15 Mar Respecting the natural rhythm of a child`s growth
After I became a mother, I realized how different my view of parenthood was from the norms imposed by the society in which I live. I got used to carrying the baby in my arms and sleeping with her in the same bed. I`ve never soothed her with a pacifier and continued to breastfeed her for as long as she wanted. I had never put her into “walkers” but let her crawl months before she made the first steps. I had never pushed potty training as the crucial issue. I have been feeling the strong urge to let nature guide my child the way she needed to. And that has remained the basic principle of my parenting to this very day.
On the other hand, I have seen parents around me who drive their children more in a stroller than carry them in their arms, believing in the old myth – don`t get a baby used to be in your arms! And in your bed! And to be attached to you! I have noticed an urge to get children to eat solid food, to get potty training, to start to walk, to sleep in their bed, to be able to read and write as soon as possible. It sounds like a race that we put a child into as soon as it is born! Like we are afraid that child will fall behind. I have been listening to the reasons like “this is good for a child to develop resistance”, and “it needs to get used to real life as soon as possible”. But, is it truly like that? Do we make a child stronger and more resilient by pushing its independence earlier than it is ready to be independent?
As for me, I have always listened to my inner voice to not forcing a child on something for which he has strong resistance. Of course, I have been convicted many times for that. “You will spoil them,” the well-wishers told me. But they were not right. Somehow they did not understand that you will never spoil the child if you meet its needs with love and respect and if you let nature guide it. Understanding the genuine needs of a child is the first task of a parent. We mothers are naturally endowed with an instinct to nurture and protect our children in all circumstances. But we also tend to take lightly the prejudices about raising children without further consideration. Whenever we are in a dilemma, the best solution is always to listen to our deep inner voice, which unmistakably tells us what is the best for our child. Assuming we are connected to the child in the harmony of living together as a whole.
In the wholeness with a mother
The basic need of a child is to keep the sense of security in the wholeness with a mother. The nature of a newborn child is a complete dependence on guardians, primarily on the mother. During childhood, the child gains independence gradually and builds identity separately from his mother and father. It is a slow and gradual process that begins in childhood, but actually, it lasts the whole life. How many adults are there who can boast of mature independence? The world is full of people addicted to various things – food, drink, entertainment, drugs, sex, work, to name the most obvious. We can rightly claim that these people did not complete the maturation process that they began in childhood.
I am coming back to my initial question: do I help my child become a resilient, mature, independent person if I rush him to develop faster than nature dictates? What are the long-term benefits of that? Short-term benefits might be there because the child`s survival force will help him to adjust to any kind of circumstance that is imposed on him. If you leave a child alone in a dark room crying every day, after some time he will adjust and stop crying. But, could we guess that in his consciousness will remain the seal of fear, loneliness, and insecurity for being left alone in the scary situation? And maybe that child is going to seek the comfort and security, that he lacks deep within, in immature and inappropriate ways in his adulthood.
Modern individualism is not natural to human nature
I believe the root cause of misunderstanding a child`s genuine need for security through the connection is the obsessive focus on individualism in the modern culture. Such a society creates the norms of achieving success as an independent individual that we impose on the child from the earliest days. It is quite contrary to the traditional spiritual Vedic culture that supports the interdependence of social orders to achieve social harmony and individual happiness and success through it. Modern individualism is actually not natural to human nature, which is obvious in the way how modern families treat their children. Parents today often deprive their children of a sufficient dose of intimacy because of cultural norms and fast-paced lifestyles. They force children to reach certain milestones at a certain time prescribed by doctors, teachers, and other experts. There is a huge lack of sensitivity to hear and feel our children`s personal needs when they do not match prescribed expectations. Too often, we interpret a child’s need for closeness and connection as an exaggeration and something undesirable. A great misunderstanding arises because we perceive the child as a miniature adult and judge his behavior from that perspective. And we rush to put him in the shoes of an adult to avoid dealing with an emotional spectrum of a child`s needy behaviors. It is so strange how we are ready to tolerate the immature behaviors of adults more than of children!
The truth is that a child is the unreasonable, dependent, instinctive being with a hidden capacity to develop the highest of human qualities. The child develops according to its inner creative forces that unfold in their own time. We cannot force them, as we cannot force the plant to grow faster than it is her capability. What we can do is offering the best possible circumstances for its growth, and nurture it with love and patience. We are facilitators and servants of our children that assist them in their growth. Part of this is to respect the natural flow of their growth and to offer assistance, guidance, soothing, and comfort when the child struggles. Growing up is not an easy task. The child travels from unconsciousness to consciousness through different stages of development that are not always smooth and straightforward. There are stops, regressions, and struggles on the way. It could be challenging for parents to deal with some of these. If a parent is not mature, stable, and patient enough, conflicts with a child are inevitable. We should keep in mind that a parent is on the conscious side of a river helping a child to come over from the unconscious side. He must stand there as an anchor in the sea of turbulent childhood waves.
Some helpful guidelines
Below are some guidelines, taken from my experience of parenting two sweet but sensitive and needy children, to help you set up the favorable surrounding for your child`s optimal growth and to be a steady anchor your child needs you to be.
Do some research to gain knowledge about the developmental stages of a growing child in general. There are many things that you do not know as a new parent and could be surprising to expose some parental myths that we believed to be untrue.
Spend a lot of quality time with your child. Be there with a child with full attention, ready to connect in many possible ways – through play, touch, hugs, talking, singing, laughing together. Children are sensory beings, and they need a lot more sensory inputs than adults. They understand the world through the senses, and they need soft and warm touch and voice around them.
Spend a lot of time in nature with a child. The time spent outside depends on the age of a child and I would say it increases how the child grows. People are meant to live in nature much more than the modern lifestyle allows them. It is one of the basic needs of humans in general, and we should make arrangements for it in one way or another.
Establish a healthy rhythm of your everyday life with a child. It is difficult to do it when the baby is born – in the first two years, everything is upside-down. It got much easier to establish a steady rhythm when my children stopped napping in the afternoon when they were 4-5. If the children know how the days are going to unfold, with predictable activities that follow up each day in the same pattern, they get a sense of security that we already know is very important for their healthy growth. I would say that a healthy rhythm with regular meals and bedtime during childhood is a basis on which the child will develop self-regulation and spiritual sadhana practice later on in adult life.
Learn to detect stress-provoking situations. Children often behave needy and unreasonable when they are hungry, tired, or overstimulated. They do not know to express what borders them reasonably, but they start to show signs that we should learn to recognize and consequently remove the child from the stressful situation. They can become cranky, over-energetic, stubborn, or aggressive because they need a nap or relaxation; they feel too much sensory stimulants such as crowds, noise, too bright light, too much screen time; they are hungry or thirsty. We need some time to learn to read these signals, but when we do it and agree to follow them, our life with a child will become more pleasurable and much less stressful.
Let them accomplish everyday tasks by themselves. Do not interfere if not necessary. They will learn all the skills naturally by repeating them, and failures are part of the learning process. If we help them all the time or do the things instead of them, we deprive them of the main learning opportunity and hinder the development of their self-confidence.
Do not allow too much screen time! Even better to cut it off completely, as long as you can. When my children were younger and I depended a lot on the help of my family, they spent time in front of the TV in my parents’ home more than I wanted. Later on, my husband and I cut off screens completely for 2-3 years (we used computers only when they were sleeping). Now we have a strictly limited time for watching cartoons, movies, and short youtube videos (no video-games at all). It is so important to regulate this because screens and technology have a very bad effect on children`s brains. It is as dangerous as drugs are for a teenager because watching screens create the same effect in the brain as using a drug, and children can literary become addicted to it. This is a topic for a whole new article.
Don`t forget to take care of yourself as much as you can. This could be very difficult for those who don`t have a helping hand with baby or child and house chores. My favorite and fully realized saying is: It takes the whole village to raise a child. I am forever grateful to my sister and mother who had helped me during those challenging times. I would not be able to do it without them. Even with their help, it was so difficult to find the time to recharge my batteries regularly until my kids got 4-5. Until then, honestly, I was living in survival mode. But, my kids were extremely demanding, with a small age gap, and I was tandem nursing them above all. It is not everyone`s case. Fortunately, there were, and still are, quite a few activities that I enjoy doing with my kids like storytelling, spending time in a park or forest, gardening, crafting, and doing art together. And today, having self-care small rituals for me is essential, like reading, writing, exercising (very simple but regular), socializing with a few friends, and doing my spiritual practice.
And last but not least, be patient. Be patient when things don’t go exactly as you imagined. Be patient if the child does not show the qualities or skills you would like to see in him. Let time do its thing. Be ready to assist, but not to force. Have faith that the spiritual spark within the child is full of potential and it just needs time to ripen.