What we learn from children

A torn jacket is soon mended; but hard words bruise the heart of a child (Longfellow)

“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Sound familiar? Who do you suppose said that? It was Socrates! He said that more than 2,400 years ago. So the world hasn’t changed much, has it? It seems middle-aged people feel threatened by youngsters. They don’t like their rude behavior and the way they dress. What has changed, however, is not the behavior of children, but our own memory.

Just in case you forgot, here’s Viola Spolin to refresh your memory: “We forget what it’s like to be a child. There are few places outside his own play where a child can contribute to the world in which he finds himself. His world: dominated by adults who tell him what to do and when to do it – benevolent tyrants who dispense gifts to their “good” subjects and punishment to their “bad” ones, who are amused at the “cleverness” of children and annoyed by their “stupidities.”

True, there is youth crime and violence, but isn’t this a case of children doing to society what was done to them? Where do you suppose most abandoned children live? At home! Though they live at home, many children are ignored by their parents. Perhaps kids run away from home because they’re looking for their parents. When children are deprived of love, why are we surprised that they turn out bad? There’s something wrong when the TV set is better adjusted than our kids, but whose fault is that? The truth is children are a godsend. We can learn from them. That’s why Christ said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3).

What we learn from children
Children are pure. They are innocent. See how they play with their neighbors. Race, ethnicity, religion, gender are foreign to them. Everyone is valued as a friend and all are treated equally (until adults interfere and teach them prejudice).

Children are honest. They speak from their hearts. Adults wear masks, hiding their thoughts. They are afraid to speak the truth, afraid to expose their true selves. Not so for children, for they have courage. John Bradshaw explains, “Children are curious and are risk takers. They have lots of courage. They venture out into a world that is immense and dangerous. A child initially trusts life and the processes of life.”

Children can make us more spiritual. They are bubbling over with happiness and unconditional love. To become like children is to love the world unconditionally. We create children, but they create spiritual beings by teaching us the power of love. Also, learn from children the joy of simple pleasures. To a three-year-old child, a green caterpillar can be more exciting than a $300 seesaw.

How to rear children
Your primary responsibility to your children is to guard their happiness and return their love. They don’t need your presents; they need your presence. Mark Twain explains: “We are always too busy for our children; we never give them the time or interest they deserve. We lavish gifts upon them; but the most precious gift -our personal association, which means so much to them – we give grudgingly.”

Read how Midge Decter apologizes to children on our behalf: “It might sound a paradoxical thing to say – for surely never has a generation of children occupied more sheer hours of parental time –but the truth is that we neglected you. We allowed you a charade of trivial freedoms in order to avoid making those impositions on you that are in the end both the training ground and proving ground for true independence. We pronounced you strong when you were still weak in order to avoid the struggles with you that would have fed your true strength. We proclaimed you sound when you were foolish in order to avoid taking part in the long, slow, slogging effort that is the only route to genuine maturity of mind and feeling. Thus, it was no small anomaly of your growing up that while you were the most indulged generation, you were also in many ways the most abandoned to your own meager devices by those into whose safe-keeping you had been given.”

How can children learn how to live right if they’ve never seen it done? They need models, not critics. They will follow our example, not our advice. So, how shall we teach them? By example!

Parents are often heard to say, “Pay attention when I speak.” But why don’t we pay attention when they speak? The smallest event in your child’s life is an event in their world. It is, therefore, a world event. To your child it is significant; pay attention to it.

Your children are in critical need of nurturing. They need your encouragement, praise, and support. They need a willing ear to hear their concerns and a tight hug that expresses your unconditional acceptance and total commitment. Don’t worry about what they will be tomorrow, but focus on what they are today. The best way to bring up children is never to let them down. Here’s another tip that comes from Lady Bird Johnson, “Believe in them; children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.”

We also need to teach our children responsibility. As Ann Landers wrote, “What the vast majority of American children needs is to stop being pampered, stop being indulged, stop being chauffeured, stop being catered to. In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

When you were a youngster, your mom quickly mended your torn jacket. But when the harsh words of your parents bruised your heart, how many years did it take for your heart to heal? Perhaps it still hurts. Your parents meant well. They didn’t know better, so forgive them. But learn from their mistakes and avoid bruising the hearts of your children.