Nurturing the Future Part 1: Baby Steps
The world is a big place and as you explore it you can find it fascinating, wondrous, and even magical. The newness of everything, the exhilaration or thrill of the adventure can boost us to new heights of enjoyment. We can even become lost in the exploration of the enormous world in which we live. At the same time it can also be intimidating, confusing and scary. Which it is depends mostly on one’s nature, what is going on at the time and what they have learned so far.
What delights one person can scare another and while there is a reason it is not always know what it is or to change it, if that is needed. When I was a child I dealt with both, though I often dealt poorly with the negative stuff, whether it be at home, when out with my friends or at school. It can be overwhelming to deal with such things and can paralyze us with fear or have us reacting in other ways.
All of us were once children, and while we may have moved on from the challenges of youth to those of an adult many retain “scars” from those early years. Adults often forget how hard it can be for a child because the years have insulted them from much of the pain and discomforts they may have experienced. We may remember them but the strength of our emotional reactions have often been dulled or modified over the years or they lie buried only to surface under the “right” circumstances.
It is easy for parents to overlook this and to make light of a situation that for a child is, for example, frightening. Such experiences consume most of a child’s attention at the time. For instance, I remember my father explaining to me how he dealt with bullies but he was much bigger than I and when he was a child the world and the attitudes of people were very different. As a result, his advice simply did not work. In fact, instead of helping me, it added to my woes.
Why did it add to my woes? It added to them because where he sounded like he was confident as a child, and able to deal with what seemed a similar situation, by comparison I felt incapable, weak and unworthy. In one situation, when I defended myself after a period of prolonged aggression from a boy, and got in a fight with him I was chastised for it. When I voiced my uncertainty he made statements that made it worse. By his estimation I should have been able to deal with it; however, my method wasn’t his and by not being able to do so “properly” felt judged as “less than”. And not just by him, I also judged myself that way.
A child and the situations they face can vary so much that there are no easy answers to the challenges. When I was a kid everything made sense and nothing did. Seemed to me that all I could be sure about was the physical aspect of the world, the thoughts in my head and what I “felt”. Parts of life were glorious and others a chaotic blur. When I didn’t do well the main reason was not that I was incapable of understanding or doing better, I was a very bright child, I just did not know how and had very strong energies no one seemed able to help me deal with. They were good when it helped me to understand concepts way beyond my years or answer questions without “doing the work” and in some cases much prior knowledge on the topic. It was bad when my poorly programmed mind couldn’t quite connect with itself and I experienced energies, ones I had no way to deal with. I would describe them as similar to feedback from a microphone.
That was part of it. The other was that everything seemed so clear when my parents explained it to me, so long as they were doing so in a calm and loving manner. I may not have liked it or agreed with it, I just tended to react less in those circumstances. However, such was not always the case. Once their emotions got tossed into the mix separating what I felt from them from what was said became a problem. If the circumstance were “right” and the energies got too strong I would end up throwing a tantrum. There were also times when though I couldn’t clear the energies I could keep from going to far. When I didn’t it was because I justified it to myself, not that I would have been thinking clearly at the time.
I felt powerless and wanted, needed and demanded to be heard. Of course I tended to do this around mom, though not exclusively, as dad would have made me pay dearly for it and I wanted to look as “bad” in his eyes as little as possible. Although when he was also angry the effect was compounded. With mom, being more overtly loving, nurturing and forgiving I was less concerned about losing her love over my loss of control. This showed that I could prevent certain reactions under the right circumstances; of course I did not clue into this fact at the time.
Over the years, while I worked on my own mind, I considered at length why I was unable to deal with such situations back then. Besides the obvious of not reacting the way I had done, I asked myself such questions as “What could I have done differently?” or “What knowledge or skill would have helped me at the time?” and the fundamental one of “Why did I react the way I did?”
I never did come up with a succinct answer; I just kept working on a number of areas and over time shifted considerably. As a result, when I looked back it was abundantly clear that there was no one thing that I could have done or knowledge or skill I could have possessed that would have changed my actions.
Despite the complexity of my web of issues, my problems stemmed from two simple things. Simplification can be helpful as this way we can focus our efforts. The two things were the way my mind had already developed based on the awareness I was born with and the experiences I’d had (my baggage) and second, a lack of awareness of what I consider basic skills, namely:
- Active and positive sense of self and the ability to acknowledge what I was feeling
- Accept the “reality of the moment”
- Staying grounded so that excess energy does not build up
- Some reasoning skills to “properly” consider what is going on
- Active sense of the choices I made or was making and why
- Ability to calm myself so as to be able to think clearly
The above list may seem like too much for a child or even a young adult to grasp, I can assure you it is not. Children are capable of far more that we imagine, mostly because we have spent forever hampering them. I provide a list because it is impossible to examine all the different possible issues we have as children. Further, it is provided for parents in that these are some of the best and most helpful skills a child can develop. They are unlikely to occur if parents do not make it important. Of course how you “teach” such things varies depending on the age of the child, but aspects of each can be taught from early on.
Now, I can say all of this and it seems reasonable and easy to follow; however, life is complicated and at times tough. Physical hardship or the passing of loved ones aside, it is of no consolation that most of the challenges are our own doing, however, it is a fact we should accept.
Children have issues, and so do parents. Being a firm believer in that we are born when, where and whom we are for a reason it is not valid to blame my parents for whatever ills I may believe they imposed upon me. I say this not to remove responsibility from either the parent or the child, only to say that regardless of who is responsible both have to live with the consequences. We can still choose to lay blame; however, all we do is lock up the energies, create poor mental programming and give away our power. I will not go into this topic here as I covered it fairly extensively in “Time To Weigh Anchor” (1) where I stated:
“Make no mistake, some of the fundamental reasons people react with guilt and blame are the mistaken belief that we have no control over the experiences we have, the notion that our lives are “ours” and should go as we’d like or believe they should and taking on possessiveness of things and desires such as to be liked, valued, and befriended and so on. We do this even though this is simply part of the illusion and is of no benefit to us outside of being lessons we need to learn.
We are not victims, though many will continue to suggest otherwise, we are the architects. The fact that we do not appear to control our experiences consciously, is neither here nor there. All that happens to us is the result of past experiences: actions and reactions cascading down through the years. It is they that lead us to have the experiences we are having now.”
Parents also have the children they do for a reason; it is part of their dance of enlightenment. Parents teach their children and children teach their parents. For the parent, when they get angry over an action by their child they need to acknowledge that the anger is of their own making. One cannot make another angry; one can only give them the opportunity to act in accordance with their nature. In this case, resolving the anger issues is the parents challenge or lesson.
The anger is the parents to notice, examine, understand and resolve. By not doing this the parent teaches the child among other things that under the right circumstances, blaming others for what bothers us is perfectly acceptable even the right thing to do. The child will mirror this behaviour in some way, shape or form. The only difference is that the child’s mind will create, based on its interpretation of the experience and history, its own set of circumstances under which such behaviour would be acceptable. When such circumstances occur the child will then use those with its parents and others, often to the chagrin of whomever they are doing this with.
Our minds develop fairly quickly as we begin to speak before our second birthday, albeit mostly gibberish from an adults perspective, and gradually begin to extend this to short 2 to 3 word sentences by the time we are three. It is during these first three years that many of the issues we have begin to form. The child is beginning to create the foundation elements of their mental house, the fabric of it so to speak. Adults use their mental house more, children are building theirs so they cannot use it to any significant degree it until they are older and start to develop thoughts upon this foundation.
While it is always important for parents to always be unconditional and supportive of their children, repeated emotional reactions to similar circumstances can have a significantly affect on the child’s developing mind. What is important for parents to focus on is to not react with strong emotions to their children’s actions, not blame the child for things as they hardly know better at that age. You may want to justify negative or emotional reactions to a child’s actions based on what they did, but that is simply an excuse. It can take a great deal of patience with some children, but that is part of the responsibility of being a parent. If you do not have that kind of patience then your child will learn this trait and others like it from you. If it is reinforced it will be built into their mental house and affect their thinking processes.
Over the years many parents have told me that they believe their child can properly associate their reactions and the various energies they perceive with what they did, but this is unlikely until a child is much older. To do so requires sufficient grasp of what precisely what is deemed “good or bad”. There is no way to know what thoughts the child was having at the time, hence it is more likely the child will associate whatever thoughts it was having about what it was trying to do with the anger than the actions it was doing. Of course, if a parent repeatedly does this the child will eventually make a better connection, but the child will also integrate the experiences improperly, it will perceive itself as being blamed, of being guilty of something or it may have thoughts of shame, resentment and so forth.
For instance, if the child is trying to be creative and makes a mess doing so, for which a parent yells at them, they are as likely to associate the perceived anger as being directed at their trying to be creative as for the mess. The bottom line is that no matter how well intended the parents reaction might have been (such as to stop a “bad” behaviour) such ways of disciplining a child are not the way to help it develop a clear thinking mind. Parents should not feel guilty for this as doing so is also counterproductive to them and the child. It is what it is; I only say this as a way of explaining how our issues develop.
I would daresay that while one can reduce the number of issues they pass on to their child it is likely impossible to raise a child without some no matter how well they raise their child. This is because the child has its own lessons to learn and the parent has no control over how their children will react and integrate their experiences. Given this is the case, are there other things their parents can do to help their child even during this early stage? The answer is certainly yes and there are many ways to do it.
In the essay The Guiding Hand (2) I stated:
“If we want to raise children in a way that affords them the best opportunity to be clear minded, positive and loving then we need to consider what affects their initial development, how it is influenced and the role we play in either helping or hindering them. Naturally the age of children affects how we guide and assist them. Younger children have not developed their minds sufficiently to communicate with verbally and older will have already challenges to deal with due to whatever poor programming they have already taken on.
In considering what we should be doing to help children develop we need to consider the four main aspects of self. These aspects are:
We base the skills we want to teach our children, above and beyond the normal teachings, on the list I presented earlier and the four main aspects above. We can lay the foundation for these skills even before they begin to speak for though a child may not be conscious of or understand what is going on it still is creating thoughts and its mind tries to mirror the behaviours it observes and that of the thoughts it “receives”. Further, a child learns from how their parents react to various circumstances, even one’s that have nothing to do with them. Again, one cannot say what the child will learn, but it is far more likely to be positive and beneficial if the parents are acting in this fashion themselves.
We must facilitate children’s development by providing as loving, full and rich a childhood as possible and I do not mean rich in terms of money, I mean rich in terms of experiences and opportunities to learn and grow. For instance, many parents play music to their child, talk to them and so on before they are born and even before they can speak; they could also spend time meditating with their child, do basic breathing exercises with them (the child will mirror the actions) and oddly enough, be active mentally around them. Thoughts are energy and energy is not still, it radiates and while the child is not aware of it they are exposed to the adult’s thoughts of calmness, balance and so on. This can certainly have a positive effect on them.
The reality is if you are thoroughly engaged in one of the four areas you are likely using more of them. For example, take someone learning a musical instrument. They train their bodies physically in order to play the instrument be it using fingers on a guitar, arms and legs on the drums, fingers and arms on the violin or the mouth and lungs on a saxophone. Yet you cannot play the instrument properly unless you engage your spirit and train the mind that guides the actions of the body to play what is within. This in turn brings out emotional energies and they may feel appreciation, strength, courage or joy and so on.
Another example is being outdoors and doing more than walking and chatting. The child does not have the same degree of separation from nature as adults do; their egos are not so strongly developed so as to cut them off. Take a child out into the woods and explore with them. By doing this you engage all four aspects in a way that is positive and highly beneficial. Bring a book of plants or birds or whatever the child is most interested in and discover together. This should start at a very early age, more passively when they are really young then more actively as they get older. The challenge for adults is to find the passion to do so themselves. A tip, observe the passion in your child and empathize with it.
“If you want to reconnect to newness in the moment one of the ways to do this is to observe a child under three playing. Do not concern yourself with what they are doing, try to feel their energy. Imagine you are them, doing the kinds of things they are doing, the sheer joy of discovery almost every single moment. Watch as the try to define their world for the first time. All they have to do is see something from a different angle and it becomes an entirely new thing!” (3)
In addition, when working with children it is important to remember that they have short attention spans, the younger they are the shorter it is. We need to be mindful that they can easily get sidetracked when teaching or getting them to do something. . It does not mean you cannot try to encourage or “push” them to go beyond their previous limits for this is also of benefit, it means that if you push them beyond their capacity the lesson you are trying to teach can be lost or completely overshadowed by their reaction to being pushed. If you are attentive to their needs and not your own agenda you should be able to notice when this happens. Do not try to rationalize it, feel it and accept what your intuition is telling you about their state of mind.
We would like our children to grow up with as few poor mental programs as possible. We facilitate when we give them a safe environment, and not just physically. Where they can speak freely and do not feel they will be judged for it. If they knew better they would have done better, so when a child has a problem our focus needs to be on helping them to resolve it. By “it” I mean both the consequences of whatever is going on, trying to help them resolve the problem and supporting them mentally and emotionally. To do so we must be able to be objective and honest.
So, how do we teach these basic skills to our children? First of all we try to emulate them ourselves. We cannot expect a child to follow what we say if we do not follow it ourselves. They may, though it is far likelier that they will develop their own issues than to follow what we tell them. I also listed some ideas about what will help children develop and grow in ways that will benefit them throughout the course of their lives. This list (below) is also from the essay The Guiding Hand (2):
Children’s Development Skills
- Ways to help them understand their developing mind and emotional self
- Ways to consider and think about what is perceived and experienced
- Helping them to develop better reasoning and thinking skills
- Suggestions on noticing and managing their reactions
- Fostering their natural and unbridled curiosity and imagination
- Some simple exercises to help develop needed skills in:
- Energy management
Any child who has the above skills or awareness’s will almost certainly do better and enjoy life more fully than those who do not. We will look at each of these in turn, though since this list is not in any specific order I will start with one that I feel is among the most important in the list, helping children with their reasoning skills and encouraging them to put them to use.
Helping Children Develop Their Reasoning Skills
In many compositions I have spoken about the importance of two skills that have an enormous impact on how our minds develop and function. I am speaking about our learning to not be superficial in our observations or coming to erroneous conclusions. These are skills we can begin to foster in children at a very young age though they require the person doing the teaching to understand them as well. Unfortunately we do not teach critical thinking, reasoning or logical deduction in our schools to any significant level so most adults struggle with this as well.
Some common examples of poor “thinking processes” would be:
- Basing conclusions about an experience on quick or incomplete observations of ALL that is going on
- Assuming correlation means causation
- Assuming something is true simply because it hasn't been proven false
- Assuming that something is false simply because a proof or argument that someone has offered for it is invalid
- Trying to prove something by saying it again and again
- Attempting to prove something by showing how many people think that it's true.
- Trying to prove something by showing that the public agrees with you.
- Trying to demonstrate the truth of a proposition by citing some person who agrees, even though that person may have no expertise in the given area
- Use of circular arguments such as when someone uses what they are trying to prove as part of the proof of their premise.
- Making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case -- in other words, inappropriate generalizations and stereotyping
- Stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises.
- Assuming that A caused B simply because A happened prior to B
- Red herring arguments which is introducing irrelevant facts or arguments to distract from the question at hand
- Refuting a caricatured or extreme version of somebody's argument, rather than the actual argument they've made
- Defending an error in one's reasoning by pointing out that one's opponent has made the same error
I cannot count the times that people have used the above fallacious arguments to defend their beliefs or opinions or to make a statement about something. When trying to discuss their statements they often switched to another variety of poor reasoning. The main reason they do is because they were never taught how to think and reason properly nor have they bothered to educate themselves on even the basic logical fallacies. Politicians use fallacious arguments frequently and because people lack an understanding of logical reasoning to see through them they accept what is said.
How do we do this? We read and practice, it is that simple. There is a wealth of resources on the net in the area of logical reasoning skills and deductive reasoning that will help both parent and child understanding good reasoning, to be able to notice fallacies, which will also lead to better observational skills. It does take some effort but the results will be well worth it.
We should all work on our reasoning skills as not doing so hampers the development of our awareness. I know it might seem counter intuitive, yet it is not. The more we use the examples in the list the more powerful our ego becomes and it weakens and clouds the mind. As a result, when people do this with children, they are leading them further away from themselves by helping to embed the same types of false reasoning processes in their minds. A simple example of this would be to believe that someone thinks a certain way because of how we interpret their actions towards us or their words about us. The fact is that while we could be correct we simply cannot determine what they think of us from either of these.
Certainly we can make assumptions about what they think and may have to factor that into any decisions we make where they are involved; however, that does not mean we are correct and in fact, we should always assume we could be wrong. Despite what many think there is a big difference between thinking we know exactly how someone feels about us no matter how self-evident it might appear as opposed to thinking they might feel a certain way about us but we simply are not sure enough to assume it to be absolutely true. To illustrate this, say someone is having a bad day when we encounter them. We could be nice and polite yet they react by harassing us or by taking out their frustrations on us yet they are just not good at managing their reactions. They actually are not mad at us; we are just in the right place at the wrong time. Now, we could assume that they do not like us and push back but we would be wrong to do so.
I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to think clearly, logically and rationally. By this I do not mean we ignore intuitions and do everything logically, just that we avoid building our minds on ideas that are not valid. When we leave room for possibilities we have not considered our minds stay more fluid and flexible and do not become rigid and “immovable”.
The ability to think clearly and logically helps the mind to develop with greater consistency, surety and confidence. This will lead to their taking on less false notions about things, give their minds a solid foundation through which to view the world and with will help them see things more as they are rather than how we might like or imagine things to be. That said, this is the mind side of the equation and we are more than flesh and bone led by a brain. Yes, reasoning is important; however, it is only part of the equation. In general we need to consider children’s physical, emotion, mental and spiritual well being. And we need to consider them holistically for they are highly connected, and affect each other. The affectation is primarily from the spiritual down towards the physical, though the influence goes both ways.
We have all watched children play and have smiled and felt heart warming joy as we observe them diving from one new experience into another. If we do this without getting caught up in what they are doing and why we find ourselves marvelling at how they do so with unbridled passion. Each and every child has their own unique way of going about their exploration of the wondrous world they find themselves in. They do so without concern for due dates and deadlines, without the weight of responsibility and duty or concerned for appearances, until we teach them otherwise.
A child’s ability to learn and grow is unmatched which is why childhood is the time of our greatest discoveries. Everything is new, everything is interesting and everything is to be explored. The greatest gift a parent can bestow upon their children is to allow them this freedom and to guide them through this stage with as few restrictions as possible. Certainly we must be mindful that what they do does not bring them harm or at least as little as possible, but we must do so without instilling our fears into them. Fear is a mind killer, it puts walls around us, it restricts us and it prevents us from exploring the world around us freely and without prejudice. When we do this to our children we are setting them up for a life of restrictions, limits, walls and barriers
One of the goals of all this is to help children avoid the pitfalls I refer to so they grow into well balanced adults who retain the gifts of childhood, ones most of us lose as we grow up. The skills I referred to earlier are an essential ingredient in helping them do so. We will continue our exploration of how to help our children develop the skills I have referred to in the next parts of this series.
End of Part 2
==> Continue to Part 2: Becoming
© 2012 Allan Beveridge
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