The concept of living with intent, with a sense of purpose, can be taught to children at a young age. Parents lead by their own example, but great teachers can have a huge impact.
Carlthorp School, my daughter’s school in Santa Monica CA, has developed an incredible program with KidUnity, an organization that combines 21st Century learning concepts with service learning to create empathy, empowerment, and skills for children to engage in our world. My daughter is incredibly lucky to have participated in a year long program on civic engagement that culminated with a visit to Washington DC where the students heard from and made presentations to congress, media and organizations on subjects they had studied for during the academic year.
Here is a a reflection from my 12 year old daughter, Leela, on how the program worked and her experience: Continue reading →
I feel lucky every day. There are the obvious reasons like my two healthy, beautiful boys, my supportive and loving husband, and my cozy, comfortable house that I adore every time I walk in the door.
Then there are the less obvious things like having exact change in my wallet at a cash register, finding boyfriend jeans that are so soft they feel like pajamas, and a great morning run.
The list goes on and on, some big items and some more insignificant: my wonderful family and friends, losing myself in a great book, and getting that perfect family picture where everyone is smiling and looking at the camera. Rich dark chocolate, dates with my husband, and a long phone call with my best friend. Seeing my kids’ faces in carpool and knowing that I will be hugging them momentarily, homemade pasta and an amazing blowout that lasts for days.
Memories are treasures, even the horribly embarrassing ones that I can’t even bring myself to write about yet. My life is comprised of the laughter and fun I have had in my first 37 years, and the hard times that have made me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t be as resilient and strong without learning how to navigate some really difficult situations and still hold my head up high.
I am constantly striving to create opportunities where my kids feel gratitude. Of course they have learned to say “thank you” when they receive a gift, but what I am going for is from the heart thanks for just the little things. I know that children are egocentric, and I don’t begrudge them those precious years where it is all about them. However, as they grow I pray that every year brings them a deeper understanding of the world around them, how they fit into it, and how they can make it a better place. As a mom I can only hope that they do become aware of all the insignificant wonders of the world that make life so sweet. You can look for problems, or find joy, and I hope with all my heart that their outlooks on life steer them in the direction of joy at every turn. And of course they will face hardships. I wish I could shield them from every heartache, but I wouldn’t be doing them any favors. My goal is for them to learn that difficult situations can teach you lessons without hardening you.
As a parent I think that we have to lead by example, take responsibility, and help our children form certain habits. Being grateful may take some practice for the little ones in our families. With this belief in mind, I started a Family Gratitude Journal. This small notebook sits on our kitchen table with a pen. Every night at dinner we all write a quick note in it marking something we are grateful for that day. It could be a fun playdate, liking the meal, or not having any homework. It could be gratitude for a lovely family walk (that would be mine!) or scoring a goal at practice.
Getting started is super easy, and I know you will feel great about encouraging your family to notice the little pleasures of every day life. This is also something you can keep private, or do with a spouse. Keep it next to your bed if that works for you, and jot down one tidbit at the end of the day.
Ali Katz, a native of Philadelphia, has lived in Houston for fifteen years. She enjoys reading, cooking, running and yoga, in addition to spending as much time as possible with her husband and two young sons. Ali started the website Daughter-in-Law Diaries with the intention of sharing her personal journey, and to help other daughters-in-law strengthen the bond and improve the relationship they have with their own mother-in-law. Please visit Ali online at www.daughterinlawdiaries.com
Two months ago 7 year old Tiana Parker was sent home from school because her hair cut was considered “distracting.” What was her haircut? Thin dreadlocks tied back in a bow. The Oklahoma public school that sent her home has a policy that says “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros and other faddish styles are unacceptable.” Really? Could they be any more blatantly racist? Afros are the natural style of many black women’s hair and you want to imply it’s distracting?
MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry decided to take up the cause on her show, especially after derogatory comments about black hair were made by “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood (a black female herself) earlier in the week. Melissa addresses her segment to young Tiana, affirming that the little girl has nothing to be ashamed of – that her hair is not distracting but an homage to black heritage. Melissa names off several influential black artists and musicians who have also rocked dreadlocks – from Bob Marley to Whoopi Goldberg and more recently Willow Smith. She applauds Tiana’s parents for withdrawing her from that school and placing her somewhere where her natural beauty – her black beauty – is embraced. We applaud them as well.
This issue hits particularly close to home. As a child of interracial marriage (my dad is black, my mom white) my hair was often an issue of contention. I was born with a full head of it. My mother’s family has thick hair, especially for Anglicans, which combined with the kinky curls of my dad’s DNA lead to this:
It only got thicker and more out of control from there. I was 15 before we decided to try relaxing my hair. I grew up in the south so having my white mom take me to a black hair salon to get a perm was always a level of complicated that would take a text book to explain. It cost $150 and took three and a half hours (did I mention my hair is really thick?) of me sitting in a chair with my scalp feeling like it was literally on fire. That painful tingle was the feeling of some magical concoction burning the ethnicity out of my hair. That went on once every 3-6 months for 7 years.
Why? Because I never felt pretty with my hair natural. I often make the comparison that my hair without a straightener looks like someone shoved my fingers into an electrical socket. All of the popular girls at school at stick straight shiny hair that they could wear down any time they liked. All the lead characters on my favorite tv shows were the same way – even the black characters had their hair shiny and straight instead of natural. All the weather has to do is think about drizzling and my hair becomes a seeing hazard for anyone walking behind me. Like Tiana’s school is trying to preach – I felt like I was a distraction. Even now I prefer my hair straight over curly (though to be honest, that also has a lot to do with the fact it’s cooler temperature wise if it’s not all bunched up on my head).
It’s because the message given to Tiana, and all other little girls attending that school, isn’t a new one. For generations little black girls, and minorities all over, have been under pressure to “white-ify” themselves to fit the beauty ideals we are bombarded with on a daily basis. From simple hair treatments like relaxers and extensions to the extreme of skin bleaching treatments. It’s often insidious – the fact we see so few black females rocking natural hairstyles in mainstream media. It’s a subliminal campaign. But this – Tiana’s case? There’s nothing undercover about it. We are telling girls in primary school that their natural beauty isn’t good enough, that it’s a distraction, that it’s ugly. And that’s a problem.
So take a second before you put on your make-up today. Look in the mirror, just look, before you style your hair. Tiana Parker isn’t a distraction. She’s beautiful. So are you, right now – naked and natural and flawless. Own that. You have to because there are a generation of girls growing up who are being told differently and we have to show them the truth. That job starts with us. Let’s do better than this.
Today Upworthy shared yet another hear-warming gut-wrenching story of what happens when love, kindness and patience mix with ingenuity. Musharaf “Mushy” Asghar had faced school years filled with bullying and isolation due to a speech impediment but with a little help from the movies, he is able to give a goodbye speech that brings everyone in the room to tears.
It just goes to show the power of educators and the spirit of children who want to learn! Be kind. Inspire.
What do you think of the video? Share with us in the comments below!
In today’s high-tech, fast-paced world, it’s pretty easy to become over-stimulated. Busy schedules directing us to go, go, go and electronic devices constantly in our hands, sucking us into scattered digital directions make inner-peace a fleeting want. Enter tension and fatigue. This is true for us, as adults, so imagine children as they absorb the energy of their parents and of the environment which they live in. Then, we send them off to school where they are expected to concentrate and focus.
As an adult, to be able to accomplish all of the above is a pretty remarkable feat. Imagine learning these tools as a young child and then being able to use them your entire life! What if an entire generation of children were blessed with this gift? While mindfulness is catching on and currently being taught in a handful of schools across the country, it is largely up to the parents to teach this powerful tool. And studies have linked mindfulness to better concentration, increased focus, and boosts of memory – so it’s well worth it.
The tips I’m about to share are my own experience as a parent and what has worked in our family. They are geared towards younger children, but much of it can apply to older kids as well. (If you are an adult looking to learn more about meditation, you may want to check out this article.)
Introducing Meditation and Mindfulness to Young Children
Lead by example. As a parent, it is most important to first develop your own meditation practice and then show your children the way. They will naturally become curious as they so often want to emulate the behaviors they see in their parents and others whom they look up to. My five year old daughter has grown up her whole life witnessing meditation, and I even have many fond memories of her as a toddler coming out of bed in the morning and plopping herself down on my lap while I was in the midst of meditating! Once there is a genuine and natural interest, you can begin to help guide them into a better understanding and foster the growth of their own practice.
Make it relatable, on a child’s level. There is a wonderful book about meditation called Peaceful Piggy that I’ve read with my daughter many times and would highly recommend. The story-telling approach is a wonderful way to connect with young kids. Above that, they suggest a really simple do-it-at-home experiment to demonstrate what meditation is all about. It says to take a jar and fill the bottom with a bit of sand. Then, cover with water. Shake the jar so that all the grains of sand begin swirling all around. Tell your child that each of those grains of sands represents a thought. It could be a happy thought, a sad thought, an angry thought. But, the grains swirling around represent all of the thoughts buzzing around our heads throughout the day. Next put the jar down and allow the sand to settle. See how the sand “thoughts” become calmer and the water becomes clearer? The thoughts are still there, but they are no longer all “crazy.” Peace and stillness have taken over. Explain to your child that this symbolizes the effect of meditation on the brain.
Encourage discussion of their own feelings and emotions. Ask them for examples of different experiences: when something made them really happy, or really sad, a time they felt upset or their feelings were hurt, a time they felt scared. Give a few of your own examples to show them that we all feel this same array of emotions on a regular basis. Even young children, who seem to have such simple lives, still have a lot to sort through and deal with. They may share some emotions such as: happy on a fun family adventure, upset when mommy or daddy wouldn’t let them do what they wanted, sad when a family member or pet became ill, or feeling hurt when a friend in school said something mean. For children who are a bit older, the standardized testing system seems to be a source of worry. Meditation can help settle the overwhelming feelings and bring them to a calmer place in their thoughts. Being able to get outside of the whirlwind to just observe instead of being engulfed is truly a powerful gift.
Realistic Expectations. It’s important to cover that there is no way to do this right or “wrong.” Like exercising, results become more apparent with repetition. Frequency is key to really seeing benefits over time. That being said, this should be an enjoyable experience for them and not feel like a chore or something they are being forced to do. Encourage their interest, efforts, and willingness. If you are into reward systems, this could be a good time to implement some small ones. “Let’s practice a few minutes of meditation and then we can play a little game” or “have a little treat.” This type of system is very encouraging for young children. Make it special! Designate a specific area for them in the house that will be their meditation spot. Make it welcoming with their own pillow or special pillowcase. Encourage them to bring a few trinkets that have special meaning to them: perhaps a family photo, their favorite artwork, a remnant of the earth such as gemstone or even a plant.
Use a Timer. It’s great to have a goal time, but start small. Depending on the age, 3-5 minutes can be a reasonable beginner goal. A timer is nice because it is finite and they know to expect an end time. There are many great meditation apps that you can download for your smartphone. I like ones that use singing bowl sounds for start and finish. Let your child start the timer and put it somewhere they can see it. Encourage them to not worry about the time. Instead, just relax and know their meditation is over once they hear the singing bowl ring again.
Guide them. Sitting down in lotus posture with eyes closed is not a must (although that is perfectly fine). Like I said, there is no right or wrong way. The point is to get them into a practice of settling their minds and become more mindful. Keeping the eyes closed allows for deeper relaxation, so would be suggested. Naturally, they will want to peek – this is okay! Lying down while meditating presents an opportunity to become a little too relaxed and possibly even fall asleep, so some sort of sitting position is best. Small children will be fidgety. Just encourage them to try their best to sit still with eyes closed until the timer goes off. Most important is to focus on the breath. Breathing is something we always take with us, so this can literally be practiced anywhere. Have them simply notice their breathing as their chest rises and falls. Then, start to encourage long, deep, slow breaths where their belly rises up on the inhale and contracts to small again as the exhale it all out.
(A fun visual: “Blowing out the Candle.” Have them clasp their hands together and raise their two index fingers, holding them in front of their mouth. Inhale slowly and deeply. On the slow exhale, have them imagine blowing out a birthday candle. Blowing out a candle is something all children can relate to, and it’s pretty fun too! When my daughter is having a tough time with something, I can simply tell her “breathe, blow out your candle” and she knows exactly what to do to calm down.)
Let it be. Sitting still may not comes naturally at first. It is okay for minds to wander. It is okay to fidgety. As a matter of fact, expect it. Just encourage them to try their best to relax and refocus them back to focusing on their breath as often as needed. Know that over time and with regular practice, they will be able to sit still longer and they will begin to experience many of the other wonderful benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Don’t push it, but gently encourage them to practice regularly.
Our children are the future, and we have infinite love for them. What a beautiful gift to give them and to the world by teaching them to meditate. Namaste.
Do you meditate with your children? Do you have any of your own tips to add? Feel free to share with us in the comments below!
“You have to be out there, prominent, visible. You have to speak to people.” My husband told me this one hot afternoon over tea. We sat at the patio of our favorite cafe. The big umbrellas and huge sycamores spread their respective canopies over our heads. They stopped the sun, but not the heat. It was a lazy, slow and quiet afternoon and we were talking about marketing my sticks.
“You have to be out there, speaking, teaching” he said.
Teaching. This was not the first time we had this conversation and, not for the first time, I said: no. No teaching.
You see, I never wanted to be a teacher. During my early Buddhist years there was the subtle competition among students for the best understanding, the best posture, the best silence. The best meditation. Every student hoped, not very secretly, to be the chosen one. The one who will become an heir to the dharma. The one who will become the successor. I later moved on from Zen into other realms and everything changed — but that one thing did not. The desire to become a teacher among my fellow practitioners remained.
Except for me.
I saw nothing attractive in the teaching business, quite the opposite — the prospect scared me. Why? Because of the responsibility it carried. Because every time I spoke an advice, even a small, inconsequential one, I felt the weight of my words influencing the one who asked, nudging their perspective even if just a little bit, realigning their actions. And it was too much. It was too much to handle. For me.
Ha … you know … this is not what I was going to write. I was going to write about how I feel that there is no need for me to teach others because I can see who you are, all of you. I can see the perfection of you and I know that, sooner or later, you will see it as well. I was going to talk about what is simply being and, ultimately, being perfect but …
It is not all crap, exactly … but that is not the reason why I never wanted to be a teacher. Why I don’t want to be a teacher. The reason is that it terrifies me when my dog obeys my commands, let alone a human. It mortifies me that another creature, a free, autonomous creature puts its life in my hands and obeys me unquestioningly, absolutely. Even if it is only a little dog.
I cannot handle the responsibility of influencing others. So … I pretend that it’s my sticks doing it instead?
As I enter the autumn of my life and you the springtime of yours, I want to leave you with seven skills in self-awareness that I have learned and that I hope will serve you well no matter what profession you choose, or where your life and destiny take you.
Skill # 1 Become the best listener you can be. Learn to listen with the instruments of the body, the feelings of the heart, the logic of the mind, and the stillness of your soul. As you listen deeply, reflect on the following questions: What am I observing? What am I feeling? What is the need of the moment? What is the best way to fulfill this need?
Skill#2 Bond emotionally with friends, family, professional colleagues, and those you interact with daily. Understand that each of us is part of a web of relationships that is nurtured through love, kindness, compassion, empathy, and joy. Emotional bonds create effective teamwork where nothing is impossible because you have a shared vision for service, contribution, and success and because you complement each other’s talents and strengths.
Skill # 3 Expand your awareness by knowing that all human beings have a hierarchy of needs that start with survival and safety and progressively expand through stages that include love and belonging, true self esteem, success as in the progressive realization of worthy goals, creative expression, higher consciousness, and self-actualization. As you expand your awareness learn to harness your spiritual gifts that come in the form of the powers of intention, intuition, creativity, imagination & conscious choice making.
Skill #4 Remember the importance of action. Learn to be action oriented and know that there is no power higher than love in action. Remember that love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant.
Skill# 5 Assume responsibility for your own well being in all its various facets. Your well being encompasses every aspect of your life – your career, your social interactions, your personal relationships, your community, and your financial success. Take time to rest and play, to be with your family and friends, to exercise and nourish your body with healthy food.
Skill# 6 Empower your self with true self-esteem. Learn to be independent of the good and bad opinion of others. Recognize the power of presence. Do not allow yourself to be distracted. Know your life purpose and the contribution you want to make to society.
Skill # 7 Know your true self. Your true self is not your self-image that is dependent on the labels you and others have given yourself. Your true self is the innermost core of your being that is beyond all labels, definitions & limitations. All the wisdom traditions tell us that the human spirit is a field of infinite possibilities, a field of infinite creativity, love, compassion, joy, and profound equanimity. Know you can only give to the world that which you possess in that innermost core of your being. Remember that you will create peace only when you are peaceful and create a loving world only when you have learned to love.
I entreat you to not lose your idealism with the passage of years. That idealism is connected to your knowingness of the good that can be created and the power to manifest it. In you lies the potential for a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier, and happier world. Remember that the goal of all other goals is to be happy. I am reminded today of an assignment that John Lennon was given by his elementary school teacher when he was seven years old. He and his classmates were asked to write a short description of whom they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon wrote down that he wanted to be always happy. When his teacher complained that John did not understand the assignment, John’s mother told him to tell the teacher that he did not understand life.
But what do we really know about happiness? Recently there has been a lot of research on the dynamics of happiness. Most people think that if they are successful in achieving their goals or have good relationships or if they are healthy, they will be happy. In fact it is the other way around. If you are happy person you are likely to have healthy habits, and nurturing relationships, and great success in life. Social scientists describe what they describe the Happiness formula: H=S+C+V
H stands for happiness
S stands for set point in the brain
C stands for conditions of living
V stands for voluntary choices
“S” stands for the set point in the brain and refers to our mechanisms of perception. We all have a semi-fixed place on the happiness spectrum based on our outlook on life. Happier people see the opportunities, where unhappy people see problems. The set point for happiness can be upregulated, or shifted toward greater happiness, through self-reflection on limiting beliefs. The set point determines 50% of our happiness experience on a daily bases. The ‘C’ in the formula is the conditions of living and refers mainly to material success and personal wealth. It determines about 12% of your daily happiness experience. If you win the lottery you will be extremely happy for a few months, but after one year you will return to your set point.
Voluntary choices represents choices that we make on a daily bases. Choices for personal pleasure bring transient happiness, while selfless choices bring inner fulfillment through purpose and meaning, e.g. by making other people happy meaningful relationships bring more permanent happiness. So to be happy it’s fine to have material comforts around you, but that will only account for 12% of your happiness. To really be happy you need to expand awareness and overcome your self-limiting beliefs and then choose selfless actions, or ways to be of service to others. This leads to true and lasting happiness and wisdom.
Finally today, more than any other day, remember to be grateful. Gratitude opens the door to abundance consciousness. Express your gratitude today particularly to your parents, teachers and fellow students, all who have helped bring you to this threshold of life.
You are now ready to embark on the hero’s journey, the hero’s quest. Good luck and God speed.
When the Buddha was dying, he gave a final message to his beloved attendant Ananda, and to generations to come:
“Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge.”
In his last words, the Buddha was urging us to see this truth: although you may search the world over trying to find it, your ultimate refuge is none other than your own being.
There’s a bright light of awareness that shines through each of us and guides us home, and we’re never separated from this luminous awareness, any more than waves are separated from the ocean. Even when we feel most ashamed or lonely, reactive or confused, we’re never actually apart from the awakened state of our heart-mind.
This is a powerful and beautiful teaching. The Buddha was essentially saying: I’m not the only one with this light; all ordinary humans have this essential wakefulness, too. In fact, this open, loving awareness is our deepest nature. We don’t need to get somewhere or change ourselves: our true refuge is what we are. Trusting this opens us to the blessings of freedom.
Buddhist monk Sayadaw U. Pandita describes these blessings in a wonderful way: A heart that is ready for anything. When we trust that we are the ocean, we are not afraid of the waves. We have confidence that whatever arises is workable. We don’t have to lose our life in preparation. We don’t have to defend against what’s next. We are free to live fully with what is here, and to respond wisely.
You might ask yourself: “Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?”
If our hearts are ready for anything, we can open to our inevitable losses, and to the depths of our sorrow. We can grieve our lost loves, our lost youth, our lost health, our lost capacities. This is part of our humanness, part of the expression of our love for life. As we bring a courageous presence to the truth of loss, we stay available to the immeasurable ways that love springs forth in our life.
If our hearts are ready for anything, we will spontaneously reach out when others are hurting. Living in an ethical way can attune us to the pain and needs of others, but when our hearts are open and awake, we care instinctively. This caring is unconditional—it extends outward and inward wherever there is fear and suffering.
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There’s room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There’s room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, creativity and productivity. There’s room for spirit, for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as “the lion’sroar.”
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are touched by the beauty and poetry and mystery that fill our world.
When Munindraji, a vipassana meditation teacher, was asked why he practiced, his response was, “So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day.”
With an undefended heart, we can fall in love with life over and over every day. We can become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with each other and to all of creation. We can find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath.
Things are starting to get intense. I knew it would get here, but I wasn’t sure how. We’re learning anatomy, new poses, practicing yoga five to six days a week, doing homework, practice teaching, and trying to stay present for all of it, not to mention our lives and jobs outside the training.
There is so much learning happening that my mind feels like it’s on overdrive. It’s so stimulating that it can be very challenging to keep an internal balance and perspective. Interestingly enough, just when I feel maxed out on yoga, I then go to yoga and feel refreshed. The irony makes me laugh.
One of the highlights of our anatomy training is when we learned about the spine. We looked at each others’ spines standing erect and folded forward. One of the physical therapists teaching us anatomy spotted a student who had scoliosis. We all gathered around to take a look. As the student bent forward, the uneveness in her spine became amazingly prominent. Many of us were so focused on the apparent “wrongness” of her spine that we were gasping in awe.
The therapist looked around and started to point out what we had missed. “Look how beautiful and even her hips are. Look how even her shoulders are.”
It was true. She was perfectly aligned. We had failed to notice all that was right with her pose because we were looking at what appeared to be wrong.
Our anatomy teacher commented on the beauty of scoliosis, marveling that, “The body will do what it needs to do so you are upright in the world.”
This reminded me of the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. The idea that the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete are beautiful. And not just in terms of physical imperfections. Wabi-Sabi goes much deeper and is more of an “aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance.”
A growing interest in anatomy is one of the reasons I’m in this training in the first place. The more I practiced yoga, the more I became curious about my own muscles, bones, and how they function. The more I saw how body movements affected my state of mind and being, the more I wanted to learn the how and the why.
Every week I have fascinating experiences that confirm my choice to make this investment. We are just scratching the surface of anatomy and how it relates to yoga, but I feel like a clear path of learning is being laid out for me to travel in the years to come.
The Why & The How
I had a really beautiful experience in class this week. We partnered up to assist each other into handstand. My partner was a wonderful yogi I hadn’t worked with yet. She expressed doubt about whether she would be able to come up before we started. As she set up I reminded her to press into her hands firmly, hug into her own strength strongly, and trust herself as I assisted her up.
She came up strong, stayed up strong, and exited the pose strong. The smile she had when she came out of the pose was so authentic, sincere, and clearly lit up from the inside out. I knew then that this is why I will teach yoga. Not to force people into a pose, not to give them a workout, but to support them as they challenge their doubts, face their fears, and experience their own power and being.
The strength we experience in challenging yoga poses is, in my opinion, not our true strength. It is merely an external reflection of our true internal strength. We sometimes don’t know it in our head until we feel it in our body.
If standing on our hands teaches us we can stand on our own two feet, that’s the deeper value of our yoga.
We can stand our ground in yoga and in life. We can commit to difficult processes in yoga and in life. We can grow in many directions as we root firmly in yoga and in life.
At the end of our day my partner expressed gratitude for my help; however, I really felt like I was the one who had been helped. Helped to remember my intention for teaching, my responsibility as a teacher, and the value of supporting each other as we grow.
The Starting Line
When things get challenging in yoga, it forces me to focus even more. The more tired I am, the more I need to be present. So it is with where I’m at in the training and going forward. I breathe in my poses as best I can. I stay present as best I can. It’s the same thing we need to do in life when things get intense or tiring.
Breathe. Stay present.
I try not to get overwhelmed with the process or the practice because both are more than an 8-week program. This is a lifelong practice and process of learning to teach, and I’m just at the beginning.
The mother unwrapped the straw, poked it into the little box, and handed the drink to her toddler as they walked out of the grocery store. The sliver of straw paper slipped from the mother’s hand. I doubt that she even noticed it.
Rolling my grocery cart back to its stable, I looked around to see how many carts were randomly parked, willy-nilly throughout the lot, nowhere near the stable. Who leaves her cart to roll into the next parked car?
Since my greatest interest and life’s work centers on parents and kids, the world is my lab. I notice random acts, relationships, and interactions wherever I go. Observing, noticing, gathering data, storing information, wondering: that’s me. Today at the grocery store, I couldn’t help but think about where and how children learn to do the right thing, to make the right choices. Of course, “right” means different things to different people, but I’m thinking of generally accepted right. The answer is kind of complicated, but not really.
To do the right thing, children have to do the wrong thing. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Much of growing up is trial and error, testing limits and boundaries. Do it wrong, experience the consequence, then do it right the next time. At least, you hope it works that way. That’s certainly one of the ways kids figure out what is the right thing to do.
However, even without actively teaching your children, they learn from you because they copy you. Think about the things that you automatically do because that’s the way you’ve always done it. There is the great old tale of the mother who is preparing her Thanksgiving turkey with her adult daughter. The daughter asks, “Mom, why do you always cut off the end of turkey before you put it in the roaster?” The mother, who has no answer, knowing only that she cut it because her mother had always done so, calls her own mother. “Mom,” she asks, “Why do we always cut off the end of the turkey before putting it in the roaster?” The grandmother replies, “So it will fit in my roaster.”
Over and over, I remind parents that your kids are watching you all the time. It’s about how you live your life every day. If you ALWAYS hang up the clothes you tried on before you leave the store dressing room, the habit will become your child’s too. If you ALWAYS put your trash in the wastebasket, your child will do the same. If grocery shopping ALWAYS ends by returning your cart to the stable, not doing so won’t be a choice. Behaviors, right and wrong, become automatic when they are habitual. And so it will be for your absorbent child. Doing the right thing has a good chance of becoming ingrained in him, whether or not you are there watching.
Are you a person who does the right thing when no one is looking? If your answer is yes, then it’s likely you’re teaching your child to do the same.
Betsy Brown Braun is the bestselling author of the award-winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), a bestseller in its fourth printing. A renowned child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Fox News, Fox and Friends, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, and NPR and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping, among countless other publications and websites. For more on Betsy, please visit her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.