They come into the world this way. Sure, some are worse than others, but give it time. You might be a secretly smug new parent out there gazing upon the cherubic face of a non-colicky-slept-through-the-night-at-a-week-old wonder baby. That’s fantastic, but yes, even you will–at some point when you least expect it–be forced to admit that you’ve given birth to one. A BARBARIAN.
So, what do we do? How do we civilize these creatures? How do we help them become humans that other people will want to be around? Heck, how to we help them become humans who WE want to be around?
Let me first clarify the word “tame”. In no way do I want to “break” a child and force him to fit inside one prescribed box, one small exclusive culture. I want children to have the foundation and outlook they need to be respectful and put people at ease in any environment, to be able to move easily through different cultures and expectations. Children also must be allowed to keep what makes them “them”, even if that means retaining a wee bit of that barbaric nature.
This allows for genuine human interaction, as well as the ability to express HUMILITY, which is number one of my four taming tools…
- ENCOURAGE HUMILITY. Teach your children to recognize something bigger than themselves. This can be a god, nature, love, humanity–anything that allows the child to develop a sense of awe. Point out beautiful sunrises or sunsets. Engage them in activities that welcome a sense of wonder. Take them to places outside their familiar surroundings, when you can. Allow them to broaden their perspective to things greater than themselves.
- INSTILL AN EMPATHETIC INTENTION. Even before a child is capable of truly feeling empathy, you can strengthen his or her predisposition for it. Point out people who seem to lead much different lives than your child and discuss what they actually have in common. This may be as simple as needing food and water. While teaching and enforcing rules, discuss how others might feel if the child follows the rule or doesn’t. The concept of “kind over right” won’t grasped until a child is a bit older, but it’s good to start building up to that early.
- TEACH DEFERENCE. These days, this term seems woefully outdated, and I think that’s a shame. With the exception of abusive adults, of course, children should learn about showing “extra respect” to parents, teachers, elder relatives, and people in authority. This is a core value and an expectation is every culture. Starting with small gestures, like learning the school bus driver’s name and using it in greetings and “thank yous”, will go a long way.
- TEACH “EYES OPEN” MANNERS. Of course, “good” parents teach their child manners–maybe it’s the use of “ma’am and sir” or maybe it’s which fork to use. This is an important part of child-rearing, but simply knowing these “rules” in a vacuum is not enough. Children need to know that what works in one small microcosm may not work somewhere else, or within a different culture. They need, therefore, to keeps their “eyes open” to how their behavior is working in different environments. This will help them make subtle adjustments, as necessary.
These tools aren’t always easy to employ. There are many days where you are just happy that you were able to keep the barbarian alive. (I have three of my own. I know.) But, on the other days and when the opportunities arise, try these out. Your joyful, confident, and kind child, as well as those around him, will be thankful you did.