I’d like to begin this post with a couple of questions. Take a moment to ponder the following questions and take stock of your answers and attitudes towards children.
When you think of children, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
What are or were some of your assumptions about children before you had your own?
Do you attribute intent to a child’s behavior?
What are your beliefs about the nature of a child or a teenager?
Too often, adults associate negative traits to children. We hear statements like, “he keeps pushing my buttons,” “they drive me crazy,” “children can’t be trusted,” “if you give them an inch, they will take a mile,” “they are manipulative.” I’m sure you can add a few more to this list.
We are well aware of the behaviors expected of teenagers, and they are mostly negative. Adults often attribute negative intent to children’s behaviors. Where do these assumptions and beliefs come from? What is our collective paradigm about children and how do we shift that? Does it stem from the belief that humans are created sinful?
I’d like to challenge these assumptions and suggest a paradigm shift around our attitude and assumptions about children by drawing your attention to these two quotes that invite us to view children from the lens of their nobility and innate potential for good. Both of these quotes are by Baha’u’llah - The prophet founder of the Baha’i
“O SON OF SPIRIT! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.”
“Regard man as a mine of gems rich in inestimable value, education can alone cause it to reveal its splendors and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its midst.”
The first quote draws us to the fact that every human being is created noble, and when we abase ourselves (behave in a manner that belittles or degrades us), it calls us to rise and remember that we are noble. It acknowledges that we are going to make mistakes, but reminds us that can always choose to rise to our nobility. Noble, besides meaning "of noble birth," also means having moral principles and ideals; virtuous, honest, ethical, self-sacrificing, brave and more.
The second quote gives us another lens through which to see others. As parents, our job is to educate our children so that they can reveal those “pearls of wisdom” that lie within each and every one of us. The word educate comes from the Latin word educare, which means to “bring or lead out, draw forth.” Our job as parents, and by default educators, is to draw forth that which is already within them.
When we label a child as a troublemaker, it changes our attitude and other people’s attitudes towards them. Eventually, they live up to our expectations. Labeling a child limits them because they stop trying to reach for something better. I believe if we spent our energies learning how to mine those gems that lay hidden within each child and thought of them as having inestimable value, our attitude towards them would change and we would inevitably help raise children that embody virtue and character. Wouldn’t the world be better as a result?
This is the paradigm through which I have chosen to raise my children. These quotes have been a part of my parenting mantra. They have helped shift my mindset and they remind me, particularly when parenting is challenging, that my children are created noble. As a result, I have held myself and my children to those high ideals. This has led me to see misbehavior as teachable moments, that mistakes are for learning and that a misbehaving child is trying to meet a need. My job as a parent is to figure out what that need is and when possible, problem solve together and seek solutions.
We are all created noble and have a tremendous capacity for love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and so much more if we are nurtured and disciplined in a way that draws those qualities forth. Think of a diamond, it doesn’t start out shiny, but it has the potential to be shiny. Someone has to mine it, cut it, polish it, and care for it in order that it may reveal its light. So too, children have to be nurtured, loved, guided, disciplined, and educated in order to reveal their splendor.
Let’s stop picking on their weakness, or reminding them of their wrongs, or expecting that they will behave badly because they are children. Let’s instead focus on their strengths and their potential for good.
How do we do this? Here are a few simple ways to start.
Use the language of virtues to shift the narrative.
“Be polite” versus “Don’t be rude.”
"You need to practice moderation” or “What would help you…?” versus “You are being so greedy.”
“Be patient” versus “Stop whining, you are driving me crazy!”
“I need (or expect) you to be gentle and play peacefully with your brother/sister“ versus “Stop hurting Johnny.”
Think about your words and the goal of your statements. What is it you are trying to get through to them? Young children are not always sure what to replace the unwanted behavior with; they need us to spell it out for them. If we want them to be careful, polite, loving, peaceful, or patient, then we should communicate that to them. Saying “don’t be rude” doesn’t communicate to a child that you want them to be polite.
One statement focuses on the bad behavior or on what not to do, the other on the expected behavior on their nobility. The tone of your voice can reflect the seriousness of what is expected.
Modeling the behavior we expect from our children is our greatest tool. How do you deal with challenging situations? Your children are watching you. When you mess up, do you apologize, make reparations, and take responsibility, or do you blame others? Do you use yelling as a discipline tool all too often? Show your children how to be virtuous.
Acknowledge them when they are being virtuous.
We are quick to let our children know when they do something wrong or have made a mistake, but do we acknowledge them enough when they do something right? The following are examples of ways to acknowledge them.
I acknowledge your courage or I see that took a lot of courage on your part to…
Thank you for being helpful this morning by putting away the dishes, cleaning up after breakfast etc. (be specific about what they were being helpful with).
I have faith in you to figure it out (depending on their age and situation).
I trust your judgment
Share their stories and yours.
Stories are a powerful way to connect and remind us of who we are. When children are having difficulty being virtuous, remind them of a time when they were virtuous so they know that they can do it again. Here are two ways to use stories.
Remind them of their stories and successes. “Remember how patient you were when we were stuck in traffic for over an hour on our way to grandma’s…?” Or, “Remember the first time you went on stage and you were so scared? That took courage, but you did it.”
Empathize with them by sharing your own stories and struggles. They will remember the stories about your personal struggles better than any story you might read them. Knowing you have struggled through tough experiences helps them see that you understand what they are going through, and it gives them strength.
When relevant, share stories of other family members, your people, and ancestors, so they know who paved the way for them to be here. It can help them become more resilient and courageous when they know that they are a part of something larger and nobler.
Shifting paradigm is by no means easy, and these are high ideals to work towards. I was raised with this mindset and yet it is challenging and time-consuming to parent in this way. I still find myself losing my cool with my children and reverting back to what seems easier (yelling and imposing consequences). But it never actually solves the problem. However, with practice, it gets easier. Nineteen years into it, I have learned to yell less and problem solving more.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope this has been helpful to you.
I would love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org