What does it take to build a strong, loving foundation for your family that is grounded in mutual respect? Read on for a few pointers from an amazing holistic pediatrician, who also happens to be one of my mentors: Stephen Cowan, MD. Every single item in this post is a rich and thoughtful observation on children and parenting from a mindful and respectful place. Read carefully and digest slowly. My own commentary from the Chinese medical perspective follows...
Stephen's 11 "things" (they are fleshed out fully in the link above): 1. Growth and development are not a race. 2. Creating family traditions encourages strong roots and a healthy life. 3. We grow in cycles. 4. Encouragement is not the same as indulgence. 5. Pushing your buttons is a spiritual practice, and children are our spiritual teachers. 6. A symptom is the body’s way of letting us know something has to change. 7. Be prepared. 8. Healing takes time. 9. The secret of life is letting go. 10. Trust yourself: You're the expert on your child. 11. Take the long view.
All 10 of these influence my work with children, and serve as building blocks for The Elemental Family practice, but my current favorites are numbers 1, 5, and 10.
"1. Growth and development are not a race."
Chinese medicine takes the long view on children's development. Strict milestones are rarely used. As alluded to in item number 3 above, the classical Chinese medical texts state that development over the life cycle occurs in 7 or 8 year cycles (7 years for girls and 8 years for boys - which accounts for girls' earlier physical and emotional maturation as well as their earlier arrival at the other end of the reproductive spectrum). Stephen's observation is one of the core concepts of my approach to pediatrics, which is to meet every child where they are at developmentally. They are each their own unique, incredible, perfect being and deserve to be seen as such. This kernel of wisdom has encouraged and allowed me to step back and observe children on their own terms as well as in relation to their family dynamic as a whole.
"5. Pushing your buttons is a spiritual practice, and children are our spiritual teachers."
I believe that viewing your child as your spiritual teacher imbues the adult-child dynamic with a healthy level of mutual respect. Next time your child has a meltdown, thank them for the opportunity for personal growth! Our children are developing and changing by the minute, and aren’t we as well? Working on yourself as a human being is a core concept of mindful parenting and also a basic tenant of seeking treatment with Chinese medicine. What better way to get in touch with your physical and emotional state of being than by allowing yourself to deeply reflect on what might not be working in your or your children’s favor.
Take a moment and think about the last time your child made you feel frustrated or exhausted or downright angry. Instead of seeing your child as blatantly trying to make you crazy (although it can certainly feel like that), Stephen's observation asks that we choose instead to take a deep breath (or two), look within and carefully consider what is being triggered for us. Next, ask yourself how familiar those triggers might be and if you are ready to work on clearing them out. It takes courage and effort, but the rewards of being able to stay grounded and calm for the sake of a child who needs nothing more than your love and patience are beyond worth it.
"10. Trust yourself: You're the expert on your child."
Chinese medicine believes (and Western science is also coming to understand) that the gut contains its own unique form of intelligence, complete with emotional and physical manifestations and ramifications. This lens gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Trust your gut." Unfortunately, it can be difficult to even hear what your gut is trying to tell you in the first few sleep-deprived months (or years) of parenthood. That said, once you have an opportunity to quiet your mind, you will find within you the impulses necessary for authentic listening and parenting. Sure there are some helpful hints out there - in the form of advice from well-meaning friends and family, plus the double-edged sword known as Google - but ultimately YOU are your child's best resource.
(Pic credit: http://www.mamalisa.com/blog/a-childs-drawing/)