More than 2,000 years ago, there lived a Chinese philosopher named Lao Tzu ("The Old Sage") who was renowned for his wisdom. When asked to summarize his teachings, he wrote a short book of poetry. These 81 poems were called Tao Te Ching, or “The Book of the Way,” and are the basis of Taoism. This peaceful philosophy has provided guidance for more than two millennium, and can be used both as a guide for governing a country, and for parenting our children.
1) Value peace.
Peace is [the Master’s] highest value. If the peace has been shattered, how can he be content? (#31)
It is not possible to teach our children about the importance of peace if we are raising them in a chaotic atmosphere, or if they see us cheering at every new war and picking arguments with family members and neighbors. Let's evaluate our home: Is it a soothing environment that is conducive to happy children and peaceful parenting? Or is there loud music, continuous television and other noises competing for attention, raised voices, and frequent arguments?
2) Lead by example.
The Master is content to serve as an example and not to impose her will. (#58)
Remember, children model behavior that they see, and they always seem to pick the negative behavior to model first. Have you ever gone on a cursing rampage while stuck in rush hour traffic with your children sitting in the backseat? They will repeat the words that they hear us saying, whether we want them to or not. They may not do it in front of us, but we can't be surprised if a parent knocks on our front door to notify us that "your child taught my child the F-word..." Of course, it is likely that their child has already heard the word elsewhere, but why not be the parent on the block whose children model positive words and behavior?
3) Do everything in moderation.
For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation. (#59)
Parenting is all about finding our personal balance. Frequently, parents have one or more jobs, in addition to extracurricular activities for the kids, running errands, housecleaning, and meal preparation. In all of the shuffle, it is easy to overburden oneself, which results in frazzled nerves and easy irritation. This, in turn, can be taken out on our children. It is important to teach moderation to our kids. Part of this can be done by modeling balanced behavior, but there is also value in verbally communicating the importance of not overdoing things.
4) Live simply.
If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. (#44)
It is easy to have a complicated life, but in most cases, complicated means stressful. A perfect example of this is walking through the house after everyone has gone to bed, and stubbing a toe on furniture, stepping on toys, and tripping over shoes left in front of the couch. While it is necessary for our children to have clothing and toys, is it necessary for them to have so much that they cannot keep up with everything? It may be a good idea to limit our children's toys to what can fit into one toy box, and to donate everything else to a homeless shelter or second-hand store. If there is time, children can help to choose what needs to go, which will teach them a little about sharing and helping those less fortunate.
5) Be proactive whenever possible.
Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before they exist. (#64)
In order to have a smoothly-run home, it is essential that we learn to stay on top of things that happen inside and outside the four walls of our abode. By paying attention to details and making a habit of proactively and preemptively solving any problems, we add to the overall peaceful environment in our homes and make our lives and those of our children easier, which will in turn lead to a more peaceful tone in our family life.
6) Teach your children the importance of good sportsmanship.
The best athlete wants his opponent at his best. (#68)
If we raise children who value fairness and good sportsmanship, it is likely that they will grow up to value egalitarianism in all of its forms. However, if we raise children to be overly competitive, and they witness us trashing others in order to make ourselves look and feel better, than they will have a skewed view of what it takes to get along in polite company. This can potentially lead to problems once they become adults - including boorish behavior and ignorance of social mores.
7) Act without expectations.
[The Master] lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. (#55)
Have you ever given someone a gift that you thought they would rave over, only to receive a disappointingly tepid response? Imagine if you had given it to them without any expectations: what may have seemed like a indifferent smile would now just be a smile, and you may be more satisfied with their response. The same can be said for any other aspect of life. If we go into a situation with high expectations, we may well be disappointed. This has the potential to lead to irritation, hurt feelings, etc. Instead, we may try to focus on realistic expectations with our children, and find we are able to avoid the intense negative feelings and reactions that come with unmet expectations.
8) Know when and how to yield.
The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail. (#76)
There will be many times when our children are unable or unwilling to follow the rules we have laid out for them. When this happens, it is up to us, as their parents, to decide what our reaction will be. Will we punish them for every little infraction? Or have we created some breathing room in our rules, so that children have small opportunities to think for themselves and make personal decisions about their behavior? Being a parent is not about setting things in stone, but rather about knowing when situations call for flexibility in favor of our child’s overall growth.
9) React appropriately to outbursts and misbehavior.
The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid. (#78)
Anyone who has dealt with a three-year-old’s temper tantrum can attest to the fact that yelling at a child or punishing them for their outburst rarely has the desired effect. It is this author’s experience that most outbursts are the result of the child being overly tired or overcome with emotions (such as frustration, fear, sadness, etc.), not of a child intentionally trying to misbehave. If such behavior is handled with love and understanding, rather than more negative reactions, then said behavior is much more likely to clear itself up quickly, rather than snowballing into something more severe. This not only saves time and energy, but reinforces your overall attitude of peaceful parenting and creates a closer bond between us and our child.
10) Trust the process, especially when it doesn’t seem to be working.
Let the Tao be present in your life and you will become genuine. Let it be present in your family and your family will flourish. (#54)
There will be days when nothing that we are doing seems to have the desired effect, and we are tempted to revert to more aggressive measures in order to assert our authority over our children or a trying situation. However, this will only serve to undermine all of the hard work we have put into everything to that point, in order to create a peaceful environment for our family. Children need consistency, and this includes consistency in our parenting philosophies. If they see six days of peaceful parenting followed by one day of aggressive measures, this can cause them to lose trust in our authority, and to question their role in the sudden change of atmosphere. Even when it is difficult, it is crucial that we remain a reliable, steadfast person in their life, so they in turn can depend on us as they grow to be reliable, strong-rooted adults themselves.
Sarah Long is a single mom who runs her own business, homeschools her children, and is an advocate of raising children the way she wished she had been raised. She has two delightful children to show for her efforts, and she enjoys writing about them at Instructions Optional.