Monday, April 16, 2007

5 Tools for Self-Development

In Parenting from the Inside Out, a book that argues that deepening self-awareness can help us become better parents, the authors identify five tools that are key to parenting. I found that these are general internal principles that are helpful in any endeavor, whether character development, building habits, cultivating a marriage, and overcoming weaknesses. I'm summarizing the five points here, mixed in with a few personal remarks.

1. Being Mindful. This mindfulness is the essence of a strong relationship. It is to be aware of the present moment, aware of the person or situation in front of you, not preoccupied with the future, your fears, your self-doubt, or your history. With a child, being mindful is truly connecting with her, listening to her, fully experiencing the shared moments, purposefully choosing your responses and behavior. The authors write, "Children can readily detect intention and thrive when there is purposeful interaction with their parents. It is within our children's emotional connections with us that they develop a deeper sense of themselves and a capacity for relating."

2. Lifelong Learning. When I became a parent, and more so everyday, I realize the glaring character faults and weaknesses I have. Instead of reacting with frustration, this realization should be a positive one--an opportunity for self-growth and learning, the ultimate tarbiyah experience from Allah (swt). No matter what stage we are in life, difficulty and obstacles are opportunities to become better people. Whenever we grow and learn as parents, our children will benefit, even if the road is bumpy at times. As one dear friend said, "Your children will learn courage, persistence, and strength by watching you deal with your issues and improve, and they will be all the better for it."

3. Response Flexibility. This is the skill of prioritizing, thinking quickly, and changing behaviors, and this ability can be developed through the previous two abilities--in many people, it does not come naturally. The first step in achieving response flexibility is insight, acknowledging our weaknesses. The authors write, "Response flexibility is the ability of the mind to sort through a wide variety of mental processes, such as impulses, ideas, and feelings, and come up with a thoughtful, nonautomatic response... it is the opposite of a knee-jerk reaction... When tired, hungry, frustrated, disappointed, or angered, we can lose the ability to be reflective and become limited in our capacity to choose behaviors."

4. Mindsight. I thought this was really similar to the concept of ikhlas, sincerity. It is a deep level of self-awareness, and the ability to perceive our own thoughts and emotions. KNOWING our minds. Not only must we be aware of what is going through our own minds, but also what is going through the minds of our children. We might be able to get our child to read Quran/wear hijab/eat her food/put her shoes away, but what is going through her head? The behavior is what we wanted, but is the deeper level of the mind where we want it to be?

5. Joyful Living. The author writes, "enjoying your child and sharing in the awe of discovering what it means to be alive, to be a person in a wondrous world, is crucial for the development of your child's positive sense of self.... Remembering and reflecting on the experiences of day-to-day life creates a deep sense of feeling connected and understood." This section should be renamed, "Joyful Living for the sake of Allah, and Appreciation of His Bounty."



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