Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Meeting Fear with Acceptance-Teach it to Your Child

My meditation practice and my parenting are beginning to intersect in exciting ways that I want to share.  Specifically I have been able to apply lessons I am learning about responding to negative thoughts and emotions with acceptance to alleviate my son’s bedtime fears. 

My four year old son Alec has recently been talking to me about “scary” things he sees in his mind.  Since his verbal skills have advanced, he is now able to voice his fears to me.  Since we moved into our new house, he has been talking about the “scary birds” he sees when he closes his eyes or tries to go to sleep.  The first time he talked to me about the scary birds, I asked him if they were right there in the room with us and if I could see them too.  He said, “You can’t see them, Mom.”  I replied, “Can you see the birds in your mind?”  He nodded.  I asked, “Where are they?  Are they out here or in your mind?”  He hesitated before answering, “In my mind.”  I asked what they looked like, how many of them he could see and what noises they were making.  As his imagination filled in the details of the scary birds and he was able to describe them, his fear diminished.  I then asked him to talk to the scary birds and tell them what he wanted them to do.  He said, “Get out of here!”  This worked the first time, and since then he has been asking me about the best way to deal with the scary birds when they appear. 

Last night, we had a breakthrough moment with the scary birds.  After our bedtime story, Alec said, “Mom, those scary birds are back and I can’t make them go away!”  I asked, “What do you think they want?”  He answered, “I don’t know!”  I then said, “What if you tell the scary birds that you love them? Maybe they are looking for some love and have come to you to find it.”  He replied, “I think the scary birds want me to be mean to them.  If I am mean that will make them go away.” So I told him to try that next and see what happened.  He yelled and thrashed in his covers and then told me the birds were still there.  I said, “So if being mean isn’t working, see what happens if you talk nicely to the birds.”  After a few seconds, he said, “I love you, birds! I love you.”  Then he giggled and said, “Oh, they went away! How did you know that, Mom, that the scary birds wanted me to say that?”

We have a Chinese Buddha statue in our house that belonged to my husband’s grandparents who lived in China.  Alec particularly likes the statue and the image of Buddha.  So when he asked me how I knew to greet the scary birds with love, I told him to think of Buddha.  I asked, “Do you know what Buddha teaches us to do?” “No, Mom,” Alec replied.  “Well, Buddha helps us to understand and work with our mind so we can be happy and free.  Remember how you said the birds live in your mind?” “Yes,” he answered. I explained, “Buddha teaches that if you fight against the ugly and scary things in your mind, you will make them stay longer.  But if you are calm and loving to those things, like the scary birds, they will go away on their own.  Like just now, when you told the birds you loved them and you waited, they went away, right? Are the birds still there?”  Alec waited a moment before saying, “No.  I don’t see them now.” 

I was happier than usual when I left the room after Alec fell asleep.  I don’t know if he understood everything I tried to convey, but I do know that he is starting to learn about acceptance vs. resistance, something I have only begun to explore in recent years.  My children are my teachers and provide an inexhaustible supply of motivation for my continued spiritual growth.