Last week we talked about how our values should be used as the basis for our parenting plan. How we need to figure out where we’re trying to get to before we can create a plan for how to get there, just like we need a destination before we can plot a course of travel on a map.
But once we have the destination how do we create the plan?
First of all, I think it’s really important to remember that our children – like us – exist as heart, soul, mind and body. Which means that each of these areas need the chance to grow into full maturity.
So for each of our values that we identified last week, now we want to break it down a step further and say, what skills would it take in terms of emotional intelligence, spiritual awareness (regardless of your religious faith), intellectual reasoning and physical skills for my child to be able to succeed at living out this value as an adult?
Let’s take the value of community that we talked about last week as our example.
Living well in community is going to require a high degree of emotional intelligence. Our children are going to need to have a robust understanding of their own emotions and of the emotions of others, how to ‘sit with their hedgehogs‘ and what tools to use to best take care of their own emotions.
Having identified that these are going to be important skills for our children to learn by adulthood, we then want to work our way backwards: what will this mean for my child by the time they become a teenager? What will it mean by the time they get to 9? Or 5? What will this look like right now with my infant or toddler?
Because emotional intelligence is something that we learn best from infancy, the first step to teaching this value and these skills lies in how we respond to the emotions our infants and toddlers have. When we model these skills ourselves and then respond to our children’s emotions first by seeing them – acknowledging that there emotions are real, and giving words and names to them – then by soothing – giving them the tools to sit with their emotions and feel safe in the midst of their emotions – and then by suggesting – giving them ideas for ways to healthily respond to their emotions – then our kids develop these tools the same way as they develop the tools needed to feed themselves or get dressed or brushed their teeth.
Community living also requires spiritual well-being. Regardless of religious or credal system, spiritual well-being requires developing skills like self-care, rest, silence and stillness, connection, purpose, creativity, laughter, wonder and celebration. Without these skills we burn-out incredibly quickly, and lack the capacity to share who we are beyond our own selves.
Raising adults who understand how to keep themselves spiritually healthy requires modelling as well as nurturing and encouraging these skills in our children. It may mean holding back on electronic devices, television and movies during your child’s infancy, toddlerhood and even elementary school days as a means of creating spaces for creativity, silence and connection. It may mean thinking about how much you ‘schedule’ your child’s life and how much space you include for spontaneous playdates, staring idly at the clouds or digging in the dirt. It may mean thinking about how much clutter you allow in your child’s bedroom – simplicity can be a huge factor for allowing kids to tune in to stillness. It may mean thinking about what messages and tools you want to give your child when they come home looking stressed from school. And it may mean thinking about how you can include opportunities to care for the earth, animals and others around you with your child as they are growing up, as caring for others can be a significant part of creating purpose in our lives.
While living into a value of community isn’t an overly intellectual value, it is still important to consciously – intellectually – reinforce why you’re doing what you’re doing. You don’t hold this value for no reason, and there is value to passing those reasons on to your children.
Is community a value that you hold because of your faith? If so, take time to teach that regularly and intentionally, in age-appropriate ways. Is community a value that you hold because of certain life experiences? Then tell those stories. Find books and stories that talk about the value of community and start reading those to your children from a very young age. And as your child grows, create open, safe spaces for them to talk about the challenges of community – challenges with siblings; with friends; with other kids at school or in the neighbourhood; challenges with people in authority over them. Whenever possible give them tools and support to help them resolve the issues possible themselves.
And finally, being successful in community requires all sorts of body – life – skills. Basics such as the table skills we teach our toddlers and preschoolers around eating a family meal; the ability to clean up our toys at the end of the day; kitchen skills; cleaning skills; laundry – all of these are skills to do with our bodies. They require coordination, strength and experience. Skills such as biking and public transit allow children and teens to access community: friendships, extended family members, community activities. In the teen years added skills such as cooking, baking, grocery shopping, and driving can increase adolescent capacity for community as they head into their adult years.
Regardless of your values, hopefully you can begin to see how thinking about your values through the lens of ‘heart, soul, mind and body’ allow you to deconstruct the skills necessary to live out these values as an adult – and therefore give you the information you need as you work at creating your plan for what skills matter to you to teach to your child(ren).
I would encourage you to take some time this week to go back to the values you have and work through what skills go with those values. With list in hand, next week we’ll talk about what to do with our plan.