For those of you with children under the age of 7, have you ever thought how many times a day you are giving a directive to your child? Even if it is a positively phrased directive, it is still a directive that causes a child to go up into his head and awakens the child into self-awareness. Parents and teachers who understand child development from a Waldorf perspective believe that every time we bring a child into self-awareness and into the consciousness of before the seventh year, we are taking away energy that the child should be using for formation of the physical organs. The belief is that this may not show up as harmful in the child’s life until they are adults. Even if you do not believe this, I think we can all agree that in this fast-paced world, the stress and strain and viewing the small child as a miniature adult with just less experience is leading to incredible challenges of increased suicide rates and pyschological disorders in the teenaged years and beyond. Think about how we parent and why we parent is really important!
Parenting is all about looking at the doing the right thing at the right time within child development. If you are providing lots of verbal directives to your small child, you are putting the cart before the horse by using a tool that is not really needed until later developmental stages.
“But what do I use then?” you cry. “Children need direct instruction!”
Rudolf Steiner did not think so. He wrote in his lecture, “Children Before the Seventh Year,” found in the book Soul Economy, the following passage about the first two and a half years:
“During the first two and a half years, children have a similar rapport with the mother or with others they are closely connected with as long as their attitude and conduct make this possible. Then children become perfect mimics and imitators. This imposes a moral duty on adults to be worthy of such imitation, which is far less comfortable then exerting one’s will on children.”
He then goes on to describe the period of the ages from two and a half through age five as one that “can be recognized externally by the emergence of an exceptionally vivid memory and wonderful imagination. However, you must take great care when children develop these two faculties, since they are instrumental in building the soul. Children continue to live by imitation, and therefore we should not attempt to make them remember things we choose.”
He ends with a few thoughts about the period from age five to age seven:
“Previously, unable to understand what they should or should not do, they could only imitate, but now, little by little, they begin to listen to and believe what adults say. Only toward the fifth year is it possible to awaken a sense of right and wrong in children. We can educate children correctly only by realizing that, during this first seven year period until the change of teeth, children live by imitation, and only gradually do they develop imagination and memory and a first belief in what adults say.”
So, if any of that resonates with you, come along with me and take my three day challenge. For three days, try to bring a consciousness to the words you choose with your children. How much chit chat do you do all day with your children? Can you replace that with peaceful humming or singing?
How many directives do you give that could be either carried by your rhythm, done with no words at all (for example, instead of saying, “Now let’s brush our teeth!” could you just hand Little Johnny his toothbrush?) or could your words be phrased in a way that involves fantasy or movement? For example, if you need your child to sit down at the table to eat, you could ask your baby bird to fly over to the table and sit in its nest. “Mama Bird has food for you!” Could you redirect your child into some sort of movement that involves their imagination that would satisfy the need for peace in your home?
Music through singing and the poetry of verses are wonderful ways to provide transitions throughout the day along with the strength of your rhythm. Many of the old Mother Goose rhymes are fabulous for all parts of the daily routine. Songs provide a peaceful energy and a needed source of warmth for the young child’s soul.
A mother asked, “What do I do if my child is doing something harmful to me or to another child? Don’t I need to use direct words then?”
I believe this depends on the age and temperament of the child. As mentioned in other posts, many times the most effective method is to be able to physically move the child away from the situation or to physically follow through in a calm way. You would never expect your words to be enough in a highly charged emotional situation for a child under 7. A Complete and Unabridged Lecture on the Harms of Hurting Others is often not what is needed in the moment.
Perhaps in this case, helping the child to make amends after the emotions of the situation have decreased would be a most powerful means to redemption. When we make a mistake, even an accidental mistake, we strive to make it right. An excellent lesson for us all, no matter what our age. We do not let this behavior slide, but we do work toward setting it all right again.
“What about giving my child a warning that an activity will change? Don’t I need words then?”
If you are at home, your rhythm should carry many of the words you would otherwise use. There may be older children of five or six that appreciate a warning, again dependent upon their temperament, and there may be some children that think they need to know everything that happens in advance but in reality it only makes them anxious and they talk of nothing else.
These are all important questions, and perhaps this three day challenge will assist you in sorting out the answers for you and your family as you strive toward a more peaceful home.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.