I’ve been re-reading “The Power of Now,” which I like to pull out when I feel pesky thoughts getting the better of me. Especially those middle of the night ones. Did she not reply to my email because she’s mad at me? Why is the dog chewing on herself? Is something burning? As pretty much everyone and their mom know thanks to Oprah, Eckhart Tolle says sticking to the Now frees us from worrying about the future and grinding about past mistakes. The Now is the key to more focus, peace and joy.
Which got me thinking about parenting. Last month, I ran some workshops for parents on how to guide kids through their social challenges. I like to use the tools of drama (the theater kind, not the girl kind) to teach, so I had parents write out scripts of their toughest conversations. Then they performed them.
Some of the conversations were about sibling rivalry; others were variations on the car ride home after an agonizing day at school. In each script, parents responded to their children in one of two ways: they immediately gave advice or pursued a line of questioning designed to get details about incidents…which then turned into giving advice.
When I work with parents, I ask them to think about talking with their kids on two levels. On the first “literal” level, you’re talking about what happened today at school. But on the second “meta” level, you’re teaching your child something about the big picture, a life lesson. Say your child gets left behind at recess by an exclusive girl, and you give her your Five Point Plan. Your Literal Conversation is telling your daughter how to handle that girl. Your Meta Conversation is teaching her that she might not be capable of figuring out what to do on her own.
I had each parent write down his thoughts, feelings and fears during the conversation he wrote about. I feel helpless and afraid, one parent wrote. I think, Why doesn’t she talk to me? wrote another. The fears? My child will have no friends. I’m doing the wrong thing. I am screwing up my kid. When I asked how many conversations were driven by these worries, every hand in the room went up.
Eckhart Tolle says anxiety about the future clogs our pipes. It keeps us from the creativity and centered thinking that is possible when we are not gripped by our fears. This is true of parenting, too. When parents let their what if anxieties drive their dialogues, they often grab the steering wheel and try to drive their kids’ lives. Do this. Try that. Stay right here while I mow the other girl’s mother down in the carpool lane. When parents don’t allow their children to own their situations and muddle through their own process, they prevent kids from developing the coping skills that make them resilient.
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