It has been almost a year since our children began studying at home, and since our living rooms turned into offices.
“Mom, I need help with this math problem. I have to finish my offline tasks before my eleven o’clock video class begins,” says Rafaella, while Vincenzo, my son, asks me once again if he can take a break. We have definitely learned a lot. We have learned to structure routines and manage stress in the midst of a sudden and unexpected pandemic.
However, many parents still forget that children have a high sense of curiosity. They want to know everything. With just one expression on our faces, they can tell if we have received bad news or if any family members have become ill. Many of us have lost members in our homes, so the pain that different challenges of this time have caused in the hearts of adults and children is understandable. However, as parents, it is important to show a positive attitude at home, as this greatly benefits them. Children are very perceptive, and even the youngest realize if we are disturbed or worried.
Many child psychologists believe that children’s behavior comes about through imitation. In the words of Dr. Ali-Akbar Furután, a prominent Baha’i who wrote various publications on the spiritual and material education of children, “parents themselves must possess those characteristics that we want our children to acquire, according to the most renowned scholars in the world, the words and actions of parents exert a tremendous influence on their children.” If we want our children to be radiant, joyful, respectful, optimistic, and helpful, then those virtues are what they should see reflected in us.
Protecting our children’s emotions should be a tireless task. Teach them to look for solutions to problems and to recognize the lesson learned in each experience. Let’s try to reflect positivity, and engrave in their minds the good things this experience can leave us. Show them the acts of generosity, love, and compassion that are being carried out day by day around the world, the initiatives that exist for the elimination of prejudices, initiatives for the development of social justice and religious tolerance, etc. Human beings are understanding that the unity of humanity is inevitable. Isn’t that exciting? Ask them questions like “What would be an example of Justice?”, “What is justice?”, “What is our purpose in this world?” Teach them to reflect.
In addition, it is good to keep children informed in order to help them understand how they should take care of themselves, but they do not need to know details that can cause a big impression on them. Keep in mind that it is not advisable to give free rein to “catastrophic thoughts,” such as assuming that we are infected with the virus just because we have a cough or that our problems have no solution. Don’t forget that it is important to measure our words and attitudes, especially if children are listening.
Remember, children are not small adults. They are children! They should not listen to adult conversations. We, as parents, must learn to manage anxiety.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, said: “When our thoughts are filled with the bitterness of this world, let us turn our eyes to the sweetness of God’s compassion and He will send us heavenly calm!”
And Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, said: “O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.”
When possible, include children in your consultations. The Baha’i writings affirm that “Family consultation employing full and frank discussion, and animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance, can be the panacea for domestic conflict.”
Consultation in the family is extraordinary and training the little ones to consult about the family activities we could do — or what ideas they come up with to solve some small problem — is ideal. When it is not possible to include them, it is good to explain to them in advance what will happen and when. We should tell them what we would do and at what time, and if we must give good or bad news, explain to them that everything is temporary and nothing is permanent.
In my family, we have seen that memorizing this verse from Baha’u’llah calms the heart and helps us prepare for the future:
O Son Of Man! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.
Setting aside regulated time for video calls for my children has helped them soothe stress and feel connected to their friends and family. Now there are many ways to play online with our loved ones. This is a way to help them feel less isolated and process better the reality we are facing.
However, we must not forget to regulate this time. Do not leave them to their fate, since many psychologists say that it is wrong to think that children should be allowed to spend their time in front of the television or playing video games for as long as they want. Let us not forget that they need us to learn to set limits.
“It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience hath shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps, improve somewhat today; but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual condition and accustomed ways. Therefore it is in early childhood that a firm foundation must be laid. While the branch is green and tender it can easily be made straight.”
To teach them to serve, we can allow them to do something for us, such as bring us a glass of water, pick up the table, or pick up the laundry. And when they do it, show them how happy they have made you. Embrace them with your smile and radiant face, and their hearts will be filled with joy. Thus we help them recognize little by little that happiness and the purpose of life is in the service of others.
I am convinced that when we help children to cope with the sorrows of life, accepting God’s will with joy and optimism, we are giving them the necessary tools to face with courage the tests and difficulties that the future will bring during their adolescence and adulthood. This is the time to sow in our family virtues such as faith, hope, and joy.