“Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it, whispering, ‘Grow, grow!’”
It is the destiny of every little blade of grass to become all it can possibly be. And it is the responsibility of each blade’s guardian angel to see to it that the blade gets everything she or he needs in order to fulfill its destiny. What do children need in order to grow and flourish? After the child’s needs for proper food, clothing, housing and medical care are met, what then? What factors make for an “optimal environment of growth”? I can think of at least four categories:
- Children need to be cherished, enjoyed, appreciated and celebrated.
- They need to be listened to with understanding, sympathy, acceptance and respect.
- They need to be seen as unconditionally good and inherently valuable; to be welcomed, invited, and actively included in conversations, family time and social situations.
- They need to be encouraged in their uniqueness and unique contribution, and to have their opinions, input and contributions valued.
- Children need to be encouraged in the development of their individuality and separateness.
- They need to be given emotional and social “space” so that they can experience personal/interpersonal control in age-appropriate ways (this includes the need for privacy).
- They need to be allowed to be assertive, and even adversarial, within healthy bounds.
- They need to be encouraged to be adventurous and risk-taking, in age-appropriate ways.
- Children need to learn from observation how to function as adults, how to develop relationships and how to live in community.
- They need to see the adults in their life engaging in self-care, work, recreation, service to others and shared-meaning community life (e.g, a neighborhood or civic organization, a faith community).
- They need to see adults expressing emotions in healthy ways, resolving conflicts respectfully, extending forgiveness and pursuing reconciliation.
- They need to experience and participate in life-cycle milestones and rituals (e.g., birthdays and anniversaries, “coming of age” ceremonies, weddings, later-life transitions, and rituals of “good grieving.”)
- Children need to be provided with boundaries, discipline, education and training, and responsibilities.
- They need to be given boundaries and discipline that are age-appropriate, sympathetic and not abusive.
- They need to be instructed in the use of “self” skills (e.g., self-soothing, self-awareness, self-regulation).
- They need to be instilled with a love of learning, and to be given opportunities to expand their experience of the world through participation in the arts and music, travel, etc.
- They need to be given age-appropriate responsibilities within the family. They need to be taught the healthy and responsible use of money and possessions.
We ourselves never outgrow our need to be in an “optimal environment of growth” that includes these components, at every age/stage of our life. Therapy should be a place and time in which our experience of these things (or our lack of experience in these areas) can be talked about and addressed without fear or shame. A good therapist is a little bit like a guardian angel, gently whispering “Grow, grow!” — wherever you are on your journey.