On his website, The Natural Child Project, Psychologist Richard Grossman presents the following imperative for raising healthy children:
“One of the most important psychological factors in raising a family is giving children ‘voice.’ What is voice? It is the sense of agency that resides in all of us, that makes us confident that we will be heard, and that we will have impact on our environment. Exceptional parents grant a child a voice equal to theirs the day that child is born. And they respect that voice as much as they respect their own. How can you give your child ‘voice’? There are three rules:
- Assume that what your child has to say about the world is just as important as what you have to say.
- Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you.
- Enter their world through play, activities, discussion: don’t require them to enter yours in order to make contact.”
The “children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard” era is not totally behind us. Sad to say, many parents in my KEEP THE CONNECTION WORKSHOPSSM still cling to that notion while most of the adolescents I have worked with complain, “my parents just don’t listen,” thus widening the gulf between them. Imagine how you would feel if you were denied the right to speak, to express your feelings, to share your deepest hopes and dreams. Or you express those feelings but no one is listening. Imagine how it would feel if you could not respond to insult or hurtful statements. Imagine never learning what they feel, what they think, what they want, what they need, who they are. Parents believe they know their children because they can predict their behavior. But do they know what the behavior means to the child?
You are your child’s primary teacher, an educator and as an educator, you might assume that only words teach. Ah, there’s a different, more precise, more effective way to teach. The word educe and educator come from the same root – and that tells us that the task of an educator is to educe – to bring out. As keen observers, children learn what we want them to know by watching us. Watching, they absorb our habits, imitate our behavior, and adopt our values as the norm. By giving them “voice,” you enable them to inform you and at the same time clarify for themselves what they are learning.
A few decades ago, child experts believed that children come into the world “a blank slate” and that parents must write on it what they want their children to be. In contrast, writer Emma Goldman urges us to recognize a greater truth:
“No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness, and
generosity in the soul of the child. The effort of every true educator
should be to unlock that treasure to stimulate the child’s impulses and
call forth their best and noblest tendencies.”
“When it comes to goodness, just realize that the goodness we thought we have to instill in our children is already there. They came with it. (from 27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children.) We bring out our children’s “best and noblest tendencies” when we have compassion instead of judgment, encouragement instead of criticism, faith in them instead of worry. I believe compassionate and attentive listening is an act of generosity and grace, it is respect of the highest kind. Moreover, the listened-to child listens in return.
May is this month we celebrate Mothers, so here are my thoughts – from my heart to yours:
Some of us come by our parenting skills quite naturally, having had good role models. The rest of us have to learn how to be the kind of mothers we wish we had. In either case, Mothers, let’s just be our authentic selves – the selves we love being. We need not be paragons of virtue, but human beings who make mistakes. We can demonstrate the virtue of forgiveness by forgiving our children for their errors, forgive ourselves for ours, and let the children know they may forgive themselves. (Who ever taught us that one?) When you need answers for your parenting concerns, turn to your intuitive heart and you will find the wealth of inner wisdom you possess. Believe in yourself. Accept yourself just as you are and appreciate yourself for who you are. That done, you will find you can accept your child as he and she is, and appreciate each one for who he and she is. Laugh everyday. Sing a little. Dance. Uplift your children and be yourself uplifted.