By Andy Cohen, a Psychoanalytic Candidate, Community Art Counsellor, artist and mother of 2. She is also the author and illustrator of Wish You Were Here, a children’s book which explores loss and parenting with a light-hearted touch.
Those of us who lived and breathed South Africa over the past few decades cling to Nelson Mandela’s legacy. But our kids weren’t there and so they don’t hold the same instinctive understanding of this late great man. So how do we teach our children about who Nelson Mandela was, how he led and what he gave us?
In honour of South Africa’s greatest grandfather here are five lessons we can teach our kids, explained in a language your child will understand.
1. You can’t always get what you want when you want it
Ask your child to think about their last “time-out”. Now ask them to imagine that it lasted for 27 birthdays! Patience is a vital lesson our kids need to understand, and no one knew this better than Nelson Mandela. The ability to sit tight with something uncomfortable and wait things out until the world is ready is a virtue to be reinforced and practiced daily with our kids.
2. Feelings need to find words
No matter how ‘Zen’ he appeared to be, there is no doubt in my mind that Nelson Mandela got angry. But the question is – how did he understand his anger and where did he channel it? When it comes to tantrums and kid-frustrations I am all for allowing our kids to get to know their anger. (In my counselling work I see so many adults plagued by the guilt of un-explored childhood anger). The important lesson to instill in our kids is that all feelings are ok – especially the big ones! What’s not ok is acting out and hurting others. Feelings need to find words – not fists.
3. Everyone’s story is important
Everyone has a story and as parents, we can learn from Nelson Mandela too. As with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, everyone’s story has to be told and heard. At the end of each day, it’s a good idea to encourage your child to talk about their day too. Ask them to recount three things that went their way, but also three things that didn’t. This will purge unresolved frustrations and flesh out storylines. Leaving them with the message that their whole story matters: The good, the bad and the ugly.
4. Respect other’s opinions
One thing no one can deny is that Nelson Mandela had a good ear for listening. He found a way to hear all sides of the story and found important ways of incorporating them into the country’s bigger picture. In our homes too, communication and integration are vital. Siblings need to negotiate and every opinion needs to have a place at the table. Encouraging siblings to talk things out with each other and offer solutions that will make the other party settle, is a great way to teach democracy at a grassroots level.
5. You are the boss of you
They may not get to set their own screen-time limits or stay up past their bedtime…but they do get to manage their inside worlds. Nelson Mandela didn’t allow his outside circumstances to define how he inherently felt. By working through daily frustrations and challenges with our kids, we can teach them how to reconcile what’s happening on the outside with how it makes us feel on the inside. This teaches kids to flex those resilience muscles – a skill that will help them negotiate inconceivable external factors throughout their lives.
Mandela’s ultimate legacy is in the home
The real legacy Nelson Mandela left us parents, was the opportunity to experience a strong and resilient parental figure. Someone who felt deeply, acted fairly, heard our stories and made things right. So while school takes care of the history lessons, as parents it is up to us to embody Mandela’s strengths and help our kids experience his lessons each and every day, starting at home.