When it comes to building our child’s self-belief and esteem, telling and showing them that we love them as often as possible makes a big difference, no matter what age they are, he says. Even on difficult days or after a disagreement, when we might not feel particularly loving, it is most important to reconnect with our love for them and to express it.
Nothing is more precious to me than the discussions I have with my 19-year-old daughter. I consider her frequent use of me as a sounding board my crowning achievement as a parent (yep, I’m taking full credit for this one). After keeping so many secrets from my own mother, this element of our relationship has been a tremendous surprise and immensely flattering. Here’s what I believe has made it possible:
“Seeking the ‘railings’ he needs to feel secure, a child will continue to test a caregiver until boundaries are clearly stated. Power struggles are a necessary part of the development of ‘self’ for the child; however, the outcome must be that the child knows that the adult is in charge. Children do not usually admit this, but they do not wish to be all powerful and the possibility that they might be is frightening indeed. Children raised without firm, consistent boundaries are insecure and world-weary. Burdened with too many decisions and too much power, they miss out on the joyful freedom every child deserves.”
Great advice from Janet Lansbury – Elevating Child Care
“Cheap items like crates and buckets encourage children to be more active and creative than expensive play equipment, researchers have found. The findings are the result of a long-term study by RMIT University researchers in Melbourne, Australia, into the play differences of primary school children with access to different playgrounds.”
A PARADIGM SHIFT
An experience I had with my son has always stayed with me, because it so beautifully illustrates Principle One (Relax), Principle Two (Slow Down) and Principle Three (Empower). When my son was sixteen, he got his driver’s license. We lived in the rural Ozarks, about four hours from St. Louis, Missouri. We were driving home from the store one day, and he said, “Mom, I have a friend from Colorado who is visiting his parents in St. Louis and I want to go up there and see him. Can I borrow your car?” I immediately reacted, “Absolutely not! No way am I comfortable with that. You haven’t had your license for that long!” His face fell, and he became very quiet. A heavy silence fell over the car, and I felt bad about disappointing him, but I felt I had reacted the way any mother would.
Later that afternoon, he came to my office and said, “Mom, would you please sit down? I need you to read something.” He handed me a letter (printed here with his permission):
“Issue: Mom has written books on parenting, motherhood, etc., so why the problems with me? Idea: Everything has basically turned out great, except for a few things, ie., responsibility, defiance, and laziness on my part. My idea is that a lot of this stems from a lack of trust. In other cultures such as the old time Native American ones, there was a point at puberty when a boy was initiated into manhood. This was done in many ways, sometimes painful rituals or taking him on his first hunt or whatever.
These ideas were brought to me by a TV program I was watching where a father was having trouble with his kid, and his way of trusting the kid was to let him use the welder’s torch for the first time. I think that by showing this trust it motivated the kid to show responsibility to the parent, which started this value within the kid. I know you trust in God to guide me. But I’m not sure you have any faith or trust in me personally.
One incident that supports my idea is, surprisingly, from my stepfather. When he asked me to take his car to have the tires changed, I realized he was really trusting me with this, and I agreed and eagerly helped him, which is unusual for me. What’s more, however worried he was, he never displayed it to me. He didn’t even say, “Be careful,” which meant a lot to me, and I drove as carefully as I ever have. My point is, well, I don’t know really, but it’s just an idea, and I hope you will consider it.”
As I read this letter, my eyes filled with tears, for so many reasons. To me it was a culmination of my entire life as a mother, to have him sit down and be able to work out his thoughts this way. Then to be able to communicate them so clearly, to stand for something he believed in and to back it up, to evaluate his own behavior, and to tell me how he was feeling and why he was feeling that way.
I had an instant paradigm shift. This was a way for me to double-check how my principles were guiding my parenting . I was out there empowering everybody else, but was I really empowering my son? He was right. And that’s what I told him. I looked him in the eye and said, “Honey, you are right. I’m wrong. You can take my car to St. Louis. I trust your judgment that you can do this. Let’s just work out some ways you could check in to keep my fears at bay.”
He burst into tears, threw his arms around me, and said, “You’re the best mom in the whole world.” He cried from his heart. He came back later that night and said, “Mom, you know what? I don’t need to go to St. Louis.”
That was a great turning point in our lives. It made the rest of his teenage years so much more smooth, and all of my daughter’s, who was coming up two years behind him. From then on, I was usually able to remember these three principles — to relax, slow down, and empower my kids — to release my fear, trust them, and watch them come up to that trust. I tried to empower them, to help them get the skills to do what they wanted to do with their lives, not what I wanted for them. Sometimes, happily, these were one and the same. But sometimes they have been very different, and I never allowed our differences of opinion or our different lifestyle choices to come between us. I tried not to let my fear run my reaction to whatever they thought or did at the moment. Even if their choices were vastly different from mine or from what I wished they would choose, I tried to empower them to go as deep as they could, to operate from principles, and to explore and believe in whatever path they chose. In this way, we were (and are) all constantly learning from one another and staying close and bonded, no matter what the external circumstances of our lives look like.
Now that my son is an adult approaching 40, I’ve been able to see the result of my parenting with principles. I couldn’t be more proud of him. I admire him deeply. We continue to communicate in empowering ways, and I am so glad I learned about this early on.
EMPOWER YOUR TEENS TO TAKE HEALTHY RISKS
Dr. Lynn Ponton, a veteran University of California child psychiatrist, thinks that parent should rethink their conclusions about adolescence as a hormone-driven, continual state of rebellion. The teen years as a natural time for taking risks as children begin to exercise their choices, test their abilities, and discover their identities. Western cultures have come to believe that adolescence is a time of unpleasant upheaval. Dr. Ponton says that this has “blurred the lines between normal, exploratory behavior and behavior that is dangerous. . . When we assume that all risk taking is bad, we fail to recognize both the very real dangers some risks pose, and the tremendous benefits that others can be.”
Research shows that 80 percent of adolescents — including urban youth — negotiate the teen years with few problems. Dr. Ponton counsels parents to discuss healthy risk taking with their kids, and teach them how to weigh the dangers and benefits of a particular activity and how to know their own strengths and weaknesses. She says she often sees parents of teens being extreme — either too controlling or abandoning their kids to negative risk taking.
Teens need and want adults in their lives to help them evaluate risk and to help direct their behavior in positive ways. Parents can help by providing information about difficult subjects like sex, drugs, and alcohol, and by modeling positive risk-taking behavior, such as speaking in from of an audience, learning to ski even though you may be afraid you’ll fall, or participating in other medium—risk sports. Discuss these choices with your kids to show them the process of evaluating risk; educate yourself and your teen, in a safe manner, how to protect oneself and then take a risk.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
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.
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.
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
Tom Markham, in Joyful Child Journal, says, “Children born since the early 1980s are especially aligned with the rapidly increasing vibratory rate of the earth. By focusing on this accelerated — or superconscious — level of awareness, we will grasp the essential nature of our children.” Children today are coming in with more awareness of the “superconscious” or higher and deeper levels of being than we did — and this may be true of each successive generation. The trouble our parents got into was holding on to the styles and values of their own parents. Some of those values and styles don’t work anymore. The acceleration of awareness has increased exponentially because the media has exposed the figures of power and authority as being fallible, not all-powerful. In fact, we have all seen their flaws, their struggles, their hypocrisy, and their vulnerable humanity.
While I have always been able to relate to and have been interested in the time of my parents’ youth (the ‘30s and ‘40s), my kids have little interest in the era of might, the ‘50s and ‘60s. In fact, as my daughter told me once, these times seem like a “fairy tale from another planet.” Most kids are future-oriented in a more realistic way than my generation was.
Our kids are more open, in a sense, to what is. They know in their cells how rapidly things are changing. For those who don’t have a solid spiritual grounding, this makes them feel lost, hopeless, and meaningless. For others, who want the wealth their parents generated in the wild 1980s, money seems to be the key to life and they pursue it with a single-minded zeal that may or may not include integrity. For those who are poor, with neither spiritual grounding nor the experience of wealth (either in the sense of money, security, or love), the helplessness is even more deeply ingrained. A sense of purpose is often not even part of their picture, much less the goal of a meaningful life. They can be so disempowered by their experience, their parents’ example, and their parents’ style of discipline, that personal power and the concept of integrity are beyond their reach.
It is important for s to try to live a life based on spiritual and/or ethical principles, and model for our children healthy alternatives to a disempowered, frustrated life.
© 2015 Vimala McClure
The majority of “problems” we have with our young children are due to us attributing a negative intent to their actions. We perceive that they are manipulating us through tantrums. What if, instead, we perceive they are overwhelmed with emotions and need comforting? We perceive that they are testing our authority. What if, instead, we perceive that they are attempting to get a need met in the only way they know how? What if we perceive that they are developing autonomy instead of defying us? What if we can let go of negative perceptions and stop attributing negative intentions on their behavior? Dr. Bailey says a very powerful statement:
By attributing negative motives to him, you highlight character flaws that he, in turn, incorporates into his self-concept.
Teaching and Modeling Respect
Using force, physical punishment, lectures, and tirades does not empower; it means you are stuck in the yang side of the yin/yang balance. Your children will then inherently try to balance you by either yielding too passively and losing their own power, or by resisting you to maintain their own power. The predominant style of our grandparents’ generation — “You had better . . . or else!” — is outmoded. It will not only block you from using this principle, it will disempower you, for eventually your children will laugh at you, knowing they were born with more internal power than you will probably ever have in your lifetime.
This is the secret to raising children in the new millennium: understanding that these kids are coming in with more innate knowledge, greater power, more intensity, and more ability to keep pace with the speed of the new age than you have. They will be dependent on you to walk your talk — to model, not just tell them, what to do. They depend on you to be honest, for they have even better radar for hypocrisy than we did when we were young. If and when you must take a stand, you must do so with great deliberation, grounding yourself in principles (using “sinking power”), so that the result is respect for you as an elder. As your relationship becomes more healthy, interdependent )able to need others and respond to others needing you, appropriately), and respectful, the need for you to motivate and/or discipline your child decreases.
Respect goes both ways. When I teach infant massage, one of the first things I teach parents, or help them to remember, is that infants are human beings and deserve respect. We have specific techniques we use to show babies that respect; we touch them respectfully and allow them the power to communicate what they want and don’t want so they see right away that they have power and are not just playthings with which their parents (or anyone) can do whatever they wish.
Discipline conducted with respect does not distemper or overpower. The concept of obedience tied to ultimatums is not empowerment. It may get short-term results, but will end in long-term losses. Making too many choices for your children leads to a loss of empowerment, too. They become overly dependent on others — authority figures — to tell them what to do, and why and when to do it. They lose the capacity to think deeply for themselves and to go against the norm when they need to.
The Right Use of Power
In Tai Chi, power is often thought of in terms of aggression versus non-aggression. But non-aggression does not mean passivity. It means you do not constantly oppose your children, their ideas, wants, or needs. You follow them, with “listening power,” listening closely to them and mirroring back what they say from their point of view. When you do this, they learn to think more deeply. You respect their ability to come to sound conclusions and learn from their mistakes, and you communicate that respect through your words and actions.
Abandoning your children to their own devices, their peers, and the world does not help them learn the right use of power. In fact, it pushes them into learning the wrong use of power, as we can see in the headlines every day. Many parents do not understand the difference between healthy separation and abandonment. Often parents are so disempowered themselves that when faced with a rebellious or challenging child they go into what I call the “Wizard of Oz Syndrome.” They act as if they are big, all-knowing, all-powerful, scary, and so on. This works temporarily. But eventually the child gets curious and pulls back the curtain to discover the parents’ show of power is all pulleys and levers, smoke and mirrors. Respect disappears, and you’ve lost your leverage with your child. So don’t even try it. Get yourself straight first in terms of dealing with your own childhood, and continually work on your own use of power as you go along, showing the sharing with your child how you work on it, so when he or she becomes a parent, they will know what to do and will not resort to techniques that don’t work.
Your Personal Power
To help your children learn how to use their own personal power, you must be able to access yours and use it on a daily basis. Principles One and Two, relaxing and slowing down, help you begin to get in touch with the infinite power available to you, power that comes through the earth and is in the prana or vital energy all around you. As my spiritual teacher said, “The Force that guides the stars guides you, too.” That’s a powerful force.
Showing your children the right use of power is simple. Set goals for yourself and take small steps toward them every day until you reach them. Share the process with your children — it makes great dinner-table conversation. During the writing of my books, for example, I always talked about the process with my kids. I didn’t lead them to believe it was effortless. I shared how sometimes sit was really hard just to make myself write a paragraph that day , and that sometimes I knew that paragraph would end up in the trash! I emphasized persistence, and said that sometimes we have go backward in order to go forward, or re-route around an obstacle in order to achieve what we want. It wasn’t easy to remain patient and self-motivated, but it was worth it to me for the long-term satisfaction of having completed a book that might help others. Sometimes I’d read small parts to them and ask what they thought, and that would open up a whole new area of conversation.
I tried to show my kids that, even though we often didn’t have a great deal of money, it was important to be contented and try to do the things we wanted to do. Going to India to see my spiritual teacher every couple years was important to me. So I would save and borrow to do whatever was necessary to achieve that goal. I explained to my kids that those trips fed my soul, and were therefore important to my long-term feelings of connectedness to the world, to God, and service to those in need (in India, service was part of what I did). When we were in financial crisis, my kids saw me take an extra job to bring in more money so they could continue going to a school that was important to them and to me, too. It was important for my own personal power and self-respect that I provided what I knew my children needed.
Many challenging things happened to me during their childhood — I had serious illnesses and surgeries, and spent almost two years in bed due to virulent forms of diseases I contracted in India. I lost my second-hand car (that I had saved up for a year to buy) the day after I bought it, when someone without insurance borrowed it and totaled it before I had insurance. I knew how I handled these things would be an important example for my kids in the future, when unforeseen crises may come into their lives. I didn’t always do a great job of responding powerfully, but I tried. When I didn’t — when I behaved in a powerless way — I would find some way to laugh at myself, and to point out to my kids what I’d done and discuss other, better ways I could have responded.
I fought my feelings of despair, anger, and helplessness, and tried to emphasize what I was learning: that things can be replaced, starting over is a part of life, and just because you are disabled you are not unworthy of love and life. These things were not always clear and obvious to them, but I do believe from talking to them now that they got these messages. I gradually got better and began to be able to meditate and do my yoga again. Eventually, I even found the car of my dreams.
My children were able to see that there is no one way to act powerfully. Sometimes power comes from a very quiet, compassionate, seemingly “weak” looking place. For some people, it looks like a big, muscular, fighting spirit. For others, it looks like a small, serene, compassionate, redemptive heart. Mother Teresa had tremendous power.
My kids are now adults with their own children. I have been able to observe them using and teaching the use of power. It gives me great joy to see them parenting in ways that are respectful, healthy, and empowering.
To find your own sense of power it is important to learn to listen to your inner voice and to follow it, regardless of what others tell you. You may seek out the input and advice of others with more experience, but ultimately the only way to increase your access to your own power is by relying on it and respecting it, eagles of how it looks in your life. When your power comes from the infinite source of power — the Tao or God or the Force — it is right, good, clean, and clear. Do whatever it takes to stay connected with this aspect of your being. You will need it over and over again, throughout your entire life.