In the early days of my school career, at the ripe age of five, I found myself fascinated by a carrot top growing out of a glass dish in my classroom. One morning tea time, my friends and I gathered around it to look in awe at the new sprouts. We were supposed to be outside, but we were much more interested in what was happening inside. Shortly after we’d fixed our gazes on that tiny carrot top, we were each met by a solid slap across the back of our heads for being in our classroom at morning tea time. I learnt that I had to be on high alert. I became a hyper vigilant child who was terrified of getting in trouble.
Kids who are terrified of getting in trouble, are terrible at resting. A child who strives to always do right in every single area at all times is almost always an exhausted child. As Deborah Macnamara puts it, “A child who is made to work for love and approval by meeting parental demands, negates any chance of true rest.”
What does a child striving look like?
Children strive for love in all sorts of ways. They might try to work out how to stay out of any trouble at all. Maybe they’re performing to get praise.
What do parents need to watch?
There are unintended consequences to the small things that we say and do. It’s great to celebrate your children when they succeed, but make sure you embrace them when they don’t too. It’s also great to see the unique strengths of each of your children, but comparison can spark unhealthy competition and striving amongst siblings.
Children can feel obliged to copy us, and can adjust who they are to fit our expectations. This can outwork itself in signing up for sports they don’t actually want to play – believe me, I’ve been there. When I was a child I did whatever I could to be like my dad. I played soccer, not because I had a deep burning desire to, but because dad did.
How do we help children come into true rest?
We let them know that we love them no matter what. That there is a place for them in the family that nobody else can fill. Tell them that, and write it out somewhere for them to see. It always helps to have visual reminders of truth.
We get in first before they’re ‘hungry’. Before they need a cuddle, we give it to them. We read to them before they ask for a story. A friend of mine meets her daughter every morning as soon as she wakes up, she asks, “How did you sleep?”. She lets her know that it’s going to be a great day and that they’ve got breakfast going downstairs. My friend is intentionally filling up her daughter’s emotional tank, and that is something that works a whole lot better than trying to parent a child with an empty tank.
We don’t hold children responsible for our feelings. When someone spills the milk, it’s easy to say, “Look what you’ve done! I just don’t know what to do with you these days. You’ve made me so upset.” Instead, acknowledge your own feelings, hold them, and hold yourself. Your child doesn’t have the capacity to manage their feelings yet, let alone yours.
We accept that it will take time for your child to mature and grow. There’s no shortcut to maturity, and as parents, we’re there to offer hope and patience.
We encourage our kids to be themselves. Not a version of ourselves, or someone in the family that everybody admires. We offer our children an invitation to exist in our presence as they are.