To Listen and Learn: Seeing Children as Experts of Childhood

Ginger Carlson
March 1, 2010

There is a saying that goes: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear
So it goes with parenting, perhaps the greatest exercise in humility, patience, and love. 

Even the most competent and confident of people, in all walks of life, in all fields of work, find themselves challenged as never before once they add children to their lives. It is clear that most people who choose to have children want to be good parents.  They have many questions about what would be best for their children. So they research, and they read, and they learn, and they discern. However, they often look outside themselves and outside their children for the answers, and the appropriate answers for their particular child are not always out there.

As anyone who has ever asked a question knows, there is an expert for everything.  For every aspect of parenting, educating, and even breathing you can find an expert on it. In the sea of child-rearing books and resources available, the stories and ways of being are vast, to say the least.  And at some point in the journey, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the different methods, instructions, and choices we have.  But one thing is clear, for any choice we make or method we follow, we are doing it for one reason and one reason alone, for the good of our beloved child. For love. 

So who do we listen to?  Who's advice do we follow? Who really knows best?

Look to Your Child for the Answer.

For all the experts out there who have an opinion, as educated as it may be, it is the children themselves who can help us unlock the answers to our questions about what is right for them and what they need.

To follow a child's lead is to observe their ways of being, understand their response to the world, and to learn about their uniqueness. If we take the time and energy to carefully and clearly observe our children as they move through their days, we can better understand their strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes, personality traits, preferences and the intimate details of their learning styles; then we hold the key which unlocks their innate ability to thrive.   It is only from this place of really knowing our children that we will be able to offer the guidance they seek, when they seek it.

As parents, the more we are able to observe our children and how they react to situations, the more we will be able to support them in their interactions with the world.

Question Your Agenda and Honor Sovereignty.

Questioning our agendas as parents, that is, why we feel something must happen in a certain way or on a certain timeline, can be the first step in learning from our little masters. It is certainly an extended exercise in being a mindful parent. 

Getting past reflexively saying "Because I said so," or a knee-jerk "No" can be what it takes to create an environment in which we can say affirm our children and strengthen our relationships. If we are imposing our agendas that only trains our children to look to others, rather than themselves, for direction.  And if the goal in life is to eventually gain authority over oneself, then we must honor children's opinions and help them learn to express those opinions in a way that is both respectful and articulate.

If children live in a world in which they can be confident- one that recognizes their ideas and desires and that these ideas are not "childish", but as the real experts they are, valuable and valued - then they will become the confident beings we hope for.  Children are entitled, like all human beings, to be loved and to find strength in that love.  One way we can give them that entitlement is to let them have control over their situations.

Listen and Learn.

Children really are experts on many things: they are experts of asking questions, experts of using their imaginations, experts of discovery of this big wide world.  Perhaps you have an expert on dinosaurs, trains, or fairies.  Perhaps you have an expert pot banger, bug collector, or mud pie baker.  When we consciously choose to listen to our children and their expert opinions, we are provided with the precious opportunity to stay connected with one another. If your child explains that a mouse lives in every clock turning the clock hands and getting his tail stuck each time it moves (causing the ‘tick'), consider it an opportunity to gain insight into your child's exploration of the world and how she solves problems rather than correcting her observation (which can often be very difficult for parents who are trying to ‘seize the teachable moments'.) From that place, where there is much to be learned, children are provided a model that values a life of listening and questioning.

It is not uncommon to hear a parent say their children have been their greatest teacher.  Your children are experts at being exactly who they are, experts of their very own childhood.  Listen to them. Follow their lead. They have much to teach us. 

From the Parents

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