Guest Piece by Rebecca Eanes
Our culture feeds us a lot of negative ideas about children. When they are infants, we understand and are quick to declare that children are gifts. What a blessing a newborn baby is. Ah, but wait just a few months and the message begins to change. Right about the time they learn to walk and talk, the warnings come. “He’s walking? You’re in trouble now.” “Just wait, the terrible twos are coming.” “Terrible twos? Ha! Threenagers are way worse.” “Oh yeah, just wait until he’s a teenager.”
We are inundated with negative messages about how our children will manipulate us, purposefully test our boundaries, defy us just to get under our skin, push our buttons, and run us right over if we don’t show them who’s boss right away and rule with an iron fist. With the dire warnings come loads of advice from every angle telling us the best way to control our little tyrants.
What about the gift? Wasn’t she a blessing?
These toxic cultural messages poison our minds and negatively affect the way we see, and therefore relate, to our children. The clamor of the world drowns out the whispers of our hearts, and we end up viewing them not so much as blessings anymore as mischief to be managed. In our earnest to train them in appropriate behavior, we end up reducing children to little more than that, as though their behavior is what defines them. But children are so much more than the behavior they exhibit at any given moment. Children are more than their ability to sleep through the night, more than their willingness to instantly obey, more than a grade, and more than a mood. They are more than what we see on the surface, just as we are. Children are human beings, messy and beautiful, wild and compassionate, curious and full of wonder. When we reduce them to the behavior they currently display, we miss out on seeing their beauty, their light, and ultimately, their potential.
When we change the way we see children, when we continue to see them as our gifts even when they are two or twelve, even through the tantrums and defiance, we meet them with greater tenderness and a better ability to guide them back to the correct path. When we view them as mischief to be managed, we are automatically more defensive, triggered, and frustrated. Imagine a world where we choose to see the light in our children throughout all their childhood stages. What if we always looked at them with the same awe and wonder as we did on that first day we held them in our arms? What if we didn’t allow those negative, fearmongering messages change our perceptions?
If we can correct, teach, and guide our children from a position of seeing the light within them rather than their faults, how much higher will they reach? I call this being a light reflector because we intentionally look for the light in them and reflect it back so they can see it, too. After all, children come to see themselves the way their parents see them. What they see reflected in our eyes is often what they will become.
Will you be the person in your child’s life who always sees her light and reflects it back to her? That starts by looking for positive motives, even when she does something “bad.” Seeing their motives as negative (he’s trying to test me or she’s just pushing my buttons) triggers negative reactions in you. As a result, you may become angry, embarrassed, or frustrated. In that triggered state, you may justify making her feel bad because, in your mind, you’re doing it to make her a better person in the long run. So, you scold her for her wrongdoing, highlighting her character flaws and making her feel bad about herself. Unfortunately, when she sees her badness in your eyes, she may come to see herself as bad – not just her behavior, but her self. If that works its way into her self-concept, she’ll repeat the bad behavior because people behave how we see ourselves.
If, on the other hand, you choose to see positive intent, you see that she’s a good person who needs guidance on this issue. Even though you still correct her behavior, you’re reflecting her light. How do you assign positive intent to bad behavior? A child who hits his brother could be seen as a naughty child trying to hurt his sibling or he could be seen as a good child who is needing attention or direction and asking for it in an immature way, such as children do. A girl having a tantrum could be seen as trying to manipulate her parents into giving her way or she could be seen as a very young person struggling with a heavy load of emotions.
How we choose to see them not only affects our relationships with our children and how we approach them, but if affects their developing sense of self. How we see them is how they see themselves, so I ask you this final question – what do you want them to see?
Rebecca Eanes is the founder of http://www.positive-parents.org, creator of the popular Facebook page Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond, contributing editor to Creative Child and Baby Maternity Magazines, and author of The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting. In her new book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Rebecca shares her hard-won insights on giving up the conventional parenting paradigm to reconnect heart to heart with her children.