We need more references and contexts to help our children understand who they are, why they feel and think the ways they do, why there’s no need to pidgeon-hole others who are different, and how we all fit into the grand design of life. But first, we need to remember and get back into these contexts of living ourselves.
We need to more deeply understand, practice and teach the Continuum of Being – of being in the world and of the world in a just way.
Traditionally, we know that the wise goal of “being in the world but not of it” means that while we live in our bodies on this planet we refrain from over-identifying with material things, often displayed outwardly by attachment to appearances, to things, to over-consumption, to the monopolization of goods and services, etc. This material identification takes us away from our real selves – our true essence, and therefore away from a broad holistic context of how we can relate to the whole of the world. The absolute magic of amending this is the parallel process of connecting more deeply to ourselves as we act on the recognized interconnectedness that life is.
I think we can change the context of being both in the world and of it by acting on the growing remembering that everything and everyone is connected and interdependent for our survival and thriving. In other words, the less we identify with the more material, finite things of life and instead focus on what is truly meaningful and globally sustainable, the more we can be both in the world and “of it”.
The mistake many of us have made in perceiving ourselves as a person in the world is one of language and its meaning: If we see ourselves living on Earth, on a continuum, the word “on” may suggest even unconsciously that skipping along through life taking from Nature is the way it’s supposed to be. Yet when we perceive ourselves living within the continuum of being, it feels different, doesn’t it? It smacks of belonging and of personal responsibility.
Of course you don’t live on a family, you live within a family to whom you have a responsibility as a member.
We are related to Nature and responsible for Her.
We don’t survive because of Nature, we survive because we give back to Her what she needs to sustain us.
One of the best foundational ways we can help our children is to remember that we live within a continuum of being, and in two major contexts: the first is as individuals interacting with and responding to the local relational and environmental subsets of life that are our day-to-day experiences, and the second is as the human race perceiving, responding to, and interacting with the larger forces of Nature, making up our collective whole here, in anticipated harmony.
Our relationships inform our future. How we think about our relationships is the Key to whether our future holds gloom or magic.
As a teacher in a room full of teachers, I have a choice of how I think about me. About them. About us. If I am coming from a place of fear about my ability to support myself amidst all of these teachers teaching essentially similar content to essentially the same group, I may likely think and act competitively. Similarly, if I am coming from a place of insecurity for not knowing what I believe to be “enough” as I compare myself to others, I get defensive and see others as a threat. My ego becomes inflated. This only leads to competitive thoughts and feelings, and even anger.
If I instead choose to think about and appreciate the diversity of teachers and how they relay their helpful messages, I’m feeling more certainty and gladness that the mass variety of listeners/students/readers – with their different learning and communication styles – will be reached, receiving the best messages for them at a given time from the teacher with whom they most resonate. This produces the greater good overall, for all listeners/students/readers and for all teachers. Here there is no need for competition.
There’s another important point about the relationship of teacher and student: When are we ever one and not the other? When am I not learning as I assist a client or family in my practice? When I teach? When am I not a student of any person or circumstance or day?
Also, when I feel overwhelmed as I learn hard lessons and feel ashamed about the “wrong” things I have done, or because I know so little compared to others from whom I am learning, I realize that for all the lessons and healings I receive, I am simultaneously teaching the teacher, and healing the healer. This happens to everyone. This is Life. This realization of our shared human condition can normalize these feelings and ameliorate the embarrassment and shame that is rearing its head in order to be acknowledged, compassionately addressed, and freed.
Maria had wanted a freer teenage life than her parents had, and had allowed her to have. When Maria rebelled and hung out with other rebellious kids her age, her parents used harsh threatening and punative measures to scare her into following their rules. This deeply scarred Maria, who never forgot how it felt to be fourteen.
Her underdeveloped social-emotional and critical thinking experiences by this age caused Maria to experience an arrested development: she continued to see the world through the eyes of her fourteen year old self – a world that was unfair and withholding, even until and throughout the time she raised her own children. As they grew up, she could not see past this lens of parenting from a position of remembering her own desire to be friends with her parents, and of not getting what she felt she deserved. So, Maria parented as a friend who felt guilty when her children begged her to go here and there, to have this gadget and that outfit, and stay out until this time, and go clubbing at this age, etc. Maria parented from a place of her own fourteen year old needs not being met and not being understood by her adult self, and therefore, out of a place of the wrong kind of guilt.
Maria felt guilty that the kids didn’t have every thing they asked for. Maria felt guilty that she and their father divorced. Maria felt guilty that her children witnessed their mom being treated poorly by a man in a subsequent relationship. Maria felt guilty that she was, in her eyes, such a bad parent. So she made up for this guilt by letting her children walk all over her. Maria set limits all the time, but never followed through on them by making sure the consequences she issued were really made to happen. Maria let her frustrations build up without addressing them for fear her children would hate her. This frustration would build up until she screamed at them, sometimes cursing and calling them names. Later, she bought them things and let them do whatever they wanted to make up for the guilt she felt for what she had done. And not done. Still wishing she could give them everything they wanted, and that they could all be friends.
And her children resented her for all of this, for they wanted the structure that made them feel cared for by a stable parent with consistent limit setting and follow through. Whose parenting stance and rules made them feel emotionally safe. They wanted to have limits set for them by emotionally stable parents, and wanted them to follow through with consequences when they crossed the line. Despite what their behavior sometimes suggested, they wanted to feel the emotional safety of being cared about and loved by parents who risked being unlikeable and unfriendable, and even temporarily hateable.
Setting limits and walking the talk means that Maria risks not getting her own teenage needs met vicariously through her children. It means that she must recognize her own guilty self-recrimination and seek self-understanding as an informed, mature adult. To do this it means Maria must seek support to learn to lovingly “visit, see, and hold” all aspects of herself, including her fourteen year old self, with loving kindness and compassion as a fully mature woman with objective, sensitive thinking skills. It means she must learn and develop healthy relationship skills with herself so that she can be the balance and structure her children need most from her. For the safety and security of her children, and that of their children whom they may likely parent as she does.
The right kind of guilt is the kind that gnaws at our self interests and actions when they seem to over ride the greater needs of our and our children’s development, of our own and their chances for capacity building, and of our own and their experiences of stability, health, balance, and safety.
Actions taken from the right kind of guilt demonstrate recognition of our responsibility rather than an entitled victim mentality. If we’re lucky, the support we receive to get there can assist us in achieving deep compassion, a wisened humility, and gratitude for what blessings we already have.
Note, this original post was published in Attachment Parenting.org’s blog Aptly Said in November, 2015. Both it and this post were slightly edited from the original posting of several years ago, which I thought was definitely worth another read given the violence in Paris, San Bernadino and elsewhere in the world. Peace begins within us. Psychological literacy is so important and I hope these articles help increase it because understanding human behavior is imperative to raising insightful, compassionate children and establishing peace in the world. I will continue to make this point and work to increase psychological literacy to this end. Cheers.
A child’s ability to form healthy self-validation is a vital goal of child development. In fact, a child’s capacity for self-validation has everything to do with the development of emotional safety — the overarching developmental goal of childhood.
To use the word “validate” in the context of relationships, we’re referring to the process by which a person values that which she (or he) knows and feels is true and right for herself, and then acts in accordance with her inner knowing in support of her own self and her own needs.
As we raise our children to be intimate with what they feel, sense and know, and to honor and support themselves in their knowing, we are providing them with this fundamentally valuable tool for successfully navigating their internal and external experiences throughout their life.
This is the foundation for a child’s capacity to acquire the more complex self-regulation skills he (or she) needs to actualize his potential. It’s the very important task we have of validating his unconditional goodness, and what he feels, thinks, desires and knows — which then tells him he is “right” in the world, that his experiences are important and that his dreams are valuable.
It’s we — the caregivers, teachers and parents — who largely determine how a child comes to validate him- or herself. Let’s keep this in mind as I describe “Sarah.”
Sarah is 4 years old, joyful, full of life and wicked smart. I was called in to observe her and consult with her preschool teachers and parents due to her “impulsive, inattentive, non-compliant, emotional, potentially dangerous” behaviors of refusing to sit in circle time and constantly banging into objects: outside with her tricycle, and inside where she would run into and purposefully, though playfully, try to topple both other children and adults. Sarah could also be irritable and angry, displaying explosive behaviors when caregivers attempted to redirect her and minimize her complaints.
Sarah had a typical complaint of wanting to do what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it. She argued that she could in fact listen while doing other things during circle time; however, the teachers wanted all the kids sitting “criss-cross apple sauce” on the floor, eyes on them. Because of her complaints, fidgeting and refusal to cooperate, Sarah was made to sit in a chair at a table removed from the group, and to color while the rest of the class conducted their weather discussions, reviewed the alphabet and learned the letter of the day.
Although this decision to exclude Sarah from circle time appears to wrongly shame her, one of her teachers demonstrated both compassion and insight to see that this form of physical structure — sitting on the chair at the table — with an activity to calm her mind and busy her hands — coloring — in fact enabled Sarah to participate fully in their discussions and add to it with more intelligent, creative contributions than most of the other students.
It took some prompting in this rigid classroom, but the staff learned to tweak their expectations and appropriately loosen their requirements of the children, who were then given the choice to sit for circle time or not. Sarah was no longer shamed for being different, and she experienced validation from her teachers that her way of participating in circle time was best for her.
Her teachers’ validation of her translated into her own self-validation for speaking up about what she knew to be true for herself.
In the play yard, we reviewed Sarah’s sensory needs that were mistakenly seen as aggressive in intention. The plowing into objects and people instead suggested she was seeking physical gross-motor input in that she displayed no anger at these times but seemed to have a lot of fun doing the plowing. It served her.
In addition to creating safe places for Sarah to get this physical input — like jumping onto heavy mats from a not-too-high step during scheduled and play intervals throughout the day — we got her mom’s written permission for teachers to give Sarah frequent, deep-pressure hugs and squeezes as a preventative measure to the more impulsive plowing behaviors. I also made a referral for a physical therapy consult. We asked Sarah to let us know when she was feeling out of sorts and to seek the big, bear hugs that immediately calmed her, as soon as her body began to tell her that she needed them.
Her caregivers at school and home began listening to her more — and began seeing her more clearly as a child who needed their support to speak up about her experiences and needs.
I also recommended a nutritional consult, and as a treatment team, we began incorporating the foods into her diet — and eliminating others — that would prove to seem to balance her nervous system so that some of the impulsivity diminished.
Additionally, we built in the time, place and space for her to enjoy more creative, stimulating activities to express herself, learn and teach us about herself: how she thinks, feels, senses and relates to herself, others and the world.
What worked for Sarah is that we were able to see her through various lenses of her holistic health and well-being. By using protocols within the sensory, biology-physical expression, creative self-expression, nutrition and attachment-relationship lenses, we successfully learned to honor what Sarah knew to be true for herself, and we provided her with more knowledge and supports that she needed to further know and support herself.
Sarah learned how to validate herself by internalizing 2 concepts:
“I am someone who needs, seeks and gets big hugs and squeezes, special play activities and the best foods to make me feel calm, balanced and safe.” She knows that these are the right things for her. And because Sarah taught her caregivers that they need to listen to her and to fully see her and learn from her, Sarah was able to internalize an aspect of her identity as a person of value in the world.
“I am valued. What I think, feel, want, experience and express matters to others. I am worthy of being heard and seen and respected.” She needed us to validate her so that she could further validate her own self and know that she is doing the right things to keep herself in balance and feel safe.
You can substitute just about any example of a child’s life situation here. The experiences and lessons will likely be the same: We want our child to know what it is that she (or he) knows, to honor what it is that she knows and, when old enough, to seek the supporting knowledge to inform her decisions further.
The thing is, we need to really see our child and listen to him (or her). We cannot try to make him fit into an old ideal of how he “should” behave, act or be. We must meet him “where he’s at” and start there. Our goal is that we use and teach skills sets containing “ways of thinking and doing” to support children in being themselves throughout the trajectory of their lives.
Children can and do fall through the cracks. If we had continued to ignore what Sarah was telling us, she may likely have developed increased shame, anger, rebellion and, over time, an attitude of “Forget you, you’re not listening to me. I’ll do what I want and feel good about it.”
She might have someday come to validate herself in other ways that create rage, division and resentment. She very well could have tied in with peers who not only validate these emotions but — worse — use them to fuel deeper discord, judgment, intolerance, hatred, retaliation and violence.
To some, Sarah’s classroom experiences may seem small. It may seem like the negative outcomes I postulated are a stretch to what actually happened in the classroom. I am telling you, this is so not a stretch. This is how it begins: We do not see our children, so we do not listen to our children and then we try to put them under our thumb. This is not holistic child care. This is not the way we promote secure attachment at home or at school.
In another scenario, Sarah may have other tendencies. Perhaps instead, she withdraws — becoming depressed and later numbing out with drugs, food and dysfunctional relationships. Are those fates any less happy for her? With another who validates her anger and aggression, at least she feels like she’s accepted and belongs somewhere. In all cases, she’s only simply seeking to keep herself safe.
Feeling balanced on the inside by people and circumstances who support her and provide balance “on the outside” do this. We do this. Our child’s emotional safety, her (or his) happiness and her success depend on us. The level of peace in the world depends on us.
I’ve seen the outcomes of ignoring kids’ true needs before, and so have you — in the variations of the same tragic stories that we hear about in the media so often we are becoming numb to them. Do you see that this is an epidemic?
Do you see that we can stop violence, and all that goes with it, in our children if we pay more attention to how we see them and relate to them? It is a simple concept — though a complex process that requires work and perhaps new paradigms for teaching teachers, supporting parents and addressing mental health.
We’ve got to fully wake up and act on how this dynamic works for the sake of helping our children grow up happily, confidently and peacefully. We have no one to blame if we do not target this now.
Here is my recipe for a vegan cake you make in a pan on the stove. Yes, it’s a pancake! When cooked, it cuts nicely into pie-shaped pieces and stores well for freezing. *See below for the cookie version.
For children and adults sensitive to caffeine and also sugar you may want to halve the amount of chocolate and coconut sugar listed, and therefore use a little less liquid. Please note I am not a nutritionist and you should always consult with your physician and pediatrician with questions and before making changes to your family’s diet. Also, I am not an advocate of using much sugar in a standard diet but for treats this works for me and I wanted to share it with you.
In a medium bowl combine:
1 Cup buckwheat flour
1 Cup flax meal (ground flax seeds)
3/4 Cup cacao powder, or cocoa powder
3/4 Cup coconut sugar
1 tsp baking soda
Mix with fork.
Add to it:
1 and 1/4 Cup liquid, + almond or vanilla extract. I use almond milk with a little water, and mix in 1 tsp almond extract. (Note, I think this amount of almond extract tastes really strong in the batter itself, but is really tasty once the pancake is fully cooked. You can play with this, too.)
Combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and let the mixture sit for ten or so minutes. The flax meal will soak up the liquid. You can then add a bit more liquid to the batter if you’d like.
In a large skillet with a lid, melt 2 or so TBL coconut oil. Spoon the batter into your pan and press into a round, flat-ish shape. Cook covered on low (about level 3.5 on a gas stove) for about 20 minutes, or until the edges begin to get a little done (even crispy) and the center is rather firmed up. It should be cooked enough through so that you do not have to flip it.
* I have also made cookies with this recipe by dropping heaping spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet (I use coconut oil) and baking them at 350 degrees for 14 minutes. They turn out wonderfully, and taste just as good after having been frozen.
I want to live in warmth and
without corners or sharp edges
with the freedom of Safety
to surrender myself
to the world.
no unseen attempts
at connectedness to Love,
I want to live in the soft, seen
in the light
of Presence and comfort
of understanding and compassion