Your Unique Child
We have just completed the celebration of Shavuot, the time commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This holiday, among other things, tunes us into the unique qualities and character traits inherent within each of us. We use the time between Passover and Shavuot to cultivate our character traits through the counting of the Omer - a practice Biblically mandated and reminiscent of the time of spiritual development of the Jewish people as they prepared themselves to receive the Torah. At a time marked by collective redemption and collective revelation, the emphasis on the individual is noteworthy.
And yet, when we look at the individual character of people we seem to have difficulty seeing the positive. We are easy to point out the shortcomings and faults, the missed opportunities and the lack of charm. We second guess decisions and criticize choices. Nowhere do we do this more than with our children.
There is a biological reason for this constant critique: survival. In prehistoric times, if you didn't notice the broken branch or the leaves out of place, it could have meant death by some animal looking for food. Humans became very good at noticing what was out of place or incorrect in some fashion. Although today we aren't worried about physical survival, we apply these skills as though our psychological survival was at stake.
When it comes to our children, we look at their behavior and we often globalize: If he doesn't share his toy, he is going to be a selfish adult. If she is quiet and doesn't want to play, she must be introverted and she will never get what she wants. If she hides the fact that she ate that candy, she must be on the road to becoming a pathological liar. And, if he hits that kid who took his toy, it's a sign that he is going to become a psychopath. We laugh when we look at it in perspective, but in the moment it feels very real.
So, what can we do to see and appreciate the unique beauty within each of our children? Here are a few ideas that may be helpful. First, make sure to spend some time every day with them where they are in charge of the activity that you do together. Leave all distractions behind -- no phone and no interruptions. Don't direct anything, just enjoy being with them and listening to what and how they think. You will get to know them much better.
Second, note every adjective, both negative and positive, that pops into your head when you look at their behavior. If you can, do it in the moment. When you have a quiet moment look at the negative adjectives and write down the positive corollary next to each. For example, if I note that my child is "stubborn," I can recognize that that same characteristic could be called "tenacious." Similarly, "silly" could become "fun-loving", "angry" could become "passionate", "selfish" could become "aware of their own boundaries."
Finally, if you find yourself being overly critical on a regular basis, draw or print a picture of a cartoon boy or girl and fill in the body with adjectives that represent the best in your child as you know them to be. Sometimes, we need to reach back into our memories of them at younger ages, or at particular moments. Use those memories to paint a more positive picture of your child. If you really need help, ask a close friend who knows your child or your spouse. They may be able to help give you perspective. Then, look at that paper child with all of their beautiful characteristics and remember that is the true essence of the real child in front of you.
Children reflect back what they see. Show your child their unique, inner essence. And give them the chance to reflect it back to you and their world.
-----Originally published in Kol Habira June 8, 2017------