Parenthood is not for the faint of heart, and though we strive to focus on the positive and to practice gratitude, raising children has many paths leading to a variety of outcomes. Our job as parents and teachers is to do some heavy thinking about outcomes we care about most and the paths we feel comfortable walking as we move towards those outcomes. The reality is that as much as we want to easily say “Yes,” there are times when we need to say “no.”
When related to children, outcomes can refer to the values and characteristics we hope our children will acquire as they mature into adults. Some values that come to mind are to encourage our children to be brave, courageous, honest, compassionate, joyful, caring, trustworthy, responsible, and respectful. There are more, many more.
As parents and teachers, we have choices for how we deliver the messages and lessons to children and we recognize that the way to achieve the best outcomes is to find paths that teach in a comfortable manner. One of the most difficult situations for a parent or teacher is to take a Path to “No.”
Early in child rearing we learn that there are many times when we have to tell children “No.” Sometimes it is for safety, other times it is due to prior commitments, or to instill social norms. We quickly realize that simply saying “No” loses its meaning if overused or not introduced via a clear path. As a result, we begin to maneuver down paths, carefully finding ways to convey our reasons but with the outcome in clear sight.
Clear communication helps children understand the reasons and meaning behind the “No.”
THE PATH OF EMPATHY
Empathy can be instinctual but it is also a learned skill. Talking to children about how others feel and relating it to their own feelings helps children understand that our words and actions impact the feelings of others. Helping children develop empathy by talking about it, reading stories that have clear examples of empathetic characters, and pointing out examples of situations where people exhibit empathy can help children comprehend the concept.
Having children role-play and practice using empathetic language such as, “It looks like you are feeling frustrated,” or “It seems like you are having a hard day,” allows your child to feel understood and in turn, they can use these phrases to react to friends and family.
Reflecting your child’s feelings back to them allows your child to process what they are feeling and to attach language to their feelings.
THE PATH OF TOLERANCE
Tolerance, the willingness to tolerate situations, behaviors, or ideas that you don’t necessarily agree with, will enable our children to handle situations with their friends, family members, and in school. One example of this might be when a young child is building with blocks during a free play activity time and the teacher says it’s time to clean up. The child would prefer to continue playing but with the ability to tolerate the classroom rules and schedules, will more willingly clean up and move on to the next activity.
Tolerance is especially important when teaching children to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to get along with other children who might be different either in physical appearance, background, or manner of behavior. School is a place to practice tolerance both in the classroom and on the playground. Children soon realize that everyone has been raised differently, has different family backgrounds and customs and has different preferences.
Learning to get along with others enables children to have the most positive learning experience.
THE PATH OF GRATITUDE
Gratitude, to be thankful and show appreciation for what we have, is a quality we can teach our children by practicing it ourselves and demonstrating it for our children. When we practice gratitude, some of the desire and constant “wanting” naturally lessens.
Teaching our children to focus on appreciating what they have, or what they are able to do and accomplish, can help them to be more content and in turn, allows us to focus more on “yes” and less on “no.” Children can learn to have gratitude for their abilities, such as being able to complete homework successfully, or ride a bike. They can show gratitude for family members and friendships as well as for the activities and experiences they have with them.
Focusing on gratitude helps us to see more of the positive things in our lives.
THE PATH OF COURAGE
Courage, the ability to face new situations that might frighten us, is a skill that is helpful throughout our lives. Beginning when we are small children, having the courage to let go of a parent’s hand and enter our first school classroom to begin our independent days and continuing when we try new things for the first time, such as a new sport, or making a new friend. Having the courage to try something, to have a difficult conversation, to enforce a school or family rule, is a path that a parent or teacher can take to instill values and positive behavior. Sometimes it takes courage for a parent to tell a child “No” when other parents are saying “Yes,” or to say “No” even when the child might respond with a tantrum.
Having the courage to stick by your convictions is challenging but it allows you, as an adult, to communicate the reasons, rules or thoughts behind the action.
THE PATH OF MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness, calmly focusing on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting our own feelings and state of being, is one way to navigate parenting, as well as our own lives. When we focus on the present moment with our children without the distractions of phones, secondary conversations, computers, or televisions, we give our attention to the most important thing: our children and our life experience. Giving our children our focused attention allows them to feel seen and heard; taking the time to practice mindfulness in our own lives allows us to appreciate the nuances that make our lives unique.
Teaching our children mindfulness gives them awareness as they experience the inevitable ups and downs of life and can perhaps, create space for them to figure some things out for themselves and be open to our explanations of some of the “Nos.”
As parents and teachers, as we select the paths we navigate to the outcomes we desire, we utilize teachable moments, we educate ourselves, we collaborate with other parents, educators and experts, we experience successes and failures, and we continue to learn and grow.
For more information: #daringclassrooms; #Brené Brown.