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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