All the horrors going on in the world are a stark reminder of all we’ve got to be thankful for, aren’t they?
It also gives us a dose of perspective in terms of how easy so many kids have it, in so many ways…
And by that token, we do too, don’t we? I’ve been wanting a kitchen refurb for two years, complaining that I can’t get a builder, and not really thinking about the fortune of my four walls and a safe bed to sleep in.
But I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that; it doesn’t have to mean that we don’t or can’t feel compassion and empathy for those in dire circumstances.
Perspective is certainly useful, but it doesn’t render our own desires-trivial as they might be- suddenly meaningless.
And this is especially true for our children because, much more than us, they live right here and right now, regardless of how it compares with ‘the real world’.
Like many parents, I have a child from whom the usual complaints flow like a river; the unfairness of going to school, the unreasonableness of switching the screen off, the act of unkindness that is bedtime…
It’s a recipe for parental frustration, and to the urge to express (loudly) the inner-voice that says “Don’t you realise how lucky you are?”
But most likely, the answer would be ‘no’.
And not because our kids are just over-indulged and entitled human beings.
When we really look at the world through our kids’ eyes, the chances are, it’s very different than looking through our own.
Yes, we can certainly teach them appreciation, we can promote compassion and empathy; I’d argue that we should, regardless; but for one, these are not innate at birth.
They need to be developed and practised.
These competencies also need a degree of brain maturity, because that ‘big picture’ thinking; recognising the existence of a world beyond theirs, being able to see that through another’s eyes; is a very sophisticated skillset.
While there may be a genetic disposition in their favour, the brain area where they’re processed; the pre-frontal cortex; generally doesn’t reach that stage of development until kids are at least eight.
And once they reach 11 or 12, this ‘executive brain’ then dismantles itself during the lengthy process of adolescence.
I guess the point I’m making is that; regardless of whether a child’s having a hard time because they’re fleeing a war-zone, or because it’s time to switch the iPad off; they’re still having a hard time.
There’s absolutely a time for gratitude; for appreciating safety, warmth and love; but while they are having a hard time is not the time.
A brain having a hard time can’t effectively access rational thinking, perspective-taking or logic.
That’s true for all of us, regardless of our age.
Whether it’s you or your child at the mercy of a stress response, simply recognise that there is an unmet need.
While possibly ridiculous and disproportionate, when we accept that our child’s truth is their truth in that moment, we can focus on meeting the need.
BTW this isn’t saying that when a child says ‘I need a Nintendo Switch’, you just buy them one. But we can express acceptance, that wanting is still valid.
That’s what changes things. When we meet children’s (and our own) needs as best we can; with compassion and empathy; we’re fostering compassion and empathy in them.
Then, when the time and opportunity is right, they’ll be able to put to good use in this messy world we’re raising them in.
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