Children: The Gift of Learning How to See
7 Minute Read
"The best way to teach a child is to learn from her."
When we were a child we asked for what we wanted and needed, we freely expressed emotions like joy, awe, excitement, frustration, anger, sadness, fear, shock.
We engaged with the world with willingness: to try things just because they felt good, to be silly, to play, to explore our interests, new angles and new moves ... to fall, to rise, to see and to be seen.
As we grow older, we learn to quiet down, to do what we're told, to do what we don't want to do, we learn that in order to function effectively we must be a certain way. We add up layers of beliefs, limitations, and conditioning. These layers inform our bodies and they carry around the notions and experiences that form the basis of how we perceive ourselves, others and the world we live in.
If we can't mirror back to our children their own ability, strength, and wisdom, they'll struggle to trust themselves, the way we struggled to trust them.
If we tend to believe that moving forward equals adding, more beliefs, more norms, more roles and more chores, we end up heavy and disconnected from the child we once were. Then we believe that it's our role to teach children and mold them to our own image of success and health.
If most of our progress comes from shedding the layers that prevent us from moving as freely as we did when we were young and willing, what opens up for us? If progress is a process of letting go, aren't children our best teachers? And if so, isn't the best way to teach children to learn from them?
A Theory of Attachment
Attachment theory is a well-established model of child development that highlights the importance of attachment for healthy development. The theory is that if a child forms a healthy and secure bond with the primary caregiver (generally one of the parents) he or she will develop the necessary sense of stability and security to engage with the environment, taking risks and exploring the world, and in doing so, developing her own personality.
To form a secure bond, the caregiver must be attuned to the child and respond sensitively and affectionately to the child's needs. Because his needs are being met, the child can direct his energy where his own curiosity and interest might lead him to.
If, on the contrary, the child's needs are not being met, most of his energy will be directed towards achieving that sense of security and stability. Most likely the child will be fearful and unwilling to explore much of what's around.
For many years parents believed they needed to toughen up their kids by being irresponsive to their needs. Science showed that the way to raise healthy, functioning adults is to be attuned to their needs and respond to them, trusting that from that safe harbor the child is more likely to venture out on her own terms.
The parent or caregiver must, then, trust their child's ability and innate wisdom to understand and ask for what they need. This doesn't mean the parent has to opt out of educating, providing an example or setting boundaries and rules. It means that, instead of relating to the child from an all-knowing place, there is respect and trust in the child's own wisdom.
From this perspective, the focus isn't so much in teaching the child, but in creating the conditions in which the child can learn and bloom into herself. It's returning to the question: how can I support my child in a way that affirms their own intelligence and ability?
Anthroposophy: A Spiritual Philosophy
Anthroposophy is a spiritual philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner, that speaks to the existence of a spiritual world that can be conceived and apprehended objectively and intellectually through inner development. It's a path of knowledge that aims to bring the precision and clarity of natural sciences to the study of spiritual experiences through a philosophy of freedom.
Rudolf Steiner believed in a path where the human heart and hand, as well as the mind's capacity for thinking, are essential to our experience. Anthroposophy begins with the understanding that we have the capacity to know what spirit is.
"From the spirit in the human being to the spirit in the universe".
He believed it is only through a direct experience of the spirit within us that we can know the cosmic spirit. Touching and understanding our own spirit unlocks the wisdom we need to consciously contribute to the evolution of mankind and the universe.
"Humanity (Anthropos) has the inherent wisdom (Sophia) to transform both itself and the world."
According to this philosophy, it's not that children look like their parents, it's that their parents have what they came searching for. The child chooses their parents so that, through their relationship, the parent is called to evolve and mature the aspects that most contribute to their own development.
The role of the parent is not so much to interfere with the development of the child, as it is to protect and nurture the mystery of the child, supporting their own unveiling. What's being called from the parent is to pay attention to what the child signals, to the interests, strengths, mystery, ability, and intelligence.
We are not the teachers of our children, it's our children that came to teach us what we couldn't otherwise learn.
Learning to See Through Different Lenses
Whether or not you believe that your children chose you, looking at them as the teachers they are can benefit both you and the relationship with your child by:
- Allowing your child to develop self-trust,
- Releasing the grip or pressure you have to be an all-knowing figure,
- Informing the relationship with a sense of curiosity and wonder,
- Releasing judgment,
- Deepening respect,
- Allowing you to develop the areas with room for improvement.
Among all the other gifts, children teach and remind us to see through the lenses of curiosity and wonder, in awe of the mystery of life, it's a lesson we all need to return to, over and over again until we see the imense privilege of all of it.
“Speak to your children as if they’re the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.”
- Brooke Hampton