How do you nurture a child (or for that matter anyone else you teach) to grow strong and competent?
Are you demanding? Do you pressure your children to perform to standards prescribed by ‘evidence based’ psychological books and research? Are they supposed to be capable of writing and reading etc. at a certain time and age, and do you get anxious if they want to play? Or do you want them to live up to the standards that were imposed on you by your parents, grandparents or teachers? Statistics are only guidelines, not principles, and tradition sometimes creates complex family dynamics. So let us talk about what to do then.
Tend to the tender minds of the young like a delicate plant; watching, observing, asking questions and respond sincerely to their true needs, while you inspire them by instilling trust in them about their capabilities to conquer life themselves. Children do need to be challenged but in ways that empower them to believe in themselves and their abilities. And this is a skill you as a parent need to master, especially when you did not have such a parent or teacher.
In the end it is really only your trust in your child’s ability that makes them become responsible and co-operative human beings, not your coaxing, demands or punishment for bad behavior. It is not your force or ‘laissez faire’ attitude that inspires their confidence to become self-driven. While their tender young minds, just like plants, need fertilizer and supporting structures that models to them the direction of growth, a parent’s punishment or over protection, is never an effective parenting strategy. Allowing children to experience the consequences of their choices, in a logical and natural ways, supports them to gain insight and motivation to accept their responsibilities. Their drive comes from inside themselves, not from the outside. They do things because they feel worthy and competent, not because they have to obey an outside force. The more children discover their capabilities to make constructive choices which brings constructive results, the more confidence and worthiness they develop.
Leadership starts with parenting. When you as a mother or a father support and systematically teach your children to own their power (by that, I mean that they accept an inner responsibility towards themselves first and then towards their communal participation) you create a competent society and humanity.
Yesterday I had three different consultation sessions with clients that demonstrated a similar theme. Similar themes during particular time-phases are a curious phenomenon in most practices and hospitals. The circumstances, symptoms, ages and cultures of all three cases were completely different, yet the overall themes were similar. The theme that we are talking about is what provoked me to write this blog today; that of the power of parents attitudes towards their children.
In the first case, a young 7 year old girl requested her mother to see me. I asked the mother to wait in another room while my young client, who have dealt with me before and trusts me completely, stutteringly started to tell me how sad she is. I allow children to bring out their concerns and feelings through storytelling, using art- and therapy-pictures, play and drawings. It turned out that although she loves her mother and knows that her mother loves her, she feels pressurized by her mother’s demands on her to obey many ‘rules’. She has to not only eat ‘this’, she also has to eat ‘that’; it’s not good enough to do ‘this’ well, she also has to practice more to be good at ‘that’. And so on and so on. The mother finds her daughter to be resistant and is now starting to stutter. She is at her wits end to encourage her daughter to eat better and do more and better at school and home. The more she pushes the more the daughter resists. The demands on her become overwhelming and she wants to give up.
In another case, the little boy does not stutter, but dirties his pants. The symptoms are different but the origin of the problem the same. Resistance, passive aggressive feelings, the loss of confidence, acting out or resigning and becoming depressed and uninterested in activates are common sighs of unhappy parent child relationships.
In my conversation with the mother, the roots of the issue were revealed when she admitted to me that her frustration and anger towards her own mother, who is living with them and still puts a lot of pressure on her, is projected onto her daughter. The mother admitted that she automatically do to her daughter what her mother does to her. Wow. To stop the continuation of a generational conflict cycle, the mother of my client needs to be able to handle her own conflict with her mother at the same time as she deals with her daughter in a different way. The mother has insight because she has worked with me before and I will see the mother with her mother at a following session but first I needed to deal with the mother and her little 7 year old.
I used the story that my young client imagined from the pictures I allowed her to choose, to design a healing ceremony for the two of them. Acting a healing performance embodies and experience that is far more powerful than just talking about it. Using art and images had the same impact. The therapist needs to include the unconscious as well as the conscious minds of the clients and allow it all to become integrated in their bodies though movement and action.
In the story the child told, a mother and child went to a ‘peace-tree’ and there they found big rocks that stopped then from entering. Children are amazingly creative in all their expressions and their stories and drawings always say exactly what they feel. Using the clients own story creatively to design a healing act in the moment, is the most powerful tool for a therapist.
I asked the mother to stand on the one side of the room and the daughter on the other side of the room. I explained that there are rocks between them that are preventing them from reaching the ‘peace-tree’. As they look at each other, they will take turns to say something that they know will help them take away a rock. When a rock is removed, they can take a step towards each other. This process continues until they reach each other. Reaching each other is the ‘peace-tree’ that they create together! Their relationship is a ‘peace-tree’, but I only say that when they get to each other and feel it happening. Then it is not only words but a complete experience for them and they retain the method of reaching that ‘place’ between them again when needed.
This mother and daughter only had to do two steps before they embraced each other with joy and tears. The mother promised to see her little girl for who she truly is, and to communicate with her and appreciate her ideas and feelings. The daughter asked her mother to add the vegetables they both agreed on, to her lunchbox. With new delight they both realized their power to create a ‘peace-tree’ between them whenever they need to do so in the future.
A Therapist’s creativity is an expansion of their client’s creativity. The therapist needs to inspire creativity in a client, in order to use and expand it into the client’s power tool.
The session following this one, was about a 30 something woman who suffers depression. Even the high dosage of medication is not helping. The root of her concern turned out to be a mother who were so demanding and pressurizing that she lost all confidence in herself to perform and accept normal responsibilities. Now she perceives her husband, her boss, me, the community, everyone outside of her, as pressurizing her in the same way her mother did. In reality everyone around her are only trying to support and inspire her. Her resistance is severe because she is fighting responsibility as an outside force instead of accepting it as an internal privilege that grows confidence and competence. This is an example of what happens eventually when your children grow up to be adults and you as parent have always taken the responsibility to coax them. No matter how old they become the child always feels dis empowered when you have not supported then to own the responsibility for life themselves. And this does not happen by anger, pressure or punishment, not by a ‘laissez faire’ attitude.
You trust in your children to discover and develop their competence with your guidance and modeling support is what really helps.
Let’s be inspirational parents, teachers and leaders wherever we go. Trust in others ability without forcing and punishing or giving up on them. Let us inspire creative participation and growth in everyone we meet.