OURSELVES

We love ourselves in the same ways we love other people.  If a person doesn’t have much self-love, they may find it grows by treating themselves lovingly anyway.  I doubt I’m the only parent on the road back to self-love after years of being unkind to myself so the ideas I offer below are for parents and children alike!

Speak nicely to ourselves  We need a cheerleading squad inside our heads, not a judge.  For parents, the way we talk to our children becomes the way they talk to themselves – so no picking!  We can also coach our children to speak kindly to themselves when we hear them talking negatively about themselves.  This doesn’t mean being dishonest, just compassionate.  For example, instead of “I stink at reading” we can teach them to say “I am learning to read” or “I’m finding reading difficult right now” or focus them on their effort and determination instead of the reading.

Forgive ourselves when we make mistakes  Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion.  It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.  Sometimes I can see that Jake is heavy with the regret of something he has done and I suggest to him that he can forgive himself.  My post about forgiveness explains more.

Give ourselves what we need  Perhaps we feel in need of help, rest or a good laugh over our favourite comedy show.  When we honour our needs, we honour ourselves.  We can help our children to be aware of their needs and encourage them to be proactive in meeting them.

Do what feels right for ourselves  This is about honouring what we know is true for us – from following our dreams (even when they don’t seem “realistic”) to listening to our intuition (even when it doesn’t match popular opinion).  We can steer our children inwards to help them make authentic decisions for themselves.  My post about intuition may give you ideas about how to do this.

Spend time with ourselves  Just as we invest time in our friendships, we need to invest time in ourselves.  Hanging out on our own gives us the quiet to hear our own voice instead of others’ for a while.  For our children, this means allowing them plenty of unstructured, unscheduled time to potter as they wish.

Do things that bring us joy  Our busy lives are often not set up for joy.  We tend to prioritise what we think we should do over what lights us up.  But it is in joy that we recognise ourselves and recharge.  I think it’s important that we prioritise time for our children to do what brings them joy.  For example, we can enrol them in the extra-curricular activities they want to go to – not the ones we think, for some reason, they should do.  We can use joy as a criteria for planning their time and ours.

Surround ourselves with people who treat us well  When we truly value ourselves, we expect other people to value us too.  We don’t submit ourselves to others who are disrespectful or hostile.  We care for ourselves by choosing kind company, people who lift us up.  Children make many new friendships throughout childhood and will likely need our help to become discerning and make positive choices.

 

WHY IS SELF-LOVE SO IMPORTANT?

Self-love is not simply giving ourselves warm fuzzies to cheer ourselves up.  It’s surely a happier life for those who love themselves – and that’s important but it’s not the only benefit.  By loving ourselves, we build our strength to truly love another.  We practise unconditional love for ourselves in order to be able to extend that love to others.  My observation is that it is often those who appear toughest who are actually the weakest – unable to love themselves, they have little to give to others.   The ways they are tough on themselves become the ways they are tough on others.  Children who love themselves become rich sources of love for the other people in their lives.

As I near the end of this post, perhaps I have stumbled upon the answer to my question of how we can really tell whether our children love themselves.  Maybe the depth of love they extend to others is reflective of the love they have for themselves?

 

IN SUMMARY – OUR ROLE AS PARENTS

In those moments when loving ourselves is hard, it may help us to remember that the Universe created us from Love, exactly the way it wanted us to be.  Self-Love is not about building up our egos by counting up our successes and wonderfulnesses.  It is about knowing we are successful and wonderful regardless of what we do because we were made that way.  Our role as parents is to reflect our children’s lovability back to them so they have no doubt of it.  It is also to model self-love so that they may see what it really means to love themselves through the various circumstances of life. 

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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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,

 

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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 this guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.

 

Here in New Zealand, teachers at early childhood centres and schools encourage children to use the phrase “stop it, I don’t like” as a clear and respectful way to stand up for themselves when needed.  So, I have taught my boys (aged 2 and 5) to use this phrase with one another at home.  One morning, I heard my eldest saying “stop it, I don’t like it”, repeatedly.  His brother obviously wasn’t listening to him so I went over to investigate what was going on.  It turned out my son was talking to me!
“What am I doing that you don’t like?” I asked, incredulously.
“You’re being bossy”. I was told.

And I was.  It was a humbling reminder that I had strayed from my intentions to collaborate with my boys rather than insist on unquestioned compliance.  When we demand compliance from our children, we silence their voice and teach them to bow to the expectations others have of them.  On the other hand, when we recruit our children’s co-operation, we teach them to value the needs and wants of themselves and others equally.  They develop a sense of their power to impact their own lives and others’ in positive ways.

I believe we are spiritual equals with our children.  I don’t think we have the right to thoughtlessly dish out instructions and expect them to do everything we say.  Sure, there are occasions when our children just have to do as they are told, perhaps for safety or practical reasons, but we have to respect their needs and wants as much as our own.  As a parent, I also want to teach my boys to regard everybody’s needs and wants equally themselves.

The way I parent, including the way I get my boys to do what I need them to do, is an important part of teaching them to value everybody equally and to approach life with a collaborative spirit.  Being bossy is not a part of this!  Here are some of the things I do to enlist their co-operation rather than enforce compliance –

I ask my children for help rather than instruct and demand.  For example, our Wednesday mornings are particularly busy as my husband leaves home early for a breakfast meeting. Things need to go smoothly in order for my boys and I to get out the door in time.  So, over breakfast, I tell them that I find it hard doing everything without Daddy’s help and ask them to please help me by being especially quick with their morning tasks.  It’s a team effort and, lately, we’ve been running early on Wednesday mornings.

I thank more than I praise.  When one of my boys has done something that is helpful to me, instead of praising (eg. “Good boy”), I offer a sincere thank you (eg. “I really appreciate you getting the mail, I already had my hands full”).  Showing appreciation acknowledges their giving heart.  Praise only affirms that they did what I wanted them to.

I acknowledge spontaneous co-operation.  Doesn’t it make your heart swell to see your children thinking of and serving others of their own accord?  My youngest often finds my things around the house and brings them to me in case I might need them.  I give him a big hug of thanks for his thoughtfulness.

I get my children to do chores.  In our house, chores are unpaid.  They are an opportunity for my boys to co-operate and help with the smooth-running of the house.  If my son doesn’t set the table, for example, we can’t eat. The natural consequences of co-operation are far more enjoyable than the natural consequences of not helping.  My boys see and experience the fruits of their labour.

I co-operate with my children too.  Co-operation is a two-way street and my example is one of my best parenting tools.  I help my eldest to find the missing Lego piece he needs.  Sometimes, I change my plans around to accommodate a playdate he has requested.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne

Apart from being a respectful way to get our children to do what we need them to, a spirit of co-operation in the family helps them to see the big picture – they are a part of humanity and everyone’s behaviour impacts on the other people around them.  They learn that, when people co-operate, it makes a positive difference for everyone involved.  Co-operating also helps our children to see that they have something to contribute, giving them a sense of their own worth and everybody else’s.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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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,

 

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Looking over what I have written so far in Nurturing Little Souls, I have said often that I believe spiritual parenting requires us to be led by our children.  Our role is to empower them to be themselves and, to do this, we need to tune into them and follow the direction that they are going.  I have also said a number of times that we are spiritual equals with our children to remind us not to be over-bearing or heavy-handed in our parenting.  But, being equals with our children also means that we parents must be respected and have our needs and wants valued too.  Our whole lives do not have to be child-centred to be good parents.

 

TWO EXTREMES OF PARENTING

There are as many parenting styles out there as there are parents.  When it comes to the position our children have in our lives, everyone lies somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes.

Children as Accessories – Many expectant parents express an intention for their children to fit into their lives, believing their children will be flexible if, from the start, they are taken along to their parents’ social events and activities.  Some baby capsules become accessories to the parents’ lives, while the occupants’ needs, especially for quality sleep, aren’t prioritised.  We can’t fully understand until we’ve had children that, if we don’t want our lives to change, it’s not a good idea to have them.

Children as the Centre of Everything  The other extreme is parents who sacrifice everything – losing social connections, time for their interests and rest to become slaves to their child’s every whim.  I don’t think this is necessary.  In fact, I think it’s a bad idea.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”.

If we allow our lives to be entirely child-centred, we quickly become depleted, with nothing to give.  Tending to our children’s needs & wants and rarely our own will see us become emotionally and physically exhausted.  When this kind of imbalance continues for too long, we can’t help but grow resentful because our lives have been reduced to the drudgery of “serving” our children.  When we are with them, we’re really far away, dreaming of that movie we’d love to see…or just sleep.  Our hearts aren’t in it and our children can sense that.

For example, I am hopeless at dramatic play when I haven’t had enough time for myself.  I have no energy, enthusiasm or creativity.  Thomas loves playing firefighters and he saves our playroom from multiple fires a day.  He often wants me to join in so we start by making a firetruck together with cushions.  On an empty cup day, I’m grateful to be able to just sit in the truck while we journey to the emergency, joining in (half-heartedly) with the “nee-nah, nee-nah”.  When we get to the fire, Firefighter Mummy sends Firefighter Thomas to put out the fires while I “look after the fire truck”.   It’s a poor effort.  Thomas must think I’m no fun and, on some level, probably realises that I don’t really want to be playing firefighters at these times.  On other days, when I’ve felt adequately rested and full from doing something for myself, playing firefighters with Thomas has been fun and I’ve cherished my time with him.

 

THE MIDDLE GROUND 

As my boys have gotten older and their physical needs less urgent, I have gradually reclaimed more of my own needs and wants.  I’m writing this blog for starters!  I nip out to see friends for coffee some evenings once the boys are tucked in.  If I’m out shopping with my boys, we take turns choosing which shops to look at and try to wait patiently while each other has their turn (Thank you Max fashions for having a toy box!)  I have also protected my coffee-drinking time in order to drink a whole cup, sitting down, before it goes cold.  My husband and I have introduced a new rule that our boys can’t ask us to play if we still have coffee in our cups.  They can chat with us, have a drink too if they wish, but we get to stay seated and enjoy our coffee.  (If you have a baby and none of these things are possible for you yet, trust that the day will come when they will be and, in the meantime, take as many tiny moments for yourself as you can.)

I want my boys to feel equal, valued and loved unconditionally for the unique beings that they are but I don’t want them to expect everything in life to be organised around them, as if they are at the centre.  From a broader perspective, I want them to see themselves as part of the whole of humanity.  Almost all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasise the oneness we share with others.

The dynamic we create in our homes sets an example to our children of what to expect out in the wider world.  In our family, mutual respect and consideration of everyone’s needs and wants is important and I hope my boys will take this perspective with them wherever they go.   At times, one of them will complain because I have made a decision that doesn’t go his way.  I’ll say to him, “What you want is important but what everyone else wants is important too”.   I enlist my boys’ help in many ways so that they feel part of the family team and realise they can contribute.  For example, they help to carry bags in from the car and they do their bit in the mornings to get us out the door in time.  Practicing co-operation and collaboration in small ways makes it a given when bigger things come up, within our family or in the wider world.

 

IN SUMMARY: CHILD-LED IS NOT CHILD-CENTRED

Life with children will always be a little lop-sided in their favour but we can still practise the give and take of community within our homes.  We don’t want our children believing they are the centre of everything but we do want them to see their unique value – each piece of a jigsaw puzzle is important to the bigger picture.  And, when we parents have our needs and wants met (at least to some extent), we have the resources to deal with the challenges – big and small – that parenthood throws at us and to enjoy the beautiful moments.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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“What is spiritual parenting?” – Well, that’s a big question?! Ultimately, we must each answer it for ourselves but I’d like to share my definition with you in the hope that it might help you to clarify yours.

 

THE PURPOSE OF SPIRITUAL PARENTING

For me, spiritual parenting is parenting with the intention to empower our children to be the unique individuals they are intended to be. This definition rests on my belief that we are all spiritual beings who come here to Earth with a purpose – a contribution to make and lessons to learn. It is when we are aligned with our purpose that we truly thrive. I want my boys to fulfil their souls’ purpose and I want them to thrive so spiritual parenting is an obvious choice for me.

Letting Go of Other Intentions

The first step of spiritual parenting may be the hardest. It is to put aside our own agendas to allow the divine agendas for our children to unfold. These are some of the intentions we may need to let go of –

  • for our children to be who we wish we could be eg. “I want him to be more confident than I am”.
  • for our children to be mini versions of ourselves eg. “She’s going to be a piano player like I am”.
  • for our children to be socially-acceptable eg. “If he doesn’t play sport, he’ll never fit in with the other boys”.
  • for our children to be our trophies eg. “Everyone will think I’m a great parent because she has perfect manners”.

Once we have released these kinds of motives, we quickly realise that our intention to support our children in being the people they were divinely intended to be affects almost everything! This morning, I took my youngest to kindy dressed in his Paw Patrol pyjamas and my eldest to school in the same clothes he wore yesterday…and the day before. I had to leave my ego (which fears judgement and craves approval) at home. This appears to be a relatively inconsequential example but these everyday choices to allow our children to be who they really are show them that we value and encourage their truth.

 

HOW TO DO SPIRITUAL PARENTING

Having prioritised our children’s authenticity, we can turn our attention towards how to help them be themselves. The biggest part of this is to honour and nurture their spirituality. Our spiritual connection with Life helps us to make the best choices for ourselves. Faith gives us the courage and strength to live out the guidance we receive. If our  children know how to recognise spiritual guidance and support, they will more easily find and follow their own unique paths.

At first, I wasn’t confident I was up to this task as I felt I was still early on my own spiritual path. But one thing that made it less daunting was to remember this – children arrive spiritually aligned. So it’s not that we need to teach them to “be spiritual” but to find ways to maintain their natural spirituality.

There is no fixed way to do this. My approach is to explore together and follow my children’s lead. I believe they will show me what they need and what resonates with them if I am paying attention.

We can invite our children to join in with our own spiritual practices & beliefs but must remember that the real goal is to help them to find what works for them.

For example, I like to begin my day with prayer. Sometimes I don’t get to pray first thing so I invite my son to join me in prayer as we drive to school. We call it our “morning prayer”. I use the same words each time I say it, perhaps adding in details relevant to the day ahead. My son likes to listen and join in with the “Amen”. One day, he might choose to say the prayer himself, using the simple script I’ve created or his own words.

 

IN SUMMARY: HIGH INTENTIONS & ORDINARY MOMENTS

The phrase “spiritual parenting” can sound a bit lofty but it is not perfect parenting. There are plenty of times when my family’s behaviour (including my own) is decidedly “unspiritual”. Spiritual parenting is everyday and practical – we’re all dealing with dirty nappies, squabbling siblings, hectic mornings and poor table manners, no matter what our intentions! Spiritual parenting is deciding to use the ordinary moments to find out more about our children and show them how to bring forth who they truly are each time. Begin with a big, open heart and you’ve made a great start!

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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This post was first published as a guest post on the blog at kidsmindbodyspirit.com.  Kids Mind Body Spirit is an online directory of holistic services and resources for children, parents and educators. 

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 for me and the tv for my boys, 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.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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