True. Kind. Necessary.

There’s so much to talk about as we dive headlong into the winter season. I truly love this time of year. Mostly because my daughter was born in mid December, but also because it’s when we move into the dark, both literally and figuratively. The days get shorter, and colder; we move activity inside; we bundle under layers of clothes and physically and energetically fold inward. This is the time of year when assorted cultures and religions celebrate some variation of the light within the darkness: Winter Solstice, Hannukah, Kwansa, Christmas, Bodhi Day, Sadeh to name just a few.

It’s a great time to nurture the light within our selves.
… and of course, in our children too.

So how do we cultivate and protect the light within our children?

Of course, there are many ways, but one VITAL way is by acting as a “filter” for our young children. Because they cannot do this for themselves, we must do it for them.

Children are regularly offered too much adult information, too much emotional untidiness, before they have built the foundation within themselves to process it. This has been on my mind a lot, particularly in the days and weeks after Hurricane Sandy.

As much as I wanted to share with my daughter the larger conversation of global warming, poverty and community responsibility, I knew that exposing her to these real-world dilemmas (even watered down) was not in her best interest, at least not now.

I grew up in a family where ideas and feelings around politics, religion, and social justice were regularly and passionately discussed and explored. I believe that it shaped (in a good way!) my vision and my spirit, both personally and politically. I am so proud of that legacy. It also helped to form my belief that small children deserve to grow up unencumbered by real-world problems. They will come to know them soon enough.

Protecting children’s innocence, or inner light,
IS a way to solve the world’s problems.

When kids are free from the weight of adult concerns, we are giving them a chance to develop slowly and at their own pace. When they have room to unfold, without the pressure of “faster”, “sooner” and “better” (something I find especially widespread in the NYC parenting world) they truly thrive with more ease and confidence. How incredibly lucky to have that opportunity for our children. Most of the world does not have a choice. Here is a beautiful quote that sums this concept up nicely:

I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think that the same is true of human beings. We do not wish to see children precocious, making great strides in their early years like sprouts, producing a soft and perishable timber, but better if they expand slowly at first, as if contending with difficulties, and so are solidified and perfected. Such trees continue to expand with nearly equal rapidity to extreme old age.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Exposing young children to adult conversation, to T.V., to news on the radio, is simply too much real-world information and does not prepare children for the grown-up world. Rather, it paralyzes them. With good intentions, we speak about environmental decay and global poverty – and we may believe we are helping to create young activists, but early childhood is not a time for these anxieties.

In his amazing book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne offers a great tool to help parents figure out the adult filter. It’s a simple rule. When sharing information and talking around young children, ask yourself:

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Is it true?
Can you be sure that what you’re saying is accurate? How do you know it’s true? We easily convince ourselves about the rightness of a thing, but when pressed, cannot prove its exact certainty. Gossip and hearsay fail this test nearly every time, and yet we often bring into our homes the unsubstantiated, hurtful, mean things that people say.

Is it kind?
Does what you’re saying model kindness to a particular person or people? Is what you’re saying accusative or inquisitive? Is it dehumanizing or humanizing? Even if it passes the TRUE test, does it still need to be said? Even hard truths can be expressed in kindness.

Is it necessary?
Do your children REALLY need to hear this? How will it serve them? Is the information you’re providing necessary for them, or does it add noise to an already deafening world?

This is obvious, I know. But as children grow older, the filters evolve. What I share and how I talk with my 5 year old is really different than what I would say to her when she was 4, or 3. All the while, even as she grows, my intention is to protect and nurture the light within. All parents recognize this immeasurable, magical light within their children. It’s the innocence and natural wonder that we all have in us when we are new, which eventually transforms into something else as we get older. My intention is not to keep her “naive” as I’ve heard some people claim, but to let her unfold into this world gently. They will learn soon enough how troubled the world is. For now, it can be a good and just place.