Modeling and Validating a Moral Compass
When I watched the Milgram experiment YouTube video with my son, he said, “Wow mum they’re totally not listening to their uncomfortable feelings in their body”. But for children to grow up listening to and following what feels comfortable or uncomfortable in their body, mind, and heart, this moral compass needs to be modeled and validated in the family.
Our responses to our children can lift them up or put them down, empower or disempower them.
Simply asking children “how does it feel to you?” and talking about what feels right or doesn’t feel right ourselves can only help. But overall our kids need to be not just allowed to protest and complain, but to have those feelings truly heard and valued. They need to be allowed to negotiate, encouraged to problem solve and invited into decision making in matters that affect them.
Our responses to our children can lift them up or put them down, empower or disempower them. We need to be very mindful of how we guide and lead them. Through consistently showing care and consideration for their feelings and needs, we can help them grow up to be adults who have a very strong and clear knowledge that they and others deserve to be treated with empathy and respect.
It takes a LOT more skill to be mindful of our stress levels and our tone of voice, to find ways to reduce and resolve our anger and consistently return to a centered enough state to genuinely listen and work through communication respectfully. It’s much easier, at least in a stressful moment, to intimidate our child or teen into doing what they’re told, but boy are there unhealthy repercussions for the parent, child, the whole family, and indeed society in the long term.
How can we support our children to be resilient to the shaming and intimidation of those who have power over them?
Shame and Intimidation
When my son was about nine, the relief teacher caught him working on a caricature drawing of the teacher with the words “I don’t care about people’s feelings, I only care about pizza” (she’d previously confessed to being a big fan of fast food, especially pizza). This happened just after a pretty dramatic incident where the teacher loudly shamed one of the girls for starting to cry during a game. When my son attempted to advocate for the girl, the teacher aggressively shut him down and shamed him for challenging her.
My son said, “I know how unimpressed my parents would be with your lack of good communication skills.”
When standing outside the class being lectured by the teacher, my son was told that he should be ashamed of himself (yes I know!) and was asked: “What would your parents think about all this?”
So when my son was later telling us all about it, when he got to that bit my husband and I looked at each other and said, “That’s an interesting question, what did you think that we would think?”. My son said, “I thought, I know how unimpressed my parents would be with your lack of good communication skills” and I felt this big sense of relief. Yes, the whole thing was very stressful, but no, the teacher didn’t manage to make him take the shame on. He maintained his sense of self and his clarity about how kids deserve to be treated.
He also knew that the teacher couldn’t see what was so wrong about shaming a kid for crying because she must not have grown up in an environment where upsets ware treated respectfully.
Another similar but different experience that my daughter had when she was ten related to when a dance teacher shamed her for crying in a moment of being overwhelmed. My daughter is very laid back and easygoing and I tend to worry more about her ability to stand up for herself than my son who’s naturally more extroverted and feisty. But in this instance, as the teacher was ordering her to “stop crying and making a fuss”, my daughter said through her tears, “I’m allowed to feel upset, I’m allowed to cry, I need to cry.” At which point the teacher stopped in her tracks, became silent and then calmly invited my daughter to tell her what was upsetting her.
Preserving Childrens’ Dignity and Integrity
We can’t protect our children from unfairness and intimidation forever, from hurt people who hurt people, but we can support their healthy self-image, integrity and their right to be respected and heard. To me, the victory is when children have the resilience to internally protect themselves from the intimidation that an authority figure or peer is (perhaps unconsciously) working hard to transfer onto them. The child who can securely bring stressful instances home to vent and process to the extent that’s needed to get it all out of their system and have their feelings heard and accepted, is more likely to seek help rather than hide in fear if and when the really big stuff happens as children, teens or adults.
It’s all too easy in our busyness and haste to bombard our children with corrections, demands, and criticism.
If parents dismissively say, “oh well that’s life mate” or worse still side with the other person, then how could a child not be left in huge self-conflict? It’s our listening, empathy, and understanding that gives our child the strong, caring holding that they need to offload their frustrations when they’ve been affected by difficult interactions with others.
It’s all too easy in our busyness and haste to bombard our children with corrections, demands, criticism and to impose our solutions when things aren’t going so smoothly for them. Yet, with some creativity, learning, and patience, there’s much that we can do to preserve our child’s dignity and integrity while helping them develop great problem-solving skills.
Instead of “look what you’ve done now,” we can say “it’s okay, let’s figure this out, any ideas?”
Instead of “stop fighting, you kids, you should know better than to act like that,” which will no doubt add to their already stressed state and cause them to feel blamed and misunderstood, we can say something like “hey kids, this looks stressful, can I help?” and support them to slow things down enough to take turns sharing their perspective, reflecting back what they each heard the other say and explore possible solutions together.
Let’s open our hearts, minds and ears to what’s going on for them, especially when they’re grumpy and out of balance. Let’s help our child feel like a valued member of the family and of society with an important voice and gifts to share.
When a child’s free will is genuinely respected, the child is much more likely to use their free will wisely and with integrity.
First published in The Natural Parent Magazine 2013. Reprinted from Peaceful Parent.
Genevieve is the proud mum to a 13 year-old daughter and 19 year-old son. Although she was lucky to have learned a lot about what’s needed to foster secure attachment before becoming a parent, she’s continued to learn on the job and through the privilege of working with hundreds of families. Her mission and passion is to bring peaceful parenting education and resources to as many families and organizations as possible.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.