Breathe, Baby: Teaching Children Self-Mastery
I have been especially challenged with one of #myfourarrows lately. Momtrepreneuring and parenting in general requires an incredible amount of endurance, creativity and flexibility. The tension is real. The frustration is real. The blow-ups are real. The wanting to crawl into a hole and hibernate for the entire year is real. ...And... this work still needs to be done in a way that reasonably suits all involved parties as much as possible.
One of the challenges I have been keenly focused on is exploring, learning myself, teaching and supporting self-mastery. With all four of my children, the goal is to raise well-balanced people--mind, body, spirit, soul; acquainted with war and with peace (inner and outer); able to name, be with and navigate a broad spectrum of emotions and to do that in a healthy and productive way. In the case of my suns, and this one presently challenging sun in particular, the goal is to raise a well-balanced black man. This is how most of the world will see, sense and know him, well before they know his name, his history, his dreams, his character or his unquantifiable value: ...black man. For now, his father and I, with the support of our incredible village of family and friends, are bringing him--black boy, hopeful black man--and his siblings up in the complicated context of the United States of America. In another post I will talk more about the burning this causes in my chest and the miserable tightening it manifests in the pit of my belly. (Check back later and follow tags for "Parenting While Black" and "Raising Free People.")
When we facilitate child development as parents of children of any ethnicity, we have a unique view of a broad range of raw, uninhibited human emotions and behaviors. We also have countless opportunities to guide, exercise ourselves and help cultivate temperance. Ponder that for a moment. Let us all look into and around ourselves. What kind of world, what kind of people are we shaping with the things we say and do, or with the the things we don't say and don't do?
Papa Jones has been setting up potted plants all over the house as we are revitalizing life and re-establishing home after a series of traumas. They are the perfect compliments to our meditation spaces and have been great aids in one of my personal variations of "time out": sunlight and soil; earth and air; touch the earth; breathe.
I think it may be a combination of my yoga practice, doula training, personal experiences with professional therapy and sheer intuitive engaging that inform my tendency to get eye-level with my children, ground myself and my own energies and encourage them to take a breath when they are extremely upset for any reason. Sometimes, they're so hysterical that they can't even focus on the conscious inhaling part. In those moments, I just tell them to "blow it away." A sip of water can be helpful here too. I have been amazed at how the templates of childbirthing, purposefully decompressing day-to-day stress from "adulting," and PTSD recovery strategies can apply to a toddler's (seemingly) random tantrum, a fall + scraped knee scenario or other moments where intense feelings can seem suffocating and make it difficult to stop and think.
"Breath, baby," I say, sometimes looking squarely into their eyes, sometimes wiping their tears, sometimes holding them steady against my own heartbeat. I have honestly been amazed at how well it works to do something that seems so simple to bring presence and centering back to even the toughest and most chaotic circumstances. Notice there that I didn't say make the tough and chaotic circumstances disappear. I said bring presence and centering, inner grounding and consciousness of self back to the child so that they can move through the difficulty with more resources. I go more into the power of the breath in other writings. Here I am focusing on how it absolutely also applies to children. To me, that only underscores its magic.
The earlier-mentioned black boy/hopeful black man sun has been reported to tell others to "breathe" when he is witnessing them in upset. To me, that affirms that it's working. I know he's learning these bits of self-mastery skills because not only will I catch him on occasion "breathing in and blowing through" his own big feelings without my prompting, but his little toddler self is also teaching the same techniques to others--including, at times, reminding me!
What do you incorporate into your self-mastery practice and/or teaching?