Monday 31 January 2011

What should you teach your child?

And my third (or is it fourth?) night without sleep. It’s getting insane, it really is. But I realised I couldn’t do anything about it so I meditated (which some say is equivalent to sleep) and worked on fixing my back. When 6am came round, I wouldn’t say I bounced out of bed but the stabbing pains in my back had vanished and I felt a curious clarity.

There’s a different dynamic in the house when Adrian’s away. James came into my room and said he had a suggestion for the problem of the Arctic Cryochamber Breakfast Room.

‘Wear your dressing gown,’ he opined. ‘Over your clothes.’

I had to laugh. He was standing, in school uniform with a long dressing gown knotted round his waist; trousers tucked into thick socks and a pair of ankle-high furry slippers.
So I followed suit and we had breakfast looking like a rum old pair of Noel Cowards.
James switched the radio from Adrian’s beloved Radio 4 to Radio One and we danced with the dogs to the Black Eyed Peas and shook with laughter and lost track of time and nearly missed the bus.

Once again, the SP and I went over the bridge and up the hill. Shrouded in mist; fine soft kisses of moisture on the air. But the path was slick and I felt my feet slide under me. So I followed the SP up the steep rocky path, through the trees, up, up, up, feeling lighter with every step. No wulfas; no beasts at all; just bird song, rustle and footfall. To the hill fort, the fastness, surrounded by ancient ghosts and then down the steep passage known as the Chimney.

Careful walking. Walking as thoughtfulness. Thinking, thinking. Mainly about my son, my lovely son – and the man he will become. It made me ponder the principles I hope I have offered him.

I don’t believe we should inflict our ideas, our beliefs on our children. But I do think we can offer up suggestions, thoughts, possibilities. When I thought about what I would like James to take through life with him, I came down to these...

1. To your own self be true. The stormy search for the self starts young and it can be a hard path. I like to think James has enough self-esteem and self-belief that he does not need to follow the herd. That he can make his own decisions; be his own person; be happy in his skin.

2. Be independent. It’s not just practical, this one (although James is learning to cook, to clean, to wash clothes and iron them; to have responsibility for animals and his own stuff – why, oh why, do people not teach their boys this stuff?). It’s about being self-sufficient; about taking responsibility for oneself.

3. Be honest but also kind. This is about discrimination and it’s a fine line for children to learn. If your self-esteem is strong enough, there is no need to put other people down. Yes, some people are hugely irritating; bombastic; stupid; plain revolting. But hey...who are we to tell them? And that leads on to...

4. Stand up to bullies and stick up for the underdog. People who bully do so from fear, from lack of self-esteem. This chimed with James and now he stands his ground. He also stands between the bully and the bullied, even when it means going against the crowd – and for that, I am so proud of my young knight.

5. Communicate. Honestly, this is so fundamental – not just to children but to everyone. Nearly every question I answer (in my dubious role of agony aunt) comes down to this. Talk. Say what you mean. Don’t expect another person to intuit your meaning. I go over this time and again with James. He – like so many of us - imagines slights that probably aren’t there; is over-sensitive; gets the wrong end of the stick.

6. Confront your fears. Fear is the biggie; the one thing that so often stops us from achieving our potential; from being who we want to be. But, once you confront a fear, stare it straight in the eye, it often backs right down. James learned his lesson on this a few years back when he was picked for a county cricket training. Nobody he knew was there and he baulked. He’s regretted it ever since. It’s not just the physical fear either (though I must say jumping off a mountain blows away a bit of that) but psychic fear too. I have taught James how to confront his nightmares; to stand up to the monsters and ask them what they have to show him (monster comes from the Latin verb, monstrare – to show, reveal).

7. Question your thoughts. Thought can deceive. Thought can lie. Thought jumps to conclusions; turns simple dilemmas into catastrophe. ‘I got a C for English. I’m rubbish.’ ‘He looked at me funny; he hates me.’ Negative thoughts are your ego acting out of fear. Okay, so you don't need to go into that with your child but, well, you get my drift...

8. Open your heart. Ah, this is a tough one to teach a child on the verge of teenagedom as you know it will bring heartache as well as joy. But, truly, hearts are made to love. I have no doubt James’s will be broken, probably many times. But, the heart is a muscle, a spiritual as well as a physical muscle – and without breaking, it does not grow. There is huge healing and transformation in unconditional love - yes, even to those you consider enemies.  I would point out that James isn’t totally convinced on this one yet

9. Have a sense of humour. Truly, the world hates a sourpuss.

10. Know when to shut up. :-)

Sorry. Longer post than intended.
What have I missed?
What do you hope to impart to your children?
How much should we impose our thoughts and beliefs on our children?

btw, there's still time to enter the Kinect competition. Just leave a comment here


Laura - Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? said...

The dressing gown over the clothes? We do that every night. In fact Andy is often found working in his dressing gown covered clothes.

It's that cold.

Exmoorjane said...

Laura: hate to say it, but I think it might become a permanent fixture. At present I - plus both dogs - huddled over small fan heater. :(

Milla said...

Yup dressing gowns are go here too. T also wears a top hat and both of them trail blankets like capes. It's cold. You have to.
And tell me, what is it you say to him to conquer the fear of failure ( the cricket thing)

Naomi Devlin said...

I invested in a fleece blanket for each of us before Christmas and we wander about the house with them slung over our shoulders toga or poncho style. They've become a permanent feature of nightly TV watching. Roll on spring!

I love your list of lessons and wholeheartedly agree. Top of mine is empathy. If I can teach my son to go through life employing empathy, communicating non violently and following his instincts then I'll feel like I've done a great job.

I'd also add, never be afraid to dance! We often have a crazy dance off when the mood takes us and it never fails to lift the spirits.

x x x

Exmoorjane said...

Milla: but, but, but....your lovely underfloor heating? And STILL cold? Love the image of T in top hat - why? Furry or just plain magician?
Hmm, the cricket thing wasn't fear of failure but shyness. Didn't want to go without mates. But he does get fear of failure (don't we all, hon?!) and I tell James that failing is an inevitable part of succeeding...that it's just part of the can't ever win at something unless you've tried and failed before (how else do you improve?) Is that making any sense? Not sure I'm making sense today at all! Hey, come down and I'll explain it better, I promise.

Naomi: Oh yes! I am a huge believer in dancing at every given opportunity! Empathy is a lovely one but I personally treat it with caution as I am a total psychic sponge - can empathise with ANYONE, ANYTHING. Can be exhausting... :) But yes, in general...if you can walk in someone shoes, it teaches understanding and kindness. Life can be hard - we need kindess. :)

Expat mum said...

CUrrently having the underfloor heating furnace replaced and they've brought the wrong one. The back door has been open more than closed this morning and we are in the middle of a huge snow storm. Brrr.
I was going to say, what a great list. I gave my teens silver tablet necklaces with "To thine own self be true" engraved, and boy do they take that one to heart.
I really believe however, that you teach them more by your own actions. They really watch their parents so it's more of a "Do as I do" situation than we realise.

Alison Cross said...

Great list, Jane.

I hope that I can instill in my son a sense of wonder for the natural world; never to take it for granted.

We watched a butterfly emerge from its cocoon a couple of years ago and he GETS that he was the first person to see it emerge; that he saw its first flight; that life emerged from the hard and dead looking carapace.

We watched the lunar eclipse a few weeks ago and I was desperately proud of him when he said that it made him feel strange to know that it was the earth's shadow falling over the moon that caused it to go red. He said 'We're really just tiny little specks, aren't we mummy?'

...and soon he'll probably be wanting chemicals to help release these philosophical SO not looking forward to his teen years, Jane!

Ali x

martine said...

And the most important of these is knowing when to shut up, the less said the better is true in most circumstances, especially when teenagers are concerned.
thanks for sharing

Exmoorjane said...

Expat: love the idea of those necklaces. And heck, yes, they DO absorb what we do...scary thought eh? I swear parenting is the hardest job, ever.

Ali: that's a really good point. I think we've been so lucky living where we do that James (and I) take it for granted. Love those comments...sounds like he's going to be a deep one for sure...

Martine: ain't that the truth! Safest place I was ever in was a silent retreat! :)

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

I don't think I appreciate male-ness enough. My idea of 'human' may be a synonym for 'female'. Perhaps the best advice I might manage is people can make up after quarrels.


Pondside said...

Kindness, curiosity and courage.
It's been a long time since I dropped by - lovely to go somewhere and find that it's even better than remembered.

Sally said...

How funny, I was only thinking about this a few hours ago.

For me, along with the things on your list, I hope that I teach Flea two things:

First to be independent of mind. Just because 'most' people think one thing, or because the 'popular' kids think one thing - doesn't make that thing true. Make your own decisions, go your own way. Don't ever think fitting in is a measure of your value.

And second, to have integrity. Often life is hard and not as much fun as we'd like. And it's tempting to take short cuts, to cheat a little, or tell a fib, or exploit someone else. But after the hard times have passed, you need to be able to look yourself in the eye and know you did your best to do the right thing - and that is something that's priceless and can't ever be taken away from you.

Oh, and also, no matter what people say to you, it's not worth trying Pot Noodles.

Northern Snippet said...

Really liked 2 and 5.In retrospect those are so important.
I wouldn't really add anything else other than trying to instil some sort of work ethic and not expecting things to come your way without effort.
Gah I sound like my mother..

Anonymous said...

Is that rather scary picture of Isabella Blow?

Wally B said...

Glad to see your spirits lifted. We've always tried to include our son in our lives. He's at home on stage as he is off it, can talk to anyone of any age (his best buddy is 75) and he is a caring, thoughtful, kind and social wee chap. At home, he can be a little bugger though and I've come close to throttling the little sod on a few occasions. We've tried to instill in him that rules are for everyone, and not just for him.
The old social laws are still the best. Do unto others etc

fairyhedgehog said...

I taught my boys to think for themselves and now they won't do a thing I say!

Seriously, I hope they always ask "How do you know?" when people tell them things.