Are we teaching our kids how to use our most important gifts as humans?

Posted on December 7, 2017

We are definitely different than species of plants and animals. We are the human species – endowed with traits and characteristics that are unique to us and that can help us not just survive but also thrive.

As we parent our children in a constant time crunch, we get caught up with teaching our kids skills to “succeed” in the world that they live in. Academics, extracurricular activities, and social agendas take precedence in our day-to-day routines. We want to make sure that our kids fit in without missing something or feeling left out. Add social media and technology madness to these pressures, and there is hardly any time to focus on anything else.

However, there are some core skills that will help our children succeed no matter what they do. If their self-confidence and self-esteem are well anchored, our kids will be equipped to go through life meeting daily demands and inevitable challenges. To build these core skills, we must look at what clearly separates us from other species.

  1. Our ability to experience. We are gifted with the ability to experience events with both thoughts and feelings. In the busy-ness of raising children, there is so much to be done that we go from task to another on autopilot; we rush from one to-do to the next. To be able to really experience something, we have to use our senses to harness a feeling about that experience.

Say you’re taking your kids to soccer practice. Instead of just dropping them off, take a few minutes to just sit and observe the surrounding greenery. Breathe in the fresh air – even just for few minutes – and pay attention to the sounds you hear. Or when the kids have finished practice, sit on the grass with them for a few minutes and do the same things. These simple actions enlarge the experience. For example, hearing is the task, but listening creates the experience by engaging the senses further and activating the brain and our feelings. Similarly, using your senses to soak in the environment around the soccer field helps create an experience.

Without fine-tuning our ability to truly experience things we are simply robots moving from one monotonous task to the next. As Albert Einstein said, the only source of knowledge is experience. This simple, quick effort will help your entire physical system create a sweet memory, a knowledge that gets attached to the task. In this way, experience leads to …

  1. Our ability to respond. If we add a few minutes to absorb—to be present in—our experience, that sets a tone for how we respond to what happens next. As humans, we have the ability to respond in myriad ways, which truly is activated after we allow ourselves to soak up an experience. This gift is multiplied tenfold if we simply take a pause.

Say you’ve taken a few minutes after soccer practice to really take in the experience. You will immediately notice that you are in a calmer state of mind. Now after you get home, if you and your child are fighting over doing homework and he or she spits out, “I hate you,” you are less likely to react and more likely to respond. Instead of countering with “How dare you,” you’re able to be patient by managing your own emotions first. Why? Because when we slow down and take a break, we release into our system what science calls “happiness chemicals” (dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin).

By slowing down to experience being at the soccer field, you release these chemicals, which can completely change the trajectory of your response. But if you do feel yourself getting angry, you can consciously choose to respond by taking a pause. A pause can allay the stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol) and help you tap back into your reserve of the happiness chemicals. You can even take a few deep breaths before you respond to infuse a fresh dose. The idea is to create a small distance between the outburst your child is having and your response. One simple pause or breath has the power to make us response-able—responsible. And the minute we harness our ability to respond, we can…

  1. Use these new tools to grow. As humans, we have the ability to learn from our experience. No matter how many times we hit repeat on a recurring reaction with our children, the minute we truly experience what is happening and pause or take a breath to respond, we can let go and move on. We might be frustrated, angry or irritated for months because our kids won’t do their homework when they’re told, but the minute we take a step back, we can use our new understanding to generate a new response, letting go of accumulated negative experiences and emotions. This helps us grow and infuses our new experiences with happiness and joy. It nurtures effective communication and stronger connection and relationships with kids and—moving past soccer practice and homework issues—melts away the drama around bedtime and positively affects the quality of sleep – leading to not just a happier life but also to a healthier life. All this stems from a few minutes spent on the soccer field to engage our senses and fully experience what is at hand.

If we are to raise our children to live joyful lives, it is important to talk to them about these innate human gifts and how to use them effectively. We teach by example, and there’s no stronger lesson. Point out to them the pathway of experiences, responses, and new perspectives. If you are spending a few extra minutes at the soccer field with them, let them know why. When you take a pause or a deep breath, explain to them how that helps us manage our emotions and hence our responses. That will help them understand their inner world and gain new tools and the confidence to manage the day-to-day challenges that life presents; self-esteem then follows at its heels. The icing on the cake? It will help your kids be present in the things that they do and also inject some joy into their—and our—lives.