Children are natural born scientists. They observe, they listen and then they manipulate their environment to see what happens. They are conscious of their surroundings from the minute they are born and they react to every stimulus they encounter. It's often hard to tell how they are experiencing the world before they develop language. We have to guess at how they are making sense of their daily lives but everything that they experience is being examined and filed away somewhere in their psyches.
As they grow we are given more clues. They cry when they're uncomfortable, in need or frustrated, they're quiet and observant when they're content. Their only way to communicate before they can speak is through their behavior and it's up to us to interpret their physical and emotional states. Our response frames their world and gives them a sense of what life has to offer. We, as their parents have a choice in how we respond to them but how often do we truly pay attention to what they are observing and learning from us?
We are surrounded by negativity in our culture right now. We are all experiencing the consequences of hatred and intolerance through the violence that we are witnessing everyday. Many of us are losing loved ones as a result of this hatred. And our children are watching and learning. They are learning that the only response to hurt or disagreement is to fight back. They are learning that the world is a dangerous place. They are learning to be frightened of one another, especially if someone is different or unfamiliar. They are watching our responses and listening to our words. What are we doing and saying when we experience the intolerance around us?
When our children cry or act out do we respond with love or blame? When we witness someone being victimized do they see us react with anger or compassion? Do we answer their cries with frustration and insist that their behavior change regardless of what they are trying to communicate to us or do we respond with love and compassion for what they are feeling?
I truly believe that being a parent is the hardest and most influential job we have. We are not only shaping an individual but an entire society. Most of us enter parenthood with little knowledge of parenting skills but lots of experience in how we've been treated as children and adults. Our reaction to our children is shaped by our experience in life. We often act without thinking especially when our lives are stressful. But what if we make an effort to respond with love and compassion before we enforce consequences? I'm not denying that we all need to be accountable, but what if we put more effort into understanding the motivation of others? Anger and acting out comes from hurt, it's a natural response. But sometimes it becomes so automatic that we lose sight of the hurt behind the anger. If we address the hurt will the anger subside, will the communication open up, would we be more conscious of how much we're hurting each other and continuing in this endless cycle? Can we change the world one child at a time?
Our power as parents is boundless. We are our children's first teachers. We are influencing them from the moment they are born. Are we instilling them with love or hatred, compassion or intolerance? If we become mindful of our interactions with our children maybe we can make a difference. It will take time and we may not live to see the results but we could be creating a better world for them and all those who follow.