Easwaran’s Talks & Writings

Bringing Our Children Up Wisely

By Eknath Easwaran

In the nearly forty years I have spent in this country, I have seen children losing their innocence fast. In our compulsive fascination with technology and material possessions, we are depriving our children of their childhood, and with it something irretrievably precious: the innocence of their hearts.

This is more than the loss of happiness. Childhood needs to be a time of wonder, and children need this period of innocence in order to learn and grow. They require time and protection from the media so that they can walk under the skies and make up stories from the clouds and stars, get to know animals, become intimate with nature; this is the beginning of awareness of the unity of life, which will serve them greatly when they take to meditation later on.

The answer to this loss is to restore their childhood to them, to protect and preserve their innocence. This can be done, despite the powerful contrary conditioning of our times, because at the core of personality, all of us have the same divine Self, the very source of our original goodness.

The Three Stages of Childhood

An old Sanskrit saying gives guidelines for how this can be done. According to this saying, our relationship with our children passes through three stages, depending on what they need most as they grow up.

Until Age Five

In the first stage, until the child is five, we are urged to treat the little one as a god or goddess. This does not mean that we give up our power of authority, but that we give our children all the attention and affection we can, hugging them, carrying them, and keeping them physically close to us.

Such affection is essential for maintaining unity on the physical level, and children respond to it easily. These five years of intense physical intimacy and intense emotional love reassure them more than any other experience – more than any words can – and in later life they will be able to draw upon this security they received in early childhood.

Children absorb a great deal more than we realize, even in these very early years. If we constantly address the divinity with which they come to us – “trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home” – they will grow up with an instinctive sense that their deepest Self is divine.

Of course, this is the time to teach them to use the mantram – the earlier the better. Parents can sing them to sleep with the mantram; their voices are especially precious at this age. If children learn the mantram as they learn to speak, it will be ready for them in deepest consciousness as they begin to face the trials of life and give them a flying start when they take to meditation later on.

From Five to Sixteen

After five, until the age of sixteen, the Sanskrit injunction tells us to teach our children to serve. It sounds harsh, but the more I see of life, the more I appreciate the utility of this training in obedience. Young people get puzzled when their parents cannot take a positive stand, and even though they may stomp out and slam the door in anger when we say no, I think they cannot help appreciating parents who can draw a line intelligently and tenderly, showing them how to make wise choices.

At every stage of life, love shows itself in not letting children have their way all the time, which millions of parents allow. Slowly, when you let your children have their own way – because otherwise they will cry or throw tantrums or run and hide in the tree house – they will learn to not listen to you at all. Eventually you will not be able to exercise any loving control over them, which is a difficult, dangerous situation for the child as well as the parent. When such children grow up, they are likely to have trouble in relating to others. Most important, they will be unable to say no to themselves.

It is during the years five to sixteen that children are going to rebel, and it is during these years that they must learn to obey their parents so they can learn to obey the Self in them, the Atman, later on. In their daily life the parents have to approximate themselves to the image of the Atman. This is why parenthood is an extremely valuable aid to meditation.

Most of us, of course, do not feel ourselves paragons of virtue. That is why it is so helpful to acquaint children with the lives of great men and women, particularly the great mystics of all religions, who embody the highest human ideals and role models. Since children of all ages take to playacting, a family can have great fun in retelling these life stories in skits and plays in which the whole family joins in.

After Sixteen

From sixteen on, the saying concludes, your children are your equal. Afterwards do not try to push them about; do not throw your weight about, but try to explain. Appeal to their sense of reason; try to make them understand your position, and make a great effort to understand theirs.

Often it is because parents and growing young people find themselves unable to be detached from their opinions that there is conflict, and obsessive identification with opinions can be the worst kind of attachment. Parents are not their opinions, nor are the children theirs. If we are prepared to listen with respect to opinions that are different from ours – not only from our children but with everyone – we will find our feeling of hesitation and apprehension is lost. Children will appreciate this, and the father may even say to the mother, “You know, the boy may be right.”

In these ways, we can help our children grow up secure and selfless, well prepared to make wise choices when they grow up.

This excerpt is from the Blue Mountain Journal archive.