Judging Others, Judging Ourselvesby Michele Minehart, RYT & Community Educator
Last fall I drove through a subdivision and noticed a house with Christmas lights in full glory well before the societally-agreed-upon commencement date of Thanksgiving. I heard a voice in my mind say, “Ugh, seriously? Already? Can we not just have one holiday at a time?”
As I drew closer, I remembered that the family in that house had only recently moved in. My inner dialogue began to shift, as it said, “Oh, I bet they’re so excited to celebrate their first holiday season in their new home! I bet the anticipation is making this a fun time of year for them.”
I recognized my judgmental tendencies, believing that others should act according to my own sense of Shoulds and Shouldn’ts, and then had a much more profound realization. As I drove outside their home, edifying opinions as to their exterior illumination schedules, the owners of the home felt none of it. Their day and their lives didn’t change based upon what I thought of their decisions. But mine had. I could feel the “clenchiness” of my judgment, almost as if my eyes narrowed and chin dropped as the negative energy arose. And then I felt my heart lift and my shoulders soften as I welcomed the warmer feelings of a first Christmas in a new home.
Sometimes the undertone of “do not judge” is a call to leave everyone alone to their decisions, or ways of living, and perhaps there’s room for more “live and let live.” But in my experience, making an effort of releasing judgmental thoughts changes me and allows me to live with a sense of freedom. I’m relieved of needing to carry the weight of the Shoulds of others – and, with practice, I learn to set down my own set of Shoulds. I can reroute the energy of judgment and spend it instead on inhabiting joy.
The Heavily Meditated Teacher
When you come to the Mindful Educators retreat, one of the elements woven into the day is the importance of establishing a personal meditation practice. The elements of quieting the mind, noticing the breath and allowing thoughts to slide through awareness are essential to living and teaching mindfully.
It’s okay if you’re not ready to sit on your zafu pillow for an hour each morning! Taking a quiet 10-minute walk or spending the first 90 seconds in your classroom with eyes closed and breathing deeply are valuable forms of mindfulness. Small doses repeated through the day are powerful ways to keep your steady pace.
A meditation practice puts space into your day and into the way your brain functions. As the training ground for patience and peacefulness, it’s a way to practice slowing down our reactions. Much of the hurried day, we have a thought that we automatically believe. A mindfulness practice teaches us to notice first that a thought has arisen, and then gives us the opportunity to decide if it’s true. From that moment, you move from reacting to responding. Ideally, mindfulness gives us permission to allow the thought to pass without response. We become less automatic in our need to do something about the thought. It is just a thought.
Mindfulness is the space that allows you to breathe through your day. It’s this space that allows you to thrive in your work and can prevent burnout by allowing the emotions and the thoughts to move through you, rather than overcome you.
So what does this actually look like? A heavily meditated teacher is one who likely:
- Responds rather than reacts
- Draws emotional boundaries to keep from over-personalizing others’ behaviors
- Feels a connection with students that goes beyond academics
- Changes the pace of the day and activity to best suit student (and teacher) needs
- Feels the freedom to be creative in their unique art of teaching- even within the confines of traditional educational expectations
- Has a peace corner or quiet zone in the classroom that anyone can use at any time
- Understands his/her energy drives the energy of the classroom and self-regulates accordingly
- Exudes joyfulness and contentment
- Refuels the passion that drives their work
With cramped classrooms and schedules filled to the hilt, teachers are the first to recognize a need for space and time. But as one teacher has said, “you will never find time, you can only make time.” Creating space in your life to breathe and move mindfully might be one of the best and healthiest adjustments to your lesson plans you make this year.
Boundaries: From swaddling to schooling, they find comfort in consistency
Early in the parenting journey we experience just how important structure can be to a new baby: for some infants, the act of swaddling brings a visible relaxation response. Every family has its own lore about the baby who needed the snug safety of a car seat or would only slumber while in the arms of a loving parent.
Children press into these boundaries, and by encountering a loving pressure, they find safety and ease of their surroundings. They relax enough to finally sleep.
While children eventually outgrow their need for a swaddle blanket, they maintain an inner (and even exterior) craving to know their boundaries. They push against the structures we provide to test their durability, and, perhaps, test the durability of those who put the structures in place. Children don’t make it personal, but much like testing the ice before stepping upon it and trusting it with your life, they want to know that the people, places, and rhythms in which they’re trusting themselves will be able to bear the weight. This is human nature, a wiring of the brain meant to protect individuals.\
Landon Dunn, LISW-S, LICDC, says, “all disappointment is unmet expectations.” Whether or not you’ve intentionally built rhythms into the spaces of your time and home, children naturally have expectations of consistency. When life becomes inconsistent children feel disappointed and unsure of the future, and that often comes out in their behavior.
Looking at structure through the eyes of a developing child, you see that structure is a safety mechanism, the psyche’s way of protecting the whole child. We, as parents, typically see a reaction against a boundary as negative because of the behavior children use to express their opinion. However, we also know that when boundaries crumble, the child internally absorbs that experience as instability and will have difficulty trusting the boundary (and the parent!) in the future.
Something as simple as a bedtime routine helps build the trust associated with keeping consistent boundaries and expectations. By building a routine of bathtime, story, snuggles, and bed, a child knows what to expect each evening. This calms a child’s sense of wondering, “what’s next?” and builds a sense of trust in you.
As children grow, boundaries shift – bedtimes extend later, structure around the day gets looser. These changes can come about with relative calm and ease as the trust that built over time through consistent and stable boundaries gives children confidence they can return to the safety of their home and family.
Boundaries are a way of teaching children: You can trust me. You can count on me. I’ll do what I say, and when you need something, you can expect me to support you.
The Power of Paying Attention
From their very beginnings, our children demand, and warrant, a massive amount of attention. During the infant years, we’re paying attention to hourly shifts and changes so we can appropriately respond to their needs – does he need a new diaper? Is it feeding time again? Into toddlerhood, we’re monitoring the terrain dangerous to walking and small objects they could potentially swallow. This is the most basic way that we love our children through behavior: we keep them safe.
As children grow and develop, it might feel as if our attention isn’t required because they can finally make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich or operate the shower without fear of drowning. What parents don’t often realize, however, is that our attention is still very necessary: it simply shifts direction.
Underlying all childhood behavior is an emotional component and a need the child is seeking to meet. Unlike the newborn years where the needs are primarily physical in nature (changing a wet diaper meets comfort and health needs that also work to meet the emotional need for safety, love, and secure attachment), parents of older children must learn to adjust their attention toward the needs higher on Maslow’s hierarchy. Elements such as a sense of belonging in the family and social acceptance also drive behavior later in childhood. As children develop into pre-teens and teenagers they begin their search to meet a need of identity formation and accomplishment as they explore and connect more with their own sense of individuality.
If this feels like a lot, well, it can be! What’s a parent to do? At risk of oversimplifying, the answer is: simply pay attention. Notice patterns. One of the biggest risks of today’s fast-paced world is parenting that is “present but absent.” Our parent-minds venture toward the more obvious needs demanding our attention and begin to give less attention to the quieter, more subtle things our children still need. As a parent, it may feel good to know our child can put himself to bed on his own, and we may miss his need for that special snuggling time from young childhood where the day ended with warmth and affection. While children don’t necessarily consciously notice this, they do have an inner way of adjusting their own volume to attempt to demand our attention when we don’t give it readily. This can range in presentation from tantrums and yelling to self injury, depression, and other quiet, numbing behaviors.
At its root, in many forms, what our children want and need from us is connection. The same connection that keeps them safe and fed in the early years also builds their personal confidence and teaches them how to establish meaningful connections with others and within the world as they grow older. Giving them your loving attention beyond words, by establishing eye contact, being willing to sit at their level, and putting away distractions – even important ones – helps them to learn the skills necessary to build meaningful connections with you and with others.
In this way, over time, we learn how to respond to particular events and situations with awareness rather than being prone to simply react based on surface behavior. Take a moment to remind yourself of your child’s developmental capabilities in relationship to your expectations. Celebrate that your child is attempting to meet a need, and help him find a way to get that need met that is healthy, appropriate, and within the values of your family.
Mindful Parenting Reading List
Our Mindful Parenting enrichment is based primarily off of two works, Parent Talk by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, and Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn. These provide the basic framework from which Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW, shares about understanding the role of the parent in the parent-child relationship and offering specific tools for responding to common frustrating parenting situations.
If you’re looking to expand your personal summer reading library, or are just wanting to know what to borrow from the local library, here are a few of our office’s favorite titles related to raising children.
Parenting with the Brain in Mind by Dan Seigel
The Incredible Years by Carolyn Webster Stratton
Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher
Ghosts from the Nursery by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley
Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort
The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel
Am I Messing Up My Kids… and other Questions Every Mom Asks by Lysa TerKeurst