Serenity, where are you?
It is a good thing I just got home from my refresher class on mindfulness-based stress management. Strangely enough, one of the topics of discussion was the potential role of mindfulness education in the school system. My Grade one child tells me when I get home that we should not send her snacks and lunch in the containers we always use, because a couple of girls have been teasing her about them, telling her they are “baby containers.” One of these girls is also apparently telling all the other kids she doesn’t like to “shut up.”
Oh my GOODNESS. Holy crap, even.
Alright, they are baby containers, in that we have had them since the girls were babies and we still use them. But the real issue for me is how to teach my children to withstand these kinds of petty but hurtful exchanges. There are times when I am completely at a loss. I think I am hyper-aware, for as a child I was relentlessly teased and bullied, both on the bus and in school. I remember with perfect clarity that feeling of being completely helpless, profoundly alone and at the mercy of those taunting kids, never knowing what to say or how to fight back. It really does have a lifelong impact.
It makes my face feel hot just thinking about other kids being mean to my child. I find myself wondering why there always have to be children who pick on other kids to make themselves feel powerful. I suppose school is in some ways just a microcosm of the world. Now that one of our children is in school, I am always on the lookout for signs that anything is amiss. I do find that negative attitudes sometimes seem to breed on the schoolyard, and a few nay-saying apples can spoil the whole bunch. More than anything I want to teach the girls skills that will help them keep a positive attitude, be brave and resilient in the face of teasing, never bully and to help those who are being bullied.
I know, it’s a tall order for four- and six-year-olds. My expectations are HUGE.
Seriously, though, mindfulness and the power of positive thinking are life skills that I myself am studying and working on constantly, and we are trying to impart some these ideas to the girls. We all know negative thoughts and words just create more negative thoughts, and any of us who have struggled with depression know all too well where that road leads. As more children are diagnosed (or not diagnosed) with mental health issues, I think the time has come for parents and schools to take a new look at how mindfulness and empathy affect how a child grows and develops.
The wonderful “Roots of Empathy” program is a perfect example of something that really works. From their website I pulled this description:
Started in 1996, Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood infant and parent who engage students in their classroom. Over the school year, a trained Roots of Empathy Instructor guides the children as they observe the relationship between baby and parent, understanding the baby’s intentions and emotions. Through this model of experiential learning, the baby is the “Teacher” and a catalyst, helping children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.
Empathy is something that doesn’t always come naturally, and it can be tough to teach. Kids are pretty much “all about me” and that is developmentally appropriate up to a certain point, or so the books say. I am thinking that children who learn to empathize are less likely to hurt or tease others. Teaching children social and emotional competence begins at home, of course, but if that kind of assistance is lacking, the school could at least give students a chance to learn those vital life skills. A little classroom time spent on mindfulness exercises, basic meditation to teach children to quiet their minds, simple yoga to help get the wiggles out, all of these could fit. Better for them to learn skills that will help their mental health and concentration than to spend their off-time playing video games.
So how did I respond to Kat’s baby container complaints? Well, I suggested she tell those girls that SHE is being environmentally responsible, bringing a litterless lunch with reusable containers, and everyone should be doing the same. I will be interested to see if she uses that comeback. In the meantime, I am off to do some deep calming breaths.