My 2.5 year old is the sweetest and kindest little human. As I observe him day by day, interacting with his brothers and us as his parents, I can see how much kindness radiates from his little soul. When his brothers are hurt, he quickly rushes to their side, are you ok? Can I help you? Bringing a blanket or a soft cushion for comfort. In his play I can hear his sweet little sorry as he accidentally knocks into someone, his exuberant thank you when his brother offers him a toy to play with. He is gentle with me, stroking my face and back when we lie together in the early mornings.
Here is the thing. This nature of his, was not taught. I have never once asked him to say thank you, I have never forced a ‘Ta’ or an apology. I regret this was something I did with my other three children. Isn’t that what any involved parent did? Teach children to use manners?
What I have come to understand from raising my youngest without the traditional methods of teaching manners, is that children are not incomplete humans. They don’t need to be taught kindness, generosity, empathy. It is already part of who they are. What parents can do is treat their children as a whole human being. In honouring their spirit we recognise that we are in relationship, not an unequal dynamic of parent child, teacher and student. Our children will be apart of our own evolution as much as we are of theirs. We can help them shine brightly if we do not stomp on their spirit.
Studies have shown that children who are forced to share, or are rewarded for sharing, using manners, saying sorry. Exhibit less of these behaviours naturally than their counterparts who were not praised or rewarded for the same behaviours. Psychology tells us that human behaviours such as empathy and kindness do not increase rather decrease with traditional parenting methods.
In my own experience when we transitioned to a more consensual and respectful partnership, my three older children, who I had previously praised for using manners, sharing and who I also encouraged forcibly to apologise. Now demonstrated less of those traits. For many this would be an indication of how respectful parenting does not work. However it is not the absence of traditional parenting but the previous paradigm of parent child inequality, that has interfered with their natural behaviour. The disrespect I showed my own children in trying to “teach” them to use manners was visible in their behaviour towards me and their siblings. It surely highlighted to me that without rewards/punishments those things I was trying to encouraged were less noticeable.
Yet here was a little person who has never been praised, rewarded, punished. Showing more kindness than any one else in the family.
It has me thinking. Because children have been predominately brought up in this paradigm, we have lost vision of what children really are like without interference. I now know it is not necessary to teach a child manners. In doing so with my older children, I have skewed their perspective of kindness. Kindness means “pleasing adults to meet my own needs”. My youngest is kind because this is what he has lived, he has been treated this way from day one. He knows this is how we live in relationship with others.
So instead “teaching manners” what can we do instead? Over the last 18 months we have moved to live in a more consensual and respectful relationship with our children. This means, we treat them as we ourselves would like to be treated. We are kind, generous, forgiving, respectful. Not because we are trying to get a particular outcome but because it is what they deserve. It is taking time but I can see the healing done from past parenting. I can see kindness seep back into their relationships with one another, I can see their perspective changing. They are no longer needing to please adults in order to get their needs met, they are no longer relying on extrinsic motivation for being a kind human.
I am most certain, that kindness is not taught. It is shared, it flows back and forth like a river between partners. So let your river flow!!!!!