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Source: Seeing the benefits of failure shapes kids’ beliefs about intelligence

Parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing guide how their children think about their own intelligence, according to new research from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research indicates that it’s parents’ responses to failure, and not their beliefs about intelligence, that are ultimately absorbed by their kids.

BOUNDARIES AND CONSEQUENCES

A parent’s need to control and protect will always conflict with a child’s need for freedom and growth. From the time your child can move around independently, you will constantly monitor and negotiate boundaries.
As in the practice of Tai Chi, you need to cultivate “listening power,” to help you attune to your child’s phases and needs without imposing your expectations upon them. Pick your battles carefully.
In Tai Chi, “listening power” is not so much about listening with your ears. It is cultivating the ability to perceive what is happening, your child’s body language and what different behaviors really mean. In the martial art, one tunes in to these by reflecting body language, facial expression, and words; then responding intuitively without aggression.
In good parenting, there should be some, but very few, non-negotiable rules, and these should before the child’s safety and well-being, not the parent’s need for total control. “You may never talk back to me” is not a good one. “You may not cross the street without an adult,” is a much better rule. “Don’t talk to me in that tone of voice!” is unskillful. A better way to say it is, “I will listen you when you speak to me in a normal tone of voice.”
These kinds of boundaries must be set with “sinking power,” so that the child knows you mean what you say. Again, “sinking power” is absorbing the child’s energy without moving. Sink your strength into the earth with the relaxing breath. Allow the child to bounce off your energy, discovering without harm the nature of your power.
Let everything you have — mind and body, thoughts and reactions, plans and avoidance of plans — sink with gravity into your feet to beneath the earth. Relax your intention. Put everything underground where it can support you. Strewn anxiously through your body, it can only distract you.
Even the non-negotiable rules must change as a child grows. They won’t be the same for a three-year-old as a ten-year-old, and families that talk and communicate understand this.
To keep life simple, keep the non-negotiable rules simple and few. That way, you do not forever extend invitations for rebellion. Set these boundaries using all your principles. Relax, get centered, sink your power into the earth, and state the boundaries in a setting that allows the child to hear what you say, ask questions, and clearly understand that this particular rule is not negotiable. Have your child repeat the rule back to you.
You must also be able to explain what the consequences will be if the rule is broken, and have the internal power to follow through. Remember that your child will see, hear, and feel your true resolve. For example, instead of saying, “Clean your room right now, or you’ll be in trouble!” a better way to inform your child of consequences is to say (in a normal tone of voice), “You are welcome to join us for dessert as soon as your room is clean.”
Some children stay within the boundaries set for them very well; they like the safety of those invisible fences. Others are boundary-testers. They constantly push at the boundaries as if, because the boundaries are invisible, they aren’t sure the boundaries really exist. These kids used to be called bad or difficult. Now they are called “spirited,” a much better way to see them.
Boundary-testers are often people with a lot of power, energy, and curiosity, who, if not broken by harsh punishment and shame in childhood, will use that energy for great things and will probably be leaders and even visionaries in their adult lives.
If your child is a boundary tester, you can expect to have to pay much more attention to what he does. These are the kids that have an overpowering curiosity to see what happens if they try to cross the street without an adult or strike a match in a closet. They need to experience the consequences that follow when they test a boundary. Sometimes an explanation of why the boundary is there will do; you could get hit by a car and hurt very badly; you could start a fire, burn down the house, and be seriously hurt. Sometimes, along with an explanation, a consequence such as the removal of a favorite toy for a week, not being allowed out of the house for a day or two, and so on, needs to be put in place so the child knows the boundary is firm.
Try to anticipate and set boundaries ahead of time, so that the boundary is not set because of something the child does first. For example, the child goes into the street and gets yanked back and given consequences when he never knew that was a boundary in the first place. This is reactive, not responsive, parenting. This kind of boundary setting only encourages unsafe exploration, because the child has no idea what he can or cannot do without consequences.
With young children you must explain again and again why a certain consequence is being given to them. They are a bit like an old person with dementia! Take them through the whole story so they can link cause and effect, for their memories are short. Do not expect small children to remember rules and boundaries. Constant repetition and imitation will teach them. Without anger, simply remove the child from the situation, or show the child what to do by doing it yourself and then leading her body through the correct action as you speak. This way, the body-centered child learns to connect actions with words, and later the words will connect to right action.
For example, if the child inappropriately handles the cat, you can say, “We pet the kitty gently,” and do it yourself. Then take the child’s hand and repeat. Then let the child show you how she can do it by herself. If she is verbal, she will repeat the words; if not, you can repeat the words as she does the action. Again, do not expect her to remember this and never handle the cat inappropriately again. The whole sequence may have to be repeated many times to become a learned pattern of “how we love our kitty.”

Martial arts expert Dawn Callan defines boundary making beautifully:
“If you know how to set boundaries, you don’t have to build emotional walls.”

Setting boundaries for your kids helps show them how to set boundaries for themselves. Teach and model boundary-setting skills to empower your children to be free of fear and help them “danger-proof” themselves.
If you need to give a consequence when a child persists with inappropriate behavior, explain that if you let nature give her the consequence, she could get hurt (in the example above, the cat might feel scared and scratch or bite), so you need to teach her by giving her a consequence that helps her learn and remember.
Empathize responsively with her pain while holding firm with the consequence. Use your listening skills to let her know you understand it’s hard to stay inside when everybody else is playing outside. You can be sorry for having to impose consequences, while still letting the child know it is her own actions that brought about the situation.
Don’t ever withhold love and affection from a child as punishment for a misdeed. This reinforces the notion that it is the child himself who is bad, not the action he took or the words he spoke. When a child feels rejected in this way, he no longer links behavior with consequences — instead, he starts to believe that he is bad and he will begin to act like a “bad” kid would act. You have the power to define your child in this way, so use it carefully.
Try to avoid labels; if you must use them, use good ones that have the energy of love within them, and pride in who your child is inside: “I see that you’re really brave!” 
Use the concept of “listening power” to attune yourself to which consequences will work for each child under each circumstance. Remember, this is your path, too, so take the time to do it consciously as your spiritual practice, not just a thankless job you must perform because you’re a parent.
Don’t make consequences overly harsh, and link them as closely to the behavior as possible. For example, if a child knows it is a family rule to put dirty clothes in the laundry basket and he does not, he may have to wear something other than what he wants and then later, with your help (depending on the age), do a load of laundry himself.
You are not trying to inflict pain or shame, you are teaching him how life works: behavior has consequences, and each individual must take responsibility for their behavior. Share a story from your own life when you “misbehaved” and had to experience an unpleasant consequence.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

Principle Four with Young Children

Even young children are experts at detecting hypocrisy. Acting as if you have no flaws or problems can seriously damage the communication between you and your kids. “Be Yourself” sounds simplistic, but having an awareness of who that is requires you to be thoughtful and slow down, accepting yourself for who you are, where you came from, and what you truly believe.

Self-Esteem

Constant praise unconnected to behavior can inflate children’s egos so that they get a distorted picture of themselves and become devastated by mistakes, flaws, and being just “one of the team.” A child who is praised too much in a superficial way cannot handle being a “simple dandelion,” even if that is what he is meant to be.

[Messages assuring your child that you love him no matter what are not included — they do not count as constant praise.]

Self-esteem boosters are more effective when connected with behavior. For example:

— “I love the colors you chose for that drawing. They’re so vibrant, just like you!”

— “Thanks for doing the dishes without being asked. You really know how to be a team player. You are so important to our family.”

— “Good grades on your report card! You must have really worked for those. Congratulations! I knew you had it in you.”

— “The teacher told me how nicely you shared the toys today. That makes me feel so happy. You’re very considerate.” (You may have to define “considerate” — a great opportunity to continue the conversation and teach a new word).

In this way, you show your children that good values and character traits are demonstrated by behavior and must be consciously worked at. In the same way, incorporating reasoning into the discipline process can also get the point across. Rather than reacting impulsively or parroting phrases you read, be yourself and speak from your heart. For example:

— “I felt disappointed when you hit Jason. I know inside you are a kind person, and hitting isn’t kind. What other ways do you think you could express your angry feelings?”

— “I’m so happy you got a B in math; I know that subject has been hard for you. What about this C in history? What do you think is the problem?”

— “Doing chores around the house is part of us being a close family. What do you need to help you do your share more often?”

When a child misbehaves it is usually because she has need that isn’t being met, and often the child can’t articulate that need. We must become very astute detectives and observe them for a while to see if we can figure out what the need might be. We could than ask them something like: “Have you been feeling as close to the family as you want to lately?” or, “Is your love bucket getting low? Need a hug?’

If your child answers with denial, continue feeding back what you think it may be:

— “You haven’t been doing your chores, so I just thought maybe you didn’t feel as close to everybody as you want.”

— “Your grades have dropped, so I thought maybe you have some stress or worry you’d like to talk about.”

— “You’ve been acting very unhappy, so I thought maybe some extra attention might help. Can I give you a hug?”

Usually the child will then open up and try to tell you what is going on.

LISTEN!!!

Offering a massage, putting your arm around your child, or holding his hand can help sometimes. Again, you need to stay focused on the child’s need, and feed back what you think you’re hearing without judgment. Don’t force your child to talk; give her time to come to you when she feels safe and wants to. You can say, “If you want to talk about anything, I’m here to listen.”

Sometimes sharing your history, in small doses, can help your child feel not so alone. Let your child know you had similar experiences and feelings at his age, if it is true. It can be a relief as long as you don’t go on and on or suggest that you know exactly how they feel, because you do not. Show a genuine curiosity about your children’s feelings and experiences. If they don’t expect a lecture or judgment, they will open up to you. Never interrupt them!

Sometimes kids need to talk for a long time, with starts and stops and stutters; especially very young kids tend to try to speak what’s on their minds faster than they are able. You don’t need to solve their problems. Let them solve their own. You can give a couple of suggestions, emphasizing they’re only suggestions, and always end with, “I have faith in your good judgment and ability to solve problems. If you need any help or just want to talk about it, I’m here.”

This is not an easy lesson for parents to learn. You’ll find yourself blowing it again and again. But you can always go back to your child and say, “When we talked I really blew it. I jumped in with a boring lecture instead of listening to you. I hope you’ll give me another chance.” Recently, I had this scenario with my 36-year-old daughter! Still learning!

It may not be at that moment, but usually your child will give you another chance to just listen, skillfully, without telling her your autobiography or trying to solve her problems unless she asks you for advice. Even then, use questions to try to get her to come to the solution or possible solutions herself, so she feels empowered. When it works, you can say, “Great job! I knew you could figure that out.” and/or “I’m so proud of the way you handle problems.” Instead of “I told you so.”

Self-Concept

Self-concept is the image we hold of ourselves — of our abilities, our nature, qualities, and typical behavior. This is formed in our earliest years by what we hear about ourselves through those closest to us. In essence, children come to see themselves the way their parents and caregivers see them. Therefore, when they consistently get the message that they are “bad,” “naughty,” or “stupid” or that they “act like a baby,” that message is internalized.

Because self-concept determines behavior, children will act out how they feel inside. A child who believes himself to be bad will, therefore, exhibit bad behavior, often causing the parent to pile on more shame in an effort to control it. The cycle perpetuates.

More than Behavior

We have a habit of reducing children to nothing more than behavior, and we treat only the behavior we see rather than treating the human being behind the behavior. When we are focused on only treating behavior, we may be quick to dole out punishments or use shaming tactics to gain compliance. When we are focused on treating the human being, we are able to empathize, teach, and guide the child to better behavior. This is obviously a healthier approach, but it takes more time and effort.

Shaming is quick and often effective, so don’t be fooled into taking the easy way out. There is a valuable, worthy human being behind that behavior.

Self-concept can be defined as the view one has of herself and her abilities. A child’s self-concept begins to develop at birth. It begins with how adults respond to her. Parents and caregivers create a positive emotional bond with an infant through warm and caring interactions. This positive emotional bond with parents and caregivers promotes a child’s healthy self-concept.

As the child grows, her ability to interact successfully with her environment nurtures a healthy self-concept.  This is critically important in early childhood. The development of a positive self-concept at an early age empowers the child to feel competent, try new things, and strive for success. As parents, we have the opportunity (and responsibility) to nurture a positive self-concept in our children.

Choose How You Offer Feedback

The way we grew up can have a tremendous impact on who we are as adults and as parents. As soon as possible — ideally during pregnancy — think about how you were treated as a child, and what behaviors you wish to change with your own children. Here is an easy-to-understand list of “Don’ts” versus “Do’s”

Shame abandons — encouragement believes.

Condemnation paralyzes — compassion frees.

Exasperation quits — patience prevails.

Yelling silences — communication opens up.

Blame hurts — grace heals.

Fault-finding destroys — praise builds.

Rejection loses — unconditional love wins.

Shaming your Kids

Shame has long been wielded as a powerful tool to modify a child’s behavior. When made to feel unworthy, children will usually try harder to please their parents, giving the illusion that it’s “working,” but those feelings of worthlessness cause deep scars which can take a lifetime to heal.

Shame isn’t only common in abusive homes, but is generally an acceptable form of “discipline” in your average “nice” family. Shaming includes verbal comments such as “stop acting like a baby,” “you naughty child,” and “are you that stupid?” as well as the unfortunate trend in public shaming and social media humiliation.

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Ten Things You Can Do to Nurture a Positive Self-Concept

1. Be mindful of the language you use to describe your children. Do not label them with words such as ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘mean’. Instead, look for and point out your child’s strengths.

2. Provide them with opportunities for success. Give your child age-appropriate tasks she can complete on her own. Having done so will give her a sense of pride and help build a “can do” mentality.

3. Show your children that you have faith in their goodness and in their abilities. This is a matter of language choice. For example, if your toddler, out of frustration, hits another child, you might say, “You naughty girl! How can you be so mean! I can’t believe you hit him! You’re in big trouble!” Or, you could say, “You got frustrated and hit him. It’s not ok to hit. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him. How can you express your frustration in different ways?”

4. Spend time together. A vital part of having a healthy self-concept is feeling loved and valued. Spend this time doing something fun and enjoyable for both of you, and avoid criticisms or lectures during this quality time.

5. Support your child’s interests. Learn what your child is interested in and support him in mastering that skill or accomplishing his desired level of achievement. Feeling competent and good at something grows a positive self-concept.

6. Set reasonable rules and enforce them with lovingkindness. Your rules should be age-appropriate and clear. These help your child to feel safe and learn how to manage herself. However, enforcing them with a heavy hand when your child steps out of bounds can actually erode the self-concept. It’s important to make sure your child knows that mistakes are a part of life and doesn’t mean she’s a bad person. When giving consequences, keep your child’s dignity in mind.

7. Help your child to manage his emotions and work out problems. This is why problem-solving is such a big part of positive parenting. When children learn to solve their own problems, they build confidence and, therefore, a positive self-concept. Learning to manage emotions is key to having the ability to step back from a situation and view it objectively.

8. Maintain a connected relationship. Being connected keeps the lines of communication open, and this is especially important as your child grows into adolescence. Knowing that she has you to talk to, that you will listen without casting out immediate judgment and you will take her feelings seriously, will help her to feel supported, safe, and important.

9. Give her the opportunity to explore her environment, ask questions without feeling like a nuisance, and engage in make-believe play activities. Children are curious and imaginative, and we must be careful not to squash those traits. To nurture curiosity and imagination, allow ample time for free play and exploration.

10. Acknowledge effort and offer encouragement. Children need to know that first place isn’t the goal, but that personal best is a win, no matter what place that lands them. As she grows, her own self-evaluation will become important to her self-concept, and she needs to learn how to emphasize her strengths and accomplishments, even if there is no trophy in the end.

A healthy self-concept is the foundation for the positive development and the over-all well-being of a child. When a child has a healthy self-concept, he sees himself as being loved, loving, and valuable, and that’s what we all want for our children.

Help Your Child Know How to Be Himself

To help your child find himself, first, BE YOURSELF. Listen and observe. Give her feedback about what you see in terms of what she is good at, what seems to make her feel happy, what traits seem to come naturally. In this way, you help her build a solid sense of self from the beginning, so that she is not afraid to follow her own drummer, and rarely falls into the self-esteem destroying trap of comparing herself with others.

Opportunities for building self-esteem abound. For example, when your child expresses admiration for someone (a teacher, sports figure, super-hero), you can ask him, curiously, “What is it about him you admire the most?” Open-ended questions help the child clarify in his own mind what his opinions, desires, goals, and wishes may be.

Though this post is about young children, it really goes for your kids always. Even as adults, they’ll count on you to listen and continue to give them positive feedback about their positive behavior and not flip out about what you perceive to be negative.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

3 CONCEPTS & 1 ACTIVITY THAT CAN INFLUENCE OUR EFFECTIVENESS IN OUR FAMILIES

ONE
The first is the most important, and that’s the concept of principles. Principles should and actually do guide everything in the universe. Principles are true to all human beings all over the world. They are unchanging, unarguable, and self-evident. They are those things that all of us know in our hearts to be true. Principles are not internal as we may think, they are actually external to us. We can fail to live up to our principles, but the principles themselves remain, forever unchangeable.

Principles may be in harmony with our values, but they may not be the same as our values. Values change — they are what we like from time to time. But principles are true and unchanging. Gravity is a good example. You may not believe in gravity, you may not understand gravity, you may not like gravity, but if you jump off a building, you will experience gravity. There is no way you can change that. We have to go to great lengths to escape its pull, but when doing so we don’t change the principle of gravity. Principles are natural laws that involve cause and effect. They are long term. What you do today because of your principles influences you and your family and the people around you for generations to come.

Principles are true for all religions. We think that principles would be different in two very different sets of philosophical views, but they’re not. There is a basic agreement in every culture about principles such as integrity, kindness, and honesty — we all know they are essential for a healthy society.

TWO
Practices, on the other hand, change. Practices are the things we do that change with changing times. We may do something differently because of new knowledge. For example, a long time ago they gave babies opium when they cried. Now that would be considered child abuse. Obviously that is not a principle, it’s a practice. In the midst of complexity we always seek security in practices, so it is very easy to teach practices. A nurse mechanically rubbing a baby in a nursery is an example of practice without principle; the underlying principle for the practice of infant massage is the bonding between parent and baby. You may get short-term value from practices; you may get limited benefits. Principles, however, give you long-term benefits — on every level — that never end. President Thomas Jefferson’s words are worth reflecting upon:

“In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

THREE
A paradigm is a way of seeing things; it’s the picture we have in our minds of how our universe works. It’s our best guess at how things are, our best assumptions about how things work, where people are coming from, and what is true.

Paradigms, though, may be based on inaccurate information. Let’s say I invite you to my house in Colorado, and I mistakenly give you a map with a misprint — it says, “Colorado” at the top, but it is actually a map of Illinois. You get in your car and you get lost because you do not have an accurate map. That’s what a paradigm is : it is our map of the territory. But the map is not the territory. So our paradigms are subject to updating. This is where we try to cultivate teachability or humility, the frame of mind where you think you know what is right, but you are always open to new information.

For the longest time, we thought that babies couldn’t see at all when they were born, much less see in utero, so we behaved accordingly. Then suddenly — seemingly overnight — we discovered they can see and actually they can see quite clearly. It shifted our paradigm of what the infant’s reality is — and that shift continues to happen over and over again.

As soon as we think we know all about an infant’s experience — what the world looks and feels like to them — we discovered they know and experience more than we thought. At one point we also thought babies couldn’t feel until a certain age — that they didn’t feel pain! That paradigm was very convenient for adults, but it wasn’t true.

We correct our paradigms by listening — to other people and to information that comes to us when we study, when we think deeply about what our paradigms are, and by trying to adjust them to what is current, what is real. We use our principles as a guide for doing that.

A MISSION IN LIFE

One of the most useful projects I have undertaken is to write a personal mission statement for my life. I wrote a personal mission statement several years ago, and every year on the first of January, I review my statement and make changes to bring it into alignment with what I understand to be my chief principles. I also review the past year, and evaluate what I did and how I expressed my stated mission in my everyday life. If there is an area that is being neglected, I try to understand why and figure out how I might address that aspect in the coming year.

My personal mission statement comprises my guiding principles. It is statement, in my own words, about how I wish to be in every area of my life. Throughout the year, as I plan all my activities and goals, I review this statement and ask myself, “Does this project, plan, or goal resonate with my mission in life?”

You probably already have an overall sense of purpose about being good person, serving humanity, maybe even realizing God, and so on. Breaking that general purpose down into specific behaviors can be very helpful — you will find yourself doing more thinking, less reacting. We are often pressured, cajoled, manipulated, and maneuvered into doing countless things that do not necessarily move us any closer to our goals, and that may, in fact, pull us away from our fundamental principles. Stating these principles can be the first step toward gaining the inner strength and courage to be what we really, truly want to be, deep down in our souls.

YOUR “FLIGHT PLAN”
I read Michael Crichton’s techno-thriller Airframe, and it made me think about my favorite analogy about mission statements: the flight plan. Most of the time a commercial aircraft is off course, but using feedback systems it corrects its course and reaches its destination, usually on time. In much the same way, a personal mission statement serves as a flight plan. It tells you where you want to go. It can provide a system through which you can receive feedback to keep you on purpose in spite of the many events and decisions that may cause you to veer off your original plotted route.

In thinking about this analogy, I wondered what would happen if two pilots with different flight plans tried to fly the same plane? The plane would probably get off the ground easily, but as the pilots settled in for the trip, power struggles would erupt as each tried to steer the plane according to his or her own flight plan. Unless some kind of synergy could develop, there would be a crash.

In addition to writing personal mission statement, many people find creating a mission statement with their partner is an exciting and fulfilling thing to do — especially if you have children. Questions you never thought of before will come to you as you clarify what is deeply important to you both. In most partnerships, a shared mission can be arrived at joyfully.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE FOUR: BE YOURSELF Part 1

“I do not need to pretend that I am anyone other than myself. I do not need to feel insecure about my perceptions. The self-cultivation that I undertake is to perfect who I am, not to become someone other than who I am I pursue the spiritual because it gives me tremendous satisfaction.”

— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations

Being yourself sounds so simple. But in order to understand this principle from a Taoist perspective,we have to try to understand what makes us who we are, and how much of that is our personal, conscious choice and how much of it is our cultural, social, economic, familial, and educational conditioning.

In Tai Chi, you strive to find harmony and oneness with your own chi, or vital energy, through physical movement, breathing, and meditation. There is a particular flow to it, a pattern that arises spontaneously from your own internal energy, linked with the Universal Mind or the Tao. A great many practices can help you get in touch with who you really are, beyond your ideas, philosophies, appearance, moods, or stages.

For some, sitting meditation is the best way to do this. Before I had my children, I did several hours of sitting meditation every day for about four years. I was fortunate to be working for a spiritual-social service mission that allowed me to do this, and to have the right diet and yoga postures to keep me in balance. I am so grateful for that time. I realize that very few people these days have the luxury to take that much time to “find themselves,” to get rooted in their spiritual being before becoming a parent — yet an important part of the reason for this blog is to show that much of what I learned and practice in my everyday life I learned directly from my children. They have been my best teachers.

My previous meditation experience taught me about relaxing and slowing down (Principles 1 and 2), and allowed me to see beforehand, the potential of these two new child-teachers that came into my life. I saw that if I approached parenthood with this attitude, I wouldn’t be “losing myself” in the mundane world; rather, I would continue to find myself with my children’s help. They would mirror for me, and if I could be humble enough to accept what I saw there even when  it was not what I wished it to be, there would be a tremendous amount I could learn. I could see where various kinds of conditioning — even my spiritual teachings — created prejudices and pre-conceived notions. I could see the places where my walk didn’t match my talk, where my own childhood and familial patterning ran my behavior, and I could find other, more productive choices. My children gleefully blew apart my self-absorption, ego, and attachments. They were masters at deconstructing the walls around my true Self, if I would only let them.

Especially in their early lives, children are masters of being wholly themselves, and they relate to their parents in a way that embodies the completely natural relationship between the individual soul and God. My spiritual teacher in India often pointed this out. He said, “When a child wants his mother to hold him, she can give him toy after toy, but he throws them aside, for he is one-pointed in his goal — to have his mother’s love and attention. In the same way, a spiritual aspirant accepts no substitute for oneness with the Creator.”

I learned from my children what true devotion is. I had the opportunity to learn all about attachment and non-attachment, and how radically different the true meaning of these concepts is from what I had thought about them in the quiet of my single-minded meditation. For with children comes great attachment, and you can see how important that is: countless scientific studies have proven that it is virtually essential for life. Without attachment, infants can and often do die. I discovered as a parent that the aim of spirituality was not to continually detach from everything, but rather to expand your circle of attachment so that it gradually becomes so wide it encompasses all of the universe. This is what leads to true devotion to God — not giving up or pushing away the things and people we love.

And then, just when this idea takes root, you have to learn to let your children go on to their own lives and destinies. You have to let loved ones go to their death. If during this process you are not aware of your true self — a unique individual, and yet connected to the far greater whole of creation — you get caught up in the drama of the process, attached to the results rather than the core, and you lose track of who you are.

Being yourself means being genuinely what and who you are at this moment. Children have a finely tuned radar for hypocrisy. You can try to say one thing and be another, but eventually you won’t get away with it. You can try to make your children be what you are not, but the result can be disastrous. You can try to pretend you are incapable of being wrong, you have no faults, and are always right, but in the end you will be exposed.

So the best thing is just to be who you are, and move toward who you want to be every day with integrity and honesty. In Taoism, being yourself means to be who you truly are the way a tree is a tree and does not strive to be anything else. Our true nature can be described by the metaphor of  “the uncarved block” — the being that is truly you, not enhanced, toned down, carved into something more “acceptable” or “normal.”

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWERMENT

MODELING EMPOWERMENT WITH AUTHORITY

When my daughter was in high school, she had a friend who came from a very difficult home. She had been abused early in life, and her mother took hard drugs. This girl, I’ll call her Josey, spent a lot of time at our house, and I tried to mother her as best I could. Her envy of my child’s good parents and apparently wealthy lifestyle eventually became obsessive, and when my daughter expanded her circle of friends, Josey became enraged and turned on her. At the same time, Josey began taking drugs and got into dark music that my daughter didn’t like much. Joey became obsessed with the serial killer Charles Manson. Her room became almost a shrine to him. Because of her jealousy, her entire junior year of high school became focused on torturing and ostracizing my daughter, who would come home from school in tears from being tripped, slammed, and insulted by Josey.

Josey had a loud mouth and aggressive demeanor, and no one at this small-town, rural high school could stand up to her. My daughter — already a little different because she was from somewhere else, she was small and quiet, and a vegetarian — had no chance against this girl’s onslaughts. I watched her self-esteem plummet as the year went on. We talked a lot, and I tried to  help her keep her head up, to ignore Josey, and to concentrate on her own life. But in such a fishbowl environment, it was a hard test for her.

Just before spring break, Josey trapped my daughter in the girls’ bathroom at school and beat her up. She came home with a black eye and scratches all over her body, and with a note she had found in her locker containing a disgusting poem, basically threatening her life. Naturally, the lioness in me wanted to go and beat some sense into that girl and her no-good mother to boot. I called the school officials, who had to pull Josey off my daughter, and their reply was that it was “just one of those girl fights, it happens all the time.” I told them no, it had been part of a months-long systematic harassment of my daughter and if something wasn’t done I would get the law involved.

I photocopied the nasty poem and wrote several carefully worded letters, which were not excessively angry, but clear and to the point about the fact that I would go as far as necessary, under the law, to protect my daughter. I enclosed photocopied portions of the school board policy on violence and the poem, and sent these letters to the girl’s mother, the school officials, and the county prosecutor. I made it clear to the girl’s mother that if her daughter should even touch my daughter again, I would take her to court for stalking, harassment, assault, and whatever else I could think of.

In the meantime, I contacted the county prosecutor and informed him of the situation. I got a clear understanding of what our rights were. All along I told my daughter everything. She didn’t really want me to get involved at first (at that age, it is embarrassing for parents to step in) but I told her, “I’m really sorry, I’d like to go by your wishes, but since I’m an adult I can see the bigger picture. We’ve tried ignoring it, going to school officials, and going to her family. Now the situation is dangerous, and it’s my job as your mother to sep in and set limits if no one else will. We aren’t bullies, but we Don’t let bullies get their way with us either. I need to teach you how to deal with these situations now.”

I enlisted her agreement and support. I knew that the most powerful way to act in a situation like this is with calm perseverance, knowing your rights, and following through on your warnings. Emotionally, I’d have liked to do any number of vengeful things. But we couldn’t let ourselves be ruled by emotion or we would have become just like the bullies.

The girl’s mother was mortified; she called me and begged me not to go to the authorities. I empathized, saying it must be very embarrassing for her and I couldn’t imagine as a mother she would ever approve of such behavior. I didn’t mention what I knew of her own drug use. I let her know that if the behavior did not stop, I would have no choice bu to have her daughter arrested.

Then Josey called, crying, and apologized. I calmly explained how disappointed I was in her after I had taken her into my heart and home. I recommended that she get counseling and find out if any “medication” she may be taking could be affecting her personality so badly. Then I said I was sorry, but I could not allow her in our home again. Finally, in my lowest, most powerful voice — with “sinking power” rooted in the earth — I said, “Josey, if you even so much as look at my daughter again, I will have you arrested faster than you  can take a breath. I have spoken to the county prosecutor, and he is ready. Do you understand me?”

She sniffled, “Yes…” I said, “Please try to straighten yourself out. You are a good girl with a lot of potential and a lot of life to live. But you have to do it yourself, nobody will do it for you.” My daughter never had any trouble from her again. She was able to see how adults can work through difficult situations without resorting to violence or childishness. It was a great lesson in empowerment for us all.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

SEVEN IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF EMPOWERMENT

1. Communicate With Your Children, Not At Them

Practicing Empowerment gives us the ability to recognize that each child is entirely unique, with his own personality, needs, and thresholds. So parenting has to be tailored to the individual. This means there are very few rules that everyone must follow, and the few rules there are will be subject to change from time to time, with the child’s involvement. New rules may be put in place and old ones deactivated. Because there is open communication, the children understand that a rule for a toddler may not apply to a seven-year-old. Things are explained, not just declared. When a child feels he has been respected enough to be a part of the rule-making process, he has a stake in the household and is more likely to follow the rules.

Martial arts expert Dawn Callan, in Awakening the Warrior Within, talks about empowerment in our culture:

“Our entire education, beginning with our parents (even those with the best intentions), and including our schools and religious systems, has taught us who we ought to be, so that we fit the accepted mold, rather than supporting us to break the mold and be ourselves. We have been taught to be controlled rather than to have our own power.”

We want to try, as much as possible, to encourage and allow our children to express and use their power appropriately, without overpowering or disempowering others in the process. We want to work in partnership with our children and teach them to be in partnership with others. If we are to do this, we have to learn to do it ourselves.

Babies and toddlers rely on their parents’ and caregivers’ reactions to learn how to respond to uncertain situations. They observe their caregivers and learn about their environment through indirect experience. If a child leaves toddlerhood without trust in his caregivers and a healthy sense of his individuality and his personal power, problems can arise later on in adjusting to social situations.

2. Privacy

Privacy is an important part of Empowerment. Each child needs things his or her own that no one else, not even Mom or Dad, is allowed access to without permission. Knocking on doors and requesting permission to enter respects privacy. Manners such as “please” and “thank you,” “may I,” “good morning,” etc., practiced consistently by parents and taught with love from infancy, help reinforce dignity and respect for oneself and for others, an important part of Empowerment.

3. Choice Making

Previously I discussed choice making, another crucial aspect of Empowerment. Use every opportunity you can to help teach your children, 1) that there are many choices in any situation; 2) which choices lead to health and happiness, feeling of self-respect and dignity; 3) that they do not have the right to make choices for others; and 4) the consequences of choices can be far reaching.

There are endless opportunities for discussion of these topics. Television shows and/or news stories are filled with them. Point out what came before an act of violence or self-destruction, and ask kids what other choices that person may have had. Underscore the idea that we always have choices and can make nonviolent, life-enhancing choices in every situation.

4. Empower Your Children to Make Healthy Choices

Dealing with food gives us plenty of opportunities to learn about choice. When my kids were little, I would let them have a sugary treat, and then later, when they got grouchy and mean, I’d point out the connection. Then I would give them a protein snack (even just a spoonful of cottage cheese) and their dispositions would radically improve. I’d point out that it was the protein making them feel better.

Eventually, they became aware thane of their options when feeling grouchy was to have some cottage cheese, nut butter or other protein, and they would feel better. They also knew they might feel jittery and bad if they chose sweets. My son, of his own volition, stopped eating chocolate altogether because he hated the “hyper” way it made him feel. He knew this wasn’t the case for everybody; it wasn’t a value judgment.The choice was purely his, from his own experience. I helped him discover the connection, and he took it from there.

5. Share Your Own Choice-Making Process

Be sure to share your own choice-making dilemmas with your kids. As they get older, ask for their opinion. Let them know clearly that you are making your own decision, but you are interested in what they think — that way they won’t feel responsible for your decisions. Then tell them what you decided and how you came to it. Show them how you get more information when you feel you don’t have enough to make a good decision. Always maintain your dignity in the role of parent, and your own personal power. It is a huge mistake to turn that power over to your kids. They want you to have already figured out some of this! They need a strong model to show them how to make appropriate choices and to point out the consequences to them.

6. Empower Your Children to Care for Others

Have the older children help take care of the younger ones. I’ll never forget how common it was in India to see a nine-year-old with a baby on his hip, and how rare it is in Western cultures for siblings to “mother” one another. This can be taught in many ways, and changed as the children grow older. An older child can massage a baby. It helps them bond and helps the older child realize this new being is a real person, a brother or sister, to be loved and protected. They can imitate your techniques, but keep it simple, with easy rubbing motions. They love getting massage oil on their hands and feeling grown-up in the way they care for the baby.

Older children can push the baby in a stroller, pull a wagon with a toddler in it, (with supervision, of course), help pick out baby items at the supermarket, or help feed the little ones. As a baby grows, the sibling bond becomes stronger, the baby is more fun to play with, and they become both friends and rivals.

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7. Teach and Model Empathy

I suggest having fairly strict rules in place about hitting, such as “in our family we never hit each other.” This statement of rules should always be given with “sinking power” — first ground yourself, relax, get powerful from your very core, and deliver the directive, eye to eye, in a way that says it is non-negotiable. This can be a powerful message that sets the stage for nonviolent conflict resolution later on.

Teaching children to respond with empathy to a younger child’s distress helps them learn to behave more selflessly later on. You can extend this outside the home, and have children help in charitable activities that have a direct and positive impact on those in need, such as visiting the elderly, making deliveries for a food bank, and raising money for charitable causes. Research has shown that children who learn to care about others and are involved, even in small ways, in helping others in need, are at a lower risk of developing depression later.

Children who learn to be empathic (to feel another’s pain and want to help them) — and learn to stand up for what they believe — perform better in adult life in their work and social lives. On the other hand, kids who are raised being disciplined by physical violence, force, humiliation, embarrassment, or withdrawal of love grow up having great difficulty feeling compassion for others. Every man who batters his wife has a skewed view of his actions; he usually believes she deserves it and it is “for her own good” (this also goes for parents who beat their kids). It is minimized in his mind because when he saw it done as a child, or when he was a victim of violence, he was told it was not abuse, it was discipline — or else he was lied to — “Mommy fell and broke her arm.” Most abusers don’t even realize their behavior is antisocial or wrong because overpowering and disempowering control was so normal in the homes of their childhood.

© 2015 Vimala McClure