Respecting the Spirit of a Spirited Child
Letting my child choose learning activities meant the world for both of us.
In the last few years, I’ve had plenty of backlash from parents who don’t agree with my parenting. You are right. The way I parent my child is not to prepare him to sit in a classroom. The way I parent my child is to prepare my child to deal with the perils of life. That started as soon as he was born. You see, my child is spirited. As an infant, he told me that the infant carrier was snuggle, but he’s had enough of that even at 3 months old. By the time, 6 months came around, he rebelled out of the carrier by kicking it away incessantly when I put him in it. At 9 months old, the world was already his oyster. He learned the army crawl. Then, within the week, he was done with that and wanted to move on to walking.
Every child didn’t come with a manual. It’s our job to figure our him or her out.
What soothed my spirited child the most was to allow him to learn at his own pace taking account of his interests. You might say that I’m in trouble as a parent. Later in life, when my child is forced to learn algebra, my child will rebel like a teenager. I won’t be able to tame this rebellious beast because my child does not even listen to me now.
I will argue that, perhaps you are right. Perhaps, I’m destined to be a failure of a mother to him by respecting his wishes when it comes to learning. But, I will take that chance.
In early childhood, we are blessed with the over sensitivities of our children who learn so very quickly. They absorb information readily from their environment. They learn without any teacher’s intervention.
But, that over-sensitivity quickly turns into a weapon for parents who are grooming the next generation of “geniuses”. I don’t care what your genetics might say, but even when genetically endowed, children have to follow their path in development.
When people intervene with that process, inevitably, things will go wrong.
If we don’t respect nature, if we don’t respect humanity, if we don’t respect our children’s natural rhythm, we will breed children who don’t respect anyone or anything either.
Our children are not robots who are designed to be “performance” machines.
As parents, we have unparalleled power regarding our children’s lives. Power has to be balanced with carefully thought out respectful parenting. Otherwise, power will just lead to dictatorship which then leads to rebellion from our children.
When my child didn’t want to work on Montessori tasks at the age of 2 years old, I let him improvise. When my child was obsessed with physical activities, we went to two to three playgrounds daily. When my child was obsessed with playing in the sand, we went to the beach daily.
This is what follow the child look like.
You might say that I have it easy. I have just one child. How about if you had two to three children? How do you follow your child then?
Well, I’ve seen a backyard full of children each discovering their little world and finding their activities to play with. I’ve also seen parents create multiple sensory bins per each child’s interest and setting them down on the ground. These children chose what they want to play with. They didn’t have to play together.
But, most of the time, they chose to play together.
In every family, “follow the child” looks differently. But, the key is that parents take a moment to think about what “follow the child” should be for their children.
Life is a series of negotiations. But, for a young child, that child has not learned to negotiate yet, by giving your child the gift of “follow the child”, you are creating an emotionally safe place for your child to learn to negotiate in the future.
Establishing emotional safety is the most important part of learning. When a child’s mind is not cluttered with “fight or flight”, the child’s mind is open to new experiences.
What about discipline and boundary setting?
I agree that it’s essential to discipline your children and set healthy boundaries. For a spirited child to listen, respect has to be built up somewhere.
By using learning as an opportunity to let your child choose, you are letting your child know that his or her wishes will be respected. When you set boundaries for discipline, your child will know that the boundaries you set are “necessary”. You don’t do it lightly. You do it out of safety, out of concern, and out of teaching your child social skills.
Through experience, I’ve found that only by respecting my child can I receive respect back from my child. Relationship is about mutual giving.
I don’t know what the next ten years hold for our relationship. But, I will choose to respect him whenever I can while setting firm boundaries. As a parent, I won’t forget that I’m the one who upholds humanity and models humanity for him.
About the Author
Jun Wu is a Content Writer for Technology, AI, Data Science, Psychology, and Parenting. She has a background in programming and statistics. On her spare time, she writes poetry and blogs on her website.