Willingness and flexibility develop extended branches and foliage, just as criticism and control create stunted growth. (If you would like to test this out, invite the whole family to paint a tree. Set out large pieces of paper and paints or colour pencils. Paint is preferable. The results will certainly offer important insight on who’s who in the family zoo! Look at roots, trunks, foliage and fruits for symbolic indications.)
Conflict shows a soul in distress. Step one is not to judge the behaviour but rather look at what is being expressed. Through the action of pushing a sibling off a chair, the child is indicating that s/he is possibly feeling usurped. By thinking ‘he’s dominating her again’ we add to the conflict. If we read that he is in stress and feeling displaced, we naturally find an opportunity to reassure him. Parents unintentionally create this dynamic of conflict by unconsciously using words that give preference to one child, especially when we take sides or give praise.
It’s how we praise that makes the difference, e.g. ‘It looks like you had a lot of fun painting that!’ or ‘I feel happy looking at your picture!’ rather than, ‘What a good picture!’ In other words, our speech should be inclusive, not exclusive.
Children who blossom late may be holding back because of not feeling safe. If this is the case, special chores that are easily managed can be suggested. Doing a simple task for the benefit of the family opens the door to being complimented and thanked. This naturally builds self-esteem in the late bloomer, and how they love the sunshine of praise! Family chores give each member a feeling of being needed, but this should not be forced. Each person chooses his or her chore for the week.
As we know, choice stimulates the individual rather than immobilises through the heavy weight of duty.
‘Now that you have a hamster YOU have to keep the cage clean, it’s YOUR responsibility!’ With such utterances we teach our offspring to loathe responsibility. As an alternative, ‘let’s see if Mrs Hamster needs a clean bed to sleep in’ brings out curiosity and concern, which are essential ingredients for learning how to care.
Children are naturally curious, unless their spirits have been dampened. Doing chores with a child nurtures friendliness between parent and child; they do not want us alongside them forever so it is a wonderful opportunity to utilise the moments that they do want our assistance.
The way in which we phrase our intentions brings out the best or the worst in children. Imagination and enthusiasm (Greek – to be filled with God) are the keys to their world and it takes miniscule effort to do this if we are willing to try on their size shoe at appropriate times.
Responsibility is something children learn along the way, it is not something we have to teach them. It comes in the form of the love and care we show for our environment and the animals, people and plants that are part of that environment.
1. Maria Montessori. The Absorbent Mind.