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Raising the VirtuousOctober 6, 2015
Who are our children, really? The first time we lay eyes on a newborn baby, our hearts open. We look at them with unconditional love and even awe. "How could this tiny, perfect being have come from me?" The world's Sacred Texts tell us that actually they are not "our" children. They are entrusted to us by their Creator, and they are His. Each one is unique in the history of the world. Every child has special abilities, gifts, talents, and virtues, even those born with physical or mental disabilities. Our role is to educate or "bring forth" these gifts and blessings from God.
The Bhagavad Gita (14:4) of Hinduism says, "Through whatever wombs men are born, it is the spirit itself that conceives, and I am their father." The Koran (3:6) says, "He shapes you in the womb of the mother as He wills. There is no God but Him." "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" Mathew 19:14: The disciples had rebuked some children for approaching him, yet Jesus not only invited the children to come to him, He said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to "such as these". Bible scholars say this means that children are worthy. They are deserving of Christ's blessings. They also say that to enter the kingdom of heaven, adults need to have the same openness, trust and purity of heart as little children. The Baha'i Teachings say, "Know ye the value of these children, for they are all My children." So, since children actually belong to God, we are taking care of them for God. Our purpose is to raise them in the image and likeness of their Father. So, how do we want to treat a son or daughter of God?
Above all, whether we mean to or not, we are always teaching them. By our actions even more than our words, we are showing them what a human being should be like. We are educating them. The word "educate" doesn't mean to pound in, but to draw out what is already there. Just as a coconut is a tree in potential, each child has the potential for the virtues, such as love, truthfulness, compassion, patience, and joy.
The Virtues Project teaches that there are do's and don'ts in this important role. Don't spoil them by indulging their every wish. This teaches them that they are entitled to whatever they want. It doesn't teach them moderation or gratitude or humility. Giving them too much, whether ice cream, toys, or videos can actually make them anxious, because it's scary to be a three year old in charge of the world. Do use the power of Virtues Language to call them to moderation or contentment or patience. Children learn this language quickly and recognize its importance.
Don't lie to them. You are teaching them to become liars. I have friends on the island who feel helpless with their willful child, so used a threat: "If you don't listen, I'll get a new baby." At first, this caused floods of tears, and the child cooperated. After a while, she caught on that this was a manipulation, and said, "You're a liar." Instead Do use Virtues Language and Set Clear Boundaries. "You need to be obedient, (or cooperative, or helpful) now." Sometimes this is enough. If not, say "You need to use your obedience now, if you want to play outside today", (or have ice cream, or some other privilege.) Then make absolutely sure to follow through on the consequence!
Don't smack or yell at them constantly to get them to obey you. After a while it means nothing to them. Do tell them firmly and calmly to obey you. Teach them that God says children must obey their parents.
When you feel frustrated with your children, remember who they really are! Look for a virtue in them and name it. Take a deep breath and call on your virtues of patience, strength, and love to bring out the best in children and in yourself.