The question repeatedly asked in our society characterized by strained parent-child relationships, is: "How should we, adults, raise our children, so that they become self-reliant, without becoming self-willed, selfish or overly liberated?" The answer involves not only the art of bringing up children, and moral issues like self-reliance and liberation, but revolves mainly around making a healthful and satisfying relationship in a family—less stressful and more rewarding.
For this objective, two principles are to be kept in view:
Before considering the need for generating "self-reliance" but ending in self-willed behaviour of the modern "liberated" youngsters, certain rules are in order. The most important key to sharpen the skills of parentting is: Communication and Accessability. Children must be able to count on us and feel safe to share with us, if we desire to be the "ethical negotiators" in a collaborative atmosphere.
Communication skills mainly consist of sympathetic listening and responding. It means putting one's self in the back seat, and preserving objectivity and empathy, in order to elicit smooth co-operation. There is, for instance, a tactful art of saying "no"—in a roundabout way sometimes—and yet getting things done our way!
Now the main question remains: How to inculcate self-reliance and yet draw a line before the "self-liberated" youngster chooses to behave in an unacceptable way? For instance, to set a reasonable limit to his unreasonable demands, we first need sensitivity, tolerance and understanding of the needs of the new generation of "modern" youngsters. Verbally, too, we may acknowledge these emotional needs, as this is acceptable to the child and presents us as "reasonable adults." Once the youngster, however self-willed by habit or nature, feels secure that his feelings and emotions behind his demands are understood—"I know how you feel!"—he becomes willing to listen to the other side. When a person loves and trusts someone, he strives to understand that person's point of view, and to be helpful.
Love and endearing language create an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect which are an absolute pre-requisite for any negotiation. To this, if we add sympathy, the persuasion and adjustment are not so difficult.
This is easier said than done, and needs sincere efforts, amidst occasional failures and long practice! And failures should not dishearten us; we must patiently keep trying. It is our duty.
Does it mean being a soft, "permissive parent" who is yielding before the heat of youthful demands—tantrums? Silent permission to express feelings, even if it hurts, can reduce tension. Then the young blood may be ready to consider other options that may be suggested to channelize activities into permissible directions. Yet there should be no hesitation in setting an acceptable limit to youthful zest which otherwise may carry it away into uncontrolled revelry! A firm request to "mind the language" is in order.
As for self-reliance, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc., to be encouraged in our children, the first rule is enthusiastic appreciation of whatever progress the child has made. Praise and even "thanks" must be expressed whenever it is due. This motivates further effort.
Children instinctively know their dependence on elders and yet resent to be always treated as "kids" and being supervised or frequently told how to do things. Children also hate invasion on their personal space. For instance, when we insist on a hair-cut according to our notion of what is proper. The child may be led to choose from among activities which are mutually acceptable.
Children want to be independent "grown-ups" and at the same time remain children! To become an "independent" person means less "dependent relationships" with others. This is a process that cannot be enhanced by demanding obedience all the time or by external controls or inhibitions. Nor should independence be construed as permission to indulge in unrestrained freedom. A judicious balance is a rule in all life's endeavours. The function of the adult is not to offer readymade solutions and instant advice to the young learner of skills. The child should know that we are always available and helpful whenever required. The child should be allowed to wrestle with his own problem. He can be stimulated to think positively and constructively by himself. He should be made to see that learning means the process of successes and failures. But the policy is to "try, and try again, till you succeed."
When H.P.B. said "children are our salvation," she meant that they represent the future destiny of humanity. The way we nurture now, psychologically and morally, the young generation, will condemn or salvage all of us with the season of ripening and when the fruits will have to be harvested.