When children are raised naturally, in keeping with their own true hearts, there is nothing that we need to teach them about Zen. In fact, the children then become our teachers, reminding us of what is important and expressing themselves naturally.
To grow a Zen child, means to raise a healthy, expressive, creative child–a child easily in touch with who they truly are. This child is naturally curious about life, experiencing each day as an adventure, going to sleep happy at night. This is a child to whom sharing comes naturally, who can laugh when things are funny and cry when they’re sad, who is not terrified of the consequences of their behavior or focused unnecessarily upon reactions of adults. This child then becomes strong and stable, able to weather all kinds of conflicting demands and pressures.
Actually, all of Zen practice comes simply to teach us how to become a child once again. Not how to become childish, but child-like, how to tap the natural knowingness and spontaneity we were all born with, to find delight in our days and share it with others.
In order to grow a Zen child certain basic steps need to be honored and taken. These steps are not difficult though they may be different from the ways in which we have usually been trained to think about child-rearing.
Some Steps To Growing A Zen Child
1) Honor The Child’s Natural Wisdom And Gifts
Most of us feel that we have to fill our children with information, knowledge, skills, direction. From the moment they are born we must “mold” them in the right direction, so that they will grow to fulfill our values and images of a successful adult. We do not stop a moment and question how these images have impacted upon us, how fulfilled and whole our lives are. We teach our children much more by who we are than by what we preach.
All children have their own innate wisdom, rhythms, sense of exploration, and ability to express what is most dear to them. Our job as caretakers is to create a loving, safe environment in which both we and they can discover who they are. Raising children, (like Zen practice) is a process of discovery. We must take our lead from the children, not impose ourselves upon them.
When children feel so deeply respected, all that is best and natural emerges easily. Their full intelligence and abilities become available to them. This kind of child will not become aggressive, distracted and filled with all kinds of fears. When a being’s basic nature is not interfered with, it becomes empowered to function at its best.
2) Don’t Compare Your Child With Others
Conformity and competition have become a craze (and plague) in our nation and in the process of child rearing. Nothing could be worse for both the parents and children. Comparing your child’s progress, scores or abilities with those of other children tell you absolutely nothing about who he/she is, or how they will do in their lives. There are many ways and timetables for developing, and different gifts and abilities that different children have.
Remember that being different doesn’t mean being better or worse. Many kinds of trees and flowers are needed in a garden. An apple tree will produce the best possible apples, don’t force it to give you pears. Not only will that distort it’s growth, but it will make the apple tree very sad. A garden with only one kind of flower would become uninteresting. Just as we need roses, tulips, lilies, etc. for the garden to be complete, we need all kinds of different children to make a whole world.
3) Allow Your Child To Express Who She Is
There are many, many constrictions placed upon what children are allowed to express. There is a demand for politeness, control and censure coupled with the intrinsic notion that certain thoughts and feelings are bad and cannot or should not be expressed. The child develops the sense that certain parts of them are bad and unacceptable. This causes these parts to go underground, and become the source of symptoms of all kinds.
Help the child find a way to communicate and express whatever he/she is going through. It can be done through words, song, art, plays, dancing together, planting flowers. Make sure you find a way to let them know you truly hear what it is they need to say. The child’s self worth will then grow.
4) Look For And See The Best In All The Child Does
Rather than find fault, criticize, punish and negate the child in the thousands of ways we usually do, specifically look for and see the best in the child and all that they do. Acknowledge it to them as well. Everyday let the child know something you are truly proud of them for and pleased with about them.
However, sadly, in many situations the opposite occurs, praise and acknowledgement is given rarely, in a context of criticism and complaint. Turn this around. Let the child realize that though they may have made an error, the totality of who they are is wonderful.
You can also ask them what they are pleased with and proud of about you. If there is something troubling them in the relationship, this is a time it will come to the fore. There is nothing more crucial than keeping open lines of full communication between parents and child.
5) Grow Yourself!
Of course as parents grow a Zen child, they are simultaneously growing themselves. The way we treat another, reflects back upon us. The beauty and goodness we find in another, we begin to see wherever we go. As we loosen the bonds and chains we tie our children in, we are always freeing ourselves as well. Power struggles disappear in these kinds of relationships, and make lots of room for love to grow.