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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