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The Art of Being Your Child’s First Teacher

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Encourage your child to have a growth mindset.

The other evening, after a long day of working and shuttling the kids around, I found myself standing in the kitchen, saying, (okay maybe I was yelling just a little), “talk to each other with kindness!” They both looked at me, and my daughter replied, “Mom, that’s not a very nice way to ask for kindness.” We all started laughing, thank goodness. The truth is, I should have given myself a time out when their bickering about chores had gotten my blood rising.

Our own parenting is often a mix of what we were modeled as children, and hopefully, connected to practices we have taken on. Sarah Ockwell-Smith author of Gentle Discipline encourages parents to release out-dated modes of discipline and adopt an approach that takes into account the development level of your child, maintains a high level of respect for your child, has a focus on teaching and learning, and maintains an awareness of your own emotional triggers and unresolved issues.

To encourage learning in children, Ockwell-Smith insists that we encourage our children to have a growth mindset. A growth mindset, as described by American psychologist Carol Dweck has to do with “the beliefs we hold about ourselves and our abilities.” Children with growth-mindsets believe that they can achieve their goals with effort and that when they fail, it’s an opportunity to learn rather than a sign that something is wrong with them. Ockwell-Smith offers that fostering this in your child, at any age, has a great deal to do with how you encourage them, and the way you approach their “failures.” Rather than offering universal praise such as “you’re such a good girl,” help them to develop a growth mindset by saying, “I saw you tried really hard with that puzzle. You didn’t finish it, but that’s OK, I’m sure you’ll do it next time.”

If your child is not listening to you, or not doing what you’ve asked of them, Smith-Ockwell suggests three possible reasons to consider. The first has to do with how you are communicating your request. Starting at a young age, you want to be sure to tell your child what you want them to do, rather than what you don’t want them to do- think “Walk,please” and “Hands by your side, please” rather than “Stop running” or Don’t touch that.”

Another pitfall in communicating with your child is that they are often left confused by our instructions. If you’ve given multiple requests, it may just be that they can’t remember them all—they might be confused. Ockwell-Smith suggests, “keep your questions and instructions short and clear and, most important, give only one command at a time.”

Finally, it’s important to take into account the age appropriateness of what you are asking your child to do. If you are asking your two-year-old to sit still, chances are you asking for a battle. Remembering that the reasoning part of your child’s brain does not fully develop until late adolescence can help you steer clear of having a theoretical debate about putting on their shoes when they are seven years old. Younger children are geared toward imitation, so like it or not, they will follow your lead.

As your child’s first teacher, Ockwell-Smith suggests the qualities below as you feel your way into a new, gentler way of bringing discipline to your relationship with your child:

  • Stay calm

  • Proper expectations

  • Affinity with your child

  • Connect and contain emotions

  • Explain and set a good example

Parenting is spectacular in the way of stretching you beyond any level you’ve ever been too, containing a massive amount of love alongside frustration and the possibility of confronting every one of your own raw, wounded places. Becoming a parent does not mean that you will cease to have flaws. Rather, it will show you those parts of yourself you have not yet tended to, it will ask you to be present, and at its best, it will show you the path towards compassion- for yourself and your child.


Kalia Kelmenson

Kalia Kelmenson is the editorial director at Spirituality & Health. She founded Maui Mind and Body to support women’s health, and is the creator of Mind Body Booty Camp. Kalia loves to explore the fascinating intersection of fitness and mind-body health, and to share inspiration for your movement practice from the research emerging from this intriguing field.



Book cover

Someone to Watch Over Me

A Spiritual Workbook for Children & Families

Someone to Watch Over Me is a sweet little gift for connecting with one's inner spirit, for giving voice to one's inner being, and for connecting one's essence with Guardian Protectors or Guides.  Simple and inviting enough for children, lucid enough for adults...a precious offering."

Edward Espe Brown, Zen Priest, Author of The Tassajara Bread Book et al

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