Monday, March 19, 2012

Start with Love

In my recent workshop for teachers, the discussion turned to children’s crying need for clear boundaries and useful structures. One participant told of receiving hate mail from parents because she used the word “rules” with the kids. Now there’s all sorts of reasons kids have trouble with boundaries, but the worst is New Age parents who are worried about restricting their children’s freedom to express themselves and consciously choose to raise their children accordingly.

“Yes, my dear, you can decide when to go to bed even though you’re only three-years old. Your body is wise and will tell you. “

“Honey, if you don’t feel like doing homework, it’s probably because your genius lies elsewhere. You go ahead and follow your bliss.”

And so on. Follow the ‘no rules’ to it’s logical extreme and you arrive at:

“Are you feeling confined by your seat belt? Okay, you can take it off.”

“Dear, I see your need to express your frustration about losing the game by hitting your brother over the head with the tennis racket.”

So we spoke about the need for the kinds of rules and structures that help us grow socially, emotionally, artistically and the need for us as adults to offer a loving strictness, especially to the children crying out for some form and guidance in their young lives. And it was then that my friend and colleague Sarah Noll told how she disciplines a child by beginning, “First of all, I love you. We are having this discussion because I love you and want to do everything I can to help you.”

Brilliant! Because ultimately every act of transgression is a failure of love. A child not loved enough by the parents, not loved by the culture, not loved by the school. A child having trouble loving him or herself and the way they’re put together. And though strict adherence to rules can keep the social glue together and protect children from each other and their own worst habits, that’s just a holding pattern for the real transformation, the one that can only come about from genuine love. Bad behavior can be—and often must be—contained by rules and holding kids accountable, but the only solution for the failure of love is the presence of love. Since the end of the matter is love, why not start with love as well?

Sounds clear and seems simple enough, but it is no small matter to tell someone you love them and mean it. You can’t get by with a smiley-face-have-a-nice-day-love and you can’t just say it casually with your voice only. You have to really mean it and say it like you mean it. And that takes a lot of work.

Thanks, Sarah, for the reminder. 

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