When something happens between children that results in an adult needing to intervene, the children enter into a sort of fear or flight mode. Have you noticed that? And try as we might, it’s very difficult to ascertain what exactly transpired between the children. When asked about such an altercation, children usually begin by telling us what the other child did. The other child, after hearing this, usually denies that and instead replies with what the other child did to him/her. It isn’t that the children are “lying” really, it’s just that they are trying to avoid something we all hate, and that is blame. No one wants to be blamed for anything. When a child senses blame is coming her way, she goes into overdrive trying desperately to save herself from that curse. For the child knows that what follows blame is punishment, which must be avoided at all costs.
So if we adults know this, that blaming children results in their lying to us, deceiving us, and fearing us, then why are we so intent ourselves on placing blame? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking that once a child has been blamed that he will “come clean” and say those words “I’m sorry” with a contrite heart? Do we believe that he will go on and say, “I did it, go ahead, punish me as you will, I deserve it?” On what planet are we living?
So what could we do instead that might be helpful for our child, that might guide our child towards taking responsibility for her actions, that might open up our communications with her, that might keep us from alienating her?
In her 2003 best seller, Radical Acceptance, psychotherapist Tara Brach tells us that there is a technique she calls a “sacred pause” – taking a moment to pause and reflect on what matters most in our relationship with our child – that might be just what we need to learn and apply. In the heat of the moment, when we’ve witnessed the offense and while the hair is rising on the back of our necks and before we engage with our child, we need to ask ourselves what is truly important. Is it finding out who hit whom first or last or hardest or who started it all? Perhaps we will find that what is truly most important is to preserve the child’s sense of dignity, or for us to convey that no matter what we love this child; or perhaps it’s that we want to deepen the trust between us and our child. Whatever you discover after you take that “sacred pause” and ask yourself what matters most in your relationship with your child, hopefully you will then be able to greet the child and the solution to this problem with an accepting heart, a heart that houses love for this child. After all, what we really want our children to learn is to solve their problems with words, with thoughtful actions, and with kindness. We want our children to be able to tell us the truth because they know we can hear the truth without blaming them.
… to be continued
A Sacred Pause – part 2
Daily children come to me complaining about something another child did. One of our ways of talking about these issues is to follow a pattern of dialogue where one child tells what she doesn’t like that was done to her and the other child actively listens and repeats what the other child said. Then that child asks how he can resolve the dilemma, usually by offering a deed of kindness. But sometimes as the first child tells what she doesn’t like, the other child interrupts and declares that he didn’t do that to the child. You see, he’s feeling blamed. Maybe he’s feeling guilty, maybe he’s afraid of the truth and its consequences, maybe he doesn’t realize what he did, maybe he’s fooling himself, and for sure he’s just a child. So I usually say to that child, “I’m not asking you if you did this or not, I’m just asking you to listen to what Sally said about what she doesn’t like. What did Sally say she doesn’t like?” He might say, “She doesn’t like being poked with a pencil.” That’s a little different than saying, “Sally doesn’t like it when I poke her with a pencil,” and it’s a lot easier for a child to say, a lot safer for a child to say. And you know what? It’s OK with me if he says it that way because he’s getting the idea that it doesn’t matter who poked Sally with a pencil. What matters for him to know is that she doesn’t like being poked by anyone. I might go on and ask him if he might like being poked or if he thinks anyone might like it. Then we can usually agree that probably no one likes that.
As we are talking other things might come up, and we can talk about whatever arises. We’re all starting to feel calmer, we’re leaving the arena of fear or flight, we’re beginning to realize that we can open up a bit, that we can take the chance to discuss our feelings. We’ve begun to communicate, and it’s a miracle.
The result of this communication is sometimes unimaginable at the moment. But what begins ever so quietly and innocently is that we’re creating a relationship of trust between us. Each child is beginning to trust that this is a safe place after all. The one who was hurt feels heard and understood and the one who acted out feels calmer, more in control, and certainly safer and more ready to be truthful. The fear of blame has been erased.
“But,” you might say, “doesn’t the child need to be punished; shouldn’t there be a consequence for what he did? He can’t just get away with that, can he?”
So just use that “sacred pause” for a moment and think about what happened and what effect it might have on the offending child. He might just decide not to hurt Sally again because his awareness of her feelings was brought to his attention at a time when he was not in a defense mode out of fear for himself, but at a time when he could safely listen to her and maybe, just maybe, understand her.
We can’t force our children to be nice, to be kind, to be truthful. They have to want to be that way out of goodness and compassion. Blame and fear stand in the child’s way of being free to be all he can be as he interacts with others. Greeting children with an accepting heart gives them chances to learn how to behave appropriately and reasons for wanting to.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher