By Amy Bush Bradley
Web Exclusive - February 6, 2009
The children of today's world arguably present new and interesting challenges in comparison with the children of decades past. Parents sometimes believe they are more argumentative and disrespectful, and, at times, violent.
The media and medical industries have both propagated the perceived negativity, and there are some who just throw their hands up in despair. "What is happening with our youth?" they cry. Rooted in dreams of the planet's children becoming happy, successful members of society, the concerns are valid. Yet the smallest child is not that different, if at all, from humans who were born centuries ago. So what is the cause of this perceived change in human behavior? What can caring parents do about it?
The Very Beginning
Babies start out as innocent little bundles of joy. While new parents, who are not used to sleeping odd hours and caring for another person 24/7, may not always believe it, babies are commonly believed to be just wonderful. They are cuddly, smell good, and are fun to hold and play with.
The most scrutinizing adult can be transformed easily through the pure love that emanates from an infant. One of the most common questions a new mother will hear is, "Oh, can I hold the baby?" What is it that everyone loves about babies?
From a physiological stand point, newborn babies possess an innate , as demonstrated by the breast crawl, the infant's instinctive movement toward breastfeeding. When placed between the mother's breasts, an infant will squirm, kick, salivate, and gravitate toward the nipple, eventually latching on for his first suckling—an example of the natural search for sustenance.
This simple act of allowing baby to initiate breastfeeding assists the mother and baby in realizing the true guided nature of our being. The infant's suckling stimulates the mother's womb to contract and release the placenta. The baby's placement on the mother's chest keeps him warm and begins the process of bonding outside of the womb, near her heart where familiar sounds are heard. As the baby smells the food source, he salivates and wiggles closer, eventually building up the momentum to latch on and receive his first feeding from mother's breast, completely unassisted other than by the placement of the baby on the mother's chest.
The breast crawl demonstrates that humans are born with an instinctive ability not only to survive, but thrive. On a purely physical level, it is obvious that something innately in touch with well-being is at work.
The baby's ability to sense what he or she needs does not disappear after the first feeding, but persists to protect and give guidance throughout life. However, that sense is often misunderstood. Parents, people who work with children, and anyone concerned will benefit from knowing how this sense is playing out in the lives of children today. It is truly the key to creating more harmonious relationships with children and within families.
Is She a Good Baby?
Another common question asked of parents is, "Is she a good baby?" The answer is generally determined by one or all of the following factors:
- Parent's quality and quantity of sleep the night before
- Parent's beliefs about the nature and behavior of their child
- The look on the questioner's face
The Inner Compass
Babies are born with a trait often referred to as intuition, gut feeling, , or inner compass.
It works like this: babies sense their surroundings through feeling. From a very basic standpoint, babies know intuitively that they are safe. However, they pick up on the fact that not everyone feels the same, possibly even while in the womb of their own mother.
Similar to a GPS, the small child's own inner compass directs her to and away from experiences through emotion. This may be best explained through several examples.
The Value of a Parent's Beliefs
Most parents are familiar with the baby who feels very safe with mom or dad, yet isn't so sure about the overbearing passerby or family member. While a parent may know that the person just wants to share a little love with the baby, something else is at work within the baby's sense of what feels right to him or her.
Parents generally would like their children to trust the gut feelings that may lead to a when in danger. If a person tries to harm them, no matter how subtly, parents surely want their children to pick up on the impending danger and get help.
Often, parents may use control tactics to get their children to cooperate. Because these measures can come from a frustrated or angry place within the parent, a child resists because the situation does not feel good. The parent wants the child to do what is asked of him, but the child does not want to associate with the negative feeling the parent is giving off, just as the child in the example above wants to avoid the uncomfortable situation.
Children are born with an awareness that they are of value, that they want to be here, that they have amazing potential, and that they are learning all there is to learn in this world full of possibilities. When this knowledge is challenged, resistance is created, and negative behaviors begin.
How We Challenge Our Offspring
As babies begin exploring, at around six- to nine-months-old, they become familiar with the word no. Even the parent who wants to allow some healthy exploration may feel very protective, uncomfortable, and understandably would like to set some limits on what the curious baby can and cannot do.
While this is reasonable and safety and well-being are very important, the place this originates from within the parent is what largely determines the reaction he or she will get with the child. Little ones feel what parents and other caregivers are saying more than the words themselves. If the underlying feeling is, "You are inconveniencing me" or "What you are doing is causing me frustration" or "I am afraid something bad will happen" the child feels this and reacts in an unfavorable manner because at the deepest level he or she understands that this is not the truth. In many ways, we challenge the idea that the lives of our children will unfold in the way they should without very direct, even forceful influence and control. The thought that children need to be controlled to learn self-control is one that warrants a deeper look. We may benefit from redefining our role to include a little more optimism when it comes to parenting our children.
The Tendency toward Negativity
Children are also encouraged not to fully feel the emotions that alert them to something that does not mesh with their basic awareness of self-worth. Negative emotions allow the child to notice that he is off his path of truth. This truth is a constant for all at birth and is only swayed by life experience.
Generally, unacknowledged emotions collect into what Eckhart Tolle refers to as a pain body. Simply put, the pain body is a tendency toward negativity. It is common in our media to focus on what is going wrong, and it follows that many of the planet's inhabitants do the same. However, we are also born with the ability to choose.
The Real Deal on Emotions and Resulting Behaviors
The true value of emotions is to let us know we are thinking or feeling something that is not in line with what we know to be true about our essential nature. This is the same for pre-verbal children on up through the eldest of adults. It is a human guidance function. We are loving and accepting at our core. Our children are as well.
When children or adults feel in conflict with this truth (which many adults have lost complete touch with), behaviors will arise in opposition to it.
For children, this can be a combination of either mirroring back the feeling that the parent or caregiver displayed, or it can be a build up of negativity within the child that is being projected when their innate nature is challenged. Either way, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
The Steps We Can Take
Adults are the ones who can do something to encourage children's innate nature and belief of self-worth. It may come as a surprise, but the journey really starts within, rather than through control.
- There is no doubt that modeling is the most pertinent way children learn how to deal with life. The adage, "Do what I say, not what I do" does not work. Love does. Start with yourself and nourish your roots. Begin to look at how you think about things in life, especially the behavior of others. Do you find that much of your time is spent on negative thoughts or thinking that someone else has infringed upon you or your life? Consider finding ways to look at your experiences in a more positive nature—what gifts exist?
- Start choosing thoughts that bring relief. If you are thinking negatively, try finding a thought that feels a little better. Guiding thoughts from totally negative to neutral and then positive takes practice, but it can be done, and you'll find yourself enjoying life a lot more!
- When you find yourself experiencing something you do not want, think about the alternatives you do want. It is common to fall into the pain body trap. However, now that you clearly recognize it exists, you can pull yourself out. When you see it in others, you can silently acknowledge it and do what you need to do to feel safe, without angrily reacting and exasperating the situation.
- Feel what you feel. When you find yourself feeling angry, sad, or even joyful, let yourself feel it. You might wonder how to go about that. It starts with breathing and not taking action as a result of the feeling (unless it is for safety). In all cases, the resisting of a feeling is much stronger than the actual feeling. If it feels heavy or constricting, you are resisting. Connecting with your breath is an excellent way to allow yourself to feel. You may also look into the technique called focusing, and (EFT), as well as individual coaching.
- Listen to your feelings. Ask them what they are telling you. No one wants to admittedly talk to him or herself, but you're doing it all day in your head. Do it in a way that can actually help you.
- Take action in a way that works for the good of all. This is essential. Some people may think going on what feels good is strictly hedonism. The key here is to think about the true good of all and uplifting one's self to also facilitate the inspiration of another.
- Know that through working on yourself the results will reverberate to the children around you in a very positive way. As a parent, you are the main influence in your child's life. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and making a change for the positive will have an impact, one much greater than any damage previously done. As any other adult who relates to children, you matter just as much.
- Use what you learn and experience with the children in your life. All of these steps apply to parenting as much as they do to life. Choose to encourage and nourish the innate nature that already exists and the negative emotions and resulting behaviors will melt away.
In addition, it can be of value to remember these two things that children undoubtedly display as part of their innate nature:
- Reaching for joy will eventually bring it. Find things to do that you enjoy. Look around for joy. It is available—make a commitment to experience it!
- We have the present moment, if nothing else. Regardless of the past or future, we have right now. Make the most of the present moment, and you are truly making the most of your life.
Amy Bush Bradley is a mother to three and a parenting coach. She teaches parents the art of the parent-child relationship where insecurity, guilt, and stress are transformed into pure harmony.