They're Not from Mars or Venus
Any parent will tell you that raising a child is the hardest job in the world. How does one prepare a young person for the challenge of living in today's society? How do we teach them to cope with the violence and chaos of the end of a millennium? Is there a healthy alternative to punishment? More importantly, how can we manage a trip to the grocery store without a tantrum?
Relationship expert John Gray believes parenthood today requires a different set of skills than it has in past generations. In Children Are from Heaven, Gray asserts that children are more sensitive to violence and other negative acts pervasive in our culture today. Fear-based parenting techniques such as spanking, threats, intimidation, and disapproval are no longer useful; we must adopt more peaceful and nurturing methods if we want our children to grow up with their wills and spirits intact.
Granted, most of us weren't raised this way. Learning to use time-outs instead of spanking for younger children and what Gray calls "adjustments" instead of punishment for teenagers is like trying to learn a difficult foreign language. Renowned for his bestselling Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, Gray uses easy-to-understand analogues that describe complicated emotions and deeply ingrained behaviors such as helping women understand that men need to go "into their caves." And has simple yet compelling advice to men that they don't always have to "fix things" for women. Now, mothers and fathers will find the same candor in Children Are from Heaven with its five messages of positive parenting that will enable them to stay calm and collected for their kids.
The first of these messages, "it's okay to be different" requires parents to recognize what is special about their child and nurture it. Not all children learn at the same pace and it's important not to criticize a child for simply being who they are. "Every child, regardless of gender, has special needs associated with his or her particular challenges and gifts," Gray writes. Some of the other messages like "it's okay to make mistakes" and "it's okay to express negative emotions" may bring up a parent's own issues surrounding mistakes and emotions, and mothers and fathers must be careful not to project their emotions onto their child.
Gray bases his advice on the idea that every child is born perfectly innocent, a gift from heaven. They are already perfect; a parent's job is to provide a safe place for them to grow and should refrain from projecting their own ideas of a child's future. "Our most important role is to recognize, honor, and nurture our child's natural and unique growth process," writes Gray in Chapter One. "We are not required in any way to mold them into who we think they should be."
This approach is so different from past generations, when the ideal child was one seen and not heard and expected to perform adult tasks even while still under the age of ten. Up until the age of nine, Gray believes, children should be protected from the outside world. They should not be criticized for mistakes or made to feel as if they have done anything wrong, even if their behavior would have a elicited some sort of punishment 20 years ago. Until children are ten years old, according to Gray, their behavior is the responsibility of the parent and should not be blamed for anything. Many parents might find this hard to stomach, but Gray provides tools that help a parent stay in control without damaging the fragile psyche of the child.
Although fear-based parenting is too harsh for children today, Gray warns against permissive parenting. Many parents feel that the old ways don't work but because they haven't replaced it with another, more positive form of control, their children run willy-nilly all over them. We have all witnessed a child going out of control in public, a sign that there is not enough structure at home. Children want us to be in control, Gray says. Even teenagers secretly appreciate firm rules and commands because it gives them a safe structure in which they can safely explore the world.
Children Are from Heaven is literally loaded with useful skills, stories, and educational principles that will surely inspire parents to adopt Gray's philosophy. He assures that it will work for any child at any age, no matter what has happened in the home in the past. Any parent willing to give up the old ways can follow his instructions. Fear doesn't work, but love does. But Gray also points out that love isn't enough: parenting takes time. Taking time to listen means everything in the world to a child; your positive attention is sometimes all it takes to bring a child back in control; this kind of attention is vital to your child and can't be replaced with anything else.
Jessica Leigh Lebos
Read an Excerpt
Children Are from Heaven
All children are born innocent and good. In this sense our children are from heaven. Each and every child is already unique and special. They enter this world with their own particular destiny. An apple seed naturally becomes an apple tree. It cannot produce pears or oranges.
As parents, our most important role is to recognize, honor, and then nurture our child's natural and unique growth process. We are not required in any way to mold them into who we think they should be. Yet we are responsible to support them wisely in ways that draw out their individual gifts and strengths.
Our children do not need us to fix them or make them better, but they are dependent on our support to grow. We provide the fertile ground for their seeds of greatness to sprout. They have the power to do the rest. Within an apple seed is the perfect blueprint for its growth and development. Likewise, within the developing mind, heart, and body of every child is the perfect blueprint for that child's development. Instead of thinking that we must do something to make our children good, we must recognize that our children are already good.
Within the developing mind, heart, and body of every child is the perfect blueprint for that child's development.
As parents we must remember that Mother Nature is always responsible for our children's growth and development. Once, when I asked my mother the secret of her parenting approach, she responded this way: "While raising six boys and one girl, I eventually discovered there was little that I could do to alter them. I realized it was all in God's hands. Idid my best and God did the rest." This realization allowed her to trust the natural growth process. It not only made the process easier for her, but also helped her to not get in the way. This insight is important for every parent. If one doesn't believe in God, one can just substitute "genes" -- It's all in the genes.
By applying positive-parenting skills, parents can learn to support their children's natural growth process and to avoid interfering. Without an understanding of how children naturally develop, parents commonly experience unnecessary frustration, disappointment, worry, and guilt and unknowingly block or inhibit parts of their children's development. For example, when a parent doesn't understand a child's unique sensitivity, not only is the parent more frustrated, but the child gets the message something is wrong with him. This mistaken belief, "something is wrong with me," becomes imprinted in the child and the gifts that come from increased sensitivity are restricted.
Every Child Has His or Her Own Unique Problems
Besides being born innocent and good, every child comes into this world with his or her own unique problems. As parents, our role is to help children face their unique challenges. I grew up in a family of seven children and, although we had the same parents and the same opportunities, all seven children turned out completely different. I now have three daughters ages twenty-five, twenty-two, and thirteen. Each one is, and has always been, completely different, with a different set of strengths and weaknesses.
As parents, we can help our children, but we cannot take away their unique problems and challenges. With this insight, we can worry less, instead of focusing on changing them or solving their problems. Trusting more helps the parent as well as the child. We can let our children be themselves and focus more on helping them grow in reaction to life's challenges. When parents respond to their children from a more relaxed and trusting place, children have a greater opportunity to trust in themselves, their parents, and the unknown future.
Each child has his or her own personal destiny. Accepting this reality reassures parents and helps them to relax and not take responsibility for every problem a child has. Too much time and energy is wasted trying to figure out what we could have done wrong or what our children should have done instead of accepting that all children have issues, problems, and challenges. Our job as parents is to help our children face and cope with them successfully. Always remember that our children have their own set of challenges and gifts, and there is nothing we can do to alter who they are. Yet we can make sure that we give them the opportunities to become the best they can be.
Children have their own set of challenges and gifts, and there is nothing we can do to alter who they are.
At difficult times, when we begin to think something is wrong with our children, we must come back to remembering that they are from heaven. They are perfect the way they are and have their own unique challenges in life. They not only need our compassion and help, but they also need their challenges. Their unique obstacles to overcome are actually necessary for them to become all that they can become. The problems they face will assist them in finding the support they need and in developing their special character.
Children need compassion and help, but they also need their unique challenges to grow.
For every child, the healthy process of growing up means there will be challenging times. By learning to accept and embrace the limitations imposed by their parents and the world, children can learn such essential life skills as forgiveness, delayed gratification, acceptance, cooperation, creativity, compassion, courage, persistence, self-correction, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, and self-direction. For example:
* Children cannot learn to be forgiving unless there is someone to forgive.
* Children cannot develop patience or learn to delay gratification if everything comes their way when they want it.
* Children cannot learn to accept their own imperfections if everyone around them is perfect.
* Children cannot learn to cooperate if everything always goes their way.
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, Children Are from Heaven. Copyright © by Ph.D., John Gray. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
* Children cannot learn to be creative if everything is done for them.