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At the piano, 3-year-old Lennon plays random sounds. "Why don't you teach him to play?" asks my visitor from the East Coast, who knows that I am a pianist. "He is learning," I say. "I can never match the effectiveness of this natural way of mastering a skill." My friend looks at me doubtfully. "When you come again for a visit next year you'll see," I say. Even though I have no idea where Lennon's playing is going, I figure she'll see growth in whatever he will do as long as he is free to play.

How many parents and teachers are concerned when a day goes by with play and play and more play? "When will she learn if she plays all day?"

Is play really a waste of time? Did nature goof when all cubs, including humans, are born with a drive and an ability to play?

 

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Editor: This is a question with many ramifications but can you boil down, what is in your view, the job of a parent?

 

 

Naomi Aldort: A parent is here to escort a new soul into the experience of being human. It is a job of nurturing the process of another’s unfolding much like gardening. When we care for a flower, we don’t intervene with its being; we don’t pry its petals open or paint its colors. It is not up to us what kind of flower it is. We provide for it so it can bloom in its own magnificent way and in its own time. We don’t care for the flower if it blooms; we care for it so it can bloom. The nurturing is respectful of God, of nature’s creation and of life. It is unconditional love with utmost humility and respect toward creation.

 

Therefore the job of a parent often ends up being about her own spiritual unfolding. To care for a child with unconditional love, trust and respect, one has to unfold oneself. In a way it is a divine job, which means, it requires of us as parents to self-realize and come to be at peace so we can nurture another to be herself or himself, with love and guidance, but without interfering with creation; with who the child is.

 

Editor: Why do parents find it so hard to trust their children and their own intuition?

 

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Q: I have read your article in Mothering magazine about the harm of praise and became concerned. If I stop praising my child, he loses interest. What can I do instead of praise?

A: There is nothing to do "instead" of praise. Words that intend to make the child feel and do what we want are manipulative and carry the same price as other coercions: loss of intrinsic motivation, loss of self-trust, dependency on approval, damaged parent child relationship, lowered self-esteem, insecurity, disinterest, dishonesty, getting by with as little as possible, fear of challence, and more. This does not imply that we become indifferent; on the contrary, when free of the intent to impact the child's emotions, actions or behavior, a parent can generously express ...

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Q: I understand your guidance not to praise my child's achievements and to validate his expressed self-appreciation instead. However, can I praise him when he helps me, and, can I give positive feedback when he practices his music?

    

A: We want to let a child know that we appreciate his help, and we wish to give useful feedback when asekd for it. Praise is an evaluation and so it misses these intentions; anytime we give our opinion or judgment (no matter how great) on the behavior or accomplishment of another, we appear as though we are one up, which is the reason it is perceived as patronizing. Such praise is likely to elicit annoyance, shoulder shrug or rolled eyes - because it does not meet the need of the child for respect and equality. If such praise is accepted, it can lead to dependency and insecurity as explained in part one of three article series.

When your child serves your needs...

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We need not hold our awe inside. Appreciation and love (not praise - which is evaluation), can be shared abundantly. Ask yourself what touches you more, when someone says to you, "You are great" or when she says, "I feel inspired by your words." It is the emotional impact that we make on the people we love that matters to us the most. Express your love and appreciation unconditionally when one-on-one with your child, or, when a child shows a need for recognition in her worth, (often through disturbing behavior.)

Use those precious moments when you feel a deep bond. Share whatever is present and real for you at the moment; a smile, a hug, an action and/or words. Instead of vague expressions of praise share how you feel and how her presence inspires you. While taking a nature walk together you can say, "I feel joyful walking with you," or, "Your interest in nature inspires me." while helping your child wash his hair, "I love washing your hair, I feel so close to you." Giving full attention is one of the loudest ways to express love and recognition of your child's importance in your life. Do so by listening, watching and serving her with joy (rather than annoyance).

When you don't mean it, don't say it. Finishing a phone call with a mechanical, "I love you," or "You are great," lacks respect and drains the meaning out of these words. If your child rolls her eyes or seems annoyed when you say something wonderful about her, you are probably not respectful of her preferences ("not here Mom," or, "not now") or, you are dishing out praise instead of sharing your feelings.

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Dahlia was running around the house screaming and crying. "I hate her! I hate her! I will never play with her again!" Finally, her steps slowed, and she told her father what had happened. He listened attentively. When she stopped, he asked, "Is there anything else?" Dahlia added more details and resumed crying bitterly. Father listened. When Dahlia stopped talking, he acknowledged, "I understand and I love you very much." Dahlia accepted her father's embrace and support as she sobbed some more in his arms. Then as suddenly as the storm of tears began, she was finished. She got up and cheerfully announced, "Daddy, did you know that tomorrow Tina and I are going together to the beach? We are building a log house there with Adam and Tom. I will tell Tina before we go that I won't ruin her work again, and I am sure she will be nice to me."

Why was this encounter so successful? How did Dahlia get over her upset so completely and become aware of her responsibility in the matter on her own?

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Our son Yonatan came home last Christmas from the theater and related an observation. On the way from the theater to the lobby he noticed that parents were instructing the children to ask the Santa Claus for candy with a "please", and after getting the treat say "thank you". Yonatan went to the lobby and was surprised and puzzled. He found that the children indeed said "please" and "thank you", but that their parents came along and took their own treats, saying nothing.

"The parents of these parents must have told them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, yet they didn’t seem to learn it." He said. "Do you think these children are also going to stop saying "thank you" when they grow up?"

What do we expect a child to learn when we tell him: "Say thank you to your friend"? Most parents believe that the child will learn to be grateful, and to express her sense of gratitude. But do children learn these things by being told to do them? How did we feel as children when told to say "thank you"? When did we really develop a sincere sense of gratitude? Did saying "thank you" before we had the feeling to match the words make us grateful? Or did we develop a sense of gratitude later on in no regard to those instructions? Is it possible that some of us feel resentful when needing to thank someone, share, or apologize, because as children we hated doing these things?

Maybe we are dealing with our inability to trust. Is it possible that gratitude is not likely to be felt by a child or at least not in the way adults feel and express it? Could it be that when childhood needs are fully satisfied, gratitude will naturally develop? Perhaps we need to allow children to observe gratitude, generosity and kindness, rather then teach these behaviors to them.

What do they learn by being told?

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