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Parents often ask me if there is ever a time when our wisdom as adults is useful to give to our children in stressful situations. Yes, obviously we have experiences and/or knowledge that our child does not have that could prove helpful to him. Timing is the key. Following the child's lead is the best way to know if and when our input is appropriate. In general, children are more capable than we realize in their ability to self-heal. A self-reliant child is unlikely to ask for advice - when not asked we are better off not giving it.

The worst time to give advice is when a person (of any age) is in the midst of agonizing and pouring out their heart. I have found that most of the time children will come to their own wise conclusions if their expression of pain is fully accepted through listening and validation. When our wisdom is essential, they will let us know with specific questions. About once a year, this occurs with my children in the area of emotional distress. In the areas of learning, it happens more often.

So why do some children ask for advice a lot more often than others when in emotional distress?

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Many attachment parents call me in bewilderment when their child's behavior or development does not meet their expectations. "I did everything right for her!" says a young mother, "She was born peacefully, I carried her all the time, and she is still nursing and sleeping with us. Now that she is two years old, I am just not sure what to expect, or how to deal with her many needs." Some parents have specific questions about eating, sharing, cooperation and developmental stages. Others simply aren't sure how much to limit, and how much freedom to provide. These issues can indeed be perplexing. We have no role models to follow, as most of us are not following in our parents’ footsteps.

We all love our children and want the best for them. We want to follow our hearts, our intuition, and most of all, our children's cues. At times, our own childhood may make it difficult for us. Even the best and most loving parents sometimes respond to their children in a less then loving and kind way. This often stems from past hurts being restimulated by the child. How can we learn to care for our children in a loving way, without the interference of our own past painful memories?

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For over twenty years now I have been teaching parents how to connect, validate and understand the needs behind children's emotional expressions, and allow them to feel and express themselves fully. Yet I noticed new difficult behaviors and dependencies arising as a result of these well intended endeavors. Indeed, some of the kindest parents unintentionally teach their children to feel more entitled and therefore less peaceful.

Many of us grew up emotionally lonely and confused by habitual denial of our feelings. We were told, "Don't cry, nothing happened," while inside we felt that a lot happened; or we were shut down with, "You are fine," when we were hurting inside. It is inspiring to see many of today's parents trying to give their children the compassion and validation they themselves did not receive. However, in their anxiety to be gentle, parents sometimes don't realize that they teach victimhood and neediness. They typically call for my guidance saying: "I have been so kind and responsive, why is my child so demanding, whiny, angry and even aggressive?"

How validation and talk about feelings and needs can backfire?

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...so we can raise powerful "tiger" children

Q: I have read CNN interview of Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua speaks of her superior Chinese parenting. Many people see her as abusive, but others think she puts much more into her children. I am feeling confused. I am here to give my children all that I can. If I give less than this "Tiger" mom does, it is because I think it is actually better to allow children to grow up on their own. But now I am not sure. We are unschooling, and my children fifteen, twelve and nine, are not practicing anything. Are they missing something? Am I depriving them of accomplishing high ranks in society?

 

A: Any mother, Chinese or not, would abandon control and manipulation, if she knew kinder ways to raise a happy child who grows up into loving, joyous and accomplished adult. Chua would be very happy if her children would be fulfilling their own passions, without oppression. She would love to never have to coerce, yell, threaten and make her home into "a war zone" (her words.) Only, she doesn't know that this is possible.

 

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My husband and I are often complimented on our children's behavior and demeanor. People think that we discipline them. We don't. It is ourselves we discipline.

Translations

We meet our children's needs, provide for their protection, and expose them to life's possibilities. We do not, however, meddle in their play, their learning, their creativity, or any other form of growth. We love, hug, feed, share, listen, respond, and participate when asked. Yet, we keep our children free of insult and manipulation resulting from "helpful" comments and ideas - influences to which children are so sensitive in their state of dependency.

Parental Self-Discipline

This type of discipline is not easy. Not only does our society not support it, but the temptation to break the "rules" lives within us. The drive to intervene in children's activities is rooted in our upbringing and reinforced in our culture.

 

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