There is little as glorious and beautiful as watching children be themselves - fully and with abandon. Dancing with their whole soul, expressing honest astonishment, singing with their whole range, telling fantastic stories, dressing themselves in ensembles you never thought should exist, making magical art, laughing themselves silly, learning with open wonder, and smiling with their entire body. You will notice that the child who engages in these activities is typically brighter, more engaging, and generally happier than the child who hides, is always passive, rarely laughs, and appears to be embarrassed or ashamed to be living.
How do you help the little ones in your life to be open to the world like this? I’m not totally sure. I do have some ideas about to create the opposite kind of child - Crushing their tiny spirits while they are young is likely to produce the withdrawn, scared kind that seem to be terrified of life. So I’ll just talk about *not* doing those things that are likely to cause a stunted soul.
Start simple - Don’t abuse your child. Physically, emotionally, or verbally. Don’t smack them across the face in an angry impulse. Don’t hit them on the arm, or the back of the head because they did something you don’t like. Do the research on spanking and decide for yourself if it is worth it, or if there is an alternative punishment method that will work without inflicting pain on someone one quarter of your size.
Don’t humiliate them, either. No name calling, belittling, insulting, scoffing, eye rolling, laughing at them or constantly criticizing. It sounds horrible just to write these things… you might think “Who would do that to their child?” But just look around you while in public and you’ll see it, constantly, in stores, restaurants, and playgrounds.
These aggressive actions really are easy to avoid, and frighteningly prevalent among parents. The worst part? If you look up the “symptoms” of an angry, controlling, physically violent parent, you will find “domestic violence” in every case. If these parents did the same actions to their spouse, they would go to jail. Why is it ok to treat their children like this? Before acting in anger, take two steps back, catch your breath, and think about what you’re about to do or say. Do your best not to lose control - it is frightening to young people, and they will start to fear you rather quickly… not what we’re looking for in a relationship built to harvest an open, creative, positive being.
Allow your children to form their own opinions. Encourage it, even. ”Which do you like better? This shirt or this one? How come?” ”What was your favorite part of the movie?” Agree when you want to, and disagree, politely and calmly, when you don’t. Show them that it’s ok to have different likes than you and their friends.
Give your child some control over their lives. Let them choose their clothes when you can, pick their bedtime story and decide what ingredients will go on their pizza. Attempting to control every detail of your kid’s day will drive you both insane, and will cause them to give up and just let others decide everything for them. (This is a great recipe for creating a person who will be living in an abusive relationship in the future, by the way.)
Try your best not to hover over your kids. Let them do their thing in a safe, or mostly safe, area. Give them space and let them decide how to use it.
Let your kids talk to strangers. Please do the research on “stranger danger.” Teaching them to fear everyone is pretty terrible for their psyche.
Never squish the creativity out of your child. If they want to paint the cat blue, then let them. What will it hurt? Of course he or she knows that (most) cats aren’t blue, but hey, this one will be, because it’s fun. Let them sing funny words to a song - that’s not easy, and it’s great practice for speaking and thinking on the spot. What’s the point in stopping them? They already know “that’s not how it goes.” Let them make up crazy stories about completely impossible things, and tell them that they are doing a great job of using their imagination. They could be the next JK Rowling, after all.
And going back to “don’t abuse your children,” try your best not to be overly critical of your kids’ efforts in the arts. Constant negativity and degradation will breed a hesitant and emotionally frightened child… who will likely grow to be the same kind of adult. Applaud their accomplishments, in all area, no matter how minor. They need to be told that they are doing a good job.
Respect your kids. As much as you can, treat them like a person. Guide them instead of forcing them. Correct them when you need to, but make up for negatives with at least as many positives. Give them a voice. Let them use it. Don’t interrupt them, talk over them, or tell them to shut up. Refuse the idea of “children should be seen and not heard.” That is absolute rubbish, and in your heart, you know it.
Keep your rules simple… Rules should be made for these two reasons: To keep everyone safe and happy. Tell your child that every time you have to teach them a rule, and then explain how this rule keeps every one safe and/or happy. It will help them remember it, and you can spend less time yelling at them, spanking them, or putting them in time out.
Take time to just chill with your kids. Reading books, coloring, dancing and singing, exploring the outdoors, playing games (even simple word games), talking about anything, goofing off, snuggling on the couch, and telling corny jokes to one another are great ways to touch base and make them feel like a human being.
Finally, do everything you can think of to empower your children. Remind them of how much they can accomplish, learn and try. Hug them when you can. Listen to their woes, and don’t discount them. Remember how huge those “little” disasters felt when you were young? Sit close to them, let them cry, and then talk it out. Offer to help if appropriate, and be their best ally.
Children raised with positivity are our thinkers, our leaders, and our creators… and they are the ones who use their powers for good. You can create that kind of person with careful parenting. Or you can inadvertently crush a young soul with neglect or hostility. Which would you prefer to be remembered by?