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Friday, March 5, 2010

Raising Baha'is (without brattiness)...

This posting is to provide you with some of the many Baha'i writings that can apply to raising children in line with Baha'i principles.  One caveat, as an individual I can only provide my interpretation and emphasis concerning these writings.  You may take something more or less from each quote concerning raising children - so, you have been warned. :-)

One source of useful advice comes from a book titled, "Mothers, Fathers and Children" by A. Furutan.  He uses several Baha'i quotes to frame his advice and does a good job using simple language and clear logic to justify it.  For those of you not familiar with him, you can check out this link --- A. Furutan.  He begins his book with a chapter titled, "Six Educational Counsels".

To open this chapter he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "According to the teachings of Baha'u'llah, the family being a human unit must be educated according to the rules of sanctity.  All the virtues must be taught the family."

The first is 'The Necessity of Agreement between Parents' and he quotes Baha'u'llah, "Ye were created to show love to one another and not perversity and rancor."  This provides consistency, let alone relative peace.

The second is 'The Childhood Years and the Force of Habit' and he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience hath shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps, improve somewhat today; but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual condition and accustomed ways. Therefore it is in early childhood that a firm foundation must be laid. While the branch is green and tender it can easily be made straight."  This is one reason why we have started what we call a Virtues Playgroup with children ages 4-6.  It is wonderful to have children who understand (in their own way) what perseverance and unity mean in word and deed (among others).

The third is 'Parents' Words and Deeds are Children's Examples' and he quotes Baha'u'llah, "Take heed, O people, lest ye be of them that give good counsel to others but forget to follow it themselves." Children have a set of neurons (as do adults) that are highly active and remarkable.  They are called mirror neurons.  We have empathy and develop it (and other virtues) through mirroring other's actions.  Being respectful of a child's emotion by listening and encouraging them to verbalize, as opposed to ignoring and teaching them that tantrums are the best way to get attention, can be quite helpful at times.  This doesn't mean have a lengthy argument or engage in a discussion for all things, but adults tend to write off a child's emotion and miss an opportunity to teach the child that the emotion is reasonable and teach them how to utilize that emotion for the better.

The fourth is 'Self-Control' and he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "The individual must be educated to such a high degree that he...would think it easier to be slashed with a sword or pierced with a spear than to utter calumny or be carried away by wrath." How many times as adults have we said something that we regret or, worse yet, don't recognize that we should regret it because it causes division and pain?  This counsel is strongly linked to the third one mentioned above.  In the end, of course, the virtue of forgiveness is our saving grace when self-control fails.

The fifth is 'Keeping Promises Made to Children' and he quotes Baha'u'llah, "Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it." What a lesson to be learned at such a young age and such rewards to be gained when applied as adults.

The sixth is 'The Effects of Deceit on Children' and he quotes Abdu'l-Baha, "Truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized." He relates a story where a mother took a son to a movie, while leaving the daughter at home. In order to not upset the daughter, the mother tells her falsely that she's taking the son to the dentist and hides the fact of taking him to the movies. Once returned home, the daughter pretends to be asleep in her room and the mother tells the father of the trip to the movies with her son. The daughter is, to say the least, disappointed.

With this brief overview, I hope that you can take away some new ideas (or at least quotes).  The rest of the book is quite good and I recommend that you take a look.  Looking forward to your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Raising Baha'i Brats...

Did the title get your attention?  Well, let me clear up something.  I don't think that Baha'is raise brats intentionally or that a particular faith group has complete ownership on raising brats or that brats are an inevitable consequence and fixed in their lifelong development to become adult brats. In fact, naming a child a 'brat' is a label that alters one's view and therefore may limit the adult's ability to recognize a moment for positive reinforcement of good behavior.

Also, I do not think that I have the answers to raising everyone's children.

With that written, I am shocked by how many people, in general (in or out of the Baha'i community), conduct either laissez-faire or dictatorial styles of parenting.  Both extremes result in a strange brew that leads to behaviors and understandings in a child that aren't quite useful for themselves or society.

A laissez-faire style leads to a child that does anything and everything, has little or no social graces, and finds disorder to be normal.  A dictatorial style leads a child to have limited personal growth in as far as setting boundaries for themselves and the natural inclination for the fire of creativity (among other things) is doused.

A child needs love, trust, and respect (much like anyone else).  However, a loving parent who allows the child to do nearly anything isn't providing a framework where the child will be safe.  Once a child is of a certain age (2-3), communicating in a loving manner what is and is not expected of them begins to build respect and trust in the relationship.  That communication comes from the parent, but it is also important for the parent to allow the child to share their emotions and thoughts, to a certain extent, such that they feel heard.  "I understand that you like jumping up and down on the couch because it is fun, but you can slip and hurt yourself. Here are two other things you can do (A &B), which do you you want to do?" A few things that parents may do that can be helpful are:

1. Label the behavior, not the child.
I have witnessed communications from a parent and a child that would be considered rude and unruly if said to another adult. Demeaning the child's soul is not the role of a parent, rather the role is to provide boundaries that allow for personal growth. A child is not always 'shy', always 'rude', or always anything - unless the parent reinforces it by name calling (including being called a 'brat').

2. Tightly connect (in time) consequences to behavior/words
If a child does something that is disrespectful, then at which moment do you attend to it?  As soon as humanly possible! Connect the action to discussion and the consequence, so that the message is clear.  I have heard of some experts recommending that one must provide children with all of the options possible and let them choose.  In this way, the child's inner being will develop as intended and without harm from parental influences. This is ridiculous when taken to an extreme.  Parental influence can be a good thing!

3. Listen to and try to understand the child
Some parents don't try to understand the source of the child's emotion or thoughts.  Granted, it is difficult at times to do this, but it will reap benefits.  Listening and being respectful to the child is modeling the behavior you expect from him/her.  How many adults are frustrated with each other due to simple misunderstanding?  Now, make one of those adults into a child whose vocabulary is much less and you'll end up with screaming and tantrums (even some adults continue to do this because they didn't learn how to recognize their emotion and use it wisely).

4. Be Consistent
Nothing damages a good framework of trust, respect, and love more than inconsistency. It isn't easy to always be consistent, but try to be consistent about the most fundamental things.  Certain behaviors are never to be tolerated and the consequence should be well known by both parent and child, and followed through.

Well, with those four to think about I add one more thing...

5. Balance
Choose your 'battles' wisely.  You alone need to identify what is significant and what is not.  Sometimes, just like adults, the child needs to share his/her feelings and not have a solution.  They need to be heard and understood.  Neither the laissez-faire or dictatorial parent will find balance, nor peace.