What do you really want for your children? If asked this question I bet you say something along the lines of ”I want them to be happy, to be self-confident or successful.”
How do you think they will become this way? How will they learn what happiness is, what it means to be self-confident or what success looks like?
What have we learnt about how we define those characteristics?
We learn them from our outside influencers, our teachers and our repetitive environment, primarily during the ages of zero to seven.
In this program we have really only been concentrating on you, your emotions, your thinking and how you can change your thinking. It’s all been about you.
But what about my children, you might say? How can I help them not to repeat the same mistakes that I have, or how can I stop them from going through stress, depression and anxiety like I have?
The continuation of your own personal development. You will teach your children correct beliefs about self-worth, self-confidence, success and happiness from their experience of you.
By living the lessons that you have learnt from this program and seeking out information that will teach you even more about yourself and how to live in a more peacefully accepting way without holding onto fear, resentment, self-criticisms, judgements, conflict with reality and an inability to forgive, you will show them how to be within themselves.
If you are simply preaching to them the very things that you are not doing in your own life, somehow they pick up on these inconsistencies and end up learning a lot of the traits about yourself that you are avoiding.
The learn through experience They will learn from how you speak, how you react to situations, how you handle challenges in your life, by the words you mean (not just from the words you say) and from their perception of life.
Of course they aren’t just learning off you, they are also learning off many other people that come into their lives and leave a mark, but you are a primary influence in your child’s life, particularly between those ages of zero to seven. During this time, this is where they are growing the neural connections in their brain that are likely to take them through the rest of their life, unless they are consciously and deliberately changed over time, just like you are doing now.
It is crucial that you continue to improve your own mindset, not just for your own sanity and overall happiness, but so that your child has a chance to break the depression/stress cycle and live a happier existence too with a correct understanding of life.
There is so much power in what you have learnt over the last few weeks because you also have the tools to be able to become aware of your child’s thinking and perceptions of life.
If you notice them talking about how life has gone wrong, how they are missing out and holding onto what has happened in the past, believing that they should have or could have done something differently, or that someone else should have done something differently, find out what the self-worth component is.
What do they believe it means about them now that they have experienced this new unwanted situation? What is their perception of their life now that it is not what they wanted or what they expected?
Use the reality thinking model to help them to get a better, more realistic understanding of life. Help them to find the hidden good in the bad. Help them to learn to be grateful and appreciative for things that they have in their life.
Recently I found my five and six year old to be whingeing a lot about their lives. ”I hate this day” was too often coming out of my son’s mouth whenever life didn’t meet his expectations.
The whinging was highlighting to me their ignorance over what they have as opposed to what other children their age have in less fortunate countries.
I knew it wasn’t their fault, because you only ever know what you know at any given moment and my children could not know what it was like to live any other way than what they had been living. They had their Nintendo Wii games, their warm house, clothes, food, water, toys, bikes and anything else western children in a middle class society would have. How could they know that they should appreciate what they have?
So I decided that they should get an experiential understanding of how to appreciate their lives, by holding what I called a “Live like an African child’ day.
We started by looking at some photos of how African children live. We then put on some old clothes and went out onto our back deck. It was winter, so we were very cold, but we had one doona (with no cover) to wrap around the three of us, and we rolled out yoga matts on the floor as our pretend bed.
The rules were that we had to fill up an old milk carton full of water from the outside tap as our water for the day and the only food we were allowed to eat was dry wholemeal bread, apples and oranges. I explained that even that was more food than an African child would eat. I allowed them this however, as I do believe for their age, there needed to be limits on how far I took this ‘re-enactment’.
We had no toys, no computer games, no TV and no bikes to ride. All we had was each other and our imagination.
The final rule was that everytime we missed something that we would normally have in our lives, we would write it down on a big cardboard sheet we had. At the end of the day we had a long list of all the things we appreciate in our lives.
It was a challenging day for all of us, with several meltdowns from my six year old who said ”I don’t want to do this day anymore” to which I replied, “Do you think South African children want to live like this? You have it pretty lucky don’t you mate?”
By the end of the day I interviewed the boys and asked them what they’d learnt from the day. Both of them said that they’d learnt to be grateful for their lives. When I asked them what they were going to do as soon as we went back inside, they both shouted , “GET WARM FOOD AND WARM DRINKS!” Their lesson was learned.
Weeks on from this little exercise and they are still talking about South African children and how they are lucky for some of the things they have in their life. To the point where my five year old randomly went up to thank his daddy for the Harry Potter product he’d bought him with the local newspaper, after he’d been reminded by his older brother (the very resistant six year old) that he was very lucky that Daddy had done that for him.
The point to this story is to illustrate that your children only ever know what they know as a result of the environment that they are exposed to.
If you expose your children to an environment where they are taught to accept life however it unfolds and to find the value in those events, and you do this both by example and through using their life to teach them that, then this is the neural connections that they will grow in their brains and will be what becomes their habitual thinking.
But it all starts with you. You can’t teach what you do not know for yourself, so you must continue to practice and grow in your understanding of the realities of life, so that you are armed with the correct information to pass onto your children.
Be mindful though:
You cannot control how your child perceives life
Your child will be exposed to not only your influence but many other people along the way, who also hold different beliefs and perceptions on life that your child will experience. They will adopt other beliefs about life that do not align with your way of thinking, reagardless of whether you are teaching them reality based thinking or thinking in conflict with reality.
There will be value in this too. Whatever experiences they get in their life they will be adding to their development and to the unfolding of their unique journey through life. They will, regardless of your input experience ups and downs in life and that is NOT a bad thing.
In order to help our children to flourish and live a happy and free existence, we must let them experience the world full with all the lessons they are supposed to learn in their life. We cannot control how life unfolds and will not be able to control our child’s life either.
All we can do is be aware of our child’s choice of words and take notice of the perceptions of life that they hold as they experience their life and help them to correct their thinking where possible and where they permit us to. Because, as you know, you can sometimes talk until you’re blue in the face, but they will only listen when they are ready to listen.
Sometimes they will have to learn their lessons the hard way. It’s kind of like telling someone not to put their hand in the fire. If they don’t listen, they will put their hand in the fire anyway and will experientially learn their lesson.
Just like the experiential lesson of my ‘live like an African child day’, no amount of telling them that they had a fortunate life was going to teach them to appreciate their life. It took experiencing that lesson for them to get a real understanding.
This happens in life for all of us, so don’t try to stop it happening with your children all the time. I don’t mean neglecting them, abusing, them or not protecting them from obvious harm, I just mean to allow them to make some mistakes, and then guide them to appreciate the experience by teaching them to find the value in it.
If you do this, then you will arm them with vital tools to take on their journey through life.
Being a parent is not about being the perfect mother who never stuffs up, never makes a wrong decision and who devotes her life only to her children.
Children need to learn that parents are human and just like them. We are continually growing and learning too. Just because we know more about the basics of living than our children, it doesn’t mean we are better.
Sometimes our children are better at some other things than us (like being in the moment, having fun, not concerning themselves with the small insignificant stuff).
So don’t be afraid to admit that you are wrong, that you are sorry, that you made a mistake, because this will make it okay for them to feel that they can do these things too.
We are nowhere near better or more superior than our children, we’ve just been around a lot longer, which means we have experiential awareness of things that they don’t have.
I believe it is not our job to get our children to obey us, ‘do what they are told’ all the time, get straight A’s, or please their parents. After all, do we tick all these boxes? Are we the perfect people that we are trying to get our kids to be?
Instead, I believe it is our job to guide them, teach them to understand life, to love them for who they are and for the person they are trying to become and teach self-worth in a society that is determined to attach worth to the achievement of getting life right.
In order to be the kind of parent who has children with a healthy sense of who they are, and who believe in themselves and are happy and confident, we do a full circle back to you.
When you apply this mindset to yourself and expect for them what you expect for you, respect them the way you want to be respected and love yourself the way that you want them to love themselves, then you will have done everything in your power to provide them with exactly what they need to live the life you want them to…and the life that they will ultimately want to live.