Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What About Manners?

You probably would like it if your young children would develop “manners.” Do you want your 4-year-old to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’ Wouldn’t it be great if your 5-year-old would apologize when someone gets hurt by something he did?

The secret learning method for young children is imitation. Instructing, explaining, scolding, threatening, bribing and moralizing are not effective methods and in fact the young child doesn’t learn at all from these methods, though they can be ‘trained’ or ‘conditioned.’ True learning only happens when the will of the individual is engaged. When the initiative for action is coming from inside the person then there is a possibility for learning to arise. We only learn when we do it ourselves.

Imitation is the young child’s modality for taking hold of the world around her. The impulse for imitation is external - what is sensed by the child all around her. The will of the child is what takes hold and does the imitating.

So...manners. If you want your child to be polite, you have to model politeness for her. I have to interject that manners and politeness are not universally consistent. What could be considered ‘good’ manners somewhere could be considered rude and discourteous somewhere else. So you have to choose the manners that you are aiming to transfer to your child. And then use your manners. In interactions with your child, in interactions with your partner, in interactions with the cashier at the grocery store, and everywhere.

You don’t need to bring it to your child’s attention - you simply do it. You don’t need to say,”Honey, did you notice how I said ‘thank you’ at the coffee shop? I’d like you to say thank you’ too when someone hands you something.” In your interactions, use kindness, courtesy and politeness and your child will likely follow suit.

Additionally, you can magnify the possibilities of imitation by speaking courtesies on behalf of your child. For instance, 4-year-old Tommy says, “Give me more raisins.”
So, while handing him some more raisins, you say, “Please can I have more raisins?” 

That way you are planting a seed for his own will to take up in imitating your example. You are speaking the words you would be happy if he used. In contrast, Tommy says, “Give me more raisins.” You say, “Tommy! Say ‘Please’ and then I’ll give you the raisins.” Tommy won’t actually learn anything from this method. He will do as he is told because he wants to be ‘rewarded’ with the raisins. I won’t be from Tommy taking in kindness and manners and enacting those out of his own actions. 

Similarly, if we notice our 5-year-old daughter knock over another child. One response could be, “Sally! Say you’re sorry.” And she probably will because we are demanding it. If instead the adult says, “Susie is hurt. Is there anything we can do for her?” then Sally is free to take action out of herself. Her own will can engage and she can offer help and comfort to the injured child in her own way.

So instead of ordering your child to use manners, instead of demanding they say certain words, I suggest considering how best to utilize the learning mechanism of imitation to achieve your goals for manners and kindness. We adults can create situations where the will of the young child can take hold of the wonderful examples we offer through how we say and do things. Try it and see what happens. It works, it really works!

P.S. If you try this method out, please let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to hear.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finding the Little Engine that Could

Something Margret Meyerkort (longtime kindergarten teacher and mentor) said again and again resounds in my head as a sort of watchword of my personal striving. “Unless I develop myself, what right do I have to stand before the children?” One reason she said that is because the basic learning modality of the young child is imitation. Young children imitate what we say, what we do, and even more, how we are in the world. I am a teacher of young children, a parent, a grandparent and more. I want to be worthy of ‘standing in front of the children.’ 

Alongside Margret’s voice, in my head I hear the voices of self-doubt and unworthiness. They are the voices of fears and inadequacy. I don’t want to see how imperfect I am. Our fears keep us from truly looking at ourselves. We all have shortcomings and don’t live up to our own standards, and we all need the courage to take an honest look at ourselves. I need courage to look at myself especially if I might (and will) find inadequacies and shortcomings. How else can I change for the better if I don’t see what needs to be changed?

When I find the things in me that I want to change it can be overwhelming. I do not like what I find, and there is so much to change. I can only keep up my search to know myself if I can find the enthusiasm to keep at it. I need to be passionately persistent in my inner search for self knowledge to be able to carry on with more and more and deeper and deeper discoveries of what I need to change. And I need this fire, this enthusiasm, this passion to make the changes. I need a wellspring of inner strength. (see previous post by Rick Hanson) Waking up is not easy. Making the changes is not easy.

I truly want to develop myself to become a free human being. What I mean is I want to be able to be free to respond in any situation, not to react based on my own lifelong patterns and conditioning. Becoming free requires diligent and persistent work, the hard work of truly waking up.

Meadows says, in A Sleep of Prisoners (by Christopher Fry):
The human heart can go to the lengths of God.
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no dark winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move,
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.
Where are you going? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity’s sake....

And then that nagging voice of self doubt arises saying that it is just too hard to change, it is not possible. How can you change the way you are, they way you have always been? But again, that voice is the voice of conditioning, the voice from our culture of shame that says you are simply not good enough. 

We can connect with our can-do voice, that fire of will to make changes lives in each of us. The Little Engine that Could is a part of each of us. I think I can, I think I can... Maybe it is hibernating, so it is time to stoke the fire, the enthusiasm for taking hold of your self. We do not have to be stuck in the habits and shortcomings that are revealed when we seek to know our self. We can use our inner strength and begin to make the changes we choose. 

Working on your self to make the changes is one step. Allowing your self to see the changes you create in yourself is an act of creative thinking. Create a new self image based on the changes you make. Unwind the old tapes and think for your self in each moment, true thinking. Digesting, contemplating, considering, what comes to you, integrating it with what has gone before, synthesizing, allowing your self image to move and change and be alive in you. 

One part of how-to is a practice that involves a daily looking at yourself. At the end of each day, when you are feeling peaceful and are not distracted, take a few minutes to review your whole day. Quickly review your day in your mind as an objective observer. In your review, when you find a moment in the day when you had lost your patience, had become reactive, take a few extra seconds. Look closely at the events just before you ‘lost it’ so you can observe what set you off. Judging yourself harshly is not helpful. Look at the events as a story, and know that you can rewrite the story. The important first step is to notice, simply notice what was the ‘trigger’ for you. And then continue with your review of the rest of your day. If you can do this practice every evening before bed you will begin to see your reaction pattern and your ‘button.’ Eventually this practice will result in your sudden awareness in the moment that you are in one of those situations where your ‘button’ is being pushed but it isn’t causing the reaction pattern to set in and you can choose your next words or action. In that moment you have broken out of your conditioned reaction pattern. It might not last, but you have experienced that it is possible. So you continue the daily evening practice and take some steps forward, and fall back some also. 

The ancient Greeks wrote over the door to their Temple in Delphi, a temple dedicated to the ancient mysteries, Know Thyself. That is no easy task, yet to become worthy of the imitation of the young children we have to again and again walk through the door of that temple. Find out who you are and what you are made of. Life will give you plenty of opportunities for self discovery. For it is in the challenges, the difficult situations that we can truly meet ourselves and are given opportunities to develop new capacities in ourselves. 

To me, this is a true spiritual self education. It means I recognize that there is a part of us that learns, not the math and language skills, etc, but the lessons of our life. That we can develop ourselves is the essence of what it is to be human. 

What is this 'spiritual' thing? The spirit in me is that aspect of myself that does the developing, that learns from the challenges, that attempts to see what needs changing and then has the will to change it. That is what is spiritual - that part of each of us that does the developing. The spirit in me is trying to become truly human. 

We all have shortcomings yes, but we all have a great gift to share with the world. The world is waiting for these gifts. The children and everyone around us benefit when we try to develop our self and become more present and awake. 

P.S. For more guidance and support and practices in this realm, I recommend looking into the work of Brene Brown, Tara Brach, Rick Hanson and Rudolf Steiner.