We are all born knowing who we are and what we want and need. However, by the time we become adults, many of us have been conditioned by our well-meaning parents to stop listening to our own inner voice of knowing and wisdom that we are all born with.
Parents and teachers and caregivers have told us countless times to "Stop doing that!" and "Don't say that...you don't really feel that way!" and "Don't touch that!" and "Put your sweater back on...it's cold!" and "Stop being foolish, we can't _____ (go there, do that, have that, be that)" and "Don't be rude!" and "Tell her you're sorry right now!" and "I don't care what you're doing right now...I told you to _____ (set the table, brush your teeth, get dressed, do your homework, etc.)"
If we did what the parent told us to do (or stopped doing what they told us not to do), we pleased them. If we didn't listen, however, we experienced what felt to us like a drop in their love for us. And, because their acceptance, affection, and love was crucially important to us, we learned to stop listening to our own inner voice and drive. Or, we learned to be sneaky so we could continue to feel accepted by those all-important people AND honor our own wants, needs, desires, and preferences. But, the cost for doing that was a hit to our own self-esteem, worthiness, and feelings of being lovable.
So...I invite you to resolve to be different, to resolve to use your vast skills, experience and power to take your small child and their wants, needs, and desires seriously, allowing them to hear their own inner voice and make friends with it.
That doesn't necessarily have to come at the expense of what you want and need...you can find ways to accommodate both your needs AND your kids' desires. I'm not saying that it will always be easy; however, the effort WILL always be worth it!
You can ask yourself the following questions:
- Is this really as urgent as I think it is? (So what if we're 5 minutes late? Can I call ahead? How can I be more relaxed about this thing? Am I more worried about what other people will think of me than I am concerned about taking this child seriously?)
- Am I saying "no" for a "good" reason or a "bad" reason? (Do I seek to control just for the sake of being in control?)
- How can I turn this "no" into a "yes"? (Instead of "No, you cannot have a cookie now; we'll be eating dinner in a half hour," you can say "MMmmmmmm cookies! Yes...Let's have cookies for dessert!" or "No we cannot go to the playground now...can't you see I'm busy?" you can say "That's a GREAT idea! Let's go as soon as I finish this task...." or "NO! Don't touch that!!" you can say "Oooohhh fragile! Here, baby! This is for you..." and hand them something they CAN touch.)
- What might be a good compromise? (Inviting collaboration may help parents and kids discover that kids sometimes see things from a different enough perspective to be able to offer a solution parents didn't even think of! In order for collaboration to work best, it is important that BOTH parties fully understand the needs, desires, opinions, and preferences of BOTH parties, so attentive and full listening is a crucial first step.)
- How would I have liked my parents to help me with this when I was a kid? What would I have liked to have heard? (Take some reflection time to go back over some of the experiences you recall having as a child and see if you can revise your parents' reactions. As you do this exercise, know that your parents were doing the best they could, given their conditioning as little kids...this isn't about blaming or criticizing...this is about using your creative vision to heal your past and create a great experience for yourself NOW and your children.)
The next time your little one is doing something you wish they weren't doing, rather than telling them to stop, you could try to see that thing through their eyes and from their perspective. What's so attractive to them? What need or want do you think the child is trying to meet? How can they meet that need or want in a way that works for you?
The next time your little one asks for something that seems impossible to you, rather than telling them "no," you could try to learn more about their vision. Ask them questions about it as though you were talking to a friend or a neighbor and it didn't involve you at all. Listen as though you were interested in it and wanted to learn more. Listening to a child and taking them seriously could help them flesh out their vision...it could be a life's passion unfolding right before your eyes! In so doing, you may be able to find a way to get your child onto the path that will lead them to an amazing future!
Most of all...remember that kids do what we do, not what we tell them to do...so when we take our kids seriously, they will come to take themselves seriously!