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

3 WAYS YOUR CHILDREN PERCEIVE PUNISHMENT

Impulses

If you raise your children with punitive discipline, they are more likely to have tendencies toward anger and depression because you are teaching them that part of who they are — their emotions — isn’t acceptable.

Since parents aren’t there to help them learn to manage those difficult feelings, they’re left lonely, trying to sort out for themselves how to overcome their “not-nice” impulses. This makes it harder for them to manage their anger, and more likely that they’ll take it out on their siblings, who are often the closest target.

Power

Kids raised with punishment learn to use it against their siblings to increase their own power. When children know that their rival will be punished, they have an incentive to tattle, both to hurt their sibling and to be able to play the role of the “good child.”

When siblings are punished for fighting with each other, they become more resentful of each other and more focused on revenge. Often, they get into a negative cycle of inciting conflict while trying to make it look like the other child’s fault.

Punishment teaches fear. Kids learn what they live and what you model. If kids do what you want because they fear you, it’s a small step to bullying. If you yell, they’ll yell. If you use force, they’ll use force.

SPANKING

Research Shows that Punishment Doesn’t Work

Children end up learning some entirely unintended lessons from punishment — about wielding power, resolving disagreements, and handling upsetting emotions. So punishing children not only undermines your child’s development in general, but it also has a negative impact on your children’s relationship with each other.

Anger

The way you handle and express your anger is the most powerful teaching tool you have. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a good idea to encourage your child to beat a pillow or other object to release his anger. It doesn’t work, and worse, it reinforces the notion that it is okay to act out anger with violence.

The only healthy way to express anger is verbally, exploring the cause of it and the fear that lies behind it, and then finding positive ways to use the energy and power it generates. Children need to know it is okay to be afraid and to express it to safe people (parents) and to explore what might be done about it. Often, just talking about anger diffuses it power, and having a parent listen with empathy, not interruption or interpretation, can make all the difference. The child can then solve his own problems appropriately, with a clear head.

An Example of Helping a Child Handle Anger

For example, your young child comes home in tears, angry that a trusted friend hit him and took away his toy.

Parent: “That must have felt awful! You probably feel very angry.”
Child: “Yeah! I’m gonna hit him!
Parent: “It would feel better if you could take back what he took from you, wouldn’t it? Hitting is one of your choices, but it might make things worse later, don’t you think?”
Child: “I dunno. But I’m not just gonna take it like a baby!”
Parent: “Hmm. This is a hard one to figure out, isn’t it? If you hit him, he could just hit you back, and pretty soon everybody’s hitting everybody, you lose a friend, you get in trouble with the teacher, and you get in trouble with us because we don’t hit in our family. So you know it would lead to consequences at home. But you don’t want to feel like you have no power at all.”
Child: “Yeah.”
Parent: “Let’s see, what other choices do you have?”
Child: “I dunno. If I don’t fight him everybody will say I’m a chicken.”
Parent: “Do you feel like a chicken?”
Child: “No! I’m just so mad!”
Parent: “You must feel sad because he was your good friend.”
Child: (sniffing, tears) “Yeah. I can’t believe he did that. Now I hate him!”
Parent: “It sounds like the whole thing is super-frustrating.”
Child: “Yeah! But what should I do?”
Parent: “You could just let it go, choose another toy, and let him know he can’t make you feel afraid or angry, even if he tries. Maybe he’ll be sorry and you can be friends again.”
Child: (looks doubtful).
Parent: “You can tell him what he did made you feel angry, and ask him if he meant to hurt you. Maybe he’ll tell you he didn’t mean it. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, then walk away. Sometimes we walk away strong on the inside, with a different kind of courage, and find other ways to fight back. People who hit  don’t have any courage, and they are usually scared inside. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll figure out what to do. Let me know if you want to talk about it some more. And thanks for sharing your feelings with me.”

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An Example of Modeling the Handling of Anger

Once my sister and her daughter witnessed a man beating his three boys, all under age seven, in a large department store. He slapped them hard across the face and slammed them into the wall. He was obviously out of control. My sister knew she had to do something about it, and at the same time model for her daughter how to intervene  safely in such a situation without getting caught up in it. She was very angry and felt helpless, watching this strong man throw his babies around like rag dolls. “God only knows what he allowed himself in private if that was the way he acted in public,” she said.

She found an onlooker nearby who was willing to go with her and follow the man to his car to take down his license plate number. They then called the police, and waited there to make statements. By that time, her willingness to step forward gave other onlookers the courage to give corroborating statements. When the man arrived home, there was a police car waiting for him, and officers ready to inspect his children for signs of abuse and arrest him for assault.

My sister modeled for her daughter and other bystanders the appropriate and dignified, middle-path use of the energy generated by her anger; it was neither the extreme of total non-involvement and abandonment, nor the extreme of reactivity — that is, hitting him over the head with a shovel, which is what she felt like doing!

Link

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:

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

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Principle Four with Young ChildrenEven 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.

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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

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

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

THREE WAYS TO MAINTAIN CHILDRENS’ EMPOWERMENT WHEN USING “DISCIPLINE”

1. Discipline

How do we discipline our kids? There are plenty of violent prisoners in penitentiaries who were disciplined as children with spankings, beatings, screaming and neglect. Though I had my children take “time out” sometimes, now I question the popular use of that as a disciplinary technique because it links quiet time alone with punishment.

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When children, even toddlers, are given explanations for rules, allowed to voice an opinion, and even to disagree, they become more skilled at exercising their power, their social “muscles,” when they relate to others and learn to cope with problems by reasoning out the right responses. It may take more time to talk than to hit, but, in the long run, the lessons you are teaching will be more far-reaching and will develop a broader range of social skills in your child. Use reasoning to help your child understand the concepts of restitution and making amends, to understand that apologies don’t automatically excuse them from out-of-control behavior and that words can hurt as much as punches. Many research studies have concluded that the use of reasoning and discussion as disciplinary tools is one of the most effective ways to foster a child’s positive moral development.

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One inventive mother went to a nature store and purchased several small rocks with words carved on them such as: sisters, brothers, family, love, kindness, peace, truth, forgive, gentle, cooperation, and so on. When one of her children misbehaved, she chose one of the rocks and gave it to the child, explaining the word and what it meant in this particular situation. She repeated the word several times, having her child repeat it back and explained its definition. The child was the led to his room or a “safe place,” and asked to think about what that word meant to him for fifteen minutes. Then his mother would retrieve him and they would discuss the word. In this way, the child was not punished, but an “intervention” took place, which allowed the child to learn values and connect those values to his behavior.

2. Learned Powerlessness

There are many ways we unknowingly teach our children to be helpless rather than empowered. Helplessness is taught by:

  • Doing things for children ins teach of teaching them, in steps, how to do it themselves.
  • Explaining poor performance in school in terms of intelligence or inability, instead of effort or motivation.
  • Explaining the cause of difficulty as internal (“You’re not good at that”) rather than external (“You can try harder next time and do better”).

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Girls are socialized to be more vulnerable to criticism and tend to interpret it as permanent and pervasive rather than temporary and external. The are more likely to explain difficulty as their fault, due to their character defects, whereas boys are socialized to attribute difficulty more to outside circumstances or temporary lapses. So with your girls be especially conscious of explaining, when disciplining, that when they’ve done something wrong it does not mean there is something wrong with them. Explain that wrong behavior is something that is temporary, related only to the subject at hand and is something that can be changed. Remember also that we all need to feel we have some control over a situation and/or our feelings about it in order to develop resilience and resistance to adversity. Helplessness robs us of resilience.

3. Reasoning

Tai Chi’s “listening power” can be used to reason with your kids at any age. In this practice, you stay with them and feed back to them in your own words what you hear them saying about something they have just done, felt, or experienced, from their point of view. Stay with them long enough to be able to act like a mirror, helping them reason their way to the conclusion that delineates right from wrong. You can help them “be their own boss,” and evaluate their own feelings and actions. You can help them see how consequences are tied to actions, and how, if they have done something wrong, they can make amends with dignity. At first you may sometimes have to take the role of teacher and guide them firmly through this process. When you do this, try to refrain from filling in silent spaces with lectures. When your feedback is wrong, they will let you know. Be patient and ask them with sincerity to explain again what they mean.

Dr. Suzette Hadin Elgin says that “Talking to a child, especially after the age of five or six, is essentially the same as talking to an adult you outrank.” They understand much more than they are given credit for. She also says, “You have to let a child choose and introduce the conversational topic. You must support that topic every few sentences. And, hardest of all, you have to listen while the child talks, with your heart, your head, and with full courteous attention.” 

When you ask your child to do a chore, be sure you include all the information he needs. For example, instead of saying, “Jack, take out the trash,” you could say, “Jack, please take out the trash right now because the garbage truck is coming at noon.” Tone is important. Try as hard as you can to use a respectful, relaxed tone that assumes your child wants to help. Along with your tone, smiling eye contact or a touch can help communicate your positive intention. If you mess u-p, apologize. Say, “I didn’t mean to sound harsh” (angry, impatient, and so on). “I’m kind of stressed out right now and could really use the help.” Be sure to thank the child when the task has been completed. At dinnertime, you could say, with an eye-contact smile, “Jack, it was a great help to have the garbage taken out on time. Thanks a lot.”

Try to be alert to whether your child is hearing what you are saying the way you want her to. If you feel a negative reaction, you can say, “I’m not sure I said that right. Let me try again.” Or, “Did I say that in a way that didn’t feel good to you?” Again, communicating respectfully with your kids help them learn respectful communication and empowers them to take responsibility for themselves and the way they communicate. You are laying a solid foundation for their future relationships, so it is definitely worth the time.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

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.

“The best leader remains obscure, leading but drawing no personal attention. As long as the collective has direction, the leader is satisfied. Credit is not to be taken, it will be awarded when the people realize that it was the subtle influence of the leader that brought them success.”

— Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Daily Meditations

The subject of power is a huge one, worth looking at both within and outside the context of Tai Chi and Taoism. It is vitally important for parents to understand power, because the way we use or misuse it in our own lives is the way we teach our children about their power, our power, and other people’s power and that is probably the most significant lesson we teach. The right use of power results in self-respect, respect for others, confidence, fearlessness, and balance.

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 The Tao or the Way is where all true power resides. In Tai Chi, the exercises learned with the body teach you something about chi or the life force, the power of the Tao that comes through the individual. In the Indian system of yoga, issues of power reside in the second and third chakras, located roughly in the navel area. In Tai Chi, our center of power is called the tan t’ien (in Chinese) or hara (in Japanese), and is located in essentially the same place. It is from there we get and transfer power, which is rooted in the earth, and comes up through the feet and legs.

What is the “Opponent?”

Tai Chi is a martial art as well as a spiritual practice — and certainly raising your child should not involve fighting or power struggles, and it should definitely not require hitting or striking of any kind. When we look at Tai Chi practices, it is within the metaphoric context of using our power correctly, knowing how to change the energy in a situation of potential frustration, angers, or power struggle, and knowing how to help our children learn to get in touch with and utilize their own internal power.

When I speak of your “opponent” in this context, I don’t mean your child should be perceived as an enemy, to be overpowered or controlled. Again, it is a metaphor: the “opponent” is any energy that is causing disempowerment, separation, or frustration between you and your child. Combative situations will always arise, either in your personal life that spill over into your parenting, or in your relationship with your child. As Tai Chi teacher Ron Sieh says, “To be calm in the midst of chaos cannot be accomplished by avoiding chaos. I have a choice concerning aggression and combat and I can choose from my heart, not out of fear.”

In Tai Chi, one of the first exercises practiced with an opponent is called “attaching steps.” The student paces the partner, trying to perfectly match her moves and intentions, as if he is attached to her. This requires learning how to get inside the other person’s shoes, so to speak, to be so at one with her or attuned to her that one automatically moves with the other, not a moment after. Try this with your child — mirror her moves to understand her energy.

With the aid of breathing and meditation practice, the student can then move on to what is called “listening power” — building a connection and communication with the “opponent” (in this case, your child who is in opposition) so you can then precisely detect the opponent’s level of strength, center of gravity, motivation, speed, and so on. This gives you tremendous power, as you can then anticipate an opponent’s moves and use the opponent’s own force to defeat the aggressive energy coming from her.

Another important practice for parents is called “sinking power.” The student learns to “sink,” through his chi, and use his connection with the earth in response to his partner’s attempt to uproot him. Before you respond to a child in opposition, use sinking power. Ground yourself in just a few minutes:

  1. Stand still, upright
  2. Take a deep full breath in, and a slow full breath out
  3. Press your feet into the floor, standing equally on the soles of your feet
  4. Make your thighs firm, as if the muscles are hugging the bones
  5. Relax your shoulders, pull in the belly
  6. Imagine there is a pillar of light from above, through your body, into the earth through your feet
  7. If possible, close your eyes. Breathe deeply and find that “still place” within

Now respond to your child, mirroring her movements and speaking what you perceive as her feelings.

“You don’t want to stop playing and come to dinner. . .”

“I see that you’re really upset. . .”

“You don’t want me to hold the baby right now. . .”

Continue to mirror, to listen, to allow your child to clarify.

To “empower,” in Tai Chi, involves a technique called “transferring power.” It can be used for harm, that is, to transfer your power through a slap, a spank or kick. It can also be used for good by helping your child become aware of his or her own power, without giving or loaning them yours.

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Principle Three, empowerment, is linked intrinsically to Principle Seven, flow and let go. We will see how as we go along. The t’ui who circle exercise represents the Tao in that it seems empty and transparent. But when you utilize its power, you find it is inexhaustible. As the Taoist sage Lao Tau said, “When you follow Tao it will round off the sharp edges, untangle confusing threads, dim all glaring light. It molds and smooths the dust.”

The kind of power we seek to cultivate as parents is the power of the Tao. Like water, it is smooth, flowing, yielding, penetrable, yet strong enough to “round off the sharp edge” of things.

Won Chung-Ya, an ancient Taoist master, emphasized the importance of avoiding “double weightedness” — that is, reacting the same way every time, getting stuck on one way of responding, being always on one side of the yin/yang balance.

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He had his students practice constantly moving so when they were up, they became aware of down; when they were right, they were aware of left. They learned that not responding to the “opponent” appropriately for that specific moment and that specific person and that specific interaction results in difficulty and awkwardness, which leads to defeat.

We are so accustomed to “taking a stand” that we forget the universe is constantly moving, shifting, and changing — even rock changes, over a period of time. So in our approach to our children in this ever-changing phenomenon we call the world, we must be flexible enough to remember that each child, each situation, each time, each incident, and each interaction is different from any other. Though we connect ourselves to principles that don’t change, such as unconditional love, respect, empowerment, the way we respond within those principles must be flexible according to time, place, and person.

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© 2015 Vimala McClure