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What All Children Want Their Parents to Know
12 Keys to Raising a Happy Child
By Diana Loomans, Julia Godoy
New World LibraryCopyright © 2005 Diana Loomans
All rights reserved.
Teach by Example
Teach me to love and care for myself
Through your own positive example.
I will learn from all your actions
And grow to have good self-care.
One of the deepest desires in every parent's heart is to raise a healthy and happy child whose life is meaningful and fulfilling. Most parents spare no expense to make this possible, working hard to provide a nice home, proper health care, good schools, fun toys, and extracurricular activities. All these things contribute to a child's quality of life and well- being, but they cannot fulfill the deep longing that resides in every child, which is to see their parents taking good care of themselves and experiencing their own joy and happiness.
Kids seem to instinctively know that a happy, well-adjusted adult has much more joy, attention, energy, and love to impart than an adult who is stressed, overworked, or overextended. The image of using an oxygen mask on an airplane is fitting — only the adult who takes in enough oxygen first can be helpful to the young who are dependent on him or her for life support.
Put Your Own Self-Care First
Above all things, revere yourself.
The first and most pivotal way to be a role model for children of all ages lies in the healthy, consistent care of you. Parents sometimes fall into the habit of putting all their children's needs before their own, under the pretense that children always come first. Clearly there are times when this is this case, as when a baby has croup in the middle of the night; then it is appropriate to place all the attention on the baby's wellness. And when a special event such as a birthday, graduation, or performance comes up, everyone naturally focuses on the special child for the day. But under normal circumstances, it is practical for parents to pay quality attention to their own lives first, knowing that a small amount of daily self-care is oxygen for the spirit. This translates into a calmer adult who reacts less often and responds with more perspective and grace.
When I was in grade school, my mother, who had four children, was advised by her doctor to take up swimming for health reasons. At first she was overwhelmed and wondered where she'd find the time to fit this into her schedule. To complicate matters further, my parents didn't have a second car, and there was no gymnasium within walking distance.
But with a little ingenuity and a lot of determination, my mother came up with a plan that would support her health and model the idea of putting her self-care first. She paid a visit to the nearby high school and struck up a conversation with the girls' gym coach. Before leaving, she boldly asked the coach if she would be willing to admit her into the freshman's beginning swim class. Not quite knowing what to make of my mother, the coach said she'd check with school authorities and get back to her. Within days, my jubilant mom was admitted to class, making her the oldest freshman student ever to attend a beginners' swim class!
Swimming did not come easily to her, since she had never learned to swim as a child. I remember seeing my mom practicing and sputtering in the bathroom sink as she struggled to get the rhythm of the crawl down, dipping her face in and out of the water and sometimes choking as she attempted to master this new challenge. I will never forget the day she came home from her first day of successfully doing the crawl in the Olympic-size pool. She was filled with a sense of accomplishment I hadn't seen in her for a long time.
Her commitment to her self-care kept her swimming at the high school pool for a number of years. She became such a good swimmer that she began to tutor the "scaredy-cats like me," as she put it. Even though it meant that she was not there on certain days when we arrived home from school, it was always a plus, since she returned refreshed and invigorated.
My daughter, Julia, has fond memories of walking with "Granny" to the high school pool and swimming alongside her as they pretended to be mermaids together. Julia attributes her lifelong passion for swimming to those early days when her grandmother made it into such a fun adventure. What a wonderful effect my mother's simple act of self-care has had on the entire family over the years.
A small amount of self-care can bring an extraordinary amount of balance and serenity to you as a parent and to the whole family. For some, self-care takes the form of daily meditation; for others, a brisk walk or an early morning workout sets the tone for the day. Many adults find that by taking five minutes or less to plan the day, they save much time in the long run.
The key question to ask yourself is, What do I need as a daily dose of positive energy? Even if you can muster up just five minutes to set your intentions for the day or to do a few yoga poses, the return is worth its weight in gold.
Do What You Say and Say What You Do
What you are shouts so loudly in my ears, I can't hear what you say.
— RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Words without action have little or no impact. But when words are backed by living examples, they have the power to form beliefs and habits that can last a lifetime. Mahatma Gandhi understood the value of practicing what he preached and stopped at nothing to be a living example of what he taught. A distressed mother once visited Gandhi with her young child, greeting him with a single request: "Mahatma, please tell my child to stop eating so much sugar!"
"Bring her back in three days," was all that Gandhi said. Bewildered, the woman and her child departed and returned in exactly three days. When Gandhi saw them again, he looked into the child's eyes and simply said, "Stop eating sugar," to her surprise.
"Forgive me, Mahatma, but couldn't you have told my daughter this three days ago?" the woman inquired. "No, madam. Three days ago, I hadn't stopped eating sugar yet," Mahatma said with a grin. As unnecessary as this gesture may have seemed to the woman, Gandhi understood the importance of speaking from firsthand experience to have a lasting impact.
The power of influence by example works in reverse as well. Children who grow up in family systems ravaged by violence, alcoholism, depression, obesity, drug addiction, anger, verbal abuse, criticism, favoritism, or neglect have a much greater chance of contending with these same problems as they grow up. How can a child hope not to have a weight problem when living with a compulsive overeater? How many teens can bypass substance abuse when an addicted parent or family member in the household is not seeking help? How many adults never even entertain what their dreams or potential might be, suffering from low self-esteem after years of criticism and put-downs?
Saying, "Do what I say, not what I do" rarely has an effect. A child almost always acts on what is demonstrated rather than on what is said. Poor modeling, unfortunately, has a powerful impact on children, even when they witness the devastating consequences. It is a known fact that over 75 percent of all prison inmates have had one or more family members who were in jail. The following story serves as a good example of this dynamic. Steven, a thirty-three-year-old man and longtime friend of mine, spent his last twelve years serving a sentence for armed robbery. He ran away from home at fifteen and had been robbing gas stations and neighborhood convenience stores for over five years before he was finally caught.
"It was almost a relief when I was caught," he said, "because I knew it was just a matter of time. My father and a few of my uncles all served time. I guess I got set up for a life of crime more than I'd realized."
Fortunately for him, his father, having served a similar sentence, came to his aid while his son was serving his sentence. "It was a turning point in my life the first time my dad showed up to see me in prison," he said. "I hadn't seen him since my thirteenth birthday. He was serving time before I ran away."
Before the young man could speak, his father blurted out, "Son, I'm not here to blame you — if anyone is to blame, it's me for not being a good father. I'm here to help you now. It's time we break this cycle for good." They shared a moment when all the barriers dropped away, and for the first time the young man saw a tear run down his father's cheek. Twice a month from then on, until his sentence was over, his father came to see him. With his dad's support, he got his GED and an associate degree in computer science while serving time.
There is no question that an adult's choices and actions can have lifelong effects on his or her children. In the areas where we are strong, we build strength in our children and the world. In the areas where we are weak, it is never too late to turn the tide.
Follow Your Heart
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.
— HENRY DAVID THOREAU
Far too many adults have put a stranglehold on their hearts' desires by neglecting the things they most wish to do in favor of tasks they've decided they should do. As a life coach, I have witnessed the many ways that adults should on themselves: "I want to take dance classes, but I should spend more time with the kids." Why not take them along? "I'd love to work in radio, but I should stick with my reliable but boring day job." How about making the transition slowly? "I'd love to live in a place with a view, but I should stick with my cozy little home that is paid for." Why not get the financial advice needed to make the move at an opportune time? "I'd love to go on a vacation, but I should use the money to make a responsible investment." How about doing both, even if it takes a little longer? Over time, our runaway shoulds imprison us in a dull lifestyle that neither excites nor ignites us.
What does that model for our children? A life full of shoulds sends the message that we can't have what we really want ... that we aren't worth it ... that dreams are for other people ... that settling is okay. A number of years ago on a weekend adventure in Arizona, I sat before a large bonfire with a group of friends at the end of a long, adventurous day. Since I like to ask thought-provoking questions, I asked the group, "If time, money, and responsibility were no object, what would you be doing with your life right now, and why?"
The answers that spewed forth, from the kids as well as the adults, were fascinating and riveting. One of the women — a thirty-something single mother sitting beside her eleven-year-old son — sat very quietly as the others spoke, staring into the fire with a forlorn look on her face. Finally, I asked her if she would be willing to share what was in her heart. "I am thinking about how impossible my wish is," she said with a sigh. "How can you be so sure?" I challenged her. "Yeah, Mom," her son added, "tell us what it is, and we'll decide how impossible it is!"
With a little more persuasion, she agreed to share what she would be doing if there were no obstacles in her way. It turns out that instead of running her small home-cleaning service, which she disliked intensely, she'd move to Wyoming and start a horseback riding school, which would suit her interests in teaching, horses, and living in the country.
Before long we were all enlisted, offering ideas to help her see that her idea was not just a pipe dream but a real possibility if she created a game plan and followed it. Five years later, she is thriving in Wyoming, teaching riding lessons at a ranch, with a few horses of her own. Her son is thriving as well, working as a ranch hand for some of the locals.
A simple fireside conversation five years ago changed the course of this woman's life. Once she dared to dream, and to express that dream to a circle of supportive friends, she became unstoppable. Her son has watched her transform from a downtrodden woman in a rut to an energized, uplifted woman following her dream. One can only wonder what aspirations he may have for himself as a result of her invigorating influence.
Take a Role Model Inventory
Live so that you wouldn't be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.
— WILL ROGERS
How many of us stop to consider the effect we are having on our children with the thoughts we think and the lifestyles we have? Albert Schweitzer was so convinced that being an example was the superior way to teach that he once said, "Setting an example is the only real teaching there is."
In a retreat weekend I have led for families, one of the most powerful exercises is called "Role Model Inventory." It came about when a brave father asked his adult son, "Tell me, what is the best thing that I have taught you over the years through example, and what is the worst thing that I have modeled for you through my actions? How have each affected you?" His son, while caught off guard by the candor of the question, answered with little hesitation.
"Well Dad, the best thing that you have modeled for me is your fresh and wise perspective on just about everything. Every time I have ever come to you with a problem or concern, you have helped me to find the best solution.
"You also bring a great perspective to many things that others would find mundane or overwhelming. I can't even name how many times your influence has helped me to make the right decision for myself. I am a much more hopeful, resourceful, and creative person because of it!"
He reflected for a moment and then went on to say, "The worst thing that you have taught me through your actions is your drive to always want to be at the next level — somewhere other than where you are. It leaves you with a certain sort of dissatisfaction, and you often seem restless.
"I've struggled a lot to find peace and satisfaction because I'm often second-guessing whether it's okay for me to be where I am. There's nothing I'd like more, Dad, than to see you content and happy with your life the way it is! There will always be the next level, and it saddens me to see you missing out on so much."
This man took a big risk in asking his son such a brave question, and his son was courageous in giving him a straight answer. They both felt that it was one of the best talks they'd ever had. This fifty-something father is diligently practicing being more present and appreciating his life here and now, knowing that it is more than enough the way it is.
The following exercises will help you to practice some of the most important ideas covered in this chapter.
1. Self-Care Check-In
Ask yourself these questions: What best serves me as my daily self-care routine, to be practiced whether I have five minutes or fifty minutes to devote to it? (For example, planning the day, praying, reading, journaling, meditating, reviewing your goals, visualizing, stretching, or exercising).
What do I consider to be supreme self-care, when I have the luxury of extra time? How often will I make time for this? (For example, a massage, a weekend retreat or spa getaway, an afternoon hike, Sunday brunch).
2. Role Model Inventory
Write down the best thing that each of your parents taught you through their positive example, and the worst thing that each of them modeled through example. Ask your child what the best thing is that you have taught them through your own good example (if you have more than one child, the answers may vary), and what the worst thing is that you have role modeled thus far.
If your children are too young to answer, ask a significant family member or friend for honest feedback. This exercise offers an inside look at the way you appear to your child and a chance to take what works and to transform the rest while there's still time!
* * *
A MESSAGE FROM ALL CHILDREN ABOUT TEACHING BY EXAMPLE
Dear Parent or Guardian,
The way you live your life
Will be my greatest influence.
When you neglect your own needs,
You teach me low self-esteem.
When you care for your well-being,
You teach me about self-love.
When you break your word,
You teach me inconsistency.
When your act on your word,
You teach me to follow through.
So please take good care of yourself
And be a role model in my life.
When you live what you teach,
I will grow up to do the same.
Spend Quality Time Daily
Notice me often,
Taking joy in my very existence.
I'll grow up knowing I'm special
And help others to feel the same.
The Talmud says, "Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'" One of the most significant contributions one can make in the world is to be that angel for a special child. Find joy in their existence, encourage their every step, and share quality moments with them often. Quality time can be defined as taking time to revel in your child, without any preoccupations or distractions. To revel is to take intense satisfaction in the existence of another — to feel one's heart swell with cherishing.
Excerpted from What All Children Want Their Parents to Know by Diana Loomans, Julia Godoy. Copyright © 2005 Diana Loomans. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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