In their own time...
Children will sleep through the night,
fall asleep without nursing, AND
ask to go to bed when they are tired
They will choose to shower,
brush their hair and teeth,
and change their clothes
Your son and daughter will share their toys,
Learn to take turns,
and say Please, Thank you, and I'm sorry
A child will eat healthy, wholesome food -
Not only will they eat it, they will ask for it
And tell you that they *need* it
Your daughter will willingly separate
To go on long excursions with another beloved adult
Your son will happily say goodbye
give you a kiss
and go on an adventure with his sister and daddy
They will happily help clean up messes - self and other made
They will help with laundry, sweep and vacuum, and clean the windows,
and THEN they'll help you make dinner
All of these things and more,
Children will do on their own,
In their own time.
How do I know all this? Because I've seen it with my own eyes - and I can count at least a dozen of these occurrences TODAY ALONE. There is no need for punishment or rewards, no need to teach or force any of it before they are ready. Given time, love, and support it all comes naturally because growing and learning is what they are meant to do.
So yes, they do need love, support, and guidance. They also need freedom - to make their own choices and mistakes. Be there when they need you and ask for your help. Before they are ready to do something be proactive, creative, and flexible. Their growth does NOT mean others' needs are ignored. Set them up to succeed. And of course model every value you hold dear, every virtue you treasure, every characteristic you've worked hard to develop in yourself.
Children will not be perfect and when they make a mistake they are still learning from you. Be aware of what they are learning - when things don't go as planned are they learning it's ok to explode or are they learning to take a deep breath (or 10)? They will learn about compassion and patience, love and what to do when mistakes are made, when they see it in action.
There is so much pressure in our culture to "teach independence" and to expect our children to do things they are not developmentally ready for. Recently at the playground a mom worriedly asked if her little girl said "Thank you" after I helped her into the sandbox (mom had a baby in a sling). The little girl was not even 2 years old yet! It is not realistic to expect a baby to sleep through the night, or a barely verbal child to say "Thank you" or "I'm sorry", or a 3 year old to share his most prized possession. We do not do ourselves or our children any favors when we push expectations on them before they are ready. It can be hard to resist the pressure. But maybe if more parents begin to embrace this natural unfolding it will be easier for others. Reassuring parents that you've seen the traits they value arise naturally in your own kids can bring a sense of relief and they can relax, even if just for a moment. Personally I am wary of the lessons children are actually learning when they are forced to do these things before they are ready. Children are very adaptable and will quickly display behaviors if it means they avoid a punishment or earn a reward. But when you show you do not trust them, they are learning to not trust themselves.
Last weekend I interviewed Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of "The Old Way" and she said of the Ju/wa society that there was a "Lack of punishment - they never punished their kids. They didn't even speak to them harshly. And somebody else pointed out that they, they also didn't particularly praise them, say, 'oh that's a good thing,' or 'you did that very well.' Kids were sort of expected to come along normally, which they certainly did, and they got their clues from watching other people."
Just as my children learned to walk, sleep through the night, and use the potty (last night Gerry said, "I no don't want to doe pee-pee in my pants! as he hurriedly pulled his potty out), they learned or are learning their colors, abc's and shapes. I fully expect this trend to continue and know that they will become fully independent - from using the potty and sleeping, to reading and researching the answers to their own questions - in their own time. Until they are ready I intend to love and support them the best I can. I believe it is difficult for parents to believe this is true in our culture. When I describe our life to acquaintances most people tentatively agree, "I could see that," but then go on to explain why they couldn't see this with their own child or in their relationships. Children are being sent to "school" at 2 and 3 years old. I believe this contributes to our lack of trust in this natural process. Because they are in school we attribute their learning - from social graces to academics - to their environment and the strategies employed there. My children are proof to me every day that a different way is possible. This way is not a quick or "efficient" process. In many ways what I am advocating takes more time, presence, trust and patience. But the long term... benefits? ...outcomes? ...advantages? None of these words seem sufficient to describe a child's growth and development into an adult. In any case - in the long run - individuals and society will benefit from a paradigm shift in our parenting culture.
Yes, given time and trust children will show you their true nature. Not only that, they will hold up a mirror for you to look in and see your own. Given support they will do all these things and more: on their own and in their own time.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.