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Joseph W. Gauld Headshot

Parents Need to Encourage Kids to 'Know Thyself'

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Throughout my 63-year teaching career, I've observed many bewildered, dismayed, even angry parents at a kid's blatant failure to follow through or do the right thing.

The parents invariably felt something was wrong with the kids, when, in fact, the real problem was rooted in the parenting. Parents -- ultimately responsible for helping their kids realize their full potential -- had seriously misread that the kids were on the right path and the truth finally came crashing down.

Oversimplified, we adults are educationally trained to handle logical challenges, but we are not trained to handle the complex problems of life, including how to communicate with our children.

Adults perfect their intellectual skills over a long period of time, while kids' cerebral cortexes don't mature until age 25. Kids handle this inequality by reading our hearts, not our minds. Since all human experience is recorded in our emotions and feelings before it ever reaches our mind, this gives kids one big advantage: they can manipulate their parents.

And kids are simply more in touch with their overall thinking potentials than adults. Huh?
Sigmund Freud said, "When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature."

Numerous neuroscience experiments have confirmed Freud's statement. For example, two groups were given the task of determining the best buy of four houses. The first group was allowed full-time to examine the complex information, while the second group was stopped half way and given a different project. When they returned, they clearly chose the better buy than the first group. Overthinking an issue can be unproductive, especially if it excludes our deeper instincts.

The power of our unconscious is immense. It draws from our genes, dreams, needs and memories; it reflects our imagination, insight and intuition, and ultimately expresses our conscience. As the experiment above suggests, focusing on intellectual logic alone can block this deeper wisdom.

Growing children, less trained in intellectual logic and adult talk, naturally rely more on the unconscious. We adults should respect nature, and realize there must be a reason that a kid's logical brain doesn't mature until age 25 -- the age required to rent a car.

We adults like the control our logical minds offer our lives -- to our detriment, both personally and with kids. But it can lead us unwittingly to fall into logically controlling our talks with kids, which fosters poor communications at best, and more typically miscommunications. Kids read our hearts, not our minds, when they respond to us.

So adults believe kids are "getting it," and move ahead. But as this process continues, this heart-mind gap widens, until things come crashing down and reality confronts kids' failure to follow through or do the right thing.

At that point, the focus usually becomes, "What's wrong with this kid?" It's not the kid; it's like trying to force a three-dimensional growth system through one-dimensional logic. There is no language for our powerful unconscious, much less our emotions.

The purpose of childhood is growth, to basically answer the questions: "Who am I?"; "Where am I going?"; "What do I need to get there?"

Kids need adults to prepare them both for the outer world and the inner one. They need adult encouragement to "know thyself," to understand themselves emotionally and explore their unconscious -- their imagination, gut instincts, dreams for the future, and other deeper expressions of themselves.

When kids have adults who not only respect their deeper selves, but also lead by example by sharing their own inner search, a powerful connection is made. Kids trust these efforts as true concern. And kids will seek a bond with these adults because they know they need mentors to be prepared for life.