How do we become people who live mindful lives? So much of our society today appears to be mindless. We see evidence everyday of mindless name-calling and divisions, mindless killing, mindless suffering and pain that we cause for one another and ourselves. Is there another way to live together? More importantly, is there an approach to raising our children so that we move them, consciously, into a more mindful way to living?
Mindfulness is defined as being aware, attentive or careful in how we treat others and ourselves. Imagine families and schools filled with children who are routinely aware and considerate of themselves and others in an attentive and careful way! Imagine kindness and compassion driving the way we raise our children and treat others! How would this happen? It happens when the adults in the lives of children become mindful themselves.
The effects of adult modeling on the lives of children are enormous and cannot be overstated. Children are incredibly attentive by nature. They observe everything around them. They are natural imitators of what they see modeled in their lives. This is, in large measure, how children learn to speak, walk, read, write and interact with people in the world. The language adults use around children, the tone we take with them, the way we relate to other people in front of them, the kindness (or lack of it) we exhibit to one another all make up the models we give our children about how to live a mindless or mindful life. The problem with children being excellent observers of adults is that they are inaccurate and terrible interpreters to what they observe. So a child absorbs all of what we collectively do, and then they sift it through the consciousness of an immature child-like mind that lacks experience and context for what they see, and thus children make lousy interpretations of what they observe in life. Children create distorted impressions and misinterpretations of what is happening as a result of their inability to place what they see modeled into a mature context. Unfortunately, many children do not openly share their misinterpretations of life with us -- they create them unconsciously, silently inside of themselves as they attempt to make sense of their world, and then they act out their interpretations in ways that often cause parents and teachers to worry and be concerned about them. Life is full of examples of how children (and adults) play out misinterpretations of what they thought was happening in a particular situation or circumstance.
What this means for us as parents, teachers and a larger society focused on raising mindful children is that we must be careful and mindful ourselves about how we live in the presence of our children. We must not only be good models for our children but also provide accurate, conscious, clear interpretations of what is happening for our children so they can understand how and why life unfolds as it does. We must talk with our children to help them understand the various interactions and situations that arise in life. And, more importantly, we must listen to our children to understand how they are silently interpreting (or misinterpreting) what is happening (from their point of view) in their lives and help them sort it out in ways that are accurate and mindful, kind and caring of each other.
Part of my consulting work includes coaching parents and teachers in the skills of class meetings/family meetings to help adults learn the critical skills of reflective listening, asking probing questions and being in the present moment with children so their children or students not only are heard but feel heard by the adults in their lives.
We cannot leave the job solely to social media, television, Internet and peers to provide the context of interpreting life's meaning for our children. We cannot leave children to their own private, internal resources to make sense of the world around them and expect them to move toward mindfulness. We have the obligation, the duty and the responsibility to engage with children, talk with them and listen to them. When we listen and talk with our children in a mindful way, with the intention of moving them toward living a life of increasing mindfulness -- increasing attention, awareness and care for themselves and others -- we give our children the gift of a mindful life. What can you do -- today -- to help a child see a clearer model of mindful living in you, in how you speak, in how you relate to others and in your kindness and compassion? When you live a mindful life in the presence of any child you give him or her the gift of mindfulness in a powerfully authentic way.
Mindful children come from being in relationships with mindful adults.
I'd love to hear from you about these ideas. Please leave a comment here or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more by Dr. Louis A. Tenaglia, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.
Lou Tenaglia is an educator, educational consultant, teaching coach and private counselor based in Doylestown, PA. You can contact me at email@example.com.