[Compassionate Parenting Creates Peace and Prosperity]
by Scott Swain
First, what is the problem?
"Stop crying. Calm down. Knock it off. You're fine. There's nothing wrong with you. Be quiet. Shut your mouth and do what I told you to do. You'll get over it." Or distractions like "Look at this. Eat this. I'll give you this. If you are good, you can have a treat!"
These are examples of common (and accepted by the majority/mainstream) ways people (parents, teachers, etc.) speak to children in our culture. Can you think of any worse way to teach our children to distrust their own feelings as well as increasing their fear of sharing with us?
Remember, these experiences teach kids how to deal with other people, so the odds are high these are the kind of responses your child will later give others when those others are struggling to express "unacceptable" emotions or needs.
"But if I give in to every one of my child's whims, where is the responsibility?"
Acknowledgingneeds is not the same as acting to fulfill those needs. When there is a conflict, sometimes all a parent needs to do is convey to the child their needs are known and respected, and perhaps convey regret that the parent is choosing to put other needs first.
The following short animated skit shows a parent doing this:
All of this usually comes from a sincere desire on the parent's part to minimize their child's suffering. For most of us, it hurts to see another person in pain, especially our children. So it is much easier to overlook the long term damage that occurs when we choose the short term fixes that ignore a child's needs to be heard, understood, accepted, and respected. Especially when those short term fixes seem cheaper in terms of time and energy expenditure because the quick command requires little time or thinking and we might see an immediate payoff, assuming the child does not immediately rebel. But whether we get the short term results we want or not, the long term price is high.
Other examples, perhaps more controversial:
"Share your toys! Come here! Eat your spinach! Go to school now! Say you are sorry! Go to your room! Go to sleep!"
Sure, parents "have to" put their foot down for some things in order to keep their kids safe but I think way too often parents don't stop and ask themselves, "Do I really need to force my kid to do this thing? What is the price and what is the worst that could happen if I just allow the kid to make his own choice in this situation? What lesson will he/she learn that will serve him/her later in life?" I like to think that a child who has their needs and boundaries recognized and respected will grow up to be a person who (a) knows how to clearly speak their needs and boundaries; and (b) knows how to recognize and respect the needs and boundaries of others.
When I ask "What is the price...?" above, I mean every time you yell at your kid in that tone to make it clear they are going to do this thing against their will or you will make them do it or make them "wish they had" - every time that happens - there is a kernel of resentment that lodges somewhere inside that child. And you are teaching them that it is OK to force another person to do things against their will (if you are "authority" or if you are bigger or you think you are smarter). This is not teaching them responsibility. This is not allowing them a chance to make mistakes and learn consequences. Especially when the consequences you impose (punishment) have no relation to the "terrible thing" the child did or didn't do. For example, how does taking away video games apply to the child not being hungry when you want them to eat or sleepy when you want them to sleep?
One of humanity's greatest strengths is our adaptability. We mimic the behavior we see around us. Our children grow up watching adults speak toward each other with blame, shame, guilt, evaluation, and demands. Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes not so subtle but all of it is violence because it is the practice of forcing other people to do things against their will; consistently showing children that it is OK for one person's agenda to be grounds for ignoring and/or violating the needs of others.
So we are surprised when one out of a hundred thousand decides it's OK to pick up a gun and kill people with it? Or even that people think it is OK to make war or steal from other people as long as the cause is righteous?
What is the solution?
STOP IGNORING YOUR CHILDREN'S NEEDS AND VIOLATING THEIR BODY/PROPERTY! See video on the top/right.
I know it sounds crazy. But seriously. Stop it. There are other ways! Many of them are gaining in popularity. One I discovered around 2006 is called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It isn't kid-specific, either. It's a methodology that fine tunes your mind to think more about your needs and the needs of others. Think of it as weight lifting for your empathy muscles. It's also a tool for practicing speaking in a way that creates connections deeper than the surfacey and manipulative language that infests most communication today.
A related tool I recently discovered that is very child specific is called Conscious Discipline. It springs from the same principles of non-coercion; the idea that any time we force a person to do something, we create more problems than solutions. Duh! If you really want to change the world for the better, or even just your life (which changes the world), then instead of wishful thinking about shirking responsibilities and promises, how about committing to something that is truly "good" at its deepest level? If you haven't read the book Nonviolent Communication, give it a try. I can almost guarantee you that you will not regret it. There are many benefits, including:
- When children are raised with recognition of and respect for their needs, they grow up respecting themselves and others.
- When children grow up hearing and using a language of compassion, they better understand and speak their own needs and the needs of others.
- When children grow up hearing and using a language of responsibility, they act responsibly as adults.
It is my belief that children raised in this manner will have a vast reservoir of strength coming from within. People with this kind of strength need not look to others for validation or power.
Imagine a future generation of compassionate adults who will truly get their own needs and the needs of others; who deeply understand the relationship between responsibility and power. How does this not lead to peace and prosperity?