Sometimes I feel as if I am the only one going the other direction when it comes to small children and their egos, worldview, and self-images.
Since it's Christmas season, we're generally seeing a slew of articles on how to MAKE our children be grateful, humble, and unselfish. You can quickly find plenty of articles telling you how to reduce, how to minimize, how to repress, and overall how to deliberately change the hearts and minds of your children. The message is clear: children NEED you to change them or they won't turn out "good" by societal standards.
Meanwhile, before Christmas, Dear Daughter (DD) snuck into the closet to "oh and ah" at all the wrapped gifts. I was watching her quietly. She then counts only two gifts with "her" wrapping paper. I pause, don't say anything. She mulls it over, then she declares, "All the rest of mine must be hiding behind that stack because I know you're getting me tons of gifts."
And you know what? I was cheering for her in my heart. I teared up at the situation. I know it was a tiny glimpse, but it was precious to me, to know that my little child automatically ASSUMED she was being given an abundance and that she was SURE the universe had more for her.
Right away, I know parents out there are already confused or even judgmental about this, asking how in the world she's going to show empathy for others, or how she's going to withstand difficulties in life.
Here's the thing...knowing her...if she only opens two gifts, she will turn to her stocking and be happy about how full it is, or turn to the "all kids" gifts and be excited about games to play with her siblings. Life cannot "beat her down" because in her heart she is SURE that she is loved. She doesn't have those damaging, insidious scripts that many of us adults carry around from our childhoods, such as, "I got hurt because it's what I deserved" or "Life is hard because I'm not worth anything."
What I've come to realize is that those who have the inherent expectation that they are good, worthy, and that abundance is coming their way will not only weather the tough spots in life better, but they will somehow *find* what they expect out of the world and from others.
It's a contradiction, similar to what we see with attachment parenting. The more you GIVE to your children, the more you fill up their cups, the more they are able to be that humble/grateful/unselfish person that society demands. Whereas, people who feel deprived, denied and neglected end up feeling too much pain and neediness to easily help others. They are too busy licking their wounds to spread goodness to others.
I was thinking about this using the analogy of Cry it out (CIO). Think about how parents believe that their babies have to CIO to learn to self-soothe, when in reality, babies need responsive parenting to establish security and they need time to develop skills as they get older. CIO doesn't make them mature and self-regulated, it just breaks them enough to be quiet for the parent. The outcome looks the same, but internally, the landscape is very different.
Similarly, many parents want to push that J.O.Y. concept (Jesus, Others, You), or they promote the twisted versions of humility and gratitude. They think they have to deprive, and hurt, and break their children to somehow get wholesome, loving, giving, grateful children.
Stop. Think about it. It just does not compute. You can't break something and expect a whole piece from it. You can't break the extremely complex and unique personhood of your child and realistically piece together the jagged leftovers to build your own masterpiece. Nor should you want to do that. Your child is already a masterpiece.
The truth is, a joyful, loving, giving person comes from a place of knowing joy, love and unconditional giving.
Children learn to be grateful by watching their parents model gratitude in daily living.
Children learn to be unselfish by receiving unselfish behavior from their parents.
Children learn to give unconditionally by receiving unconditionally in their family.
Children learn to empathize and think of others when parents empathize with and think of them.
Children learn to respect others when they are shown respect.
Children learn to appreciate life and to see the wonder of every tiny bit when the adults around them appreciate life and share the wonder of it.
If you fear that your children are selfish, spoiled, entitled, and arrogant, then the place to look first is in their hearts. A heart filled with unselfish, unconditional, unlimited love has no room for being entitled or selfish. A child who is not showing love to others is a child who needs her heart filled to the brim with more love. If a child does not have enough to go around, you cannot magically make more by subtracting love from her.
This Christmas, celebrate giving and loving others by giving to and loving your children.
More on this topic...
Seeing your child in a positive light:
Sharing the bounty:
Safe emotional expression: