Hope for a better future depends on raising children without the traumas and abuses that plague so many people struggling through recovery today. These abuses often occurred at the hands of well-meaning but ignorant parents, many of whom were simply responding from their own unhealed wounds, wounds they had received from the previous generation, which may have been passed on through family and culture for many generations before that. As adults today undergo the difficult journey of healing these wounds, they understandably want to avoid at all costs, inflicting similar difficulties upon their own children.
Today's children need intelligent guidance that supports their growth and integration in body, mind, and spirit. Finding spiritual models that can be applied to children - models that address their development in a way that honors the different stages of a child's life can be difficult. Schools educate the mind, but suppress the body's natural urge to run and play. Daniel Goleman, in his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, illustrates the need to educate and mature the emotions before the intellect. Some children grew up completely eschewing religion, because they were made to sit on hard pews, or read books that were intellectually beyond their understanding, and thus have no interest in spiritual matters when they are older. Others, grow up to completely ignore the body, and incur health problems as a result. Still others, steer away from colleges and other intellectually demanding tasks because they grew up to believe they didn't have the necessary intelligence, often because they were given tasks as children that were beyond the abilities of their age.
The Chakra System, based on the seven wheel-like energy centers of the body, known as chakras provides a profound mirror to the stages of childhood development. This system shows how the chakras develop sequentially, from bottom to top, as a child matures from birth to adulthood. In my personal growth seminars based on teaching this model as a way to heal adults from their past traumas and current difficulties, I am constantly asked by the parents in the audience, "I have a child who is at this stage right now. What do I do to support his development?"
This question goes beyond simply avoiding abuse - but moves into the creation of optimal human beings. This occurs through supporting children in all dimensions of their experience - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually - and supporting them in ways that are appropriate for their current level of development.
What follows below is a brief introduction to the chakras and their childhood developmental stages, with simple advice for parents on how to support the unfolding of these important areas in a child's life.
The most important thing you can do at this stage is to help your child come fully into her body. Frequent touch, holding, carrying, nurturing, and attendance to physical needs cannot be stressed enough. Your touch affirms your child's physicality. Your holding teaches her to hold herself. Playing with your child helps her develop motor coordination. Playing with her feet and hands, supplying toys she can grasp, playing when she's in the bath, all help stimulate motor development. Setting up an appropriate environment that is safe and comfortable, with age-appropriate toys helps the child relate to the outer world in a positive way.
The child's only source of safety is through attachment to the primary caregiver. It is important for the mother (or father if he is primary parent) to be there as consistently as possible during the first year as a ground for the child. This means picking her up when she cries, frequently holding and cuddling her, talking to her, protecting her from loud noises, hunger, cold, or discomfort, and feeding her when she's hungry, rather than by a schedule. Some parents have difficulty allowing this attachment to form, because the child's natural neediness feels too demanding. Allowing this attachment to occur helps the child become more independent later.
Consistency of presence during infancy helps to reconcile the dilemma of trust vs. mistrust in a way that brings hope and confidence. Knowing that the parent is always there allows the child to relax into the development that needs to occur, rather than rise into tension and hypervigilance.
If the mother needs to work during the first year and can't be there with her child, she leaves her child at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, financial circumstances often make this the only option. The best parents can do is provide the healthiest child care possible, acting as advocates to make sure the child gets the care she needs. Making sure the child is touched frequently and appropriately, fed on demand, and cared for by competent adults in an age- appropriate environment are a few things the parents can look into when finding day care. Spending time at the day care with her child until she gets used to it is also helpful. Family day care and in-home babysitting are more likely to offer continuity and consistency, when possible. In addition, the mother needs to understand that the child may need extra nurturing, touch, and mother-child bonding in the evening at home. This is especially demanding on single and/or working mothers who are often exhausted at the end of the day. Yet, time taken for nurturing during the first year pays off in the long run with a calmer and healthier child who makes less demands later.
A feeling of safety comes from a safe environment. Peace in the home, protection from loud noises, sharp objects, falling, cold, and violence of adults or siblings is essential. Remember, environment is self to the infant. What they are embedded in is the first influence on who they are.
When a child is in an unfamiliar environment, such as a store, a park, a doctor's office, or a friend's house, the parent is an island of safety for the child. Understand that your child will be more insecure, and need to come to you again and again for reassurance.
Feeding schedules, though convenient for the parent, do not allow the child to establish her own rhythms, nor do they teach her that the world will respond to her needs. Breast feeding has been proven to be healthier emotionally and physically, as breast milk contains important antibodies, and the experience of breast feeding promotes mother child bonding, through physical closeness. But studies have shown that the emotional state of the mother while feeding is actually more important than whether it comes from a breast or a bottle. A bottle given lovingly is better than a breast given resentfully.1 Healthy nutrition on the part of the mother, refraining from harmful substances that flow into the milk, such as drugs and alcohol, and healthy nutrition when the child begins eating food are also essential to building a healthy body.
If you successfully handle this stage, you will give your child a healthy foundation from which to meet the many challenges that life will bring. She will have a sense of her own body and aliveness, and a sense of hope and optimism that the world can and will meet her needs.
Your child will now be in the hatching stage, beginning to separate from you as a parent as his body development allows him more and more movement. Because this is scary to him, he will go back and forth - moving away and coming back to see if everything's OK. In some ways he will seem even more attached, and this is natural. It is important to support both these movements - to encourage the separation by offering safe opportunities to explore, and by being warm and loving when reassurance is needed.
Your child is exploring the world through his senses. This is his main mode of experience right now. It is important to provide colors and sounds, interesting toys, touch and pleasure through play, and a safe environment to explore. Your voice and attention are a major part of the sensate experience.
Your child wants to move about right now. This is not the time for a playpen, and if you must use one, use it only for short periods of time. Instead, find places where he can crawl and walk about safely, where he can run in the park, roll around in the yard, and learn to use his body in its new found joy of movement.
Your child is learning his emotional language. If you want to teach emotional literacy, it's important to mirror his feelings. Be responsive to his cries and expressions of rage, fear, need or confusion. Don't negate or punish him for his emotions - he can't help what he feels. Reflect words to show him you understand: "How sad you look right now!" "Are you scared? Do you want Mommy to hold your hand?" Though he can't speak very well yet, he is beginning to understand words by listening. He will understand that his feelings have a name and that even without language he can communicate to someone what he needs or wants.
Be aware of your own emotional needs and states, as well as the emotional "field" in the household. Children pick up our rage and fear, anxiety and joy. Take care of your needs as much as possible so your unresolved emotions are not projected onto the innocent child. Create a positive environment.
As your child begins to separate, celebrate her independence. Try to support her in her willfulness, hard as it might be, by offering choices whenever possible. Instead of asking, "Do you want Cheerios?" "No!" "Do you want corn flakes?" "No!" "Do you want oatmeal?" "No!" and then getting exasperated, you can say "Do you want Cheerios, corn flakes, or oatmeal?" Or you can pick out two suitable outfits to wear, and give her a chance to choose. Give your child opportunities to feel willful in ways that are safe and appropriate.
As the ego identity is forming at this stage, be sure to take delight in your child's accomplishments and make her feel appreciated. Support her independence without rejecting her. If you give your child tasks that she can successfully accomplish, she will develop confidence. Age-appropriate puzzles and toys, small jobs around the house, like putting toys in a box or picking up stuffed animals can help to foster a basic sense of confidence. If she insists on doing a task that is beyond her abilities, such as tying her shoes, help her accomplish it. By all means, refrain from getting critical or overly frustrated by her awkward attempts to do simple things. Have patience. It will pay off in the long run.
Your child will indicate to you when she's ready for toilet training. She will show an interest in the toilet and adult bathroom activities. She may tell you when she's wet or resist diapers when you're putting them on. She will stay dry for longer periods of time. Sphincter muscles are not capable of holding on until the child is 18 months to 2 years. It may not be until age 3 that she can go all night without a diaper. If you wait until the time is right, she will feel a sense of pride over this new adult behavior, rather than engage in a fruitless battle of wills.
Rewards for successful behavior go farther than punishments for mistakes, which only create shame. Find treats that can be given as reinforcers, as well as hugging, clapping and verbal appreciation.
In supporting your child's autonomy and will, you obviously cannot relinquish all control. There needs to be appropriate limits, firmly given. Your child cannot understand sophisticated reasoning, but simple cause and effect statements, like: "Doggie bites! Don't touch!- can be understood. Severe punishment teaches aggressive behavior and fosters shame. Withdrawal of love puts the third and fourth chakras at odds, and stimulates the child's insecurity and need for approval.
Instead, try to divert your child's attention to something more appropriate. If you take the remote channel changer out of her mouth, don't yell at her when she cries. Give her something else to hold. Remove her from dangerous situations. Limits set firmly and consistently for short'periods of time (such as time out in one's room alone for a few minutes) can be more effective than anger or withdrawal. Children are highly sensitive to parent's approval at this stage. When you must, disapprove of the behavior and not the child.
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