THE TAO: RELAX WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

When your baby begins to crawl around by himself, you can be assured of a devoted follower. Bathroom doors are no longer closed, and every task requires a creativity you may never have thought you had. Two of the most important characteristics you can develop to help you stay relaxed are keeping a sense of humor and understanding the impermanent nature of childhood stages.

When your child gets on his feet, the roles reverse. You become your child’s devoted follower, for heaven knows what he is going to get into next. A “childproof” house is essential, so that you can be assured there is not much in harm’s way. Great playthings include household items without potential for harm.

Tools as Toys: Cooking

At this later toddler stage, you can add other creative options. Young ones love to emulate you, so miniature versions of your cooking and cleaning supplies can be helpful; while you’re making dinner, the little one can be at your feet stirring her own pot. Plastic bowls that fit inside one another make for hours of fun, as do the same kind of containers with easy-fit lids. Your child can practice putting things in and taking them out. Big boxes from moving companies with holes cut out for windows make great disposable playhouses. Paper towel tubes can make marvelous toys, as can large paper bags and other things that are free, recyclable, and don’t present a hazard.

You can keep a stool handy for little kids to help at the counter, and whenever possible let them pour their own drinks from a tiny pitcher into a tiny cup during mealtimes — cultivating coordination as well as a sense of involvement.

Tools as Toys: Gardening

One project my kids always loved was making their own Easter baskets. In February, I bought cheap baskets at a large craft store, and a bag of soil and some grass seed. We lined the baskets with foil and my kids, using small plastic bowls or cups, added soil almost to the top. Then they sprinkled grass seed on top, and covered it with another small layer of soil. They put their baskets on the seat by the bay window, and watered them with my sprinkling can every other day. When Easter came around, the baskets were full of beautiful green grass. The night before Easter Sunday, the Easter bunny came and filled their baskets with treats, covered them with Saran wrap, and hid them. I dipped the end of my fingers and thumb together into some brown paint, and placed bunny footprints all over the place.

You can get big buttons and sew them on pieces of felt, cutting buttonholes in another piece, and let your child play with buttoning things. Purchase or make a cardboard sewing toy, with holes in the board and a big plastic “needle” with yarn.

Real Tools

Kids love to help out. Saying yes to those offers is more important than we might imagine and helps us raise kids who are more likely to take on household responsibilities as they get older.

Rather than toy versions of tools, get them appropriately sized real tools (to use with supervision). You can get plenty of useful, not-too-large tools at your local hardware store. As kids get older, invest in adult-sized tools they can use for a lifetime. Starting at four years old they can have woodworking tools and access to scrap wood. If they love to turn machines on and off, You can get them a hand vac as a gift. They’ll use it for years, immediately on the scene to vacuum up crumbs like a man on a mission.

I saw a video once where a baby was giggling, bouncing with joy as her father ripped a piece of paper. She apparently thought that was hysterical! Who needs toys?

Observe, and Practice Madhuvidya

At this age constant supervision is a must. Observing your toddler is fascinating and can teach you a lot about being present. See how totally in the moment she is, how complete her concentration can be when she is involved in an interesting task. At this point, she will often wander back to home base (you) to touch in, making sure that you are still there, that continuity and safety are maintained as she begins to widen her interest in exploring her environment.

These are the months and years of practicing what in the great spiritual tradition of India is called madhuvidya, or “sweet knowledge.” This means simply the realization that all is one; no one activity, person, or time is more important than another. This may be the only period in your life, for a very long time, when you have the chance to learn about this so urgently, for as your children grow, you all get busy with worldly life and with others.

Think About It: You are a Higher Power to Your Child

When you know that in some sense you represent the Tao, Infinite Consciousness, God to your child, you can begin to deepen your own relationship to your spiritual base. Thus, your observation of the relationship between yourself and your child can teach you a lot about Oneness.

What kind of God do you believe in? How do you want God to relate to you? Is God all-loving, all-forgiving? Does God love you unconditionally? Do you want to be lifted up when you fall? Do you want your prayers answered? Do you want help to find and empower yourself, your destiny, and your dreams? Do you want your Higher Power to listen to you patiently and comfort you, not leave you alone to tough it out? That is what a parent needs to be for his or her child.

As you practice being that way, you begin to realize you have a greater — some say higher or deeper — power in your life that cares for you in the same way. So, to practice being the Tao for your child every day brings you closer to God (a thousand names for the force that guides the universe), and also helps your child stay connected to the spiritual source from which he has come.

Help Yourself with Relaxation

The precious toddler years are a time for this level of spiritual learning for parents. Often your toddler needs you to simply witness him play; you may sometimes feel like you are doing nothing, and impatience can set in and grow. In many other countries where extended families live together, this is when grandparents come in to provide the patient, observing, teaching witness a child needs. In western countries, parents are required to be both this slowed down, tranquil, in-the-present witnessing “master” and the busy manager of the family. It’s a daunting job. For the sake of your child’s and your own spiritual growth, take time every day to be in the present with your little one. It is more important than the seemingly urgent things that call you away. When you are old, these seemingly empty moments are what you will remember as real. Remember, as the Taoist masters do, that relaxation is fullness, not emptiness. What is real remains, the rest falls away.

If You Want Something Done, Ask a Busy Person

As children grow, and especially when more children come, life gets more hectic and relaxation takes on a different quality and meaning for parents. In my circle of friends, I noticed that the most relaxed parents were the ones who happily had four or five kids! By then, they had surrendered. While their households were messy and noisy, and one or the other parent was always in the car, driving kids to various practices and functions, there was a kind of flow to the chaos. Perhaps these parents had found the “zone” where one thing just flowed into another, where all was included, and they realized it was useless to sweat the small stuff. I studied these parents to learn that art.

Somehow these parents always found time for their relationship, and each of them had outside interests they continued to cultivate through it all. The only way they were able to do this was to have a strong sense of mission, to understand the importance of balance and role modeling, and to consciously, each week or month, make decisions as to what they would and would not do, what they were willing to forego in the short term for their long-range mission: a happy family.

I also knew stressed-out parents who never took time for themselves and each other. Creating a happy family takes parents committed to certain kind of mission and lifestyle, and often, while we start with the best intentions, at some point we lose focus, drift apart, allow betrayals to fester into permanent rifts, and divorce to happen. Some people are better partners than they are parents, and vice versa. Some can do both smoothly. The Tao teaches us to accept it all and try to attain a level of relaxation through all the changes life brings our way.

Handling Change

If you are on a path of spiritual attainment, it is bound to bring you changes you are not at all comfortable with, changes that naturally tighten your defenses. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had been meditating for years, four to six hours a day. I realized as my pregnancy progressed that I would no longer have hours to sit in meditation alone and in silence. Everything had to change. After trying to figure out how I could still meditate in the way in which I was accustomed, my baby was born — unless I relaxed and accepted big changes, I was bound to be unhappy.

began to think, I will be all-knowing, unconditionally loving, I will be a guru to this child; I will represent God — the Way — the Tao. Knowing this prepared me for parenting in a way no book could prepare me. My meditation took a back seat. It was time for me to learn madhuvidya — meditation in action. My mothering became my meditation; I was God to my baby — he was God to me.

The practice then is not to ward off change (which is impossible) but to notice when change is causing you to tighten. At those times, consciously allow your body and mind to relax and slow down enough to understand the deeper reality and make better decisions. Let your children know this is what you are doing, and you can teach them to relax as well.

Babies show you clearly that from the beginning, change is stressful. You can model a relaxed way of handling change, and you can teach your baby how to relax. This is one of the many benefits of infant massage; you must relax and slow down to be with your baby in this way. Part of the massage routine (Touch Relaxation) is teaching your baby to relax his body when you touch him through conditioned response.

Pay Attention to What is Not Happening

In Taoism, it is important to keep an awareness of emptiness. That is, what is not there is as important as what is there. The t’ui who circle is a calligraphic meditation on this subject, in which the student makes a circle with a calligraphy pen and meditates upon it. Without the emptiness of what the circle contains, there is no circle. So it is important to pay attention to what is not happening as well as what is. A child’s silence does not mean he has nothing on his mind.

Establish Trust

Make a physical connection through massage and relaxation at bedtime to facilitate talks with an older child. Especially if you have massaged your kids as babies, giving them nightly massages creates an atmosphere of trust. If your child needs to cry or express fear, let her; assure her that what she feels is natural, that she is always guided and protected, and that it is okay to cry sometimes, to let out tension, frustration, fear, or grief.

 

Let “Relax, Slow Down, Breathe” be Your Motto

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Love is the key to successful parenting.

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.

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Be the Person Your Child Confides In | eHow.

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:

A Toddler’s Need for Boundaries – No Walk in the Park

A Toddler’s Need for Boundaries – No Walk in the Park.

“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

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Health benefits from free play confirmed by research.

“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.”

(Thanks to ScienceDaily and Little Learners Lodge)

PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWERMENT WITH YOUR TEENS

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

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

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The Science of Resilience | Harvard Graduate School of Education.

GREAT ARTICLE! When confronted with the fallout of childhood trauma, why do some children adapt and overcome, while others bear lifelong scars that flatten their potential? A growing body of evidence points to one common answer: Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed rela­tionship with a supportive adult.

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Four

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

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Positive Parents: Always a Bundle of Joy.

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.