|Being Fresh, Present and Alive for Our Children|
|Posted on April 17, 2012|
I asked my daughter the other day if she was excited to see one of her new best friends at school, as I was about to drop her off for her first day back after a break. I turned around in the car and I saw tears welling up in her eyes, with a scowl in her forehead. I paused, took a breath, and then asked what was wrong? She burst into tears and with broken speech, told me that another friend had taken her best friend away.
Of course I knew this all may change in the matter of twenty minutes as friendships in elementary school years are as transient as Vermont spring weather.
I wanted to tell her to wait and see what happens – or to cheer it up, and put a positive spin on it. But instead I validated the pained look on her face. I know how painful friendships can be especially when they change from right under your feet. You think you are on solid ground, but in a matter of minutes the ground is gone, the friendship has broken up and scattered amidst the harsh spring winds.
What I saw happen in the matter of 10 minutes in the car is that when I validated the pain of friendship, but also and more significantly, I validated impermanence, she felt relief. We want things to always stay the same, but friendships like people are always changing. Nothing stays the same. We can teach our kids not to blame themselves when change happens.
When I heard the deep pain in her voice and did not brush it aside, and said that I know the same feeling, she very quickly moved on. When I dropped her off at school she had solved her problem, and she still wanted to have these girls over because they are still her friends, even though the dynamics have temporarily shifted.
I recently taught a winter term course at Middlebury College on Wilderness Therapy. One theme that continued to come up in the course is that nature is safe place for our emotions, especially children who are learning how to process feelings. Trees don’t tell children what to do, trees don’t judge. And most importantly, trees don’t fix our problems. Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says: trees are fresh, present and alive. The woods, a meadow, a stream: these environments have a way of absorbing what we feel. The vibrant hum of nature has a relaxing effect on our nervous systems. As we ponder the frozen grass, the call of the crow, the thawing sheets of ice, the buds awakening in the trees, the sparkling sunshine, we witness up-close the cycle of life. We also witness impermanence everywhere we look. Everything in nature is in motion, and so is our emotional life.
When a strong spring wind hits a maple tree, the maple tree does not think: “Why am I in this storm? Something must be wrong with me?” The maple tree knows impermanence and accepts the daily fluctuations in weather.
We forget about impermanence. When our storms hit: unforeseen events or unwanted feelings, we fight our emotions and judge ourselves. We blame ourselves or blame others. How can we be more like the maple tree? How can we be fresh and present to all emotions – and most importantly to our children’s emotions?
As parents we can normalize and validate children’s feelings. We can say, “Yes, that is a strong wind,” or “Yes, that is painful.” Kids can quickly process and move-through feelings when they are acknowledged and validated. There is no denying a strong wind.
Spending an afternoon in the woods can’t hurt either.
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