Another guest article from our Kadampa working dad. The rest can be found here.
In my last post on this topic, we talked about some key principles for fulfilling our purpose of a parent to become irrelevant by helping our kids make wise decisions on their own. In this post, we’ll look some key wisdom minds we can help our kids cultivate so that they can do this.
So what are the principles for helping our children make ‘wise decisions’ on their own? What we try do is demonstrate to our children how basic wisdom solves most daily problems. The trick is to package this wisdom in frequently repeated key phrases that will stick with them for the rest of their life, much like:
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I will do a future post on quite a few key phrases that I believe serve parents well. For now, however, I will give ‘the big three’:
(1) “I don’t care what other people are doing, you should do the right thing.”
Kids naturally understand the laws of karma because they naturally understand basic fairness and the sandbox is the ultimate arena of “instant karma.” You explain to your kids, “If you want to change the dynamic you have with this person, then you need to always do the right thing, regardless of what the other person does.”
How do you know what the ‘right’ thing is? We ground all of our explanations in terms of “creating good causes”. Whatever you do to others you create the cause for them to do to you. Whatever others do to you, you created the causes for them to do it to you. So basically, do to others what you would have them do to you, and don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you (this obviously resonates well in Judeo-Christian cultures too).
When your kids make mistakes, don’t lecture them, just ask questions like “Would you want others doing that to you?” Because they naturally understand basic fairness and instant karma, they generally know the answers to these questions, and your asking them will help them make their own wise decisions about what to do.
(2) “Change your mind/attitude first.”
There are several important points here. First, the most liberating thing you can do for your children is help them understand that they have a ‘choice’ about their attitude towards or view on things. They can choose their reactions to any event. Most kids (and adults for that matter), frankly, are not that much different from animals in that they just respond impulsively to whatever happens to them. Driving home again and again the fact that they always have a choice over how to view and respond to any situation that arises in their life is incredibly liberating.
Second, it is their attitude/mind that determines their experience, not the external circumstance. “I’m bored!” No, “Nothing is boring, it only becomes boring if you relate to it with a boring mind. Everything is fun if you relate to it with a fun mind.” “Nothing is annoying, rather we allow things to annoy us.”
Third, we need to help them create the reflex in life where their “first response” to any situation is to change their mind/attitude, then they focus on how to change the external circumstance. We can do this by helping them identify what they have control over versus what they do not. We have complete control over our own mind and attitude, we have little to no control over external events or what others do. So first we should work on what we have the most control over. This is just common sense.
(3) “Put others first”.
Here it is useful to recall what Shantideva said, namely that self-cherishing is the root of all suffering and cherishing others is the root of all happiness. We need to help our children ‘see’ the truth of this in their daily lives, not lecture them about it. Every single problem that arises in our children’s life can be traced back to self-cherishing. Every single good thing that arises in our children’s life can be traced back to putting others first. If we ourselves have the wisdom to be able to see how and why this is true, then we just share our perspective and view on the situation when our children come to us. If we see it, then when they talk to us, they will come to see it too. When they see this, they will naturally do the right thing.
What I am about to say is sneaky, and I know it – but it works! I have found it most useful to take the following strategy: usually our kids come to us with problems of what other people are doing to them and how they do not like it. When they describe to us the problem, we can help our child see how the other person is behaving in the bad way because they think their happiness is more important than others, they are being selfish. Our kid will then say, “yeah, that’s right.” Then we turn it on them by saying, “so don’t be like them” or “well, if you do X, then you are being just like them” or “if you do X, then how are you being any different?”
Once you have done this a few times, they will learn the principle of selfishness is the root of all problems and putting others first is the root of all happiness, and then afterwards when they come to you with what others are doing you can simply say “I don’t care what others are doing, you need to do the right thing”, but now they understand the right thing to be to abandon their own selfishness and to put others first.
Needless to say, our ability to instill within our kids these principles is entirely dependent upon our living our own lives by them J If there is one thing kids can spot a mile away, it is hypocrisy. But if we learn to live our own lives by these principles, there is a very good chance that, almost through familial osmosis alone, our kids will come to adopt these principles themselves, and then they will become fully capable individuals of making wise decisions on their own.
Then your job as a parent will be complete – you will have made yourself irrelevant!
Your turn: Are you trying out these methods with your kids? Please leave comments in the box below.