Saturday, January 28, 2012

Natural Learning - FAQs 2

If saying ‘No’ comes in the way of learning, does it have any place at all in parenting / educating a child?

But can we examine every single time the voice in our head screams ‘No’? Can we put a check post, stop it every time and ask ‘But why?’ and then see if it is worth it? Walking on the road without holding an adult’s hand, doing anything near a gas stove, playing with currency notes, breaking stuff, etc. are a strict ‘No’ for Isha. She usually respects the ‘No’s because we have established a pattern where we don’t say it unless we absolutely mean it. We normally don’t misuse our power to say ‘No’.

Kids are usually reasonable when we adults are reasonable with them. Times when they are cranky from hunger and sleepiness are usually exceptions! Excepting those times, Isha almost always checks with us when she sees new things "Is this safe to use? Can I drink this water? Can I climb on this?" It is amazing how children really trust us with our power to say ‘No’, if we learn to use it sparingly and responsibly. And we absolutely mean it every time we do. This means that once we have said ‘No’, it is usually non-negotiable. No yielding in to manipulation by the child. Of course, this is not a rigid rule, but a general one.  

Again, what does all this have to do with ‘natural learning’?

Only a free mind can learn freely. An anxious and frustrated mind becomes guarded and resists learning. Remember we talked about how children taken out of school invariably ‘shut down’ initially when left alone? They are basically working on unconsciously ‘freeing their mind’ so that natural learning can then take over!

Freedom for children does not mean ‘completely disengaging from their lives and worlds’ and letting them do whatever they want to and however. We need to learn to engage with their worlds on completely new terms; on the terms of ‘equal partnership’. Yes, as parents, we need to build a healthy partnership, where we are both equal participants.

In a parent-child relationship, we are naturally given more physical power over our children. We may be tempted to misuse this by turning it into authoritative power by raising our voices, deciding for our children, manipulating them, etc. But, that does not help build partnership. And unless we become partners with our children, we cannot enable a meaningful process of natural learning.

Can you give some examples of how to build partnership with our children? What would it look like?

To build effective partnership, we need to respect our children and earn their respect as well. We need to trust our children, and earn their trust as well. We need to give them their space, and claim our space as well. We need to insist on their keeping their word, and keep our word with them as well. We need to help them understand their boundaries with other people, and assert our boundaries with them as well.

Equality does not mean that a child’s and the parent’s ability to do everything is the same. Equality in a healthy partnership between child and parent would look like this: both of them would have equal freedom to point out if the other makes a mistake and have it be accepted gracefully. Equal partnership helps establish safe and respectful spaces which enable ‘natural learning’. 

Other than to allow a child to be curious and explore, what else encourages a free mind?

Children have a certain set of basic needs. If they are met, then the mind remains free. Unmet needs often lead to fear and frustration. They in turn lead to withdrawal and aggression. How often do we see young children who are exuberant and joyful in a quiet way? They are mostly either withdrawn or boisterous and aggressive. Don't we see more aggressive kids these days than we used to? Many of us brush it off as ‘some inexplicable phenomenon’. But the fact is that the present day urban lifestyle is designed to breed frustration, and hence aggression. I notice that girls are usually withdrawn and whiny, and boys boisterous and aggressive. May be due to a combination of biological and cultural reasons!

What are children’s ‘real needs’? How are they going unmet? How can they be met?

Warning: Agreeing to undertake this journey from this point on would need us adults to start looking into ourselves, our ideas, beliefs and priorities in life, be willing to unlearn many things. Many times, we would need to be willing to look to our children to lead the way for us. As we understand the following needs of our children, we will begin to slowly realize that most of them are actually our basic needs as adults too. We will also begin to realize how these needs were very often unmet when we were children, and how much pain it has caused us unconsciously.

But the good news is that if we really understood children’s needs, we can make way for our children to inspire us and help us get in touch with and heal from this pain in ourselves. As parents who are already on the path led by our daughter, we can assure you that it has been absolutely fascinating and rewarding! Very intense, nevertheless.

Before moving on to understanding children and their needs, I’d like to share how we see our daughter and all children in general. Isha is really a spirit that has come seeking bodily experience, and not a body seeking spiritual experience. She has come seeking a unique set of experiences, to learn a unique set of lessons in order to fulfill a unique life purpose. Like every other child has. So, she has come with a certain inner knowing about what these are. Though there are some basic needs common to all children (which we, as parents, have some control over), needs also vary from one child to another based on the kind of life experience they have come here seeking (which we may not have control over). But what we can do effectively is to prevent things from disconnecting her from her inner knowing, not add noise to her life and head.
Before proceeding any further, I'd like for us to read Kahlil Gibran's words on 'Children'. It is a beautiful passage that I begin many of my days with!
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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