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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PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Five

Principle Three in Pregnancy

Working with Principle Three begins as soon as you get pregnant. You will need constant access to you own power to make the hundreds of choices you must make.  My mother was utterly disempowered by social norms when she had her babies, and who knows how that affected my relationship with my mother, my own empowerment, and my mother’s ability to “parent” healthily. An empowered woman is strong, centered, and confident in her choices. She seeks out support and help when she needs it, and her birth experience is informed by her empowerment.

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t have children until they have solidly connected with own power. It’s difficult enough even then! Imagine a teenager, who is barely coming into awareness of this aspect of her being, suddenly having to be a role model for a child, having to know the right use of power as a parent. It’s nearly impossible. How can we expect kids to lead healthy, meaningful lives? It is a lifelong challenge, an endless spiritual path.

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I encourage you to use your pregnancy, whether it is your first or fifth, as an exciting opportunity to exercise the right use of power. Notice all the decisions you need to make, connect them with your parenting mission statement, and make them on the basis of what your inner sense tells you is right. Don’t allow the so-called experts to run your life. Consider their advice, but consider yourself with ultimate authority. Doctors and researchers are not gods. Their warnings are often recanted years after they give them. Be willing to surrender the results of your decisions to the universal forces; God, the Tao, whatever you choose to call that which guides you. Trust that force, and trust yourself. Let your inner sense tell you what is right and back it up with power from your very core. If you don’t know what to do, get all the information you can on all sides of the issue, let it sit for a while, ask for guidance, and then go with what feels right.

Principle Three with Babies

When my first child was born, the prevailing norm was that circumcision was a must, a given. But it didn’t feel right to me. So I did a lot of research about the reasons for it and its history, and found different points of view. I learned about exactly what is done and was able to watch a video. Finally my husband and I made our own decision: we would not, as vegetarians and spiritual beings, inflict pain on animals, so why would we do that to our newborn baby? We decided that when he was old enough to make that decision for himself, he was free to have it done, without disapproval from us.

When we made the decision, it was an act of empowerment for us and for our infant: your body is not mine, it is yours. You get to decide if it is changed in any way, when you are old enough to do so. He is now in his thirties and it has never been an issue for him. When he had his own baby boy, he chose not to have him circumcised, for the same reasons.

So often, we project our own “what-ifs” on our babies and, to spare them the possible embarrassment of being different, we make a decision like this for them. Something like circumcision teaches the newborn child he is not the owner of his body and that , at any moment, his power over his own body can be painfully taken away by strangers without his permission, his understanding, or any preparation. New research proves that circumcision, especially in developed countries, has no medical value or health benefits for babies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has said it is an unnecessary procedure from a medical standpoint.

I’m using this as an example only — I realize many people have their own good reasons for choosing this ritual. I use this example to encourage you to engage, in whatever way you can, your child’s own power — his permission, his selfhood — in the process. Empowering your children begins at birth.

baby massage

In teaching infant massage, early on I incorporated the practice of “asking permission” from the baby. Many parents can’t understand this until they try it. The parent engages with her baby eye-to-eye; she places her hands on her baby’s body, then  rubs her hands together in front of baby, shows him her open palms, and asks, “May I massage you now?” Parents learn their babies’ nonverbal cues which tell them whether or not their infant is ready to be massaged. As they practice this over and over, parent and baby are synchronized and it becomes easier, even in ways other than massage, to really listen and understand what their infant is saying.