I listen to people. Often, they tell me they are anxious, afraid of the unknown. And many don’t even know that they are anxious — just “uncomfortable” and looking for ways to get out of the discomfort.
Kids get anxious, too. And when they do, they usually don’t talk about it. Instead, they rev up and hit a sibling, write on the wall with crayon, melt down when they cannot have candy at the store, crash and burn with “gimme” or sob like they are dying when you leave to run an errand. They have feelings and they don’t know what to DO with them.
Most kids, anyway.
Some are naturally skilled at surfing their internal ocean of feelings and experiences. They are gifted in self-regulation.
I’m not writing for those kids. I’m writing for the ones who feel the way I felt when I was small. I felt that everyone else had been given some key to “normal” and I wasn’t at school the day they handed it out.
Teaching children about mindfulness can give them the key to normalcy. Friendliness towards the inner experience can go a long way to healing their budding self-judgement, reactivity, fear, anger, acting out (Cookies! Candy! TV! More video games! More, more, MORE!!) and, eventually, shame.
The other day, I taught a father to use his fingers to paint a circle, to follow it with his eyes. I have called this circum-oculation: painting a Zen circle. Then, I taught him about rounding the breath to follow the circle: circum-respiration or breathing in a circle. He was home alone with his two sons, ages 4 and 6 ,who were going “crazy.” Dad sat them down and began to use the breath and eye circles with them. After only a couple of minutes, all three of them were completely relaxed. A little later, the youngest of the boys said, “Dad, next time I get wild would you do that for me?”
Children need skills to use their minds constructively and creatively. The all-American solutions of “getting rid of feelings,” “walking them off” or hoping we will outgrow them are not often constructive. Instead, they are usually just avoidant. We want to learn — and to teach those younger than us — how to intimately experience ourselves in our vulnerability: to meet the feelings with friendliness, curiosity and respect for whatever arises.
Lying on the floor, walking heel-rolling-to-the-toes-lift-heel-rolling-to-the-toes while we feel the air around us, listening to the sounds of the world, watching our minds with kindness — this mindfulness is a skill we may give to children while at the same time giving it to ourselves. Whenever I tell a child the story of Jizo, this monk who promised Buddha he would stay on earth and help everybody feel safe, they like the idea. When I show them one of my images, with Chibi in the middle, they understand immediately and usually place their forefinger on Chibi and nod, knowingly.
And while we may say we are learning these skills to share with the children, anybody know a parent who doesn’t need to calm down when they are feeling wild?