Mindful

From the adversarial nature of the current election to terror attacks at home and abroad, the world can seem like a dark and scary place. The constant barrage of news and media make it hard to escape the more difficult emotions that these types of events often evoke. But the truth is, escaping your feelings shouldn’t be the goal in the first place. No matter how uncomfortable they may be, sitting through that discomfort, opening up to others, and working through the emotions is the only way to eventually dissipate the dark cloud you may find lingering over your head.

Children and young adults in particular are more perceptive than we think. They know what’s going on, they hear about it at school, and as much as I wish it were possible to shield kids from all the darkness in the world, I’ve come to realize that the real gift we can give our kids is not the gift of “safety,” but rather a complete set of tools to deal with the true nature of the world around us.

Children and young adults in particular are more perceptive than we think. They know what’s going on, they hear about it at school, and as much as I wish it were possible to shield kids from all the darkness in the world, I’ve come to realize that the real gift we can give our kids is not the gift of “safety,” but rather a complete set of tools to deal with the true nature of the world around us.

We need to teach our kids that it’s possible to live with their difficult emotions—anger, fear, sadness, discomfort—and still go forward demonstrating compassion, kindness, and hope. Instead of reacting in fear or anger, we need to impress the important value of an inclusive, diverse, and accepting community. Don’t fear the other—embrace him. Learn about him. Understand the multitude of factors that might make his worldview different than yours. The root of terror is fear, hate, and ignorance. Our differences don’t need to create a huge divide. Exposing children to different cultures, races, sexual orientations, genders, religions, and languages can help turn fear and ignorance to understanding and compassion.

1. Start the conversation

Make it a point to eat as a family at least once a week and ask your children to share one thing that worries them. Get specific. What circumstances make them feel uncomfortable, scared, angry, or sad? Be willing to listen to their viewpoint. Sit through these emotions together. Don’t label them, don’t judge them—just providing a safe space for the discussion is good medicine. You can suggest taking five mindful breaths as a useful tool to reduce reactivity. Here’s the practice:

Be willing to listen to their viewpoint. Sit through these emotions together. Don’t label them, don’t judge them—just providing a safe space for the discussion is good medicine.

It may not seem like much, and it’s certainly no “quick fix,” but if you’re experience is anything like mine, you might just find that stopping to connect with the breath gives you space to reflect and gain perspective on these challenging moments.

2. Share the story of the snail and the caterpillar

If you’re unsure of how to start the conversation, try using the story of the snail and the caterpillar as a jumping off point. It’s a perfect example of how people’s experiences differ.

After the video, engage you kids in a conversation. Try using one of the questions below:

  • Share a story of a time that you were open to an experience and it widened your worldview.
  • What is a privilege you have in your life that you might take for granted?
  • What is a struggle you face that others might find surprising?
  • How do you make your point with others when you are not of the same mindset?

3. Continue the conversation

Maintain a continuing conversation. Be sure to let your teens know they can come to you about issues that matter. Talk to them about the importance of diversity and acceptance. Explain to them that you can disagree respectfully and without hate. Would it be nice if our politicians demonstrated this? Sure, but just because they don’t doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Talk to your teens. Use the name-calling as an example of what not to do, ask them how they might better handle a disagreement, or role-play. Not only will you be setting a good example, you’ll probably learn a lot about your kids’ lives, friendships, and opinions.

 

Theo Koffler

Theo Koffler is founder of Mindfulness Without Borders, a registered charitable organization that focuses on long term, strategic initiatives that advance mindfulness-based social and emotional learning in educational, healthcare and corporate settings. Philanthropist, author, public speaker and mindfulness practitioner, Theo has served on several boards and advisory committees including the A Mindful Society, Hawn Foundation, Students For Canada’s North, Inner Kids, and the Garrison Institute—where she co-authored the first-ever mapping report on Contemplation and Education in K-12 Educational Settings in the United States.

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