Babies and very young children trust themselves completely. Only after they’ve been domesticated a bit do they begin to overwrite their inner wisdom with the ideas of right/wrong and better/worse subscribed to by the people in their lives. Ideally, we’d raise children to be fully themselves in every moment and every situation. Realistically, we need to teach them to abide by at least some social norms. Helping kids to maneuver the real world while being true to themselves is possible, but requires us to guide and support their journey. And as with all things, it’s easier to stay on track than to replace bad habits with good ones, so the earlier we start training our kids to listen to and honor their Voice Within, the better.
There are a number of things we can do to help kids to stay tuned into their inner wisdom:
- Listen more than we speak. Sometimes kids, like all of us, just need the opportunity to work through information. Holding space while they draw their own conclusions is a beautiful thing.
- Focus on feelings. Inner wisdom often presents itself as a feeling, rather than a thought. By asking children how they feel about things, we encourage them to tap into and trust their inner guidance.
- Don’t trivialize their worries. From an adult perspective, children’s problems might seem trivial. To them, they are anything but. Also, we need to remember that each time our children work through an issue, they are increasing their ability to handle problems respectfully and in ways that are true to themselves. As they grow and their worlds expand, that skill will serve them well. There’s nothing small about that.
- Make space and time for quiet. You know how much I value the practice of meditation. It’s equally important for children to be given time to reflect and reinforce their connection to their inner selves. Work some quiet time into every day and encourage kids to sit or lie down to simply breathe and relax. As they grow, they’ll learn to appreciate that block of time as much as we do.
- Let them be themselves. This seems obvious, but even well-meaning parents and caregivers sometimes stifle children’s natural expressions of their true selves. Our kids are not merely small versions of us, nor are they showpieces designed to bolster our self-confidence and make us look good. Let them paint and run and sing and dance and dig in the dirt. If they prefer, let them read and write and sit alone for great stretches of time in quiet contemplation. Never tell them they must color inside the lines, and understand that daydreaming is a valuable use of time.
- Discourage cookie-cutter behavior. As kids grow into their pre-teen years, it’s normal for them to want to look, act, and speak like their peers. There’s not much harm in indulging this temporary phase, just so they’ve already established a strong sense of self and understand who they really are. When they’re young, let kids know that they can and should think and believe what they want to think and believe. In time, they’ll return to that solid base.
- Encourage questions. It’s nice to have well-behaved children, but there’s a difference between polite and submissive. Use language that reinforces the truth—that they are powerful beyond measure and are fully in charge of steering their own ships. Children need to have a voice and should be allowed to question authority—even ours.
- Let them make mistakes. It’s hard to watch our kids stumble, but many of our most lasting lessons came to us because of our less than stellar choices. Unless the consequences could be life-threatening, we sometimes need to step back and let our kids do the very thing we know they shouldn’t. Once it’s done, we can again be there to hold space for them as they reassess what they might have done differently.
- Reaffirm their value. Showing our kids how much we love them is enormously important. Like us, kids can sometimes feel like odd ducks. Let them know that whoever they are, they matter. Remember that unlike us, kids don’t yet have the life experience to realize that the very things that make them feel weird now will one day be what makes them outstanding.
- Share our stories. We are not perfect people and were not perfect children. It helps our kids to know that everyone’s path has twists, turns, and missteps. Sharing stories about the times we’ve faltered reassures kids that getting off track doesn’t mean they can’t get back on.
- Look for learning moments. Some people call them teaching moments, but I prefer the notion that we’re all learners and that the best of our wisdom lies within us. When things happen to others, kids (and us, too) can benefit from looking at how the people involved probably felt. This increases compassion and provides us an opportunity to strengthen our inner commitments.
- Prioritize happiness. Making choices that serve us and the greater good are natural paths to happiness. Actions that leave us feeling sad, guilty, or empty are sure signs we’ve stepped off-course. Again, teach kids to rely on their feelings to guide them.
- Lead by example. Our actions always, always, always provide stronger lessons than our words. If we tell our kids to listen to their inner wisdom but they see us stuffing our feelings down or choosing the easy path over the right one, they’ll come to believe that’s how it has to be done. It isn’t and we shouldn’t.
Being entrusted with children is a great privilege and an equally great responsibility. If we look within to our own inner wisdom for guidance as parents and caregivers, we can give the little ones in our lives a beautiful start on their own journeys.