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, rationally addressed, and freed.
We inform each other. Life is this. Progress is this. Can we embrace this and lessen competition as we celebrate each other, celebrate the magic of open, shared learning for the highest good, and collaborate more willingly? We can find great meaning in this realization of our unified service to each other in and for the world, and know we are individually and collectively of the greatest service as we engage in these acts of conscious growth.
I am so very grateful for the many teachers and teachings of Life itself.
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 enough 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 get past her own guilty self-recrimination and seek understanding as an informed, mature adult. To do this it means Maria must seek support to learn to lovingly “visit, see, and hold” her fourteen year old self with compassion as this mature woman with objective, sensitive thinking skills. It means she must learn and develop healthy relationship skills so 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 children’s development, their chances for capacity building, and their experiences of stability, health, balance, and safety.
Actions taken from the right kind of guilt demonstrate recognition of responsibility rather than an entitled victim mentality. If we’re lucky, the support we receive to get there can include achieving a wisened humility and gratitude for what blessings we already have.
We have already stated here that emotional safety is the overarching developmental goal of childhood.
The state that needs to be present within a child in order for this emotional safety to exist is internal balance – how balanced a child feels within himself, as himself.
He feels this balance on the inside, by way of what is going on within his body, as well as by way of what is going on in his relationships with others. These affect how he feels physically and how he feels about himself. These factor into how emotionally safe he feels to be in the world.
The absolute fastest way to help a child feel balanced and safe within himself is to perceive and approach him through specific lenses of holism. For some of us, using these lenses of holism amounts to what we consider to be common knowledge based on our own upbringing and the insights we’ve gained. For others, using the lenses provides broader context for considering what exactly is going on for a child in any given scenario. There is never any judgment here; we are simply discussing what can be used to help our children. We hope to encourage a wider use of specific insights and skill sets by as many caregivers in their life as possible to provide children with consistency across the board. And since consistency fuels the sense of safety, this is very important.
Since we are talking about internal balance as what is needed for emotional safety, let’s review how to make three immediate changes to help your child acquire this if his behavior is challenging and he is feeling “out of sorts”.
In this post we’ll cover three of the nine lenses of holism and focus on them so your child experiences benefits right away. Note that we are naming the lenses differently here, i.e.: the lens of Nutrition is “Nutritional Safety”, to show how each subject lens in its own right provides a level of safety a child feels when addressed fully in the light we are discussing.
1. Nutritional Safety. For readers who have heard it a thousand times, here’s a reminder to stick with it and jump to no. 2.
For readers who are new to this information, you want to please be sure your child is getting plenty of whole foods and little to no processed foods and drinks. This one step alone can really help your child feel balanced on the inside, and feeling more balanced means feeling more stable and safe.
Please start by cutting back all flour products and other highly processed foods. There is so little nutrition to them and they act in the body as a simple carb the body reads as sugar. Serve oatmeal with walnuts and fruit, or eggs and meat instead of processed cereal for breakfast; fruits and veggies for snacks instead of pretzels and crackers. Offer probiotic-rich foods like pickles and saurkraut (Bubbies brand or other local “living, raw” cultured foods, also called fermented foods.) Start making quinoa, a highly nutrient-dense grain-like seed you jazz up for breakfast, lunch, or supper. It’s delicious and so balancing. So is chia seed you can soak in milk or add to yogurt and flavor as you like. Especially be sure your child is getting enough healthy fats and greens. Examples are butter, ghee, coconut oil, walnuts, fish and meats if you eat them, avocados, seeds and olives. Use mild greens spinach and soft, steamed kale stirred into homemade or canned soups, or folded into an egg bake. Toss cut up veggies of all kinds into a dutch oven or crock pot with a roast or chicken; the meal makes itself. Green smoothies with fruit and stevia to sweeten. Please consult your child’s pediatrician before making changes, and read about what Dr. Bill Sears calls NDD “nutrition deficit disorder” here for the fascinating science facts.
A lot of caregivers are overwhelmed and lean to using unhealthy short cuts for meals and snacks, but I hope these ideas show how just a little foresight and a bit of planning can make meals and snacks a lot healthier and help your child feel more balanced and safe.
Think sliced pickles, diced meats and veggies. Try this: Put them on a plate and walk away. Let him eat the finger food as he wishes, without being “made to”. Give this process time. This will increase the likelihood he’ll try new things when he’s not being watched, made to eat them at a designated time, or otherwise “controlled” by you. You are controlling the food; let him control when and where he eats it for now.
Here is a recipe for a flourless pancake that is delicious: In a greased skillet on low-medium heat cook up a mixture of 2-4 eggs beaten with a tablespoon of nut butter, a couple of ripe mashed bananas, and a hefty dose of cinnamon. This is an adaptation of a GAPS recipe I saw online (Thank you to the angel who wrote it; I’m sorry not to have your name to give you due credit.) It is so nutrient-dense that one piece is filling and you can increase the recipe for a large skillet or baking dish and serve it for days.
In the expected case that your child has a fit when he can’t have what he wants, you can choose not to give into his tantrums and day by day reduce the processed foods while introducing more and more healthy foods over time. It’s a challenge for sure, but sticking with it wins over time and you will be proud of your tenacity and long term vision for your child’s health and well being.
2. Environmental Balance-As-Safety. Here we are talking about being sure you are balancing your child’s have-to-do activities like sitting still, following rules, being indoors for a long time, with his to-be-free activities like running around out of doors, having all the say in play time activities with regard to his intellectual, creative, and physical leanings, desires, and interests, all with your rapt attention and joyful engagement. This is really a combination of several lenses of Environment, Nature, Cognition/Intellectual Stimulation, Biology-Physical Expression, Creative Self-Expression, and Attachment-Relationships, but condensing them under the heading of Environmental Balance-As-Safety here makes sense.
3. Attachment-Relationships Safety. We included this above as playing with your child with ‘rapt attention and joyful engagement” while letting him lead activities. Children want and need to be the center of your universe. They absolutely need to feel accepted, and to feel that they are acceptable; that is, that what they feel, need, do, are interested in, dislike, all of it – is acceptable to you. It is their birthright to be the center of our universe and our responsibility to provide this way of raising them. Our regular, deep attunement to and presence with them, and our unconditional acceptance of them is the core attachment dynamic that creates secure, confident kids.
If you’ve read my previous posts you won’t be surprised that what I’m reinforcing here is that the child’s identity schema – his concept for who he believes himself to be – is being fortified through your positive, healthy engagement with him in these ways. Without your ever having to say it with words, he is internalizing, “What I want to do matters, I get to have fun the way I like to, I am important, I am fun to be with, I am listened to, my needs are met by my loving mom and dad (teacher, aunt, grandpop, et al).” So his identity schema gets solidified all the time by way of his ideas, needs, feelings, experiences being seen, heard, respected, and cherished by you. This makes him feel secure, balanced, and safe being who he is. Because you accept him unconditionally, he is acceptable to himself. And this point is a master key in raising children to live in and lead a world without bullies, without violence, and without war. More on this soon.
The other piece to this, is that your relationships affect his sense of internal balance. Does he witness you in harmonious relationships? Are you consistent in your perception of and approach to him? Are you a united front with the other parental figures/caregivers in his life in these loving, child-centered, holistic, attachment-focused ways? Your own balanced way of being in the world is your child’s world. Your balanced life affects his level of certainty about what to expect, and helps him feel the internal balance, security and safety he requires to better self-regulate and be happiest.
Personal competence and self-efficacy are the result of feeling safe, and the reverse is true as well. How can we expect children to tap into their sense of personal competence and feel like they are effective at “doing life” if they do not feel safe being themselves in their families? In their schools and communities?
Emotional safety is the overarching developmental goal of childhood. Period. Here are six ways we foster it in children.
1. We are infinitely patient and kind. We are firm when needed as children grow, but never not these two things. Patience and kindness show respect. When children feel respected by us, they will respect themselves and know their lovableness. This is emotional safety.
2. We carefully choose our words so they (our words) do not equate children’s behaviors to their identity. We refrain from saying things like, “Be good.” “If you’re good/bad today, you’ll get/you won’t get to do ____.” We teach children of their unconditional value this way, and teach them that they are not their behavior. This helps them feel unconditionally good, hence, safe in who they are.
3. We have reasonable expectations for children, and for our plans of the day/week. We explain them as best we can, and keep it flexible. Our flexible attitude and manner allow children to see that life is not a straight line, mistakes are made and forgiven, and the built-in bumps in life can be managed gracefully and in good humor. They learn we are not perfect, and that it is okay that they aren’t either. They know their true worth and feel safe.
4. We feed them real food. Feed a child simple sugars like bread, pasta, pretzels, fish crackers, pancakes, cereals, muffins, etc., and little to no green veggies, protein or good fats for a week. His behavior will likely be the outward sign of a lack of internal balance that is affecting how safe he feels in his body. Feed him nutrient dense foods like unprocessed oatmeal, fruit, veggies, fish, nuts, seeds, meats, etc., instead and watch his behavior. His body will begin to rebalance and his mood and behaviors will show improvement (sans sugar withdrawal symptoms), suggesting that he is feeling safe in his body. I recommend Dr. Bill Sears’ book to read the science behind this as well as for good meal and snack recipe ideas. Vegetarians and vegans can easily accommodate many recipes.
5. We show children that they can Trust us. We are right there when infants and young children cry; we do not let them “cry it out.” We say goodbye to them when the sitter arrives and we have to leave; we do not sneak out on them. If we say we’ll attend an event, we do that. When we are trust worthy, children feel safe.
6. We actively support our children to be entirely who they are, to express the entirety of what they feel and think without our shaming them or attempting to stifle or otherwise change their expression. We don’t tell boys it’s not okay to cry. We don’t push “pink trends” onto girls. We see children through the many lenses of holism, ensuring we are meeting all of their needs as the unique beings they are and we teach them to see themselves through these same lenses of wholeness. There are nine such lenses as I see it. They are Attachment/Relationships; Creative Self-Expression; Cognition/Intellectual Stimulation; Biology/Physical Expression; Sensory; Nature; Nutrition; Environment; and Spirituality/Consciousness(c). These lenses are research tools for how to accurately perceive and approach our children to best help them feel safe. They make up a Venn diagram called The Wheel of Holistic Perception (c) which is one of three components comprising The Holistic Child’s Self-Regulation Program about which I provide trainings and write.
The happiness and security children feel with us in our perceiving and relating to all aspects of their beingness – allowing and supporting them to be fully who they are – helps establish what I consider to be the overarching developmental goal of childhood – emotional safety.
Life is a loop in which everything impacts everything else. Let’s be so in love with our children that we see them first and consistently as their unique expression, and let’s meet them where they are in this loop of life.
Please Note: This post first appeared as a recent article of the same name for the magazine, The Attached Family, a publication of API, Attachment Parenting International.
The link to the magazine is here. (Click on the word “here” – the link is embedded in that word.)