NAOMI ALDORT is the author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, published in nineteen different languages. She guides parents via phone, Skype and workshops internationally, bringing peace and clarity to both difficult situations and everyday family issues, including marriage, pregnancy, birth, diet and lifestyle, and child development for children of all ages. Her S.A.L.V.E. communication formula has been praised as providing the best of the work of Byron Katie and Nonviolent Communication combined. In this exclusive interview with LAKSHMI ARAVIND, Naomi shares her wisdom on how we can raise emotionally resilient, well-adjusted, authentic children.
Q: All kids encounter stress in their lives to varying degrees, and despite our best efforts as parents we can’t always protect them. Kids get sick, they have to move schools and environments, deal with bullies, cyber bullies, exams and tests. They may face family breakups and grief due to loss. On top of all this, we also live in a fast-paced world, where we want quick solutions to problems. But this is the time to pause and think of how we can do the best for our children.
Naomi, welcome and how are you today?
NA: I’m doing well, thank you, and I’m delighted to be here with you.
Q: Awesome, so let’s get started. The first question is: What are the basic tenets of your philosophy for raising children, and why emotionally resilient?
NA: Where I depart from the mainstream way of parenting is that I am not into shaping children and making them. I hold children as creation (if you’re religious that means God, otherwise Nature) and they are perfect creations just as they are. So my whole approach is about allowing children to be rooted in themselves rather than in what we want for them. Parents want children to learn this, to be there, to sleep in their own room; all this “wanting” for our children. We cannot chew food for another person, we cannot breathe for another person, and likewise we cannot want for another person. A baby is a time bomb. It’s a grown-up in a small body with its potential not yet unfolded. We need to know the limitations, but we need to respect them like we respect God. This is not our making.
So that’s the main difference in my philosophy. It’s not permissiveness, it’s not license. We still need to guide and be leaders, but we need to be leaders who enable children to unfold who they already are.
I always use the analogy of watering a flower so it will bloom – not so that it blooms your way, your color, or to your timing. It’s already in the design. They’re going to walk at a certain time, they’re going to talk at a certain time, they’re going to sleep by themselves at a certain time, they’re going to read at a certain time – anytime between age four and thirteen or fourteen. It makes no difference later on. Whether children learn to walk at one or two, we all learned to walk at different times and talk at different times. Einstein didn’t talk until he was four. What difference does it make once we’re unfolding ourselves into adults? And in terms of resilience, again, with the utmost reverence and spiritual recognition of who a baby, a child, a human being is, they are born resilient.
Our job is not to ruin that. And unfortunately, we ruin it a lot. We get in the way, and then, when it’s ruined and things aren’t going well, we ask, “Gee, what do we do? Our child is doing this.” And then we are convinced that we have to shape them because we unshaped them to a point where it’s not working. My teaching is about nurturing who is already there, not shaping them; watering the flowers, not painting the color of the petals or telling them when to come out.
Let me say a little bit about how we do harm. What do we do? Well, we’re taking the inner power of the child and we’re destroying it in many ways. We give messages to children that their inner voices are somehow wrong. They have to do what we say, not what they say to themselves. It starts in babyhood – that’s why I always say that everything I teach is from babyhood to adulthood, because it’s the same principle.
So many parents ask me, “How do I get my child to move out of the family bed?” – if they even sleep with the child. And I say, “Well, if you have to trick them and make them go to their own bed, then they’re not ready.” You’re teaching them not to listen to their own voice.
Then they tell me, “Well, to be independent, don’t they need to sleep by themselves and soothe themselves?”
I say, “No. You’re not sleeping right yourself. You’re not soothing yourself. You go for therapy if you’re really upset, or to your friends. Why should a baby, who is scared to death for survival, or a young child, sleep by themselves? And when you give them the message, ‘You should sleep by yourself,’ even though they feel inside, ‘I want to sleep next to mommy and daddy,’ then you’re telling them, ‘Don’t listen to yourself.’ And that kills self-confidence, that kills the self, because we constantly tell them how they feel inside is wrong.”
In terms of resilience, again,
with the utmost reverence
and spiritual recognition of who a baby, a child,
a human being is, they are born resilient.
And another way we kill resilience is by distracting babies and young children from suffering. It is almost contradictory. On one hand, we tell them that they shouldn’t suffer. On the other hand, we cause the suffering when we put them to sleep somewhere else and tell them, “Hey, put up with it!” That stresses them because it is a primal need. Then, when they have suffering that is not a primal need – they don’t get their candy, their friend isn’t playing with them anymore, later on their girlfriend/boyfriend leaves them – then we try to distract them. We start with babies; when a baby cries, we say, “Look here, look there!” or “Here, play with this!” and we tell them, “Hey, you know you can handle suffering, you can handle pain.”
I teach the opposite. Meet your baby’s needs, be kind with your teenager, and with all ages, but sometimes life offers challenges. Sometimes there is suffering. Grandma does die. Uncle cancels his visit. Toys break. Friends won’t always play with them. So, I always tell parents that instead of fixing everything – which tells children that they can’t handle it, and that weakens them – let them know that it’s all right. Validate their feeling.
Let’s say a child comes out of a room full of children and says, “They won’t play with me. They told me to leave,” most parents say, “Oh no! Let’s go in and I’ll fix it for you.” The parent talks to the other children: “What happened? Please be inclusive,” and what is the child learning? “I’m weak and dependent, and I need the adult to come and rescue me so that I get what I want.”
Now the response I advocate, when the child comes out of the room saying, “They won’t play with me. They told me to leave,” is, “Oh, you want to talk about how that’s feeling?” Maybe they’re crying. After they express their feelings (and sometimes they don’t express much because they look for “What am I supposed to feel?” from the parent), I would just say, “Okay, what would you like to do instead?
Would you like to help me in the kitchen? I’m making lunch,” or “Would you like to sit here? I have some nice books and puzzles here.”
If it’s not my own child, but a guest, I would say, “Would you like me to call your mom to pick you up?” I’m letting the child know that they can handle the fact that the others are not playing with them. I don’t ask, “What did you do that they’re not playing with you?” That’s blame and shame. Definitely not a good idea.
I don’t make it seem like it’s a big problem, but if it is a problem for them, I listen. “Tell me, I see you wanted to play so badly, so do you want to tell me how you feel about it?” I listen to them. Then, the next step is, “I understand how you feel. What would you like to do instead?”
I always tell parents that instead
of fixing everything – which tells children
that they can’t handle it,
and that weakens them – let them
know that it’s all right.
Validate their feeling.
We often teach them to want things, and we teach them to always get what they want. Then they can’t handle not getting what they want. We say, “No, don’t call him stupid! It will hurt his feelings.” We’re teaching them to be weak and to be hurt. When I see a child calling another child “stupid,” I say, “Me too!” and I give an example of how I’m stupid. Then they learn to accept.
It’s like the Zen story, “Without Blinking an Eye.” I’ll tell the short version. It’s about the General of an army in Japan that is going from village to village killing everyone. Most people run away and escape. He comes to one village, and he’s told by his soldiers that the Zen master at the top of the hill in the monastery hasn’t escaped. The general is enraged: “How come? Doesn’t he know who I am?”
So he goes up to the monastery, looks at the little old man and says, “How dare you! Don’t you know who I am? I could run you through with my sword without blinking an eye!”And the little Zen master says, “
And do you know who I am? Someone who can have your sword go through me without blinking an eye.”
Can we raise children to hear bad words – the sword, the criticism – with gratitude? When somebody criticizes them and calls them names, can they say, “Tell me more”? There is nothing we don’t have. We may be generous, but we’ve been greedy. We may smell good, but we’ve been stinky. We may be peaceful, but we’ve been angry at some time. It’s like, “Tell me more. I’m learning. Everyone is a teacher for me.”
We are teaching to “wants” and teaching children to defend themselves and to think that they’re always good. We are teaching instant gratification. We are teaching by distraction – “Here, here, have some ice cream, it will help you forget about what happened with the other kid.” We are teaching children to run away from suffering. Also, we are praising, creating a need for children to seek approval all the time, rather than being themselves.
We teach them to run away from the self, which creates insecurity and low self-esteem. And we run them toward success – everybody has to know so much. And we put them on the competitive mill to be successful, to have money, to have a profession, to be the best. And then they are afraid and develop anxiety, anxiety to please others, anxiety not to be oneself, to avoid what they really want and feel inside, and to do all this stuff that is expected of them. That’s very anxiety-provoking, because it’s easy to be oneself, but it’s very hard to read other people and please them.
Q: I think we all need to hear that. I’m one of those parents who used to step in and fix it for them right away. And we don’t realize how hurtful it can be for our children in the long run. We’re really not teaching them to be resilient. As you say, we have already destroyed their resilience, and somehow we have to undo all that.
We live in a world where there’s immediate gratification, and all the time we want to give the best to our children. We don’t want them to get hurt at all. In a world where there’s constant comfort and stimulation, what can we do about that?
NA: To teach emotional resilience, we have to not unteach it, because they already have it. Look at babies, who behave like they’re the most deserving creatures on Earth. A little discomfort and they cry. They want to nurse and they tell you. You put them to sleep somewhere else, they scream. It’s very clear that they’re resilient, they can handle it, they can express feelings, and they can handle life and our mistakes, too.
But to teach emotional resilience, we need to avoid teaching them to be triggered. Like what I said before, instead of teaching them that name calling is a bad thing, ask them to find how it’s true for them. Teach them not to be defensive. We teach them by modeling. If our spouse tells us, “Hey, you’re lazy,” or “You did this or that,” what is our automated reaction? “No, I’m not! No, that’s not what happened.” What I teach to create resilience is, “Yes, I am.”
I actually teach healing games where members of the family get together and, through games, through play therapy, learn to accept when somebody criticizes them or calls them a name. We need to stop blaming others, making all this justice thing, which is part of why people are so emotionally weak. Take sibling rivalry, for example: “Mommy says I am wrong.” Don’t ever take sides. Just listen to each one and help them find the solution simply by listening to them. You don’t ever have to fix things. They solve it themselves. When you come into their room and they’re fighting, listen to each one of them until they’re done. Let each one tell their side, and when the other interrupts and says, “No, that’s not what happened,” I say, “Wait till she’s done, and then you’ll tell what happened to you.” I don’t ever take sides.
To teach emotional resilience,
we need to avoid teaching them to be triggered.
Like what I said before, instead of teaching them
that name calling is a bad thing,
ask them to find how it’s true for them.
Teach them not to be defensive.
We teach them by modeling.
Another way to help children to be strong is to let them find their own solutions and express themselves. The first chapter in my book talks about self-expression. But the main thing is that we’re killing strength through the constant need for approval, by expecting children to live based on external rewards, praise and grades. In order to enable inner peace, children need to be rooted in themselves, responsible for creating their own inner joy, no matter what another person is saying about them. That’s true power.
To be continued.
Interviewed by LAKSHMI ARAVIND
Naomi is the author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, and one of the leading parenting guides in the world today. She has been featured in the media internationally, and guides parents but about how to have peace without control so that children do their best, not because they fear us or seek our approval... Read more