Helping Our Children Feel Less Stress and Worry About Their Future

When the Boston Marathon tragedy occurred a few months ago, my friend's daughter came home crying. She was frightened for her own safety and the safety of the people she loves. She worried that the world would never be at peace. Her mother told me that she knew her daughter needed to feel sadness for what happened, but was concerned that this was yet another event that would increase her daughter's negative perspective on life. Another friend's daughter was very upset about what happened in Boston, but she still felt safe and remained hopeful that people are good and we can all
 find a way to live more peacefully. Both children were clearly affected, but one child despaired and the other still felt hopeful. 
Of course there are many different reasons these two children reacted differently, including their past experiences, family life and even genetic makeup. However, regardless of all of those factors, the future of each child’s emotional and mental well-being will be dictated by their perspective toward life.

As parents, what can we do to help our children maintain an open and hopeful view about all they will face every day? Over the years, I developed the following exercise for my children after reading about an experiment in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche. I like to use it when they are stuck and not achieving a particular goal, but its implications are much more far reaching.

Ask your child to pick up a coin. Ask them to imagine that the coin represents whatever is bothering him or her. Sometimes they are upset about a bad grade, a tragic event or problems with friends. The last time I did it with my daughter she was upset about not doing well on a test. She is very concerned with her grades and sometimes fears when something goes wrong that she won't get into a good college or achieve her life goals. I asked her to hold a coin tightly clutched in her fist and extend her arm, with the palm of her hand facing the ground. I told her the coin she was holding represented her life's goals and all that is possible. The way she was holding it, so tightly in this example, shows her belief that she could only achieve her life goals and get into a good college if she did well on this test. I then had her let go and relax her grip and the coin fell to the ground. I explained that it is simply too hard and painful to hold on to anything so tightly with the belief that there is only one way.

Then I said Maybe there is another possibility here: Maybe you can let go of the coin and still keep hold of it. With her arm still outstretched, I asked her to turn her hand over so that her palm faced the sky. I then asked her to relax her hand and see if the coin still rested in her open palm. She let go and the coin was still there resting in her hand. I reminded her that holding the coin this way, relaxed in her palm, represents all the possibilities in her future, including achieving her goals in life no matter how she does on this or any future test. It allowed her to keep her dream of being successful regardless of this particular test or any other event in her life; she needn't grasp it so tightly.

This experiment shows children that life doesn't have to unfold one way, but instead there is open space in which life may unfold in many different ways and result in joy and success. 

It seems simple but this Maybe exercise teaches our children to hold the very thing they want but also leave space and room for other possibilities. If our children can learn the skill of looking at life other ways, opening up and
 letting go will be less scary and more inviting. It allows our children to maintain their dreams and goals while experiencing the twists and turns of the journey of life.

As for my friend's daughter that was scared and worried about her future after the Boston Marathon tragedy, this exercise helped her see that there were many possibilities for the future including being safe and helping to achieve a more peaceful society. It gave her back some hope and sometimes that is all it takes to change a perspective and MAYBE change the world.

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