Children’s books are marvellous for teaching us about life’s important lessons, especially when it comes to the labelling we tend to accept for them. In a previous article I mentioned how the characters in Winnie the Pooh charmed generations of children and adults. The characteristics of timid Piglet, bouncy Tigger, bossy Rabbit and sullen Eeyore have made us laugh and sympathize with their unique differences.
However, today those quirky, lovable characters have already been diagnosed with one or another personality disorder. Winnie the Pooh with an eating disorder, Eeyore with manic depression, Tigger with ADD, and dear Piglet with anxiety disorder, etc. But, in a society that tends to label these behaviours as outside of some fuzzy definition of “normal,” we are missing an important point – each child has unique and beautiful qualities. Worrying about our children can sometimes cloud our view of them, and tempt us to place labels that can hide their strengths and true nature.
I know how worrying it can be when a child does not seem to be within the “normal” range of expected behaviour for their age. At six, my son was diagnosed by his school as having a learning disability, because he had difficulty writing. They advised me to help him practise writing daily at home. Intuitively, I knew the school’s advice was not going to work. I reckoned that making a very physically active little boy sit at the table and practice his writing every day after school would only reinforce the label and be a source of confrontation between us.
Additionally, I did not want to accept the school’s diagnosis, because I felt the label would follow him all through school and even into adulthood. I wanted to deal with the problem right then. The question for me was, what to do about it.
Troubled, I confided my worries to a friend. This experienced, as well as spiritually-inclined mother, pointed out that every child naturally reflects the complete character of the Divine. She told me that looking for that nature – intelligence, joy, creativity – would be far more constructive for my son than feeling anxious about his academic abilities, labelling him, or forcing him to do something.
Thinking about this, a quote from St. Paul helped me focus on my son in a different way. It says:
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
This was a great opportunity to focus differently on my son. Rather than seeing him as an improvement project that had potential but lacked certain skills that I needed to give him, I saw the importance of recognizing and developing the spiritual qualities that were already naturally within him. I realized I could adjust my thoughts about his intelligence, creativity and imaginative approach to play. This permanently changed how I saw and interacted with him.
So, rather than trying to get him to practice his writing, I enrolled him in art lessons where he painted, drew and sculpted. The result was transformative. Not only did his writing skills improve, but he also discovered a deep love of art that remains with him today.
We still had the challenges that every parent and child experiences in some way or another, but throughout those years I never forgot this lesson. I regularly used what I learned from that Bible verse, for both him and my other children.
Fixing our attention on the spiritual good does not mean we ignore problems. It means that we are able to address them with ideas that allow us to cherish and love the ways that the divine nature reveals itself in each individual. Beginning to trust those divine qualities removes fearful, limiting labels. This is the greatest gift we can give our children – and ourselves.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE