My closet has changed a lot over the years.
My baggy jeans turned into skinny jeans, which turned into skirt suits, which morphed into maternity pants, which turned into relaxed jeans, then bigger maternity pants, back into oversized suits, and now I just wear elastic waistbands because the skinny jeans are never fitting again.
With each change of my closet, I have been overcome by what can only be described as an anxiety-fueled-rampage-of-organization, feeling that if I could just have coordinating hangers, my life would somehow have peace.
But as it turns out, no matter how many times I have sought peace from an organized closet, peace cannot be found under old shoeboxes and discarded dry-cleaning bags. Peace is something that has to be cultivated from a place even deeper than the recesses of my shelving.
Enter meditation. As an adult, meditation has given me the tools to be at peace, even when there is chaos. I started practicing meditation as an undergraduate student on a whim, and at that time I couldn’t possibly have anticipated the gigantic impact it would have on my life. Meditation techniques carried me through law school, job interviews, high intensity negotiations and courtroom scenes, childbirth, hospitalizations of my child, mundane arguments, and managing the health of my parents.
As a parent, I want to cultivate a culture of meditation for my children, so that no matter what happens outside of their control, they will be emboldened with a quiet confidence to handle the task or situation. Meditation with children doesn’t need to look like an Ashram. No robes necessary. But these five techniques will arm your children to live lives of patience, love, generosity, and compassion.
Meditation doesn’t have to be limited to quiet words and thoughts. Sometimes the best way to teach children to notice what’s going on inside is to get them loud and moving.
Begin by handing your child whatever schoolhouse instrument or improvised instrument you have on hand. Maracas, shakers, hand drums, or old coffee cans work great. Ask your child to play for you what “happy” sounds like. Then ask them to play you what “sad” sounds like. Move through several emotions before asking them to play you what they feel like right now.
Engage with this through the week asking them at random intervals to play you what their feelings sound like at that moment. Over time, kids will learn to be attuned to their feelings and know that it’s safe to express whatever those feelings may be.
“That Kid” and the loving-kindness meditation
Once kids hit school, they seem to always have That Kid in their class: the kid who is always irritating to your child. That kid is the perfect opportunity to teach your child the loving-kindness meditation or the “metta bhavana.” As adapted for children, here’s how it works:
Have your child sit with you (which can be over dinner or in the car) and tell them that you are going to play a game. It begins by asking your child to tell you something good about herself/himself. Encourage her/him to think about all of her/his favorite things. Let your child be as silly or reserved as he/she need to be, but push your child to be honest and to make a substantial list. When your child has exhausted their list tell your child that he/she is loved. Say it aloud.
Next, ask your child to think of a close friend or family member. Ask your child to tell you about all of the good qualities of this friend or family member. When your child is done indulging in those happy thoughts, say aloud “[This Friend] is loved.”
Then, ask your child to tell you something good about someone that they hardly know. It could be that quiet girl on the soccer team, or the man who bags your groceries each week. Push your child to think about something good that he/she can observe about this near stranger. Then say aloud “[This Stranger] is loved.”
Finally, ask your child to tell you all the good things that they can think of about That Kid. They will resist, they may laugh or scoff, but tell them the rule of the game is that they have to think of at least two things. At this point I allow the good things to be as simple as, “He doesn’t smell bad,” or “She’s good at holding the door open.” But be sure to end with “[That Kid] is loved.”
My oldest daughter is an anxious kid by nature. And despite my reading of every sleep-training book on the market and experimenting with more theories than the Manhattan project, she struggled to sleep through the night well into her preschool years. What did help? A Mantra.
In our case, we trained her that when she wakes in the middle of the night she should repeat, “I am safe and I am loved, I am safe and I am loved.” Your child’s mantra can be any simple phrase that gives them confidence in times of vulnerability.
Writing is like an extra sense to me – one that trumps the other five. For a kid who feels similarly, writing may be the access point to their unconscious. Whether the journal is one of words or pictures, encouraging your child to journal teaches them reflection, which is an immensely important meditation technique.
The best way to encourage a resistant kid to take the time to journal is to say, “It’s bedtime, but if you’d like to stay awake a little longer, you may write in your journal.” Works like a charm.
As parents, we can’t control the world in which our children live, but we can give them the tools to find peace, simplicity, and confidence anywhere – even in a messy closet. Difficult and confusing things will happen in your children’s lives. No matter how fine a parent you may be, you cannot change that reality. What you can do is teach your children the skills to hold their loving and confident ground.