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