In the pursuit of the perfectly behaved child, we have created conditional environments of reward and punishment which lack empathy, connection, and unconditional love.
“If you want my love and acceptance, you will behave this way.” This is often what a child feels. We unconsciously create the experience of “in order for me to be right, you’ve got to be wrong”. The behaviors of children who grow up in environments lacking emotional connection and unconditional acceptance will produce emotional and social disconnection, impulsivity, aggression, rebelliousness, and a lack of developed empathy. Children are highly intelligent because of their emotional senses. And it is precisely because we have not engaged their intelligence correctly that we have a disconnection and rebellion crisis on the rise.
When I was four years old, I saved my mother from suicide because my sensory body and physical body were able to communicate very serious knowledge to me. I was playing on the floor with my sister in the other room when a twisting feeling in my stomach led me to get up and walk to my mother’s bedside. I felt a flood of information about her guilt and shame, and her loneliness and despair. Would I have been able to intellectualize the distinctive emotions I felt? Not at four.
When my mother handed me a stack of money and told me to keep it for what my sister and I might need, my instinct told me that whatever my mother had had to do to get this money, was what was hurting her. In an act of unconditional love and protection, I took the money, walked down the hall and flushed it down the toilet without so much as even a thought. How could a four year old be so clear about what she felt was right action? Had anyone taught me about the complexity of emotions, the difficulty of survival, or the reality of suicide? No. As you can see, everything I needed to know was already available to me.
The common perception is that unless we are taught the differences between right and wrong, we will not know it. To a certain extent this is true, we need to be taught what behaviors are expected of us in societal situations. The emotional bodies of children are able to differentiate between experiences which feel good and experiences which feel bad intuitively. Where we often go wrong is when we do not allow children enough space to make mistakes and experience life freely. We control, threaten, punish, and criticize every mistake. Often times, we see parents creating reputational identities around how well the child can be controlled. This is how children learn conditional love. Children are inherently very intelligent as their bodies are so intune to the collective energy around them. They learn through their bodies. Mirror neurons wire our brains and bodies through experience. This really shows us how inherently intelligent the physical and sensory body are together.
Children who are intelligent often rebel against control methods, while others become conditioned and acquire the traits of learned helplessness; thereby setting them up for possible victimization.
Children need emotionally available, non-stressed, calm caregivers. Some things you can put into practice are to get down on their level when talking with them, speak to them as a friend who loves them, make loving soft eye and body contact, help them understand and try not to stress them out with too many choices. Approach them as an honorable friend, after all we are stewards of their care. Speak with soft tones, hug them, see the best in them, use loving and validating language, and allow them the freedom to make mistakes with dignity and the chance for those mistakes to go unnoticed or forgotten at times. This will develop an emotionally intelligent child who respects you and who you can respect.
Children are connected to purity, therefore they know when you are sincere or not and will decide how to respond based upon their sense of whats true. If you have made mistakes or hurt their feelings in any way, show them that you love them unconditionally by apologizing in a sincere and profuse way. This will allow the child to experience something deeply pleasant, and when done consistently, will hard wire the child towards this behavior naturally.
Environments of punishment and consequence can make us feel unsafe from knowing which to listen to: the intelligence of our heart or the abstract conditional rules in our environment. In order for us to become fully human, we need to know who we are on our own – without too much interference. When we are punished for everything, we become frightened to explore our emotional intelligence and thus shut off the conduit between the interconnected universal self and the mind.
It is our human need and our human right to have the freedom to make mistakes and recover with dignity. After all, we learn so much more by making mistakes. When a child makes a mistake, make it a playful discovery! Allow the child to become the master of their own journey by simply being the guide. Help them explore other ways that the scenario could have played out so they will know how to engage their imagination and courage to make choices, experience the learning, and the consequences of those actions. In this way, they will learn about natural consequences rather than the application of disciplinary consequences, which speaks of force and violence. Life inherently teaches us the consequences of the natural world.
It is fundamentally important that the child feels that their mistake will not make you feel differently about them, that they sense unconditional love and acceptance. For this will help them feel supported and encouraged to explore life without the restraints and conditions which limit our emotional intelligence, stemming from our subtle sensitivities.
Since human beings can not survive on their own, we are naturally hardwired to seek acceptance. Therefore, we do not need to emotionally manipulate or force a child to do things. This displays a lack of empathy and a lack of imagination. Besides, children sense when they are being manipulated at a subconscious level. In my memories as a child, I always knew when someone was manipulating me, but I went along with it gracefully. Later in life, it caused me to reassess the relationships which were manipulating me and decide to let them go; in love. Yes, every parents greatest fear can happen. But you decide every step of the way by how you treat and respect others.
Rebellion is a healthy reaction to manipulation. Intelligence wants to be engaged and rebels against it’s own deception. Children will naturally add value to relationships they can trust and respect.
How do we deal with an upset child in our culture? Behavior control and punishment. Many children are being categorized, labeled, and drugged in order to control their behaviors. Labels like ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Behavior are just ways of identifying patterns of behavior; they do not help us to understand why the behaviors exist. Dr. Gabor Mate says that these issues are largely caused by a lack of emotional availability and connection during the brain’s neural development. These issues are not passed on genetically, they are passed through lack of connection and emotional engagement. Though the drug companies wish to make a case for genetics by funding research, the evolutionary study of genes shows us it would take over one thousand years for these new traits to be reflected in our genetic pool. We can change the wiring of our bodies and brains throughout our entire life. This is called Neuroplasticity.
The dysfunctional behavioral and emotional patterns surfacing in kids are being caused because we have failed to see the child’s inherent emotional intelligence. Many caregivers are not emotionally connected within themselves, this is why many adults do not know how to provide an emotionally safe and unconditional environment.
To build a healthy relationship with anyone at any age, we need to seek to know them emotionally. For when we know what they care for, what they have been through, and what they struggle with – we naturally connect to our compassion for them and can assist in more loving and unconditional ways. Engaging our children about what they feel and why they feel those things will allow them to feel respected and will show them how to navigate their internal world consciously.
We all deserve to know the unbounded spirit within. We all desire to be love and accepted unconditionally. Sometimes we need healthy boundaries, this is okay. But for the most part, we need to be allowed to make mistakes, learn, and be imperfect. And when we are engaged emotionally in a calm, non-stressed, empathic way, we are able to sense our internal source of unconditional love within and can extend it out towards others. Children have as much to teach us about emotional intelligence as we have to teach them about the world we have created together. When we approach them in the heart space of equality and friendship, rather than force, threats, and punishment; we will find that children carry the potential for great and deep beauty, if only we might have the courage to see.