Children need to learn mindfulness. What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of being present to the moment. It is finding the center of one’s being to be fully awake to what is happening in one’s life. Being mindful is stopping, taking a deep breath, analyzing with purpose what one is facing in his life and engaging with the act intentionally and soberly, thus addressing life with a sacred eye on living fully and with purpose.
Children are pulled in a thousand different directions. They are overloaded with school obligations, homework and extra curricular activities. These stresses have challenged them to focus on completing their tasks rather than being in tune with how the tasks might help them in life. When kids do find time to let the mind rest, they vegetate on television or social networks that do not really allow them the chance to unplug from the machine of living.
Mindfulness reduces stress, improves energy levels and can help a person act with clarity. It has also proven to help a student in his achievement. Rainer Maria Rilke writes: “Unless you tame your demons, you will never know your angels”.
I was talking with a friend who has been teaching elementary school aged children for over twenty-five years. We were talking about what she has witnessed in that time and how children respond to their environments.
She noted that children are not being equipped with the skill set to manage their feelings. This leads me to believe that some parents may not have established a foundation that teaches them the basic skill set of coping.
We both noted that the world has become technologically wired to a point where children are dialing in to tech at an early age. I was witness to a child who was three years old punching an I-pad and learning the computer. Three.
One of the great problems that college professors and high school teachers are facing in class is students on their phones. Students’ technology addictions are so significant; they make excuses to be distracted. They say that they are taking notes when, in fact, you can see them on another website shopping. Recognizing the unhealthy distraction, some schools have trained their students to put phones in shoe bags on the walls before class, so they won’t even be tempted to text or scan the web.
In this digital age, I do not know if we have taught students how to cope with distraction. Technology is such an easy way to escape from a situation. Rather than facing a problem, children have learned to navigate to another world and avoid confronting it. In a world that struggles for attention by dangling the attention grabbing carrot in front of a child, if something does not move them, they move on.
I was thinking about the television that I grew up with. On “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” there were significant periods of silence. Dead air is a medium’s worst nightmare, but Fred Rogers turned it into an art form. He taught children to be comfortable with the silence. At one point during his show he used an egg timer to show them just how long a minute was. Rogers was keenly aware of being mindful, slowing things down so children could process. The sad reality is we are losing people to the all out distractions that capture our attention.
Rogers saw the need to maintain calm and focus in a time muddled by frustration and confusion. It was a noble effort. My generation was the generation that grew up with television. It grew up with distractions and in some cases the television was on throughout the day. We saw war on tv, and the evolution of television going from three or four channels to over one hundred and fifty and upwards to two or three hundred.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, but the level of distraction that takes us out of ourselves and puts us in a different frame of awareness is problematic – especially if that level of awareness involves a constant feeding of violence and disturbing images that desensitize children from their own Godly nature.
Learning mindfulness begins with the parents. Parents create problems for their child by creating unhealthy coping mechanisms or “helicopter” in a way that compromises a child’s ability to navigate problems. On one hand, parents want to help their children with challenges, on the other hand doing the work for them or socializing on their behalf does not help. In fact, it causes confusion and may lead to greater frustration.
Experts agree a parent’s inability to assert themselves as a parent and fear of not being liked by their child confuses a child. Some parents are insecure about their relationships with their own children. It is easy to slip into the parent/friend mode and undermine the all-important role of authority. Parents need to be mindful of their roles as parents.
As a result of such behavior, some parents are afraid to lay down the law and play the parent out of fear of losing their child to their adolescent friends. Rigorous assertion and attention to a child’s misbehavior can allow a discipline to sink in and take root. Establishing discipline helps exercise the spiritual muscle. It also helps in the formation of a child’s moral universe.
Assertion of a spiritual conviction can go a long way in helping a child form a spiritual identity. A child learns from a parent’s example. The parent plants ideas of prayerfulness through their action. At some point a child will accept that invitation to explore their spirituality or they will reject it.
Judging from the churches I’ve seen, younger generations are rejecting the cultivation of their spirituality. They may be cultivating it in their own way, and that’s hard to say. I don’t buy the argument that they are fully engaging in study of scripture or exercising meditation practices if they are not abiding by participating in a community, but I may be wrong.
Exercises for children in coping:
Prayer. Daily or nightly prayer helps instill a sense of connection to something greater. A child who learns to pray learns to access a place within where he can go to help find a solution. A regular prayer habit builds confidence. Prayer is the beginning of problem solving, not the end. Prayer aligns us to grounding ourselves in a spiritual reality.
Breathing techniques. Watching breath in centering prayer has proven to help ease the tension of the body. Doctors have proven that an individual’s willingness to watch breath automatically slows down the heart rate. Watching the breath is a good way of easing into the act of solving the problem and detaching to objectively begin the process of problem solving.
Guided meditation. Meditation, like breathing, has health benefits. Most importantly, meditation can guide us to the center of our being where the heart of coping takes place.
Problem solving strategies: Most importantly, teaching children to own feelings and guide them to positive solutions. Sitting with them and working through a problem when they are young directs them to the act of problem solving in a logical, efficient manner. Time alone with your child and aligning them to the meaningful solutions through assessment strategies, can provide healthy outlets for going further and avoiding pitfalls of not thinking through a problem.
Spiritual exercises: Review of a child’s day before they go to sleep, helps them evaluate positive points and points that can be improved. Examining where the child succeeded in doing right by others and where they could improve their interpersonal relationships can aid a child in social interaction. It is also quality time.
Having worked in theology for many years, I have discussed these issues with campus ministers who are parents all around the country. Many a minister has wanted to discuss the idea of addressing these issues with parents.
We offer the opportunity to learn coping skills in theology class but there is only so much a teacher can do. The rest is up to the individual. Mindfulness needs to be a concerted effort in every theology class and hopefully is reinforced through the example of the parents. It is the skill set that sets students up for the rest of their lives.