One of the things that we can do to help our children find their place in in the world is to help them to become well-balanced. A wonderful way to think of this is in terms of virtues. Do they talk too much and dominate the conversation? Being eloquent is a virtue, but it needs to be balanced out by the virtue of empathy, so they can learn to ask questions of others, and listen to their responses. Or you could think of it being balanced out by a sense of fairness, that they learn to take turns leading the conversation. So, instead of trying to squash down their talkativeness, we raise them up in another area so that they can excel in their talking AND their listening.
Another example might be a child who is very timid in the world, afraid to try new things, perhaps also a picky eater. Instead of putting them down (in your mind or out loud), realize that they are very observant, which is a virtue. They notice tastes and textures and the feeling of the wind or the sand much more strongly than many others can. Appreciate this virtue in them (again, in your mind or out loud), but also help them bolster the virtue of adventurousness, or curiousness. So, if they taste a new food and they declare that they ‘don’t like it,’ instead of giving an exasperated sigh, try using their virtue of observation to bolster their sense of curiousness: “Oh, that first taste was strange huh? Let’s taste it again. I’ll take a bite and see what I notice.” I take a very small bite, looking up while I notice the tastes and the textures. “Hmm…I can feel the little grains of quinoa rolling around on my tongue. When I chew them, they make little popping sounds. Can you feel the grains of quinoa on your tongue?” Perhaps they take a bite, perhaps they don’t. “What else can we notice about this food?” Take another tiny bite, and you might notice that it’s salty, or you might pick out a tiny piece of carrot and notice that it’s softer/mushier than the quinoa, and tastes different. You might notice that you like your food better when you take a drink of water in between each bite. In these ways, you’re playing to your child’s strengths (observing), but channeling it into a sense of curiosity about the world. Likewise, if your child is afraid of climbing the slide, or going in the pool, or doesn’t like the feeling of sand on his skin, you can use these same techniques. So, instead of trying to squash down their virtue of observation and asking them to ignore all of these strong impressions that they have, we are allowing them to have this strength, and balance it out with the strength exploration.
Figure Out What YOUR Child Needs Think of whatever it is that annoys you about your child. Are they whiny? They don’t do what you ask? They’re aggressive with other children? They cry at the drop of a hat? Think about what aspect of this trait is actually a virtue (they’re good at expressing themselves; they have a strong sense of will; they go for what they want; they experience things deeply) and then think of what virtue they might need in order to balance that virtue out, so that the first virtue becomes enjoyable again. A whiny child might need to strengthen her patience: with patience, being able to express herself well will be a joy. A child who doesn’t do what you ask might need to learn self-control, or respect. A child who cries a lot might need to learn resilience, or bravery.
How to Foster a Virtue You can’t punish virtues into a child. A child who is punished into respectful behavior will only do it when you are there, and will resent you for it and try to ‘get away’ with other behavior whenever they can. Instead, you need to make it into something that they strive for, that they’re proud to achieve. Here’s how to go about it.
For each over-developed virtue that leads to unbalanced, annoying behavior, there are several virtues which might balance it out. So look at your child, and decide what they need the most, or would respond best to. One child who is whiny might respond well to the idea of being patient, while another might do better with the idea of being brave (to put up with things she doesn’t like), and a third might need the idea of being hard-working. If you decide that your child would thrive most with the idea of being hard-working, then start your campaign. Get storybooks like “The Little Engine that Could,” about people achieving things through hard work. Start noticing out loud to her when you see other people working hard. Find a construction site and walk by every few days, noticing how hard they’re working, and little by little the building gets built. Start noticing out loud when you yourself are working hard. “Wow, these grocery bags are really heavy. I have to work really hard to carry them into the house.” (Make sure that the bags really are heavy; don’t make it up.) “Wow, we’ve been folding laundry for a long time, and it’s still not done. We’re working really hard at this.” Make it a value in your home. Once it has become something that your family values, then when she is whiny you can call upon this virtue of working hard, and she will strive to live into it. In a couple of weeks, you should start to notice a difference.
Warmly, ~Faith Collins