Just Being

Father and son relaxing in front of a colorful houseThis summer, especially following this Covid-fraught school year, I want to revisit my Be more, teach less philosophy. Kids love summer. It’s a time to be laid back and let go of all the tension around schoolwork and grades. And this year especially, after the stress of remote learning, very little socializing, everyone home on each other’s back, a good deal of simply being is called for.

You probably focused a lot on the difficulties your child had during this remote year, often losing your temper when they resisted the virtual classroom. But did you ever let them know what an amazing job they did forced into a situation they had no choice about that no kid has ever had to face in the history of kids?

They need a break and so do you. How can you spend more time this summer being rather than doing/hanging out rather than directing and orchestrating? Just being is the greatest stress reliever for both of you, unless you can’t let things just be.

Think of a fond memory you cherish of time with a parent. One that warms your heart. Was it a moment when your parent was teaching you something? I doubt it. My guess is that it was a time when you were just being together doing something fun, feeling loved. Maybe you were being silly and laughing (that’s my memory). Spend time this summer focused more on making some of those being memories with your kids.

child with mother playing at parkIn this context, by doing I mean that your focus is on what your child is doing and the job you are doing to insure your child’s doing is correct. It’s you doing to your child by telling him what to do. Does that make sense? While you are doing things together, put your energy more on being rather than how your doing should be done. Even if your child is doing something she shouldn’t be, put more trust in her to know she made a mistake instead of harping on her with corrections and criticisms.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I leave something bad alone—like hitting? How will he learn if I don’t give him a consequence? She has to learn that’s not okay. I get it. It’s a risk I am suggesting you take. Think of it as an experiment. Give it a month. If it’s something you fear needs teaching, try, “I know you know that was not okay. I trust that you are working on getting control over that.” And leave it there.

Children resist with all their might when they think we are against them—when we criticize, blame, threaten, lecture—when they don’t trust that we accept them. To find their way, they need to trust us to trust them. We parent by the misconception that our job is to teach our children how to perform in the world, and if they don’t do it right (according to whom?), then they must be forced with some kind of manipulative, punitive tactic to get them on track. What track? Whose track? What if your child is meant to establish a new track or a track you don’t feel comfortable with? What if it’s a track that public schools don’t teach? What if it’s a developmental track that maturity will take care of? What if it’s a track that flies in the face of your beliefs?

Of course, there is unacceptable behavior that must change. Do you think your child doesn’t know when they do something wrong? Unacceptable behavior is far more prevalent when the child is resisting being treated unfairly and disrespectfully. That unacceptable behavior is due to something emotional that needs tending, not eradicating. That behavior is his signal to you that he needs help. It means he’s having a problem, not being a problem.

Your children need your guidance and leadership, your authenticity and honesty. They need you to keep them safe, set the parameters, and make only the decisions they cannot be expected to make. Young children should never be expected to act like a grown-up, know better, understand tooth decay, want to do their homework, go to bed, or hurry up and get out the door in the morning. Their stage of development tells you how much they are focused only on their immediate experience.

Trust that they want to be successful; they want to learn; they want to find their paths and purpose. It’s when we get in their way with our agendas, our critical tones, and our disapproving eyes they conclude the most important people in their lives can’t be trusted—so they look to their peers and Tik Tok.

Guidance and leadership do not involve engaging in power struggles to prove rightness. It doesn’t mean punishing, taking away favorite things, isolating or grounding—making them feel miserable thinking that will motivate better behavior. Our intentions are well placed; the methods traditionally used are misguided and wrong. They can send children down the track you most fear.

Practice being; practice trusting. Talk 75% less. Start by simply listening and truly hearing what your kids want to say, even and especially when you don’t like the noise they are making. Be clear when you don’t like it but resist criticizing and telling them what to do. “I don’t like that” is heard a lot more easily than, “You can’t hit your sister.” Oh yeah, watch me!

Your children learn best from your presence and your attention to who they are—when you mirror their best and model with your best. Practice being in the moment, it’s all you have. Stay out of expectations and fears. Stop fearing the future based on the past. Being Time: It’s more important than ever.

For a few being ideas.