RAISING CHILDREN CONSCIOUSLY
Parenting for a peaceful world.
By Sudha Hamilton & Suzy Barry
Is parenting a thankless task of unfathomable consequences or an opportunity to bring a keener light of consciousness to our universe?
Parenting is a state that resides deep within the lands of instinct and tradition. The most common determinant of your parenting instincts is your own parents and how they parented you. Depending on the circumstances you may either repeat that act of parenting or do the opposite in reaction to the unwelcome reminder of your own parent-induced trauma.
This repetition in parenting behaviour patterns is condemning us to keep on making the same mistakes again and again. If you do not take responsibility for raising your children in the most enlightened manner possible then how can you ever expect them to take responsibility for themselves, their health, their state of mind and their ability to love. It is a challenge to stand apart from the ever repeating cycle and honestly ask yourself, "what do I want for my child in every moment?"
It is those moments that make up the whole. So what does it all mean? How can we apply the same level of consciousness to raising our children as we do to our own issues? Here are some practical solutions for 'aware parenting'.
The "Fourth Trimester"
The first few months of new parenthood can be considered the "fourth trimester" of your baby's life. For parents they are the most intense, but need not be the most difficult! Humans are born at the earliest maturation of all mammals. Consider other mammals that are born almost as fragile and dependent as humans. A baby orang-utan is carried almost constantly on its mother's body until it is capable of dealing with life on its own. This is a useful way to look at the early months: it helps to separate the advice based on this premise and the advice characteristic of a fast-paced, 'get things done' society.
Controlled Crying is an example of a common practice considered to be harmful and unnatural by many. Keeping your baby close is what's best for baby and your relationship with them. You might say, "There are no predators in the nursery, my baby is safe," but the hollow sound of a baby's unanswered anguished cries indicates a type of predator, a human emotional predator, which can engender a sense of abandonment and is extremely distressing for the infant. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health has expressed concern and does not encourage this practice of Control Crying and other variations on the theme, which essentially disregard the only method of communication available to your child. Babies and young children have shorter sleep cycles providing more opportunity for awakening but also more REM sleep and hence, essential brain development. This means that if those inconvenient awakenings that infants are prone to in the first two years or so, are by-products of the short sleep cycles, which are vital for their brain development. Controlled Crying and other sleep training methods designed to keep children asleep for longer periods, must train them out of these shorter cycles, hence rob them of their quota of REM.
English psychiatrist John Bowlby, developed in the nineteen sixties, what has come to be known as attachment theory. This theory holds that babies thrive best on having a secure touch orientated attachment to their parents, being constantly held rather than being placed in a pram or cot. More recently science has detected positive benefits to the babies immune system when they are predominantly held in states of physical closeness to the mother or primary carer.
When you think about it, it is not so surprising, having been inside the womb for nine months, the transition from mother's body to spending large parts of the day in a pram or cot, away from the reassuring heart beat of the mother does seem harsh. Jean Liedloff in her nineteen seventy five seminal book, The Continuum Concept, named this vital stage in early childhood care the "in-arms phase." Spending several years in the jungles of South America with a tribe of Indians, she observed a different and decidedly more nurturing way to raise children.
Skin to skin contact is a vital physical reassurance to the newborn child and like our monkey forebears this contact provides a successful two million year old continuum. Strapping the baby to the mother by means of a sling or other similar device allows the child to be part of the mother's energy field and has been a part of numerous cultures throughout the world; in Africa; Asia and beyond. Through observation the baby is also learning about the mother's universe, her day-to-day activities. Beware though of the front packs where the legs hang straight down, they are not good for spinal development. [STUDIES?]
Rochelle L. Casses, D.C, taken from http://continuum-concept.org/reading/spinalStress.html
"A baby's spine is placed in a compromising position in many of today's popular carriers. If the carrier positions the infant upright, with the legs hanging down and the bodyweight supported at the base of the baby's spine (i.e. at the crotch), it puts undue stress on the spine which can adversely affect the development of the spinal curves and, in some cases, cause spondylolisthesis (forward slipping of a vertebra on the one below it).
Spondylolisthesis is documented in approximately 5% of white males, but is prevalent in native Eskimos (as high as 60% of the population is affected). There has been much discussion on the high percentage of affected Eskimos as to whether it is a genetic predisposition or related to environmental factors (i.e., papoose carriers). Knowing how dynamic and vital the biomechanics of the spine are, I believe that environmental factors are the cause. If the trend continues in the U.S. to carry infants in carriers (or place them in walkers, jumpers, etc.) that place their spines in a weight bearing position before the spine is developmentally ready to do so, I believe we will see an increase in the incidence of spondylolisthesis"
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for the first two years and beyond. The WHO encourages food as a diet of food and bm after 6 months, exclusive breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond.
"Promoting appropriate feeding for infants and young children
10. Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the
healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral
part of the reproductive process with important implications for
the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation,
infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of
life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.1 Thereafter,
to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should
receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while
breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive
breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical
conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in
ample milk production."
The WHO's recommendation to exclusively breastfeeding to six months should not be mistaken as an instruction to wean at six months. There are wonderful benefits to full term breastfeeding. Six months is such a premature time to wean when the human history is taken into account as is the world's current population. If you can do it, the best foundation for ensuring your child's needs are being met is to breastfeed on demand for the first year and as long as is mutually desirable. Some time in the second year, the child's understanding of others' needs may grow to allow you to gently begin to assert your own needs, your own instincts and your child's reaction are the best guides here. Breast milk changes with the growing infant and is undoubtedly the best source of nutrition for a young child.
Toddler Years and Beyond
The toddler years are the beginning of individuation and undoubtedly the most challenging for many parents and children. The toddler is becoming aware that they are separate people and their own desires are emerging and taking control of their body, mind, voice and spirit. The age of the tantrum is upon you! How many of us have looked at or partaken in a sort of release therapy? Toddlers should be release therapy practitioners. They are open valves of emotion, they live in the moment and embody the oneness that so many of us are striving for.
Raising toddlers consciously means not crushing this exuberance, whilst guiding your tremendous toddler in the ways of the world, via your own personal boundaries. To parent authentically is to allow your toddler to express themselves within the boundaries you are comfortable with. There is no benefit to the toddler allowing them to climb on your head, while you patiently wait for their exuberance to change to respect, you need to indicate that you have personal boundaries. They are now ready for them. In teaching them that you need your boundaries respected, they will learn to give this respect and expect the same from others; here we have the foundation of respect for self.
Gentle discipline means respecting your toddler as another human being. It does not mean allowing them to walk all over you as this is rarely what the toddler wants or needs. Gentle discipline involves negotiation from a place of empathy with a view to a long-term goal, as opposed to short-term convenience of an obedient toddler with eyes downcast in shame. Shaming and physical punishment/ solitary confinement (time-out) have become the cornerstone of popular discipline. This is what Robin Grille, psychologist and psychotherapist, in his book Parenting for a Peaceful World terms operating in "Socializing Mode". The socializing mode is characterized by the preoccupation with social norms and producing children who will function well in society, be employable, polite and well mannered. In order to train children it is necessary to curb their natural desires in some way. Every time we employ these conventional methods, we are attempting to "break" our children. An obedient animal has its sprit broken, and every time this happens to a child, a little of them must surely die.
If you see your child becoming aggressive, don't wait for them to hit someone, and then punish them. Intervene, ask if they are feeling angry and tell them it is not acceptable to hit people, but that it is just fine to feel angry and invite them to belt a cushion to alleviate their frustration. This can be great fun!
Invite and employ negotiation. Think about the wonderful skills you are passing on by respecting their desires enough to negotiate. Blind obedience loses its appeal somewhat after about age 10, then we value initiative. Probably one of the few simple formulas: If your child doesn't want their nappy changed, but it is stinky and you need to go out. You can say: "We have to change your nappy, but would you like to bring this toy with you, or this one?" Or "We have to change your nappy now, but would you like to do it on the change table or on the couch?" This alleviates the monotony a toddler must feel of not being in charge by giving them a choice within your own boundaries. You need to go out now - that is your boundary - so within that, what can you offer?
Frustration abounds in the toddler years, they are becoming independent in so many ways, but their natural exuberance means that they are often met with opposition from parents and from their own capacity. Allow and encourage tantrums, they are the toddler's therapy; they are valid expressions and should be honoured. If your child wants chocolate in the middle of shopping and you don't want her to have it - fair enough! But…she will be upset and though it wouldn't distress you that much, it is the end of the world for her, so there is no point telling her it's not! Let her sit on the ground and have a 'tanty', really what's the big deal, be brave and weather the disapproving glances of the old ladies who 'never would have had that in their day' or who would 'have given them short shrift'. Remember, it is children brought up under that paradigm who pack the waiting rooms of therapists, and whose depression levels have hit record levels. Honour your child and focus on your child and you will be amazed at the transformation after she has grieved the chocolate experience that never was.
Look behind the behaviour
It is important that you delve beneath the behaviour presented by your child and always ask, "Why?" A holistic way is to look at the whole child, not just the behaviour you would like to stamp out. What is happening for your child that is making them react in this way? Can you help them? As we all know; it is always better to deal with the cause than the symptom.
Alfie Kohn has published works including "Unconditional Parenting" on the problems with a system of punishments and rewards. We are not dealing with a rat, which is what behaviourism was based upon. (The faith in a punishment/reward system is based on studies conducted with rats and morsels of food; not humans).
Withholding love and approval sends a message to our children that they are only lovable if they do what we want, what a concerning idea to take to the world! The idea is to 'work with' your children to achieve the best consensus for all involved, instead of 'doing to' them - in order have your own laws obeyed. For example, a punishment is something you do to your children; instead consider working out a solution that is acceptable to all parties.
Mutual Respect and Authenticity
These are perhaps the most important elements that underpin all aspects of Gentle Discipline. When your child does something that makes you angry tell them so just as you would your partner. Communicate with your child with respect, but with feeling and authenticity. Your children want to know you. Your needs are also important, a self-sacrificing parent is not being authentic and our children can feel it. If you have had enough of reading "Maisy" after the 50th time that day; stop. Offer another suggestion, or just say, I need a break and offer an alternative activity that doesn't involve you…or Maisy. Your child should respect your threshold, as you should respect theirs.
The bigger picture
Are we parenting today in a manner today that is all about making things easier for parents or are we parenting for healthier conscious children? Is placing six month old babies in full time childcare in the best interests of that child? Are we relinquishing our parental responsibilities over to paid professionals for purely economic reasons? Economics is after all, about the value of "things". What is the value of a well-loved child throughout his or her lifetime?
There is a millennium of violent, exploitive and sadistic cultural behaviour towards children entrenched in our collective unconscious, and only a handful of sporadic decades that have been characterised by the desire to nurture and value children. Robin Grille prefaces his book by saying, "The key to world peace and sustainability lies in the way we collectively relate to our children."
This might not be the first occasion in human history on which this idea has been expressed. Today however, groundbreaking research has brought new confirmation to this ancient idea. Our understanding of early childhood development has grown so rapidly in recent years, that we can now say the following with unprecedented confidence: "the human brain and heart that are met primarily with empathy in the critical early years cannot and will not grow to choose a violent or selfish life." This is Robin Grille. Parenting for A Peaceful World.
There is a link between how we parent our own children and the levels of violence and degradation in our communities. Each moment with our children provides the opportunity to foster respect for self and others, to nurture them with the same enlightened quality of love that you desire in your own life and to above all allow their individual spirit to flourish. When you as a parent are temporarily subsumed by your negative emotions (rage, despair, and the like) find ways to vent these elsewhere away from your children, remembering that in reality they are often just very small children, not the "Toddzillas" they sometimes feel like. As with all moments that seem to be overwhelming remember, "this too will pass."
There is no future in a return to a spurious golden age of discipline and authoritarian control, as often promulgated by media commentators. This was clearly a time characterised by violence and force. There is no turning back the pages of time and there is no quick fix, raising children consciously is time consuming, challenging and the true consequences of an act of love.
Parenting for a Peaceful World
By Robin Grille
Longueville Media 2005
The Continuum Concept
By Jean Liedloff
Penguin Books 2004 reissue
By Alfie Kohn
The Natural Child - Parenting from the Heart
By Jan Hunt
New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island BC 2001
The Aware Baby : A New Approach to Parenting
By AJ Solter
Shining Star Press, Goleta California 1998
The First Relationship - Infant & Mother
By Daniel N Stern
Harvard University Press 2002.
Appeared in WellBeing Magazine